Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Cog

Van Eekhout, Greg. Cog
October 1st 2019 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Cog looks like an ordinary twelve year old boy, but he is an advanced android that the scientists at uniMind use to watch learning (cognitive development) behavior. He lives with Gina, who functions as his mother and sets him to do certain tasks so she can watch how he handles them. Often, he does not calculate the entire impact of his actions (like saving a chihuahua from being hit by a truck by getting in front of the truck), which makes him very much like the average middle school student! When his latest exploit leads to him being returned to corporate headquarters, he is not happy there, especially since Nathan, one of the scientists, wants to alter his "mind". With the help of Trashbot, Proto the  robotic dog, a computerized auto named Car, and his sister, ADA, Cog breaks out of uniMind and sets off on a mission to find Gina. Cog seems to have odd powers that can occasionally control other robots, which is why uniMind wants to study him, so they are of course in hot pursuit. The group of gizmos gets into all sorts of scrapes along the way, many involving the unwise use of Car! ADA turns out to be a destructive/offensive unit, so has some untold depth of weaponry and tactics hidden within her system, which helps the group evade capture for a while, but they are eventually brought in by the police. When Nathan arrives to take them back to headquarters, Cog knows that he doesn't have their best interest at heart. Will Cog be able to prevent his brain being probed for the unknown X-Module that gives him extra capabilities?
Strengths: Cog is a fun character, and books with road trips, especially when it's escaping evil scientists, are always in demand. I loved ADA and her latent destructive capabilities! This is a book that had my children read it when they were young, they would have gone around acting like Cog and reenacting scenes from the book! Readers who enjoyed Pattersons House of Robots or Richards' Robots Rule! series will enjoy this one.
Weaknesses: Cog talked like a robot and sometimes doesn't seem to understand the human world. This is used well for humorous effect, but wouldn't a cognitive development model be better used interacting with other children from the beginning and becoming fluent in their language? The target demographic won't get this, but I kept thinking about it, mainly because of the "robots" currently in use in people's homes that are programmed to interact vocally, like Siri and Alexa.
What I really think: Van Eekhout does great middle grade science fiction books, including Voyage of the Dogs, The Boy at the End of the World (2011),  and Kid vs. Squid (2010). My readers who like robots tend to want more serious books about them, so I'm debating this one even though I would definitely purchase it for an elementary library.

Monday, December 09, 2019

MMGM- Into the Blizzard

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.


Tougias, Michael J. Into the Blizzard: Heroism at Sea During the Great Blizzard of 1978 [The Young Readers Adaptation] (True Rescue Series) 
December 10th 2019 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

There are few things I like saying more than "Back during the blizzard of '77..." because it makes me feel a thousand years old. I also vividly remember a show hosted by Leonard Nimoy called In Search Of that had an episode entitled The Coming Ice Age. How things can change in 40 years! Now, global warming is much more of a threat, but for those of us who can recall having to climb out of a second story window to get out of the house to shovel the front door open (okay, I didn't have to, but my cousin did!), the next ice age seemed much more likely for a while.

I don't remember this incident involving an oil tanker off the coast of Massachusetts, but I do have a small group of readers who like this author's True Rescue Series. I bought A storm too soon : a remarkable true survival story in 80-foot seas, but have to admit that both of these were VERY heavy going for me. There are so many people involved, and so many details about particular events, and I also found them a bit slow, despite the adventurous nature. There are a lot of Young Readers' Editions of adult fiction, and some work better than others. For readers who are really interested in the topic, these are great books, but the earnest adult concentration on the intricacies of the situation might be harder for less sophisticated readers (like me!) to connect to this title. I will purchase this for those who like narrative nonfiction, since it will circulate steadily for a long time.

Plus, any time I hand it to someone, I get to say "Back during the blizzard of '77..."

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Jelly

Cotteril, Jo. Jelly
January 7th 2020 by Yellow Jacket
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Angelica feels a bit awkward in her school, so she acts out by being the class clown. It seems to work-- before the mean kids can make the joke, she makes it, so she doesn't look like a victim. Home life is a little rough; her mother tends to date men who treat her badly, and the writing is on the wall for the latest boyfriend. Jelly (as she is known) tries to help her mother out as best she can, not complaining about things and trying to appease her difficult grandfather. When a school talent competition is announced, Jelly thinks she will do a stand up comic routine, but she secretly writes angsty poetry that helps her deal with her life. When her mother's new boyfriend, Lennon, starts to encourage Jelly to play harmonica and share her poetry (even turning one into a song), she starts to think that perhaps overcompensating with comedy is not necessary.
Strengths: This was a body positive title with a strong main character who had good coping skills. While Jelly is heavier than most of her classmates, she is also portrayed as a strong soccer player, and the story doesn't concentrate on her weight. The thing I liked best was her having to deal with her mother's boyfriends, and her sense of loss when her mother breaks up with Lennon, if only for a while. Adults coming and going from tweens lives is not covered much in literature, and can be fairly traumatic.
Weaknesses: This has been compared to Judy Blume because of its frank discussion of periods; that was my least favorite part of Blume's book, especially as a tween. I am also personally not a fan of poetry written by characters in books.
What I really think: There's been a resurgence in interest in my Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson titles, so I will be purchasing this very British feeling story. I think the cover will age well. Now, if I could just get the Louise Rennison Georgia Nicholson books to circulate!
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Olga: Out of Control

Gravel, Elise. Olga: Out of Control (Olga #3)
Published September 24th 2019 by HarperCollins
Library copy

