Friday, January 17, 2020

Home Games

Markovits, Benjamin. Home Games
February 4th 2020 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ben doesn't have a lot of friends in New York City, but he does hang out with a neighbor, Jake, who goes to the same expensive private school that he does. Ben's parents are on edge, and his father is frequently traveling. When his father gets a position in London, his mother decides not to join him because she and Ben want to stay in the city. However, she decides to spend the summer in Texas with her mother, which confuses Ben. It's even harder to make friends in this new environment, especially when school starts and his mother gets a job teaching in his school. He does befriend Mabley, who is friendly to everyone, but often chooses to eat his lunch at odd places on the school grounds. His mother starts dating his social studies teacher, and he rarely gets to visit his father. Ben joins the basketball team as a manager, and when one of the other players is injured, gets to dub in during a game. Even though he does get to see his father, it is clear that his mother has made a new life in Texas, and Ben tries his best to create one for himself as well.
Strengths: I am always looking for realistic fiction that has some sports component to it, and it's refreshing that Ben moves to a new city and his house isn't haunted! The struggles he has fitting in to a new environment are realistic, and it was interesting to see his mother working at the same school. Mobley and the other students are nice enough, and when Ben makes an effort, he does manage to make some friends.
Weaknesses: This was slow paced and lacked an interesting plot line.
What I really think: The cover and description made this seem so appealing, but I had trouble getting into the book. This author has done a variety of fiction for adults, and perhaps struggled to understand what appeals to middle grade audiences. I won't be buying this for my library, but take a look at it for yourself before deciding if the title is right for you.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Nessie Quest

Savage, Melissa. Nessie Quest
January 14th 2020 by Crown Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Netgalley

Ada Ru is NOT happy when her parents tell her she isn't able to stay at home with her best friend in Denver during summer break, and it's not because they are going to Disney World. Instead, the father is teaching a photography class in Scotland, and Ada and her mother are going along so they can visit the father's family, Uncle Clive, Aunt Isla, and annoying cousin Briony. The university housing is in a creepy old building with an even creepier caretaker, Euna Begbie. Since the town where they are living is small and located on a loch where Nessie has been spotted in the past, it's at least a little bit interesting to wander around. She manages to meet Hamish Bean Tibby, Hammy Bean to his friends, who works with his grandmother giving boat tours of the loch to tourists. He's also home schooled by Ms. Begbie because he is blind. She also meets Dax, another American spending the summer in Scotland. Dax is cute and angsty, and carries his guitar everywhere with him. The three team up to help Hammy with the Nessie Race and also in publishing his Nessie Juggernaut, which his a bit outdated, so they also work on creating a podcast with the same information. Ada gets to meet lots of locals while interviewing various residents about their Nessie experiments, and comes to think that Scotland is not too bad. There is some friend drama with Dax (involving Briony) and Hammy (involving secrets about his parents), as well as some suspense when Hammy makes some bad decisions when upping the level of his investigations. In the end, however, devotion to cryptozoology wins the day, and Ada is sad to be leaving her summer location.
Strengths: Scotland! This is a much less stressful vacation to that locale than Schwab's City of Ghosts, and who doesn't want to spend a summer lakeside? The inclusion of a sight impaired character and explanations about how he does certain tasks was interesting. The possible romance with Dax is fun, and the drama with Briony on point. The local restaurants are the real star for some of this for me, but younger readers will love the freedom to wander that the characters have. I don't have a lot of students interested in cryptids, but there are usually a few, so this is a good title for the long haul.
Weaknesses: I'm never fond of children who don't want to go to fantastic places, so Ada really irritate me during the beginning of the book. There's also a bit more dialect than I enjoy reading.
What I really think: While I enjoyed this one, I fear it won't be a big circulator. I will probably purchase, justifying this as a title readers might pick up after reading Martin's fantastic Hoax for Hire.
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

From the Desk of Zoe Washington

Marks, Janae. From the Desk of Zoe Washington
January 14th 2020 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Zoe lives in Boston with her mother and stepfather. Her best friend, Trevor, lives next door, but as summer starts, Zoe is still smarting from comments she heard Trevor make to his sporty friends about her, so she doesn't want to hang out with him. Luckily, her mother has a friend who runs a bakery, and Zoe has the opportunity to spend time there honing her skills so she can try out for a kids' version of a baking reality show. Unfortunately, she spends more of her time folding boxes than scooping batter, since the other workers don't trust a kid. When a letter arrives for her and turns out to be from the father she has never met because he is in prison, Zoe is curious and writes back. Her father seems very nice, and she slowly gets some more information about the murder he is accused of committing. Sure that her father is telling the truth that he didn't do it, she starts to investigate some leads, going with Trevor to find a women who remembers meeting him when she posted an ad on Craigslist. Her grandmother has been helping Zoe get the letters, but eventually the two have to come clean to her mom. Armed with her evidence, the family goes to Project Innocence to try to get her father released.
Strengths: My readers will be very happy to find a book about an African American girl who is solidly middle class. I've been looking for books like this for years, and have been glad to see titles like Love Like Sky, Blended, and Some Places More than Others that don't take place in the inner city. Baking books do fairly well, so readers will enjoy trying out some of Zoe's recipes for Froot Loop cupcakes, and the details about having a parent in prison are thought provoking.
Weaknesses: Several things seemed far fetched to me, although they won't to younger readers. There are a lot more boy-girl best friends in books than in real life, the internship at the bakery seemed unlikely, although the way Zoe was received was realistic. It was surprising that the grandmother helped her keep information from her parents, and that Zoe has a lot of luck in her investigations.
What I really think: This has a fantastic cover, so I would purchase it just for that. It's a solid story, and I'll be looking forward to seeing what else Ms. Marks writes, but it wasn't as gripping as Front Desk. (The publisher's description compares it to this.)
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Race to the Sun

