Monday, November 30, 2020

MMGM- Dragon Ops and The Reign: Africa

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


Mancusi, Mari. Dragon Ops 
May 12th 2020 by Disney-Hyperion
School library copy

Ian and his older sister Lilli loved the video game Fields of Fantasy, so they are super excited when their uncle, who is working on the new virtual reality theme park Dragon Ops, invites them to beta test the game on the remote island where the theme park will open. Unfortunately, they have to put up with their annoying cousin Derek as well. Even before they arrive at the island, Ian has some weird experiences, such as seeing the dragon Atreus, who is not supposed to be part of the game. He also meets a girl named Ikumi, who offers some information but is somewhat standoffish. Lilli hasn't been as thrilled with the game recently, and has, in fact, sworn off all technology, but the opportunity to participate in a game that has virtual reality superimposed upon a real landscape is undeniably appealing. When the guide who is supposed to take them into the game becomes ill, they end up being escorted by one of the coders. After meeting up with Atreus (and giving him some ear scratch 'ems!), the coder goes back to make the dragon more fierce, leaving the children unchaperoned. They don't think it will be a problem until Atreus returns with his "improved" coding and captures and imprisons Derek. Soon, Ian and Lilli, with some help from the elusive Ikumi, are engaged in an epic quest for dragon stones that should save their video game world... and which might help save their lives as well.
Strengths: My video game experience is limited to rapidly extinguishing my worlds in Sim City and Dino Park Tycoon about 15 years ago, and watching my children try to play Runescape on dial up internet, so there were a lot of video game details I didn't quite get. This makes it PERFECT for readers who actually know what is going on. This also had a lot of action and adventure that didn't require video game knowledge. I loved Lilli's reasons for quitting video games, and Ian and Ikumi's relationship was interesting and also had a BIG twist at the end. Like this author's Gamer Girl and Camelot Code, Dragon Ops will appeal to "techies" (as my father calls them) and fantasy lovers alike. I also have a very soft spot in my heart for this author's Princesses, Inc.  
Weaknesses: While any novel involving technology is fascinating when it is published, they all run the risk of becoming dated very quickly. Computer dating books, anyone?
What I really think: Purchased this one without having read it and was NOT disappointed!

Nichole, C. The Reign: Africa
December 2nd 2020 by Pan African Publishing House
Copy provided by the publisher

This book is an interesting overview of different tribes in Africa. Each two page spread includes one illustration of a member of the tribe mentioned in traditional costume, and the accompanying text covers topics such as where the tribe lives in modern times, the traditional languages, the activities of both men and women, rituals and customs, and additional information such as community activities, homes, animals that figure largely in the culture, traditional dishes, and an assortment of fun facts. 

I can't think of any other books that cover such a large range of tribes. I would have loved to see a map that showed where the tribes were located, and photographs of the villages, buildings, etc. would have been great as well. 

My school has a number of students from various parts of Africa, so this is a helpful book to have for all of my readers to gain more understanding of different cultures from this area of the world. 

The only drawback of this book was that the text was a bit hard for me to read; it was sort of a compacted Comic Sans style that had very little space between letters. This book is not available from Follett, although Amazon does carry the paperback.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

This is Not a Ghost Story

Portes, Andrea. This is Not a Ghost Story
November 17th 2020 by HarperTeen
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Daffodil is glad to be escaping her humdrum life with her grandmother in Nebraska. On her way Bryn Mawr during the summer before college, she happens to disembark in a town that seems to be calling her, and before long has a better than expected job, working for a college professor watching his house and overseeing a renovation there. It's a mansion out in the country with a troubled past, and she runs into any manner of quirkiness while there. There is an older, very exuberant neighbor, the foreman of the renovation who occasionally is very odd, and a large animal scratching outside of the house. We also hear about her life in Nebraska, especially about a boy who liked her, and we learn more and more about how this situation didn't end well. As the odd instances increase, Daffodil starts to wonder if she is imagining them, or if there is really something odd going on in the house. Can she figure it out before more tragedy occurs?
Strengths: Creepy houses out in the country where things seem odd, well meaning neighbors who seem to be possessed by demons, protagonist doubting her sanity-- all good things. The cover is just creepy enough, and the book was a good length and moved quickly. 
Weaknesses: This was more of a Young Adult title, with a little language. The style was what made this seem less middle grade to me-- it almost read like Lois Duncan's Down a Dark Hallway, with a dense, descriptive, somewhat rambling quality that took a bit of readjustment to follow. This is fine for older readers, but I think most of mine would struggle with this. The idea of an unreliable narrator often doesn't do well with younger readers. 
What I really think: I'm always looking for scary stories for my students, but they want something more like Brown's The Forgotten Girl, Currie's Scritch Scratch, Lawrence's The Stitchers, or Harmon's Hide and Seekers
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Fantastic Tales of Nothing

Green, Alejandra and Rodriguez, Fanny. Fantastic Tales of Nothing 
November 17th 2020 by Katherine Tegen Books 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Nathan is a thief who suddenly finds himself in the woods. He ends up being saved by an individual he calls Haven, who speaks a language he does not. He thinks she might be one of the Volken; his world is divided into Humans and Volken. They manage to defeat robbers and end up joining Sina and Bardou, and head to the Capital. They talk about Lerina, who had brought peace to their world until she died. Nathan has some magical powers, which are forbidden in the Empire. When the group falls in with Ren, the spymaster for the Imperial family and Noaki, the son of the Chancellor of the Volken, they find out that Nathan is the Chosen One, and the group has quest-like adventures in order to save the kingdom. 

Wow. Clearly, my fantasy amnesia COMBINED with my trouble reading graphic novels did not end well. Let's go with the official description:

In the first book of this full-color fantasy graphic novel series filled with humor and hijinks, the fate of the land of Nothing hinges on Nathan and an unlikely team of magical beings to save the day—perfect for fans of Amulet and Estranged.

Welcome to Nothing! Despite its name, this is a fantastic land where humans and magical volken coexist peacefully—at least they try . . .

This is the tale of Nathan, an ordinary human (or so he thinks) living an ordinary life (or so he wishes). Everything changes when he meets Haven, a mysterious creature who is neither human nor volken. Oh, and the two of them are being chased by volken mercenaries—a grumpy wolf named Bardou and a delightful crow named Sina.

Nathan soon learns he has mysterious powers, even though humans aren’t supposed to have magic. But there’s no time to dwell on that because this discovery sets the group on a perilous quest across windswept terrain, through haunted forests, and in ancient tombs. Nathan and his unlikely friends must prevent an impending war and defeat a dark evil to save their land.

No pressure, of course. If they fail, everything will turn into, well . . . nothing.
 

Strengths: The illustrations are great, the story fast paced, and the characters innovative and engaging. There is a lot going on in the story, and so many interesting sub plots. I imagine that this could easily be a series. 
Weaknesses: This had a standard, Anglo-Germanic/Tolkienesque medieval feel to it, and I have a lot of those books. I've been so spoiled by the Rick Riordan Presents fantasies with other cultural connections that I was a little disappointed. 
What I really think: This has a Nimona or Estranged vibe to it, and my students are not big fans of either of those. I will pass, but libraries who have graphic novel fans who also like fantasy will definitely want to invest in this one. 


