Friday, October 18, 2019

Michigan vs. The Boys

Allen, Carrie S. Michigan vs. The Boys
October 1st 2019 by Kids Can Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Michigan loves playing on her high school girls' hockey team, but budget cuts dissolve not only her team, but the school's boys' swim team. There aren't a lot of other options for her to play in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Her friend Brie has wealthy parents to send her to a boarding school in Chicago, and a couple of friends drive an hour to play on another town's team. A couple decide to join the girls' swim team instead. At first, Michigan decides she will just help coach her brother Trent's middle school team, but she is inspired by the only girl on that team, Morgan, to try out for the high school boys' team.  She's an excellent player, and makes the team, which doesn't make the coach or the other players happy. The coach (who is Morgan's step father) tells the team that they are not allowed to socialize with Michigan, and she has to change in the ice rink's broom closet. Those are the least of her problems. Boys spill coffee down her neck in the school cafeteria, vandalize her possessions, and eventually beat her up. Michigan doesn't want to tell anyone and jeopardize her place on the team, so she stoically puts up with all of the macro and micro aggressions. One teammate, Avery, is supportive and helpful, but he is also concerned that the team will turn on him if he supports her. One bright spot is Jack, a swimmer who is not only hot but also evolved. He encourages Michigan to try out for the team and is supportive of her efforts. Eventually, the abuse reaches a point where it crosses a line into illegality, and even then, Michigan finds herself negotiating with the main perpetrator to keep things quiet. Eventually, however, things go public and Michigan has to have help from her parents to start legal proceedings against the boys. There is some misunderstanding with Jack, but this is quickly cleared up, and it turns out that the boys giving Michigan a hard time were also terrorizing others on the team. With the state tournament coming up, how will the team be able to go forward with no coach and several key players out of the game?
Strengths: Like Mathieu's Moxie, this takes on toxic masculinity and showcases the difficulty that women in sports can still face. Michigan just wants to play hockey; why should this be difficult? The treatment of Michigan by the coach and the boys on the team points out something I have long said: there is a real need for education when it comes to how kids treat and view each other. Many of them, like Dylan, have been carefully taught, and we have finally reached a point in time where this behavior is NOT going to fly. Still, I love that Allen was able to make Michigan determined but also somehow accepting of the behavior, in that she put up with mistreatment instead of immediately calling it out. I also adored Jack-- can we just make a law requiring all teenaged boys to be this evolved? They should be. He likes that Michigan is just as focused on hockey as he is on swimming, and this is what draws him to her. I also appreciated that eventually, Michigan knew she had to make the hard choice and make matters public. The delineation of everything that happens is very informative. Strong characters, strong writing, and a strong message.
Weaknesses: There is a plethora of f-bombs. Add that to the drinking and drugging, and I am going to pass for middle school even though it was a riveting read.
What I really think: I would definitely buy this for a high school and think it is an important story, but it's a bit much for middle school. I'll make sure the public library looks into purchasing a copy; if I have students get the book from the public library, I never have to get involved in meetings challenging my purchases. Just how life works.

COTA day, which is a teacher work day. Overdue slips, gluing books back together, weeding-- all sorts of glamor here!

Heading to the Rhinebeck Wool Festival after work today with my daughter, so will be wearing this sweater I knit in 1986 with wool I bought in Athens, Greece!

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Beast (Darkdeep #2)

Condie, Ally and Reichs, Brendan. The Beast
September 24th 2019 by Bloomsbury Children's Books
ARC provided by the publisher

Timbers is safe because of the efforts of Nico, Opal, Tyler, Emma, and Logan in The Darkdeep, and now the friends just want to get back to normal. That's not easy to do when creatures keep appearing even when the kids are not going into the pool at Still Cove. As Torchbearers, they all know they need to keep the various creatures at bay, because no one else in town seems to understand how serious the threat is. This is apparent when Colton Bridger of the Freakshow shows up in town with his crew, intent of capturing the Beast for the show. The town has gone into Beast Fever, with t shirts, hamburgers and other tourist items for sale, and Emma wants so desperately to keep the producer away from Still Cove that she signs up to be an unpaid worker. There are some further clues about Torchbearers unearthed in town, and the green blob in a jar talks not only to Opal, but starts giving information to the others. More and more creatures make their way into our dimension, and the Torchbearers are told they need to "Repair the Seal" in the Rift. But how? During Halloween, there are an impressive number of creatures on the loose, but no one except our heroes realizes that they are a danger. Luckily, Tyler is able to save the day and keep the Beast from harming anyone. The Rift is still open, the blob seems more and more evil, and the Torchbearers are barely able to conceal the supernatural happenings. How long will they be able to keep Timbers safe?
Strengths: I'm late to the trend of Stranger Things (I don't have a television, and I'm not about to PAY for programs.), but it must be a Big Deal because I've read several books that compare themselves to the program. Unexplained evil on the loose, children saving the day-- that's a whole lot of middle grade stories, but the fresh twist in The Darkdeep and The Beast is fighting monsters. I do have students ask for books about this topic, and there haven't been a whole lot. The monsters are well done (always good to delve into people's darkest fears), the small town setting adds another level of angst and politics, and the inclusion of a paranormal show trying to cover an event that they suspect is fake but is actually real is a fun twist.
Weaknesses: I don't find monster books scary at all. Of all of the things that could happen in the world, this is about the least likely. I also don't believe in ghosts or space aliens, but even those seem more believable. Since my students get worried about things like killer clowns on the loose, however, this shouldn't be an issue with them.
What I really think: I always need more scary books, so I'll definitely purchase.

Bwahahaha! $3 at the thrift store. This dress makes me so happy!