Roanhorse, Rebecca. Race to the Sun
January 14th 2020 by Rick Riordan Presents
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Nizhoni Begay struggles a bit. She manages to embarrass herself on the basketball court, watches out for her younger brother Mac because her mother left several years previously, and has to deal with her father's long work hours. When he is approached by Mr. Charles, who wants him to relocate the family to Tulsa, Nizhoni  is concerned about moving but also because Mr. Charles is a monster! A statue of a toad, Mr. Yazzie, that she has in her room comes to life and reinforces this information, and is very helpful. Her father doesn't believe that Mr. Charles wants to kill her because she can see monsters, so when she and her brother are called to the office at school, Nizhoni decides to run away, getting help from her best friend Davery (who helpfully has a credit card!). Mr. Yazzie sends them off to try to find Spider woman, who can help get their father back from Mr. Charles. In order to request a map from her, there is a quest to get four jewels from the Four Sacred Mountains, as described in a song that a DinĂ© Holy Person has given them. When they finally meet the Spider Woman, she tells them that a map is not needed, but Nizhoni  still needs to travel the path to the sun in order to free her father. Along the way, there are trials and tribulations, she briefly loses both Mac and Davery, and she finds someone from her past who is able to help. In the end, will her skills and powers as a Hero Twin be enough to send Mr. Charles and his monsters back and keep the world safe?
Strengths: This was much easier to follow than most fantasy books, and had a lot of action and adventure. The inclusion of Navajo mythology was well done, and Riordan's note that "mythology" means tales of gods and goddesses and does NOT necessarily mean false or untrue stories was very helpful. Nizhoni learns more about her culture from a variety of sources, embraces her role as a hero, and undertakes her quest with good humor. This was definitely one of the better books from this imprint; not a surprise, given the author's award winning background.
Weaknesses: I could have done without Nizhoni's problems in school; they didn't really add much to the story and felt as if they were included because all middle grade novels now must included problems.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, but I wish that the Rick Riordan Presents books would be stand alones and not series. If they are series, it would be nice to have trilogies. I spend a lot of money on later books in a series that very few students read. I can't imagine they sell terribly well.

Monday, January 13, 2020

MMGM- Pixie Pushes On and Rise Up

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.

Bundy, Tamara. Pixie Pushes On
January 14th 2020 by Penguin/Paulsen
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Pixie has moved with her father and sister Charlotte to her grandparents' farm because life is hard in 1942. Her mother has passed away, and her sister is in the hospital with polio, which has fortunately attacked her legs and not her lungs. Her neighbor, Ricky, also has difficulties in his family; his father has left, his brother is in the army, and his mother is not coping well. Pixie misses her sister and feels responsible for her illness, but has to continue to do her chores on the farm and go to school. Her grandfather gets a runt lamb for Pixie to raise. She names him Buster even though she has been warned he is not a pet, and puts a lot of effort into bringing him back to health. Pixie doesn't get along well with Bertha, the daughter of the local general store owner, but the two get to know each other a bit and slowly become friends. As the war progresses, there are events that impact life on the farm, but by the end of the book, the war is over, Charlotte is home, and Pixie is able to "push on".
Strengths: This had excellent details about daily life in a rural setting during the war, and the feel of a somewhat older title; I kept thinking of Lowry's Autumn Street when I read this. Life just seemed to take more effort back then, but people were more engaged in their communities. There are a few books that touch on the polio epidemic, but not many, so this was a good addition. (My mother had a slight case when young and was left with a heart murmur.) It's also good to see stories set on farms, since that is something fewer and fewer young people experience. It was realistic that the children in this book experienced loss of family members, but I liked how the grief was dealt with. The other book this reminded me of was The House Without a Christmas Tree.
Weaknesses: This was rather slow paced, so isn't for all readers.
What I really think: I will purchase this for both our WWII and Decades (1930s-1970s) project, and will definitely hand to the growing number of readers asking for historical fiction.

Li, Amanda and Blackwell, Amy (Illustrator). Rise Up: Ordinary Kids with Extraordinary Stories.
January 14th 2020 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

This beautifully illustrated collection of biographies of young people who made a difference covers a wide range of people from different parts of the world and periods of history, although has a large number of people who are in the news now, like Greta Thunberg. In addition to the biographies, each section gives advice on how young people can participate in activities similar to the ones in the accompanying biography. Interestingly enough, though, there is a disclaimer at the back of the book that readers should NOT try these things at home! This book is great for dipping into and getting ideas about further study, and is one of those books that makes me want to buy two copies so I can take one apart, laminate the pages, and make bulletin boards!

