Tuesday, May 22, 2018

A Warp in Time (Horizon #3)

Watson, Jude. A Warp in Time (Horizon #3)
January 30th 2018 by Scholastic Inc.
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

The children in the Killbots whose plane went down have suffered from having friends die, being stuck in all sorts of treacherous situations, and losing their confidence in their survival. Just when they are faint with hunger and about to give up, they hear the voices of other humans. They meet another group of children, the CubTones, who were traveling home from the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade when they were ripped out of their plane in a similar fashion. They managed to save more things from the plane, including china, seats, and other things to make their camp more comfortable. They seem to be settling in for the long haul, which makes Molly worried. It gets worse as they talk more to the members of the band and realize that they make a lot of references to daily life that the Killbots don't understand. Molly is worried that the bite she has gotten from the bird will begin to affect her, especially since she meets Calvin, who has a similar bite and is kept in a separate quarters by the CubTones because all manner of things irritate him. He talks nonsensically, but the more that they listen to him, the more it is clear that he is trying to tell everyone more about surviving in this weird wilderness and maybe, someday, being able to return home.

There are a lot of characters in these books, and they remain true to how they are portrayed in previous volumes. Yoshi is still trying to prove himself, because he feels his parents don't want him. Molly is a good leader, but worries that her skills will decrease all too soon. The Japanese sisters are learning a bit more English, and able to communicate with the group through Yoshi. Javi really steps up and tries to help Molly. Hank is a good leader for the CubTones, and Kim, Crash and Pammy are all very separate entities. Calvin, of course, is difficult to read, but Molly does try to figure out the mystery.

There is an online gaming component to these books, so many of the children's adventures have a disctinct video game feel-- they travel around, have to fight monsters, and find gadgets that help them with what they are attempting to do. The first book in the series is by Scott Westerfeld, and the second by Jennifer Nielsen, but Jude Watson is able to maintain the same feeling and writing style that made these books quick reads.

Children who love science fiction series like Voyagers! Or Todd Strickland Mars: Year One will find plenty of action and adventure in the Horizon series, and the mystery will appeal to those who have finished The Thirty-Nine Clues or Infinity Ring series.

DuBois, William P. The Twenty-One Balloons
September 14th 1947 by Viking Books for Young Readers
School library copy

I was waxing nostalgic about books with my elder daughter over the weekend, and this title came up, along with Morley's Parnassus on Wheels and Roberts' I am the Great Horse. Clearly, this child picked up my eclectic reading tastes. Since I'm about to run out of ARCs and summer is quickly approaching, I treated myself to a reread of this book, which is still on my library shelves.

William Waterman Sherman has taught math to students for 40 years in San Francisco, and we catch up with him in 1883 after he has sailed a balloon far away, in order to escape the cares of the world. Unfortunately, his balloon (which was brilliantly equipped with wicker furniture and a silk mattress filled with gas) is attacked by birds, and he crashes onto the island of Krakatoa. There, he is met with Mr. F, who is garbed in a full morning suit, and is shown the wonders of an island with such an enormous diamond mine that it can support 20 families in amazing style. Because of the necessary secrecy surrounding this vast wealth, Sherman is told he can't leave, but as long as he doesn't have to teach the 40 children on the island, he is okay with that. The residents have a restaurant form of government, and each family provides one meal a month, based on the letter of the alphabet assigned to their family, and the corresponding culture they have appropriated for the food as well as the architecture of the home. Sherman isn't wild about the Chinese food provided by the Cs, but looks forward to the Italian food as the month progresses. There are lots of details about how the people get money for the diamonds without ruining the market, and also about the details of mechanical beds that drop the occupants right into the bath! The book moves quickly, however, and soon Krakatoa is due to explode. The residents are prepared, and take off in a balloon powered platform, leaving Sherman to crash land in the ocean. He tells the Explorers Club about his adventures.

There are problematic passages, such as an incident with a Native American tribe having the top of the Explorers Club building land on their reservation, a mention of Negroes, and the general cultural appropriation of the restaurant culture and the vaguely disapproving feel that had.

I got rid of The Cricket in Times Square because of the lengthy, unflattering description of a Chinese man, but I'm a little conflicted about this. The book is completely typical of its time, and not purposefully mean spirited. The idea is such a fun one. Should it stay, or go?

This is why it is good to occasionally revisit older titles. Tonight's reading may include The Children of Green Knowe and The House with a Clock in Its Walls, since it's going to be a movie in the fall.

Monday, May 21, 2018

MMGM-Front Desk

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Always in the Middle and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

31247008Yang, Kelly. Front Desk.
May 29th 2018 by Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine
ARC provided by the publisher

It's the early 1990s, and Mia and her parents have moved to California from China in search of more freedom and opportunities. Unfortunately, they are not able to get the same sort of professional jobs they had in China, and work at a Chinese restaurant until Mia's help turns disastrous! They eventually find a hotel in Anaheim in need of managers, and are happy that they won't have to pay all of their salary for rent. The owner, Mr. Yao, promises them a certain rate per customer, but ends up not treating them very fairly. This makes things even harder for Mia. Not only is she helping to run the front desk while her parents spend a lot of time cleaning, she has to be in class with Jason Yao. Mia struggles a bit in school, although her English is very good. She has some trouble getting along with the other students, who are not very kind about the clothes she wears or her immigrant status, but she does find a friend in Lupe, whose father comes to repair something at the hotel. Both girls have told some white lies about their lives, knowing that other students might not understand how difficult their lives can be. Word gets out that Mia's parents occasionally will put up other Chinese immigrants at the hotel for free, so there is a steady stream of people in need of a helping hand. Mia also gets to know the "weekly" residents, including Hank. When a car is stolen from the hotel, the police look suspiciously at Hank, who is black, and when Hank later runs down criminals who beat up Mia's mother, he ends up in jail. Mia doesn't think this is fair at all, and uses her writing skills to try to improve his situation. She also uses these skills to try to win a hotel in Vermont in an essay contest. She even manages to gather a lot of money to enter, although her mother's hospital visit after being beat up threatens to be very expensive. Mia learns that while her hard work doesn't always pay off, it gets her and her family much closer to their goals of being comfortable US citizens, and also helps those around her.
Strengths: This had a lot of very well placed elements going for it. First, it is an #ownvoices book, and Yang has drawn on her own experiences. She mentions in a forward that her early days in the US were very difficult, and she wanted to share this with her son without writing a depressing book. She succeeded admirably. While the difficulties on Mia's life are very apparent, Mia, her parents, and the other people with whom Mia interacts all try very hard to do their best and to help others who need it. This makes the book realistic but upbeat. Young readers who do not understand the difficulties of immigrant life will definitely understand them after reading this book, but because Mia is such a likable character, they will hopefully use this understanding to be nicer to people in their own lives. The incident with Mia having to wear flowered stretch pants instead of jeans was heart breaking to read as an adult, and I hope that it will help readers be more aware of the difficulties their own classmates may face.
Weaknesses: As an adult, my heart broke for Mia again and again.
What I really think:  This is an essential purchase for elementary and middle schools alike, and will be enjoyed by readers who may not understand how powerful the book is. I do think it will help readers to be empathetic, and we certainly need more of that!

