Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A Land of Permanent Goodbyes

35082445Abawi, Atia. A Land of Permanent Goodbyes
January 23rd 2018 by Philomel Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Tareq  lives a happy life with his mother, father, grandmother, and five siblings in Syria. Things are increasingly difficult, and when his apartment building is bombed, only he and his sister, Susan, survive. Their father Fayed was not there, so relocates with the children with relatives, including Tareq's slightly older cousin, Musa. When the Daesh crack down,  Fayed is on therun once again, this time with Musa. Eventually, the group makes it legally into Turkey. Fayed and Susan stay in the border town, but Tareq and Musa head to Istanbul to see what their chances are there. There are many refugees, and things are difficult. There are bright spots, like a cafe run by other Syrian immigrants, but Tareq and his family believe firmly that in order to have a better life, they need to head to Europe. Tareq eventually is reunited with his father and sister, although Musa wants to remain in Turkey, and the family try to find smugglers to take them by boat to Greece. They don't have enough money, so Fayed sends his children ahead of him. The crossing is very difficult. We switch perspectives to Alexia, a US college student who has remained on the island of Lesvos to help refugees who are coming ashore. She helps Tareq and Susan, as well as the Afgan girl whom Tareq is trying to protect, who has been separated from her sister. Even though the children are now safe, there is still a lot of work to be done to get them settled and reunited with their father.
Strengths: Along with Gratz's Refugee and Senzai's Escape from Aleppo, this is a much needed look at the crisis in Syria. The details of daily life before the bombing, as well as the details of survival afterwards, make this a riveting account. Because each experience is so different, it is helpful to have different accounts so that students understand that there isn't ONE Syrian refugee experience. The inclusion of the viewpoint of the volunteers also adds some depth.
Weaknesses: At the beginning, this is narrated by Destiny, which was confusing and overly poetic. The shifts in perspective are a bit rocky. This is not a book for younger readers, as there is mention of rape, graphic beheadings, and other information that might be upsetting to readers below high school age.
What I really think:  I think I will pass on this for now, and stick with the other two titles, but  may consider purchase if the 8th grade teachers proceed with a refugee unit.                                               
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, January 30, 2018


35082438Vernon, Ursula. Whiskerella (Hamster Princess #5)
January 23rd 2018 by Dial Books
Copy provided by the publisher

Harriet's mother is throwing a ball for the bat ambassador, and Harriet and Wilbur are NOT thrilled. The food isn't great, and Harriet has to dance with all of the princes with whom her mother is trying to set her up. And she's twelve! Luckily, there is a bit of intrigue at the ball, with a mysterious princess fleeing at the stroke of midnight in a carriage driven by two quail. No one has heard of this princess, but Harriet talks to Ralph in the stables and finds out a little more information. She tracks down Whiskerella, only to find that she is the victim of a fairy godmother's "gift"-- whisking her away to balls when Whiskerella briefly complained about sweeping, even though her "evil sister", Misty, does the dishes! Whiskerella has no desire to marry a prince, but because of the spell, will have to continue to attend balls until she does! Unfortunately, her sister's Lizard, Stinky, was turned into the coachman and was left at the palace, where he is widdling on all the tapestries! In between finding Stinky and making sure the fairy's gift can be negated, Harriet has to deal with her mother and father, who are not pleased with their daughter's shenanigans. Harriet also isn't the most tactful hamster, and she manages to enrage the fairy godmother enough so that she and Wilbur are both turned into quail... until Whiskerella ends up with a prince. How will she manage to save the day when all anyone hears her say is "Qwerk!"?
Strengths: In the version of Cinderella that I told my daughters twenty years ago, Cinderella married the prince, but then went to graduate school to major in biochemical engineering. It's completely realistic that Harriet's mother wants her to marry, and equally realistic that Harriet is more concerned with brandishing her sword and having adventures. The twist that the fairy godmother's "gift" feels more like a curse is brilliant, and the best part of any Hamster Princess book is the smartly crackling dialogue: "Is your mother afraid something will happen to you?" [asks Wilbur] "I," said Harriet with absolute confidence, " am something that happens to OTHER people." This is my new motto!
Weaknesses: A bit too much concern with lizard widdle, although maybe not enough if one is 8.
What I really think: These are so clever that even middle school students, when their arms are twisted just a tiny bit, adore these as much as I do. For my younger sixth grade readers, these are a first choice, and our Guys Read Pink promotion in February makes fans of the coolest, manliest 8th grade boys. Can't wait to see what Vernon will turn her trademarked humor to next!

Join in on all the fun!
January 23 – DoodleMom’s Homeschooling Life – Review, Creative (Doll making), and Interview
January 24 – The Keepers of the Books – Review
January 25 – Margie’s Must Reads – Review
January 26 – Books4yourkids – Review
January 29 – Pirates and Pixie Dust – Review
January 30 – Ms. Yingling Reads – Review
January 31 – The Slytherin book lady– Review
Ms. Yingling

Monday, January 29, 2018

MMGM: Bringing Me Back and Fly Girls

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.

34138422Vrabel, Beth. Bringing Me Back.
February 6th 2018 by Sky Pony Press
E ARC from Edleweiss Plus

Noah's mother is arrested for drunk driving after a middle school football party, which has myriad consequences: she is arrested and sent to prison for several months, her boyfriend is made Noah's guardian, Noah reacts poorly and is caught shoplifting, and the school football team loses its coach and is disbanded because of lack of funds and the bad publicity. The loss of the team is difficult for the impoverished West Virginia town, and Noah is ostracized and ill treated by his classmates. When the former cheerleaders start a fundraising campaign to reinstate the team (which involves nominated students pouring expensive energy drinks over their heads-- not exactly cost effective!), things do not improve for Noah. One bright spot is Rina, who is bound and determined to start a school newspaper even if the administration is less than thrilled with her attempts. When a bear is spotted near the school with a bucket stuck to its head, Noah fixates on getting the bear help, and Rina takes advantage of his fixation to convince him to work on the paper with her. Another bright spot is Jeff, his guardian, who is struggling to do the right thing by Noah and steadfastly sticks by him. Noah also must deal with former football playing friends who have turned on him, not wanting to talk to his mother, and managing to get through his schoolwork while dealing with everything else on his plate. Noah and Rina manage to get more attention focused on the bear, and this activity helps Noah make peace with other things in his life.
Strengths: There's definitely a boatload of sad here, BUT the tone is generally upbeat and hopeful. This makes all the difference. The depiction of bullying is the most realistic and understandable that I have seen, and Jeff is a phenomenal character. His back story actually made me cry. The Appalachian setting, the struggles of an impoverished community are well done, and the intricacies of dealing with an incarcerated parent are portrayed in a no-nonsense but hopeful and productive way. Vrabel's writing gets better with every book. Very impressed with this.
Weaknesses: I wished I had seen Rina's mother! Rina is just a hair shy of being too over the top, but her support of Noah makes up for it.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. This will take a little bit of book talking, since the cover doesn't give away much, but that could also work to its advantage.