Friday, November 27, 2020

The Great White Shark (Dragged from Under #2)

Monninger, Joseph. The Great White Shark (Dragged from Under #2)
January 5th 2021 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

After the events in The Bull Shark, Barn and his mother travel to Maine to spend some time with a friend of hers. As luck would have it, there was just a shark attack on a beach very near where Barn is staying. A boy was killed while surfing, and while Barn knows how sad this is (his father was killed in Afghanistan), he also wants to find out why a shark was in the area. After observing, he realizes that the seal population is very healthy, so sharks are making their way to the area to feed. Surf boards can look like animals, and once a human is accidentally bitten, the blood sets off the shark and tragedies can occur. Sharks don't find humans to be that desirable as food. When Barn sees some other teens surfing even though there are signs up, he calls the police, who caution the boys and don't get them into trouble at all. The leader, Vince, has had run ins with the law before and vows to make Barn "pay" for calling them. Barn's mentor from Florida, Jessup, is in the area for a conference, and Barn's mother wants to know if it is okay for them to date. Barn's friends, Finn and Margaret, are also in the area doing college visits with a cousin. Scientists tag the sharks in order to study them, and the beach is carefully watched during the summer, but Barn almost comes to grief when a run in with Vince and his gang causes him to disregard his own good advice. 
Strengths: Sharks are always an interesting topic, and aside from Spradlin's Into the Killing Seas, Northrop's Surrounded by Sharks and Tarshis' I Survived the Shark Attacks of 1916, there really aren't any middle grade novels that revolve around them! I love Barn's scientific interest in the animals, and the balanced approach to different types of grief that he feels. Jessup is a great character, and I don't mind at all if he dates Barn's mother! The storyline with Vince was an interesting way to get Barn to do things he wouldn't have done otherwise.
Weaknesses: I understand why Barn had to travel away from home, but it makes having Jessup and his friends around see a bit forced. 
What I really think: Considering how much interest there is in sharks and how few fictional books incorporate them, I'm really glad to see this series and just with it were available in hardcover. 

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Land of the Cranes

41945957. sx318 Salazar, Aida. Land of the Cranes
September 15th 2020 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Nine-year-old Betita loves to hear her father tell Aztec legends about cranes, and agrees with him that her family are like the cranes that have come home and should be allowed to fly. Her parents have come to the US from Mexico, following an aunt and uncle. They work very hard, the father in construction and washing dishes, and the mother as a nanny, although her father was an agronomist and her mother a teacher in Mexico. They had to flee because Betita's grandparents had problems with a local drug cartel, and it was too dangerous to stay. When her father is seized in an ICE raid, Betita's carefully constructed life unravels. Her father is deported and ends up living on the streets in a larger city because he is afraid to go back to his home town. When the family decides to go and visit him at Friendship Park in San Diego where they can talk across a fence, Betita and her pregnant mother are grabbed and roughly taken into custody. They are kept in a cold building with very few basic necessities, and it is some time before the lawyer who is working on their immigration case can even find them. Betita experiences lice, verbal and physical abuse by the guards, and sees others who are beaten, and hears stories of sexual abuse. When a young activist is brought in, they try to use social media platforms to bring attention to their situation, but things get worse. Betita's mother is gravely ill, and when the baby comes, she is taken to a hospital far away, leaving Betita by herself. She copes with her despair and grief by continuing to write her picture poems about cranes and her experiences. These are useful to the activist and lawyer in bringing attention to the mistreatment of immigrants in detention, but will Betita and her family ever be able to fly free?
Strengths: It is great to finally see a few more books on topics of social justice for young readers, as well as books with Latinx characters. You would have thought that since #WeNeedDiverseBooks started six years ago, that we would be seeing even more. Betita's story is heartbreaking and is a good one for young readers who might not be aware of what is going on in the world.
Weaknesses: With both this book and this author's The Moon Within, there are a lot of situations that might be really unfamiliar to young readers. Adults reading these books will have read more about these issues and understand them better. While the constant use of crane imagery is very effective poetically in this novel in verse, it would be helpful to have more background information for my more concrete middle school readers.
What I really think: This is an excellent and timely novel about the horrific plight of detained immigrants that might be best introduced to younger readers with some support and back story about the treatment of immigrants in the US. We need more stories like this and Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Izzy Newton and the S.M.A.R.T. Squad: Absolute Hero

Tripp, Valerie and Bowers, Geneva (illus.) Izzy Newton and the S.M.A.R.T. Squad: Absolute Hero
September 8th 2020 by Under the Stars (National Geographic)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Izzy is nervous about starting a new school year at Atom Middle School, even though she has her good friends Charlie Darwin and Allie Einstein. Her other friend, Marie Curie, was away for the past two years, and has come back as a hyper busy, popular girl who scares Izzy a little bit. There are lockers, crowds of students, and new classes and activity like forensics (which they are sad to hear is public speaking rather than CSI-style investigation). They also soon find that the building is absolutely freezing. Since Izzy and her friends like science, they start an investigation into why the air conditioning in the school is on overdrive. They make a number of hypotheses, starting with the thermostat in the principal's office being hit by the sun and registering the building temperature inaccurately, and eventually take their investigation to the roof where the units are. Will the girls be able to survive middle school, solve the mystery, and repair their friendship with Marie?
Strengths: Friend drama is always in demand, and elementary students who are curious about what middle school is like will enjoy reading about Izzy and her friends' new classes and experiences. I loved that the girls were passionate about the scientific method and wanted to solve a problem at their new school. It's good to see them working together on a project for the common good. The occasional page decorations and illustrations are well done and convey a lot of personality. There is a decent amount of diversity in the ethnicity of the students, and Charlie has two moms. 
Weaknesses: I can't imagine any school building where students would get accidental access to the roof. There were other things that don't reflect MY school - the school library is open after school, students can get into the principal's office to check on the thermostat, and 6th graders have extracurricular activities. Are there middle schools with marching bands? This made the book seem unrealistic to me, but might reflect schools in other states. 
What I really think: This is similar to the Girls Who Code, Daring Dreamers, or StartUp Squad books or Alyssa Milano's Hope series, with the purposefully diverse group of friends, the science, business, or social activism interest. While it's great that the main character is a person of color in these books, the authors are not. I think the illustrator of Izzy is, possibly. Ten years ago, this would be fine, but publishers who want books to feature POC main characters REALLY need to be reaching out to actual POC writers at this point in time, especially since most of these books are formulaic and probably written to spec. There are no details about family culture or race relations at all; if Renee' Watson or Hena Khan had written any of these series, they would have had more interesting and diverse details. After this summer especially, publishing has to keep up with the desires of the US reading community.  
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Mouse Watch

