Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Space!: The Moon Platoon and Lost in Outer Space

31371259Kraatz, Jeramey. Space Runners: The Moon Platoon
May 2nd 2017 by HarperCollins
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

In 2085, Benny lives in the Drylands. His father didn't come back from a scouting mission, so he lives in a caravan with his grandmother and two younger brothers. When he is picked for the elite academy at the swank Lunar Taj, he knows that the way to better the circumstances for his family is to go. Once there, he meets the other students, including the obnoxious Drue, the daredevil Hot Dog, and the techie Jasmine. When Hot Dog goes out in a Space Runner and crashes, Benny and Drue go out looking for her. Theyfind her, but uncover a mystery as well. Could it be that Elijah West has brought the 100 children to the moon for other reasons?

Benny is a great character who is trying hard to fit into a new environment. Life in the Drylands is hard, so he appreciates all of the amenities of the Lunar Taj in a way that Drue does not. Drue is a spoiled brat, but not beyond redemption. Hot Dog throws caution to the wind, but can back up her actions with excellent skills-- and she's described as a pretty blond. I loved that Jasmine was the tech guru instead of some stereotypical geeky boy!

The Lunar Taj is a solidly described setting. Will technology progress that far by 2085? Children who read this book today could conceivably live long enough to find out! I'm not entirely sold that a Chevelle could be retrofitted and made space worthy, but it's a fun concept. This bore a small resemblance to Reilly's 2007 Crash Course, but has a lot more going for it.

Kraatz's The Cloak Society also offered tweens saving the world; as much as this concept gives me pause, middle school students love the idea. Pair this first book in the Space Runners series with Fry's Jupiter Pirates, McDougall's Mars Evacuees, and Kloepfer's Galaxy's Most Wanted for readers who like Star Wars, Star Trek, and traditional space adventure rather than dystopian worlds.

30652350Olson, Todd. Lost in Outer Space: The Incredible Journey of Apollo 13
January 31st 2017 by Scholastic Nonfiction
Public library copy

Somehow, I managed to miss all pertinent details about Apollo 13. I was only five when the mission started, and knew nothing about it. Missed the movie. This book, therefore, was AWESOME. Like Lost in the Pacific, this is nonfiction told in an engaging, exciting way reminiscent of the We Were There books of my childhood. But better! So much better! Olson's research is impeccable, and his author note at the end was fascinating. I also enjoyed how he framed the event through the eyes of one of the astronaut's teen daughters, Barbara Lovell. Lost in Outer Space lays out all of the details and background about what occurred, but does so in a page-turning way. My only problem with these books is that they are not available in a dust jacketed hardcover, so they won't wear well. ARGH! I am definitely looking forward to the next books in this series, even if I have to buy multiple copies. If more nonfiction were written like this, it wouldn't be so hard to get students to pick it up!

Castle, M.E. Fakespeare: Starcrossed in Romeo and Juliet
May 23rd 2017 by Imprint
Copy provided by the publisher

Becca has a hard day at school, and her step brother doesn't make it any better when she has to rush to her friend Kyle's house to retrieve her overdue library book (Oh, Becca. I love you!). Once there, she and Sam find a suspicious book that sucks them into it, and they are suddenly on the streets of Verona, stuck in the story of Romeo and Juliet. There's a pizza war going on; the mozzarella recipe has been stolen, people are trying to fob off Insta-Stix for pizza crust, and tomatoes are flying everywhere. Not only that, but Romeo is obsessed with a girl names Rosalina, Tybalt is making perfume, and Becca's dog Rufus is constantly getting her into trouble. Will she and Sam be able to make their way back home? (Spoiler: Book two, Fakespeare: Something Stinks in Hamlet is released today as well.)
Strengths: This reminded me a lot of Ford's Stick Man Odyssey in that it's loosely tied to a classic, has drawings, and is funny. It's formatted quite well-- the text is about 16 point font, and there's lots of white space, so even though the book is almost 300 pages long, it's a quick read. This is critically important to students, and not enough publishers pay attention to this. The minute I put the ARC of this on my giveaway cart, three sixth graders started fighting over it.
Weaknesses: I was surprised that Castle, with his background in Shakespearean acting, didn't align the story more to the play. I was particularly distressed by the idea that the fight between the Capulets and Montagues was tied to pizza, and by the prevalence of tomatoes, which did not come to Italy from Peru until at least  a hundred years after Romeo and Juliet's setting. I would have been that child who would have read this book in 6th grade and then have been very confused in ninth grade when the pizza war was never mentioned.
What I really think: Definitely purchase if you need more notebook style novels or if there is a lot of interest in Shakespeare at your school. I'm debating whether I can get over the presence of tomatoes! I prefer this author's Clone Chronicles. (I know, I know. I'm okay with cloning, but not tomatoes in Verona in the 1300s.)
Ms. Yingling

Monday, May 22, 2017

MMGM- Restart and I Am Fartacus

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.

Mr. Korman was gracious enough to do this interview for School Library Journal with me. Can cross that off my bucket list now!

