Tuesday, March 31, 2020

What to Do Today

In the Red

Swiedler, Christopher. In the Red
March 24th 2020 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Michael Prasad and his family live on a colony on Mars, under a dome that controls the environment. His father, Manish, works at a ranger station outside of the dome, so he has taken Michael and his brother outside many times. Michael really wants to get his space suit certification, but he had a disastrous experience the one time he tried, and when he sneaks out to take the test again, his second time doesn't go well either. He blacks out, and comes to in the hospital. His parents are understandably angry; he's been diagnosed with anxiety, and has been told that as long as his "condition" of having panic attacks persists, he is not allowed to travel outside the dome. This makes him angry, and he feels like he is letting his father down. When his friend Lilith surprises him by arranging to meet one night near the edge of the dome so that they can travel outside just to look at stars, Michael decides that it's a great time to travel to his dad's station to say "hi". There are some problems going on in the community that are hush hush-- something with solar flares and the magnetic field around Mars perhaps being compromised, but taking off in a rover for a six hour drive should be just fine. Of course, it isn't. When it is unsafe to stay outside in the rover because of the flares, the two try to hide in a cave, and their exploration leads them to a station that has seen problems. They eventually manage to find Randall, a man who worked with Michael's father, and he helps everyone survive in abandoned shelters, living on old curry ready meals and monitoring their space suits for vital stats. Michael takes several very dangerous chances to try to contact his father's station, and doesn't have panic attacks all of the time. Eventually, he and Lilith are in very grave danger; will they be able to survive and make it safely back to the colony?
Strengths: This had a lot of good details about what it would be like to live on Mars, which is something I wanted from Emerson's Last Day on Mars (Chronicle of the Dark Star #1), before that book took off from the planet. I liked that the emergency took place entirely on the planet, and we got to see the various places where people could live. Traveling across Mars was also interesting, and very suspenseful. I really didn't think that Michael and Lilith could possibly survive! This was a fast-paced, quick read for fans of Sylvester's MINRS, Landers' Blastaway, Levy's Seventh Grade vs. The Galaxy and Buzz Aldrin's fantastic nonfiction book, Welcome to Mars.
Weaknesses: Michael does so many really, really stupid things that I was perfectly okay with him perishing on the surface of the planet. It's good to see a discussion of anxiety and panic attacks, but his condition doesn't excuse how much danger he puts himself and his friend in. (That's me opining while wearing my parent/teacher hat, I know!)
What I really think: Since it is unlikely that my students will read this book and then decide to take a rover outside of a Mars colony, I think I'm safe to purchase it. Since I didn't purchase a similar one about Mars a while back (can't remember or find it; I can only remember that the ARC was four books in one, and I thought it was just one book.), I think I will buy this, since Strickland's Marooned! (2004) series has become weirdly popular in my library recently.

Monday, March 30, 2020

My Spelling List

We all have words that challenge us. My spelling list would include:

  1. beautiful
  2. diligent
  3. ingenious
  4. recommend
  5. principal (of the school building)
  6. abysmal
  7. accommodate
  8. achieve
  9. bureau
  10. restaurant
  11. chocolate
  12. definitely
  13. sincerely
  14. entrepreneur
  15. hemorrhage
  16. intrigue
  17. liaison
  18. lasagna
  19. martyr
  20. superfluous (one of my favorite words!)
Later this week, bonus points for using them in sentences that form a story. Mine begins: "It was a beautiful day, but I was trying to be diligent about getting work done."

Ms. Yingling

MMGM- Wink and A Sporting Chance

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.

Harrell, Rob. Wink
March 31st 2020 by Dial Books
ARC provided by Follett First Look

When twelve-year-old Ross has an alarming lump above his eye, things happen quickly; his father takes him to the doctor for tests, the doctor calls back right away, and radiation is scheduled immediately. This makes it somewhat difficult to process the fact that he has a rare cancer that could cause him to lose his sight in both eyes. His dad and stepmother are very supportive, as is his best friend, Abby, and one of the radiation technicians, Frank. The treatment makes his eye very dry, requiring goopy eye drops, and he also has to wear a hat to school to keep light away from his face. His hair starts to fall out in clumps at the most inopportune time. Not the coolest look. Kids, especially his friend Isaac, give him a wide berth, but someone keeps posting memes about Ross that are quite mean spirited and hurtful. Not one to be dragged down by life, Ross starts to learn guitar from Frank, but is dealt another blow when he finds out that Abby is going to be moving away. Most of the times, he is fine, but occasionally he is hit by the magnitude of the situation he is facing. He makes an uneasy alliance with Jimmy, who has been a bit of a bully at school, but who joins Ross and Abby in a band for the school talent show. Ross might not find enlightenment and inspiration as he struggles through his cancer treatments, but he does find a way to continue to live his life.
Strengths: Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading. Stu Truly. Zen and the Art of Faking It. My Life as a Potato. These are all books that can be placed into the hands of 98% of my students with great success. The main characters are all facing some kind of challenge, but they meet it with good spirits, and get involved in some gentle highjinks along the way. You'd think that a lot of books would be like that, but they are amazingly hard to find. This book, based in part on the author's struggle with a similar cancer as an adult, is on the more serious side, but never becomes maudlin or slow paced. There is a little bit of discussion about Ross' mother passing away from cancer when he was five, but even that is worked into the story in a clever way, with the father telling Ross that he himself struggled with the death and needed help, and Ross may need more than he is asking for.  I especially liked that Abby calls Ross out as not being a supportive friend-- sure, her moving away isn't anywhere near as terrible as his cancer, but it still matters to her. Even the relationships with Isaac and Jimmy ring true and add a layer of depth to the story. Really enjoyed this one.
Weaknesses: This may be because the author's cancer was in 2006, but I found myself wanting a few more details about the process through which Ross was going. What were the treatments designed to do? What were the side effects? How would they know if Ross would have further problems? I know that cancer is a difficult disease, but for middle schoolers reading about it for the first time, more details would have made the process make more sense.
What I really think: The only question is how MANY copies of this I should buy. Two? Three? The addition of the line drawings will make this easier to sell to fans of Notebook Novels, so maybe three.

