Holt, Kimberly Willis. Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel
March 28th 2017 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
Stevie's parents are both killed when a car hits their produce stand, so she must leave New Mexico to live with the grandfather she has never met in Texas. He runs a decrepit hotel, and has quite an interesting staff. Stevie is not sent to the public school, but tutored by the narcoleptic Mrs. Crump at her home, along with the frequently truant Frida. Stevie helps Violet, the head housekeeper, gets to know Roy, the handyman's son, and hangs out with Horace and Ida, long term residents. Stevie misses gardening, so gets her new friends to help her put a garden in to help the appearance of the hotel. She eventually gets to visit her father's sister, and learns some of the details about her parents' lives that her grandfather doesn't want to share.
Strengths: The motel setting and the cast of somewhat quirky characters was very fun, especially the very cute Roy. Stevie grieves occasionally, but the book is generally upbeat. The gardening angle is interesting.
Weaknesses: More dead middle grade parents and estranged grandparents. I sort of want to poll my students to see what percentage of them have never met their grandparents, because a whole lot of middle grade books hinge on that plot device.
What I really think: This was well written and fairly engaging, but it was also slow. I want to see a finished copy, because the cover shot makes it look like an odd size. The cover will help this one (in a way that the cover of Effie Zook doesn't), but this may not circulate very much. Debating.
Weschler, Doug. The Hidden Life of a Toad
March 14th 2017 by Charlesbridge Publishing
Copy received from the publisher
This nicely sized (8.9 x 8.5 inches) book is an excellent introduction to tadpoles and toads. The close up photographs of the developmental stages are clear and crisp, and accompanied by simple explanations. Some of the pictures are labeled, which is helpful, and there are also some nice nature shots of toads in their environments. The back of the book has a glossary, additional information about the differences between frogs and toads, as well as some toad facts and helpful tips for aiding in the fight to save frogs. Who knew that their was a Toad Detour near Philadelphia?
The text is a bit more challenging than Nic Bishop's nature books, but a little easier than Seymour Simon's. While this makes it a good choice for elementary level beginning readers, even middle school students will benefit from the detailed photographs outlining the stages in a simple way. The smaller format is great, since older students can shy away from books that look too simplistic. I especially liked how the text was presented on a pleasant blue background-- this color complemented the photographs well and made it easy to read.
Since Sneed Collard's nature books are frequent nonfiction choices for my students, I'm glad to be introduced to Wechsler's work. Classroom teachers will want to investigate his other titles that might provide a brief overview on topics that aren't covered in the textbook, or are covered on a reading level that is too high for struggling middle grade readers.