Saturday, December 31, 2016

Cartoon Saturday- MORE Geronimo Stilton

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Stilton, Geronimo. Thea Stilton and the Madagascar Madness.
November 29th 2016 by Scholastic Paperbacks
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Geronimo's sister, Thea, is a teacher at Mouseford Academy, where she has a following of students who call themselves the Thea Sisters. These five girls get to go on fabulous adventures, and the latest one is sponsored by the Green Mice Environmental Organization. They get to go to a survival camp in Madagascar to learn about the indigenous species of animals. It's not the Hilton, so some of the girls don't like roughing it. They're not there long before they have to deal with another group that is uncooperative and mean, as well as suspicious characters who show up at what is supposed to be a closed site! Using their detective skills, the Thea Sisters are able to stop poachers as well as learning about rain forest species. 

The Thea Stilton books tend to be the most sophisticated branch of this franchise. Not only are there six very distinct characters, the story lines involve complicated mysteries. There are even sidebars with a magnifying glass to help identify the clues so that readers can make sure they are following along. 

The best part for me was the inclusion of information about Madagascar and some of the exotic animals that are found only on that island. I wish there were more about environmental concerns in books for young readers. 

While elementary school students will be able to make their way through these titles, I can also see them being appealing to fans of Petrucha's Nancy Drew graphic novels, and high school students who love manga and who will read these to younger siblings just for the chance of hanging out with Collette, Nicky, Paulina, Violet, Pamela, and their teacher, Thea Stilton. 

29241353Stilton, Geronimo. Magical Mission (Geronimo Stilton #64)
October 11th 2016 by Scholastic Paperbacks
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

When the statues of lions surrounding Nelson's Column in London's Trafalgar Square start roaring at passersby, Geronimo is contacted by secret agent 00K to travel to London to solve the mystery. He is glad to, because an old professor of his, Reginald Ratting, is giving a talk at the National Gallery, and Geronimo doesn't want him to be interrupted by the lions. Cousin Trap accompanies Geronimo, ostensibly to participate in a magic competition. While Trap doesn't do so well, and Geronimo has to come to his aid, the mystery of the roaring lions is solved so easily by our intrepid friend that we have to wonder if Scotland Yard was hanging out posh places having fancy cheese instead of investigating. 

I will read just about any book set in London, since it is my favorite place in the world. I could sit for hours in Trafalgar Square, just soaking up the atmosphere and making occasional forays into the Waterstones bookstore there! Magical Mission gives a brief but thorough introduction to this fabumouse city for young readers, complete with a description of a full English breakfast. I can almost taste the fried bread, mushrooms and tomato!

Geronimo frequently takes breaks from his journalism career to be a secret agent, but has apparently not completed the training, because he always runs into problems. Perhaps he should give up that gig and take on magic as a full time career-- he did much better at that than Trap did! Usually, this original series manages to intertwine two plots, and usually manages to involve Geronimo enjoying at least one sumptuous repast. 

Reluctant readers or elementary students are usually the ones to pick these books up, and it's great when the books offer them a small glimpse of life in another country. My students are very much looking forward to the next volume of this, The Bollywood Burglary, and I'm interested to see how well Geronimo does in India!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Guy Friday: Game On!: Video Game History from Pong and Pac-Man to Mario, Minecraft, and More

Cover image for Game On!Hansen, Dustin. Game On!: Video Game History from Pong and Pac-Man to Mario, Minecraft, and More
November 22nd 2016 by Feiwel & Friends
Library Copy 

In a fun, conversational tone, Hansen discusses the major video games that shaped the industry and lead us to the present, where students daily rot their brain on their cell phones. From Pong to League of Legends, the development, history, public acceptance and every detail of each game anyone could ever want to know are discussed at great length, accompanied by informative sidebars about what else was going on in the world and with technology. Pictures and screen shots show the evolution as well, and top ten lists (villains, cheat codes, etc.) are scattered throughout.

This was a truly amazing book. It's shelved in the adult section of my local library, and I can understand why. It's a great resource for National History Day, and a book that truly devoted gamers will love, but it seems to be a firmly middle grade book to me. High schoolers would probably pick it up, but the tone is rather avuncular, and clearly addressing gamers who did not get Pong under the Christmas tree in 1975. (My brother played many of the games mentioned, although the only game I ever liked was Block Buster. Which I still kind of miss, to be honest!)

The format of this is quite nice, and I liked how the games were introduced by year. I did feel that there should have been some mention of Tamagotchis and RuneScape, because those were such a huge part of my own children's video experience, but they are not "serious" games. I had never heard of Zork, even though I would have been in high school when it was popular, and would have at least hung around people who might have been inclined to play it. 