Olga's creature Meh has had a litter of babies, and Olga is quite busy cleaning out the refrigerator so the new family can nest there. She enlists her crew of friends to help, which is a good thing, because as the babies grow they wander a lot and poop rainbow poop everywhere! Before long, Awesome magazine wants to do a photo shoot with the babies and Olga, and a lot of pink and glitter is involved. She is also worried about Mu being edged out from his food, and is concerned about all the press her creatures are receiving. Luckily, she and her friends study want might be wrong with Mu and nurse him back to health, and Awesome magazine sends a big care package of things to help take care of the large brood.
Strengths: For my readers who have 25 bookmarks of Tabby Cats (by the way: don't do this. It can interfere with other Chrome functions!), this is a natural choice for cuteness. There are more pictures than Wimpy Kid and a Comic Sans style font, so it's an appealing balance. Olga has good friends, but also has to deal with popular girl (the Lalas) who challenge her a bit. The pets are a bit odd, but amusing.
Weaknesses: Keeping the babies in the fridge skeeved me out a bit, especially when they described how dirty the fridge was. Does Olga not have parents? We don't see them.
What I really think: I buy these and display them by the graphic novels, trying to tempt my students to read something with a few more words. These are not my personal favorites, but they circulate well enough.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, December 06, 2019

Stick Cat: Two Cats to the Rescue

Watson, Tom. Two Cats to the Rescue (Stick Cat #5)
September 24th 2019 by HarperCollins
Library copy

Stick Cat and Edith are enjoying their life in the suburbs, and have their new morning routine down- scamper out of the Door of Freedom in Goose and Tiffany's kitchen, climb trees, and watch the sun rise. They also enjoy hanging out with Millie, who is just starting to walk and whose favorite place is under the kitchen table, while breakfast is being made. One day, Millie heads out the Door of Freedom when Tiffany goes out to runs errands and thinks Goose is watching her-- while Goose thinks Tiffany has taken Millie with her. Stick Cat knows he must stay with the small human and keep her safe, and since Millie is Edith's favorite person, she goes along, although Edith's idea of being helpful is not fantastic. It is up to Stick Cat to keep Millie safe, and he gets help in the end from Stick Dog and his friends.
Strengths: Stick Cat has really upped his game, and Edith is becoming ditzier and ditzier, making this the funniest book of all. No, it's not great that Millie is outside alone, but the cats keep her safe. The way that Stick Dog helps get her home is brilliant. I love that Watson makes Millie's adventure seem absolutely possible. So much fun!
Weaknesses: Sadly, Goose and Tiffany never find out how brave Stick Cat is!
What I really think: I recently purchased a Perma Bound set of all of these titles, because they are the perfect read for 8th graders who are having a bad day. I've even checked them out to teachers!
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, December 05, 2019

The Fear Zone

Alexander, K.R. The Fear Zone
September 3rd 2019 by Scholastic Inc.
Copy checked out from The Ohio Digital Library

It's Halloween, and several young people get a creepy message to meet in the cemetery at midnight. Four of them are friends; April hates clowns and Andres hates sharks. Kyle hates snakes (mainly because his abusive father raises them), and Deshaun hates ghosts. The other girl who shows up, Caroline, has a darker past than the others, and is mortally afraid of being buried alive. After the visit to the cemetery, when the kids all dug in the dirt around a marked grave, and Caroline finds a small box with a clown on it, all of the kids are afraid, not sleeping well, and starting to hallucinate any number of terrible things. Even though they tell themselves that bad dreams can't hurt them, they feel that there is something more sinister and menacing at play, and unless they can figure out what, it will spell doom for them all. Will they be strong enough to face up to their fears and put an end to the forces of evil they unleashed in the graveyard?
Strengths: This has a great feel for what middle grade readers want-- scary, R.L.Stine like plots with breathless, cliff-hanger chapter endings. This even plays with the text on the page, breaking up lines and creating an even more angsty feel. To an adult, the kids' fears about sharks, snakes, clowns, etc. seem a little silly, but the story is compelling. This author's The Collector has done well, but has a creepy doll, and some of my students will NOT read books with creepy dolls!
Weaknesses: A bit weak on WHY the evil spirits are released, but this isn't that essential.
What I really think: Every middle school librarian needs to buy at least two prebind copies to hand to students who have a hankering for Stephen King's It. It's not the same, but at least they'll have a mildly creepy read with a cover that will give their friends nightmares!

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Stargazing

Wang, Jen. Stargazing. 
September 10th 2019 by First Second
Public library copy

Christine's family is active in the local Chinese community, and when Moon Lin and her mother need a place to stay, they clean out a small cottage on their property where her grandfather had lived. Moon is rumored to have some anger issues, so Christine is a bit leery of befriending her, but is eventually won over by her infectious enthusiasm from everything from nail polish to K-Pop. This is a welcome break from the strictures of her own family, where studying hard and being serious are very much valued. The two become friends, and Moon confides in Christine that she sees visions and really is from outerspace. Eventually, Moon becomes more popular, attracting the attention of Madison, a girl whom everyone likes, and making Christine anxious. She leaves Moon's notebook out at a party, and when people make fun of her, Moon becomes violent and then passes out. Once the reasons for this are discovered and must be dealt with, Christine feels bad about how she treated her friend, but also anxious that her friend may change.
Strengths: This offers a nice picture of a close knit community-- I especially liked the Chinese school Christine's mother ran. Moon has good qualities and bad ones, and while Christine doesn't like all of the rules her parents has, she seems to understand why they have them. These shades of gray are fascinating and somewhat unusual in realistic middle grade fiction. The friend drama is also well developed. The illustrations are attractive and colorful, and the cover will definitely appeal to graphic novel fans.
Weaknesses: Yet again, my odd problem with animated noses surfaces. Moon's nose seems impossibly turned up, but it's not as bad as Ignatow's drawing of Julie's nose in The Popularity Papers or the odd colors on the noses in Marsden's Anne of Green Gables graphic novel. Will students care? No.
What I Really Think: Definitely purchasing, and I'm sure it will be a popular title. I would have enjoyed it more as a chapter book, because I felt like there was a lot about Christine that I still didn't know at the end of the book.