Gilbert, J.J. Mouse Watch
November 3rd 2020 by Disney-Hyperion
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Bernie is a young mouse who has always wanted to join the Mouse Watch, an organization of mice that does good in society, much like the Rescue Rangers founded by Disney's Chip and Dale. She has sent countless applications, and when her latest attempt to catch the eye of Gadget Hackwrench, the head of Mouse Watch, ends in a broken leg, she despairs of ever joining the group. Of course, this is when she gets an invitation to come to the training center. Even though her parents are worried, especially since her older brother was cruelly killed by an evil rat, they let her go. Once there, she meets fellow student Jarvis, who has tremendous computer hacking skills but whom she doesn't quite trust because he is a rat. When a training simulation they are in stops suddenly and they realize that everyone in the training facility has disappeared, they know they need to do something. Through the news, they find that a cheese smelling gas is being spread everywhere and wreaking havoc; the evil Dr. Thornpaw has taken a sleeping gas produced by Hackwrench and altered it for his evil purposes. Using all manner of cleverly mouse technology and gadgets, will Bernie and Jarvis be able to save the day?
Strengths: This was a very well written, engaging book. The descriptions were well worded and moved the story along instead of bogging it down, and the descriptions of mouse houses, clothing, daily life and spy practices would be enthralling to readers who loved Norton's The Borrowers. There' some social awareness, albeit  in mouse/rat form, that is a nice, light lesson for younger readers. Bernie has a well entrenched dream and is allowed to follow it with the support of her parents, even though it seems unobtainable. The action scenes are well done, and Dr. Thornpaw is an evil supervillain who could easily be in league with Gargamel, Shredder, or the Purple Pieman. 
Weaknesses: Since Rescue Rangers was on television 30 years ago, this must be trying to cash in on the nostalgia factor with parents buying the book in order to introduce their children to the series, but I would have liked it more if it hadn't had the Disney link. I don't know that my readers will get the references to Chip and Dale.
What I really think: My students are much less enthralled with mice books than I am, so I may not purchase. I would definitely buy this one for an elementary school library, since it was very well done and enjoyable, and has the possibility of being a series. 
Ms. Yingling

Monday, November 23, 2020

MMGM- Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries

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


My district returned to remote learning for two weeks since our county Covid cases put us into the "purple" zone. As much as I hate being away from school, being in school was very stressful. Most students were good about wearing masks, but as much effort as was put into distancing students in the class room and cafeteria, the students were not particularly good about social distancing. I tried to be so vigilant about wiping down surfaces, but because of HIPAA, we can't be told which students are being quarantined or are sick. Since I have to take groceries to my 86 year old father, I try to be super careful and only go out to the grocery. 

There are different stresses with remote teaching, but at least they don't center around "Will I somehow infect one of my students or family today."

Bunce, Elizabeth C. Premeditated Myrtle
May 5th 2020 by Algonquin Young Readers
Possibly moved to October 2020
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In 1893, Myrtle is being raised by her father, a lawyer, and her governess, Miss Judson, after the death of her mother. Myrtle is very interested in the law, crime, and the art of detection, so she is especially interested when her older neighbor, Miss Wodehouse, is found dead in her bathtub. Miss Wodehouse raised and propagated Gilded Slipper lilies and was wealthy, and Myrtle feels that something is not right. Between the missing cat, the state of the garden, and details she uncovers (like the state of Miss Wodehouse's nightgown), Myrtle has plenty to keep her investigating. Add a niece and nephew who could inherit, and the plot thickens. Her father objects more for show than in order for real change to be made, and Miss Judson is ready to encourage her charge. The Victorian era was not a great time for a young lady to be interested in science, much less crime, but Myrtle manages to stay out of trouble most of the time, and even manages to make friends with Caroline, the daughter of Dr. Munjal. Will she be able not only to prove that Miss Wodehouse was murdered, but to solve the case?
Strengths: There were a lot of twists and turns that I didn't see coming, which I always appreciate in a mystery. Myrtle and Miss Judson rode bicycles, believed that girls were as good as boys, and dealt with the strictures of society in a realistic, if enthusiastic, manner. The way Myrtle was treated by her peers ran true to the time period. The lilies added an interesting touch, as did the gardener.
Weaknesses: Myrtle wasn't that nice; she was privileged and spoiled and did not take other's feelings into account. Comparisons to Bradley's Flavia de Luce are apt. While it's nice to see some cultural diversity, I'm not sure how accurate it is to the time period; I just don't have that information.
What I really think: This was a well done mystery which I bought it for the students who like Robin Stevens' Wells and Wong mysteries, which have been a steady circulator. I need to hand sell this a bit, but once I assure readers it has a "good murder" in it, they are much keener!


49150992Bunce, Elizabeth C. Premeditated Myrtle
October 6th 2020 by Algonquin Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

After her murder investigation, Myrtle's father has to go to Paris for a conference, but wants his daughter out of the limelight. He sends her and Miss Judson on a seaside excursion with her overbearing great aunt Helena. There is a train trip organized by Sir Quentin Ballingall and his daughter Temperance, and the group will then stay at the fancy Ballingal Arms near the seaside. Myrtle is enthralled when she meets Mrs. Bloom, who is an insurance investigator who is not pleased at how Sir Quention is transporting the very expensive Northern Lights tiara her company has insured. When Temperance wears the tiara to perform a song for the passengers, the lights cut out and the tiara is stolen! Myrtle is all set to investigate with Mrs. Bloom, and the two have a breakfast meeting arranged to discuss this. When the investigator doesn't show, we know that no good can come of this turn of events. Not only that, but there are deep scars in the community where the hotel is located, stemming from a tragic pleasure boat fire in the past. Soon, Myrtle is thrust into a murder investigation on top of the theft, and must deal with helpful people, like photographer Clive Roberts and her old friend Mr. Blakeney, but must also contend with the inept investigator Arkwright and vaguely annoying people like her aunt's companion. Her aunt comes under suspicion for both the thefts and the murder and is arrested. Myrtle would like to contact her father to make things right, but Miss Judson thinks that they can solve the case themselves.
Strengths:The events and characters in this book will certainly seem familiar to readers who have delved deep into Christie, Sayers, and other British authors from the 1920s era of crime fiction. My students often ask for murder mysteries, and this definitely qualifies. The train travel and seaside resort are an interesting setting, and Miss Judson is about as engaging a governess as ever graced the pages of literature. Myrtle is a plucky young woman with definite career interests, and is not afraid of getting her own way.
Weaknesses: Myrtle isn't the most likable character, and she comes across as a bit bratty in the first chapter, where she is complaining about her vacation. She gets better, but she was hard to take in the first chapter.
What I really think: Historical mysteries are harder to sell than other kinds in my library; the kids will pick them up for the murder, but would prefer that they be modern. Robin Stevens' Wells and Wong does well, mainly because of the boarding school aspect and the fact that teachers die, but I buy these in the hopes that they will be a gateway to classic British mysteries. 
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Some Bunny to Love