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

#WNDB- Bouncing Back and Look Both Ways

Ostler, Scott. Bouncing Back
October 8th 2019 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Carlos Cooper "the Hooper" is in a wheelchair after an accident that claimed the lives of both his parents. He is fortunate that his very supportive Aunt Rosie and Uncle Augie have stepped in to raise him, even if it means moving several hours away from his old friends. Wanting to get Carlos interested in something, his aunt and uncle have him go to the Buccaneers wheel chair basketball practice. It seems like an impossible task, especially since the coach, Trooper, doesn't cut the athletes any slack just because they are in wheelchairs. Luckily, the team is supportive and know from experience how hard it is to start, and James gives him a lot of support, as does Mia. The group plays in a run down building called the "Rat Palace" that was built in the 1950s and has fallen on hard times. That's not as big a problem as is Stomper, a kid at school who menaces other kids, including Carlos. Carlos stands up to him, and when his Aunt Rosie tells him that Roland is having a hard time, Carlos does try to make peace with the bully. The two have a tentative peace, which is tested when the Rat Palace faces demolition, in part at the hands of Roland's father. Carlos helps Roland make the basketball team, and Roland, who is given a hard time by his father, helps the Carlos' team (rechristened the "Rollin' Rats") find a way to save their gym. City government corruption must be outed, and Carlos has help from a law student at a local doughnut shop as well as a cub reporter from the local paper who is very interested in the research Carlos has done into the history of the building. When Carlos' uncle's job at the Parks Department is in jeopardy because of Carlos' actions, he tries to step away from the team effort to save the building. At the same time, the team does very well and is off to a big tournament, where Carlos is able to reconnect with a friend from his own team. How will Carlos deal with these important distractions as well as his new life with his aunt and uncle?
Strengths: The treatment of grief and moving forward in this book is so well done. Yes, Carlos is dealing with horrible, overwhelming loss, but he also knows that he is lucky to have his aunt and uncle. There is talk of being in counseling, and the aunt and uncle are supportive but not enabling. Add to that the fact that Carlos' trauma is not the whole story, and that's what makes this especially good. The kids have to band together to save the gym from evil developers and city govvernment while playing basketball. Yes! It is possible to have serious issues in a book that is hopeful and interesting and not soggily sad.
Weaknesses: The story arc with Stomper/Roland starts out a bit cliched, but redeems itself.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, so that now I will have two wheelchair basketball books; this, and Eric Walter's Rebound(2000).


  Reynolds, Jason. Look Both Ways
October 8th 2019 by Atheneum
E ARC from Netgalley

This collection of loosely connected short stories features characters in an inner city setting who face a variety of problems. Jasmine has sickle cell anemia and has been out of school for a month, and her parents are also divorcing. Another group of children steal pocket change because they each have a parent with cancer and are in the free lunch program. All of the stories are set in school and on the way home.

I find it very difficult to review short story collections-- do I review each story, or just give general impressions of the collection as a whole? Also, my students are generally not fans of short stories-- when I inherited my school collection, there were six shelves of "Story Collections" that never got checked out, with the exception of scary short stories like Alvin Schwartz's. Reynolds is one of the more literary middle grade writers working today, so I'm sure in ten years we will see these stories pop up in literature textbooks, and they might be interesting to use in the classroom. I was just left wanting more-- what was the character's back story? What happened to them afterwards? The only Reynolds' books that do well in my library are the Track books, but will probably purchase.


Why I don't spend time on Twitter: An author retweeted something about how expensive and hard to take care of women's clothing is, and there were a thousand comments on everything from drying things flat to paying more to have things ironed. (Is this a thing? Someone will iron my shirts? How is this even possible?)

So, my outfit today: polyester skirt circa 1980 that even has pockets, a Lands End wrinkle free shirt that was $3 several years ago, and an L.L. Bean cotton sweater that was $1 and ended up being too small for the friend for whom I bought it. I did wash it and dry it flat because occasionally thrift store things smell like... the thrift store.

I have to admit that I never get things dry cleaned, and I wear a LOT Of wool in the winter. When I get home from work, I always air things out, Febreeze if necessary, and sponge cuffs and hems and brush garments before putting them away. I wear plenty of underpinings, so there is always a washable layer between me and the wool.

Just don't buy the clothes that don't meet specifications. There's always Lands End, which isn't as expensive as some things even when the items are new!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Throwback

Lerangis, Peter. Throwback
October 1st 2019 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Corey and his friend Leila live in New York City near Central Park West with their families. Corey's grandfather, Papou, hasn't been around for a while because he has gone to Canada, and Corey misses him. His grandmother was killed in one of the Twin Towers during 9/11. When a picture from Leila's aunt causes Corey to hallucinate that he has traveled back in time, he soon finds out that it is not a hallucination-- Papou is a member of the Knickerbocker club and has the genetic ability to "hop" through time if he has a metal artifact from a particular year. Corey has inherited it. Not only that, but after a trip to 1862, Corey realizes that he is a rare "throwback" who can actually alter the linear flow of time. Papou has tried and tried to save his wife, but has always failed, which give Corey the idea to try himself. Unfortunately, he gets stuck back in 1862 after he is robbed of his cell phone and coins from the present day. He falls in with Quinn, a cowboy from the west, and the two work together to try to find out who robbed him so he can get back. In the present day, Leila is worried, but also finds out some interesting information from her aunt that might help. Will Corey be able to survive and make it back to his own time?
Strengths: My major pet peeve with time travel books is that they usually don't fix things in the past. What's the point in that? I loved Voyagers! for that reason. The workaround that only Corey can change the past is brilliant. Papou is a great character who is present just enough to get Corey started and support his time traveling without being overbearing. The description of the neighborhood, the family history with the church that was founded, and the Greek (Paithi mou! When I lived in Athens, there was a shopkeeper who called me that every morning on my way to class while she was sweeping her sidewalk!)were all such nice connections that made the story really resonate. Quinn was fun, and the reaction Corey had to a secret Quinn held was the best #MGLit moment of the year for me! I'm not a fan of being in NYC, but it's a place that is certainly fascinating to read about.
Weaknesses: Some younger readers might be a little confused by some of the sections set in 1862, and I could have used a bit more explanation about what happened to the aunt.
What I really think: Time travel books are something I absolutely love, but are a hard sell in my library. However, including 9/11 is a brilliant thing, because we have teachers who do a unit on that historical event, and the children become enthralled. All the rationalization I need to buy this book, which was very well done and enormously fun!


