Saturday, December 15, 2018

WeirDo (WeirDo #1)

Do, Ahn. WeirDo (WeirDo #1) 
January 29th 2019 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

When Weir moves to a new school, he becomes the immediate target of laughter when he explains that his name really is Weir Do, because his mother's maiden name was Weir and his Vietnamese father's last name is Do. He is also stuck with a father who thinks farting is funny, a toddler brother who likes to dunk cell phones in pudding, and an annoying older sister Sally. He has a crush on a girl in his class, Bella, and there are a number of odd and annoying friends in his class. It's not easy to impress Bella, especially when she has to spend the afternoon at Weir's house surrounded by his odd family, but Bella has a good sense of humor and thinks the Dos are funny.
Strengths: Like the British Lyttle Lies and the French My Life in Smiley, this is an interesting take on a notebook novel from Australia. It's short, easy to read, and has very pleasant pictures by Jules Faber.
Weaknesses: This is a little on the young side, with a lot of potty and fart humor, but there is also the crush on Bella, leading me to believe that Australian primary school readers are more romantically advanced or that Australian middle school students are very juvenile!
What I really think: It's a notebook novel. With fart jokes. I'll have to buy a copy, if Follett has a prebind. I'm not buying anymore notebook novels in trade paper-over-board.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Medal of Honor: Staff Sergeant Ryan M. Pitts

Spradlin, Michael. Ryan Pitts: Afghanistan: A Firefight in the Mountains of Wanat (Medal of Honor) 
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (January 15, 2019)
(I've seen about three different pub dates for this; I'm going with the Edleweiss Plus one.)

In 2008, the US Army set up Vehicle Patrol Base Kahler near the Wanat Village in the mountains of Afghanistan. The purpose was to cut down on traffic in the area and to keep an eye on activity in the area. From the beginning, it was a precarious situation. Staff Sargeant Ryan Pitts was situated  in an observation point with the men of the second platoon and helped by the paratroopers of the 173rd Airborne to secure the area. They were attacked by insurgents in the area, and were greatly outnumbered. The men tried to hold the post, but several were killed, and Pitts was injured. Reinforcements were called from nearby Forward Operating Base Blessing, but before the Humvees could arrive, things looked grim. Apache helicopters from the 173rd helped, and before long, there were Black Hawk medvacs that arrived to take Pitts, who was losing a lot of blood but continuing to fight, away to get medical help. After his removal, more reinforcements arrived, and fighting slowed down enough for the army to search the village and find remains of massive amounts of weapons stored. Shortly after the Battle of Wanat, orders were given to leave the area. Pitts became one of nine living individuals to be awarded the Medal of Honor, even though he insisted that the honor belonged not just to him, but to all who fought with him.
Strengths: The matter of fact tone is just right, and is highly informative. I love how Spradlin seamlessly weaves the more exciting scenes of Pitts' involvement in the battle with information about the history of the Taliban, the US involvement in Afghanistan, and the history of units such as the 173rd. This is a brilliant way to hook readers before delivering some top notch facts and figures! Pitts' bravery is well evidenced, and the importance of this battle given thorough explanation. I'm amazed at the research and detail about equipment and fighting that goes into these books. (Also see Jack Montgomery World War II: Gallantry at Anzio).
Weaknesses: While there is a Follett Bound version available, this needs to be a hardcover with a dust jacket! School libraries everywhere need this to have some longevity, and paperbacks tend to go out of print quickly, so there will be no replacing the extremely odiferous prebind in twenty years!
What I really think: This series is definitely worth purchasing and will be hugely popular. I would love to see many more books about more recent military conflicts. The technology of fighting has changed so much since WWII that modern readers will benefit from reading about these events.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Impossible Crime (Mac B.: Kid Spy #2)

Barnett, Mac. The Impossible Crime (Mac B.: Kid Spy #2)
December 26th 2018 by Orchard Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Mac is calmly playing mini golf when the queen of England phones him yet again for help. She is afraid that someone will steal the crown jewels, so wants Mac on the case. He ends up in her castle in Scotland, where all manner of things go wrong, including the jewels being taken from a locked room. That's a new and exciting type of mystery for Mac, who has to use all of his skills to solve it.
Strengths: This is just the right level of 6th and early 7th grade goofy (but would be good for younger students, too), and the formatting is really brilliant. The font is sanserif, there are better-than-average spaces between lines, and the pictures are inserted into the text where they make the most sense. For students with reading problems, this is the best book I have seen yet. I love that the author made up all of these stories years ago.
Weaknesses: The mystery is a tad weaker than the first book, but I applaud the desire to construct a locked room mystery. I now what it was! It reminded of Kin Platt's Big Max: the World's Greatest Detective (1965).
What I really think: Do enjoy this series, but wish it weren't paper over board. Definitely purchasing, and I wish there were a Time Travel Mart in my own neighborhood. Good for you, Mr. Barnett. Diversifying. And yes, I have a time travel outfit, although I still need a wool shawl and a pair of boots without zippers. (If anyone gets close enough to my skirt to see the zipper, I figure I have bigger problems!)