Wow. Between the history of running shoes, and the history of video games, I feel about a thousand years old. In about 1979, we got a Tandy computer to hook up to our television. I spent about two weeks programming in two lines of music for it to play back, then decided I hated computers until about 1991, when I discovered the "killer app" of a spread sheet that would alphabetize a vocabulary list in English, and then realphabetize it according to the Latin in two seconds, as opposed to the days it would have taken to type it manually!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The End (The Enemy #7)

20550280Higson, Charlie. The End (The Enemy #7)
June 7th 2016 by Disney-Hyperion 
Library copy

In the wake of The Hunted (and the links to the other FIVE books are listed with this sixth), most of the many children in this series are back, in their various locations, trying to save the world. This isn't easy, and it is certainly very, very gross, since there are zombified adults wandering the streets and great festering pits of them seemingly everywhere. They get hacked to pieces frequently and spatter their hackers with immense gore. 

I was very interested in the older scientists in book six, but they don't make an appearance here. They must have all died. Drat. That was the most interesting thing to me. In this book, we do have Wormwood ranting about how he brought the virus from the jungle, and it was so very old, and that maybe there could be a cure that the Twisted Kids could help find. At some point, though, that all went by the wayside and the children who were fighting just decided they would blow up or kill all of the adults in London. 

But isn't this a worldwide epidemic? Could they possibly get ALL of the adults? And even if they did, aren't there more all over the world? Wouldn't the virus eventually get them? Another reviewer mentioned that an epilogue would have been nice, to see what the world was like a couple of years out. 

Definitely a worthy purchase, and this installment had some nice touches. An attempt at a romance, a great map of London and good use of landmarks, realistically portrayed children who are struggling, actual character development. 

Glad I purchased, and students will be clamoring for the copy. My biggest issue is that my THREE copies of the first book are in absolute tatters AND IT'S OUT OF PRINT. ARGH!!! On Half.com the copies are expensive unless they are ex-library copies, and I know what mine look like. While I would rather books wear out than rust out, I'd like to be able to offer decent copies of the first book when the last comes out!

And, tangentially, the Imperial War Museum in London. Sigh. Picky Reader and I spent a delightful morning there, taking turns watching our backpacks while sitting on the bench at the far right of the picture. It was our last stop before heading to the airport.



Image result for imperial war museum london


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

#WNDB Wednesday- Midnight Without a Moon

28114583Jackson, Linda Williams. Midnight Without a Moon
January 3rd 2017 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

When Rose's mother goes north with her new husband and children, she leaves Rose and her brother Fred with their grandmother, Ma Pearl. Also in the household is Queen, a light skinned cousin who doesn't have to work as hard as Rose does. Rose does well in school, and is determined to leave Mississippi for Chicago, where whites and Negroes go to school together. Ma Pearl, however, has other plans. She is not happy that the NAACP is trying to get the black community to register to vote, because she feels it will only cause trouble and get people killed. There are varying opinions about this, including that of an aunt who lives in the north and occasionally visits, the preacher's son (who is a friend of Rose's), and Rose's grandfather, Papa. There are other concerns in Rose's life besides civil rights, and she must contend with her Aunt Ruthie, whose husband is abusive, as well as Queen, who sneaks out at night and gets herself into trouble. When a boy from the north who is visiting relatives in a nearby town is taken from the house by white men and found dead in a river, tensions escalate. Rose must figure out her place in the world, as well as how she can be in charge of her own destiny.
Strengths: This is one of the better Civil Rights books I've read, because it addresses the lives of ordinary people and discusses the different opinions that people had. It also has lots of good details about ordinary life, such as how Rose is expected to drop out of school after 7th grade and work in the fields and house. It's also good at bringing up the northern migration-- I can't think that I've read anything about that (except Woods' The Red Rose Box, and the mother in that goes to California). The fact that the boy who was murdered was Emmet Till will be interesting to readers who have studied his case. 
Weaknesses: Sensitive readers should know that this uses the language of the era, so variations of nigger and nigga are used. This was a long book with lots of information, so I could have done without the stories about the cousin getting pregnant and the aunt who was abused. Even though they were interesting, they diluted the more important story.
What I really think: Definitely will purchase, since the historical details were great and the topic was important, but it might be difficult to get students to read it. I know our high school reads The Help, and this would be a MUCH better choice for that project!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Five Days of Famous

29440443Noel, Alyson. Five Days of Famous
December 13th 2016 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Copy Provided by Young Adult Books Central

Nick Dashaway is a self-described brainiac who hangs out with his uber-geeky friends at school and fails to successfully navigate middle school, especially when it comes to his biggest crush, Tinsely. With winter break looming, he has nothing to look forward to except hanging out at the family hardware store and Christmas tree lot, dealing with his sister Holly, and wishing that he were famous like singer Josh Frost, who went to his school. When his friend Plum gives him an early birthday present and cupcake (his birthday is on Christmas and often gets overlooked), he is shocked when the bus he catches to get home drops him off in an entirely different life in a palm tree festooned area. All of his friends and family are there, but are different. His parents have little to do with his life, which is now managed by Ben Ezer, Josh Frost's manager. Holly is nice to him, Plum is completely different, and Tinsely is a singer who is going to record a song with him. Nick must work on his Christmas themed reality show, but runs afoul of people on social media and just can't figure out why he got thrust into another life. Will he be able to figure it out and return to his regularly scheduled life?

