Sunday, September 27, 2020

Lupe Wong Won't Dance

Higuera, Donna Barba.  Lupe Wong Won't Dance.
September 8th 2020 by Levine Querido
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Lupe has very strong opinions about many things that go on at school, so when she finds out that there will be a square dancing unit in gym class, she is not shy about letting her gym teacher, principal, and mother know that this is not acceptable. She researches the song they are learning "Cotton-Eyed Joe", and presents Principal Singh and Coach with her evidence linking the song to topics that will corrupt young minds. The class starts again, using "Turkey in the Straw" instead. Lupe is not happy; she has made a deal with her uncle that if she can get all A's in her classes, he will introduce her to Fu Li, a baseball player who is "Mexinese" or "Chinacan", just like Lupe. Baseball is one way Lupe stays connected to her father, who passes away a few years ago, and she also identifies strongly as an athlete. No matter what problem Lupe finds with square dancing, Coach and Principal Singh find a way to accommodate her. It's archaic and sexist for the girls to be asked to dance? Next year, the course will be gender neutral, and there are other changes made. Lupe's friends are used to her impassioned pleas for change, but she does manage to irritate her best friend, Andi. She is also worried that her other best friend, Niles (who is described as being on the autism spectrum), might be becoming friends with the annoying Gordon, as the two bond over their love of science fiction films and graphic novels. Lupe's mother is a kindergarten teacher in her district, so is alerted every time Lupe makes her displeasure known at school. Finally realizing that she is going to have to dance, Lupe asks her brother Paolo for help... and ends up being chosen for the dancing show case at the school festival. Her attempts to get that changed result in the school adopting a multicultural platform for the program, so there are other cultures represented, but Lupe still has to dance. Will Lupe be able to make amends with her friends and get the grades she needs to meet Fu Li?
Strengths: There are a couple of other books that deal with square dancing in middle school phys ed class, but this is the only one where the plot is centered on it! In schools that still have phys ed, it can be a huge concern for students, so this was good to see. I really liked the characters in this one; Lupe's mother and her weird Crockpot dinners, Paolo, who alternately aggrieves and supports his sister, the grandparents, who try to outdo each other with food, Coach, who has a fleeting, wistful moment about what her own school phys ed experience might have been like if she didn't have to dance with only boys, and Miles and Gordon, who are both exuberantly themselves. It was also good to see that Lupe's concerns were taken seriously, even when she was completely off the mark.
Weaknesses: Lupe was not a pleasant character, and I worried that she was acting out because she was having trouble dealing with her father's death. I definitely side with the grandmother, who says "It's better to try and forget", but children don't necessarily have the tools to do this. There are some things that seem unrealistically exaggerated; Lupe raises $12,000 on Students won't be at all bothered by this, but I wondered how patient the principal would have really been with Lupe's repeated visits to her office.
What I really think: I should have suspected that square dancing was a tool for white supremacy; I can't think it's really taught that much anymore. It's certainly not at my school. I have to admit that I rather enjoyed square dancing and even looked into joining a group 30 odd years ago, only to find that everyone in the group was over 60 years old. This book was a fun title addressing interesting topics.

I try to post about books very close to the release date, but these have moved around a bit. I feel like Lupe really wants to hang out with Effa. 

Williams, Andrea. Baseball's Leading Lady : Effa Manley and the Rise and Fall of the Negro Leagues 
5 January 2021 Roaring Brook Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

I was expecting a biography of Effa Manley, but this turned out to be one of the better discussions about the Negro Leagues and Black baseball players that I've seen. SO MUCH information on so many different topics, but also beautifully arranged with Manley's life as a framework. There were a decent number of black and white illustrations (since this deals with the 1850s to the 1950s, there was little else available), and the wide range of information makes this a great starting point for students who are looking for different people or events for history day projects. Jackie Robinson is a fantastic historical figure for so many reasons, but there are also hundreds of books about him. I would love to see some of the other Black players highlighted, especially those from the 1800s. I'm also a little fascinated (and yet repulsed) by Branch Rickey and would love to see more about him. Definitely purchasing, and still hoping that the #WNDB movement and the current sociopolitical climate will finally start to get more biographies about previously unheralded Black figures. 

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The Exceptional Maggie Chowder

Lute, Renee Beauregard and Valentine, Luna  (Illustrations).
The Exceptional Maggie Chowder 
October 1st 2020 by Albert Whitman & Company
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Maggie has an uneventful life until her father loses his job. The family decides to downsize to an apartment near the grocery store where her mother has been hired as a manager, and her father starts to investigate a new career as an actor while also caring for Maggie's four year old brother, Aaron, who is on the Autism Spectrum. This is a lot of change for one summer, especially since her best friend LaTanya is also experiencing change, but in a different way. LaTanya's father has been hired as a coach for the Seattle Seahawks football team, so her family buys a bigger house which she finds lonely, since her parents are always working. Maggie is very interested in a comic series, The Amazing Eagirl, which has inspired her to become a forest ranger. When her Grandmother Barrel comes to visit for a month, Maggie thinks that life has gotten even worse. Her grandmother is very judgmental, disagreeing with things Maggie's parents allow, like coffee drinking and comic book reading. She is surprised when her grandmother not only offers to take her to comic con to meet the author of Eagirl, but also makes a costume for Maggie and has Maggie make a costume for her of Eagirl's sidekick, Possum Sauce. Over the summer, her father's acting career takes off with a web series of Lyle, Lyle Crocodile (he's the crocodile!), Aaron starts therapy to help him develop coping strategies, and Maggie realizes that there are good and bad things about her new situation, but the good seem to be winning.
Strengths: This was fun to read, and had a good balance of small problems and ordinary life. It's rare to see an interest in comics portrayed in middle grade lit, especially with girl characters, so that was lots of fun. There are pages of Eagirl comics at the end of every chapter. Aaron's behaviors are realistically portrayed, and Maggie tries hard to help him out, even though she is occasionally annoyed with him. I liked that the parents were really involved, and even the grandmother ends up being a positive character. I think that we need a lot more books about children in straightened financial situations, since that is going to be a reality for many students.
Weaknesses: Maggie seems a bit young, but that might be because there are so many interactions with her family portrayed. After the stay-at-home orders, even older readers might identify with spending a lot of time with family!
What I really think: I will probably purchase this; I enjoyed it so much, and it will work for the 7th grade unit on relationships and challenges. It might be a challenge to get 8th graders to pick it up. This would be an excellent choice for elementary schools as well.

Friday, September 25, 2020

American Dogs

48946802Shotz, Jennifer Li. Chestnut (American Dog #3)

October 6th 2020 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Meg lives with her family, including two older siblings, on a Christmas tree farm. The family business is barely keeping the family afloat financially, so when Meg gets a new coat for her birthday, it's a big deal. What she would really like is a dog, but her parents have said "absolutely not". When she finds an injured puppy on the farm, she and her friend Colton (who has several dogs) tend to the dog's paw and keep him in an unused barn while he heals. Meg wants to tell her parents, but first tries to figure out a way to soften them up, trying to find ways to earn money for his upkeep. She names the dog Chestnut, and Colton informs her that he is a Plott hound, a breed that is often used for tracking and hunting. Chestnut is very anxious, especially about being separated from Meg. Meg does manage to make a little bit of money selling Christmas tree ornaments when she is running the register at the tree farm, and also tries to be really helpful to her parents. Eventually, however, they find out about the dog and make Meg turn Chestnut over to the local shelter. When a large number of trees are stolen from the farm, Meg thinks that this is the chance for her and Chestnut to prove that having a dog would be helpful for the farm. Will the two be able to find the thieves?
Strengths: There are certainly more children in economically fragile situations than children who have had a parent die, and relatively few books. Running a tree farm would certainly be precarious, and the family situation is well represented. I appreciated that the father actually liked dogs and didn't want another dog because he loved a previous one so much! Colton's experience with dogs is helpful, and I always like the information about the breeds at the end of these books.
Weaknesses: Meg makes a LOT of really dangerous choices that made me highly uncomfortable. Her logic is absolutely true to how middle schoolers think and what they might do, but since her actions put both her and Chestnut at risk, they were hard to read about.
What I really think: I will still buy the entire set of these, but this wasn't my favorite because of Meg's poor choices. Students won't really think about this, nor are they likely to repeat the actions.