Edwards, Gavin. Kindness and Wonder: Why Mister Rogers Matters Now More Than Ever
October 29th 2019 by Dey Street Books
Public library copy

Sure, I read this because I was THE target demographic for Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, but this ended up being a fantastic biography of an amazing television pioneer. I have 6th graders starting research for National History Day, and Rogers would make a fantastic subject for the theme of Breaking Barriers!

The biography section of this is only 142 pages, but it is certainly complete and covers everything from early life to the production of all of Rogers' television programs. There is a second section about how to incorporate Mr. Rogers' philosophies into one's own life, and gives anecdotes about his impact on the lives of a variety of people, but I'm buying this for the biography. As such, it would have been nice to see more photographs, but students will be fine with looking things up online. I know I looked up a lot of key clips after reading about them.

What foresight, to go right from college to working at a television studio in New York City in the early 1950s! And then going back to Pittsburgh and being one of six original employees at WQED in Pittsburgh. The amount of research that he put into children's programming-- wow. Yes, he was an amazingly kind and thoughtful person, but he was also a talented writer and savvy businessman.

Plus, NOTHING in the world makes me cry more than Mr. Rogers. Nothing. I don't cry. I can't type this without crying. Definitely buying a copy of this for my biography section. Age appropriate for middle school, and even has some delicate topics discussed in a circumspect but thorough fashion. (Some of the parodies of Mr. Rogers are discussed in the second section.)

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Christmas in Camelot

Osborne, Mary Pope. Magic Tree House Deluxe Holiday Edition: Christmas in Camelot
October 1st 2019 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

Jack and Annie get an invitation from "M" to spend Christmas in Camelot, which excites them since they haven't heard from Morgan much lately. They manage to travel there without a book, wishing on the letter. Once there, they find out that things are not good in the kingdom, since the joy has all been sucked out of the area. King Arthur and Morgan are both stymied, since the brave knights were unable to travel to the Otherworld to make things right. When the Christmas Knight appears, he insists that Jack and Annie are up to the task. He gives them verses to help them, and sends them on their way. They manage to rescue the knights, but will they be able to bring joy back to Camelot? This is Magic Tree House #29, but Merlin Missions #1.
Strengths: My own personal children adored this series, which starts with Dinosaurs Before Dark (1992). There is something appealing about Jack and Annie being able to travel to different points in history and get home before anyone knows they are gone. It's not a surprise that my daughters also liked Voyagers! These have about the same premise: travel into the past and fix things. These new illustrations, and the larger size, are both very appealing, and I can see this being a great gift for big fans of the series. There are a lot of reasons that this series sells 20,000 copies a week!
Weaknesses: The Merlin Missions always seemed extra trippy to me, and isn't Morgan le Fay somewhat evil in most Camelot stories?
What I really think: I'm having a hard time personally with the publicity information that talks about "parents who grew up with Magic Treehouse and want to share the adventure with their kids", but there is no denying that these are absolute must-haves for all elementary school libraries and classrooms, and public libraries will want to buy multiple copies of this edition to add to their seasonal books.

Monday, December 02, 2019

MMGM- Dog Driven

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.

Johnson, Terry Lynn. Dog Driven
December 3rd 2019 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ARC provided by Blue Slip Media

McKenna's family keeps sled dogs, since her mother was a musher when she was young, and McKenna loves to race. Her mother, however, is busy taking care of her younger sister, Emma, whose sight is limited due to the effects of Stargardt Disease. This is an inherited condition, and McKenna has started to realize the tell tale signs that she herself is developing it. Despite this, she is determined to participate in the Great Superior Mail Run race across the Canadian wilderness because her sister wants her to. McKenna has been hiding her symptoms from her family and friends for months, determined not to be treated with the care her sister is afforded, which signals weakness to her. If she can pretend nothing is wrong, the way people treat her won't change. Still, the race is challenging, and she is beginning to doubt herself. Luckily, when she gets involved in the race, she gets help at various points from two mushers, Guy and Harper. Guy's family has raced dogs for generations, and he hopes to bring business to his father's failing delivery concern by winning the race. Harper's father wants her to win for much the same reason. While Guy enjoys racing, Harper does not. For a long time, McKenna is able to hide her condition from them, but eventually has to tell them when things go wrong with the race.
Strengths: In addition to wonderful details about sled dog racing in the frigid Canadian wilderness, this shows McKenna's realistic internal struggle about her impending dimunition of sight. Part of me thought that no child would fail to tell their parents about a serious health concern, but... the writing made me believe her motivations. I wish there were more books about children not wanting to appear weak! The friendships with Harper, and especially with Guy, were a nice touch, because they were all able to help each other even though they were competing, and helping each other out made the race a more pleasant and successful competition (which reminder me of this track and field event years ago). Even the detail of McKenna's parents having a different reaction to Emma's challenges and fighting about it was oddly interesting. Of course, the excitement and action of the race keeps the health concerns from slowing down the story. Great mix of things!
Weaknesses: There are a selection of historical and modern letters between chapters that didn't seem to add much to the story. Vaguely interesting, but I always wanted to get back to McKenna!
What I really think: My first reaction to reading a book by Johnson is always to think "Wow. She writes a MUCH better survival/dog sled book than Gary Paulsen!" Seriously. Paulsen has untapped depths for humorous books, but Johnson is the new leader of the pack for books set in the Canadian wilderness. I love that most of her books are stand alones, and the covers are always fantastic. I had to buy a replacement copy for Ice Dogs (2014) because it was in tatters. This one will be just as popular, and I loved it in the strange way I loved Butler's 1962 Light a Single Candle.

