Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Ostrich and Other Lost Things

35259626Hautala, Beth. The Ostrich and Other Lost Things
February 20th 2018 by Philomel Books
Copy provided by the publisher

Oliva's "super power" is finding lost items, from her neighbor's frequently misplaced glasses to her father's keys. When her brother's plastic toy ostrich goes missing, she tries to find it, to no avail. It's important to her, because the ostrich seems to calm Jacob down, but ever since it has been gone, he has been prone to melt downs, and the outward manifestations of his autism spectrum disorder seem to have increased. It is summer vacation, which throws Jacob for a loop, but Olivia is looking forward to being in a theater production as well as visiting the small zoo that has been set up in her neighborhood with animals that need a home while the Tulsa zoo is being renovated. Because there is an ostrich in the exhibits, and she tried to sneak in to visit it, Olivia has to do community service there for six weeks. Jacob is also in the play, and Olivia worries that he will ruin things. She steps up her investigation, keeps up with her lines as well as her work at the zoo, and deals with the almost nightly escape of the ostrich, who ends up in her backyard.
Strengths: This was a realistic portrayal of a family struggling to maintain a routine and sense of normality despite the challenges that autism can present. Jacob is certainly typical of the students I have seen in my school, and Olivia's attitude is normal as well. I liked that the parents were supportive of both children and tried very hard to allow Olivia to live her own life while acknowledging that she sometimes made sacrifices because of her brother. The zoo component was interesting as well.
Weaknesses: The zoo being renovated and sending animals out to various communities was hard for me to believe. The Columbus Zoo has added or renovated lots of exhibits without rehoming animals. It certainly COULD happen, but it just seemed sort of odd to me.
What I really think: It's a good story, and I'm glad to have it, especially since we have an autism unit in our building. The title and the cover aren't fantastic, though.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, February 23, 2018

Hooper

35230716Herbach, Geoff. Hooper.
February 20th 2018 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Adam Reed (born Sobieski) is fairly happy with his adoptive mom Renata, living in Minnesota. He hangs out with his quirky friend Barry, who has a hard life of his own, living with his mom Tiffany in a local trailer park. Adam has some anger management issues, and does not talk a lot, because he didn't get adopted until he was 11, and he doesn't feel that his English is that good. He frequently runs afoul of Kase Kinshaw, a jerk who calls him "Duh" and gives him a hard time at school. When his basketball skills bring him to the attention of fellow player Carli Anderson and her father, he gets an opportunity to try out for the Fury travel team. Carli helps him not only with improving his basketball skills, but is nice about driving him places when Barry's car falls apart. She also encourages him to talk more, and to interact with his new teammates so they don't think he is stuck up, and the two eventually start dating. When Renata starts dating a neighbor with two young daughters, Adam is concerned that it will end with her being unhappy, although he rather likes Michael and enjoys playing with his daughters. Throughout the course of the book, we learn more about Adam's neglected childhood in Poland, and watch as he improves his basketball skills and tries to get a handle on his internal rage so that he has a chance to attend college.
Strengths: Herbach is a brilliant, brilliant writer. He understands what his audience wants, and he delivers: sports, romance, interpersonal problems, humor. He has the best ability to write a slightly off-kilter voice of any author I can think of! Adam's English isn't broken exactly, but his voice is so distinctive that I could HEAR it. The basketball details are interesting, and Carli is fantastic. She is a better player than Adam (although recovering from injuries), and she has a fantastically equal relationship with him. Adam's anger and his problem interacting with others is realistically protrayed, as is Renata and her difficulties. Adam makes a few comments about his black teammates that are insensitive, and I appreciated that these were fully discussed. Teens do sometimes make comments that show a lack of understanding, and the other players don't just react to Adam, they show him the error of his ways (in a slightly angry fashion, which is also realistic) and he is able to understand what he did wrong and change his views. We need more of this in teen literature. Enjoyed this tremendously. Herbach's Stupid Fast, Fat Boy vs. the Cheerleaders, and Anything You Want (which is definitely YA) are all fantastic.
Weaknesses: While I understood the genesis of Adam's social difficulties, it might have helped to have a tiny bit of explanation about how childhood trauma can lead to issues of anger and failure to connect with others. Not sure how you would work them in.
What I really think: While Adam is an older high school student, Herbach is circumspect in language and situations enough that this is perfect for middle school students who want more of a challenging read.

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Ambrose Deception

29773959Ecton, Emily. The Ambrose Deception
February 13th 2018 by Disney-Hyperion
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Melissa, Wilf, and Bondi are all informed that they have been invited to compete for a scholarship, and find themselves lured into a hunt for clues across the city of Chicago. They each have a driver at their disposal, as well as a charge card, and each of them set out to figure out a series of clues. There are bumps along the way, but just as they all get close to the end, they are challenged by the children of the man who put together the hunt and must work together to prove that they really did solve all of the clues and should be awarded the money over the other heirs.
Strengths: Chicago certainly is a great city for this sort of tale-- Blue Balliet's art mysteries as well as Malone's Sixty-Eight RoomsAdventures and Fantaskey's Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter all incorporate city landmarks into the mysteries of the stories. This had some similarities to Chambliss' Book Scavenger series and a feel like Grabenstein's Mr. Lemoncello's Library.
Weaknesses: I wanted a lot more information much earlier in the book as to why the children were involved in solving these puzzles. When it didn't come, I lost interest because I didn't believe that they would fool their parents into thinking they were really working on a scholarship activity.
What I really think: All of the titles mentioned as similar to this story do not do well in my library, with the exception of The Book Scavenger. I will pass on purchasing.

35478858Touchell, Dianne. Sticky Notes
February 20th 2018 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

Ten-year-old Foster has a great relationship with his parents, and loves to hang out with his father and listen to his stories. His father even comes to school and tells them to his classmates, when most of the people who come are mothers. His father has a high powered job that involves lots of work and nice suits, but once his father starts forgetting things, everything in Foster's life starts to crumble. His mother works at a meat packing plant, and Foster's father's decline is rapid enough that a babysitter has to be hired when she goes to work, more for Foster's dad than for him. Once the diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's disease is made, the family tries to put plans in place for when the father is even more of a threat to himself. This comes very quickly, and Foster has to deal with the loss of his father
Strengths: This is a brutally honest account of what can happen to someone who falls prey to Alzheimer's. Many details about the sorts of actions and reactions that Foster's father has explains how difficult it is for a family to deal with this, especially when it is early onset.
Weaknesses: Foster seems much younger than ten, and the ending was a bit abrupt and unresolved.
What I really think: There's a bit of a disconnect between the writing style and intended audience. While the details of the father's disintegration are almost too vivid for elementary school readers, a story aimed at middle school readers needs to address the main characters feelings a little more. I wish that there had been more information about how Foster was dealing with this, more like Sonnenblick's Falling Over Sideways.
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Team and Tournament Fugee

McLean, Dirk. Team Fugee
January 1st 2018 by Lorimer
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Ozzie and his sister Rebecca managed to escape the fate that their parents met in Nigeria and have made it to Canada after a long time spent in an orphanage. They have been adopted by a Trinidadian couple, and are settling into their new environment. Ozzie loves to play soccer at school, but when his group is forced off the field by a group of mainly Syrian soccer players, tempers flare, and the school coach arranges for the two teams to play an exhibition game to work out their differences. Ozzie is in charge of the team, and must get the players to work together. He worries, however, because his mother is offered a position at a hospital several hours away, and he and Rebecca don't want to be uprooted again. If the soccer tournament is a success, there is a chance that the school will support soccer teams. Can Ozzie overcome his problems with Victor, the leader of the Syrian team, so that the exhibition match will impress the powers that be?
Strengths: Lorimer does a very nice job at bringing in characters from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and incorporating them into high interest, low level books that involve sports. They definitely fill a much needed niche, and included just enough details about other cultures to intrigue readers while using a lot of sports descriptions so that readers who pick up the books for that reason are satisfied.
Weaknesses: The author is from Trinidad, but I think the research into the background of Ozzie and his sister is very well done. There are a lot of references to Canadian life that may confuse some of my readers; I would love to see Scholastic turn its hand to a similar line of titles set in the US!
What I really think: This will be a popular series with my struggling readers who enjoy sports stories.