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Tales from the Inner City

File this one under things I did NOT understand. Not only did I not find it appealing (in the same way I didn't enjoy David Weisner's picture books), I can't see my students liking it at all. Still, I try to review things fairly even when my gut reaction is "Children's authors should not drop acid". Trippy, trippy book.

37825535Tan, Shaun. Tales from the Inner City
September 25th 2018 by Arthur A. Levine Books
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

In this heavily illustrated short story collection, Tan explores the interconnectedness of humans and the natural world. Using animals to link together the narrative, Tan explores such topics as the eternal relationship between mankind and dogs, the place that fishing holds in one community's daily life, and a vignette about all of the members of a governing board turning into frogs. Some of these tales are longer narrative form, and some are blank verse.

All of the stories have at least one full page illustration done in Tan's trademark dark, impressionistic style. The cycle that goes with the dog story is especially evocative and touching, showing the relationship of the two through history. There are some that are a little unnerving, such as a stark-eyed owl in a hospital bed, followed several pages later with a two page spread of just the owl's eyes, and some are just rather sad, like a pig looking out of the darkness through a door. All complement the stories well and add to their meaning.

This would be a very useful book for a classroom studying essential conflicts in literature, since the stories are predominately about the theme of man versus nature. This theme is explored in a variety of approaches that would be conducive for interpretation. I can't think of a lot of collections of literary short stories for middle grade students; this is certainly a level above the Guys Read short story collections on a variety of themes, or the Alvin Schwartz Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books, two of the most popular short story collections in my library.

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Once and Future Geek (The Camelot Code #1)

Mancusi, Mari. The Once and Future Geek (The Camelot Code #1)
November 20th 2018 by Disney Hyperion
E ARC from Netgalley

Guinevere and Arthur get along quite well, practicing their fighting and trying to stay out of the way of the knights who terrorize the peasants they are trying to help. They are young, and Arthur's position is precarious, but they care for each other deeply. In modern times, Sophie and Stu hang out together and are big fans of a video game where they must defeat the evil Morgana. However, Stu's step brother Lucas has gotten Stu to try out for the soccer team, and Sophie feels him slipping away from her. When Guinevere and Arthur accidentally lose a very important sword from Merlin's collection right before  a big tournament, Merlin has to use his powers to get the weapon back, and this includes sending Sophie a computer code that makes her travel back in time! When Arthur gets pulled to the present, and Stu goes back to impersonate Arthur and pulls the sword from the stone while under a glamor to look like him, things get oddly complicated. Add to this the trouble the kids have with their romances (Arthur Googles himself in the present day and finds out about Guinevere's relationship with Lancelot, which doesn't make him happy!), and the precarious situation that time travel and changing the course of history puts them in, and this is a harrowing twist on the Arthurian cycle.
Strengths: Camelot and Arthurian legend is always popular, and this is an interesting cyber twist, sort of like VandeVelde's 2002 Heir Apparent series. Since that is falling to bits, I should get this as a replacement and weed that. Fiction involving video/computer games can date fairly quickly. Fun story, and my hard core fantasy fans will love it.
Weaknesses: The love interests, combined with the time travel, made this a little confusing and slow in the middle for me, but I think my students won't feel that way.
What I really think: I like this author's Gamer Girl (which I've had for almost ten years!), and she clearly has some gaming chops. I'd love to see her write a book about students and video games only in the modern world. I'll buy this one, but it will circulate primarily to students who love Arthurian legends and fantasy.

Side note: Heir Apparent has a book BEFORE it-- the 1991 User Unfriendly, which I never had in the library. I do have the 2012 Deadly Pink, which has only gone out seven times in as many years. I've been finding it hard to weed this year, but I think these two books are an easy removal for me!

Monday, December 10, 2018

MMGM- What Not to do if You Turn Invisible

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.

