Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Elephant Thief

Kerr, Jane. The Elephant Thief.
March 27th 2018 by Chicken House
Copy Provided by Young Adult Books Central

Boy has lived a difficult life in the impoverished neighborhoods of Edinburgh, Scotland in the 1870s. With no parents, he scrounges for food and clothing with other urchins, and is prey to petty crime lords who work him hard and treat him badly. When he is found by Mr. Jameson at an animal auction, Boy's exotic, ethnic looks encourage the entrepreneur to take Boy along with him to help with his new purchase-- an elephant named Maharajah. Thinking that it would add to the drama of the story, Jameson decides that Boy (whom he names Danny) would make a great Indian prince, named Dandip. Along with Sandev, who has been working with Maharajah, Danny helps take care of the elephant, who has been mistreated by his previous owners. After making a bet with another zoo owner, Mr. Albright, Jameson is under duress to travel to Manchester, England to Belle Vue in a limited amount of time. Along the way, there is a lot of drama, some manufactured, and some not. Maharajah destroys a train carriage and a toll gate, and the group tries to cross a river. So many things go wrong that the group, which also includes a veterinarian and his daughter, begin to suspect that Mr. Albright is sabotaging their efforts, and may be aided by someone in their entourage. Will they be able to make it to Manchester in time for Jameson to win the bet and keep Maharajah? And will Danny's secret identity be revealed?

I love books like Dagg's The Year We Were Famous or Blackwood's Around the World in 100 Days that discuss how difficult traveling was before or in the early days of car travel. Taking off across the countryside in the UK in the 1870s sounds appealing to me, as long as there were inns along the way to stop in. Without phones (or lights, or motorcars), adventure seems more harrowing and exciting. Pair that with an elephant companion, and who wouldn't feel compelled to run off and join the circus?

Danny is put into an untenable position when he is kitted out to look like an Indian Prince. He is interviewed by members of the press, but instructed not to speak, so Hetty, the veterinarian's daughter, helps him out. He is also not allowed to speak to her, even though she is a good friend to him, and he feels badly about this. His background of poverty and abuse make him appreciate good meals, warm clothing, and comfortable beds so much, however, that he is not going to jeopardize his position in any way.

The schemes that businessmen went through at this time are also interesting to read about. Truth was not necessarily part of any of it, as we see with another famous shyster of this time period, P.T. Barnum. It was all about the show. Perhaps this is a timely, if alarming, message to read today!

While this is a great addition to the large body of elephant fiction that includes Morpurgo's The Elephant in the Garden, Smith's Elephant Run, Dinerstine's What Elephants Know, High's One Amazing Elephant and Walters' fantastic new Elephant Keeper, this is also a great Victorian orphan adventure in the spirit of Mary Hooper's great novels set in London, Schlitz's A Drowned Maiden's Hair, Avi's City of Orphans and (for a touch of fantasy) Jinks' How to Catch a Bogle series.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, July 17, 2018


38532223Sylvester, Kevin. MINRS3 
May 29th 2018 by Simon & Schuster
Public Library Copy

**SPOILER ALERT** Can't quite write the review without mentioning a bit of a surprise that occurs early on. Stop reading if you don't want to know!

After MINRS and MINRS2, the children are in a situation that makes it very clear that they need to get back to Earth to warn everyone about the evil Thatcher. Not everyone believes Christopher that a transport can get them successfully back, and even he admits that the calculations have to be followed exactly for the group to make it. Pavel continues to be an absolute jerk about Grinders, and some of the group doesn't even want to make them trip. Five of the children set off, only to find an enormous and unpleasant surprise waiting for them. Thatcher is on the transport, and up to his evil ways. Christopher thinks that perhaps he should have killed him, or should still kill, but can never bring himself to do so, thinking idealistically that he should hand him over to the authorities to face justice. When the code received from the Oracle doesn't work, and the craft is in danger of being shot down as it nears Earth, Thatcher at least proves himself to be useful.Once they land, the group manages to break away in a digger and find some rebel forces who help them a bit. There are a lot of puzzles and mysteries, and it takes a meeting with Melming himself to finally point Christopher to a path he must pursue to save Earth.
Strengths: The cover is green! I predicted that in the review of book two! A trilogy is perfect, and this wraps things up nicely. For some reason, it occurred to me that this would be a good follow up read for students who really liked The Hunger Games. Some of the same themes of social justice, some of the same cruelty; definitely dystopian. Bringing Melming in was a nice touch.
Weaknesses: I would have killed Thatcher without a second thought after all the turmoil he caused. I also started fading a bit when there were a lot of puzzles and political history just over halfway through, but since the book isn't hugely long, I was horribly affected by Fantasy Amnesia.
What I really think: This is a very serviceable space adventure series that is solidly popular in my library. Very interested to see what Sylvester writes next.