 Alexander, Lori and Drummond, Allan (Illustrator)
A Sporting Chance: How Paralympics Founder Ludwig Guttmann Saved Lives with Sports 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This was an interesting nonfiction book, which was a nice size. My e reader shows it at 132 pages, but that includes a timeline, fantastic bibliography, notes, and an index. The main text comes in at 110 pages, putting it in that magic 100+ page range that language arts teachers like to require. Using a mix of period photographs and illustrations, it tells the story of Ludwig Guttman's involvement in the treatment and rehabilitation of people with traumatic spinal cord injuries. During WWII, the life expectancy of people with such injuries was about five months, and Guttman felt that this could be inmproved. He attended medical school and started to practice medicine, only to have WWII and the rise of the Nazis imperil him and his family. He moved to England, where he worked with many veterans. After the war, when many of his patients survived, he started to think about improving their quality of life, and felt that sports gave them needed exercise as well as purpose. He started the Stoke Mandeville Games, which grew over the succeeding years and eventually became the Paralympic Games.
Strengths: I am always looking for interesting narrative nonfiction, and this book actually would have been great for this year's National History Day theme of "breaking barriers". It moves along quickly, and the illustrations are great at understanding some of the points, as well as appealing to fans of notebook novels. Guttman's experiences in WWII Germany will add another group of readers to this inspiring tale. Sometimes, it just takes one person to look at an issue differently to make a great impact on many lives.
Weaknesses: While I really liked the style of illustrations, it was a very odd mix that felt like they were just trying to take up space. Not really bad, just an odd choice.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and seeing this being a popular title for both pleasure reading and research.

What to do today?

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Nina Soni: Sister Fixer

Sheth, Kashmira. Nina Soni: Sister Fixer
April 1st 2020 by Peachtree Publishing Company
ARC provided by the publisher

After Nina Soni, Former Best Friend, Nina is back, and this time is concerned that her little sister is a bit too exuberant. She sings a lot, and when Nina is seen by everyone on the bus doing a goofy dance about Lucky the beaver with her sister, she decides that she has to make Kavita "less weird". This isn't easy to do, but Nina is great at making lists and action plans. One rainy Saturday when her parents are not feeling well, Nina decides that she will have Kavita help her build a dam near a storm drain, and this will take her sister's mind off singing. Using dirt from a pile on a neighbors' driveway, they build an oddly effective dam... that just might flood the neighborhood. Luckily, they tell their parents in time, and the dam is dismantled before any real destruction occurs. Since her parents are still ill, she and Kavita go to Nina's friend Jay's grandfather's house for the weekend without them, and Nina realizes that there are worse things than her sister's singing.
Strengths: I love the details of Nina's family life-- I can't think of another book that shows parents being ill with a nonfatal disease. It's also nice to see that Jay's family steps in to help. Like the first book, there is lots of yummy food being described. I like that Nina makes lists and has plans, even if they don't always work out the way she hopes!
Weaknesses: I find storm drains to be extremely dangerous and never let the girls play near any. (There is a particularly tempting one near our local park.) This bothered me a lot, but hopefully will not encourage young readers to head out looking for storm drains to dam up!
What I really think: I would definitely purchase this for an elementary library, but the series is a bit young for my readers.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane

O'Shaughnessy, Kate. The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane
March 3rd 2020 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Maybelle and her mother struggle a little to make ends meet but are generally happy. All Maybelle has of her father is the memory of a voice mail on an old phone, but his laughter has stuck with her. When her mother gets a job on a cruise ship for a month making a great salary, the two know she needs to go, but this means that a neighbor at the trailer park (and teacher at Maybelle's school), Ms. Boggs, has to watch her. Ms. Boggs is very drab and set in her ways; she doesn't get up until 9:00, she has to have her afternoon nap, and she frequently spend time alone in a nearby cemetery and is not to be bothered. When Maybelle hears her father's voice on the radio, hosting a program, she is enthralled, and when she finds out that the radio station for which he works is putting on a singing contest, she knows she has to find some way to get to Nashville. She tries to buy a bus ticket, but ends up losing the emergency money her mother gave her. Surprisingly, when she tells Ms. Boggs about it, the teacher agrees to drive her to Nashville. It's a twelve hour trip, but they will only drive 3 hours a day. Tommy, who has bullied Maybelle in the past, has stowed away in the RV, and his parents agree he can continue the trip. The group has several adventures, including rescuing a dog from a mean owner and winning $1,000 in a scratch off lottery. Maybelle hasn't practiced any singing, picked out a song, or found an outfit for performing, so that is all worked on. Even though she almost chickens out and there are problems along the way, Maybelle eventually makes it to the contest. Will she be able to talk to her father and make him a part of her life?
Strengths: Road trip books seem to be having a resurgence, and this ticks all the boxes for a good one. Disparate traveling companions, a relatable mission, amusing adventures, and a well plotted story with appealing characters. I also appreciated that the father's reaction was realistic, and that the characters weren't soggily sad.
Weaknesses: It was hard to believe that Maybelle would recognize her father's voice, and this had a bit of a quirky, Southern vibe. Ms. Boggs' trajectory was also hard to believe.
What I really think: I have Acampora's How to Avoid Distinction, Bauer's One for the Road, Cooney's Hit the Road, DuPrau's Car Trouble, Gemeinhart's Coyote Sunrise, Pla's The Someday Birds, Stone's Clean Getaway , McVoy's Drive Me Crazy,  and Paulsen's Road Trip, and that's just a few of the road trip books I have. While I love them, my students are lukewarm about them, so I may have to pass on this title.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, March 27, 2020

