Sunday, February 16, 2020

A Home for Goddesses and Dogs

Connor, Leslie. A Home for Goddesses and Dogs
February 25th 2020 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Lydia Bratches-Kemp's father walked out when she was young, and her mother struggled for years with a heart condition before dying. She is fortunate enough to have Aunt Brat and her wife, Eileen take her in, although it means moving from Rochester to Connecticut, and entering 8th grade after being home schooled so she could spend more time with her mother. The two women live with ninety year old Elloroy in his farmhouse in exchange for cooking and helping out, and the group gets along well. They decide to adopt a dog and decide upon a large yellow dog who is not easy to house train, and whom they eventually name Guffer. Lydia has to process her mother's death, and hangs a lot of of her mother's artwork (the titular goddesses) behind the walls of her bedroom, in a crawl space. She makes friends with the girls at school, but is at odds with a neighbor who tries to scare Guffer. She is also conflicted about contacting her estranged father. There are some other occurrences, such as mutilated baby goats turning up at Eileen's work place and being fostered by neighbors. As winter turns to spring, Lydia starts to get her balance in her new normal, and neither the dog nor Elloroy die.
Strengths: Connor is an excellent writer with the ability to pull me into a story and make me care about her characters. She gives a believable backstory for Lydia and also imbues her with a sense of realism and hope. The farm setting, and especially Elloroy, is fresh and interesting. The animals add another layer of interest. It's also nice to see students welcome a new member in a small school.
Weaknesses: This was on the long side, and there were too many details about certain things (house breaking, the goats, the artwork, the renovation of the upstairs) for my taste. It got repetitive and slowed the story down.
What I really think: This is the type of cover that doesn't do well in my library, so I am weighing the decision to buy this one. While I love Connor's work, the only title of hers that circulates well is Waiting for Normal, and occasionally Crunch. The Truth as Told By Mason Buttle only checked out twice last year.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Hamstersaurus Rex vs. The Cutepocalypse

O'Donnell, Tom and Miller, Tim. Hamstersaurus Rex vs. The Cutepocalypse
Published October 2nd 2018 by HarperCollins
School library copy

Now that SmileCorps is no longer a threat, Sam is trying to relax a bit. When he has to buy a birthday present, however, he ends up running into a Snuzzle who wrecks the toy store and causes him lots of trouble. The Snuzzles are super cute... but also bent on destroying everything they see. Along with his friend Dylan, Hammie, and the Chameleonkey, Sam tries to earn money to pay back the toy store while also saving the world from the threat of an evil Snuzzle army.
Strengths: These books are a goofy, fast-paced romp with a good mix of attractive line drawings and comfortably sized texts. They meet the need I have for funny books AND no one ever complains that "nothing happens" in them. There is something crazy happening all the time! If you haven't read these, think "Big Nate meets Radioactive Pocket Pets".
Weaknesses: These fall apart from overuse too quickly.
What I really think: I'm glad I have these, but also glad that the series is wrapped up. A four book series in paper-over-board format seems to wear out all at the same time. With a seven book series like Timmy Failure, the first book falls apart and has to be replaced before the last book comes out!

Don't miss Hamstersaurus Rex (October 4th 2016), Hamstersaurus Rex vs. Squirrel Kong (June 27th 2017) or  Hamstersaurus Rex Gets Crushed (January 2nd 2018) for the complete hamsterrific experience! Plus, check out this interview that my student Michael did with Tom O'Donnell for a language arts project!

Author Chat with Tom O'Donnell
Ms. Yingling

Friday, February 14, 2020

Birdie and Me

Happy Valentine's Day! That means that the CYBILS AWARDS are going to be announced. Head right over to to see the winners!

I'll be out of the loop until Tuesday morning, so won't be tweeting, etc. about it.

Nuanez, J.M.M. Birdie and Me
February 18th 2020 by Kathy Dawson Books/Penguin Young
E ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Jack and her younger brother Birdie have not had an easy time lately. Their mother was killed in a car accident, and their neighbor, Mrs. Spater, watched them until their uncle arrived, but was too old to take care of them. They have to move several hours away, and their uncle Carl has some problems taking care of them. Birdie, who has a fondness for gender nonconforming clothing, has run into trouble with his classmates, both children have missed a lot of school, and Carl feeds them mainly fast food and convenience store snacks. They end up having to go live with their Uncle Patrick, who is not as understanding of their needs. He feeds them healthier food, they have their own rooms, and he tries to check in with them frequently when he has to work, but he also makes Birdie wear clothes that are much more sober in color and design. Early on, Jack and Birdie decide they will return to their former home, and get part way there on a bus. They get off at a break and miss the bus, but luckily Patrick shows up to take them home. Jack's friend Janet is supportive of both of them, but her mother's boyfriend is the father of one of Birdie's chief tormentors. Carl has a girlfriend who runs a local food truck, and the children encourage her to ask her to marry him, but this does not go smoothly after a disaster with her truck. Patrick isn't quite sure how to best help the children, but tries hard. Will Jack and Birdie be able to find a way to make a life for themselves under their new circumstances?
Strengths: The characters in the book are very interesting. Janet is worldly-wise, Jack is sad but supportive, the uncles try their best, and Birdie has no guidance for how to process his feelings of being different. Janet is the most helpful with his concerns, since the uncles don't seem to have a good handle on their own lives. The small town, tight-knit setting is interesting, as is the food truck.
Weaknesses: The teachers at the school seem very unhelpful, which is sad.
What I really think: The cover is not very appealing, and the book is long, so it would take a bit of convincing to get my students to read it. It's also the sort of book that, while interesting, doesn't have a whole let that happens. Debating.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, February 13, 2020

