Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Moon Within

Salazar, Aida. The Moon Within
February 26th 2019 by Arthur A. Levine Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

In this novel in verse, we hear Celi's thoughts as she navigates her life in Oakland, California. Her close knit family watches her closely, and her Mima (mother) is sure that Celi will soon require a "moon ceremony" as puberty descends. Celi doesn't want everyone to know this information about her, but her mother is insistent that her daughter not feel shame about her body in the way that she herself did, but instead embraces a version of an Aztec ceremony to celebrate. Celi also has a crush on Ivan, whom she knows through her community center dancing classes, and she can't get enough privacy to contact him as she would like, since her parents only allow her to use a tablet once a week. Celi's best friend Magda is going through her own changes. Magda is transitioning to Marco, and luckily his parents are understanding of this and frame the change in a way that discusses different types of energy.
Strengths: This was very on-trend in its treatment of gender-expansion, feminist philosophy, and cultural identity while also addressing universal tween issues with parents, friends, crushes, and the changes of adolescence.
Weaknesses: While it's great that this has a lot of Spanish language vocabulary and different types of dancing, etc., my students are unfamiliar with most of these and probably would benefit from a glossary or more explanation within the text.
What I really think: Think of this as a "woke", in verse version of Are You There God, It's Me Margaret. Since I am old enough that I still believe that discussing MANY different topics outside of immediate family, and then in hushed tones, is inappropriate, I am not going to attempt to opine. Novels in verse do not circulate well in my library, so I will probably pass on purchasing.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Bone Hollow

Ventrella, Kim. Bone Hollow
February 26th 2019 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edeleweiss Plus

Gabe is trying to rescue Ms. Cleo's prized chicken from the roof when a hurricane hits and kills him. Since he wakes up and can hear everyone around him, he doesn't quite know that he is dead. His loyal dog, Ollie, remains by his side, but once he starts to roam around and attempt to talk to people, everyone is afraid of him and chases him out of town. Luckily, he meets Wynne, who takes him to Bone Hollow, feeds him, and gets him settled in. It's not easy to be dead but NOT dead, and Wynne tries to show Gabe his new purpose. She has been helping people pass to the other side for many years, ever since her death at a young age, and she's getting tired. Wynne is convinced that Gabe will take over for her, and shows him some of the people she has helped, and the methods she has used. Gabe has had a sad life, losing his parents, sister, and grandparents, so the opportunity to help others, even people who have been mean to him, seems like a possibility, especially since he can keep Ollie with him.
Strengths: This is well written, with an interesting premise and engaging characters. Gabe is a good kid, even though life has dealt him a very difficult hand, and he doesn't hold onto bitterness or resentment. It's good that he is able to keep Ollie with him. Wynne could have been portrayed as an evil character, but instead is quite sympathetic. The world building is solid, with a good description of what Wynne does and how she came to have this role. Auxiliary characters show up at good moments and add to the story line.
Weaknesses: Like Skeleton Tree, this isn't really a scary book, and it had a quirky Southern feel that I never enjoy. Also, since I don't believe that anything at all happens after we die, it was hard for me to feel invested in it.
What I really think: Since Skeleton Tree hasn't circulated too well, I will wait to purchase.
Ms. Yingling

Monday, February 18, 2019

MMGM- Favorite Series, #2

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.


Lerner, Jarrett. Revenge of the EngiNerds (EngiNerds #2)
February 19th 2019 by Aladdin
E ARC from Netgalley


Farting, voracious robots can cause a lot of damage, as Ken learned in EngiNerds. After taking care of most of them, Robot 18 is still on the loose, and Ken believes he is responsible for the satellites falling from the sky and a number of grocery store break ins. His friends John Henry, Jerry, and Edsley are not as convinced, and are less than motivated to help him locate the robot. In fact, they are so enthralled with alien-obsessed Mikaela and her gadgets that none of them but Edsley help Ken out. After his dog, Kitty, runs off and forages under the dumpster at Stuff & Things, which sets off the Data Eater that Ken is returning to Mikaela, Ken finds the robot, who is working as a clerk for Stan and calling himself Klaus. Ken narrowly escapes both the wrath of Stan (the owner of the store who hates kids) and Klaus' shooting of food cubes, and retreats to form a plan without his friends. He decides to lure Klaus to a local park with the promise of a Festival of Comestibles, and douse him with water so he is deactivated. Parts of the plan work, but the other EngiNerds, along with Mikaela, are at the park. Luckily, they are willing to help Ken and Edsely fend off the robot, which results in the most epic food fight in middle grade literature. However, more surprises are on the horizon, and Mikaela, who has earned herself the title of EngiNerd, might not be as wrong as Ken has imagined.
Strengths: The appearance of Mikaela is particularly brilliant. It is completely true to life that the EngiNerds might not get along well with girls, so having a girl appear with gadgets and a confident approach to her own agenda is just a really nice touch. The fact that Dan and Ken have sort of a falling out, and Ken has to hang out with Edsely, who is sort of that "why am I friends with this person" acquaintance, is also completely reflective of the middle school experience. Of course, those are not the things that the average middle grade reader will appreciate. They will be enthralled by the farting robots and aliens on the loose, as they should be, but I'm glad that the relationship dynamics are carefully inserted into the plot. I also loved the parents, who are around just enough to warn Ken not to throw up on his shoes. This was a fun, quick read, and a worthy follow up to the first book.
Weaknesses: CLIFFHANGER ENDING! Gah! Now I have to wait for the next book!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and will look forward to see how the characters get along in the next volume, and how the alien/robot threat will be dispatched by our resourceful and talented crew.
Falatko, Julie and Jack, Colin (illus.)
Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Start a Club by Accident
January 29th 2019 by Scholastic
Public Library Copy

