Monday, December 11, 2017

MMGM- Snow One Like You

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.36536177Blitt, Natalie. Snow One Like You
Published 2017 by Scholastic
Purchased through Scholastic Book Clubs

Mia can't wait for this year's Winter Festival in her hometown of Flurry, Vermont, and she's hoping to get her picture taken in a sled at the parade just the way her mother and grandmother did. But this year, there may not be any snow! If the festival is canceled, this could mean bad things for her mom and stepdad's hotel, which relies on this yearly surge in business. Her best friend Lark doesn' understand quite how important the festival is, but Mia finds an ally in Yoshi, whose father has moved the family to Maine to escape the pressures of being a weatherman in California. Mia has to deal with her young step siblings and her free spirit dad and his wife. Mia tries everything she can think of to keep the festival moving even if there isn't any snow, but will she be able to save the day?
Strengths: Clearly, when I read the Scholastic Book Club flyer I was sucked right back into 7th grade and felt an overwhelming compulsion to order this. The cover is cute, the story has the right blend of girl power and romance, and it has an "exotic" setting for someone in Ohio. Considering that Taylor Garland's two Celebrate the Season books have been going out every single day, only to be returned by a girl who has brought her best friend with her so the friend can check it out immediately, I am not the only one charmed by these upbeat holiday themed stories.
Weaknesses: This is one of those books that is only available in paperback from the Scholastic Book Clubs. NOT FAIR!!! I want a pretty hardcover for my library!
What I really think: Waiting desperately for a prebind to be available from Follett.
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sad Birds

33946654Kadarusman, Michelle. The Theory of Hummingbirds
October 16th 2017 by Pajama Press
E ARC from Netgalley.

Alba is recuperating from what is hopefully the final surgery to correct her club foot, and she's very excited to get the cast off-- so excited that she is making plans to run in a cross country race. Her doctor even says she will be able to do anything! She mentions her plan to her friend Levi, who suffers from very bad asthma, but he isn't quite as sure about it. He is much more concerned that the librarian at their school, for whom they do a lot of work, has discovered a worm hole in her office and might be in danger of getting pulled into another dimension and being unable to get back. Alba is also concerned that her mother might find Dr. Schofield attractive, since it has always been just the two of them. When Alba finally gets the cast off, she starts right into physical therapy, but when Levi again disputes her ability to compete, the two have a falling out. Will Alba be able to run, or at least walk, in the race, and will Levi come around to supporting her?
Strengths: I loved that Alba was able to work with the runners even when she couldn't run-- she was keeping times. I also enjoyed the librarian, and the work that the children do in the library is realistic. At one point, the principal shoos them out because there is no one there to supervise them. Alba's medical issues are well explained, and she meets her challenges with positive but not candy coated thoughts. In a note at the end, the author explained that she herself had been born with a club foot, although hers was corrected at an earlier age.
Weaknesses: The characters read much younger than sixth grade. It was very clear that the librarian was not traveling through a worm hole but was resting in her office. I assumed she was eating her lunch while sitting on the floor because it was the only time she could get peace. Levi's worry and insistence on this theory seemed more like the reaction of a third grader.
What I really think: While I like the depiction of Alba's handling of her challenges, this seemed a bit young, and also had some odd Canadian wordings. (E.G.: supply teacher instead of substitute.) I may wait to purchase until I see if this has an Accelerated Reader test, although it would work well for the 7th grade unit on personal challenges.

Strange, Lucy. The Secret of Nightingale Wood
October 31st 2017 by Chicken House
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Henry (Henrietta) and her fractured family move from London to Hope House in the English countryside after the death of her older brother, Robert. Henry's mother is "sick", her father scarpers off to Italy for work, and Henry is left with a nanny and the Berrys to take care of her baby sister, whom she calls Piglet instead of Roberta. There is an evil doctor who is trying to get her mother committed to a local asylum so another doctor can experiment on her, and who is keeping her mother doped to the gills in the meantime. He even tries to sedate Henry with "soothing syrup". Henry meets a "witch" in the forest, whom she calls "Moth". Moth was a nurse who has connections to Hope House and tries to help Henry cope with her mother's condition. Henry also has imaginary conversations with Robert, about whose death she feels a lot of guilt. When the doctor and his wife take Piglet to care for, Henry enlists the aid of Moth and manages to carry out a ruse that is effective in getting her mother released from the asylum. With the help of Moth and others in the community, things slowly get better, and both her mother and Moth come to terms with losses in their lives.
Strengths: This was well written and compelling. As a fan of all things English, I read through this rather quickly. The various mysteries come together well, and this had the feel of classic British literature.
Weaknesses: I was personally offended by the portrayal of not one but TWO mothers who are completely stricken after the death of their sons. Mothers are stronger than that, especially if they have other children. Also, I can't think of a single student to whom I could hand this.
What I really think: Maybe just one of those books that does better across the pond than it does in the US. Unless I see an uptick in circulation of The Secret Garden or Five Children on the Western Front (which covered the idea of the vast number of deaths during WWI more effectively) I won't purchase.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Smarty Marty and Frankly, Frannie

31447879G., Amy. Smarty Marty Steps Up Her Game (#2)
March 14th 2017 by Cameron + Company
Library copy
Synopsis from
"Smarty Marty, and her little brother Mikey, are back in the first in a series of illustrated chapter books, about a girl who loves baseball, written by San Francisco Giants in-game reporter Amy Gutierrez. Smarty Marty is the official scorekeeper for her little brother’s Little League team. But when the game announcer fails to show up for the first game, Marty is called to announce the game, inspiring her dream not only to score but to announce. But not everyone is happy about a girl getting to announce a baseball game."