There are a lot of students who ask for books about Christmas, and there are very few out there. There have been a few recently-- Korman's Jingle (in the Swindle series), Stine's Young Scrooge, Fry's The Naughty List and two titles by Benedis-Grab, Clementine for Christmas and The Angel Tree. It's even harder to find Christmas themed books with boys as the main character, so Nick's story is one that will find eager readers. 

Despite the lack of holiday festooning on the cover, this has a lot of holiday details. The names of the characters are all vaguely holiday themed-- the town is Greetree, there's a Turtledove family, and even the dog is named Dasher. Nick's reality television show is a fun touch and involves him decorating Christmas cookies with his sister. 

Middle grade readers have a fascination with celebrity and often envision themselves as famous singers or television actors, so Nick's wish for a more exciting life is one that will resonate. Of course, for most readers this is not a possible goal, so Nick does eventually figure out that wile his life in Greentree isn't perfect, he prefers it. 

Noel writes a lot of teen novels, and the transition from those can be very difficult. This book was clearly written for a middle grade audience, but had more hallmarks of young adult fiction-- it was slow paced and generally angst-ridden. There was a lot of referencing Nick's geeky status that seemed odd and uncharacteristic of the age group. A good first try-- for some odd reason, our students still study A Christmas Carol every year-- but I am not sure that I will purchase. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

MMGM- The Japanese in WWII



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.




29056319Stelson, Caren. Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor's Story.
October 1st 2016 by Carolrhoda Books
Library Copy

Sachiko Yasui was six years old when the US dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Miraculously, she survived with minimal immediate wounds, as did her parents, three siblings, and an uncle. While they struggled with housing, food and general survival for quite some time, the real problem was the after effects of the radiation. Her brothers and uncle succumbed quickly, and caner eventually took her sister and father as well. At the time of publication, however, Sachiko was still alice. She chose not to speak about her experiences until after the death of her mother in 1992. 

This book tells her story in an informative and yet gripping way. The historical background of the war is explained in understandable ways and adds depth to the narrative. Period photos, ads, and other documents are all helpful in explaining the larger picture, and the bibliography will help students find other books on the topic. 

This would be an excellent companion book to Kathleen Burkinshaw's The Last Cherry Blossom, and is best read after that book, since it picks up near the end of that fictional title. At 112 pages, it is a perfect length, and I'm excited to have this title to offer to students who either are interested in this time period OR are being "forces" to read nonfiction for class. Both types of students will be pleased with this. 


28954088Hughes, Dean. Four-Four-Two
November 8th 2016 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Library copy

Yuki lives on a farm in California, and right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, things get bad. His father is taken away, and the family ends up at an internment after having to sell the farm. Despite this, Yuki andhis friend Shig both feel that they should join the army, and end up training in the South and being deployed to Italy with the 442nd "Go For Broke" regiment. This group saw horrendous action and was involved in a lot of fighting. Yuki sees many of his comrades fall on the field of battle, and sees others gravely injured. He suffers wounds himself, and also battles crippling pain in his feet due to having to remain in wet footwear in the cold. Eventually, a bullet and a collapsed lung send him home, where he faces prejudice in a Colorado barber shop and returns to his family in the internment camp. 

Strengths: Hughes has a great balance in his books about war, and his books are hugely popular in my library. There is a short introduction about Yuki's circumstances, he gets sent quickly to the front, he sees a lot of action, and Hughes does not glorify the fighting at all. He has a brilliant way of giving the boys the descriptions of fighting that they want while making no attempts to hide how horrible and brutal war is. This makes both me and my WWII obsessed readers happy. 

This is also clearly well researched, and I appreciated the notes. Starting with a description of the 442nd was a great hook (readers of these books usually love statistics, and can quote them readily), and giving more information at the end tied everything together well. 

The pacing of this worked for me, with the exception of the odd jump between the first and second chapters. It took me a couple of pages to realize that Yuki and his family were at the camp. While others have commented that there were a lot of deaths and little time to process them, that seemed appropriate to the story. At one point, Shig was telling Yuki about some downed comrades, and Yui replies that if they're dead, he just doesn't want to hear about them. I don't know how else soldiers would really be able to deal with the carnage they must witness. It is also important to remember that there was a completely different mind set during WWII about patriotism and the enemy. 

Weaknesses: The few reviews of this that I saw on Goodreads were not very positive, and some mentioned being unable to finish the book because of the writing. I can't agree with this. It is certainly no-frills writing, but this will appeal to the target demographic who don't want to wade through a lot of description and philosophical musing. 

I am not of Japanese descent, so I can't speak to the accuracy of the depiction, but it seems respectful and likely. Yuki is American, loves his family, wants to do what other American men are doing, but also is unhappy about how he is being treated. 

What I really think: Was this a book that I wanted to read? No. Was it quite as good as Salisbury's Hunt for the Bamboo Rat? No. Was it a book that every middle school library needs to purchase? Absolutely! My copies of Soldier Boys and Search and Destroy are ALWAYS checked out. I think this is a very solid introduction to an interesting and little known facet of World War II.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas Books!


