Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Finding Langston

36982551Cline-Ransom, Lesa. Finding Langston. 
August 14th 2018 by Holiday House
ARC provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter

Langston and his father have moved to Chicago from Alabama in 1946 after the death of Langston's mother. Langston misses his grandmother as well as the slower pace of life in the South. In the city, the two live in a very small apartment, and the father works long hours and does his best to cook dinner. There are some neighbors who are very helpful, like Miss Fulton, who teaching at a high school. Langston struggles in school with other students calling him "country", especially Lymon and Clem. In trying to avoid those boys, Langston happens upon the George Cleveland Hall Branch Library and finds, to his jubiliation, that it is NOT a whites-only library. In fact, the librarians are very kind, and help him to find books on different topics. One thing that interests him especially is the poet Langston Hughes, for whom he was named. There are letters from his mother to his father that quote some lines of Hughes' poems, and reading them makes him feel closer to his mother. Langston keeps both the bullying and the library from his father for a long time, but after his grandmother passes away and his father must travel to Alabama, Langston shares his sadness and frustrations with his father, and the two try to improve how they go forward.
Strengths: The Great Migration is a fascinating but underrated period in history, and I would love to see more books about it. The relationship between Langston and his father seems very typical of the time period, and the longing for Alabama that Langston feels is probably something many children felt, even though conditions in the South weren't great. There are enough details about life in the city at this time to make Langston's story more interesting, and the trouble with classmates will resonate with children today.
Weaknesses: I wish there had been less about Clem and Lymon and a LOT more details about daily life. The treatment of blacks in Chicago during this era is touched on, but not given the full treatment it received in Betty Before X , which was fascinating.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, although I wish the cover were a little better. There are some fantastic photos of this era that could have been used.

Chicago Blacks Migration
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

A Touch of Gold

36575823Sullivan, Annie. A Touch of Gold
August 14th 2018 by Blink
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Kora is the daughter of King Midas who was famously turned into gold. Dionysus took a little bit of pity on her father and allowed him to reverse the curse and bring Kora back to life, but he promised to wash ALL of the items he turned into gold with water from the sea, but he missed 12 items. In return, Dionysus left Kora with skin and hair of gold. Fearing for her safety, her father has kept her hidden in the palace with only her cousin Hettie for a companion, and her uncle has removed all of the gold from the palace. Because she is 17, her father is entertaining suitors for her, but they have all been put off by her appearance as well as by the rumor that she can turn people to gold. One suitor is different; Duke Aris Wystlinos is not frightened by her appearance, and even has a pleasant conversation with her about shared interests. When her father's gold objects (which seem to keep him energized) are stolen, Kora knows that she must use her powers of detection to hunt them down to save her father's life. Aris volunteers a ship at his disposal, and the group takes off. The captain of the ship, Royce, isn't too thrilled, especially when Hettie appears as a stowaway. The most likely culprit to have stolen the items is the dastardly pirate Skulls, with whom both Aris and Royce have crossed paths. Life on the high seas is fraught with danger, but there is some romance as well, even for Hettie. As Kora closes in on the gold and becomes closer with Aris, there is a lot of double dealing that goes on, and she is unsure whom to trust, how to proceed and whether or not she will be able to retrieve the gold and save her father.
Strengths: This was a great, epic adventure for fans of Cooney's Goddess of Yesterday, Friesner's princess tales, or Yolen's Young Heroes sagas. The twist on the Midas tale was very well done, and my inner 16-year-old swooned at Aris's attention to Kora and his willingness to undertake the adventure with her. This is quite a swashbuckling, bloody tale, and I appreciated that the cover isn't overly feminine, since this would also be good for readers who enjoy sea faring tales like Blacklock's Pankration, Cadnum's Ship of Fire or Dowsell's Powder Monkey.
Weaknesses: There are very few authentic details about ancient Greek life and culture in this. They aren't really necessary, but I was hoping for them. Even the names and clothing don't seem Greek.
What I really think: My school used to have a teacher who would assign 7th grade language arts classes book set in ancient Greece and Rome to go along with the social studies units, and I owuld have loved to buy this book for that, but it's no longer done. The Friesner books have been gathering dust for the last two years, so unless I can drum up more interest, this may book I don't purchase but recommend that students get from the public library.

Johnson, Jaleigh. The Door to the Lost
July 3rd 2018 by Delacorte Press
Copy provided by the publisher

It's not that I don't like fantasy books. The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart? A Crooked Sixpence? Yes, please! But there are just certain elements that make me hang over the edge of the chair and obsess about my toenails in a very 12-year-old way. Is there a map of the world? Is the setting vaguely but not concretely medieval? Is magic illegal/endangered? Are the children the only ones who can save the world? Are there shape shifters or talking animals? It doesn't matter how good the book is: if it's not what I want to read, it can be a challenge to get through the book and remember details.