Shotz, Jennifer Li. Star (American Dog #4)
October 6th 2020 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Julian struggles in school; even though he was diagnosed with dyslexia and is given accommodations, he feels that he is impossibly behind. Other kids in the class make fun of him, and he would rather draw than make the effort to read. It doesn't help that his older brother is a really good student. When Julian gets a Saturday detention again, he finds himself spending it with the principal. The principal notices that Julian is struggling with his reading and not making much progress, so calls Julian's mother with a proposition-- can Julian go to the local animals shelter and spend his detention helping out? Julian has always wanted a dog, so he's even okay with working with Bryan, who goes to school with him and seems to be good at everything. There is a dog, Star, who has come to the shelter from a house on Julian's street. Star's owner died, and the dog is afraid of everyone and everything. The two boys start to work with Star, who takes a special shine to Julian. Julian also finds out that Bryan also has dyslexia, and the two start to do some of their homework together, and this helps Julian out a lot. When the shelter runs into financial trouble, Julian is afraid that his parents won't let him adopt Star. He has long collected treasure maps in the area, and he and Bryan decide that they will try to find the treasure to help out the shelter. This turns out not to be a great decision, and some unfortunate things happen. Julian's parents are surprisingly supportive, even though they do ground him from some activities. Will there be something that can save the shelter?
Strengths: I love that Julian is shown to struggle with dyslexia; there are a lot of students who do, and not much in the literature about them. It helps that Shotz's books are all fairly shot, with large type, so my emerging readers really like them. The principal is great, and it's good to see children involved in community service and in making new friends. The details about training a deaf dog are fantastic, and there's breed information at the back of the book.
Weaknesses: The scene where Bryan and Julian go out to look for treasure seems out of character for them, but is similar to the "children go out and get lost in storm" scenes in many middle grade books. This familiarity is something young readers really like, though.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing this whole series. All of this author's books are hugely popular in my library, and the covers are fantastic!
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Fright Night

Stoffels, Maren. Fright Night
September 1st 2020 by Underlined
E ARC provided by Netgalley

**Spoiler Alert** Bit of a spoiler in the "Strengths" section.

Friends Quin and Dylan are planning to go to a haunted house that is really intense; you have a to sign a paper to participate, tickets aren't cheap, and there is even a safe word, "ketchup", if things get to scary. Of course, once the safe word is used, the haunted house is over for the entire group. Dylan is living with Quin's family; he tells everyone that his mother has cancer, and that he injured his leg in a bicycle accident. There are dark secrets in his past that he doesn't want to share. There is a new girl in school, Sofia, who has connected with Dylan. For his birthday, she wants to make him a photo album, but comes across even more inconsistencies in his stories about his past. Friends Kelly and Sandy are in care, and find that working at the haunted house is a good way to make money. As the night progresses, connections between the people at the haunted house are uncovered, and secrets are revealed. Some of these will push people to the edge and end in tragedy.
Strengths: I found Dylan's story to be very intriguing; I was able to connect his illnesses with his mother's behavior right away, and found it interesting that he was based on a real person whom the author knew who suffered the same kind of abuse he does. The cover is fantastic and would lead readers who want scary stories to pick it up right away. Definitely has an R.L. Stine Fear Street feel to it. Haunted houses are always a good subject.
Weaknesses: There's a bit of a cultural disconnect; the author is from Amsterdam and this book is a translation. The teens are shown smoking in the book, and there's an interchange where Sandy says "Did you see the (insert somewhat rude word for parts of anatomy) on her?" This might be okay for high school, but the story wasn't scary enough to justify these odd things.
What I really think: I think I will stick to the new Joel Sutherland Fright Night books or the K. R. Alexander stories that are coming out from Scholastic.
Ms. Yingling

The Great Good Thing

Townley, Roderick. The Great Good Thing
May 1st 2001 by Atheneum Books
Personal copy, purchased 2003  

The Princess Sylvie is the main character in a book titled The Great Good Thing. It's been years since the characters have had a Reader, and when the book is finally opened, they all rush to their places and act out the story, which centers around Sylvie not wanting to marry Prince Riggloff but to instead have adventures and do a "great good thing". The biggest rule of being in a book is to never look at the Reader, much less let the Reader see you. When the book is opened and shut quickly, and the story is in disarray and several funny things happen. The Reader, whose name is Claire, laughs, and tries to find the pages that were so amusing, but of course they are not there. Eventually, Sylvie manages to wander out of the book and into Claire's dreams. Claire is dreaming about her grandmother, who is ill, and the two girls learn a little about each other's worlds. Claire's brother, Ricky, is upset, but is also angry at the perceived favoritism of the grandmother, and burns the book in retribution. With the help of a girl with dark blue eyes, who has appeared in many of Claire's dreams, most of the cast escapes, and ends up living in Claire's mind. They are frequently called upon to appear in Claire's dreams, but as she gets older, this happens less frequently, and they eventually decide to move further into her mind to recreate their kingdom. They find other characters from Claire's life, including Norbert Fangl, who was her beloved geometry teacher. Once, when Sylvie is called off to bein one of Claire's dreams, the court jester stages a coup. When the girl with the blue eyes tells Claire that they are all in danger of perishing, the group once again relocates, this time to the mind of Lily, Claire's daughter, who heard the story as a child. Eventually, with Sylvie's help, she writes the story of The Great Good Thing again, with some slight changes, such as incorporating Norbert Fangl, so he won't be forgotten. Strengths: This is just one of those books that has ended up being enormously influential in my life. The names of the characters struck me the first time I read it: My daughter is Claire, we almost named my other daughter Emmeline (the queen), my father is Walter (King Walther), and there's even a strange Norbert connection. Because of this, my daughters named our dog Sylvie in 2006 because she was "a great good thing". I read this book out loud to Sylvie as she lay dying; I have never cried so much in my entire life. I had forgotten that Claire reads The Great Good Thing to her own grandmother as she is declining. The ideas of memory, dreams, and the stories that survive us are very powerful. There are more exciting scenes than I remember, and there is a nice twist with the girl with the dark blue eyes. Maybe not the best book ever written, but definitely one of my favorites. Weaknesses: Be prepared with tissues. What I really think: I might need to get another copy for each of the girls to have.

The first line of the book: "Sylvie lived an amazing life."