This was a positive, well written young middle grade chapter book. I wish that in 2017, girls were still not given a hard time about things like participating in sports, but clearly, there is still some work to do. I liked that Marty was not going to put up with any guff and stood up for herself nicely. The formatting of this was excellent-- lots of white space, a few illustrations, larger text. I wish I had read the first book in the series, which came out in 2013.

This would be great for an elementary library.

7640262Stern, A.J. Frankly, Frannie.
May 27th 2010 by Grosset & Dunlap
Donated Copy

Synopsis from
"She’s already got her resume, business cards, and mustard packets (which are so much more grown up than ketchup) ready. So why is it taking eleventeen hundred years? Frannie’s class is visiting the local radio station and the radio host is no where to be found. Should Frannie cover for him—after all, this could be her big break! But what happens when listeners call in with questions, and Frannie doesn’t know the answers?"

My quest for early chapter books continues. I enjoyed this one, since Frannie is really interested in business. Have put the first five of the series on my order for January. There are nine books so far, and it the first five do well with my struggling readers, I will buy more.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Wimpy Kid vs. Everything Else

I kept forgetting to bring home a copy of The Getaway. Not shocking, since I was still disappointed by Double Down's lack of any apparent plot. I had been booktalking historical fiction, and since my favorite has always been books written in years past, I had a copy of Henry Reed, Inc., that came home in the same backpack.

The Getaway is probably the best Wimpy Kid yet, and had the most plot. Basically, Greg's parents decided to spend Christmas break at a warm, exotic resort, cost be danged, but when they head off to Isla de Corales, nothing goes right. They have trouble getting on the flight, their luggage gets lost, there are bugs, the father gets ill from the water, the activities are all booked up, and Roderick runs off with a girl instead of hanging at the teen zone with Greg. For most students, who have never traveled to an exotic locale, the details of the trip will be new and interesting (Who knew about so many bugs in these fancy resorts? Makes sense, never thought of it.), and will also make them feel better about not traveling. Greg tries to have adventures and strike out on his own, which causes problems, and his family actually deals fairly well with everything that comes their way. The ending actually had a bit of a twist and closure not usually found in these books.

But I still didn't care for it, even though it read more like Big Nate Sails the Bahamas. I realized why when I read Henry Reed. Fascinatingly, it came out on the same date 59 years ago, and the colors are even similar. (Blues are now very green based, making my huge quilting stash hard to use with new fabric!)

Henry's father is in the diplomatic service, and he's lived all over Europe, but is spending the summer with his pleasant and placid Aunt Mabel and Uncle Al in Grover's Corners near Princeton University. There are only a handful of houses, but the neighbors are all fairly interesting and understanding. Henry even has a barn at his disposal, because his mother inherited it, and uses this to set up his research business. He and neighbor Midge, form a partnership. I adored Midge beyond measure. When asked by Henry "What are you going to put into the business?", she replies "I'll furnish the brains." Henry laughs, but sees her point and takes her on! Accompanied by Agony, the beagle, the two set to researching for fun and profit. There are gentle high jinks all along, and at the end, Midge insists that the business be renamed Reed and Glass (Henry does own the barn), and the two repaint the sign together.

Henry and Midge are both industrious, curious children who are not content to sit and stare at their phones all day, which would have been QUITE boring in 1958. They find clients, do research, earn money, and occupy themselves all day without the interference of adults, although I imagine the well-upholstered Aunt Mabel kept them well furnished with peanut butter sandwiches and cookies, and Uncle Al does come to their rescue in times of need and wonders things like "How did those sheep get in there?" without really needing to know particulars.

Yes, the 1950s had their problems. But Greg Heffley and his family are negative and boring to me, and I don't want to be a part of their world for very long. The fact that my students do, when they could instead be spending time with Henry or Anne or Homer or Laura... it just makes me sad.

7577605For more in-depth review, check out A Book Discussion with Myself. 
Kinney, Jeff. The Getaway (DOAWK #12)
November 7th 2017 by Harry N. Abrams
Purchased copy

Robertson, Keith. Henry Reed, Inc.
November 7th 1958 by Viking Children's Books
Purchased copy

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Early Chapter Book Mysteries

I have to admit that when I got these early chapter books at the beginning of the school year, they languished at the bottom of my TBR pile. Sure, they were cute, and anything by Animal Planet has great photo illustrations, and these even had some full color drawings as well. Cute stories, but nothing my middle school students would pick up, right?

Wrong. I have just finished putting together a one book shelf collection of "readers", labeled with a pink sticker so my student helpers know where to shelve them. (Pink stickers were all I had in my stash of supplies.) My struggling readers can go to the shelf and find books that are all half or one Accelerated Reader point, and all below level 4.0. They generally read them very quickly and are so pleased and happy when they finish the books and pass the AR test.

Yeah, yeah. The whole "testing is evil" thing. Well, since most of these students were only reading graphic novels at the beginning of the year, I do think that having an easily accessed collection of books has helped them feel confident enough to read an entire chapter book, and I do think they are acquiring more reading and, yes, test taking skills.