The Body Under the Piano (Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen #1)

Jocelyn, Marthe. The Body Under the Piano (Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen #1)
February 4th 2020 by Tundra Books (NY)
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Aggie lives in the small seaside town of Torquay in 1902. Since her father's recent passing has left the family with fewer funds, she and her mother live with her grandmother. Aggie takes dance at the Mermaid Dance Room, and the girls are preparing for a recital that will gather clothing and supplies for recent immigrants. When the difficult mother of one of the students is found under the piano the next day by Aggie, she starts an investigation with a boy< Hector Porot, who has recently come to town from Belgium and is being fostered by the minister and his wife. Aggie's governess has a crush on the local constable, and Aggie and Hector seem to have unprecedented access to many people in town, allowing them to figure out the mystery more easily than the local police.
Strengths: This was actually a rather gruesome murder mystery, with plenty of details about the poisoning as well as a a protracted scene with a dead animal's brains leaking out in the garden-- my students often ask for this sort of mystery, so perhaps this is a good way to get them to read historical fiction. Christie used to be read in the 8th grade, but isn't an author with whom many of my students will be familiar, so this is a clever way to introduce her mysteries.
Weaknesses: The style and vocabulary of this book make it one better suited to strong readers.
What I really think: I may purchase this for fans of Stevenson's Wells and Wong Mysteries. It won't see a lot of circulation, but will be a hit with the right reader. It's sort of a more accessible version of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce, #1)(2009).

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Itch /The Boy at the Back of the Class

Farquhar, Polly. Itch.
February 4th 2020 by Holiday House
Public library copy

Isaac is not native to rural central Ohio, but he and his family have managed to settle in. His best friend, Sydney, has severe food allergies, but Isaac (who is called Itch by some of his classmates) is very protective of her. Isaac's nickname comes from a skin condition he has that results in a horrific itch, often causing him to scratch his skin raw. Sixth grade gets off to a rocky start when a tornado destroys part of the school, but classes start on time, and Itch is thrown into all of the middle grade drama. There is a new boy, whom they call Homer, who is even more unaware of the local worship of the Ohio State Buckeyes football team, and who carries an Epi-Pen for his own food allergies. Itch works at a pheasant farm, and is dealing with the fact that his mother is working in China and won't be home for months. When students share food in the school cafeteria (which is against the rules for good reason), Sydney ends up in the hospital with an allergic reaction, and Itch thinks it is his fault. So does Nate, who bullies Isaac, giving him a black eye, relentlessly bothering him, and even asking for a pheasant. Isaac feels guilty and doesn't visit Sydney, but tries desperately to get a bird to Nate, thinking that this would make things okay. Itch does get put on some new medication in hopes that it will help his condition. He manages to steal a bird, but will it make Nate happy? Will he be able to repair his relationship with Sydney? And how will it affect his job?
Strengths: I loved the rural Ohio setting, and the details about Buckeye worship will make my students really happy. It is also great to see #ownvoices representation of Isaac's skin condition and severe food allergies. (I'm willing to count the parent of children with allergies as #ownvoices!) This was a great length, moved along quickly, and had some good classroom drama.
Weaknesses: I wished this had been a bit more like Alyson Gerber's Braced and Focused, and given us more information on exactly what Isaac's condition was. I was also curious how the school dealt with the tornado damage, and about Mr. Epple's hearing problems. As an adult, I had trouble connecting to Itch's idea to steal a pheasant because it was such a bad idea. My students will not agree with me.
What I really think: I will purchase for the portrayal of children with health issues and the central Ohio connection.

Rauf, Onjali Q. The Boy at the Back of the Class
August 6th 2019 by Delacorte Press
Public library copy

When a new boy comes to a British primary school, he is kept away from the other students for a while. Wanting to be kind, they wonder what is going on, and try to smile at him and even give him small gifts of food. They eventually learn that he is from Syria and has fled devastating conditions, but speaks no English. He eventually gets an interpreter, Ms. Hemsi, and is able to take more of a role in Ms. Khan's class. Our main character and his friends try to welcome Ahmet and be kind to him, although there are a few people who do not. The children also hear negative things about refugees from adults. After an incident with the school bully and some current events, the main character (whose name is hard to find, if it is ever stated) writes to the queen. When he doesn't hear back, he tries to get a letter to her at the palace, but instead sparks a newsworthy misunderstanding. Eventually, Ahmet settles in, and light is brought to the immigration issue by students who are nine and three quarters years old.
Strengths: This was an exceptionally kind book that should hopefully improve understanding of immigration issues for young children and it was a quick and well written read.
This had a very British feel to it, not just in the details of the setting, but in the general tone. The main characters life is hard (father is dead, mother works a lot and is rarely home), and school figures largely in his life-- this had a younger, Tom Gates sort of ring to it. Like John Boyne's books, the main character is somewhat precocious, but oddly clueless at the same time.
What I really think: I wish this had been from Ahmet's point of view. It would have made this worth buying even though the students are so young.