Shusterman, Michelle. Some Bunny to Love
January 5th 2021 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Laura's family owns a small bodega in a closeknit neighborhood near Harlem. She has a lot of social anxiety, so doesn't necessarily like to interact with customers a lot, and while she loves reading, doesn't want to join a book club at a nearby store. She takes a lot of comfort in her pet bunny, Evie, who is also very skittish about humans, even though she hangs out in the store in the same way that cats sometimes are present in various businesses. When Laura's family has to travel to a family wedding, a friend and volunteer at the local animal shelter volunteers to watch Evie. When Evie is given the tour of the apartment by the woman's cat, she is told that Laura will never come back. Evie escapes into Manhattan, but nearly comes to grief in traffic. She is rescued by Bart, a former show dog who has run away from his controlling owner, Bitsy, and is enjoying life on the street. He assumes that Evie has run away because she also wants to be free, and starts to show her all the highlights of life in the wild. When he realizes that Evie really wants to go home, he offers to take her in exchange for a service-- she will steal a collar from a pet store so that the local animal control agents will stop trying to capture him. The two are photographed, and people post their antics on social media under #BunnyandCanine. Laura sees these and starts to worry. When checking with the friend, the family finds out that Evie has in fact run away. As the two animals make their way to the Bodega, they have all manner of challenges. Laura checks on their progress and even offers tips to followers on how to catch Evie. When Bart sees Bitsy in the park, and Evie takes a diamond necklace she has dropped, the two start to worry that things will not end well. Will Evie be able to get home to be with her beloved Laura, and will Bart be able to continue his carefree life on his own?
Strengths: Much is made of Laura and Evie's anxiety, so it was nice to see that Laura was able to manage hers while with cousins, and Evie actual became much more daring during her adventures. There was a certain Disney movie quality to this-- I could just imagine the CGI images of the animals talking to one another, especially in a charming scene where Bart and Evie sneak onto the subway, then hide in a bag at someone's feet, but are soon discovered. The tie in with social media will resonate with middle grade readers who spend much more time on Instagram than they should, and the animal's adventure is quite fun. The adult villains, like Bitsy and the animal control agent, are used to good effect. This would be a great title to recommend during Scholastic Book Fairs, and the cover is adorable. 
Weaknesses:Older readers will have to suspend a lot of disbelief, while younger ones will be perfectly willing to believe that Evie and Bart get along, that Bart can get Evie back home, and that Laura suddenly has thousands of followers on Instagram and can identify Evie. My enjoyment of the adventure was overshadowed by disbelief, but that is because I am old. I would have enjoyed it more if it had been a younger dog who was lost. 
What I really think: I would buy this if it were in hard back, since it would be popular with readers of animal adventure books like Pyron's A Pup Called Trouble, but am not sure about buying a prebind copy. 
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Cartoon Saturday- Oh My Gods!

Cooke, Stephanie, Fitzpatrick, Insha, and Moon, Juliana. Oh My Gods!
January 5th 2021 by Etch/HMH Books for Young Readers 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

When Karen's mother gets an exciting work opportunity, Karen has to go live with her father, Zed, whom she only really sees on holidays. Still, she's excited for her mother, so packs her bags and gets ready to start middle school on Mt. Olympus. Her father has an enormous house and is not only the mayor of the community but also her school principal. The students are friendly enough, but everyone seems heavily into mythological LARPing, which strikes Karen as odd. The curriculum is also different from what she's used to, and she gets help from a classmate in the school library. One day, they hear a scream, and find that a student has been turned to stone. Karen learns that she is, in fact, in the world of Greek mythology, but instead of being something ancient and gone, her classmates have reinvented themselves as teens. When her friend, Pol (Apollo) is turned to stone, Karen and her classmates work to find out who did this to him so that they can reverse the damage. 
Strengths: This had several very good things-- the illustration style is colorful and appealing but also different and somehow older than Jamieson or Telgemeier. This gave the book more of a high school feel, which my students will adore, even though it's stated that the students are in middle school. This is the best version of Zeus that I've seen; sort of like the Santa in Funke's When Santa Fell to Earth. Moving and living with a normally noncustodial parent needs more coverage in the literature. Of course, there is the nice myth based mystery, the band of friends working together, and an exotic setting. 
Weaknesses: Shall we call a moratorium on mythology based books called Oh My Gods!? There are so many other word play that could be used. This was a bit light on mythology, but at least it didn't use any in an annoying way.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. A main character named Karen AND mythology? I would be remiss not to. Remember, I was a Latin teacher in a previous life. 

Friday, November 20, 2020

Saucy

Kadohata, Cynthia. Saucy
September 29th 2020 Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
E ARC provided Netgalley.com

Becca is a quadruplet, and she and her brothers Bailey, Jammer, and J.C. live with their parents and grandmother in a small Ohio town. Becca knows that funds are tight for the family, with Jammer's hockey and Bailey's cerebal palsy that has him in a wheelchair. The family is close, and takes nightly walks. On one of these, Becca finds a very small, very sick piglet in the bushes. Becca and her father rush the animal to the vet, who says the piglet is very sick but may survive. This isn't a pocket pig-- it is a breed that normally grows to 600 pounds. The mother reluctantly agrees to let Becca raise the pig until it gets to be 100 pounds, which she amends to 50 or 60 when Saucy, who is being kept in the kitchen, wreaks such havoc that even the kitchen cabinet doors are ripped off. Becca, who struggles to find friends at school, doesn't feel too bad about the expense to which Saucy is putting the family, because she figures she is the least expensive child, and she will work to pay her parents back. As Saucy grows, it becomes apparent that he will need to go to a pig sanctuary. Becca isn't happy with this, even after the family visits the sanctuary and can see how happy Saucy is there. After Saucy leaves the house, Becca becomes interested in the factory farm from which Saucy escaped, which is very near her home. She and her brothers go into the farm at night and steal nine piglets. They raise them at home, much to her mother's chagrin, and work to fight the factory farm. Becca manages to make a few friends from this endeavor, and is glad that they all want to help raise awareness of the pigs' plight. 
Strengths: It's always good to see close knit families, and also good to see books involving some aspects of farming. Pets, grandparents, and social activism are also popular topics. The addition of plentiful page illustrations are charming, since Saucy is a personable pig with lots of personality. We've had a couple of sets of quadruplets in our school system, so it was interesting to see how they interacted with their family. The Ohio setting made sense and didn't get any details wrong!
Weaknesses: This book seems more like an elementary level one, so I don't know that I will buy it.
What I really think: Kadohata's Checked was the perfect blend of sports, family problems, and pets, so I had high hopes for Saucy