32819894Korman, Gordon. Restart
May 30th 2017 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by publisher at ALA

Chase has fallen off the roof of his house and can't remember anything. Not his mother, not his best friends, and not his school. The concussion he has sustained keeps him out of playing football, which makes his father (a former jock himself) unhappy. Chase doesn't mind. His friends Bear and Ambrose aren't the nicest guys-- the three have done something Chase does not remember that has led them to be sentenced to do community service at a retirement facility. The "new" Chase doesn't mind, and enjoys talking to the residents, especially Mr. Solway, a decorated Korean war veteran. Chase is also enjoying working on the school video year book with Brendan. He notices that most of the people he runs into, including his young step sister, Helene, seem afraid of him, but he doesn't remember why. He slowly learns the truth, but realizes that he never wants to go back to being the "old" Chase.
Strengths: This is a bit of a departure for Korman. If you had given it to me blind, I would have assumed it was Sonnenblick. It's very beautifully done, and even though I normally am not a fan of books with bullying, this really worked. Even the video year book and the video competition seemed plausible. That's what it is. Korman excels at putting characters in unlikely situations, and aside from the amnesia itself, this book is completely plausible. Really great story. This would make a fantastic class novel or literature circle book. I'm not generally a fan of everyone reading the same book, but this would lead to lots of good discussions.
Weaknesses: This took me a while to get into, which is unusual. I think it was the disjointed feeling that Chase was experiencing-- I felt disjointed, too!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. I'm also really excited that many of Korman's backlist titles are being released with new covers. Need to refresh your copy of Born to Rock? Now's the time!

25528831Maciejewski, Mark. I Am Fartacus
April 18th 2017 by Aladdin
ARC provided by publisher, along with really cool socks!

Maciek Trzebiatowski (that's Maw-check Chub-a-tess-key for those of you who didn't grow up near Youngstown, Ohio!) has some issues. His family runs a dry cleaning business and think it builds character for him to sort clothes from funeral homes. He lost his hair in a freak accident. His once friend, Archer, has become much cooler than Chub and now gives him a hard time. Luckily, Chub has a good friend, Moby, who has access to better video games and a very cool grandfather. He also has an ally in Shelby, even though he doesn't like her all that much. The three associates decide to make sure that Archer does not become class president, so they do their best to take down his campaign. "The Arch" is more evil than one would expect a clean-cut jock to be, and despite their best efforts, Archer wins the election and starts to use his power for evil. Chub is good at getting the dirt on everyone, including the principal. Will it be enough to keep Alanmoore safe for democracy?
Strengths: There is a subgenre of comic crime that involves a lot of middle school custodians and principals. Think The Great Greene Heist, The Fourth Stall, and I Am A Genius of Unspeakable Evil. I don't quite get these, but my readers love them. What impressed me were the laugh-out-loud funny lines and the general understanding of what the middle school mind finds amusing. I have to see how many times I can work the sentence "I would rather fill my pants with ferrets than spend the summer picking potatoes in Poland." That, my friends, is great writing!
Weaknesses: I was willing to suspend disbelief for many things, but when the plot devolved into gambling and impersonation, I had a hard time believing the book.
What I really think: I love the MAX imprint and can't wait to read more of these! This isn't a perfect book, but I will expect great things from Ms. Maciejewski! (That's "Maw-chee-es-key".)

This was originally entitled Chub and the Cadre of Evil, which I think is a MUCH better title, even if your average 12-year-old doesn't know how to pronounce "cadre".
  Ms. Yingling

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Easy Readers

Butler, Dori Hillestad. King and Kayla and the Missing Dog Treats (#1)
Peachtree Publishers (March 1, 2017)
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

King loves his human girl, Kayla, especially when she makes him peanut butter dog treats, his FAVORITE food! He sits patiently and asks to lick the bowl nicely, but Kayla informs him that raw dough is not good for dogs. The two meet Jillian, Kayla's good friend, and hew brand new puppy, Thor. Thor is full of energy, but King patiently lets the puppy chew on his ears. When it is time for sampling the delicious treats, some are missing, and King gets blamed. Kayla points out that King's breath does not smell like peanut butter. Other possible culprits are investigated, and eventually Jillian and Kayla figure out who took the baked goods.

This is told from King's perspective, and young readers will be amused that King is trying so hard to communicate with Kayla, but she just always thinks his barking means he needs to go outside! King tries very hard to help Kayla with her investigation, since he knows the true culprit long before she does, and there is a gentle humor in this.

The illustrations are simple, bright, and charming. There's plenty of white space on the page for readers who are just starting to navigate text on their own. The reading level is similar to the I Can Read book series, and the story is broken down into three chapters.

It's great to see books with diverse characters, and King is a very appealing dog, with his love of all things food and his devotion to Kayla. His enthusiasm is spot on-- I'm pretty sure if my dog should talk, she would sound just like King.

This is a great choice for emerging readers who like McDonald's Judy Moody and Friends books, Clarke's Dr. KittyCat, and Birney's Humphrey the Hamster.

Butler, Dori Hillestad. King and Kayla and the Case of the Secret Code (#2)
Peachtree Publishers (March 1, 2017)
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Kayla and her friend Mason both get mysterious letters dropped off on their porches. King can figure out right away that the letter smells like oatmeal and like Kayla's friend Jillian, but when he tries to communicate this, Kayla just thinks he needs to go out. When she and Mason start to investigate the clues, they are able to decode the letters and figure out what King knew all along.