Fins (Sharks, Inc. #1)

White, Randy Wayne. Fins (Sharks, Inc. #1)
March 31st 2020 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Luke arrives in Florida from a farm in Ohio to stay with his grandfather and aunt Hannah after the death of his mother, since his stepfather doesn't really want him. Shortly after arriving, he is struck by lightning, which leaves him with several interesting scars, some synesthesia and occasional abilities to see things very clearly. His grandfather, wanting him to have something to do, connects him to Doc, who is running a shark tagging program. Joining him are Maribel and Sabina, two sisters who have recently arrived from Cuba. Poachers are killing sharks for their fins, which are used to make shark fin soup, but are leaving the rest of the shark to go to waste. Doc trains the children to tag the sharks (usually the very small ones), and then sends them off on their own to do this. They get into some trouble when Sabina (who is young enough to be missing front teeth) claims to have seen a poachers camp with sharks fins, but this turns out not to be true. She just wanted the attention of the news lady. The fact that the children's pictures appear in the paper is a bit worrisome, since the poachers are still on the loose. The children continue to go out in the boat and tag sharks, but run into a variety of problems. Eventually, they figure out what the poachers are up to and try to catch them. Will the police believe them this time?
Strengths: I always enjoy stories with an environmental message, and there are many interesting scientific details about the animals off the Florida coast. I also like to see children doing things. Mysteries are a popular genre in my library, and it's nice to have characters with a Cuban background. The author is from Ashland, Ohio (home of Grandpa's Cheese Barn!), which would explain Luke's background. Aside from McAnulty's The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, I can't think of any other books about children having been struck by lightning. This cover is fantastic.
Weaknesses: Luke is described as being from a farm in Ohio very frequently, and it got a bit annoying. In general, we are told about characters' traits instead of being shown through their actions, and none of them really grow. Luke in particular has little personality. I had a hard time believing that children were being sent out on a boat alone to tag sharks. With the presence of Doc, the grandfather and the aunt, (who also were very flat characters), it would have been more believable and interesting to have one of the adults involved, especially once there was a clear danger from poachers. I'm all for children having adventures, but this seemed unlikely.
What I really think: I think I will stick with Spradlin's fantastic Menace from the Deep or Carl Hiassen's mysteries to cover this area of the US. It's always interesting to see authors of adult books try their hand at middle grade, but this could have used a bit more work.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Baseball Opening Day 2020 and Martin McLean, Middle School Queen

Kamata, Suzanne. Pop Flies, Robo-Pets, and Other Disasters
March 2020 by Red Chair Press
ARC provided by the publisher

Satoshi Matsumoto lives in Japan, but spent several years going to school in Atlanta, Georgia, while his father was working there. It was hard enough to fit in with kids in the US, but it's even hard to fit in back at home. He goes to a private school that his grandfather founded, but since his father didn't want to run it, it is under different ownership. His grandfather is elderly and exhibiting many signs of dementia. Satoshi loves to play baseball, and his grandfather was very good when he was young, although he never got a chance to play professionally. When he hears that the school may not have a team the following year unless there are more wins, he tries to step up, but has problems with another boy on the team, Shintaro, whose father may have ties to local gangsters, and also doesn't always want to listen to what the coach tells him. A new girl at school, Misa, is a social outcast because her mother is American, but Satoshi's mother invites the two over, and Misa befriends his sister, Momoko, who has an unnamed disability of which Satoshi is ashamed. After big problems occur with the baseball team, Satoshi must call on the American English teacher, Jerry, to help him with the team, but all of that pales when his grandfather wanders off and can't be found. Will Satoshi be able to get his life back on track and save baseball at his school?
Strengths: Details of every day life in other countries fascinate me, so reading about Satoshi going to the mall, attending classes, and cleaning the baseball field with his team were very interesting. We even get a glimpse at a Japanese barbershop when Satoshi gets a bozu cut for playing baseball. The plot with his grandfather is interesting (he has a robotic pet seal, which I enjoyed because I have been researching robotic dogs!), and Misa's difficulties mirror Satoshi's when he lived in the US. Of course, the big selling point of the book is baseball, and there are plenty of game details, as well as practice ones, to make this book one sports fans will enjoy.
Weaknesses: Some of the social mores made me wonder if this book was set in the 1980s-- children at school call Momoko "retarded", there is an "English Lunch" that Satoshi says must be code for "losers" because there is an overweight boy and a girl with an eye patch, and the students feel free to laugh at others when they mistakenly leave on their toilet shoes when coming into the class. US middle grade fiction has become so politically correct in recent years that this seemed odd, but could very well reflect life in another country.
What I really think: This is available in hardcover from Follett, so I will purchase this as a snapshot of life in Japan. Many years ago, I hosted a teacher from Japan for three weeks, and it was very interesting to hear about their schools!

