Friday, July 10, 2020

Warrior Dog

Chesney, Will and Layden, Joe. Warrior Dog (Young Readers Edition): The True Story of a Navy Seal and His Fearless Canine Partner 
June 30th 2020 by Feiwel & Friends
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Will Chesney entered the Navy Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) program not long after his high school graduation in 2002, and eventually was involved in the operation that took down Osama Bin Laden in May of 2011. This book details the path that his own training took, and also outlines his involvement with the canine unit, especially with Cairo, the Belgian Malinois for whom he was the handler. He was very attached to the dog, as were many other soldiers, who count on the dogs to save them in critical moments. Cairo was injured in a shooting in Afghanistan, but survived, healed, and was sent back as a reserve dog. The two were involved with Operation Trident that located and killed Bin Laden Chesney was himself injured and eventually received a medical retirement, and when Cairo retired, he was sent to live with Chesney.
Strengths: Most of the military books in my library collection are about WWII, with a smattering of Vietnam and WWI books, so readers who are heavily interested in all thing military will find this to be a refreshing, newer historical book. The inclusion of dogs in the military is a fascinating topic, and their training is quite intense. This is certainly a type of book that I currently lack in my collection.
Weaknesses: This had just enough information for younger readers, but I'm kind of curious what was left out of the adult version.
What I really think: I will definitely purchase this, but more current military missions are something in which I myself have zero interest.

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Muse Squad: The Cassandra Curse

Acevedo, Chantal. Muse Squad: The Cassandra Curse
July 7th 2020 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Callie Martinez-Silva lives in Miami, Florida with her mother and older twin brothers; her father left the family and now lives in New York with his new wife, whom Callie finds out is expecting. Callie's best friend, Raquel, wants to try out for the school play but is very nervous, especially since she is up against Violet, who is very mean. Callie has a weird experience and seems to somehow empower her friend to do an awesome audition, although a broken light puts Callie in the hospital. There, she is visited by a cryptic doctor, who tells her things about herself. Back home, Racquel's video goes viral, and she gets approached to do a television talent show. Her fame grows and grows, and the girls fall out. Callie is very busy-- she is transported to London's Victoria and Albert museum, and thinks that she is hallucinating due to pain medication. She's not; the cryptic doctor turns out to be Clio, a muse who helps Callie and other young muses inspire people. That's right. Just like her dear, departed aunt, Callie is the muse of epic poetry, and will use her powers to inspire people to be heroes. Along with fellow muses Thalis, Mela and Nia, who are from different parts of the world and all her age, she undertakes her first mission. Maya Rivero is a super smart classmate whose science projects will eventually help the global climate change problem. The three girls enroll in Callie's school as exchange students and live in her house, and try to help Maya. They are up against the Sirens, who show up at odd places in various evil guises and work against them. Will the Muses be strong enough to make Maya's science dreams come true despite the Sirens' interference? And will she manage to make things right with Raquel?
Strengths: Well, of COURSE the home base for the Muses is the V&A. Love that place! It was great that Callie was just an average kid with an average life, with some common problems, like divorced parents and a friend who was pursuing things she wasn't herself. The fact that she also had powers and got to travel to London magically... hurrah! Having read too many quest style novels lately, it was refreshing that the mission was to inspire someone who would help humanity. There was just enough mythology in this one to make it interesting but not confusing. The action and adventure were also nicely balanced with the standard middle school culture. The addition of a variety of cultural backgrounds was nice to see as well.
Weaknesses: I never got a good feel for Thalia, Mela and Nia, but there was a lot going on to set up the story. Perhaps they will develop more in the next book.
What I really think: I will purchase this, and know the first student to whom I will hand this. (She's a big fan of Rick Riordan, Shanon Messenger, and Kate O'Hearn, and this book is a great twist on mythology for readers who love their work.)

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Not Your All-American Girl

Rosenberg, Madelyn and Shang, Wendy Wan-Long. Not Your All-American Girl
July 7th 2020 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by EdelweissPlus

N.B. This is a sequel to This is Just a Test, but can be read as a stand-alone.

