Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Castle Redstone

Chadda, Sarwat. Minecraft: Castle Redstone (Minecraft #13?)
May 31, 2022 by Del Rey Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus
 
Rajah's father was a great explorer, the kind about whom songs are sung and stories written, so he wants to head out on an adventure. His support staff includes Pal and Faith, who  join him in his quest to leave the comfort of the Manor. To have a purpose for their mission, they consult the Mapmaker, who encourages them to pursue a trip to Castle Redstone that will result in great fortune and legendary status. They consider this, and in the meantime Raj fights Sir Tyrus over a slight to Raj's father, but his famous sword, Heartbreaker, is atomized into diamond dust for reasons that are unclear. Nevertheless, this motivates him to buy tools and the map from the Mapmaker and take off. They are first sucked into the Nether to obtain some netherite, and once again run into Sir Tyrus but decide to join forces. Pal and Faith are a little unsure about the journey, but they persist despite being attacked by fish on the way to the island where the castle is, having to go through a swamp, and defending themselves against a wolf pack. Raj has some existential angst about his compulsion to find fame, and the group gets lost and has to battle witches as well as a tremendous storm. They meet a friend of Raj's father, Harry, who says that the journey to Castle Redstone is horrible and they shouldn't go. Despite this, the group battles on after being attacked by zombies, black roses that make people sleep, and the Wither. Once they get to Castle Redstone, will they find the treasure that they seek? Will there be other adventures for the group, or is Castle Redstone itself the treasure that they hope to find. N.B. I have never played Minecraft. 
Strengths: Chadda's The City of the Plague God is probably  my favorite of the Rick Riordan Presents books, and his Ash Mistry (2012) series has circulated well with my students. He certainly brings a vast talent for fantasy writing and descriptions of battles to this book, and I appreciated how he even tried to work in Rajah's existential crisis. The journey is a bit different from most fantasy ones, which is great to see (how many more times do we have to travel under the mountains, or spend chapters and chapters going over them?), and I rather liked the ending, although I don't want to spoin it. There are certainly lots of good Minecraft details, and like many of the titles in the series, this feels a bit like the writer was taking notes while watching or playing the game, but I appreciated that there was a little bit more to the story. Minecraft players will certainly like this, but it also might appeal to fantasty fans who aren't as familiar with the game. 
Weaknesses: Why was Pal making a table at the inn? What's the deal with Sir Tyrus? Why are there pigs in armor in the Nether? Admittedly, I read very quickly and don't spend a lot of time analyzing details, because my goal is to be somewhat familiar with all the middle grade books ever. I occasionally found myself thinking "Wait. What?" but was unwilling to go back and try to figure out why fish were attacking people. This is where it would probably be helpful to be familiar with the game before reading the books. 
What I really think:  Another solid addition to the Minecraft series, and I'm glad that there are a wide variety of authors writing these. I will definitely pitch this author's books to children who read Castle Redstone. 

Ms. Yingling

Monday, November 28, 2022

MMGM- Swift & Hawk: Cyberspies

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

Macx, Logan. Swift and Hawk: Cyberspies
November 22, 2022 by Walker Books US
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Caleb Quinn lives with his mother, Harper, a CIA agent, in London after the death of his father, a well known scientist. He attends ARC, a private school where he studies Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Cybertech. His best friend, Zenobia (Zen) is also the child of scientists. When leather jacketed hoodlums break into the Quinn home, Caleb uses technology he created, his FLEX, to spy on them, and hears his mother use code words to indicate he should flee. He manages to get out of the house and make his way to ARC, only to find that Professor Clay, whom he is supposed to contact, is not there, nor is Zen, who boards at the school. Zen has left a cryptic message with her android Beetlebat that leads Caleb to break into the British Museum and find a secret room where Zen is hiding. Her whole family has been kidnapped. Professor Clay shows up, but so does a small drone. Their position compromised, the three take off through the London sewers. The children get cut off from the professor, who has given them a mission to crack a code as part of the Moebius Programme, and they make their way to safety. The two decide to head to Amsterdam and contact a former schoolmate, Luuk, to help them. Caleb has been working on a video game called Terrorform that has become very popular, and has built on his father's AI program called SAM. Using their skills, Caleb and Zen start to unravel the mystery that involves enignmatic businessman Xavier Torent, Esperanza, APEX, and a diabolical plan that only the tweens can thwart. This takes them to the remote Norwegian island of Spøkelsøy where they have to fight nanowolves and outsmart Torrent to save Zen's family. Will they be able to find them, and locate Caleb's mother as well? 
Strengths: This reminded me a bit of Young's STORM series, with the British characters and the plethora of cool tech gadgets, as well as the kidnapped parents. There's lots of action and adventure as well as international travel that is taken for granted ("we'll just hop on the EuroStar and get to Amsterdam") that will be greatly appreciated by readers who are sitting in a study hall in Ohio with the only travel in their future being a possible trip out to an apple orchard in the country! Caleb and Zen both have a ton of tech and spy skills, and are pretty fearless as well. The villains are easy to identify, and they clearly have to be taken down because they are bent on world domination. There's clearly another mission in the works because Caleb was picking up APEX signals again at the end of the book. 
Weaknesses: I felt like I was missing a whole bunch about ARC, and I also didn't have a good feel for Caleb or Zen's personality. Will young readers care? Not so much. I was also a little irritated at the rarified, wealthy atmosphere; sure, this makes it a lot easier to go on missions, but it also made me less interested in the characters because they didn't have as much of a struggle. 
What I really think: Spy books are always very popular, and my students have loved going on vicarious spy missions for over twenty years! This will be hugely popular with fans of Horowitz's Stormbreaker (2000), Gilman's Devil's Breath (2005), Carter's Gallagher Girls (2006), Buckley's NERDS (2009), Muchamore's CHERUB series (2010), Gibbs' Spy School (2013) , Bradley's Double Vision (2014), McGee's Ryan Quinn (2016), and Ponti's City Spies (2020).