Monday, July 16, 2018

MMGM- Fashion!

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Always in the Middle and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

Whittemore, Jo. Lights, Music, Code! (Girls Who Code #3)
March 13th 2018 by Penguin Workshop
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Maya and the coding club are going to be working on a new and innovative idea for incorporating technology into the school dance, and are having trouble coming up with ideas and with implementing them. (Programmable bracelets would be great, but who has the money?). Not only that, but when they do settle on an idea, it requires a lot of work, and Maya has spread herself very thin. It doesn't help that Maddie, the friend who got her in trouble for shoplifting, is moving to town and wants to hang out with her. Maya's parents do NOT approve, but it's hard to shake Maddie, even after she says and does some things that should warn Maya that she hasn't really changed. Soon, the club has a plan, and Maya is working hard on her part of it, but when she finds out that Sophia doesn't have a nice dress to wear, she's bound and determined to help her friend out with a spectacular outfit to help her catch a certain boy's eye. Will she be able to finish it in time?

Stories that involves children actively involved in projects and organizations are always my favorites, and since there is such a huge need for people to go into technology fields, I love the Girls Who Code series. The technology is made more appealing by being used for fun things like robots and flashing lights. When I was learning HTML and JavaScript, I tried to teach my daughters, who were this age at the time, and it was too boring for them. My brother, however, just bought some kind of programmable lights for his girls to investigate!

The ensemble cast if nicely diverse, and it's fairly easy to keep the characters straight. Maya's sister is a great addition, and it's nice for younger students to see older girls they can admire and ask for assistance.

The fun illustrations scattered throughout the book also make it easier to identify the characters, and add a fun facet that might help attract readers to the books... and help make them coders!

There are very few books of any kind that include coding as a key plot element-- Gene Luen Yang's Secret Coders is the only one that comes to mind. There are a lot of books that include groups of girls doing projects, so Girls Who Code will be popular with readers who like Simon's The Cupcake Club, Kimmel's Forever Four, or Singleton's The Curious Cat Spy Club.

34411495Rubin, Susan Goldman. Coco Chanel
March 13th 2018 by Harry N. Abrams
Personal Copy

Ordinary people who did extraordinary things and impacted the world in ways we can't even begin to fathom-- that's why I love biographies. Given that anyone can wear pretty much anything out in public these days (Can you imagine grown women going out in public back in the day wearing the classic black leotards people used to wear to dance classes? I just can't, yet that's basically what leggings are. *waves cane*), it's hard for young readers to understand that comfort for women's clothing was not really a concern. That Chanel changin the materials and silhouettes of clothing allowed women the freedom of movement to pursue pastimes that one could not in a corset and 20 pounds of underpinnings. Fashion is a big concern of many middle school students, so this could be very interesting to many readers.

The book is short, well-written, and addresses Chanel's deficiencies without defending or lingering on them, which I appreciated. Yes, we need to know that historical people weren't saints, but 12-year-olds don't need to know every sordid detail.

It's also a nicely formatted tome, with pretty pages, lots of pictures, and a manageable amount of text and information. I'm excited to have this in my library next year.

I'm going to blame my inability to dress myself with the slightest sense of currency to my childhood. Everything on this page looks... totally reasonable. Oh! Look at the nice bright colors! Vests! Turtlenecks! Jeans with rainbow trim!

Really, it's a wonder that anyone my age gets out of the house at all.

I want that skirt and vest combo in the inset in the worst way!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Lucky Little Things

35791923Erlbaum, Janice. Lucky Little Things.
July 24th 2018 by Farrar Straus Giroux
ARC provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter

Emma and her mother have struggled since the death of the mother's best friend, Jenny, from cancer. Middle school is tough, friendships are changing, and the social dynamics are hard to navigate. When Emma finds a letter on the ground that tells her that her luck is changing and instructs her to make a list of things she WISHES would happen, she does. They include things like hoping her mother finds a boyfriend (her father hasn't been in the picture for years), she gets a role in the play, she doesn't have to visit her grandmother for the summer, and her friend Savvy stops being weird. She does get a role in the school play, Umbilical, her friendships shake out in the messy, haphazard way of middle school, and she and her mother are able to make a little peace with the fact that Jenny is no longer with them.
Strengths: This is more constructive and positive than many books that concentrate on grief, so the depiction of moving on was a good one. Emma's friendship dramas are also realistic.
Weaknesses: There was a little disconnect between the age of the characters and some of the reactions and language. Yes, middle school students might get involved with inappropriate texting, and I can't quite explain it. Ah. The author has written primarily for adults in the past. That would explain it. Not a bad start, but half a bubble off.
What I really think: Will probably pass on purchase. Although I love the cover, it looks a little younger and happier than the contents of the book.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Miss Communication (Babymouse: Tales from the Locker #2)

