Thursday, April 30, 2020

The Starlight Claim

Wynne-Jones, Tim. The Starlight Claim
September 10th 2019 by Candlewick Press
Public library copy

Nate's best friend, Dodge, has died with his father and younger brother in an attempt to deliver a refrigerator to their remote cabin. The bodies of the brother and father were found, but Nate is disturbed by the fact that Dodge is still missing. He is also bothered by the fact that he didn't try harder to stop Dodge from going, especially after the boy asked him to go along because his backwoods skills were much stronger. When Nate's plans to return to his family's own cabin with a friend fall through, he decides to go on his own, hoping to somehow find some clue as to what happened to Dodge. When he gets to the remote location, however, he finds nefarious sorts skulking around the house that his father built. He heads over to Dodge's cabin, and is followed by one of the men, who warns him to stock up with water and firewood for the upcoming storm, and to lock himself in so that the other men don't find him. Of course, Nate doesn't do this, and begins a game of cat and mouse with the men that ends in family secrets being revealed, an unfortunate tragedy, and in Nate exercising his survival abilities and making peace with Dodge's fate.
Strengths: This is a good outdoor adventure book, even though Nate has a comfortable cabin to which to retreat. The gangster types add another level of suspense, and the twist with the family history is interesting. Fans of Hobbs' Never Say Die , Greci's Surviving Bear Island, or Lawrence's The Skeleton Tree will appreciate the icy, backwoods setting and Nate's resourcefulness.
Weaknesses: The story line goes back and forth from the present to Nate's adventures with Dodge in the past, and is a bit disjointed. There are also a LOT of bad decisions made by both boys on many occasions.
What I really think: Nate's father is Burl from The Maestro (1995), which I think was in my library at one point. While The Starlight Claim can be read as a stand alone, the average life expectancy of a library book is 8-10 years, so I wouldn't expect many people to be eagerly awaiting this as a sequel.
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Rick

Gino, Alex. Rick
April 21st 2020 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Rick is starting a new year in middle school as his sister goes off to college. He has a best friend, Jeff, but Rick is starting to get ever more annoyed at Jeff's behavior. When Jeff makes rude comment about how "hot" Melissa is, Rick starts to realize that he doesn't really think of anybody as "hot". Intrigued by the Rainbow Spectrum group at school, he goes to see what it is all about, not letting Jeff know he is attending. Melissa, who was the subject of the book George, and the rest of the students are very welcoming and supportive, and Rick likes the group. When they decide to put on a talent show to help raise money to buy LGBTQIAP+ books for the school library, Rick wants to help, but he doesn't want others to know that he's involved with the group. Rick is also spending Sundays with his Grandpa Ray, and the two watch a science fiction show and bond. They also decide to attend a con, and Grandpa Ray shares with Rick that he liked to attend cons with Rick's grandmother... and he often dressed up as a woman. Jeff's toxicity because unbearable, and Rick drops him as a friend. Luckily, he has made new friends in the Rainbow Spectrum group.
Strengths: This was a short, simple book that outlines Rick's growing uncertainty while addressing the classic middle school issue of losing friendships. The inclusion of a LGBTQIAP+ school group, as well as a talent show, moves the plot along. The relationship with the grandfather is a nice touch; I wish there were more middle grade books about children interacting with grandparents who are still fairly healthy. The best thing about Gino's books is that they make gender and sexuality topics understandable on an age appropriate level. Too many Young Adult books include instructional sex and a lot of underage drinking, which is just a bit too much for my students. When I have 6th graders bring back books because the word "hell" or "damn" is in them, I'm more circumspect in my purchases than I would be in a high school or public library.
Weaknesses: It seemed very odd that the Rainbow Spectrum advisor, Mr. Sydney, didn't know about they use of singular they for people who prefer to use that as their pronouns. It was good to point out this use, but it would have made more sense for a student to claim ignorance. Some reviews called this book didactic and agenda driven, and while I can see that, it's really about perfect for the level of understanding most of my students have about LGBTQIAP+ topics.
What I really think: As the book itself points out, Rick is on the young side to identify with being asexual. I think many middle school students are not interested in anything romantic at all. It's good that people who support Rick tell him that it's okay if he does identify as Ace, but also okay if his feelings change at some point. I will definitely purchase this, as there is a growing interest in LGBTQI+ (or QUILTBAG+) titles in my library.