I do wish that every entry had years associated with the person, however. Most do, but some do not, and this was less than helpful. There is also not an index, and the table of contents does not list the subjects' names. There is a lot of good information in this book, but it seems to be intended as more of a casual read than a book for research.
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, January 12, 2020

On Snowden Mountain

Watts, Jeri. On Snowden Mountain
September 10th 2019 by Candlewick Press
Personal Copy

When Ellen's father is off fighting in World War II and her mother fails to provide food and supervision because of her depression, Ellen reaches out to her Aunt Pearl, hoping that her aunt will come to Baltimore and help out. Instead, her aunt unceremoniously packs up both Ellen and her mother and takes them back to the mountains in Virginia. There are few creature comforts there, and Ellen has to learn to live without running water and electricity. She also has to attend a one room school house with children who don't always come to school. One of these students, Russell, often comes to school smelling of skunk, and Ellen soon finds out it is because his father has him trapping the animals for the bounty on their fur. Russell's home life is even more dire than Ellen's-- his mother is abused by his alcoholic father, and he doesn't have an aunt to help out. Aunt Pearl is good about necessities, but is unable to make much headway with Ellen's mother's mental health. Ellen tries to help Russell learn to read, although her schoolmates and the town busy bodies frown on it. Eventually, the lives of both children improve a bit.
Strengths: This felt a bit like Gail Rock's 1974 The House Without a Christmas Tree, which I really love, and offers many details about what daily life was like in the country during WWII. Aunt Pearl is typical of the stoic, can-do type of woman who had to struggle with everything from food to clothing to keeping the community together during this time. Ellen's troubles with adjusting to another sort of life are realistic, and the portrayal of a mountain community is not something we see a lot in middle grade literature. A nice, short read.
Weaknesses: Would Ellen's mother have been allowed to fall apart? Yes, I know that mental illness can be devastating, but during WWII, many men were off serving in the warm, and I wonder how many women at home struggled this much. Interesting question, but at the time, attitudes surrounding mental illness were different, and Ellen's mother might have just barely managed to hang on to escape the stigma that mental illness had at the time.
What I really think: This will be a good choice for readers who have to have a book for the World War II project or the decades project and want something with details of life during the 1940s but with more modern sensibilities.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Secondhand Wishes

Staniszweski, Anna. Secondhand Wishes
January 29th 2019 by Scholastic Press
Personal copy

Lexi is very particular about how she goes about her day; things have to be just right, or tragedy could occur. When she misses meeting up with her best friend, Cassa, on the way to school because her brother Austin has had a rough morning, she knows that things will not go well. She ends up in detention, which her teacher moves to lunchtime so that Lexi can go to her after school job at Cassa's mother's antique store, but Lexi is concerned when Cassa talks a lot about the new girl, Marina, and her brother's health starts to deteriorate. Cassa's mother is unable to have Lexie stay with them, so Leix ends up at her Aunt Glinda's house while her parents deal with her brother's hospital stay. She finds four stones in a pouch at the antique store and makes wishes on them, but the wishes don't work out quite the way she expected. Instead of Cassa and Marian not hanging out together, they literally can't SEE each other, leading to weird complications. Her brother's health improves, but he starts to squeak like a hamster. Luckily, she gets some help from former school mate Elijah to help her try to figure out the mystery of the stones and their odd connection to her family .
Strengths: Magical realism is gaining popularity in my school, and I like that this has a cover that will age well--  no particular fashion or illustration style, just a standard photo. Lexi's anxiety is warranted, given her brother's health problems and their effect on her family, and trying to use magic to solve them is a nice touch. I also enjoyed her relationship with Elijah. Friend drama is always popular as well, and readers worried about losing best friends will understand Lexi's difficulties with Cassa and Marina.
Weaknesses: There's a little too much coincidence for my taste, but young readers will enjoy it.
What I really think: I think this one will do well for fans of Wendy Mass' Willow Falls books or Sarah Mlynowski's Whatever After books and will hold up for a long time. I've never really cottoned to this author, but may have to go back and revisit her other titles.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Guy Friday- Clean Getaway, Leaving Lymon

Stone, Nic. Clean Getaway
January 7th 2020 by Crown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by

William (Scoob or Scoob-a-doob to his grandma) ran into some trouble at school, and his father decides to send him to spend his spring break with his grandmother so he can be supervised, since his mother took off when Scoob was a baby. G'ma, however, has plans of her own. She has sold her house and bought an RV, and takes off on an adventure with Scoob. He's a little concerned that after checking in a few times with his dad, G'ma turns off the phone, but doesn't think too much about it. G'ma wants to recreate a trip she took with Scoob'd grandfather in the 1960s. It was difficult then, since she is white and her husband was black, and traveling through the South required the Green Book so that black people knew places where they would not run into trouble. Scoob wishes he knew more about his own mother as well as his grandfather, and he enjoys spending time with G'ma, so he is up for the adventure. As it continues, however, he is concerned about not contacting his father, about G'ma's memory lapses, and about what really happened with his grandfather being sent to jail for grand larceny. Eventually, he can no longer control things, and his father comes to the rescue, and also sheds some insight to Scoob's past.
Strengths: I loved the road trip with the grandmother idea-- it's been down before (Cooney's Hit the Road, Acampora's How to Avoid Extinction), but is always a fun way to see a grandchild interact with a grandparent. The inclusion of Civil Rights history is fascinating, and the spot illustrations will make sure that readers pick this one up. Great cover, too.
Weaknesses: The issue with the grandparents wasn't resolved well. We learn some of the history, but not enough, and the ending was a bit deus ex machina. Don't want to spoil it, but it seemed incomplete.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and hope that a final version is a little different.