Welford, Ross. What Not to do if You Turn Invisible
October 9th 2018 by Schwartz & Wade Books
Public library copy

Ethel suffers from acute acne, and students at her school are not particularly nice about it, especially the evil Knight twins. They are even mean to Boyd, a new boy from London who makes friends at school right away by backing the wrong soccer team. Boyd has helped her move a free tanning bed to her garage, and is now presuming they are friends. After Ethel drinks some mail order herbal tea for her acne and sits too long in the tanning bed, she really needs a friend, because she turns invisible! Her grandmother (who is raising her), doesn't believe her, and she takes comfort in at least having Boyd know. There are lots of trouble that they can get into with Ethel being invisible, but there is also an intriguing mystery about her deceased mother and absent father. Just as Ethel is afraid that her invisibility might be permanent, the twins start blackmailing her, but she and Boyd find secrets about them as well. Will Ethel be able to get back to her "normal" life, acne and all?
Strengths: Ethel was one of the best characters I've read in a while. Her life isn't perfect, but she has a great attitude and makes the best of her. Her grandmother is WONDERFUL-- I love her distinctions between "common" and "vulgar", and all of the manners that she has taught Ethel. Boyd is fun, the British setting is very vivid, and even Ethel's great-grandmother at the nursing home has a good turn. Even though this is a bit on the long side (422 pages), it was a pleasant, quick read.
Weaknesses: Things got a little fraught near the end of the book; I had to put it down for a bit near the end when some decidedly unpleasant things occurred. Did that make the story better? Debating.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, although this will not be a particularly popular title, since very British books seem to confuse many of my children. For selected readers, however, this will be a fun read, and I'll hopefully have it available in the library for many years.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Graphic Problem Novels

My least favorite thing to read used to be talking animal fantasy books, things along the lines of Brian Jacques or Warrior Cats books. Now, I fully realize this bias, and understand that my students often LOVE this sort of book. I now have a new least favorite-- the graphic problem novel written by young writers.

Again, I realize that this is my own bias. As piercingly painful as I found these to read, they will no doubt be popular with my students, who embrace that over-the-top angst exhibited in both of these titles. Also, some of my students are addicted to graphic novels, regardless of content or merit. In a world where Hey, Kiddo has won the National Book Award, these books by Zuiker Press deserve a look.

Glad to have them for my library, not a fan personally. Coming in April are the titles Imperfect, about body image, and Colorblind, about racism. 

Recca, Sophia Recca, Zuiker, Anthony Edward (With), Leach,Garry (Illustrations)
Mend: A Story of Divorce
Published November 6th 2018 by Zuiker Press 
Copy provided by the publisher

"Sophia, the fourteen-year-old author and protagonist, tells the heart-wrenching story of her parents’ divorce. She was just eleven years old, happy and enjoying life with her mom, dad, and little brother in Las Vegas, Nevada. Unexpectedly, one night, a violent argument disrupted her sleep and shattered her life. The next morning, her parents told her the dreaded news—they were getting divorced. Her dad was moving to California, while Sophia and her brother would stay with their mom.

Any child who has experienced the trauma of divorce will understand Sophia’s reactions: First, she blamed herself. But then, she remembered a note a teacher once wrote on her report card, and was inspired to focus on bringing both parents back into her life. Even if they could not be under the same roof, she thought, they could still share in caring for her and her brother.

Sophia’s story will resonate with children (and adults) who have faced a split in their family, or who have friends dealing with divorce. The book includes helpful advice for parents, as well as a special Teacher’s Corner page."

Recca, Sophia Recca, Zuiker, Anthony Edward (With), Leach,Garry (Illustrations)
Mend: A Story of Divorce
Published November 6th 2018 by Zuiker Press 
Copy provided by the publisher

"Click is the heroic story of a young girl who was terrorized by schoolmates with merciless online harassment and her brave effort to overcome her tormentors. Her powerful, compelling story is told in brilliant graphic novel form.

Lexi’s story of cyberbullying is a shocking depiction of young teenager’s torment in the newfound world of online harassment. Lexi, from Northridge, California, is ganged up on by a few girls over a misunderstanding on the schoolyard.  The incident escalates on social media, local chat boards, and gossip sites.  Forced to change schools, Lexi gets her karmic revenge when she returns to her old school for a Winter Formal.  In a gesture of pure bravery, Lexi turns the tables on the “clique” by landing the boy at the dance and her picture in the yearbook. "

Saturday, December 08, 2018

The Chancellor and the Citadel

Frantz, Maria Capelle. The Chancellor and the Citadel
December 4th 2018 by Iron Circus Comics
ARC provided by Letter Better Publishing Services