In the 1980s Lauren, whose brother David just had his bar mitzvah, loves to sing, and is super excited to try out for her school's production of Shake It Up, a musical written by their driector, Mrs. Tyndall, set in the 1950s and sounding similar to Bye Bye Birdie. Lauren hopes to get the lead role of Brenda Sue, and thinks her audition goes much better than her best friend Tara's. Because Tara looks like the typical "all-American girl", however, she gets the part, and Mrs. Tyndall explains that it is because as actors, they don't want to take the audience out of the play but want the characters to be easy to believe. Lauren is not happy with Tara anyway-- everything seems easier for her, right down to her all important designer jeans that her parents provide for her but which Lauren has to fund by herself. Lauren doesn't tell her mother (who is thinking about going to law school), father, or grandmothers about this, but does take solace in the music of Patsy Klein. After hearing a song on the radio, Lauren calls in to ask about the singer and figures that she has found a Jewish country singer! Both of her grandmothers are supportive of her endeavors, and even David starts to spend time hanging around rehearsals, eventually becoming the hula hoop wrangler when Mrs. Tyndall doesn't want the actors to fool around with them. Lauren starts to realize that there are a lot of prejudices that she has to deal with every day, and it's important to speak up, even when it is uncomfortable for her. Will she and Tara be able to come to an understanding, and will Lauren be able to speak up when she experiences microaggressions?
Strengths: While I know that most tween readers won't pick up on this, my absolute favorite part of this book is the grandmothers! I love how they are friends who hang out and watch Star Search together despite the differences in their cultural backgrounds. They also have a bit of a rivalry when it comes to cooking and doing nice things for Lauren. Also, teaching the cat to use the commode? Brilliant! The play is nicely handled, and I enjoyed that David had a small part. Details of daily life in the 1980s, as well as some important history, is delivered well against this background.
Weaknesses: While I knew that this was set in the 1980s (loved the description of how to put in a banana clip!), it would have helped my students if this were specifically mentioned very early on. There are lots of excellent clues, but many readers don't pick up on them.
What I really think: This is a great story that is a lot of fun to read but also includes some very serious discussion about race relations, pointing out that these have been going on for a very long time. Definitely purchasing, since This is Just a Test has done very well in my library, and the cover on this is very appealing!

Just have to say that I was bothered by the movie Sixteen Candles even in 1984, when it came out. It's hard even for me to believe how racist and sexually inappropriate things were then, and I lived through them! I am so sorry that the authors had to experience prejudice, especially when they were teens.

I also watched a movie with Jane Curtin in it recently, Maybe Baby (1988) and was appalled that even though Curtin's character was a hugely successful business woman, she felt she needed to have a baby to be "fulfilled". Loved the movie for the fashions, hated the effect that these sorts of gender expectations had on my life!

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Scare Me

Alexander, K.R. Scare Me
July 7th 2019 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Kevin loves scary things, and his very favorite time of the year is October, when local Corvidon Mansion allows four groups of students to set up rooms in the history museum, which serves as a haunted house during this spooky time of year. Last year, Kevin's group, the Banshees, lost to a group with more financial resources, and he's determined to win and rub it in their faces. Along with friends Tanesha and Julie, and with the help of his dads, Kevin sets out to make the basement of Corvidon a scary cemetery. The caretaker apologizes that there are museum pieces left in the basement, but Kevin is okay with that, since one of them is a skeleton in a wedding dress that was worn by the daughter of the owners back in the 1940s. Legend has it that after her fiance passed away, Anna drowned herself in a nearby pond, and now haunts the area. Her family, unable to move past her loss, kept her dress in the house after the mother retrieved it from her grave! Even though it's against the rules, Kevin intends to use the skeleton in his competition piece, but the skeleton is not having it. Kevin starts to hear Anna's voice while he is awake  but also in his dreams. The house comes alive, and all manner of creepy, horrible things happen to the competitors. There are zombies that attack the house, the mannequins come to life and attack, and even creepy clowns. Will the groups all be able to band together, defeat the evil forces, and put Anna to rest?
Strengths: I like that this starts with something that is scary, but not really scary. Haunted Houses are by their nature make believe, even if they do induce real adrenaline rushes. The drama with Patricia and the rival group is a nice way to take a break from the zombies and focus on a very real tween fear. I'm not a fan of spooky books or movies, but this has all the elements that my students who do like these books request. I may actually prefer the style in which these are written to R.L. Stine; they are more literary and have less of the cliffhanger-at-every-chapter effect. That said, R.L. Stine writes crackerjack historical scenes, and his books are still very popular in my library, if falling apart.
Weaknesses: Only in paperback, Scholastic. Shame, shame, shame. These need to be in hardcover, or in thirty years, my students will still want to read them, but they will be rapidly disintegrating prebinds. Oh, well. In thirty years, I will have disintegrated entirely!
What I really think: Like this author's The Collector and The Fear Zone, this is a great, creepy, fast read that my students adore. It strikes just the right note for middle grade scary books, and would also be perfect for elementary students in 3rd-5th who like to read about older characters in stories a bit more realistic that Stine's Goosebumps. Let's hope for a LOT more stories from Happy Hills. (What a great name for a setting for scary stories!) Buy a couple in case someone loses one!

