Friday, January 15, 2021

The In-Between

Ansari, Rebecca. The In-Between
January 26th 2021 by Walden Pond Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Cooper is angry that his father has left him, his sister Jess, and his overworked mother in a run down neighborhood in Chicago and is now in California with his new wife and son. The rage spills into other areas of his life-- he has trouble getting along with his friends because their families are intact, and he is especially angry with the quiet, uncommunicative girl, Elena,  in the newly renovated house next door. He managed to be kind to his sister, and to help her manage her diabetes, but he is somewhat relieved when a new boy at school, Gus, befriends him. Gus is having trouble fitting in, having been sent to live with his irascible grandmother while his parents are divorcing. The two boys bond over this, and also over one very odd fact. Cooper, Jess, and Gus can see Elena's house differently than everyone else. To them, it is decrepit and abandoned. When Jess is obsessed with an old train accident, and an unidentified boy who died, Cooper and Jess realize that Elena's school sweater has the same crest on it and start to investigate. what her connection might be. They eventually find that Elena and her sister were killed many years ago, but never died, and seem to travel from tragedy to tragedy, living in "the in-between". Because the three children can see Elena and the true state of her house, they worry that they are next in line for the tragedy they suspect that Elena will precipitate. Will they be able to find out what Elena's true purpose is, and to save themselves?
Strengths: There are lots of twists and turns in this that I don't want to spoil! The real life portions of the story, with Cooper's absent dad, frazzled mother who is ready to move on, and responsibility for his sister's well-being, is solidly well constructed and believable. The constant dinners of various egg dishes was funny but made complete sense! The in-between is built and revealed in an understandable way. Elena and Gus are interesting characters, for various reasons, and there's a lot of hidden depth that we eventually see. Definitely an interesting story, and I love the cover. 
Weaknesses: This started out on the slow side, and a lot of time was spent on Cooper's various feelings of sadness, which also slowed down an otherwise interesting story. If this discussion had been replaced by ghosts haunting Cooper, it would do better with my students, who are always in favor of killer ghosts!
What I really think: This was sort of a mix of Scarrow's Time Riders and Plum's Before I Die if it had been written by Judy Blume or Linda Urban. It was fine, but everyone else seems to be far more excited about it than I am. 

Also, Alysa Wishingrad, who has an upcoming book, The Verdigris Pawn, and I think that Twitter should be used for helping everyone plan dinner. We use the hashtag #kidlitsupperclub. This book spawned shakshuka for dinner!

 Ms. Yingling

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Karma Moon, Ghost Hunter

Savage, Melissa. Karma Moon, Ghost Hunter
January 19th 2021 by Crown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Karma and her father are on their own after her mother runs off with five suitcases to live life on a beach with a new friend. Karma's father makes documentaries with two of his friends, who form Totally Rad Productions. They have made a pitch to Netflix about a ghost hunting show that gets picked up, and before they know it, Karma is staying at a haunted hotel in Colorado with her dad's film crew and her best friend, Mags. The hotel seems safe enough, but Karma has struggled with anxiety since her mother's departure, and the "what ifs" swirl in her brain. She carries a Magic 8 ball with her and believes strongly in what her father calls "woo-woo". On the upside, she has been seeing Dr. Finkleman, who has given her coping techniques to deal with her anxiety. The hotel has a colorful staff, including a boy whom Mags likes, a gift shop proprietor who has been there since 1972, a cleaning person named Ruby Red, and a progression of managers, who all seem to depart in dramatic ways. After the departure of the latest (Mr. Plum, who left in an Uber... while clad only in his underwear!), the film crew, along with a certified ghost expert, try to document the hauntings in order to make the show. Will Karma be able to get through the time while managing her anxiety, dealing with the thoughts about her mother, and hanging out with the interesting Nyx?
Strengths: This is on trend with current depiction of children with anxiety, and I did like that Karma saw Dr. Finkleman frequently, had a range of coping strategies, and her friend Mags not only knew about this, but often reminded Karma to call upon those strategies. Probably also a good idea that Karma shouldn't watch Dateline OR Scooby-Doo! Living in a hotel for ten days would be a lot of fun, and filming a documentary for Netflix only adds to the excitement. This had much the same kind of feel of Bradley's Midnight at the Barclay Hotel, Guterson's Winterhouse, or even Milford's Greenglass House
Weaknesses: I wasn't a huge fan of all the quirky hotel staff. 
What I really think: This was a fun ghost story that wasn't too scary, and would be great for grades 3-6. My own students have proven to be much more interested in truly scary things, so I wished this had been a bit scarier, like Poblocki's The Ghost Hunter's Daughter or even Currie's Scritch Scratch. For the type of hotel book my students like, look no further than Balog's Alone
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Amari and the Night Brothers

Alston, B.B. Amari and the Night Brothers
January 19th 2021 by Balzer + Bray
ARC provided by Follett First Look