28691945
Stilton, Geronimo. Away in a Star Sled (Geronimo Stilton Spacemice #8)
August 30th 2016 by Scholastic Paperbacks 
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Every year on the Night of the Dancing Stars, the Elfix bring toys to all of the creatures in the universe. When they are imperiled and send out a help message that is intercepted by Geronimo Stiltonix and the MouseStar1, the crew rushes to save this important holiday. Twinklix has been attacked by Nebulos, who gloom and doom has clouded their own planet and obscured them from the view of the Elfix, resulting in a decided lack of gifts. Angered by this, they take over the Elfix production and claim all of the presents for their own. Geronimo is able to make them see reason, and once their moods improve, their entire demeanor changes and they are able to let the Elfix return to making the Night of the Dancing Stars merry for everyone. 

This is an interesting twist on a holiday story. Clearly, this is the Christmas of Stiltonix's world, and Christmix just didn't have the right ring to it. There are decorated trees, candy canes, and all of the traditional trappings while calling this by a different name. 

The SpaceMice stories are the simplest ones-- they have a mission, they head out on it, solve all of the problems, and return in time for feasts and the approbation of Grandfather William, the space captain and the admiration of Sally, Geronimo's crush in this incarnation. 

Since any gift giving holiday is popular with young readers, no matter what the holiday is, I can see this being a great addition to titles like Thaler's The Christmas Party from the Black Lagoon, McDonald's Holly Jolliday, or other Christmas versions of favorite series. 

25261908Oliver: The Cat Who Saved Christmas
October 18th 2016 by Thomas Dunne Books 
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Oliver loses his home when the pub where he lives with his owner George burns down. During the fire, Oliver runs away, and ends up being taken in from the November chill by young Dan, who lives a struggling existence with Nicky. The two work in London but live in the small village where the costs are lower, but still can barely put food on the table. Caring for Oliver would be a stretch, but neighbor Sarah and her little girls step in to help feed the animal while George is staying with his sister in London. The fire has not only taken out the pub, but a good portion of the village hall where many activities occur. The biggest problem is the day nursery, which will have to close. Nicky, who is newly pregnant, works in a nursery but the salary in the village would be too small. Oliver manages to manipulate the lives of those around him in order to be "the cat who saved Christmas", and manages to not only improve Nicky and Dan's lives, but those of two grouchy pensioners, a sick girl, and most of the village, just in time for the holidays. 

Fans of James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small or similar animal memoirs will find this to be a pleasant and diverting holiday read. There are not great surprises in what Oliver manages to do, but that's part of the charm of the book. Everyone's life gets better in time for Christmas instead of being besieged by trauma. 

This is a good story for all ages, although it does address Nicky's impending unplanned and unwed motherhood as well as dancing around the amorous career of local cat Tabby, who has managed to get another cat, Suki, pregnant. There's nothing inappropriate discussed, but it does come up. 

Oliver: The Cat Who Saved Christmas is an charming introduction to classic British village tales and would make a great gift for fans of this genre as well as people who prefer cats. 

My daughter is getting this for a present. She just got a cat. I don't know where I went wrong!



29241329
Korman, Gordon. Jingle (Swindle #8)
September 27th 2016 by Scholastic Press
Library copy

From Goodreads.com:
"Griffin Bing and his friends are NOT happy. Instead of going away for winter break, they've been signed up to volunteer at a local Christmas extravaganza . . . as elves.

It's not easy being an elf. Not when Santa is bad news and Rudolph is being played by a Doberman who makes up his own rules wherever he goes.

But being an elf is nothing compared to being blamed when a prized Christmas possession -- worth over ten million dollars -- is stolen right from under your nose.

It's time for these elves to get off the shelf and track down a Christmas thief!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Cartoon Saturday- Dog Man Unleashed

31825554Pilkey, Dav. Dog Man Unleashed. 
December 27th 2016 by Graphix
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Dog Man is sent to the pet store to get a fish for the chief's birthday, but the pet store owners are so annoyed at his antics that they give him an evil fish. This fish eventually gets some of the brain boosting pills that the chief is also given. Meanwhile, Petey managed to escape and cause havoc, leaving Dog Man with a battle to be fought on two fronts. Will he be able to use his skills to save the world?
Strengths: Evil fish, a protagonist who licks people's faces, flip-o-rama-- what could be better. Students like that these are in comic book format rather than the text with pictures arrangement of Captain Underpants. 
Weaknesses: These fall apart quickly, especially with the extensive use they get. When I was reading this, I was struck that people will probably be gravely offended by the picture of Dog Man sniffing a poodle's butt in the pet store. 
What I really think: For reasons I can't pinpoint, I don't like these as well as Captain Underpants. It is very clear that Pilkey can harness his inner child, though, and that is something more authors need to do. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Guy Friday- The Wolf's Boy