Ms. Yingling

Monday, July 06, 2020


Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Poblocki, Dan. Ghost Hunter's Daughter
July 7th 2020 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Claire's father is the host of a very popular ghost hunting show, which gives her a bit of popularity around school, but she's not a fan herself. Her mother has recently passed away, and when her father is traveling, an aunt watches out for her. When he is on location in Hush Falls, Claire is approached by a boy at school, Lucas, whose grandmother is known locally to be a bit of a witch. Lucas tells Claire that he also can talk to ghosts, and that Claire's mother has been speaking to him, telling him that Claire's father is in danger. Lucas' assertions are backed up after a phone call to the father's manager; he went out to scout a location and has not returned. The two are soon taking a bus ride to find out what's going on. When they get to Hush Falls (or rather, Hush Hollow), they find his motel room being investigated, and run into Dolly, the motel owner's daughter who is their age. The three manage to retrieve her father's videocamera, and the last footage helps them find a location. Hush Falls was actually a town that was flooded; Hush Holler is where the town was relocated. Lemuel Hush was the founder of the town and the last person buried in the now underwater cemetery, and legend has it that he lures people to their death in the area over the former town. Dolly's mother was one of these victims. When they locate Claire's father, they work with him to solve the mystery of how these drownings are really occurring, and end up with more information than they bargain for.
Strengths: Creepy, spooky books and books with murder are always in demand by my students, who don't understand that there aren't a lot of of these written for 12 year olds. Poblocki does a fantastic job of making his books just scary enough, but without too much blood and gore. Claire is a great character who doubts her father but is willing to believe Lucas if her father is in danger. Murderous ghosts are a great way to make murder a bit easier to deliver to middle grade audiences, and I appreciated how the ghost had some help. Nice, creepy wooded setting, with great descriptions of Hush Hollow-- man, I could smell that hotel room with its orange shag carpet! Perfect for fans of Schwab's fantastic City of Ghosts, Alender's The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall, or the new works of K.R. Alexander.
Weaknesses: The end was a little more somber than MG usually is, so I was just a bit surprised and a little sadder than I normally am. It's nice how Poblocki comes right up to the edge of Young Adult, though, so I can deal with that.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing two copies, because they will both become very worn out. This author is hugely popular in my library. I love that his books are stand alones, with the exception of Shadow House series.

Williams, Dinah. True Hauntings: Deadly Disasters
July 7th 2020 by Scholastic Nonfiction
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This short paperback book is a great way to sell history in the disguise of spooky ghosts! There are a variety of historical events covered, with the most recent being the 2011 Japanese tsunami and most being at least a hundred years old. While Williams is very good about pointing out the ghosts attached to these events, the concentration is really on the horrible historic events themselves. I very much appreciated the inclusion of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which is my favorite horrible historic event!

There are great pictures of key events, a brief and interesting overview, and a short description of the ghosts that arose because of them. The cover is nicely creepy, and will be very appealing to tween readers. Once they get started, they won't realize that they are getting  a lot more history that hauntings! I am looking forward to seeing how this series unfolds. Follett Library is offering these in a prebind, since paperbacks would not hold up to the heavy use these are sure to see!

In True Hauntings: Deadly Disasters, veteran ghost writer Dinah Williams explores the stories and alleged hauntings of some of the deadliest catastrophes in history, from lost souls left behind in the 2011 Japanese tsunami to a headless ghost frightening miners deep underground.

With historical photos and sidebars that are equal parts educational and terrifying, readers will find that sometimes fact is even scarier than fiction."

Sunday, July 05, 2020

In the Role of Brie Hutchens

Melleby, Nicole. In the Role of Brie Hutchens
April 21st 2020 by Algonquin Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Brie attends a Catholic school. Her father, who has recently lost his job, is working there as a custodian to help with her tuition, and her mother is picking up extra shifts so the family can stay afloat financially. It's the end of 8th grade, and Brie is struggling. She doesn't do well academically, but is very interested in attending a local arts school for high school instead of the public school her family can afford. Since her mother is frequently home in the afternoons, between shifts, it is their bonding time to watch soap operas, and Brie really enjoys them, as well as feeling close to her mother. When she is looking up one of the soap actresses on line and finds unclothed pictures, her mother comes into the room. In a panic (because she is enjoying the pictures more than she feels she should), she tells her mother that she earned the role of crowing Mary at the May festival. Since her mother is very religious, this distracts her, but also gets Brie caught in a lie she must perpetuate. In order to crown Mary, students must win an essay contest, and Brie knows that the somewhat annoyingly perfect Kennedy will get the part. But Kennedy is... cute. And nice. Brie finds her feelings are very confused, and she starts to realize that she doesn't really like boys, but Kennedy makes her feel pleasantly flustered. Brie makes an effort to improve her school work, especially her writing, but also plans to get in to the school play in order to convince her parents that she should go to the performing arts school. This isn't completely successful-- she gets the role of Dopey. Brie's best friend, Parker, is supportive of Brie's crush on Kennedy, but when she tries to tell her mother, she pretends not to recognize the reality. Brie's father is uncomfortable, but tries to be supportive. Things with Kennedy are equally complicated. Will Brie be able to win the essay contest, solidify things with Kennedy, and make her parents understand and love the person she wants to be?
Strengths: There aren't many books set in Catholic schools, so it was interesting to see descriptions of religion classes and weekly chapel, as well as uniforms. The family's financial insecurity was handled in a no-nonsense fashion. Brie's desire to act contrasts nicely with the role she gets, and her struggle with the concept of "there are no so small parts, only small actors" was realistic. Not everyone in school plays is the star. While it would be nice to see more LGBTQIA+ stories that are not centered on coming out, middle grade stories do by necessity often show a dawning realization of sexuality. It was pleasantly surprising that Brie found a teacher and friend who was supportive of her coming out at a Catholic school. The Catholic church is an uncomfortable place for many people. The parents' reaction is also nuanced and believable.
Weaknesses: I doubt my students are at all familiar with soap operas, so this made the book seem dated. Are there any still on? Also, Brie is a very selfish character who was hard to like. She knows that her parents are struggling and working hard, but ignores this in pursuit of her own agenda and then wants her parents to be supportive of her.
What I really think: I will purchase this because my students are interested in LGBTQIA+ stories, but this was not a personal favorite because of the soap opera descriptions and acting dreams. I still wish more middle grade characters wanted to be mechanical engineers or computer programmers instead of actors, writers, singers, and sports stars.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, July 04, 2020