This is a great book to read along with Sonnenblick's The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade, because of the kindness it teaches. The school principal in that book has a quote up on his wall: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." Too bad that even adults have trouble with this concept.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

YA Romances

35791907Goo, Maurene. The Way You Make Me Feel
May 8th 2018 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Clara is a trouble maker, and when her friends put her up for junior prom queen, she goes all out to try to win, masterminding a rendition of Carrie when she is crowned. It doesn't go well, and she and the junior class president, Rose, get into a fight on stage and cause a fire! In order to make reparations, Clara has to spend her summer working on her father's Korean-Brazilian food truck, KoBra. Rose's uptight lawyer parents think it would also be good if Rose worked there. The girls have to learn to work together, and learn that everyone has problems that impact their lives. They meet the very cute Hamlet, whose wealthy Chinese parents have parked him in the US with friends, and he and Clara start dating. Clara has unresolved issues with her mother, who had her at 16 and now works as a "trendsetter". One part of Clara's punishment was that she couldn't spend time with her mother, but when her father refuses to enter a food truck competition, Clara books a flight and goes to meet her mother anyway. She's a little surprised that her mother is working and that the vacation isn't time for the two of them to spend together, and she gains a bit more insight into how hard her father has worked to raise her.
Strengths: The California setting of this one, and the details about running a food truck (right down to parking near a communal kitchen and buying the food from local sources!) were really interesting to me, as was the inclusion of very young parents. The dichotomy between Clara's hard working, struggling father and her very privileged mother added a twist to the story, as did Rose and Hamlet's privileged but not perfect lives. Clara had some really bratty moments, but she did turn herself around. I think the thing that I liked best about this was that it wasn't another ordinary teen romance-- it had a fresh setting and different characters. Hamlet's "grandparents", the family friends with whom he was staying, were fun as well.
Weaknesses: The book deserves a better cover, and there was some coarseness-- Clara throws out handfuls of tampons at a school assembly, and the prom scene involves fake blood as well as a fight scene. Clara is often unlikable, but she does turn around by the end of the book.
What I Really Think: This was a delightful, fresh teen romance that has a lot of very good elements. I think I will buy it, despite my own personal objections to the coarseness at the beginning.

The Tiffany Stewart (below) has run afoul of a whole lot of people. This book wasn't interesting enough for me to buy, but everyone must make an individual decision.

Stewart, Tiffany. Holly Jolly Summer
May 29th 2018 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
E ARC from Netgalley.

Darby is the daughter of the long time mayor of Christmas, Florida, and since her mother died in childbirth, she spends a lot of time workin gin her father's office and helping him out. When she and her boyfriend are caught kissing at the opening of the town snowglobe, and chaos ensues, she ends up having to spend the summer working maintenance at the local theme park so she doesn't hurt her father's political career, since Christmas is an up and coming town and higher level politicos are watching him. Complications ensue.
Strengths: I liked that Darby was 15-- veyr few books have characters that age, and it's perfect for middle school students who want to read about characters a few years older than themselves. I was intrigued by the setting (wouldn't one set in North Pole, New York at a theme park be fun?) as well.
Weaknesses: Nothing fresh or interesting.  .
What I really think: Although Christmas themed romance books do really well in my library, there was nothing particularly fun or amusing in this. Will pass on purchasing.

34722536Mainwaring, Anna. Rebel with a Cupcake
April 3rd 2018 by KCP Loft (first published March 25th 2015)
Public library copy

Jesobel is perfectly happy with how she looks, thank you, even though she is on the heavy side and her mother used to model. When life gets tough, the tough eat cupcakes, and she's not going to apologize for not adhering to societal norms. She'll wear what she likes if its fashionable, even if she is beginning to realize she would look better if she weren't so heavy. When her mother buys her a dress for an upcoming dance, she decides a diet wouldn't hurt, and goes about it in a way that makes her faint. Her sister Cat, who may well have an eating disorder of her own, shows her a little about how to diet and not pass out, and Jess does lose a little weight. It's not enough to entice Matt, her crush, to go out with her, but she does connect with friend Alex and reaches something of a body image understanding with her mother, sister, and herself.
Strengths: This is definitely on trend as far as body image and fat acceptance topics go.
Weaknesses: Jess is not a very pleasant person, there are a LOT of British terms used, and the message about bowing to cultural norms is very mixed.
What I really think: A bit too young adult for my library, and since my readers no longer find Louise Rennison funny, I think they would struggle with the Britishisms.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

All Summer Long and Road Whiz

Larson, Hope. All Summer Long
May 1st 2018 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Public Library Copy

Bina and Austin are next door neighbors who can't remember a time when they were not friends. They normally spend their summer together accumulating fun experiences (petting cats, eating ice cream, swimming, etc.) for their Summer Fun Index, but this year Austin is off to a soccer camp. Bina's parents have decided she can stay home alone, but it's actually a really boring to spend the summer before high school. After a Netflix binge, her mother cuts her off, and Bina must find things to do. After losing her house key and breaking into Austin's house to retrieve the one he has, she runs into his older sister Charlie, who was lifeguarding but broke her arm. The two share an interest in music, and Bina is pleased to be hanging out with an older girl, helping her babysit and occasionally meeting up with Charlie's sort-of boyfriend. Austin does return her texts, and when she and Charlie fall out, the summer loses a lot of its promise, even when her uncle and his husband adopt a baby.. When Austin comes back, things are weird, but Bina does get to see her new favorite band, Steep Streets, and gets encouragement from the lead singer to pursue her musical dreams by starting a band.
Strengths: Ah, summer. It always seems like such an idyllic time, but was it, really? There's a lot of boredom, a lot of lack of direction, and it can be very difficult to get together with friends. I love that Larson capitalizes on this, as well as having Charlie be a "summer friend". Haven't we all had people with whom we only spent time in the summer, mainly because of proximity? The fact that Bina and Austin are changing is also very true to life. Quite nice.
Weaknesses: The interior illustrations are all black with an orangey yellow, which was hard on the eyes. I would have preferred just black, or maybe the lovely turquoise of the cover.
What I really think: Will definitely purchase, since this is a higher quality graphic novel like Roller Girl or El Deafo. 

Pattison, Darcy. Road Whiz
8 April 2018, Kobo Writing Life
E ARC from Netgalley

Jamie's father, who is usually away on business, wants him to play football, but Jamie doesn't want to. When he sees that his mother is depressed and gaining weight because of his father's absence, he asks her to start running with him. The two do a number of 5k races, and Jamie is irritated when a boy from school, Chan Maxwell, frequently beats him. After his mother lets him adopt a greyhound, Road Whiz, the two run together, and Jamie is glad of the companionship. School is difficult for Jamie, since he doesn't have many friends, and he is taller than average. He continues to train for races, but can't make the progress that he would like. Eventually, his father (who does visit occasionally) realizes that not only is Jamie not going to play football, but the father is also missing out on Jamie's life.
Strengths: I am ALWAYS looking for books about distance running, and this had some good descriptions of races. It's nice that the parents are alive, if somewhat dysfunctional, and good that Jamie is motivated to keep running. Dog stories are also good, and I know someone who has adopted several retired racing greyhounds, so that was a nice inclusion.
Weaknesses: Many of the details of this are half a bubble off. The treatment of the mother's weight as well as the fact that the father doesn't want her to have a job seemed odd, and I thought that Jamie would have joined a high school cross country team. His desire to always win a race rather than improve on his own time bothered me, because that's not how we motivate runners on my school team. It was also odd that he had no real friends (except for Brad at the end) and spent so much time with his mother.
What I really think: The cover sinks this one for me. I could forgive the odd details, since I need so many running books, but the 1980s font and graphic on the cover will not encourage readers to pick this up. Another round or two of edits would have helped this book a lot. It has some potential, but in the end, just didn't work for me.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, May 18, 2018

The War Below, Voices from the Second World War

Skrypuch, Marsha Forchuk. The War Below
April 24th 2018 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Luka and his family lived in the Ukraine, where his father ran a pharmacy and let Luka help with the medicines quite a bit. His father was taken off by the secret police, and Luka ended up by himself in a concentration camp. There, he befriended Lida (from Making Bombs for Hitler). When he ends up in the hospital with a wound to his thigh, Lida encourages him to escape. He does, in a death cart, and jumps out before he gets to the mass grave. He manages to make his way across the countryside, scantily clad and injured, and takes refuge in a barn. Eventually, he tries to steal food, but the couple, Helmut and Margarete, find him. Having two sons of their own, they take pity on him and get him squared away. Eventually, he learns to trust them even though one of their sons is in the WehrMacht and could turn his parents in if they caught him harboring a prisoner. Luka stays for a while, but is determined to make his way to Kyiv to find his father. With the war going badly for the Nazis, it's not safe for him to go towards the city, and he ends up becoming involved with the Ukranian resistance with Martina, a girl who helps him survive in the forest. Once liberation comes, Luka searches for both Lida and his father, hoping that the Red Cross can help him find them.

From the tense beginning, where Luka is trying to escape in the death cart, to the end, where he is able to find some peace, this is a riveting read. Having it set in the Ukraine, with the resistance, adds even more interest to a topic that some would consider to be overdone. As much as I think sometimes that there are too many books about World War II, I know that there are lots of readers who enjoy these books, and that there is always room for fresh titles on new topics.