Beer, Julie and Lin, Chelsea. Brain Candy: 500 Sweet Facts to Satisfy Your Curiosity
October 8th 2019 by National Geographic Society
Copy provided by Media Masters Publicity in exchange for review

This small (6 and 1/2" square) book is packed with all sorts of random information! The brightly colored photographs are enhanced by text, sidebars and additional information in a way that always makes me want to take books like this apart and make them into bulletin boards, even though that would mean having to buy another copy for students to read.

Unlike some of these compendia, Brain Candy isn't thematically arranged; you can open it up anywhere, gobble down a fact, and move on to something else. The topics are interesting, and I found myself filing away information like the fact that Africa is large enough to fit China, India, Eastern Europe AND the US within its borders! A handy index at the back helps to locate information.

There are a number of these National Geographic books, such as Weird But True: Surprising Stories of Every Day Stuff, Weird But True USA and Weird But True Christmas that make great gifts and are handy to keep in the car for long rides. Who knows what SAT question children might be able to answer just because they spent long hours poring over these random facts!
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Twinchantment

Allen, Elise. Twinchantment
April 9th 2019 by Disney-Hyperion
Public library copy

Flissa and Sara are twin princesses born into a kingdom where their very existence goes against the dictates preventing magic. Their parents have hidden them well, and since they are identical, they split their public life (going as Flissara) and are thus able to go undetected. When their mother falls ill from a curse that is suspected to have been made by the father of the stable boy, Galric, the girls want to go into the Twists and find the man so he can cancel the curse. They ask Galric to go with them, and set off on an adventure fraught with peril during which they find out many secrets about their own background and their kingdom.

Strengths: Twin stories do well with tween girls; when the world is a difficult place and no one understands, it is fun to pretend to have a twin who "gets" you. The adventure into the Twists is a solid one; it reminded me of Lynee Reid Banks The Farthest-Away Mountain (1976) a bit. This was fast paced and easy to follow. The sequel, Untwisted, comes out in April 2020.
Weaknesses: I kept waiting for the girls to make efforts to bring magic back to their kingdom, but this adventure was primarily about saving their family. I kept reading "Galric" as "Garlic".
What I really think: Debating. It's a title I might  buy if I have money left over, but for the present I will recommend Levine's The Two Princesses of Bamarre (2001) instead. I do like seeing the princesses of color on the cover, but the story is a bit uninspired.


Saturday, November 30, 2019

The Changeling King (Estranged #2)

Aldridge, Ethan M. The Changeling King (Estranged #2)
Published October 1st 2019 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by the publisher and Wunderkind PR

After the events of Estranged, Childe has returned to his parents in the World Above and has gone back to being called Ed, and Edmund has returned to rule the World Below and is now called Cinder. Things are calm enough that Cinder invites Ed, his sister Alexis, and their parents to visit the kingdom. The parents find it a lot to take in, and when the father is kidnapped by a troll and the mother must go to rescue him, they are not thrilled about leaving their children there. Cinder knows that the kingdom is his responsibility, and Alexis and Ed find the World Above to be very boring after the adventures that they have had. When the magic starts to weaken in the World Below,  they rally their forces to try to figure out how to restore the kingdom. Ed has to deal with the former queen, who has returned, and still treats him more like a bauble than a son. Alexis is glad to finally learn some magic, although it doesn't always turn out well. Cinder has to navigate the difficult role of ruler while fighting against traitors and figuring out his feelings for Fawntine. Working together, the siblings manage to restore the magic, but in a very unusual way that will make the next book, should there be one, VERY interesting.
Strengths: Like the illustrations in Estranged, these are very beautiful, and even the scenes that are supposed to be dark manage to be light enough to see details, something not all graphic novels can manage. I like the sibling relationship that Alexis has with both of her brothers, and having the parents involved in the beginning adventures was especially welcome. Alexis learning magic made the plot of magic disappearing seem more urgent, and the supporting characters helped to flesh out the story. 
Weaknesses: Poor Ed. He's clearly suffering a lot more than Cinder, but there's too much going on for him to really process all of the abuse he received at the hands of the queen, although it is touched on. That would be a whole book in itself!
What I really think: My graphic novel fans are not as fond of fantasy books, and my fantasy readers don't go for graphic novels, so this series hasn't circulated constantly like Raina Telgemeier's books, but it has found enough readers to make it worthwhile. This just means that the books won't fall apart quite as quickly, which is fine with me!
Ms. Yingling

Friday, November 29, 2019

The Dog Who Lost His Bark

Colfer, Eoin. The Dog Who Lost His Bark
September 10th 2019 by Candlewick Press
Public Library Copy