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Daring Darleen, Queen of the Screen

Nesbet, Anne. Daring Darleen, Queen of the Screen
April 14th 2020 by Candlewick Press
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Darleen comes from a long line of entertainers; her father and his siblings are all part of Matchless Studios, a silent film concern trying to stay in business in 1914. Darleen has gone from being "darling" as a child film star to being "daring" in her tween years, and is the star of a serial in which she is a princess trying to find her father. In order to drum up more interest, and perhaps make more money, her aunt comes up with a great idea: film Darleen being kidnapped at the opening of a new theater, so fans can read about the "real life" episode in the paper. On the night of the event, Darleen is ready, but ends up in the wrong car... with the subject of an actual kidnapping. Victorine Berryman is the orphan heiress of a railroad fortune. Her only relatives, the Brownstones, are cruel to her, so once she and Darleen escape, she is loathe to turn herself in. Both kidnappings seem to be tied together through one particularly unpleasant actor, and the girls try to figure out the mystery. Along the way, they get involved in lots of escapades, including going up in a hot air balloon. They also meet Madame Blanche, the owner of rival Solax studios, who helps the girls figure out the problem with Victorine's inheritance, and encourages them to continue their work in film.
Strengths: The early 1900s are ripe for all manner of interesting historical fiction, and there's very little that I've come across. The early days of motion pictures is a great place to start! The alliance of the two girls from different backgrounds is charming, and I enjoyed Victorine's plight as the "poor little rich girl". The fact that Darleen dangles over cliffs and has adventures makes it even better.
Weaknesses: This could have been about 100 pages shorter if some of the plot elements had been simplified, and would have made for a more exiting story.
What I really think: I will purchase this because I love the era and the topic, but I'm not sure how well it will circulate. Readers who picked up Tubb's Selling Hope (2011), Cheaney's I Don't Know How the Story Ends,(2015)or Fleming'ss Strongheart: Wonder Dog of the Silver Screen (2018) will find this another fascinating foray into early films.

Pavlou, Stel. The Betrayer (Daniel Coldstar #1)
November 12th 2019 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

After the evens in The Relic War, Daniel, Jasper the penguin anatom, and his friends are back. On Oota Mheen, Daniel has found a wrecked ship named the Coldstar, and wonders what its connection is to him, since he doesn't know who his parents are. Unfortunately, the Tarafands invade, forcing Daniel to flee with Ionica. The two find a number of children on the planet that must be evacuated, and narrowly manage to get them to safety. Alioth is not happy that the Truth Seekers were out and about without permission. They return to the Seventh Summit and go back to classes, but Daniel soon receives a mysterious message that claims knowledge of the Coldstar and his parents. He is instructed to meet on the planet Juba, which happens to be Ionica's home. She hasn't been back for a long time due to a family tragedy, but agrees to accompany him back. It is the festival of Luminara, which remembers the destruction of Earth and celebrates peace, but it's anything but peaceful once they arrive. Ionica's father, Dimas Lux, claims that Daniel knew Ionica's sister when he was a Sinja slave in the mines, and Daniel has vague memories of this. Many of the parents in Ionica's world have lot their children to the Sinja and will do anything to get them back, even if it destoys Juba. Will Daniel be able to help them retrieve the children and save the planet?

Daniel and Ionica's role as Truth Keepers comes into play here, although we don't hear as much from Rann, Fix or Blink. There are lots of good science fiction details with clothing, space ships, technology, and human settlements to delight fans of books like Swiedler's In the Red, Van Eekhout's Cog, and Lander's Blastaway.

The plight of the children stolen by the Sinja and enslaved in the mines continues, and Daniel's desire to find out more about his life is understandable, especially when he is confronted with evidence by Dimas Lux. The continuing threat for them, as well as the constand battles with the Tarafand, keep this book moving along despite these more personal quests.

For some reason, this reminded me of the cantina scene in the first Star Wars series; there seemed to be a lot of different looking characters from different backgrounds, and there was always an air of something just about to happen. Science fiction fans who want lots of intricate details will enjoy this next installment in Daniel's quest to find his past.

Maybe it's the style of cover, but this is the sort of science fiction/fantasy that I often get for free, add to the collection, and no one ever checks out. I think I'll pass this on to a school that has the first book instead of buying it myself.