Since many of my struggling readers are ELL students, I really liked that these Animal Planet Adventure Books involved animals in different settings. Sometimes, I have students who have no working knowledge of farms or zoos, and certainly no idea of what it's like on the New England Coast. Even though these books don't have AR tests yet, the reading level on the back is third grade.

Books like this make my school year easier! Definitely a great choice for elementary and some middle school libraries. Nicely done and amusing!

All synopses and this statement from Goodreads:
"Perfect for reluctant, challenged, and newly fluent readers, the Animal Planet Adventures chapter book series combines fun animal mysteries with cool nonfiction sidebars that relate directly to the stories, bringing the best of the animal world to young readers. With full-color illustrations and photographs throughout. "

Copies provided by the publisher.

30364301Nichols, Catherine. Dolphin Rescue (Animal Planet Adventures #1)
February 14th 2017 by Animal Planet

Siblings Maddie and Atticus love living by the sea. Their dad traps lobsters off the coast of Maine. They love helping with the family business and volunteering at the local aquarium. The summer is shaping up to be a super one, for sure. Then one day they spy a pod of dolphins in the cove looking distressed. How will the kids use their knowledge of animals and their awesome problem-solving skills to help the dolphin family get safely back to sea?

30364298Herman, Gail. Farm Friends Escape(Animal Planet Adventures #2)
February 14th 2017 by Animal Planet

During summer vacations, cousins Luke and Sarah help out at their grandparents' petting zoo. But what happens when the animals get loose overnight? Can Luke and Sarah use their knowledge of animals and their awesome problem-solving skills to get the animals back to safety?

33785411Catherine Nichols. Puppy Rescue Riddle (Animal Planet Adventures #3)
September 5th 2017 by Animal Planet

A storm is coming to coastal North Carolina. Amy and Elliott - volunteers at the local dog shelter - have a job to do. The rescued puppies need to get to higher ground, and fast! The kids scramble to get the puppies into their cages, and then the van of volunteers and dogs is on its way. But they are one puppy short. Did it run off in the rain? Is it back at the shelter? An old book, a series of riddles, and a spooky storm all lead to a mystery only the kids can solve.

33785416Herman, Gail. Zoo Camp Puzzle (Animal Planet Adventures #4)
September 5th 2017 by Animal Planet

Nine-year-old twins Ava and Rosie are headed for adventure. City kids, they don't know what to expect from a small zoo in Iowa-and they have to live there for the rest of the year while their mom writes a book! Being away from the busy city and their friends feels like punishment, but Dad sets up a project for them all-running a zoo camp for students to attend during spring break. That could be cool, but as they're getting ready, the kids realize that some of the animals are missing! They'll have to solve the mystery-fast-before the campers arrive.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017


36403057Delgado, Melody. Oops-A-Daisy (The De La Cruz Diaries Book 1)
September 5th 2017 by Clean Reads
Copy received from the publisher for the Cybils Awards

Synopsis from
"Who wants to be stuck wearing a shaggy dog outfit or a chicken suit on television? Twelve-year-old aspiring singer, actress, Daisy De la Cruz, that’s who. She’ll do and wear just about anything to get ahead in the entertainment industry. But will all her embarrassing moments pay off and land her a spot in her arts magnet school’s coveted master class where she’ll be rubbing shoulders with top professionals in the entertainment industry? Or will she be doomed to play the role of an animal, vegetable or mineral forever?"

Just about caught up with my reading and reviewing. Here's my short take on this books, which I would have bought for my school library if it were available in hard back. It reminded me a bit of the Veronica Chambers Amigas series, which was popular in my library until someone lost book one and I couldn't replace it.

Enjoyed this one, and it had a lot of interesting, diverse elements, but there was a bit of a disconnect between the age of the main character and the format and topic. Daisy is 12, but her career aspirations in acting play out more like an older character. Normally, this would be great for middle school readers, but the font is very small. I know this is a silly thing, but my students are especially sensitive to this. Since there are only 159 pages in the paperback I read, it would be easy enough to increase the font size and still bring the book in at under 200 pages.

Interestingly, the paperback is $13.99 on Amazon, but the Kindle edition is only $2.99. This would be a great choice for an avid middle grade reader who buys books for an e reader.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Slice of Life Tuesday- Old People and Technology

At Christmas in 1978, my father hooked our first Radio Shack TRS-80 computer up to our television. I vaguely remember there being a tape deck to run it, and I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to program it to play my band music.

In the fall of 1986, I took a computer programming course at the University of Cincinnati and got a B- without ever touching a computer, because all of our exams were hand written in blue books. We just had to successfully guess the results of BASIC programming.

In 1991, I took home an Apple MacIntosh Classic II from the school where I taught for the summer so I could write a text book for the 6th grade Latin class. I found my killer app in the spreadsheet that automatically alphabetized the glossary in English and then could alphabetize using the Latin words in seconds.

When I started my Master of Library and Information Science degree in 1995, we had to log onto the Internet. None of us knew what that was. I bought a MacIntosh Performa 5200, hooked up my modem, signed up for the Columbus Freenet, and opened the door to the world of NONGRAPHIC Internet.

We won't even talk about my success with HTML and JavaScript and the fact that I created the school web site and got mentioned in the newspaper before the district Harrison Bergeroned everything.