Olive and the Chancellor live in a dystopian, Medieval type world where danger lurks around every corner. The shadowy, masked and hooded Chancellor keeps everyone safe by securing the Citadel, but when it is breached by humans, others start to doubt her. Olive remains steadfast, even when the Chancellor brings an injured human boy into their inner sanctum and the resident healer wants Olive's help in healing him. WHen the community finds out about the boy, they are angry and threaten the Chancellor, who tries to show them that "there are no bad guys". A commander, Eve, demands to know who the Chancellor is, and to see her unmasked face, but is refused. Angered, she slays the Chancellor. However, the Chancellor comes back, Eve is exiled, and a fragile peace returns to the Citadel.
Strengths: This gets points for its attempt (mentioned in the letter sent with the ARC) for pointing out that everyone needs to be understood, and society should not wall itself off and think of people as "others". The artwork is quite pleasing, and the picture-to-text ratio is a good one for middle grade readers.
Weaknesses: Overwhelmingly sad. There is a lot of agonizing angst, and the graphic novel format does not provide the amount of background information that would make this story easier to understand.
What I really think: This is not a great fit for my students. Those who like graphic novels prefer ones like Babymouse and those by Raina Telgemeier, and higher quality, more philosophical tomes like Nimona or Estranged are not their cup of tea. I will pass on purchase, but can see this being popular in high school libraries where manga are popular.

Friday, December 07, 2018

The Boy in the Black Suit

After seeing Mr. Reynolds speak at Books by the Banks, I decided to reread this. It's more of a Young Adult book, mainly because it's quiet and "nothing happens" (a very frequent comment from patrons if a book is slower), but as I was reading it while walking home, it occurred to me: Mr. Reynolds said he didn't read books because they didn't "speak his truth" and therefore didn't appeal to him.

I think my cultural bias is that I don't WANT the truth to be spoken. Who does? (People on the internet who like to slam me for my opinions, that's who!) The truth is often uncomfortable and inconvenient, and not polite. There were a lot of problems in my extended family, but NO ONE spoke about them. It even occurred to me that several of my friends had parents who had passed away, and it never came up in conversation. The truth that was spoken was the truth that you let everyone know. The socially acceptable truth. The right story. You didn't walk about divorce, or death, or disease, and certainly not about abuse or addiction.

This is why I don't like sad books unless they show the characters "bucking up". Everyone has sad situations, but the key to getting by is to hide all of them and do well despite them. This, of course, is not the philosophy today. Now I understand why I feel the way I do about sad books. What I still don't understand is why everyone doesn't feel the same way I do. Why on earth would you want people to know your business? Why air dirty laundry? Still, it's the current thought process, so I will try to be aware of it and think about books accordingly while still living my own personal life the way that my grandmother would have wanted.

Reynolds, Jason. The Boy in the Black Suit.
January 6th 2015 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Public library copy

Matthew's mother has passed away from breast cancer, and he's struggling with the aftermath. He's tired of being the boy whose mother has died at school, and tired of getting sympathy from everyone. He appreciates that his friend Chris treats him "normally". Getting a job seems like a good idea, and when he meets Mr. Ray while applying to work at Cluck Bucket, the man's offer of working at his funeral home sounds good. Soon, Matthew is wearing a suit to his half day of school and spending his afternoons helping out Mr. Ray. Mr. Ray has a sad back story that he doesn't tell people (which I liked!), but he shares it with Matthew, hoping it will help him. It's a good thing Mr. Ray is in the picture, since he is very helpful when Matthew's father is injured by a car while stumbling into the street drunk and is in the hospital for an extended time. Matthew attend funerals and always looks for the person closet to the deceased, the person most affected by the death. Doing this puts him in touch with Lovey, whom he had seen working at the Cluck Bucket, and the two start hanging out. Lovey has lost her mother to domestic violence, and her grandmother, but still volunteers at a homeless shelter because her grandmother would have wanted her to. The two have a light romance, and Matthew feels a little more able to deal with the death of his mother.
Strengths: It's nice to see a generally supportive community, a light romance, and a boy trying his best to grow up.
Weaknesses: On f-bomb and generally very slow. Not really objectionable for middle school, just has more of a high school feel.
What I really think: Rather slow moving and introspective for middle school, and since this author's As Brave As You has been gathering dust, I think I'll pass.

