Monday, June 24, 2019

MMGM- Cover Reveal and War in the Ring

I absolutely ADORED Jason Henderson's Young Captain Nemo (March 12th 2019 by Feiwel & Friends), so was super excited to be asked to host the cover reveal for book two! Here is the cover, in all its glory!


Florio, John and Shapiro, Ouisie. War in the Ring: Joe Louis, Max Schmeling, and the Fight between America and Hitler
June 25th 2019 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC from Edelweiss

Boxing during the first half of the twentieth century was an odd mix of glamour and seediness. It was a way for hard working, impoverished young men to earn phenomenal money and gain prestige, but it was also a tough life. Joe Louis was born in Alabama, and his family moved to Detroit for a better life. He was able to use his natural abilities, get trained in boxing, and improve his situation. Max Schmeling, born in Germany, also used boxing as a way to provide a better income for himself, but because of Hitler's horrible hold over Germany, was cast into the role of a villain. Their competition took on mythic proportions in the US, as Louis was seen as the embodiment of the American spirit, and Schmeling as the embodiment of Hitler's evil plans for Germany.

This offers a good picture of the background of both men, as well as the general state of boxing at the time. It's interesting that there is a WORLD title for boxing, and that everyone seemed to care about it. Boxing seems to have gone out of favor, and for good reason. I looked at the list of Heavyweight Boxing Champions, and had to go back to 1987 to see a familiar name; Mike Tyson. This book does a great job of putting the sport into historical perspective and tying it into the conflicts of World War II.

I also appreciated that Schmeling is portrayed as a generally good guy; even though he was seen as the embodiment of Nazi ideals, he always denied any connection to the party. He even helped two young men escape the Nazis. I had friends who grew up as Hitler was rising to power, and while they didn't agree with anything he had to say, there were not many opportunities for them to actively resist what was being done to their country without endangering themselves and their families. This is a tough part of understanding Germany during WWII; while there are plenty of people like Sophie School and Dietrich Bonhoeffer who stood up against Hitler, there were scores of other Germans who did not.

This is a great length, moves quickly, and fully covers an interesting moment in history. I think my favorite part of the book might have been the notes at the end; the authors do a great job at not only citing their sources but in telling how they used those sources. What a great example for young readers! Definitely buying a copy!

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.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Digging Deep (Hoops #4)

Delle Donne, Elena. Digging Deep (Hoops #4)
June 25th 2019 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Elle is glad that she doesn't have to deal with the drama of the girls on the basketball team, even though she still loves the sport. When one of her friends asks her to pitch in on the volleyball team, since one of the members was injured, she gladly agrees, thinking it will be an easy thing to pick up. It's harder than she thinks it will be, but there aren't as many practices, and both the coach and the team members are much more laid back. She has more time, so she's able to get her homework done, hang out with her sister and her dog, and spend more time with Amanda. There's a small subplot with an antibullying group in school that helps with Elle's reconciliation with Bianca and the team, some dog training for Zobe, and lots of good details about volleyball.
Strengths: There is a decided lack of books about volleyball, so this was great to see!
Weaknesses: There was a decided lack of development in Elle's relationship with Amanda, and that was disappointing.
What I really think: The series has circulated well, so I'm glad to see more installments.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Captain Aquatica's Awesome Ocean

Cramp, Jess. Captain Aquatica's Awesome Ocean
with Grace Hill and Joe Leavit
June 11th 2019 by National Geographic Society
Copy provided by the publisher

Don't be fooled by the cartoon cover on this Science Superheroes volume about the ocean-- this book is jam packed with tons of information! Each chapter does start out with a brief graphic novel style adventure for Captain Aquatica and Finn, her hammerhead shark, but then continues with a thorough explanation of the topic, well-illustrated with National Geographic's usual fantastic photographs. The chapters cover information about waves and weather, underneath the surface, ocean engineers, animals, and sharks. I especially liked the chapters about underwater technology and saving the ocean. The page layout is exactly what I look for when investigating nonfiction for my students-- there are bold paragraph headings, pictures with information, sidebars, insets with addition information, maps, and timelines. There is also a glossary, very complete index, and list of resources. The text is interesting and supported by these items.
Strengths: For some reason, my students are VERY interested in oceans, maybe because we are land locked? Many of them talk about becoming marine biologists, and this is a perfect resource for them. The full color format makes other nonfiction seem dull, and the depth of information is amazing. The graphic novel chapter beginnings will pull readers in.
Weaknesses: The text is on the small side (10 point font). This will turn some readers away.
What I really think: This is a great book for readers who want a lot of information about all manner of aspects of oceanography!
Ms. Yingling