McLean, Dirk. Tournament Fugee
January 1st 2018 by Lorimer
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Victor, who leads the Syrian team in Team Fugee, has an opportunity to play on a Syrian refugee team in a "Thank you, Canada" tournament.  This team is much more challenging than his school one, and he has to learn to work together with other refugees who might not share his exact background. Victor is also struggling with his guilt over losing his grandfather when the family escaped Syria, and worries about his younger brother, who is battling pneumonia. Both concerns effect his ability to concentrate on the field. Will Victor be able to overcome his past and bring his team to victory?
Strengths: Victor's experience in leaving Syria will be interesting to students who have read Gratz' Refugee or Senzai's Escape from Aleppo, and are written about in a way that can be understood by students whose reading skills might not be strong enough for either of those titles.
Weaknesses: Again, there are a lot of details particular to Canada in this title. While I find that interesting, some of my students are new to the US and struggle enough with details about life here. They might be a little confused.
What I really think: I wish I had know that this came after Golden Goal and Golden Game. I was hoping, while reading both of these books, that there would have been more information about how Ozzie and Victor ended up in Canada, and I'll have to hunt down these titles to see if they answer the questions I have!

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

11:11 Wish, The Beginning Woods

35181316Tomsic, Kim. 11:11 Wish
February 13th 2018 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Megan and her family have moved to a new town in Arizona after the death of her mother, and Megan is desperate to fit in to life at Saguaro Prep. Unfortunately, she gets caught between the two girls who are running for Spirit Week captain, Rhena and Ally. Oddly, there is a cat clock very much like one her grandmother had in her kitchen, and when 11:11 hits, Megan makes a wish on it the way she once heard her grandmother do. It works, and while this is exciting, Megan is also worried and attempts to contact her grandmother, who is on a low-tech senior biking tour in France. She cautions Megan to be careful, but Megan is so desperate to be liked that she uses the magic more than she should, and suffers various consequences. Despite these, she makes several friends at the pet shelter where she volunteers, and starts to hang out with a cute boy who likes her. She also manages to talk to her father about the way he is handling her mother's death with her and her sister.
Strengths: This is a different twist on the age-old "moving and fitting in" story, and instead of a haunted house we have some magic. That was fun. A lot of the story was set at school, and althought the mean girls were over the top, I rather enjoyed the teachers. The clock is fun, and the grandmother was fantastic.
Weaknesses: If the mother had to be killed off (which was totally unnecessary. If the father was handling things so poorly, why weren't the girls in grief therapy?), the grandmother totally should have moved in with the family and been there to help Megan, because she was the most intriguing character.
What I really think: This was a solid book with magical realism, which is fairly popular, and the cover is very appealing. I just wish that more of the magic had gone RIGHT for Megan before it started to go wrong.

34138362McNeill, Malcolm. The Beginning Woods
January 9th 2018 by Sky Pony Press
Copy provided by the publisher at ALA

Max is in an orphanage, where he is hard to place because he is a Kobold-- sort of a devilish imp with sharp teeth. Despite that, Alice and Forbes Mulgan adopt him and take him home. With their loving care, he becomes more and more human, but the Vanishings that are being investigated by scientists are somehow attributed to Max's appearance. There is a pandemic of adults just disappearing, but no one knows why. Max is very interested in finding his birth parents, and gets drawn into a very complicated search for them that takes him to other, even less pleasant worlds and puts him in contact with witches and dragons in the titular beginning woods. Will he be able to find out about his true parentage and his ties to the Vanishings?
Strengths: If your readers like Grimm's Fairy Tales, especially the Gidwitz version, this is a great book to hand them. It's dark, and involves all manner of very unpleasant fantasy characters. Very dark, but the world building is exquisitely detailed, and the characters have all manner of quirks.
Weaknesses: This is on the long side, and a bit hard to follow, since there are multiple worlds and all sorts of characters.
What I really think: This is just not the flavor of fantasy that my readers request. I can see it being popular, but I just don't have the readers for it.

Monday, February 19, 2018

MMGM-Dear Isaac Newton, You're Ruining My Life


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.

Hruza, Rachel. Dear Isaac Newton, You're Ruining My Life
February 20th 2018 by Sky Pony Press
E ARC provided by the publisher upon request

Truth Trendon knows she has scoliosis, and her parents are good about monitoring its progression, but it's still a bit of a shock when she finds out right before starting 7th grade that she has to wear a back brace. She has to wear it all the time unless she is playing sports, and it's hard to fit clothes over. It's also hot and uncomfortable, and makes her feel different and weird, so she decides to hide it from everyone but her best friend, Megan. She doesn't want her crush, Brendan, to know, but she does tell him when the two start to spend more time together. The other person who knows is her friend Oliver, who is in a wheelchair because of his muscular dystrophy. Of course, it's hard to hide something as obvious as a back brace, but Truth manages to make it through the beginning of the year, hanging out with her siblings Charity and Harold, and coming to a grudging understanding with mean girl Jenny. When Megan gets angry at her and then steals Brendan, Truth has to reassess how she is participating in her own life, and manages to be true to herself while putting things to rights with her friends.
Strengths: There were some very good descriptions of what it is like to wear a back brace, and lots of realistic drama surrounding not only the brace but friends and crushes. Oliver's presence was interesting, and made Truth put her own circumstances into perspective in a way that can be very difficult for middle school girls to do. The best part of this might have been the romantic arc with Brendan-- very typical of middle school romances! I am very glad to see more than one contemporary book about scoliosis-- Gerber's Braced came out about a year ago. Hruza has a nice note at the back about how not everyone's experience with scoliosis is the same. This is very much the truth, so having more than one book to hand to students is fantastic!
Weaknesses: There is a scene early on where Truth describes seeing her back's deformities while showering. I can only imagine that this is based off of her own life, but it seemed odd to me, especially since her back looked so bad that the character then throws up. I had a fairly pronounced curvature to my spine, but could only tell because my one shoulder was lower than the other. Most of the book is fairly positive, and Truth deals with her scoliosis in a fairly understandable way, but to start the book off with such an extreme scene reminded me of Blume's Deenie going nuts and cutting off her hair. Not the message girls who have just been diagnosed with scoliosis need.
What I really think: Most of my objections are personal! I wore a back brace from 8th to 10th grade, and it wasn't a huge deal to me, but like Hruza says, everyone has a different experience. With fashions the way they are today, and with all of the talk about body positivity and accepting people's differences, I could see my students wearing hoodies and track pants every day and no one ever even suspecting they were rocking a brace underneath. In 1978, pants and shirts were really tight, and I ended up wearing my mother's clothes. Even so, no one really noticed my brace. In middle school, people are too busy worrying about how they look!


36001605
Mattern, Joanne. The Cat Encyclopedia for Kids
March 1st 2018 by Capstone
E ARC from Netgalley

Who knew there were so many kinds of cats, many of them bred in the last century? Who knew so many of them were so completely creepy looking? I'm not a cat person at all (I really do believe most of them want to kill us in our sleep!), but this is a great overview of the major breeds popular in the US. There are a number of breeds mentioned, including American Shorthair, Persian, Ragdoll, Exotic and Sphinx cats. There is a brief overview of each breeds' history and development, a bit about their distinctive personalities, and a few things about caring for the cats.

I strongly suspect that this is a compilation of books on the individual breeds that Mattern has written, but I don't know for sure. This would explain why the care sections, in particular, all sound pretty much the same.

