Thursday, January 17, 2019

A Dolphin Named Star

Berne, Emma Carlson. A Dolphin Named Star (Seaside Sanctuary)
February 1st 2019 by Stone Arch Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Elsa's parents are marine biologists who have moved from Chicago, where they worked for the Shedd Aquarium, to a seaside town where they run a sanctuary for marine animals. They have just gotten a grant to have an outside pen, and three dolphins have just taken up residence in the protected cove. Elsa and her friend, Olivia, help out during the summer with feeding, and when the dolphins become ill, they investigate. Having smelled an odd odor of gasoline on one of the new neoprene wet suits, the girls think there is a chemical leaking into the cove, but the scientists, including Olivia's sister, Abby, have done lots of tests and are not finding anything dangerous. When one of the dolphins dies, Elsa's parents' reputation is on the line, and the facility is audited. The girls ramp up their investigation and do some spy work, which uncovers an unsavory plot that involves one of the sponsors of the sanctuary.
Strengths: For some odd reason, a lot of my students are interested in marine biology. This had a lot of good details about the dolphins', their troubles in the wild, and the problems they face when dealing with pollution. It's a simple story, so elementary students won't be confused, and the friendship between the girls is a nice touch. I would definitely buy this for an elementary library.
Weaknesses: More sophisticated readers will see the clues to the mystery right away. While I could see that sympathy was being set up for the woman running the chemical company, I found it hard to believe that someone who cared about animals would turn a blind eye to illegally dumping chemicals, even if she were worried about her job. Again, elementary students won't worry about the subtleties; they will just enjoy the dolphin related mystery.
What I really think: I may buy this if Follett has a prebind of the paperback available. Nearly $20 is pricey for the library binding.
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Wind Called My Name

40644601Sanchez, Mary Louise. The Wind Called My Name.
September 18th 2018 by Tu Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Margarita's family has a pleasant life working on their farm in New Mexico, but the drought conditions of the Great Depression have led to decreased crops and a huge tax bill. Her brother and father have spent most of the year in Wyoming, working for the railroad and sending money home. When conditions do not improve, the rest of Margarita's family moves to join them. While Margarita is glad to be with her father again, she misses her one abuela who stayed behind, and has trouble finding friends. She does meet Evangeline Hesse, the granddaughter of the local store owner, who is the only other student in her grade in the one-room school house. Evangeline means well, but frequently hurts Margarita's feelings by wanting to call her Maggie, not understanding that the family is from NEW Mexico, and not liking the family's food. Other members of the community are even less fond of having Hispanic workers in the town, even if their families have been living in New Mexico for over three hundred years. Mr. Hesse is very kind, allowing Margarita to work off the cost of a lantern that she broke by selling him eggs and vegetables. He even arranges for her to get paid to deliver the newspaper to people in town. When one of the railroad workers starts to harass the Hispanic workers in town, Margarita and her family almost decide to go back to New Mexico, but instead stand firm and fight against the accusations.
Strengths: My copy of Doris Gates' Blue Willow completely fell apart and can't be replaced, so another treatment of the Great Depression is welcome. Unlike that 1940 book (which has irreplaceable details about daily life, since it was written at the time), this new book deals realistically with the challenges that Hispanic families faced. Evangeline is well-meaning, but an unfortunate master of the micro-aggression. This is, however, a very realistic portrayal, and it is good to see that Margarita is able to stand up for herself and try to explain why Evangeline's actions are wrong while still remaining friends. There are lots of good descriptions of food, holidays, and even some Spanish phrases.
Weaknesses: I would have enjoyed more details about the clothing and housing, and perhaps a few mentions (tied in with the newspaper the family reads) about events in the world. There is one mention of the abuela in New Mexico meeting an artist named Georgia, but there was no more elaboration. What I really think: Definitely purchasing, since it is not only a good historical document but a good portrayal of middle grade characters learning to accept others' differences in a very productive way.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, January 15, 2019


Haydu, Corey Ann. Eventown
February 12th 2019 by HC/Katherine Tegen Books
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Elodee's family is struggling for reasons that aren't clear, and she and her twin sister Naomi are not getting along. When their mother gets a job in Eventown, no one really wants to move, but they do, digging up a rose bush from their old home and bringing it with them. Eventown has a lot of good opportunities and a lot of fun activities for the girls. Elodee loves to cook, and Naomi does gymnastics. When the girls go to the welcoming center for their orientation, they find out that Eventown was founded by Jasper Plimmswood for people whose homes were destroyed in a hurricane, and they needed to start over. The girls are invited into a room where they tell six stories of their lives, including the most embarrassing moment and the most heartbreaking one, and after they do, the stories are gone from their minds. Unfortunately, Elodee's session is interrupted, so she is halfway through the process and can remember just enough about her previous life to make her sad. Elodee starts to notive that the family's new perfect life is not so perfect, and that her new friends have gaping holes in their memories, even of important things like their grandparents. When Eventown starts to not be so perfect anymore, it's up to Elodee to come to terms with the reasons her family came to Eventown and to decide if horrible memories are worth having if it means she gets to hold onto the good ones as well.

