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 Lost Scroll of the Physician

Sevigny, Alisha. The Lost Scroll of the Physician
January 25th 2020 by Dundurn
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sesha and Ky have been living on the streets in ancient Egypt for a month after the tragic death of their parents in a suspicious fire. The father had been a doctor for the Pharaoh, and Sesha thinks that her father's translation of a scroll has put him in danger, which is bad because he felt the scroll had the cure for her brother's fluid on the brain. After they almost get in trouble, they are returned to the palace, where Ky returns to being friends with the Pharaoh's son, and Sesha is enrolled in the difficult physicians' program, where she is the only girl. She finds out that the government is interested in the scroll because they feel it has information that will help them heal soldiers more effectively in case of a war... and war is imminent. With the help of the princess, whom she is teaching to read, Sesha must try to locate the scroll and save not only her brother, but the entire kingdom.
Strengths:
Weaknesses:
What I really think:
Ms. Yingling

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.