When the Freenet closed in 2005, we had moved beyond Apple computers because we had gotten a digital camera and my school used Microsoft products. We had dial up access until 2010. Currently, I have WiFi and a 2011 HP laptop. No smart phone, since I am funding both of my daughters'.

The point? It's not that old people don't GET technology, we've just seen so many versions of it. Do I save my data on punch cards, 5" floppies, 3.5" floppies, flash drives, or the cloud? A lot of us REALLY liked 3.5" floppies. They came in pretty colors.

When I had to take the Google Level 1 Certified Educator exam in order remain my building's tech person, I spent a lot of time studying for it. This, of course, was after months of poring over Schoology information only to find out the test consisted of a check box for "I read and understood this information". I must have gone through the 13 Google lessons about 7 times each. First, one a day, then a couple a day, then three days in a row leading up to the test doing all of the modules and taking all of the tests.

Then I couldn't log on to the site to take the test, dissolved in tears, and had to wait until our very lovely tech trainer could help me. At which point there were no problems with logging in. Ugh.

At no point in my studying did I manage to pick up that I would have to actually work with the products. How would they do that? That's just crazy talk. I might have seen some vague reference to that, but I thought it was for certified trainers. So, I'm chugging along with the test and suddenly I have to actually DO stuff with YouTube. And calendars in mail. And set up a Google classroom, which I had never, never done.

I still passed, thank goodness. So now I can get the little plastic widget for my Chrome Book, like all of the cool kids. I'm a good choice for building tech person because my schedule is flexible, children can come to me all day with problems, and I can fix most of them. And I'm kind about having to turn on the teachers' surge protectors, which is an enormous part of the job.

I can also, in case of an apocalypse, fill a fountain pen bladder with ink, use a manual typewriter, and dial a rotary phone. Old people got SKILLS. We just have so many that we occasionally get confused about them.

Max Tilt: Fire in the Depths

Lerangis, Peter. Max Tilt: Fire in the Depths
October 3rd 2017 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Max Tilt (short for Trujillo, as his father is Dominican. His mother is African American) is having a number of problems. He is "on the spectrum", and one of the ways this manifests itself is that he has synesthesia-- emotions have smells, and fear always smells like fish. This becomes worse when his parents want to talk to him. His mother has been ill with cancer, but it had been successfully treated. Now, his mother and father are going far away to seek more treatment, and leaving Max with Alex, a cousin he has never met who is not much older than his 14 years. When Alex arrives, she finds the house is a huge state of disarray-- a broken window has leaked rain water onto the carpet, there's little food, and the power is cut off. Not only that, but she goes through months' worth of mail to find that the family is being evicted from the house in three weeks. She uses her savings to pay the utility bills, and she and Max decide to sell items from the house to get money for everything else. One item that draws some interest is a chest supposedly owned by his great-great-great grandfather, Jules Verne. He and Alex take the clues to a treasure out of the chest, but a man named Niemand shows up and gives them a hard time. Realizing that the treasure is most likely real, the cousins embark on an adventure that takes them to far flung corners of the globe and gives them a taste of their forefather's adventures.

It's good to see a diverse cast of characters, with different ethnicities and Max's realistic struggles to navigate his world while managing his synesthesia and other challenges. Alex is very capable and understanding, but young enough to embrace the adventure.

Neimand is a formidable bad guy, and characters and settings brought in from Verne's work make this a fresh, new fantasy world.

Reminiscent of Nix's Troubletwisters, Salerni's The Eight Day or Korman's Masterminds, Max Tilt will please readers who like implausible adventures in amazing fantasy worlds. Lerangis delivers a solid action and adventure books that works in elements of Verne's works in a way that will entice avid readers of speculative fiction to pick up that author.

This wasn't my cup of tea, but will do fairly well with my fantasy adventure readers, so I will buy a copy. It is going to be a series, with the second book, 80 Days or Die, expected out in May 2018.

Monday, December 04, 2017

MMGM- Little Leaders, The Trials of Morrigan Crow

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

35231671Harrison, Vashti. Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History.
December 5th 2017 by Little, Brown Young Readers
Copy received from publisher

Arranged in order of when the women were born, this book gives a good summary of forty women in a variety of fields, accompanied by an attractive illustration. I found it interesting that the project started with these illustrations being created for social media during Black History Month. It was nice that some of the women were ones that many students would have heard about, but others were more obscure. The summaries include just enough information to be read as a bedtime story or to a school class, and will pique readers' interest in finding out more information about these women of achievement. I enjoyed this a lot, and have only two minor quibbles-- the downcast eyes on the illustrations don't really say "bold" to me, and the bibliography is lacking. A list of sources consulted would have helped when readers wanted more information.

