Wednesday, November 30, 2016

When Friendship Followed Me Home

26813380Griffin, Paul. When Friendship Followed Me Home
June 9th 2016 by Penguin Random House
Nominated for the Cybils Award by Jennifer Donovan

Ben Coffin hasn't has an easy life. His parents were both killed, and he spent his first ten years in a group home, until he was adopted by his mom, Tess. They have a cozy life on Coney Island. Ben has his friend Chucky, favorite librarian Mrs. Lorentz, and her daughter, Halley. Soon, he also has a dog who (after much travail) he calls Flip. When an unexpected occurrence lands him with his Aunt Jeannie and her alcoholic husband, things are rough, but training Flip to be a service dog distracts both him and Halley, who is undergoing chemotheraphy for cancer. Things go south at Jeannie's, too, and Ben spends a lot of time at Chucky's house. Eventually, he ends up living with the Lorentz's, where he enjoys hanging out with the father, who works as a magician. Halley doesn't improve, and Ben learns some difficult lessons about life. 

Strengths: This was generally a positive book, despite the various sad events. Ben doesn't dwell on the bad things in his life; he tries to embrace Tess's philosophy and keep moving forward. The book was well written, the characters were engaging, and this was a quick read.
Weaknesses: So much sadness. I just knew all of the bad things that were coming.
What I really think: I'm going to buy a copy. It's got a good cover, has enough funny moments at the beginning to hook readers, and will be good for the increasing numbers of children who are asking for sad books like Wonder. Yes, I am getting more and more of them. Sigh.

Just to prove that "the familiar, even if it is not ideal, if what we love best", I have an all consuming desire right now to read  Journey on a Runaway Train. The premise looks absolutely ridiculous. Really? A secret society to return artifacts to their rightful places? Why do we need that, exactly? Clearly, so the children can run about doing this with minimal adult supervision. 

And yet, I want to read this so badly! At least there is an E ARC of it available through Edelweiss!

Warner, Gertrude Chandler (creator). Journey on a Runaway Train.

February 1st 2017 by Albert Whitman & Company
From the publisher

"In this all-new very special mini-series (five books long), the Aldens have been recruited by a secret society to return lost artifacts and treasures to their rightful locations all around the world! After finding a painted turtle figurine, the Aldens are introduced to the Silverton family and Reddimus Society, a secret guild whose mission is to return lost artifacts and treasures to the sites they were taken from. The Aldens board a private train to New Mexico to return the turtle to its original home, and they encounter enemies of Reddimus along the way! The trip is a success but instead of returning home, there s a last-minute change in plans. The Boxcar Children must continue the mission for the society and deliver more things, all around the globe!"

9780807507254_boxcarchildrenjournalAnd look, there's even a Boxcar Children journal! Why do I want this?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle and The Inquisitor's Tale

29013236Kent, Gabrielle. The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle
October 25th 2016 by Scholastic 
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Alfie Blook and his father, a misguided inventor, are barely scraping by, and school is unpleasant as well. Shortly before his 12th birthday, Alfie gets a letter from the solicitor Caspian Bone, telling him he has inherited a castle! Alfie and his father prepare to move to Hexbridge, which is conveniently near family in the British countryside. Once there, Alfie is amazed at the castle, and his cousins Madeleine and Robin join him in investigating the premises as well as the secrets of Orin Hopcraft, the Druid who left the castle to Alfie. 

Hopcraft's secrets fill this book with interesting twists and turns which I don't want to reveal! Let's just say that there is a talking bear rug, a shapeshifter, and time travel. In time honored British fashion, there's also a decent amount of tea being brewed, a helpful butler who cooks delicious meals, and a canopy bed. 

There's a pleasant tension between Alfie's real life, which includes reigning in his single father, getting settled in his new community, and surviving at school, and the magical dilemmas. Alfie holds a very big secret, and the fate of magic in the world, as well as the castle, falls on his slim shoulders. While he has some help from Caspian and Orin, they are not always present, and more adept at giving him enigmatic clues than actual help. 

In the grand tradition of L.M. Boston's The Children of Green Knowe and Lawrence's Withern Rise series, Hexbridge Castle gives us a plucky hero, a fascinating mystery, and a venerable house packed with comforts as well as conspiracies. Readers who have enjoyed Stroud's The Last Siege, Pearce's Tom's Midnight Garden, or Bellair's The House with a Clock in Its Walls will enjoy this modern classic and be eager for a sequel.