Monday, April 27, 2020

MMGM- Saltwater Secrets


It's
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
 at 
and #IMWAYR day 
at 
and 


Callaghan, Cindy. Saltwater Secrets
April 28th 2020 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

Half sisters Stella and Josie only see each other during the summer, since Stella lives in New Jersey with her mother and Josie lives in Australia with hers. During the summer, however, they stay with their father in an East Coast beach resort town. They have their traditions and secrets, like getting Water Ices and hanging out in their under-the-boardwalk hideaway. This summer, things have changed. Stella has gotten into some trouble with friends during the school year, and feels like she is a high schooler, while Josie is still a kid. Not only that, but their Water Ice shop has been turned into a smoothie store, which has affected their hideaway. Josie intends to boycott the smoothie shop, but Stella is trying to move on. We get the story of their summer in flashbacks-- both girls are being interviewed by the police after an incident that has sent someone to the hospital. For Stella, this is a "third strike", and her lawyer step father is on his way to deal with her. We get the mystery in tiny sections, and it all has to do with local eccentric Rodney, the smoothie store, a pop singer, and the deaths of jellyfish along the beach. How much trouble are Stella and Josie really in?
Strengths: The environmental mystery is well constructed and has a flavor of Monster meets Hoot. The seaside, summer setting is fun even with the darker overtones. There are colorful local characters and some good twists that I don't want to ruin. Of course, the real charm for me was the sisterly bond. I think a lot of tweens and teens want a sibling who is their friend, but with whom they don't have to deal with all the time.
Weaknesses: We are kept in the dark about what happened for most of the book, and I got oddly annoyed at this. It might have been the flashbacks. I'm not a fan.
What I really think: Callaghan's Lost In books are HUGELY popular in my library, so I will probably buy this for the readers who love those, although this has a decidedly different flavor. (Obviously, wattle berry...)

Ms. Yingling

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Space Between Lost and Found

Stark-McGinnis, Sandy. The Space Between Lost and Found
April 28th 2020 by Bloomsbury Children's Books
ARC provided by the publisher

Cassie lives with her parents in Dessert Valley, and the family is struggling with the mother's early onset Alzheimer's. They have Mrs. Collins, who comes to stay with the mother sometimes, but it's becoming increasingly difficult. Cassie knows that things will be difficult, and that's just the way it has to be, but she misses her outgoing, fun mother. She also misses her best friend, Bailey, who just doesn't understand what Cassie is going through, even though Cassie lost her own mother. There are other distractions, like a project at school that Cassie ends up working on with Bailey, but the big concern is keeping her mother safe. Cassie feels terrible that her father doesn't want to take her mother out to do things like hike in the mountains or go to the grocery store. She starts to think about the "bucket list" that her mother made, and is determined to take her mother to swim with the dolphins again. She researches, and finds a place in San Diego, which is three hours away, and with the help of Bailey's sister, gets bus tickets and reserves a hotel room. She lies to her father, but he eventually finds out and drives to pick the two up. Things continue to go downhill, and the family is waiting for a place in an assisted living facility to open up. Cassie tries to remember the good things about her mother as she works on a plan for moving forward with her own life.
Strengths: This certainly hit close to home. Both my mother and a friend my age (with slightly older children) are dealing with dementia. It's difficult for everyone, and certainly a parent struggling with this is much different than children having to deal with a grandparent. The depiction of the father's emotions and coping strategies is realistic, and Cassie's difficulties with friends and school are as well. Cassie is certainly resourceful when planning her travel, and luckily nothing bad happened! The flashbacks (on darker paper) make the story even more poignant.
Weaknesses: I wish there were more of a plot concerning Cassie's life and a little more humor, like in Sonnenblick's Falling Over Sideways in order to have this appeal to a wider array of readers.
What I really think: This was a much better fit for middle school readers than Sticky Notes, the only other book I can think of with a parent with Alzheimer's. It was also vaguely reminiscent of Song for a Whale, with the road trip and facts about sea life.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Micah McKinney and the Boys of Summer

Chapman, Nina. Micah McKinney and the Boys of Summer
April 1st 2020 by Capstone Editions

E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus'