We have 35 minute class periods today because of the Democratic debate that is being held today at Otterbein College, which is less than a mile from my school. There was a Republican debate here in 2008, but it was on a Sunday. The traffic patterns in Westerville are NOT supportive of a huge influx in people during the work week.

A better venue, Democratic Party, would be the Fraze Pavilion near Kettering. Lots of parking, out in the middle of the country, amphitheatre for 4,000+ people. Much easier to block roads off for security.

But hey, I get to wear tennis shoes during the work day.


Monday, October 14, 2019

MMGM- The Memory Keeper

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.


Camiccia, Jennifer. The Memory Keeper
October 15th 2019 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Lulu lives with her parents, younger brother Clay, and grandmother Sue in San Francisco. Family life has been rough since the death of a toddler sister when Lulu was three, but her grandmother's presence has been a stabilizing one, and the grandmother is the only one Lulu has told about her secret. Lulu has Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory, and can remember every detail of her entire life. She has mentioned specific facts about events in the past to people at school, and has gotten a poor reaction, so doesn't want anyone to know. Now, her grandmother is beginning to forget things. Lulu starts to realize how bad things are getting when her grandmother can't find her car in the mall parking lot, and is determined to hide this memory loss from her parents, lest her grandmother move to a senior facility. In order to help her grandmother remember, Lulu liberates a journal her grandmother has promised her. To her surprise, it is in a foreign script that she and her friend Olivia figure out in Cyrillic. Having been told her grandmother was from France, Lulu wants to figure out the mystery of her past. Max, whose father owns the riding stable where the girls take lessons, offers to help with some of the searching on the computer, and he also manages to hack into his uncle's government database, where he finds a file on the grandmother, complete with redacted pages! The grandmother has contacted an old friend, Yakov, and between talking to him and getting more stories from her grandmother, Lulu is able to piece together the real story. She also must find a way to tell her parents about her own memory, and convince her parents to spend more time with her and her brother.
Strengths: The chapters start with a little bit of information about the functions of the brain, which is fascinating. It helps that the snippets are also very short, so they don't stop the flow of the narrative. Even though there is a lot going on, this was well written enough that I was able to remember what happened and keep the characters straight, which isn't always the case! The San Francisco setting is fun, the inclusion of horse riding, as well as girl drama, will draw in readers interested in equestrian matters, and the mystery surrounding the grandmother's past intriguing.
Weaknesses: I'm never a fan of the grieving parent trope, but at least the family was getting better. Making the grandmother's past a little less complicated (the romantic twists and turns got a bit much) would have made this a more manageable length, but it wasn't bad.
What I really think: Definitely buying, since it will appeal to readers who ask for mysteries, problem novels, and books with horses. The cover will ensure steady circulation.

Ms. Yingling

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Other, Better Me

John, Antony. The Other, Better Me
October 1st 2019 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Lola is a well meaning ten-year-old who has two good friends, Kiana and Nick, and does nice things like read with kindergartener Tiffany on the school bus in the mornings, in their own "book club". Her mother has been a bit low energy lately, but luckily their neighbor in the trailer park, Mrs. Archambault, often steps in to watch Lola, even taking her to the studio where she teaches yoga classes to older adults. When her teacher, Ms. Del Rio, assigns the students a project to write about "the other me", Lola gets to thinking about the father she has never met. All she knows is that he was from Australia and met her mother when she was working as a waitress, but has never been in her life. She starts to investigate, without telling her mother. She likes hanging out with her friends; Kiana's parents are both funny and nice, and she gets an idea of what having a father would be like. Nick's family is on the well-to-do side, and Nick has a really nice older sister. Lola is somewhat at odds with another girl in her class, Mallory, but finds out that sometimes children are mean because that is how they are treated at home, and works to be a friend to the girl. Lola's mother is diagnosed with a thyroid disorder and has to undergo radiation therapy, which means that Lola spends some time living with Mrs. Archambaud and finding out more about the woman's life as a model and actress in local commercials for a very long time. As her investigation into her father revs up, she learns some family secrets, and also discovers how she feels about not having a father and what her "other, better me" would be.
Strengths: The characters were particularly likable and well-developed in this book. Mrs. Archambaud in particular was delightful, and her backstory was compelling even though it was a very small part of the story. Lola's interest in her unknown father is  understandable and handled realistically throughout. Even though Nick, Kiana, Mallory and Lola are all different kinds of children with different backgrounds, they work well together. Tiffany and her love of the alien Schmorpel books was a funny subplot which also had a serious message about letting children read what they like. This was an enjoyable read, and I love the cover!
Weaknesses: I could have used a tiny bit more explanation about the mother's thyroid problem and the radiation therapy. Not a lot, but it seemed like the mother was ignored a bit in favor of the father, and the idea of a mother not being allowed near her child because she is radioactive might alarm some young readers; a bit more explanation would allay these fears.
What I really think: I really liked this author's Mascot and enjoyed reading this book, but this felt a bit young for my students. I'm debating. I would definitely buy it for an elementary school library.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Tornado