This is a great introduction to one of my favorite word puzzles, the Cryptoquip! It's introduced in a way that's easy enough for younger readers to understand, and will no doubt inspire some coded messages, and maybe even a secret spy party.

King's exuberance once again steals the show, and his shame at being called a "bad dog" is sad. Whether he's trying to behave himself or enthusing about his FAVORITE THING, his eyes tell the story very appealingly. Readers will find a lot of humor in King's antics while they enjoy helping Kayla solve the mystery.

Hand this series to readers who have devoured Elliot's Owl Diaries, Haas' Bramble and Maggie series, and Potter's Piper Green books, or older titles like Adler's Cam Jansen or Sharmat's Nate the Great mysteries.
  Ms. Yingling

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Cartoon Saturday--The Pudding Problem (Lyttle Lies)

Berger, Joe. The Pudding Problem (Lyttle Lies)
Margaret K. McElderry Books (May 9, 2017)
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Sam doesn't tell the truth as much as he should, so his mother is not sure who broke her prized dog statue... or put a ping pong ball in the peanut butter... or stole his grandfather's home grown potatoes. Sam even has trouble with the truth at school, but his bigger problem there is the class bully who has "dead eyes", has his sister deliver a juicy cheeseburger every day for his lunch, and makes classmates "pay" if they run afoul of him. Sam rescues a cat, Pudding, from the bully, but the cat has some issues. Pudding occasionally pees in things and gets wild, but has huge, innocent eyes that endear him even to Sam's frazzled mother. Sam would really like a cheeseburger for lunch, but gets cheese on bread every day, and his grandfather (a magician) teaches him to visualize that this sandwich is really something more delicious. His grandfather later comes to the rescue with the more serious problem of Sam's lying.

This is a Notebook Novel with definite British tones to it, but like Pichon's Tom Gates: Excellent Excuses (and Other Good Stuff), the charming pictures and goofy tale of a boy who means well but often gets off on the wrong foot make this a book that fans of Peirce's Big Nate will adore. This has very little text in paragraphs, and at times reads very much like a comic book.

Sam's family is great-- even his sister is supportive. His father plays jazz guitar and annoys the family, his mother is frequently in overdrive mode, and Sam's grandfather spends a lot of time on his allotment, growing radishes. He has a shed there where he can make tea, and the picture and description of it made me want to have one of my own!

Tweens often struggle with doing what's right and telling the truth when doing so is inconvenient for them, and The Pudding Problem shows how one young boy struggles to deal with a difficult classmate, rescue an animal, and manage all of his activities while keeping himself out of trouble. Perhaps it was Pudding's big eyes that made this so appealing, but I enjoyed this tremendously!

  Ms. Yingling

Friday, May 19, 2017

Super Heroes and Super Villains

The staff at my school thinks I really do have super powers. When one maintains that one is a magical unicorn, this is bound to happen. While it is sweet that they have such confidence in my abilities, my powers seem to be on the wane at the close of the school year. How bad is it? I have forgotten passwords to crucial accounts very morning this week and find that I have to create a spreadsheet and print it off in order to go about my day.

Need your own super hero? Or, in the case of retrieving overdue books, a super villain?

I can help with that!

135493756371720   1312502  466141

135336878928024  18635040  19561918

Anderson, John David. Minion. (2014)
Bacon, Lee. Joshua Dread (2012)
Boniface, William. The Adventures of Ordinary Boy (2006)
Carroll, Michael. The Awakening (2006)
Cody, Matthew. Powerless (2009)
Ferraiolo, Jack. Sidekicks (2011)
King, Wesley. The Vindico. (2012)
Kraatz, Jeramey. The Cloak Society (2012)
McCullough, Kelly. School for Sidekicks (2014)
Moore, Peter. V is For Villain (2014)
Can you see why the following two books felt kind of five years ago to me?

31145183Harper, Benjamin, Hines-Stephens, Sarah, Syed, Anoosha. Bug Girl.
May 2nd 2017 by Imprint
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Amanda has long been friends with Emily, but now that they are in middle school, they don't talk. Amanda is very interested in insects, but this has been perceived as nerdy by her classmates. Unfortunately, the two are thrown together when their mothers are kidnapped before the Oyster Cove Festival, and they find out secrets about their families that brings them together.
Strengths: The pages are beautifully formatted, and I liked the style of the  pictures. It was nice to see a tween girl with an interest in science, and I loved that the mothers are the ones with powers. This had a lot to recommend it.
Weaknesses: This felt offensive to my people. That would be the Nerd Community. The tone was... odd. As if cheerleaders were trying to write positive things about geeks. The meanness was off the charts, and it doesn't help to have a girl interested in science if everyone makes fun of her for it. The plot was nothing new-- I don't know why this raised my personal hackles so, but it really, really did!
What I really think: I will probably buy a copy to keep up with the insatiable demand for "books
with pictures". Sigh.