As a new school year gets underway, I think it's good to remember this. Teachers, if you're a huge fan of Wonder and don't understand why Joey doesn't like it, look at what he normally reads. Is it all football books? When was the last time YOU read a football book? Joey may feel the same way about Wonder as you feel about Tim Green. It's not Joey's fault, it's not the book's fault, it's just the wrong combination.

Did I read The Door to the Lost. I really did, because I want to put it in my library, and I read ALL the fiction books before doing that. Do I remember what Rook and Drift and Fox did when Rook was making doors to try to get to ... Vrona from... Threlkhaven? No. But my toenails look fabulous!

So here's a much better review from someone whose first love is fantasy books:

Monday, August 13, 2018

MMGM- The Brown Bookshelf

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.

If you don't know The Brown Bookshelf, which has been around since October 2007, you owe it to yourself to visit. I've followed it for years, and have always gotten a lot of good recommendations for books and a lot of interesting insight from authors. One of the contributors to the site, Paula Chase, has a new book out. James Baldwin is frequently mentioned as an influence, so it seems like a great way to start the school year by reviewing the reprint of Baldwin's book and introducing Chase's new title!

36627668Baldwin, James. Little Man, Little Man.
August 24th 2018 by Duke University Press Books
E ARC from Blue Slip Media

This reprint of the 1976 collaboration between Baldwin and artist friend Yoran Cazac was interesting historically, not only from the point of view of seeing inner city scenes from the 1970s, but because the book was written for Baldwin's nephew so that he could see himself in a book. Over forty years later, we are still struggling to find books that portray all readers.

Four-year-old TJ is given free rein to explore his lively Harlem neighborhood with his friend WT and neighbor Blinky (so called because of her glasses). While they don't roam far, the freedom that they are given to talk to people, go to stores, and be unsupervised will seem odd to children today. Their neighborhood is not entirely safe-- at one point, the children see a man who was shot, and WT injures his foot on a broken bottle that falls off a roof because a woman with a drinking problem is trying to hide them from her husband. What is particularly interesting is the social network that the children have. They buy groceries for an elderly neighbor, Miss Beanpole, and even go into her home, which is darkened and secured, which indicates her distrust of the area. While TJ's own parents are supportive and present (there is a nice scene of Sunday morning breakfast), WT's mother is absent and his father is abusive. In addition to Miss Beanpole and the grocer, the children also often interact with Mr. Man and Miss Lee. These adults have their own problems (Miss Lee is the one hiding the bottles), but are kind to the children.

Styles in literature change dramatically over the years, so this format might strike the modern reader as something different. It's a picture book, but one which is too long to read to young children. It has very young characters, but the situations they face are more in tune with what older readers might find interesting. It is a book that is more episodic than plot driven, and concerned with detailing the minutiae of TJs life rather than being concerned with a plot driven narrative. The pictures definitely seem fresh because illustration styles have also changed-- Cazac's line drawings are similar to illustrations with which I am familiar from 1960s books, but have more color and activity added to them.

Reviews at the time mentioned that this book "lacked focus", and I can see that, but it is a valuable book to read. The language arts teachers in my school like to have students read historical fiction (including stories that were written long enough ago to become "historical"-- and that could be a book that is two years old!) to gain perspective on how daily life and culture were different, and how this can influence the choices that characters make. Little Man, Little Man is interesting because it is a rare primary source snapshot of a particular place and time.

To get an idea of what the atmosphere in children's publishing was like in the early 1970s, I highly recommend reading Augusta Baker's 1974 essay for The Horn Book, The Changing Image of the Black in Children’s Literature.

35068789Chase, Paula. So Done.
August 14th 2018 by Greenwillow Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Bean and Tai are neighbors in a low-income housing project and have been friends for a very long time, but recently things have been strained between them. Tai hopes that when Bean returns from spending the summer with her aunt and sister in the suburbs and the pair start their 8th grade year, that things will return to normal. When Bean decides that she would rather not be called by her nickname and prefers to be addressed as Mila (or Jamila) and still doesn't want to spend time at Tai's house, Tai is rather irritated. Mila is struggling as well. While her mother is not part of her life because of a drug addiction problem, her father is much stricter that Tai's grandmother, who still allows Tai's father to be at their house, even though he struggles with substance abuse as well. Tai is very interested in her new relationship with Rollie, and in investing herself in the neighborhood activities with her friends Mo and Sheeda. Mila is thinking about distancing herself, and is wondering if the suburbs are a better fit for her. When tryouts for a new Talented and Gifted school are announced, and two new students move into the area, the neighborhood is abuzz with who might make it into the different programs. The dancing program is extremely competitive, and Mila feels she can work hard enough to get into it, but Tai isn't as fond of ballet as she is of hip hop, and feels that the good ballet dancers get preferential treatment. Mila and Tai go back and forth in their relationship because of all of these factors, especially a critical incident involving Tai's father that is eventually addressed in an appropriate manner. Will the girls be able to embrace their similarities and remain friends, or will their differences wear down their relationship?
Strengths: This gave a nicely balanced description of the Cove neighborhood (which shows up in this author's earlier work, the Del Rio Bay Clique books), detailing the good parts as well as the problems. Friend relationships are SO important to middle grade readers, and the differences that Tai and Mila are experiencing are very true to life. The auditions for the TAG program are a facet of middle school life not often covered in literature, so the drama surrounding those was refreshing. The cover is fantastic and will sell itself. I'm very much looking forward to having this books available to recommend to my readers!
Weaknesses: There is some slang in this, and I'm always conflicted about slang, since it sometimes dates a book very quickly and deep in my heart of hearts I want to keep all of the books I love in the library forever! Also, slang usage (even in the age of the internet) can be different in various locations. There were several times where I had to look up phrases in order to make sense of what was going on, although most words could be understood with contextual clues.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing this for fans of Renee Watson, Sharon Flake, and Maddie Ziegler.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