34219873Townsend, Jessica. The Trials of Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor #1)
October 31st 2017 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

Morrigan Crow has a miserable existence in Greater Jalfax, with a cold, uncaring politician father, a stepmother who ignores her, and a curse upon her head that not only makes her suspect when anything at all goes wrong in the town, but also will lead to her death before she turns 12. Her last public appearance with her father is odd. Other children get tapped for apprenticeships, but cursed children don't. The fact that she is given notes for several is just a cruel joke, so she brushes off the application From Jupiter North for the Wundrous Society. When Eventide comes, she and her family are preparing for her death when North appears and whisks her off to another world to reside in the Hotel Deucalion. The rules are different here, and in order to be accepted by the Wundrous Society, Morrigan must pass four trials. With the help of Jack, North's nephew, Morrigan does her best. Even if she is accepted with no knack whatsoever, what will the future hold for her? Is she really beyond the reach of the sinister forces of her world, and what is her role in the new one?
Strengths: The author has successfully parsed the attractive elements of Harry Potter. Maligned protagonist in search of welcoming community. Trials to undergo. Quirky fantasy world with interesting methods of transportation and novel foods. Morrigan is a bit unsure of herself and what her place in the world is, but is just relieved that she no longer lives under the stairs a horrible curse.
Weaknesses: This comes in at 640 pages, and is the start of a series. Oof. The cover could be a lot better. Also, I could have used more explanation of the two worlds and why they aren't well known to each other. Plus more information about why Morrigan was cursed and what Eventide really was.
What I really think: Not my cup of tea, but I can see this appealing to readers of weighty fantasy tomes like Bell's The Crooked Sixpence and Black's The Iron Trial. 
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, December 03, 2017

In the Country of Queens

33155342Best, Cari. In the Country of Queens
November 28th 2017 by Farrar Straus Giroux

E ARC from Netgalley

In the early 1960s, Shirley lives in Queens with her Russian grandmother and her mother, Anna, who works in a retail store and is dating a man named Hal. Shirley vaguely remembers her father, but he hasn't visited in years. Her mother's sisters live nearby, and she spends a lot of time with her cousin Phillie. Shirley is used to adults not listening to her opinion, so when her teacher accuses her of plagiarizing an essay, she doesn't argue with him. She also doesn't argue when her mother makes her go to ballet, or won't let her go with her cousins to their summer cottage because she has to go to day camp. When Shirley opens a piece of mail and finds out that her father is actually dead and her mother has failed to tell her this, she decides that she will finally stand up for herself and get her way in some things. This takes a while, but eventually, Shirley is able to stand up to her mother and her teacher and let her opinions be known.
Strengths: There were some excellent period details that I really enjoyed. The details of hanging out laundry, having family dinners with cousins, living with a grandmother from the Old Country, and the general depiction of Shirley's neighborhood and school were wonderful. I strongly suspect the author drew on her own memory. There is enough plot to move the book forward, and I wanted to see if Shirley would end up going to the lake with her cousins!
Weaknesses: There were some rather odd things that made the book uncomfortable. The mother insisting that Shirley spend a half hour in the bathroom before ballet lessons was odd, and I half expected Hal to be a child molester. Shirley referring to the Palace of Light and setting toilet paper on fire in the sink caused great concern, and her insistence on keeping a dead mouse in the freezer did not lessen this. It was also very hard to believe that her mother would not have told her about her father's death.
What I really think: I am conflicted about this title. I need more books set in the 1960s, and the details were fantastic, but I'm not sure if my students will be as put off by some of the details as I was. Debating.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Kit Meets Covington

34069211Weiss, Bobbi JG. Ride: Kit Meets Covington
September 12th 2017 by Candlewick Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Kit and her father Rudy are moving from Montana to the posh Covington Academy in England where her father is the new equestrian supervisor. Kit is excited to be in a new country where no one knows about her embarrassing fall from a horse that has left her reluctant to get back on, and it's also a new adventure that her deceased mother would have embraced. The downside? Everyone at Covington rides, and the headmistress is a stickler for rules, which Kit, being an American, doesn't care much for. Kit's roommate, Anya, is very nice, as are several of the cute boys, but the head prefect, Elaine, is not happy to have Kit and her headstrong ways in her house. When Headmistress Covington wants to remove an unteachable, headstrong horse, Kit throws a fit and the horse is allowed to stay as long as Kit can bring the animal up to the competition level the school needs to defeat their rival. This, of course, is a rocky process, but with the help of her father and her new friends, Kit tries to train the horse and settle into her new life in England.

Kit will amuse young readers who like to think that adults make silly rules. I personally think it would be fantastic to have a school uniform complete with blazer and pleated skirt with tights, but that's just me! Kit is irrepressible and tries to do what she thinks is right even if the adults in her life are not quite as sure about it.

Boarding school books are always fun, and Anya, who is hiding her background as a princess, is a character who could use more exploration. Nav and Josh are appealing boy characters who treat the girls as equals but are also willing to ask them to dances. Headmistress Covington is a rule follower, but is human enough to bend the rules when necessary. There is apparently a Nickelodeon television series called Ride, but the book can be enjoyed even by readers who are not familiar with it.

The details about horse riding are going to be the real pull. Horses who are  underdogs always figure largely in books about equestrian pursuits, and TK's relationship with Kit will have readers rooting for him to stay at Covington. Readers who enjoyed Hapka's Ponies of Chincoteague, Smiley's The Georges and the Jewels or Burkhart's Wild Hearts will find it easy to get back in the saddle with Kit Meets Covington.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, December 01, 2017

Guy Friday- Tracker's Canyon

32720020Withers, Pam. Tracker's Canyon
July 22nd 2017 by Dundurn
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Tristan's father taught him everything he near about tracking and canyoneering, but after his father disappears during a hike, Tristan doesn't often get a chance to roam outside. His mother won't get out of bed, his father's outdoor outfitting business is foundering, and his uncle can barely help his family buy food. When he meets Brigit and her young brother Dean, he is interested in going canyoneering with her. Brigit, just a few years older than Tristan, is raising Dean after the death of their mother, and working for Alex, who had a rival adventuring business. When Tristan is able to go on an adventure with Brigit and a Polish climber, Dominik, he realizes how much he misses the outdoors. When his mother's caretaker, Elspeth, suggest that his mother would handle the death of his father better if she has some artifact from his last hike, Tristan decides to go to the dangerous lower canyon to look for one. He does this with Alex's blessing, and Brigit goes along with him. It is soon apparent, however, that Brigit blames Tristan's father for her mother's disappearance and intends to make Tristan pay. Will Tristan find an clues of his father in the forest... or will he ever be able to get out alive?