31933997Fry, Michael. How to Be A Supervillain
May 2nd 2017 by jimmy patterson
ARC from publisher at ALA

Victor's parents are supervillains, but he is a boring rule follower. He gets apprenticed to a lame supervillain named The Smear in order for him to learn some skills, even though his parents tell him that the battles are all staged. Complications ensue. Lessons are learned. Victor comes to terms with who he is.
Strengths: This is a Notebook Novel. Just the other day, a student wanted to know if there were more than three The Odd Squad books by this author.
Weaknesses: Nothing fresh, and Fry's illustrative style makes me think I'm looking at Berke Brethed's work and I always expect Opus and Bill the Cat to show up. I'm vastly confused by the introductory page of the "Jimmy" books. They query "Who would do the best job of making books that kids will love? Yeah. Kids!" BUT KIDS AREN'T MAKING THESE BOOKS!
What I really think: Will buy a copy and use it as Wimpy Kid Methadone.

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Wild Lily

27827647Peyton, K.M. Wild Lily.
February 28th 2017 by David Fickling Books
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

It's the 1920s, and airplanes are not quite as scary as they were before the war. Wealthy Antony asks for one for his birthday, and his father lets him have one-- after all, he is impressed that Antony wants to take flying lessons instead of just trying to bring a plane home without instruction. Lily's father is the gardener for Antony's family, so she grew up with him and loves him from afar; when he wants someone to parachute from his plane, she is the only one who agrees. Antony has an older sister who is both blind and deaf, and his friends from school are enthralled by her beauty. With Lily's help, he sets up a party in the family's grotto for his school mates, but the party ends in tragedy. After his father is arrested for a variety of ill considered dealings, Antony isn't quite sure what he will do, and eventually makes some very poor choices. While Lily still pines for him, she can see that the two of them will never be together, and tries to get on with her life.

Lily's adoration of Antony is somewhat disturbing, but completely typical for the time period. The class divisions are clearly delineated, but it was good to see that Lily was able to get along with Antony and his friends, and that they were kind to her. The treatment of Helena was interesting as well, although I would have though that by this point Helen Keller's life might have given the family some insight into how to better help her.

The plane, of course, is a major character as well. It's hard for us today to understand how enthralling the idea of flight was, since flight today is more like an annoying bus journey instead of a glorious "slipp[ing] the surly bonds of earth". Like cars, planes were a luxury, but also an obsession. Even my five uncles managed to pool their resources in the 1940s and bought a small plane, which they would land in the field by the family dairy!

This was definitely more of a young adult novel than one for middle grade readers; the tone is a bit more introspective and sad.

Peyton has written fantastic books about British life for a long time-- her 1967 Flambards is considered a classic, and my daughter's favorite book is her 1994 Snowfall. Sadly, for British society, these books usually show how hard it is to keep together these grand estates. Teens who got caught up in their parents' obsession for Downton Abbey will find this a distracting read, which will hopefully get them to investigate other books set during this period by authors such as Sayers, Christie and Waugh.
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Gabby Garcia's Ultimate Playbook

30174679Palmer, Iva-Marie. Gabby Garcia's Ultimate Playbook
May 9th 2017 by Katherine Tegen Books
ARC from Publisher at ALA

Gabby's year is going very well, and she's just about to make the most brilliant baseball play of her life when her world comes crashing down-- the principal tells everyone that the area around the school must be evacuated because of asbestos. Even worse, the students will all have to go to other schools! (Actually somewhat realistic. My daughter spent her 3rd grade year in a high school building for this very reason!) Gabby has to go to the private Piper Bell school. She has a plan, which she details in her "playbook" (which is not a diary!). She wears her baseball jersey so the kids know who she is, but all does not go well. She is called a "Luther polluter" and has a disastrous time at practice. It's late in the season, but the coach gives her a try; things just don't go well. When she tries to bring cookies to school, her lunch explodes all over them, further damaging her social credibility. Eventually, she decides to play hockey for the most disorganized team on the planet. The real advantage of the hockey team seems to be that the players all have a "special talent", and it's decided that Gabby will be the team poet. She is leery of this, but agrees to try. Of course, her need to do a poetry event is in conflict with a hockey one, and she needs to decide how she will handle it.
Strengths: I really liked Gabby. She's sort of a more realistic Big Nate. She means well, she has a plan, but things don't seem to work out for her. She has a supportive family, her best friend is away but occasionally in contact, and she is passionate about sports. She also has some of the realistic flaws that middle school students have-- she has unrealistic expectations, she doesn't think things through quite as much as she should, and she's mortified when things don't go well. She's willing to face consequences, however-- there is a very nice scene where she feeds the neighbor's dog chicken with mole sauce, which sickens the dog, and she admits to doing this, not realizing that the mole sauce would make the dog sick. I always need more books with girls playing sports, and this has a great cover, and the interior illustrations are nice.
Weaknesses: This comes in at 286 pages, which is long for a realistic middle grade book. While I understand the function of the poetry portion of this, cutting it would have made this a much stronger book. I love poetry, but it didn't quite make sense for Gabby's character.
What I really think: I will purchase this, but the length might make it a hard sell. Kids who like sports book usually play sports and usually have less time for reading!
  Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Thick as Thieves