Friday, June 21, 2019

The Iliad by Gareth Hinds

Hinds, Gareth. The Iliad
March 12th 2019 by Candlewick Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Long ago in Ancient Greece, a prince of Troy, Paris, steals the most beautiful woman in the world from another prince, Menelaus of Sparta. Unfortunately, when Menelaus won Helen as his bride, he made all the other Greek leaders swear allegiance to him. Paris' action puts the Greek war machine into motion, and soon Troy is besieged. This goes on for a very long time, and there is a lot of drama over whether men want to be there (Odysseus famously tries to get out of fighting), how the fighting should go, and whether after almost ten years they should all give up. Lot of people die, in very gruesome ways, and a fair number of women are enslaved and treated horribly by all sides. There are heroes and villains on both sides, and the war is finally ended when the Trojans infiltrate the city inside a giant wooden horse, open the gates for the other forces, and finally take the Trojan stronghold.

This classic epic tale, whether written by Homer or another Greek man by the same name in about the 8th century B.C. is a tale with which everyone should have a passing familiarity. Readers who like to read about war will find this especially appealing, as Homer describes everything in the most florid manner. Hinds sticks closely to the original text, cutting out a great deal because of the graphic novel format, but still preserving the arc of the plot, description, and the type of language found in most of the English language translations. ("Like reapers who start from either end of a rich man's field and with sharp scythes bring barley tumbling down in armfuls till their swaths unite, so the armies closed to cut each other down." page 105)

The twist, of course, is the format. Full color illustrations capture the action, including some beheadings, with a yellow palette that reflects the sandy Greek landscape. The costumes and appearance of the characters is true to the descriptions in the original, and the style somewhere between classic book illustrations and cartoons. There is a lot of text, and the language is very descriptive, making this a good choice for high school students who want a more visual approach to this story but don't want to sacrifice details.

Hinds' specialty is graphic adaptations of classics (Romeo and Juliet, Beowulf, King Lear), and this hefty tome would make the Greeks proud, since they valued retellings of stories. Hinds' research is documented in notes in the back, and the translations he consulted are discussed. Hand this one to high school students struggling to comprehend this for class, or for middle school students who want to look really smart!

What I Really Think: This is a LOT of text for a graphic novel-- I don't see my middle schoolers checking this out at all. Homer's prose is rather deathly dull considering how full of action the story is, and had I written this, I would have pruned it quite a bit. The snobby former Latin teacher (my minor in college was Ancient Greek!) in me wants to complain that the story was based off of translations and not the original, but that's a pretty silly quibble! This is Hinds' style, and he has a point in wanting to preserve the original language-- I prefer stories to be updated with modern language that students can understand. I was probably scarred by the Good News Bible popular in my youth.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, June 20, 2019

This Book Is Cute: The Soft and Squishy Science and Culture of Aww

Flynn, Sarah Wassner. This Book Is Cute: The Soft and Squishy Science and Culture of Aww
March 19th 2019 by National Geographic Society
Copy provided by the publisher

Thanks to this book, I know that scented, Hello Kitty print toilet paper exists! This charmingly photographed book (so much cuteness in full color!) has a lot of solid science behind it, presented in a very logical way. It starts with why babies are so cute (although I would beg to differ!) and describes why this is essential to baby's survival. There are also chapters about animals and cuteness in other parts of the world. Japan's Kawaii culture is given a lot of attention, including information about Hello Kitty! The chapter on cute food was so interesting, and helped me understand why Teddy Grahams taste way better than regular old rectangular graham crackers! I feel almost compelled to invest in a Bento box! This, of course, feeds right into the chapter on the business aspect of cute, including how cute goes viral.

For additional information, there is a section on cute jobs, as well as how to photograph and draw cute! There is a great index (which I always like to see) as well as complete credits, so readers know that yes, you must state where you got your pictures! I would have liked to see a bibliography so that interested readers could investigate this topic more, but I imagine the books the author consulted are fairly academic.

If you need a book that will keep a young reader's interest on a long car ride, this is a fantastic choice. This would spark lots of conversation, and would also be helpful when those readers are asleep and their adults need something to read!

If you have an Instagram account, you MUST follow @purrfosters! They named a little of puppies after Ellen Miles' Puppy Place books! This is about the cutest thing I have even seen! 