*Spoilers in Strengths and Weaknesses.*

Micah and her father move six miles across town, and Micah is conflicted. Things ended poorly with her friends at her old school, so she's eager to make a fresh start, but she also misses her old home and doesn't make friends easily. Luckily, there are other kids her age in the neighborhood, and she can walk to the nearby pool. She's struggling with knowing who she wants to be as she enters seventh grade, but figures that she has the summer to outline her new plans. Twins Luke and Megan are both friendly, but it's hard to hang out with both of them. Luke and the other boys in the neighborhood are willing to accept Micah as one of them, with her food stained t shirts and awesome sports skills. Megan, on the other hand, is more interested in boys as romantic objects, and she makes Micah feel unkempt and young. It doesn't help that Micah really does want to be more like Megan and her friends, and that she is starting to have some romantic feelings for boys. In addition to all of the typical tween angst, Micah has to deal with the death of her mother under very unfortunate circumstances.
Strengths: This has Judy Blume levels of pubescent worries, and so is great for readers of Barbara Dee's work or those who enjoy "embarrassing moment" articles in... well, tweens don't read magazines anymore, but they still seem to have a well developed sense of schadenfreude. Micah's struggles are all too recognizable; I certainly always made plans to completely redo myself, and they never worked out. The pool, the summer setting, the girl and boy drama, and the positive depiction of a girl who is good at sports are all very appealing. I even appreciated that Micah was dealing with the death of her mother.
Weaknesses: I wish that Micah had a bit more support in dealing with not only her mother's death, but also the aftermath and the effects on her life. She mentions going to counseling at school for a while, but clearly there was a lot more support that she needed, due to the fact that (highlight for spoiler)her mother committed suicide and she was told that it was an accident. 
What I really think: I don't think I will purchase this, because the cover and the content are so drastically at odds. It's a pretty heavy duty read, but the cover makes it look very fun.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, April 24, 2020

Double Foul (Camp Average #2)

Battle, Craig. Double Foul (Camp Average #2)
April 15th 2020 by Owlkids Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Mack is back at Camp Avalon after Camp Average, but things have changed. After the camp finally won a game, counselor Winston was promoted and has developed an elite athlete track at the camp. The camp is also taking girls for the first time, and Mack's friend Nicole transfers from a nearby camp, glad to have better facilities. Mack is happy just to drift along in the non-elite track, but when all of his activities mysteriously get canceled, he ends up on the basketball team, which is headed for an important basketball tournament. In another wrinkle, each camp can only send one team, so the girls are determined to defeat the boys. It doesn't help that Winston keeps throwing the team into competitions, even at Mega Fun Zone, that tear the team apart. There's even talk that a scout is coming to a game, which puts the athletes in a tizzy. Mack gets the upper hand when he registers the basketball team he has put together as "Camp Average", and Winston's entry is thrown out. The team does very well, but almost doesn't make it to the second round of competition because their bus to the event is mysteriously canceled. Andre comes to the rescue and gets a ride with Camp Killington, their rival, but this helps comes at a price. It looks like there's more to Camp Average's story when next summer rolls around.
Strengths: This was fast-paced, funny, had interesting characters, and had a nice turn with the girls being involved in sports. Young readers will love that Winston is evil and root for Mack and his fellow campers to take down the short-short, tube sock wearing villain and return their camp to its average roots. There are enough basketball play-by-plays that I got confused, which means there is just enough basketball for my sports fans.
Weaknesses: There was a lot going on, and a lot of characters. I got a little confused, but then I read too quickly.
What I really think: The first book hasn't circulated terribly well, but I haven't been promoting it as a sports book, either. I'll purchase this second title, which will help the series because basketball is definitely the sport of choice at my school.

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Goldie Vance

Rivera, Lilliam. Goldie Vance: The Hotel Whodunit 
March 17th 2020 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

The Crossed Palms Resort in Florida is a happening place in the 1960s, and teenager Goldie has a job parking cars, thanks to her father's job there. What she really wants to be, however, is the house detective, so she is always looking for mysteries to solve, even if they are as simple as locating former actress Miss Dupart's ring in her car. When a contingent arrives to film a picture with Delphine "the Temptress of the Ocean" Lucerne, Goldie wants in on the action. Lucerne shies away from publicity, so the hotel employees are told to keep away, but Goldie manages to work her way into the actress's good graces despite the director, Mr. Deavneport, and her hotel manager, Mr. Maple. When a million dollar prop piece for the film, The Bejeweled Aqua Chapeau, goes missing, Goldie sees her chance at making a name for herself and throws herself into the investigation. Since her mother, who works at a mermaid themed restaurant, is working on the film as one of the swimming experts, Goldie has even more reason to find the real culprit so that the suspicion is removed from her mother. Can Goldie manage to solve the mystery, impress her parents, and make a name for herself as a detective?
Strengths: I'm a big fan of books set in Florida during this time period (I'm blaming this on my mother's copy of Marion Holland's 1957 No Children, No Pets), and I loved the fact that Goldie has a Black father and a white mother, but that it wasn't the focus of the story; it was just who she was. She also is most likely gay-- there's a brief flirtation with a character named Diane, and this has an LGBTQIA+ tag, but there's not much more information than that. Her desire to be a detective is admirable, and she works very hard at her job at the hotel. The mystery is fine; this was reminiscent of Beach Party Surf Monkey, but less frenetic.
Weaknesses: Goldie was sometimes unlikable, getting herself in trouble after not following the rules but still being irritated by them, and the mystery was a bit hokey. Perhaps this is because it is a take off of Nancy Drew titles, which makes sense if readers are familiar with that classic series.
What I really think: I need more mystery books for my library, but students either want murder mysteries or mysteries with evil, murderous ghosts. I might buy this one for our decades project, since it's set in the 1960s, but despite the terrific cover, I'm not sure it will circulate well.