Burt, Jake. The Tornado.
October 1st 2019 by Feiwel & Friends
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Bell Kirby is an expert at surviving school. His nemesis, Parker Hellickson, not only holds a grudge for a past trangression, but is the principal's son, so has systematically tortured Bell for years without consequence. Bell knows how to avoid Parker, so when a new girl, Daelynn, arrives and throws off his system, he is worried that Parker will start to give him a hard time again. Bell tries to avoid Daelynn, but he is also intrigued by her fearlessness at expressing her true self. Bell, in addition to being bullied by Parker, has many interests that put him in the "geek/nerd"category, and is very conscious of this, as is his supportive mother who has had to face off with the principal about Parker's behavior. When Mr. Randolph launches a Creator Contest that involves recreating one of daVinci's designs using only technology that would have been available during his time, Bell and his friends Timmy and Tam end up with a tank. With the help of his mother, who has welding equipment and a lot of engineering know how, and with encouragement by text from his father who is stationed in Germany, Bell's projects goes pretty well. Parker, however, is still a inescapable force in his life. While Daelynn becomes his new target, and Bell actually gets involved in Parker's float for a parade, it's still a very uneasy truce, and one which Bell is not able to feel good about.
Strengths: I loved the message that "if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem". Bell does not wish Daelynn ill, but he is so desperate to escape Parker's notice that he's willing to let her be the target instead. The fact that he is able to hang out with Parker was interesting as well, and his mother's reluctance was great! The engineering/STEM focus of the Creator Club was very fun as well, and the description of Cincinnati chili took me back to living in that city.
Weaknesses: Purely personal: my father was a principal, and I can't imagine any principal (like Barnett's Principal Barkin from The Terrible Two) letting a child get away with bullying. If anything, a principal's child is less likely to get away with things, but that doesn't make for a good story. Also, I am very wary of books that encourage middle grade readers to be themselves. Daelynn should be able to have colored hair and expressive clothes, but the reality is that other children are not always nice to people who are different. This should not be, but it is.
What I really think: I loved Burt's Right Hook of Devin Velma and Greetings From Witness Protection, but this one struck me as a bit more elementary school oriented, so I am debating.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, October 11, 2019

Guy Friday- Maybe He Just Likes You

Yes, I know that there are no "boy" books or "girl" books, but I would wager that few of the boys in my library would pick this up on their own. This is too bad, because they all would benefit from reading a "window" into another experience. You know this is going to be my top pick for Boys Read Pink month, but I'm also going to suggest it to many, many boys before then.

Dee, Barbara. Maybe He Just Likes You
October 1st 2019 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

Mila is anxious about starting middle school, especially since things are tough at home. Her mother seems to be having a tough time at work, although she's not talking about it, and also isn't getting a lot of cooperation with child support from Mila and her younger sister's dad. Mila has grown a bit, and her clothes are too tight, but she doesn't want to say anything, relying instead on a favorite fuzzy green sweater that is loose enough to also cover her tight pants. This sweater gains some unwanted attention from a group of boys, who want Mila to hug them or brush up against her sleeve. It's just weird, and she doesn't like it, and lets the boys know. But it still continues. Making it even more difficult is the fact that one of the boys is one whom her friend Zara likes. Her friend Omi isn't quite sure what to do, but her friend Max, who was bullied during the last school year by other boys calling him gay, presses Mila to tell an adult about the behavior. Mila does, but she has to talk to a male school counselor, and isn't comfortable giving details. The behavior is such that it flies under the teachers' radars, and it's Mila's slightly louder reactions that get the negative attention, which doesn't make her feel any better. The two things that are pleasant in her life are band class and a karate class that she is taking at a nearby gym while her mother has a free two week pass. Things become worse at home when her mother quits her job, so Mila doesn't want to bother her mother. Finally, one of the boys makes a comment right before the middle school band takes the stage for the concert, and Mila can no longer be silent. There are consequences, but also understanding teachers who want to make sure that the boys' behavior stops for good.
Strengths: This was well done. It's a difficult topic, but it's the only book I've seen (other than the YA Moxie) that deals with sexual harassment and about the only book that portrays realistic bullying. Mila's confusion as to whether or not the boys were really doing anything was perfect, and all middle schoolers will relate to the discomfort over clothing and changing bodies. The situation at home is also handled well; parents occasionally quit jobs, and it's very concerning for middle school students. I especially liked that the boys were finally dealt with in a constructive way that made them understand the effects their behavior had on Mila, and that it wasn't just a joke. Max is also a good character, and he is commendable for encouraging Mila to talk to adults, the way she encouraged him. It's also nice to see a gay middle school character who isn't in the middle of a crisis. All in all, a well-crafted, important tale that is interesting to read as well as informative.
Weaknesses: I wish that the teachers (especially the aide) had been a bit more approachable, or that Mila had had one teacher with whom she felt safe. We've made a big push in our school to encourage our students to have a "trusted adult" in the building for instances such as Mila's and other types of problems.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing and recommending.


Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Disaster Days

Behrens, Rebecca. The Disaster Days
October 1st 2019 by Sourcebooks Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Hannah doesn't understand why her parents are SO overprotective, even though she occasionally has a hard time dealing with her asthma. She lives on Pelling, a small island outside of Seattle, and is glad that she has a chance to babysit for one of the few neighboring families. Usually, it's just for a short time while Ms. Matlock runs to the store, but when there is a gallery show, she gets to watch Oscar and Zoe for a little longer. Her mother will be home a little later in case she runs into problems, so she's looking forward to a little independence. She is also glad to have something to take her mind off her fight with her best friend, Neha. Ever since Hannah quit soccer because of her asthma, the two have grown apart, and when Neha doesn't want to work with Hannah on a project, the two have a text scuffle. All of those things become unimportant, however, when there is an earthquake! All three children (Zoe is just a couple of years younger than Hannah; 4th graders are pretty helpful) are worried, but they manage to ride out the quake, assess the damage, and think through what they need to do. When Hannah's cell phone stops working and Ms. Matlock does not come home, she tells the children that she is on her way to make sure they don't panic. Zoe is not happy the next day, but things slowly go from bad to worse. There are aftershocks and other small quakes that damage the house further and cause the refrigerator to topple. Hannah smells gas and knows that they have to leave the house, so they stay on the porch and then set up a tent when even that seems dangerous. They have a wind up radio and listen to the local news, but none of it is good. Hannah worries that her father, an architect working on a project on the coast, might have been killed, and she knows it will be some time before anyone gets back to the island. When food is low and the children's injuries become worse (Zoe gets glass in her arm and Oscar breaks his leg), Hannah decides they should make their way to her house, 3/4 of a mile away, and closer to the ferry. When her house is in even worse shape and circumstances seem dire, the three set out for the ferry. Will they be able to get help in time?
Strengths: Children saving the day alone without killing off any parents! Hooray! I loved that Hannah was irritated with her mother for hovering, but soon understood what it is like to be responsible for others. Having her be in 7th grade and having taken a babysitting course, and having her charges be in 4th and 2nd grade (or so-- e copies are hard to go back and scan) is perfect-- I babysat children that age from 5 p.m. to 2 p.m. for a neighbor in the summer, and certainly felt like I could have dealt with an earthquake! Yes, it's horrible, but it's also sort of exciting. I'm not normally a fan of flashbacks, but the first chapter of this was so suspenseful. The children consulting an encyclopedia for information and remembering some of their lessons on what gas smells like, etc. was brilliant. Really, really enjoyed this!
Weaknesses: I am usually a fan of inserting friend drama into every middle grade novel, but there were so many details about survival in this book that the subplot with Neha wasn't really necessary. It's not bad; just distracted me from the awesome tale of survival.
What I really think: Loved this one, and needed some fresh survival tales. This will be heavily used and I'm looking forward to giving it to students! Also, I apparently need to have a Go Bag in my closet.


Blue Liz Claibourne slacks I know I wore to London in 2005, Lands End gingham shirt, cotton argyle vest. Evil bunny pin! When I worked at Lazarus thirty odd years ago, we were required to wear three pieces on the floor. A skirt and blouse were not enough; we had to add a jacket, vest, sweater, or scarf in order to look professional. Of course, most of us just kept a navy blazer in the break room and threw it on with everything. This has really stuck with me, though!

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

I Can Make This Promise

Day, Christine. I Can Make This Promise
October 1st 2019 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Edie lives near Seattle, Washington, and has two good friends, Serenity and Amelia. They are working on an animation project for a local contest. After seeing a lost dog at a festival she attended with her parents, Edie wants to make him the center of the story, but Amelia thinks that is babyish. Amelia thinks a lot of things are babyish, but when the girls are searching Edie's attic for ice pop molds, they come across some photographs and letters from the early 1970s, and that intrigues all of them. Edie's mother is Native American, but because she was adopted by a white couple as a baby, she doesn't know her tribal affiliation or anything about her cultural heritage. The photograph of  the young woman, Edith, looks very much like Edie, and she starts to read the letters and do some research. She feels out her parents by asking them leading questions that they fail to pick up on, so Edie is a bit perturbed that they are keeping secrets from her. Serenity goes away for a bit, and Amelia becomes friends with a girl who has always given Edie a hard time, so Edie struggles with the animation project as well as finding out the truth about her past.
Strengths: I always appreciate books that teach me something; I had no idea that Native American children were taken away from their parents in the 1970s and before. The Indian Child Welfare Act (https://www.nicwa.org/about-icwa/) was enacted in 1978, and yet I knew nothing about it. The family mystery is worked into the rest of Edie's life well, and certainly friend drama is a huge part of the middle grade experience. My favorite part was when the parents finally told Edie about her heritage and finally gave her all of the details.
Weaknesses: This was rather slow and introspective, and there were a couple of weighted references about at-home mothers that seemed odd.
What I really think: There are very few books about Native Americans that reflect experiences accurately, so this is a welcome #ownvoices addition, although the characters seemed more like elementary students rather than middle school ones.

Been thinking a lot about #30wears. Since I've had this skirt since 2002,  and the sweater since about 2005, I feel good about them.

6th grade classes in the library all day today, working on life size character portraits, so needed something I can crawl around on the floor in if necessary.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Homerooms and Hall Passes