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Missing Piece of Charlie O'Reilly

Ansari, Rebecca K.S. The Missing Piece of Charlie O'Reilly
March 5th 2019 by Walden Pond Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

For the last year, Charlie has maintained that he used to have a younger brother named Liam, but he disappeared one night and no one in his family ever remembered him. All of his things were just gone. Charlie's best friend Ana supports him, even if she doesn't completely believe him, and Charlie needs this support because for the last year his mother has been so depressed that she doesn't even care for him properly. As the anniversary of the disappearance approaches, Charlie is determined to find out what happened, and gets a tip to check with Jonathon, a teen coach for his baseball team. Jonathon confirms that Charlie could be right-- he himself was once gone, but chose to return. The problem is that Liam has wished that he was never born, and his wish was granted. Johnathon was in a similar position (he injured his brother badly, but one he disappeared, so did the brother's injuries), and not just creeps on his family, since they no longer recognize him. He knows a way that Charlie can get Liam back, but it will be difficult. Charlie is also having vivid dreams about an Irish immigrant family who came to the US to escape the Irish Potato Famine. When Ana, Jonathon and Charlie go to an old, burnt out asylum where Liam is purportedly being held, these elements coalesce, many secrets are revealed, and Charlie has to find a way to make his family whole again.
Strengths: This had some creepy moments-- one character in the asylum in particular is quite scary, but I don't want to ruin the surprise. There are a lot of interesting threads that are woven together nicely, and even though some are a bit predictable, the results are often surprising and coalesce in a way middle grade readers can understand. Loads of heartfelt descriptions of parental and sibling love, unconditional forgiveness, and other emotions that most people think are great. I can see this being a class read aloud, with lots of good discussion.
Weaknesses: Not a great cover, and the themes of love and forgiveness overshadow the creepy aspects. I need more creepy books, but I'm just not sure about this one.
What I really think:  I see this being checked out and then returned for not being creepy soon enough. The first few pages are everything for middle grade readers, and the haunted house on the cover but the first chapter of parental depression feels like a bait-and-switch.

Personal note: It's bad enough that middle grade parents in novels frequently become so grief stricken over a death of a child that they become incompetent-- now we have a parent who doesn't even remember the loss of a child and can't go on. This is beyond insulting. Maybe authors are trying to give students the message that they need to be careful with their lives so they don't destroy their parents and I should be grateful, but it's just hard to feel that way. At the very least, if we have depressed parents, can we get them some therapy?

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Curse of Greg (An Epic Series of Failures #2)

Rylander, Chris. The Curse of Greg (An Epic Series of Failures #2)
June 18th 2019 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Greg and his new friends are on another Monster Pacification Mission after The Legend of Greg, this time in Evanston. A gargoyle has gotten down off the roof of a building and is terrorizing passers by (shown on the cover). Things don't go smoothly; Greg's pants do indeed catch on fire. However, the group is able to subdue the monster, and Glam smashes it to bits just in case. The instances of monsters wreaking havoc are growing, but humans haven't yet noticed. Along with these threats, Greg notices that his father's behavior is becoming increasingly odd, and he suspects an elven poison, no thanks to his former friend, Edwin.  The group is sent on another MPM to the Wisconsin Dells, to investigate a Rock Troll. Eagan can't go, because he is elected to the council, but the rest go, promising Dunmor that they will resort to violence only as a last resort. This is a good thing because Stony, the rock troll, has been hugging the animals and sending "gifts" to tourists, and doesn't mean to be destructive. They plan to take Stony back to Chicago, and Greg promises that the dwarves won't imprison him the way the elves had. Of course, the adults think differently, and Greg has to do a lot of work to insure that Stony can be free. Then, the group is off to New Orleans to try to find the antidote to the poison ingested by Greg's father, and they are also interested in the Faranglegt Amulet of Sahar, which the fairies hid, and which is the key to dealing with the problem of magic on earth. Eventually, Greg is captured by Edwin and taken to the west coast, where he is held in a fairly comfortable prison, taken on walks by the charming elf, Lixi, and gets to play chess with Edwin. Edwin has decided that all magic should be abolished in order to promote harmony on earth, but he and a few of his trusted friends should be able to do magic in order to keep everyone else in line. Greg knows this isn't a good idea, and his sword keeps telling him that he should be the one in charge, but he and Edwin at least make a little bit of peace with each other. Once Greg is free to return to Chicago, he considers more seriously finding the Faranglegt Amulet, and I suspect that will be the mission in the next book. 
Strengths: This starts with lots of action and incorporates it nicely into the story. There's some background information that is necessary, but it's always bracketed by things being smashed. This is perfect for my students who abhor "nothing happening". It's goofy, too, but not in a way that is too young. The chapter headings are very reminiscent of The Lighting Thief, which is a good way to sell this to those readers. I love Greg-- he is a bit haphazard, but so well meaning. He misses Edwin but understands why their rift occurred, he is very concerned about his father, and he really wants to do the right thing when it comes to the use of magic in the world and the problems with monsters showing up-- but he doesn't quite know what that is. There's a lot of character development and philosophy, brilliantly surrounded by GLAMSMASHING!
Weaknesses: If young readers are easily confused or struggle with text, this is not a book for them. It is wildly frenetic, there are lots of characters, and there are enough dwarven and elvish words that they might get lost. This is okay-- the target demographic of fantasy readers will love all of these details.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, as the first one in the series has been wildly popular with the fans of this author and of mythologically based adventure books like Rick Riordan's. 