I thought that it might help to understand the character more if I read the graphic novel on which this is based.

Larson, Hope, and Williams, Brittany. Goldie Vance, Vol. 1
October 11th 2016 by BOOM! Box (first published April 13th 2016)
E Book from the Ohio E Book Project

The mystery in this story involved a German scientist being kidnapped in a sort of Scooby-Doo fashion, but I liked Goldie a LOT more in this one. The illustrations were fun, but the details of life in the 1960s were still a bit lacking. I have to admit I'm half tempted to buy some of the series for my graphic novel readers, but I feel like I am missing something about the back story of the character. If the movie of this series ends up being produced, I may buy a couple of volumes.

From Goodreads.com:
"Sixteen-year-old Marigold "Goldie" Vance has an insatiable curiosity. She lives at a Florida resort with her dad, who manages the place, and it's her dream to one day be the hotel's in-house detective. When Walter, the current detective, encounters a case he can't crack, together they utilize her smarts, skills, and connections to solve the mystery...even if it means getting into a drag race, solving puzzles, or chasing a helicopter to do it!"

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

On These Magic Shores

Yamile Saied Méndez. On These Magic Shores
April 21st 2020 by Tu Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Minerva Miranda's single mom works hard to support Minerva and her younger sisters, Kota and Avi. It involves more than one job, child care provided by a friend for Avi, and hand-me-down clothes. The family is close knit and has fun traditions from the mother's Argentine background, including a tooth fairy mouse and feeding milk to the fairies, or pequenos. The younger girls love all manner of stories about fairies, but Minerva is less than thrilled about one story in particular. Her school puts on a production of Peter Pan every year. Minerva goes to a lot of trouble to try out, only to be cast as Tiger Lily, a role which she thinks is extremely problematic. There are bigger problems, though-- one Sunday night, her mother doesn't come home. Minerva calls the nursing home where her mother works and finds that she did not show up for her last shift, but Minerva does not identify herself. She also makes sure that their landlord, Mr. Chang, doesn't find out. She finds some food for her sisters, takes Avi to day care earlier than usual, and gets herself and Kota to school. At school, she has made friends with Maverick, who is adopted and has six older sisters, and his help makes it possible for Minerva to juggle caring for her sisters. She tells the play director that she doesn't want the part, and is released from her obligation with the understanding that she needs to find someone else to take the part and pay the $50 participation fee. The problematic nature of the role is later addressed. As the week wears on, Maverick's mother and sisters also help out, and Minerva reaches out to her estranged grandmother in Argentina. When her mother returns, having been in the hospital, Minerva knows that she will need a lot of help, especially since her mother seems to be getting worse instead of better.
Strengths: For some reason, middle school students like to read about children who need to take care of themselves; I always refer to it as the Boxcar Children Effect. It is not something that would be good to have to do in real life, but it's interesting to think about. Readers in a similar home situation will feel seen, and readers who have not experienced this will feel lucky. Minerva is a great character who really thinks through her situation and deals with it the best she can. She reaches out to a support network when she is at the end of her resources. This is an important picture of the situation that many tween students live on a daily basis, and a good reminder that sometimes problems in class reflect this often unexplored reality.
Weaknesses: I wish there had been more detail about the mother's illness; it was very serious, and it was good that the girls had their grandmother step in, but I wanted to know more about the nature of her illness. Also, I'm not sure how well current middle school students know Peter Pan. When my daughters saw the movie at a friend's house 20 years ago, I remember thinking "Oh, no. That is not something that holds up at all."
What I really think: Like Rosenberg and Shang's upcoming  Not Your All-American Girl (July 7th 2020, Scholastic Press), this covers a play and outdated social expectations for casting. Since this is set in the present rather than the 1980s, the teachers involved are open to changing the play, and even breaking with tradition and trying a new play.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Mystery of the Moon Tower and My Video Game Ate My Homework