Amari has struggled in the private school she attends on scholarship because the other students are mean to her, and since her brother Quinton's disappearance, things have gotten worse. She ends up pushing another student, and due to the school's zero tolerance policy, she looses her scholarship. Her mother, a hard working single mother and nurse, doesn't know how to help Amari, so she is thrilled when Amari gets a scholarship to the same leadership camp that Quinton attended. The only catch-- Quinton has left a briefcase for Amari showing her the magical organization he was really part of, and Amari is following in his footsteps. The front for the school is the Vanderbilt Hotel, but behind the facade there is the school associate with the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. Amari's roommate, Elise is nice to her, since she (as the last weredragon in existence) knows what it is like to be singled out because you are different. However, the other students at the Bureau are mainly legacies, and their families have been attached to the organization for generations. Amari finds out that her brother was a celebrity, and along with Maria VanHelsing, was part of team VanQuish. Maria has gone missing as well, and her brother, Dylan, is a student in Amari's class. Amari also finds out that she is assigned the highest badge level, but doesn't have a talent-- she is a magician. Magicians are illegal. At first, Amari thinks Dylan hates her as much as his twin sister, Lara, does, but the two soon team up to try to find out what happened to their siblings. They are also paired as a team in the elimination exams, and Dylan shares some of the same secrets that Amari has. Will they be able to pass their exams, find their siblings, and vanguish the evil powers threatening the entire bureau? The scene has been set for book two, with Jayden, a friend of Quinton's, being recommended for the Bureau's summer program. 
Strengths: Like Black and Clare's The Magisterium series, this has many elements that make it similar to the now much maligned Harry Potter. (Adults are unhappy because of Rowling's inability to keep her opinions to herself, although most tweens are blissfully unaware of this.) There are stun sticks and flying shoes, a school staff with their own secret pasts, tasty magical treats, a sorting ceremony, an underdog main character, and forces of evil trying to take over the world that can only be fought by Amari. There are also timely racial issues. I can see this acquiring a solid fan base. 
Weaknesses: This was on the long side, and could have been tightened up a bit. I also wish that the summer camp/school had a better name. 
What I really think: I do have a small bunch of students who like "academy" books, and they will love this one. I just hope the series isn't hugely long. The Magisterium, with its five short books, was perfect. 
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Lion of Mars

Holm, Jennifer L. The Lion of Mars
January 5th 2021 by Random House Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

In 2091, Bell has always lived on Mars, so it is the only home he knows. He has heard tales of Earth from some of the adults in the US settlement, especially from the gardener, Phinneus, who is in charge of the algae farm and takes care of the only remaining cat, Leo. All of the children were orphans who were brought up by members of the other country's settlements, but after the death of one of the US settlers, all contact was cut off with the other countries. While the older children want less and less to do with Bell as they become obnoxious teenagers, he still hangs out with Phinneus, Salty Bill the cook, and Meems, who oversees the children's chores and learning. When the adults become seriously ill, the children try to cope on their own, but when help from Earth won't come for months,  they eventually try to reach the other settlements. They try to use the long abandoned train system and run into some problems, but Bell manages to get help. The children stay at the French settlement while adults from the Russian, Chinese, and other settlements take care of the sick adults and make repairs to the US settlement. Bell enjoys the new food and the companionship of children his own age. There is even a baby and a ping pong table, which are welcome distractions. When the commander, Sai, is well enough, the children return home, and Bell is distraught when Sai says that they must cease all contact with the other nations, since things between them are not going well on earth. This saddens all of the settlers, and they find a way to contact the other communities. Will Bell be able to help Sai understand what happened so his world is larger than one tiny space station?
Strengths: I love Holm's work, and am so glad to see her returning to novels again. Babymouse is great, but I enjoyed Boston Jane (2001) and The Creek (2003) and think she does an excellent job at all manner of genres. Clearly, science fiction (like the 2014 The Fourteenth Goldfish) is something about which she is passionate, and I would love to see more titles like this one. The details of living on Mars are vividly well-researched, and the emotions of living on a planet far from Earth are equally well explored. As I was reading this, I felt like it could have been an episode of Star Trek, which is great praise indeed! The message about getting along with other countries and not being isolated works on a practical level, from Bell's perspective, but is also allegorical enough that teachers will love to use this for class read alouds. In fact, this would  be an excellent choice for the Newbery Award. Science fiction doesn't often win.
Weaknesses: I could have used a little more description of the actual US space station. I had trouble picturing in my mind where Bell hung out. Not essential to the story, but after reading several other books set on Mars, I was curious to see what Holm's take on the facilities would be. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and recommending to fans of Rodkey's We're Not from Here, Swiedler's In the Red, Sylvester's MINRS, Landers' Blastaway, Levy's Seventh Grade vs. The Galaxy and Buzz Aldrin's fantastic nonfiction book, Welcome to Mars. I'm so glad to see a growing list of books covering what it would be like to live on another planet. 