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

True Definition of Neva Beane

Kendall, Christine. The True Definition of Neva Beane
September 15th 2020 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Neva and her brother Clayton are spending the summer with their grandparents in Philadelphia. Their parents, who are musicians, have recently lost the family home but are hopeful that a European tour will bring them to prominence or at least some financial security. Neva has made one good friend in the neighborhood, and that helps with some of her adjustment. She and Jamila, whose father is from Ghana, frequent the neighborhood pool and hang out in Neva's yard. When Neva becomes more interested in spending time with Michelle, who is a year older and hangs out with Clayton, Jamila's feelings are a bit hurt. Neva is fascinated by the older girl, especially since she seems more comfortable with having a more mature body, and Neva is struggling with the changes she is undergoing, especially since her strict grandparents are treating her differently because of them. When Clayton becomes active in social activism, gathering donations for the less fortunate and planning marches, the grandparents are not happy because they worry about keeping the children safe. Neva wants her parents to come home, but they are not really in a position to do that. Eventually, Neva gets her grandparents to understand that the social issues they fought for in their youth still need to be addressed, and they reluctantly agree that Neva and Clayton can take part in them.
Strengths: I would love to see more books where children are being raised by grandparents, since many of my students are in this situation. The neighborhood is an interesting setting, and I love the pool and Mrs. Giles. Clayton is an exemplary brother, even if he doesn't do exactly what his grandparents want. It was very interesting that both the grandfather and a neighbor volunteered at the hospital holding babies! The grandmother was well drawn, too; she wants to go to the demonstration, but can't stand too long in the sun. Michelle, whom the grandparents think is "fast", has surprising depths. Once we find that Clayton is involved in social activism, this is a really interesting book.
Weaknesses: The beginning of this was very slow. Middle grade books are much more successful if it's easy to tell the direction a book is heading right away, and this took a long time to come around to that.
What I really think: This is such a great cover (Neva loves the dictionary-- look at the words in her hair!) and I will have a lot of students asking for books about social activism in the fall, so I will purchase this. I just wish that this started with the activism instead of with Neva's obsession with the changes in her body.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Mutant Mushroom Takeover

51862409. sx318 sy475 Short, Rachel Summer. The Mutant Mushroom Takeover
September 22nd 2020 by Simon & Schuster for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Maggie and her brother Ezra are living with their grandmother in her trailer after their father has lost his job as a lab assistant at the Vitaccino corporation in town. He's taken a job as a park ranger at Yellowstone, and Maggie misses him. Her mother left at some indeterminate point in the past and is not much missed. Maggie wants to take a great picture and submit it to the Junior Naturalist Merit Award being offered by the corporation; she wants to win, and use this leverage to get her father his job back. She enlists her friend Nate to help. After seeing an odd moth and missing a picture, she hears that there are weird "ghost lights" out by Old Man Bell's house, so she and Nate sneak out one evening to look. Ezra runs into them, and he and a friend also go to see what's up. Instead of ghost lights, they find bioluminescent mushrooms that seem particularly suspicious, and they also have a run in with Old Man Bell. Unfortunately, the man collapses after finding them and threatening them with his dogs. Ezra calls for an ambulance and tries to help the man, who coughs weirdly glowing spores all over him. The squad comes, but it is too late. Maggie and her family go to the funeral, where Maggie finds out that the dogs all had to be put down because of weird growths that wouldn't heal. She's happy when she gets the award from the Vitaccino corporation, and the head of it, Lydia, hopes that she will present some of her findings to the board. Ezra's health is failing, and when he gets a job working out at Old Man Bell's, Maggie and Nate find that the other teens who are working there all seem to be weirdly infected with the same fungus--Ophiocordyceps, which is the fungus that can turn ants into zombies! Things get heated very quickly, especially since the local police don't believe Maggie because they are infected. Maggie contacts her father for help, since she has exhausted all other options, and the only information he can give her is that she might be able to fight the fungus with a bacteria. Luckily, she and Nate are indefatigable, have good research skills, and can stomach strong smells, but will they be able to save the day?
Strengths: This had whatever element that is present in Scooby-Doo that makes the franchise eternally popular; things look a little bad, but then end up being absolutely horrible, and of course, only the kids can save the day. I really appreciated that Nate and Maggie were perfectly ready to go to the authorities, even call the state CDC, and no one will believe them! At first, I thought "Oh, cool, bioluminscent fungus. Nice science tie-in," but then this took a turn towards Zindel's Rats where it just gets down and dirty! There's also some nice bits with Maggie's family situation; more #MGLit characters could be shown living with a grandparent, and there will be a lot of students dealing with economic instability over the next ten years, but none of this slows down the plot. Excellent, excellent job!
Weaknesses: The cover isn't great, and this might be one of those books that's a bit hard to describe, but once I got past the first chapter, this really sucked me in, and it just got better and better. Might take a bit of hand selling.
What I really think: While the fungus gets a bit fantastical, this would be a fabulous book for science teachers to use to tie in to studying fungus. It reminded me a bit of Martin's Hoax for Hire in that it was so exciting and surprising, and moved along so quickly. Perfect blend of action, grossness, and kid power. Who knew that bat guano (and super soakers) could save the day?

Ms. Yingling


Gray, Liam. Slimed
December 29th 2020 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Billy and Sam are polar opposites who must work together as partners on their entry for America's Got Science. Billy is only doing it for extra credit; school takes too much effort for him to get excited about doing yet another project. Sam, on the other hand LOVES science. Her mother is the school principal, and Sam has her own lab coat. She desperately wants to meet the host of America's Got Science, Professor Quandry. When the two are investigating Billy's attic, looking for equipment and ideas for their project, they come across a trunk owned by Billy's grandmother, who studied science before taking up extreme sports. Her notebook is labeled "dangerous" and "do not touch", but all good notebooks are, right? A chapter on slime interests both of them, and they decide to make the world's most powerful slime. It requires some quirky ingredients like pickle juice, sunflower petal paste, and shaving cream, but they manage to concoct the slime perfectly. It transforms in Billy's hands, turning different glowing colors, and the two think they have a winning project. When Billy wants to pack it up for school the next day, he finds out it is missing, and his parents are acting strangely. They seem like zombies, and have a hankering for disgusting spinach and honey soup! Even Sam is alarmed, and the two hope to hunt down Professor Quandry to ask him about it, since they discovered a picture of the professor and Billy's grandmother working together. The "slimebies" are multiplying, and it's up to Billy and Sam to find a way to reverse the slime and bring back the adults. Will they be able to do that and impress Professor Quandry enough to win the science competition?
Strengths: This was a fun, goofy romp with plenty of positive aspects of science. I loved when Sam pointed out to Billy that he was making hypotheses, observations, and conclusions based on data. Adults turning into zombies is always fun. The gross details about the soup and slime add to the interest, and I liked the secrets about Billy's grandmother's past. The ending seems to leave this open for a sequel. 
Weaknesses:Billy and Sam are in 4th grade. I wish they had been in seventh. That would have made more sense for the science fair, and it's easier to get children to read about older characters. There's no real reason they have to be so young. 4th graders wouldn't be allowed to walk a mile alone to the science center or go to the grocery store unaccompanied, but 7th graders would be. 
What I really think: This was great fun, and is a great title to pick up at a book fair for a reader who likes humorous books, or for a teacher's classroom library. I probably won't purchase a prebind of it, since this is very similar to Castle's The Clone Chronicles or Barry's Science Fair. If it becomes available in hardcover, I will probably purchase. It was one of the few things I've read recently that I enjoyed!

Monday, September 21, 2020

MMGM- Hide and Seeker and Ghosts Unveiled!