New school year! New slide show!

How do you know it's the start of a new school year? You don't remember half of your passwords! So, until I can get logged in to, here's the link to the Google Slide presentation!

Our district starts the year with professional development and two teacher work days, so I will have students starting on Thursday.

Rules of the Ruff

36347777Lang, Heidi. Rules of the Ruff
August 14th 2018 by Abrams
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Jessie is struggling with having to spend the summer with her aunt and uncle's family, especially since her cousin, Anne, has gotten to be a bit mean following her friendship with another girl, Loralee. Being a tween is hard enough without having your cousin go over to the dark side of eye liner and fancy clothes in the summer. It doesn't help that she meets a cute boy, Max, in the park, and they have a lot of fun playing soccer until he realizes that she isn't a boy! Jessie would love to have a dog, so she approached near by dog walker Wes to be his helper. He's a crochety, quirky old guy, and he reluctantly agrees after Jessie badgers him. She has to learn Wes' "rules of the ruff" in order to deal with the dogs, and does a decent job. Times are tough, though, and Wes finds himself losing customers to Monique, who bills herself as a "celebrity dog walker" and is much better with people. Wes and Jessie set out to sabotage her business by cutting holes in her poop bags, dipping her leashes in bacon grease and other unpleasant pranks. To complicate matters, Monique is Max's mother. Max is dating Loralee, so Jessie thinks about planning revenge on Loralee as well. While her Uncle David is supportive and tries to make the summer pleasant for Jessie, Aunt Bea is generally irritated by everything that Jessie does, and she  hears from her father infrequently. Wes is the one adult who seems to care about her, but he has problems of his own that need to be addressed. Will his dog walking business be able to survive, and will Jessie be able to continue to help?
Strengths: This cover is fantastic, and Jessie's unhappiness at her summer situation is handled in a more positive way than many books. She's unhappy, but does try to change her situation. The sort-of romance with Max is pitch perfect for middle grade, including the fact that Loralee is much more interesting to him at first.
Weaknesses: It was a little worrisome that Jessie approached Wes and even got in the car with him before she told her aunt and uncle (although he does make her ride in the back, which was good), and the revenge on Monique was on the mean spirited side.
What I really think: I have a fair number of books that deal with dog walking businesses, including Greenwald's Dog Beach, Margolis' Dog's Best Friend and Krulik's Puppy Love, so I think I will pass until interest in this topic increases.           
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, August 11, 2018


Cover image for IllegalColfer, Eoin and Donkin, Andrew. Illegal
August 7th 2018 by Sourcebooks
ARC from Follett

Ebo and his older brother Kwame are living in an African village with their Uncle Patrick, who is an alcoholic and barely takes care of them. Their older sister has fled to the city. When Kwame takes off as well, Ebo follows him to Agadez, which is much bigger than Ebo could have imagined. He connects with lots of people and ends up singing at a wedding, where he manages to find his brother. The two get passage on an overcrowded boat. It's a treacherous journey, and Kwame goes overboard at one point. Ebo makes it to Europe, where his picture is shown on television. Luckily, his sister sees him and tracks him down.
Strengths: This graphic novel delivers a timely story in an appealing format, and offers details about the difficulty that people have when fleeing horrible socio-political situations in troubled countries. Hopefully, this will help the readers understand the effort made to come to countries where life is not so hard for most people, but where people like Ebo and Kwame are considered "illegal".
Weaknesses: It was hard to flip back and forth through time between the boat ride and when the boys are in the city. The changes in color palette help, but a linear plot would have been clearer.
What I really think: I will purchase a copy, and know that my ESL teacher will be particularly interested in this.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, August 10, 2018