Sedita, Francesco, Seraydarian, Prescott and Hamaker, Steve.
The Mystery of the Moon Tower (Pathfinders #1)
April 21st 2020 by Viking Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Kyle and his mother move back to Windrose, where his mother was raised, and she sends him to Merriweather's camp so he doesn't spend the summer playing video games. The town is a quirky place, with odd gaseous eruptions and strange weather, and the camp is quirky, too. There, he is thrown in with Beth, Vic, Harry, and Nate, who all have their own interests and talents. After watching an old movie about the town, they start to investigate and break into the Merriweather house, which is run down and surrounded by a moat. In the house, they meet Mildred Merriweather, the great niece of the camp founder. She gives them access to the building (which is to be torn down), which starts them on an epic, magical adventure. They find clues and secret rooms, solve puzzles, and embrace Merriweather's philosophy of "path finding". Will they be able to find the fabled treasure of Windrose and save the Merriweather legacy?
Strengths: Older fans of Yang's Secret Coders will like the puzzles and adventure that this diverse cast confronts in Windrose. The house is a fun setting, rather reminiscent of the movie National Treasure at points. This is a graphic novel in full color, so perfect for fantasy fans who like to delve into this format.
Weaknesses: I felt like there were a ton of details missing about Windrose and the Merriweathers that could have been better addressed in a traditional novel.
What I really think: Will purchase, but know that I will have to commit to the whole set, since this ends on a giant cliffhanger.

Hansen, Dustin. My Video Game Ate My Homework
April 21st 2020 by DC Comics
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Dewey struggles in school, but is very creative and can build awesome projects, so he is hoping that a superior volcano model will help him pass science and avoid summer school. When his friend Ferg, who is the principal's son, opens the box with the science fair prize, an Infinity Lens, and breaks it, the boys and their friends Beatrice and Katherine try to fix it. When they do, a portal to another world opens up and sucks Dewey's volcano model into it. The group goes through the portal and turn into video game characters with interesting qualities; Ferg is part bear, Beatrice has bee-like traits, etc. With the help of a magic book, they have adventures involving bone rats, a Glurk, and 8-Bit, a sort of robot with a television for a head. Will the group be able to survive in the virtual world, retrieve Dewey's homework, and make it back to their own world in order to spend the summer at Dewey's father's malt shop?

Strengths: Dustin Hansen has my eternal admiration and gratitude for Game On!, which is absolutely excellent, so I was interested to see what he would do with a graphic novel. This was similar to Cube Kid's 8 Bit Warrior books and the Minecraft novelizations only in that it follows the actions of a video game. The children have a quest, fight monsters and challenges, and have to survive. This is a graphic novel, so there are a lot of elements that I can only imagine appear in actual video games (challenges, medals with powers-- I can't even really describe these, although people who actually play games will immediately recognize them). There are not as many books about video games as my students would like, so this will be immediately popular with fans of Schrieber's Game Over, Pete Watson (2014) and Anderson's Insert Coin to Continue (2016).
Weaknesses: The artwork in this reminded me of 1990s video games, which was probably the intent, but I kept interpolating Katie from Katie's Farm in the action. That's a "me" problem!
What I really think: I'll definitely have to purchase this, but it wasn't quite my flavor of milkshake. (The Frosted Top was my favorite part, but the children didn't spend very long there!)

Monday, April 20, 2020

Into the Clouds: The Race to Climb the World's Most Dangerous Mountain


It's
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
 at 
and #IMWAYR day 
at 
and 


Olson, Tod. Into the Clouds: The Race to Climb the World's Most Dangerous Mountain
April 21st 2020 by Scholastic Focus
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

The K2 mountain in the Himalayas is the second highest in the world after Mt. Everest, and is significantly more dangerous. In 1938, a young American medical student, Charlie Houston, lead an expedition to survey the area and decide the best way to ascend the mountain. The following year, the Karakoram expedition led by Fritz Wiessner attempted to climb to the top, but the mission was beset by personality problems and poor weather, and ended in the death of Dudley Wolfe, who was left behind by his fellow climbers after a series of disastrous circumstances. Three sherpas also died in an attempt to bring him back. In 1953, Houston mounted another expedition, choosing his men wisely in the hopes that they would not turn on each other the way Wiessner's men did. He selected six men, including Art Gilkey, a geologist from Iowa, and Dee Molenaar, who left a wife and daughter back at home. While parts of the trip went well, the group had to wait out weather and also had to deal with the illness of Gilkey, who developed blood clots in his leg and was unable to travel under his own steam. Instead of trying to get to the top, the team attempted to get Gilkey to safety. Unfortunately, his body was swept away after a horrific incident when six of the climbers fell and were saved by one man being able to hold onto the rope connecting them, and being able to pull them to safety. After that expedition, Houston gave up climbing, and once an Italian team was able to make the summit, the spotlight was off the Karakoram expedition.