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Minecraft Official Novels and Love Sugar Magic #3

Baptiste, Tracey. The Crash (Minecraft #2)
July 10th 2018 by Del Rey Books
Library copy

Bianca has been friends with Lonnie for years, even though he is two years older than she is, and that is a lot when you are a freshman in high school. They play a lot of Minecraft together, but Bianca hasn't been good about keeping up with all of the game improvements that Lonnie wants her to make, since she is trying to get more out of her high school experience. She forces Lonnie to go to a Homecoming event, and on the way back from it makes the mistake of putting her phone in front of his face while he is driving, causing their car to crash into another one. Bianca wakes up in the hospital badly injured, and goes in and out of consciousness for quite a while. When she finally has some lucid moments, another patient, A.J., approaches her with virtual reality goggles and suggest she enter the game that patients in the children's ward are allowed to play. Bianca hasn't been cleared by her doctor, and the first time doesn't go well, but since she can't move because of her injuries, she enjoys being in the game. She meets fellow patients Anton and Esme, who are in the hospital fighting cancer, and also comes across Lonnie in the game. He's not himself-- he has the glassy, vacant stare that other villagers have, but he does come along with the group as they fight their adventures. Bianca doesn't know for sure what has happened to Lonnie in the real world, but feels compelled to keep up the Minecraft adventure, thinking that perhaps Lonnie has gotten stuck in the game. Esme and Anton know the truth, and eventually, Bianca is forced to confront it as well.
Strengths: I really enjoyed the fact that this was not like the Cube Kid Minecraft novels that are set in the Minecraft world. As someone unfamiliar with the game, this made the books very hard to follow. Baptiste does a great job briefly setting up characters in the real world who have a passion for the game, and giving a realistic scenario for them to get pulled into the virtual world. I also read the second and third book, and it's also interesting that the books aren't connected. The fact that the characters are in high school will make this a title that even 8th graders will pick up. This reminded me very strongly of Vande Velde's User Unfriendly (1991), Heir Apparent (2004) and Deadly Pink. (2012), or Klavan's MindWar  series (2014). Since video games follow decided trends (RuneScape, anyone?), it's good to have updated titles to offer my students so that they occasionally take a break from playing games, if only to read about them, and I feel better handing these to students knowing that they are written by authors I respect!
Weaknesses: There's a lot unprocessed with the fact that Bianca caused Lonnie's death by her foolish action. This is serious stuff that would take a whole novel to unpack, so I sort of wish that the accident hadn't been Bianca's fault.
What I really think: Not my personal favorite, but a good addition to a middle school collection, along with my favorite, the Minecraft Cookbook! All of these have circulated like mad!


Meriano, Anne. A Mixture of Mischief (Love Sugar Magic #3)
February 4th 2020 by Walden Pond Press
Public library copy

Not sure if this is the last book in the series. It could be, but it could also have a fourth book. I'd like to see just about all series stop at three. This is popular with my students who also love Littlewood's Bliss.

"The third book in the acclaimed, delightful, character-driven middle grade series about a family of Mexican American bakers who also happen to be brujas—witches!
Leo Logroño may have discovered the true nature of her magical abilities, but her education in how to use them in her family’s magical bakery has only just begun. And that isn’t the only bit of trouble in her life: her family’s baking heirlooms have begun to go missing, and a new bakery called Honeybees has opened across the street, threatening to run Amor y Azúcar right out of business.

With two of her sisters on a special spirit-hunting spring-break trip with her tía Paloma, and with Mamá busy guarding the bakery to keep away any more bad luck, Leo must work with her best friend, Caroline, and her sister Isabel to uncover who is stealing from the bakery and find way a way to save the business.

And that’s when a long-lost relative arrives at the door, mischief right behind him. . . .

Anna Meriano’s unforgettable family of brujas returns for one more course of amor, azúcar, and magia"

Monday, February 10, 2020

MMGM- Middle School's a Drag

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.