26252958Beckhorn, Susan Williams. The Wolf's Boy
June 7th 2016 by Disney-Hyperion
Copy received from the publisher
Nominated for the Cybils award

When Kai is born, his father abandons him to the wolves because he has a club foot. Instead of killing him, the mother wolf takes good care of him, and he is reclaimed by his own mother. Because of his disability, many things are forbidden for Kai, including hunting. When he finds a tiny wolf cub whose mother has been killed, Kai asks his parents if he can raise it. In time, Uff endears herself to the humans by not only amusing them, but keeping them same from other animals and helping with the hunt. When Kai's mistake causes his brother to be injured, he and Uff run away and fend well for themselves until Kai breaks his arm. Luckily, he is rescued by an "ice man" (a Cro-Magnon), who heals his arm and makes sure he has decent shelter and food before leaving. Kai decides to go back home after Uff has been badly injured. 
Strengths: There is little historical fiction set in this time period, and the story of one of the first boys with a dog has some charm. The details of how Kai and his family live are interesting, there is some good survival adventure, and Uff is endearing.
Weaknesses: It took a chapter or two to get into this, and the cover isn't all that appealing either. This might take some hand selling, but readers who like both dog books and survival books will enjoy this if they give it a chance.
What I really think: Glad to have a copy, and even more glad to have my own wolf cousin!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Impossible Clue (Alice Jones #1)

30254954Rubin, Sarah. The Impossible Clue
January 3rd 2017 by Chicken House 
Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Alice's father is a news reporter, and Alice herself is good at solving mysteries, so when famous scientist Dr. Learner goes missing, classmate Sammy Delgado approaches Alice to help. Sammy's father's company is working on an invisibility suit with Dr. Learner, and they want to know where he has gone. With the unlikely help of Kevin Jordan, Alice searches the professor's apartment, interviews his neighbors, and is given unprecedented access to Delgado industries. Along the way, the Jones' home is broken into, Alice and Kevin are kidnapped, and a huge conspiracy having to do with the evil Chronos corporation is figured out. Alice's father gets his scoop, her sister Della gets a part in the musical Annie, and all is good until another day. 
Strengths: Alice is fearless, brave AND a math whiz. Her family is supportive even though her mother is living in Italy. The mystery is a good one, and there is a fair amount of action and adventure. Readers who enjoyed Beil's Red Blazer Girls or Runholdt's Kari and Lucas mysteries will like this one. 
Weaknesses: Sadly, this is not the sort of mystery my patrons like. They want blood, gore, and murder, not kidnapped scientists. Will purchase if more of my students want somewhat less violent mysteries. 
What I really think: This has been reworked slightly and reset in the United States, somewhere near New York City. I'd be curious to see the original UK edition. This might account for the somewhat disconnected feeling I got from this. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Beautiful Lie

13578069Master, Irfan. A Beautiful Lie
September 1st 2012 by Albert Whitman & Company 
Library Copy

Bilal's mother passed away when he was small, and his father is dying of cancer in Gujarat, India in 1947. His brother is unreliable, so Bilal is doing the best he can to care for his book loving father while going to school. Things are plolitically very tense on the eve of the partioning of India, and Bilal wants to keep the fracturing of the country from his father during his final days. He has a complicated system where his friends keep watch over the house, and he manages to keep the news from his father. He does get caught up in it, since his brother believes that violence is okay, and Bilal gets caught in the middle of things on several occasions. With the help of the local printer, doctor, and his teacher, Bilal manages to make his way through his father's final journey and escape from violence in his town. 
Strengths: This was a really interesting book, well-written and compelling. It is also short and easy enough for middle school students to read. I have two students who came to my school from Gujarat last year, so I'm curious to see what they might think of this one.
Weaknesses/What I really think: I am sad that this is out of print because it is really interesting, but I'm not going to go to a lot of trouble to buy a copy for my library because I don't think it would be read much, anyway. A shame. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Fantasy Amnesia Tuesday

This fall was difficult for a number of reasons, and I found myself reading (don't laugh) a lot less than usual. Some of this might have been because I just didn't feel up to writing a really than good review-- you know, critical analysis, lists of readalikes, etc. Over Thanksgiving, I gave myself permission to write reviews that are better than my original ones, but not that fantastic. 

Reading books is easy. Thinking and writing critically about them takes more time, especially when the books are fantasy. So, here are a few things I read but didn't completely process. 


23296195Tesler, Monica. The Tundra Trials
December 13th 2016 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

This sequel to Bounders is quite nice. Space adventure has done well in my library, and I will certainly buy a copy. It will circulate nicely. It had a little too much drama and angst for me on top of the whole "tweens saving the world", and the scavenger hunt across different worlds was hard for me to process, making it a challenge to write a coherent review. 

From Goodreads:
"After a shocking secret was exposed during his first tour with EarthBound Academy, when he and his friends learned that Earth Force needed their help in a secret intergalactic war, Jasper is just about ready to get back into space and learn more about being an aeronaut, and a Bounder.