O'Donnell, Tom. Homerooms and Hall Passes
October 8th 2019 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Albiorix is a young Medieval wizard from the mystical realm of Bríandalör who is Hall Master for the role playing game Homerooms and Hall Passes. He and his friends (Thromdurr, a barbarian; Sorrowshade, a gloom elf; Vela, a paladin; and Devis, a thief) meet at a local pub in between their real life adventures (thwarting evil orcs, rescuing jewels, etc.) to run their newest campaign, The Semester of Stultification. Set in J.A. Dewar Middle School, it involves each of Albiorix's friends having an alter ego. Thromdurr is Douglas,  a Nerd; Sorrowshade is Melissa the Loner; Vela is Valerie, an overachiever, and Devis is Stinky, whose back story is not well developed. When the group sits down to play, they start with Spirit Week at the school, but they are all suddenly whisked into the realm of the game! Of course, they all look a bit unusual in their Medieval garb, and have to stow their weapons in the auditorium closet. Not only that, but as Hall Master, Albiorix doesn't exist, so he has to pretend to be Armando, from Toronto, Ontario, Canada! He lives in a supply closet with a little used floor polisher and subsists off cheese crackers he buys from the vending machine with magicked coins. He also consults his 26 guides to the world of H&H in order to understand the classes, teachers, etc. He must provide the principal with documentation, and asks another new student, June Westray. She is understanding of the group's eccentricities, helps Armando with the computer, and also ends up helping the group with algebra, a subject with which they struggle mightily. The group believes that if they can run a successful campaign, they will get home, and there are several different problems they must face, but when Armando conjures the evil wizard Zazirak by using the Malnomicon, and the wizard takes over the body of the assistant principal, the group must save both of their worlds.
Strengths: This made me laugh and laugh and laugh, and I really needed that after the summer of Serious Middle Grade Books with Serious but Trendy Problems. Oh, my... Thromdurr! Loved him SO MUCH! And when I say laugh, I mean snorted unbecomingly. Again and again. I have a small group of students who believe in their heart of hearts that I will be able to teach them to play Dungeons and Dragons, which is super sweet but not going to happen because it involves, as Albiorix knows, a huge background knowledge of the game, which I will never possess, and those students each need their own personal copy of this book! There is a deep understanding of middle school students and how they operate, and the group from Bríandalör is hysterical when they turn those expectations on their ears! Of COURSE Devis puts mustard on pizza. I'm just surprised he didn't suck the mustard packets.

Oh, I give up. Yes, there is literary merit in this book, but the best part of this was that it was hysterically funny. Just buy it, especially if Denis Markell's The Game Masters of Garden Place is popular in your library.
Weaknesses: I was a bit thrown when Albiorix's teacher from Bríandalör showed up at the school and whisked them all back, then they had to find a way to return and deal with Zazirak. It took me out of the story, briefly. Readers who have never heard of Dungeons and Dragons might need some front loading of information.
What I really think: I think that, like John David Anderson's Insert Coin to Continue, the only responsible thing I can do is to buy at least three copies and put it on the Battle of the Books list next year!

Some things that are out now that you need to have!



Bacon, Lee. The Last Human
October 8th 2019 by Amulet Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

I read this, but the pages of the E ARC moved so slowly that it took about two weeks to get through this. I loved this author's Joshua Dread series, and this was a solid robot adventure, but I don't feel I can review this properly. I'll buy a library copy and will need to read it again. Definitely take a look if robot adventures are popular in your library!

From Goodreads. com
In the future, robots have eliminated humans, and 12-year-old robot XR_935 is just fine with that. Without humans around, there is no war, no pollution, no crime. Every member of society has a purpose. Everything runs smoothly and efficiently. Until the day XR discovers something impossible: a human girl named Emma. Now, Emma must embark on a dangerous voyage with XR and two other robots in search of a mysterious point on a map. But how will they survive in a place where rules are never broken and humans aren’t supposed to exist? And what will they find at the end of their journey?"

Read Elizabeth L. Cline's The Conscious Closet, which had lots of good information, but since I bought this dress in 1997, I'm pretty sure I have gotten #30wears out of it. The vest is new to me, but the original owner put "2000" on the back of the tag, which I assume is the year she bought it. Since it cost $2, my cost per wear is... $2.

Remember, I have an archive, not a closet, so her advice about paring down fell on deaf ears. I do have extreme closet contentment (I love what I have and feel good wearing everything), and really do wear about 95% of what I own. That purple velvet mini dress my mother bought in 1969? My Gunne Sax dress from 1988? Don't wear those a lot. I do donate back things I no longer wear, so I feel good about my clothing policies.

Monday, October 07, 2019

MMGM- Nina Soni and Fighting for the Forest

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

Sheth, Kashmira. Nina Soni, Former Best Friend
October 1st 2019 by Peachtree Publishing Company
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Nina is nine years old, and struggling with several things. Her father has to spend his week working away from home, and Nina misses him. She also has trouble controlling herself, which leads her to accidentally crash her friend Jay's project to the ground. He forgives her, but is also a little irritated. Nina's younger sister Kavita also is rather impetuous, and goes head first into a school trash can to retrieve something shiny, getting gum stuck in her hair right before her birthday party! Nina has forgotten to do a Personal Narrative Project for school. Jay doesn't have a lot of sympthay and claims to already be done. Nina decides to pursue the scientific experiment option after she helps her mother make a cabbage dish and notices that the lemon juice turns the cabbage a different color. This is a good thing, because her sweatshirt that she was wearing when she rescued Kavita from the garbage is not growing things as fast as she would like at the bottom of her closet! While working on the preparations for Kavita's party, Nine tries to work on her experiment, but it is constantly interrupted. Not only that, but Jay informs her at the party that he did the same experiment in third grade! Will Nina be able to get her project done by Monday morning?
Strengths: Nina's concerns are all too real; how many children have put off important projects because they just can't get themselves organized? There should be more books about this. I enjoyed Nina's family and her relationship with Kavita. The Indian culture is a major component in the book, but it is not a book about Nina's culture, which is perfect. I think Indian writers are the absolute best at writing descriptions of food, and I just wanted to go to dinner at Nina's house!
Weaknesses: Too young for my readers, but I loved everything about this!
What I really think: I really enjoyed this; it was sort of like an Indian version of Haywood's Betsy books! (And I loved Betsy when I was six, so this is high praise!) Sheth also has The No-Dogs-Allowed Rule (2012) for younger readers; sadly, it is out of print, but both of these are great choices for realistic fiction for elementary schools.