A small dog is adopted by a family and given to a young boy for Christmas, but things do not go well. The father is rough and mean, and the boy doesn't take to the dog and doesn't treat him well, so the dog eventually ends up in a shelter. When Patrick and his mother and grandfather show up looking for a dog to adopt, the man at the shelter says that this dog requires a lot of care, but Patrick is sure that Oz (as he names the dog) is meant for him. Oz won't bark, and is very scared and reclusive, and also relieves himself in shoes. Through a lot of love and effort, Oz starts to engage more. When Patrick finds out that he and his mother are going to stay permanently with his grandfather because his parents are divorcing (the father is traveling with a band in Australia and has a girlfriend), Patrick wants nothing to do with Oz, since his father is allergic. Eventually, he makes peace with his situation and Oz has a forever home.
https://vote4oz.dog/
Strengths
: This has the most heart wrenchingly cute pictures I have seen in a long time. The story is a good one, and I would have definitely purchased this for my own children when they were young.
Weaknesses: There are many times in the text when the narration has ALL CAPS, which was distracting to me.
What I really think: I'm conflicted, because this is a rather young story, but the pictures are so adorable. I will probably purchase for my readers who love dogs, and who are at a level to enjoy books like Diva and Flea.

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, November 28, 2019

The Becket List

Griffin, Adele. The Becket List
April 2nd 2019 by Algonquin Young Readers
Public library copy

When Rebecca and her family move to the country so that her parents can have a veterinary practice there and also help out with the family store, she decides to start anew and change her name to "Becket". Her parents, as well as older sister Caroline and twin brother Nicholas reluctantly agree. There are a lot of things to get used to at the new house, and Becket is also taking over some of the farm chores from her grandmother, like collecting eggs and feeding the donkey and mule. She longs for a dog other than the elderly Mr. Fancypants, who is fonder of Nicholas, and tries to earn money in a couple of misguided ways. She and Nicholas go to a summer camp at the school, and she tries to make friends with Freida, although this is complicated by the fact that she also talks to Nicholas. By the end of summer, she is feeling more comfortable with her new environs and is looking forward to school.
Strengths: There are not a whole lot of books set on farms, and while the number of families living in rural environments has shrunk a bit, there is still a significant population whose life this sort of book reflects. Becket is ten, which is a great age to live on a farm, and seeing her do chores will fascinate children who do not have any background in that area.
Weaknesses: Becket is a very young ten, and there are a few facets of the book that make it something that students in grades 6 and up won't like-- the way friendships are formed and maintained, her playing with toys, and the way she interacts with her sister, who is going in to 7th grade. Also, Mr. Fancypants is 14. You know how this ends.
What I really think: I would buy this for an elementary library since I enjoyed it a lot, but it is too young for my readers.
Thanksgiving always makes me think of visiting my grandmother at Clarks Dairy Farm. My grandfather Clark died in 1954 of cancer, fighting the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which was built between his barns and his fields; the concession he got was a tunnel under the turnpike for the cows. My uncles all retired from farming in the 1980s and 90s, and it looks like the farm is slowly decaying. I was always a little jealous of my cousins who grew up in the country.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Pickled Watermelon

Schacter, Esty. Pickled Watermelon
August 1st 2018 by Kar-Ben Publishing
Public library copy from Bexley Public Library

Molly's family is heading to Israel for her uncle's wedding in 1986, and she's a bit apprehensive. She wants to meet her grandmother and grandfather, but is worried that spending a month is a foreign country where not everyone speaks English will be difficult. Her younger brother Ben is a bit more excited. Once there, however, she manages to talk to her grandparents a bit, gets used to salad for breakfast and the big meal at lunch time, and is happy to meet her cousins and aunt on their kibbutz and learn about this style of living. She also finds out more about how her parents met when they were both at university, and how the family came to live in the US rather than Israel. In the end, Molly enjoys her stay and is looking forward to sharing the details with her other grandmother.
Strengths: Like Grace Lin's Dumpling Days , Narsimhan's Mission Mumbaior Lai's Listen, Slowly, this is a great story about visiting family in another country. The food, the different ways of doing things, and the reconnecting with relatives is something many students enjoy, even when they spend a lot of time with local relatives. I am fascinated by the idea of a kibbutz-- it makes so much sense, yet is so totally foreign to the US way of thinking. This was a short, interesting read.
Weaknesses: I wish this one had been longer! I would have loved more details of Molly's life in the US, and more details about Israel! Also, for some reason, I had thought this was a graphic novel. It was not.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. It was a short, easy read, and great for students who are interested in Jewish culture. Now I want to go and reread my copy of Sally Watson's Other Sandals (1966)!
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

All the Colors of Magic

Zinck, Valija. All the Colors of Magic
December 3rd 2019 by Chicken House
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Penelope and her mother and Granny Elizabeth live in a well-loved cottage in the English Countryside. Penelope's father left the family a long time ago, but promised to always provide for the family. When her mother is injured in an accident and has to spend a long time in the hospital recuperating, Penelope wakes up one morning to find her normally gray hair a brilliant red, her energy restored, and the omnipresent smell of smoke gone. Her friends, Tom and Pete, are supportive of her new look, and her teacher, Mr. Potts, is nice as well. It turns out that both Penelope and her father have some magic powers; for instance, Penelope often hears her mother say things a bit before she actually says them. She doesn't get a lot of information about her background from the adults in her life, although Granny Elizabeth does give her a book that contains a recipe for a healing potion that she would like Penelope to make. Penelope tries to teach herself to fly, has conversations with a road that also helps her transport her grandmother, and meets another girl who is like her. Eventually, she decides to go to find her father, since she is mad at him for leaving and for recently sending sand instead of money. When she gets to the town where he is, she finds out the real reason he left, and tries to help him be able to return home.
Strengths: Despite the bad things that happen to Penelope (mother in hospital, father having left), this had a warm, cozy feel to it. I think a lot of elementary students really believe that one morning they will wake up with magic powers, and they would love a book about a a girl teaching herself to fly. I liked that Tom and Pete are good friends, and that the grandmother is there to take care of her.
Weaknesses: A little slow and long; there were a lot of good elements, but this might be more of an elementary book than a middle grade one.
What I really think: Debating. I love British books, but my students are less thrilled by them.