Pearson, P. O'Connell. Fly Girls: The Daring American Women Pilots Who Helped Win WWII
February 6th 2018 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

While WWI used planes, the technology and use really took off during WWII. It's hard for people today to understand how all-consuming this war was, but Pearson does a fantastic job at setting the scene. Factories of all sorts switched from their regular products to producing for the war effort. Some Kellogg's plants quite making cereal, for example, and produced K rations. Cars and car parts were not produced, families were encouraged to put in gardens, which many did since different types of food were rationed. So many men went to war that women had to step into jobs of all types that had previously been closed to them. It is not surprising, then, that women were grudgingly welcome to noncombat flying jobs. Civilian flying took off in the 1920s and 30s despite the Great Depression (even my uncles got together and bought a prop plane that they would land in the fields near their dairy), and women who knew how to fly saw the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program and others as a way to do something for their country using their skills. There were people and bases who were supportive and appreciative of these efforts, and those who were not, but stepping into a traditionally man's job had many challenges. There were no appropriate uniforms for the women, and they came up against a lot of prejudice and harassment. The final blow was the fact that the militarization of the programs was voted down, and the women involved didn't get full military honors and benefits for many years.

Fly Girls is a great book about World War II. It's a topic that a handful of readers investigate avidly, and I am pleased any time I can find a book on a tangent that hasn't been well covered. Pearson does an excellent job of delineating the general atmosphere both on the home front as well as the fighting front. In addition, the details about the tenacity with which women went after jobs that were not easy for them to get are inspiring. I have read quite a bit about both WWII and women's history, and even I did not know about the magazine articles at the time that downplayed the dangers the women faced and made the articles all about nail polish and well-coifed hair! The bibliography is extensive, and I appreciated the footnotes: all too many middle grade nonfiction books are a bit slapdash when citing sources, which makes it hard to encourage students to do it correctly!

Along with Colman's Rosie the Riveter: Women Working on the Home Front in World War II (1998), Mary Cronk Farrel's Pure Grit:How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific (2014), Cheryl Mullenbach's Double victory : how African American women broke race and gender barriers to help win World War II (2013), this is an essential purchase for all middle school and high school libraries and is an excellent nonfiction companion to Smith's Flygirl and Davis' Mare's War. Now I really want several more middle grade novels about the brave women who flew during WWII.

Ms. Yingling

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Don't Forget Me

34495943Stevens, Victoria. Don't Forget Me
February 13th 2018 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

When her mother is unable to care for her, Hazel ends up moving from London to Australia to live with the father she has never met. She meets Red, who lives nearby and has problems of his own. One of his problems is Luca, his brother, whose best friend Ryan died, a event which compelled him to give up running track, thereby distancing him from his father. Red and Lucas mother works at the restaurant Hazel's father owns, and is quite lovely. Hazel writes a memory about her mother at the end of each chapter, and although she lets on that her mother is dead (especially to Luca), we find out differently at the end of the book. Hazel makes two new friends at school, and hangs out with both brothers. She navigates her way through her new life and tries to reconcile herself with the past.
Strengths: The cover is great, and teens love to read about children who don't have to deal with their parents, for whatever reason. There is enough romance and drama to make this one appealing to high school students.
Weaknesses: Definitely YA. Not only is there language and a lot of drinking, but YA books tend to be much more conflict driven and sadder. Whiny, in the way that teens are. Everything is the end of the world. Middle grade main characters have a lot more pluck, and the books about them are more fun and adventure filled. That said, I do have a few students who like that sort of angst; I'll have them check this book out of the public library, which allows all of our students to get cards AND delivers directly to school. We have the best public library!
What I really think: I'll stick with recommending Welch's Love and Gelato and skip purchasing this one due to language and general sadness.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Desmond Cole: Ghost Patrol

35297202Miedoso, Andres, Rivas, Victor (Illustrator)
The Haunted House Next Door (Desmond Cole: Ghost Patrol #1)
December 12th 2017 by Little Simon
E ARC from Netgalley Plus

Andres moves with his parents, who are scientists, to the twon of Kersville. His next door neighbor is Desmond, who informs him that his new house is haunted! Andres doesn't believe this at first, but when strange things start happening, he joins Desmond in his ghost hunting business (run, of course, out of the garage). The boys end up having a ghost named Zax who wants to stick around but not cause mischief.
Strengths: I am hoping that the actual book is about the same trim size as a shorter middle grade novel, since the page set up for these is perfect for my struggling readers, who don't want to carry around "baby books". These readers are asking more and more for scary stories. Aside from Preller's Scary Tales, there aren't a lot of those available. The nonwhite main characters, as well as the scientist parents, are a welcome change in the world of early chapter books.
Weaknesses: The pages turned very slowly in the e copy, so I lost my train of thought on character development and plot.
What I really think: On illustration at the beginning gave me hope that maybe Desmond and his family were space aliens, but I was disappointed. Definitely purchasing.

35297199Miedoso, Andres, Rivas, Victor (Illustrator)
Ghosts Don't Ride Bicycles, Do They? (Desmond Cole: Ghost Patrol #2)
December 12th 2017 by Little Simon
E ARC from Netgalley Plus

While Desmond's favorite thing is hunting ghosts, Andres' favorite thing is his bicycle. He loves his beat up bike that has been with him everywhere he has had to move, and he loves racing through the streets. He finds the local bike park and has a great time making some new friends. When his bike seems to be possessed and starts floating, Desmond and his ghost hunting business need to put it right.
Strengths: Not very scary, but just kind of fun. I just loved that the story involved Andres, his bike, and a bike park, because bikes are completely awesome from the ages of 6-14. Kids hanging out without parents will make this appealing to many age groups. Again, the ratio of text to pictures is perfect.
Weaknesses: The pages turned very slowly in the e copy, so going back to opine on finer points is difficult.
What I really think: Definitely enjoyed this and will purchase. Would love to see a similar series with different characters and maybe skateboarding.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, January 26, 2018

Chris Bradford's Bodyguard Series!