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Honey and Me

Drazin, Meira. Honey and Me
October 18th 2022 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Milla and Honey have been friends for a long time, and there families spend a lot of time together sicne they attend the same synagogue. When Honey transfers to Milla's school because her mother wasn't happy with the education her autistic brother was receiving, Milla isn't as happy as she expected to be. Honey is better in school and apparently better at making friends, so the two are a bit at odds. There are plenty of other things going on in Milla's 6th grade year, however, including preparing for her bas mitzvah and for a speech competition. She likes her new teacher, Mr. Sandler, who likes some of the same books that Milla likes and is supportive of her aspirations. There are a lot of parties to attend, and Milla and her mother have a big difference of opinions when it comes to issues like the dresses she should wear. Like many children in 6th grade, Milla wants the opportunity to have the freedom to make her own mistakes; in one act of rebellion, Milla and Honey go to a local vintage store and buy outfits without asking permission. Milla's Aunt Steph supports her, but is 25 and recently involved with a man in the community, which makes Milla's mother happy, because she thinks that 25 is getting a bit old not to be married. As the school year continues, there are celebrations, school events, some sad occurences, and changes in the way that Milla relates to both her mother and to her best friend. 
Strengths: This had a great mix of family and friend drama with a lot of Jewish culture and tradition mixed in. There aren't too many books with children who attend religious schools, so seeing the classes that Milla and Honey took was interesting. Milla's conflict with her mother was realistic; the arguments over what is an appropriate dress for her bas mitzvah will speak to a lot of readers who can't get their mothers to understand that styles have changed since their mothers were young! A community death is handled well, and Milla and Honey are able to resolve their differences in a productive way. I appreciated the glossary at the back. 
Weaknesses: This was more character driven than a lot of middle grade books, and follows the standard plot of progressing through the school year. 
What I really think: There have been a lot of books lately with 6th grade protagonists that strike me as being written primarily for younger students. I'd love to see more middle grade books with 8th or 9th grade characters; even with the exact same plots and character exchanges, my students would be more apt to pick up books with older characters. This seemed a bit on the young side, although I can see my students picking this up because of the cover and hoping for a romance between the girls. I would buy this for an elementary school but will pass for my middle school. 

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Friends Fur-ever

Tropper, Jana, Kote, Genevieve (illus.) and Lenoir, Axelle (illus.)
Animal Rescue Friends: Friends Fur-ever (#2)
November 8, 2022 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

After their adventures in Animal Rescue Friends, Maddie and Bell start a new school year, and Bell really wants to join lots of clubs so that she can get into a good college. Sadly, Maddie is late because her dog Paxton ran off after a squirrel, and all of the blus are filled up. They eventually get a animal club at school, with Mrs. Wen as their advisor, since no one wanted to join her language arts club. New member Jimmy is with Maddie when they find and rescue a porcupine by cleverly luring it into a backpack, and the group spends time volunteering at the Oakville Gardens Assisted Living Facility. They even bring a rabbit in to visit Mrs. Fan, whose memory is failing, and who turns out to be Mrs. Wen's grandmother. Mrs. Wen is a little more enthusiastic about the group after this. They also try to put together a float for a parade even though the art club has sabotaged everyone's plans, and while they don't build a float, just marching as a group gets them a lot of donations for ARF. They also work on training Pendelton, a cat, to be a service animal, but don't have much luck with that. Luckily, he is adopted by a little boy who just needs a pet. 
Strengths: This had a more realistic look at school clubs, and I liked that it combined the pets with the senior facility. There are more than jsut cats and dogs portrayed, which is a little unusual for books dealing with rescue pets. Everyone works well together, with the exception of the evil art club, and the stories are upbeat and constructive. The artwork is clear and supports the text. 
Weaknesses: Because the chapters are small, comic book style vignettes, there's not much of a plot arc or character development. Jimmy was an interesting new addition, but after the porcupine episode, we don't see much of him. Younger readers will not care about this at all and will just enjoy the stories. 
What I really think: This has a good amount of words and a lower reading level for readers who might struggle with some of the more word heavy graphic novels. EPIC! does a great job with this kind of easier reader by making them more appealing, with brightly colored illustrations and shorter, easier to understand stories. I often get the feeling that my students don't actually READ graphic novels (if you bring it back 15 minutes later and I know it took me half an hour to read it, I have my doubts), but think that this is one they actually would.   

Ms. Yingling

Friday, November 25, 2022

Farewell Friday: Just as Long as We're Together

Feel like a should have a "kill your darlings" sort of periodic post where I review really old titles I still have in my library that end up having to be weeded and go to a better place. Farewell Friday, perhaps? It also seems like I should wait until the author has died, but if a book is over thirty years old, do middle school students care? Hmmm. That's what we will investigate. 