Monday, January 11, 2021

MMGM- Playing with Fire

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

VERY inexact statistics for my 2020 reader, broken down by type of book:

23 Adult books
75 Young Adult books
70 Graphic novels (or nonfiction or early readers)
10 Picture books
676 Middle Grade books

This was more adult books than I thought, and fewer picture books. There was a gray area with early readers and nonfiction that were short but sort of middle grade, and I figured that since my average number of pages read was 234, and that's about what most middle grade books run, that it seemed... fair? I'm just not that interested in statistics, but at the year's end, people really seem to groove on them!

I should really keep track of for how many I actually write reviews. 

Henry, April. Playing with Fire
January 19th 2021 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

Natalia hasn't been hiking, even though she lives in the Pacific Northwest. Her friend and coworker at The Dairy Barn, Wyatt, means to remedy that, and soon they are off on a populated but rugged wilderness trail. Since Natalia has a bit of a crush on Wyatt and isn't quite sure how he feels, she wants to impress him, even though she is leery of the endeavor. When they are almost done for the day, they find their way back to the car blocked by a quickly moving fire. They turn back, and try to warn others on the path. Eventually, a small group forms, and Wyatt (who is an Eagle scout) serves as the leader, instructing everyone to stick together and using his skills and resources to form the best plan for the group. There are a wide range of ages and experiences represented: elementary school aged Zion and his grandfather Darryl; older Susan, who is experiencing memory issues; shady jerk Jason; baby Trask and his parents Lisa and Ryan; young couple Beatriz and Marco, with his dog, Blue; and Navy bound AJ. The group suffers just about every medical emergency possible on the trek to get away from the fire and back to civilization, including (but not limited to!) burns, bee sting, asthma attack, panic attack, BEAR attack, and various scratches and damaged limbs. Through it all, Wyatt is a calm and purposeful leader, and Natalia uses her First Aid training admirably. She is also admirable in her ability to keep going despite a crippling secret from her past; her baby brother had perished in a house fire that also injured her and left her with PTSD. She's been in therapy, and uses the techniques she's learned there to help the others, and thoughtfully diagnoses and treats the various complaints with her training. When the group realizes that one of them is responsible for the fire, will they be further endangered by the criminal? 
Strengths: Where to start? First of all, the construction of this book is textbook for a successful #MGLit title. Action from the very start, 240 pages, teen characters, a hint of romance, kids saving the day, and plenty of excitement. Natalia's backstory gives this another level of interest for older readers. Her first aid training, begun to give her a sense of control, is used in the most fascinating manner, and watching her use her coping strategies with others was fantastic. I'm still trying to figure out why her on-trail diagnoses were so riveting! I loved how Wyatt took control and used his own knowledge, keeping the peace when people got tense. The storyline with the fire being set because of a crime was in the back of my mind while the group was suffering nonstop emergencies. This was an intense, heart pounding read, and the epilogue was one of the few that I wanted: it was good to know that the group (which was based on a real life group) survived and flourished. 
Weaknesses: Readers who want a book more like Henry's The Girl I Used to Be, with a criminal undertone and psychological terror might be a tiny bit disappointed in this. I wasn't! I have to admit that I did put it down from time to time because it was SO intense. 
What I really think: Two copies? Three? With the recent losses (of all the most circulated books, of course!) due to the pandemic, I'm looking more at buying multiples of books I loved and not buying books I felt "meh" about. 
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, January 10, 2021

The Meet-Cute Project

Richardson, Thiannon. The Meet-Cute Project 
January 12th 2021 by Simon & Schuster
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Mia is a junior in high school, and her sister Sam is engaged to the man of her dreams. Sam works for a software company that designs for architectural firms, and her fiancé Geoffrey works in his family's jam empire but has a strong science background. Sam's wedding is a massively fancy ordeal, and she is requiring that Mia have a date so that the pictures look right. The only problem? Mia is busy with swim team, and would rather hang out with her friends watching Rom Coms than hunt down boys to date. She has a long time crush on Ben, but has no prospects, so her sister challenges her friends to find Mia a date, and they all start to try to arrange "meet-cutes" for her. These eventually involve Ben, but also Ritchie, who is on swim team with her (but who has a girlfriend), Gavin, with whom she volunteers at a community garden, and even an enigmatic guy she meets as a costume party where she is dressed as Princess Leia and he is a dark and mysterious Darth Vader. In her pursuit of a date, Mia makes some poor choices, ending up at some undesirable parties and getting herself grounded. Right before the wedding, Mia and Geoffrey have a falling out, and Mia is able to talk to Geoffrey and shed some light on her sister's personality quirks. When Gavin gets tickets for a Rainbow Kitten Surprise concert (this is a real band), will Mia be allowed to go with him? And will she find a date for the wedding?
Strengths: This reminded me VERY strongly of Beverly Cleary's Sister of the Bride (1963), but with a more diverse cast and updated social concerns. I loved Mia's family-- they were supportive, motivational, and very much concerned with Mia's activities and behavior, imposing reasonable punishments for understandable transgressions. THIS is exactly the sort of high school romances I am constantly searching out for my voracious readers, and the fact that Mia is Black and this is a generally happy story makes this exactly the sort of story we need after the summer of 2020. Yes, we need books with serious issues, but there is also a huge need, as The Brown Bookshelf has pointed out, for books that celebrate Black joy. The inclusion of swimming, math and science nerdiness, and some Star Wars fandom makes this perfect. 
Weaknesses: I found it hard to believe how elaborate the wedding plans were. I thought that those had fallen out of fashion and people were all getting married in street dresses in their backyards if they were foolish enough to get married at all. I guess that's just the people I know. Someone coming in to do hair and makeup? Really? That's a thing?
What I really think: This had so many good updated facets and read like Sister of the Bride, albeit with less of the 1960s literature's judgement of young marriages. Sam and Geoffrey have graduated from college and hold jobs, so aren't looking at living in married student housing, so Mia is not at all dissuaded from pursuing a romance of her own. This insistence on Mia finding an escort to the wedding does give the book a bit of a dated feel, but most readers will not be as much against marriage and romance as I am personally. 