Withers' has a knack for describing extreme sports, and her titles such as First Descent, Peak Survival and Vertical Limits all give lots of details about a variety of adventure pursuits. Not only is there a lot of technical discussion of ropes, packs, boots and bolted belay stations, but there are vivid scenes of flash floods, rappelling down rock faces, and hiding in mud pools.

While I could have done without the mother's protracted grief, it was interesting to see Tristan try to be the adult in the house. He helps out with the business, cooks and cleans, and still tries to do well in school and go through his own grieving process. He is a motivated and realistic characters who faces adversity with grit and determination. I'd love to see more teen characters with those qualities. Tristan has every reason in the world to give up and let others care for him, but instead he powers through and ultimately saves the day.

With the emotional depth of Alden Carter's Walkaway and the Lawrence's The Skeleton Tree, Tracker's Canyon is a great addition to the back pack of any reader who craves details about how to jump into freezing water or make coffee over an open fire.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, November 30, 2017


Jones, Carrie. Enhanced. 
July 25th 2017 by Tor Teen
Copy provided by the Young Adult Books Central

After the events of Flying, Mana is back, and her situation hasn't improved. Her father is still deceased, her mother is in the hospital, China hasn't answered her texts for days, Seppie is going away to a summer program, Lyle breaks up with her, AND she gets attacked by an alien in the girls bathroom! She escapes with the help of another girl, who gives her a crystal before she dies and tells her to find the others like herself. When Seppie and Lyle are mind controlled by Pierce and come for Mana, China finally shows up and takes her to meet with government agents, where she finds out that the aliens really want to eat humans, and lied to the government in the 1950s about wanting to take humans to help repopulate their planet. Eventually, Seppie is taken, and Lyle comes back to help Mana locate her with the help of other Enhanced humans. This quest takes them to Maine where a trusted friend is found to be working against them. Will Mana be able to save her friend... and the world?

Flying was a very funny book, and Enhanced takes a little darker turn. Mana finds out a lot of information about the aliens, but doesn't get much opportunity to help her mother. Her real life issues are also sad, and ameliorated only by the fact that she is approached at the end of the book to join the government agency. Certainly, Mana's skills and grit would be an asset to any organization.

Jones' Need series is a popular one (evil pixies!), and she knows how to write fantastic chase scenes and fights with otherworldly creatures.

Reminiscent of Barnes' Tattoo and Fate, Pace's  Project X-Calibur and Patterson's Daniel X series, Enhanced lets Mana participate in the ultimate cheerleading-- saving the Earth from voracious aliens!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Mabel Opal Pear and the Rules for Spying

Hosch, Amanda. Mabel Opal Pear and the Rules for Spying
October 1st 2017 by Capstone Young Readers
Public Library Copy

Mabel and her parents live in a very small town that caters to tourists and hikers near Mount Rainier. Her aunt runs a bakery nearby, her mother runs the family's spoon museum, and her father repairs communications wiring. BUT... her parents are also spies who do "cleanup" in far flung countries, and as a side project also try to give back a lot of historical artifacts that Mabel's mother's parents stole back in the 1960s! When her parents are on their latest mission, her aunt is accused of theft, and her uncle and his family move in to Mabel's house to "take care of" her, although Mabel suspects that her uncle (who abandoned his sisters after the death of their parents, stealing their money besides!) is trying to find items her grandparents' stole and hid in her house. While the school principal tries to help Mabel out, and her cousin Victoria is a lot nicer than her parents, Mabel still worries about her aunt in jail and her parents, who seem to be taking too long on their mission. Mabel finds something that her uncle wants, but wants to make sure that the item stays safe. She also wants to make sure that her uncle doesn't start selling off spoons from the museum! Can Mabel hold everything together until her parents make it back?
Strengths: I loved the small town setting of this one, with the cafe and museum! I thought that the principal was a fantastic characters, and the girls in Mabel's class, who could have been very nasty, were actually very sympathetic and nice. The idea that Mabel's parents are spies and the small town is their cover was really quite brilliant, and the fact that the grandparents were part of a ring of thieves... fantastic. A lot of unexpected depth in this book. Quite well done.
Weaknesses: Horrible, horrible formatting. The cover does not do the content justice, the print is tiny, and the binding is paper over board. If this had been a regular sized, dust jacketed book, the print wouldn't have had to be so tiny.
What I really think: While I enjoyed the story, this book, as published, would just gather dust on the shelves. Kat Sinclair has similar issues, and I can't get anyone to check it out. Don't publishers have focus groups of tweens for these sorts of things? Give enough free books to a school or library, and I'm sure they'd get together children who would give opinions. Frustrating.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A Paean to Flanagan

I have to admit I was late to the Ranger's Apprentice party.