This book is not only filled with a wealth of technical information about the intricacies of climbing a mountain (Literal tons of food! Sunglasses to prevent snow blindness, which sounds awful! Why you need way more pitons that you ever expected! Also, outfit your sherpas a whole lot better. And you can wear your extra socks as mittens in a pinch.), but is told in a very exciting way. Climbing a mountain has never seemed like a good idea to me, but Houston's adventures certainly make for riveting reading.

There are strong glimpses into the men involved in the climb as well. Houston's motivations are examined, and there's even a touch of philosophy about why people engage in extreme climbing. Dee Molenaar's desire just to get off the mountain and back to his family was especially poignant reading, since he passed away on January 19, 2020, as I was reading this book. The mission with Wiessner, though not a major portion of the book, was a helpful inclusion, since it showed what happened when communication wasn't good and there was tension between the climbers.

Readers of Roland Smith's Peak series need this book to show the realities of an actual climb, and the photographs will interest those readers a lot! Fans of other survival stories, such as the Wallace's Bound by Ice or Lourie's Locked in Ice, will find this to be filled with the same type of riveting survival details those books have. This almost makes me want to find another copy of Ullman's Banner in the Sky; at least Houston's men had gloves and proper hiking boots!


Sunday, April 19, 2020

Like Nothing Amazing Ever Happened

Blejwas, Emily. Like Nothing Amazing Ever Happened
April 14th 2020 by Delacorte Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

It's 1991, and Justin is adjusting to life without his father, who was recently killed in an odd accident with the local trolley. His father, who had fought in Vietnam, had managed to hold a job, but struggled with life after being in the war. Now, it's just Justin, his older brother, and their mother, trying to scrape by in their small Minnesota town. Justin is tired of being "the boy whose father was killed", but is having trouble moving on himself. He has a good friend in Phuc (pronounced "Fo"), and has a crush on Jenni. He is assigned a history day project on conflict, and instead of choosing a war, as his teacher wants him to, he researches the local history of the Native American tribe who inhabited the land. Over time, he manages to find out more about what happened to his father, and learns to deal with his emotions over missing him.
Strengths: There are not a lot of books set in Minnesota, and this was certainly a nice glimpse of what like is like in a small town. The family dynamics were interesting, and I also enjoyed Phuc's story. The cover is very pretty!
Weaknesses: I wish there had been a little less about dealing with Justin's grief and that he had been more involved in something else. Even more details about Jenni or history day would have helped.
What I really think: Will probably pass on purchase because this is very slow paced, something my students don't like. I can see it being successful as a class read aloud if a teacher is very passionate about it.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Louder Than Words (Heroes Quartet, #3)

Kacer, Kathy. Louder Than Words (Heroes Quartet, #3)
April 14th 2020 by Annick Press
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Dina and her family are struggling after the death of the schoolteacher father, but luckily their mother has been able to take on his job. She hires a housekeeper, Nina, to watch the baby during the day and help out. It's the early 1940s, and the town of Prokurov, which once was Polish, then Russian, is now part of the Soviet Ukraine. There are troubling signs that the Jewish citizens are going to have difficulties-- there are swastikas on businesses, yellow stars to be sewn onto clothing, and eventually the loss of schools, parks, and livlihoods. After a fire burns down their home, Dina and her family have a small piece of luck-- the local government issues them new identity cards, claiming that Nina is the mother of the girls and their mother is the maid. They are all listed as Catholic, Nina's religion. They get an apartment and a small amount of money, and think that they might be able to survive. When a former neighbor identifies the mother and calls the police, she ends up confined to the ghetto. Nina steps up to take care of the girls and to ride out the war while hiding their identities.
Strengths: This had a lot of good details about what life was like for Jewish people in the days leading up to Nazi occupation, and what it was like to hide and ride out the war instead of being sent to a concentration camp. It's similar to Skrypuch's  Don't Tell the Nazis, and the fact that it is based on actual people is fascinating. Canadian writers are my new go-to for books about the Holocaust!
Weaknesses: While I understand what they were trying to do with the cover art (it looks like some WWII posters a bit), it's not necessarily going to appeal to my 8th graders because of the cartoon style. I'll be able to hand sell it with no problems, though.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing; every year I need about 200 books set during WWII for an 8th grade project, and this was a compelling read. It doesn't matter that it is the third in the series, but I am going to go back and investigate the other titles.

Dunn, Georgia. Take It Away, Tommy: A Breaking Cat News Adventure
March 31st 2020 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

While my students don't read the newspaper and are unaware that comic strips appear in them, they nonetheless love books of comic strips. I'm not a cat fan (in the words of Pluto Living "Cats are not important."), but many of my students are, and they find these collections amusing. I am a bit disturbed by the empty, soulless eyes in the drawings of the cats, but then... they are cats!