It also helps that The War Below covers many facets of the Jewish experience-- flash backs to daily life in Kyiv, time in the camps, and time hiding out in the wilderness. I wish that more books followed characters after liberation, when times were especially tense and unsettled. The end of this book reminded me of my all time favorite, Moskin's I am Rosemarie (1972).

The cover of this book is compelling, and will make for an excellent display when accompanied by Gratz's Prisoner B-3087, Bartoletti's The Boy Who Dared, this author's companion title and McCormick's nonfiction The Plot to Kill Hitler.

Voices from the Second World War: Stories of War as Told to Children of Today 
March 20th 2018 by Candlewick Press

Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

First News (https://www.firstnews.co.uk/) is a newspaper for children published in Great Britain, roughly akin to Scholastic News, but it seems that they have more in the way of child reporters. This book is a collection of interviews that these reporters filed with First News when they interviewed people (often relatives) who had lived through WWII. Divided into chapters headed with different experiences (The Outbreak of War, The British Home Front, The Fight For France, The Fall of Germany, etc.), this is a particularly British coverage of the war. This makes it a very good choice for US readers who think they know everything there is to know about WWII because they are familiar with the American home front and battle front. Things in Europe were very different.

While some of the people interviewed were young adults who were in the army, many of the interviewees were the age of the children interviewing them. They talk at length about the evacuation of both German and British children to keep them safe, and discuss how difficult it was to leave their families, sometimes not seeing them for years. The privations of living in a country that was being occupied by the enemy and was under attack is not something most people in the US think about, but there are many heart rending stories of children who were living under those conditions.

The stories are all brief, vary widely in their topics, and are accompanied by pictures of the subjects during the war and as they appeared when they were interviewed. The beginning of the book gives brief bios of all of the children who interviewed people for inclusion in the book, so this gives a highly personal feel and deep sense of connection that another style of writing would not provide.

While this might be difficult to use for research due to the lack of index, Voices from the Second World War is an important volume to use to understand how WWII changed the lives of those who lived through it. Pair it with Partridge's Vietnam-era interviews in Boots on the Ground or with any number of fiction books set during this tumultuous time period.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Blather- End of Year Rapidly Approaching

I think I speak for all school librarians when I say

Last night, I was sort of wishing for year round school. I'm sure at some point inventory would need to be done, things would need to be cleaned, and students would need to be hunted down for overdue books, but the idea of not packing everything away for ten weeks has its moments!

I get very irritated, especially about personal responsibility. As in "I'm sorry that you might not go to Pool Day because you haven't been able to find your book that was due in October, but since I have tried to contact your home to no avail, and I've been checking with you every two weeks to make sure you have a book to read since you can't check anything out, you need to finally acknowledge the fact that you left your library book on the floor in the hallway and now you have to pay for it." Yes, I understand that children have other circumstances going on, but when a mother repeatedly lies to me that a book was paid for and claims she just never got the receipt... no patience with child who left book in parking lot in the rain, especially since I've kept it in a baggie for almost two years as evidence.

Anyone else not sleep at night because the list of all the children with overdues keeps running through your brain?

Got rug burn on my knees shelf reading, and may only wear jeans for the rest of the year, especially since I will be literally rolling on the floor for the next two days doing inventory, with brief interludes of following children about to retrieve books FROM THEIR LOCKERS.

Breaks will also consist of gluing books back together and replacing mylar covers. This helps me stretch, although nothing prevents the arm and shoulder strain of scanning 12,000 books.

On the bright side, weeding is getting easier. Every year, I save the boxes that new books come in and try to fill them with weeded books to keep the collection in check!

Sort of want to live tweet my inventory, with pictures of satisfying things like all of the Rick Riordan books back on the shelf, but... not going to happen any more than stretching fishing line along the ceiling and having a flock of stuffed flying monkeys that I can release when a student with overdues comes in and wants to borrow a Chrome book.

Be strong, fellow librarians!

A Whale in Paris

Presley, Daniel and Polders, Claire. A Whale in Paris
May 22nd 2018 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Life is difficult for Chantal and her father at the end of World War II in Paris. Liberation seems like it may come at any time, but for now, the two must work around the German soldiers stationed around town as they try to catch fish for their market. Chantal misses her mother, who died in a horrible boat accident because her Aunt Sophie, who lives in Normandy and provides fish for the family to sell, was too drunk to keep up with the business and Chantal's mother went out in the boat with a storm approaching in order to get fish. After several nights of not having any catches, Chantal discovers that there is a small whale living in the Seine. She doesn't know how this happened, but she tells several people and soon the German officers are interrogating her, since she first suspected it was a submarine. When the whale turns out to be a harmless diversion, the German soldiers let Chantal give local children rides on the whale, whom she names Franklin, after the US president. Aided by Private Schroeder, a young, kind German who has a sister Chantal's age back home, Chantal manages to keep the whale safe. Times are hard, however, and when her Aunt Sophie comes to town, Chantal realizes that there is a resistance movement to the Nazis. Eventually, her father and aunt are arrested, and the local people, who have hardly any food at all, decide to eat Franklin. Chantal takes off down the river, hoping to make it to Rouen to release Franklin and also try to find her father and aunt.
Strengths: I really enjoyed all of the details about Nazi occupied Paris. The lack of food, the difficulties children faced in going to school and going about their daily lives, the presence of German soldiers-- this is all good stuff. These are details that young readers don't necessarily know, and are very valuable.
Weaknesses: The senseless death of the mother, and Chantal's constant grieving, did not add anything to this story. By this point in the war, there were probably very few people in Europe who had NOT lost at least one family member, and Chantal's reactions would no doubt have been more informed by this grim reality.
What I really think: This might be more of an elementary school story than a middle school one. Is it fantasy? The whale seems to understand Chantal and communicate with her through nodding and sounds. I really wish there had been some kind of historical note on this one. My 8th graders who need to read a book about World War II or the Holocaust will find this a bit confusing, so I am debating purchase. It might be good to have on hand for sensitive readers who can't handle something like Night or Gratz's Prisoner B-3087.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

World War II

36127366Larson, Kirby. Code Word Courage
April 24th 2018 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Billie and her big brother, Leo, have lived with their great aunt Doff for a while, since their mother passed away, and their father eventually left after he lost his farm. Doff is brusque and no nonsense, but takes good care of them. When Leo must go off to fight in World War II, Billie knows that she will miss him dreadfully, especially now that her best friend Hazel is hanging out with Kit, a mean and popular girl. When Leo comes home to visit after basic training, he brings a fellow Marine, Denny, home with him. On the way, Denny has found an injured dog that he names bear, and brings the dog with him because he feels that Billie needs someone to care for with Leo gone. Doff grudgingly agrees to keep him, and Billie struggles to get him a collar, leash and food with her scanty babysitting money. When the men go back to the Marines, Denny is picked to be part of the Codetalkers, Navajo men who used their native language to transmit messages that could not be decoded by the enemy. Leo gets shipped to the Pacific, and Billie must deal with living on the home front, collecting salvage, saving money to buy stamps to trade in for a saving bond, and rationing food. Her new friendship with Tito, a boy whose father is working on Doff's ranch, is put to the test when the two fight and Tito is injured while out stargazing. Bear comes to the rescue on more than one occasion.

Aside from Bruchac's Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two (2005), there are not many books that incorporate this bit of history. Even though this is not an #ownvoices book, Larson had sensitivity readers and did a lot of research to accurately portray Denny's experiences. While not exactly like her other dog books set during World War II, Duke, Dash, and Liberty, this is a great book to have on an underrepresented topic.

Billie's experiences on the home front are not that unusual, but it was interesting to see a book set out west that included the treatment of Mexican Americans. Tito suffers from being made fun of a lot, but he is very stoic about it. I hadn't known that there was such discrimination against Mexican Americans during this time period until I read Conkling's Sylvia and Aki (2011), and this, too, is a good topic to see addressed.

World War II continues to be a topic that fascinates young readers, and Code Word Courage will keep those obsessed with the era reading happily.