Cline-Ransome, Lesa. Leaving Lymon
Published January 7th 2020 by Holiday House
Public library copy

It's 1938 in Mississippi, and young Lymon lives with Grandpops and Ma because his father is in prison at Parchman Farms, and his mother has started a new life in Chicago after struggling with parenting at a very young age. Things are okay, and Lymon's favorite thing is playing music with his grandfather and his friends on Friday nights. In 1941, Lymon starts school, which has its ups and downs, and Grandpops' health starts to fail. After his death, Lymon's aunt Vera decides that Ma must move to Milwaukee to be near her and her family. His father gets out of prison, but has a nomadic lifestyle playing gigs, and always promises to be with Lymon but never makes it happen. There are good and bad things about it, and Lymon goes to school and makes some friends, although it is not the same as living in the South. When Ma's health fails and Vera's young family demands her attention, Lymon's mother comes in the middle of the night to take him to Chicago. There, he struggles with school and with dealing with his two step brothers and Robert, his mother's husband. Robert is abusive, and even smashes Lymon's grandfather's guitar. When Lymon finds out that Vera is sending money for his upkeep but Robert is taking it all, he steals the money and tries to get a bus ticket back to Milwaukee. His mother doesn't want him, so he eventually ends up back there after a stint in juvenile care, and his father finally steps up to take care of him.
Strengths: This short companion novel to Finding Langston gives another picture of the Great Migration. I very much appreciated that it gave the place and date at the beginning of the chapter instead of making readers hunt for those things! The difficulties of daily life for Blacks in the US during this time, both in the North and the South, are laid out, and an end note about Parchman Farms and the father's experience there is interesting. Lymon's stint in juvenile care for a minor offense was eye opening. The music connection will draw readers to this story, and it will also please readers who like problem novels that deal with abuse. (My students have very particular demands when it comes to sad books, and this fits right in!)
Weaknesses: I almost wish that this were a little longer, and that the end note information about the criminal "justice" system at the time were worked into the story.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and this will be popular during our Decades unit.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Notorious and Notorious RBG

Korman, Gordon. Notorious
January 7th 2020 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Keenan ends up living with his father on an island that is part Canada and part US when he is diagnosed with tuberculosis. He got the disease in his travels with his mother, who flits from country to county, and being in Canada is both restful and boring, especially since he is not allowed to do anything but sit in a lawn chair. Things become less boring when he meets ZaraBeth, who likes to be called ZeeBee. She is obsessed with gangsters from the 1930s, and all of their activities with Prohibition. She is also sure that her dog, Barney, was murdered. This suspicion has merit-- Barney was a huge dog who wreaked havoc on the island, tearing up gardens, damaging property, and stealing food from stores. ZeeBee has another dog, a small, fluffy pooch called Barney Two, but she wants nothing to do with him. The two have a good summer, but when Keenan starts school on the island and ZeeBee has to take a ferry to the Canadian school, she is upset when he starts to hang out with other kids, who think that ZeeBee is a little weird because of her dog and her gangster obsession. The other kids aren't perfect, and at one point trash the local lighthouse. Keenan wants to stay friends with ZeeBee, so helps her to investigate Barney's death, and in doing so, comes across information that leads to the unraveling of a Prohibition Era mystery as well.
Strengths: If you liked Swindle, definitely take a look at this one. Korman is clearly a dog person, and I immediately loved Barney Two, even if the first Barney was a hellion! Working in problems with parents and an interesting health complaint (T.B.- this is why all teachers have to be vaccinated!), this twofold mystery is a quick read. The little bits of history are fun as well, and I can see this being read by students who enjoyed Al Capone Does My Shirts.
Weaknesses: Not quite as funny as Korman's other titles. There usually always a ripsnorting scene or two, but this didn't have one.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, since Korman is so popular in my library.

Carmon, Irin  and Knizhnik,Shana. Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Young Readers' Edition)
November 28th 2017 by HarperCollins

Gift to the Blendon Middle School Library

I don't know how I missed this wonderful book; it's certainly something we need right now. Young people need to read books about people who are passionately devoted to making the world a better place, despite the personal sacrifices that have to be made. Bader Ginsburg is a bit older than my mother and is an inspiration for everyone, no matter what the politics. Anyone who can keep working at a very demanding job at the age of 86 is to be admired, even if I do worry about her and think it would be better for her if she retired. I can understand, however, her determination to keep going as long as she can-- she certainly fought hard to get where she is, and there is no reason for her to give up her position until she has to!

Ah, the book. This is beautifully formatted for young readers. The pages have lots of white space, bright red headings, and there are lots of photographs of Bader Ginsburg throughout her life, sort of like the Sally Ride biography by Tam O'Shaughnessy, which is the gold standard of illustrations for me. If the pictures exist, let's see them! I love that the authors start out with the memes of the justice, because that will draw in students who are somehow unaware of her, and also how they very carefully lay out what the world was like when Bade Ginsburg was young.

There's just enough information about court cases that young readers can understand their impact but also not be overly confused. The balance between personal and professional life is also well maintained, and this leads to a well rounded picture of an impressive professional. I was especially intrigued by the description of her collars-- I'd love to be a fly on the wall if Queen Elizabeth and Bader Ginsburg ever got together to compare the subtle messages sent by the queen's broaches and the justice's collars!