Zaczek, Alyssa. Martin McLean, Middle School Queen
January 7th 2020 by Sterling Children's
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Martin Lives with his artist mom (who is Afro-Cuban) in Bloomingtom, Indiana, but his father, who is of Irish descent, lives with his new family. When Martin has an anxiety attack at school and his concerned teacher calls home, his mother invites his Tío Billy to stay with them and be a male influence for a while, while he and his husband are moving to Chicago. Billy takes Martin to a club near campus that puts on drag shows. Martin is surprised that Billy is a performer (aka Cassie Blanca), but also enthralled by the idea. He explores creating an alter identity with his uncle and comes up with Lottie Leon, whom he bases a bit on the performer Celia Cruz. While he and his uncle bond over heels and wigs, Martin also has to lead his school Mathletes team to competition. He hangs out with his friends Pickle (who is very small for his age) and Carmen as well. Both of his friends are very supportive of his new interest, and they are also okay with the fact that Martin thinks he might be gay, but isn't really sure. When he starts to hang out with Chris, another mathlete, he finds him attractive and starts to think that he may be gay, but the two just become better friends. When the local all-ages drag competition is at the same time as the mathletes one, Martin must rely on his friends and family for help in taking part in both.
Strengths: This is certainly the first middle grade book I've seen about the world of drag performing, although I have read a YA one years ago. Martin's family situation is interesting, with the very common fact of having his father live far away and the uncommon fact of his mother being an artist blending together well. Billy is a good addition, and his interest in introducing Martin to his world is understandable. Bloomington is fortunately more open to drag performing than Ohio is, but there is apparently youth interest in it. Playing off the extrovert activity of performing against the somewhat introvert one of mathletes was fun. Also, I got to learn about an art form that was completely foreign to me, and even looked up the video of RuPaul singing Sissy That Walk.
Weaknesses: It was a bit of a stretch for me that Martin went from being a quiet mathlete to wanting to do drag so much. It seemed an abrupt shift, although his feeling of empowerment while in character was described well.
What I really think: I had a brief upswing in students interested in theatrics and performing when we had a teacher who ran a drama club, but I will have to see how much interest there is now that that teacher has left. Books on this topic usually gather dust, but I do have a growing population interested in LGBTQIA+ books, so I will consider purchasing.
Ms. Yingling March 2020 by Red Chair Press

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Efrén Divided

Cisneros, Ernesto. Efrén Divided
March 31st 2020 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Efrén and his family work very hard, but still struggle to make ends meet. His father works several jobs, and his mother makes sure that Efrén and his twin siblings, Max and Mia, are always cleaned and pressed when she walks them to school before heading to work. Efrén considers his mother "Soperwoman" because she can put food on the table, help out teachers at the school, and make sure he behaves himself in addition to everything else. His best friend, David, seems a little luckier in life, although he lives with his grandmother. When school elections are announced, David thinks he will run for president for the prestige and the chance to change the cafeteria food. David always has the coolest clothes and latest gadgets thanks to his father, but his life isn't easy, either. Efrén agrees to help, although he suspects that classmate Jennifer would do a better job. He has something in common with Jennifer; their parents are in the country without documentation, and both children live in fear of ICE. When his mother is applying for a new job, she gets caught in a raid and deported. Efrén's father immediately starts to make plans to get her back to the United States, but it takes a lot of money, and it's not easy to get across the border even with a coyote. After an unsuccessful attempt, the father decides to take the money to Tijuana, and when Efrén volunteers to go, he reluctantly agrees. Efrén goes across the border by himself, and luckily runs into a sympathetic taxi driver, Lalo, who used to live in the US with his daughter, but was deported after some bad choices. Lalo helps Efrén as much as he can, which is good because there are a lot of dangers. Efrén eventually finds his mother, delivers the money, and returns to his anxious father. It is harder than ever to get by with his father working nonstop, his mother gone, and the kindergarten aged twins needs a lot of care. Will Efrén's mother be able to make it home? And will the treatment of immigrants in the US ever change?
Strengths: It is a delicate balance to portray the difficult realities of Efrén's life so that the story is hopeful to readers who might be in similar circumstances but sympathetic to readers who might not come to the book with positive thoughts about undocumented immigrants. (And unfortunately, there are readers like that, even in middle school.) Cisneros draws on his twenty plus years as a teacher to achieve this balance in a compelling story that will help those unfamiliar with Efrén's way of life understand it. The details about parents working long hours, children taking care of siblings, and students trying to keep up with school work while struggling with basic needs are well done, and the supporting characters reflect a variety of experiences, including a teacher who tries to help Efrén without being too intrusive. (Another delicate balance.) I'd love to see this book used as a core novel or as a reading group choice, along with Weeks and Varadarajan's Save Me a Seat and Gratz's Refugee.
Weaknesses: While Efrén's trip to Tijuana was absolutely fascinating, I have a bad feeling that if a child traveled there alone, there might not be a Lalo to keep him safe. Luckily, in Efrén's story, things work out better than they might in real life.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and know that this will be popular with students who enjoyed Yang's Front Desk, Saeed's Amal Unbound, Cruz' Everlasting Nora, and Venkatraman's The Bridge Home. It is also an important addition to a library collection that includes portrayals of a variety of cultural experiences.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

We need fantasy books at times like these!