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, December 06, 2018

MMGM- Teen Sleuths

Grabenstein, Chris and Patterson, James. Max Einstein: The Genius Experiment
October 8th 2018 by jimmy patterson
Public library copy

Max is an orphan living in an abandoned building above a horse stable in New York City. She doesn't have any clues about her past other than a suitcase with pictures of Albert Einstein in it. She is very brilliant, and attends university in the city, and also comes up with plans to use horse manure to heat her building-- unfortunately, that would cost a lot of money. She has a supportive network of other homeless people who live in the building, so she is a little leery when three adults come to take her away, especially after she has just been in foster care and a creepy teaching adjunct has also tried to remove her from the situation. Luckily, she ends up with other genius children from around the world in the Change Makers Institute, where they are all treated well and given the world's biggest problems to solve. The children all have special skills and are brilliant, but when there is a contest, Max wins. Instead of working alone, she asks to have the other children help her. Together, they try to make a change in a small African village where the residents have no electricity. Even after they install solar panels, they are damaged by a local war lord, so the children have to learn to deal with difficult people as well as difficult science problems. Max's old home is fixed up by the CMI, and more adventures are surely on their way.
Strengths: Patterson and Grabenstein have done their homework. This has STEM topics, a strong female character, a multicultural group of children, and improbably adventure. The inclusion of drawing will help make this appeal to readers of other jimmy books.
Weaknesses: You know who else did their homework? The people who created The Monkees. While I personally adore The Monkees, I feel the same way about jimmy books that real rock fans felt about this manufactured group in the 1960s. I'm not alone. I've talked to several students about Potty Mouth and Stoopid, and none of them liked that book. One very astute 6th grader felt it was more for elementary school students. Max Einstein was just so improbable that it was hard to read.
What I really think: I'll probably buy it, but I don't believe the hype that science-minded girls will particularly enjoy it.

Cain, Chelsea. Confessions of a Teen Sleuth
April 1st 2005 by Bloomsbury USA
Donated by John O'Connor and the Kiwanis

*Snerk* We have a lovely group here in Westerville that gather books from Half Price Books, the public library, and other places, and redistribute them to schools. My library helpers occasionally label books for this group. This book showed up in one of the donation piles, and really isn't for children-- it's a parody for people who read Nancy Drew and all the other fiction series of the 1950s and 60s, so Mr. O'Connor brought it right to me. It was the best part of my day!

Nancy has long suffered at the poor depiction of her life by Carolyn Keene, her college roommate who took her stories of high school detection and made her fame from them. This volume puts those stories right. From her weird relationship with Ned Nickerson, whom she is always much happier rescuing than hanging out with, to her love child with Frank Hardy, we see all the untold stories of Nancy's slim-skirted existence. The other characters in Nancy's story are all there, and Cherry Ames, Tom Swift, Donna Parker, and other series characters show up. The book is set up to follow Nancy's life through a variety of cases, starting in 1926 and continuing until Nancy gets to a happy place for her old age in 1992.

While not completely inappropriate for the young, they wouldn't get all of the allusions, nor should they. I laughed and laughed, and I was also a bit glad at Cherry Ames' demise.

Now I really want to read Donna Parker. Sigh.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Lizzy Legend

Smith, Matthew Ross. Lizzy Legend
January 8th 2019 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Lizzy lives in an impoverished neighborhood near Philadelphia, and is a fantastic basketball player. She practices an insane amount, and has made a name for herself. When she tries out for her school team, she's sure she'll make it, but when bully Tank and her friend Toby make it but she does not, she is not pleased. She talks to the coach, who is sympathetic and recognizes her skill (which she shares with her father, who was a great player until he was injured), but tells her that girls can't play on the boys' team and vice versa. She still has hopes, and after recieving an odd telephone call that grants her a wish, she wishes that she would make all the baskets she tries for the rest of her life. Soon, every shot she tries is "pure swish". After seeing her in action, the coach decides she can play after all, and Toby goes with her to see the manager of the Philadelphia Bells basketball team (which, in the story, did not seem like a women's team) under the guise of touring the arena as part of a Make A Wish scheme. The team wants to sign her right away, and before she knows it, she's wearing an oversized jersey and facing the prospect of going head to head with her idol, LeBron James. When she accidentally reverses the wish right before a big game, will her own skills be enough to carry the day?
Strengths: This is a fun fantasy novel of basketball and wish fulfillment. I liked that Toby (who is black and from a much better neighborhood) and Lizzy are good friends, and that Lizzy's father, while struggling, is still a supportive and helpful parent. Lizzy's mother had passed away, but the two have managed to make their way. The brushes with basketball greatness are amusing, and I'm assuming that the players named are real people.
Weaknesses: There were some things in the book that were unexplained or seemed forced. It seems likely that there are rules about co ed teams, but then why was Lizzy suddenly allowed on the boys' team? Lizzy's describes her neighborhood has having drug dealers wandering casually about, but she is out playing basketball at 5 a.m.? Most of the story was fine, but there were moments that caused me to pause and wonder what was going on.
What I really think: I have a huge need for more books about girls playing sports, so will purchase this for my library. I just wish it were more realistic.