This really should be required reading for all young girls, many of whom have never had it explained to them how hard women had to work to get the rights we have now!
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Me and Banksy

Kyi, Tanya Lloyd. Me and Banksy
January 7th 2020 by Puffin Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Dominica goes to a fancy private Mitchell Academy with her friends Holden and Saanvi. They generally like school, but are increasingly alarmed by Principal Plante's insistence on having cameras everywhere and school IDs that "ping" parents when students arrive in the building. This concern grows when footage of a student having an embarrassing moment is posted on a school discussion forum, and not long after, footage of Dom turning her shirt right side out in the empty school library, thereby showing her bra, is also posted. Dom gets in trouble for the "flashing", but the principal doesn't call her home; Dom is pretty sure that the principal's nasty son, Josh, is the one behind hacking into the surveillance cameras, since he taunts her about the incident. Dom is embarrassed and devastated, but doesn't want to talk to her mother about it. Her mother has a very busy and successful catering business that keeps her out many nights, and she is also dating Frank, since Dom's father died when she was quite young. The apartment building doorman keeps close tabs on Dom, as does her grandmother, George, but she still could use some more sympathetic adults in her life. She is very interested in art, and George runs a local gallery and gives her lots of books. After reading a book about Banksy's installations addressing the issue of  privacy and surveillance, Dom decides to do a project on him for her ethics class. This is scuttled when the teacher (who also has footage posted of her) changes the project, but also because Dom starts thinking about doing a similar project to draw attention to the problems at her school. She finds that boys are getting points for sharing embarassing things when Holden infiltrates their group, and with the help of fellow students Max and Miranda, Dom mounts an impressively involved graffitti campaign to try to make a difference. Knowing she could get expelled for even the small pictures she puts up around the school, will Dom and her friends be able to pull out all the stops and change the culture of privacy at their school?
Strengths: This book had so many things I enjoyed! Dom's active interest in making art and learning the history of it is a rare thing to find in a middle grade book. The issues of privacy and surveillance is even rarer, and very, very timely. Because of increased security in my school, we have a LOT of new cameras that are so clear that the school resource officer can read what people are looking at on their phones in the hallway-- how long will it be before I am caught on tape at 6 a.m. in an empty building adjusting my slip in the hallway? Yikes! I loved how Dom took Banksy's art and adapted it to her own circumstances.  There were a lot of smaller plot points about everyday middle school that were nice to see-- Dom's relationship with her grandmother, her mother's dating, her jealousy over Holden and Saanvi's relationship, the school work, and dealing with social media bullying. I especially appreciated the note right at the end of the book that told students that while Dom's approach to solving her problem makes for a great story, if readers experience social media problems, they should immediately tell a trusted adult to get help.
Weaknesses: As a principal's kid, I'm not a fan of the trope of the evil principal who lets her own child get away with things. Even though my dad wasn't at my school, I couldn't get away with ANYTHING. Also, the graffiti was hard to take; while the school deserved a hard time about the surveillance, the custodians were the ones who had to clean up the walls! (Some of it was chocolate and not paint, but still probably hard to clean!)
What I really think: Even though this is a Canadian title, the hardcover IS available from Follett Titlewave, so I'm definitely purchasing. There were a lot of things I really loved about this one, including the black squirrel on the cover. And I love that the black squirrels at Kent State CAME FROM CANADA!

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, January 07, 2020


McCulloch, Amy. Jinxed
January 7th 2020 by Sourcebooks Young Readers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Lacey has always dreamed of attending Profectus school, which is geared to students who want to be Companioneers for Moncha Corporation. She has always tinkered with machinery and computers, and is excited about getting a baku of her own-- the android animals that are the digital communication devices of choice in her society. When she doesn't get in, she is crushed, but after rescuing her best friend Zora's baku, she ends up with a cat that has characteristics unusual for a baku. Suddenly, Lacey has gained entrance to the academy and her life is back on track. She fixes Jinx up, and is soon on a baku battle team at her school. She is better at repairs than anyone, fixing a completely crushed dog baku so that her team can continue. She even has a light romance going with the team captain. Still, there are problems-- Monica Chan, the founder of the baku movement, hasn't been heard from in a long tie, and Eric Smith is taking over. His evil son is trying to get Lacey kicked out of school. Lacey's father, who worked for Moncha Corp but left under suspicious circumstances, may be affecting her scientific progress. Lacey is even having problems with Zora, and she begins to suspect that Jinx's origin may be even more secret than she has suspected. A sequel, Unleashed, came out in the UK
August 22nd 2019 (Simon & Schuster Children's UK ), so hopefully we will see it here next year.
Strengths: The premise that since people always had cell phones with them, but the cells phones were making them anxious, so lets make faux pets that function like smart phones is brilliant. I always love books where the children have a passion in an interest, and Lacey has worked really hard to start on the path to making baku with Moncha Corp. The light romance is fun and doesn't take over the story, and there's a good balance between supportive and antagonistic characters. The baku battles will add another level of interest for students who want more action in the book; I was just enthralled with Lacey's ability to fix things!
Weaknesses: The British cover is SO much better. The US cover looks a bit too young, and this would do well even with high school readers with the older cover. I could have done without the mystery of her father, but maybe that will make more sense in the next book.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing and hoping the second book comes out soon, since this ended on such a cliffhanger! Also, I would like a baku poodle WAY more than my idiotic new smart phone. Slider phones rule!