31394849Weissman, Elissa Brent. The Length of a String
May 1st 2018 by Dial Books
Public Library Copy

Imani was adopted as an infant by a Jewis family in Baltimore. Although she knows that her biological heritage is mostly African-American, she enjoys her Hebrew school and Jewish family traditions when her great grandmother Anna dies, she and her cousins get to pick out books, and Imani finds Anna's diary. Enthralled by the story, Imani and her friend Madeline read the diary in secret for a while, but eventually share it with Imani's family. As her bat mitzvah is approaching, Imani starts to think about her biological cultural heritage, and is interested in finding her birth mother. Since it wasn't an open adoption, her mother is a bit surprised and unsure what reception Imani might get. Reading about Anna's story, which involved being sent to the US to live with a relative while her extended family remained in Luxembourg, Imani learns a lot about her family history and culture, but also a lot about herself.
Strengths: My best friend in middle school was adopted, and I know we spent a lot of time thinking about her backstory. Personal identity is a huge issue in middle school, and there are not as many books with adopted characters as there perhaps should be. We also need more Holocaust stories with different facets, and there are relatively few that cover children sent away. Weissman always writes compellingly, and this is an interesting departure from her usual humorous novels.
Weaknesses: This is a bit on the long side, and my readers who ask repeatedly for Holocaust books are most interested in stories set in the camps. I wish this had followed Anna and her family. Imani's story could be a completely different book!
What I really think: I will probably purchase this because it was good, but sort of do wish it were two separate books.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Quest of the Cubs (Bears of the Ice #1)

Lasky, K35849451athryn. The Quest of the Cubs (Bears of the Ice #1)
February 27th 2018 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Two bear cubs are born in Nunquivik, north of Ga'Hoole. Their father is off hunting in the far, far north, and their mother has been approached by Roguers, who want to take her cubs to work for the Timekeepers of the Ice Cap, who believer their work with clocks somehow keeps the ice from melting. Svenna offers herself instead, so she trains her unnamed cubs as best she can and leaves them with Taaka, a relative with thre young cubs of her own. Unfortunately, Taaka is very mean and neglectful, so the cubs soon decide to run away to look for their father. The way north is treacherous, but they are helped along the way by a variety of kindly animals. They eventually name themselves Jytte and Stellan, and happen across another bear name Uluk Uluk in an abandoned town, perhaps left over from the Gold Rush. He seems helpful, but proves to be in league with some evil characters, but has at least introduced the cubs to the world of the Timekeepers and told them that their mother is most likely there. Eventually, the subs happen upon their smallest cousin, Third, who was kicked out of Taaka's house because he was so small, but he seems to have some mystical powers, as do Jytte and Svenna. In alternating chapters, we have also been learning about Svenna's life, working as a numerator, doing calculations for the Timekeepers. When she runs afoul of them, she spends time in jail where she meets ghosts of cubs who worked on the wheels. They aren't quite dead, but neither are they living, and Svenna makes up her mind to try to bring them back to life. Skagen, a snow leopard, helps the cubs make their way to the Ice Cap, only to come to grief when they arrive. Will the cubs be able to find their mother and rescue her? Read The Den of Forever Frost (Bears of the Ice #2) when it comes out on 9 October 2018.

Perfect for fans of talking animal books like London's The Wild Ones, Rocha's The Secrets of Bearhaven, and Iserles Foxcraft, this is essential for those who have followed Lasky's Guardians of Ga'Hoole series. Like most of these books, this has an element of the supernatural, and the cubs each have different powers that are helpful to them in their perils. They have a quest, although they are lacking the clans that is usual for this type of talking animal book.

The far north setting is well-described, although given how long this winter has been, I wish they had ventured south! There are a variety of animals, some of which are helpful and some, like Toothwalkers, which are terrifying. The bears do a lot of fishing and even kill some seals to eat, but are always respectful of their place in the food chain.

There will no doubt be more details about how the bears got involved with keeping clocks and with doing calculations to assure that the north will stay cold. The ghosts of the bears could also use a little more explanation, but we are learning about all of these things along with Jytte and Stellan. There are also sure to be battles to come as they rescue their mother and try to take down the evil Roguers.
Ms. Yingling

Monday, May 14, 2018

MMGM- Amal Unbound

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Always in the Middle and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

Saeed, Aisha. Amal Unbound
May 8th 2018 by Nancy Paulsen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Amal loves to go to school and help out her teacher, unlike her friend Hafsa who gets miffed when class lets out late. Hafsa and Amal plan to leave their small town near Lahore and go to college some day, and Amal wants to be a teacher. However, when her mother has her fifth daughter, she falls into a depression and even with the help of the family housekeeper, Parvin, there is too much work to be down. Amal must stay home from school to do the laundry and cooking. When she is in the market, enjoying the time away from the house, she buys a pomegranate as a treat for herself. On the way home, she is hit by a car, and instead of apologizing, the occupant takes away her pomegranate! Amal grabs the fruit back and leaves after a few terse words, not realizing that she is crossing Jawad Sahib, who loans money to local families and exacts horrible consequences if not repaid quickly. Since her father owes money to Jawad after some bad years with the family farm, Jawad decides to take Amal to his estate to work as a maid in repayment. Her father assures her that this will only be for a month of so, and Amal is fortunate that she is to work for Jawad's mother, Nasreen Baji, who is kinder than many employers would be. Still, she is given trouble by Nabila, who was Nasreen Baji  maid but was demoted after making mistakes, and she quickly begins to realize that she will not be going home soon. She tries to make the best of the situation, and with the help of the other servants, borrows books from the house library. Because Jawad's father is running for political office, the family has built a literacy center in Amal's town, and the Ministry of Education has staffed it, but no one will go, not wanting to owe the family anything. Amal is forced to attend but is very happy to be taught about computers by the teacher, Asif. When Jawad's evil doings finally catch up with him, Amal is able to give vital clues to the authorities and break the family's hold over her town.
Strengths: We need more books about how young people in other countries live, and I would have adored this as a middle school student. The details of what school and family life are like for Amal are wonderfully depicted, and her close knit, extended family is supportive and caring. Having markets in both the town and in Lahore described is fascinating, and the family wedding and attendant parties adds even more cultural depth. Amal's plight, and her reactions to it, are realistically portrayed, and her impulsive behavior has both good and bad consequences. There are so many wonderful levels of things happening in this book, and there is an overall upbeat feel that will help young readers process the traumatic experiences that Amal has. Notes in an afterword discuss the plight of indentured servants in today's societies.
Weaknesses: It seems a little unrealistic that Amal would be able to bring Jawad to justice, but it does make for a great story!
What I really think: I need books like this set in lots of different countries! Every day life for children 11-14, with details about food, clothing, school, families and so many other things! Reading this type of book, as well as historical fiction, is a great way for young readers to understand that the entire world is not exactly the way their little corner of it is!
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Rosetown and Marge in Charge

34975050Rylant, Cynthia. Rosetown.
May 8th 2018 by Beach Lane Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Flora Smallwood lives in Rosetown, Indiana in 1972. Her mother works at a vintage bookstore, a Wing and a Chair, and her father is a newspaper reporter. Life is very slow paced and mild, although there are some sad things-- her parents are separated, her dog has recently died, and the ripples of the Vietnam war are still being felt. She has a good friend, Vanessa, and another friend, Yury, whose father is a local doctor from the Ukraine. Flora and Yury are training his new dog, and there is a cat at the bookstore. Flora takes piano lessons at Three Part Harmony, hangs out with her friends at the Peaceable Buns Bakery, and participates in Scrabble Club at Moonwalk Toys. Her fourth grade teacher, Mr. Cooper, encourages the students to read the encyclopedia (a 1962 edition), and to write. He even encourages Flora to write stories to submit to the brand new Cricket magazine. Even though things aren't perfect, the adults in Flora's life care very much about her, and make sure that she is happy and safe.
Strengths: This was a very calm, soothing book that might be just what scared fourth graders might need right now. Very classic feel, and a great choice for readers who can't handle any drama.
Weaknesses: A bit too quiet and young for my students, and there was a historical error that I may be the only person to catch-- Mr. Cooper gives Flora a Cricket magazine in April of 1973, but publication didn't begin until September of 1973. I know because I still own the magazine 45 years after my father gave it to me. What is accurate is how influential this magazine was!
What I really think: I don't think that anywhere as idyllic as Rosetown ever existed, but I certainly want to move there and be the middle school librarian! I won't buy this book for my library because it is a bit too young and slow moving for my readers, but I did enjoy it.