If your library can only afford one cat book, definitely take a look at this. I know my students enjoy the books on individual breeds, so I try to buy one or two a year. I'll pass, because I probably already have this information in individual books.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Hope in the Holler

35553553Tyre, Lisa Lewis. Hope in the Holler
January 9th 2018 by Nancy Paulsen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

When Wavie's mother dies of cancer, her life gets complicated very quickly. Since her father has never been in the picture, children's services looks for a relative, and unearths a sister, Samantha Rose, whom her mother has never mentioned. Soon, Wavie is taken away from her supportive trailer park community and is living in squalor in the hills of Kentucky. Her aunt, uncle and cousin Hoyt never clean their run down house, but expect Wavie to. Things are brightened a little by the children Wavie meets in the neighborhood and school. Most of the children are on free and reduced lunch, and almost everyone gets their backpacks filled up with food for the weekend. Wavie knows enough that if a grandparent is raising children, nothing has gone right with the parents. Her friends Camille and Gilbert are especially supportive of her new situation, and Camille's family is fairly well-to-do for the area. When Wavie finds out that she was almost adopted by a couple but was returned to her mother, she writes to the Bowmans, posing as her mother, and tries to find out what happened. She is helped a little by a former lawyer, Angel Davis, who has fallen on hard times. When the final hearing to turn her over to the custody of her aunt approaches, Wavie and her friends try to put together evidence in order to find somewhere else for Wavie to live.
Strengths: Tyre is a very strong writer. Her Last in a Long Line of Rebels was compelling and highly readable, even though there were elements of it that normally would not have appealed to me. She constructs a very vivid world of hardship, but gives Wavie the strength she needs to survive it. The aunt and uncle are bad without being horrible, and the children and teachers at the school are realistic about the living conditions but hopeful that they will approve. At first, I thought the adoptive family story was a bit far fetched, but I wanted to believe that the Bowmans would step in and make Wavie's life better, just the way that Wavie did.
Weaknesses: The subplot about Angel Davis's life falling apart because he was grieving the death of his wayward son was really unacceptable. Parents don't literally lose their minds and throw their entire lives away when a child dies. This is a horribly recurrent trope in middle grade literature that needs to stop. It's untrue and insulting.
What I really think: I really didn't think, because of a whole slew of elements, that I would like this one. But I did. I think that speaks highly of Tyre's strengths as a story teller.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, February 17, 2018

In Which I Try To Read Three Sci Fi Books at One Time

35068414Emerson, Kevin. The Oceans Between Stars
February 13th 2018 by Walden Pond Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

After Last Day on Mars, Liam and Phoebe managed to escape the destruction of their adopted planet when the sun went supernova, and they are on a space ship in stasis waiting to get to another destination. When they wake up, their parents are still asleep, and have been injured. Liam fears that his sister didn't make the shuttle in time, and fears that she is dead. With the help of JEFF, a droid in the shape of a panda, they manage to figure out what is going on. Liam still has the watch that he found on Mars, and takes comfort in being able to go back and watch scenes from his life before things all went wrong. Eventually, he meets the original owner of the "watch", a chronologist from the future who warns him that the watch is not meant to be used by him, and may be causing space/time anomalies. When the two come across the wreckage of the Scorpius, which is supposed to be intact. Phoebe has many secrets that she is hiding, but decides to tell Liam about them, since the two have become close. These secrets change many things about what Liam needs to do, and he resorts to using the watch to explore different realities in the multiverse in hopes of putting everything to right.
Strengths: There are a lot of VERY interesting twists in this that I didn't see coming even though I should have! There are several asides that all come together, so I don't want to give anything away. The terraforming of Mars, the plans for sending out colonies on ships when the sun is in danger of exploding, and the machinations of the scientists are all well depicted and fascinating. This is different from the first book (Which was a 2017 Cybils finalist) but still really intriguing. Even with all of the action, the relationship between Liam and Phoebe is multilayered and very interesting. This employs the idea of multiple realities that Bishara's Relativity, Edge's The Many Worlds of Albie Bright and Lawrence's A Crack in the Line explored. Interesting to read about, but hard to really believe! Emerson has written so many different things, but science fiction may be what he does best.
Weaknesses: Lots of characters, and lots of brain melting multiple realities. Made my brain hurt a bit, but in a good way. The cover is a bit murky and should show way more action!
What I really think: Definitely must purchase this one as soon as possible as well!

35068571Kraatz, Jeramey. Dark Side of the Moon (Space Runners #2)
February 6th 2018 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Benny and his friends managed to save the Earth in Space Runners, But now that Elijah is gone, he and his group of friends are stuck on Taj and are not entirely sure what to do, even with the help of Pinky, the Taj AI. Enter Dr. Austin Bale, who has "appropriated" a lot of equipment from various sources and has been hiding out, but now that the Alpha Maraudi have shown up, he reappears and wants to kill them all. Benny doesn't think this is a good idea, since he hopes that the aliens might be able to help fix the situation on Earth. Ricardo, the leader of another group, tends to want to side with Bale, and when Drue's father contacts Bale, he also seems to be on the side of the somewhat mad scientist rather than a rag tag group of children, even if it includes his son. When the Maraudi attack again, Bale goes on the offensive, shutting down Pinky, although Benny is able to access a back up version of her. Benny and his friends have to decide what their course of action will be.
Strengths: There are lots of twists and turns in this one, so I don't want to give anything away. Benny seems to have a much better plan than Dr. Bale, but I appreciated that this was treated in a way that just showed the superiority of Benny's ideas, which are based up more up-to-date information and a much kinder world view, rather than having Bale be a cartoonish character. Taj is a well developed world, the technology is fun, and there is lots of action and adventure.
Weaknesses: I could have done with fewer characters to keep track of, but then science fiction and I are often a difficult mix. Also, the title brings up a completely different image in my old head!
What I really think: Kraatz is a popular author in my library with his Cloak Society series, so fans of Space Runners will insist that I purchase this immediately!

So, here's the thing. My baby is in college, and dating young gentlemen whom I have never met. In order to ascertain whether or not they are worthy of her, I ask what their reading preferences are. I was greatly relieved to find that the most recent ardent gentleman was a big John Flanagan fan in middle school, but intrigued by his interest in this ridiculously long adult science fiction book in high school. Since I generally walk for an hour on a circuitous route to work in order to start my day with some exercise, I decided to LISTEN to this.

It's 29 hours long, people. I love my daughter.

Keep in mind that the only other audio book I have ever listened to is Duncan's Hotel for Dogs. It takes too long to listen to things, and I don't process the information as well. It didn't help that the names were half a bubble off-- pretty sure there was a character named something that sounded like Zazper Zompzon, but I didn't have a print copy to check. Remember that I haven't seen spellings of the names, I've only heard them and am doing my best to guess.

72199Weber, David. Off Armageddon Reef (Safehold, #1) 
January 9th 2007 by Tor Books (first published January 1st 2007)
Library Audio Book (MP3)

Nimue Alban is one of a team of scientists who watch as their highly advanced technological civilization is completely destroyed by aliens called the Gbaba. Thousands of years later, she wakes up in a cave fortress on another planet, Safehold. She is a PICA, a highly evolved android with superhuman everything. She was sent by her society to check up on their backup plan to save civilization. The new planet severely limits technology, since the thought was that the Gbaba were able to track down tech emissions and Safehold is supposed to be safe. There's a super weird religion that has been started by the scientist Langhorn, and some of Nimue's compatriots appeared to the locals for a long time. Now, the kingdom of Caris, which is one of the less whackadoo kingdoms, is running afoul of the church. Nimue changes herself to a man, since women have no power in Safehold, and is now Merlin Athrowes. Merlin has the ultimate spy capabilities, stealth skimmers, and all sorts of high tech toys disguised as their medieval counterparts, and arrives just in time to save Cayleb from assassins. Cayled and his father, Kind Haarald, are leery of Merlin at first, but come to trust him after someone very near and dear to the king plots his assassination. Things escalate quickly, but Merlin introduces a lot of new technology to the kingdom in order to thwart the threat from Mother Church.
Strengths: This is sort of like Brotherband Chronicles meets Ender's Game, and I have about six boys who want to read it right now. There were a couple of slightly embarrassing things (Merlin swimming naked with fellow soldiers and realizing that she still had the sexual interests of Nimue, and one church official visiting a prostitute, but circumspect description of details.), but I think it is okay for these particular readers. No one is going to slog through 600+ pages for those tiny details!
Weaknesses: Wordy, and lots of bizarre info dumps. Okay, I can understand decribing some of the cool technology in great detail, but at one point there was a baseball game described. That was strange (church officials were talking conferring during it.) The book could have been a lot more exciting without that sort of thing.There were also a TON of characters, many of whom would appear just once. Also, there was one scene with Narman, one of the evil guys, that made him almost sympthetic, but then he went right back to being evil. Despite all of that, the political intrigue and Merlin's super powers were a lot of fun.
What I really think: This would have been a better book if it had been edited a lot more, AND if Nimue had stayed Nimue and kicked Safeholdian butt as a woman! That also would have given us an opportunity for an very interesting romance between Nimue and Cayleb. Alas.