Gidwitz, Adam. The Inquisitor's Tale
September 27th 2016 by Dutton Books for Young Readers
ARC from the publisher

In 1242 France, a group of various characters share their stories in an inn. The big news: three children have been wandering around with the ghost of a dog, trying to effect social change. They are a girl from the dog's family, Jeanne, who sees visions and has fits; William, a young monk whose father was a pilgrim and whose mother was Saracen; and Jacob, a Jewish boy whose village has been burned down. Together, they fight the injustices they see around them, although initially they were wary of each other, having been brought with social preconceptions. In Canterbury Tales style, their story is told from the point of view of various people (a nun, a jongleur, and the inquisitor, who collects all of their tales), and the finished copy of the book is to have illuminated pages. 

Strengths: Engaging enough, and the characters seem more historically accurate-- Jeanne isn't a spunky girl, the children don't automatically get along. The idea of a ghost dog venerated by villagers is interesting. 
Weaknesses: I have tons of medieval books that sit on the shelves gathering dust, including The Seeing Stone by Kevin Crossley-Holland, Karen Cushman's books, and Beckman's fabulous 1973 Crusade in Jeans. I've had a lot more students reading fantasy lately (to the point where I might have to break down and get the rest of Michael Scott's The Alchemyst series), so maybe there will be an uptick on traffic for books with the Adam of the Road vibe as well. 
What I really think: For $10.79 at Baker and Taylor, I'll buy a copy because it is sure to appear on a Battle of the Books list at some point. And it's shiny. I suspect Gidwitz is one of those authors who seems to appeal more to adults (like Betsy Bird, who think this is awesome) than to tweens. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

MMGM- Get Coding

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.

Sorry that I don't have a fiction book as well-- I'm struggling to find enough books to post! I've checked Edelweiss AND Netgalley, and still have read just about everything being published in December and January that I want to read. (Meaning all of the realistic fiction and about half of the speculative fiction.)

Anything that people have really liked that I've missed and should look for? 

28948548Young Rewired StateGet Coding!: Learn HTML, CSS & JavaScript to build a website, app & game
May 5th 2016 by Walker Books
ARC provided by publisher

Unlike many of the coding initiatives to get kids coding, this book plunges young computer experts right into creating a web site with HTML and goes further with Java Script and even building an app. The instructions are clear and precise, and the projects that are addressed are ones that beginning coders will definitely want to use. 

There is also a "mission" that fictional characters talk about in the text. Each chapter starts with a message (in 4 point font) about what Professor Bairstone and his colleague Dr. Ruby Day need to do. Scattered through the instructions are more tasks tangent to this mission that go along with whatever is being designed. The artwork for these characters is a bit goofy and appealing, and in the final version will be in full color. 

The information in Get Coding is also available on their web site, but the book would be useful to have at one's side while working on the computer if it's hard for you to toggle back and forth between screens. There's a lot of information, it's very useful, and it's formatted in a good way with fun pictures. 

I'm a little torn about this one. It's fantastic that it's giving children actual coding information instead of drag-and-drop websites. A couple of years ago, when our students participated in the Day of Coding, the organizer couldn't tell me what language they were using. WAAAAAY back in the day, I coded in Basic, one of the versions of C, HTML, and JavaScript. I designed the school website in HTML in about 2000. Even so, this book was a little bit of a challenge for me. I never did try to make an app. It was too daunting.

Really motivated students who have someone to help them or who have worked with code before will find this to be helpful and amusing. For my students, many of whom don't have any coding experience, I am looking for something much simpler and less dense. If this hadn't included the "mission", it would have been more useful for my school's needs, but also less amusing. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Mission to Moon Farm

28691905Rocha, K.E. Mission to Moon Farm (Secrets of Bearhaven #2)
August 30th 2016 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Spencer is still living in Bearhaven with the Weaver family of bears, trying to find out what has happened to his parents, who have not come back from a mission. When he overhears the bears talking about the fact that they don't really know what has happened but they don't think they should alarm him, Spencer runs off into the woods. He meets a girl, Kirby, who is trying to study the bears. Kate Weaver, his bear friend, thinks that Spencer is in danger and charges Kirby, but Spencer yells at Kate to shoo. Startled and hurt, Kate runs off, and gets kidnapped by the people who run Moon Farm, a cover for an illegal bear selling ring. With the help of Aldo, Spencer manages to find Kate, but the Moon Farm operation is extensive and evil. Will he be able to save her? And will he ever learn more about his parents?

Bearhaven is a well constructed world, with the Weavers' house being the warm and cozy center. There are lot so fun details about the kind of food the bears eat (salmon nuggets and some homemade peanut and seed butter for Spencer!) as well as flopping onto enormous couches. 

It's not all lazing about though, far from it! Moon Farm is a treacherous place, and other bears from the community have been lost to its evil devices. The cover of this book, with Spencer riding on the fierce Aldo, is indicative of the action in this title-- there's lots of running, close calls, and fighting. 