34974741Bradford, Chris. Target (Bodyguard #7)
Published January 2nd 2018 by Philomel Books
Copy provided by the publisher

This is a prequel to the series that follows the career of Charley Hunter, who oversees Connor's unit in Recruit (Bodyguard #1). Charley is a surfer whose life falls apart after her best friend is abducted right in front of her. Shortly after, both of her parents are killed, and she ends up in foster care. When she saves another surfer from a shark attack, she is brought to the attention of Colonel Black, who recruits her for the Guardian organization. Training is tough, since she's the only girl, but Charley internalizes the philosophy that she must work twice as hard to be treated half as well, and soon is chosen for high profile missions, which she carries out fairly well. Because of this, she is recruited to protect Ash Wild, a young rock star whose fame has also brought him to the attention of the paparazzi as well as someone who is making repeated death threats. Big T is the main bodyguard, but Charley is billed as a PR intern, so she is less noticeable. When she manages to save Ash from several threats in a very public manner, she receives a lot of attention. Will this jeopardize her position?
Strengths: This moves at a furious pace, and lots of things happen. The details about Ash's life on tour will appeal to readers with an interest in celebrity. I love how prepared and conscientious Charley is, and also really enjoy all of the information about how to be a bodyguard. Bradford's training is very evident in this volume.
Weaknesses: I personally like a little more detail about a character's background and would have liked to know more about Charley's life when she was surfing, but that's not really the focus of this series.
What I really think: I mentioned to a teacher that I had been sent copies of this, and she was so excited because her son and his friend had been reading the books. I had to read both over the weekend so I could bring them to school on Monday! That's some excitement!

34974742Bradford, Chris. Traitor (Bodyguard #8)
Published January 2nd 2018 by Philomel Books
Copy provided by the publisher

After attacks in Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio, the security team is on high alert. Every venue is potentially fatal; every fan a potential assassin. Charley has her hands full, since Ash doesn't fully understand the peril he is in. It doesn't help that there is an overly zealous fan, Pete, who has altered his appearance to look as much like Ash as possible and is following the tour. Is he the threat? As more and more near misses occur-- aggressive paparazzi, a hotel fire-- everyone seems to be a suspect. The Guardian's tech people are brought in, and Charley escapes a fatal beating when they alert her to the presence of the cell phone that has been making the threats-- it's right next to her, under a concert stage! Since the potential killer knows how close Charley is, the threats escalate. Even though she is doing her best, it's almost impossible for Charley to keep Ash completely safe. It doesn't help that she is afraid she is becoming emotionally involved with the rock star. After several more harrowing episodes, it emerges that there are many people out to get Ash. Can they all be stopped before Ash's career, and possibly  his life, is ended?
Strengths: The brief overview at the beginning of the book isn't really necessary, because I can't see readers waiting more than a day or two before plunging head first into this second book! This book certainly tests all of Charley's many skills, and even the romance aspect is handled from her main job as a security expert.
Weaknesses: The many twists do get to be a little bit unbelievable. And boo! I knew what was going to happen to Charlie, but it still made me sad.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing this entire series in a prebind. Excellent choice for gifts for young readers, and I appreciate that these two books can be read outside of the main series. Caveat: Don't just buy book one! The second is a direct continuation of the story, and if avid readers don't have it, there will be complaints!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Book of Boy; The Thrifty Guide to Ancient Rome

35098419Murdock, Catherine Gilbert. The Book of Boy
February 6th 2018 by Greenwillow Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Boy is a servant in the household of Sir Jacques. It used to be a decent position, especially for a hunchback, but once the lady of the manor and her children died of the plague and Sir Jacques was gravely injured, the former Cook ruled the roost. When Secundus, a pilgrim, happens by and decides that Boy could be useful in carrying his bag, he bargains with Cook and has Boy accompany him. Secundus is ill, and looking for seven relics of St. Peter's that might get him into heaven. Along the way, the two must steal, connive, and get into lots of scrapes before they can get all of the relics. Boy has a secret that Secundus guesses, and this motivates him to get Secundus to Rome so that he himself might be helped.
Strengths: There are good details about the medieval time period and information about pilgrimages and the religious ideas of the time. The E ARC did not include pictures, but the cover is lovely.
Weaknesses:  Like Adam Gidwitz’s The Inquisitor’s Tale, this is a fantasy book and not strictly historical fiction. The 7th grade covers the middle ages, and I do have students ask for books on the topic, but I can't get anyone to check out the Gidwitz title.
What I really think: I will pass on purchase and stick to Cushman and Avi for realistic titles on this time period. The fantasy element makes this   less than useful for my library.

A great companion to this book would be the upcoming The Thrifty Guide to the Medieval World, which is coming out at some point.

35876428Stokes, Jonathan W. The Thrifty Guide to Ancient Rome
Illustrated by David Sossella
January 30th 2018 by Viking Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publishers

Like The Thrifty Guide to the American Revolution, this guide is purportedly for the many time travelers around in 2150, after time travel devices become widespread, and the devastation of their messing about in history is addressed by Time Patrols. In this future world, Time Corps rules much of North America, and it's head, Finn Greenquill, is not above using time travel for his own personal gain.

This book does a little better job of giving an overview of daily life in Rome, although it is still insistent that Rome is a very dangerous place. In fact, the first chapter starts with the different sorts of dangers, including fire, flood and disease that you would face in Ancient Rome. Fashion, food, and entertainment are briefly covered before chapters on surviving different military actions occur. Because the span of years this book covers is much greater than that in the American Revolution, it is somewhat less helpful to time travelers, but is written with more wit. The chapter on Cleopatra and all of her political and romantic alliances is done in as delicate way a way as possible, although the topic of marrying relatives is certainly not avoided. "Mad" rulers also pose a problem to time travelers.

Roman history in schools certainly covers more of the political and military issues than the intricacies of daily life, so this book is very helpful to social studies teachers and students who want to know more about this fascinating time period. That said, as a former Latin teacher, I do wish that more coverage were given to daily life, social mores, and general details of how people lived, not whom they fought!

There were a few statements that seemed half a bubble off, but the general research seems okay. It is a shame that Stokes doesn't seem to have look at The Private Life of the Romans by Harold Whetstone Johnson and Mary Johnston (1932), because it is an absolute treasure trove of information about so many aspects of Roman daily life. Also, if you are teaching Roman history, you absolutely have to make time in your schedule for the informative and yet now-giggle-worthy 1965 Britannica film, Claudius, a Boy of Rome. I adore this one more than words can say and still cry at Vistus' fate. Every. Single. Time.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle

35008529Connor, Leslie. The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle
January 23rd 2018 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Mason lives in a "crumbledown" house with his grandmother and ne'er-do-well uncle Drum after the death of his parents in quick succession. Because the family is grieving and disorganized, the family orchard has fallen into disrepair. Mason has learning disabilities (as well as a condition that makes him sweat heavily) that make him a bit slower to process information, especially when writing, and the uncle has a young live-in girlfriend who does not contribute positively to the family dynamic. To make matters even worse, Mason's best friend, Benny, was killed falling off a ladder in the orchard, and the investigating police officer, Lieutenant Baird, believes that Mason is responsible and keeps badgering him to write an account of what happened, since Benny's two fathers are bereft. Mason is also bullied by a neighbor Matty Drinker who has his own problems. The saving graces of Mason's life are his resource room teacher Ms. Blinny, Moonie, Matty's dog whom Mason watches, and his new friend, Calvin. His friendship with Calvin starts off when the two are chased after getting off the school bus, but blossoms when the two discover an old cellar in the orchard and work to recreate cave paintings on the walls. Unfortunately, Calvin goes missing at one point, Lt. Baird thinks that Mason is responsible for his disappearance as well, and matters are brought to a boiling point before Mason and his family are able to move forward.
Strengths: I love Connor's work, as did my daughter when she was in middle school. She comes up with interesting characters in unique situations, and makes their stories come alive with outstanding details. Mason is no exception. While his situation is sad, his attitude is upbeat. Ms. Blinny is fantastic, and the support that Mason gets at school is exemplary. All of the characters, whether completely pleasant or not, as fascinatingly drawn and intriguing. I enjoyed this one a lot, especially Mason's relationship with the dog, his growing friendship with Calvin, and his sad but eventually improving family situation.
Weaknesses: The death of Benny, Lt. Baird's handling of it, and the eventual resolution were all SUPER sad, and perhaps a bit beyond the average middle grade reader's ability to understand.
What I really think: This was a fantastic story that I may have trouble finding readers for in my library. Like VanDraanen's The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones (which I also enjoyed), there are a lot of things to recommend this story, but it's a bit long and slow for the majority of my readers.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Dragon Bones (Dragon Quests #2)

35297553McMann, Lisa. Dragon Bones (Dragon Quests #2)
February 6th 2018 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

When Fifer is brought back half dead from her fight in Dragon Captives with the world of the Revinir, Alex just about collapses, since Thisbe is presumed dead, and word has recently come that Sky has disappeared. After thirty pages of sobbing and collapsing, he decides that a group should be assembled to try to rescue Thisbe. Florence has the presence of mind to stop him from rushing off immediately, and sets to training a group to fight Queen Eagala' s army. Of course, Fifer is forbidden to train with them, but manages to learn a lot anyway. In the meantime, Thisbe is enslaved and must spend her days dragging bones from crypts so that the Revinir can extract magic from them. Thisbe refuses to work with the evil queen, and makes matters much worse for herself, although she does make a friend in fellow slave, Rohan, who is able to get some information to her. Eventually, the groups converge and attempt to overthrown the queen and rescue Thisbe, who has been practicing her magic. Things go horribly wrong, and the group appears to be stuck with no magic, although there is a glimmer of hope when a key character reappears.
Strengths: My students love these books so much that I had to take my Nook to school and let one girl come to the library and read the story during SSR! There's something about the world building, the characters, and the magic that goes over very well with my students, and they are all super excited to see this new title.
Weaknesses: My students were a bit upset after the first Dragon Quests book because of some of the things that happened to the characters, and I do not think they are going to be happy with the events in this installment. Also, the beginning of this was super, super slow and I wanted to slap Alex and tell him to pull himself together and deal with things.
What I really think: Not my thing at all, but definitely will purchase. By reading the book, I can have quality conversations with the McMann Super Fans, so it's all good!
Ms. Yingling

Monday, January 22, 2018

MMGM- Heroes of Black History

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.

Editors of Time for Kids Magazine. Heroes of Black History
December 19th 2017 by Time For Kids
Copy received from Blue Slip Media

This paperback book has the subtitle Biographies of Four Great Americans, and includes information about Harriet Tubman, Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, and Barack Obama. Eacj entry gives a good overview of each person in under fifty pages. The text, which is about 18 point font, is accompanied by lots of photographs of the person being covered as well as relevant pictures of the time period or, in the case of Tubman, artistic renderings of events or people for which there are few photographs. Each chapter ends with a timeline, and additional full pages of information about pertinent topics add to readers' understanding of the historical eras. I was especially pleased with the timeline of Black History at the beginning of the book, as this will help readers put the biographies in perspective. An introduction by Charlanye Hunter-Gault also sets the stage for the information.
Strengths: This is an engaging volume, and the mix of pictures and text will be pleasing to all readers, as will the slightly larger text size. It would make a great gift for children in grades 3-8 who like biographies.The page design, with chapter headings in larger text, captioned photographs, and sidebars, will be useful to teachers who want to delineate crucial nonfiction features. I also appreciate that this embraces the term "Black History"; "African-American" has never seemed like a helpful or precise term to me, and since the Black Lives Matter movement has readopted this slightly older term, I am glad to see it's wider use.
Weaknesses: There are a huge number of books already available on each of the people covered, so I would have preferred the inclusion of somewhat more obscure, but no less important, people.
What I really think: I am debating purchasing a copy for my middle school, since it would be a good resource for some of my struggling readers when they are assigned biography projects.

A curriculum guide is available at

Winnick, Judd. Hilo: Waking the Monsters (#4) 
January 16th 2018 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

Hilo is enjoying reconnecting with his sister Izzy and hanging out with his Earth friends D.J. and Gina. It's sometimes hard for the two aliens to hide the quirks in their personalities, but they do their best. The newest challenge, however, is the fact that giant monsters are waking up all over the planet. Luckily, Hilo can fight them, and Gina has some new super powers that come in handy as well. Izzy reveals that back on their home planet, Hilo was a hero, who took advice from a scientist called Dr. Horizon. Dr. Horizon was working to defeat Razorwark, who had an army of evil robots at his command. The giant robots might be a legacy from this evil genius, and the friends work to control the menace as well as figure out their source. In the meantime, Gina has to fight with her mother about being a basketball cheerleader! Will Gina manage to keep her secret from her mother and still not have to cheer? Will the monsters keep coming after Hilo? Will Izzy be able to shed light on the mysteries of his past that Hilo can't remember? We get some answers in this book, but also have enough questions remaining to look forward to a book five!
Strengths: Winnick has really done his research into what middle grade readers want in a graphic novel. The characters are manageable, diverse, recognizable, and do grow a little in each book. The plots make sense, and continue from book to book without being confusing. The colors are bright, the picture to text ratio is good, and the text is in about a 14 point font, which is SO much better than the 8 point font in many graphic novels. This series can be enjoyed by strong readers in first grade, or by struggling readers in 6th because it is fast paced, things blow up, and it's funny. It's amazing how good a book can be when the author takes the target demographic seriously into account.
Weaknesses: Izzy confuses me a bit. Small quibble. A bigger quibble is the paper over board book construction, which doesn't hold up well. On the plus side, they only run about $12, which isn't bad. The "library binding" is $16, but I have not seen a library binding produced in the last 20 years that is worth an extra four cents, much less four dollars.
What I really think: This is an essential purchase for elementary and middle school libraries, and a great gift for a wide variety of readers!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Jay vs. the Saxophone of Doom

29954004Kootsra, Kara. Jay vs. the Saxophone of Doom
January 3rd 2017 by Puffin Books
Copy received from publisher for Cybils consideration