This time, Earth Force has brought them to the remote planet of Gulaga, where the cadets learn that they will be participating in the Tundra Trials: a special, team-based scavenger hunt that will have Jasper and his friends journeying across Gulaga’s frigid landscape to find enough cache boxes to win the competition.

But the Trials are the last thing on Jasper’s mind when he and Mira are chosen to take part in the next step of Earth Force’s plans, fusing with a new tech that will take their Bounder abilities to the next level. The worst part? Jasper is expected to keep the truth from his new friends.

When an Earth Force plan goes wrong, and suddenly they are under attack, Jasper, Mira, and the others are asked once again to do what they can to assist Earth Force in their goals. But with the events from the last tour fresh on his mind, and the new information he’s learned, Jasper doesn’t know that helping Earth Force is the best idea…or what will happen if he doesn’t."


30227914O'Hearn, Kate. The Runaway (Valkyrie #2)
January 10th 2017 by Aladdin 
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

O'Hearn's Pegasus series is really popular in my library, but it's never been one to resonate with me. Given that Riordan's new series is also Norse based, this should circulate well, but all I could think about was the Rainbow Bridge. Why was that in Barron's Atlantis books? Why was so much Norse mythology that I didn't know was Norse mythology in that series? And by then I was just lost. Will buy if students request the series. 

From Goodreads:

In the world of Asgard, living among Odin, Thor, and Loki are the Valkyries of legend. Norse goddesses, reapers of souls from human battlefields—they have the power to cause death with just one touch.

Freya is a Valkyrie—but she has not followed in the footsteps of the legends before her. She has been to the World of Man to befriend humans—and not to reap their souls.

Now she must return to the human realm on a new quest to track down the runaway Valkyrie of legend. There she will discover a dark secret that leads her to the Land of the Frost Giants where she must take on new enemies. But this time she has friends to rely on, and lots more to gain.

Monday, December 19, 2016

MGMM- Strong Inside



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.




30008718
Maraniss, Andrew. Strong Inside: Young Readers Edition
December 20th 2016 by Philomel Books
ARC provided by the publisher

Perry Wallace grew up in Nashville, Tennessee at a time when many things were changing in the south. He had a strong family that believed in education and good behavior, and grew up in a black section of town where he was shielded from some of the racial tensions of the time, although he was able to see glimpses of white culture that seemed appealing to him. He excelled academically and on the basketball court, so when the time came for him to go to college, he had a number of scholarship opportunities. At first, going to a school in the north seemed like a good idea, but when he had the chance to study at Vanderbilt, he saw the advantage of being a pioneer. What he did not foresee was that the worst discrimination was not necessarily the name calling, but the polite distance that was prevalent on the campus. There was certainly name calling when it came to his basketball career, and there were many times when he felt threatened and in danger-- times when his teammates and coaches didn't necessarily support or encourage him. With the companionship of very few other black players, Wallace did his best to do his best for his team and for himself.

This was a fascinating, very personal account of the effect that the civil rights movement had on one individual. It was also interesting to read about Wallace's teammate and friend, Godfrey Dillard, who was from the Detroit area and who had very different reactions to the treatment he received. While modern readers may be aware of the different protest styles of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Stokely Carmichael, it's all too easy to forget that private citizens also experienced a wide range of philosophies and emotions when it came to how their own personal rights were violated, and refreshing to see these diverse reactions portrayed. 

Wallace graduated from college in 1970. I started kindergarten that year, and never remember black classmates being considered remarkable in any way. Granted, I went to school in Ohio, and there are still many improvements in race relations that could be made, but this book made me realize how close my own school experiences were to this time period.

Framing history within the realm of sports is an excellent choice, and Strong Inside is a must purchase for any middle school or high school library. I foresee a lot of National History Day projects on the first black player to play college basketball in the Southern Conference, and I would love to see a similar book done about Harry Edwards!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Just One Thing

29155280Viau, N. Just One Thing
September 28th 2016 by Schiffer Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher
Nominated for the Cybils Award by the publisher

Anthony Pantaloni is in fifth grade, and very concerned that when he gets to middle school he will not have anything that sets him apart except for the horrible nickname "Antsy Pants", a nickname that the class bully has pinned to him. In an effort to set himself apart, Anthony tries swimming and several other activities, but he has to keep up with his homework as well. His teacher notices that he has trouble reading, and he ends up getting glasses. His father starts dating his cousin's drama teacher, who ends up being his substitute teacher. In the end, Anthony uses his love of doodling to draw the winning school mascot, and gets enough acclaim from his skills that he feels that middle school won't be a complete disaster. 
Strengths: This was generally upbeat, even though Anthony's mother had left the family and the cousin is living with him because both of her parents were deployed. I liked the fact that getting glasses was addressed, as well as a parent dating. It was also good to see a student involved in a variety of activities.
Weaknesses: This was more anecdotal rather than plot driven, and there's not much character development. 
What I really think: This has a few things to recommend it, and will be popular with readers who enjoy Wimpy Kid type books. 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Sweetest Sound