I think I know where the Faranglegt Amulet is. Just sayin'. Also have to say that I was absolutely not in the mood to read this. I love Rylander's work and thoroughly enjoyed the first book... in the summer, when I was not six books behind schedule and in the middle of testing at school. This is an important reminder that sometimes middle school students are not in the mood for their usual fare, and why I occasionally hand 8th graders Stick Dog... and it makes them happy. 

Whitesides, Tyler. The Wishbreaker (Wishmakers #2)
January 8th 2019 by HarperCollins
Public library copy

Again, the week before school is out for the summer is NOT the time for me to read goofy fantasy. I loved the first one, and this author's Janitors series remains popular, so I will definitely purchase. 

Publisher's description
"
Being a Wishmaker may be more trouble than it’s worth. Sure, you get a genie who can grant an unlimited number of wishes, but for each one you make you have to accept an awful consequence in return. Not to mention that you’re also given an impossible quest and only seven days to fulfill it!
Despite all that, Ace and his genie, Ridge, managed to complete their last mission—but they couldn’t save their friend Tina from being abducted by a rogue genie who’s bent on using his limitless power to rule the world. To rescue her, Ace must reunite with Ridge to become a Wishmaker once more, and they’ll need to team up with the unlikeliest of new allies. It’s not every day you get a second chance to save the world, so Ace is determined to learn from his past mistakes and wish for the best, literally.
Perfect for fans of Max Brailler, Adam Gidwitz, and Dan Gutman, this middle grade series is a wonderful mix of unpredictable magic, zany humor, and daring adventure. “An ingenious premise” raved Kirkus in a starred review!"

Monday, June 17, 2019

MMGM- Silver Batal and the Water Dragon Races (Water Dragon Races #1)

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.

Halbrook, K.D. Silver Batal and the Water Dragon Races (Water Dragon Races #1)
June 4th 2019 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Silver comes from a family of jewelers in the desert community of Jaspaton, and is expected to follow the family trade, but she really wants to be a water dragon racers like her idol, Saggitaria Wonder. Her cousin and best friend, Brajon, is supportive of her, but realizes it will be very difficult for her to pursue this path. When Wonder is due to visit her town, Silver hopes to impress her by making a flying suit, which she does with the help of a mysterious older woman, Nebbeker, who has a past different from most of the people in Silver's community. However, when Silver meets the famous racer, the woman is not only rude, but ends up kidnapping a rare Aquinder, Kirja, (a type of dragon) with whom Nebbeker shares a bond. Silver discovers that she herself has a bond with Kirja's offspring, whom she names Hiyyan. Her only hope to regain Kirja lies in legalities, and if she can enter and race Hiyyan in the competition, she can claim Hiyyan and also ask the queen to restore Kirja to Nebbeker. This is, of course, a vast undertaking, but with the help of Brajon as well as a Calidian servant girl, she manages to hold her own in the competition.
Strengths: This has a lot of action and adventure, with not only the dragon racing but also a journey through caverns, battling the evil Wonder, and surviving in the big city. Brajon and Silver get along nicely, and Nebbeker is an interesting character as well. Plus, of course, being bonded with a dragon!
Weaknesses: The world building on this was weak for me. Not only was it not a well defined place (even though there were some details that lead me to believe there should be one), but the background seemed lacking. Maybe we will get more details as the series continues. On a purely personal level, I'm never a fan of the "follow your dream no matter how misguided it may be" plot line. I was a Latin teacher, after all. And I'm not now. I should have known that was a bad idea!
What I really think: I will purchase this to keep up with the newly arisen demand for dragon books like Tui Sutherland's Wings of Fire series.
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Planet Earth is Blue