Jay lives with his siblings Jodie and Dylan with their parents in the same town from which hockey great Bobby Orr hales. Jay loves watching and playing hockey and hanging out with his best friend, Luke. He's a little leery of 6th grade starting, especially when Mick Bartlett is in his class again. Mick loves to give Jay a hard time about everything. The hardest thing about 6th grade turns out to be the compulsory music class, for which Jay has to learn the saxophone. He's so bad at it that he gets a tutor, an older boy named Ben who loves playing instruments. While Jay is still concerned that he will make a fool of himself, he works hard and does fairly well. The school year progresses with small failures and triumphs, and in the end Jay feels that playing the saxophone was something he was able to conquer .
Strengths: The world definitely needs more humorous, realistic fiction, especially involving sports. I appreciated that Jay's family was very typical and supportive; they watch hockey and eat pizza together, Jodie rolls her eyes, Dylan gives Jay a hard time. You would think there would be more books with these typical family interactions. Jay is fairly upbeat, but in a tween way-- the end is always near, and usually in the guise of a history pop quiz. I do have a few readers who like hockey, and including music is fun as well.
Weaknesses: Some of the humor tries too hard, and I found it difficult to believe that Jay would have been forced to play a musical instrument. In our district, we are constantly flirting with losing music programs, so the students involved are usually grateful.
What I really think: I'm interested to see more books from this author. This is available through Follett's Titlewave, which is great considering how hard it is to get some Canadian books.

Krosoczka, Jarrett J. The Force Oversleeps (Jedi Academy #5)
July 25th 2017 by Scholastic Inc.
Copy picked up from exchange table at Kidlitcon

Synopsis from
"Victor Starspeeder is back at Jedi Academy for year two, but it's not going the way he'd planned. He was thrilled about Drama Club and hoped to get the lead in this year's musical... But a new kid got the role! What gives?! Plus, he keeps oversleeping and getting to class late . . . Worst of all, his big sister Christina is getting ready to graduate from Jedi Academy, and there are rumors going around that she's a Sith! What's a Padawan to do? In times when he feels more alone than ever, Victor will have to trust the ways of the Force and his friends if he's going to survive year two in this all-new chapter in the Jedi Academy."

I mention this book because I'm not a huge fan of the series, so it's easy to forget to buy these. There is a weird subset of my population who adores these, although they don't seem to be the kids who like the movies. This only made sense when I was at Target looking for Harry Potter socks for my daughter, and I saw Star Wars underpants for six year olds.

I think these are for the kids who have a sort of passing knowledge of the series but don't necessarily watch the movies. They have the toys, maybe their parents buy them the merchandise, and Jedi Academy is tangential enough without requiring a lot of prerequisite knowledge. The Krosoczka titles seem to be more graphic novel-y than the Brown ones, which seemed more text heavy. Also, there is a sixth book coming out on July 18, 2018 entitled The Principal Strikes Back. Already put it on my order list.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Love, Hate, and other Filters

31207017Ahmed, Samira. Love, Hate, and Other Filters
January 16th 2018 by Soho Teen
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Maya Aziz has a lot on her mind. Her overly protective Hyderabadi parents want her to go to college to study medicine near their home in suburban Chicago area, most likely so they can keep flinging "nice Indian boys" at her. Maya, however, wants to go to film school in New York City; she's gotten in, but is afraid to tell them. She has just been forcibly introduced to Kareem, who is 21 and "very suitable"... and also super cute and fun. The two start to date a bit, but Maya also has come to the attention of Phil, her long time crush. He's sort of on a break from his long time girlfriend, and the two spend a lot of time together. Some jerks in her school give her a hard time, but Maya is having a great time, dating two nice guys. If only she didn't have to worry about telling her parents about college. Of course, given the times that we live in, eventually reality intrudes and Maya has to deal with horrible Islamophobia in the wake of a terrorist attack near her town.
Strengths: The romances in this were quite nice and sweet, even if Kareem was 21. Maya's parents approve, after all, and nothing really happens. The romance with Phil is nice, too, but they are both just started relationships. The inclusion of the current events really can't be avoided today.
Weaknesses: Definitely young adult, with some language and a few situations. Too bad.
What I really think: I would definitely buy for a high school library, but will pass for middle school. At some point, this will be a completely run-of-the-mill teen romance. Now, it's getting a lot of attention for being #ownvoices and including current events, but it seems to me that there have long been LOTS of books by Indian writers. Perhaps just not Muslim ones?

34848190Konen, Leah. Love and Other Train Wrecks
January 2nd 2018 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

This was rather fun, but it's more of a YA book due to language. Bonus points for including some adventure with the romance, and fantastic descriptions of riding on commuter trains on the east coast. Felt like a movie from the 1950s. Definitely investigate for high school.


"A twenty-four-hour romance about two teens who meet—and perhaps change their minds about love—on a train ride to Upstate New York in the middle of a snowstorm

One train ride. Two strangers.

Noah is a hopeless romantic. He’s heading back home for one last chance with his first love, whom he broke up with when he went off to college.

Ammy doesn’t believe in true love—her parents being prime examples. She’s escaping from a mom who can’t take care of her to a dad who may not even want her. That is, until one winter night when Noah and Ammy find themselves in the same Amtrak car heading to Upstate New York.

After a train-wreck first encounter between the two of them, the Amtrak train suddenly breaks down due to a snowstorm. Desperate to make it to their destinations, Noah and Ammy have no other option but to travel together. What starts off as a minor detour turns into the whirlwind journey of a lifetime, and over the course of the night they fall in love. But come morning their adventure takes an unexpected turn for the worst. Can one night can really change how they feel about love...and the course of their lives forever?"

Ms. Yingling

Friday, January 19, 2018

Guy Friday- Checked

28954113Kadohata, Cynthia. Checked.
February 6th 2018 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Conor and his dad live in a small house in California. His dad, a former hockey player, is a traffic police officer, having switched from a street beat, and is recently divorced from Jenny. Conor plays a high level of hockey, and has a lot of extra practices and training. He suspects that this concentration on hockey might have led to the divorce, but the two guys have quite a pleasant existence revolving around the sport. It also revolves a lot around Sinbad, the Doberman they rescued from a high kill shelter. Sinbad goes running with them, and also helps keep Conor safe when he occasionally has to be home alone after school. When Sinbad is diagnosed with cancer, Conor's priorities change a bit. He knows that a lot of money is spent on his hockey ($15,000 a year, he estimates), and Sinbad's treatment is going to cost $7,000. There's little to cut back on, but Conor does try to pick up a few jobs and cut back on some of the extra tutoring. His father is struggling with several issues himself (the car accident death of Conor's mother when he was two, divorce, stress of his job, worries about money). Conor can hear him crying at night, but his father is always there for Conor and supportive of him. Will the two be able to take care of Sinbad and themselves, and find a good life balance?
Strengths: FINALLY, a stressed and grieving parent who not only attends to his child but also does an excellent job of hiding and downplaying his struggles to his child. After all the frankly insulting portrayals of grieving parents, this was welcome and refreshing. I would bet money that Kadohata's children played hockey-- the sports details about practice, equipment, cost, and emotional involvement are vivid and engaging. The details about dealing with Sinbad's illness were realistic and full of heart. Even the style reflects Conor's energy and focus-- it's hard to explain, but even though this clocked in at about 400 pages, the pell-mell style made this a quick read. Details about living in an area affected by forest fires were also intriguing. Even the cover is fantastic.
Weaknesses: This could have been edited a bit in order to make is a more accessible length for hockey players, who often want shorter books. As evidenced by Conor's own experience, they are busy people who sometimes only get time to read in the car!
What I really think: This is Kadohata's best work. It should have been shorter, but was wonderfully readable. Definitely purchasing.