Bow Wow

Quinn, Spencer. Bow Wow (Bowser and Birdie #3)
May 30th 2017 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Birdie and her dog Bowser are going about their lives, working in their grandmother's small shop and looking for any opportunity for a biscuit when things start to happen in their Louisiana town. A businessman from up North, Mr. Kronik, has come to town to set up a call center that will provide a lot of jobs, but his son is attacked by a bull shark while out fishing, and he wants the police to do something. When they refuse (and have the audacity to suggest that perhaps it wasn't a shark), Kronik offers a $50,000 bounty, setting off a wave of shark killings and other trouble. An old acquaintance of Grammy's, Mr. Longstreet, is especially dismayed at the pointless killing of sharks. At this same time, Birdie's cousin Snoozy goes missing. This isn't that unusual, so while they search for him, they figure that he will turn up somewhere. Also, Junior, Nola and Birdie write an original song for a contest, and their band, or rather, Birdie's singing, gets some attention that may have a bad effect on their friendship. Bowser is, of course, very helpful in trying to track down Snoozy and in keeping Birdie safe while she's looking for him. When Snoozy's disappearance seems to be tied to the bounty, will Birdie be able to find him before more trouble occurs?

Like Woof and ArfBow Wow is a great adventure mystery with a very vivid Southern Bayou setting. The heat, the humidity, and the hundreds of poisonous or dangerous creatures just waiting to strike are enough to keep me on edge without the addition of missing people and fishermen up to no good. I was glad that I could read this on my Midwestern front porch, where the most dangerous insect I encountered was a ladybug!

While Birdie's father has passed away, her mother, who is a oil platform engineer, and her grandmother, who runs Gaux Family Fish and Bait are supportive and helpful. They give Birdie enough freedom to travel around solving mysteries with her friends (and loyal dog, of course), and have helped her acquire the skills she needs to do so, like driving boats.

Readers who want to spend some time combatting snakes and basking in the humdity can add the Bowser and Birdie books to their reading list along with Spradlin's Killer Species: Menace From the Deep, Wilson's Boys of Blur, Neri's Tru and Nelle series, and the works of Kimberly Griffith Little. Bonus points for locating a funeral home fan to help keep cool while drinking a nice, tall glass of sweet tea!

And I started to think I was making up the funeral home fan thing, but I do seem to be remembering that correctly. Not that it's a particularly Southern thing, but I was sitting on the porch the other day thinking I needed a fan like they always had in the pews at my Grandmother's church in Pennsylvania!

Thursday, August 09, 2018


28186337Hall, Mary Lou. Wirewalker
September 6th 2016 by Viking Books for Young Readers
Personal Copy

Clarence has a difficult life. His mother was killed in a drive by shooting, and his father has fallen apart since then. While he used to have a job to go to, he now just hangs out with Johnnyprice, who is a small time drug dealer who uses Clarence as a courier for "medicine". Clarence is glad of a little money, but increasingly uncomfortable with his work, especially after much more prosperous dealer Y wants to recruit him. Once he starts high school, Clarence finds it more and more difficult to deal with his life at home. He does have a good support network that includes Mrs. Moffet, his English teacher who not only encourages his writing but also him want to mentor a troubled middle school student, Billie, and an older boy who has been in similar circumstances to Clarence but hopes to go to college. There is also very kindly convenience store owner Mr. K., who drinks tea with Clarence and tries to help him out as much as he can. Clarence also meets a neighbor, Gina, who has a very sweet dog whom he starts to take care of. Unfortunately, there is a lot of dog fighting that goes on in his neighborhood, and as a "man", he is supposed to enjoy that. When his father and Johnnyprice try to steal the money he has been saving, he has had enough and runs away to live in Gina's shed. This is not a good situation either, and eventually Clarence has to go home and figure out how he can go on with his life, not make bad choices, and survive long enough to be a successful adult.
Strengths: The details about what it is like to live in a struggling neighborhood with a father who is not an effective caregiver are very well done, and the author drew on the experiences of a coworker she had who had run drugs when he was young. It's great to see that Clarence really wants to do the right thing, even when he's not entirely sure what that is. Mr. K was fantastic, and the fact that he runs a convenience store is a nice touch, somehow, since Clarence occasionally helps stock shelves, etc. The subplot with Billie is interesting, because Billie is even worse off than Clarence.
Weaknesses: This is littered with unnecessary f-bombs, and it would be nice to have either more of a plot or at least tie up the many threads that are going.
What I really think: I have one reader who loves this type of gritty, inner city book, so I may just give him my copy. It's a bit much for a middle school library. Kiss The Book agrees.