Eventown is an interesting setting, and Elodee's mother's new job is a convincing reason for the family to move. The physical layout, the beauty of the houses, and the perfect weather all make for an idyllic new home for a fractured family. The reason why the family is in pain is not revealed until the very ending of the book, and I don't want to spoil it other than to say that there should perhaps be trigger warnings.

While most of the characters are fairly flat, because they have given up their memories, Elodee is inquisitive and engaged, trying to settle into her new surroundings and make things better for her family in their new home while trying to navigate the waters with different equipment than the other residents have. Readers who want to embrace sad stories rather than forget them will sympathize with Elodee's quest for truth, even if it is painful for her.

Personally, I disagree with the entire premise of this novel. There is nothing wrong with forgetting sad things, if one were even able to do so in the real world, and I don't think it is fair to portray the vast majority of families dealing with grief in middle grade novels as fractured and unable to go on. That's just insulting. People go on because there is no other option. As I explained in my post on Jason Reynold's The Boy in the Black Suit, my truth is that unpleasant things are best forgotten. It's not everyone's truth, but it is mine, and this book was at odds with my truth. Everyone else seems to think it is fantastic, so read some other reviews as well before making up your mind about it.
Ms. Yingling

Monday, January 14, 2019

MMGM- Medal of Honor

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.

Spradlin, Michael. Jack Montgomery: World War II: Gallantry at Anzio
Published 15 Jaunary 2019 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Based on the real-life events of Jack Montgomery, this book is an excellent mix of factual information about the war and fictionalized accounts of Montgomery's involvement in it. Montgomery was born in 1917 in Oklahoma. Because he was Cherokee, he was sent to an Indian school, but received a good education and graduated from college with a physical education degree. Unable to find a job, he joined the army and soon found himself embroiled in the war. Soon after his division, the 45th Infantry Thunderbirds came ashore at Anizio, Montgomery was involve in action near Padiglione, Italy, where he single-handedly took out several enemy positions and saved his men. He was wounded and sent home, but awarded the Medal of Honor. Not only do we follow Jack's activities during the war, but we learn additional information about all manner of topics-- trench foot, the Italian involvement in the war, and the treatment of Native Americans. Plentiful pictures and maps help highlight that this is biographical nonfiction, told in an intriguing way.
Strengths: Italy! I have read very few books about this are of WWII, and since Dondi was so interesting, I was always curious about it. The mix of story, facts, and supporting documents is wonderful and will make this super popular with my readers. Like Tod Olsen's narrative nonfiction, THIS is what middle grade books should be like!
Weaknesses: Occasionally I was irritated that Montgomery's narrative was interrupted, but I read this in one sitting, and my students will not.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing this entire series and may need some more room for Spradlin's books, since he has been on fire lately!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Ruby in the Sky

Ferruolo, Jeanne Zulick. Ruby in the Sky
February 5th 2019 by Farrar Straus and Giroux
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ruby and her mother Dahlia have moved a lot since her dad is gone, but their last move takes them from Florida to a small town in Vermont where Dahlia was raised. Her aunt Cecy helps out, especially after Dahlia is arrested for a workplace incident of harassment for which she is wrongly accused of assault. Ruby isn't wild about her new school, since there are some mean girls who make fun of her clothes and her silence, but she knows that flying under the radar is the way to go. She does slowly warm to Ahmad, a recent refugee from Syria, especially after his uncle hires her mother to work at his store. Ruby finds it difficult to become invested in the Wax Museum project her class is assigned, even though she is interested in her subject, astronaut Michael Collins. Near her run-down rental house, Ruby has met the local Bird Lady, Abigail, who lives in a shed near her former house, having suffered a family tragedy in the 1970s. As she works on her project, Ruby also investigates Abigail's past, and finds out that she worked with the computers that helped with the moon launch. Her mother's trial is the same day as the Wax Museum, and the local government has put a law in place to remove Abigail from her property, so things become a bit fraught in Ruby's world. Luckily, with the help of her supportive friends and family, she and her mother manage to make it through and find a new path forward for themselves.
Strengths: This hits the hard-to-define sweet spot for sad stories for my students. It has the novelty of a parent arrested for a somewhat minor offense but who is nonetheless in danger of going to jail. Ruby's method of coping with her new school-- withdrawing, trying not to speak-- is one that I see all too often. It's good to see that even though the place the two are renting may be cold, Ruby's aunt brings food and warm thrift store clothing to them. I especially liked that even though there were a LOT of sad things, Ruby was fairly positive, even if some of those thoughts were set on going back to Washington, D.C., which never seemed like a likely ending for the family. Ahmad and his uncle are great characters, and I especially enjoyed the interchange where Ruby tells Ahmad he was lucky for only having to go to school two hours a day... until he tells her that school had to be over by 8:00 a.m. because that's when the bombing started! Ruby may have it tough, but Ahmad and his uncle have had it far tougher. I did cry at one point, even though the part at which I cried was a tiny bit cheesy.
Weaknesses: It's hard to believe that Abigail would have spent forty years living in a shed; again, there's that portrayal of grieving parents as being unable to cope that I find insulting. There are a lot of things that come together in a rather unrealistic way, but this is a generally interesting and upbeat book.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing for fans of Vrabel's Bringing Me Back, Arnold's Far From Fair, Sand-Eveland's Tinfoil Sky and Pla's The Someday Birds.