Sassy and Waldo still love going to school (What? You haven't read Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go To School? GO DO THAT RIGHT NOW!) in order to make sure that their boy, Stewart, is safe. Of course, they also enjoy lunch (Meat! Cheese! Meat WITH cheese!) and doing homework, and everyone is completely convinced that they are a student named Salty from Liver, Ohio. When Stewart starts attending the Junior Office Supply Enthusiasts Club after school, Sassy and Waldo are willing to give up their naps while they wait for him, especially since they think a club is a sandwich, and sanwhiches are always a good idea. They hang out in the gymnatorium (which goes by several different names!), run in circles, and attract the attention of other children who want to be in a club. Snacks are, of course, the most important thing, but when they find out that the other clubs are making floats (not root beer ones, unfortunately) for the Founders Day celebration, they start putting theirs together, complete with Food Launcher. The parade has some rough edges, but it does bring Arden and her a foster dog, Jeff, closer together. I'm definitely looking forward to Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go on a Class Trip, which comes out 28 May 2019!
Strengths: Oh, my. This made me laugh so much! If it's not squirrels being dislodged from trees with tennis balls, it's the Office Supply Club doing interpretive dance with sticky notes, or "pepperoni hot dog fun" (which sounds like the best reason for a club EVER!). Sassy and Waldo have very distinct voices that sound exactly what my dog would sound like if she could talk. Because she doesn't. Nor does she ever text my daughters using my phone. The pictures add another layer of hilarity-- read this one when no one else is around with plenty of tissues of handy to wipe away the tears of laughter!
Weaknesses: Should we be concerned that the dogs are in the school food cooler gnawing through the plastic on "hunks of cheese the size of a Yorkshire Terrier"? Nyah.
What I really think: My favorite thing to do with these is to hand them to stressed 8th graders. It always makes them smile. These are SO hysterically funny. Don't buy more Wimpy Kid replacements-- buy multiples of these instead!

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Good Enough

37598648Petro-Roy, Jen. Good Enough
February 19th 2019 by Feiwel and Friends
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Riley has been suffering with anorexia ever since an incident in gym class where other students found out her BMI from a teacher, and took to calling her "rancid Riled" and "roly-poly Riley". She started to limit her food and also started to run excessively, which she also hoped would make her faster for track. When her parents and doctor became concerned and she was not able to reverse the downward spiral of her weight, her parents put her in a residential care program. There, she meets other girls who are also dealing with eating disorders. The facility is very strict-- no exercise, a strict diet regimen, no electronics, and a lot of counseling sessions.One girl, Ali, is especially defiant, doing crunches in her bed when the staff can't hear. Riley is torn-- she wants to stay thin, but she wants to go home. The dynamics with her family are not good, but fairly standard-- her sister is "perfect", her mother is busy and controlling, and her father hasn't connected with her since she became a tween. We see a good cross section of behaviors and reactions from the other residents, and Riley slowly works through her problems, although the path is not a linear one. She does manage to go home at the end of the book, and has to learn to apply what she has learned in treatment to her daily life.
Strengths: This is an #ownvoices book, and Ms. Petro-Roy has clearly drawn on her personal experiences to add an extra level of detail and pathos to this story. Riley's thoughts about her weight and her reactions to her parents, the other residents, and her treatment are all thorough and realistic. Add this to the canon of eating disorder books that includes Anderson's Winter Girls, Carlson's Faded Denim, Dee's Everything I Know About You, Levenkron's The Best Little Girl in the World, Lytton's Jane in Bloom, Porter's A Dance of Sisters, and Price's Zoe Letting Go.
Weaknesses: While the details about struggling with an eating disorder are superb, the book would have moved along more quickly if there had been a more well-defined plot other than Riley's struggle with her disorder.
What I really think: I will purchase, and it will circulate because books about eating disorders are always popular. The cover is not attractive at all, though, and I'll have to recommend it in order to get students to pick it up.

Petro-Roy, Jen. You Are Enough
February 19th 2019 by Feiwel and Friends
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

This nonfiction self-help book is an excellent companion to Good Enough.  Again, it is an #ownvoices book, and Petro-Roy draws on her own experiences with an eating disorder to address a number of concerns that people in recovery might have. She is very good about being inclusive about the types of people who might need this information; even though most novels about anorexia depict middle class, white, cis-gendered characters, the reality is that many different people suffer from eating disorders, and this book is sensitive to that. It is also body positive in a very current way.

Since it is a self-help book, it is definitely geared to people who are struggling with eating disorders. There are interviews with fellow suffers and mental health professionals, tons of helpful information, and exercises readers can do to help with the recovery process. I can see this being extremely beneficial to someone working through an eating disorder.