Ms. Yingling

Monday, November 25, 2019

MMGM- City of Ghosts


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.

Schwab, Victoria. Tunnel of Bones (Cassidy Blake #2)
September 3rd 2019 by Scholastic Press
Library copy

Cassidy's parents are hosts of a ghost hunting show. After staying in Scotland for City of Ghosts, they are off to Paris. At first, it doesn't seem like a city that would have many ghosts, but when Cassidy tours the catacombs underneath the city, she and Jacob (her ghost best friend) are able to travel past the veil... and also raise a poltergeist. With phone in tech support from Lara, Cassidy starts to investigate Thomas Laurent, who seems to be haunting her. This, of course, takes her all over the city, and eventually has her asking the descendents of Thomas about his story so that they can send him on his way. The older woman won't talk to her, but Adele, who is about Cassidy's age, helps her to investigate after Cassidy tells her about her ghost hunting abilities. With the combined forces, Cassidy is able to solve the mystery, and is ready to set off on her next adventure. The question, however, remains: how long with Jacob be able to accompany her?
Strengths: The first book in the series has done very well, and was quite scary! The covers are great and appeal to my readers. Cassidy is an unusual character-- she gets to travel around and do cool things, but she doesn't have close friends because of this. The story line with Jacob is one I am looking forward to following.
Weaknesses: Not quite as scary as the first book. Thomas was not as much of a threat as the super creepy Raven in Red.
What I really think: Looking forward to the next book!

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Paws vs. Claws (Queenie and Arthur #2)

Quinn, Spencer. Paws vs. Claws (Queenie and Arthur #2)
September 17th 2019 by Scholastic Press
Library copy

Things are still not quite right at the Blackberry Hill Inn. For one thing, the cow at the Doone's who provided Queenie's cream has gone missing, and when Bro goes to the dairy to find out what has happened, he finds that Jimmy, who is his age, has a black eye. Jimmy has different stories about how this happened, but when his father is found beaten unconscious in their house, the concern shifts to him. Did Jimmy beat his father? He stays with Harmony and Bro for the moment, and their mother is approached by a lawyer with a strange request-- Mr. Doone has said that in the event that something happens to him, Jimmy is to live at Blackberry Hill Inn, and all of the Doone assets will be cared for by them. There is an odd visitor to the inn, Ms. Pryor, who is interested in Catastrophe Falls, which is on Doone property. More and more clues pile up, but the police are mainly interested in locating Jimmy, who has run away. Can the mysteries all be solved by Queenie and Arthur, with a little help from Harmony and Bro?
Strengths: The essential mystery, with Mr. Doone being attacked and his property be sought after, is a good one. The inn is and interesting setting, and Harmony and Bro are great characters.
Weaknesses: This seemed to rely more heavily on the animals' perspectives, which didn't improve the story.
What I really think: I would LOVE to see Peter Abrahams do a straight murder mystery for tweens; I like his style of writing, but the topics are always a bit quirky. Maybe it's just my students who don't like quirky and love murders.


Ms. Yingling

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Superpower Dogs

Peters, Stephanie True. Halo: Disaster Response Dog
March 5th 2019 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Library Copy

Halo is a Dutch Shepherd puppy who is chosen by successful dog trainer Cat because of her curiosity. The dog is trained to work with lots of distractions and be able to sniff out people during times of crisis and help rescue them. We follow Halo's training regimin and also get notes about times that rescue dogs were used historically, and also information about types of breeds used for this work, tips for how to be a dog handler, and some true stories interspersed with Halo's journey. Eventually, Halo is certified and goes to a disaster area with Cat to help save people.
Strengths: This is a great blend of a story with some factual information that my fans of dog books will find fascinating! If you have readers who like Klimo's Dog Diaries, these are a must!
Weaknesses: Even though these are technically 636.73, I think I will shelve them in the fiction section, or my readers won't pick them up.
What I really think: Glad I purchased. These will get checked out the minute they make it onto the new book shelf!

Peters, Stephanie True. Henry:Avalanche Rescue
June 4th 2019 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Library Copy

This book follows Henry, who works with CARDA (Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association). It has full color, glossy stills from an IMAX movie, which makes me wonder if there will be three more books in this series.

This had a lot more factual information, but my readers will still enjoy the story.