Just checked out the audio book for By Schism Rent Assunder!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Poetry Friday- Voices in the Air and Between the Lines

35068790Nye, Naomi Shihab. Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners
February 13th 2018 by Greenwillow Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

This new collection of poems from the wonderful Nye is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, when she is good, she makes me cry. Her Honeybee and A Maze Me are always the first books to check out when the seventh grade does their poetry unit. She excels at taking every day experiences and imbuing them with the universal truths that make poetry so touching. Even though she writes in free verse (of which I am not a huge fan), her language is still poetic, and her poems do not sound like prose chopped up into random lines. Trust me, that's huge praise from me. I'm hypercritical of poetry.

On the other hand, a lot of the poems tend toward the political, and even more of them mention other poets. On a personal level, I loved this, especially since there is a description of the people mentioned at the back. For students, however, this will make the poetry harder to understand. I will probably buy a copy of the book, but only one, and it will not be the hit that her books of poetry for younger readers are.

In addition to the poem below, A Lonely Cup of Coffee is fantastic. It deserves to be printed on mugs.

Unsung- On Finding (From the uncorrected ARC)

From where this box of pink & purple yarns?
               Skeins not even tangled
        Recipes for baby jackets booties
Saluting your good intentions    oh someone
  honoring your high hopes    neatly packed in a box
            future promise on a shelf     in our shed
             (How did this get into our shed?)
But give it away   because we know we will never
                                                        on any day     of any future year
                                                                 do this

33357465Grimes, Nikki. Between the Lines
February 13th 2018 by Nancy Paulsen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Darrian really wants to be a news reporter, and a teacher suggests that if he really wants to learn to write, he should investigate poetry. He signs up for a poetry class in high school where all of the students are working toward doing a poetry slam. They all have different issues (negligent parents, parents out of work, foster care, etc.) but use poetry to help understand their world and the other students. The chapters alternate between characters, and the poems written by the students for assignments are included.
Strengths: I liked that this is set in a high school, but there isn't any inappropriate language or situations. There is some tentative romance, lots of problems with home life, and a lot of interest in writing. The cover is really nice.
Weaknesses: I wish the poems had all been in different, distinctive voices the way that Frost did in Keesha's House. All the poems sounded the same to me.
What I really think: This just didn't do much for me. This is most likely because I tried to write poetry in high school and college, and while I had some success, writing poetry or going in to journalism is a cruel thing to encourage a student to do for a career.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Cybils Middle Grade Fiction Winner!

Congratulations to Alan Gratz and Scholastic Publishing for Refugee being named the 2017 Cybils Middle Grade Fiction Winner!

For a full list of winners, go to the Cybils Website!

"Refugee by Alan Gratz is an important story for our times. The writing is tension-filled and although the young characters are fictional, the facts surrounding their terror are real. Set in different decades, each of the three stories detail the harrowing journey of a family as they attempt to escape an otherwise dangerous situation. Author Alan Gratz is artful in the way the separate plots interconnect and overlap. Circumstances are not glossed over or made any easier in fiction than they are for actual refugees of the past and present.

 The story pointedly shows that the refugee crisis has been with us longer than most kids realize. It’s also a challenging book, but with short chapters and cliffhanger endings it’s one they will really want to read. This Cybils Middle-Grade Fiction winner is a moving experience. It won’t be a book you’ll soon forget."


For those of you out there who feel powerless today, you shouldn't. I firmly believe that if every single person made it a priority just to be kind and helpful to everyone else, without fail, the world would be a better place.

Start small. Be kind to others in your corner of the world. It makes a difference.



The Art of the Swap

27420730Asselin, Kristine and Malone, Jen. The Art of the Swap
February 13th 2018 by Simon & Schuster/Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Hannah lives in Newport, Rhode Island in The Elms, a fabulous mansion from the Gilded Age. Of course, her father is the caretaker of the 1905 edifice, so she lives in a small apartment, but she does have the opportunity to roam around, and she loves learning about the history of the time, a fact which sometimes gets her into trouble with the docents! She is intrigued by the portrait of Margaret Dunlap-- the original painting by Mary Cassat was stolen the night of the unveiling party and never recovered, although there is a copy hanging in its place. When Hannah is investigating the fram while dusting, she finds the outline of a key on the back... and somehow, she is able to talk to Maggie. Even more thrilling is the fact that the girls swap places! Hannah is sure that this swap must be about the theft of the painting and sets out to investigate, with the help of the main suspect, a kitchen boy named Jonah. Maggie finds it harder to insert herself into Hannah's life, since she doesn't have the background knowledge that Hannah has about the people, and there are so many new technologies and clothes to deal with! The two girls communicate frequently and manage to find out the fate of the original painting, and try to find a way to unveil it in the present day. They try to swap back, but are stopped, and continue to work in the time they inhabit to make things right.
Strengths: This put me in mind of both Tom's Midnight Garden, as well as Konigsberg's The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler AND made me really want to take a tour of the historic houses of Newport! The time travel method was highly acceptable, the mystery solid, and the relationahip between the girls very charming. Hannah's realization that the history she knows so well really did happen, and had some ramifications she hadn't fully understood, is well done and tempers her somewhat bratty personality at the beginning of the book. Maggie's awe at the freedom of modern girls and her embracing that freedom when she returns to her own time were both heartfelt and touching. There are a lot of art mysteries, but this wasn't as much about the art. Modern girls would do well to understand that the freedoms they enjoy have not been around forever, and this book is an excellent way for them to gain more details about women's rights and how they affected every day life.
Weaknesses: This was on the long side. Since Maggie's exploits in the modern day are not as crucial to the plot, I think I would have gone a bit lighter on them.
What I really think: Will definitely purchase, since Malone has a huge fan base in my library. I am impressed with the seamless work of these two authors-- definitely a success story for Google docs!

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The best Valentines: Our Canine Companions

35749423
Fleming, Candace. Strongheart: Wonder Dog of the Silver Screen
February 6th 2018 by Schwartz & Wade Books
Copy graciously provided by the publisher

When film director Larry Trimble decides that the next big thing for Hollywood movies should be a dog, he and his assistant Jane find a German Shepherd puppy who proves to be just right. The German born Etzel is rechristened Strongheart and after some training, begins his career in films with The Silent Call. Strongheart is an uncanny actor, and Trimble feels that he can actually communicate with the dog. The films are a success, and Strongheart endorses dog food, visits orphanages, "marries" his costar, Lady Jule, and signs lots of pictures with his "pawtograph". Fame has its price, of course, and he is embroiled in a case where parents of a young girl who is lost in an underground tunnel after trying to retrieve Strongheart's ball accuse the dog of savaging her daughter. Luckily, the boys in the orphanage do detective work in the tradition of the best "dime novels" and prove that Strongheart is not responsible. The noble German Shepherd is able to resume his career and enjoy life with his growing family.
Strengths: This is a delightful, fictionalized account of a real dog movie star. It is interesting that after 90 years, there is not enough information about Strongheart's origins to know exactly whence he came; we are so used to everything being documented electronically that this gave even me some pause! This is probably why this took the form of a novel rather than one of Fleming's excellent nonfiction book. The illustrations by Eric Rohmann are charming and will appeal to readers who love dogs as well as... who doesn't like cute dog pictures? The notes at the back about the "real story" are helpful, and it's nice to have some links and a bibliography to investigates. Dog books are always in demand, and this is a particularly engaging one.
Weaknesses: It's a shame that a bit more coverage wasn't given to the concept of silent films. While this can certainly be enjoyed without it, modern 12 year olds don't understand life without computers, much less life without films that have sound. There are clips of Strongheart available online, and interested readers who look these up will likely be very confused by the concept of a silent film! Considering that I recently had to explain the concept of a "Sunday Drive" to a 25 year old, and there are teachers at my school that didn't know there was ever a nongraphic internet, some more explanations wouldn't have gone amiss. Technology moves quickly!
What I really think: Can't wait to hand this one to students!