After seeing this 2005 title appear at book fairs, I thought "Meh. More medieval fantasy. " Students opined that it was really good, and the incomparable Mr. Buxton decided it was a great title, so I started buying the books.

Fast forward to February of 2010. Our district had implemented the new Destiny system and determined that it saved so much that my library got an extra $5,000 to spend. This was nearly the entire budget at the time, which had been cut in 2003 from $12,000 per annum. It is a little challenging to spend that much money in a short time period, so I made sure I had FOUR copies of each of the first six Ranger's Apprentice books and purchased four copies of the newest  Erak's Ransom (Jaunary 2010).

My daughter was in 8th grade, and was working in the library with her friend Caleb, who was a big fan. It was a chilly February day, the kind we get in Ohio where I am convinced that the sun has hurtled away from the earth and we will never see light again. The office called; the UPS man had arrived with a LOT of boxes; could he bring them directly to the library?

Well, we opened up every one of those boxes right there at the circulation desk. It was nearing the end of the period, so paper was everywhere, and the students were digging manically through the boxes. Caleb had Nell hold onto one of the Erak's Ransom copies while he went to get his friends out of class so they could check out the others. I didn't have the records downloaded or books stamped, but we have circulation cards, so a lot of those books left with students, still cold from being in the delivery truck.

I have gotten an Amazon gift card that I keep for titles that students must have immediately. Last Tuesday, I arrived home to find The Caldera in my mailbox. I knew that I would be spending the next several days driving to Cincinnati, cooking turkey, and doing holiday things, so I walked it right over to one of my runner's houses. Eli was a little shocked, I think, but glad to have it, and promised to bike it over to another classmate when he finished it. Gabe got it Wednesday afternoon, so I hope both he and his high school brother got to read it.

Why are these books so good? Why do they engender such a devoted following? I don't know, but I was glad that the library delivered a copy for me to read at the end of a busy Monday.

34495980Flanagan, John. The Caldera (Brotherband Chronicles #7)
November 21st 2017 by Philomel Books
Public Library copy

Stig's errant father, Olaf, has returned to Hallashom ten years after abandoning his family to live in shame. He isn't repentant, but would like to hire the crew of the Heron to retrieve the emperor of Byzantos who was kidnapped by the pirate Myrgos while under Olaf's care. Since Constantus is just ten, and they are always up for adventure, Hal and Thorn agree. Olaf is a liability, so they sneak out of town on an unspecified mission and plan on stocking up more along the way. The crew, after all, needs its coffee! Along the way, the run across Maddoc and sail with his ships for a while, since pirates are always around, deal with toll takers, and eventually come across Myrgos. Constantus is being held on an island similar to Thira (Santorini) that is wild and treacherous, but the group mount a rescue, and find Constantus. Myrgos is dealt with brutally but fairly, and the group is able to return the emperor to his somewhat surprised mother, the regent Justinia. Stig is able to both make peace with the man his father is and exact some appropriate revenge. A short story about Maddie, Will's apprentice, is included at the end.
Strengths: This is perfect, from the wrestling competitions at the beginning, through the "potatoes and sweet potatoes, baked onions, green beans cooked with small chunks of bacon, and crusty loaves of fresh bread (page 123)", Kloof's near capture by Myrgos, storms and pirate fights, and Stig's sad and touching realization that his father will never be the man he wants him to be. Even Constantus amused me, with his demanding arrogance, and I wonder if they Heron crew will have to deal with his in the future.
Weaknesses: There's no concrete mention of a third Ranger's Apprentice: The Early Years yet.
What I really think: I always enjoy the time I spend reading these books. Do yourself a favor and pick up The Ruins of Gorlan if you have never read it.

Fantasy books everywhere!

A reminder: I am a school librarian, so everything that I do with books ultimately circles around to getting "The right book for the right child at the right time". I spend my days talking with students about what they want to read and how they liked the books they've read, and I spend my evenings reading and researching the books that have been published. No matter how good a book is, or how much I love it personally, if I can't think of students to whom I would have a book, it does not make sense to use my limited monetary resources to by it. Books collecting dust on the shelves is the saddest sight, as well as a waste.

There are a lot of fantasy books published. I don't know the percentage of all middle grade books published that are fantasy, but for last year's Cybils' award, 109 middle grade realistic fiction books were nominated to 115 speculative fiction ones. In addition, the librarian before me was very fond of fantasy, and my collection is rich with almost 50 years' worth of fantasy titles. Finally, I've had fewer readers requesting fantasy books in the last five years. Granted, fantasy readers are often insatiable, but they are often also very specific about what they want.

In short, I don't buy many fantasy books, although I do take a look at many of them, just in case. Here are some titles that I've read, but won't be buying. Unless, of course, this year's class of 6th graders burn through all of the fantasy titles I have!

33865968Wilson, Amy. The Lost Frost Girl
November 7th 2017 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

"From debut author Amy Wilson comes a story brimming with heart about a normal girl who discovers that she is really Jack Frost’s daughter—with winter powers of her very own. The Lost Frost Girl is an enchanting modern-day fairy tale about family, friendship, and the magic of embracing who you are meant to be.

Owl has the kind of mom who would name her Owl, a dad she’s never met, and a boy who gives her strange looks at school—but Owl has come to accept that this is as normal as her life is going to get.