Howard, Greg. Middle School's a Drag, You Better Werk 
February 11th 2020 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Mike Pruitt is inspired by his ailing grandfather to be an entrepreneur. He has even enlisted the help of his family; he has meetings with his parents to discuss operations, and hires his younger sister as an assistant. He has all manner of ideas for different businesses, and the students at his school seem to know that he is available for hire through his company, Anything, Inc. It's not strange when he approached by Julian, who has a drag act under the name of Coco Caliente, Mistress of Madness and Mayhem. Mike can certainly book gigs, and signs not only Julian but several other classmates as well, and gets them auditions for the school talent show, which has a prize of $100 for the best act. He learns a lot about drag performers (as did I; I had never heard of the dance move "death drop", which is certainly a very difficult move to do!) and also comes to terms with the fact that he is gay. Julian is, but since Mike acts nothing like Julian, he thinks he isn't "being gay" the correct way. This is complicated by the fact that he likes Julian's assistant, Connor. The road to the talent show doesn't go smoothly, but Mike manages to keep his business afloat, support Julian even though his father doesn't approve, and also deals with his grandfather's failing health.
Strengths: The relationships are what really make this book shine. Mike admires his grandfather, feels supported by his parents, and puts up with his sister even though she is really irritating. He has good friends, and he makes new ones once he meets Julian. His tentative romance with Connor is very sweet and spot on for what middle school students want to read! (YA romance is much more unpleasant and angsty.) It's interesting that Mike knows he's gay, but doubts himself, and questions that he isn't doing gay "right". That was kind of brilliant. The talent show is realistically portrayed; even the prize money is explained well. This was a fast paced book, and there are good details about a middle school student who wants to participate in drag performance.
Weaknesses: While it's very realistic that Julian's father doesn't approve, confronting his father about it when he does felt rather overly dramatic. There's a similar scene in a Charlie Joe Jackson book that also didn't feel like something an actual middle school student would do. Handy for the plot, but less likely to happen in real life.
What I really think: The readers in my school are not that interested in books about performing, and many of the books with gay male characters have that as a major plot point. There's the new Martin McLean, Middle School Queen as well as Federle's Better Nate Than Ever (2014). I don't really need three books on similar topics, but I am tempted to buy both because of the recent issues with drag queen story times in Ohio. I wish this had been more like Pancholy's The Best At It, which is a much easier sell to most students because it contains sports.

Ms. Yingling

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Josie Bloom and the Emergency of Life

Long, Susan Hill. Josie Bloom and the Emergency of Life
January 7th 2020 by Simon Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
E ARC provided by Edleweiss Plus

Josie lives with her grandfather because her mother died suddenly of a heart issue and her father was never in the picture. She has a good friend in Winky, who has limited sight. But in the winter of 1977, things start to go wrong. Her grandfather has become unpredictable, leaving the house in the middle of the night, hiding wads of cash around the house, and not paying the bills. He also randomly shouts odd phrases and doesn't seem to interact well with her anymore. She is afraid that he wants to move back to the local rest home, and she worries about her fate. In the meantime, she helps Winky follow baseball, especially since his hero, Joe Viola, has been sent down to the farm team in their town in Maine. Wait... could Joe Viola be Josephine Violet's long lost father? As her money worries grow and the other adults in her life are not helpful (Winky's father is out of work, and his mother sews book cozies to earn money, and her teacher is more embarassing than helpful), Josie comes up with a plan to talk to Joe and find out the truth about her background. If he is not her father, how will she be able to keep her grandfather and herself out of care?
Strengths: Josie has a very positive attitude about her life, even though she knows there are some problems. She tries to provide herself with some support, and in turn is supportive of Winky. There should be more books about the decline of grandparents, or of grandparents raising children.
Weaknesses: I was about Josie's age in 1977, so I want really excellent historical details. There was no real reason to set the book during this time, and there were a few inaccuracies, like Josie carrying a backpack to school. (They were only used for hiking until the early 1980s. I have one of the very first school back packs from L.L. Bean that I took to college in 1983.)
What I really think: A very similar title, Just Like Jackie, does not circulate well in my library, so I think I will pass on purchase.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, February 08, 2020

Saturday Morning Cartoons- Awesome Dog 5000

Dean, Justin. Awesome Dog 5000
July 2nd 2019 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Marty Fontana and his mother move to a new town for her job, and have a house that belonged to a scientist, who left lots of dusty boxes in his wake. Marty is scared to start fifth grade, because he knows that the simplest missteps will ruin his entire year. Of course, he manages to do everything that was on his list of things NOT to do-- he introduces himself to the class as Farty Montana, and the day just gets worse from there. He ends up at lunch at the dreaded Zeroes Table, right under the watchful eye of the cafeteria monitor, with other "weird" kids Ralph and Skyler, All three like to play the video game Sheriff Turbo-Karate, so they bond over that. When Marty has the two to his house, they find a robotic dog, and manage to get themselves in big trouble with Dr. Crazypants, an inventor of evil formulas who has a mansion that Awesome Dog manages to trash. Even after Marty and his friends apologize, Dr. Crazypants tries to get his revenge in all sorts of wacky ways. The worst case scenario comes to be when the villain ingests both Cutie-Pie and Tons of Tush potions and turns into a rabbit with twenty-foot-tall butt cheeks. Will the friends, along with their robotic dog, be able to save the day?

Awesome Dog manages to follow the tried and true formula of Captain Underpants while bringing some fresh twists to it. There are the fearless heroes with powers (this time acquired through the robotic dog), a goofy villain bent on destruction, lots of chase scenes, and ultimately, a vanquishing of evil... for the time being. Readers will be glad to know that a sequel, Awesome Dog 5000 vs. Mayor Bossypants is due out in March 2020.