Monday, January 06, 2020

MMGM- Close Calls and Cub

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.

Happy New Year! Of course, school people know that the REAL new year starts the Monday after Labor Day, but if you are silly and go by the calendar, I hope that your 2020 got off to a great start. Here are two utterly fantastic books to get you going!

Spradlin, Michael P. Close Calls: How Eleven US Presidents Escaped from the Brink of Death
January 7th 2020 by Bloomsbury Children's Books
E ARC Provided by Netgalley

There was a recent Jeopardy! champion who apparently got himself up to speed on many areas of knowledge by reading children's nonfiction books. This would have been an excellent one to consult for information about presidents and their lesser known brushes with death! 

The most interesting thing about this is that it wasn't all information about assassination attempts that I've read before. Readers who like war stories will be drawn in by Kennedy's PT-109 story (instead of November of 1963), and Ford's service on the USS Monterey (instead of the two attempts on his life while in office), and Eisenhower's involvement in World War II. The spying that George Washington had to deal with while he was otherwise engaged in the Revolutionary War is something I didn't know about, and the sidebar about the Tories was informative as well. Andrew Jackson's temperament and demeanor are described in enough detail that I was almost sympathetic to Richard Lawrence and his malfunctioning, damp pistols. Harry Truman's would be assassins, however, were almost a comedy of errors, although I am very glad that Truman was saved because he was living at Blair House while the White House was being renovated. 

Each entry is less than ten pages long, and written in a particularly fast-paced, engaging way. The tone is a bit flippant at times (Page 4 of the E ARC: "The constant spying drove Washington batty"), but only when the person discussed is not in any real danger. The section on Lincoln, and his dealings with the Pinkerton Detective Agency, was particularly gripping, and had me holding my breath with the one line description of events. Theodore Roosevelt also gets a treatment worthy of a man willing to give a ninety minute speech after his notes saved him from getting a bullet to his lungs, even though he did get hit and was bleeding!

It would have been nice to have the presidential portraits of the leaders discussed, although many readers today would just look those up online.(

My only real problem with the book was that the E ARC was a bit slow to load, making it difficult to go back and list all of the presidents mentioned. The table of contents has clever titles, but does not list the subjects. 

The short, high-interest discussions of various incidents might lead readers to further pursue longer books, like Swanson's Chasing Lincoln's Killer, Seiple's Death on the River of Doubt (Roosevelt), and Martin's In Harm's Way (Kennedy). This is a compelling, quotable book that is sure to interest readers who like history, danger, or who want to add some presidential anecdotes to their lunch table conversation!

Copeland, Cynthia. Cub
January 7th 2020 by Algonquin Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Cindy finds that middle school in the early 1970s is fairly stressful-- all the cool girls are wearing elephant bells and blue eye shadow, but her parents are more conservative and make her wear longer dresses and sensible shoes. She also finds that they encourage her brothers more than they encourage her. She has one really good friend, but that friend starts hanging out with the cool, mean girls. On the bright side, she finds a boy in her class with whom she has a lot in common, and the two hang out and talk a lot. Also, she talks to her English teacher about writing, and her teacher connects her to a local newspaper reporter, a woman, who brings Cindy along to various events and helps her write articles, one of which is published in the newspaper. Cindy manages to make new friends, keeps up with writing as well as photography, and manages to gain the support of her parents for her endeavors.
Strengths: The details of school, fashion, home life, and sociopolitical events are all covered in an engaging and interesting way. The fact that this is a graphic novel actually helps tremendously with the understanding of what the world looked like at this point in history. I loved the reported with the VW Beetle, and yes, Cindy's parents probably would have been totally fine with her tagging along. This was also rather poignant-- in the 1970s, writing was still something that one could use for a career. I am always worried for journalism majors now!
Weaknesses: This was definitely a white, middle class story, but also a great feminist one. We just need some graphic novels about people from various backgrounds, and if they are also historical, so much the better. Graphic novels are a strain to read on my e reader (the pages have to be about 3"x5", so the print is minute), so I'm sorry for the lack of details in this review.
What I really think: Like Holms' Sunny books, this one made me ridiculously happy, since it covers a period of time during my own childhood. Will probably purchase at least two copies. I do sort of wish the cover were avocado green, though. Or maybe purple. Or orange. Better if it were a plaid of all three-- that would have captured the colors of the time! I was a little surprised that girls wore jeans to school; we weren't allowed until 1976.

My 2020 didn't get off to a great start. Member of staff broke a 35 year old Christmas decoration as the tree was being put away, Sylvie barked nonstop at her food dish, and I read NINE books that were just... meh. Not bad, just not what I needed. Nothing traumatic, just not a great start.

I read 836 books in 2019, and only reviewed about 400 of them on my blog. Often, I read a book, know it's not something I'm going to buy, and then am too lazy to write a review. Reviews take almost as long to write as the book takes to read sometimes!

2020-- I think it's going to be tough. So, I'm giving myself permission to not feel bad about reading a book and not writing a review. That said, I have 8th graders being assigned TED talks, so I was glad to see:

Anderson, Chris and Oberweger, Lori. Thank You for Coming to My TED Talk: A Teen Guide to Great Public Speaking 
March 10th 2020 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

This has a lot of good information on public speaking, related to TED talks but applicable to many settings. There are lots of anecdotes about specific TED talks, which readers could then look up online and use as examples.