I'm debating purchase, however. Over the years, I have had a large variety of novels concerning eating disorders, and those have circulated well. There is something about reading about the problems of other people that is tremendously soothing to middle school students. It makes them feel that their owe problems are not so horrible. I have also had nonfiction books about problems such as anorexia and cutting, but those have rarely circulated. I think this would be better for a high school library, not because of anything with the content, but because high school students might find this useful in understanding the struggles of others-- helping friends or themselves. I think my middle school students would not make it through the detailed descriptions unless they had an eating disorder, and there have been mercifully few of my students who have had this experience.

I will definitely recommend this book if the need arises, but don't know that I will purchase for the library. I will definitely recommend that my public library purchase this title.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

A Drop of Hope

Calabreese, Keith. A Drop of Hope
February 26th 2019 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Times are tough for many of the students at Rod Serling Middle School in Cliffs Donnelly, Ohio. Ernest, whose father runs a local parts factory, has just lost his grandfather and needs to clean out his attic. Ryan's father, who works at the factory, watches too much television news and makes sure that Ryan does lots of work mowing other people's yards for money, even though Ryan insists on mowing for one elderly lady for free. Lizzy's father has left, and her single mother works long shifts at the hospital, leaving Lizzy in the acre of an aunt and cousins who think she needs a makeover. Tommy's brother went to the military and left behind his tools, which Tommy takes to school to hide so his father doesn't sell them. Winston Patil's father is a well-to-do doctor who has moved the family from Chicago to small town mid-America because he thinks it's charming, but Winston has a hard time fitting in. When Ernest finds a selection of old, mint condition toys in the attic, he feels they need to be shared with others, and after a chance encounter with a couple of classmates at a local well, he starts to do this, with interesting results. Tommy starts drawing, the elderly neighbor notices Ernest's resemblance to his long deceased great-uncle, and others in the town find out surprising things about themselves and others. Encouraged by their outspoken and supportive teacher, the children try to improve their community in small ways, and by working together, form unlikely friendships.
Strengths: The descriptive writing is strong, imparting a strong sense of place, intersting, unique characters, and an overwhelming sense of hope in the face of straightened, but not dire, circumstances. The different threads of the stories were woven together well, and there were lots of touching moments. Teachers looking for a read alouds along the lines of Because of Mr. Terupt will enjoy this one.
Weaknesses: This was a bit on the long side, and was very slow with lots of characters to keep straight.
What I really think: I'm not entirely sure about this one. Since I'm out of money for this school year, I will keep it in my for my August book order.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, February 15, 2019

To Night Owl from Dogfish

Holly Goldberg Sloan and Wolitzer, Meg. To Night Owl from Dogfish
February 12th 2019 by Dial Books
E ARC From Edelweiss Plus

Avery and Bett are very different girls. Avery lives with her architect father in New York City, loves to write, hates gym and swimming, and has some anxiety issues. Bett is a California girl who lives with her builder father and loves animals but is not a fan of rules. The two connect when Bett finds out that their fathers are dating and have been less than truthful with them, and ferrets out Avery's school e mail with come sleuthing. The two start an e mail conversation and try to thwart their fathers' plan to send them to the same summer camp in Michigan, to know avail. Once at the camp, they continue to e mail each other, having gotten technology waivers. Their fathers are on a motorcycle trip in China, which stresses out both girls. They try to make the best of the situation, and start to like each other, especially once Bett contacts Avery's long distant biologically mother, a friend of her father's and an internationally known playwright. Kristina shows up at the summer camp and takes the girls out one night, which ends in the girls getting kicked out of camp and Bett's grandmother, Gaga, being contacted. They all go to Kristina's acting camp, and Gaga even ends up getting a role in the play.

Then the unthinkable occurs. After a disastrous trip in China, the fathers break up. The girls were invested in the future of this relationship, but so were Kristina and Gaga. The girls return to their lives, continue to communicate, and are devastated when the fathers are interested in other people. They plan a rendezvous at the premier of Gaga's play in New York, but their plans don't go according to their desires. Soon, they are planning to trick their fathers into sending them to the same summer camp. Since Gaga is paying for Bett's tuition, they manage to both attend a traditional summer camp in Maine. Here, their communication is in the former of paper and pen letters, and includes a wider variety of recipients. The girls grow apart a bit, but a tragedy brings them, as well as their families, together in an unexpected way.

In the tradition of Cleary's Dear Mr. Henshaw, Clements' Extra Credit and the Danziger/Martin collaboration, P.S. Longer Letter Later, Sloan and Wolitzer do a great job of portraying two very different girls through their epistolatory efforts, updating some of the correspondence to e mail. We get good descriptions of the other characters through the girls' eyes, so Gaga, Kristina and the fathers are well developed even though they have auxiliary roles in the plot.

Since this book covers two years' of summer camp plus the intervening time, there's a lot of change and growth for the characters. We see Bett calm down a it and not be quite as angry with life, and see Avery be a bit more adventurous and less anxious. My favorite character is Gaga, who completely reinvents herself by becoming a Broadway actress in her retirement years! It's interesting to have an outsider's view of the fathers' different relationships as well, and to see how they impact the girls.