With its talking animals, Mission to Moon Farm will find fans from the Warriors crowd, but will also be enjoyed by connoisseurs of Northop's Amulet Keepers, Martin's The Ark Plan, and Rylander's Codename Conspiracy books. 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Cartoon Saturday-- Geronimo Stilton Fest

Yep. I'm pretty sure I can add to my resume "Geronimo Stilton Expert". At least, that's how it seems at Young Adult Books Central! I still have my readers who are enormous fans, and by reviewing them for YABC, I can meet demand without sacrificing book budget. I think I've gotten the different series figured out now. 

Stilton, Geronimo. The Wizard's Wand (Kingdom of Fantasy #9)
August 30th 2016 by Scholastic Paperbacks 
Copy Provided by Young Adult Books Central 

When Geronimo is worried about his stressful newspaper writing job, he travels in his dreams to the Kingdom of Fantasy. This time, he arrives to find that Queen Blossom is missing. When King Regal built the Crystal Castle, he had the help of the Book of Spells, Crystal Sphere, and Whispering Wand, and these artifacts could help rescue Blossom. However, Geronimo finds that they are missing as well, so along with his friends, tries to retrieve them in order to rescue the princess. 

For some reason, this series is often published in a paper over board hardcover, which is good news for libraries. The multiple full color illustrations make for a very lovely, if heavy, tome. Also a plus is the fact that these don't have the heavy chemical smell that other graphic novels have! 

The Kingdom of Fantasty series books tend to be longer and more complicated than the first series. There are more pictures, including maps and puzzles. New fantasy characters often get a two page spread describing them, and even objects in the story occasionally rate a break in the narrative to explain them. There are still the illustrations on every page, as well as the words in different colors and fonts, but these are a bit longer because of the additional information.

The story lines are also more complicated. While the Miceking series has simple plots where Geronimo must go and accomplish one thing, the fantasy plots often have two complimentary story lines as well as more characters. This makes the book a fun choice for more sophisticated readers who might like books like Harry Potter or Nimmo's Charlie Bone but who want a fun read with more pictures. 

29993757Stilton, Geronimo. Pull the Dragon's Tooth. 
November 29th 2016 by Scholastic Paperbacks 
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

The chief of the Micekings is bound and determined to make Geronimo a "true macho mouseking" and enlists the aid of Max Musclepaw, who has an inordinate number of Miceking helmets to his credit. They decide to sail with Olaf and go off on an adventure to take care of some dragons who are causing problems. The group (which includes the regular gang, including cousin Trap) jumps off cliffs, rides wild horses, and smashes lots of things while eating lots of stinky cheese. Of course, Geronimo saves the day, which gives him a chance to impress his crush, Thora. 

The Miceking series usually has one major adventure that Geronimo must undertake in order to impress his crush. Along the way, there are lots of misguided adventures that usually end with several of the crew getting into trouble and needing to be saved. There is a lot more food mentioned in this series, usually progressively grosser, like pots of gloog. 

I think the real appeal of this series is the array of creatures who chase our main characters around. Geronimo always comes close to earning his mouseking helmet-- this time, he loses out because he falls asleep and misses the ceremony, even though he earned the honor. 

Have readers who adore the Redwall cartoon series? This is the book for them!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Poetry Friday- No Fair! No Fair!

28016077Trillin, Calvin. No Fair! No Fair! And Other Jolly Poems of Childhood
Illustrated by Roz Chast
 September 27th 2016 by Orchard Books
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

This collection of poems brilliantly covers some of children's greatest concerns-- getting shots, dealing with a plethora of stuffed animals at bedtime, learning to tie shoes, and my favorite, "Who Plays What" which asks "But why is she always the sheriff, while I'm always playing her horse?" As the smallest child in my kindergarten, I was always forced to be the baby when the girls played house until I ran off to play pirates with the boys, who were so surprised that they let me boss them around!

Using a variety of poetic forms, and alternating between long narrative poems and shorter snippets of "Complaints", Trillin turns a deft hand to all of the things about childhood that are not jolly. I am very particular about rhyme and scansion of poetry, and I can't find fault with these verses, although purists will categorize this book as verse rather than poetry. Chast's illustrations compliment these poems perfectly and make this book one that will amuse middle grade readers as well as younger ones. 

No Fair! No Fair! deserves a place on the shelf next to Viorst's What Are You Glad About? What Are You Mad About?, Prelutsky's My Dog May Be a Genius and Hirsch's FEG: Ridiculous Stupid Poems for Intelligent Children.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Into the Lion's Den (The Devlin Quick Mysteries)