Pearson, P. O'Connell. Fighting for the Forest: How FDR's Civilian Conservation Corps Helped Save America
October 8th 2019 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

I find the Great Depression fascinating, and there could be every bit as many books about it as there are about World War II. So many different stories, from the pack horse librarians who traveled through Appalachia, to children who were turned out of their homes because their parents couldn't afford to feed them, to Dorothea Lange and her work photographing migrant farm workers during this time. The Civilian Conservation Corps (which is described brilliantly in Jeanette Ingold's 2006 Hitch) is not a well known organization, but hopefully this exquisite title will change that.

Pearson does a great job at giving background knowledge about so many things leading up to the creation of this group-- the Great Depression and its effects on families, the farming crisis caused by erosion, Theodore Roosevelt's attempts at setting up federal parkland, and Franklin Roosevelt's belief that the government needed to step in to help people find jobs. This is important, because most people under the age of 75 have no clue how bad the Depression was. The clothing that people wore was often little more than rags, and Pearson points out that some of the young men in the CCC were especially glad to join because food was so scarce that family members might take turns eating-- today might be your sister's day for food and yours would be tomorrow!

The CCC was a great idea for many reasons. Unemployed young men in cities are a problem. Put them to work at back breaking labor, have them send $25 of their $30 a month home to their families, and you cut down significantly on behavioral problems! I can't imagine young people today wanting to live in tents in the middle of no where and spend their days clearing brush, cutting through rock, and occasionally dealing with natural disasters, but when your next meal depends on it, you do what you have to do.

The work done on the parks seems almost incidental, but it wasn't. Not only did the men work on parks, but they helped restore farmland devastated by overgrazing and subsequent erosion. Pearson covers the different types of work done and the reasons behind it at the time. At the end of the book, there is some discussion about modern criticism of the program, much of it centered around things like clearing brush to prevent fires, when modern studies have proven that some brush needs to be left for some species to flourish and that controlled fires can help forests.

There is also ample discussion of the results of the racism at the time on the CCC. African American, Native Americans, and Hispanics all were part of the Corps, but usually were in their own units. Towns were reluctant to have African American units stationed near them, so they were often sent to the most remote places. Native Americans spent most of their time working on reservations. While this is certainly a shameful part of the US's past, I don't think it's fair to discount the good work that the CCC did, especially since many in administration did what they could to try to integrate the Corps.

This book is an interesting nonfiction choice, and the inclusion of stories of several different men makes this more personal and immediate. With the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great Depression coming up in a decade, this is certainly a book I am excited about having in my collection.

I have to admit that I am very conflicted about FDR; his treatment of Eleanor wasn't very admirable, but you can see why US citizens admired him; he was a very personable guy.


It's finally fall! Very glad for the cooler temperatures, which give me an excuse to wear a flannel shirt even though it's not Friday. And a skirt makes every outfit professional, even when it's denim, right?

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Dear Sweet Pea

Murphy, Julie. Dear Sweet Pea
October 1st 2019 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sweet Pea DiMarco's parents have divorced, and her father has moved into a home two doors down, so that it's easier for her to go back and forth according to the shared custody arrangement. In between the houses is a larger home occupied by local advice columnist, the eccentric Miss Flora Mae. Sweet Pea and her best friend Oscar have heard all kinds of stories about Miss Flora Mae, so when the columnist asks Sweet Pea to collect her mail, water her plants, and send packages back to the newspaper, Sweet Pea is a little apprehensive but agrees. Her parents' divorce was a bit of a local scandal because her mother is a therapist who specializes in couples' therapy, and her father has come out as gay. Her ex-best friend, Kiera, is a bit mean about everything, and her father has made many snide comments about Sweet Pea's father. Sweet Pea misses how things used to be with Kiera, and starts to try to be a bit nicer to the girl when she finds out that Kiera's parents are fighting and may get a divorce. Sweet Pea opens some of Miss Flora Mae's mail, and answers a couple of the letters, which get published in the paper. As she spends more time with Kiera, Oscar gets angry and starts avoiding her. The DiMarco family is adjusting to their new reality, but it's still hard when the mother starts dating and Sweet Pea fears that her father might move away from their small Texas town and return to Connecticut. When Miss Flora Mae returns and primary school graduation looms, will Sweet Pea be able to handle all of the changes in her life?
Strengths: The best part of this was the day-to-day details of Sweet Pea living with her parents. For some reason, this was oddly compelling to me! Both parents are trying desperately to get along and make the change as easy as possible, and there was something endearing about them having houses close by and trying to maintain the family rituals and traditions. It was also good to see that aside from Kiera's father, there wasn't a lot of drama about the father being gay, and there were also some comments that Oscar might be, but it really didn't matter. Friendship drama is such a big thing in middle school, and there are always readers for stories like Kiera and Sweet Pea's, even though in real life I think friends rarely get back together! The main story with Miss Flora Mae held the book together.
Weaknesses: This is not a great cover. Maybe it's the peach background. Peach tends to circulate poorly. Maybe it's the way Sweet Pea is holding the cat that makes her look younger. I also wish the main story hadn't been the one with Miss Flora Mae, since none of my students read the newspaper and may not care about the advice column.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, but may have to recommend this if students don't pick it up.

What to wear on a rainy Sunday: jeans, a sweatshirt, and a sleepy dog!