36689710Holm, Jennifer L. and Matthew. Miss Communication (Babymouse: Tales from the Locker #2)
July 24th 2018 by Random House Books for Young Readers

E ARC provided by publisher Babymouse REALLY wants a smart phone, but her mother doesn't think she is responsible enough. After she manages to carry around the tv remote for two days and not break it, she is deemed responsible enough to get a Whiz Bang Mini and is absolutely thrilled. Her parents lay down some ground rules, but Babymouse is SO excited to get the contacts for all of her friends and use her phone to watch videos of baby koalas... in class. Her phone gets taken away, and also comes to grief, so she has to get a new phone, for which she now owes her brother Squeak. The phone is really, really interesting, and useful for communicating with friends. Babymouse does follow the rules and doesn't answer an unknown text, which later becomes a problem! Babymouse has other things going on in her life, like a report on Ancient Rome that she wants to do on time, making videos to upload to Tubular, and having beauty emergencies, like getting her whiskers threaded.
Strengths: Babymouse has a built in audience, so this is a must purchase for every school everywhere. It's also an excellent cautionary tale about the problems that might come with having a smart phone, which is an experience that is all too common for upper elementary and early middle school students. Babymouse's experiences are spot on, funny, and timely. This covers much more universal concerns than the first book.
Weaknesses: Am I the only one who doesn't particularly LIKE Babymouse?
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, but may wait to get a prebind because the paper-over-board versions hold up so poorly.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, July 13, 2018

Electric Boogerloo- I am Fartacus #2

36373578 Maciejewski, Mark. Electric Boogerloo- I am Fartacus #2
July 17th 2018 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

After barely escaping being suspended in I Am Fartacus, Chub and his former best friend Arch start seventh grade at Alanmoore Middle School. There are a lot of new students from a neighboring school that was torn down, and one of them is carrying around a mint condition Ronin Girl comic that Chub desperately wants to see! There is a new principal, Ms. Lockhart, who is systematically bringing past troublemakers to her office to let them know she is watching them. The McQueen triplets have been in, so are nervous, and Arch and Chub fear that the principal wants to suspend one of them as an example. When the Wahoolie sculpture of the school mascot (a kangaroo) is stolen, Chub knows that he is the main suspect. With the help of Moby (and his wonky digestive system), Shelby, and the rest of the cadre, Chub puts together his resources to investigate the theft. Megumi, the girl with the Ronin Girl comic, wants to help as well, and ends up being a valuable member of the team. Chub finds out a lot about his friends, and is met with some surprises. Is he able to solve the mystery, clear his name, and remove all reason for his parents to relocate the family back to Poland?
Strengths: Fans of Johnson's The Great Greene Heist, Rylander's The Fourth Stall and Ferraiolo's The Big Splash will love this junior high comic crime novel. There's a good balance of understated goofy (Moby's gastrointestinal issues), a light romance, and a fairly believable mystery. The ensemble characters are what really makes this book-- there are a fair number of them, but they are all so well drawn that it's easy to tell them apart. The comic connection adds an additional level of appeal.
Weaknesses: Ms. Lockwood is rather over the top. I'd like to see some books where the principal isn't evil, but is really a super hero in disguise. Also, the portrayal of the librarian is a bit unflattering. Why not turn tables and have an old, seemingly sleepy librarian who is actually a ninja spy? (Clearly some personal views here-- my father was an elementary school principal!)
What I really think: Much to my surprise, I am Fartacus did not circulate as well as I had hoped. Still buying this one, and the fact that is seems like more of a mystery might help sell the series.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Scream and Scream Again

35657880Stine, R.L. Scream and Scream Again
July 24th 2018 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

It's so hard to write reviews for short stories, since no two are the same, they are fairly short, and (in this case), they are all sort of gory/scary and I don't care as much for those.

This is, however, a book most middle school libraries need to buy. If your copies of Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark or Horowitz's Horowitz's Horror are falling to pieces (like mine are), you definitely need to purchase this. It's got an impressive number of middle grade writers, the stories are varied, and they all have a level of scary that will allow children to sleep at night as long as they don't read them under the covers with a flashlight right before bed!

It's also a welcome addition to the R.L. Stine shelf, since most of those books are twenty year old prebinds that seem most unhygienic at this point, but I still can't throw them away.

Here's a description for Amazon.