Meehl, Brian. Blowback '94 (Blowback #3)
February 6th 2020 by Twisko Press
Copy graciously provided by the author

Arky and Matt got to travel back in time to the Carlisle Indian School in Blowback '07, and Arky and Danny visited the time of the Civil War in Blowback '63. Now, Iris finds herself transported along with Arky to the Moulin Rouge in Paris in 1894 to finally solve the mystery behind their mother's disappearance. Iris isn't all that pleased to be hurtled back in time; she has an audition for a summer music camp and Matt has asked her to the prom. When their father, Howard, realizes the two are missing, he isn't happy with the situation. Back in Paris, the two quickly steal some clothing more appropriate to the time and are able to find out that their mother is performing, and even get her address! They convince the landlady that Octavia is their mother, and are able to stay in her apartment even though she is gone. When they finally meet up with her, they are a little confused as to why she is sharing the family Legend of the Cor Anglais with the public, especially since James (the son of Rufus, whom Arky had met during the Civil War) doesn't want her to. Octavia says she has figured out the Horn of Angels paradigm, but isn't quite ready to share it. Iris and Arky make themselves at home in this time period; James gets Iris a job assisting musicians, and Arky a job assisting  Le Pétomane, a professional farter (and real historical character). Arky tries to quit, but his mother threatens to burn the cor anglais if he does. The two get to meet a wide array of historical figures like Degas; their mother also knows Toulouse Latrec, and Iris is thrilled to get to visit La Grande Jatte. Arky has a romance with a ballet dancer, but it is ill fated. They both learn more of the family history
Strengths: This book is a must read, if only for the scenes with Le Pétomane! I know that the first book in this series is really popular with my sports fans, and the second draws the Civil War readers, but the detailed descriptions of the act at the Moulin Rouge will delight most middle schoolers. The details about living in Paris and working in the theater were astonishing, and I loved that Iris had to work within the constraints of being female at a time when options were so limited for women. The backstory to the cors anglais is so intricately constructed, and the conclusion very satisfying. I love the Dvorak piece the family mystery is built around and have been humming it all day!
Weaknesses: This is more of a high school book, but there's nothing inappropriate for middle school; just a bit coarse. Iris' 21st century clothes get her mistaken for a prostitute, and there's some very run of the mill swearing.
What I really think: This is a fantastic series for older middle school readers and absolutely necessary for high school collections. The time travel elements are well thought out, and the historical descriptions really enlightening.

Abu-Jaber, Diana. Silverworld
March 17th 2020 by Crown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Samara and her mother and brother have recently moved to Florida, and Samara's Teta (grandmother) lives with them. During the past several months, Teta has had a hard time communicating, and only Sami really can understand her. Her mother, Alia, and her sister, Ivory, want to move the grandmother into a nursing home, since they are concerned that she is weakening and and her health is in danger. Sami, who is very close to her grandmother, disagrees. She and Teta have spent a long time talking about the past, and Sami loves the stories of her grandmother's Bedouin childhood. These stories often incorporate elements of adventure, magic, and creatures like Ifrits, and there is also a book that her grandmother has promised to show her when she turns 12. Fearing that her mother will be moving her grandmother to a facility very soon, Sami searches for the book, finds it, and is suddenly sent through an antique mirror from Teta's past. There, she finds Silverworld, which is a mirror of her own world, but filled with Flickers, Rebalancers, and evil Shadows. With the help of Dorsom and Natala, Sami discovers that Nixie, who is very powerful in the alternate reality, is very unhappy and trying to make everyone else unhappy as well. This is in turn affecting Teta, who is uncommunicative because she is trying to hide from Nixie and keep everyone safe. After a brief visit back to the "Actual" world, Sami starts on a quest to confront the Nixie in order to save Silverworld and her grandmother. This is fraught with peril, adventure, and an array of magical creatures like Bat, mermaids, and even her Teta's alter ego. Will Sami be able to defeat the Nixie and make it back home?
Strengths: Drawing on the author's Jordanian cultural heritage makes Sami's connection with her garndmother's past vivid and interesting, and also makes Sami's feelings of being torn between two worlds very moving. Sami being a Silverwalker, able to travel between both worlds, is exciting, and her mission to save both the world and her grandmother is accomplished by participating in a quest that incorporates a lot of intriguing characters. Dorsum and Natala are helpful and sympathetic companions. I loved the description of food, clothing and artifacts connected to the grandmother.
Weaknesses: World building in a fantasy book is difficult, and there are parts of this that would have been more exciting if we had been shown, rather than told, about the world. Because my mother has been in a dementia unit for the past two years, I am also a little concerned that Sami thinks the nursing home is SO terrible; given Teta's state, it is wise and cautious to send her to one.
What I really think: I enjoyed this, maybe because it is eerily similar to my half finished fantasy novel. Mine was about a grandfather slipping into dementia that was really caused because he was a king in a Grimm's Fairy Tale inspired realm and was being held hostage! This isn't a perfect fantasy novel, but the cultural connections make this well worth investigating. I will definitely buy a copy for fans of Crowl's Eden's Wish and other light fantasy adventures.