Judy Blume is an icon, of course. Middle grade literature would not be what it is today without her seminal work like Are You There God, It's Me Margaret or Then Again, Maybe I Won't, and we all certainly learned a lot from Forever. But looking back, even in 2010 I was mentioning that her books aren't circulating well. I can't say I've missed Tiger Eyes, and am very glad that Deenie is no longer on the shelves. The dated cultural references are just going to confuse young readers, and we're getting to the point where these are too old to be their mother's books. Heading into grandma territory here. 

If you want more relevant books that accurately reflect the sometimes difficult world of today's adolescents, invest in the entire work of Barbara Dee instead. Don't replace Blume's work with fresh copies to encourage new readership. No matter what the covers look like, the content is just too old. 

Blume, Judy. Just as Long as We're Together. 
Published January 1, 1986 by Orchard Books, a division of Franklin Watts
Library copy

Stephanie is into hunks and has a poster of Richard Gere on the ceiling over her bed. Her family has just moved into a new house in the same community where they lived, so she still goes to the same school as her best friend Rachel. In the new neighborhood, she meets Allison, who was adopted by Vietnam by her mother, a famous actress. The three girls start hanging around together even though Allison is a bit odd; she claims that her dog can talk and recounts his exploits with her stepfather. There is a cute ninth grade boy on the bus to junior high, and Stephanie opines that maybe he has hair on his legs because he is sexually experienced. There's some drama over the fact that Rachel doesn't have the same homeroom teacher, but things generally go well. Stephanie's father is living in Hawaii for work, but eventually Stephanie finds out that her parents are having a trial separation. At one point, she has a disagreement with Rachel, but the two make it up and remain friends.

Strengths: This was a perfectly pleasant read, with some friend drama and some funny moments. It's help up better than I expected in some ways, and Blume's style is always very readable. It was interesting and a bit surprising that most of the mothers worked and had very professional jobs. Blume was notable for including information about periods, breast development, and other issues of puberty in her books, and there are several instances of this in this story.

Weaknesses:
There's not much of a plot. It's the sort of realistic fiction book that starts at the beginning of the school year, but we only get as far as March, where a lot of the school has flu and the book just sort of ends. There were a lot of dated references to clothing styles, actors, products, and technology. My favorite part was when Stephanie wanted her own phone extension in her room, and found a device for $19.95. Her dad wasn't as concerned about the price as he was about her having a phone in her own room. He didn't like that.

What I really think: This book hasn't circulated for a good ten years, and I don't know that there is a point in keeping it. It's an okay story, but not as engaging as books today that would include more modern references. The first chapter was very hard for my students to understand, with the references to "hunks" and Richard Gere. I will probably weed this. 

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Fourth Dimension

Walters, Eric. Fourth Dimension (Rule of Three #4)
February 6, 2018 by Penguin Teen Canada
Ohio Digital Library Copy

Emma and Ethan have had to move to a condo in the city after their mother, a former Marine and a nurse, and father divorce. Ethan likes their new home, but Emma does not, and complains about everything, even when her mother plans a fun family camping trip. This all becomes inconsequential when all the power goes out and the city erupts in chaos. Luckily, the family has a canoe in their storage unit and manage to get out of the city and camp on an island until they can figure out what's going on. They do come back briefly to grab supplies, but their apartment has been looted and they go quickly back. They've run into a few other people in their journey. Some, like Jimmie and Johnny are evil and trying to profit from the situation, but others, like Sam and his grandmother Chris on Ward's Island, who try to help. Ward's Island looks somewhat appealing, since it is an artsy community with some solar power and land for crops, but Ellen is wary of how well the area is protective from marauding hordes. The family soon joins up with three couples, one with a baby, who are living on a newarby island under picnic tables. They build makeshift shelters and eat a lot of fish, and when Ellen helps Ward's Island when it comes under attack, she and her group are asked to join. They do, taking over the cottage of a resident who was killed. The town thinks that they will be safe, even after many were killed in the attack, but Ellen takes them in hand and tries to get them to fortify the area and pool their resources. Emma makes friends with Willow, and the two come up with some ideas to make it look like the island is more heavily guarded than it is. This proves to be successful and saves them some grief. It also brings them to the attention of a community of veterans who have settled in the nearby airport. The two groups trade resources, and eventually the residents of Ward's Island move onto the airport site. When Adam, Lori, and Herb arrive from Eden Hills in Mustang airplanes, the groups all realize that there is a lot more danger in the world than they can imagine. The Division, a group of paramilitary sorts bent on taking over everything, has their eyes on the airport. Can everyone work together to keep the communities safe? 
Strengths: The Rule of Three and its sequels (Fight for Power and Will to Survive) have been HUGELY popular in my library. I have three very worn out copies, and it has fans that range from avid 8th grade boys to reluctant readers who love the story so much they aren't daunted by the length. There's something vastly appealing about a dystopia where survival is possible if difficult. Emma learns a lot of new skills and quickly learns that complaining doesn't help matters. Her mother is beyond awesome, with her no nonsense attitude and plethora of top notch skills. I love that the men never question her ability to lead. There's a lot of intrigue, and eventually seeing Herb and Adam was fantastic. There is a fifth book being written, and I absolutely can't wait. 
Weaknesses: I could have done with a little less of the attacks and a little more of the nitty gritty of survival, but that's just me. If I want that, I can always reread Pfeffer's Life as We Knew It (2007), where my favorite part was that the electricity would come on sporadically and the characters would rush to do laundry!
What I really think: I absolutely cannot wait for the fifth book! I'm not sure how I missed this fourth volume, other than perhaps it was marketed primarily in Canada. Walters does so many different kinds of books, and they are all good, so I will be paying closer attention from now on!