Of course, now I feel a need to reread Sister of the Bride
 Ms. Yingling

Saturday, January 09, 2021

My Car in 2055

Lewis, Carrie and Skaltsas, Christos.(Illustrations) My Car in 2055 
January 1st 2021 by Lerner Publications (Tm) 
E ARC provided by Netgalley

I vividly remember reading an SRA card (I think it was Turquoise) about the Cars of the Future, in about 1974. The cards were probably published at least a decade previously, judging from the illustration style. Cars would be like living rooms on wheels, and would drive themselves, if we ever got tired of getting places with our jet packs. It was a little hard to take this book seriously, even though I am sure it was well researched. We do have some autonomous autos now, don't we?

This is a very early reader discussion of the future, and talks about how cars will be able to take children to school without their parents, remind them to eat breakfast, and come equipped with a desk for them to finish last minute home work. The pictures are bright and somehow slick-- notice the smooth quality of the car on the cover. The future is always aerodynamic, isn't it? It's the past that is rectangular. 

This was too young for my students, but I desperately want to order the whole set (including My School, My Home, and My City). Wouldn't it be fun to have My Car in 2020, published in 1980? For that matter, I wish I had the entire set of career picture books from my elementary school in 1970. How have those changed? Ah, retrofuturism. What a delightful rabbit hole.

Friday, January 08, 2021

Hobie Hanson, Greatest Hero of The Mall

Jamie Gilson was a prolific author in the 1980s and 1990s, and when I sent her a filled up circulation card in about 2007, she graciously sent me an autographed copy of Stink Alley. I don't have any of her titles in the library anymore. Ten years is a long time for even a hardcover book in a middle school library. Either the books are read a lot and fall apart, or they are not read and they start to pong. 

I had Hobie Hanson, You're Weird (#3) and Double Dog Dare (#4) for a long time, and didn't even realize they were in a series. When I found out about the existence of book five, I was super excited, because one of my recurring nightmares is that I am teaching Latin in the Southern Park Mall, where I worked at several stores in high school. 

Finding the book lead me to deeper research, and I was sad to see that Jamie Gilson had died last February. 

Yesterday must have been hard, because I'm a little weepy just thinking about this. In some weird way, some authors seem like my friends, or maybe coworkers. I consult them frequently, and they help me out when I need books for kids. They come and go, I like more than others, but they are part of my daily life. 

One of my daughter's favorite quotes is from Tolkien, concerning Bilbo Baggins. "Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did."

It doesn't matter that we aren't on sacred missions with evil rings, or that we don't defeat dragons or orcs. We all have our personal orcs and dragons, and every single day, going on is the bravest thing we can do.  

Gilson, Jamie. Hobie Hanson, Greatest Hero of The Mall (Hobie Hanson #5)
October 1st 1989 by Lothrop, Lee and Shepard Books
Copy borrowed from Wilder Elementary
Hobie is babysitting for his best friend Nick's younger brother. He's not paying a lot of attention-- he's putting together a model of a heart that comes with a powder to make blood, and it's getting messy. His young charge keeps saying that there is a shark in the back yard, and Hobie keeps shrugging him off. It turns out that the river that runs in the back of the houses (Hobie lives next door) has overflowed its banks. Luckily, his friend Molly has stopped by, rescued his cat Fido, and come to save them in her inflatable giraffe pool floatie. Eventually, everyone meets up at the local flood shelter, and the kids find out that their school has been badly damaged. Instead, children will be going to school in the local mall. Unlike my nightmare of teaching in one, there won't be classes on the concourse, but a now defunct department store has donated the building. Where once the children shopped for shoes, they will now be having math, and they can go get a hot pretzel for lunch. Will chaos reign, or will Hobie and his friends get back to work. 
Strengths: Coming in at 149 pages, this book could be wildly successful in my library-- if there were an updated version. The book is humorous, but addresses core concerns of middle grade readers and showcases how important friendships are at this age. Having occasional page decorations is something I always love (Think Beth and Joe Krush or Charles Geer). Hobie is well meaning and enthusiastic, but often misguided, which makes him the perfect middle grade character. 
Weaknesses: Obviously, this is rather dated, and I did not find the illustrations attractive. 
What I really think: If you have the whole series, keep them. I think they would have an audience in elementary school. If you don't have the whole series and are sort on shelf space, this is a series that could move on. 
 Ms. Yingling