Panteleakos, Nicole. Planet Earth is Blue
May 14th 2019 by Wendy Lamb Books
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Nova is severely autistic and verbally unintelligible, although she can manage simple things like "yes", "no", and some names. She and her older sister Bridget have been in the foster care system for a number of years because their mother was mentally ill and could not care for them. Bridget understood Nova, and told everyone that her sister was "a thinker, not a talker". The two were very interested in the upcoming Challenger space launch in 1986, and although they are currently separated (Bridget is almost 18), Nova is sure that her sister will return. Nova's current foster family is very understanding and supportive, and Nova is starting to feel at home there. Her foster mother and father don't believe the former school records that indicate that Nova is severely retarded (the term used at the time) and basically unteachable, and are looking forward to her testing results in her new school. Nova does understand the world around her, and writes letters to her sister that tell the reader much about what she is thinking, even though another student looks at the letter and indicates that while some words are recognizable, it looks largely like  scribble. Nova does well in her new school and makes some friends, and her home life is definitely an improvement, since the family (including a college aged daughter) understand that her "odd noises" are sometimes laughter, that her favorite bear has a name, and that she can understand requests to modify her behavior and comply with them. When her class at school watches the Challenger lift off and are faced with the horrible disaster, Nova is understandably upset, and also comes to terms with the real reason that Bridget has not returned for the launch.
Strengths: While this is not a true #ownvoices book, the author experienced sensory processing disorders as a child, which added a layer of verisimilitude to the things like tags in clothing and noises that irritated Nova. It's written with a nice balance of Nova's own thoughts, and her experiences through the lenses of others. The historical setting of the Challenger disaster is something for which I have been looking for some time. While there are many sad things about this book, it is generally upbeat, and the portrayal of a successful foster care family is something that is more and more needed in middle grade literature.
Weaknesses: The extra level of sad at the end, concerning Bridget, was unnecessary and unexpected, but not in a good way.
What I really think: I will probably purchase this because it involves a character on the autism spectrum, foster care, and an interesting historical setting, but it strikes me as the sort of book that teachers recommend to students rather than the sort they request from me. This is an ongoing dichotomy that I just don't understand, but which probably exists because tweens are not the ones who purchase books, their parents, teachers, and librarians do. If we asked tweens what they wanted and published accordingly, all that would hit the market would be humorous sports-oriented graphic novel murder mysteries. Surely, there is a happier medium!

Aldrin, Buzz and Dyson, Marianne. Bruce Foster (Illustrations)
To the Moon and Back: My Apollo 11 Adventure 
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Astronaut and prolific author (Welcome to Mars: Making a Home on the Red Planet, 2015) Buzz Aldrin brings his experiences to a younger audience with the clever and fascinating pop up book. With the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 expedition, there have been lots of books available, and this is not only a complete explanation of the adventure, but a fun one as well!

Mr. Aldrin details his early career and selection for the mission and adds details about other astronauts, rocket details, and brief outlines of the events that occurred. While this book is fairly short, there is a lot of information of which I was unaware. The print is rather tiny, which is great for fitting everything in, but a bit difficult if this is to be used as a read aloud. I would love to have all of this information, plus some more details, in a more middle grade format, since it is absolutely fascinating. I loved knowing that the astronauts had freeze dried shrimp cocktail in space, and that the astronauts had such a good sense of humor!

The accompanying photographs add necessary visual explanation to the story, and Foster's paper engineering is brilliant. There are five very complete pop ups, as well as pull out information, lift-a-flaps and other incidentals. While these are difficult for libraries to have, given the wear and tear, they are brilliant for encouraging interest in topics at home. I have to admit that I opened the page with the rocket launch several times, and it was very effective.

Young scientists who are interested in space travel will find this a compelling look at a space mission that cemented the US position in history and captured the imagination of generations of people. As we get nearer and nearer to the July 2019 anniversary, I'll be on the lookout for more nonfiction books on the topic. This would be a great resource to have for readers who are enjoying I Love You, Michael Collins (2017) by Lauren Baratz-Logsted.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Magic on the Map

Sheinmel, Courtney and Turetsky, Bianca. Let's Mooove!
May 7th 2019 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

Finn and Molly Parker's father brings home a travel camper for which he has traded his car. Their mother is not happy, and requests that the camper be returned. While the twins are not really happy about the thought of traveling, they are curious about the camper, and sneak into it at night. They find that the camper talks to them, and befreo they know it, they are on a dude ranch in Colorado! The camper (aka PET- Planet Earth Transport) tells them that they can return once they are done with their mission. This turns out to be saving a cow, Snowflake, who has extra tasty milk, from the clutches of the EZ Cheez villains. Mission accomplished, the twins return home to get ready for further adventures in...

Sheinmel, Courtney and Turetsky, Bianca. The Show Must Go On!
May 7th 2019 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

This time, When Finn and Molly get in the camper, they are whisked off to New York City and garbed in the finest local clothing. ( A baseball jersey and "I Love NY" shirt.)Hallie Hampton, star of the television program Awesome Sauce, stops in her limousine and asks the kids to jump in. She thinks they live in New York and can help her win a POP Magazine scavenger hunt, the prize to which is being photographed by famed portrait artist Billie Fischer. Hallie has to get to a rehearsal for a play, so she deputizes the Parkers to follow the clues, racing against her nemesis, Cleo. Cleo is dastardly and tries to win using mean ways, but the Parkers are good kids, so people want to help them out with helicopters! They lose the contest on a technicality, but their mission turns out to be supportive of Hallie during her play. 