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

One More Mountain

Ellis, Deborah. One More Mountain (The Breadwinner #5)
October 4th 2022 by Groundwood Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Parvana, who as a tween had to take care of her family under the Taliban rule in the 1990s (in The Breadwinner), is now a mother of a college aged boy, Rafi. Her husband is Asif, whom she met in Parvana's Journey, and who repairs machinery. She has been running a shelter for abused girls and women called Green Valley, along with Shauzia, her best friend from Mud City, who is now a policewoman. When the Taliban start to take over Afghanistan again, Parvana is determined to get Rafi out of the country along with her sister and send him to New York City where he can live with an aunt (who ended up there in college in My Name is Parvana) and study ballet. Around this time, a fifteen year old girl, Damsa, is brought to Green Valley after she ran away from home rather than be married to a man of her father's choosing. As Asif and Rafi are waiting at the airport, they find out that commercial flights have ceased, and they try to get on a military one. After a tragedy, Rafi decides to stay in the country, and tries to get back to his mother. In the meantime, the Taliban come to Green Valley wanting to talk to Asif. They threaten to come back, so all of the residents leave in order to try to stay safe. This is all too familiar to Parvana, who has been through this all before, although this time there is a little more communication thanks to cell phone technology. Will things ever get better in Afghanistan?
Strengths: I admire Ellis' tenacity in supporting the women of Afghanistan by donating the proceeds of the Parvana series as well as Kids of Kabul to the Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan where Parvana’s Fund supports education projects for Afghan women and children. The Breadwinner is a book that we have used extensively with 6th grade classes, and I have even read aloud to a study hall. It was my first thought upon hearing that the Taliban had retaken Afghanistan, and it's beyond heartbreaking to know that there are real life women whose entire lives have been very much like Parvana's. The story is short, but packs quite a punch. It might be a bit much for elementary school students, but certainly shows older readers what is going on in Afghanistan today. 
Weaknesses: I should have gone back to reread the other books; I couldn't remember as much as I needed to about some of the characters, although this could be read as a stand alone title. 
What I really think: I will definitely purchase this book so that readers can continue to follow Parvana's story. 

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

All the Social Media

Social Media has taken up a disproportionate amount of real estate in my brain. Here's a break down of where I am, what I'm called, the content I put on various sites, and how frequently I post. 

Keep in mind that most of my dealings on any platform are done on a desktop, and that while I get a lot of free books for my school through social media, we are not allowed to post during school hours, so I try to be done by 7 a.m. I don't use my phone much for anything but calling and texting, but do use it to get pictures to sites. 

Blogger: Since you're here, you know that since 2006, this has been my main platform. It serves as my auxiliary memory, and I occasionally post library related blather, major life events. There has been a book review every single day for almost eleven years. 

Goodreads: Ms. Yingling, since 2009. Even after accidentally deleting almost 10,000 reviews, I keep coming back to this platform. It's great since it is ONLY books. I post books as I read them, even if publication is months out, so you can see upcoming titles. If you follow me there, you can figure out my system of ratings. I'm not going to explain it and hurt authors' feelings. 

Twitter: @MsYingling, since 2012. I try very hard to stick to links to the blog reviews, links to other bloggers who review #MGLit books, retweets of book information, and what books I am currently reading, especially in the summer. It's great for connecting with authors and librarians, and in 2017 I put together a sports panel for Kidlitcon in 24 hours just by tweeting. When I whined that I wouldn't be able to tell my supervisor I had a nice round number of Twitter followers for my evaluation today, David Carroll, the author of the Cybils' winning Ultra, replied with the sweetest offer. This is what is fabulous about Twitter. 







Instagram: @MsYinglingReads, since 2012. I try to put book and library pictures there, but it often devolves into pictures of Pongo (albeit with books), and food and craft items I've made. This is my least serious account; I've been following mainly vintage glassware and architecture posters as well as the fabulous Marcia Lois Riddington. Will try to post more book things and stop following random, nonbook sites!

Young Adult Books Central: Ms. Yingling, since 2012. I review in exchange for free books, so post 10-25 titles per month. There are lots of great reviews by other people, plus cool interviews and giveaways: you should check it out. 

Facebook: Karen Yingling? since 2005. I use this for getting Young Adult Book Central book haul videos, and keeping in touch with people from "the olden days". It's how I find out that friends and relatives have died. I try to post fewer than ten times a year. If I wouldn't write you a letter, I won't accept your friend request.

Hive Social: MsYingling, since yesterday. It seemed like the site to which everyone was migrating, so I created an account. It's only accessible by phone, and drained my battery quickly. It is apparently run by two college students, so we'll see how that goes. 

Pinterest: I think I have three different Pinterest accounts that I started when my daughter was in high school, but I always found it annoying, so I never post there. 

I try VERY hard not to post anything political, negative, or personal. My mother and father were very clear: no one wants to hear what you have to say. I do think that some people are interested in my book reviews, but no one needs to hear if I'm sad, or not feeling well, or angry about some world event. 

Now that I've delineated all of this, I'm going to try to focus in 2023 on more relevant BOOK content across platforms! 