Fifth grade has a lot of friend drama that crops up at school, so Marty's fear of his new school is one that many young readers will share. I'm not a fan of calling characters "dorks", but the fear of being excluded is a real one, and the fact that Marty does find people with whom he has a lot in common will reassure readers who struggle with making friends.

I'm a big fan of robotic dogs like the Sony Aibo or the new Tombot, so Awesome Dog's antic were fun for me to read. Of course, such an awesome pet needs a super evil villain to challenge him, and Dr. Crazypants (while politically incorrect) is a lot of fun.

Adults will no doubt pick apart this notebook style novel, but readers who enjoyed Jay Cooper's Spy Next Door, Barnett's Mac B.: Spy Kid, or the goofy goodness of Falatko's Two Dogs in a Trench Coat will laugh themselves silly over Marty's antics in this new series.

Ms. Yingling

Friday, February 07, 2020

Guy Friday- Accidental Trouble Magnet and Trigger Mechanism

Mian, Zanib and Mafaridik, Nasaya. Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet
February 4th 2020 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young
ARC provided by Follett First Look

Omar lives with his mother, a research scientist, his father, his baby brother Esa and teen sister Maryam in England. The family has just moved, and Omar is upset that he has to start a new school with children he doesn't know. He is afraid his teacher might be an alien, but Ms. Hutchinson ends up being nice, and he does meet Charlie, who welcomes him to the school. He also runs in to Daniel, who is mean to everyone but tells Omar that he should go back to his country because he is Muslim. There is also a problem with an elderly lady next door, who is overheard talking about "the Muslims" and their cooking smells, noise, etc. This makes Omar feel uncomfortable, but he also knows that it is wrong, and tries to get other students to understand that he is just like them. The neighbor comes around when she needs help from the family, and Omar eventually decides that his new home isn't so bad.
Strengths: This is a notebook novel with a great mix of pictures and text-- it's similar to another British series, Tom Gates by Liz Pichon, but involves younger characters. I love the details about Omar's family, and these details will be helpful to readers who are not familiar with Pakistani Muslim culture.
Weaknesses: The problematic dealings with the neighbor and bully at school are good for students to read about, but solved too easily for middle school readers, who know that there is a lot more going on with the issue of Muslim characters experiencing prejudice.
What I really think: This is a must have for elementary libraries, but is a bit too young for middle school, with Omar's imagining that his teacher might be an alien and the way he interacts with his family and fellow students. I'd love to see a similar story for slightly older readers!

McEwen, Scott and Williams, Hof. The Trigger Mechanism (Camp Valor #2)
February 11th 2020 by St. Martin's Griffin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Wyatt survived Camp Valor, although he lost his friend Dolly to the evil Hallsie. He's determined to take him down, but other missions get in the way. A young gamer, Jalen, gets drawn into a shoot-em-up game that ends up actually killing people, since hackers got into both his virtual reality system and the system of a self driving car. Jalen has to go into hiding, and feels horrible about what happened, so is glad to go to Camp Valor. The hacking threat seems to be an entity called Encyte, and there are several different theories about who this might be, including a gamer who goes by the name Hi Kyto. To make matters even more complicated, a former Valor alum, Darsie, who knew Wyatt's father Eldon wants Wyatt to drop out of Valor and work for him to find Hallsie. He also is interested in the Encyte threat, and has resources that might help with that. In the meantime, the secretary of defense, Elain Becker, finds out about Camp Valor and is determined to shut it down. Interestingly, Hi Kyto is his protege. Eventually, the people at the camp have a woman come to them and say she has been approached to shoot a private school where the children of a gun rights advocate attend, and all of the threads in the Encyte mystery get tangled up in the attempt to stage this convincingly and finally put this threat out of commission.
Strengths: There are relatively few books that involve video gaming, and this uses it to wickedly good effect. Camp Valor, where juvenile delinquents gets a second chance by working for the government, is such an appealing idea to the middle grade mind. This has lots of technology details, travel, things blowing up-- it's not slow at all. Look at that cover-- it sells itself to Klavan's The Last Thing I Remember, Gilman's The Devil's Breath and Kincaid's Insignia.
Weaknesses: This is rather technical, has some fairly gruesome violence, and was a bit difficult to follow because there were so many intriguing things going on.
What I really think: I wish there weren't the f-bomb near the end of the book, and this is still a bit more violent than I like, but it's a really good spy mystery, especially with the connection to gaming and the Internet of Things. Reminded me a bit of Falkner's Brain Jack. The first book has been really popular with my 8th graders, who will be waiting breathlessly for this volume to arrive. This would be a fantastic series for high school readers who loved Stormbreaker.