8306741Turner, Megan Whalen. Thick as Thieves (The Queen's Thief #5)
May 16th 2017 by Greenwillow Books
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Kemet displeases his master Nahuseresh and is badly beaten. While he is still recuperating, he is approached by an Attolian who asks him to meet at the docks so that he can go to Attolia and gain his freedom. Kemet assumes that the Attolian means to kill him, but when his master is poisoned, his friend and fellow slave Laela tells him to flee. Seeing no other choice, he meets the man and ends up fleeing with him across the kingdom. They are hunted as escpaed slaves and travel from town to town trying to stay safe. They are constantly losing their money and clothing only to be given an opportunity to get back on their feet so that they can make it a little further before losing everything again. Eventually, they work their way onto a ship because the Attolian has an earring with a royal seal on it. When they get to the palace, Kemet is surprised by who the king is, and warily accepts his freedom in exchange for all of the information he knows about the Medes. Kemet never feels safe, and works to figure out some future for himself where he can feel free and unthreatened.
Strengths: The writing was very intriguing, and the mystery unfolded at a nice pace. I have only read the first two books, and those long ago, but I got the feeling that if I were familiar with the story I would understand quite well what was going on. Kemet is an interesting character, as is the Attolian, and the characters in Attolia have interesting motives.
1082754Weaknesses: I cannot get my students to check out the first book. This might be due to the cover on the 1996 edition of The Thief that is in my library.
What I really think: If I could get all five books with covers similar to the one above, I would definitely buy this for fans of Flanagan's The Ranger's Apprentice or Pierce's Alanna series. The new covers for the Alanna books have been a HUGE help in enticing students to read those. Still, I can get books 3-5, so am debating purchase.

Ms. Yingling

Monday, May 15, 2017

Giveaway- Girling Up

Bialik, Mayim, Girling Up: How to be Strong, Smart and Spectacular.
May 9th 2017 by Philomel Books

Copy provided by the publisher

While I absolutely would have gotten a copy of this for my own personal daughters, it has a bit too much information for me to feel comfortable handing it to other people's daughters. Since I have a copy the publisher sent me, I'll be glad to forward it to one lucky winner! Make sure your comment links back to your blog or gives me some way to contact you.

From the publisher:

Mayim Bialik, star of The Big Bang Theory, puts her Ph.D. to work as she talks to teens about the science of growing up and getting ahead. A must-have book for all teenage girls.

Growing up as a girl in today's world is no easy task. Juggling family, friends, romantic relationships, social interests and school sometimes it feels like you might need to be a superhero to get through it all! But really, all you need is little information.

Want to know why your stomach does a flip-flop when you run into your crush in the hallway? Or how the food you put in your body now will affect you in the future? What about the best ways to stop freaking out about your next math test?

Using scientific facts, personal anecdotes, and wisdom gained from the world around us, Mayim Bialik, the star of The Big Bang Theory, shares what she has learned from her life and her many years studying neuroscience to tell you how you grow from a girl to a woman biologically, psychologically and sociologically.

Enter to win a copy!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Ms. Yingling

MMGM- The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora

It's MMGM at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and #IMWAYR at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday

We're kicking off the blog tour for The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora! See below for the link to enter the giveaway of this fun new title. 
Week One:
May 15 – Ms. Yingling Reads – Review
May 16 – Here’s to Happy Endings – Guest Post
May 17 – Folded Pages Distillery – Review
May 18 – All Done Monkey – Review
May 19 – Margie’s Must Reads – Guest Post
Week Two:
May 22 – Four Violet – Review
May 23 – YA Book Central – Excerpt
May 24 – Little Earthling Blog – Review
May 25 – The Reading Nook Reviews – Review
May 26 – The Boy Reader

Cartaya, Pablo. The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora
May 16th 2017 by Viking Books for Young Readers
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Arturo lives in a very close knit community-- his family owns an apartment building, and his family, his grandmother, and most of his aunts and uncles live there. This summer, even a friend of his mother's is staying at the complex with his daughter, Carmen, to regroup after the death of Carmen's mother. Arturo is oddly drawn to her, but reminds himself that she is practically his cousin! There's a lot going on in his abuela's restaurant, La Cocina de la Isla, where his mother is the head chef. Not onlky does Arturo have a job as a junior dishwasher, but the family is trying to expand the place in order to do more business. The only problem? The slick Wilfrido Pipo comes to Canal Grove and wants to put up Pipo Place. This new apartment building will have it all, and Wilfrido is trying to get community buy in by having lots of parties and promising to increase business to the area. The problem? His plan involves tearing down abuela's restaurant! The family goes all out to save it, but will it be enough to appeal to Canal Grove's sense of family? And will Arturo be able to talk to Carmen without too many "epic fails"?

Weaving in some Spanish vocabulary, this warm tale of family, food and friends is a delightful change from the standard tales of gloom and doom coming out for middle grade readers. I loved that the Zamoras were able to work together without too much family drama, and that their community valued their contributions. While there were some sad things (the death of Carmen's mother before the book opens, and another death during it), they were handled with resilience and pragmatism. No one becomes inconsolable and unable to function, which I thought was much more realistic. There is even a scene where Arturo's mother asks him to help with the funeral dinner-- she cries over her loss but is able to go on, even using the cooking to bond with Arturo and help him through the situation, instead of being unable to care for him. We need to see more of these coping skills in middle grade literature!