Brown, Don. The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees
September 18th 2018 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Junior Library Guild Subscription

Like this author's The Great American Dust Bowl, The Unwanted is a good introduction to the topic of the war in Syria and the enormous number of refugees who are seeking a home after leaving their war torn country. In well researched anecdotes, Brown puts a very human face on an exodus that has raised tempers of people in many of the countries to which the Syrians are fleeing. Brown concentrates on what has happened to individuals, and tries not to address the issues of religion too much.

It's an interesting and effective way to make difficult information easily digestible, and I learned a lot. I'm just not a fan of Brown's art style. For me, so much hinges on the noses on the drawings of people, and I'm not a fan of his. So, great for information, but I'm not a fan of the art. My students are not going to care, and our ESL teacher practically grabbed this book out of my hands. Similar to Colfer's Illegal. 

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Comic Book History of Comics

Van Lente, Fred and Dunlavey, Ryan. The Comic Book History of Comics 2012 by Idea & Design Works Llc
Actually can't remember where this came from!

This lengthy (over 200 pages) comic book style history gives a very complete overview of the comic strip going back even before The Yellow Kid. Not only are strips and creators named and explained, but information about publishers, trends, and controversies are covered. The format does limit the amount of information that can be presented, but this is certainly an excellent starting place for fans who might like to later find out more about certain aspects of this art form. While there were lots of controversies and problems covered, this never felt one-sided, even when the later chapters address the thorny issue of comics distribution.

This is a great read for anyone who wants to have a brief understanding of the entire comics universe. There was a ton of information, and I came away feeling that my background knowledge was definitely increased. I have to admit to skimming a bit-- who knew that Wonder Woman was so fraught with complications? The most interesting part of this for me was the discussion about how educators in the 1950s decided that comics were morally corrupting children. I don't remember there really being any discussion involving comics in my childhood-- my brother and I had a few Harvey World comics, probably picked up at gas stations on car trips, and there was even a Wonder Woman comic. We treated these more or less like books, rereading on occasion, and no one ever told us they were bad for us!

This is a great book for high school libraries who have a large fan base who enjoy illustrated works. There are a few references to sex in comics, but it's not bad. I just think it is a LOT of information for middle school students.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Soccer School

Bellos, Alex. Soccer School Season 1: Where Soccer Explains (Rules) the World
October 26th 2018 by Walker Books
US Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

"Coaches" Alex and Ben introduce the reader to their school that is all about soccer. Every class, from biology to business studies, deals with fun facts and information about how each topic pertains to soccer. My favorite part of the book was probably the two page spread detailing the schedule, which look NOTHING like a US middle school schedule! It is more like a college schedule, with two days of math and fun things like Design Technology, Zoology, Music, Photography, Fashion, and Business Studies! That makes the idea of Soccer School an amazing opportunity right there.

While the story line takes us through our school week, this is more a compendium of random information detailing just about every aspect of soccer. It is noteworthy that the entire first chapter, Biology, discusses all of the minute details of how professional soccer players (as well as race dogs) manage their BMs. The subsequent math chapter gives statistics on death on the soccer field! (Luckily, the chances are pretty low-- about a 1 in 200,000 chance.) This is followed by the zoology chapter that discusses different team mascots and gives a lot of information about eagles. While all of this is very informative, it doesn't seem to be all that pertinent to soccer!

While there are a lot of pictures illustrating different concepts, there is also a LOT of small text. There are side bars, quizzes, charts with statistics, and a lot of other facts as well as frequent cartoon panels illustrating concepts.

There are plenty of details about playing fields, crowd control, player salaries, and famous players. Readers who have moved beyond the short nonfiction soccer books about various teams and have read all of the how-to books on soccer will enjoy this fast-paced, random compilation of humorous anecdotes that even include space soccer.

Bellos, Alex. Soccer School Season 2: Where Soccer Explains (Saves) the World
October 26th 2018 by Walker Books US
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

In this second Soccer School book, the first chapter is about pee rather than poop (as the first book was)! This is actually a very important topic for young athletes, who often are not well hydrated. The U.S. Navy actually has a very helpful online chart concerning this:( Soccer school talks about the benefits of water, effects of dehydration on the body's performance, and gives several anecdotes relating to urination. This might seem silly, but as a cross country coach, I spend much more time than I would like discussing this topic with my runners!