R.L. Stine—the godfather of Goosebumps—and some of the most popular authors today bring an unrivaled mastery of all things fearsome, frightening, and fantabulous to this terrifying anthology of all-new scary short stories.
Scream and Scream Again! is full of twists and turns, dark corners, and devilish revenge. Collected in conjunction with the Mystery Writers of America, this set includes works from New York Timesbestselling authors telling tales of wicked ice-cream trucks, time-travelling heroes, witches and warlocks, and of course, haunted houses.
Read it if you dare! With twenty never-before-published scary stories from some of the most popular authors today—including Chris Grabenstein, Wendy Corsi Staub, Heather Graham, Peter Lerangis, R.L. Stine, Bruce Hale, Emmy Laybourne, Steve Hockensmith, Lisa Morton, Ray Daniel, Beth Fantaskey, Phil Mathews, Carter Wilson, Doug Levin, Jeff Soloway, Joseph S. Walker, Alison McMahan, Daniel Palmer, Tonya Hurley, and Stephen Ross—it’s sure to leave readers screaming for more.

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

ANOTHER pointless review-- Books and Beaux

My take away from this Mid Century "Career Romance"? A fun snapshot of history that I'm going to keep, and a reminder that I really think books and politics, at least on the middle school level, should remain separate. I am in the minority on this, I know, and I do want to be able to have a wide range of books so all of my readers can see themselves, but I am not going to get involved in politics on the internet. Just not. My grandmother would NOT approve.

31217453Campbell, Rosemae Wells. Books and Beaux
1958 by The Westminster Press
Personal Copy

Sue Stratton is disappointed that she didn't get a library position near her home on Long Island or in NYC, and instead has to head off to the wilds of New England to be an assistant on the bookmobile for the State Library. She works for Miss Bean, and with Addie, a pleasant, hearty girl. It's a different sort of library work, loading up books and spending weeks on the road delivering them, often via local "librarians" who circulate books out of their front parlors. It is apparently hungry work, because Addie and Sue are constantly planning their next meal, which always seems to include lots of rolls and pie! Addie has an admirer in a "hermit", Stan Granby, who is starting up a dog training school, and Sue's interest is piqued in his friend Philip, who is a bit of a bratty guy, having been unsatisfied working for his father. Sue brings him to task for not playing fairly with the old man, and Philip is grateful to her and starts finding excuses to be in her area to squire her to various church suppers and square dances. The girls are constantly worried about the new state budget, hoping to get an increase so the old bookmobile can be updated, but concerned that the budget will be cut, even though their services are valuable to their patrons. When Mrs. Parsons, a librarian who is never pleased with their work and whose husband had been involved in state government, seems to be working against them, the girls come up with a plan to take their representative on the road with them to show how important their work is. Will the budget work in their favor, and more importantly, will romance?
Strengths: Well, I just want to travel back 60 years and work on a bookmobile now so I could rent rooms, go to square dances, and eat my own weight in doughnuts while working hard to deliver books to rural patrons who don't have the internet! This paints a very optimistic picture of the influence of libraries and of a time before computers. Mrs. Parsons would very likely support President Trump, and it was interesting that she complained about books written by possible Communists! I imagine that Sue would be heavily involved in Twitter if she were working today.
Weaknesses: A bit didactic and political, but then the author was heavily involved in library organizations. Not many books that mention the Library Bill of Rights!
What I really think: Librarians and fond patrons of libraries will enjoy this, if they can find a copy, and it's fairly forward thinking in its attitude toward women working, even if Sue and Addie also want some romance in their lives.
Ms. Yingling

My Family Divided

35795912Guerrero, Diane and Moroz, Erica. My Family Divided
July 17th 2018 by Henry Holt & Company
ARC provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter

Actress Diane Guerrero's father and mother came to the United States from Colombia in the 1980s in order to make a better life for themselves and for their son. They came on a ninety day tourist to visit a sister and did not leave. While they struggled, they were able to hold down jobs and have places to live. They tried to obtain citizenship, but were thwarted by the bureaucracy, as well as by a fraudulent lawyer who took a lot of money for little results. Diane was born in the US and struggled a bit in school, but had a solid group of friends and enjoyed her life in Boston, eventually attending a performing arts school that got her started on her way to her eventual renown for television shows like Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin. When she was 14, her parents were arrested and deported. Luckily, she was able to stay with family friends, and even managed to go to a very nice private college, but her family's situation was never resolved to her satisfaction. The book, which has a few black and white pictures of Guerrero, her family, and friends, shows the effect this had on her.
Strengths: This was a fast paced look at how immigration laws affected one family that also talks a bit about how this is a more and more common experience in the US.
Weaknesses: I wish that the cover were a photo instead of an illustration, since this is nonfiction. I'm not sure how many children will be familiar with this actress.
What I really think: Will purchase this instead of Saedi's Americanized: Rebel Without a Green Card  as a timely book on a topic of interest and as a read along for books like Restrepo's Illegal. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Random, Pointless Review

So, we have officially reached That Day in the Summer when it's just time to go back to school. I don't want to clean anything, I don't want to knit, I don't want to read, I just want to fling books at children!