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Nowhere Boy

39280442Marsh, Katherine. Nowhere Boy
August 7th 2018 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC from

Ahmed and Max's lives are very different in 2015. Ahmed and his father have escaped from Aleppo, Syria only to be parted when the father drowns off the coast of Greece. Ahmed, who is 14, gets some assistance from an Iraqi refugee family, but when they all end up in Belgium, it is evident that they will be split up and Ahmed will go into care. He doesn't want this, so he runs away. He manages to find an open door in a neighborhood and can't believe his luck when he discovers a disused wine cellar and no one notices when he takes up residence. The house is being rented by Max's family while they spend a year in Brussels for the father's work. Max is not happy to have left home and to be enrolled in a French speaking school where the students are not always nice to him, so when he finds Ahmed in the house, he is sympathetic to his plight. He brings him some food and clothing, and with the help of Farah and Oscar at his school, forge documents and get Ahmed enrolled in Max's school, since that the thing he misses most, aside from his family. Things go well for a while, despite the meddling of a very concerned local policeman, Fontaine, whose family used to own the house where Max is living. However, when racial tensions run high after several terrorist attacks in the country, Ahmed wants to  find the Iraqi family he befriended. When even that seems to dangerous, he wants to leave Belgium, and Max helps him. The two have quite an adventure, which has a rather surprising ending.
Strengths: I enjoyed the note from the author about why she wrote this; her family spent some time in Belgium, and the details show this. There are several books about children escaping from Syria, but not many books that follow what happens to them in such great detail. Max's willingness to help Ahmed and to stand up to adults who spout racist rhetoric is heart warming. There is something appealing to middle grade readers about helping another child hide out, which adds another level of interest to this story. More of my students need to understand that school is a huge privilege!
Weaknesses: Max is rather bratty at the beginning, although the contrast between his complaints and Ahmed's is very effective. It also seemed a bit unusual that Max would have brought so many books from the US with him, but at least he likes to read!
What I really think: I wish this were a bit shorter and less complicated, but I will definitely purchase this for my stronger readers, since the topic is a timely and important one.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Bites Back (Project Terra #2)

36723210Walker, Landry Q. Bites Back (Project Terra #2)
June 5th 2018 by Penguin Workshop
Personal Copy

After attending school at the Seven Systems Academy of Terraforming Arts in Crash Course and saving the school from the evil principal, Elara spends a restful (if somewhat boring) summer back on her family's farm on their far flung planet. She works with her brother on a small terraforming project, but is glad to be back at school. When the space ship delivers her, however, she isn't on Paragon. Instead, she's on a spaceship with robotic teachers, and everyone is in the same uniform. Over the summer, there were communications that the SST was closed, but Elara didn't get them. Her friends Knot, Beezle and Sabik, as well as her new roommate, mean girl Suue, try to get her up to speed on the changes that were made. Because of the evil principal, everyone was concerned about keeping the students safe, which is why the moving location of schoolships and the constant monitoring are put in place. Know and Clara are in isolation for a while because the life support systems might not have been ready to support their life forms, but it still seems a bit odd to Elara. Even odder is the fact that Groob appears to her and indicates that there is danger, and one of the new overlords of the school, the Watchman, has a device similar to Groob's, and Elara is sure that he is a time traveler. Things get stranger and stranger until Elara realizes that the student body are all being hypnotized. Outer space is dangerous enough without being worried that your school, which demands you trust it completely, is evil and does not really have your best interest at heart!
Strengths: Mind controlling adults and the tweens who save their peers from them are always popular, and the idea of going to school in space is appealing. Elara has a good friend group, she excels at her classwork, and she finally gets to know and understand Suue a bit more. This is definitely great science fiction for elementary students, who don't need some of the scary aliens that sci fi for older readers has.
Weaknesses: I would have liked to see more terraforming projects, and I missed being on Paragon, and I don't understand the character of Clara at all. She doesn't communicate at all; I'm expecting she will bust out in a later volume!
What I really think: The first book has not been as popular as I would have liked, so we'll see how it does this year. I liked the scientific base of this, as well as the adventure, but I wonder if the cartoon covers skew a little young for readers who like science fiction.

Monday, August 06, 2018

MMGM- The Dollar Kids and Eleanor Roosevelt

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.

29625895Jacobson, Jennifer Richard. The Dollar Kids
August 7th 2018 by Candlewick Press
E ARC from Netgalley

