It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.
Schroeder, Lisa. Sealed with a Secret
April 26th 2016 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Netgalley.com
This sequel to My Secret Guide to Paris finds Phoebe and her sister Alice back home in London following their adventures in Paris with Nora and Justin. Alice is pining for Justin and also making college plans-- she thinks it is a great idea to head to the states so that she is on the same continent as her "one true love"! Phoebe feels sad that her sister isn't paying as much attention to her, and they aren't as close as they used to be, so when she finds an antique compact with a letter folded inside of it, she holds out some hope that the "magic spell" it delineates is worth a try! She also hopes that the compact is worth enough money that it will help defray the cost of her sister's education, taking pressure off of her hard working parents. The letter is from a sister to her younger sister who was sent to live with another family during the Blitz. Phoebe sets off to follow all of the clues with her good friend, Ned, and has a lot of adventures, including tracking down the writer of the letter and visiting the woman, with her parents and sister in tow!
Strengths: Lots of good details about landmarks, and well as some very clever introduction to history. Nicely snuck in! Adorable cover, supportive parents, good friends, realistic problem with the sister. This was even better than the first book, since no one died. I enjoyed it thoroughly and think my students will as well.
Weaknesses: A tiny bit far fetched that Phoebe was able to track down the writer of the letter, and I couldn't help wondering why Alice didn't just go to a community college in the UK if her higher education was such a burden on the family.
What I really think: I'm going to London this summer! I'm going to London this summer! I'm going to London this summer!
(For Picky Reader's high school graduation, we are treating ourselves to a trip. She desperately wants to see England. It took me until I was 40 to be able to go, so I understand her compulsion. We are deep in plans, and I can share our exploits if anyone is really interested!)
Springstubb, Tricia. Cody and the Mysteries of the Universe
April 12th 2016 by Candlewick Press
E ARC from Netgalley.com
This sequel to Cody and the Fountain of Happiness finds Spencer's entire family moving in with his grandmother, and Cody struggling with more new neighbors-- Maxie and Molly Meen, who go to her school and live with their father, who is a bug exterminator, some of the time. Cody loves to study bugs but isn't as fond of wasps after she is stung, so she can forgive Mr. Meen, but Molly and Maxie don't want Cody and Spencer to be out in the shared yard or on the porch! Since Spencer's mother and father are working in the house to set up a business, this puts a crimp on the children's activities. Eventually, the children make peace, and Cody's life improves.
Strengths: As in the first book, the families are tremendously supportive. GG is a fabulous character, and her interactions with Spencer and Cody are fun. I also liked Cody's relationship with her older brother, and her reactions to his dating life! Dealing with mean kids is a huge part of elementary school, and this is detailed in a very realistic manner. The first book is popular with my struggling 6th grade readers, and this is a must have for elementary school libraries.
Weaknesses: The Meens? I'm picky about character names, and this seemed a bit much.
What I really think: Will purchase, since it is happy and the first book is popular.
April 12th 2016 by Candlewick Press
Raymie's father has left her family and run away with a dental hygienist, so her plan to get him to come back is to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition. It's 1975, so of course baton twirling is involved. At the insistence of her father's secretary, Mrs. Sylvester, Raymie signs up to take twirling lessons from Ida Nee. These are not as successful as she hopes, but she does meet Louisiana, who is living with her grandmother and hopes that she can win the prize money, and Beverly, who wants to sabotage the competition because she's tired of them. The three become reluctant friends and embark on a series of adventures, from retrieving Raymie's library book from the local nursing home to trying to get Louisiana's cat from the pound. None of the girls has an easy life. Raymie's mother is depressed, her neighbor dies, and no one seems to be looking out for her except Mrs. Sylvester. Louisiana's parents are dead, social workers want to take her to a group home, and her grandmother is struggling financially. Beverly's parents are divorced, her father lives in New York, and her mother occasionally beats her. In the end, not much happens, but the girls do manage to be successful in some of their ventures.
Stop the presses! I mostly agree with Betsy Bird on this one!
Strengths: Even though there are lots of depressing things in this book, it's not too sad. There are some funny episodes. The pages have lots of white space, and it's only 262 pages long.
Weaknesses: This didn't need to be historical, and aside from yellow shag carpeting and wood paneling flapping on the grandmother's car, there were very few details that made this even seem historical. Modern readers would benefit from having the importance of baton twirling explained. Holm's Sunny Side Up is a much better picture of the world during this time period. If you're writing about 1975, you MUST mention the Bicentennial.
What I really think: Kate DiCamillo is a fine author who does a lot of good for the world of children's literature, but I am not fond of her books or writing style, nor are my students. Maybe she does better with younger readers. This will win the Newbery, but I'm not buying it. The cover design even leaves room for the medal.
Miller, Sarah. The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Trial of the Century
Published 2016 by Schwartz & Wade
Like this author, and enjoy interesting literary nonfiction, but this was on the long side, and I don't think children would read it, even with the spectacular murder involved. It's a fantastic book on the subject, but at almost 300 pages, I don't think I'll buy it.
Fun fact: it's been over 40 years since Elizabeth Montgomery did a made for tv movie on this topic, and over twenty since that lovely actress passed away at much too young an age.
"Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.
In linear narrative, Miller takes readers along as she investigates a brutal crime: the August 4, 1892, murders of wealthy and prominent Andrew and Abby Borden. The accused? Mild-mannered and highly respected Lizzie Borden, daughter of Andrew and stepdaughter of Abby. Most of what is known about Lizzie’s arrest and subsequent trial (and acquittal) comes from sensationalized newspaper reports; as Miller sorts fact from fiction, and as a legal battle gets under way, a portrait of a woman and a town emerges.
With inserts featuring period photos and newspaper clippings."