I recently moved all of my books downstairs, which has been helpful. I've been trying to reread my collection of 1950s and 60s teen fiction, hopefully weeding books that really don't make me that happy, or that I could get somewhere else if I really needed them. (My Maud Hart Lovelace books are in a holding pattern-- I don't have them on the shelf, but can't quite give them away!)

Here's a review of a book that no one needs to read. You won't be able to find a copy, and unless you're Charlotte, you just really don't even want to read it! But here's the review, anyway, because it makes me feel like I accomplished more with my day than just making that disgusting casserole with hotdogs, rice, green beans, canned tomatoes and 2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese. I'm not going to eat it, but I cook for some people who want very strange things!

34856556Cone, Molly. Reeney
E. M. Hale and Company, 1963
Personal copy, weeded from an elementary library in 1975!

When Reeney's mother dies suddenly of unexplained causes, her family is thrown into confusion. Her father seems incapable of doing any household chores, and her brother, Matt, is a year older but tremendously immature. His main concern is to work on his car so that he can date the dishy Mary Ann, who only dates him for his car. Domineering Aunt Ada has demanded to stay with the family, but Reeney claims she can manage on her own, even with orchestra, her friends, and dating Steve Montgomery, the lead in the school play. Cooking is a challenge, and she often forgets to turn on the oven to cook the meatloaf, and her mashed potatoes have lumps. Laundry isn't much better, since she shrinks her father's wool socks by not hand washing them, and turns all of Matt's clothes pink when a red sock gets into a load. Cleaning seems an insurmountable task, especially when her friends come to help and claim that pushing all of the furniture into the middle of the room is a necessity. Luckily, the kindly neighbor Mrs. Turner comes to the rescue and teaches Reeney the most important thing that will make her a "good little housekeeper"-- making pie from scratch. Reeney drops orchestra, starts to have doubts about Steve, and manages to keep the household running, but then disaster strikes. Her father has to go to Denver suddenly for business, at the very time when Matt finds out that Mary Ann isn't going to prom with him because he has been grounded from his car. He runs away, and Reeney is left to find him. She is ridden with guilt because she has not been understanding of his sensitive needs in the way her mother was, and has focused instead on keeping him fed and clothed, even nagging him from time to time to pull his own weight. What was she thinking? When he comes home, she makes sure he is okay, tells him Mary Ann isn't worthy of him, and helps him cram for a test he needs to pass in order to pass a class. Reeney dumps Steve and misses prom herself, and when Aunt Ada comes to visit and buy sheets at the white sale, Reeney is able to assure her, and her father, that she has learned to sublimate her entire personality so that the men in her family can live the exact same life that they did when her mother was alive.

Sorry. That review took a bit of a bitter turn, didn't it?

Strengths: Very indicative of homemaking standards in 1963, which is a bit scary. It's not enough to wipe down the baseboards every week, make sure the laundry is done, and insure that the potatoes have no lumps and the pie crust is flaky, but women had to make sure that all of the emotional needs of their family were met. The father and Matt are not expected to do any housework; it is never even considered. The father's only attempt at interacting with his children is to comment that Matt "needs more discipline" and to eat Reeney's cooking "approvingly". On the bright side, Reeney had some small defense mechanism working that she dumped Steve, but I'm sure it's not long until she finds another boy for whom she can make pie and chain herself to for a lifetime of servitude with a smile; washing his socks by hand and making sure that he is greeted with a pleasant smile at the end of a hard day of work and not burdened by the demands of his children.
Weaknesses: This sort of book had an unholy hold over me when I was a teenager. I LOVED books where girls had to take care of the household on their own (Weber's A New and Different Summer was another one.) It makes me wonder how much children's books today serve as weapons of social engineering to quietly mold the readers the way society wants them to be. Hmmm.
What I really think: I really should get rid of this one, but I still enjoy reading it, in a very warped sort of way. Is it, in fact, Reeney's success with pie crust that makes me vibrate to it? I may never know. The heart wants what the heart wants, even when it isn't good for us!