29280882Winston, Sherri. The Sweetest Sound
January 3rd 2017 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline 

Cadence Jolly has a very supportive father and community, which is important since her mother left to pursue a singing career and has not been in touch very often. Cadence also likes to sings, and does it well, but is wary of performing in public, unlike her friend who wants to be an internet sensation. When Cadence videotapes herself singing and uploads it, she thinks that only one person will see it, but the video goes viral. Not wanting to take credit, she allows her friend to claim to be the one in the video, but eventually the truth comes out. 
Strengths: I liked that Cadence had a good support network, but also found it interesting that she was tired of being singled out as being "the girl without the mother". It was also interesting to see a strong church family depicted. 
Weaknesses: My older students have little patience with a character who is so shy and unsure of herself. Even if the students are that way themselves, they want to read about characters who are bold and do a lot, and want a lot more action. 
What I really think: A good purchase for elementary schools, and okay for middle schools where there is a lot of interest in singing. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

Guy Friday- Hero

29938378Shotz, Jennifer Li. Hero. 
November 15th 2016 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Ben's father is a policeman, and when a dog on the force, Hero, is retired, he comes to live with Ben's family. Soon after, the two are out and they find a puppy who is very skittish and beaten. Ben brings the puppy home, and his parents reluctantly acquiesce to his residence in the house until his owners can be found. Ben finds it hard to keep up with the demands of pet ownership, school, and baseball, and lets down his best friend, Noah. The two are suspicious of new kid, Jack, and wonder if he has ties to the dog fighting ring from which they believe the puppy, Scout, has come. Eventually, Scout and Hero go missing, and Ben happens upon the dog fighting ring. The men involved are dangerous, but both Scout and Hero are loyal to Ben and good fighters, so they are soon brought to justice. 

Strengths: Great cover and length, which are both hugely important to middle grade readers! The story is suspenseful, and Ben's struggles and balancing his responsibilities are real. His family is all alive and supportive, and he has a good friend. 
Weaknesses: There's nothing terribly fresh here, but since my Jim Kjelgaard books are wearing out badly, this is a good addition to my collection of dog stories.
What I really think: This is not great literature, but it is a fast-paced, interesting read that boys who love dogs will adore. 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Monsterville: A Lissa Black Production

28695330Reida, Sarah Schauerte. Monsterville: A Lissa Black Production
September 20th 2016 by Sky Pony Press
Copy provided by Mr. Buxton!

Lissa is NOT happy when her parents move the family from New York City (where her school is going to be producing the play she wrote) to a small community where her great aunt has left them a house. She doesn't think that being able to roam around by herself is an improvement on being in the city, but when she finds a real, live monster in the woods, she at least has something to do. With the help of a neighbor, Adam, she tries to unravel the mystery of how Blue was turned into a monster, and why he is allowed to be above ground. She is concerned for her younger sister, Haylie, who has also met Blue, especially when she realizes that the Monsterville board game that her great aunt created may have a lot of basis in a scary reality. Can Lissa and Adam figure everything out before Halloween comes and the monsters become a real threat?
Strengths: Lissa's family was fantastic-- her parents were supportive, she loves her little sister, and the family deals with the move in a productive fashion. The relationship with Adam is also great-- they are truly equals, and there is a frisson of attraction that may be developed more in the next book. The world building with the monsters was done in a convincing fashion, and didn't take half the book to show up. Very solid middle grade novel. 
Weaknesses: I wished that the aunt had been alive-- it would have been fun if the family came to help her out and Lissa could have consulted her. Also, I would rather this had been a stand alone title. 
What I really think: I enjoyed this one more than I thought I would. This will be a great book to recommend to readers who want some magical realism. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

#WNDB Wednesday- Tagged Out

27788147Nash, Joyce. Tagged Out.
February 12th 2016 by Lorimer
Copy received from the publisher
Nominated for the Cybils award by the publisher

Nash "Gnash" Calvecchio's inner-city Toronto baseball team isn't doing very well. The players just can't seem to get along well enough to use their skills to win. When new kid, Jock, arrives from New Jersey, they have some hope that he will be able to help, but the fact that he is openly gay causes tension on the team and with other kids as well. One of the most important games of the season is against the well-to-do Parkhill Pirates, but when Gnash and Jock come to blows in the dugout, the team has to forfeit. The two come to an understanding, and Gnash defends Jock against idiots who give him a hard time, even though Jock is quite capable of defending himself. 
Strengths: I appreciated that this was not a "coming out" story. Jock was already out, and he seemed to have a good balance of being comfortable with his identity while still being annoyed at people who  are narrow minded about it. There is a great interchange between him and Gnash. Gnash asks him what it's like to be gay, and Jock asks him what it's like to not be gay. When Gnash replies that he's never really thought about it, he's just always liked girls, Jock replies that it's the same way for him, and compares it to liking onions or not. I also appreciated that this is completely middle grade appropriate-- no excessive alcohol usage or overly descriptive physical encounters. In fact, neither Jock and Gnash are dating anyone. 
Weaknesses:Could have used a little more baseball. 
What I really think: This was mediocre for a baseball book, but fantastic for its portrayal of a gay character. 