30128298Fairstein, Linda. Into the Lion's Den (The Devlin Quick Mysteries)
November 15th 2016 by Dial Book
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Dev, whose mother is the police commissioner in New York City, has never known her father, a journalist killed before she was born. She is lucky to have a supportive if quirky grandmother, and her mother has surrounded her with friends. These include an older sister figure, Natasha, who was coerced into coming to the US from Moldava and was saved from men who were brought to justice by Dev's mother; father figure Sam, a fellow policeman; brother figure Booker Dibler, who is African American; and exchange student Liza, who is from South America. When Dev and Liza are in the public library, they see a man steal a page from a valuable map book. Despite their evidence, which includes a fuzzy picture on a phone, Dev's mother is reluctant to devote police resources to their quest, so the girls investigate on their own. This is fairly easy, since they can run around the city by themselves, and Dev's grandmother puts her considerable influence behind them. No one even believes that the map was stolen, but the trio of preteens manages to pull together clues from the Internet and guest lists of lectures, and run the perpetrator to ground, solving map thefts all up and down the East coast. They are honored by the mayor with a key to the city. 
Strengths: There's an attempt to be multicultural, the scene where the bad guy catches Dev and Liza was decent, and this could be a good choice for readers who enjoy Blue Balliet or other clue oriented mysteries about art thefts.
Weaknesses: This read like a book from the 1960s-- the dialogue was very stilted and somehow overly sentimental. Dev is precocious and precious-- she rhapsodizes about her literary friends Pippi Longstocking, the Artful Dodger and Hercule Poirot. Dev and her friends are all fairly privileged, and the multicultural aspect seems forced. 

What I really think: I don't know that I will purchase this one, mainly because my students who want mysteries want kidnapping or murder stories, not ones about stolen maps. Fairstein is apparently the author of some adult titles-- sometimes people can make the leap (think Rick Riordan!), and sometimes it is less than successful. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

#WNDB Wednesday- The Black Lotus

28950002Fanning, Kieran. The Black Lotus
September 27th 2016 by Scholastic
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Ghost comes from the slums of Brazil, Cormac an orphanage in Ireland, and Kate is living on the streets in the Bronx. All have unusual powers, which leads them to be recruited by Makoto. He is a representative of the Black Lotus society, who have stolen the Moon Sword from Lord Goda. Goda has two other swords, but getting the third would give him even more power in a dystopian society ruled by the Japanese. The Black Lotus has an organization devoted to keeping the sword safe, and the latest threat is the overpowering of the US. The three children go to a school to join their number and train to become ninjas, which is a good thing. One of the teachers steals the sword, and the children must race across time and space to get the sword back. They must struggle with demons from their pasts, learn to get along, and, above all, be loyal to the Black Lotus organization in order to bring down Lord Goda and his Samurai Empire. 

This had an interesting premise-- the world has been taken over by Goda, who has continued to use the feudal overlord system and impose it on as much of the world as he can. This gives Brazil, Ireland, and the US and very different feel when they are described. I can't think of another ninja Dystopian time travel tale!

Of course, only the tweens can keep the world safe, but I did enjoy their background stories and their unusual powers. Ghost has that name because he can become invisible, Kate can talk to animals, and Cormac has super speed. Since they are all orphaned (Kate's family has been taken hostage), they bond in interesting ways. Ghost has a lot of problems, and is traumatized by the death of his brother. This explains why one of the villains is able to control his mind-- she talks to him in his brother's voice! 

While readers with an interest in Japanese culture who have read Stone's Five Ancestors series or Hoobler's The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn will enjoy The Black Lotus, it should also be popular with fans of Black's Urban Outlaw series, Bradley's Double Vision, Korman's Masterminds and other fantasy adventure series where the only things standing between the world and utter destruction is a group of plucky twelve year olds. 

My own reservations about this center solidly on the concerns raised by the #WNDB movement about cultural appropriation. Five years ago, no one would have cared, but today, someone is bound to mention the fact that an Irish author is writing about a Brazilian boy and an entire Japanese influenced culture. I've not seen anything, but I'm waiting. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Lost Property Office (Section 13 #1)

28954041Hannibal, James R. The Lost Property Office (Section 13 #1)
November 8th 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young 
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Jack, his sister Sadie, and his mother all arrive in London to look for his father, who often travels for business but has been in an accident and is missing. His mother is so distracted that she tells the two children to stay in the hotel while she goes out, which of course they do not do. Sadie thinks that she sees their father and takes off, with Jack in pursuit. They end up at a lost and found on the tube line, where they meet Mrs. Hudson and then are assigned to Gwen, a teen clerk Jack's age. She whisks them away before they can get forms filled out, and soon people are chasing them and weird things are happening. It turns out that Jack is the 13th Jack Buckles, and his father works for the Ministry of Trackers, who are involved in a battle with the Clockmaker. The Clockmaker wants to get the Ember, which started the great fire of London, and use it to set fire to the current city. Clearly, he must be stopped, and Jack and Gwen are the ones to do it. Eventually, the reconnect with Jack's mother, and learn a lot more about the Ministry and his parents' involvement in it. 