Minecraft: Don't Fear the Creeper (Mob Squad #3)

Dawson, Delilah. Minecraft: Don't Fear the Creeper (Mob Squad #3)
November 1, 2022 by Random House World
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

After their adventures in Mob Squad and Never Say Nether, Lenna and her friends are still unhappy with the circumstances in their village of Cornucopia. Stu, one of the leaders, doesn't want anyone to venture beyond the village walls, and Lenna's brother is one of the guards trying to keep everyone in line. Some of the citizens have starts New Cornucopia because of this. Lenna and her friends Mal, Chug, and Tok also balk at the fact that the elders won't pass their skills on to th younger generation until the last minute, so it's hard to get an apprenticeship. Lenna has worked with Mal's grandmother on potions, but when Nan becomes ill, the goup decides to set out to locate an enchanted golden apple to help her get well. When it turns out there weren't just eight founders of the town, there were ten, this gives the group a hint about where to search. They undertake a quest that involes fighting creepers and underwater zombies, and eventually find one of the founders who left the town, Ephram, who was rumored to have the golden apple. Of course, he's already eaten it, so they have to continue on. They run into Krog, a bad guy who is stalking them and making their journey difficult. Will they be able to make it home safely, cure Nana, and deal with the evil elders of Cornucopia?
Strengths: This adventure, which is told from the viewpoints of various characters, reads rather like the author was taking notes while playing Minecraft. While this makes it harder for me to read, it is perfect for younger readers who do play the game. I don't understand watching someone else play a video game, but my students do, and reading about the Mob Squad's adventures had that feel. I was glad to see that the young adventurers wanted to gain skills from the elders, didn't complain about their hardships, and were fearless in the face of the adversaries that they faced. Dawson has an engaging writing style, as is evidenced in her popular horror book, Mine
Weaknesses: The characters are fairly flat, since more emphasis is placed on mundane tasks like getting food and weapons, and on the adventure. Chug is always hungry, and Lenna doesn't like rules, but the other characters blurred together for me. Young readers will not care. 
What I really think: My favorite of the series is The Haven Trials, with its Lagos, Nigeria setting and friend drama. I would definitely enjoy these more had I ever played Minecraft, but that is NOT going to happen. There are currently fifteen books in the series, and I have them all shelved under "F MIN" so they are easy for readers to find. Minecraft has been around for at least ten years, so these books are a solid investment for a school or public library. They will get enough use to justify the purchase, and by the time they are worn out, perhaps tweens will have moved on to other games and these will be an easy weed. 
 Ms. Yingling

Monday, November 21, 2022

MMGM- Operation Final Notice

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

Landis, Matthew. Operation Final Notice
Published November 8, 2022 by Dial Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ronny and Jo are neighbors and friends, and both are facing challenges. Ronny's father has hurt his back on the job, and his parents are struggling financially. They've moved into an apartment complex near their former house. Jo Ramos is an excellent cello player who has been given an audition at the Maple Hill School, but she doesn't want to tell Ronny she might be leaving their school, and is terrified of playing in public. They are both in seventh grade, and generally like school and their teachers, especially Ms. Q., who is helpful and understanding. When Ronny sees a bill marked "final notice" at home, he's not sure what this means, but eventually figures out that if his parents don't pay almost $600, their care might be taken away. When he sees a neighbor's car being towed, his fears are reinforced, and he even gives the tow truck driver a hard time. He starts to concoct a lot of money making schemes, some of which involve the Manor, a senior residence at which he and Jo are working. In addition to the $500 the two are being paid to help out and for Jo to play her cello, he tries to sell chocolate bars at a markup to the residents. (Bad idea... too many are diabetic!) He finds a wheeled cart and helps people carry itens home, shovels snow, and does whatever odd jobs he can to earn a little cash in order to help out his parents. Meanwhile, Jo is coming to terms with her performance anxiety and learning some coping strategies. She starts out performing over the loudspeaker after a less than stellar performance, and manages to come to terms with playing in public. When the two are in a fender bender with Ronny's mom, they aren't hurt, but Jo's cello is damaged. Her parents can afford to pay for repairs, but not before the audition. Will Ronny's earnings be necessary to help his friend out? What effect will that have on his family's  future? 
Strengths: It seems to me that there should be a LOT more books about tweens wanting to earn money. Even if families are not in dire financial circumstances, there are always some incidental expenses like dance tickets, coveted items of clothing, or lost textbooks (my daughter walked a neighbor's dog to pay for a science one!) that tweens' parents might not want to fund. Ronny's attempts at gaining cash are perfect, especially since he runs into plenty of difficulty. This also makes for some gentle humor, and paints a very realistic picture of his life. The author has a note in the back of the book that the setting is very close to the one where his students live, and they are able to walk to all of the places mentioned. I'm a sucker for tweens and senior facilities, and seeing Ronny and Jo try to deal with the difficult and bitter Maureen is heartwarming. Jo's anxiety is also nicely portrayed, and her path to the audition is not a smooth one. The families make just enough of an appearance without overwhelming the agency of our characters, and there are some great teachers as well. The small arc with Ronny and the tow truck driver was thought provoking and would make for excellent class discussions. While I adored The Not-So-Private Letters of Private Nobody and enjoyed It's the End of the World as We Know It, I think Operation Final Notice shows that Landis also understand the type of books that actual middle grade readers want. Definitely an essential purchase for middle school libraries, and this will circulate nonstop. 
Weaknesses: Ronny's speech is often underpunctuated: e.g. "Haha so sell candy," or "Yeah but it's so early". While I can sort of see the purpose in doing this, my students have such a poor grasp on punctuation as it is that I like to have them read good examples of it. The ending had a touching resolution that seemed a tiny bit unlikely, but it will make perfect sense to young readers. 
What I really think: This would make a great core novel for class study, and would be fantastic to compare to O. Henry's short story, The Gift of the Magi (if classes still read that!). It's a great book for showing how readers' classmates might be struggling with issues that aren't easy to see on the surface. Sonnenblick's The Secret Sherrif of Sixth Grade, Baptist's Isaiah Dunn is My Hero, Torres' The Fresh New Face of Griselda and Messner's The Exact Location of Home would be great books to recommend along with this one. 