Thursday, February 06, 2020

A Girl, A Raccoon, and the Midnight Moon

Young, Karen Romano. A Girl, A Raccoon, and the Midnight Moon
January 7th 2020 by Chronicle Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Pearl was practically born at the branch library where her mother works, and considers it home. When the head of the Edna St. Vincent Millay statue is stolen from the scruffy garden, Pearl is devastated and determined to find the culprit. Her mother alerts the local newspaper, and the attention the branch receives  brings to light the fact that it isn't as busy as the other branches and because the building is in poor condition, it might be sold. Evil contractors even come to take measurements for making it into apartments. Pearl and her friends try to rally support and plan a big Halloween party to encourage local people to sign their children up for cards. At the same time, there is a mystery about Mrs. Mallomar and her children who are raccoons who can read and live in the library at times. Sidebars from the raccoons give interesting information about everything from library staffing to raccoon habits.
Strengths: I love Millay's work, and am a sucker for a good library book, and Pearl's branch is certainly a very appealing place. The mystery about the statue, combined with the New York City setting, gave it a From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler feel. The characters are delightful, and I love the rallying of community support, especially since it involves getting more people to use the library. The building was also very appealing.
Weaknesses: The raccoons communicate with humans. This is definitely speculative fiction.
What I really think: A book almost 400 pages long with a cover like this would never circulate in my library. Had it been 200 pages long (maybe dropping the raccoon story line), I would have bought it for fans of Tan's A Kind of Paradise. This had a definite 1970s vibe to it, especially with the talk of newspaper articles.

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Pippa Park Raises Her Game

Yun, Erin. Pippa Park Raises Her Game
February 4th 2020 by Fabled Films Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Pippa loves to play basketball and struggles a tiny bit in school. She lives with her much older sister, Mina, and Mina's husband, and works in her sister's laundry to help out. Her mother's visa has expired, and she has returned to Korea. Mina pressures Pippa to do well in school, and when Pippa gets a letter that she is invited to attend Lakeview, a local private school on scholarship for her basketball skills, she is very pleased. Even though it means leaving her best friend, Buddy, and embracing a new way of life, Pippa does her best to fit in. She still struggles with math, but gets tutoring help from the very cute Eliot Haverford, who has his own troubled family life, including a father who is headmaster of Lakeview. She does get in with the popular Bianca and "the Royals"- the popular girls at school, but she has trouble getting along with Olive, and is dismayed to find out that Bianca also has a crush on Eliot. Pippa continues to struggle with math,has to deal with the fact that her mother has been in a car accident and Mina must go to Korea to be with her, and gets mean anonymous notes, but when she helps out Eliot's brother, she manages to get herself in line to be suspended. Will Pippa be able to hold onto her place at Lakeview and not alienate her friends and family?
Strengths: This was very reminiscent of The Dork Diaries, with the private school setting, mean girls, and jockeying for popularity. It also had a feel of Elena Delle Donne's Elle of the Ball series, where Elle has to balance school, sports, and her family life. It was nice to see a student having to work in a family business and dealing with a bit of monetary insecurity. The Korean culture was very welcome, as I have had several students with Korean backgrounds who ask to have more books about students like them. I loved the brother-in-law and how well he took care of Pippa.
Weaknesses: I'm not a fan of the meanness in The Dork Diaries, and I doubt that anyone in the target demographic will understand that this is a "reimagining of Great Expectations". If it weren't for Aunt Haverford, I wouldn't have seen it at all. Eliot's family backstory was convoluted and seemed out of place.
What I really think: I'll purchase this to fill a need for books with girls who play basketball and characters who are Korean, but the reimagining aspect seemed forced to me.

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

All the Pieces Fit (HILO #6) and True to Your Selfie

Winick, Judd. All the Pieces Fit (HILO #6)
February 4th 2020 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

We find our heroes engaged in an epic battle with Razorwark, who has been joined by Hilo's sister Izzy. Secret agents have converged on the Lim house, and things are happening fast. Ms. Lim finds out that her son D.J. is on another planet with Hilo, who is a robot, and she's not happy, but is willing to help take on the forces of evil. Talking to Dr. Bloodmoon, Hilo is assured that Izzy is doing what she thinks is right, but still knows he needs to help her. Back on Earth, the kids foil the agents by creating, among other things, a hurricane of hamsters, and manage to rout them, only to be besieged by robots that Razorwark wants to send through a portal to his planet to kill all the people, feeling this is appropriate revenge for their actions of deactivating all the robots. There's lots of fighting, and lots of philosophical soul searching about what it means to be friends, to feel emotions, and to do the right thing even if some of the results are bad. We are told repeatedly that despite her actions, Izzy is making "all the pieces fit", and even though she does and it seems like Hilo's tale is told, there is a book seven on the horizon! (Gina- The Girl Who Broke the World, 2021)
Strengths: Hurricanes of hamsters, magic wands, isolation bubbles over cities-- all great speculative fiction. The illustrations are bright and bold, the text-to-picture ratio perfect for the target demographic, and the story fast-paced and exciting. This is a series that straddles the Pilkey Line nicely; even my 8th graders pick it up sometimes.
Weaknesses: Pretty sure all of the philosophy about Hilo's empatis goes right over my students' heads, but it is a brilliant addition in that adults will groove on it.
What I really think: Six books is more than enough; these are great, but the paper-over-board format leads the first one to disintegrate by the time book 6 is published. Probably should have gotten these in a prebind. I have a student who wanted the copy immediately after I got it, and the wait list at the library was 10 people long!