Strengths: The Parkers are from Ohio! Since this series will most likely have the children traveling all over the US, this made me happy. Ohio is rather centrally located when it comes to highways, even if they are traveling magically. There are fun facts about the states at the end of the book, and enough about the local residents to make this interesting.
Weaknesses: There will be a review somewhere that mentions that this book has a "white default". It does. But it would be a little odd if ALL of the books published were #WNDB. I would argue that these are so short that there isn't really time to work a particular ethnicity into the book. I was more bothered by the noses in the (otherwise fantastic!) illustrations. (They are much darker than the characters' faces, making them look like Pinocchio somehow. I am very picky about noses, apparently.)
What I really think: I won't be purchasing for my library, but these reminded me a lot of Osborne's Magic Treehouse books, but without a central quest. I would have been scouring the thrift stores for this series twenty years ago! (My budget, sadly, did not extend to new books, which is why my girls have fond memories of books that people ten years older than they are read!) A definite purchase for elementary schools or parents of voracious first to third grade readers.


Ms. Yingling

Friday, June 14, 2019

Guy Friday- Pie in the Sky

Lai, Remy. Pie in the Sky
May 14th 2019 by Henry Holt and Co.
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Jingwen, his annoying little brother Yanghao, and his mother all leave their home and grandparents to move to Australia. This had been the plan for a while, but it changed a bit after the father died in a car accident right before Jingwen's birthday. Now, the mother is working in a bakery (since the grandparents run a no-nonsense, serviceable bakery back home) and is very busy. There is no chance that the family will be able to open the bakery the father envisioned and called Pie in the Sky. He wanted to make beautiful, expensive cakes, and he and Jingwen would practice baking them. With his mother gone all the time and pressure at school building up, Jingwen starts to bake cakes at home even though his mother has forbidden it. He takes his savings to buy the ingredients, and he and Yanghao have to eat all of the cake, or give some to their neighbor, pretending it's from the bakery where their mother works. At school, Jingwen struggles with English, and therefore can't do much of the work. He also finds it hard to make friends, especially when he hears Ben, a boy whom he thinks is nice and who might be his friend, laughing with another boy that Jingwen is "slow". Ben also seems to like to bake, and brings Jingwen cake, but Jingwen suspects it is a joke, and throws the cake away. The mother almost catches on several times that cakes are being made, and takes the cookbooks to work, but the boys go to the library to get recipe books and continue on their quest. When Yanghao finally makes Jingwen really mad and then runs away, the boys' secrets come to light. The mother steps in to help more, and Jingwen finally talks to Ben to set things right, and the boys bond over their cake baking, since Ben's mother owns the bakery where Jingwen's works.
Strengths: This is an illustrated novel, and those always do well. The pictures are a great way for Jingwen to show how out of place he feels; when he doesn't understand the language around him, he portrays others as space aliens with incomprehensible symbols coming from their mouths. There are not a lot of books that talk about the process of assimilating into a new school culture, with Weeks and Varadarajan 's Save Me a Seat and Freeman's One Good Thing About America being notable exceptions, and this is an excellent portrayal of the feelings of trying to fit in while missing home. It's fairly upbeat and funny, but with the underlying grief about the father and missing the grandparents. 
Weaknesses:
The brother was beyond annoying, so I didn't find him as funny as some readers did. Also, this comes very close to be sodden with grief about the father. Not quite, but the father could just have easily had to stay with the grandparents instead of being killed. I also was surprised that the Australian school system seemed to lack support for English Language Learners. I hope that our recent immigrant children are not just thrown into the deep end like Jingwen was!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and I can see this being a good mirror and window book for my younger readers. While 8th graders should read this, the cartoon cover might turn them away.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Fangs for Everything (Crimebiters #4)

Greenwald, Tommy. Fangs for Everything (Crimebiters #4)
January 29th 2019 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Jimmy and his friends are back for this fourth and final installment, which starts with a bit of a shocker... Daisy has become a cheerleader! Jimmy is surprised, but Daisy maintains that it's a difficult sport, and wants Jimmy to be supportive of her. Jimmy has other things on his mind-- he's starting to wonder if Abby perhaps isn't really a vampire, not matter what her super powers seem to be. To start his investigation, he writes to the author of the the Jonah Forrester vampire novels he loves, Elroy Evans. To his surprise, Mr. Evans not only writes back, but invites Jimmy to a COM-MIX convention as his guest! Jimmy, along with Irwin and Baxter, have trouble believing that Daisy is a cheerleader, and their antics regarding this lead to a very nice cafeteria lady, Clarice, having lasagna dumped on her head. This gets Jimmy in trouble, but he has a lot of difficulty trying to explain himself to the nice assistant principal. Jimmy is having a lot of trouble dealing with people, it seems, and when he and his friends finally get to COM-MIX, they are turned away by guards who claim that only Jimmy can get in, and certainly not his dog. Mr. Evans makes sure that the entire group gets in, and takes a lot of time to talk to them. However, Mr. Evans son is less than happy with the way his father is treating Jimmy, and there is some hectic misunderstanding. In the end, Jimmy realizes that Abby can be a fabulous dog even if she really isn't a vampire.