The book is again set up to mirror a school schedule with a lot of different topics. Soccer vocabulary in a variety of languages and countries, as well as multilingual soccer players, are discussed in Foreign Languages, and some funny phrases from around the world are described, complete with amusing drawings. Physics class discusses how the soccer ball is constructed and reacts to use, and Botany gives a primer on the different types of grasses used on fields. The authors really dig deep to come up with topics such as engineering, writing and reporting, and even religion. Who knew that there was a "Church of Maradona" that worships Argentine player Diego Maradona!

My favorite chapter was the History one, which discussed how women's involvement in the sport has changed since the founding of the British Ladies' Football Club in 1894. I would love to find an entire book on this topic, especially discussing the 1921 ban on women's teams using most stadiums! The quizzes at the end of each chapter even have a key available at the end of the book, so readers who really, really want to memorize their soccer facts can quiz themselves.

While the Notebook Novel style of this series will appeal to reluctant readers, Soccer School has an enormous wealth of facts about many facets relating to the sport. This is a great book to send with a die-hard fan to dip into again and again.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

Gemeinhart, Dan. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise
January 8th 2019 by Henry Holt
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Coyote and her father, Rodeo, travel around the US in a converted school bus they call Yager. Their life seems pretty comfortable, and they go wherever they want (especially if it involves some really good destination food), but they are on the road because of a sad reason. Coyote's mother and two sisters were killed in a car accident, and their father coped so poorly that he had to sell their house, leave their town, and doesn't even want to call Coyote by her real name or be referred to as her father, because it makes him remember too much. After Coyote talks to her grandmother, who tells her the park near their old home is going to be torn down, Coyote wants to get back in time to retrieve a time capsule that her mother and sisters left there just five days before their death. Since she can't tell her father, she makes an excuse to travel somewhat nearby to get a special sandwich. Her father can't drive enough to get from Florida to the Pacific Northwest, so when Coyote finds a young musician who wants to travel there to see his girlfriend, she invites him along. Rodeo has done this and the past, and has series of questions for people to answer. The answers are correct, and they are on their way. They also pick up Salvador and his mother, who are fleeing his father, after Coyote is accidentally left at a gas station. They also pick up an 18-year-old runaway, Valerie, who has been kicked out of her home because she is gay. Any cross country trip will have incidents, and there are incorrect connections, break downs, and general mayhem. Will Coyote be able to make it back, and will her father eventually realize that she needs to talk about her past in order to go on with her future?
Strengths: A good road trip story is always good, from Cooney's On the Road to Pla's The Someday Birds. The bus is a fun vehicle, the aimlessness appeals to the middle grade soul, and there is a lot of good relationships and adventure. While this is a little different from Gemeinhart's previous books, it shows me that he has studied up on the current climate in middle grade literature. Several topics that are currently in favor are in play here-- a dead parent, LGBTQ+ character, and domestic problems. The cover is good as well.
Weaknesses: I would think that people who had lost a loved one would be really insulted by all of the literary characters who become completely dysfunctional when they are grieving. I liked that the funding for the constant traveling was explained (insurance settlement), but the father's aimlessness, combined with his unwillingness to parent Coyote in an effective way, is inexcusable. While not talking about the departed is an excellent way to deal with grief, the needs of a child come first, and Coyote should have been near her grandmother and in a whole lot of grief counseling.
What I really think: While I very much personally disliked the portrayal of a grieving parent, this is a good story, and I will be purchasing it for my library.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

#WNDB Wednesday- Genesis Begins Again

Williams, Alicia D. Genesis Begins Again
January 15th 2019 by Simon and Schuster/Atheneum
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Genesis' family often falls on hard times. Her father has an industrial job, her mother cares for the elderly, and they have  been evicted from four different homes in the Detroit area. During the last eviction, Genesis had brought home girls from school whom she hoped to impress, but this of course backfires. Her father, who is an extremely problematic alcoholic who is not very kind to Genesis, surprises her and her mother with a fancy house he has rented in the wealthy suburb of Farmington Hills. While she likes the new place, Genesis worries that they can't possibly make the rent, and she also worries about going to the new school with predominately white students. Genesis is very dark complected, and is self-conscious in the extreme about this, especially when other students call her names such as "Charcoal" and "Eggplant". She also doesn't like her hair. Her mother is very light, and her grandmother seems to blame all of the father's problems on his dark complexion, and makes it very clear to Genesis that her mother would have done better for herself had she married a man with a skin tone closer to her own light one. As a result, Genesis tries a lot of dangerous ways to lighten her skin-- scrubbing it raw, using lemon juice, and even pouring bleach in her bath. Luckily, at her new school she is able to make friends with Sophia, who has trouble with other students because of the way her OCD manifests itself. She is also glad to find a friend in Troy, a self-proclaimed "black nerd" who is as dark as she is and is tutoring her in math. Genesis thinks she has a friend in Yvette, who invites her to sing with her group in the talent show and who relaxes Genesis' hair, but in the end, Yvette is not as supportive as she seems. The family is in danger of losing their house yet again, and there are destructive secrets being kept, but in the end, the family is able to work together to get back on the right track.
Strengths: There are very few books dealing with perceptions of black complexion (I can only think of Flake's The Skin I'm In (2007) and Magoon's Camo Girl (2011)), and it's good to see a new one. The feeling of Detroit and its environs is very strong and well done. Genesis' attempts to solve her family's difficult problems are heartbreaking, but also very realistic. It's nice that she has a supportive teacher at school. While the conversation about complexion with her grandmother is cringeworthy, it's also historically accurate and very interesting. It's good that Genesis' mother has a more modern approach to the question.
Weaknesses: Skin color prejudice within ethnic populations is something I know nothing about. It did seem a bit odd, however, to have Genesis' father, who was a very, very poor example of a father, be the one with the very dark skin. It would have been much more interesting to have him have the lighter complexion, and the opinionated grandmother to be the one who was darker!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing a copy, although I wish it were a little shorter. It's definitely a middle school book, but 400 pages is about twice the length that the average middle school reader is apt to pick up willingly!