This is where the review gets tricky. I was so irritated by Becca and her insistence on keeping Saucy even though it put her whole family in a precarious position that I hated the book. I was angry that the parents didn't put their feet down and say "enough". The portrayal of the pig sanctuary was very positive, and it bothered me that Becca didn't seem to have Saucy's best interest at heart. I could have recommended the book even with those reservations, but when Becca and her brothers steal pigs from the farm, that put this one over the edge for me. Even if the farm is not treating animals correctly, stealing pigs is not the way to change this. There were not enough consequences for Becca's actions, AND the animal shelter ended up being burdened with nine more animals! I eat very little meat, and know that some animal farms are not run with the best interest of the animals at heart, but I also realize that farming is very, very hard to make profitable. I would give this book one star based on how I felt about it, but will give it three (out of five on Goodreads) on its other merits. 
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, November 19, 2020

13 and 3/4 (Friendship List #4)

Greenwald, Lisa. 13 and 3/4 (Friendship List #4) 
August 4th 2020 by Katherine Tegen Books
Library copy 

 Ari and Kaylan get together with their friends before the summer begins. Since they will be in 8th grade, they want to make sure that the summer is one of the best, and they want to continue their tradition of making their list of things to accomplish. It's even more important this summer, because Ari is heading off for seven weeks at her rustic sleepaway camp in the woods, where she will connect with old friends, and Kaylan is headed to a comedy camp held on a college campus. With the help of their friends, they come up with a list that includes things like helping two counselors fall in love, getting a younger person to make a list, tie dye something, and make a difference. Ari settles right into camp, reconnects with her friends, and starts on her list. It's a little harder for Kaylan, who has to learn to get along with her roommate, Indigo, and needs to make friends in the program. Both make progress on their lists, but there are some family dynamics at work behind the scenes, and the girls have a misunderstanding about who knew what information when. Will they be able to finish their lists, work out their differences, and get ready to be the "seniors of middle school"? 
Strengths: I'm always fond of a good camp story, having fond memories of Campfire Girl camps (Kiwatani and Yakewi), and since most of my students don't seem to go to camp, they are enthralled by the idea of being away from home alone. Kaylan's comedy camp, located on a college campus, was especially interesting. Dorm rooms are super exciting in middle school! There's plenty of friend drama, a little light romance, and a good description of the growing pains that middle school friendships can have. While other reviews seem to indicate that this will be the last book in the series, it seemed like 8th grade deserved a book, and one final list, of its own. 
 Weaknesses: There was so much description of the drama and list progress that there weren't as many details about being at camp. There's always a lot of humor in communal rest rooms and dining halls, and my readers often don't know what the camps are like. 
 What I really think: This series has been a popular one, so I bought this one without reading it. Greenwald is an author I can trust to deliver a strong middle grade story.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Before the Ever After

Woodson, Jacqueline. Before the Ever After
September 1st 2020 by Nancy Paulsen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Zachariah Johnson, Jr. has always been proud of his pro football playing father, even though he is more interested in music and poetry. He loves the adulation his father gets from their town and his friends Daniel, Darry, and Oliver, and just has a great time hanging out with his caring and supportive family. However, right around the turn of the last century, ZJ's father starts to have a lot of health concerns. He has horrific headaches that cause him to moan and lash out, and he sometimes forgets things he should definitely know. ZJ's mother knows that something serious is wrong, and takes him to doctors, especially since other men who played football with him are suffering from similar problems. It soon is discovered that ZJ's beloved father has Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and won't be getting better. He has to mourn his father while he is still right there, and he and his mother have to find a way forward.
Strengths: Woodson's writing is always lyrical and atmospheric, and this novel in verse is no different. ZJ clearly loves his father and is proud of his football skills, so is devastated when he sees his father going downhill. Losing a parent as a child is the most devastating loss there is, and ZJ's struggles with this, set against his regular life of having to go to school, hang out with his friends, and be approached to play tackle football games, is well done. The cover is fantastic.
Weaknesses: I wish this were set in current times and included more information about CTE, much like Korman's Pop.
What I really think: There is very little football involved in the story, but will be a great choice for teachers and librarians who want to read something that touches on sports, and also for readers who enjoyed the novels in verse by Kwame Alexander, including Rebound, which also deals with grief.

I will take any chance I can get to plug Steve Almond's fantastic Against Football: One Fan's Reluctant Manifesto (2014). It is a perfect accompaniment to this book and discusses how serious the problem with CTE in football players is.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Top Ten Tuesday

Pretty much the only pet I will ever have from now on, now that Sylvie is gone, will be an older (8+) rescue dog, whom I assume will already have a name. Small dogs, predominantly poodle mixes, probably female, are really the only fuzzy creature with which I want to cohabit. I'm also not a fan of giving dogs people names; my Sylvie was named by my daughters. My preference would have been Ion (ee OWN), after the Greek chocolate bar, since she started out a very dark brown. If I actually ever get to name a dog, I would most probably use Tock (which strikes me as a male name) or Beany (for a female). 

Book characters I would name a pet:

  1. Laika, From van Eekhout's Voyage of the Dogs (and also space fame)
  2. Rider, after Alex Rider from Horowitz's Stormbreaker
  3. Beany, from Weber's Beany Malone series
  4. Wedgie, from Selfors' Wedgie and Gizmo, would have to be a Corgi. 
  5. Stick Dog, from Watson's Stick Dog series
  6. Thromdurr (from O'Donnell's Homerooms and Hall Passes), great for large dog
  7. Tock from Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth, for any dog
  8. Gimli (from Tolkein'e Lord of the Rings, actual dwarf hamster)
  9. Miss Bianca (from Sharp's The Rescuers, actual hamster)
  10. Sylvie (from Townley's The Great Good Thing, actual Yorkipoo) 

Minecraft: The Shipwreck and National Geographic Kids Almanac

Lee, C.B. Minecraft: The Shipwreck
Published November 3rd 2020 by Del Rey Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

Jake and his father have moved around quite a bit after the death of his mother. His father is a project manager who oversees renovation of public housing complexes, and their latest move has landed them in a somewhat rough Los Angeles neighborhood that is being gentrified. While his father claims that since Jake is entering high school they will make this their final stop, Jake doesn't believe him and prefers to spend his time in the world of Minecraft rather than trying to make friends in the real world. Living in the complex is Thanh, who is Jake's age and who is called "Tank" by the group of kids he hangs around with, including Shark, who is usually up to know good, and Emily, who is ashamed of her larger family because she has friends whose lives are devoted to Instagram, YouTube, and shopping. Tank doesn't play Minecraft much, preferring only the gardening aspect of the world building, although his younger sister Viv does. Emily plays, but is ashamed of the geekiness of the pursuit. The three meet up when they are all caught after hours in a restricted area of the construction zone by a guard. Jake's father, along with community advocate and overseer Ellen Jenkins. Instead of calling the police, Mrs. Jenkins ask that the teens be remanded to her care in order to help clean up the community center that is going to be turned in fancy shops. The kids aren't thrilled, but glad not to be in more trouble. Jake has found an old version of Minecraft on the community center computers, and it involves a mystery that he hasn't been able to solve on his own. He gets Emily and Tank involved, and in between cleaning out sentimental items from Mrs. Jenkin's office, they work their way through the game. Time is not on their side, but they find an unlikely ally, as well as a surprising enemy, to their investigation of the mermaid themed world of the game and the history of the community center. Will they figure out the game before the cord is literally pulled on it?
Strengths: This was a fantasy book involving a game that makes absolutely no sense to me, but I was able to remember the story line and even characters' names, which says to me that this is really strong writing! The parts that I like best were the real life worries. Tank's concern about his father's employment and Tank's willingness to take small jobs to help the family while grappling with issues of personal identity and trying not to get sucked into a life of crime by Shark could have been a book all on its own. Emily's desire to please her friends even though she doesn't really enjoy their activities was nicely balanced at the end when her friends didn't care that her family's abode wasn't as picturesque as their own. Jake's disbelief in his father's promises was well founded, and it was good to see that his father did make progress to giving Jake more stability, and his new friend group was quirky but based on a common interest. Even the story with Mrs. Jenkins was touching. In short, this was a solid, middle grade novel with appeal for students even in high school who are fans of the video game. There are plenty of details about that, but I have to admit that I skimmed most of those!
Weaknesses: Come on, people. There are NO other reviews on Goodreads of this book? This series has been super popular in my library, and this volume is the best of the bunch. Adult librarians and teachers, go read this NOW!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. The Shipwreck is definitely a whole grain, fiber added Pop Tart of a book!