While most readers will know that Abby isn't really a vampire, they will still enjoy this playful romp with the Crimebiters. The best part of the book is the way that the friends work together. Daisy may be popular, Irwin may be a bit of a nerd, and Baxter's checkered past as a bully still crops up from time to time, but the children all genuinely like each other and work well together. There are some very realistic dynamics portrayed-- the boys are surprised when Daisy becomes a cheerleader, and neither Irwin nor Jimmy are happy when she seems interested in a boy who is not either of them. Daisy takes over the presidency of the Crimebiters, and wants to move the meetings to a better location, which Jimmy doesn't like until he realizes it involves homemade ice cream sandwiches. My favorite part was when Irwin decided to be a cheerleader, and when he gets flak about him, he gets support not only from his friends but from an unlikely source as well.

Working a comics convention into a book is always fun, and the author is especially nice to Jimmy. Evans' sons actions are a bit over the top, but ultimately understandable, and the resolution is satisfactory. As always, Jimmy's parents are supportive of his actions and accompany him on this trip, even though they are a bit disappointed about the incident with the cafeteria lady.

Stower's illustrations are a nice touch, and their inclusion makes it easy to hand this book to readers who have read all of the notebook novels available and are able to move onto books with slightly more text. Hand this series to fans of clue oriented mysteries like the Hardy Boys or Ron Roy's various beginning chapter books, and make sure they've read the first three books in this series.

My Dog is Better Than Your Dog
It's a Doggy Dog World
Dog Day Afterschool

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Village by the Sea

Desai, Anita. The Village by the Sea
April 16th 2019 by NYRB Kids (first published 1982)
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Lila and Hari live in a small village in India. Their mother is very ill and never gets out of bed, and their father has had to sell his boat. He now uses the little money they bring in to get drunk on toddy every night. Lila takes care of the house, and Hari tries to earn a little money doing odd jobs. They do manage to send their two younger sisters to school. When a factory is set to be built in their area, Hari at first thinks that it will be a good thing, and provide him with a job, but then starts to wonder. Rich people from Bombat, the deSilvas, often come to stay at their house near the beach and hire Lila and Hari to do small jobs; Mr. deSilva tells Hari that if he is ever in Bombay, he will hire him to be a caretaker. When a group protesting the factory decides to go to Bombay, Hari goes as well. At about this time, the mother has a very high fever, and Lila asks the deSilvas to take her to the hospital. They do, and even kindly offer to pay for the medicine. The mother is severely anemic and generally run down, so an extended stay in the hospital is indicated. The father stays as well, and stops drinking. Hari finds the deSilvas aren't in Bombay, and decides to go home after working in very bad conditions at a restaurant, although he does meet very nice people. Although it looks like the factory will destroy the environment around the town, Hari and Lila try to appreciate their somewhat improved lives and hope for the best for the future.
Strengths: The details of daily life in rural India, and some of the problems faced by people in small villages, are all very well described. The writing is very rich with details, and shows a clear love of the environment, despite its sadness. I love books set in other countries, especially India, and wish there were more to share with my students.
Weaknesses: This was crushingly sad, and when something happened to the children's dog, I just about stopped reading! Because this was first published 37 years ago, I felt there needed to be a note of explanation with it. Is life still like this in India? Have things changed? In towns where factories were built, is life better or worse? Since I don't know the answers to these questions, I can't tell my students whether this should be considered historical fiction, or whether it is still an accurate depiction of life in rural India.
What I really think: This is available only in a paperback version, so I think I'll pass and recommend Padma Venkatraman's The Bridge Home or Saeed's Amal Unbound instead.

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Destination Moon

Mauerer, Richard. Destination Moon: The Remarkable and Improbable Voyage of Apollo 11
June 11th 2019 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Don't be fooled by the title; this is a great book to hand to your World War II fans. Why? It traces the science and politics that went into the development of the US space program from their roots during WWII to the Apollo program. Since I just had a student do a National History Day project on the technology developed during this military conflict that later had widespread civilian use, I was captivated.