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

45298537. sy475Hermon, Daka. Hide and Seeker
September 15th 2020 by Scholastic
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Justin has had a tough year. Right after his best friend, Zee, went missing, his mother passed away from complications of cancer. Zee did return home, but something happened to him while he was gone that has left him traumatized. His single mother hopes to get him back to "normal", so invites his friends to a birthday celebration. Lyric, whose father is in prison, and Nia are part of the "fantastic four", so it makes sense that they are invited. Carla, who is sort of mean, and her brother Quincy are from the neighborhood. The kids enjoy ice cream from a Sweet Dreams cart, and are encouraged by reading the product wrappers to go play hide and seek. Shae, also from the neighborhood but a little too snooty to normally hang out with the group, shows up and ruins the game. Zee is very agitated, so everyone returns home. The next day, it is on the news that Shae has disappeared from a dance camp she attended. How can this be? Justin and Lyric are worried about this progression of events, especially when Carla also goes missing. They hunt down Zee's roommate at the camp from which he disappeared, and gather so more information. Hyde, a super creepy guy who runs the ice cream truck, has some alarming information for them. Kids are disappearing because the Seeker is taking them to Nowhere to feed off the power of their fears. He lures children into playing hide and seek, and when they break the rules, he is able to capture them. Zee and Hyde were able to get out, but Hyde is only out because he now helps the Seeker get chidlren. All of the children at the birthday party broke the rules and start disappearing one by one. Nia realizes that they might be able to take back packs into Nowhere in order to fight the Seeker, but Lyric and Justin are the only two who have time to prepare. Nowhere is horrible, and when they finally arrive there, the boys aren't quite sure what to do but know they don't have a lot of time: when the Seeker gets 400 children, it will be able to travel into the real world and wreak its havoc there. Justin is number 399. Will he be able to find a way to defeat this force of evil?
Strengths: Talk about taking a common experience and making it terrifying! The kids in my  neighborhood used to have a hide and seek game in the evenings, and I imagine that most kids have played, making this hit very close to home. And of COURSE the ice cream truck is the peddler of doom; some people are afraid of clowns, but that's how I feel about ice cream trucks! The children in this come from different backgrounds but most are African-American, and this cover is great. The fears that the children have are all realistic; rat/snakes would be terrifying, but the more realistic fears such as Justin dealing with his mother's death and Lyric's fear of losing his friends are also chilling. There's plenty of running around and fighting, some clever maneuvers on the part of Justin and Lyric, and group of children working together to save the world from encroaching evil.
Weaknesses: I would have liked a little more action in the middle of the book, even though discussing strategies and dealing with fears were necessary plot elements.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and I can see this being HUGELY popular at Scholastic book fairs, so make sure you order more if you are having one. Definitely looking forward to more by this author. It's great that more horror is being published!

51075495Hollihan, Kerrie Logan Hollihan. Ghosts Unveiled! (Creepy and True #2)  
September 29th 2020 by Abrams Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by the publisher through Netgalley

Ghosts are something that middle school students still think might be real; we have a lot of conversations about this when I declare that speculative fiction involves "things that are unlikely to happen in your backyard", and sometimes students try to prove that ghosts are real by citing the fact that books about ghosts, like this one, are in the nonfiction section!

The stories are all very short, and arranged in themed chapters. We are delighted with creepy tales of ghost dogs and cats and ghosts at schools, and go further afield to ghosts in famous places like the White House, ghosts at war, and ghosts on trains and ships. There are even summer tales and holiday tales, and a story from the author's own experiences.

This book has a wide range of ghost stories from around the world. It was great to see this diversity, which ranges from a Missing Hitchhiker Tale from Somalia to a the haunted Music Hall in Cincinnati near the author's (and my) home! The discussion of La Llorona was especially interesting, since she figures largely in Mejia's Paola Santiago and the River of Tears.

This was similar to Williams's recent True Hauntings: Deadly Disasters, but the stories were much shorter. I liked this length; the stories packed a creepy punch, and Hollihan gives plenty of tales to up the creep factor! There are even a few illustrations and photographs to add to the feeling that these things really happened! This would be perfect for starting a language arts class, since most of the stories are under two pages long, and would make a great resource for sleepovers or camp outs. Remember to hold that flashlight under your chin for increased spookiness!

One really neat thing about the notes in the E ARC was that they included links to the article that could be clicked on, taking you right to the source information! There's also a nice selected bibliography with books as well as online articles.

I'll have to go back and pick up Mummies Exposed!: Creepy and True (2019), especially since Ancient Egypt is in our 6th grade curriculum, (Although this apparently discusses other instances of mummification!) and make sure that I have this great volume on hand for Halloween.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Wrong Way Summer

51136035. sx318 sy475 Lang, Heidi. Wrong Way Summer
April 21st 2020 by Amulet Books
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Claire's father has always been evasive when it comes to answering questions about her mother, who left the family when Claire was young; he would launch into elaborate stories about her being kidnapped by trolls or other fantastical explanations. When she was younger, like her brother Patrick, she believed her father, but as she approaches twelve, she becomes increasing annoyed at his games. When he decides to sell the house, buy a van, and spend the summer living in it, traveling around the country, Claire is very angry. She doesn't want to leave her home or her best friend, Ronnie, especially since Ronnie's older brother Mike seems interested in her. She's not given a choice, however, and soon the family is traveling from Michigan, through Ohio, and to Maine. They visit old friends of their father's along the way, but travel without much of a plan, much like the stories her father tells of supposed ancestor, Wrong Way Edgar Jacobus and his love interest, Evangeline Rose. When they head toward the west coast to visit her father's sister, Jan, Claire wonders if they might stop to see her mother as well. There's something not quite right about her father's plan, and once they land with her aunt, Claire finds out the truth about her family's travels.

While it is fairly obvious that something is not quite right with the family's situation, the father hides the pertinent details about why they are leaving the house and undertaking the trip. The fanciful tales are his way of conveying some of the information about his painful past, and Claire understands a lot more about her situation at the end of the book.

There seems to be a minitrend in middle grade literature involving living in a van or camper; Svetcov's Parked and Nielsen's No Fixed Address have families living in vans because they are homeless, Gemeinhart's Coyote Sunrise has a similar plot about driving away from one's problems, and Nelson's upcoming (September 2020) Alpaca My Bags also has a family living in a camper. The details about finding a place to park, sleeping in hammocks, and using rest stop restroom facilities will appeal to readers who want some travel and adventure.

Road trip books are always interesting, and Claire's father drives VanHelsing through some interesting places; although they don't go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they pass it, and almost go to an amusement park along Lake Erie, probably Cedar Point. They meet a lot of other people who are camping, including a boy Claire's age who turns out not to be very nice.

Families splinter for all sorts of reasons; it's not always because a parent has passed away. Children often are not told about economic difficulties that families are facing, but are aware of them nonetheless. Books like Wrong Way Summer help build empathy for classmates who might be in difficult circumstances while also providing vicarious travel experiences.

I'm not a fan of the story-within-a-story, so I would have edited out the Wrong Way Jacobus tales, but that might just be me.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Cartoon Saturday- Jo

Gros, Kathleen. Jo
September 22nd 2020 by Quill Tree Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this modern reimaging of the classic Little Women, we see the March family struggling with their father's deployment. There mother is a nurse who works long hours, and the girls follow the basic trajectory of the original novel. Meg is kind of boring, interested in a young man and a mature high school student. Amy is immature and bratty (sorry, never been an Amy fan), and Beth is in remission from leukemia and does not die. Laurie is still a neighbor, although not as ridiculously well-to-do (Has it ever bothered anyone that neighbors would be so wildly divergent economically? Not that it couldn't happen;it just always seemed odd.), and enjoys being with the family. The grandfather is portrayed much as the original. The real star, always, is Jo. In this book, she is a high schooler looking to find her place. She attends a newspaper meeting and finds that she enjoys working there, honing her writing with the help of the editor, Freddie (a girl). This book takes the family through a school year, and many of the experiences mirror ones in the Alcott book.
Strengths: This remains mostly true to the original, but with an updated time period, which makes it go down better than my readers, who are not always fans of historical fiction. The characters are well developed, and the modernization of the mother and father especially good to see. Including a variety of current social issues is a plus. The illustrations are charming and will definitely appeal to fans of graphic novels.
Weaknesses: I'm always glad to see books with LGBTQIA+ characters, but I'm also a little confused as to why so many reimaginings see Jo as gay. That's fine, but what about her romance with Professor Bhaer? I was never a Laurie fan, and although I was surprised that Jo married at all, I was okay with Bhaer. I did not realize that there was such a schism in Alcott fandom about him. ( Anyway, not a weakness so much as something that confuses me.
What I really think: Terciero and Indigo's Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Graphic Novel: A Modern Retelling of Little Women circulates well, although no one ever goes on to pick up the original. I guess I'm a purist; read the original or don't bother with the story, but this is not everyone's view, so it's good to see these reimaginings. I've read the Aeneid in Latin and the Odyssey in Greek, so maybe I take this opinion a bit too far. At least I haven't read The Inferno in Italian!
Ms. Yingling