Books about camp are always popular (I think not as many young people get to go to camp these days!), and family and friend dramas are the mainstay of middle grade literature. Readers who want to explore these topics, and to be introduced to some "old fashioned" methods of correspondence will be intrigued by Avery and Bett's communication in To Night Owl from Dogfish.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Watch Hollow

Funaro, Gregory. Watch Hollow
February 12th 2019 by HarperCollins
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Lucy and Oliver Tinker's father repairs clocks for a living, but the business isn't doing well. After the death of their mother from cancer, the family moves into an apartment attached to the business and is struggling to make ends meet, to the point where school mates taunt the pair about being on food stamps. When the mysterious Mr. Quigley shows up and offers Mr. Tinker a large sum of money to fix a clock that is built into a house, Watch Hollow, that he has inherited, the family packs up and moves to the wilds of Rhode Island for the summer to complete this task. Of course, the house is big, spooky, and decrepit, and has interesting quirks, like wooden animals. Oliver meets Teddy, the son of the former clock repairman who was unable to fix it, and Lucy finds out that the wooden animals come to life at midnight! It turns out that the clock, which somehow powers the house, feeds off of the power of the Shadow Wood, but evil is lurking there in the form of The Gar, which is trying to get into the house. The Shadow Wood is encroaching on the house and feeding off the fear of the animals and the children, and can only be repelled by Sun Stone and love. While the father and Oliver try various repairs, Lucy tries to figure out how the animals can help save the clock and the house. The ending reveals surprising villains and leaves the door open for a sequel.

Watch Hollow is a deliciously spooky setting, and the clock with places for wooden animals is fresh and interesting. Who wouldn't want to befriend a wooden dog named Torsten that comes alive at night? The world building is especially solid in this novel, complete with creepy historical back story of original owners of the house and a complex but sensible reason for how the clock is powered. One fun use of the shadow wood was that the acorns from the trees helped clear up Oliver's acne!

Lucy and Oliver don't actually hang out with each other at the beginning of the book, which I thought was especially realistic. Oliver is busy with Teddy and helping his father, and Lucy is more interested in investigating the animals and the original owners. They both learn a lot about the house, but it doesn't make much sense until the communicate and share what they know. It's a good thing they do, because The Gar and his minions are NOT fooling around and want to take over the house. If the children weren't there to stop them, who knows how widely the evil would spread!

This is slightly reminiscent (how could it not be?) of the newly popular Bellairs' The House with a Clock in Its Walls, and will be popular with readers who like spooky tales like Oh's Spirit Hunters, Currie's The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street or Schwab's City of Ghosts.

I could have done without the death of the mother, the bullying before the children moved, and the premise that love could save the children. The first two are just tropes that have been tremendously overused, and the third is just personal distaste. I wouldn't count on love for anything more serious than tying my shoes. And even that is a bit foolish-- well tied shoes are important.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Roam

Armstrong, C.H. Roam
February 5th 2019 by Central Avenue Publishing
E ARC from Netgalley

Life can go wrong quickly. For Abby's family, it starts with step father Nick's hours being cut, her mother having an affair with a coworker and losing her teaching job, Nick losing his job, her mother having a seizure, and hospital bills making the family behind on their rent. Before Abby knows it, her parents and younger sister Amber have left Omaha and are living in their van in Rochester, Minnesota. They park in the Wal-Mart parking lot while they wait to get into a shelter, trying to stay warm and eating at a soup kitchen. Abby goes back to high school to resume her senior year, and immediately falls afoul of Trish, the most popular girl in school, especially when Zach, Trish's ex-boyfriend, starts dating Abby. Still, there are good things. Classes go well, Abby enjoys choir, and she makes a strong core of supportive friends who even loan her clothing to go to the homecoming dance. The family gets into the shelter, but has to leave after two weeks. Abby has a job delivering newspapers, and her parents are trying to find employment. Nick gets part time work as a custodian at a church. Things are bearable until Amber and then Abby get very ill and winter becomes colder. Desperate, the family starts sleeping at the church, cleaning up their things at 4:30 a.m. They are eventually found out, but the pastor is helpful and finds some solutions for them. Things are looking up until Trish is part of a performance group that has a show at a soup kitchen... and Abby is in the audience. It gets splashed all over social media that Abby is homeless. How will her friends react?
Strengths: Like Nielsen's No Fixed Address, this gives a very good picture of what circumstances can drive families into homelessness, how it affects teens, and the ups and downs of it all. Abby's family is very fortunate in the people whom they meet and the help that they get. Abby and her family tries to stay positive. Abby's school experience is front and center, and her efforts at hiding her condition are well portrayed.
Weaknesses: Several f-bombs, the mother's affair, and the general level of introspection and thinking about college make this firmly YA. Also, I found it hard to believe that the mother would have been fired. We have had teachers in similar circumstances in my district, and they are still employed.
What I really think: Since this is in paperback, and has the more high school issues, I won't be purchasing, but it was really well done. I would buy it for a public or high school library.