Gibbs, Stuart. Tyrannosaurus Wrecks (FunJungle #6)
March 24th 2020 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

Teddy and his friends are on high alert when a zebra spanker is making the rounds of zoo across the nation, slapping unsuspecting animals and then posting videos of their exploits. Of course, they manage to take care of this threat quickly, but there is another one: a dinosaur skull has been found on Sage's family farm, and they hope to sell it in order to keep the farm running. When the skull goes missing, Teddy and Summer are called in to help, even though Summer's father is a suspect. We get to see the landscape of Texas outside of FunJungle, and meet some interesting new characters as the children figure out how such an enormous artifact could be moved.
Strengths: Like all of Gibbs' work, this starts out strong and continues with so many wonderful and funny turns of phrase. I really enjoy how he has funny things but also makes a strong environmental and animal rights statement-- copycat zebra spankers end up getting injured, but not gravely so. And honestly, I've spent the last couple of days saying "zebra spanker" to myself and giggling! Even Marge makes an appearance, and her treatment has improved since the first book. The mystery is well developed, the new characters odd but not overly quirky, and Teddy's involvement with the law is realistic.
Weaknesses: My students are HUGE fans of Gibbs' work, so when I mentioned I had read this there was quite a conversation with some students. One of them said "I love the books, but I really think Teddy has become a flat character. There's really nothing new we learn about him, and he doesn't really grow." Wow. Sometimes students DO listen in class. I love the books as well, but agree that Teddy, and his relationship with Summer, isn't really changing much.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and there will be many reserves. I had to purchase additional copies of the first books in all of Gibbs' series to keep up with the demand created by readers recommending the books to their friends!
Ms. Yingling

Monday, March 23, 2020

MMGM- My Life as a Potato and Trending

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.

Ohio is now under a Stay At Home Order, so things are interesting. I have only gone out once to the grocery, and everyone was so considerate and kind. Around the neighborhood, people will cross the street to avoid be close to others! I've been continuing to work as much as I can, but most of my job deals with students. This is technically our break week, so I will try to post books on Instagram instead of activities.

Two important things: Households with students can get 60 days of free internet from Spectrum, and anyone in the state of Ohio can get a Columbus Metropolitan Library Card to use for digital items.

Also, the fantastic middle grade author and scientist Sneed Collard has avideo STEM lesson:

Coster, Arianne. My Life As A Potato
March 24th 2020 by Random House Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ben Hardy's family has moved from California to Idaho, and he's having a bit of a hard time adjusting. Luckily, he has made two friends, Ellie and Hunter, so has secured a safe place in the cafeteria. He also has a crush on a cheerleader, Jayla, and she seems to like him as well. When he gets involved in a hot dog throwing incident in the cafeteria that ends up putting the school mascot (a giant potato!) out of commission, the coach gives him an option--act as the mascot for the next four games, and stay out of trouble. Ben reluctantly agrees, even though he doesn't completely understand what he needs to do as the mascot. The coach, a former mascot himself, gives him some pointers, and Ben does some research on the internet, but it isn't until he has an underwhelming performance during the first game and his team loses that he begins to take his job seriously. He gets invited to a dance by Jayla (with an elaborate locker surprise) and agrees to go with her, and even meets her for a date before that. He has to lie to his friends and tell them he is grounded, since he doesn't want anyone to know he is the mascot. He does talk to Mitch, the custodian's son, who finds out his secret. He even makes an attempt to get the lonely Mitch to eat lunch with his friends. He also doesn't tell his parents that he is the mascot. This is a tenuous situation, and things will eventually meet with disaster. How long can Ben manage to make things work?
Strengths: This was such a delightful relief after months of deep, sad, lyrical middle grade fiction. The cover is fantastic and shows how much fun the book is going to be. The page illustrations are helpful in getting readers of Wimpy Kid to pick this up. I loved Ben-- he meant well but occasionally did stupid things. His crush on Jayla is perfect, as is his eventual realization that there is a better girl for him. There are lots of good details about life in middle school. I just adored this one!
Weaknesses: Found it hard to believe that Ben was able to keep his mascot duties secret from his parents (Permission slips? Pay to play?), and some of the team names and mascots walked the line of overly goofy. Small quibbles, though!
What I really think: Buying at least two copies for the fans of Richards' Stu Truly. I need a LOT more books like this-- fun, but with small underlying middle school problems. Brilliant stuff.

Vermond, Kira and Hanmer, Clayton (Illustrator). Trending: How and Why Stuff Gets Popular 
March 15th 2020 by Owlkids Books
E ARC provided by Netgalley

I absolutely loved this one. It was just the right length, had lots of interesting information about all manner of trends, and... I did not write the review of it quickly enough to retain information over Christmas break!

Definitely purchasing, as it was not only fascinating, but in a format that will entice my Notebook Novel readers to pick up some nonfiction!

Here is the publisher's description:
Fads and trends: How do they start? Why do they spread? And how deep can their impact be? Although trends might seem trivial, if you dig deeper, you’ll find that our desire to chase the next big thing can have an even bigger impact than expected.

Established middle-grade author Kira Vermond and cartoonist Clayton Hanmer team up in this fun and accessible nonfiction look at fads. In four short chapters, the book explores what a fad is, how the latest crazes catch on, and what makes us jump on the bandwagon. Finally, it looks at the fascinating and even frightening effects of fads both modern and historic. Who knew the beaver pelt craze in 17th century Europe would change ecosystems, start wars, and disrupt life as people knew it?