Strengths:This had wonderful descriptions of London, and a lot of interesting history. I didn't get a chance to go up the Monument during my last visit because of my broken foot, but now I want to know if there is actually something below it! I have a lot more fantasy readers, and this definitely kept me reading. 
Weaknesses: Evil encroaching, only the teen can save the world. It's 400 pages long AND it's the start of a series. I would love some stand alone fantasy books. I also was completely at sea when the author repeatedly described a "freckle bounce". What on earth? A smile? I thought perhaps it was a British colloquialism, but I think perhaps it is only this author, since an internet search brings up nothing. Strange. 
What I really think:  I'll buy it, but there will be a limited number of students who read it. On the bright side, it will stick around for a long time, and I enjoyed it enough that this makes me glad. (As long as no one loses book two ten years from now!)

28450974Crowl, M. Tara. Eden's Escape
September 6th 2016 by Disney-Hyperion
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

After Eden's Wish, the title character has been allowed to live outside the lamp while she is granting her 999 wishes. Xavier and Goldie allow her to live in New York City with the genie Pepper as her guardian. The two have a great time taking in the sights, but when Eden gets her first wish, things go wrong. She has been called by David Brightly, the head of an enormous tech firm, and he wants to experiment on her and the lamp to see if he can unlock the secret to endless wishes. Eden manages to escape, but finds herself in Paris without a way to get back to New York. On top of that, Brightly alerts the news that his adopted daughter has been kidnapped-- and flashes pictures of Eden all over the news. Luckily, Eden meets Melodie, a French girl who helps her survive in Paris and contact Pepper to come and get her. Meanwhile, the Electra decide that this is a good time to claim the lamo for their own, so Eden is fighting them as well. The Loyals help, and eventually Eden is able to salvage the situation and return to her wonderful new life on earth. 

This was even more fun than the first book, and the sights and sounds of both New York and Paris are greatly detailed. Even Delta's decrepit house with huge numbers of birds is amusing. Eden has the background knowledge about both cities from her genie training, as well as a good command of French, so she should be able to travel anywhere!

The characters are my favorite part of this. Eden is a typical middle grade student, but one with a lot more opportunities and powers. Pepper is an energetic and amusing guardian, and Melodie is a worthy companion who gives her unquestioning support to Eden's escapades. Even Tyler and Sasha make a brief appearance, with the romantic interest in Tyler remaining fairly strong. 

With a unique premise, evil tech villain, and lots of adventure, this is a great read for those who enjoy magical realism like Kessler's Emily Windsnap books, Mlynowski's Whatever After series, and the classic works of Edward Eager and Mary Norton. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

MMGM- Ghosts and Controversy

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.

Reviewing diverse books properly is so difficult these days that I hesitate to say anything. Ever. I am a white, middle class woman. I haven't known the difficulties of marginalized cultures. I REALLY don't like making people angry. (Unlike some people.)

Raina Telgemeier is hugely popular. Having read her newest book, Ghosts, I could argue that she is not appropriating another culture, and she certainly seems well-meaning. 

The Day of the Dead celebration has trickled into mainstream culture in ways that are not accurate, and Telgemeier uses elements of this celebration as a way for her characters to deal with the life threatening illness affecting their family. There have also been assertions that her handling of Cystic Fibrosis is not entirely accurate.

Was it wrong of her to use these cultural references? I would like to be able to offer more sensitively portrayed multicultural characters to my students no matter who is writing them, but we must also contend with the idea of #ourownvoices.

My own half baked novel is set in a largely white suburban community. My main character's best friend is biracial, because I've had lots of students who are, and it seemed a realistic addition to my story, and a chance to give my students an opportunity to see themselves in a story. My nieces are biracial, but do I have any right to put this character in my story? Can I only write about white characters? 

Everything I do professionally is ultimately so that I can get books to my students so that they can see themselves and the world in the best possible light. Do I "want cookies" for doing this? No. But it would be nice not to be attacked. 

Here are some points of disagreement about Ghosts:

GhostsTelgemeier, Raina. Ghosts
September 13th 2016 by GRAPHIX
Library copy

Cat's family moves to a Northern Californian coastal town because the atmosphere is supposed to be better for her younger sister Maya's lungs. Maya has cystic fibrosis, and is fearful about her future. She is interested in a ghost tour given by Carlos, a neighbor boy Cat's age with whom Maya is fascinated. He takes the two on a tour around town, and Cat starts to feel friendly toward him. After Maya becomes ill from catching a chill trying to visit the ghosts, Cat is angry. The book lapses into fantasy when the children attend a Day or the Dead celebration and converse with ghosts, but this helps Maya feel better about the afterlife. 
Strengths: Let's have Telgemeier illustrate all of the textbooks. Then the students wouldn't stop reading them. She's that popular. 
Weaknesses: There are a lot of books in the world. It is too bad that this one is controversial.
What I really think: I bought a copy for my library but might not replace it if it falls apart. 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Books for Younger Readers

28686898McDonald, Medan. Mrs. Moody in The Birthday Jinx
September 6th 2016 by Candlewick
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Judy's mother's birthday never ends well. This year, Judy is determined to make her mother's birthday a success. She instructs her father and brother, Stink, to make nice presents, but these go awry. She encourages her mother to plan a fun activity, but this get derailed when Stick needs a costume for a school play the next day. She even tells her father to make a carrot cake, but this ends up burning, and was made with parsnips to boot. Even though Mrs. Moody's successful celebration is limited to a short nap, she appreciates all of Judy's work, and is glad to celebrate her birthday with her family. 