There is an interesting sub plot involving Arturo's growing interest in poetry which ties into his discovery of Carmen as a girl instead of a "cousin" that will intrigue readers, and perhaps get them to investigate the work of Jose Marti. This was another instance of bringing a more hopeful tone to the story-- Arturo's grandfather was fond of Marti's work, and Arturo gets to know more about his deceased grandfather through reading journals he had kept when he moved to the US.

While the family's Cuban heritage is vividly portrayed, it is integral to the story instead of being the main focus. Family, and the family business, figures largely, and Arturo's teenage concerns are paramount. Will he be taken seriously as a dishwasher? Can he care for his abuela? What will happen to his family if the restaurant goes under? Does Carment like him? Readers will identify with these concerns while having a window into what it would be like to live in a close knit Florida community.

Fans of Johnson's The Great Green Heist, Grabenstein's Wonderland Motel series, and Paul Acampora's books about the adventures of middle grade boys will gobble up The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora... and probably get hungry for churros while reading this humorous and insightful tale.

Click here to enter the  Rafflecopter giveaway !
GIVEAWAY LEGAL COPY: Enter for a chance to win one (1) of five (5) copies of The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya (ARV: $16.99 each). NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Enter between 12:00 AM Eastern Time on May 15, 2017 and 12:00 AM on May 29, 2017. Open to residents of the fifty United States and the District of Columbia who are 13 and older. Winners will be selected at random on or about June 2, 2017. Odds of winning depend on number of eligible entries received. Void where prohibited or restricted by law.

Ms. Yingling

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Summer of Bad Ideas

31371235Stewart, Kiera. The Summer of Bad Ideas
May 2nd 2017 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Cousins Edie and Rae end up spending longer at their recently deceased grandmother's home in Florida than their families had expected. While their grandmother was good at having adventures, she was bad at keeping her house in good order, and the parents spend a lot of time repairing things while the cousins, along with Edie's precocious twin siblings, are able to investigate the vibrant community that mourns their grandmother's loss. Edie is scared of many things, but gains a new sense of adventure and bravery while dealing with her family in a new setting.
Strengths: This was a great improvement over all of the books I read with dead siblings and parents-- middle grade readers are more likely to face the death of a grandparent. The parents are supportive, there is trouble to be found, and Edie and her cousin have admirable freedom.
Weaknesses: The  nondescript cover and the bald description of this book may make it harder to recommend than this author's very popular Fetching and How to Break a Heart.
What I really think: I will purchase a copy of this if I have money left, and if the book has an Accelerated Reader test written for it!

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Cartoon Saturday- Lots of books with pictures

Holly Kowitt. The Principal's Underwear Is Missing
May 2nd 2017 by Feiwel & Friends
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

When geeky 6th grader Becca accidentally breaks popular 8th grader Selfie's arm with a dodge ball, she tries to apologize, but it's hard to approach middle school royalty. She catches Selfie in the middle of a crisis, and after she helps out, gets drawn into Selfie's world in a weird way. Becca retrieves the teen queen's shopping bag from the principal's office, but grabs the wrong one, and the two end up with the principal's gigantic bra. Of course, it falls into the wrong hands, and these evil doers plan to run it up the flag pole and post it on YouTube. This would mean big trouble for both girls, so they work together with their various friend groups in order to restore the undergarment to its rightful owner without any publicity.
Strengths: I loved The Loser List, and it's held up surprisingly well for paper-over-boards (for six years!) and been popular. This has the same Notebook Novel format, and will appeal to fans of The Dork Diaries and The Clique.
Weaknesses: I found this surprisingly unrealistic, and the stereotypes were odd. Becca is a dork, Selfie is a fashion obsessed popularity hound, and the characters and plot felt stale.
What I really think: Students will love this, and I won't be sad when it falls apart, but I was just really surprised that this wasn't better. I thought that The Loser List was more nuanced and thoughtful.

31371502Libenson, Terri. Invisible Emmie
May 2nd 2017 by Balzer + Bray
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Emmie is not comfortable in middle school-- she has curly hair, is a late bloomer, and is artistic. She tries to stay under everyone's radar. In alternating chapters, we also meet Kate, who is fabulous, has everyone as a friend, and is everything Emmie is not. Emmie does have one friend, Brianna, but even that relationship is rocky. Her parents are busy, school makes her anxious, and the boy on whom she has a crush, Tyler, asks out Kate! Just when she thinks things can't get any worse, a poem she has written about Tyler falls out of her notebook and picked up by the obnoxious Joseph, and everyone starts to make fun of her. Can Kate help Emmie to stand up for herself?

This book will be immediately popular because of the format. Kate's chapters are in comic strip form, while Emmie's are in Notebook novel form. Not only that, but it is filled with cringe worthy moments, and middle school students all experience some of these, no matter how "popular" they are! Reading about similar things in books makes their own problems seem less severe.

It was interesting that while Emmie felt that her own image left something to be desired, she still refereed to her classmates in unflattering terms like Smelly Kid and Brainiacs (complete with propeller beanies). Kate's depiction is a bit over the top, but we eventually find out why that is. It was nice to see Emmie grow and get over her anxiety, and the character of Tyler was nicely done.