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Dragon Pearl

Lee, Yoon Ha. Dragon Pearl
January 15th 2019 by Rick Riordan Presents
E ARC from Netgalley

Min lives on Jinju, a rather run down planet. Her family are shapeshifting fox spirits, so they keep to themselves, since humans are not overly friendly to them. Other supernatural creatures seem to be afforded more patience for their magic, but Min has not taken her fox form for many years because her mother is so afraid of their magic going wrong. Her fears are realized when an inspector comes to their house with the news that Min's brother, Jun, who is in an elite space academy, has deserted his post, possibly in an attempt to locate the coveted Dragon Pearl, which could immediately terraform planets and help civilization. Min upsets both the inspector and her mother when she shapeshifts, and fearing both for her brother and for herself, she runs off to try to find him. In the biggest city on her planet, she runs into a relative who runs a gambling parlor, and is able to make some crafty bargains to get her onto a space ship. She gets on the Red Azalea ship, but it is involved in an accident that kills a young crew member, Jang. Min uses a charm to make the crew of the ship that picks them up, the Pale Lightning, think that she has died, but that Jang has not, and assumes his shape in exchange for promising to find out more about who caused his death. The Pale Lightning was the ship on which her brother served, so Min starts her investigation into where he might be. The captain of the ship is a lion shape shifter who seems a bit suspicious, and Min finds out some important information about her brother. With some of the other crew members. she devises a plot to get to the Ghost Planet where the Dragon Pearl reportedly has been hidden, and while in the process, finds out the answers to many of her questions.
Strengths: This had a definite Star Trek vibe, with its space adventure and exploring new worlds, which is fantastic! Yes, Min had a sad impetus to set her on her journey, but I loved her take charge attitude and her fearlessness in the face of all of her obstacles. There are enough details about the space travel and being on a ship to delight the readers who want such details, and this is woven in nicely with the fox shape shifters and other elements of Korean mythology. Wasn't sure these two would mesh, but they do! Great for readers who liked Fry's Hunt for the Hydra (2014) or McDougall's Mars Evacuees (2015).
Weaknesses: There could have been a bit more explanation about the Korean mythology, especially the way that ghosts interact with living creatures.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, but it would be nice if this were a stand alone and not a series. More of my students would read speculative fiction occasionally if they didn't have to commit to a five book series of 400 page books!

Monday, January 07, 2019

MMGM- The Friendship War

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

37693659Clements, Andrew. The Friendship War
January 8th 2019 by Random House Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

When Grace visits her grandfather in Massachusetts, they tour an old clothing factory that he has bought to renovate and turn into shops. Grace is allowed to take items she finds home with her, and when she finds boxes of buttons, she asks to have them all... all 24 cases of them! Her grandfather agrees and ships them to her house. When school starts, Grace is a little apprehensive because she hasn't seen her best friend, Ellie, all summer. Ellie is very enthusiastic and talkative, and wants to tell Grace all about her fabulous summer and all of the great new clothes she has gotten. Grace is a bit weary of always having to support Ellie, especially since she never seems to care about what Grace has done, so she decides to bring in some buttons to school. Ellie, of course, tries to upstage her. To her surprise, her fellow classmates seem very interested, and soon a huge button fad has started. Ellie starts making the buttons into bracelets, and trading them for fancier buttons. Another classmate has a very cool button, and Grace gets into the middle of the trade... and makes a better offer so that Ellie loses the button. This sets off a fight between the two girls. Luckily, Hank is very interested in the buttons, and he and Grace start hanging out together, research buttons and having fun together. Grace goes through her own family's buttons, and even asked her grandfather is she can have whatever buttons her grandmother, who recently passed away, might have had. Hoping to calm the fad down, Grace takes a lot of buttons to school and spreads them on the lawn, with the thought that an oversupply of buttons will lessen demand. This backfires, but Grace owns up to her actions. Will she be able to put things right with Ellie?
Strengths: This was a clever way to address fads in school. There always seems to be one around, doesn't there? As someone who has three glass jars of buttons, some dating back quite some time, this seemed completely realistic to me! The fight with Ellie, the budding romance with Hank, and the problems the grandfather is facing are all very realistic. Clements is a master of the school story, and The Friendship War is another great book.
Weaknesses: While I liked the way all of the characters eventually acted, I didn't much care for Grace. There is something half a bubble off about her personality that wasn't very pleasant.
What I really think: I'll probably purchase, since Clements fans come in fairly reliable waves. This is a must purchase for elementary libraries, and will certainly see enough use in a middle school as well.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away