Judy is always an appealing character, and the fact that her life isn't picture perfect puts her in league with Junie B. Jones and Amber Brown. It's encouraging to see that the sadness of recent middle grade books hasn't filtered down this far into the elementary emergent reader set-- while the cake may be burned, no one in Judy's family is dying or in major trouble. It's nice to see the family spending time working on school projects together, and sitting down to dinner together, even if the father's idea for carrot cake frosting involves avocado! 

It's hard to find books for beginning readers that are full of excitement and humor, but McDonald always manages to add both to her books about Judy and Stink. The full color illustrations by Madrid off many visual clues, as well as interest, to the text. Even though there is a series of these, the books don't need to be read in order, which is very helpful when trying to find books in a popular series at the library!

I can remember wanting to make my parents' birthdays special, and young readers who want to make birthday cakes and who have spent quality time with glue and Popsicle sticks will understand Judy's motivation for trying to make her mother's birthday memorable. 

26109092Potter, Giselle. This is My Dollhouse
May 10th 2016 by Schwartz & Wade
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

A young girl has a lot of fun constructing a dollhouse out of cardboard, and cobbling together the family and furnishings. When she goes to her friend Sophie's house, she tries to apply her principles of play to her friends all-new, matching plastic house, but Sophie is unwilling to be flexible with the family and doesn't want to add makeshift parts to the house. The girls abandon playing with the house and go outside instead. When Sophie comes to visit, the girl is embarrassed and tries to hide her house, but when Sophie discovers it, the two spend a delightful afternoon or innovation and discovery. In the end, the girls decides that her house is much more fun. 

This is a good introduction to building a dollhouse, and even comes with instructions on how to do so printed inside the dust jacket. The girl's ideas for additions like a Dixie cup elevator are inspired. Young readers will clamor for boxes of their own to start construction immediately. 

The illustrations are bright and well spaced, and have enough detail that readers will enjoy pointing out objects throughout the story, and using the pages as inspiration for their own houses. The girls' faces are a bit reminiscent of Eloise Wilkin illustrations, with the wide eyes and foreheads. I appreciated the fact that while pink was used, most of the backgrounds were blue or green. 

This is My Dollhouse would make an excellent addition to the library of a reader who has enjoyed Ann M. Martin's The Doll People or any of Rumer Godden's classic tales of dolls. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Cartoon Saturday- Comics Confidential

28588026 Marcus, Leonard S. (Editor). Comics Confidential: Thirteen Graphic Novelists Talk Story, Craft, and Life Outside the Box  
September 27th 2016 by Candlewick Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Marcus writes interesting books about the history of children's literature; one of my favorites is Golden Legacy, about the impact of Little Golden Books on society. Since Graphic Novels are so popular now, this book is either a great introduction to a lot of authors whom young readers may not know, or an interesting insight into the history of the graphic format and its increasing hold on the young adult market in the last several years. 

With interviews from Dave Roman, Mark Siegel, Siena Cherson Siegel, James Sturm, Sara Varon, Gene Luen Yang, Harry Bliss, Catia Chien, Geoffrey Hayes, Kazu Kibuishi, Hope Larson, Danica Novgorodoff, and Matt Phelan, Comics Confidential covers a wide range of contemporary artists who contribute to this medium today. There are some original comics produced especially for the book, and Marcus does a good job at asking authors a variety of different questions, and I appreciated that the artists cover a wide range of age groups. 

The things that I liked best was the bibliography at the back of the book lists all of the publications from these artists, many of which have won Eisner, Sendak, or other awards. It's a great place for readers who have read all of Babymouse and Bone to get other ideas for future reading. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

I Survived the Eruption of Mount St. Helens, 1980 (I Survived #14)

At the end of this book, Tarshis writes about how girls were very angry at her for not having a girl as the main character or on the cover of her books. This is a good point, but one that also ties in with the tag line of my blog (which people recently have begun to find offensive)-- "books for middle grade readers, especially boys."

It's not that boys won't read books with girls on the cover. It's just that they have learned, through experience, that books with girls on the cover often are lacking in action and adventure while being heavy on parents dying and introspection about one's place in the universe. Even Tarshis' own Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree is a "a tender story about what happens when a girl who has long stood in the social shadows gets a taste of what it's like to connect with kids her own age. (" Honestly, I don't have many GIRLS who want to read that kind of story!