35603805White, J.A.  Nightbooks
July 24th 2018 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Alex ventures down to the basement of his apartment building to burn his creepy short stories that he feels make him a weird outsider, and he hears his favorite movie playing in an apartment when the elevator stops on the wrong floor. Even though he knows better, he knocks on the door, and when the woman who answers invites him in, he enters her apartment. Too late! She's Natacha, an evil witch who kidnaps and enslaves children, and now he is stuck! She intends to keep him, and Alex worries that he will never get home to his family. He soon meets Yasmin, who has been captive for some time. She is quiet about the fate of the other children also captured by Natacha, but does give Alex some helpful advice to keep him alive. The biggest piece is that Natacha loves stories, since they seem to quiet the problematic, magical apartment. Alex tells the stories he has with him, and is supposed to be writing every day, but he finds himself unable to do so. Eventually, some of the evil creatures in the apartment destroy his stories, and he must finally do some writing. He and Yasmin read books in the witch's library and try to figure out a way that they might be able to escape. Will they be successful, or will they find themselves in the situation of the children who were captured and who are no longer in the apartment?
Strengths: One of the things my readers want? Kidnapping tales! Weird, but true. The only short story collections that do well? Scary stories! This combines both beautifully, with a dark, fairy tale twist. I liked that there was a little bit of hope that they could escape, even though Yasmin had been there for a while. The ending was particularly fun.
Weaknesses: The cover makes this look like it would be more like Prineas' new Scroll of Kings rather than a scary tale, but I don't know what else could have been done. Maybe a bit of a nod to Hansel and Gretel and the witch's gingerbread house?
What I really think: I need to brush off Nance's Daemon Hall (2007) when school starts. I don't know that it circulated at all this year, but it is a similar title that will be good to hand to readers after they finish this shiny new book!
Ms. Yingling

Monday, July 09, 2018

MMGM- The Game Masters of Garden Place

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Always in the Middle and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

Markell, Denis. The Game Masters of Garden Place
July 17th 2018 by Delacorte
E ARC from

Ralph and his friends Jojo, Persphone, Cammi, and Noel have been playing Reign of Dragons, a Role Playing Game (RPG) since they were ten, with Ralph's babysitter, Declan as the game masters. The had lots of good campaigns, but as they get into middle school, interest starts to wane. Jojo is heavily into gymnastics, and her practices and meets make the Saturday gaming sessions difficult. Persephone and Cammi (who is exploring his identity) are interested in theater and costuming. Noel is more interested in some of the current video games that classmates are playing. Only Ralph remains really excited about RoD, and he is the only one playing on going to the RoD Con when it comes to NYC. When Declan decides to go back to school, the group tries to rotate who is in charge of the game, but each one puts their own spin on the action, which doesn't make everyone happy. Ralph thinks it odd when he wins dice by registering for the Con, and when he uses them to start the last game the group has scheduled, the alter egos of all the participants come to life! All five characters show up and are surprised that the children know all of the details of the quest. Ralph is still determined to finish the campaign and find all of the serpents that the script calls for, but now he must do it while keeping his friends invested in the game and keeping the characters from eviscerating innocent bystanders.  Will the children be able to finish their campaign, get their alter egos safely back to their own world, and solve a mystery involving the founder of RoD?
Strengths: Dungeons and Dragons seems to be having a major resurgence-- there was an article on it in the Columbus Dispatch, and I noticed that my public library is offering a course on it this summer. Not only that, but Picky Reader is in a group at college. She's an elf. So, this is a timely book. What I liked best, though, was the depiction of the friendships. Losing friends to different pursuits is such a common middle school experience, and it's just not in as many books as it should be. Centering the book on Ralph, who is steadfast to his fandom, and showing how the other friends are branching off was a great way to go. The parents were handled well-- they are around, cognizant of their children's movements, but willing to give them enough independence to get into a little trouble. There is a lot of humor, enough action to keep things interesting, and a bit of a twist at the end. A great sophomore middle grade novel from the author of Click Here to Start.
Weaknesses: Since I am not a fan of playing games of any manner or description, I found the scenarios a bit slow. This will NOT be the case for gamers, who will eat up the details.
What I really think: This is very similar to Wizards of the Game (2003) by David Lubar, but it is certainly time for another book like this! Definitely purchasing. Who knows? It might introduce a reader to a lifelong pastime! John David Anderson's The Dungeoneers is the only other D&D type book that I can think of. Anyone else remember Tom Hanks in Mazes and Monsters (1982)?
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, July 08, 2018

The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair

Makechnie, Amy. The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair
June 12th 2018 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edleweiss Plus