37767551Smith, Ronald. The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away
February 19th 2019 by Clarion Books
E ARC from

Simon lives with his family on an Air Force base in Delaware. His dad is white and his mom is black, but he wishes that everyone just thought of people as humans. After all, the big threat (as everyone knows) is ALIENS. Simon is obsessed with the fact that aliens, particularly the Grays, are going to land on Earth and wreak havoc on the planet. Simon is probably worried about this because he doesn't feel like there is a lot else he can do about his life. His older brother, Edwin, got all the sports genes, and Simon feels his father is disappointed in him. He'd much rather play MMORPGs with his friend Tony, but Tony is in Mexico. Simon also has significant asthma, still wets the bed, and doesn't get along with people at school too well. He is also working on his own epic novel, called Max Hollyoak and the Tree of Everwyn. After a family camping trip, however, Simon is sure that he aliens, in the shape of owls, have attacked him and implanted a chip in his stomach. His parents, concerned about his talk of aliens and his general level of oddness, take him to a psychiatrist who puts Simon on several different kinds of medication. These make Simon feel odd, so he stops taking them without telling his parents. Edwin's girlfriend, Miranda, fans the flames of his alien obsession by taking him to her father's group of people interested in alien abductions, and Simon spends a lot of time obsessing further about the aliens who are supposedly speaking to him. Finally, in a drastic bid to get away from the aliens, he tries to remove the implant from his stomach with scissors. He injures himself badly, and his family is convinced he tried to kill himself. Is Simon hallucinating, or does he have a valid concern about the aliens attacking Earth?
Strengths: I liked that Simon lived on an Air Force base; there should be more books about students from military families. It's also good to see a character who identifies as a "black nerd"; again, not many of these in middle grade literature. There are still some students who believe in aliens, and this was an interesting example of realistic science fiction-- are the aliens real or not?
Weaknesses: Simon is not an attractive character, with his negative attitudes and bed wetting. The whole beginning of the book concentrates on these negative attributes, which make the story start a bit slowly. I also wasn't a fan of Simon's novel being interpolated into the book.
What I really think: I generally like Smith's work, but books about alien invasion (with the exception of the action-packed Falkner's Recon Team Angel books (The Assault, etc.) or Walden's Earthfall trilogy) move very slowly in my library, so I may pass.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Cartoon Saturday- Max and the Midknights

40642963Peirce, Lincoln. Max and the Midnights
January 8th 2019 by Crown Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

Can't quite review this without a spoiler, so if you don't want to know, stop reading right now! Close the browser window! We'll wait.

Okay. Continue at your own peril. You've been warned.

Max must be an apprentice to Uncle Budrick, who travels the country singing and telling tales. Max would rather be a knight, but the customs of Byjovia indicate that family traditions must be honored. When a highwayman attacks the two, they are left without their horse and cart, although Max picks up a dagger their attacker leaves behind. They make it to the town of Byjovia, where Budrick grew up, but things have changed since his time. Instead of Conrad the Kind, the kingdom is ruled by Ghastley, and the people have changed for the worse. When Max is almost thrown into the dungeon as a vagrant, Budrick comes to the rescue but is conscripted to be the king's fool. Luckily, Max is taken aside by Kevyn, whose father is an ostler. Kevyn would rather make books, so he understands Max's desire to become a knight. Kevyn's father, Nolan, summons the retired wizard Mumblin, whose magic has not weathered well. Together, the group tries to fend off attacks from Ghastley and his cohort in crime, the witch Fendra, who were the two behind the death of King Conrad. They are also poisoning the people of Byjovia. Armed with Conrad's dagger and in the company of daring and wily street urchins, can Max uncover the truth and safe the kingdom?
Strengths: Pictures. Fart jokes. Dragons. It's like Monty Python produced a middle grade notebook novel. I...I...I'm not quite sure why I love this so much. Probably because my own personal children would have loved this when they were in first grade, but it will be just as popular in middle school. It was just silly fun. And the twist! The twist is brilliant! (And I managed to write the review without revealing that Max is a GIRL!)(Highlight to read.)
Weaknesses: Paper over board. ARGH! If I were writing this book, I might well have named Ghastley that. Every bit as horrible. Sure, put the most read books in the crappiest binding!
What I really think: I love that Peirce writes books that he wishes he could have read as a child. His artwork in crisp, engaging and happy, and the ratio of text to pictures is just perfect. The stories are goofy on a kid level, but also amusing to adults. Definitely would not mind more titles about Max.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, January 04, 2019