35068770Pyron, Bobbie. A Pup Called Trouble
February 13th 2018 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Trouble is a coyote born into a loving and supportive family out in the country. He is more mischievous than his brothers and sisters, but loves tussling with them and investigating the world around him. When he sneaks into a produce truck from a nearby farm that is heading into the city, he soon finds himself in a different sort of wild-- New York City! Coyotes are rare in the city, so he alarms a variety of people who see him, especially after he manages to get into an office building. Trouble manages to make a home for himself and makes friends, including Mischief, a crow, and Rosebud, an oppossum. He even makes friends with a little girl, Amelia, who comes to the park. Even though he has managed to carve out a comfortable existence in the city, Trouble misses his family, and with the help of his friends, manages to get back to them.
Strengths: Like Hill's Lucky, Lorentz' Dogs of the Drowned City, and Hunter's Warriors books, this is a fast-paced story of an animal out of its element. Trouble is an engaging character, the inclusion of Amelia will make this easy for tweens to relate to, and the cover is adorable and will make sure that this book is never on the shelf! Also, put me in mind a little of Selden's A Cricket in Times Square.
Weaknesses: Coyotes. A bit evil. They will carry off small dogs, so Sylvie does not approve.
What I really think: Pyron's work (The Dogs of Winter and A Dog's Way Home),  is very popular in my library, so I will have to purchase!

26090165
Higgins, Carter and Cummins, Lucy Ruth. This is NOT a Valentine
December 26th 2017 by Chronicle Books
E ARC provided by the publisher

Two elementary school students clearly enjoy spending time together, and the boy is especially fond of the girl. Throughout the day, he gives her little gifts that he clearly states are NOT Valentines, since they are not the stereotypical pink, glittery, lacey, sugary sorts of gifts that most people give. Instead, he gives her gifts that he know she will like such as a red superhero cape, a ring that matches her shoelaces, and a rock. At the end of the book, the boy tells the girl that he likes her "all the days the school bell rings" and not just on Valentine's Day.

This is a good message of friendship, and listening to the preferences of one's friends. The artwork imitates a child's drawing, and is bright and dynamic. This is a seemingly simple title, but delivers a timely and important message that realationships, even among the young, need to be mutually respectful and caring.

I wish that we  had heard more from the little girl; while the boy's actions are all kind and adoring, it would have been interesting to see how the girl responded.                         

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Granted, Redworld: Year One

35068662Anderson, John David. Granted.
February 13th 2018 by Walden Pond Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets is a young fairy in a very well-developed and complex fairy world. She is supposed to work as a Granter, but for a variety of reasons, not as many wishes are being granted lately. There are lots of protocols and procedures involving the assigning and granting of wishes, combined with a decrease in the general level of magic, attributing to this. When Ophelia finally gets an assignment, to provide a girl named Kasarah in Kettering, Ohio with a purple bike because hers was stolen. After careful preparations, Ophelia sets out, but runs into all manner of problems on her trip. To complicate matters, the coin on which Kasarah wished is very difficult to obtain, because a variety of people keep picking it up, and the rules clearly state that a wish cannot be granted without it. After running into even more problems, Ophelia meets a dog. She doesn't want to be licked or befriended, but the dog she names Sam thinks otherwise and ends up being very useful. After tracking the coin down to the home of Gabe and Anna, whose father is gone, Ophelia manages to get the coin, but not before the boy makes yet another wish on it. With the help of her friend Charlie, who leaves the fairy realm of Haven to look for her, Ophelia must decide what course of action is best... with or without the approval of her fairy supervisors!
Strengths: Sam makes this book for me. Anderson writes a dog voice that sounds almost exactly like Sylvie. (Yes, she "talks" to my daughters. In fact, she texts them frequently.) Like almost all Anderson titles, there is always one moment where I burst into tears; in this case it was this interchange between Ophelia and Sam: "Why are you following me?" "Because you are broken and lost and I licked you, so now we are friends." The detailed information about Haven, the wish granting process, fairy names, and other specifics (from uniforms to housing to procedures) are so complete that Ophelia and her world come to life brilliantly. The details about Sam and Gabe and Anna are very sweet, but I don't want to give too many of those away.
Weaknesses: Until we meet Sam, this is a bit slow. The world building of Haven and Ophelia's role within it is exquisitely done, but starting the book with Ophelia in the midst of her troubles in Kettering would have interested reluctant readers more quickly. Also, I wasn't fond of Kasarah, because the way she words her wish isn't sympathetic. I wish it had been, so I could have been more behind Ophelia's hard work to grant it.
What I really think: The fact that fairy books are really hit or miss in my library leaves me a bit conflicted about this title. I adore Anderson's work, but am not entirely sure to what students I can hand this. Will consider; I have time, since I've spent my entire budget for this year!



This series looks like it is actually comprised of four books, Homestead, Raiders, Tharsis City, and Legacy. I was suspicious of this when I was reading the book and there was a recap of events or who people were at the beginnings of what seemed to be chapters. This makes the books a much more manageable length, but confuses matters when reviewing the book, since I read it as one book.


cover_imageCollins, A.L. Redworld: Year One
February 1st 2018 by Capstone Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Belle, her robot Melody, and her family move to Mars so that her parents can work for BAMcorp in the big, fancy city, but right after arrival, they are "made redundant". Not wanting to flee back to earth (although Belle is okay with that), the family buys a farm and heads out into the "wild west". They have a hover wagon pulled by horsel (a camel horse hybrid), which is big enough to sleep in. This is a good thing, since their house is a shack on the windswept Martian prairie. Luckily, neighbors Lucas (who is half Sulux) and Myra happen by and show them the the shack is really just the "front porch" for a much nicer, more modern living space below. There are still a lot of similarities to US pioneering life, and Belle soon finds herself at a small school. She takes a liking to classmate Ta'al, who is Nabian, and doesn't understand why the other children ignore her. She gets assigned to work on a science fair project with Lucas, and has to work on an agriculture project involving turken chicks instead of improving her previous science fair winner, Petripuffs. (Small balls that, when thrown, release a toxin that paralyzes the victim for 30 seconds. They are mentioned a LOT.) When Raiders appear to steal Belle's family's water, Belle gains a wolf dog and manages to disprove the widespread notion that Nabian's are Raiders. When her mother realizes she is pregnant, the family needs to travel to Tharsis City for a doctor's appointment. Lucas and Ta'al's families decide to come along, and the groups run into problems when both Raider, the wolf dog, and Melody are kidnapped and must be rescued. In the final book, Belle finds an archaeological site that proves that at one point, the Sulux and Nabian people were friends, which helps the two groups make peace and finally get along.
Strengths: This had some interesting world building (sort of like Heinlein's Farmer in the Sky), and the mix of Little House on the Martian Prairie and science fiction elements was interesting. Belle is constantly getting herself into trouble, which will appeal to tween readers. They will also wish that they had a robot like Melody who could tell them bad jokes but but also save them from wolves. There is a good message about prejudice and understanding people who might be different from you. The families are all supportive, and positive. There is a little about terraforming and agriculture on Mars, which was interesting as well.
Weaknesses: I'm not the target demographic, and expect my science fiction to be more sophisticated. More details about terraforming, new technologies, and innovations would have improved this for me personally, even though younger readers will just like the adventure and the old school tech. I had trouble believing that Belle's family would sell vegetables and skeins of wool they spun at the market, the message about prejudice was really heavy handed, and at one point I thought I was reading a plot synopsis of Land of the Lost. I also firmly believed that after her first ill-advised adventure, Belle would have probably perished and not been able to go on other ill-advised adventures.
What I really think: Probably shouldn't have read this while I was listening to Weber's Off Armageddon Reef. The exciting intrigue and unique technologies in that adult book made Redworld seem a bit lacking. (The whole idea of a PICA...wow.)  I can see my students really enjoying this, and I can appreciate all the work that was done to make this appealing to middle grade readers and am interested to see if this series will be longer than four books.