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Adrift

Guerrero, Tanya. Adrift
September 6th 2022 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Cousins Isa and Coral are very close. Their mothers, who are from the Phillipines, are sisters, and their fathers are brothers! The families spend a lot of time together, although this will change when Coral and her parents set off on a sailing journey around Indonesia. Isa returns with her parents to the bakery they run in Pebble Beach, New York, and plans on writing frequently. When there is news that the family's boat is missing after a tsunami, Isa is devastated. She hopes that her cousin is okay, but as the months pass, this seems unlikely. In alternating chapters, though, we see that Coral has survived, and is scraping together an existence on a deserted island. She is befriended by a dog, and manages to use the skills her parents taught her to find food, water, and to build shelter. She worries that her parents are dead, and that she herself may never be rescued. It's a difficult time for both cousins; will they ever be reunited?
Strengths: Most of the middle grade survival books are set in US forests, so it was interesting to see Coral navigate a tropical island. She was able to grab an emergency pack from the boat, which was interesting, and she had lots of skills that were helpful. The inclusion of a dog is always good. I enjoyed the close knit family and the bakery, and wish we had seen more of Coral's family back in Pebble Beach before their sailing trip. 
Weaknesses: At one point, Isa calls a customer a "Karen", and I wish that this manner of stereotyping wasn't used in middle grade literature against any group.
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who enjoy survival tales like Behren's Disaster Days, Freeman's Alone, or Greenslade's Red Fox Road. I would have liked it better if it were all from Coral's perspective. 

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Paws: Mindy Makes Some Space

Fairbairn, Nathan and Assarasakorn, Michele (illus.)
Paws: Mindy Makes Some Space (PAWS #2)    
November 15th 2022 by Razorbill
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In Gabby Gets it Together Mindy Kim, Gabby Jordan, and Priya Gupta form their dog walking business, Pretty Awesome Walkers, because they all love dogs but cannot have pets in their homes for various reasons. While Priya loves sports and Gabby loves reading, Mindy's life revolves her mother and her phone. Mindy and her mother often hang out together, reading and watching movies. When the two are out, they run into a man, Mike, who is walking his cat, Chonk. Her mother and Mike bond over the shared love of a video game, and soon Mindy feels like a third wheel when she has to go along on dates with her mother. She also feels awkward at school when there is a new student at Charlotte Bronte Elementary, Hazel. Mindy and Gabby are soon sitting at a table with Hazel, who is also really interested in walking dogs. The girls need to increase their client base as former clients no longer their services, but Mindy is increasingly distracted by her mother's new relationship and her jealousy at Hazel's inclusion in the group. At one point, Mindy leaves Hazel to walk Chonk alone. Chonk crawls off into a bush to sleep, and since Hazel is in a wheelchair, she is stuck on the sidewalk until the girls come back to get her. Will they all be able to reach some kind of agreement so that they can all get along and keep the business going?
Strengths: It is always good to see children navigating the experience of parents who are dating, since I think that is an experience that many have that is not reflected as much in literature. The friend drama is a constant draw, so while it is great that Mindy and Gabby were so welcoming to Hazel, it's also understandable that Mindy felt left out. Hazel's use of a wheelchair comes up in a natural way and is handled well by the girls. The dogs are adorable, the details of the girls' home and school life add a lot to the story, and the illustration style will appeal to readers who like Victoria Jamieson's and Raina Telgemeier's books.
Weaknesses: I'm personally not a fan of the manga style overemoting when the character's eyes bug out and their faces are red, and that happened a lot, especially since Mindy was struggling with several issues. Younger readers won't care, but it struck me the way that ALL CAPS TEXTS do. Also, a mother that plays video games while her daughter needed attention? This made my brain implode a bit. 
What I really think: I need to make gamja bokkeum (potatoes fried with onions, garlic, soy sauce, and sugar) for dinner! I enjoyed this one, even though there are quite a number of books with children who walk dogs. Do tweens not babysit anymore? That was the main source of income for me and my friends; everyone walked their own dogs.                  