Gwyn and her sister Bitty move to Iowa so that their father Jed can set up a dental practice and their mother can live in a residential facility. After an episode when Gwyn was four, their mother has no memory past the age of 13. The girls' father thinks that being back home in Crow will help Vienna regain some of her memory. There are many people left in town who remember the parents, including Gaysie, a quirky and outspoken neighbor who scares Gwyn quite a bit. In getting to know her new neighborhood, Gwyn finds out a lot about her parents' youth, especially about a sledding accident that they were in with Gaysie that may have contributed to both Vienna and Gaysie's mental challenges. Gwyn is not convinced that her mother will improve, but settles into life in a small town, and is able to enjoy her summer, playing outside and taking piano lessons from the same neighbor who taught her mother. When Gaysie's friend, Wilbur, goes missing, Gwyn and her new friends try to figure out what happened to him, and find a lot more information about Vienna's past as well.
Strengths: The concept of returning to a parent's hometown and getting to know people who knew the parent is an intriguing one. Gwyn and Bitty are a fun sister group, despite their age difference, and I liked the ensemble casts of both young people and adults. The mystery is okay, and the depiction of Vienna and her memory loss is heartbreaking but also somewhat hopeful.
Weaknesses: There was a lot going on in this book. The mystery of Wilbur, along with the mother's challenges, made this a long and rather slow moving book. Also, having spent a lot of time in Iowa, this felt more like it was set in a Southern town.
What I really think: Will probably pass on purchase. The combination of mystery, summer vacation, and family problems reminded me a bit of St. Antoine's Three Bird Summer and Hilmo's Skies Like These. I like both books, but they don't circulate well.
Ms. Yingling

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, July 07, 2018

The Family with Two Front Doors

28798707Ciddor, Anna. The Family with Two Front Doors
January 1st 2018 by Kar-Ben Publishing
Public Library Copy

In the 1920s, the Rabinowitz family has nine children, so they ned two apartments, hence the two front doors of the title. The father is a rabbi, and the family is very involved in their small town, Lublin, in Poland. When the oldest daughter, Adina, reaches the age of 15, the family arranges for her to marry a man from Warsaw. There are lots and lots of preparations for a wedding, including meeting the family (but not the groom!), planning parties, cleaning, and doing lots and lots of cooking. Even ten-year-old Nomi (based on the author's nana) is pressed into cooking, and makes a gefilte fish so good that her father assumes that Adina made it. There are some problems along the way (the challah gets knocked to the ground while being picked up to take to the oven, the groom might want to take Adina to Warsaw), but in general the family gets along very well, enjoys being together, and the wedding is a success.
Strengths: This definitely had a vibe similar to Taylor's All-of-a-Kind Family, with lots of details about daily life in a Jewish household. There are differences, of course, since this is set in Poland in the 1920s. So many of the details would be eye opening to today's children-- baths once a week in a portable tub? Not being allowed to use power on the Sabbath? Arranged marriages? The author has done a good job fictionalizing her family history, and it's nice to read a story with Jewish characters that is NOT about the Holocaust. There is, however, a sad note about the fate of the family during World War II.
Weaknesses: This had an old fashioned air and read like the books of my childhood. Nothing exciting, just interesting details. This is not a style my students are wild about.
What I really think: I really want to buy this one, but I've spent years trying to get students to read Sydney Taylor to no avail, so I may have to pass!
Ms. Yingling

Friday, July 06, 2018

The Seismic Seven

35230414Slivensky, Katie. The Seismic Seven
June 5th 2018 by HarperCollins
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Kenzie, Brianna, Wyatt and Todd have all have won the opportunity to study with Dr. Grier in Yellowstone National Park, observing the volcanoes. Aided by Ms. McNamary, the children get settled into their camp, find out a little bit about each other, and learn what they will be doing for the summer while they are away from their parents. Yellowstone has a supervolcano that is in danger of erupting, and Dr. Grier is trying to stop it. The problem? Adults are too big to send into the crevices to engineer the fix. Soon, the children are going underground in pods, setting controlled charges, making tracks, and learning a lot about geology. Why children? Dr. Grier says that no one else cares, but the children are right to be suspicious. They see other children around, but they don't say much; Nolan has two ferrets, but Eddie and Raquel are always kept at a distance. Soon it turns out that Dr. Grier's  mission isn't as humanitarian as it seems, and even though Kenzie and her new friends have volunteered to work in the volcano, not all of the children were given a choice. How can the seismic seven figure out what plans Dr. Grier has, and how can they stop her before it is too late?

Volcanoes are always an interesting topic, and this book is full of detailed information about all manner of facets about them. It reminded me a little bit of Wesley King's new A World Below in the vivid depictions of rock formations and the details about living underground. Every other volcano book I can think of has to do with historic volcanoes erupting, so it's innovative to include an adventure into one that might blow at any moment.

Even though there were seven middle grade characters and several adults, I was able to keep them all straight, thanks to the differences in their personalities and interests. Brianna is a vlogger who wants to document their experiences, but electronics don't always work well underground, even when she is allowed to have them. Three of the characters have a rather frightening back story about being involved in an earthquake in San Francisco.

The main plot, which I don't want to give away, involves a rather evil plot of world domination with an ecological theme, giving this book one more STEM connection. It's difficult to find books like this, and Slivensky's research is extensive. Science teachers are often asking for recommendations of books with science related topics, and I imagine this will go to the top of many of these lists.