Until Owl finds out that she is Jack Frost’s daughter. Determined to meet him, Owl delves into Jack’s wonderful world of winter and magic—the kind of place she thought only existed in fairy tales. And as she notices frost patterns appearing on her skin and her tears turning to ice, Owl starts to wonder if being Jack Frost’s daughter means that she has winter powers of her very own."

This is the strongest contender for one I might purchase. It starts in the "real" world, has a few friend and family problems, and has a fairy/folk tale connection. Still, the same can be said of Houts' Winterfrost, Prineas' WinterlingConstable's The Wolf Princess. or Rudnick's A Frozen Heart, none of which have been circulating very well.

33913963Skye, Obert. Mutant Bunny Island
November 7th 2017 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss

"Obert Skye, author of the bestselling Leven Thumps series, delivers a delightful mixture of offbeat mystery and laugh-out-loud humor in this thoroughly inventive adventure complete with comic-style illustrations, the first in a trilogy.

Ten-year-old Perry Owens has learned everything he needs to know from comic books. So when Perry receives a troubling message from his favorite uncle, Zeke, he knows exactly what’s wrong. Obviously, evil newts wearing trench coats must have kidnapped Zeke. Now they’re holding him hostage somewhere on Bunny Island, the remote vacation destination that Zeke calls home.

On his own, Perry travels to Bunny Island, where dozens of bunnies are running wild. One in particular doesn’t seem quite right. A creature this cute shouldn’t exist in nature. Are there truly evil newts on the loose, or something much stranger...and more disturbingly adorable?"

You'd think this would be a slam dunk, with the graphic novel style pages, and, you know, mutant bunnies, but my fantasy readers don't seem to like graphic novels, and my graphic novel readers don't like fantasy. (Hence, Faith Hicks' Nameless City collects dust, even though it's very well done.) This was also on the elementary side of the Pilkey line, and my readers tend to skew more toward YA when it comes to this genre. Luckily, the few ardent Skye fans I've had frequent the public library, so they can pick this up there if need be. 

Cyprus, Naomi. Sisters of Glass.
November 7th 2017 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

"Two girls. Two worlds. Only magic can bring them together, in this fantastical middle grade adventure for fans of the Descendants and School for Good and Evil series.

Halan is a powerless princess. She is heir to the Magi Kingdom, a blazing desert land ruled by ancient magic. But unlike every royal before her, Halan has no magical powers of her own.

Nalah is a powerful pauper. The glassblower’s daughter, she lives in the land of New Hadar, where magic is strictly outlawed. But Nalah has a powerful force growing within her—one she can’t always control.

One girl fears magic, one worships it. But when a legendary mirror connects them, Nalah and Halan finally meet—and must work together to save their two worlds, before everything they know is shattered forever."

It is interesting that we're seeing a lot more girl power fantasy, and books that are set in vaguely middle eastern, medieval-ish worlds. I just wish I had readers asking for them. The number of girls requesting fantasies in my library has dropped even more than the number of boys, although fantasy readers are much more open minded than realistic fiction readers about reading books with main characters of any gender.  When I can get this list of books circulating, I'll contemplate buying Sisters of Glass: Dolamore's Magic Under Glass,  Riazi's The GauntletOtt's The Rules for Thieves, Hale's Princess Academy, Levine's The Two Princesses of Bamarre,  Liddell's Cadet of Tildor, Lough's Fire Wish, Haskell's Handbook for Dragon Slayers, Crowl's Eden's Wish, Wrede's Dealing with Dragons, or Pierce's Alanna books. (Although Alanna always circulates well, especially since I bought fresh new copies!)

Monday, November 27, 2017

MMGM- Polaris

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

Northrop, Michael. Polaris
October 31st 2017 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

When the crew of the Polaris, which is bringing botanical specimens back from the Amazon, realizes that many of the crew died in the jungle, they mutiny. The Cabin boy, Owen, along with the botanist's assistant, Henry, as well as four other young boys, are locked in the captain's cabin and survive, but are not sure they can sail the ship with no crew. They try, with Owen as the acting captain. Before long, we learn an interesting secret about two of the crew members, and the strange smell coming from the dank hold is found to be the zombiefied corpse of a the boy who took the trunk of specimens into the hold. A tropical fungus is turning him into a bug, and the crew thinks long and hard about how to dispatch him, especially when the spores start to spread to other creatures, like the rats in the hold. Of course, there are many other problems on the high seas as the group tries to sail to Florida, where they hope they can bring the ship in and not be sold into slavery. As they approach Cuba, however, all of the crew except for Owen would rather land, especially since they have lost one of their number, another is injured, and they are still fearful of what evils might lurk in the hold.
Strengths: This is historical science fiction. I wondered this, and Northrop addresses it in a note at the end. This was a strong adventure on the sea with some very fun and surprising characters! I would quote my favorite lines, but it would spoil some twists! This is a strong addition to books like Cadnum's Ship of Fire, Dowsell's Powder Monkey, and other seafaring adventures... with the addition of the fungus/zombie monster.
Weaknesses: I am super creeped out by books with descriptions of damp, and it didn't help that I read this on a day where it rained constantly. Had I been on the crew, I would have gone into the hold and dispatched the fungus monster forwith instead of dithering about it. If something smells that bad and damp and rotten... ick. Will students care? No. They'll probably like the gross monster.
What I really think: May put it in the collection because I adore Northrop's work, but feel that maybe it needs it's own shelf, just so the fungus doesn't spread...

Ms. Yingling