35396547Fisher, Isla. Marge in Charge and the Stolen Treasure
May 8th 2018 by HarperCollins
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Jemima and her little brother Jakey are being bedeviled by their baby cousin, Zara. Their Aunt Sally claims that her "baby-waby" is "easy-breezy", but from the devastation that is wrought on their toys and other possessions, the children know that this is not the case. They hope that their babysitter (and former duchess!) Marge will be able to use her skills to tame the baby, but Zara proves challenging even for a seasoned veteran of child care. Marge does maintain that babies are basically pirates, and since Jakey loves anything piratical, this ruse works for a while, and Jemima even answers a pirate Code Brown (changing a dirty diaper). Since the weather is nice, Marge readies her charges for a trip to the local pool, and Zara has some trouble remembering to keep her swim diaper on. More antics ensure when Uncle Desmond is getting married to Annie Alligator (Jakey thinks her teeth look pointy) and Jemima serves as ring bearer.  Of course, the rings go missing, and Zara is suspect, since she has been so difficult for so long. Even with an incident with paint on Annie's wedding gown, the ceremony goes off without too many hitches, and the children decide that dealing with Zara is another of Marge's skills.

This beginning level, illustrated novel shows a particularly British view of child care, complete with very difficult children and a babysitter who would give Mary Poppins a bit of competition in the area of carpet bags. Marge has no magical powers, but she seems to understand what children like to do, and she is very attentive and active in her dealings with the children. It's good to see an adult interacting with children in a positive way, and not being distracted by a cell phone! Young readers will wish that their own parents would play pirates as much is Marge is willing to.

Zara seems to be particularly precocious for a child who can barely walk, but children who must suffer through a younger brother or sister who gets into their things and ruins them will understand Jemima and Jakey's pain. Hopefully, the baby in their own life will seem mild in comparison!

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Nanny Piggins, Monster Nanny and Mr. Gedrick are all fictional care providers that have many things in common with Marge-- you can almost seeing the group of them hanging out, having a bit of tea, and talking about the antics to which their charges get!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Invisible Invasion and Tiny Infinities

39192780Brady, Dustin. The Invisible Invasion: Trapped in a Video Game #2
April 10th 2018 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

In Full Blast, Jessie and Eric are just glad to be out of the video game in which they were trapped, but they know they need to save their classmate, Mark. When Jessie wakes up invisible and then finds Mr. Gregory hiding in the bushes, he is hopeful he can get help, since the father of his classmate works for Bionosoft, the company producing the problematic games. Unfortunately, Jessie gets sucked into the new game, Go Wild! Like Pokemon Go, it has players finding animals with their phones and battling them against each other. Eric sees Jessie in the game, but doesn't believe at first that he is trapped there. When they come across Mark as a very old man, they know there is no time to waste in figuring out how to defeat the game, as well as the evil owner of Bionosoft.
Strengths: This has a lot of action, and many descriptive scenes that are right out of video games. Getting chased by various creatures, wielding an ice bazooka, and buying premium features to enhance their chances of winning are all things that will appeal to younger readers who are not cursed to have every one of their DinoPark Tycoon scenarios burn to the ground. Even so, it had a lot more plot than the Cube Kid or other gamer fan titles books (which is to say- there is one). The books in this series are short and simplistic; Insert Coin to Continue they are not, but they're a good choice for reluctant readers interested in video games.
Weaknesses: I'm not a fan of the artwork, but my students are not going to mind it.
What I really think: Will purchase if the Accelerated Reader test becomes available.

Diehl, J.H. Tiny Infinities 
May 8th 2018 by Chronicle Books
Copy provided by the publisher

Alice is having a tumultuous summer. Her mother is depressed and lethargic following a car accident and multiple surgeries, and her father moves out. Her brothers go to live with an aunt, but Alice is heavily involved in swim team, and her aunt's house is too far for the pool. To protest her mother's behavior, Alice moves into a Renaissance Fair tent that the family has set up in the back yard. New neighbors, the Phoebes, move in next door. Their young daughter, Piper, lost the ability to communicate when she was about two, and Alice finds her wandering in the street, injured. Unfortunately, this occurs in the middle of the night, when Alice is sneaking back from breaking into the pool to practice. Piper's father blames Alice for Piper getting out, but the mother and older brother Owen seem nice. Alice meets Harriet at the pool, and the two find that they have a lot in common. They start to spend time together, working on a science project of their own devising that involves fire flies. This involves spending a lot of time in the backyard. Alice babysits Piper and her younger brother on occasion, and at one point, Pipe says a word. Since she hasn't communicated at all, Alice tells the parents, who become upset with her. Alice's mother is also upset about events she deems lying, but are actually reasonable responses to the mother's neglect. Harriet tries to diagnose Piper's ailment and comes up with a possible idea, and her theory is given more credence when Harriet, Owen, and Alice manage to videotape Piper talking. Eventually, Alice's parents have to make a decision about how they will move forward with their family arrangements, and summer, like all summers, has to end.
Strengths: Books about children who have specific interests and have activities are always in demand. The swim team and fire fly experiments really set this book about from other realistic tales. Having Piper exhibit traits that are not necessarily autism spectrum related is interesting, since there are a significant number of books with characters on the spectrum. Alice's relationship with Owen is very sweet as well.
Weaknesses: I can see what the publisher was going for with the cover, but it looks good from very few angles. The issues with the mother were treated oddly, and there was never a good explanation or resolution. I think this is the scariest thing for young readers, and I wish it were handled differently. It's realistic, perhaps, but hard for young readers to understand. Of course, dysfunctional parents are quickly outpacing talking animals on my list of things I really dislike in books, so it wasn't my favorite part.
What I really think: The cover will mean that I will have to hand sell this one, but it could circulate decently well with a little push. I wish that Chronicle would get away from their usual vaguely depressing realistic fiction with dark covers and use their skills to produce some fun, bright, humorous fiction with some color and pictures.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Boy Bites Bug and Whatshisface

35888422Petruck, Rebecca. Boy Bites Bug
May 8th 2018 by Amulet Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Will has been friends with Darryl and Simon in his small Minnesota town for as long as he can remember. When there is a stink bug invasion in the library and their teacher steps out for a moment, Darryl makes racist comments about Eloy, who has recently moved to town. Will is so surprised and disturbed by his friend's comments that he tries to deflect attention from them... by eating a stink bug. Needless to say, this is not a great idea, and Will gets in a lot of trouble. He's unsure how to deal with his friend, but starts talking to Eloy more and finds out that he is interested in wrestling. The season is just starting, and Will has been waiting for it for a long time. He and Eloy are about the only 7th graders on the team, and the two start spending more time together. The "Bug Boy" label is firmly attached to Will, however, and he's trying hard to figure a way around it. For a group science project on insects, he works with Eloy on the subject of entomophagy and works with Eloy's father (who runs a Mexican restaurant that is one of Will's favorites) to bring fried crickets to their presentation. He doesn't do the appropriate paperwork, and gets in a lot of trouble. Eloy feels, with some reason, that Will was making fun of his culture. Will is very confused-- he wants to be friends with Eloy and enjoys the time they spend together at wrestling-- but he seems unable to address Eloy's cultural background without being a complete jerk. He is constantly apologizing but usually getting things wrong. In conjunction with the science project, and to raise money for a teacher with cancer, Will comes up with an idea for a Buck-a-Bug bake sale, and gets Eloy's father to help. In the meantime, he also seems to be a thoughtless jerk to Darryl, which is easy to do after Darryl puts ants in his and Eloy's wrestling singlets. Still, Will tries desperately to be the better person, and tries to overcome his reputation as Bug Boy while making things as right as he can with his friends.
Strengths: This has WRESTLING in it, and the details are really good! There is also the gross out factor of bugs and cooking, but there are also a lot of good reasons for the consumption of insects. I bet Ms. Petruck has an awesome school presentation for this book! Will's struggle to hit the right note with his friends is so painfully true to life, and I know that the plight of children who are not of Germanic or Norwegian descent in Minnesota must be a lot tougher than it is here in Ohio. (I have relatives in Iowa who spoke German in school before WWII who are NOT happy with Mexican immigrants, which I have trouble understanding.) The families are supportive and understanding of the difficulties middle school students have with social interaction, and Will's sister is especially wonderful, considering the bugs with which she has to put up! I really enjoyed this one.
Weaknesses: Will's angst goes on a tiny bit longer than necessary, and the descriptions of ingesting insects are not for the faint of stomach.
What I really think: This is an excellent addition to any middle school collection. The wrestling will draw readers in, and the friendship issues will keep them riveted. The bugs... the students will enjoy much more than I did!