But things blowing up? Absolutely. This is why the I Survived series is so popular. Keep writing these, Ms. Tarshis. I know you love Emma Jean, but I need far more books like this one. The boys will not even think about the girl on the cover-- put them on more!

28691943Tarshis, Lauren. I Survived the Eruption of Mount St. Helens, 1980 (I Survived #14)
August 30th 2016 by Scholastic Paperbacks
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Jess and her friends Eddie and Sam Rowan live near Loomis Lake in Washington State. They've hear stories about the "Skeleton Woman" who is roaming the woods, and want to find her. They are allowed to go up the mountain to a shack to spend the day looking, but when they are there, tremors shake the area and Jess loses her deceased father's camera. Family friend Dr. Morales explains that Mt. St. Helens is a dormant volcano, but it's possible that it might blow. But probably not soon, even though it is letting out "volcano burps". When Jess goes back to retrieve the camera, of course, the mountain erupts, and she and her friends struggle to survive. Jess and her mother end up moving to Seattle, but she does find out that the Skeleton Woman story was created to scare off loggers; of course, not there are no more trees to take down!
Strengths:This was a good adventure, and the reasons for the children to be out in the woods on their own when the volcano erupted was realistic. The story of the Skeleton Woman added added a little bit of interest. 
Weaknesses: I could have done without the deceased father. Wouldn't Jess have been just as motivated to go get the camera if he had been alive?
What I really think: Definitely will buy, glad about the girl on the cover, but HER PANTS ARE TOTALLY WRONG. Her shoes... give me pause. Her hair should probably have been short. THe hoodie is totally on-- my best friend Lori wore one just like it every day of 9th grade. This is a great picture below. Look at the straight leg jeans, "school shoes" (leather, probably brown), and the zip front hoodies. This is what 1980 looked like. I was there!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Blog Tour- The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones

I have to admit that the first time I looked at this title, I wasn't thrilled. "Very different from this author's other titles. Very strong Southern dialect used by main character, and the book starts out with an elderly resident of a nursing home dancing naked. I normally adore this author's work but will pass on this title."

When I was approached to be part of the blog tour, I read more of the book, and have to say that I really liked it. I have an ENORMOUS aversion to southern dialect, which I think made me put down the book the first time. Enormous. It's wrong, I know.

I'm always pushing kids to read outside their comfort zones because they might find a book they really like. This is an excellent case in point. Definitely take a look, and push through the first couple of chapters!

28814927Van Draanen, Wendelin. The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones
October 25th 2016 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
E ARC from

Lincoln and his mother have left their home in another city to flee the mother's abusive boyfriend and moved near Lincoln's aunt. They have a tiny, run down apartment, and Lincoln's mother is an aide at a nursing home. Because she doesn't want to leave him alone, Lincoln walks to the home after school each day to do his homework and occasionally visit with the residents. He is having difficulties at school, where the other students make fun of his Southern accent, and Kandi Kane (yes, her real name-- don't give her a hard time!) seems to be picking on him. At first, Lincoln doesn't like going to the home because he thinks the oldies, especially the ones in the extensive memory unit, are just weird. He gets to know some of them a bit more, and starts to appreciate their individuality. He and his mother also try to befriend an elderly neighbor who needs help but doesn't want to accept it. Lincoln is happy that he and his mother are safe and able to go to school and work and have enough to eat, and eventually makes his peace with the other children at school. 
Strengths:Van Draanen's writing is always intriguing and well crafted, and I very much appreciated that while there were lots of things in Lincoln's life that weren't perfect, the general tone of the book was upbeat. I'm a huge fan of making the best of a bad situation, whether in books or in real life. The scenes in the nursing home were realistic and touching without being maudlin. Lincoln's interactions with his classmates were also spot on. Very nice balance. Lincoln and his mother were great characters, as was Mrs. Graves, their feisty yet ailing neighbor.
Weaknesses: In a reversal of my usual complaint, I wish that this book were about 20 pages LONGER so that a couple of questions were answered. What's with Kandi's manicures? Why is Isaac having so many troubles with classmates? I really wanted to know a lot more about Mrs. Graves. Keeping a middle grade novel under 200 pages is always a good call, however. 
What I really think: I wasn't going to buy this, but now I am. The cover isn't great, but with some hand selling, I think it will do well. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


28620390Polonsky, Ami. Threads. 
November 1st 2016 by Disney-Hyperion
ARC from Young Adult Books Central

Clara and her parents are still trying to cope with the death of sister and daughter, Lola, from leukemia. Clara and Lola were very close in age, and Lola was adopted from China. Clara finds it hard to connect with friends and get back to her daily routine, but while on a disastrous trip to the mall, finds a note in a purse. It, along with a picture of a family, is from Yuming, a girl who has been kidnapped and force to work in a purse factory in China. Clara's parents help her turn the information over to the Chinese consulate, but Clara becomes obsessed with traveling to China with the idea of locating the factory and bringing Yuming home with her. Her parents had been planning a trip to China to take some of Lola's ashes as a way to help with closure. Even though it is a financial hardship, the family takes off with a few day's notice, and soon Clara is putting herself in danger to try to find Lola. Alternating chapters deal with Yuming's harrowing experiences from her perspective, which include escaping from the factory with a couple of other children.