National Geographic Kids. Almanac 2021
May 5th 2020 by National Geographic Society
Copy provided by the Publisher 
 
Not sure how much traveling will be happening THIS year, but in case you are traveling anywhere with elementary aged children, this is a great book to purchase for long car rides. Just make sure that you assign reading times so there is no fighting about whose turn it is. Of course, as quotable as these books are, you might find that reading this is more of a group activity. 

Unlike the pulpy, dictionary-like almanacs we used to keep on hand with statistics about countries before the internet (yes, children, there was a time when everything had to be looked up in print!), the National Geographic almanacs are filled with glossy pages of fantastic photographs. While there are some entries about countries of the world in the chapters under "Geography Rocks!", most of the book is filled with fun facts that are a great way for young readers to add to their general knowledge of the world. 

From Amazing Animals (with super cute pictures) to Space and Earth, there are lots of topic covered. Science and Technology covers new innovations and has an interesting quiz, the Culture Connection covers holidays, religion, money and other topics, Going Green has good tips for being environmentally conscious, and History Happens offers up information on a variety of topics including government, presidents, and women in history. There's a little something for everyone, and you never know what small tidbit of information might lead to new avenues of investigation. 

One of my favorite pieces was about codes-- "an old lady doesn't look like a threat"! Just what I need; more confirmation that I could totally be an international spy! 

Right up there in popularity with the Guinness Book of World Records and Ripley's Believe It Or Not, the National Geographic Kids Almanac is a great choice for parents who would rather hear statistics about presidents recited than hearing about all of the gross records that get broken every year.
 Ms. Yingling


Monday, November 16, 2020

MMGM- Triple Threat


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


Lupica, Mike. Triple Threat
August 25th 2020 by Philomel Books
School library copy

Alex and her father LOVE football, especially the Pittsburgh Steelers. Her mother left the family when Alex was small to pursue a medical degree, and now lives far away, so Alex and her father are very close. He was a football player in high school, in the same small Pennsylvania town where they still live, but never had the skills to take his career further. Alex plays soccer and is very athletic, and has superior throwing skills. When she decides to try out for the middle school football team, her father thinks she will make the team. The coach is a little confused at first that she has come to tryouts, but doesn't cause any problems, although the quarterback, Jeff, is a jerk. Her good friend Caleb isn't wild about the idea, but supports her as best he can, but her former soccer teammates are very mean. Alex is a good player, and makes the team. Her skill set aligns with being a quarterback, and after a little hesitation, the coach is putting her in, and she's doing well. She also takes some hits, which are painful, but she doesn't complain. Other teams' reactions are usually negative at first, changing to a grudging acceptance after they see her play. The notable supporter is Jabril, the team captain, who just wants his team to succeed and who knows that Alex is a player who can help the team. Jeff remains steadfast in his jerkhood, and Caleb struggles to balance his affection for his friend with the pushback of his teammates. Alex stands strong before all of the challenges she faces and refuses to back down, and her football skills serve the team well. Her coach admits that he was hesitant at first, and her father is her biggest advocate, even getting an ice cream cake for the team on the last game. Will it be a consolation or celebratory offering?
Strengths: For the target demographic, this has a great selection of football scenes that I didn't quite understand but which mimic the excitement of the field, and has a great dose of school drama. There was also a little bit about Alex's mom being so far away. For me, I loved the fact that there wasn't a huge deal made of her trying out-- no one even involved the principal, much less the school board or local media, as is the case in most previous middle grade books about girls playing football. She just played. She stood up to the guys who were jerks, aligned herself with others who supported her, and took the advice of a friend to ENJOY playing, because if it wasn't fun, what was the point? I thought the interactions between the characters were realistic, balanced, and reflected modern reality. I book marked a ton of pages that had great quotes. I absolutely ADORED Jabril and his style of captaincy. Have to say that I might have cried a little at the end. Maybe it was allergies. 
Weaknesses: It seemed odd that Alex had to buy a helmet and pads for try outs. What if she hadn't made the team? I want to check with our athletic director, but I'm pretty sure our school provides all of this equipment. Also, in the book Alex puts her hair in a ponytail. Why is it loose on the cover? It looks silly. 
What I really think: I don't think anyone should play football. The chance of severe injury is too high. However, it's 2020. If girls want to play and are skilled enough, they should play. Period. 
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Love & Olives (Love & Gelato #3)

Evans, Jenna Welch. Love & Olives (Love & Gelato #3)
November 10th 2020 by Simon Pulse 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Olive Varanakis's father was obsessed with the lost city of Atlantis, and since he was born and raised on the island of Santorini, Greece, he left Olive in the US with her mother when she was eight years old and returned to the island. He has only sent a few occasional post cards, but Liv (as she prefers to be known now) has a box with the 25 items he left behind him, which included their favorite annoted map of Santorini. As she is preparing to apply to colleges (her boyfriend, Dax, wants her to go to Stanford with him, but she would rather go to the Rhode Island School of Design to pursue her art work), she gets a post card from her father asking her to come and spend time with him as he is working on a project. Her mother insists that she go. After a long flight, she is met by the exuberant but entirely unknown Theo, who is her age, very attractive, and does seem to know who her father is. Her luggage is sent separately as she takes off with Theo on his motorcycle. Her father has arranged a big party in her honor and given her a set of very special oil paints, but she is still irritated. She is sharing a small room right off the bookstore that Theo's mother owns with Theo, and the two spend a lot of time together working on a documentary about Atlantis that her father thinks National Geographic will feature. There are many problems along the way, family secrets revealed, light romance, but most of all, a chance for Olive to connect with her heritage and make things right with her father. 
Strengths: This is a Young Adult novel that will also be popular with middle school readers. Liv isn't thrilled about spending time in Greece, but she doesn't complain, either, and she embarks on the documentary with good humor. The descriptions of Santorini are great, and I loved Theo and his mother, especially the book store. This gets into a lot of information about her father's mental health at the end, and I don't want to spoil that ARC, but it was well done and helped Liv make sense of her childhood and some anxiety that she herself has. The cover is fantastic! 
Weaknesses: I can't wait to see this in person; the publisher's listing has it at 352 pages, but my E ARC said 514! It was a bit on the long side, although the print seems to be middle grade (12-14 point) rather than young adult size (10 point), which helps. I also thought it odd that she would room with Theo. 
What I really think: The first two books, which are not related to this in any way that I can figure (other than the general theme of traveling) are hugely popular in my library. I do love books about Greece, so I'm definitely purchasing this, but I wish it had mentioned the scholarly archaeology that has been done on Santorini and was a little shorter. 