Comic-strip illustrations, an upbeat tone, and reader-friendly text make this a fun and timely tool for young readers who are building critical-thinking skills in the age of fake news and a world gone viral.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

What Stars Are Made Of

Allen, Sarah. What Stars Are Made Of
March 31st 2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Libby is in 7th grade, but finds it a little hard to make friends. She's quiet, and likes science, and has Turner Syndrome, which isn't that big of a deal to her. Sure, she has to inject herself everyday, is a little short, and has a few health problems, but she still does very well in school. When her older sister Nonny comes home to live because her husband has to go away to work and Nonny is pregnant, Libby starts to worry. What if the baby will have something wrong with it? She makes a deal with the universe; if she can do really well on a biography project and win a Smithsonian magazine $25,000 prize with an entry about a famous woman scientist she would like included in her school textbook, the baby will be okay. It helps that she and a new student, Talia, hit it off, and Libby throws herself into contacting the textbook editor and even managing to travel to where he is attending a conference. The textbook falls through, although she does win a local prize, and Libby blames herself when her niece is born early. Will her attempts at making a deal with the universe be enough to keep her niece safe?
Strengths: It is great to see a depiction of a tween with Turner Syndrome, and I've seen this referred to as an #Ownvoices book, so the details are good. It's a fairly hopeful tale, with the only big crisis being the sister's difficulty pregnancy and financial difficulty (which these days is pretty tame!). It's nice to see Libby making friends and trying to help her sister.
Weaknesses: At the beginning of the book, I thought that Libby was in about third grade, and even after we see her in middle school, the way her magical thinking is portrayed makes her seem very young. Details like calling her medicine "Magic Beanstalk Juice" contribute to this feeling.
What I really think: Like Meena Meets Her Match, I love the idea of a student who faces different challenges than her classmates, but would prefer a book with a character who is a bit older.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Gold Rush Girl

Avi. Gold Rush Girl
March 10th 2020 by Candlewick Press
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Victoria Blaisdell (who likes to be called Tory even though her mother doesn't think it is proper) has a good life in Providence, Rhode Island in 1848 until her father loses his job. While there is a wealthy aunt on whom the family can depend, they are not pleased with drawing her criticism, so the father decides to go to the California gold fields to make his fortune. Fearing that staying to watch her mother as she is expected will be confining and boring, Victoria stows away on the ship taking her father and brother Jacob to San Francisco. Once her father finds out she is there, he tells her that she will be in charge of the new household and of making sure that Jacob goes to school, until her mother arrives. Once there, however, the family finds that living conditions are not what they are used to in Rhode Island-- most people live in tents, there is constant mud, and there are no schools. Undeterred, the father buys a tent for the children and takes off for the gold fields. Victoria throws herself into working, wearing boys' clothing and making friends such as Maine born Thad. Jacob, who is about ten, refuses to stir himself to do anything but pout, although he occasionally works at the nearby restaurant whose owner has become their friend. When Jacob goes missing, Victoria seeks help from Thad and also a new boy she has met at a theatre where she thinks Jacob had been. Sam is a free born Black from the East Coast, but there is prejudice in California and he and his father are afraid of being sold back into slavery. It looks like Jacob has been kidnapped by men who find sailors for ships, and Victoria, Thad and Sam embark on the dangerous job of trying to find him. Will San Francisco ever become a place where the Blaisdells  can live in comfort and safety?
Strengths: I'm a huge fan of Avi's historical fiction, and this story reminded me a bit of Charlotte Doyle. There's action, adventure, a strong female character, and lots of details about daily life during this time period. I especially loved that Victoria's Providence house still exists and was occupied during this time period by a family named Blaisdell. As always, the research is fantastic, and the story telling top notch.
Weaknesses: Avi's style is a bit old fashioned, but strong readers will not be too surprised by the language and descriptions. While I liked this book, I wish that less of it had been concerned with finding Jacob. He was rather a brat, so I couldn't get too invested in trying to find him! It did add an air of danger to the story, though.
What I really think: Jennifer Holm's Boston Jane, about the Alaskan Gold Rush, is very popular in my library, so I think I will purchase this, since more of my sixth graders are reading historical fiction.
Dean, Justin. Awesome Dog 5000 vs. Mayor Bossypants (#2)
March 3rd 2020 by Random House
Copy provided by the publisher

Marty is back with his friends Skyler and Ralph after Awesome Dog 5000. They are trying to track down the last of the spybots that have been following them, but end up destroying Granny Nunchucks garden in the process.They are also excited about the new Sheriff Turbo-Karate game, and have saved up the $30 to purchase it. When they go to the store to purchase it, they find that the $30 will only buy the "Meh" version, and the Gold version is $100! They try to think of ways to raise money, and finally decide they will have to enter the science fair competition, which has a prize of $100. In the meantime, Mayor Bossypants and his teeny-tinies are taking over the town, spending money on a ridiculous show of statues of the mayor. When the show is interrupted by Awesome Dog, the mayor vows to take him down. The kids decide that for their project, they will invent the Slop-peroni Pizza Oven, that will turn horrible cafeteria food into something edible. Of course, they run into problems at every turn, especially with Mayor Bossypants working against them. Despite a falling out, technical problems, and disappointing results in the fair, will the group manage to keep their town safe from the vain and egocentric mayor and his minions?
Strengths: This had a nice mix of picture and text, and the illustrations are exuberantly goofy. Marty and his friends' obsession with the video game will resonate with young readers, and the touch of friend drama adds a little more human interest to this. Reader who like Dog Man or Jay Cooper's The Spy Next Door will revel in the ineffectual teeny-tinies, Mayor Bossypant's temper tantrums, and of course, Awesome Dog's heroics.
Weaknesses: I'm never a fan of making fun of cafeteria food. It's never that bad, and it has to be really hard to make under the constraints that exist.
What I really think: While these aren't my favorite, they are perfect for struggling 6th graders who gravitate towards graphic novels. I've been working with a 6th grade boy who finally admitted that he only looked at the pictures in graphic novels, but has been reading books like The Infamous Ratsos at a clip of one a day. This will be perfect for him, and he will like the goofy humor and all of the explosions. Just not my personal cup of tea.