Freeman, Megan. Alone
12 January 2021 by Simon & Schuster/Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Maddie, whose parents are divorced but live fairly close to each other in Colorado, plans a secret sleepover with her two best friends. They are going to lie to parents about where they are and spend the night at her grandparents' apartment, watching movies and eating junk food without people bothering them. At the last minute, the friends have to back out, but since she has her parents convinced she is at the other's house, she enjoys her evening. Her phone needed to be charged, and when she wakes up, she realizes that something very bad has occurred. The entire town was evacuated for unspecified reasons, and not only is no one left, but everyone was forced to leave their cell phones behind, cutting Maddie off entirely. She rescues the dog next door, George, and the two manage to scrape together a living, taking food and water from other houses and eventually stores. Maddie has to cope with a tornado, blizzard, fire, flood, and injuries while also managing to live without modern conveniences. As the days stretch into months, Maddie still doesn't know what has happened to strand her. There are looters who make it into her town, but they are incredibly violent and she is glad to escape their notice. When her solitude stretches into years, Maddie contemplates trying to drive away from her town, but never makes it far. Will she have to spend the rest of her life alone?
Strengths: I read mostly realistic fiction in middle school, yet the books I remember most are Nelson's The Girl Who Owned a City and O'Brien's Z for Zachariah. This reminded me of those classics. Because this is a novel in verse, it is a super quick read even though it is 416 pages long! There are lots of good details about how to survive in a world with no utilities, and is unlike dystopian novels like Walter's The Rule of Three, Freeman's Zap and Pfeffer's Life as We Knew It because Maddie is COMPLETELY ALONE. The difficulties with weather and other catastrophe she faces make this more of a survival novel, and it's good to see that Maddie and George do fairly well for themselves. 
Weaknesses: Novels in verse always leave me wanting more information, and the ending of this seemed a little abrupt. There was also a very violent scene with the looters and an animal that might be disturbing to sensitive readers. 
What I really think: This was really good, and I can see it being really popular with readers of books like Behren's recent Alone in the Woods and Disaster Days.  I just found myself wanting different things to happen, probably because one of my frequent day dreams in school was so close to this book! I wanted Maddie to be stranded with her friends, I wanted her to fight the looters, I wanted her to drive off and have adventures on the way to finding her parents. Unless students also frequently imagine themselves in a world without adults where they are running a middle school building full of their classmates, no one else should mind!


Ms. Yingling

Thursday, January 07, 2021

The Case of the Missing Marquess

Springer, Nancy. The Case of the Missing Marquess
August 4, 2020, Philomel Books (Originally published 2006)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Enola Holmes is let to run a bit wild by her mother on the Ferndell Estate. She wears old clothes left behind by her much older brothers, Mycroft and Sherlock, rides a bicycle, and thumbs her nose at many of the practices of genteel women of her day. When her mother goes missing, she sends a telegram to her brothers, who expect her to "meet" them at the train station. They are very surprised that she does not come with a carriage (which they have been funding), and find that just about all of the financial line items for which their mother has been requesting funds are fraudulent. It is assumed that she has  been amassing money with the purpose of running away, but Enola doesn't like to think that her  mother would have abandoned her on her birthday! She does find some clues in the form of ciphers that lead her to use her skills involving the language of flowers that she has learned from her mother. Her brothers just want to stick Enola in a boarding school and be done with her, but she has other plans. She "disguises" herself as a widow in the clothes her mother wore ten years ago when Enola's father died and starts to run away. She comes across another mystery-- a local boy, the young Viscount Tewksbury Basilwether. She is persuaded by his mother to try to find him, and realizes that the boy hasn't been kidnapped, but has simply run away from his infantilizing mother. Someone, however, is demanding a ransom, and Enola aims to find out why. Will her detecting skills be as good as her brother's? There are five more books in this series, so it will take her some time to locate her missing mother. 
Strengths: Springer does an extraordinary job at preserving the style of  Conan Doyle, and also, to a lesser degree, the 1920s mystery writers like Christie, Sayers and Patricia Wentworth. She manages to work in so much cultural history as well; things like clothing, behavioral expectations, societal conventions. It's fun to see Mycroft and Sherlock both portrayed as uncaring in the same way; usually the brothers are painted as very different characters. Holmes has quite the hold on the popular imagination, still, so it is fun to see a sister imagined for him. 
Weaknesses: Neither mystery was very engaging. Tewksbury is rather bratty, and the mother wasn't exactly warm and caring. I might have to watch the Netflix series to see if it is different. 
What I really think: My copy of the first volume is missing, and I am distraught, since I have the rest of the series. It hasn't circulated well, even though I love Springer's work. However, there is a new Netlflix series, so maybe a prebind with the Netflix tie in will circulate?