McCafferty, Megan. True to Your Selfie
February 4th 2020 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Morgan and Ella are seventh graders you have a Photobomb account that has 10,000 followers. Ella is well-to-do (her father is a congressman and they live in a large house), but Morgan's family struggles. Her father was never really part of the picture, and her mother is going back to school. Her older sister is off at college, although very supportive of Morgan. Along with another classmate, Maddy, the girls make video covers of popular songs, with Morgan playing ukelele, and spend a lot of time documenting everything they do, from getting coffee to hanging out at the pool. Ella is VERY concerned about their "brand", and gives Morgan a lot of clothes so that she is always picture perfect for "the socials". The girls also have elementary school students who are their "fans". School is not all that important to Ella, since she is sure she will realize her dream of "global platform domination" and pursue a career as a media influencer. Morgan isn't as on board. She doesn't want to worry about manicures that will just get messed up playing the ukelele. She is a C student, but doesn't have a lot of time to study since she has to spend time with Morgan staging their life. When Morgan does fencing in gym, she has a real talent for it and enjoys it, but Ella gives it a thumbs down as not an appropriate activity. Ella is also very nasty to Morgan's former best friend, and Morgan misses her. Eventually, Morgan must go against Ella's wishes after a new girl moves to school and Ella ramps up her plans, knowingly sabotaging Morgan's. Will Morgan be able to find life after social media?
Strengths: This is perfect, if only as a historic artifact! There are a lot of students who follow internet "celebrities" or who make attempts at posting their own content. The wish fulfillment of this is spot on, and readers will love imagining that they, too, can have this many followers, even as they understand that Ella's single minded pursuit of fame isn't healthy. I love the inclusion of fencing, and how hard Morgan's mother works.
Weaknesses: This actually covers a lot of very serious issues students today face, but the cover makes it look like just a silly book. Also, I have 356 blog followers after almost 14 years. Clearly, I need to learn ukelele!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, although the cover makes me cringe.

Monday, February 03, 2020

MMGM- Chirp

February marks the 10th anniversary of Boys Read Pink and my 14th Blogiversary (on 2/16).

I've always tried to do two things; diversify my collection (my first posts cover finding new books to fill in gaps in my array of African American books in the library I inherited in 2002) and to find books that boys would enjoy reading. (Before you get angry about "all books are for all children, please read this SLJ article.)

The world has changed in fourteen years. It has become very mean. Twitter has allowed people to say hateful things without thinking, and to slam people without examining their motives.

As an old, middle class white woman in a world where "well-meaning" is used perjoratively, I am hesitant to say anything about anything these days. I try my best. I read as many books as I can, try to engage and enlighten my students, and hope that my efforts at both can help fellow teachers and librarians. 

It would be nice to celebrate. I would like to feel that my efforts over the last fourteen years have been positive. Instead, I'm typing this at 6 a.m. in tears, worrying that if I post about Boys Read Pink, which is very dear to my heart for a number of reasons, people will attack me. Also, this fear pretty much sums up my feelings about the majority of my interactions in the Kidlitosphere lately. 

Celebrate with me if you want. If you can't say anything nice, please don't say anything at all.

Messner, Kate. Chirp
February 4th 2020 by Bloomsbury Children's Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Mia's family moves from Boston back to Vermont, and she's happy to be back near her grandmother, who has a business raising crickets to sell for food. Her parents are both busy, so they make Mia go to two summer camps-- one is Launch camp, which she hopes will help with her grandmother's business, and the other is Warrior Camp, which Mia is glad is NOT gymnastics, since she had a troubling experience in Boston and is also recovering from a badly broken arm. Things are not going well with the crickets, and she and her new friend Clover investigate why sea gulls are getting in, beetles show up in the feed, fruit flies infest the area, and the temperature controls are sabotaged. Through the Launch camp, Mia gets a lot of good ideas, and goes to businesses in the small town to try to get them interested in crickets as food, to some success-- even the mayor posts pictures of herself eating the crickets! Behind all of this activity, however, Mia is harboring a secret about uncomfortable experiences she had at gymnastics back in Boston; she manages to talk to a visiting women entrepreneur about them, and tells her parents when her young cousin is considering going to the same gym. The mystery of the sabotage is also uncovered, and her grandmother's business manages not only to survive but to thrive with the help of interested investors.
Strengths: Messner does two things very well-- strong, supportive and engaged families, and small town settings. Add to that interesting characters who are involved in doing things, and her books are the gold standard for middle grade fiction. This is an interesting mystery that has elements of friend drama, and will go over well with students. The inclusion of #metoo topics will be well received by adults in the book community.
Weaknesses: It was a bit hard to believe that an adult would go to such lengths to sabotage someone's business, but it makes for a compelling story.
What I really think: Will definitely purchase, as this author is popular in my library.

Ms. Yingling

MMGM- Breaking Through and Boys Read Pink

Macy, Sue. Breaking Through: How Female Athletes Shattered Stereotypes in the Roaring Twenties
February 4th 2020 by National Geographic Society
Copy provided by the publisher

One hundred years ago. When I was growing up, this seemed like an impossibly long time in the past. The Civil War had just ended! Everything about daily life was drastically different. And now... one hundred years ago, there were cars, refrigerators, knee length dresses, and women playing sports.