This comment appeared on Goodreads under Angie's review, and helps a bit:
Thanks for your honest review. I urge you to give the book another chance once the final version is released on 2/1/18. The ARC that was released was a simple compilation of four individual school library titles. The final version will have much of the repetitive information removed to make a smoother story. Also, the action picks up more in later parts of the book. Belle explores more parts of her new home world and becomes entangled in several adventures.

I hope that you'll like the final version better.

Regards,

Aaron J. Sautter
Senior Editor
Capstone Publishing
 


Ms. Yingling

Monday, February 12, 2018

MMGM- Not-So-Boring Letters of Private Nobody

You know, the world would be a very boring place if we all liked the same books. There are lots of blogs out there, and it's easy to get lots of different opinions. I often don't like the books others do, and I don't often get really excited about a book. When I do, however, I get REALLY excited. (The Football Girl, anyone?)

The Not-So-Boring Letters of Private Nobody made me ridiculously happy for a lot of reasons. When I taught Latin, I used the phrase "somewhat benevolent dictatorship" ALL the time, just like Mr. Carrow. I work with students just like Oliver every single day. And finally, there are just never enough books from a boy's perspective that include romance, and the boys really do want to read about this, even if they might not admit it.

GO OUT RIGHT NOW AND READ THIS BOOK. Just do it. Have I steered you wrong yet?

35631756Landis, Matthew. The Not-So-Boring Letters of Private Nobody. 
February 13th 2018 by Dial Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Oliver is very interested in all of the details of the Civil War, so he's thrilled when his 7th grade social studies class is ready to study it. He's less thrilled when Mr. Carrow tells him that he will be working with Ella, and that their topic is a local man, Private Raymond Stone, who died of dysentery without even fighting. It doesn't help that Ella, who hides behind messy hair and disheveled clothes, is in danger of flunking 7th grade unless she does well on the project. Uncomfortable with talking to others, Oliver asks Mr. Carrow if he can work alone on a different topic, and is told no. Ella turns out to be surprisingly smart, and her failing schoolwork and lackadaisical appearance are her way of rebelling against her work obsessed parents who idolize her older sister. After she asks if another classmate, Kevin, is his friend, Oliver realizes that Kevin is one of the few people he would consider a friend, even though Kevin is more interested in his WattPad following than in the Civil War, which is the only topic of conversation Oliver usually has.

After making his peace with Kevin and Ella, the social studies project gets off to a bit of a rocky start. Ella invites herself to his house to work on it, which makes his mother ridiculously happy. Ella is happy, too, eating goldfish crackers and tacos and "forgetting" to text her parents her whereabouts. After visiting a local history center, Oliver and Ella get interesting information about their subject, and do some great research in order to flesh out their documentary. Kevin is enlisted to help with the writing, and Oliver's parents even take the group to Gettysburg to investigate further. The project starts to come together nicely, and Oliver starts to realize that he might "like like" Ella, which adds an interesting wrinkle to the proceedings.

The beginning of this was so hysterically funny that I was immediately sucked in, and the details of life in middle school are so brilliantly accurate that I was not surprised to find that Mr. Landis teaches middle school history! Every interaction is pitch perfect and full of humor.

The characters are all a little quirky, but I have definitely seen children exactly like this. There are no dead parents, but the children all struggle a bit with their upbringing. Oliver feels that his parents watch him a bit too closely, and he's really annoyed with his sister's piano playing. Ella's parents are constantly on the phone with work when she is with them, and failing in school is the only way she feels she can get their attention. While we don't see as much of Kevin's parents, he does comment that his Asian parents are not thrilled with his creative writing, and would much prefer him to excel in math, science, or music. These are just the types of struggles that middle grade students face much more than death, depression or other super serious issues, but they are struggles that do impact students' daily lives. It's great to see them addressed.

The budding romance between Ella and Oliver made me so happy. It was painfully awkward but realistically portrayed. First romances are full of a lot of angst that adults don't take seriously enough. How close can I sit to the girl? Will she hold my hand? Can I call? Text? What do I say? These are very real problems, and seeing them in a book help readers understand that they are not alone. There's an inevitable misunderstanding, but an epic apology that makes the entire book worth reading, just for that scene.

How much did I love this book? I've spent the last of the the school board money for the year, but unearthed some Barnes and Noble gift cards when I was cleaning. I am going to order three copies so I don't have to wait until next year to give this book to my students.


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Best Buds Under Frogs (The Rizzlerunk Club #1)

35210302Patricelli, Leslie. Best Buds Under Frogs 
February 13th 2018 by Candlewick Press

E ARC from Netgalley

Lily and her sister both get sick their very first day in their new school, and Lily throws up at Darby's feet. Undaunted, Darby still talks to her, although Darby is as brash as Lily is shy, and Lily can't quite tell if Darby is making fun of her or not. Other girls in the class have formed a club, named after Darby's best friend Jill, who moved to England. When Jill moves back, Lily is afraid that she will lose her new friend, especially since Jill is really quite mean. The two friends get involved in lots of scrapes, including shaving off Lily's eyebrows and believing in the ghost of Captain Rizzlerunk (after whom they name their club), and navigate their way through the minefield of elementary friendships.
Strengths: This had a lot of pleasant illustrations, and reminded me of younger elementary school novels like Haywood's Betsy and Calhoun's Katie John. (Okay, okay: I'm old!) Lily is anxious about fitting in but is not beset with anxiety. Her parents are supportive, and I love how they are portrayed as eating healthfully, so that the Pop Tarts at Darby's house are a big treat!
Weaknesses: Too young for even my struggling readers. Middle school friendship problems and elementary friendship problems are very different. Then there were all the details about studying frogs that just wouldn't fly at my level.
What I really think: I would definitely purchase this for elementary school, but will pass for middle. If Patricelli ever does a notebook novel for slightly older kids, I would definitely investigate it!
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Hunger: A Tale of Courage

35297481Napoli, Donna Jo. Hunger: A Tale of Courage
February 13th 2018 by Simon Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

