Monday, April 06, 2020

Monday, again!

MMGM- Spaceman and First Beagle in Space

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 
Massimino, Mike. Spaceman (Adapted for Young Readers): The True Story of a Young Boy's Journey to Becoming an Astronaut 
April 7th 2020 by Delacorte Press
Copy provided by the publisher

It must be hard for young readers today to understand the appeal of the space program. After all, the moon walk was fifty years ago. Ancient history. Also, there have been so many sad events in the space program in those fifty years. Still, in the 1970s, space travel was not only an enchanting prospect, it was possible. While actually going into space doesn't sound like a good plan to me personally, having spend a lot of time in my youth wearing a space helmet and "blasting off" over a drainage culvert on a Big Wheel, I can relate to Mr. Massimino's tales of watching the first moon walk, having an astronaut Halloween costume, and wanting to be an astronaut.

It's also hard for today's students to understand that young people weren't always encouraged to pursue their dreams, or given much guidance in doing so. There is so much career and college counseling that goes on today, and yet in the 1980s, it makes perfect sense that Massimino could have applied and been accepted to grad school in the wrong program-- political science instead of engineering! This is a great tale about having a dream and never really being encouraged to pursue it, yet persevering anyway.

While I loved the descriptions of grad school and working in the 1980s (Massimino was born in 1962, so he's three years older than I am), young readers will instead take to heart the training for being an astronaut, and the descriptions of the Hubble missions in which Massimino participated.

Readers who enjoy memoirs like Leland's 2017 Chasing space : an astronaut's story of grit, grace, and second chances, Kelly's 2018 Endurance : my year in space and how I got there Kelly, Scott, or Acevedo's 2018  Path to the Stars : my journey from Girl Scout to rocket scientist will definitely appreciate Massimino's story account of his path to becoming an astronaut while tenaciously holding on to what seemed like an impossible dream.

Schulz, Charles M. Snoopy: First Beagle in Space (PEANUTS AMP Series Book 14): A PEANUTS Collection
March 17th 2020 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

Can I start recommending Snoopy comics to students as historical fiction? I think I can! Not only does this collection cover some of Snoopy's late 1960s adventures in space, but it has Charlie Brown preparing for bed by drinking a glass of milk and putting on new pajamas! My students would need explanations for both of these things!

Mike Massimino, who went on two missions to fix the Hubble space telescope, talks in his memoir about having a Snoopy astronaut figure with which he played a lot. It's really hard to describe just how pervasive Snoopy was during the 1970s and 1980s, especially around Christmas, for some reason. Stuffed toys, the IceCapades, ornaments, t shirts before there were t shirts for everything, lunchboxes-- you name it, it had Snoopy.

These books are a great way to keep Schulz's cartoon legacy going. I just wish they included the original publication dates in an easier to find location.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

Bad Best Friend

Vail, Rachel. Bad Best Friend
March 24th 2020 by Viking Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Niki has been friends with Ava since they were very young, but now that they are in middle school, things have become strained. Ava has always been a little fancier than Niki, and Niki has always felt a little awkward in her presence. Still, their mothers are very good friends, and Ava is Niki's connection to the popular "squad". As the two drift further apart, Niki starts to reconnect with former friends like enthusiastic Holly and twin neighbor boys. Aside from the friend drama, Niki has to deal with a difficult home situation. While her parents are both very present and concerned, her nine year old brother Danny is becoming increasingly difficult at school. He throws tantrums, has few friends, and has recently gotten into trouble by disobeying the teacher. Niki's mother doesn't want the school to test Danny, because she doesn't want him to be labeled and treated differently. Niki's father, however, feels that if Danny's difficulties are understood, he might have more successful interactions with people. Niki tries very hard to hide Danny's troubles from her friends, but Holly remembers Danny from years back and is very sweet to him, even managing to get the local refuse collectors to come to his birthday party. When Niki blows off Holly to go to a party with Ava, things go badly wrong, and she knows that she will have to decide who her friends really are.
Strengths: Is it really middle school if you don't lose at least one long time friend? This is the cause of so much middle school angst, yet isn't covered all that much in the literature. Bonus points to Ms. Vail for making both Ava and Niki sympathetic, and for allowing them to talk to each other even when they are angry. I especially loved it when Ava tells Niki they can still be friends in private. The issues with Danny are realistic; we have an autism unit in our school, and there are a fair number of children who aren't diagnosed as being on the spectrum until 6th grade or later, so it's realistic that Danny's difficulties have not been dealt with. There are lots of good details about his behavior that Ms. Vail has drawn from her experiences with her brother, who is also on the spectrum. There's also a little bit of boy drama thrown in for good measure, making this a good choice even for 8th grade readers.
Weaknesses: The difference between middle grade and young adult is often the amount of time the characters spend in their own head. Niki overthinks everything in a much more YA way instead of her emotions being shown through the things that she does. This slowed the story down a bit for me.
What I really think: Even though this made me cringe a little bit, it definitely had ALL. THE. DRAMA, and is therefore perfect for a sizable portion of my readers who absolutely love to read about things going wrong with friends. Definitely purchasing, since this author's Unfriended and Well, That Was Awkward are popular.