The ending of this is realistic rather than happily coincidental, and the travel scenes at the Great Wall of China and in Beijing, as well as the attractive cover, give this book extra appeal. 

Like Brian's Lucky T, this book is a little far fetched but rather interesting. Yuming's plight is fascinating-- a girl from a poor but hardworking family is kidnapped from a local park and kept locked up in a factory to make purses. This is certainly an important story that needs to be brought to the attention of young readers in the U.S., and this book, like Schroeder's Saraswati's Way or D'Adamo's Iqbal, is a good way to do this, since it contrasts Clara's life with that of Yuming's. 

This also is on trend for the level of sadness found in middle grade literature. As in Shang's What Home Looks Like Now or Appelt's Maybe a Fox, Clara is struggling with her sister's death and working out her own way to move forward. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Max Helsing and the Beast of Bone Creek

29093274Jobling, Curtis. Max Helsing and the Beast of Bone Creek
November 8th 2016 by Viking Books for Young Readers 
EARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Max is glad to have a little vacation from monster hunting, and is glad to go away from Boston to the White Mountains with a school trip. Sure, he gets stuck in a smelly garden shed with the principal, but he's ready to relax. Unfortunately, two campers go missing almost right away, and all signs point to a sasquatch on the loose. In between dealing with Boyle, the school bully, and Archer, a foppish, British monster hunter, Max tries to figure out what creature is responsible for the disappearances as well as the murder of a reporter. After an encounter with a brownie, Max doesn't think the sasquatch is responsible, but in his investigations, he comes in contact with a lot of other monsters, which need to be dealt with. In the end, the culprit turns out to be a very vicious satyr who has a surprising disguise, and Max finds out that he is being targeted by forces of evil. 

Max is good natured about the difficulties of his work, and managed to deal well with a quirky guardian, smelly hellhound pet, and encounters with bile spewing monsters as well as leeches. His sidekicks, from neighbor Wing to classmate Syd, are all helpful and understanding of his plight, as well as handy at helping to deal with a variety of monsters, which have helpful descriptions from Max's family handbook. 

There aren't a lot of monster stories, and it's a topic that appeals to middle grade readers, so add the action-packed, gore soaked Max Helsing series to your list of monster favorites such as Lorey's Nightmare Academy, Hale's The Cure of the Were-Hyena and Lubar's Monsterrific Tales. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

A Blind Guide to Normal

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.

28695491Vrabel, Beth. A Blind Guide to Normal.
October 11th 2016 by Sky Pony Press
Public library copy

Ryder and his mother move in with his paternal grandfather in the D.C. area when his father needs to spend time studying wildlife out west and his mother needs to work in the area. For Ryder, the change involves not only living in his smart aleck grandfather's 1970s shag infested house, but attending a public school instead of a private one. This is difficult because Ryder lost an eye to cancer and has the challenges associated with reduced vision. It doesn't help that Ryder manages to make a really friendly, popular kid, Max, angry on the first day. Max is good friends with Ryder's neighbor, Jocelyn, who tries to help Ryder out. Ryder's mother is buys, and his grandfather is just annoying. He misses his father, as well as his friend Alice (who was the main character in A Blind Guide to Stinkville). Ryder takes up martial arts, learns things about his grandfather, and manages to settle in to life at his new school. 
Strengths: I like that this can be read independently of A Blind Guide to Stinkville, and the insights into what it would be like to have survived childhood cancer and to maneuver through the world with impaired vision are interesting and valuable. The tone of this is hopeful despite all of the sadness. There are also some funny moments. Ryder is a sympathetic character, and I enjoyed his grandfather, too-- signing Ryder up for Quilting was an inspired, if slightly evil, move. 

Mr. Buxton also really liked this one, and donated his copy to our school library!

Weaknesses: Could have done without so much information about Ryder's grandfather's grief over his wife's death when Ryder's father was born, and also Jocelyn and Max's grief and guilt over the death of her brother. Without that, the book would have been absolutely fantastic.
What I really think: Will buy a copy even though the first book doesn't circulate much. The author's note about why she wrote these is touching, her research is good, and these books fill a gap in middle grade literature.