Friday, September 18, 2020

Three Keys

Yang, Kelly. Three Keys
September 15th 2020 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

It's 1994, and Mia Tang and her family have bought the Calivista Hotel from the horrible Mr. Yao. She thinks that she and Lupe are going to have a great year in school. Jason Yao is in another class, but the girls have Mrs. Welch, who is a supporter of Proposition 187, which aimed to keep undocumented immigrants from being able to use a variety of state run support services, including the public schools! Since Mia and her family are very interested in issues surrounding immigration, the girls take this to heart. It hits even closer to home when Lupe's mother must return to Mexico for a funeral. In the meantime, the Calivista offers classes to its residents, and Hank, who is hired as the Marketing Manager, puts a sign on the front of the hotel that says "immigrants welcome". This is generally well received, but there are some people who do not agree with this, including some of the hotel investors. Jason wants to be friends with Mia, even though his father continues to be awful, and Mia is able to encourage him to take his cooking seriously. She is concerned that her parents are working too hard, and wonders if they will be able to get certified in the US to return to their more professional jobs, When Lupe's father is detained by immigration, the political environment becomes even more concerning. The Tangs take care of Lupe and manage to find a lawyer to help her family, and Mia encourages her school to try to fight against Proposition 187 and create unity in the school instead.
Strengths: There are so many timely issues that are covered in this, although it's sad that 26 years later they are still problematic. Hank deals with prejudice against Black citizens, there's some tension between recent immigrants from China (the Tangs) and more established families (the Yaos as well as some women Mia's mother meets at the mall), and the plight of immigrants from Mexico is well covered. Mrs. Welch is a fascinating character-- it would have been easy to make her one dimensional, but she learns and grows, and ends up being an ally to Mia and the other immigrant students.
Weaknesses: I forgot at the beginning that this was set in 1994; with the discussion of Proposition 187 being so central to the book, this is important to remember.
What I really think: The thing I liked best about Front Desk was learning about Mia's struggles with being new to the US; this was more concerned with the larger world, which was fine but not as personal. Definitely purchasing, however, since the first book was a huge hit in my library, and am looking forward to seeing what the future holds for Mia and her friends.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Atty at Law

Lockette, Tim. Atty at Law
September 22nd 2020 by Triangle Square
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Atticus Peale lives in Alabama with her father (who, not surprisingly, is a lawyer), her stepmother, Taleesa, and her stepbrother, Martinez. Taleesa, who is Black, is a writer, and one day when Atty and Martinez are tagging along with her to an animal shelter, they meet Easy. Easy seems like a great dog, but a man shows up and wants to the dog put down, claiming it bit him and that he is the owner. He won't give his name or offer proof, but the dog can't be adopted and the shelter director, Megg, says he may even need to be put down. Atty talks to her father, who lets her know she can go to court on behalf of the dog and argue that the law holds the owner responsible, and the dog should not have to die. The judge, who is a little annoyed with Atty for "playing lawyer", agrees-- as long as the dog remains locked up. Megg agrees to do this, and Atty has won her first case. Her father is working on a murder case; a man they know from the neighborhood has been accused of killing the pawn shop owner, and the evidence doesn't look good, although Atty finds some holes in the case, including the fact that the man in question couldn't read. In the meantime, Atty has to start middle school, which she would rather not do. She has some run ins with snotty girls who make fun of the press she has received, but does make friends with Reagan, who also marches to the beat of her own tambourine. It turns out that the two have something in common- both of their mothers had committed suicide. Atty gets involved in another animal rights case, this time involving an alligator, but this one does not end as well. She gets very mean texts from someone she assumes attends her school, but continues her legal pursuits. When her father's case overlaps with Easy's fate, Atty finds herself in some real danger.
Strengths: There are few books with children involved in the law; Grisham's Theodore Boone being the most well known. The fact that Atty works with animal rights is very interesting. There are lots of good things in this; the blended, biracial family, body positivity, Atty holding her own with the mean girls, the family getting involved in Civil Rights, Reagan's very religious family, a good sibling relationship. The mystery involved with the father's case is unraveled nicely, and the legal machinations informative.
Weaknesses: While the author (who is a former editor at Teaching Tolerance Magazine and is a news reporter) tries very hard to get every detail correct according to the current climate and seems extremely well intentioned, he is white. Reading this during the aftermath of the Black Live Matter riots in June, this made me question the publishing industry. The industry has not been fair to Black writers, but Lockette really did try to make this timely and relevant.
What I really think: My library has as good a collection of #ownvoices writers as I have been able to amass. They circulate well. Dog stories also circulate well, and I think that my students would enjoy reading this, so I will probably purchase a copy. If I didn't have #ownvoices books, I would use my limited funds to buy those first.
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Turning Point

Chase, Paula. Turning Point
September 15th 2020 by Greenwillow Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This is not listed as So Done #3, but since the plot involves characters from So Done and Dough Boys, this feels like it is.

It's summer, and Monique (Mo) is conflicted about going to a prestigious summer ballet program for three weeks with fellow dancer Mila. She wants to dance, but feels that the primarily white environment isn't a good fit for her.  Rasheeda (Sheeda), on the other hand, is stuck at home for that time without her best friend, and is tired of always being dragged to church with her aunt, and would be glad of the opportunity to spend some time away from the Cove. Mo has to deal with her roommates (Katie and Brenna), with whom she doesn't always get along, intensive training where she doesn't get enough feedback, and the food at the cafeteria, which just isn't as good as it is at home. Sheeda is trying to become better friends with the other girls from church, but doesn't feel connected to them. She is exploring her relationship with Lennie, Sheeda's brother, with whom she texts frequently.
Strengths: My students are constantly asking for ballet books, so this is a great one to have on hand. I'm a big fan of books that involve some church attendance; I certainly spent a lot of time at Vacation Bible School and youth group back in the day, and very few books address this. Mo and Sheeda are both trying to figure out the middle grade balance between fitting in and standing out, to navigate friendships, and to figure out what they want, as opposed to what their families want. Throw in a little romance and some timely social themes, and this is a great book to hand to readers who want a fast paced, interesting story.
Weaknesses: I wish the cover were similar in style to the other two; my readers might not realize this book continues the story of the Cove.
What I really think: This offered some very interesting perspective on racial relations and perspectives, which are so important, especially right now. I did find Sheeda's feelings about the feedback she received from her teacher especially interesting. She was disappointed in not hearing more "good jobs" from her teacher, and did not care for the critiquing from her teacher. I do think this is a cultural difference, and I will try to be more aware of that when interacting with my students.