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Touchdown Kid

33913882Green, Tim. Touchdown Kid
October 3rd 2017 by HarperCollins
Library copy

Cory is a decent football player; not as good as his friend Liam, who has been given a scholarship at a prestigious private school, but pretty good. When Liam is badly injured in front of the school scout, Cory is offerred his scholarship. He really wants to take it-- he lives in a rough Westside neighborhood with his single mother-- but there are some stipulations he doesn't like. In order to attend the school and play on the team, he has to live with a host family, the Muillers. The son seems nice, but the daughter is very pretty and rather dangerous, and the parents seem too sure of themselves and too aware of what a favor they are doing for Cory. He eventually gets his mom to let him take the scholarship, but things do not go smoothly at school. The evil Mike Chester keeps giving him a hard time, even pushing him in the locker room and injuring Cory's ankle badly enough that he can't play for a week. Cory does make some allies with his other teammates, but never feels entirely comfortable. When the Muillers' house is broken into and a lot of expensive jewelry is stolen, the police look at Cory with suspicion, especially after some of the comments he has made at school to get Mike off his case.
Strengths: There need to be more books with characters whose lives aren't solidly middle class. There are a lot of children for whom a new pair of shoes is a very big deal, so Cory's thrift store boat shoes and WalMart polos ring true. There are also children who have lives like the Muillers, so it was interesting to see the interplay between the two. Lots of football, and I have readers who will read anything that Green writes. Not as sad as it could have been, so this one was a touchdown for me!
Weaknesses: The minute the security code was mentioned, I knew that something would go down. Saw that one all too easily. Also, wished that the two socioeconomic classes had gotten along better.
What I really think: Bought without reading. That's how much I like Green!
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Betty Before X

28274835Betty Before X. Shabazz,  Ilyasah and Watons, RenĂ©e
January 2nd 2018 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)
E ARC from Netgalley

In the 1940s, young Betty Dean is being raised by a beloved aunt who feels that Betty's mother didn't take good care of her. The mother has remarried, moved to Detroit, and had other young daughters. When her aunt dies, Betty is forced to leave her comfortable life in the south to be raised in a crowded apartment with her step sisters. She spends a lot of time at church and hanging out with her girlfriends. The girls are especially interested in the work of the Housewives' League, a Civil Rights organization that is trying to convince the black community that they should not shop at stores that would not hire them. When she has some fights with her mother, Betty is taken in by the Malloys, who go to her church and are very active in the civil rights movement, and she enjoys living with them very much. There are a lot of things going on in Chicago at this time, and Betty learns to be aware of the position of people in her community and is interested in all of the activists who visit and show her more of what is going on in the world.
Strengths: This is a great slice-of-life title for this time period, and we finally have a book from the point of view of a young black person instead of a Civil Rights story told through a white lens! The details of every day life AND of the social mores of the time are absolutely fascinating, and it's even better since this is a fictionalized account of Shabazz's mother, who late married Malcolm X. Watson's input makes this highly readable and engaging, and historical notes at the end remind readers that this story is based on real events. I especially liked the information about the boycotting by the black community of businesses who didn't hire black people. I had never heard to this!
Weaknesses: The cover is a bit young for a book that really should be read by middle school and even high school students. There is a scene of a lynching that might need to be processed with younger readers, who might be attracted to the pretty, sunny cover.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, even though I find Malcom X to be a problematic historical figure. If you have Shabazz and Magoon's X, you should definitely read this!

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Fairy Mom and Me

36343106Kinsella, Sophie. Fairy Mom and Me
January 2nd 2018 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

Ella knows that she will be a fairy like her mother when she grows up, but she is impatient to try out her skills, especially since her mother is not very good at magic and frequently needs some help. Normally, Ella's mom works at an office and takes care of Ella and Ollie, but when the situation requires it, she breaks out her Computawand and magics up cupcakes, flying beds, or clean up spells. Things often go awry, but work out in the end. Ella has two good friends, Tom and Lenka, but also a girl, Zoe, who gives her trouble. It's hard for her to watch her mother experience problems with magic when she suspects she would do a better job, and Ella occasionally has to ask her Aunty Jo or her grandmother (who uses an old fashioned wand) to step in to fix things.
Strengths: As more and more of my readers enjoy short chapter books with illustrations, it's been hard to find fantasy books. This one is perfect for strong elementary readers, and still empowering enough that older readers who struggle will enjoy watching Ella's mom make mistakes with which she needs help. The pictures are particularly charming and work well with the story, the magical mishaps are amusing, and Ella is a fun character. This has a feel of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle for the new Millenium.
Weaknesses: A bit twee for me personally, with the magic word for the mother to become a fairy being "marshmallow" and spells having names like "Cupcakeridoo" and "Rewinderidoo", but the target demographic will probably enjoy those light moments.
What I really think: This will go over very well with my struggling 6th grade readers, although my 7th grade ones won't come anywhere near the aggressively pink cover! Ah, middle school.

Ms. Yingling

Monday, January 15, 2018

MMGM- Revolutionary War

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.

35068727Elliot, L.M. Hamilton and Peggy!
January 2nd 2018 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Young Peggy Schulyer must watch her older sister Angelica elope with a dashing young man, and is instrumental in helping her sister Eliza's suitor, Alexander Hamilton, connect with his sweetheart. In the meantime, the Revolutionary War is grinding on, and her father, General Phillip Schuyler, is very involved with aspects of the planning and fighting, although he is not always successful in his military endeavors. Peggy meets many of the luminaries of the time, tries to help around the house (her mother is constantly having babies, which becomes more difficult as she gets older and the war continues), and chafes against the restrictions put upon women. She even travels in the bitter winter weather to prove that she is not to be held down! Set against many details of every day life as well as the political machinations of war, Hamilton and Peggy! is a solid historical novel from the wonderful L.M. Elliot.
Strengths: Elliot does a great job at weaving in very descriptive military occurrences with every day life in a way that is both instructive but fast paced. This is a very difficult thing to accomplish in historical fiction. This was reminiscent of works of Ann Rinaldi, which always have such great details about life and historical events. Elliot has clearly done her research, and I appreciated the notes at the back.
Weaknesses: There is not really very much about Alexander Hamilton in the book, and Peggy is described (in a VERY common historical novel fashion) as being perhaps a bit spunkier and daring than women at that time would have been in real life. It's not unrealistically done, but I always believe deep down that such behavior is probably anachronistic. Makes for a much better story, so it makes sense to portray Peggy this way.
What I really think: If Hamilton fever continues, I may purchase a copy. Actually, I will probably purchase it anyway, since there are surprisingly few newer historical novels set during the Revolutionary War. Forbes' Johnny Tremain (1943) has seen better days.