Lowen Grover and his family have a decent life in the city, but after his best friend is shot at a convenience store along with three other children, the off from a small town to buy a house for a dollar has a lot of appeal. Millville is struggling with the closing of its paper mills a while ago, and the town needs more families with children in order to keep the schools going. The Grovers have careers the town wants (the mother wants to open a pasty take out shop, and the father is a physician's assistant), and Clem and Anneth are interested in helping out the sports teams, although Anneth is the least excited about relocating. The family applies, is accepted, and even gets the one house of the five that they wanted. It has four bedrooms, but is also right next door to the local funeral home. This gives Lowen, who is still grieving the loss of his friend Abe, especially since he feels guilty about sending him to the store for candy, a bit of a hard time. In order to get money to repair the house, which is one of the requirements of getting it for a dollar, the father stays in the city to work, so Lowen misses him. Clem settles in, and even Anneth finds a group of people, but aside from Dylan, who helps out at the funeral home and used to live in Lowen's house, Lowen struggles to fit in. The mother's shop struggles, especially since the restaurant owner next door feels threatened and keeps sabotaging their efforts, offering lunch and take out boxes. Sami, whose mother wanted to open a pet boutique but was denied a loan, gets along well with Lowen, and the two are very invested in their parents businesses, helping Sami's mother set up and stock her resale shop. As the year progresses, some of the families do better than others, and it looks like Lowen's family just might make it. When Dylan's grandfather becomes ill and is in danger of losing his house, the "dollar kids" rally behind Dylan, which helps Lowen's family in an unexpected way.
Strengths: This was a great look at a different type of life that will be new and informative for many readers. The Grovers are struggling financially, although they were doing okay in the city. The family bonding because of the move was interesting, and the reality of setting up a restaurant was fun to read. The reaction of the townspeople was also intriguing, and the story moved at a decent pace. The inclusion of comic strips (used by Lowen to deal with Abe's death) will appeal to readers who like graphic novels.

Since I have family in a small town in Iowa (under 600 people), and have witnessed its downward progression over the last thirty years, I know that this is absolutely realistic, even though it might seem odd to people with no experiences of small town life. One of my relatives even ran a resale shop for a while! Giving away houses for $1? Absolutely. In the town I know, people routinely give their houses to the town and the fire squad burns them to the ground for practice fighting fires. I was impressed that Millville had a dollar store, a grocery, and a restaurant, although I was a bit surprised that there was a library and the school was still operating with only eight children in each class.
Weaknesses: Since this book is on the long side, I could have done without the plot line about Abe's death, but I realize that this is completely on trend and I'm the only one who doesn't like the portrayal of grieving in middle grade novels.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. It's a bit on the long side, so I'm interested to see a print copy, but the story of small town life is such a fantastic one that I can't wait to hand it to my readers.

37581725Cooper, Ilene. Eleanor Roosevelt: Fighter for Justice
August 7th 2018 by Abrams Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Eleanor Roosevelt has always been one of my favorite historical figures; my daughter is named Eleanor, since it's a good, solid name if she ever wishes to become president or a corporate bigwig. Her difficult childhood, the way people treated her because of her looks, and the enormous amount of work she did on behalf on all manner of groups of people are all fascinating topics. I am not surprised, given the recent increased interests in women's issues, that there is a new biography of her. This aptly discusses her background, including her marriage to Franklin and her experiences of motherhood, but also discusses the wide range of social issues for which she fought.

I learned a lot of things I didn't know, and thought that the way Cooper talks about some of the more difficult, adult issues was well done. It is mentioned that Franklin had affairs, but the discussion centered on how this affected Eleanor's life, as it should. I hadn't known about her mother-in-law, Sarah, and how overbearing she was, and there was just enough coverage of that topic to make sense of some of Eleanor's later actions. Her relationship with her children was rather sad, but not terribly unusual for the time. I didn't know that she taught, or that she enjoyed it so much! Had circumstances been different, perhaps that would have been her career path.

It is difficult to judge the actions of people 90 years ago. There is a mention that, mainly to spite her mother-in-law, Eleanor replaced that household staff with all African-American employees. She was publicly brought to task for using the word "darky" in her writing; it had been used by a relative in what she had assumed was a term of endearment, and when someone corrected, she apologized and asked for a better term. She was always a champion of the underdog, which makes perfect sense, so  her interest in the Civil Rights movement is not surprising.

I'll definitely purchase this book for my school library, and it gives a nice overview of the state of what life was like for many groups in the early part of the 1900s. Seeing what Eleanor's views of how other people treated different groups was somehow illuminating, since despite being a product of her time, she does seem to have many modern sensibilities.

Going to lunch with Ms. Roosevelt today and reflecting on things have and haven't changed since her death would be quite amusing, wouldn't it? I would even wear a hat!

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Love & Luck

32333026Welch, Jenna Evans. Love & Luck
May 8th 2018 by Simon Pulse
Public library copy