Ms. Yingling


Win this whole set!

Comment below!

Comment below by Sunday evening, December 9th, on why you would like to win THIS ENTIRE SERIES by Margaret Peterson Haddix, and my certified, impartial and highly trained middle grade library helpers will select a winner! (Mainly because I can't remember my Rafflecopter password!)

If you need to know more, here are the reviews:
Children of Exile
Children of Refuge
Children of Jubilee
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Children of Jubilee BLOG TOUR

Haddix, Margaret Peterson. Children of Jubilee. (Children of Exile #3)
December 4th, 2018 by Simon Schuster Books for Young
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Kiandra and her various siblings are in Refugee City as the Enforcers are bearing down on the population. The children raised by the Freds are in especial danger, since they don't want to break any rules. Kiandra and Enu find the basement of a grocery store and manage to get everyone to safety while destroying the dangerous electronic communication devices they have, although Kiandra especially hates being without the internet. Determined to find out what happened, the some of the children go upstairs in the store and see a report on the television, but are soon captured by the Enforcers and whisked away... to another planet. There Kiandra, Enu, Edwy and Rosie are forced to work in the mines, their bodies controlled by aliens so that they eat and work when expected. Soon, Cana arrives on the planet, but as she is too young to work, she stays in the cell and claims to have met friends. "Alcibiades" tells her many things, but the other children figure she has an imaginary companion until Kiandra is too weak to work and stays behind. Then, she meets the slub-like Zacadians, who tell her that they are the last of their people, and that the Enforcers have enslaved their planet in order to mine the energy pearls. Eventually, both groups escape, but the spaceship driven by Alcibiades is in violation and brought in so the children can all stand trial. During the trial, all of the creatures see others as similar to themselves. The council doesn't quite believe that the Enforcers are not treating the humans and the Zacadians properly, even though Kiandra has proof of their misdeeds. Can the children not only prove their innocence, but save their people from more mistreatment at the hands of the Enforcers?
Strengths: This had a lot more action and adventure than the previous two books, and all of the elements introduced in previous volumes all came together well. Kiandra is a great character, and her relationships with the various other children are realistic and touching. Her reliance on her cell phone is so typical of teenagers today, so that was amusing-- even on another planet she tried to get a signal! The story moved along briskly, all of the back histories made sense, and there was even an almost romance that was interesting.
Weaknesses: There's some light social preaching going on (green eyes vs. brown eyes, over reliance on technology), but it doesn't really go anywhere. Maybe I'm just imagining it.
What I really think: The Children of Exile and The Children of  Refuge were somewhat difficult for me to follow (the Freds threw me, somehow), but since Haddix is a somewhat local and VERY popular author in my area, I had to buy the books. This is the best volume in the series, and brings everything to a satisfying conclusion.

Welcome to the Children of Jubilee Blog Tour!

To celebrate the release of The Children of Jubilee (Children of Exile #3) on December 4th, blogs across the web are featuring exclusive content from author Margaret Peterson Haddix and 10 chances to win the complete trilogy!

by Margaret Peterson Haddix

“Tell me this,” a friend’s teenaged son asked me once at a party. “When you write in one of your books that someone’s wearing a blue shirt, you just mean that the shirt’s blue, right? You’re not trying to make your readers think of the sky or the ocean or any other symbol. You just mean… That. Shirt. Is. Blue. Right?”

I know a set-up when I hear one, and my friend had already told me her son’s view of symbolism in literature. I could tell that that teenager really wanted an answer that would allow him to go back to school and report to his teacher, “You know what? I happen to know an author, Margaret Peterson Haddix, and she says all that symbolism stuff is just garbage!” I have enough sympathy for teachers that I wasn’t going to do that.

But I also have sympathy for frustrated teenaged readers. So I gave the extremely wishy-washy answer, “Well, sometimes…”

That answer also had the advantage of being true.

Sometimes when I am writing, symbolism is the farthest thing from my mind. Sometimes I have to remind myself to put in any description at all, because I’m so fixated on figuring out the plot, psychoanalyzing my characters’ motivations, choosing the right words to place readers right there in the action—all the other things I have to keep track of as a writer. Sometimes I realize I’ve accidentally given every single one of my characters’ the same color shirt (or hair or eyes, cars or houses, etc.) and I’ve put no more care into assigning specific details to a character than I spend picking out my own clothes when I know I’m going to be sitting at the computer writing all day.