35342937Stokes, Jonathan W. The Thrifty Guide to the American Revolution
Illustrated by David Sossella
January 30th 2018 by Viking Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publishers

In 2164, Time Corp published a series of guides for time travelers, since time travel devices are standard issue in homes, and there is a Time Patrol to fix any problems that wayward time travelers create. Luckily, copies of the books were found in New York City in 2018, and republished for modern readers. Time Corp is headed by the megalomaniac Finn Greenquill, who gets ample mention in footnotes throughout the book.

With such an introduction, we can expect The Thrifty Guides to be much more amusing than Lucent's Travel Guides or Lerner's Passports to History, which are much better at laying out information that actual time travelers might need. While there is good information about what to wear and eat, the main concern of this book is staying alive in the midst of different military actions or while spying. There are some nice overviews of historical figures with whom one might like to eat lunch, and enough information about daily life to keep a time traveler out of trouble, but the main concern is the military action. There are even maps.

This will be very helpful to students who have to study these battles in school-- I know that our 8th grade does some large units on Bunker Hill and Concord and have to actually make maps of battle strategies, so the maps included in this book, and the explanations for why the battles occurred, will be very helpful. The asides and additional humorous information make the history more accessible and interesting to readers who are new to the material.

My quibble is that I wish more social history was covered in school. How did people dress, what did they eat, where did they shop-- how did they go about their everyday life. What were the social mores? How did families work? What jobs did people have? This information is constantly neglected in the classroom, as well as in historical nonfiction. That said, this quibble is not so much with The Thrifty Guides as it is with the general approach to history, and I am clearly in the minority on this one. The Thrifty Guides are a nice supplement to topics covered in middle school social studies and could be put to good use in the classroom setting, as well as for pleasure reading.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Stella Diaz Has Something to Say

34506934Dominguez, Angela. Stella Diaz Has Something to Say
January 16th 2018 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Stella, her brother and their radio executive mother live in Chicago. Stella's father lives in Colorado and does not get in touch very often. Stella loves learning about marine animals and has a betta fish for whom she enjoys caring. It's a tough year at school, since Stella's best friend Jenny isn't in her class anymore, and Stella is still seeing a speech teacher to work on her language skills, which are fairly solid but which could use some improvement and make Stella self conscious about speaking in class. She has to deal with a new boy in her class who is from Texas, learning that she is not a US citizen but rather an "alien" with a green card, and missing her family, many of who still live in Mexico City. Stella does her best to get ready for her class presentation despite her challenges because she does in deed have "something to say".
Strengths: Stella is a fun character, and seems very typical for a third grader. Being without her best friend is hard, and she worries that Jenny will make other friends. She misses her father, but realizes that he just isn't going to be involved in her life. She has a warm and supported relationship with her mother, who is doing her best to support her family. The school scenes strike me as realistic, and Stella's struggles with language are delicately and constructively described.
Weaknesses: I worry that this will be too young for many of my readers, although my struggling ELL population will enjoy the story, the length of the text, and the inclusion of pictures. I just wish there were a similar story with an 8th grade character, because most of my students do not want to read about a third grader.
What I really think: I will purchase for my readers who need easier chapter books that appeal to their own experiences.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Ellie, Engineer

35525589Pearce, Jackson. Ellie, Engineer
January 16th 2018 by Bloomsbury USA
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Ellie loves to build things, drawing up plans and using her impressive array of tools to create and build all manner of innovative projects. When her best friend Kit's birthday is approaching, and the friends overhear that Kit is getting Miss Penelope, a dog, Ellie sets out to build a dog house. She needs some help, and even though the neighborhood boys are annoying, she enlists the help of Toby for a lot of the project. She also asks some other girls to help with the wall paper, and as the project progresses, has to keep a lot of secrets from Kit. When Ellie is afraid that the house won't be done in time, she has a large group of people to help her, and invites them all to Kit's beauty pageant party. Luckily, everyone is understanding, and Ellie's project is a big hit.
Strengths: This is absolutely on trend for how young girls with progressive parents are being raised today. Pink and sparkles are okay, and so are wrenches and building things. Lots of STEM sorts of issues, and Ellie is insistent that she is an engineer. The friend drama is true to life, and it's nice that all of the children eventually learn to work together. There is even a bit of a twist at the end.
Weaknesses: This would be a hard sell for middle school, and the initial reaction to the boys alarmed me a little, although Ellie did manage to work things out with everyone and establish that while boys sometimes do stinky things, this doesn't make all of them stinky all the time.
What I really think: This just made me feel old. When my daughters were this age 20 years ago, the philosophy was just different, and I can't quite explain it. There was a feeling that we shouldn't really differentiate between "girl stuff" and "boy stuff", and everyone should wear primary colors and have dolls AND trucks. My older daughter went through a phase where she would answer "chemical engineer" when asked what she was going to be when she grew up. My younger daughter wanted to be a super hero princess, which is why I encouraged more gender neutral trappings for everyone because I'm still not a fan of pink and sparkles.

Now, the philosophy seems different. Too many women claim "I'm not a feminist", but still have a full time professional job that my mother could only have dreamt about. Little girls dress up as pink princesses but still think they can be CEOs. I find myself feeling vaguely annoyed not because of the amorphous change of philosophy, but by the fact that so much time has passed! To my credit, my older daughter is working in organic farming, and my younger one is in college to be either a forensic account or an actuary, so I think I did okay with math and science and girls!

Ms. Yingling

Friday, January 12, 2018

Guy Friday- History

   Rarely do I come across a book that leaves me vaguely baffled. This new title from Steve Sheinkin did.

3447529434475293Abraham Lincoln: Pro Wrestler
Abigail Adams: Pirate of the Caribbean
January 9th 2018 by Roaring Brook Press
Abigail Adams ARC received for free in exchange for an honest review.

First of all, Sheinkin is a brilliant writer and an even more brilliant researcher. His The Notorious Benedict Arnold just blew me away. He's been a National Book Award finalist three times for good reason. He takes interesting, somewhat unusual topics and writes about them with passion and intensity.