Saturday, October 05, 2019

The Paris Project


Gephart, Donna. The Paris Project
October 8th 2019 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young
ARC provided by the publisher

Cleveland is bound and determined to leave stifling Sassafras, Florida and   move to Paris, France, hopefully to attend the American School there. She has a list of things she needs to do to get ready for her adventures. Unfortunately, her first task-- to study ballet-- does not go well at all, and she is kicked out of the school! Undeterred, she keeps learning French from a library CD and hopes that her best friend and neighbor in the trailer park, Declan, will help her with her French cooking skills. It's good to have something to focus on, because her father is in prison for stealing money from his employer. He had also stolen Cleveland's Paris fund that she had acquired through her dog walking enterprise, and used all of the money for gambling. While she is angry, Cleveland misses her father, and is worried that her mother is having to work too much. Cleveland's sister, Georgia, is applying to the University of Vermont in order to escape life in Florida, and Cleveland knows that she will miss her supportive sister. Things are a little rocky with Declan as well, since he has become friends with Todd, whose father was responsible for her father's arrest. When she realizes that Declan like likes Todd, she is hurt that her best friend didn't trust her enough to tell her he was gay, but she understands how hard it is for her friend, and she tries to be nice to Todd. Her father's release is a good thing, but the family also worries that he will fall back into his gambling ways. Georgia doesn't get into the University of Vermont, she is devastated and uses her savings to take her mother and sister to a Parisian themed fancy hotel in California while their father stays at home to look for work. The vacation is a nice break, and things start to improve at school for Cleveland, making her feel a little better about not being able to go to Paris for school.
Strengths: Books where tweens do things and have ambitions are fantastic, and Cleveland's desire to go to Paris to live really resonated with me! It took me until I was 40 to get to London, but I started planning to go when I was Cleveland's age! While her plan isn't completely realistic, she has short terms goals to work towards, and she saves her money. The inclusion of more serious issues, like her father's imprisonment and gambling, as well as Declan's sexual identity, works well as a foil to Cleveland's sometimes ill-advised schemes and are treated with sensitivity. Georgia and Cleveland's mother are very supportive, as is her father, even though he has his own problems. Cleveland has to deal with some fall out of her father's local notoriety at school, but eventually is able to stand up to people who give her a hard time, and she does make a new friend. All in all, a fun and informative book.
Weaknesses: Starting out with Cleveland's tragicomic ballet experience was a good way to draw me in to the story, but also made me think that the story would be goofier than it ended up being.
What I really think: This was a great combination of humorous, realistic experiences and social justice issues, which will make is appeal to a wide variety of readers. The cover is fun as well. I just wish I didn't have to wait until October to hand this to students. (I'm writing this post June 6!)

Ms. Yingling

Friday, October 04, 2019

Book Project on A Tale of Magic

I'm all about instilling the love of reading in children and just letting children loose with books. However, there are some students who would never finish a book if there were no accountability. My school used to have Accelerated Reader, which I actually enjoyed. One nine weeks, I took tests on books and racked up 500 points. That's reading 100 books the size of Charlotte's Web. My own children liked this testing system, as long as their goals were reasonable (under 45 points for the nine weeks), and they weren't required to read "on their level", which was 12.9+ in middle school and therefore kind of impossible.

Most teachers and librarians hate AR. That's fine. We no longer have that system, so teachers assign projects. Students can read anything they want, fiction or nonfiction; the only requirement for this 8th grade project was that the book be 200 pages long and not be a graphic novel.

There were so many students in the library complaining about this project yesterday that I asked the teacher for the assignment sheet and did the project last night. I read a 481 page book that didn't particularly interest me. The students had about six weeks to complete the project. I also had to cook dinner and read two other books last night.

This was a completely reasonable and rather enjoyable project. I hope to present it to classes today and am curious to see what my grade will be. The link to the full Google Slide presentation is at the bottom.

Colfer, Chris. A Tale of Magic
October 1st 2019 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Public library copy

Summary:
  •  Brystal Evergreen chafes at her restrictive life in Chariot Hills in the Southern Kingdom and longs to be educated. (Conflict 1)
  • An incident gets her sent to the Bootstrap Correctional Facility.
  • Madame Weatherby rescues her and lets her attend a magical school.
  • She is joined by students Xanthous, Emerelda, and Lucy.
  • The students identify areas in which they are magic and are trained.
  • Madame Weatherby is gone for a suspiciously long time, and things start to go wrong in the kingdom. (Conflict 2)
  • The students work to uncover the reasons for both events while defending their school’s existence. (Rising action)
  • Brystal realizes who is behind the war with the Northern Kingdom. (Climax)
  • Several crises are averted, and Brystal is able to enjoy her new life of magic. (Resolution)
Strengths of this Book:
  • This is an easy-to-follow, accessible fantasy book that has challenging but understandable vocabulary. Brystal’s quest for an education is a great “girl power” story.
  • The magical school is fun, and there are lots of details about it.
  • The plot moves along fairly quickly.
  • Many people like this author.
  • Quote I liked: “You will abolish the law prohibiting women from reading, joining libraries, or pursuing any profession they desire. Boys and girls can attend any school they wish, including the University of Law and the Chariot Hills School for Future Wives and Mothers.” (page 464)
Weaknesses of this Book:
  • The trope of kingdoms where magic is outlawed is overdone in middle grade literature.
  • The secondary characters are not well developed.
  • There is a lot of excessive, unnecessary description that makes this book long but doesn’t forward the plot.
  • “Magiclexia” is not the word that would be used for trouble with magic. It would be “dysmagica”.
  • There are many twee phrases and odd sentences.
  • “Holy plot twist,” Lucy said. “I’m a friggin’ fairy?” “The fairy screamed in agony, as if a creature was [should be were] trying to claw its way out from inside her.” Fabubblous Fizz
What I really think:
  • I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy this author or who like books about magical schools, even though I don’t like it myself. There are a lot of fantasy books, and this one did not have any fresh ideas, nor was it particularly well written. Three out of five unicorns.

See the Google Slide Presentation here:
https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/125apJQidqrkV9Ru7EhiU9OxtsXf1unm3_r85SEOGqjM/edit?usp=sharing

Ms. Yingling