Most readers won't care about this, but I was really surprised that there is no mention of the archaeological digs done in the at Akrotiri on Santorini by Spyridon Marinatos, or of Sir Arthur Evans and Knossos (although Olive does meet a man whose boyfriend is an archaeologist vaguely studying "the Minoans"). Why do I care? I was lucky enough to visit the site with Nanno Marinatos in 1985 and heard about all of the theories about Atlantis. Yep. That's just the flavor of Geek I was, and it did interfere with my own personal enjoyment of the book a bit!

This is me with my college roommate. We were both Classics majors both both ended up becoming librarians. 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

The Witches (Graphic Novel)

Dahl, Roald and Pénélope Bagieu. The Witches: The Graphic Novel
September 1st 2020 by Scholastic Inc. 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

I am not a fan of Dahl, which is odd considering that he started writing when I was a child. His work is odd, and not in a pleasant way. He may be the reason that so many British writers portray adults as inherently evil and cruel to children. Not only that, but Dahl was, by all accounts, not very nice. My library has a few books that were purchased before I got here; I haven't added any others, and had never read The Witches (1983). Still not a huge fan, and I was considering getting the graphic novel for my bloodthirsty readers who all want to snuggle up with a good murder until the uproar over the movie

**Spoilers**
A young boy goes to live with his eccentric, chain smoking grandmother after the death of his parents. He's used to being told bedtime stories, and so grandmother tells him one about the witches of the world who all hate children. They are bald, have weird fingers and toes, and odd eyes. When the grandmother becomes ill, the doctor visits and recommends a trip to the seaside for the cool air. Once there, the boy gets a present of two mice, but the hotel wants them to be kept in a cage. Since this interferes with training them to do circus tricks, the boy hunts around the hotel for a vacant space and finds an empty conference room. Soon, however, it is filled with women.. all wearing wigs and looking suspiciously like his grandmother's tales of witches. Sure enough, the Grand High Witch herself is there, and unveils her plan to turn all of the children in the world into mice while they are at school so that the teachers kill them. She has the serum developed, and needs to witches to set up candy shops to distribute the potion. She turns a girl into a mouse before their eyes, and turns the boy as well. The two children manage to get back to the grandmother, and they plan to snatch a bottle of potion, does the witches, and avert disaster by having them turn into mice. It's a plan fraught with peril, but they are successful. Returning home, the boy decides to stay a mouse, since his grandmother is 83 to his 8, and he will live about as long as she does if he remains in mouse form. 
Strengths: The drawings are excellently creepy, even though they don't bear any resemblance to Quentin Blake's illustrations at all. The grandmother is very supportive of her grandson, and clearly loves him. She is quite the character. The story moves quickly, and the adaptation manages to describe things in enough detail that it's all easy to understand. 
Weaknesses: This has some fairly gross and disturbing moments, with the boy in mouse form getting his tail hacked off in the kitchen, the witches turning into mice, and the head witch revealing her true form. 
What I really think: So disturbing, and not in any sort of instructive way. There's no allegorical, moral lesson, and the fact that the boy wanted to stay a mouse so he would die when his grandmother did... just not my idea of a pleasant read. Others will enjoy this foray into Dahl's dark world, but I think I developed a new frown line or two reading this. 

Friday, November 13, 2020

The Jasmine Green Series

Peters, Helen and Snowden, Ellie. A Collie Called Sky (The Jasmine Green #3) 
September 1st 2020 by Walker Books Us
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Jasmine lives on a farm in England with her mother, who is a veterinarian, her father, who raises sheep, younger brother Manu and older sister Ella. In previous books, she rescued a pig and a duck, and they now live on the farm. When she is out walking with her friend Tom, she finds a very neglected puppy who is so weak he can't even stand on his own. She brings the animal home and thinks about what her mother would do. She keeps him warm and gets him to drink a little water and eat some chicken. She asked her mother to bring home an IV set up, and together they clean the puppy and bring him back to health. It's a long haul, since Sky (what they name him) can't even walk by himself. He doesn't have a microchip, but someone does come forward with information about her brother, who mistreated a dog and said it had died. Jasmine wants to keep Sky, but her mother says it would be too much work. When Jasmine injures her leg while some distance from home, Sky is able to bring help to her, softening her mother's position, and Sky has a new job helping out on the farm. 
Strengths: I would have absolutely adored this as a child. It's a perfect length (think Haywood's B is for Besty) and has lots of illustrations that have a Garth Williams sort of vibe-- there is nothing that melts my heart more than a Williams' mouse illustration! The setting is fantastic, sort of James Herriot for the younger set. The detail about caring for Sky is what will sell this to young readers. 
Weaknesses: Jasmine is on the bratty side. Her mother and father are busy with things, have good reasons for not wanting more pets, and yet she keeps insisting that she be allowed to keep Sky. 
What I really think: Sadly, I don't need anymore short chapter books, but I am sorely tempted to get this series in case I ever do. I hate to not have the whole series, and I don't think the pig and duck book would circulate well, so I will probably pass. 

Peters, Helen and Snowden, Ellie. A Kitten Called Holly (The Jasmine Green #4) 
September 1st 2020 by Walker Books Us
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

When a barn cat has babies, Jasmine and Tom are surprised to find them. They've scared the mother, and she moves two of the kittens, but leaves the third. Jasmine begs her mother to allow her to raise the kitten, and she does, with the warning that perhaps there is something wrong that they can't see. Holly does well, and Jasmine keeps her away from the other two family cats. Her mother is insistent that Holly find another home, and Jasmine is upset when a classmate who wants to adopt her only cares about what cat accessories she can get. It doesn't help that it was this girl's dog who killed a duck in a previous book. After Holly gets out and causes a lot of destruction, the mother says that the cat must go. Will Jasmine be able to find a home for Holly that makes her happy as well?
Strengths: The details about caring for a cat and getting it accustomed to humans were great, and the English farm setting was tremendously appealing. The illustrations add so much to the story and make it a warm and fuzzy read. 
Weaknesses: I'm not fond of Jasmine's behavior and was very glad when her mother did not give in to her requests to have a third cat!
What I really think: I really enjoyed this, but will pass on purchasing. I would definitely buy this whole series for an elementary library.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