Of course I go back and fix those mistakes in revision. But I do have plenty of moments as a writer when I flash back to being a kid like my friend’s son, the kind who sits in English class rebelliously thinking, “Who cares what that blue shirt represents? Can’t we just get on with the story? Why do we all have to think so much?”

Sometimes a blue shirt really is just a blue shirt.

Other times, I flash back to a different version of my teenaged self—the version that chose to go off to college and major in English, where I delightedly sat through class after class of my professors pointing at sentences that I’d previously thought of as simple and straightforward, and finding symbols and deeper meaning all over the place. “Must love symbolism” should probably be listed as a prerequisite for every class required for English majors.

So sometimes I am the author who slips symbols into my stories right and left, like so many secret messages intended for alert readers. And I love hearing from readers who are just as gleeful about finding the symbolic meanings as I was about writing them.

Because I write for a broad audience, I really don’t want to alienate either symbolism-lovers or symbolism-haters. So my favorite approach is to write a book that can work on multiple levels: as a straight narrative for readers who get annoyed by any suggestion that they should look deeper; and as a tale packed full of symbols and literary connections and other clues for those who see reading as a treasure hunt. 

With my newest book, Children of Jubilee, the title alone is an example of this two-tiered approach. I think “jubilee” is a beautiful word, and after coming through the travails of the entire Children of Exile trilogy, my characters are due a period of rejoicing and celebration—the most common way the word is understood.

But when I chose the title, I was also thinking of the historical and theological meaning of the word. In both Jewish and Christian traditions, “jubilee” has connections to forgiveness, atonement, and new beginnings. The book of Leviticus spells out instructions for a Year of Jubilee every fifty years where slaves are freed, debts are erased, and fields are left untilled and resting. This concept fascinates me, even though I wonder a little skeptically how it worked in actual practice. (Did people just avoid loaning anyone money in the year before a jubilee year, because they knew they’d never get their money back?)

The deeper concept also fits Children of Jubilee well. By this stage in the series, a lot of people have been wronged, and my characters are desperately seeking both a way out of their troubles and a way to forgive and move past a lot of ugly history. 

I’m not actually expecting that many readers who pick up Children of Jubilee would know about the Biblical concept of jubilee or ancient Hebrew traditions. I really wouldn’t want any kids like my friend’s son to ever face exam questions about those connections. But the extra meaning is there like a gift for any reader who does have that background knowledge.

And, who knows, maybe a few kids who think they hate symbolism and deeper meaning in their stories will read Children of Jubilee, idly decide to Google an unfamiliar word, and end up learning a few things just for the fun of it.

And maybe that will help transform them from symbolism-haters to symbolism-lovers.

It would be a change worthy of a jubilee.


Blog Tour Schedule:

December 3rd — Beach Bound Books
December 4th — Ms. Yingling Reads
December 5thChristy's Cozy Corners
December 6thCrossroad Reviews
December 7th — A Dream Within A Dream

December 10th — Book Briefs
December 11th — Chat with Vera
December 12th — Bookhounds
December 13th — Java John Z's
December 14th — Unleashing Readers

About the Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix is the author of many critically and popularly acclaimed YA and middle grade novels, including the Children of Exile series, The Missing series, the Under Their Skin series, and the Shadow Children series. A graduate of Miami University (of Ohio), she worked for several years as a reporter for The Indianapolis News. She also taught at the Danville (Illinois) Area Community College. She lives with her family in Columbus, Ohio. Visit her at

Monday, December 03, 2018

MMGM- The Never Evers

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.

38136928Ellen, Tom and Ivison, Lucy. Never Evers
December 4th 2018 by Delacorte Press
Copy provided by the publisher