Middle school can be difficult, but it helps if it can be approached with some humor. Invisible Emmie is a great choice for readers who like middle school stories about students struggling to fit in that are combined with pictures. Read alikes for this include Vivat's Frazzled, Wells' Mackenzie Blue, and Barshaw's Ellie McDoodle.

25940409Brockington, Drew. Catstronauts: Mission Moon
April 18th 2017 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Public Library Copy

When a global energy crisis threatens to cut off all of the power in the US, the president contacts the World's Best Scientist to come up with a plan sexy enough to sell to the US people-- the two decide that traveling to the moon to install solar panels that will be able to send enough power to earth is the answer. The catstronauts are chosen to man the mission, even though they feel it is appropriate to fix a crucial piece of equipment with yarn. This imperils them, but luckily another cat broke the rules and snuck his robot on board, thereby saving the day.
Strengths: I liked the drawing style and the color palette, and the cats were funny. A lot of reviews have mentioned the STEM tie in. The amount and size of text is very much what my graphic novel readers want.
Weaknesses: The complete lack of alternatives to the energy crisis struck me as odd, as did the catstronauts slap-dash approach to a serious mission. It left me feeling uncomfortable. If this were pure fun, like Blabey's Bad Guys, it would be amusing, but the many suggestions I've seen to tie it in with science make me a bit uncomfortable.
What I really think: Might buy a prebind in a year or two, but these never live long enough in my library for the smell to abate otherwise. Seriously. Why do these smell so bad? The ink? The paper? Inquiring minds want to know.

32573182Siegel, Mark. The Sand Warrior (5 Worlds #1)
May 2nd 2017 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Public Library Copy

Basically, this is "only tweens can save the world" in graphic novel format. High fantasy, with requisite bullying of the ones who will save the world. Fans of Stevenson's Nimona  or the Faith Hicks The Nameless City will adore this, but my graphic novel readers tend to like the easy-to-read graphic novels like Squish: Super Amoeba, and my fantasy fans turn up their nose at graphic novels. It doesn't help that graphic novels tend to be expensive, fall apart easily, and have a weird smell from the ink that gives me a headache. I will let the public library buy these.

Ms. Yingling

Friday, May 12, 2017

Guy Friday- Fair Ball

Even More Blather:
Clearly, the end of the year hits me hard, and I often find myself crying over things like Constance Green's A Girl Called Al or, this morning, Tommy Greenwald's The Real Us. (Go. Go to Edelweiss Above the Treeline RIGHT NOW and download an E ARC.).

I'm tired. 7th grade classes have been working on Renaissance Fair Projects all week and have managed to get glitter banned from the library, I'm trying to move all of the nonfiction to the wall so I have more room for fiction, the workroom sink is permanently clogged, and I haven't even begun to panic about getting all of the books returned.

I just spent another eight weeks in an orthopedic boot, which made chaperoning 8th graders in D.C. a bit more challenging. The summer will be spent in physical therapy and swimming and biking rather than running. On the bright side, my forearms are NOT sore. Or my ears. My ears are good.

There are other bright sides. We have about 80 students interested in Cross Country for next year. The students are so sad that the books are due. They hover over the donated books like teenage boys eyeing the last piece of pizza. And David Lubar sent me a sweet e mail that included the line "Thanks, again, for all you do. "

So! Another cup of tea, a wad of tissues, and I think I will wait until this evening to review Sonnenblick's The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade so I'm not a soggy mess when the day starts!

30312556Jeter, Derek and Mantell, Paul. Fair Ball (The Contract #4)
April 18th 2017 by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

The Indians are in the final four of the Kalamazoo baseball championship, and Derek hopes that his team can work together to win. He's also hoping that for his birthday he can invite his friend Dave for a week at his grandparents' house. He and Dave are also supposed to have a sleepover, but Dave keeps backing out and doesn't want to talk about it. Sharlee is taking a karate class, and one of Derek's teammates, Gary, is taking it as well but doing very poorly. Vijay is a little irritated with Derek's insistence on being friends with Dave when he seems to want to avoid Derek. All of this puts stress on the team, and even brings down Derek's grades a bit. Eventually, Dave's parents' problems with Derek's family are worked out, and the team is able to come together. Will they win the championship?
Strengths: This is a good length for a middle grade sports book, had a lot of baseball, and incorporated important life lessons. The best part is always Derek's supportive family.
Weaknesses: I wish that Derek were a little older, and the big discussion of diversity in the middle of the book really slowed things down and seemed overly preachy.
What I really think: Baseball books aren't as popular as other sports books in my library, but these are a solid circulator and I will no doubt buy the entire nine book series.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Bonaventure Adventures

31850667Delaney, Rachelle. The Bonaventure Adventures
May 2nd 2017 by Puffin Books
Copy received from the publisher