The Undrowned

Alexander, K.R. The Undrowned
February 4th 2020 by Scholastic Paperbacks
Library Copy

Samantha and Rachel have been friends for a long time, but after Rachel betrays Samantha in a bit of typical tween drama, Samantha's behavior turns ugly. She makes Rachel give her lunch money and do her homework, and is outright mean. Samantha has issues at home; her parents fight and have high standards for her behavior, and she has to put up with her "perfect" sister Jessica. When Samantha sees Rachel out at the local lake, the two have an altercation that ends in Samantha pushing Rachel into the water... and she drowns. Since no one else is around, and because she really thinks Rachel deserves to die, Samantha goes home and doesn't tell anyone about what happened. The next day at school, Rachel appears. She willingly gives Samantha lunch money and acts as if everything is fine... but it's not. Rachel is trailed by water logged items, and makes odd things happen. Still, Samantha doesn't feel quite enough guilt to do anything about it. The instances escalate, with Samantha's food turning to sand and fish bones in her mouth, her sheets turning to seaweed, and a pervasive dampness following her everywhere. When a group of kids goes to the lake with the two girls, they encounter more persistent evil. Will Samantha be able to put things right and save herself and her community?
Strengths: My students love creepy, scary stories, and this one has a lot going for it. Murder, friend drama, gas lighting, sister problems, gross stuff, and more murder. Add a disturbing cover, and this book is guaranteed to be checked out immediately upon coming back to the library. This author's Scare Me, The Collector (and its sequel, The Collected), and The Fear Zone are worth investing in as well. How did I miss Bury Me? Just added it to my upcoming order. 
Weaknesses: Samantha is the single most unlikable book character I have ever met! She deserved everything she got. Even Rachel seemed meaner than she needed to be. More nuanced, sympathetic characters would have helped make this a stronger novel. 
What I really think: If K.R. Alexander's books were pizza, they would have a cardboardy, slightly undercooked crust but the most amazingly yummy four cheese toppings. Alexander has a great feel for cheesy, middle grade horror, and I bought this one without having read it, which I rarely do. Are the books great literature? No. Will the copies get read until they are worn out fragments? Absolutely! (And since my thirty year old R.L. Stine prebinds are starting to pong, I probably need to weed more of those. )
 

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Don't Judge Me

Schroeder, Lisa. Don't Judge Me
November 10th 2020 by Scholastic
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

Hazel is having trouble adjusting to middle school. She misses the closeness of her elementary school, wishes that her best friend Tori weren't so concerned about fashion and being popular, and is tired of dealing with the jerky behavior of the boys in her school. When her mother refuses to sign the dress code that Hazel has brought home, things start to escalate. Her mother is involved in a sexual discrimination suit at work, since she was passed over for shift manager in favor of a man with very little experience, so she is encouraging Hazel to speak up for herself. Hazel also is fostering a tortoise that she found abandoned, and is trying to find the best place for the animal, since she's not sure she wants the same pet for the next 80 years! Spoiler: (She eventually contacts her fifth grade teacher, and Pip is made into a class pet.) Tori and Hazel eat lunch in the school library because they are uncomfortable in the cafeteria, and meet Dion, a sensitive boy who is having trouble with some of the jerks at the school. Hazel is horrified when Tori's brother, Ben, who had always been friendly with the girls before they hit middle school, has a notebook where boys opine about the girls in the school, usually in unflattering ways. Having dealt with other children calling her "thunder thighs" because she is athletic, Hazel is already uncomfortable with her appearance, and is encouraged to do something to put an end to this sort of behavior. Instead of approaching Ben's moms, she organizes a group of girls to try to form an organization to improve the culture of the school. The principal, who has previously refused to meet with Hazel's mom, also refuses to meet with the girls. Luckily, the assistant principal is able to force him to meet, and the girls' concerns are finally heard, which results in significant changes in the culture, including training to help with toxic masculinity.
Strengths: Schroeder is HUGELY popular in my library, and this certainly hits all of the buttons for a current look at sociopolitical trends in middle school. It also shows a reluctant student learning to embrace activism in order to improve her school environment. Hazel writes a lot of haiku, is sensitive to animals, and worried about her best friend. I like that some popular, fairly current books are mentioned, and that Pippi Longstocking is a big influence on Hazel.
Weaknesses: This is for the publisher, not the author: If Hazel is the girl in the middle of the picture, I can't imagine anyone calling her "thunder thighs". The array of girls on the cover is somewhat diverse culturally, put certainly does not reflect any middle school girl who weighs more than 90 pounds.
What I really think: The dress code issue didn't seem realistic to me; since all of the negative publicity that schools have gotten on social media pertaining to dress codes, I'm surprised schools still enforce them. Mine does not. We seriously had a girl come to school the other day in a Dr. Seuss Cat in the Hat onesie sleeper, and no one said anything. This does seem to be a popular topic for #MGLit, however.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

How to Save the Universe (Dimension Why #1)

Cusick, John. How to Save the Universe (Dimension Why #1)
September 29th 2020 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In the present day, Lola Ray is heading off on an airplane with her mother and younger siblings (for whom she is often responsible) to visit her father. When she sneezes when heading through security, she is rocketed forward in time to the 31st century. There, she meets Phineas T. Fogg, whose parents are always traveling and who leave him alone in his high tech apartment with just an animatronic teddy bear, Teddy, for company and protection. His parents are owners of a company that manufactures hypergates, and their partner, Goro Bolus, is super creepy and probably up to now good. Phin is glad of a little excitement, but since time traveling is illegal, the Temporal Transit Authority, and the Bog Mutants who are employed by it, are hunting Lola down. The two manage to escape Phin's apartment using baked beans, which are apparently the perfect substance for stabilizing worm holes, and are of on a kooky adventure to try to stay alive and get Lola back to her own time. If Lola falls into Bolus' hands, the planet will be doomed. Dealing with comsumercators, the Triumvirate of Pong, talking cats (named Mr. Donut), and other somewhat silly entities, will Lola and Phin manage to get Lola home? And since there is a book two in the works, (Revenge of the Sequel) what new adventure will the two encounter?
Strengths: The author has a lovely note at the beginning on how humor helps people deal with difficult things, and we certainly need things like that now. Lola and Phin are appealing characters, and there is nonstop action and goofy antics all through this book. The plot is simple enough to make the time travel and future world easy to comprehend, and the story moves quickly.
Weaknesses: My readers don't particularly like this flavor of science fiction book. This is sort of Hot Cheetos flavored-- some people really, really like them, but others are not fans at all. 
What I really think: This is perfect for fans of goofy speculative fiction like Henry Clark's What We Found in the Corn Maze and How It Saved a Dragon, Jasper Fforde's The Last Dragon Slayer, Carmen's Floors. I think I'll stick with pushing Melissa Landers Blastaway, which is somewhat similar but not as goofy.  

Ms. Yingling