With the passing of my mother, I had the epiphany that if someone tells me "good job", I feel that they don't care. Even if I have done a good job, I expect to hear what wasn't successful about my endeavor. My mother was always very critical of what I did; her last understandable conversation with me was about a pie crust I made that she thought "wasn't very good". (She was right, by the way!) My mother was never unkind; she was critical because she wanted to help me get better. Anyone can tell you you "look nice", only my mother would tell me that my shoes weren't quite right or a blouse pulled a bit under the arms. I certainly tell my own daughters that they have done a good job a lot more than my parents told me, so this might be generational as well. The timing of this was interesting for me personally!

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Hatch and Last Kids on Earth #6

Oppel, Kenneth. Hatch (The Overthrow #2)
September 15th 2020 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Netgalley

After the invasion of killer plants in Bloom, there was some progress made on coming up with a herbicide to control the plants. Unfortunately, there is a new life form dropped in the rain; this time, larva that burrow under the earth. This new invasion is worrisome, and the government is still concerned. So concerned, in fact, that Colonel Pearson orders Petra, Anaya, Seth, and the others to be moved to another lab. Separated from their parents, the hybrid children are taken to another facility where they are poked and prodded, subjected to a large number of experiments. The scientists do find transmitters in their brains, which is concerning, because it means that the aliens can locate the children. There are many other hybrids in the facility who are undergoing the same physical changes. Darren has skin patterning and a tail like Petra, and Siena and Esta have feathers like Seth. Eventually, the cryptogens make contact in the form of Terra, a voice that speaks to Petra, and tells her that they are coming to Earth to retrieve her blood, in order to use it to make a weapon. We also find out that there are three different life forms; flyers, runners, and swimmers, who all have examples among the hybrid children. The flyers are the ruling class in the society, and are determined to keep the others under their rule. The scientists are trying to remove the hybrid's alien characteristics, surgically if needed, which is received in different ways by the hybrids. When things become untenable in the lab, the group decides to go back to Deadman's Island, but Seth and the other flyers are left behind. Once at the original lab, things do not get better, and as the children become more and more like the aliens, the group finds it hard to prepare themselves to make contact. The ending is quite the cliffhanger; a third book, Thrive, comes out in 2021.
Strengths: We learn a lot more about the aliens, their plans, and their life forms. The scientists are fairly evil, so it gives the children someone to fight against. It's also good to see some of the other hybrids and see how they react to all of this. This was very action packed and exciting; a little bit like MacHale's Sylo or Lore's I Am Number Four. 
Weaknesses: This focused more on the children and their evolution and wasn't as concerned with what was going on in the world at large. It made sense, but I wanted to know what was going on. I thought about this book a lot in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic; "at least it's not raining evil alien plant life"!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. This is the freshest dystopian series I've read in a while, even though this seemed a bit like Patterson's Maximum Ride.

Brallier, Max and Holgate, Douglas.
The Last Kids on Earth and the Skeleton Road (Last Kids on Earth #6) September 15th 2020 by Viking Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus
Jack and the gang are still continuing to fight in the post apocalyptic world they inhabit, after June's recent solo adventure. Thrull is still a threat, with his skeleton army, but Jack has been training zombies in order to take out those soliders. It's not going particularly well, especially since the skeletons seem to be impervious to wounds, popping back up with the aid of weird vines. This doesn't stop the group from traveling around slashing things, riding in BoomKarts, and interacting with a range of post apocalyptic creatures. Can they save the world? Probably not in this book, since there is a Netflix series, and demand for this paper-over-board volumes will be high.

I'm always saying that middle grade literature needs less soul searching, fewer dead parents, and more action and humor, so I feel bad that I don't much care for this series. My students really like it, especially since it is highly illustrated, but even as a twelve year old, this type of book wasn't my style (my jam being Ellen Conford, Paula Danziger, and lots of historical fiction). On the bright side, to avoid reading this, I did scrub some serious tea stains out of a couple of mugs, and if we ever get back to school, my students will be glad to see this title.

Chase, Mary. Loretta Mason Potts
July 15th 2014 by NYR Children's Collection (first published 1958) 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

The only reason I can see that this has been republished AGAIN (it was reissued in 2014 as well) is that the author also wrote the screenplay for Harvey

I rarely review books if I don't like them, but this book made me ANGRY. I can understand that people might have a nostalgic love of this, and making an E Book available might be a good idea, but to actually print new copies of this makes no sense.

Colin Mason lives with his mother (who is given to wearing high heels and furs) and his younger siblings. His father does not live with the family, and the mother goes out some nights in a drab coat and low shoes to a mysterious, unspecified location. After overhearing women talking at the grocery store, Colin realizes that he has an older sister. Loretta was a difficult child, and after a visit to the country at a very young age, was left with the Potts family because they seemed to be able to control her, whereas the mother was not. Even though she is still fractious and unpleasant, the mother brings Loretta home and expects the children to accept her. Loretta covets one sister's doll, and when she can't have it, makes plans to steal it and run back to the country. Colin, meanwhile, finds out that Loretta can travel through the closet to a magical kingdom where the Countess and General find her rudeness endearing and treat her well. Eventually, the siblings and the mother visit this alternative universe, but things don't go well there, so they are all glad to be back home, although they occasionally listen wistfully at the closet. 
Strengths: The illustrations were very nice. If this is being reissued for older people who have fond memories of it, that's fine. It also could be interesting from a historical perspective on the study of fantasy elements in children't literature. 
Weaknesses: This is not going to appeal to children today, and I wouldn't even want to encourage them to read it. Loretta is a horrible and unappealing character, but her mother just abandoned her with another family? Some older titles, like Ruth Chew's Everyday Magic books, are dated but still have some charm. I did not see the charm in this at all. 
What I really think: I understand the the NYR Children's collection republishes older titles, but the question is WHY? There are so many new books by authors who need to earn a living that are also much better written and much more applicable to modern life. No public or school library should buy this book. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

MMGM- My Life in the Fish Tank, Don't Stand So Close to Me

Dee, Barbara. My Life in the Fish Tank
September 15th 2020 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Zinny's family includes college aged brother, Gabriel, high school sister, Scarlett, and elementary brother Aiden. The siblings are wont to be loud and rambunctious, and alternate between having fun together and squabbling. When Gabriel is in a car accident, Zinny's world is upended. Because of the accident, and also because he was acting after it, Gabriel is in a residential care facility, getting help managing his recently diagnosed bipolar disorder. While her mother takes a leave of absences from her job teaching high school to coordinate Gabriel's care, she also tells the children not to tell anyone about Gabriel's problems. Zinny is fond of her brother and is definitely worried about him, but when her friends Maisie and Kailani ask her what's going on, she doesn't want to say anything. She does get invited to a "lunch bunch" run by a guidance counselor. She doesn't feel like she needs to be there, but when Maisie and Kailani stop talking to her, it's one of the few choices she has during lunch. The other is to help her science teacher, Ms. Molina, set up the room for the crayfish the class will be studying. Ms. Molina knows something is going on with Zinny but lets her help without pressing her about other issues, saying only that she can spend lunch in the science room as long as she continues to go to lunch bunch. It helps Zinny a bit to know that other students have issues with which they are struggling, and it is also helpful to have some new friends. Things are not great at home; her father stays at work as long as he can, and her mother has stopped buying groceries and cooking dinner. Zinny is helping Aiden out with his homework, including a how-to demonstration that he is struggling with, and she starts trying to cook dinners as well. The family occasionally visit Gabriel at his facility, but Scarlett doesn't want to go, even though she is getting counseling under the condition that her mother attend some as well. Ms. Molina helps Zinny apply for a marine biology summer camp, which she is very excited about. There's lots going on in Zinny's emotional life, and she has to find a way to understand her friendships and family dynamics in order to move forward with her life.
Strengths: Dee has a fine tuned ear for stories about topics of current interest, and this is a nuanced portrait of a family in crisis, but also a fast-paced story about navigating the treacherous waters of middle school friendship. The characters were especially well developed and added a lot to the story. I especially liked Ms. Molina, who was very supportive of Zinny. Other than insisting that Zinny attend the lunch bunch, she didn't ask about Zinny's problems all the time, just gave her some needed distraction (herbs, biology camp, helping out with the crayfish) and kept an eye on her. The parents are also portrayed in a more helpful way; they struggle and have their own challenges, but do make progress and don't ignore the other three children while worrying about Gabriel. It was good that Kailani and Maisie were able to work through some of the issues with their friendship. With this great cover, I can see this being a popular book.
Weaknesses: It seemed odd that the mother would take an extended leave of absence from a school in Zinny's district yet still try to keep Gabriel's condition a secret. I believe that people should be able to control their own narratives; with Scarlett telling all of her friends, the mother should have known that she would have to tell people something. There are ways to let people know that your family is having difficulties without going into details that aren't their business. I understand that Dee is trying to destigmatize mental illness, but people should be allowed the option of keeping their lives private if they want to.
What I really think: The friend drama in this is what will appeal to my readers, so I will definitely purchase this, especially since this author is popular in my school.