As in her Wheels of Change and Motor Girls, Macy presents an astonishing array of information about women in all manner of sports, as well as extremely helpful timelines about other history going on at the time. History textbooks often fail in showing cultural background for events, so I was glad to see two page spreads about events as varied as Prohibition, Lindbergh's Flight and the discovery of penicillin in between chapters, as well as an epilogue detailing important events up to the present time. For young people who struggle to place World War II in history, timelines are an important inclusion.

The array of photographs accompanying all of this information is amazing, and really helps with understanding items like the long skirts on the Vassar Resolutes' 1876 baseball uniforms or the swim suits on the 1924 women's Olympic swim team. I was especially drawn to the running shoes, which looked like they offered no support whatsoever. It must have been difficult to locate all of these, but they add tremendously to the text.

The sheer amount of information about women's sports in the 1920s (and a bit before) is impressive. Swimming, baseball, basketball, ice skating, golf, track and field, rowing, aviation, tennis, hockey and even football (soccer) are covered, showcasing outstanding individuals but also giving background about the state of the endeavor for women in general. Of especial interest is the inclusion of the contributions of women of color, as well as the note that some ethnic populations were not found in news articles. Not only are events and individuals covered, but there is discussion on how the public saw women's sports. Young readers born after half court basketball was ended will be shocked to find that it was considered a given that women were "too delicate" for sports, and that female athletes would feel compelled to show they could dress and make themselves up according to feminine ideals at the time also excel at housewifery! My favorite line has got to be Paul Gallico's "If there is anything more dreadful aesthetically or more depressing than the fatigue-distorted face of a girl runner at the finish line, I have never seen it." Don't think Paul did much running!

The epilogue, with a timeline about highlights in the evolution of women's sports, shows the advances and challenges in the last 100 years. Certainly, there is still progress to be made, and it is helpful to be inspired by women who fought against much greater odds to insure that women and girls would have an equal playing field and as much opportunity as possible. If you have readers who are very interested in this topic, hand them this book along with Jessie Graham Flower's 1911 Grace Harlowe's sophomore year at high school, or, The record of the girl chums in work and athletics. Grace's basketball team's experiences will seem all the more important after reading about the challenges girls faced a decade later!

Breaking Through is a must purchase for all school libraries, and will get equal use for research and for pleasure reading. In fact, since the National History Day theme this year is "Breaking Barriers", it is essential to obtain this title immediately. I'm going to make sure I have two copies, since Macy's works (including the 1996 Winning Ways) are always in demand, and I'm tempted to get a third to deconstruct and make into a bulletin board, which I often consider but never do!

Ms. Yingling

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Soccer Dreams

Pryor, Shawn. Soccer Dreams
February 1st 2020 by Picture Window Books
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Keisha attends an activities fair and isn't quite sure what she wants to do until she sees a boy with a soccer ball. Her grandfather was a striker, so she joins the team hoping that she can get this position. Keisha doesn't have any trouble with running, but she keeps grabbing the ball, which is not allowed. Eventually, her coach (who wears an athletic hijab) asks her to try out as a goalie, and this is where Keisha finds her true talent.
Strengths: The reading level of this falls between I Can Read Books and the Jake Maddox sports titles, so would be good for first through third grade. The illustrations are colorful and appealing. Keisha has a supportive family, and she gets along well on her team. I'm glad to see more sports books being written for younger children, and soccer is definitely a good choice for many elementary school students.
Weaknesses: Too young for my students.
What I Really Think: I would definitely look into this Kids' Sports Stories series for an elementary library.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Brina the Cat #1: The Gang of the Feline Sun

Salati,Giorgio and Cornia, Christian. Brina the Cat #1: The Gang of the Feline Sun January 14th 2020 by Papercutz
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Brina and her owners are on vacation in an amazing home in the mountains. Brina wants to get outside, but when she is allowed out once, she gets distracted and runs away, finally being found in a pipe near the yard. Once this city cat has a taste of freedom and fresh air, she wants more. Egged on by Vespucci, a feral cat with a troubled past and a missing eye, Brina leaves her loving owners to run with the pack. Vespucci and the other cats are welcoming, but also get Brina into some trouble. Her owners are desperately worried, and she misses them as well, but is that enough for her to leave her life of freedom and return to them?
Strengths: This is worth purchasing for the setting alone-- those mountains! I'd be glad to go even if I had to be in a cage. This is a sweet story, and mirrors how I think my dog would feel if taken to the mountains. (There's no sleeping on memory foam with fuzzy blankets in the wild!)The pictures are utterly adorable, and the picture-to-text ratio is perfect.
Weaknesses: This is a translation, and there were a few moments where it felt like I was missing something.
What I really think: The premise is very similar to Hunter's Into the Wild, where the "kittypet" runs off and enjoys the life of freedom. This is sort of an alternate ending to that book; in The Warriors, the cats all decide to be feral and fight with each other and eat voles, but Brina is willing to give up her freedom in order to have a safer life with her humans. This will be wildly popular in middle schools where graphic novels circulate well.

Looking forward to the sequel, City Cat, due out June 2, 2020!