Korman, Gordon. Whatshisface
May 8th 2018 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Cooper Vega is used to moving a lot with his parents' jobs, but it still gets old being "what's his face". At his newest school, he manages to run afoul of Brock, the popular, jerk-face jock. He has a pleasant interaction with Jolie, who is also popular and absolutely addicted to extreme sports. The town, Stratford, is greatly influenced by the wealthy Mr. Wulfson, who is a Shakespeare aficionado and collector of Shakespearean artifacts. Because of this, the middle school always puts on a play, and this year Romeo and Juliet is in line for porduction. Of course, Brock is cast as Romeo, and Jolie as Juliet, much to Cooper's chagrin. Cooper has bigger problems, though-- the new phone with which his parents have tried to bribe him, the GX-4000 is glitchy... and haunted. The ghost of a Shakespearean era printer's apprentice, Roddy, is in control of the phone and giving Cooper a VERY hard time. Between wanting to go to class to see all of the innovations in the world, to cursing out Brock in inventive language, to giving Cooper tips on how to woo Jolie, Roddy is annoying, but also the closet thing Cooper has to a best friend. He is also very helpful when Brock injures himself and Cooper has to step in to the role of Romeo! Eventually, Cooper and Roddy figure out why Roddy is haunting the phone, and investigate some of Mr. Wulfson's holdings in order to solve a centuries old mystery.
Strengths: I'm not a fan of Shakespeare AT ALL, but the way that Korman worked this into the story was brilliant. The phone is haunted, and we are just asked to believe that, as well as why Roddy is present. Cooper's plight as a new kid gives him more reason to run afoul of Brock and need a friend. Korman could really write just about anything and my students would read it. I am constantly amazed at the number of interesting ideas he can turn into stand alone titles. Great stuff.
Weaknesses: Do military families really have to move every six months? That was the only thing that I had trouble believing. The ghost, of course, but moving that often? Pfft.
What I really think: If this story were written by anyone else or had a different cover, it might take some hand selling, but this author and this cover will assure that this spends very little time on the shelf.

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Maggie & Abby's Neverending Pillow Fort, Cody and the Heart of a Champion

35604275Taylor, Will. Maggie & Abby's Neverending Pillow Fort
April 3rd 2018 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Maggie has had a long and lonely summer before sixth grade with her best friend and neighbor, Abby, away at camp. Her mother, a children's oncologist, is constantly at work, so Maggie has taken over the living room with a huge pillow fort, mainly because it irritates her mom. When Abby comes home, she is taller and enthralled with camp, but grudgingly agrees to play in the fort and even build her own. To Maggie's surprise, she is able to travel right into Abby's fort by magic. The girls aren't quite sure how it all works, but are soon brought up to speed by the North American Founding and Allied Forts Alliance, a network of pillow forts all over continent. Soon, they even connect with Maggie's uncle who is studying whales in a remote Alaskan location, and go to visit him frequently. Unfortunately, NAFAFA isn't pleased with the new network of forts that Maggie has put together, and demand that she do a good deed or suffer the destruction of her fort. Abby wants to buckle under and do what they say, but Maggie isn't convinced. When a chance visit with her uncle finds that he has been gravely injured, Maggie feels compelled to bring Abby's brothers as well as her mother into the secret in order to save him. 
Strengths: The world building in this was innovative and really phenomenal. Who hasn't built a pillow fort ans secretly hoped to travel through it? NAFAFA had its own rules and intrigue, as well as storied history and political machinations. The middle grade friend drama was also true to life. Maggie's overworked but well meaning mother was interesting, as was Abby's supportive father who was starting to date another man, and her twin brothers. The long distance travel to Alaska added a nice element of adventure and suspense.
Weaknesses: NAFAFA got a tiny bit silly, with the silver sunglasses and the one megalomaniac member.
What I really think: I'm just not sure how this would do with my students. May talk to some of the sixth graders about it. A definite purchase for elementary schools where magical realism is popular.

Springstubb, Tricia. Cody and the Heart of a Champion(#4)
April 10th 2018 by Candlewick Press
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Spring is on its way, and Cody is all set to make the season exciting. Warmer days mean her favorite spring jacket, even if it is too small, and flip flops, even though her mother tries to take them away! Her friend Pearl is playing soccer, and wants Cody to play as well. Cody's not thrilled with the idea, although she does want to be close to her friend, especially when she sees Pearl being friends with the other girls. Spencer's mother is expecting, and the family is looking for their own home... but Spencer fails to tell Cody this. Wyatt, her brother, is spending more and more time with his girlfriend, and is changing some things about himself, which Cody doesn't like, even if it IS only wearing collared shirts. Change is always difficult, but Cody has a strong base of support. An awesome new reversible spring jacket helps as well!
Strengths: Springstubb does a fantastic job of identifying things that are difficult for elementary school students, but which adults may have forgotten. Yes, we know that friends moving away if difficult, but it's easy to forget the pain of having to give up that favorite piece of clothing. The accompanying illustrations are charming and make it easy to hand this to children who only want to read graphic novels.
Weaknesses: As Cody gets older, we don't see as much of her family. This is realistic, but I do so enjoy them!
What I really think: A must purchase for elementary schools, and a very successful title for struggling 6th graders at my school. Perfect for those of us who were Carolyn Haywood Betsy fans to give as gifts to young readers.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

The Rose Legacy

George, Jessica Day. The Rose Legacy
May 1st 2018 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
E ARC from Netgalley

Anthea is an orphan who has been sent from family member to family member her whole life. She's been with an aunt and uncle for several years, and it's not too bad, but when her aunt is expecting, the stress of havin Anthea around is too much, and she is once again sent away. This time, however, she is sent to live outside Kalabar's Wall, which was installed hundreds of years before because of a plague that killed horses. Anyone living beyond the Wall is certainly uncivilized, and Anthea's dream of being a Rose Maiden, like her mother, is dashed. When she finally gets to the Last Farm, she finds a family who greets her warmly, even though she doesn't remember them. She also finds herself strongly drawn to one of the horses, even though she is scared of these creatures whom she thought did not exist. It turns out that Anthea's father ran the farm, and Anthea has a power called The Way that lets her communicate with the horses. Unfortunately, Anthea writes to her aunt back in "civilization" and sets in motion events that may cause the demise of the farm that she has grown to love. Will the love and strength of family be able to overcome these challenges?
Strengths: This was very different from George's more traditional, fairy tale based stories, but was intriguing. It's a great horse-based FANTASY, and I can't think of too many of those (Prineas' Winterling, perhaps?). It combines a lot of popular elements in a fresh way; dystopia, Victorian-era orphan tales, and horses. This kept me turning the pages!
Weaknesses: This was set in a fantasy world that had elements of our world, so I kept wanting to get a year for the setting. My best guess is about 1920's England, since there is a strong royal connection, but also motorcars. My students might not care, but I had to pin it down in my mind.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. It's not necessarily a book for all readers, but fantasy fans and horse lovers will both find this intriguing. 