The Girl and the Witch's Garden

Bowman, Erin. The Girl and the Witch's Garden
May 26th 2020 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Piper's parents divorced when she was very young, and she hasn't seen her mother since, since her mother's research was more pressing than her daughter. Now that Piper's father has lung cancer and the aunt who has been living with the two has to travel for work, Piper is being sent to spend the summer at her grandmother's estate, where her mother has been living and working. Piper's grandmother, Mrs. Mallory, has always been kind and supportive, visiting frequently, but Piper hasn't been to the Mallory Estate, which is rumored to be a place where children enter and then go missing, for years. When her aunt drops her off, Piper is met by her mother's foster children, Kenji and Julius, and her grandmother has been away for a week. Her mother only joins the children for dinner which Camilla, another foster child, cooks. When they finally meet, her mother doesn't mention anything about not seeing Piper for years, and is oddly distanced. She  makes no apologies and Piper know that she is a burden before going back to her research. Slowly, the children let Piper know what is going on in the house. Each of the children has magic power, an affinity, which is why they have been brought to the Mallory Estate. The grandmother and mother have been trying to find a way in to a burned out garden, a garden that appears fine and flourishing through a magic telescope that the children have. Once in the garden, they hope to find an elixir of immortality that the High Order of Magi have hidden. There aren't a lot of other details, but Piper is fairly well spooked, especially since one of the children, Teddy, has been missing along with her grandmother. At first, Piper doesn't think she has an affinity, but jaunts around the house trying to elude a white Persian cat that seems to tattle to her mother prove that she does. She is also able to get into the garden. What will she find there, and will it help the children deliver the elixir to Piper's mother so that they can finally be adopted? And can the elixir help her father? (I don't want to reveal key plot elements and ruin the suspense!)
Strengths: Country estates with elaborate magic have been a favorite of mine since The Children of Green Knowe, so I enjoyed this one. I especially liked that Piper was realistically upset about her mother taking in foster children, and that she found her own affinity as well as her magical object. The underlying problem of her father, as well as her missing grandmother, had me on the edge of my seat. Children in charge of a house and a magical problem? It's been done, but this is a fresh, new approach within the standard formula.
Weaknesses: The mother was so detached and mean that it was rather upsetting, especially since Piper was also losing her father. This made me a bit anxious while reading, and I could have used some small assurances earlier on that things weren't completely dire.
What I really think: Having just read the somewhat similar Time of Green Magic by McKay, I was a little leery of this one, but it had a better balance of powers, magical houses, and family drama. I think I will purchase this one for fans of Funaros' Watch Hollow and other creepy books where children save the day with their powers.

Ms. Yingling

Friday, July 03, 2020

American Dog

Shotz, Jennifer Li. Poppy
April 7th 2020 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Hannah moves from Michigan to Northern California, and struggles with the transition. Her parents are very busy, and her younger sister and twin brothers take a lot of time. When a neighbor who has a dog needs help walking her because of recent surgery, Hannah is glad to step in. Poppy is a pit bull, so people shy away from her, and Hannah, with a port wine birthmark on her face, knows what it is like to have people react to one's physical appearance. Poppy has the exuberance of a puppy, but is very sweet natured. When neighbor Sophia is training her new poodle, Hannah decides that she can take the time to train Poppy. It's hard going, and Sophia doesn't make it any easier. There are lots of bumps in the road, and it gets a little easier when Poppy's owner's granddaughter is in town. Poppy runs away frequently, destroys two different dog cakes at two events, and Hannah fears that the dog will never be trained enough for her owner to keep her. Will she be able to get Poppy to behave well enough to stay?
Strengths: This was a fantastic middle grade novel. It was just the right length, had great characters, lots of action and adventure, and a compelling dog! I can't think of any other books with a character with a noticeable birthmark, and Hannah's self consciousness was treated just right. I loved that her family was intact but very busy. Poppy's exploits are the real draw here, and Shotz's work is very popular in my library. There look to be four of these books so far, all stand alones! So excited for these!
Weaknesses: I felt like Poppy ran away a few too many times, but then I am dealing with my tiny, elderly Sylvie, so I might just have had a hard time imagining a dog getting away!
What I really think: Purchasing all of these, and SO glad they are stand alones! They will get so much more use when students don't have to read a series.