Mlynowski, Sarah. Abby in Oz (Whatever After #13.5)
April 7th 2020 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Abby is in a treehouse with her friends Penny, Robin, and Frankie when the house gets sucked up into a tornado! Before they know it, they've landed... in Oz. Penny has traveled with Abby before and still remembers a little about how the stories work, but Robin and Frankie don't know what to think. Early on, the girls meet Dorothy and Toto, and try not to freak out the story book character who wonders why these strangers know her name. Abby knows enough to guess that the evil Gluck had something to do with her travels. Prince has come along, although her brother has not, and the story is not going the way either the movie OR the book progressed. Abby knows this is essential, so tries to get her friends to help. Oz is a dangerous place, and the girls are taken by the witch by flying monkeys, put into prison, do manage to meet the Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Cowardly Lion, but have to deal with both the Wicked Witch of the West AND the East. With the help of the Wizard (who has no magic), they manage to confront the witches in the Emerald City, but it is Toto and Prince who save the day and allow the girls to return home.
Strengths: Like the author, I grew up watching The Wizard of Oz, albeit only once a year. It was always a great treat. Abby and her friends faithfully recreate both the movie and book versions as much as possible, and Dorothy's confusion is understandable. Lots more details and action that the regular fairy tale installments.
Weaknesses: This got to be a bit plodding when Abby was trying to follow the story so carefully.
What I really think: I keep buying these because I always have a handful of readers who like them, but the series is getting to be a bit too long. The next book is set in the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and we'll see if Abby can finally spring Maryrose from her mirror!

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Kenzie Kickstarts a Team (The Derby Daredevils #1)

Rosewater, Kit and Escabasse, Sophie (Illustrator)
Kenzie Kickstarts a Team (The Derby Daredevils #1) 
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Kenzie and her best friend Shelley love roller derby, a sport in which they are interested because Kenzie's mother is involved. They both hope to join a team when they are in high school, so are super excited to see that there are try outs for ages 10-14 teams at the warehouse in Austin, Texas where they have been skating. The only problem is that they really want to try out together, and find that the only way they can do this is to put together a team of five. They don't have a lot of time, but look around their school and approach several people. Tomoko is fearless at basketball but not getting enough time on the court, and is willing to give it a try. Jules is involved in a Shakespeare theater group, but always getting in trouble for her sword fighting, and is also willing to give it a try. Celia, from the same theater group, is less thrilled, especially since she has never skated. Shelley wants Bree, who is in their class at school and skateboards, to try out, but Kenzie doesn't want to have her around, mainly because she has a nascent crush on Bree and doesn't know how to handle it. The girls take their team to the tryouts, and while things don't quite work out as they planned, they are ultimately successful.
Strengths: This had a lot of good drama in it-- Kenzie worrying that Shelley is becoming friends with Tomoko, the crush on Bree, and the stress of putting together a team in order to be able to skate in a league. There are a lot of illustrations, although not as many as a graphic novel. The details about roller derby moves and competition are also interesting. This was a fun, quick read.
Weaknesses: The girls are in fifth grade, and there are some details that make this seem a bit young.
What I really think: I'm not sure how interested my readers are going to be in a book about roller derby that isn't Roller Girls, but this is an unusual and innovative book about a sport, so I think I'll give it a try.

Ms. Yingling

Friday, April 03, 2020

Happy Friday!

A Song Only I Can Hear

Jonsberg, Barry. A Song Only I Can Hear
April 7th 2020 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Rob lives in Australia with his family, including a feisty grandfather who is in a nearby nursing home. He has an enormous crush on new girl, Destry Camberwick, but doesn't know quite how to approach her. He talks to his grandfather, who doesn't have that many suggestions, but soon starts getting texts from a mysterious number, challenging his to do things to impress the girl, like walking dogs and joining in a local talent show. All of these things end up being good for Rob, especially walking one small dog belonging to one of his grandfather's friends at the nursing home. Rob is curious about other's experience with love, and realizes his grandfather has never talked about his grandmother. He finally opens up, and Rob finds out that his father was a soldier during Vietnam and struggled with PTSD so badly that the grandmother returned home to Italy, leaving the grandfather to have to buckle down raise Rob's father. At the talent show, Rob publicly reveals an open secret that changes his relationship with Destry but gives him new confidence in himself. If you don't want spoilers for this one, don't read the reviews on Goodreads, but know that this has an LGBTQIA connection.
Strengths: I'm a sucker for books with amusing grandparents, and Rob's grandfather is very gruff and outspoken, but also clearly cares for Rob. Certainly, middle school crushes are often very intense, so Rob's infatuation with Destry is quite believable. The twist at the end is well done, and the characters are generally nuanced and sympathetic.
Weaknesses: This is on the long side, and a bit slow paced, although it is fun to watch all of Rob's activities. And did Rob have to be quite so mean about his middle aged father's appearance?
What I really think: This reminded me a bit of Tom Mitchell's How to Rob a Bank, but wasn't quite as amusing. I was sure that Rob was on the autism spectrum-- the voice is a bit odd, which makes a little bit of sense after the twist at the end. It might also just be that Australian writers have a different style. Debating.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Happy Walk to Work Day