Friday, November 18, 2022

Spy School Project X

Gibbs, Stuart. Spy School Project X (Spy School #10)
September 6th 2022 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

**Spoiler Alert**

Ben's parents have been relocated to Florida, and he's deep into exams, but when he has a visit with the principal, the principal's office is blown up again. Luckily, Ben is with Professor Crandall, who isn't as doddering as he looks, and he eventually intercepts Sal Minella, who tells the group (which includes Zoe, Erica, and Mike) that Murray Hill has circulated a ridiculous conspiracy theory about Ben and issued a huge reward if anyone will kill him! This opens him up to assassination attempts from all over. It's all they can do to get out of the DC area, get help from another Hale (the fabulous analyst, Mary Hale, Cyrus' wife!), and excape in an RV. Yes, Murray is tired of Ben thwarting him, but saying he's a lizard from outerspace who wants to take over the world is just too much. Murray is sequestered in the Everglades, so Ben heads down that way to get him to call the hit off, but the damage has been done. With his cover blown, Ben will have to go into the Witness Protection Program with his parents or accept a vague offer with no forthcoming details to continue with his spy career. Which direction will he take?
Strengths: This was very different from the the previous books, but was just as action packed. The traveling is more localized and sticks to the East coast, and the cast is slightly smaller. Of course, there is a wide range of assassins who show up only to be defeated. There are plenty of laugh out loud lines, as well as a great shout out to writer James Ponti with the Ponti's First Maxim of Self Defense! The big draw is the ridiculous conspiracy theory that sets everything in motion. I loved Gibbs' note at the end to students, telling them that they should investigate things they read on the internet and not just blindly believe everything! This is a great example of what could happen. Fans will love this one, enjoy meeting Mary Hale, revel in Ben's continuing romance with Erica, and wonder what on earth is going to happen NEXT!
Weaknesses: Unreasonable people are not going to understand what a clever way this is to teach young readers about conspiracy theories, even though it's done in as unpolitical a way possible. 
What I really think: I'm not sure if this is the end of the series, or just a twist. It could go either way. At any rate, Ben's future adventures will be very different, but will probably include Erica. There will be students who want this on the very first day of school even though it doesn't come out until September!

From time to time, I feel like I just add information of a historical nature. Today on Twitter (where I spend about ten minutes a day; I really try to limit myself), everyone is saying goodbye and saying that Twitter is dead. This is likely, since the new owner, Elon Musk, has made a number of bad business decisions. I am on Instagram at @msyinglingreads, but it takes so much more effort to post there. It's also harder to interact. Still, it's like taking a Model T to California instead of the Conestoga wagon that blogs have become. 

Guess I'll have to start going to conferences again. And commenting on more blogs. 

Thursday, November 17, 2022

The Secrets of Stone Creek

McDonald, Briana. The Secrets of Stone Creek
November 22, 2022 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Finley Walsh wants desperately to be an adventurer; she and her best friend Sophie had a books with the 100 top female adventures, and spent a lot of time thinking about places they go travel. Lately, though, Sophie doesn't want to think about adventuring as much. When Finley's mother has to go away for work, she contacts her cousin Jeff to watch Finley and her older brother Oliver and younger brother Quinn. Even though they haven't been in contact for a while, cousin Jeff is glad to help out, since the children's father has moved away and isn't very helpful. Arriving at Stone Creek, Finley is excited that there local mystery; after finding a treasure as a child, Meggie Riley disappeared one night. There are lots of theories, and the town's economy is heavily bound to the tourists who come and want to find out more. Finley sees this as an opportunity to finally have a REAL adventure, and thinks that this will entice Sophie to be friends again, and also encourage her mother to rely on her as much as she relies on Oliver. Jeff is busy running a diner, so the children are able to spend a lot of time roaming around town, interviewing locals and also scouring the woods for twenty year old clues. They run into Jason, the son of Meggie's former boyfriend, and Oliver becomes very fond of him. Finley does manage to find some clues that no one else has unearthed, but these start to get her into trouble. When she starts to get mysterious phone calls and feels like she is being watched and stalked, it seems like a bad idea to continue with her search, but she doesn't let anything stop her, not even a family connection to the disappearance. Will Finley be able to solve this cold case and finally consider herself a "real" adventurer?
Strengths: A lot of my students ask for "true crime" stories because they listen to podcasts about things like the disappearance of Meggie Riley, so I can see this being a topic that they might pick up. There's the underlying friend drama with Sophie (even though we don't see her) as well as Finley's anxiety and her uneasy relationship with her mother that motivates a lot of her actions. The children are given a lot of freedome to roam about, and they have Jeff's little dog Malt to go along with them. The details about Meggie's fate get a bit gruesome, and there's some real danger and intrigue, which my students will enjoy. Oliver's crush on Jason is reciprocated, so there's a bit of light romance as well. 
Weaknesses:Finley makes a lot of really poor choices, some of which endanger herself and others. I was deeply uncomfortable with the way the town exploited the Riley family's misery. Granted, they were the ones behind the yearly "festival", but Finley asking questions and spying on their house seemed intrusive. The cover is also a bit too cartoony for as dark as this got. 
What I really think: Readers who liked this author's Pepper's Rules for Sleuthing will want to pick up this new mystery especially since it takes a dark turn. I'm debating, since Finley's behavior made me really uncomfortable. She spies not only on the Riley's, but goes through Jeff's possessions without permission, even though she just met him and he's doing her mother an enormous favor. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Heart Finds