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Magic's Most Wanted

Whitesides, Tyler. Magic's Most Wanted
January 19th 2021 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus
(Check out Mr. Whitesides' web site; he has posted videos of him reading all of The Wishmakers!)

Mason has been struggling recently; his father has been imprisoned for robbing a bank, even though Mason is sure he was framed. Finding it hard to keep up with his schoolwork, Mason hasn't read his book for an oral book report, but has borrowed a music box from his mother to use as a show-stopping visual. His teacher isn't convinced by this, and when Mason opens up the music box, his entire class is whisked away to Antartica! He opens the box and moves his classmates several times before men appear to arrest him for misusing magic. Mason knows nothing about this, but the men claim that he has been stealing "boons" (ordinary objects into which magic seeps). They even have him on tape! How can Mason be Magix Most Wanted criminal when he doesn't even know what the group is talking about? He is assigned a liaison, a girl about his age named <Ava?> who helps him escape from the agents in gray suits. She teaches him a lot about the world of magic, and the two (with the help of a querulous talking rabbit) try to figure out why he's being framed. 
Strengths: For someone who also has written adult books (and I know I shouldn't be prejudiced against them, but sometimes the attempts at switching from adult to MG are so painful!), he has an excellent, smooth middle grade style. The story moves along quickly, the lines are clever, and the characters realistically portrayed. What middle grade reader hasn't gotten called up short on an oral presentation? I, for one, NEVER had to use the knowledge gained by routinely reading Anne of Green Gables twice a year to extemporaneously report on it in 7th grade! The world building is solid, and the secondary story line of Mason's father's own involvement with the law adds depth. 
Weaknesses: This seemed a tiny bit young somehow. Thinking about why. Maybe the rabbit?
What I really think: I love Whitesides' writing, and his Janitors and Wishmakers series are very popular in my library. Also, I could not get this scene from Bewitched out of my head when I was reading about Mason's trial! 

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Unleashed (Jinxed #2)

McCulloch , Amy. Unleashed (Jinxed #2)
January 5th 2021 by Sourcebooks Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Lacey wakes up in the hospital after being there about a month. She knows that Jinx is gone, but doesn't quite remember how that happened. Her mother and school mates are all very concerned, and her mother just wants her to be well enough to go home. When she finally does, she's glad to get back to normal, and is glad to be with her warm and supportive mother, since her scientist father left the family a long time ago. When she heads back to Profectus Academy with just her lower level baku, slick, she is barred from entering. She gets inside with her classmates only to find that she is no longer allowed at the school because she no longer has Jinx, and must go back to her old school with Zora. When her mother's baku has an update, she becomes very detached, and even cleans out some of her cookbooks and letters from Lacey's father. Lacey is very suspicious that Moncha corporation is hiding Monica Chan, and that Eric Smith is in control and does not have the best interest of the public at heart. She thinks that Carter Smith might have been behind the disappearance of Jinx, and as her memory slowly returns, she tries to fit the pieces together. Her friend/boyfriend Tobias, as well as her other Profectus friends, want to help. When they all think that Monica might be being held at Lake Baku, and they pin down the location to a place very near Tobias' family cabin in the woods, Tobias invites them to a holiday party there. Will they be able to find Monica, keep the Smith's from spreading an evil update, and maybe find some secrets about Lacey's past?
Strengths: The idea of the baku is such an excellent one-- basically, a phone/computing device that is leashed to its owner and has an emotional attachment component. This is great but also super frightening in the wrong hands, as it happens here! Having just lost my dog Sylvie, my heart broke for Lacey while she was missing Jinx. There are a lot of twists and turns that I don't want to spoil, but I enjoyed the way the story meandered and covered several topics that I didn't expect. 
Weaknesses: I missed being in the Profectus Academy, which was such a big part of the first book. 
What I really think: This could be the last book in the series, but there might be room for another. The first book has been really popular in my library, so I would be okay with a third!

When students are in the building (they are remote until 1/18 due to high Covid numbers in Ohio), we check out 250-300 books a day. I have tons of classes, and I rarely sit down. 

I work better this way. As one of my elderly friends once told me "If you stand still, someone will paint you or bury you!" I also walk to work, and realized we've been in school for five months. My shoes show it!