Shotz, Jennifer Li. Brave
April 7th 2020 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Dylan is looking forward to a boring time of it in San Antonio, Texas, since he really doesn't want to hang out with his best friend, Jaxon, anymore. Even though they've been friends forever, Jaxon has started to do risky things like throw water balloons at cars, and Dylan doesn't want to get involved. His dad is deployed, and he doesn't want to add to his mother's stress. When he finds a stray dog in need of help, however, he brings the dog home. The first thing Brave does is to chew up his mother's new couch, but when they take the dog to a shelter, they find that it is at capacity due to a recent hurricane. Dylan fosters the dog, but has to try to train him. Luckily, he comes across a classmate who lives on a nearby farm (whose name I can't remember, and my e reader isn't working again), and she offers to help train him if Dylan helps her clean up the hurricane debris. Dylan enjoys both working and training the dog, and has to find the courage to sit with his new friend and stay away from Jaxon. He also has to convince his mother that Brave is a dog that they should keep, despite his energy.
Strengths: This was just about perfect for a middle grade novel. Kids doing things, realistic problems, lots of action. I also enjoyed the friend drama, which we don't see nearly often enough with boys. The covers alone will sell these books, but the stories are brilliantly constructed and a joy to read. The information about particular breeds of dogs is fascinating as well.
Weaknesses: I feel like the adventure in the rain with the flash flooding has been done in another one of Shotz's books, but my students won't care.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and can't wait for the next two, which come out October 6th 2020.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

The Time of Green Magic

McKay, Hilary. The Time of Green Magic
July 7th 2020 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Abi and her father have gotten along fine with just the two of them, but when Molly and her sons Max and Louis join the family, there are changes. The biggest is that they all move out to a large, ramshackle house away from London, and have to adjust to a new life. There are a lot of repairs necessary to the house, and a babysitting for Louis, Esme, joins the group. Abi starts to notice that the books she is reading seem to come to life in a more concrete way than usual, and a character from a book joins Louis as his friend. At first, Iffen is a snuggly cat, but as he grows, he becomes more and more sinister. Max has a crush on Esme, a French girl who is studying art at the local college, the family settles into their new routine, and Abi has to deal with the magic of books that isn't as benign as one would hope.
Strengths: Like Anna James' Pages and Co., this has a strong and supportive family with some magic thrown in. The house is fantastic; if you have to move to a new house, it might as well be somewhere big enough for a vintage rocking horse and magic enough to bring the voyage of Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki (1948)to life.
Weaknesses: This didn't deal with the magic as much as it did with daily life in Abi's family. While I enjoyed it, the story moved very slowly, and I don't think my students would stick with it.
What I really think: I think I will stick with Ellen Oh's Spirit Hunters for a similar tale of moving and younger brothers getting into trouble with magic. Fans of this author's works will definitely want to look at this title, though!
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

The Prettiest

Young, Brigit. The Prettiest
April 14th 2020 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

When a list of the 50 "prettiest" girls in the middle school makes the rounds, no one is happy. Not Eve, who is shocked to find herself on the top, not Sophie, who despite her efforts to be prettiest is number two, and not Nessa, Eve's friend, who doesn't make the list but is more concerned about how it affects Eve. The administration makes counseling available, informs parents, and makes every effort to put a stop to the situation, but it's not enough. Eve, who feels uncomfortable about her new body, is suddenly faced with the attention of Brody, whom the girls suspect made the list, and is also the object of Sophie's wrath. Sophie, who has a difficult and economically disadvantaged home life, suspects Brody because she did not return his affections. Nessa, who is very talented and is involved in the school play, wants to help both girls, and they try to find the culprit and plan the revenge, calling their group the Shieldmaidens. The adults in the book represent a wide variety of opinions-- Eve's father thinks she should be pleased, even as her brother Abe understands that objectification is wrong; other parents at the school meeting think their sons should be made aware of the situation so it can be fixed; the school principal has followed protocol but realizes more should be done, even if she doesn't know what that is. In the end, the girls find the creator of the list after almost punishing the wrong person, and the school has a new awareness of how people should treat each other.
Strengths: This is absolutely on trend with its themes of treatment of people, body positivity, and the ideal of feminine beauty and worth. I liked that Eve's Jewish culture was brought into the story, but that the story was not all about that. It was also good to see Sophie and Eve work together instead of just fighting with each other, and Sophie's back story was interesting. There was just enough of the school play (The Music Man, which my school just did!), and the reactions of a wide variety of students were brought in as well.
Weaknesses: I was glad when the girls did not go through with their revenge. Answering mistreatment with mistreatment is not the answer. Also, even though Brody didn't make the list, I would have liked to see him get some needed time with a school counselor on how to treat people kindly.
What I really think: I preferred Dee's Maybe He Just Likes You because there was more of an effort to educate the boys in the school about how people should be treated. Middle school students act in the ways they are taught to act, and they often don't quite understand why what they are doing is wrong and need to learn what they should be doing instead, but I will probably buy this.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Timeslip Tuesday- The Magic in Changing Your Stars