The Irish Potato Famine was more devastating than young readers today can imagine. Told from the point of view of Lorraine, a girl whose father is a tenant farmer near Galway in 1846, we see just how horrific the lack of a major crop can be to a community already struggling under British rule. Lorraine's parents and young brother, Paddy, struggle mightily, eating soup made of local vegetation and keep warm at night only by snuggling next to their pig. Clothing and blankets are so hard to come by that when a father and his three children beg for meals from Lorraine's mother, the children are naked. This family is later found dead next to the side of the road, victims of fever. This fever spreads to a family who helped them, and only the father survives. When Lorraine makes the acquaintance of the young mistress whose father owns the land, she sees just how much better off the British are, and convinces Miss Susannah that things are as bad as she has heard. With Susannah's help, Lorraine takes eggs back to her small community, and this bolsters everyone's health a tiny bit. Families make plans to leave after crops fail for another year, but Susannah's family decides to stay put after tragedy affects them. Luckily for Lorraine, her friend Emmet stays behind, and the two use all of their skills and wiles to keep the family fed.
Strengths: Naploi always does a fantastic job of researching her stories; I was a tiny bit surprised that this wasn't somehow tied into a fairy tale, like much of her other work. The details of the potato blight, daily life, and the intricacies of how to survive under such horrible circumstances are all brilliant. Lorraine is a great character, and Susannah is realistically unmoved for most of the book, although she does come around a bit. Emmett was also a good addition, and the absence of romance is realistic, although we are left believing that there might be one if things ever improved. Even though this book really left me very sad (not the thing I needed over a frigid winter break!), even that is a testament to the effectiveness of Napoli's writing. Would definitely purchase for a high school or a public library.
Weaknesses: I wish there had been a clearer plot to move things along when it was super sad which, given the topic, it was all the time. A small element of hope would have helped.
What I really think: Even though I can get about two students a year to check out Susan Campbell Bartoletti's 2001 Black potatoes : the story of the great Irish famine, 1845-1850, I weeded Giff's Nory Ryan's Song a couple of years ago because no one ever checked it out. As much as I adore Napoli's work, I think I will pass on purchasing, although now I kind of wish I had kept the Giff title.

Ms. Yingling

Friday, February 09, 2018

Spy Toys and Pug Pals

36064760Powers, Mark. Spy Toys: Playtime is Over!
February 16th 2018 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
E ARC from Netgalley

When the Snaztacular Ultrafun toy company finds toys that don't meet their exacting specifications, they are sent to the discard pile. On the way there, Arabella (a doll who hates children) and Dan (a teddy bear who hugs too hard) manage to escape from the factory only to be caught in a net just outside. Luckily, they meet and our rescued by Flax (a toy police rabbit gone rouge). Soon, they are recruited by Auntie Roz, who wants them to be undercover bodyguards. They have very sketchy training and are soon sent to watch the prime minister's son. There is a conspiracy masterminded by genetically engineered cereal mascot, Rusty Flumptrunk, an evil elephant, and it's up to the toys to make sure he doesn't cause too much trouble. They make some mistakes along the way, but in the end, the toys are able to triumph over evil.
Strengths: These are lots of pictures, and the length of this is just over 200 pages, which is perfect for middle grade readers. There's a fair amount of good spy details, lots of goofiness, and
Weaknesses: The addition of toys makes this more of an elementary school title, since middle school children whose parents are in positions of power are always guarded by other middle school children.
What I really think: I'm going back and forth on this one. On the one hand, my struggling readers are also slightly immature, so they might be okay with the toys, as long as there are pictures. On the other, I didn't much care for any of the characters in the book, which makes it hard for me to really get behind the story.

Ahn, Flora. Two's a Crowd (Pug Pals #1)
January 30th 2018 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Sunny is an older pug who has a comfortable life with her human and her stuffed animals. When Rosy, a new puppy, joins the family, Sunny is not happy. Puppies have a lot of energy and Sunny doesn't care for Rosy's in-your-face personality. Sunny also doesn't like sharing her things with Rosy, especially Mr. Bunny. When Rosy loses Mr. Bunny, Sunny gets angry, but when Rosy runs away, Sunny knows that the puppy has never been on her own alone outside before. What about the mean dogs in the neighborhood? Cars? All of the other dangers? Sunny goes out to find her new and annoying playmate, and comes to realize that having someone else around can be fun.

This is the perfect length for an easy reader book. It doesn't look like a "baby book", but has large text and lots of pictures. Unlike graphic novels, which often have very tiny text, this would be a good book for readers transitioning from "I Can Read" books and other shorter readers.

Sunny's reaction to the new puppy is very realistic, and Rosy is portrayed as exuberant and bouncy. The black and white line drawings are extremely expressive and funny. I didn't know there was a Bah Humpug Blog (http://www.bahhumpug.com/) until I read another review of this book, but you can visit that site to find out more about the author and her work. (As well as her pugs!)

This is a great story of irritation and eventual acceptance. I was recently offered the possibility of adopting a seven-year-old toy poodle whose owners were relocating; accepting this offer is contingent on my twelve-year-old Sylvie accepting another dog. I can see Sylvie thinking the exact same things that Sunny is thinking, so this book warmed my heart.

Readers who love pet friendly tales like Selfors' Wedgie and Gizmo or Butler's Kayla and King will enjoy this book, which is the dog equivalent of Surovec's My Pet Human tales.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Introspective Novels

Stevens, April. The Heart and Mind of Frances Pauley.
February 6th 2018 by Schwartz & Wade Books
Copy graciously provided by the publisher upon request

Frances (who refers to herself as Figgrotten because she likes the way it sounds) has some quirky personality features, including an immense love of nature that causes her to fill her room with branches and sleep with the windows open even in the winter. These quirks irritate her older sister, Christinia, who becomes increasingly antagonistic toward her. Since others also find Frances a bit off putting, this desertion is particularly hard. Luckily, the bus driver on her route, Alvin, is particularly nice and philosophical, and bond over stories of birds and articles Frances reads in the encyclopedia. Frances likes her teacher, who is understanding and fun, but she doesn't like new student James, since he is even smarter than she is an frequently monopolizes the class. When Alvin becomes ill, Frances has a particularly tough time in school, but luckily her parents try to help her, and even Christinia is surprisingly supportive. Eventually, Frances makes friends with Fiona and learns how to deal with change in her life. She even is willing to trade in her too small, cat hair covered coat for a new parka, and even realizes that the replacement bus driver is not as talkative as Alvin because he is shy.
Strengths: Frances' struggles with her sister distancing herself from her are very true to life. By fifth grade, children need to figure out that being quirky often does not work to their advantage, and Frances is one of the few characters in middle grade literature who picks up these clues, makes a few changes to her actions at school, and improves her own life. N.B. I no doubt made many of my own problems in fifth and sixth grade, so I can relate.
Weaknesses: For some reason, Frances being referred to as Figgrotten throughout the book grated on me. Also, this is a more introspective book, so not a lot "happens".
What I really think: This reminded me strongly of Constance Greene's A Girl Called Al, and is a gently sad book with more hope than most middle grade books have had lately. I especially thought that Frances' mother was particularly nice, and no doubt long suffering!

February 6th 2018 by Schwartz & Wade Books35553564Perl, Erica S. All Three Stooges
January 9th 2018 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Netgalley

Noah Cohen and Dash are best friends who like to hang out and goof around, watching old comedies movies and drinking root bear with Dash's father Gil. They also go to Hebrew school together and are preparing for their bar mitzvahs. Noah isn't happy to find out that a girl who goes to his school, NOA Cohen, is scheduled to have her ceremony on the same day as his. That's the least of his worries, however, when Dash's father dies suddenly. Noah's mothers, Jenny and Karen, don't have a lot of details, even after the funeral. Dash is avoiding Noah, and loses his phone. Noah picks it up, and scrolls through the messages, uncovering the fact that Gil has killed himself. His mothers say this is the case, but don't elaborate or talk to him too much about it. Noa seems to be closer to Dash that Noah is, and the two boys just end up not talking. Noah doesn't manage to give the phone back in a timely fashion, and eventually gets in trouble for it, which almost cancels his bar mitzvah. In the meantime, life in Noah's school and home goes on, although he and Dash both need help in dealing not only with Gil's death but with their estrangement from each other.
Strengths: There are lots of good details about what it is like to come of age in a community with a significant Jewish population(near D.C.), which would be a good window book for many of my students, whether they are Jewish or not, since the Jewish population in my community is very small. The inclusion of Jewish comedians is interesting. The difficulties that Noah and Dash have following Gil's death are very realistic and understandable.
Weaknesses: I found it difficult to believe that Noah's mothers weren't up front with him about Gil's death, knowing how close he was with Dash's father, since he himself does not have any other father figure in his life. People on the east coast seem to overshare all kinds of unpleasant information, and with the concerns surrounding suicide today, I found it unfathomable that Noah wasn't given more support.
What I really think: This was a really good attempt at dealing with the death of a parent by suicide, and also a good, detailed description of the preparations involved in a bar mitzvah. With the addition of the trouble between Noah and Dash, this was a lot for one book, and having so many issues diluted all of them. I don't know that I will purchase this book, although my main objection is that the cover is horrible and the book would have to be hand sold. Conflicted about this one.
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Playing Attari with Saddam Hussein