Walters, Eric. Don't Stand so Close to Me
September 22nd 2020 by Orca Book Publishers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Quinn and her friends at middle school are surprised but delighted when there is an assembly to announce that spring break 2020 will start a day early and will last three weeks, but they are also a little scared about the Covid-19 pandemic. Quinn's father is a doctor at the local hospital, and to keep Quinn and her mother safer, he lives in the basement. Her mother starts working from home. Quinn's friend Reese is disappointed that she can no longer visit her grandmother, who lives in a retirement facility that is closed to visitors to contain the spread of the disease. Her neighbor and friend Isaac sometimes visits... they sit in their respective driveways in lawn chairs. Isaac's dad is a police officer who has to try to enforce social distancing guidelines. The days in isolation pass slowly, with Zoom classes and assignments pertaining to the virus, but there is a little light in the middle of the tunnel when students are allowed to put on a socially distanced school dance outside,and everyone abides by the rules.
Strengths: This reminded me a little of Polak's Orca title, The Leggings Revolt, in that it is an excellent purchase for historical reasons. The details of the school closing down, the changes in homelife, shopping, visiting relatives-- all good and a little too close to home at this point. In five years, middle school students will have only a vague memory of what was like, so this will be great to hand them.
Weaknesses: I would have liked more leading up to the school closing; we had a weird and fraught week with a very frenetic last day of school. My other vivid memory is going to the grocery store after work on March 13 and getting the very last gallon of milk. I wish Quinn had gone to the store with her mom or dad!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing for historical reasons. Yes, some day we won't have to social distance, although life will never be exactly the same again. But then, it never is.

Tarnowska, Wafa'.  
Amazing Women of the Middle East : 25 Stories from Ancient Times to Present Day
Hoda Hadadi , Sahar Haghgoo, Christelle Halal , and Esteli Meza Margarida Esteves (Illustrators) 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

I love these biographical compilations, although every time I see one, I want to buy an extra to cut apart for bulletin boards. (But never actually do it!) This one is especially nice because I have never heard of most of the 25 women covered. The ones from ancient times, like Zenobia, were the only ones I knew. The illustrations and page colors are attractive, the women listed in chronological order, which I very much appreciated, and the information was intriguing and just long enough. When students are assigned biography projects, its nice to have this kind of book around to give them a starting point, and there are lots of intriguing choices. I always wish that the modern women would have a photograph included, but that's a personal preference. Students will not hesitate to just look things up online. Definitely purchasing. 
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Canyon's Edge

Bowling, Dusti. The Canyon's Edge
September 8th 2020 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

**Spoiler Alert**
I found that it's hard to write this review without immediately revealing key plot elements that are revealed more slowly in the book. Proceed at your own risk!

Nora and her father live in Arizona, and frequently hike and explore canyons. They have made a trip out to a slot canyon on her birthday, which is not a happy occasion any longer. A year ago, while celebrating in a restaurant, her mother was shot and killed by a random gunman. Her father has had an extreme reaction, not letting her go back to school because he can't keep her safe there, and rarely leaving the house himself. He does have her in counseling, and she gets a lot of good advice and coping skills from Mary. She's glad to be doing something with her father that her family had enjoyed doing before everything went wrong, but when there is a sudden flash flood, she fears that she is also going to lose her father. He has managed to get Nora to safety before being washed away himself, and Nora spends days trying to survive while looking for him and for help. She thinks about what happened to her mother, how much she and her father miss her, and how she will be able to go forward if she loses her father as well. Mary has often had Nora assess her feelings about situations by asking her "Are you likely to die?" In this case, Nora may, so she faces some difficult realities about the way she and her father are living.
Strengths: This novel in verse does have some of the chapters in prose, which helps, and Bowling certainly has a great writing style in both types of narrative. I love that her books are set in the Southwest; there aren't a lot of stories that are, and it's an interesting and exotic location for my Ohio readers. I'm glad that she was in counseling, and like Aven in Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, Nora has a fairly upbeat attitude despite her horrible circumstances. The details of exploring canyons and surviving in the desert add to the appeal of this story.
Weaknesses: This is a personal objection; again, we have a parent who is so grief stricken that he doesn't care appropriately for his daughter. I will never be a fan of this, and think it is an insulting portrayal every time it is done. Not allowing Nora to go back to school is particularly heinous, although I was glad that she was in therapy. I don't know that therapy really helps, but it is the responsible thing to do as a parent.
What I really think: I really enjoyed Pinkney's The Red Pencil, Warga's Other Words for Home, and Hilton's Full Cicada Moon, but can only get a few of my students to check them out. I don't understand it; you would think the fewer words in a verse novel would be a big hit with  my readers, who will hand a book back to me if it is too long or the print is too small. Even Alexander's verse novel The Crossover, which checked out well for a while, has been tough to move. Survival tales generally do well, and I enjoy this author, so I am conflicted.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Shelly Struggles to Shine (The Derby Daredevils #2)

Rosewater, Kit and Escabasse, Sophie (illus.) Shelly Struggles to Shine (The Derby Daredevils #2)
September 15th 2020 by Amulet Books
E ARC provided by Netgalley

After putting together a roller derby team in Kenzie Kickstarts a Team, we see how the girls are doing. Kenzie is still great at planning what the team is doing, Bree is fast, Jules is good on defense, as is Tomoko, and Shelly starts to wonder what her essential role on the team is. When another group of teams is scheduled to be in Austin, the Derby Daredevils are excited to skate against some new groups, and throw themselves into practice. Shelly gets it in her head that the girls could benefit from new costumes, so starts to design and create things like bubble skates (bubble wrap wrapped around regular skates) for her team members, based on their personalities or skills. She is hoping that she can win Star Skater at the event, so her teammates will feel she is contributing. Her designs don't go over well with her teammates, who are a bit annoyed with them, and when there are wardrobe malfunctions on the rink, Shelly is blamed. How can she prove her worth to her team?
Strengths: This had lots of good description of the sport, a group of diverse characters (both in different ethnicities, and Shelly's crush on Bree), and a lot of realistic interactions among friends. From what I understand, fifth grade can be brutal, with lots of friend drama, fears about middle school, and negotiations with parents about freedoms. It was also good to see Shelly go back and forth between her mother and father; there's not enough of that in middle grade literature, and it certainly is the situation for many of my students. The illustrations add another level of fun to this.
Weaknesses: Like the first book, this seems a bit young. The characters are in fifth grade, and there's a big difference between the concerns of elementary school and middle school.
What I really think: I really liked the sports descriptions in this, but I'm not sure I need a series of books on roller derby. With the current situation, I am worried about budget cuts. I've placed this on my "list to purchase if I have enough money".