Henderson, Leah. The Magic in Changing Your Stars
April 7th 2020 by Sterling Children's Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In 2010, Ailey decides to try out for his school's production of The Wiz, and feels that he would make a great Scarecrow. He can't necessarily sing or memorize lines, but he loves to dance, and thinks that that talent, along with his sharp dressing, will be enough. His classmate Mahalia disagrees, and states that SHE is the one who should get the part. When tryouts go badly, Ailey is devastated. His grandfather, whom he adores, counsels him a bit, and alludes to his own dancing, which included meeting Bill "Mr. Bojangles" Robinson in his Harlem neighborhood when he was young. There's some mystery surrounding why his grandfather doesn't dance any more and instead runs a hardware store, and when Ailey is snooping through Gramps' closet, he finds a pair of tap shows that Robinson had given to Gramps. When he puts them on, he finds himself transported to Harlem in 1939, where he immediately stands out, thanks to his pajamas and microfiber robe! He obtains new threads, and sees several boys dancing. Sure enough, one of them is Gramps, who is known as Taps. Ailey witnesses the interaction with Robinson, and knows he has been sent back in time to help his grandfather out. Taps gets the shoes from Robinson, but is supposed to meet the dancing legend at a theater to return them and audition, but he is chickening out in a way that Ailey understands. Ailey is taken in by Taps' family, but a misunderstanding threatens to derail his mission to encourage his grandfather. Will Ailey be successful in his mission? Will it make a difference in his life in 2010 if he can help someone else overcome the stage fright he feels?
Strengths: Tap dancing AND time travel? Sign me up! Along with the great time travel method of Bill Robinson's tap shoes, this had a lot of great history in it, plus the very compelling mission of making the grandfather's regret go away. I loved Ailey's supportive family in his present, and he is appreciative of meeting his family in the past as well. Details about daily life in Harlem, as well as some African American entertainment history, make this a great read for those interested in books like Curtis' The Might Miss Malone or Tubbs' Selling Hope.
Weaknesses: One small historical error-- it's specifically stated that this is set in 2010, which was great, because it's a necessary adjustment in order for his grandfather to be the right age in 1939. However, "Teach me how to Dougie" seems to have been released in 2011. Also, Ailey is cocky about his abilities without the talent to back this up. This is absolutely how tweens operate, but makes him a bit less likable.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and I can see this being a big hit with the right reader.

James, Anna. The Lost Fairy Tales (Pages & Co. #2)
May 5th 2020 by Philomel Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Tilly and Oskar are enjoying life at Tilly's family's bookstore, and Tilly is getting used to her mother, Bea, being back after having been trapped in A Little Princess in The Bookwanderers. As Christmas approaches, there is trouble in the Underlibrary. Amelia, the head librarian, is being removed due to all of the problems with Chalke, and is replaced by Melville Underwood. Her grandparents seem leery of him, especially since he traveled into fairy tales and left his sister Decima behind. Fairy tales are very unstable, since there is no definitive Source for them, and Tilly's grandmother actually had specialized in mapping fairy tales. Still, there isn't much for the Pages to do, and Tilly and Oskar are set to visit his father in Paris. There are odd things that happen on the train ride there, but Paris in the snow is magical, and Tilly is glad to meet Oskar's grandmother, Clara, who is an illustrator. Clara takes them to a bookshop her friend Gretchen runs, and even though the children had said they would not book wander, they find themselves going into a fairy tale. Things are not quite right, however, and the tales seem broken. Oskar goes missing, but the two are finally able to get back. They enjoy Christmas in Paris, and again back in London. Tilly reads out loud to  her mother and finds that she is able to read stories into the real world, maybe because she is half fictional. When Gretchen shows up to spend Christmas with the Pages, uninvited, Tilly's grandmother is surprised; Gretchen had been a close friend 30 years ago, but the two had fallen out. When Gretchen tells the children that they need to travel into the fairy tales with her to help fix the magic, they agree, although Oskar is very skeptical. Will Tilly and Oskar be able to help, or will the evil within the Underlibrary community cause them problems?
Strengths: I did end up pruchasing the first book, and while it hasn't been wildly popular, it has circulated well with fans of Chris Colfer's Land of Stories and Buckley's The Sisters Grimm fans. This was an even better book the the first, which is no small feat. Instead of referencing books like Anne of Green Gables (Anne does make a brief appearance), the main focus is the problems with book wandering, with a helping of fairy tales. Add to that plenty of hot buttered toast, London and Paris in the snow, and a charming French grandmother, and this made for a wonderful, cozy read. We learn a little more about Tilly and her powers, and quite a bit about the book wanderer guidelines and administration. There are suitably evil villains, and the book ends with a clue to the next mission-- find the elusive librarians. The illustrations, though few, are marvelous.
Weaknesses: The beginning of the book could have had a bit more adventure instead of so much of the politics of the Underlibrary.
What I really think: This book wants me to recommend the first book even more. I'm curious to see where the next book will take us. I suspect the cover will be green. Also, I feel compelled to make Toad in the Hole for dinner tomorrow night!