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

How I Became a Spy: A Mystery of WWII London

40640809Hopkinson, Deborah. How I Became a Spy: A Mystery of WWII London
February 12th 2019 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Bertie is a very young civil defense volunteer who lives with his father at a boarding house for single policeman after the family home was destroyed and his mother and brother relocated to the country. On his first official call, he forgets his helmet, brings along his dog, Little Roo, and leaves his coat with an unconscious woman he finds in an alley. He also finds a red notebook after an encounter with an American girl, but later realizes that the notebook belongs to someone else... someone who is working as a spy. Once he meets the American girl, Eleanor, he finds out that the journal belongs to her former tutor, a french woman named Violette who gave the journal to Eleanor for safe keeping. The journal is in code, so Bertie approaches his friend David, a German Jewish evacuee staying in London with foster grandparents, to help them out. David is a fan of Sherlock Holmes and loves codes. As the messages emerge, the trio gain more facts about Violette's involvement with the resistance to the Nazis. They manage to keep going through the "baby Blitz" of 1944 and survive until D-Day, using their connections to important war leaders to get Violette's message heard.
Strengths: This had a lot of good details about living in London and having to deal with air raids, shortages, and general war time activity. I liked that young people had believable war time roles. David's plight was interesting and realistically portrayed; he knew his parents hadn't survived, but he tried to focus on his life in London and things he could control.
Weaknesses: I wasn't as interested in Bertie's guilt over his brother's injury when their house was destroyed, but it was handled well and not harped on too much.
What I really think: This is an excellent book about the London home front, which is a fascinating topic, and includes lots of clever use of codes and ciphers. There are four practice exercises that can be done as the story unfolds. I will definitely purchase, but just wish that there were more books about Vietnam and Korea!

Ms. Yingling

Monday, February 11, 2019

MMGM- Bad Babysitters


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.

Cala, Caroline. Bad Babysitters
February 9th 2019 by HMH
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Malia finds a battered copy of a Baby-Sitters Club book in a giveaway pile, and decides to put the idea into action with her best friends Bree and Dot because "seventh grade was turning out to be all kinds of meh" (from E ARC). She and her friends don't have money to buy anything at the mall, and her long time crush still doesn't know she exists. Some of the people who go to her school are mind-bogglingly rich, and throw epic birthday parties, and she's hoping that if she can put together such a party, her life will improve. Malia has two supportive parents, but her older sister is much more successful than Malia feels she is. Bree has a complicated step-family, and often feels lost in the shuffle. Dot has a hippie-dippie mother who doesn't let her wear deodorant and has a cupboard full of "hemp flakes (scary), cashew spirulina algae balls (so scary),[and] sugar-free, vegan peanut butter cookies", and is counting the days until she can move to New York and live her own entrepreneurial life while wearing all black. They think Malia's idea has some merit, so set up their company, put something on the PTA list-serv, and sit back to wait for the calls to come in. They get one job that pays quite a bit, but they blow all of their money at the mall. They have another job lined up, though, so look forward to saving for their party. When they show up, however, they are met at the door by Malia's sister Chelsea and the bad news that she has set up a rival company, Seaside Sitters, and has stolen their jobs! It doesn't help that the website Bree has set up is poorly done, but the girls regroup and take any job they can get, from watering plants to feeding cats. Eventually, Chelsea becomes evil enough that the girls feel they need to retaliate, and put together footage of the Seaside Sitters being less than exemplary caretakers. Even though they've missed the chance for an epic pizza party, they still manage to have a birthday party, and their 7th grade year starts to look up.
Strengths: Like Mancusi's Princesses, Inc., this is the sort of light, amusing book I would have adored (and purchased for myself in paperback) when I was in middle school. I love that the starting place is the Baby-Sitters Club, which readers at my school know about because of the Raina Telgemeier graphic novel. The characters are all interestingly flawed but well-meaning, and encompass so many of the characteristics of tween girls. It's also great that the parents are present and supportive, with the exception of Dot's dad, who is realistically not in the picture. This just made my day and restored my faith in middle grade literature!
Weaknesses: While the reason for some of the girls to be very wealthy and others to be on the struggling side makes sense, I still had trouble believing that anyone would pay "stacks of twenties" for tween babysitters. Or hire three of them to watch over thirty children at a wedding. And do tweens still go to the mall? I thought the problem was that NO ONE went to the mall, which is why they are all closing down. I enjoyed the retro feel, but worry that this might not resonate with my students.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing and using to wean readers off of Babymouse and Dork Diaries.

The sequel comes out in August 2019.



Mann, J. Albert. (AKA Mann, Jennifer Ann. )What Every Girl Should Know
February 12th 2019 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Netgalley


Has anyone read this? I feel I have to mention this because I am a big proponent of the right to legal abortions existing, but the book just didn't accomplish what I wanted. It is a fictionalized biography of Margaret Sanger's early life. This is great. I was a huge fan of the Childhood of Famous Americans series. This is well researched, and describes in great detail how horrible the conditions for women could be in the 1800s. Sanger certainly had every reason to work to change the conditions for women like her  mother, who suffered from tuberculosis but was constantly pregnant.

Having read some biographies of Sanger, I knew a lot of the basic background information, but I felt the book didn't necessarily explain everything that a young reader who didn't know this information might need to know. Sanger's father rubbed elbows with many progressive thinkers of the time, but there isn't much context for how important they were. We see a little of Sanger's attempts to get an education and leave home, but not enough. The afterword explains some, but more details would have been useful in the narrative.

This isn't really useful for research, since it takes place before Sanger began the reproductive rights work for which she is famous, so the book ends up being an extremely bleak picture of one family's existence in the late 1800s. I'm just not quite sure what to think of this one. I'd love to be able to have a middle grade appropriate book about Sanger, but I'm not sure this one is as informative as I would like one to be.

Thoughts?


From Goodreads.com
"This compelling historical novel spans the early and very formative years of feminist and women’s health activist Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, as she struggles to find her way amidst the harsh realities of poverty.