Friday, March 20, 2020

How to Make Friends with the Sea

Guerrero, Tanya. How to Make Friends with the Sea
March 31st 2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Pablo parents are divorced, and he hasn't seen his American father for a while, since he is off on his own adventures while Pablo and his Spanish mother have moved from country to country. They have landed in the Philippines, where his mother is working in an animal sanctuary. While Pablo is glad to be in one place for a while, he is not a fan of the Philippines. It's damp, dirty, and far too close to the sea for his liking, although he doesn't want to tell his mother this. Instead, he keeps up with the lessons his tutor gives him, tries to control his environment, and longs to have some friends. When his mother takes in Chiqui, a foster child who has a cleft lip and is not speaking, he is forced to accept many situations he doesn't like. Slowly, he manages to make friends with Happy, a neighbor, as well as Miguel, his mother's boss, and many of his friends. With their help, he starts to overcome his many fears-- of the sea, germs, dogs, and anything outside of his comfort zone-- and to understand their genesis and future. When his mother tells him that Chiqui will be moved to a new family after the surgery for her cleft lip, Pablo must face his fears and finally tell his mother what he needs to have a happier and more successful life.
Strengths: This has some fascinating glimpses into life in the Philippines-- sari sari stores, Jollibee restaurants and food (ube!), tricycles for getting around town, and beach resorts. The inclusion of words and phrases in Tagalog (and the glossary at the back) was a nice touch. Pablo's OCD-like difficulties (which are not given a medical label) are nicely offset by his relationship with Chiqui, and it's good to see parents who are complex and problematic and not just deceased. Other topics, like moving frequently, trying to make friends, and dealing with a parent dating will make this a book to which many students can relate.
Weaknesses: Pablo frequently makes comments about the way of life in the Philippines that are not very complementary. While this is understandable, I would like to see more books like Flint's Ten  or Nwaubani's Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree (BEFORE the main character is kidnapped) that portray the way of life in other countries as different from that in the US but not necessarily bad.
What I really think: I will purchase, but I would really like to see book set in the Philippines or with Filipino characters that are more positive. I have several students with this cultural background who want books about this area of the world, but I wonder when they will notice that everything I hand them shows more problems than anything else. What titles am I missing? All I can think of are Cheng's See You in the Universe, Carl Sagan, Cruz's Everlasting Nora, Hargrave's The Island at the End of Everything, Kelly's The Land of the Forgotten Girls, Torres' Lola: A Ghost Story
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Newspaper Club (#1)

Vrabel, Beth. The Newspaper Club (#1)
March 10th 2020 by Running Press Kids
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Nellie Murrow has moved from the big city to a small town since her mother was downsized from her newspaper job and her father is working in Asia. Her mother's best friend, Ms. Kim-Franklin, lives there, and Nellie is supposed to be friends with her daughter, Min, who is a year younger, given to wearing a lot of ruffles, and rather annoying. She meets another new neighbor, Thom, who lives nearby with his mothers, and soon decides that she needs to start a newspaper club? Why? She has ink in her blood, due to her parents' connections, and after a visit to the local newsroom on a day where they are laying off a lot of staff, she feels that someone needs to investigate the attacks happening at a local park. She and her friends are the only ones available. Nellie gets to know her friends and her new town in the process, and slowly comes to terms with why she and her mother have really moved to Bear Creek.
Strengths: I love Vrabel's writing, and this had a retro feel I loved, because Nellie and her friends are DOING things, and not just playing video games all day. Nellie's anxiety about moving to a new place was not crippling, and she even managed to make peace with Min. The Paula Franco illustrations are a nice touch. I also appreciated championing the importance of local news reporting; I grew up with the Youngstown Vindicator, and also spent time in Detroit (home of the News and Free Press), so know how very important newspapers are. I not only subscribe to the Columbus Dispatch, but gave my daughter a subscription as well. I read the paper every day, so Vrabel's note at the back about being a reporter was very interesting.
Weaknesses: This fell more on the elementary side of Vrabel's writing for me, with Pack of Dorks, instead of on the older side, with The Humiliations of Pipi McGeeCaleb and Kit, a Blind Guide to Normal, and Bringing Me Back
What I really think: I'm debating. My students have no interest in the newspaper (I've tried, believe me!), and this was on the younger side. I would definitely buy this for an elementary library and will look forward to the other books in the series.

Chiang, Slyv and Choi, Connie (illus.) Rising Star (Cross Ups #3)
October 8th 2019 by Annick Press

Library copy

If you don't have Tournament Trouble and Anyone's Game in your middle school or elementary library, you really need to look into them. They are great stories about kids who play video games more or less professionally, which is every eleven year olds' dream, I think. I read this one quickly because I had to check it out to a student who had been haunting the library catalog for its arrival! I love that the dad was willing to take them to the video game conference, and that Jaden was struggling with his skills in a new game. I could have done without the class election, but that's just because we don't have those at my school, so my students are always a bit confused about books that include them. Definitely a fun series for video game enthusiasts!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

A little bit of brocolli in your cotton candy Instagram feed...

I worry about my students who are staying home alone. There are some library helpers who are super responsible, but who freak out a bit when they are by themselves. Many of these are girls, and many seem to like everything I post on Instagram.

These are posted one an hour and are my way of saying to the students "I'm still here if you need me." I've had a few ask questions via Instagram or e mail. As a 1970s latch key kid who came home alone every day after school and was allowed to stay home sick from third grade on, I know it can be a little scary when adults aren't around.