Monday, June 29, 2020

MMGM- Coop Know the Scoop

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Souders, Taryn. Coop Knows the Scoop
July 7th 2020 by Sourcebooks Young Readers
E ARC provided by

Coop and his mother live in Windy Bottom, Georgia with his grandfather, who helps them run A Whole Latte Books cafe and bookstore with his friends' Justice and Liberty's parents. Coop's father died while serving in the military, and while the loss is still felt, Coop is glad to have the presence of his grandfather, who served the town as doctor for many years. When a body is unearthed during the building of a new playground, Coop wants to investigate. Even though it could be murder, it's something different and exciting. When the body turns out to be that of his grandmother Tabby, who was thought to leave his grandfather and his father Steven in the late 1970s, things take a different turn, especially when his grandfather is considered as a suspect. With the help of his father's best friend and local constabulary, Tick, Coop is able to talk to local residents to find out a lot of information about his family's past, as well as town secrets that lead to solving this decades old, but personally important, case.
Strengths: This is a text book example of a perfect middle grade novel! It's just 200 pages, which means it is tightly edited and fast paced. It's an actual murder mystery, and the fact that it is a long gone grandmother makes it both highly personal but also not as painful as it could be. There's buy in without horrible raw emotion. I loved the descriptions of the grandmother and her fashions from the 1970s. The turns of phrase were brilliant; I could happily quote half of the brilliant but off the cuff descriptions if I had the finished book. This had a great twist at the end. I thought I knew who the murderer was, and I thought I was right, but then it took a totally different turn! The small town interactions, as well as the cafe/bookstore, make this a perfect cozy mystery (ala Braun's Cat Who mysteries) for the younger set, something I really haven't seen.
Weaknesses: Coop occasionally does some stupid things, and unless I missed something (which is entirely possible), the issue with Beau's father is unresolved.
What I really think: I would love to see a whole series of these, and I'm not usually one for series! Definitely purchasing, and can't wait to hand to students.

Denson, Bryan. Uncovering a Terrorist (FBI Files)
June 23rd 2020 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In 2010, a Somali born teenager, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, was arrested while attempting to detonate an explosive during a Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon. His parents had contacted authorities when they were concerned that their son might try to return to Somalia. Since the parents had left there because of the violence and had made a life for themselves in Oregon, they did not want this to happen. Two undercover operatives Youssef and Hussein, were involved in a sting operation, contacting Mohamud, feeling him out about his intentions, and working with him until the young man tried to set off what he thought was a bomb with a cell phone. He was then arrested, tried, and convicted to thirty years in prison. Agent Ryan Dwyer was the main investigator.

As with this author's Catching a Russian Spy: Agent Les Wiser Jr. and the Case of Aldrich Ames and
Agent Kathy Puckett and the Case of the Unabomber, this is brilliantly well-researched and a very compelling read. I appreciated that it starts out with an explanation that just because one young man who was Muslim got involved in an attempt at terrorism, this was against the tenets of his religion and not a representation of Islamic people. This is reinforced by discussions of Mohamud's family and upbringing. There are excellent notes at the end of the book with more information.

The thing that makes the other two books popular is that they are very black and white. The FBI is good, and the people whom they are pursuing are bad. I felt conflicted about this book. It felt like the agents came perilously close to engaging in entrapment, and the sides of right and wrong didn't feel nearly as clear cut, especially since Mohamud was so young, and his motivations were not as clearly depicted as I would have liked.