The Unteachables

Korman, Gordon. The Unteachables 
January 8th 2019 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Mr. Kermit is entering his 30th year of teaching, and he's already put in for early retirement. He started his career full of grand ideals and enthusiasm, but a testing scandal over 25 years ago sucked the life out of him, and he spends his days handing out worksheets and doing the crossword while drinking coffee from a huge cup called "the toilet bowl". In order to push him to quit even earlier, the evil superintendent assigns him to a special class with a handful of students who are "unteachable". These include Elaine and Aldo, who both have anger management issues, Parker, who has severe dyslexia, and Rahim, who is artistically inclined but often sleeps in school because his father has band practice in the garage until late. Enter Kiana, who is staying with her father and his new family while her mother works on a movie, and who blunders into the class by accident and stays because she is intrigued. Next door, a perky new teacher, Emma Fountain, alarms Mr. Kermit because she is the daughter of his former fiancé, and she is filled with all sorts of warm and fuzzy classroom plans. She brings in Jake Terranova, who started the cheating scandal but who is now a successful car salesman. He invites the class to visit his dealership and repair shop, and the class starts to take off and actually learn things. Some of Mr. Kermit's old fire returns, but when the superintendent makes the numbers look like he is ineffective, his job is on the line. The students try to rally and enter a project for the science fair hoping to save their now beloved teacher, but they are not successful. Will something happen to save the day?
Strengths: This had a nice ensemble cast, and portrayed students struggling with different issues realistically. Kiana was an especially fun character. I really did adore Mr. Kermit, and could completely sympathize with his burnout (I'm only in year 20, but I can still understand), and the backstory with him and Ms. Fountain's mother was sweet. The use of Mr. Kermit's car was particularly intriguing. Parker and his ability to drive on a provisional license to help with his grandmother and the family farm will be interesting to students. A solid, funny novel with deeper issues.
Weaknesses: I love Korman's work, but the tone and topic of this seemed like it was from the 1990s and strained my credulity. I can't believe a teacher would get away with such classroom behavior today, and if he was that ineffectual, the superintendent could have built a case and fired him long ago. I was glad that the principal was a decent human being. Also, the incident with the vuvuzelas (plastic party horns) was okay, but the word was overused. It sounded to me more like a climbing vine and distracted me!
What I really think: I will buy this anyway, as it will appeal to readers who like school stories from multiple perspectives, like Wonder and Because of Mr. Terupt.

This is what I pictured the Coco Nerd (Chrysler Concorde) as looking like!

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Clash of Beasts (Going Wild #3)

McMann, Lisa. Clash of Beasts (Going Wild #3)
October 2nd 2018 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Charlie, Mac, and Maria are back, having defeated Dr. Gray's army in Predator Vs. Prey. Kelly and Miko, however, remain in Gray's clutches, not wanting to give up their powers and believing the scientist is trying to save the world. Using their powers and suits, the group is trying to get more animal DNA from zoos to further improve the animal qualities of the army, but when they go to Mexico to visit a zoo there, they run into trouble and the Wildes find out where they are. Maria's grandmother in Puerto Rico asks her and her friends to come to help clean up after the hurricane, and the group's animal powers come in handy there. Eventually, Kelly and Miko realize that Gray is actually completely demented and wants to turn everyone in the world into an animal hybrid, so they look into ways to escape. It's not an easy task, so they are glad when Charlie et al. show up to help them. An epic battle ensues, and Gray has two major plans; a mist machine filled with the chimera formula that he hopes will turn everyone into chimerae, and a final, last ditch attempt to turn into one himself. Will this be enough for him to win the battle, or will the good guys prevail?

The Going Wild series is jam-paced with two things; scenes of fighting and action, and lots of details about the capabilities of animals. The children are part howler monkey, alligator, cuttlefish, etc. and have all kinds of amazing powers, including the power to hypnotize groups of people. These powers, especially the water and strength ones, are best put to use in Puerto Rico, but the children seem to enjoy playing with changing shapes. Of course, it's a good thing that the bracelets that control the changes stay in the control of the Wildes and not Dr. Gray, so that the children can eventually be turned back.

Even though the reason for visiting zoos is evil (snatching bits of the animals to get their DNA; you'd think scientists would have a more elaborate method!), it's fun to go to a variety of venues and read descriptions of the animals' environments and the qualities that Dr. Gray hopes their DNA will bring to the characters. I'm just glad I'm not Miko, with her fuzzy face that she has to hide under a hoodie!

McMann's The Unwanteds is a hugely popular series in my library, so this final Going Wild volume will be appreciated by fans of those books as well as those who enjoyed stories like Patterson's The Angel Experiment (2005) and Applegate's enormously long Animorphs series (1996).