Sebastian travels with his family all over Europe with the circus his father runs. Times are tough-- the circus is not getting the audiences it needs to remain solvent, and his father, Dragan, eventually sells all of the animals to a zoo. Seb has no circus abilities, but feels that the circus is outdated. When he finds letter to his father from an Angelique Saint-Germain asking that Seb be sent to her circus school in Montreal, he comes up with a plan. He will attend the school, find out what needs to be done to modernize the family circus, and save the day. His father isn't thrilled with the plan, but he manages to get to the exclusive school. He quickly realizes that Angelique thinks his father will give her decrepit school money to survive, and manages to keep his lack of circus skills a secret by claiming to be a fire breather. He makes friends with Frankie and Banjo, who are also frequently in trouble, and together the misfits find a way to try to save both the Bonaventure School and the Konstantinov Family Circus.
Strengths: This was a realistic view of the problems modern circuses are facing, which was refreshing. The circus and the school were both a little quirky, but in an understandable way. Seb, Banjo and Frankie were sympathetic characters who tried to do what was right, and the problems they were trying to solve were important but within their skill set to solve. The Montreal setting was interesting as well. I'm a sucker for a cover with silhouettes.
Weaknesses: I was vaguely confused about Sebastian's origins and about what language he was speaking. A small quibble.
What I really think: I enjoyed this one more than I thought I would, and it is available through Follett's US web site. Definitely take a look if circus tales are popular in your library.

Occasionally, when I am reading through SLJ for book reviews, I am alarmed by how many books I discard because of ONE SENTENCE in the description. Totally justified, really, in not buying a book that has "wandering rabbit bard" in the description. It's sort of like "Name That Tune"-- what combination of words will make me stop reading. "Rabbit bard" in and of itself stops me in my tracks!

Still over 500 books out. They were due on Tuesday, but I told students if they can get the books back in by first thing Monday morning, that's okay. I'm not so much worried about books due 9 May-- it's the books due back in November that worry me!

Also, spending quality time condensing the nonfiction so that I can have another row of shelving for fiction. That will be fun!
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground

31448946Williams-Garcia. Clayton Byrd Goes Underground.
May 9th 2017, Amistad
ARC from Publisher at ALA

Clayton loves to hang out with his grandfather, Cool Papa, and play the blues at Washington Square Park with his grandfather's band. Clayton desperately wants to have a solo, but Cool Papa tells him he's not quite ready. The two do this whenever Clayton's mother has a long nursing shift, since she is not thrilled with Clayton taking part in these activities. Since Cool Papa frequenly was on the road when she was growing up, Clayton's mother is very bitter about the music. When Cool Papa passes away unexpectedly, she acts on this bitterness by selling or giving away every last possession of his, although Clayton manages to keep a blues harp and a hat his grandfather favored. Since he was so close to his grandfather, Clayton takes his death very hard, even though his father visits more and tries to distract him. Eventually, he becomes so angry at his mother that he runs away from home and falls in with a street gang that performs on the subway. The boys in the gang are not nice to him, and do a lot of vaguely criminal things, so hanging around with them eventually land him in jail. When his mother has to pick him up there, she is sure that it is the result of his grandfather's influence, but his father points out that he needs more help to get over the death of his grandfather.
Strengths: Cool Papa is right up there with my favorite fictional grandfathers. Not only do the two make music together, but Cool Papa makes fish sticks and spaghetti, reads to Clayton at night, and is generally a loving and supportive presence in his life. I also liked that his father plays a prominent role even though he doesn't live with Clayton. This is a great length for middle grade, and moves very quickly.
Weaknesses: This is not only very sad, but the way that Clayton's mother deals with the death is very dysfunctional, and Clayton makes dangerous choices.
What I really think: I'm debating this one. I'm a bit worried that the 1980s style cover is going to make this one a hard book to encourage children to pick up. I love Williams-Garcia's work, but the sadness and bad choices in this one were a bit much. It got a starred review in School Library Journal.

Crowder, Melanie. Three Pennies
May 2nd 2017 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Marin has been in a foster home since she was four and her mother abandoned her. She has never given up hope that her mother will return, and carries a piggy bank and a copy of the I Ching with her to remind her of her mother. When her new social worker, Gilda, tells Marin that her mother has terminated parental rights, freeing Marin to be adopted, Marin decides that she will do everything she can to make herself unpleasant. She is placed with Lucy Chang, a doctor who has suffered her own losses but who feels that taking in a child would be the right thing to do. She is unsure of her own abilities, but willing to work with Marin to make a home for the two of them. Marin still wants to find her mother, and manages to get enough information from Gilda's files to hunt down a friend of her mother's who provides her with information she thinks will allow her to find her mother-- on her birthday, her mother scatters wishes off a seaside cliff near her San Francisco home. Marin is determined to go there to confront her mother. Her timing is bad, however; there is an earthquake, and Lucy is panicked and sets off to find her with Gilda. Will Marin be able to put her past behind her and move on?
Strengths: This is beautifully crafted... think Newbery possibilities. It is a spare and moving novel of one girl's search for family told in an intriguing way. I was really interested in Marin's story, so this was a quick read. Not surprised that other titles by this author are in verse. I liked the inclusion of the earthquake. It was very realistic.
Weaknesses: The parts with the owl were odd, and there were a lot of coincidences. I was also a bit disturbed by the portrayal of Marin's foster homes that were only taking in children in order to make the rent.
What I really think: People who liked Pax and Sometimes a Fox will adore this lyrical, introspective novel of love and loss. I was intrigued by Marin's story, but the style was rather odd, and I don't think it will resonate with my students.

Ms. Yingling Ms. Yingling