This is a bit on the lengthy side, with small print in the ARC, and there are occasional slow moments. Also, the plot is really, really evil. The target demographic will like this, but I didn't care for it as much!

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Confusion is Nothing New

Acampora, Paul. Confusion is Nothing New
May 29th 2018 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Right before a marching band performance is not a great time to be told that your mother has passed away, even if you have never met her, so it's understandable that Ellie is a bit peeved with her father. When her best friend Daniel has a mishap with his piccolo during and ends up hitting Ellie in the head with the instrument and then losing it under the bleachers, the two friends don't take kindly to being yelled at by their band director, Mr. DeGroot. Things escalate, and Ellie throws her school glockenspeil at the teacher. A classmate, Anya, has videotaped the whole thing, so after talking to the school principal, Sister Stephanie (who went to school with Ellie's parents), Ellie and Daniel hunt her down to get her to take the video offline. It's bad enough that DeGroot was fired and Ellie has to pay for the instrument, without the video going viral! Sister Stephanie's brother, who is a rock musician who's had some success, fills in for the fired band director. Ellie wants to know more about her mother. She's not getting information from her father, a cook at the local college who wants to have his own food truck, because he is still hurt and angry, but she manages to find out quite a lot about her mother with the help of her friends. Her mother's band, Cyndi Lauper Isn't Dead, is coming to the university, and Ellie looks at this as an opportunity to get to know a little about the mysterious woman who gave her life, big feet, and frizzy hair.
Strengths: Acampora's Rachel Spinelli Punched Me in the Face and How to Avoid Extinction do very well in my library, so I am really looking forward to having this one on the first shelf of fiction! This is funny, fast paced, and very upbeat considering the major plot of the deceased mother. I thought the father's seemingly callous attitude toward the mother was realistic but also well explained in the end, and Ellie's emotions about her death were convincing as well. I appreciated that Acampora utilized Lauper and other 1980s women's rock bands in a fun way AND explained the time lines so they fit Ellie's parents appropriately. The friend group and the way they helped Ellie was sweet. There were a lot of supportive and involved parents as well.
Weaknesses: Since the characters are all freshman in high school (Hooray! This is what middle school students want!), the adults seemed a little TOO involved.
What I really think: There need to be more middle grade novels with classic rock songs as the titles. I don't know how much it would amuse the target demographic, but it would make a whole lot of middle aged librarians happy! Definitely purchasing.
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Flor and Miranda Steal the Show

36341591Torres, Jennifer. Flor and Miranda Steal the Show
June 12th 2018 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Public library copy

Flor's family runs a struggling petting zoo that travels to different carnivals around California. Her father isn't a great businessman, giving away bags of feed instead of charging $1 for them, and her mother has had to return home to take a job. Still, Flor loves the carnival circuit, so when she hears the father of a band that has been playing try to talk the owner, Mr. Barsetti, into giving the band more money and exposure and perhaps discontinuing the petting zoo, she starts to make plans. Miranda y los Reyes is a ranchera band, and Miranda is the same age as Flor. Miranda has seen Flor run out of the band's performance and is a bit irritated, but the two strike up a friendship. Flor shows "Randy" around the carnival, introduces her to booth owners, and fills her up with lots of free food. She's still intent on somehow sabotaging the band's performance to insure that the petting zoo can keep traveling. Randy has her own issues with the band, including the fact that her father is very controlling and wants to make all of the decisions. She's enjoying just hanging out with a friend and seeing what is on the other side of the stage. Flor almost succeeds in making Randy late for her show, but everything turns out okay in the end, and the girls realize that even though things might change, they still have pretty good lives.
Strengths: The carnival setting is absolutely brilliant. Think back-- when you're 12 and you get to hang out with friends at the fair without parents, it is the BEST! There is so much to do and see, food  and other stuff to buy with the babysitting money you've been saving for months. Throw in some farm animals and rides, and it's just heaven. Miranda and her brother and sister performing in a family band is also a good touch. Not everyone can become famous by singing, but there are a lot of local performers who have limited success. I like that Flor's family was struggling in a realistic way, and the story line with the pig in the petting zoo who wasn't working out was touching. A fun summer romp with a few serious issues. I really enjoyed this, but now I really want some cotton candy!
Weaknesses: I like that the trim size of the book matches Stef Soto, Taco Queen, but the print is on the slightly small side. It makes a huge difference to my readers, sad to say. Since I am not familiar with ranchera bands, I could have used a little background information on the kind of music Miranda was playing.
What I really think: Definitely adding to my list to purchase, and now really want a book set at the Iowa State Fair! Bonus points to any author who includes pork chops on a stick.
Ms. Yingling