Public speaking is such an important skill to have, and I love it when class reports have to be delivered orally, but I don't know that teachers always model presentations for students. In absence of this, books like this can fill a gap. My only concern is that it is a bit lengthy-- if my students are working on their TED talks and doing other homework, are they going to stop to read a 160 page book to help them out? It would have been nice to have more lists for browsing so readers could get some advice without having to read the entire book.

I would definitely purchase this for a high school where public speaking classes are offered, but am debating purchasing for my middle school library. Perhaps the teacher assigning the talks might want to buy a copy to have as a resource just for her students.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Stoop Sale Treasure (Hand-Me-Down Magic #1)

Haydu, Corey Ann. Stoop Sale Treasure (Hand-Me-Down Magic #1)
January 7th 2020 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Alma has moved to Chicago from a small town on a lake. She is now near her extended family, living in a building with her abuelita's second hand shop on the first floor and relatives in all of the apartments. She's glad to see her cousin Del and loves the neighborhood, but still misses home. After a neighborhood stoop sale where Del gets a pair of sparkly earrings, she thinks that they are bringing her magical good luck. Feeling left out of the talk of magic and other inside references, Alma feels left out, and ends up taking her cousin's earrings and putting them on a stone lion. She quickly regrets her decision, but when she goes to retrieve them, the earrings are gone. Del feels that her luck is as well. Alma confesses, and the two search for the earrings, finally uncovering them.
Strengths: I love books with a strong sense of place, and in this case, a Chicago neighborhood with a vibrant culture almost made me want to live in a city. Second hand shops are also great, and the strong extended family will appeal to both children who have a lot of cousins and to those who wish they had some. The sadness Alma feels is realistic, and stealing the earrings is one of those things that elementary age children sometimes do-- it feels like a good idea at the time, but they know better and soon regret their actions.
Weaknesses: I was hoping this would be move like Ruth Chew's Everyday Magic series, but there's no actual magic.
What I really think: This was a charming book, but falls into the beginning chapter book range. I bought a lot of those last year, and don't have that many readers who need them this year. I would definitely purchase for elementary school, but need more YA this year.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, January 04, 2020

Saturday Morning Cartoons- Diana: Princess of the Amazons

Hale, Shannon and Hale, Dean. Diana: Princess of the Amazons
January 7th 2020 by DC Zoom
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Diana should be enjoying her life on Themiscyra, but as the only child in the Amazon community, she is rather lonely, especially since her mother is frequently busy running things. After helping with some clay projects, she takes some discarded clay to the beach, and inspired by her own creation story, forms a friend from clay and sand and attempts to breathe life into her. She is surprised the next day to find her creation, Mona, roaming the woods, but glad to have a friend. The two have all kinds of fun, although Mona has quite an eye for mischief. Mona also feeds Diana's insecurities that the other Amazons don't consider her one of them, and goads Diana into sailing to an island where the Amazons are guarding the portal to Tartarus, where monsters are imprisoned. Surprised that she is able to open the door, Diana starts to realize that perhaps Mona isn't the best friend to have. The Amazon guards are unable to defeat the monsters, so Diana goes to light the signal fire. Mona says she will do it so that Diana's deception is not found out, but she doesn't. Needless to say, reinforcements help, and the monsters are banished once again. Mona turns out to be someone with whom Diana should not have been dealing, but the experience brings her and her mother closer together.
Strengths: As a former Latin teacher, I can't get enough books about Greece and Rome to share with 7th grade students as part of their social studies curriculum. This book is perfectly formatted for fans of Holm, Jamieson and Telgemeier, with the right text to picture ratio, colorful, expressive pictures, and fast paced story. There's also the DC lure; Wonder Woman IS the best super hero, hands down! This will fly off the shelves.
Weaknesses: Students won't care, but I was bothered by how Mona was able to inveigle Diana into misdeeds. Surely Wonder Woman was smarter than that, even at a young age. It was also hard to believe that her mother and the Amazon community didn't take better care of her. But that's just me.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and this will circulate well even though (oddly) DC and Marvel tie ins often don't do well in my library. This will be the exception.

Friday, January 03, 2020

Throw Like a Girl

Henning, Sarah. Throw Like a Girl
January 7th 2020 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus
Recommended to me by Erin Fry

Liv Rodinsky is a great softball player and enjoys her private school team, but when comments are made about the coach (who is her sister and married to a woman) she punches another player. This gets her kicked off the team and booted out of school because she loses her scholarship. She ends up back at the local high school, where she hopes she can get on the softball team in the spring. The coach makes her a deal-- if she can play another sport and show that she can control her anger and be a good teammate, she has a chance. When Grey, a quarterback on the Northland team (whose mother happens to be the softball coach) sees Liv tossing around a football with her younger brother, he makes her a proposition-- if she will be the substitute quarterback, he'll put in a good word with his mom. Liv was thinking of running cross country, but is okay with football, even if her parents are not and she has to hide her participation from them. The football coach is impressed with her playing, and very soon Liv makes some fantastic plays that get her a lot of notice. Her parents eventually cave. She ends up dating Grey, and starts to worry that his various injuries might be more serious than he will admit to, and that it isn't a great idea for him to keep playing. There is some YA misunderstanding and angst, but in the end, everything works out.
Strengths: We're getting there. Girls can play football, and there's no major roadblocks in Liv's way. There is a little bit of pushback about Liv playing, but not a lot. No jerky coaches, no mistreatment by the entire team, etc. Liv is a good player, and people appreciate her. The romance with Grey is a nice touch. I love that Liv's family is supportive, and her interactions with her sister and brother (who is younger) are fun and realistic.
Weaknesses: Concussions are a huge concern, and while there is a little information about Grey's problems, I wish there had been more discussion.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing for fans of Tigelaar's Playing with the Boys, Murdock's Dairy Queen, and Heldring's The Football Girl. We've actually had more girls playing football at my school than boys cheering in the last twenty years, although it's still only two girls and one boy!