Mouse has been dismissed from the prestigious ballet school she has been attending for two years, and must go back to The Bluecoat School that she attended previously. The problem is that her former best friend Lauren did NOT make it into the ballet school, and the two have been estranged since. Mouse's mother insists that she go on the school's ski trip to France so that she can reconnect with her classmates. This is successful-- she hangs out with Connie-May, who is a bit immature and brings her hamster on the trip, and Keira, who is a bit disturbing in her devotion to all black clothing and to shocking people. The three are having a good trip and even catch the attention of boys from another school. Jack is glad to be on vacation, and is enjoying hanging out with his friends Toddy and Max, eating junk food and scheming about the best ways to meet girls whom they may kiss. Jack and Mouse both think the other is cute, and have fun hanging out until Jack also catches the attention of Lauren and her polished, sophisticated friends. Oddly, Mouse also catches someone's attention-- the pop star Roland who is at the same resort filming. Jack and Roland, who look a bit alike, meet, and Roland tries to enlist Jack into helping him with Mouse. Clearly this is a bad idea, and there are many complications that ensue along with skiing, hot chocolate, and lots of mean girl antics. Will Mouse and Jack have their twilight, romantic moment, or will they perish on the slopes?
Strengths: Since the authors take turns with the chapters, this is a great book for understanding the differences between how boys and girls react to social situations since as friends problems and romance. The romance is very sweet, and very typical of middle school. The location is very exotic for my students. This is exactly the type of thing I loved to read when I was 12. The cover shows all of the main characters beautifully and will be great for winter displays, not that it will stay in one very long!
Weaknesses: The students seem ridiculously privileged, and this is something that has fallen out of favor with middle grade critics and gatekeepers. Still, if we have books about children living in poverty, why not books about children who ski in France? The world is full of all kinds of people, and it's interesting to read about them.
What I really think: This was delightful, and the cover, along with Jack and Mouse's alternating perspectives, make this a very fun choice for all readers who want a somewhat fantastical romance on the French ski slopes. We have a ski club at Blendon; I'll have to have the students compare experiences.

Ms. Yingling

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Love Like Sky

35209679Youngblood, Leslie C. Love Like Sky
November 6th 2018 by Disney-Hyperion
Public library copy

Georgiana (frequently called G-Baby or Georgie) is fairly comfortable with her blended family. They have moved out from the Atlanta metropolitan area to a smaller town, and Georgie gets along well with her stepfather. Her older step-sister, Tangie, is very interesting, but has little time for her new sibling. Georgie, however, is quite nice to her annoying younger sister, Peaches. When the girls return to the city to visit their father and his new wife Millicent (whom they call the Millipede), Peaches becomes very ill. Unfortunately, Georgie has run off to visit her friend Nikki and not told her father where she is going. Eventually, she is found and taken to the hospital, where she learns that Peaches has a case of encephalitis and will have a lengthy recuperation period. Even with her grandmother there to comfort her, Georgie wants desperately to go back home, where she connects for the first time with Tangie. Peaches recovers, and the family is stronger after their ordeal.
Strengths: I was glad to see that all of the parents were still alive-- I think students more often have to deal with different sets of parents and siblings than with dead ones. This has a strong sense of place, with a little bit of dialect, but it's not overly strong. The problems faced with Peaches health scare are realistic, but it's the family dynamics (and the cover) that really sell this one.
Weaknesses: I didn't think that Georgie was mean to Peaches at all, which made her guilt a bit nonsensical. While students won't particularly care, I personally am not a fan of women with names like G-Baby and Peaches. The women in my family don't even have "ie" names so that we sound strong and in charge. (Notable exception: Sylvie, my dog!)
What I really think: The friend drama will make this enticing to middle grade readers, even though the story about the sister being ill makes this one a bit slow. I can see this being a great choice for elementary students interested in "reading up".

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Fab 4 Mania

34445194Tyler, Carol. Fab 4 Mania
June 6th 2018 by Fantagraphics
Public library copy

Set in 1965, this large format graphic novel follows a young girl through the stages of her obsession with the Beatles. From their appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1965 until their concert at Cominsky Park, we follow the ups and downs of school, home life, and music. There are so many wonderful things mentioned-- her brand new Catholic school with its aqua and white tile walls, her reactions to the week after Kennedy was shot, getting a dress for graduation, and all the little details of what it was like to be alive when the Beatles were producing music and new songs were coming out frequently. There are lots of pictures, which help make the 1960s very vivid, especially pages where the different radios everyone has are pictured, or details of summer vacation are drawn. The end of the book is a fantastic description of what it was like to see the Beatles in concert in person.
Strengths: This had so many wonderful details about daily life in the 1960s, and is based off the author's own diaries from the time. It is a fantastic cultural resource, and will remind Baby Boomers why they fell in love with this musical group. There are still an inordinate amount of middle school students who know who the Beatles are, which never ceases to amaze me, and I can see them picking this book up.
Weaknesses: The paperback is $26 from Follett. This is a very long book, and the hand writing style font made this a bit slow going. If I could buy this in prebind, I'd invest in this, since we have a 1960s unit that the 7th graders do.
What I really think: I'm going to have to pass on purchasing because of format and cost, but this was fascinating. I have two copies of Ann Hood's She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah that I will give to students instead. 
Ms. Yingling