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

The Burning Maze (Trials of Apollo #3)

28006096Riordan, Rick. The Burning Maze (Trials of Apollo #3)
May 1st 2018 by Disney-Hyperion
Copy provided by the publisher

Apollo, Grover, and Meg manage to escape the labyrinth (and a violent strix attack) only to come up in the dessert at the Aeithales greenhouse. Meg has a surprising connection to the area, and Grover finds that his dryad friends are trying to escape widespread fires. One of these friends, Mellie, sends Grover to the local Army Surplus store to retrieve her husband, Gleeson, and while at the store the group is attacked and realize that Caligula is behind the fires that are raging out of control. Mellie and Gleeson have been living with Piper McLean and her family until recently, and things are not going well for them, as the father's assets have all been seized. Piper and Jason tried to get to the center of the Burning Maze but could not, and Jason has returned to school. Apollo is still seeking oracles as commanded by his father, Zeus. When Piper offers to help find the Sibyl, Herophile, the group "borrows" a neighbor's Escalade and takes off on a road trip. They meet Medea, who says that she can let people into the maze but certainly is not going to let THEM, and after a fiery altercation, the group finds themselves back at Aeithales, scorched but with some helpful information. On a mission to get Caligula's shoes, they pick up Jason to get his help and head to Santa Barbara, where Caligula has a fleet of boats. After locating the shoes, there is another major altercation with Medea which ends in a tragedy. Will the group still be able to get through the maze by solving puzzles in order to defeat Medea and Caligula? We'll find out in the next two books!
Strengths: "You humans. You're why the gods can't have nice things." I adore Riordan's writing, and all of the incidental, funny lines that suddenly appear. I'd quote half the book if I put down every line I loved. Of course, the adventure is always exquisitely plotted, and I liked this one even more because Aeithales was such an intriguing home base for them to return to. I found it easier to follow the emotional development of Grover, Meg, Piper and Apollo in this book, and Piper really embraces the idea of revenge in a timely way. Reading Riordan is always a great way to spend an afternoon, and I will have to loan this to one of my students tomorrow before it is even processed!
Weaknesses: Other reviews of this that I have read were greatly affected by the tragedy, but I just assume that some characters will die when the fate of the world hangs in the balance, so I didn't feel the same emotional punch.
What I really think: I think that Mr. Riordan should have federally funded housekeeping so he never has to wash a dish or mow the lawn, and can keep writing for many, many years. I am waiting for a book where all the characters from all the series meet up, but I am also dreading it, too, because that would mean the end of this fantastic fantasy world!
Ms. Yingling

Monday, May 07, 2018

Power Forward (Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream #1)

36373326Khan, Hena. Power Forward (Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream #1)
May 8th 2018 by Salaam Reads
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Zayd LOVES basketball and isn't thrilled about being on a development team instead of the "gold" team like his best friend Adam. He could be a lot better if his parents didn't make him practice violin so much. Of course, it doesn't help that he is scrawny, mainly because his mother insists on healthy food, which doesn't always sit well with his sensitive system. When he listens to some other basketball players and decides to practice his hoop skills before school in the morning, he neglects to tell his mother that he is skipping orchestra practice. When she finds out, she is not pleased, and his parents ground him... from basketball. Zayd needs to find a way to explain his actions and his dreams to his parents in a way that they will understand. Luckily, he has supportive family members like his grandmother and uncle who help him reconcile his dreams with his parents' wishes.
Strengths: To me, this is what #WeNeedDiverseBooks is all about. Realistic stories about children from particular backgrounds whose families and culture inform their everyday actions but don't necessarily define them. Sure, Zayd wants to be the first Pakistani-American NBA star, but he mainly wants to just play basketball with his friends. I especially appreciated that Zayd was underweight. There are so many middle schoolers, especially boys, who struggle with athletics because they haven't caught up with other children their own age in growth yet. I've known boys like Zayd who have sensitive digestive systems, or perhaps a touch of anxiety, who actually do a lot better eating more potato chips than kale, yet I've not met one of these picky eaters in a middle grade book. Brilliant, brilliant stuff! I hope that adults who are loathe to pick up sports books will discover that this mix of culture, personal problems, and sports is a slam dunk.
Weaknesses: I really wish that Zayd had been a 7th grader, since readers this age tend to "read up". Still, with sports books, this tends not to be as much of a problem.
What I really think: So excited to order this and have it on the shelves when school starts!

Khan, Hena. Power Forward (Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream #1)
May 8th 2018 by Salaam Reads
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Zayd is really excited to be playing on the Gold team with his best friend, Adam, but when the team has their first game, things don't go very well. The boys aren't communicating well, and Zayd feels off his game. To make matters worse, Adam seems to blame Zayd a little, and starts to play football at recess with a bigger kid named Antonio, even though the two friends have always played basketball together. Things are going okay at home, and when Zayd is caught playing a card game instead of a math game and is given a pink slip, his mother doesn't worry too much about it. However, when his uncle Jamal Mamoo gets engaged, the whole family gets dragged into the wedding planning frenzy. There are lengthy discussions about the invitation list, the catering, the clothing, and whether or not it is possible to rent a horse in Maryland the way grooms do in Pakistan! After an all day excursion to a town in Maryland that has lots of Pakistani shops, and after seeing his older sisters "spa day" birthday party, Zayd realizes that on every team, there needs to be a captain. He steps up on the basketball court in Adam's absence, and feels better about how the team plays. He also tells his uncle that someone needs to be the captain of the wedding team and tell people the direction the planning should go, or else people will just keep pushing for their own agenda. Hopefully, we will get at least one more book that covers the wedding!
Strengths: It is brilliant the way Khan took a life lesson that Zayd learned on the basketball court and let him use it to help his uncle and aunt-to-be! The structure of the novel was just particularly well done, and as with the first book, I appreciated the little, realistic touches like Zayd being mortified about his "pink slip". Zayd isn't perfect, but he tries, and he has a fantastic, supportive family. His grandparents are aging, and this isn't glossed over, but they are also fun characters. The details about like in a Pakistani-American family are great fun-- the trip to New Jersey made me want to go Edison, NJ! This series is perfect for readers who want a great family story mixed up with basketball details! The story line with Adam is especially true to life.
Weaknesses: Even though it is mentioned once or twice that Zayd is in fourth grade, I don't think older readers will care.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. Will have to get two of the first book in the series, since I think it will be super popular with my Fred Bowen, Amar'e Stoudemire and Matt Christopher fans.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Sunday Sundaes

36373214Simon, Coco. Sunday Sundaes (Sprinkle Sundays,#1)
May 1st 2018 by Simon Spotlight
ARC provided by publisher

Allie comes back from a great time at summer camp to find that her parents have completely upended her comfortable life. They are getting divorced, selling the house, moving a town over, her mother is quitting her job to open an ice cream parlor, and they are enrolling Allie in a new, fancy school! Allie was all set to run the school Book Fest at her old school, and will miss her friends Sierra and Tamiko, but she doesn't have much of a choice. She meets Blair, Palmer and Maria in her neighborhood, but they are not very nice to her, and on the first day, and Blair redirects Allie to the basement of the building. Luckily, she is saved by the friendly librarian, Mrs. K., who seems to know who Allie is and allows her to hang out in the library during lunch. Luckily, Allie is able to keep in fairly close contact with Sierra and Tamiko, and they hang out at the ice cream parlor a bit. Allie also meets Colin, who is a "kindred spirit" and works on the school newspaper. Allie and her friends work to make the opening of the ice cream parlor successful, and Allie realizes that her new life might work out okay.
Strengths: If cupcake books circulate well, then ice cream books should go out even more frequently, because I can't really think of another book (except maybe a WISH book) that has an ice cream parlor! This was a lot of fun, and Allie embraced the changes in her life as best she could. Her love of reading, the awesome Mrs. K., and working in the library are a bit unusual as well. The "long distance" relationship with Sierra and Tamiko is more possible today than it would have been in the past. A solid start to a new series.
Weaknesses: Allie carries around a copy of Anne of Green Gables with her. I was a huge fan... 40 years ago. It made me a weird kid then. Even with the Netflix series, I'm not seeing a lot of readers who really embrace Anne the way that older readers like myself did, so it made me sad. Also, if students want to run away from lunch, I alert the guidance counselors. The library is very busy, and if students can't handle the lunch room, they need more help than I can give them!
What I really think: Will purchase, since The Cupcake Diaries are popular. I'm sure I would have bought these with my babysitting money when I was in middle school. (The Anne books were given to me, in hardback, one per holiday!)