While there are some tantalizing snippets of information about what people thought space exploration would look like, this mainly details the nitty gritty of the many people involved with developing rockets, starting with men who were pilots and engineers during WWII. This is interspersed with what was going on politically in the world, from Stalin in the U.S.S.R. to China and North Korea. There is a lot of information packed into the pages, but I found it oddly riveting.

Werner von Braun's career is given a lot of attention; he was certainly a rock star of his day, and I rather want to read a biography of him now! I loved the connection to Walt Disney and the children's programming of the time. It is hard to remember how homogeneous American culture was in the 1950s and 60s-- there were limited television channels, and everyone received the same limited amount of news from that and newspapers. It lead to much more of a single society mind set, but that also meant that excitement for the newly emerging space program was all focused on similar issues.

From there, the detailed developments and plans for the Apollo mission are outlined, and the mission followed. I especially liked the information about the aftermath of the mission, and the facts that there were 400,000 people involved in the project at that it cost 25 billion dollars, and that was on budget! Main players in the book are followed for a few years as well.

There are great photographs through, as well as source notes and timeline at the end, and my e ARC indicated but did not show an index. This is a great book for research for middle school students. It is a bit on the long side for most students (400 pages) unless they are really interested in the topic, and it's a bit dense, but I did find it to be extremely engaging and not dry, probably because of the emphasis on the individuals involved.

Monday, June 10, 2019

MMGM- Parker Bell and the Science of Friendship; Build Your Own Theme Park

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.


Platt, Cynthia. Parker Bell and the Science of Friendship
May 21st 2019 by Clarion Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Parker always hangs out with her friend Cassie, and the two have a lot in common, including a love of science. When their class has a science triathlon, Parker is really excited about the Science Bee, Egg Drop, and Animal Adaptation Presentation... until Cassie invites Theo to join them. Parker thinks he's a good student, but he seems to have a lot of trouble talking to her, although he seems perfectly comfortable with others. The three do well with the trivia questions, but struggle a bit with the egg drop competition. Parker really wants to do well with the final presentation, especially since triplets in the class, who normally are just goofy and disruptive, are doing really well in class for a change. Theo raises chickens, and thinks there could be a project there, but the group decides to build a fleet of robotic guinea pigs. They approach their work very productively, and come up with a good project, but things don't go smoothly during the presentation. Parker and her friends realize that scientists aren't always successful at specific projects, but the process of discovering information is always instructive, and they must learn from their mistakes.
Strengths: Parker is a fun character who has her own science workshop, posters of Jane Goodall and Mae Jemison, and supportive parents who help her, even if they have their own interests (mom is a gym teacher and dad runs a bakery). Her long time friendship with Cassie is great, and it's very realistic that she would be upset about adding a new friend into the mix. The science competition sounds much more enticing than the standard science fair or invention convention, and it's good to see the students excited about science.
Weaknesses: Theo's awkwardness around Parker seemed a bit forced, stemming from a long ago incident, but since I held a grudge against someone for stealing my purple crayon in third grade until well into high school, I should accept this as completely realistic!
What I really think: I enjoyed this, especially with the science component, but both the interest in academic matters and the nature of the friend problems put this more into the elementary realm for me. It's a tough line; sometimes my students skew very young in their interests, and sometimes they don't. I will think about purchasing this next year, depending on my new batch of sixth graders!

Lunney, Lizz. Build Your Own Theme Park: A Paper Cut-Out Book
June 11th 2019 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

Quick! Where are my sharp scissors that can be used on paper? This activity book begs to be immediately cut up, glued and taped together into the brilliantly pastel theme park showed on the cover. Two cats help guide us through the directions. Each element of the theme park is set aside, with complete instructions, photographs of the finished product (very helpful!), and tips on how to work the tabs, set up characters, and arrange the buildings. One of my favorite parts of the theme park was the BACK of the sheets-- they are printed with an element that coordinates with the building, like cats, unicorns, or suns! Since I've been doing a lot of quilting lately, I sort of want some of these pages reproduced in fabric!

Summer is the perfect time for activity books like this-- clear off a table or floor somewhere, and watch as the village  unfolds on rainy or cold days. While middle school students could easily put these items together on their own, younger children would need some help with construction, as well as with cutting out the pieces neatly. With the ubiquity of cell phones, I wonder have the scissor skills of the average six year old are developing? This is a great way to unplug children, reinforce their manual dexterity, and fire their imaginations.

I do like the end of the book, where our friends the cats talk about ways to add to the theme park using original drawings and ideas. When I was a child, I spent endless hours with shoeboxes and wallpaper sample books, creating all sorts of things, and my own girls were into cardboard construction as well. Build Your Own Theme Park could easily occupy many happy hours and be a springboard for a lot of creative and imaginative play.