It's my second favorite holiday after Groundhog Day, because I walk to work almost every single day! It's a great way to help yourself AND the environment!

The List of Things That Will Not Change

Stead, Rebecca. The List of Things That Will Not Change
April 7th 2020 by Wendy Lamb Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Bea's parents are divorced, but she keeps a list that reassures her that her life is still okay. They have shared custody, and live close to each other, so she is able to keep herself fairly organized, although having two reminders about school projects would help. Her father has a posh restaurant, Beatrice, and his partner, Jesse works there. Jesse's sister Sheila frequently babysits her. She has good friends in Lizette and Angus, and sees a therapist, Miriam, to help her deal with the divorce and some anger management issues. Bea also suffers from fairly significant eczema. As her father and Jesse prepare to get married, we see Bea's every day life, but also flashbacks to other periods in time. One of these that recurs is the previous summer, when the family got together and her cousins gave her a hard time. One of those cousins, Angelica, fell out of a top bunk and wasn't hurt, but has recently been experiencing difficulties. Bea mentions that she is not a good person and did something bad over the summer, and eventually tells Miriam what this is and is able to deal with her guilt.
Strengths: This had a lot of good elements: Bea's dealing with divorce and going between homes, her extended family's acceptance (or rejection) of her father's sexual orientation, her relationship with Jesse's daughter, her school projects (making butter in a jar!), and her appointments with her therapist. I especially was glad to see a portrayal of a young person with eczema, as I have had several students struggle with that condition. Stead's When You Reach Me won the Newbery ten years ago, and many teachers and librarians are huge fans of her probing, lyrical writing.
Weaknesses: While Bea is in about fifth grade, she seems very young, and many of the anecdotes involve her life when she is even younger. This is a more character driven story, so there is not a lot that happens. The source of Bea's guilt was pretty obvious and not that compelling.
What I really think: I will pass on purchase because of the young feel and the NYC setting, which does not do well with my students. The exception to this is Mackler's Not If I Can Help It, but that circulates mainly due to the giant gummy bear on the cover!
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

What to do on Wednesday


Humphrey, Anna. Quack
April 1st 2020 by Albert Whitman
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

David "Shady" Cook has selective mutism; he doesn't speak at school, although he will speak when just his family is present. He does have a best friend, Pouya, who has come to Canada with his mothers after living in a refugee camp. When the boys are out biking and save some ducklings from traffic, one accidentally gets brought home. Shady (so called because he wears sunglasses to deal with his anxiety) becomes attached to the animal, and his parents reluctantly agree to his therapist's idea to have Sven be an emotional support animal. In addition to the duckling who ends up being Svenrietta, Shady is lucky to have his big sister Manda and well as supportive and understanding school personnel. One Svenri starts coming to school, more and more students make connections with Shady. There's a lot of other things going on as well; there's a school dance, a Christmas play, and Manda's interest in joining a film club, even though watching Shady and Pouya takes up her afternoons. Told from alternate viewpoints, including that of Shady's former friend Pearl, we watch as Shady begins to make progress with Svenri at his side, but also how he is devastated when the duck goes missing.
Strengths: An author's note describes Ms. Humphrey's own daughter's struggles with this particular form of anxiety, and talks about some other issues involved. It's good to see that Shady has a support network, a good friend, and an understanding sister. Manda's own struggles are interesting to read. The school activities are realistic and show the different difficulties with which Shady has to deal. He occasionally communicates through black out poetry, which some readers will find intriguing.
Weaknesses: I would have been interested to see how the school was so quickly convinced to have Svenri in the building; we have had support dogs, but they go through a vigorous training process. Svenri is trained a bit, and seems to do well in the classroom, but I think I was thrown by the fact that they found her in the wild.
What I really think: This is a bit young for my students, so I may pass. We are certainly seeing a lot of books dealing with all manner of anxiety issues, so this may be helpful to students who want to understand other viewpoints.

When I was in second grade, there was a girl, Judy, with selective mutism. I was a fairly kind child and tried to be friends with her, but it was very hard. Elementary school children don't necessarily have the ability to deal with people who don't talk to them.

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, March 31, 2020