Margaret was determined to get out. She didn’t want to clean the dirty dishes and soiled diapers that piled up day in and day out in her large family’s small home. She didn’t want to disappoint her ailing mother, who cared tirelessly for an ever-growing number of children despite her incessant cough. And Margaret certainly didn’t want to be labeled a girl of “promise,” destined to become either a teacher or a mother—which seemed to be a woman’s only options.
As a feisty and opinionated young woman, Margaret Higgins Sanger witnessed and experienced incredible hardships, which led to her groundbreaking work as an advocate for women’s rights and the founder of Planned Parenthood. This fiery novel of Margaret’s early life paints the portrait of a young woman with the passion and courage to change the world."

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Watch Us Rise

Watson, Renee and Hagan, Ellen. Watch Us Rise
February 12th 2019 by Bloomsbury YA
E ARC from Edelweiss

Jasmine and Chelsea attend high school at Amsterdam Heights, a progressive school with an impressive social justice program. They are unhappy that their theater and poetry groups are still embracing the traditional, white ideas and want to make a change, so they start their own women's activist group, called Write Like a Girl. Each group in the school has a blog, so they start theirs, and their writing attracts lots of attention, both good and bad. The principal admonishes them that they need to watch themselves, which defeats the whole purpose of the group. The girls also have complicated lives. Jasmine's father is dying of cancer, and she has a long time friend in Isaac, but she's not sure where the two stand romantically. Chelsea has a younger sister who is also a feminist, but her parents are old school and religious. Chelsea is interested in a boy in her class, but he already has a girlfriend, although this doesn't stop him from putting the moves on Chelsea, which she doesn't appreciated. Still feeling that their voices aren't being heard, the girls print t shirts highlighting women's voices, and even stage a strike by the women in their school. While they are still not happy with the atmosphere, there are small steps being made, and the two are glad that they are socially conscious and willing to take risks in order to be heard.
Strengths: This has lots of female empowerment as well as on trend depictions of many social issues like body positivity. Jasmine and Chelsea both take control of their own destinies and try to figure out a way to make their voices heard. They deal with a variety of reactions to their opinions from teachers who are supportive to classmates who mock them. The poetry will appeal to readers who like free verse.
Weaknesses: I found it a little hard to believe that the principal of a school that wins awards for social justice would be so completely tone deaf to microaggressions and outright harassment. It's not unusual to portray principals as incompetent, but it would have made more sense if the principal had been more supportive.
What I really think: This is very introspective and deals with many issues that middle school students are just discovering. It would be appropriate for middle school, but most likely of limited interest. An excellent purchase for a high school.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, February 09, 2019

The Meltdown

Kinney, Jeff. The Meltdown (Diary of a Wimpy Kid #13)
October 30th 2018 by Amulet Books
Library copy

Greg Heffley is suffering through a winter very much like the one we have been having here in Central Ohio. Some days it is 50, but other days it is well below zero. There is some snow, but not enough for a snow day. Greg and Rowley have to walk to school, which is miserable. Being the creative types that they are, they try to find ways around the commute-- stopping by Greg's grandmother's house, getting pizza, or trying to get a ride on a school bus they think will take them close to their homes. Sometimes, they just have to try to fashion snow shoes out of pizza boxes and duct tape, although that doesn't always end well. It doesn't help that there is a turf war on Surrey Street, with the kids on the hill (where Greg lives) envying the kids on the bottom their flat spaces to play, while the kids at the bottom try to sneak onto the sledding hill. When there finally is enough snow for a snow day, Greg spend most of it trying to avoid his mother's chores and watching television in her bed, but he becomes bored with that, and ventures out into an increasingly violent snowball fight over the rights to the hill.
Strengths: I did enjoy Greg's descriptions of walking to school. Many of my students make similar treks, as do I, and winter makes for a challenging commute even for the best prepared. It was also good to see children playing out in the snow, even though Greg explains that this is something adults tell children will be fun as they push them outside, but you never see adults playing out in the snow. This was somewhat similar to Cabin Fever, which is probably my second favorite Wimpy Kid book. (The first being The Getaway, since it actually has more of a plot.)
Weaknesses: Greg's neighbors are named and described in very unflattering terms that come close to insulting. Also, as a conscientious reader, I tried to file that names away for when they might come up again in the book, but they didn't.
What I really think: I just want more of a plot. Maybe a little character development. I'm not a book snob, but these are so highly anecdotal that I find myself longing for basic conventions of novel length fiction.

Ms. Yingling

Friday, February 08, 2019

Stolen Girl

Skrypuch, Marsha Forchuk. Stolen Girl
February 26th 2019 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Nadia and Marusia arrive in Canada after being in Displaced Persons camps in Europe. They are Ukrainian, and Nadia is supposed to refer to Marusia as her mother. They are met by Ivan, who has come ahead and is building a house for the family. There is a small Ukrainian population that is very helpful, and well as a kindly woman who teaches Nadia English before she starts school. Nadia knows that Marusia and Ivan love her, but also feels that they are not really her parents. School is a difficult adjustment; even though the teacher and most students are nice, there are some who call Nadia, with her blonde hair and European style, a Nazi. Eventually, she settles into a routine, makes a friend, Linda, and is increasingly bothered by visions of her past. These come in bits and pieces and are triggered by many different things, from a color or a smell to a school inspector giving her a piece of hard candy. Mikusia has not wanted to tell Nadia about her past, since she doesn't know the whole story and doesn't want to affect the memories, but assures Nadia that she is definitely Ukrainian, and that she is safe and loved in Canada. Eventually, Nadia remembers who she is and what happened to her during the war.
Strengths: I'm not usually a fan of flashbacks to tell the story, but in this case, it was used to excellent effect as Nadia comes to grips with her past. I don't want to ruin it; suffice it to say that Nadia was part of the Nazi's Lebensborn program. I can't think of another middle grade book about this topic, so here's another WWII book that is essential to have in my collection! The fact that it is set post-war is interesting as well, since students don't have a very good picture of what happened during the enormous diaspora following the war. Ivan, Marusia, and the entire community were touching to read about, since they were so supportive and dedicated to making a life after their horrible experiences.
Weaknesses: There's a tie in with Making Bombs for Hitler, and I had forgotten enough of that book that I wasn't able to pick up on it as quickly as I should have.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. Skrypuch is becoming the Carol Matas of Holocaust books!