Addie is sad and angry that her best friend Lina has moved to Italy to be with her father (See Love and Gelato), but she's glad that she is able to visit her. Addie's aunt is having a destination wedding in Ireland, which is why Addie is able to make a side trip to Florence. She's supposed to be going with her brother, Ian, with whom she usually gets along, but because of circumstances at school, the two are constantly fighting. Their mother makes them promise that they will get to Florence and NOT fight, but Ian has other plans. He has met Rowan, an Irish music enthusiast, online, and the two are planning on taking a trip and going to the last concert of a band they both love. Ian plans on sending Addie to Florence on her own, and just lying to his parents. Addie reluctantly agrees, since she really doesn't want Ian bringing up her relationship with his football teammate, Cubby, but she misses her plane and gets dragged into the guys trip. She finds out that Ian is a music reviewed/blogger with quite a following, which leads to some interesting encounters. When things get bad, she contacts Lina, who flies over to help her out. Addie and Ian have a great adventure, learn more about each other, work through their problems, and come to an understanding about many facets of their lives.
Strengths: Love and Gelato was a HUGE hit in my library, and with a similar cover, this will be an easy sell. I adore Ireland, so it was fun for me to read about the characters driving around. The relationship between Addie and Ian is something we need to see in more books-- kids in school have to deal with siblings a lot, and perhaps authors who are grown up don't think to include this? I certainly couldn't tell you a lot about how my brother and I got along, but I'm sure at the time it figured largely in my life.
Weaknesses: Addie has done something we tell students NEVER to do, but I don't feel like it was handled well. This might be because it's summer and everyone is away, but I still feel like Cubby should have been punished. It also took a long time to find out WHAT had happened.
What I really think: Didn't like this as well as the first one, probably because of the problems that Addie had, but the descriptions of travel in Ireland are great.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Cartoon Saturday- Estranged

31193404Aldridge, Athan M. Estranged
August 7th 2018 by HarperCollins
ARC provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter

In the World Below, Childe is a status symbol for his royal parents, an oddity because he is human rather than Fae. Edmund, with whom he changed places, lives in the human world but has trouble connecting to it. When the two meet and figure out their past histories, both of their lives make more sense. Unfortunately, Edmund's parents have been transformed into rats by the evil Hawthorne, which has forced Childe to travel to the world above. The two get to know each other's world for a while, but there is evil encroaching, and they must find a way to stop it. With the help of Alexis, their sister, they have quite an adventure.Accompanied by Whicks, a servant Childe has created, they buy a map, find out how many magic powers they have, restore the true love of a witch, and try to locate Hawthorne and put her in her place. In the meantime, the boys try to decide what their own identities and places in the worlds should be.
Strengths: This is certainly a very beautiful graphic novel with an interesting story about personal identity. I did enjoy Alexis a lot, as well as her assertion that BOTH boys were her brothers. The adventures are solid, the villains nicely evil, and the World Below sufficiently dark and creepy. A must have for fans of Nimona or other speculative fiction literary graphic novels.
Weaknesses: I've been so spoiled with all of the fantastic new multicultural fantasies lately that returning to the British/Celtic/dragon-based tales of Fae seemed sort of ordinary and boring!
What I really think: If this is available in prebind, I will purchase it. With full color illustrations, the pages would be falling out of this in a week, otherwise!
Ms. Yingling

Friday, August 03, 2018


Woodrow, Allan. Unschooled
August 29th 2017 by Scholastic Press
Personal Copy

The fifth grade at Liberty Falls Elementary school is looking forward to the annual, year end Spirit Week, even though Principal Klein is not telling them the prize for the winning two classrooms. Told in the alternate viewpoints of George and Lilly, best friends who end up as team captains on opposing teams, we get to see all of the subterfuge that goes into winning. George is not thrilled to be captain after the previous leader broke her arm, but he knows that a good leader is organized, and he is certainly that. Lilly, on the other hand, has unbridled, awesomesaustatic enthusiasm. The competition starts off easily enough, with twin day. Unfortunately, Lilly trips and spills her breakfast all over George, ruining his twin outfit. This angers Team Blue, George's team, and they decide to play dirty. Things devolve from that point, with Historic Figure Day being sabotaged in a spectacular fashion that causes Mr. Klein to assign detention to all of the fifth graders and declare that Spirit Week is canceled. The students put on a show of cooperation that leads him to reinstate the competition, but it is still fairly mean spirited. As the competition heats up, both George and Lilly realize that they have to convince their teammates to be good sports, or the activity isn't really fun for anyone, and are rewarded for how well the teams work together in the end.
Strengths: A blanketful of potato salad dropped over a stage of children dressed as historical characters. That is the spoonful that makes the lesson about playing fair and being nice go down. There are lots of funny moments, but the angst that George and Lilly feel about being separated and warring against each other is certainly real. I loved that George was willing to wear a panda shirt and sparkly jeans because they were dry! I really think that Woodrow is a perfect successor to Andrew Clements for the school stories.
Weaknesses: I can't envision any educator willingly giving fifth grade students balloons filled with pudding. Young readers won't have the same reaction I did, but that just did not compute. It also was a little unrealistic that that much potato salad would have been hanging about unsupervised as well.
What I really think: I would love to see Woodrow move his demographic a tiny bit, so his characters are in 8th grade. Throw in a little romance, and I think he would produce a spectacular, humorous middle grade novel! While my 6th graders read Class Dismissed, my 8th graders won't touch it. Middle grade readers can be so persnickety!