Since there is lunch on the schedule from 11:30 to 12:10 every day, I started a Fresh Air and Sunshine Challenge for teachers who are at school. We are close to the high school track, which is wonderfully squishy to walk on. I hope to run a mile at lunch today, which sounds like the most decadent, self-serving thing EVER. 

Whatever it takes to get you through the day. Hopefully, it's as harmless as getting outside for a bit in the middle of the school day! 

Monday, January 04, 2021


Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Korman, Gordon. Unplugged
January 5th 2021 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

The Oasis meditation retreat, run by Magnus Fellini and his assistant Ivory, attracts all sorts of people who want to unplug, destress, and learn healthy habits. There's Grace, who is very invested in the healthy living and comes with her family every year. Brooklyn really wants to have the level of enthusiasm that Grace has, but isn't that into it. Brandon's former football player father likes the family to come so they can watch their weight, and Tyrell is so beset by allergies that he'll try anything, even the boiling hot springs. The most disruptive guest, however, is Jett Baranov, the son of the founder of Fuego industries, who invented all manner of technology upon which people have become dependent. Jett is a jerk, and after a series of unpleasant actions on his part, his father sends him to Oasis with a handler, Matt. Jett isn't happy about giving up all of his technology and eating a vegetarian diet, and he makes his displeasure known by being difficult during meditation, stealing his phone back and ordering a vast amount of merchandise, and generally proving his father's point in sending him away. When Grace finds a tiny, helpless lizard, she enlists his aid, along with that of Brooklyn and Tyrell. The four break out of camp and go to nearby Hedge Apple to get meat for their new pet, and pick up some candy bars and other goodies along the way. Grace isn't happy about that, but they are useful when they are blackmailed by Brandon, and Jett finds a side line making money selling the candy at a profit, During repeated trips to the town, Jett is intrigued by a mansion, and the owner, Snapper, who seems out of place in Arkansas. He and Brandon also notice that the parents, who do "deeper" meditation with Ivory, are acting strangely. While dealing with the lizard, Needles, Jett becomes a little less problematic, and does start to work better with others. Will the group be able to solve the mysteries that have arisen, fueled only by veggie burgers and the occasional candy bar?
Strengths: Korman works are the hoodies of middle grade literature. When you don't know what else to wear, you can count on a hoodie to always keep you happy, cozy and comfortable. The characters are amusing, the plots easy to follow, the twists surprising, and the funny instances perfectly amusing. I love how his characters always manage to work together, and evolve in surprising ways. I loved Matt's path! This had a bit of a Swindle vibe that I didn't expect. Some reviewers say that the book was a bit cliche, but I look at it this way. I'm not going to wear hoodies to school every day; I'm an adult. It would be right. But like hoodies, Gordon Korman's books always fit middle school students just right.
Weaknesses: Jett referred to Magnus as "Nimbus" as a derogatory term, and for some reason this just grated on me! 
What I really think: I STILL think librarians and teachers should crowd fund a personal chef and personal trainer for Mr. Korman so that he lives to a healthy, productive old age!

I am horrible about the record keeping needed for challenges, but I was intrigued by the #BitAboutBooks Winter Reading Challenge! I actually made a lit AND a graphic AND posted it on Twitter. Maybe 2021 is off to a good start after all!

5 points: Read any book of your choice – Confessions of a Class Clown by @ariannecostner

10 points: Read a book with 100-200 pages – Escape at 10,000 ft. (104) by @ThomasGSullivan

10 points: Read a book with one word in the title – Flight by @VanessaHarbour

10 points: Read an author’s debut book – An Occasionally Happy Family by
Cliff Burk

15 points: Read a book with an animal main character – Delphine and the Silver Needle by Alyssa Moon. 

15 points: Read a book that has a direction in the title- Taking up Space by @AlysonGerber

15 points: Read a book published in 2021 – Winterborne Home for Mayhem and Mystery by @OfficiallyAlly

20 points: Read a book set in a country that is not where you currently live – The Peril at Owl Park, set in England, Marthe Jocelyn, @scissorhouse

20 points: Read a book that’s won an award – Dawn Raid by Pauline Vaeluaga Smith

20 points: Read a book with a person’s first or last name in the title – Stella by @McCallHoyle

30 points: Read two books by the same author – Strong as Fire, Fierce as Flame and That Thing About Bollywood by Supriya Kelkar@supriyakelkar_