Thursday, February 07, 2019

The Bridge Home.

Venkatraman, Padma. The Bridge Home.
February 5th 2019 by Nancy Paulsen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

When Viji's mother does nothing to protect herself from the abusive behavior of Viji's father, the desperate girl decides to take her sister Ruuku and run away to the city. Ruuku is developmentally disabled, but Viji feels that anything has to be better than their home situation. They make it to the city and are lucky to find some friendly help, including a woman whose husband runs a restaurant who gives them a little work, food, and beads for Ruuku. They also meet fellow street children, Arul and Muthi, who show them the ropes and make a home with them on a bridge, using tarps and mats. The boys show them how to make money by going through the garbage and selling metal and glass, and generally help them survive in their new reality. Arul is a Christian, and his entire family was lost in tsunami type accident, and Muthu has his own sad back story that makes him wary of people. Even after the rag man destroys their bridge home, they gather their forces and live in a cemetery. Eventually, however, the rainy season brings mosquitoes that cause fever in the children, and Viji is forced to accept help from a local children's charity. She is reunited with her father, but chooses to stay in the children's home, where she has been able to put together a life that includes more education than she would have gotten otherwise.
Strengths: I am always happy to see books about how children live in other countries, and Venkatraman has based this on her own mother's work with disadvantaged children in India, as well as on many interviews. The details of what is needed to survive are tremendously appealing to young readers. Think of The Box Car Children or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which I read for the details like washing the dishes in the creek with sand or going to the store for just one potato. This is a great book to hand to readers who love Cruz's Everlasting Nora or Yang's Front Desk. While I loved this author's A Time to Dance and Climbing the Stairs, novels in verse and historical fiction don't do all that well in my library-- this hits the popular features of problem novels just right and will circulate a lot.
Weaknesses: I have had a small number of students of Indian descent in my school over the years, and their background is far more like Varadarajan's Ravi in Save Me a Seat. I'd like to see books set in India about children who go to school and have a slightly more secure home life.
What I really think: Can't wait to hand this to students. Enjoyed it very much myself!


Wednesday, February 06, 2019

New Kid

Craft, Jerry. New Kid
February 5th 2019 by HarperCollins
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Jordan is not thrilled to be going to a private school several neighborhoods away from his home in Washington Heights, New York City, since it means leaving his best friend and having to deal with a whole new social class of peers. Also, if he has to go to a new school, he wishes it were an art school instead, since drawing comics is one of his favorite things to do. He is picked up the first day by his student guide, Liam, who is fairly uncommunicative, and is thrown into a sea of mainly white faces. There is a boy who is Nicaraguan, although classmates give him a hard time about being Mexican, and a few African-American students. The teachers seem to have no idea how to deal with students who are not white, frequently calling Jordan and Drew the names of other students, to the point where the two make a joke of calling each other things like Ja'vion and Darius. Jordan not only feels like he doesn't fit in at his new school, but he also feels that being in the new school disconnects him from his Washington Heights crowd. He does manage to make a few friends, including the nice but super annoying Alex, who wears a hand puppet and talks in puppet voices. Eventually, Jordan learns to embrace his pink-short wearing new community and realizes he can make his two worlds work together.

Having taught at an expensive private school, I can certainly commiserate with Jordan's experiences. Unless you are born into extreme wealth, being thrust into a world where people take skiing vacations during Thanksgiving and have win at PTA meetings is bewildering! Add the lack of cultural diversity at the school, and it's little wonder that Jordan spends most of the year hiding inside his hoodie. (Because 50% of all middle schoolers hide in their hoodies!)

The other characters are also realistic. I loved that Liam was embarased enough by his wealth that Jordan occasionally thought he might be a scholarship student, too. Alex is absolutely a very common middle school type as well, although the addition of a reason for her to be quirky and odd was novel-- I've had a lot of cat-ear-wearing students whom other students think are odd who act this way for no reason at all! It's nice that there are a number of different reactions to cultural differences at the school, some of which are nice and some of which aren't. The students all have their reasons for acting the way they do, and most are understanding. I just wish the same could be said of the teacher characters, who were rather mean or misguided with no motivation to be so.

The illustrations are unique, pleasantly colored (love the use of "salmon"!) and highly expressive. Like the work of Victoria Jamieson or the Holm's this is both easy to read but also has some meat to the plot, which is sometimes not the case in graphic novels.