Berry, Jaime. Heart Finds
November 15, 2022 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Mabel lives in Oklahoma with her mother, who works with a wedding planner, and spends a lot of time with her grandfather, who loves to go "treasure hunting" in various dumpsters, secondhand stores, and any other place that may have good junk free (or cheap). He had been a banker, and has a house in a pricey part of town, but now spends his days on his collections. Mabel likes to spend time with him, and finds his presence comforting. Her mother is very driven, and very interested in table design competitions, which use all new things. She has some disdain for her father and daughter's love of trash. Mabel's best friend, Ashley, soent the summerr at church camp, and made friends with the snooty Farrah. This makes middle school harder, especially when Mabel's classmates catch a glimpse of her grandfather dumpster diving and make fun of him. This leads Mabel to distance herself a little, and when her grandfather has a stroke out hunting by himself, Mabel feels guilty. Grampa ends up in the hospital, and then in the Whispering Pines nursing facility. This stresses Mabel's mother out, since she is trying to earn her way to the national tabletop design competition. She also starts to talk about selling the grandfather's house, since the taxes are high and money for therapy and care is tight. Mabel befriends Jasper, whose mother works at Whispering Pines, and comes up with a plan to help fund Grampa's care by selling some of what she finds to her grandfather's contacts. Jasper is glad to help, since his outspoken fashion sense hasn't gone over too well with his new classmates. As her mother spends more and more time working on her designs, Mabel worries about her grandfather's health and future, and is dismayed when her mother starts to sell off some of Grampa's things. As the big table decorating contest nears (where decorating celebrity Arletta Paisley from Hope Springs will be speaking!), Mabel has some plans to have one of her grandfather's "heart finds" valued by a antiques show personality in hopes that the money from it can fund some care. Will she be able to work with her mother to iron out all of the messiness in her life? 
Strengths: Well, I absolutely loved this one. We are inveterate fans of secondhand items in my family; if there's anything on the curb when we're out driving, every head turns to check it out. The Oklahoma junk shops reminded me of some of the ones I've visited in rural Iowa, and it was just pure fun to see Mabel and her grandfather tool around in his truck and look for good junk. Cameos by specific glassware didn't hurt either! Of course, there has to be more to the story than that. The friend drama with Ashley was absolutely perfect, and will resonate with middle school students who have had a friend decide that they no longer had anything in common any more. Making a new friend with Jasper was also well done. The Whispering Pines community was interesting; I always enjoy seeing grandparents in middle grade books, but they are often getting on in years and apt to experience some health problems. Mabel's relationship with her mother was also interesting and realistic. All of these elements worked well together, with Mabel's anxiety swirling around in a well developed plot. Including Arletta Paisley was just the final dusting of glitter on a perfectly arranged table setting of a book! 
Weaknesses: The cover is a bit odd and doesn't quite capture the essence of the book for me. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing this one. It might take some hand selling, but will be the perfect book for the right reader. 
 Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Controlled Burn

Downing, Erin Soderberg. Controlled Burn
November 1st 2022 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus 

 Maia's house is undergoing rennovations, and a devastating fire while she is home alone with her sister Amelia leaves her sister suffering from massive burns and the family's home destroyed. Maia feels that the fire is her fault but keeps this to herself after she is hailed as a hero for saving her sister. With Amelia in the hospital, Maia is sent from her Chicago area home to stay with her grandmother and grandfather in a very small town in Minnesota. She usually only sees her grandparents once a year during awkward visits, so Maia isn't thrilled. It's not all bad; her father has a dog, Bear, that hangs around the house, she meets a younger neighbor boy, Griffin, and her grandmother is willing to take her different places when she's not working at a local store. The grandparents don't have a lot of patience for Maia's constant anxiety, however. Her grandfather, a gruff, reticent sort, spends his days at the top of a local fire tower, where he worked for years. Even in retirement, he likes to keep watch to make sure that the area is safe. Given Maia's dealings with fire, she not thrilled, and definitely doesn't want to climb to the top of the tower. Her grandfather is perfectly happy to leave her on the ground, which gets a bit boring. Eventually, they bring Bear, and Maia manages to spend some time with Griffin working on scout badges, including a swimming one. Amelia is making very slow progress, and her parents check in with Maia frequently, but she really just wants them to ask her to come home. She eventually talks to her grandparents about her fear that she caused the fire and her general anxiety. Her grandfather even explains some of his past, and they help her to see that dwelling on the past or worrying about the future is not a productive way to spend time. This proves especially helpful in motivating Maia to go outside her comfort zone when she really needs to. 
Strengths: Well, I feel seen! While I don't have Minnesota roots, I do have some embroidered sweatshirts, and share a generational view of dealing with anxiety shared by the grandparents. Downing does an excellent job in portraying both Maia's and her grandparents' reactions to events in their lives as somewhat reasonable, but also shows that these reactions are sometimes not in their own best interests. This is such a refreshing change; usually older generations' advice or coping skills are discounted or treated as inferior, but I loved the balance, especially when everyone involved is able to heal a little bit using other methods. The Minnesota setting is fun, and Maia has a generally positive outlook, as evidenced by her willingness to work with Griffin. The details about the fire tower and quite interesting. Weaknesses: I would almost have liked to see a tiny bit more about Maia's life in Chicago so that I understood her more, but young readers will be glad that things happen right away. Starting a book with a fire is always a way to get people interested in a book. 
What I really think: Pair this one with Henry's Playing with Fire, since both include a bit about house fires and wildnerness ones, although this doesn't have the survival element of Henry's work. This had more of a feel of Bishop's Where I Used to Roam, with a problem at home that sends a child to spend the summer with relatives. An intriguing realistic fiction title with a message of resiliency and an upward emotional arc.  
Ms. Yingling