Ms. Yingling

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Summer We Found the Baby

Hest, Amy. The Summer We Found the Baby
July 14th 2020 by Candlewick Press
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Julie and her young sister Martha are taking a cake to the opening of the new children's library in their small coastal town during WWII when they find a baby in a basket on the front steps! Unfortunately, Julie's nemesis, Bruno, also shows up and interferes with her plans to take the baby to the beach and... well, she doesn't have the best plan. Martha, who is six, is up for any adventure, and just wants to name the baby Nancy. While the three try to decide what to do with the baby, we learn about the events leading up to their discovery. Julie has written to Eleanor Roosevelt, asking her to come to the library opening. Since her own mother, who passed away when Martha was very young, was also Eleanor, she feels there is a special connection. Bruno, whose older brother Ben is in Europe fighting, is on a mission to go into New York City and find Tess, the girl that Ben secretly married before he shipped out. Ben is concerned about Tess for a special reason, but doesn't tell Ben what, just that he should bring Tess back home with him. We find out why Julie is angry with Ben, and also the reason he had to find Tess, as well as the identity of the baby.
Strengths: This reminded me a little of Carolyn Haywood's B is for Betsy books, which were written around the time this is set. Leaving babies lying about for people to find was a popular theme in books; think also about The Boxcar Children, where the children run away and live in the woods and no one seems to notice. This book was a gentle way to introduce what was going on during WWII in a way that young people at the time might have experienced it. The opening of the children's library, and especially Eleanor Roosevelt, was especially charming.
Weaknesses: The reason the baby was left outside the library seems really weird to me. I don't want to spoil things, but during the war, I think that there were a lot of young people who got married (secretly or not so secretly) and had babies, and the families were okay with it.
What I really think: I will pass on purchase, since this is a bit young for my students, but I can see it being popular in an elementary library where titles like Rylan's Rosetown or MacLachlan short novels are popular.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Saturday Morning Cartoons- Primer

Primer by Jennifer Muro (co-author), Thomas Krajewski (co-author), Gretel Lusky (Illustrations)
June 23rd 2020 by DC Comics
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Ashley Rayburn has had a difficult time. Her father is a hardened criminal who is in jail for a crime Ashley helped him commit, and she is jaded by the foster care system. Eventually, she gets taken in by Kitch and Yuka Nolan, a young couple who can't have children of their own. Kitch is an artist like Ashley, and an overgrown child/hipster who matches Ashley's absurd humor. Yuka is more reserved, and works as a research scientist on a project that might not be 100% well intentioned. Ashley manages to make a friend at school-- Luke, who wan to grow up to be a hairdresser and is glad to go along with Ashley's wild schemes. When Ashley breaks into Yuka's closet and finds her top secret briefcase, she finds out that the body paint Yuka has developed can give the wearer super powers, but only as long as no more than three paints are used. Ashley uses the variety of paints to save an airplane and do other super hero like feats, one of which brings her to Yuka's attention. Yuka is angry, but still cares about Ashley (who uses the name "Primer" when she has her powers), but the evil Strack wants the paints for himself. Will Ashley be able to withstand his attacks, save the Nolan's, and continue with her work as Primer?
Strengths: As far as I can tell, this is a new super hero, aimed specifically at middle grade readers. The full color graphic novel is similar to Larson's Goldie Vance and will be popular with students who like comic books and are big fans of art. This would be one to hand to my students who draw all over themselves with marker.
Weaknesses: Ashley's misbehaviors are portrayed as sort of cute. While I am willing to cut her some slack because of her unpleasant upbringing, I was still a little disappointed that she took advantage of Yuka.
What I really think: This is available for the very reasonable price of $8.79 in paperback from Follett, so I may see if this comes out in a prebind, since the paperback would last about two weeks. My students aren't huge DC fans, but the colorful artwork and adventurous story will appeal to some of them.

Friday, June 26, 2020

A Field Guide to Getting Lost

McCullough, Joy. A Field Guide to Getting Lost
April 14th 2020 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sutton lives with her father in an apartment in Seattle. She is homeschooled, loves robotics, and is happy with her neighbors and her life. She's not happy that her mother is living at the South Pole, and decides not to come to celebrate Sutton's tenth birthday because the emperor penguins she is studying have changed their habits. Luis lives with his mother, his Guatemalan father having died of cancer when he was two. He loves to write stories about brave children, since his mother is overly protective because he has life threatening allergies to lots of things, including bees and peanuts. Sutton's father and Luis' mother are dating, and have reached the point where they want to have a "family date" to introduce the children. They go to an art museum that Luis likes, but is outside Sutton's comfort zone. (Sutton isn't labeled but seems to be on the autism spectrum.) Her father is not happy that she couldn't make an effort, but Sutton is obsessed with getting the coding on her robot finished for a science fair, and she's not wild about her father dating. Also, she feels like she DID make an effort to the best of her ability. When another family date is attempted, this time to a park, Sutton and Luis get separated from the parents, have an adventure, and bond a bit more.
Strengths: I loved the depiction of characters who love coding and who have life threatening allergies. There are very few books about kids who need EpiPens, which is a real lack. The fear about parents dating, and missing the absent parents, is done well. The real triumph of this book is the use of the city as almost another character. This was a fun book to read, and the faux-canvas texture on the cover made me ridiculously happy.
Weaknesses: Sutton is nine and about to turn ten, and the adventure in the park was fairly tame. The cover makes it look like they are critically lost.
What I really think: I would definitely buy this for an elementary school, and enjoyed reading it, but think it is too young for my students. There is a lot of imaginative play that seems childish to middle school readers, although this might work for fans of Bridge to Terebithia. (But without the sadness. I am not a fan.)

Ms. Yingling