From Goodreads:
Tonight’s top story: the intrepid team of feline reporters is back on the beat and tackling stories like a runaway toy mouse in this second collection of Breaking Cat News comics for middle-grade readers.

Once again Lupin, Elvis, and Puck—alongside boisterous field correspondents like Tommy—deliver hard-hitting reportage on all of the most pressing issues, such as Vacuum Awareness Week, the case of the missing breakfast, and the history of fuzzy blankets. The gang also meets new characters like Burt, the free-spirited barn cat who helps solve some AV problems. And these cats will need all of the help they can get to get to the bottom of some mysterious ghost sightings and prove they’re not scaredy.

The More-to-Explore section includes paper dolls, how to make pet rock cats, and explores the Big Pink House and the BCN apartment within.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Friday Activities

What Lane?

Maldonado, Torrey. What Lane?
April 14th 2020 by Nancy Paulsen Books
 E ARC provided by Edelweiss

Stephen lives in Brooklyn with his father, a Black teacher, and his mother, a white librarian. He hangs out a lot with his neighbor Dan, and has started to notice that when the two are out in public, people will gave Stephen a hard time for things that Dan is doing, too, but never speak to him. This could be when the two are in a store or slap boxing in the street. When Stephen talks to his parents about these growing microaggressions, his father wants him to know the painful reality of being a Black man in today's society, but his mother wants to shelter him. This is not possible when Dan's cousin, Chad, who lives in the neighborhood is openly hostile to Stephen. He is also an instigator for sketchy activities like breaking into an abandoned factory and having a haunted house. When a Black classmate, Wes, reconnects with Stephen, he warns him that Chad is bad news, but also encourages Stephen to hang out more with his Black friends. This line of thinking is intensified when a Black Lives Matter bulletin board goes up in school, and Stephen starts to think more about "what lane" people put him in. He tries to get his two friend groups to hang out more together, and when Chad becomes more aggressive in his actions, he realizes that it's important to be aware of how society views him, and to be active in his response to that.
Strengths: Along with Ramee's A Good Kind of Trouble, this is an important book to highlight the treatment of Black people in the US. Seen through Stephen's eyes, we get details provided in a way that Black children dealing with this every day will see their experiences reflected, and others who haven't seen this will be able to understand. Fitting in with friends is a huge part of adolescent development, and when those friends change, it can be devastating. The length of the book is perfect, the cover fantastic, and the writing solid and easy to understand.
Weaknesses: This was not as exciting as Tight and had a didactic tone. Necessary, given the topic of the book, but did slow the story down a bit.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing and looking forward to Maldonado's next book.


Ms. Yingling

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Foreverland

Kear, Nicole C. Foreverland
April 21st 2020 by Imprint
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Margaret is angry with her parents, and decides that the last happy day her family had was at Foreverland, a small and somewhat tacky theme park an hour or so from her home. She decides to run away and live there, bringing along a backpack. She hops the train, pays the admission, and is in. She begins her time with a junk food pig out, but chokes on a hot dog and is saved by a mysterious boy who seems to be following her. This turns out to be Jaime, who is also attempting to live in the park, but whom security is trying to find. Jaime is impressed that Margaret spent the night in Dracula's bed in the Haunted House, and promises to help her get her backpack back from The Captain, who runs the park and almost caught her. The two start to hang out together, going on rides, eating food provided by Jaime's connection Belle, and keeping a low profile. Of course, since the authorities are already looking for Jaime, this is difficult, and when Margaret runs into her former best friend Priya's family, she knows that her time in the park won't last forever, and she helps Jaime make peace with his past so that he can leave the park as well.
Strengths: What tween hasn't wanted to run away from home, especially to live in an amusement park? Like From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler or Newman's One Mixed-Up Night, this is a fun look at what it would be like to try to run away. The haunted house scene is hysterical, and there are deeper issues that Margaret is trying to work through, although they aren't all that heavy. Jaime has sadder issues, but they are lightly addressed. Foreverland is a fun, slightly hokey place that is just the right size for spending a night or two.
Weaknesses: There are some details left out, like washing up and the parents worrying, that could have been included in order to add that lovely air of The Boxcar Children to the portrayal of daily life.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing this one. Not sure how much it will circulate, but I see it being one of those books that is a favorite with the right reader, and a title that will last for a good long time. I personally always planned to run away to the woods behind my aunt's house, because I knew I could break into her garage for food!
Ms. Yingling

Thursday Activities