Friday, November 22, 2019

Don't Tell the Nazis, The Nazi Sabeteurs

Skrypuch, Marsha Forchuk. Don't Tell the Nazis
December 3rd 2019 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Krystia lives in a small Ukranian village with her mother and her sister Maria in 1941. Her father passed away a few years ago, so she is glad to have uncles, aunts, and cousins in the area. Things are difficult, because the area has been under Soviet occupation, but there is some hope when the Germans liberate the town. Of course, even though there are a few nice Germans, like the man who takes over her father's blacksmith shop, there are a lot of Germans that are not. Maria's mother gets a job working for the local commandant in the big house in town, cleaning and helping with entertainment, and occasionally Krystia and her sister help out as well. The loss of life is horrendous at this period in time-- Krystia's uncle is killed, and shortly after, her cousin is as well. The Germans also call together groups in the town, then march them into the woods, shoot them, and push them into mass graves. All of this activity convinces Krystia to try to hide things from the Nazis, such as sending the family cow to live with an aunt in the country. She also gets involved with resistance work. It's very dangerous, since the Germans who have been displaced from other areas are given places to live in her town, but she feels strongly that she must try to work against the enemy. Eventually, the Jews in town are all sent to one neighborhood and cordoned off. Krystia gets food to her friends there whenever she can. When her friend Dolik's father is killed and his mother is sent away, her family takes him in, with two other people, and hides them under the stove in the house. Eventually, they are found out, and Krystia's mother is hung for her role in this. This just makes Krystia more determined to fight against the Nazis, and she joins an aunt who works for the resistance and lives in the forest.
Strengths: I love how Skrypuch bases her stories on those told by actual survivors, and how they cover facets of the Holocaust about which I have never read. The details of the privations are something I always find interesting; things like the small amounts of food people ate, how hard it was to get clothing, and how difficult is was to go about daily life with the Nazis watching every move are all things I think it's important for students to know. There are just enough characters to get a good feel for Krystia's extended family and her village, and it's interesting to see characters like the German mother and daughter who move to the town because they are displaced.
Weaknesses: The mother's death was depicted in a rather disturbing way. This is not a bad thing, necessarily, but I didn't expect it due to the off camera nature of most of the other deaths.
What I really think: I am definitely purchasing this, but will try not to hand it to some of the more sensitive souls in my school because of the mother's death. Realistic, but a bit abrupt and shocking.

Seiple, Samantha. Nazi Saboteurs: Hitler's Secret Attack on America
December 3rd 2019 by Scholastic Nonfiction
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

During WWII, the Nazis planned sabotage attacks on a variety of US manufacturing, transportation and other locations that were crucial to the US war effort. Due to human error and frailty, these were never made. Seiple follows the plans of George Dasch and his compatriots in a tale that should have been made into a 1960s WWII comedy (yes, this was actually a thing, youngsters) starring Werner Klemperer, Roy Kinnear, and Arte Johnson.

Dasch was born in Germany, but lived for twenty years in the US. He was disgruntled; even though his parents sacrificed so that he could get a good education, the best work he could find in the US was as a waiter. When the war was percolating, he decided to return to Germany and find a way to make himself useful to the government because he preferred to support Germany rather than the US in the war. However, it didn't take long for him to realize that the Nazis were very evil. He continued with the plans, hoping to somehow use his German connections to better his situation in the US. The men who worked with him all had their own reasons for joining, but none of them trusted each other.

From the time the U Boat dropped them off on the coast, things went wrong. They managed to bury boxes of explosives, but left a trail of evidence everywhere. They were also spotted by a civil defense worker whom Dasch should have killed but didn't. They managed to take a train to New York City, where they stayed in luxury hotels and went on shopping sprees and had lunch at fancy places. Dasch realized that they weren't going to be able to go through with their sabotage, so tried to find a way to make things better for himself, which oddly did not involve just running off with the money to a small town in Iowa and spending his life there, which is what I would have done! The comedy of errors continued. Eventually, the entire group was captured and sent to trial, with six of the eight men involved being executed for being spies in a controversial move that denied them a civil trial. This was important when the US had to deal with the perpetrators of 9/11.

This is a fascinating book that covers a little known facet of WWII. It will appeal to a number of readers, and, like all of Seiple's books, is fast paced, short, and easy to read. I did get bogged down in the middle with the ways that all eight men were apprehended, but it was fun to read about their shopping sprees and antics in New York. An automat! We may have a lot of cool technology now, but I wish there were still automats! Definitely purchasing this title.

No, it's not a sign of the apocalypse, but I've worn jeans twice this week. Of course, when I wore them with a navy double breasted blazer, one student asked me why I was wearing a suit. So even when I wear jeans, it doesn't look like I'm wearing jeans.

This is my OSU camouflage. I don't follow the Buckeyes at all, but there's usually a game, right? Ooh. At noon tomorrow. I should go grocery shopping. There's never anyone in the store during a game. 

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Safe Harbour

Kilbourne, Christina. Safe Harbour
November 16th 2019 by Dundurn
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Harbour's father has sent her to Toronto to wait for him while he ties up some loose ends in Florida. The pair have been living on their boat since the violent death of Harbour's mother, and recently her father has refused to leave the boat, having Harbour do all of his errands on land. Now, she is living on crackers and canned tuna while living in a tent with her dog, Tuff. Her father has also warned her that the government is out to get the two of them, so she is wary of everyone. There are some people who are helpful, including a librarian who helps her get a card, and another girl on the streets, Lise, who usually stays at a shelter for teens. The two enjoy hanging out, and Lise is helpful when Harbour's credit card is declined and she no longer is able to pay for food. As winter approaches, the cold becomes more intense, but Harbour is bound and determined to wait for her father. When circumstances indicate that he will probably not make it, she finds some support from an unexpected source and learns some secrets about her past.
Strengths: This hit the sweet spot for problem novels for my students. Harbour's situation is dire, but she is determined to make the best of it, and this has a good dose of adventure in it, with a little danger as well. The inclusion of a dog always helps. The friendship between Harbour and Lise is a supportive one, and the ending is happy without being sappy. Enjoyed the Boxcar Children vibe of this very much.
Weaknesses: This is only available in paperback or e copy. Drat.
What I really think: I'll have to stick with Pyron's Stay for a similar story for my students, but I would definitely buy this if it were available in a hard cover or prebind.


Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Titles I didn't have the wherewithal to review properly.

Various situations are making it hard for me to focus (including my observation this morning!), so I'm giving myself permission to clean out my TBR without always writing reviews. I'm hoping to recalibrate over winter break and do a better job in 2020!

Titles that don't work in my library might be exactly what you need in yours! Take a look!

Denson, Bryan. Catching a Russian Spy: Agent Les Wiser Jr. and the Case of Aldrich Ames
January 21st 2020 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

DEFINITELY BUYING! Just couldn't remember all of the intricate details to write a full review. My students LOVE Agent Kathy Puckett and the Case of the Unabomber, and I'm looking forward to this whole series.

From Goodreads.com
"Aldrich H. "Rick" Ames was a 31-year veteran of the CIA. He was also a Russian spy. By the time Ames was arrested in 1994, he had betrayed the identities of dozens and caused the deaths of ten agents. The notorious KGB (and later the Russian intelligence service, SVR) paid him millions of dollars.

Agent Leslie G. “Les” Wiser, Jr. ran the FBI's Nightmover investigation tasked with uncovering a mole in the CIA. The team worked night and day to collect evidence—sneaking into Ames' home, hiding a homing beacon in his Jaguar, and installing a video camera above his desk. But the spy kept one step ahead, even after agents followed him to Bogota, Colombia. In a crazy twist, the FBI would score its biggest clue from inside Ames' garbage can.

At the time of his arrest on February 21, 1994, he had compromised more highly-classified CIA assets than any other agent in history.

First in the FBI Files, a true-crime series for middle grade readers that follows FBI agents behind the scenes as they work to keep Americans safe."


Swore, Wendy S. The Wish and the Peacock

February 4th 2020 by Shadow Mountain
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

I enjoyed this book a lot. I loved the details of Paige's family life on the farm, but I have a lot of books where families are losing their farms and don't really need another one, even though this is certainly a painful reality. The cover is also not my favorite. If Swore writes a book about a farm family that is having success, I would definitely purchase it.

From Goodreads.com
"Paige’s favorite family tradition on the farm is the annual bonfire where everyone tosses in a stone and makes a wish. This time, Paige’s specific wish is one she’s not sure can come true: Don’t let Mom and Grandpa sell the farm.

When Paige’s younger brother finds a wounded peacock in the barn, Paige is sure it’s a sign that if she can keep the bird safe, she’ll keep the farm safe too. Peacocks, after all, are known to be fierce protectors of territory and family.

With determination and hard work, Paige tries to prove she can save the farm on her own, but when a real estate agent stakes a “For Sale” sign at the end of the driveway and threatens everything Paige loves, she calls on her younger brother and her best friends, Mateo and Kimana, to help battle this new menace. They may not have street smarts, but they have plenty of farm smarts, and some city lady who’s scared of spiders should be easy enough to drive away.

But even as the peacock gets healthier, the strain of holding all the pieces of Paige’s world together gets harder. Faced with a choice between home and family, she risks everything to make her wish come true, including the one thing that scares her the most: letting the farm go."
 Callender, Kacen. King and the Dragonflies
February 4th 2020 by Scholastic Press
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

This covers lots of topics: grief over the death of a brother, racism in Louisiana, issues of friendship, and a struggling LGBTQIA+ character. It was a lot to process, and the book was understandably slow and sad. The main character also thinks that his deceased brother has turned into a dragonfly, hence the title.

Just not what I need right now, although I have a lot of students ask for LGBTQIA+ titles. I just wish they were happier choices, like Pancholy's The Best At It.

Cala, Caroline. Miss Impossible (Best Bad Babysitters #3)
February 4th 2020 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss.

Yes, students still babysit, and this series is so much fun. (Bad Babysitters really made my day!) Loved this, but Goodreads has a better synopsis at this point!
"Malia, Dot, and Bree are psyched to land their highest paying job yet—until they get to the house and realize they’re babysitting Zelda Hooper, Bree and Malia’s archnemesis since preschool. Babysitting: not just for babies, apparently. And it’s too much money to walk away from . . . so at least there are no diapers?

But all of the babysitting in the world couldn’t prepare the girls for their unusual new charge, and even though Zelda should be the one who’s embarrassed that three girls her age are getting paid to babysit her, she relishes the chance to tease them on her home turf. Is she really evil or just misunderstood? "
Hopkinson, Deborah. We Had to Be Brave: Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport.
February 4th 2020 by Scholastic Focus

E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

The Holocaust Unit our 8th grade does requires a LOT of fiction titles, and I do have students who want to read nonfiction on the topic. This is certainly a fantastic book (everything Hopkinson does is great), but it's on the long side and I may not purchase. It would not see a lot of circulation, so I'll recommend students who need it request it from the public library.


50 Trailblazers of the 50 States: Celebrate the lives of inspiring people who paved the way from every state in America! 
Howard Megdal (Author), Abbey Lossing (Illustrator)
Published November 5th 2019 by Wide Eyed Editions
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus


This was fascinating! You need to buy two copies-- one to put on the shelves, and one to take apart for a bulletin board with a US map. Lots of good information. I may pass, though, because my students always seem to want photographs (when available) of people, and I usually agree.



Ms. Yingling