Do we need to put our foot down on ALL history time travel books? But then there are the Magic Treehouse books, which are okay because they introduce very young readers to history in a fun way. Scieszka' s Time Warp Trio is fun. I'm almost willing to give Dan Gutman a pass, since I enjoyed his Qwerty Stephens books and Baseball Card Adventures, and he had some fun twists with his Flashback Four. Meehl's Blowback books are for much older readers, and include sports in a much needed way.

But then there's the Rush Limbaugh Rush Revere books, Potter's Left Behinds, and Mansbach's Ben Franklin: A Huge Pain in My A** for which I didn't care on a number of levels. The Sheinkin books fall somewhere between these two groups.

On the plus side, there's a nice twist. Instead of fixing history, the main historical figures decide to do something different. But that's also why I didn't care for them as much.

Yes, it can be hard to get children to read historical fiction. I try daily and meet with little success. I love historical fiction. But Abigail Adams (which I got in an ARC box from Follett; I haven't seen the first book) even confused ME a bit. She's tired of hanging out in the new White House and hanging up laundry, so she jumps into the laundry basket and is transported to the Caribbean so she can hang out with famous women pirates? But then she wants to start a school on the ship? This was so goofy that it was hard to determine the accuracy of the details, especially since the language and situations were so unusual.

I understand why this was done, but it just wasn't successful for me. It might have been the illustrations by Neil Swaab; he wrote and illustrated The Secrets to Ruling School (Without Even Trying) which was more mean spirited than I had hoped, so perhaps the inllustrations got my back up.

I think I will pass on this series, and concentrate on finding what Michael Spradlin calls "historical thrillers" like Northrop's new Polaris. If notebook novels and "twisted history" books work for your students, definitely take a look.

Now I'm off to watch the DVD of Voyagers! while questioning my place in the universe.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Under the Bottle Bridge

34228343Lawson, Jessica. Under the Bottle Bridge
September 5th 2017 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Public Library Copy

Minna Treat lives in Gilbreth, New York, a small town that is very proud of its history and tradition of local artisans. She is being raised by her young uncle, because her mother passed away of a medical ailment and her grandparents were killed in a car accident. There is not information available about her father. Theo, her uncle, wants her to enter the local young artisans' competition, which has always been won by a Treat, but Minna doesn't have much interest in it. Her best friend, Christopher (or "Crash", so called because of his predilection for causing accidents) and new, quirky girl Grace, hang out together and decide to try to discover more information about her uncle. Minna keeps finding bottles with cryptic messages in them near one of the five local covered bridges, and starts to think the messages might be connected with her father. Grace's father, the mayor, wants to start a lot of real estate development in the area, which would cause the woods and some of the covered bridges to be raised, but the town is not very excited about that. Minna isn't, either, even though times are bad enough that her uncle is looking into alternate employment at a town about an hour away. Will Minna be able to find out more about her mysterious parentage, the person leaving her messages, and how to save the town?
Strengths: Lawson has done a fantastic job of world building-- Gilbreth is quite a town, with a rich tradition, a history quoted at the beginning of each chapter, and an interesting blend of people. Minna's reaction to her uncle and mother's situation is handled well; not too sad, a bit precocious, but fairly balanced. I can see this being enjoyed by fans of the Penderwick or Melendy family sagas. The cover is gorgeous.
Weaknesses: This is overly long, a bit too detailed, and very slow moving for the target audience.
What I really think: I will pass on purchase, since I can't get anyone to check out the Penderwicks. This seems like a title that adults will rave about, but most children will bypass.

15801400O'Ryan, Ellie. The Case of the Digital Deception
January 29th 2013 by Simon Spotlight

Library copy

Club CSI is back when pretty, popular girl Whitney asks the group-- especially Corey-- for help because she "feels" she is being threatened. There is no actual wrong doing until the next day, when a picture hung inside Whitney's locker is defaced. The group proceeds to dust for fingerprints, but Whitney is oddly unhelpful. It doesn't make matters any better when Whitney's best friend, Alyssa, brings the group an e mail from Whitney that the group is a bunch of dorks and that she should just ignore them. Eventually, though, Whitney's You Can Draw It account is hacked, and someone buys $100 worth of expansion packs on her parents' credit card. Her parents are not pleased, and ground her. Club CSI steps in with some excellent digital sleuthing, and when they are very close to solving the case, they get some help from experts, including their friend at the local police department who is on hand when they confront the criminal.
Strengths: The Case of the Mystery Meatloaf and the other three books in this series have ended up doing VERY well in my library, so I ordered the next two. This is written by a different author, and I liked it a bit better. The digital sleuthing was very interesting, and the inclusion of some middle school drama helped propel the story. Hoping that books 6 is in the next shipment.
Weaknesses: Have to decide where to shelve this; will probably put it with the other books by Lewis.
What I really think: Fun, quick mystery with a lot of good CSI information.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


35068631Korman, Gordon. Supergifted (Ungifted #2)
January 2nd 2018 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Noah is still enjoying being in the "regular" school with his friend Donovan, since he has trouble in classes like wood shop and gym. Why is that good? Noah is so brilliant that he often felt like he wasn't learning anything. Now, there are lots of areas in which he can improve. While Noah is embracing new opportunities, Donovan is stressed out. His sister, her military husband, and their infant daughter have all moved in with his parents, so the house is crowded and stressful. When Donovan runs into some of his enemies at the local park, his brother-in-law's dog has a run-in with one of the kids, whose parents get upset and forbid Donovan from ever being in their neighborhood. When Noah has a hair brained schemed that Donovan needs to stop, he ventures forth into the forbidden territory-- and manages to stop a truck from running right into Megan's house! He doesn't want to admit that he was "Superkid" and get into more trouble, so Noah starts taking credit for being the hero. This deflects attention for Donovan but also makes him jealous when he sees the attention that Noah is getting. Some people who know both boys suspect something is not right, as as plans for the governor to present Noah with a medal at a school assembly start to come together, so do the pieces of evidence that will blow the story apart. Can the boys manage to keep their act together long enough so that they can continue to enjoy their school days in peace?
Strengths: I adored Ungifted (2012) and even though I accidentally bought four copies, they are all in tatters, partly because I keep getting it added to Battle of the Books lists! Noah is an interesting character, and I love that he takes up cheerleading. We've had two male cheerleaders at my school, and I think there should be more both in real life and in fiction! Donovan is hysterically harried, and the supporting characters are all well developed and funny. Hard to go wrong with Korman, and this is a worthy, is belated, sequel.
Weaknesses: This starts out more slowly than the first book, which shouldn't be an issue for the fans who are eagerly awaiting this title.
What I really think: I didn't LURVE this one as much as the first, but I'm going to blame a bad cold and attendant strep throat for my inability to think for a week. (Back in December-- all better now!)
Ms. Yingling