After I read this, I was pretty "meh" about it, since it is fairly light on the baseball. Then, I was talking to a couple of my library helpers about the new Rick Riordan book, and one girl chimed in "I was disappointed when that one character turned out to be, you know, gay." When I asked why, she replied "Well, it wasn't supposed to be that kind of book." Since I know her mother is an English teacher at the high school, I was surprised. We talked about the fact that it was still full of action and adventure, and there wasn't really much about the character being gay, but she was still clearly not happy with the inclusion. 

Since my daughters have been completely unfazed by classmates who date people of both gender, classmates who have been born male but identify as female, and a roommate who was first gay and later transitioned from female to male, I was honestly surprised at this student. We ended on a positive note, with the student agreeing that she would be upset if there were no books with characters like her in them, so she could see why there needed to be lots of different kids of characters in book, but it made me realize how important it is to have diverse characters even if they make some readers uncomfortable. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Five Children on the Western Front/Frail Human Heart

27774446Saunders, Kate. Five Children on the Western Front
August 2nd 2016 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers 
Library Copy

This is a continuation of E. Nesbit's Five Children and It, which I read a long time ago and don't really remember. 

Cyril, Anthea, Robert and Jane are too old for Psammead and his adventures now, especially since WWI is brewing and they are all old enough to be drastically affected by it. Luckily for Psammead, the sand fairy, the Lamb and his younger sister Edie are just the right age. They dream of the sort of time and space travel that their siblings experienced, and make inadvertent wishes that last only until nightfall. They are on the fringes of the bigger picture, where their brothers go to war and their sisters get on with their lives as best they can. It's England, during WWI, and we know that it is not going to end happily. 

I love classic children's literature, and Saunders does a superb job of capturing the feel of the 1902 original while updating the situations. It was sad and beautiful, and ties together the story wonderfully. I cried at the end. 

If I could locate a nice hardcover of Five Children and It, I would probably buy this for my hard core fantasy readers who love C.S. Lewis since Saunders has a solid fan base in my library. 

Cover image for Five children and itAnd this might tip me over the edge! Look how pretty! Now I have to investigate all of the Penguin Drop Caps!


From the Publisher
It all begins with a letter. Fall in love with Penguin Drop Caps, a new series of twenty-six collectible and hardcover editions, each with a type cover showcasing a gorgeously illustrated letter of the alphabet for each author's surname. N is for Nesbit. While exploring their summer home, five brothers and sisters find a Psammead, or Sand-fairy, in a nearby gravel pit. The Psammead is magical and every day, the ancient and irritable creature grants each of them a wish that lasts until sunset. Soon they find their wishes never seem to turn out quite right...


29092952Marriott, Zoe. Frail Human Heart
November 8th 2016 by Candlewick Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

After The Name of the Blade and Darkness Hidden, Mio is back, and the threat to London is still dire. Monsters are roaming the streets, terrifying residents, and only Mio and her small group of friends know what's going on. Shinobu is gone, and Mio must rely on her father, Rachel, Jack, Hikaru and others to save London from the fight between Izanagi and Izanami. Along the way, Mio must travel under London into the sewer-like entrance to the land of dreams, and decide whether she wants to stay there in safety with Shinobu, or risk her own life to save her friends and family on their plane of existence. More of the history that she shares with Shinobu is revealed, explaining why the two warriors have such a strong bond. 

This is a great urban paranormal romance choice for fans of Amy Plum's Revenant series, Aprilynne Pike's Wings books, and De La Cruz's Blue Bloods saga. It had fascinating bits of Japanese mythology, which is such a welcome change from the standard Anglo-Germanic basis for most mythologically rooted books. 

The romance amidst the destruction will be appealing to readers. Mio's  inexplicable connection to Shinobu is not treated lightly, and we do learn why it is such a compelling force in her life. There is an interesting interchange between Jack and Hikaru-- in his human for, the kitsune puts the moves on Jack, only to find out that she prefers women. This is not a problem for a shapeshifter, and Hikaru changes to a female form. The explanation of gender fluidity is matter-of-fact and handled well. There is a brief interlude when Mio and Shinobu share a moment that ends with Mio acquiring some grass stains, but there is nothing instructional that would prevent this from being appropriate for middle grade readers. 

Mio is a strong but conflicted character who doubts her own strength but is ultimately able to summon it against the odds. I appreciated the fact that her parents both play a role in the book, and that she is both protective of them while wanting their approval and protection as well. Rachel gains power after her attack from a supernatural being in a previous book, and helps to save the day. Incidental characters like Mr. Ebisu add depth to both the mythology and the story in a satisfying way-- I want to hang out at Mr. Ebisu's book store! 

Frail Human Heart is a brilliantly titled and satisfying conclusion to The Name of the Blade Trilogy that will have fans sighing with relieved contentment and waiting to see what Marriott will write next.