Have to say that this series has not circulated very well. It's a bit on the didactic side, and the information about animals ventures into infodump territory from time to time, slowing down the action. I never quite connected with any of the characters, although I did enjoy the parents most of the time. (Had trouble believing they would have sent the children to Puerto Rico alone, though.) A good choice where fantasy books are popular, but a bit of a hard sell with my students.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA

Here's a fun fact: Our sixth graders, in the absence of Accelerated Reader this year, are doing book projects to reinforce their RACES writing skills. Since I don't like to ask students to do things I am not willing to do (E.G. One nine weeks, I managed to accumulate 500 AR points. I've also been Philo T. Farnsworth and Ruth Wakefield for biography wax museums and completed countless other projects for a variety of subjects), I asked one teacher for the assignment. Having read the following book the night before, I used my lunch time to answer eight questions on this book according to the rubric. I need to see if it's been graded yet!

The point being: if you read enough and WRITE enough, it is very easy to complete assignments. And if you have no idea what RACES writing is, it's okay to ask 8th graders to give you some hints.

Are you finding school tough, O Middle School Students? It's okay to practice writing on your own even if you have no assignments! When I was in 8th grade, I wrote an entire, horrible 320 page novel! On a 1958 Smith-Corona electric typewriter, no less.

My favorite example of training kicking in is when I wrote a perfect five paragraph essay on Sci Fi Junior High.

And yes, I did indeed read six books yesterday. And I ran two miles towards a 100 mile challenge. Well begun is half done!

40004363 Woods, Brenda. The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA
January 8th 2019 by Nancy Paulsen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

For his twelfth birthday, Gabriel gets a brand new Schwinn bicycle, but almost comes to grief after running a red light. Luckily, a man pushes him out of the way of the oncoming car and saves him. Meriwether Hunter also helps fix the bike, and since he does such a good job and Gabriel's father is in need of a mechanic at his auto repair shop, Gabriel offers to talk to his father. The one snag? It's 1946 in South Carolina, and Mr. Hunter is black. Both of Gabriel's parents went to Oberlin college and are considered progressive in their beliefs about race, but the other mechanic, Lucas, is very mean and rumored to be a member of the KKK. It is arranged that Mr. Hunter will work at the garage, but his shift will start after Lucas' ends. Since Gabriel is grounded from riding his bike for two weeks, he offers to help out at his father's garage. His father agrees, knowing that Gabriel wants to watch out for Mr. Hunter. In their talks, Gabriel finds out about the man's past. During World War II, Mr. Hunter was in the army, but returning black soldiers have been warned that letting whites know about their service and medals could put them in danger. When a poisonous snake is left on the Hunter's porch and nearly kills his daughter, other members of the community help him arrange to go to Detroit to work in the auto industry there.
Strengths: This has a lot of good details about what daily life was like in the South at this time. I especially enjoyed Gabriel's cousin, Tink, who uses lots of amusing slang. Gabriel's family are good people trying to make the best of an unpleasant social construct, and make change when they can. The mentions of the Green Book, the guide blacks used to navigate restaurants, service stations and motels in the South, was especially interesting. This was a good balance for middle school readers who don't know much about race relations in the South at this time-- it doesn't hide the bad things, but it isn't as dire as it could be.
Weaknesses: There are a large number of books about this time period that are told from the point of view of white children, and I would like to see more from the point of view of black ones.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, although the cover looks a bit too cheery for the content.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Lost in the Antarctic: The Doomed Voyage of the Endurance

Happy New Year! Nothing like starting off a new year by taking a look at the worst possible things that can happen to people! Lost in the Antarctic makes that blown radiator, torn ACL, or leak in the attic seem like small potatoes. Here's to an excitement free 2019!

Olson, Tod. Lost in the Antarctic: The Doomed Voyage of the Endurance
January 1st 2019 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Ernest Shackleton was both fortunate and unfortunate-- he wasn't able to be the first explorer to set records on either pole, but he was on three very harrowing expeditions where he could easily have died, but didn't. After losing the race to the South Pole to Roald Amundsen, Shackleton decided he would cross Antarctica from sea to sea. Unfortunately, the Endurance became trapped in the ice and had to be abandoned. Far from civilization, the men took their provisions and survived on the ice, eventually got into life boats and headed toward Elephant Island when the water was clear enough. Olson does a fantastic job writing engaging, narrative nonfiction, and readers who enjoy survival stories will love this one.
Strengths: This was a page-turner. Olson knows just what details to include to keep readers on the edge of their seats, and his narrative moves along so smoothly. If students got their hands on more nonfiction like this, I think they would like it more. There are occasional pictures and maps, but this reads very much like a novel. Olson's Lost in the Amazon: A Battle for Survival in the Heart of the Rainforest is on our 6th grade Battle of the Books list, and readers seem to be enjoying it.
Weaknesses: This whole series is so well-researched that I would love to have nice, hard bound copies for the library. They don't circulate a lot, but will be mildly popular for years. With paperbacks, evern prebinds, the paper begins to be very unpleasant after about 15 years. I know, I know. Publishing is about making money, not about making me happy!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and recommending to students who loved the Wallaces' Bound by Ice.