Sunday, January 03, 2021

The Nightmare Thief

Lesperance, Nicole. The Nightmare Thief
January 2021 by Sourcebooks Young Readers 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Maren's sister Hallie was in an auto accident that has left her in a coma. It's been long enough that the medical professionals think she should go to long term care. Since all of the facilities specializing in this are far away from Blackpool Bay,  where the family has moved to live with Maren's grandmother, Lishta, Maren is desperate to help her sister get better. Lishta runs a shop that specializes in typewriters and dreams. All of Rockpool Bay has some magic to it, and Maren and her grandmother create dreams and nightmares for people to purchase. One shady customer, Obscura Gray, wants to break the rules and get more nightmares than Lishta is willing to sell her. There are rules about giving dreams to others, and when Obscura tapes Maren giving a dream to Hallie at the hospital, Obscura blackmails the girl into providing her with nightmares. While she doesn't know exactly what Obscura is doing with them, Maren can imagine-- local shop owners are having horrific nightmares and selling up. Their properties are being taken over by nefarious sounding businesses, and Blackpool Bay is not the same. On the bright side, the dream seems to have helped Hallie, who has started to speak and open her eyes. When Obscura asks for even more magic and Maren is not able to provide it, she fears that she, her family and the whole town are in jeopardy. Will Maren be able to defeat Obscura?
Strengths: Lishta's typewriter repair shop was great fun, although it is probably equally as likely that she has a dream shop! Rockpool Bay is a delightful area, even though it is endangered by the conniving Obscura. Maren's concern for her sister is realistic, and Obscura is a great villain. This whole book had a sort of Roald Dahl-esque feel to it. The magical world was very close to the real world, and Maren has to save the day.  
Weaknesses: Obscura was a little too obviously evil, in a sort of Cruella deVil way. This makes the book feel a little on the younger side, since middle school readers like a little more nuance. 
What I really think: The blurbs that describe this as being like Ingrid Law and Natalie Lloyd's books are spot on, and I would throw in Wendy Mass as well. There's a touch of Corey Haydu's Eventown as well.

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Mae Jemison: Brave Rocketeer

Alexander, Heather. Dr. Mae Jemison: Brave Rocketeer (Hidden Heroes #2)
January 7th 2020 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Jemison, born in 1956, was always interested in science, even at a time when girls, and especially Black girls, were not usually encouraged to excel in this field. With the help of supportive parents and teachers, she was able to go to medical school, but her love of space travel, heightened because of the time during which she grew up, never left her. In the early years of the space program, it was necessary to have been a fighter pilot in order to be an astronaut, and since women weren't allowed in that section of the military, women were closed out of the space program as well. eventually this changed; Sally Ride, who was a few years older, was one of the pioneering women. Jemison finally managed to make it into the space program, but left after her first mission in order to focus on education and paving the way for other women in the field. 
Strengths: This book did a nice job not only of following Jemison's life, but providing context for her experiences. Readers who devoured the Who Was or I Am series of biographies in elementary school will find that the VIP series has a bit more information. There were lists of things that women couldn't do in the 1950s and 60s, background about NASA, and a good timeline at the end. This was a quick, well constructed read. 
Weaknesses: With more recent biographies, I want them all to have as many photos as O'Shaughnessy's Sally Ride : a Photobiography of America's Pioneering Woman in Space. Looking back at my own elementary reading, however, I realized that the biographies I devoured rarely even had drawings. Young readers can always look for pictures on the internet if they are very interested, but for students without that capability, pictures would be interesting. 
What I really think: I would love to see more books in this series about inventors, scientists, and social innovators who were Black or from other marginalized and unsung cultural backgrounds about whom there aren't as many books. There is supposedly a book about Mahalia Jackson coming out soon, but I would enjoy books about people I've never heard of even more!
Ms. Yingling

Friday, January 01, 2021

Happy New Year--Mr. Corbett is in Orbit

Gutman, Dan and Paillot, Jim. Mr. Corbett is in Orbit
January 5th 2021 by HarperAlley
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Arlo and his friends from Ella Mentry school are excited to be in a new graphic novel, and about going to visit NASA as well. When they are being shown around NASA headquarters, their tour guide, Mr. Corbett, lets them get a first hand look inside a rocket. When A.J. accidentally pushes the wrong button, the group is launched into space. Mr. Corbett faints, so it is up to the intrepid children to pilot the craft and save the day. When they are confronted by another spaceship, Arlo wants to blow it to smithereens before it can attack them, but luckily, cooler heads prevail. With help from a surprising source, the students are able to solve the problem of global warming! Will the group be able to make it back to Earth in time to get their buses home?
Strengths: The best part of this book for me was the information about environmental issues at the back of the book, and a plea for students to help educate their parents about things they can do to help the Earth. All elementary libraries will want to invest in this new series and to make sure that the chapter book series is up to date. Including more of Mr. Paillot's appealingly goofy illustrations makes perfect sense, and the combination of amusing pictures and puns and other goofiness will make this a sure winner with younger readers. 
Weaknesses: Would Mr. Corbett faint? Well, he IS a tour guide for NASA and not a teacher. A teacher wouldn't faint!
What I really think: It makes me happy that Mr. Gutman has had so much success with the My Weird School series, and a graphic novel with these characters makes sense. There are already Fast Fact books as well as several I Can Read Books with these characters. What makes me sad is that this series seems too young for my students. I adored the Baseball Card Adventures as well as Getting Air, and selfishly would prefer Mr. Gutman to turn his impressive talents to older readers. 
 Ms. Yingling