Gardner, P.J. Horace and Bunwinkle
September 15th 2020 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Horace is a fussy Boston Terrier who is not happy when his owner, Eleanor, buys a farm and moves him there. Things get even worse when she adopts a sister for him, and it ends up being a very vivacious pig, Bunwinkle. The pig is determined to win over her fussy brother, and the two eventually bond over a pet detective television show. They find they must work together and use the information gained from this program to solve a mystery about missing animals.
Strengths: Well, I had to read this, because my daughter's name is Eleanor and she has always loved pigs! I thought this was treated with the animal's best interests at heart; it was interesting to see that Horace has problems with obsessive licking that occasionally callfor the "cone of shame", ointment, and close observation. Bunwinkle is the runt of the litter but will grow bigger, and Eleanor knows that. It's okay, because the farm has plenty of room. I always enjoy books set on working farms, and this had a classic feel to it. The illustrations are particularly charming; look at the eyes on those two! Throw in a detective story, and you've got one fun book!
Weaknesses: The fact that Eleanor is an adult makes this more of an elementary book; a middle grade book would have a tween caring for the pets.
What I really think: I won't purchase, but this is a great choice for younger readers who love animals, want to learn about farm life, and like a good mystery like Quackenbush's Miss Mallard Mysteries.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Nubby and Escape From the Twin Towers (Ranger in Time #11)

Andrus, Aubre. Nubby's Story
September 1st 2020 by Scholastic Inc. (paperback)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss 

Based on a true story, we follow founder of W.E.A.R., a nonprofict animal rescue organizaition, Lou Robinson and husband Mark Bowling as they care for a boxer who was born without front legs. From birth, they took Nubby in, fed and cared for him around the clock, battled illness, and found the best way to maximize his potential despite the challenges he faced. With four other dogs in the house, and an animal charity to run, the two managed to help Nubby and also get word out on social media that "different is not disposable". They also faced challenges due to storms, reconfigured their house to better care for Nubby, and generally were tireless in figuring out the best way for Nubby to interact with other dogs, stay mobile, and have the same experiences as able bodied dogs. 
Strengths: Told by Andrus, one of the authors of Fetch, this is an engaging, easy to read story with a positive message about facing challenges. Fans of Miles' Puppy Place books will cheer on Nubby and probably want to be part of Nubby Nation. This was an easy read, perfect for strong readers in second grade through elementary, and also helpful for emerging readers in middle school. 
Weaknesses: This is available in paperback, and currently does not have a prebind edition, which makes it something that would fall apart in three circulations in my library. I have no idea what "The Dodo" is, so I was confused by the cover. Perhaps me students, who actually LIKE spending time online, will know what this is? (Although there is another book in this Dodo series, 50 Odd Couples, by Gabe Polt.)
What I really think: Sylvie, my Yorkiepoo constant companion, has faced hip surgery, blindness for over five years, Addison's disease, and at 14 is now slowly losing the use of her back legs, so I certainly understand modifying things for a pet with challenges. She's not in pain, so I haven't had to make the hardest decision yet. I will buy this if a prebind becomes available.

Messner, Kate. Escape From the Twin Towers (Ranger in Time #11)
February 4th 2020 by Scholastic Press
Copy checked out through the Ohio E Book Project

Risha and her friend Scott are thrilled to go to work with Risha's mother when they have a school project, especially since she works high up in one of the Twin Towers. When her mother goes to another floor to deliver a muffin to a friend, a plane hits the tower that they are in. The children are trapped under some furniture, but that's when Ranger appears from the current day with his magical, time transporting first aid kit. He alerts workers who are fleeing, and they rescue the children and take them out of the building. Scott suffers from asthma, and the smoke is hard on him, so going down many flights of stairs is hard. Ranger stays with them all the way and makes sure they get out safely. Someone lets Risha borrow a phone to call her mother, but it goes directly to voice mail. After the second plane hits, the area is evacuated, and Risha is concerned that she has told her mother to meet her at a coffee shop nearby. Contact is made with Scott's father, and they arrange to meet him. While they are fairly safe, Ranger goes to work locating people, and his training serves him well. Will he be able to find Risha's mother, or will she be one of the many fatalities that day?
Strengths: There were lots of good details about what the building looked like after it was hit, how Risha and Scott got out of the building, the chaos on the streets, and even little things, like high heeled shoes being abandoned on the sidewalks. The book is tense, but not overly scary, and everything is okay at the end, which is helpful for my sensitive students who still want to know about this historic event. There's a nice bibliography in the back, as well as some notes about Messner's personal experience on that day. 
Weaknesses: It seemed a little unlikely to me that schools would have let children go to work with parents that early in the year, but it's as good an excuse as any to get children into the Twin Towers. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. These books are a bit young for middle school, but I've had a lot of emerging readers really like the series. I may stop at an even dozen, though. 

Thursday, September 10, 2020

The Hacker's Key

Skovron, Jon. The Hacker's Key
September 1st 2020 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ada Genet feels trapped in Springfield Military Reform School, having spent most of her life traveling with her father, the "gentleman criminal" Remy Genet, who specialized in cyber crime and did not resort to killing people. When a piece of highly sensitive equipment, the so called "hacker's key" is stolen from the UN, the government believes her father knows something about it. She is granted a rare visit with her father to try to get information from him, but he instead facilitates her escape, instructing her to go and find the key. What should she do with it? That's up to her, and depends on what sort of person she wishes to be. Armed with a stash of money, a slew of safe houses, and Pascale, a friend of her father's to help occasionally, Ada is off on her adventure. She decides to take classmate Jace with her, since he is good with computers, and ends up taking along Cody as well. She doesn't much care for Cody, but she catches the two trying to leave campus, and does speak fifteen languages, which could be helpful. After a brief stop in Baltimore, the crew is off to Iceland, Ireland, and Prague, following a string of clues leading to the elusive "Mother Brain" who is apparently behind the theft. Along the way, Ada rappels down the Cliffs of Moher, single handedly takes out a group of spies, eludes both Russian and Chinese agents, and travels on planes, trains, and buses. Will she be able to locate Mother Brain and stop her from using the Hacker's Key to bring down all of the computer systems in the world?
Strengths: Spy adventure books are the best form of escapism. What middle schooler doesn't like to think they could have unlimited funds to travel all over the world and solve mysteries? Heck, I want to do that! This had a sort of 39 Clues feel to it, with the extensive traveling, and plenty of unlikely scenarios, like Ada taking out five adults, but I appreciated that it also had her thinking about what sort of international criminal she wanted to be. Really, the lack of socially responsible and positive crime is the only thing holding ME back from a life of globe trotting espionage! I should have seen the twist at the end coming, but I was so caught up in the fun details that it was a chilling surprise. Love the cover, love the inclusion of cyber crime, and even enjoyed Ada's difficult relationship with Cody. This will be hugely popular.
Weaknesses: As a boring adult, I could have used a little more back story-- what were some major heists pulled with her father? How did she end up in the school? How exactly is she buying all of these tickets? I sort of wished that Pascale had stuck around but not really interfered much. Also, the hardcover edition was freakishly expensive! ($25.28 from Follett instead of the normal $14.50.) 
What I really think: It's been a while since there has been a good new spy series, and this will be fantastic for fans of fast-paced spy series like Horowitz's Alex Rider, Carter's Gallagher Girls, and Bradford's Bodyguard, but I have actually put off purchasing because of the price difference.

Ms. Yingling