38746209Berk, Sheryl and Berk, Carrie. Ask Emma (Ask Emma Book 1) 
May 1st 2018 by Yellow Jacket
ARC provided by publisher

Emma loves to give advice to her friends, even if it doesn't work out (like the skunk-like highlights in her friend's hair!). When she decides to start an advice blog for her computer science project, she gets some advice and help setting it up from her teacher, Mr. Goddard. Her friends Harriet and Izzy are a little apprehensive, but Emma persists, even after people make rude comments about her blog. There isn't as much traffic as she would like, so she starts creating her own questions, not all of which work out the way she wants. New boy, Jackson, is rather intriguing and cute, but he isn't quite sure about the blog, either. Emma has a lot of missteps and has to apologize for many things, but has some triumphs, like getting the Spanish teacher to reduce the amount of homework. Eventually, she gets some traction, fine tunes her advice giving, and has a nice romance with Jackson.
Strengths: Emma's impetuous insistence that she can give advice, and her misguided attempts to do so, will amuse readers who like books with a lot of cringe-worthy embarrassment. Jackson is a fun character, and definitely crush worthy, but his relationship with Emma has a great feeling of equality. Harriet and Izzy are good foils for Emma's antics, and I was especially fond of her family. The information about cyber bullying was a good inclusion. This is nice, light reading for fans of realistic series fiction such as these authors' The Cupcake Club, Taylor's Sew Zoey books, and Simon's The Cupcake Diaries.
Weaknesses: Between the mentions of Zac Efron being cute (he's 31) and the whole idea of a blog being something that would interest middle grade students, this feels like a book written ten years ago that got dusted off and resubmitted.
What I really think: Will pass on purchase. It just seems already very dated.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

The Flourishing of Floralie Laurel

35128494Moser, Fiadhtlait. The Flourishing of Floralie Laurel
May 1st 2018 by Yellow Jacket
ARC provided by publisher

In 1920s England, Floralie has been kicked out of her school and is living with her brother Tom, who is trying to make a living as a florist. Her grandmother is not pleased that Floralie is "following in her mother's footsteps" with art, and is determined to take her away and have her live in the orphanage she runs. Floralie just wants to be with her mother, who was a ballerina and artist, but who suffered from some instability and left the children on their own after the death of their father. In order to find out the meaning of some flowers that her mother has left her, Floralie wants to find Slyvestre Tullier, who wrote a flower dictionary. With the help of Miss Clairoux as well as a mysterious boy who refuses to speak, Nino, Floralie takes off to France to find Tullier. In meeting the somewhat reclusive author and staying in the small town while investigating where her mother might be, Floralie finds out many family secrets and eventually is able to meet with her mother. While her mother is not able to care for her, Floralie manages to create her own family who can support both her and Tom in their lives and education.
Strengths: This was certainly very atmospheric and painted a good picture of an artistic community in France during this time period. Floralie is a headstrong heroine who wants to be in charge of her own destiny and doesn't want to acquiesce to the societal constraints her grandmother wishes to impose upon her. Nino is a mysterious character, as is Tullier, and the connections with real artists of the time are interesting. I loved the idea of Miss Clairoux's family library, and the accommodations made for Tom and Floralie were very touching.
Weaknesses: There were some serious themes that were touched upon but not addressed completely. Floralie's father had a problem with alcohol, her mother's mental illness is not really explained, and there is an out-of-wedlock birth as well as some neglect of children and an accidental death by poison. (Two, if you count the pet dormouse.) While these issues appear in middle grade literature, they are usually handled in a different fashion. While they did have a role in the plot, the book would have made sense without some of the smaller issues.
What I really think: Both the writing style and the content of this made it seem more like a book written for adults (like Bradley's Flavia de Luce mysteries), so I will pass on purchase.

Friday, May 04, 2018

Speed Racer Dystopia

23594349Breach, Jen and Holgate, Douglas. Cleam Hetherington and the Ironwood Race.
February 27th 2018 by Graphix/Scholastic
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Clem's archaeologist parents were both killed in an unfrotunate accident, and she has been sent to an orphanage, from which she has escaped. She goes to the Professor, hoping he will let her work on his digs, but he says that she is too young at 14 to do this. She and her robot companion, Digory, live in an abandoned building that has enough electricity to keep Digory charged, but the two are barely eking out an existence. When Digory is attacked and injured, Clem breaks down and contacts Kilburn, who had worked with her parents but didn't help her enough after their death. When he tells them about the Ironwood Race, Clem decides to enter with her parents' vehicle. The teams have to find certain antiquities, but there are no rules for the race, which gets very rough and tumble. Will the team be able to win the race and have enough money to fund future archaeological digs?

The setting of this is an appealing South Western, futuristic dystopia, peopled by robots and a variety of crocodile and lizard-like humanoids. The color palette of the graphic novel reflects this with browns, rusts and olive greens. The action scenes are well drawn, even if Clem is a dead ringer for Speed Racer behind the wheel of the car in her helmet!

Clem is an appealing character. She wants to follow in her parents' footsteps but doesn't want to take the time to go through school, which is understandable given the precarious nature of life in her world. The professor is a scatter brained but warm influence who wants the best for Clem, even if she doesn't agree with her vision. Kilborn is complicated and hard to understand, adding to the mystery element of the book. Digory is an engaging and capable robot companion. Even Tte young mechanic they meet during the race, Hec, is a nice addition.

This is a well formatted graphic novel. It is about the trim size of a standard middle grade fiction book, which gives more space for pictures, and the text is slightly larger and more readable than some manga. There isn't too much of it, either, so it's easy to comprehend the words that are that. This may seem like a picky observation, but since reluctant or struggling readers are drawn to books with pictures, I am not happy when there are a lot of tiny words crammed on pages in graphic novels. The Scholastic Graphix books usually have given more thought to the ratio of pictures to words as well as these other formatting issues.

Fans of Winnick's Hilo or Brailliers The Last Kids on Earth will enjoy racing along with Clem and Digory on their quest to uncover artifacts and get themselves into the good graces of the archaeological world.

And yes, this clip of the 1967 Speed Racer theme song is COMPLETELY necessary.

Thursday, May 03, 2018


Haas, Jessie. Rescue
10 April, 2018 by Boyds Mills Press
ARC provided by the publisher

Joni has a not-so-typical (for suburban or urban kids!) life in Vermont. Her father runs a farm that makes sheep's milk cheese from their own flock, and Joni is involved with riding Archie and participating in other horse related activities, like helping out at a nearby horse rescue center with her friends. During the last three days of middle school, a new girl moves in. Chess (Francesca) is from California, and is shiny and citified. Joni strikes up an uneasy friendship with her. They are neighbors, but Chess has no qualms about yelling at a neighbor who is using Shetland ponies to haul a log. Chess thinks it is animal cruelty. She doesn't understand very much about working farms or working animals, and we soon find out that her vegan activist lifestyle was cultivated by her beloved grandmother, a grandmother with whom she is not supposed to have contact because of some spectacular animal rights stunts. Joni tries to explain the realities of caring for animals, along with the fact that sometimes animals have to be restrained for their own good, but Chess won't listen. Joni is a bit uneasy about hanging out with Chess, but tries to be patient and connect over shared interests, like the new kittens on the farm. When Chess takes some matters into her own hands, animals are endangered, and Joni manages to save the day. Will it be enough to regain her neighbors' trust?
Strengths: It was a good idea to introduce the differences about farm living by having a character from the city experience them for the first time. There are lots of good details about how to care for animals, different activities on a working farm, and also lots of fun facts about horses and horse riding. Joni's family is delightful-- the mother and father are both alive and involved in positive ways, and there are two older sisters who are role models for their younger sister. There are horses and kittens, and lots of good details about how to clean horse tack. Chess' motivations, while misguided, are understandable.
Weaknesses: Chess is really not a pleasant character at all. I would have liked this a little more if she had been more pleasant, but still misguided. Since she's not the main character, and because Jess comes out looking like such a well-raised and understanding child when dealing with her, she's not a horrible inclusion. I still would have been happier if she had been slightly more pleasant but still misguided.
What I really think: Since there are a very small number of books about horses that come out every year, I am always looking to expand my collection. I don't have many readers for these books right at the moment, but when I get those readers, they require a lot of books. This is an excellent investment to fill that niche.

Ms. Yingling