25797017Roy, Jennifer and Fadhil, Ali. Playing Attari with Saddam Hussein
6 February 2018 HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Ali lives in Basra, Iraq in 1991 with his family, including brothers Ahmed and Shirzad and young sister Shireen. His mother is a math professor, his father is a dentist and army medic reservist, and the family lives a comfortable life complete with video games and American television programs. Ali has known war for much of his life, but when the US prepares to launch Dessert Storm attacks, he realizes how much more serious this war is. Since bridges have been bombed, food is scarce. More buildings are destroyed and people are killed. Ali's father goes missing, and the family is worried for his safety. While Ali is not a fan of school, he would rather be there than huddled at home while war rages around him. When there are rumors that a ground strike will be made soon, Ali considers finding a way to let the US soldiers know that he loves Superman and video games, but realizes it will have little effect. In an epilogue, we see Ali working at a translator for the US government during Hussein's trial, and notes at the end explain the true story on which the book is based.
Strengths: This was really well done-- first hand experiences from Mr. Fadhil, but told by an experienced middle grade writer so that the book is structured in an appealing and fast-paced way. I appreciated the inclusion of information about the different ethnic groups and their involvement, especially since Ali's father is Kurdish. There are plenty of details of ordinary life in Basra, and we get a lot of historical information about the war as well. Even the cover is fantastic. This is a great window into another time and place, and I can't wait to share it with my students!
Weaknesses: Ms. Roy does not write nearly enough books! I love her Yellow Star, as well as the Trading Faces series she wrote with her twin, Julia DeVillers.
What I really think: This seemed a bit pro-American, but there are some passages that describe how much Ali loves Iraq, just not the Iraq during war time. Now, I really need to see a book by an Iraqi who felt less positively about the US!
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

The Unicorn Quest Blog Tour and Giveaway


It's the The Unicorn Quest Blog Tour! Leave a comment below stating why YOU are a magical unicorn, and you will be entered to win a copy of this new book. Please make sure your comment links to your blog or gives me some way to contact you!


26958971Benko, Kamilla. The Unicorn Quest
February 6th 2018 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
E ARC provided by the publisher

When Claire and her sister Sophie move into Windemere Manor after the death of their great aunt Diana, who collected all manor of odd objects, they aren't entirely sure what to do with themselves. Sophie is recovering from an undisclosed illness, and their parents are still overly protective and scared for her. Claire is scared as well, but irritated that Sophie doesn't spend as much time with her as she used to. When the sisters investigate an odd chimney in the house, they find it is a portal to a magical kingdom. Claire doesn't think it is a good idea to travel there, but when Sophie disappears, she knows she must go in search of her. However, when Claire arrives in Arden, she is met by the rather hostile Nett and Sena, who inform her that her sister has been there but has also been accused of stealing a magical artifact that is keeping the fragile peace of the Arden guilds, and is nowhere to be found. Claire, of course, must embark on a quest across the lands in order to find her sister. This is treacherous, even with Nett, a Tiller, and Sena, a Forger. The guilds are protective of their lands and loathe to let others cross them, so Claire must use her wiles and wits to locate her sister. She eventually finds that she and her sister are more entwined with the fortunes of Arden than they ever could have imagined. Once the artifact is found, will Arden be saved and their time in the kingdom over? Or are there more adventures awaiting the girls?
Strengths: The land of Arden is well developed, and the fracturing of Arden into guild divisions makes sense. It's serious, but not scary, and the fighting is in the past, which is a nice touch in a lighter fantasy for younger readers who are more interested in magical adventures, friendships, and unicorns. Claire's desire to find her sister despite her reluctance to enter Arden is realistic, and her fear for her sister despite her annoyance at her is something with which many readers will sympathize. The magic skills are an interesting touch. I'll be curious to see where this adventure takes us. If I had a paper ARC, I would have three students who would read this right away!
Weaknesses: Arden is a typically Anglo-Celtic medieval world, and there are so many fantasies with this setting. While I always have readers who adore this, I personally am looking forward to the Rick Riordan imprint that will introduce more fantasies from different world cultures.
What I really think: Definitely will purchase for fans of Pierce's Alanna, Wrede's Dealing with Dragon's, Levine's The Two Princesses of Ba'Marre, Hale's Princess Academy,  and Jessica Day George's  and Diana Zahler's fantasy books.

Join in all the fun!

Monday, February 05, 2018

MMGM- Cookie Cutters & Sled Runners and Dolphins: Voices in the Ocean



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.

34056792Rompella, Natalie. Cookie Cutters & Sled Runners
February 2018, Sky Pony Press
ARC provided by publisher

Ana and her best friend Lily love to cook and come up with new recipes together, but when they are assigned an Explorations project at school, their teacher Mr. Creed assigns them partners and refuses to budge. Lily gets paired with Via, who is interested in a cooking project but thinks mayo mixed with sugar is okay for frosting cupcakes, while Ana gets paired with new girl Dana. Dana goes by Dasher because her family raises sled dogs and has just moved to the Midwest from Alaska. She's a bit outspoken and slap dash for Ana, who is dealing with OCD. With the help of her supportive parents and Dr. Taylor, Ana is able to control her compulsion to clean and wash her hands fairly well. She also has a guinea pig, Bernie Toast, who helps with her stress levels as well. When Ana and Lily fall out, and Ana has to deal with messy dogs and a new friend who doesn't know her whole story, she does struggle a bit. Eventually, she works through her problems with Lily, takes chances on new life experiences, and continues to learn to manage the more problematic manifestations of her OCD.
Strengths: This is a fun, engaging tween read that also offers good information about OCD on a level that young readers can understand. The mix of cooking, dogs, and friend drama will make this a sure hit with middle graders who want an amusing yet insightful story-- and the cover is great!
Weaknesses: Mr. Creed seems a bit over-the-top mean, and I could see parents at my school really complaining about the whole Exploration project!
What I really think: At first, I wanted the book just to be about Ana, Lily and Dasher going through a typical middle school experience, and was sort of bored by the OCD parts. However, Rompella does a very good job at striking just the right tone-- Ana isn't magically "cured" but makes progress, her friends are understanding, and her parents get her the help she needs and make sure she follows through with her therapy exercises.

Casey, Susan. Dolphins: Voices in the Ocean
January 23rd 2018 by Delacorte Press
Copy provided by the publisher

Based on her 2015 adult book, Voices in the Ocean: A Journey into the Wild and Haunting World of Dolphins, this is a brief overview of how dolphins are treated around the world, and how Casey investigated these treatments by visiting many of them and talking to scientists, locals, and activists. Highlights include: a town in Japan where dolphin tourism has arisen because the fisherman kill and sell dolphins; a much kinder town in Ireland where there is a celebrity dolphin, Fungie; and several different facilities where dolphins are kept captive so that people can interact with them. Information about how dolphins act, socialize, and react to humans is provided along with these anecdotes about the author's experiences. There are eight color pages of dolphin pictures in the center of the book, and a fairly extensive bibliography. This is a good length-- just under 200 pages, so readers who are very interested in dolphins will be glad of this when narrative nonfiction is assigned for class projects. The cover is quite appealing, and it is great to have more tween friendly versions of adult narrative nonfiction.

I wish that this had been more organized and had fewer descriptions of how Casey felt about the various situations: e.g. students will not care that she started her journey because she was sad that her father died. It also would have helped if pictures had been spread throughout the book.