Hill, Clarence Jr. Troy Aikman (A Football Hall of Fame Biography)
September 3rd 2019 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Public library copy

I've been enjoying Dan Wetzel's Epic Athletes series from Henry Holt, and they have been circulating very well, so I thought I would take a look at this series. Like Epic Athletes, this talked a lot about Aikman's childhood and his entry into sports, but also follows his entire playing career as well as his retirement. The author clearly knows his stuff, since he covered the Cowboys as a news writer, and the bibliography is impressive.

I'm just not sure that my students know who Aikman is or care about him in the way they do the athletes covered by Epic Athletes. The other biographies in this series are John Madden and Michael Strahan. I could get behind this if the series covered players who are no longer active but are still well known, but I don't know enough about football to list who that might be. (Joe Namath? Terry Bradshaw? Franco Harris?  Joe Montana? Didn't date myself at all with that list!) I'll have to talk to some of my sports fans before I purchase these. This was well done, but I don't know how much it will circulate.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, January 02, 2020

The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery

Rushby, Allison. The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery
July 24th 2018 by Candlewick Press
Personal copy

Flossie Birdwhistle died of rheumatic fever at the age of twelve, and became a Turnkey, or guardian, of Highgate Cemetery in London. She makes sure that the spirits of the people interred there are happy and at rest, and that the cemetery stays safe. As World War II starts affecting the city, she is on the alert, and seeing the ghost of an SS officer loose on the town has her worried. Her fear is warranted, and trips to a cemetery in Germany uncover the fact that this man  has a direct connection to her family and is pure evil. With the help of other spirits in other cemeteries throughout the city, she works on a way to fend off the German spirit attacks that are helping the war efforts of the living.
Strengths: This had some interesting information about London during World War II; I particularly enjoyed the decription of Churchhill's underground war rooms, which as absolutely fascinating to visit! This is a well constructed story that nicely balances the ghost aspect with the history. Flossie is a fascinating character who does her best despite being somewhat ill-prepared for such an important undertaking. Readers who enjoyed Stroud's The Screaming Staircase might find this an interesting, different take on ghosts in London.
Weaknesses: This may have the same illustrator as The Joy of Spooking, which I had to finally weed because no one would check it out. Also, I was confused that Flossie wore an iron ring. As a spirit, wouldn't that have harmed her? Have to admit, I didn't investigate that as I should have, but it seemed wrong.
What I really think: I liked this book, but may have trouble finding readers for it with this cover and the somewhat complicated history.
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

After-School Superstars

Mills, Claudia. Nixie Ness: Cooking Star (After-School Superstars #1)
June 25th 2019 by Margaret Ferguson Books
Personal Copy

Nixie loves coming home after school with her friend Grace, and the two have lots of fun with Nixie's mother, who works from home as a graphic designer. When her mother gets a full time job away from home, Nixie ends up in the after school program at her school, and Grace's mother makes other plans for her. Nixie is devastated, especially since Grace starts spending more time with a new student, Elyse. Nixie gets the opportunity to be part of a cooking class at the program, and starts to enjoy both the cooking and the other students, but she still is not happy about what is happening with her best friend. She tries to mend things by making a special lunch for Grace, only to have to give her own lunch to Elyse, and eventually gets desperate enough to pretend to be ill so that her mother will have to leave work and pick her up. Nixie hopes her mother will remember how much fun it was to be home with Nixie and go back to working from home, but of course this plan doesn't work out that way. Eventually, Nixie mends things with Grace, but also realizes that she can make other friends, too.
Strengths: Mills is able to capture elementary school drama perfectly, and Nixie's obsession with keeping Grace to herself is spot on. I love that an after school program is shown; my girls went to a before school program that they enjoyed very much; there were a couple of times when they wished they went after school as well because of some of the activities. I can't really think of many books that cover this except for Clements' The Losers' Club, but there have to be a large number of children who have the experience of being in after school care.
Weaknesses: I would be perfectly happy if all middle school books had 8th or 9th grade characters; would elementary school readers be more likely to pick this one up if the characters were in 5th grade? Also, I would like to see the characters in forthcoming books be interested in science and other STEM topics rather than cooking and drawing.
What I really think: Like Kelsey Green: Reading Queen and the Franklin School Friends books, this is a book that will appeal to struggling 6th grade readers but is absolutely essential for elementary school libraries.

Mills, Claudia. Vera Vance: Comics Star
March 17th 2020 by Margaret Ferguson Books (After-School Superstars #2)