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Check Out the Library Weenies

37534852Lubar, David. Check Out the Library Weenies
September 4th 2018 by Starscape Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

In this 9th installment of creepy short stories, we have an astonishing 30 short tales on a wide variety of topics. Several involve vampires in tremendously amusing ways, but I don't want to give away the twisted endings! There are also zombies, suspicious pets, and even a Black Friday shopping scenario that doesn't end well for one greedy shopper.

I find it very difficult to review collections of short stories without reviewing every short story, but here's what you need to know about this series: Lubar is a short story writer of the first order and greatly undervalued. His work should be in every middle grade literature textbook as an example of how to spin a perfect plot, work in character development, add a surprise ending, and do it all in clever, beautifully crafted language. Sure, there are fart jokes (and one entire story about farts turning into gold...) and lizard people, and a lot of general goofiness, but that just shows a knowledge of the target demographic. John Cheever is not going to hit tweens where they live, no matter how brilliant his writing. David Lubar does. Behind the goofiness lies a lot of psychological understanding of what children find funny... and what they find terrifying. I need to remember to start giving this series to teachers who want read alouds or examples of scary stories around Halloween.
Strengths: Read above!
Weaknesses: The covers work against these books in middle school. The stories are as scary as anything by Alvin Schwartz, but the cartoon hot dogs send another message. Even I forget how nicely creepy these are. Also, some stories have a little too much bodily humor for MY taste, making this perfect for 4th and 5th graders!
What I really think: My big take away from this was that I can protect myself from vampires with heavy duty tomato stakes. Brilliant!

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

You May Now Kill the Bride

Stine, R.L. You May Now Kill the Bride
July 24th 2018 by HarperTeen
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

In 1923, sisters Ruth-Ann and Rebecca have an uneasy relationship, especially after Rebecca hastily throws over her boyfriend Melvin for Ruth-Ann's intended, Peter. Little does Rebecca know that her sister has been dabbling in the dark arts of the Fear family that she has discovered in the attic, and that she has the ability to cast spells, some of them very nasty. Since Rebecca has always been her family's favorite, and because the girls seem very much determined to make their futures by marrying well, Rebecca's wedding is planned, with much to-do. Their father even charters trains to take guests from the East coast to a lodge near Denver, so Rebecca can have a scenic wedding. Unfortunately, that setting lends itself to a horrific act on the part of the groom.

Fast forward to the present time, to two more Fear sisters. Harmony and Marissa also have a troubled relationship, since Harmony's own dabbling in magic has caused Marissa to lose her boyfriend, Aiden. Their brother, Robby, is interested in the magic but doesn't know much about it. Instead, she is going to marry a boy from their town, Doug, but wants to travel to a lodge near Denver to have the wedding. Grandpa Bud knows that this is a bad idea, and after the rehearsal dinner is plagued by guests choking on the food and squirrel attacks, he warns Harmony that she must stop her magical pranks before real harm is done. On the morning of the wedding, Marissa is gone, and the only clue to her disappearance is a scrawled note in red ink that says "Don't try to find me." Of course, everyone does. Calls are made to Nikki, Robby's girlfriend, and Harmony tries to find Aiden, who had been at the hotel, only to find no trace of him or anyone with whom she saw him interact. When Marissa's best friend Taylor is found dead at the bottom of the cliff, everyone assumes the worst. Harmony returns home, but soon is drawn back to the lodge, where she finds that there is more to the Fear family curse than she ever could have imagined. Can she manage to use her powers to go back in time and prevent not only her sister's tragic end but the fate of the sisters in 1923?

First of all, Stine should teach master classes in writing convincing historical fiction! I thought he got the 1950s details so right in The Lost Girl because he was drawing from his own life experience, but he portrays the fashion, language, food, and social customs of 1923 brilliantly! This sets the stage for the later part of the story nicely, especially when we get to the twist at the end!

Stine also writes a good troubled romance story. Both the relationships between Ruth-Ann, Melvin and Peter and Marissa, Aiden and Doug have just the right amount of angst and teen drama in them. This was an addictive read because of all of this drama, and for some reason I thought of V.C. Andrews' Flowers in the Attic books as I was speeding through it. There is something deliciously creepy and gothic about the setting as well as the black magic.

While I wish I knew a little more about the history of the Fears and the Goods, I was glad to read a little history of their relationship, and also about the powers that the Fears had. It's very easy to believe, as a young teen, that it is possible to cast spells to get one's way. Both Ruth-Ann and Harmony certainly make that seem possible.

Stine's trademarked creepy, deliciously cheesy style is what compels me to keep all of his books even though they are falling to little bits. Scary stories that aren't too scary are always popular with young readers, and there are lots of reasons why Stine is one of the best-selling children's authors!