I've been waiting a long time for more graphic novels with African-American main characters. Robinson's Jake the Fake and Patterson's Public School Super Hero are a good starting point (I still want to see Robb Armstrong do one!), and Craft's work illustrating other writer's work is good, but this whole graphic novel is well-balanced and fun for any middle school reader who likes this medium.

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Song for a Whale

Kelly, Lynne. Song for a Whale
February 5th 2019 by Delacorte
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

While Iris and one set of her grandparents are Deaf, her parents are not, and her father doesn't even make the effort to learn sign language. Iris has an interest in repairing older radios, and this gives her a nice past time and source of income. School is a struggle, and it's hard to deal with some of her fellow classmates, especially one who pretends to know ASL but just annoys Iris with her unsuccessful and self-serving attempts. When Iris' science class learns about Blue 55, a whale who communicates on a frequency that no other whales do, and so leads a lonely existence, she is drawn to his story and tries to help. She consults with the music teacher and creates a sound track on the frequency the whale uses, and contacts a research station in Alaska to see if they can use it. When the scientists there invite her to come by if she is ever in the area, Iris decides she really needs to go to help out. Her parents, wisely, say no, so she approaches her grandmother. Her grandmother is not doing well after the passing of her spouse, and decides a cruise to Alaska is just what she needs. The two sneak off on their adventure, and while Iris is not able to help Blue 55, she is able to put some things in her life into perspective and to speak up for herself.
Strengths: The author's background working with Deaf students is apparent, and the details about having an interpreter at school, dealing with classmates, and of feeling the vibrations through the radios are all good details for hearing students to have. The science connection is interesting, and the relationship with the grandmother is charming. The father's difficulty in connecting with Iris adds a layer of realistic depth.
Weaknesses: There have been several Deaf students at my school, and none of them were ever treated this badly. I had one girl with an interpreter and a cochlear implant who was even a library helper for several quarters-- we just made sure students knew to make sure she could see their face and to talk clearly but normally when they checked out books so that she could understand them, and she never seemed as isolated and unhappy as Iris. Doesn't make for as good a story, but makes me feel good about my students!
What I really think: There should be more books than Ferris' Of Sound Mind and Gino's You Don't Know Everything, Jilly P! that include Deaf culture, so I am really glad to see this one.

Ms. Yingling

Monday, February 04, 2019

Blog Tour- To Night Owl from Dogfish


Week One
February 4 – Books4yourkids – Author Guest Post: What are the constraints - and freedoms - of writing an epistolary novel? Is it similar to writing a first person narrative?
February 4 – Two Points of Interest – Author Guest Post – what inspires you to write? 
February 5 – Pages and Pugs – Favorite Quotes 
February 5 – Amber After Glows – Favorite Quotes
February 6 – Read. Eat. Love. – Inspired by the Book: Food 
February 6 –  The Hermit Librarian – Inspired by the Book: Food 
February 7 – Book Loaner Blog – Listicle: Camp Activities Inspired by the Book 
February 7 – Books. Libraries. Also, cats – Listicle: Camp Activities Inspired by the Book 
February 8 – Happy Reading Co.  – Favorite Quotes
February 8 – The Quirky Book Nerd – Favorite Quotes 

Week Two
February 11 – That Reader Girl – Listicle: Camp Songs 
February 11 – We Live and Breathe Books – Listicle: Camp Songs 
February 12 –  Sam Maybe Reading – Review 
February 12 –  Randomly Reading – Review 
February 13 – The Reading Corner for All – Creative Instagram Picture 
February 13 – Dos Lit Worms – Creative Instagram Picture
February 14 – Laceydoeslit – Review + Playlist 
February 14 – The Bookworm Banter – Review + Playlist 
February 15 – YA Books Central – Author Q&A 
February 15 – Because reading is better than real life – Author Q&A 


BOOK DESCRIPTION 

From two extraordinary authors comes a moving, exuberant, laugh-out-loud novel about friendship and family, told entirely in emails and letters.
Avery Bloom, who's bookish, intense, and afraid of many things, particularly deep water, lives in New York City. Bett Devlin, who's fearless, outgoing, and loves all animals as well as the ocean, lives in California. What they have in common is that they are both twelve years old, and are both being raised by single, gay dads.

When their dads fall in love, Bett and Avery are sent, against their will, to the same sleepaway camp. Their dads hope that they will find common ground and become friends--and possibly, one day, even sisters.

But things soon go off the rails for the girls (and for their dads too), and they find themselves on a summer adventure that neither of them could have predicted. Now that they can't imagine life without each other, will the two girls (who sometimes call themselves Night Owl and Dogfish) figure out a way to be a family?


AUTHOR BIO:
Holly Goldberg Sloan was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan and spent her childhood living in Holland; Istanbul, Turkey; Washington, D.C.; Berkeley, California; and Eugene, Oregon. After graduating from Wellesley College and spending some time as an advertising copywriter, she began writing family feature films, including Angels in the Outfield and Made in America. She is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Counting by 7s and Short, among other novels. 

Meg Wolitzer was born in Brooklyn, New York, grew up in the town of Syosset, on Long Island, and sold her first novel, Sleepwalking, while a senior in college. She is the New York Times-bestselling author of numerous novels for adults, including The InterestingsThe Ten-Year NapThe Wife, and The Female Persuasion; the young adult novel Belzhar; and the middle-grade novel The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman.


Ms. Yingling