Thursday, January 20, 2022

Riley's Ghost

Anderson, John David. Riley's Ghost
January 11th 2022 by Walden Pond Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

N.B. This is one of those books that is kind of hard to review because I don't want to give anything away!

Riley has had a hard time in middle school, and it doesn't help that her parents are very busy and she frequently has to spend a lot of time at home alone. Her mother is a nurse, and her father is a train engineer who is frequently gone. She had managed to hang on through middle school while she hada best friend, Emily, but when Emily tires of Riley's impulsive, sometimes embarassing behavior, Riley is alone. She takes refuge in the library, where the librarian, Mrs. Grissolm, lets her help process books, eat M&Ms, and stay until 5:30. On one day, as she is leaving school late, she runs into Emily with her new friends. They are unhappy about an incident earlier in the day where Riley got a boy in trouble when he put a dissection frog against her face, and the group locks her in a storage room after Riley stands up for herself. She is frantic, and once she gets out and fails to make contact with anyone outside school, she starts to worry. But she is not alone. She is helped (and frightened!) by the ghost of the frog from science class, who turns out to be Max. Max had a heart attack in his 40s, but had attended Riley's school, and his ghost is stuck there for some reason. This is most likely because of his relationship with Heather, who had many personality traits in common with Riley, had a horrendously awful middle school experience that Max didn't help with, and died at a young age. Her ghost is also threatening Riley. How will these ghosts, as well as the ghosts of Riley's own past, help Riley to make peace with her present?
Strengths: Riley's personality is on trend with having characters with more complex and challenging traits. For example, when she pulls the fire alarm, it is the third time she has done it. She is frequently in the principals' office for various offenses. She is picked on, but stands up for herself, which sometimes ends with her decking another student, stabbing someone's hand with a sharp pencil, or pouring a full plate of spaghetti on someone's lap. Anderson does a particularly good job at using upper middle grade language, things like "hell" and "Jesus", which is coarse but not as offensive as it could be. Riley is frequently home alone, something which is very common for middle school students.  The ghost part of the story is fairly scary. The friend drama is also on point, and we're now seeing about as many books from both sides of friendship issues-- the friends who are embarassing and left behind, and the friends who move on. Max and Heather's relationship mirrors Riley and Emily's nicely. The theme of supporting each other is a good one, and similar to this author's Posted. Of course, librarians everywhere will award this one bonus points for the fabulous Mrs. Grissolm.
Weaknesses: This was rather unrelentingly sad. Riley's own experiences were just fraught, and she had so few resources to help her cope, and the ghosts had even more problems. It made me feel... icky and unsettled when I read it. Will this instead make students feel better about their own lives? 
What I really think: This was more like Granted, Finding Orion, or Last Shot than Ms. Bixby's Last Day or The Dungeoneers. I'm impressed with Anderson's range and his creativity in developing innovative story lines. I do wish his books were a bit shorter, so that more students would pick them up. This one might be a challenge for some readers because of the constant flashbacks to the past.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Piece by Piece: The Story of Nisrin's Hijab

Huq, Priya. Piece by Piece: The Story of Nisrin's Hijab
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central
November 16th 2021 by Harry N. Abrams 

 Nisrin and her Bangladeshi family live in Oregon in 2002 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. There isn't a huge Muslim community there, but they do have a good network of friends and family. When Nisrin wears a hijab to school to illustrate her cultural background for a world cultures day, she is attacked. This is very traumatic for her, and despite the support she recieves, she withdraws. When school starts in the fall, she decides to wear the hijab full time. Her mother is especially concerned about this, since she herself doesn't wear the traditional garment in order to "fit in" at work. She is given a very hard time about her choice, from the gym teacher, from fellow students, and from people who think she is wearing it because her father told her to. Instead, she wears it because she feels a need to represent her culture. As the school year progresses, she manages to make a new friend, but additional trauma from her past surfaces as well. The family's time in Bangladesh was marked by a lot of violence, and a bit of this history is covered in Nisrin's story. Will Nisrin be able to reconcile her past with her present problems in order to move forward in the future?

Given the large number of immigrants from a large numbers of countries, there are not as many stories for young readers about different cultures as there should be. The only other story about Bangladeshis that I can think of is Samira Surfs (Guidroz 2021), and the only other graphic novel with a hijabi main character is Fahmy's 2021 Huda F Are You?. It's good to see this representation.

This is a complicated story that deals with a lot of historical context that young readers should know about. The partitioning of India after World War II, its effects on Bangladesh, and the unreasonable hatred Muslims in the US faced after the 9/11 attacks are all critical and underserved events.

Nisrin's emotional upheaval is dealt with in a constructive way, and there is a lot to process. While her decision to wear the hijab is not an easy one, she has a lot of trauma from her past that ust be dealt with. The dark, hectic quality of the illustrations supports Nisrin's emotional state, and it's good to see a lighter, happier quality to the pictures at the end of the book. There is a nice Guide to Bangladesh at the end.

It's important to see a variety of stories about young Muslim girls and their decision about wearing a hijab or not. There are a few of these out there,starting with the Australian Does My Head Look Big in This? (2007, Abdel-Fattah) and continuing with the British You're Not Proper (Mehmoud, 2015), The Garden of My Imaan (Zia, 2013), All-American Muslim Girl (Courtney, 2019) and Barakah Beats (Siddiqui, 2021). This is a great addition to these books and will be popular with middle school and high school readers.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Fantasy Tuesday- The Way to Rio Luna

C√≥rdova, Zoraida. The Way to Rio Luna 
June 2nd 2020 by Scholastic Inc.
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Danny Monteverde has had a rough life. He and his older sister Pili have spent many years in foster care, and she has always taken care of him when the placements were rough. The two shared a love of a book called The Way to Rio Luna, and would imagine their life there. When Pili goes missing, everyone is sure she has run away, but Danny knows better. He goes from family to family, most of which are unpleasant, and is currently in a family with two boys who treat him badly. The father even throws away his book, which devastates him. On a class field trip to a museum, he finds out that the book is rare and valuable, and when it magically appears in his back pack AND his sister's name is on the borrower's card, he makes the decision to run away from the field trip and try to find out more. Aided by Glory, who is cared for by Auntie North, who is an archaeologist, he finds out that the magic in the book is real. Soon, the two are on a quest that takes them to many places, from New York to Ecuador to Brazil. Will Danny be able to find his sister, and trust in the magic of Rio Luna to put everything to rights? 

One of our 6th grade teachers had a unit on the hero's journey, and this would be a great book for that. While Danny's experience in foster care seems a bit unrealistically harsh (hopefully!), this background paves the way for him to set forth on his own without regret. Finding his sister, and helping Rio Luna along the way, is a great quest. 

There are a wide variety of different characters from the book that he gets to meet, like the Moon Witch and Llwelyn, a jackalope, and the travels are interesting and well described. Glory and Auntie North are interesting characters, and help Danny out in many ways. I was a little unsure what archaeology the aunt did, but it's always a career of interest to young readers. 

Readers who believe they can be sucked into fairy tales for rollicking adventures, and who have sped through like Buckley's The Sister's Grimm, Colfer's Land of Stories, de la Cruz's Never After: The Thirteenth Fairy or Durst's Into the Wild will enjoy Danny's entry into the fantastical world of Rio Luna. 

This was not one of my favorites. The depiction of foster care was problematic, and I couldn't pin down the inspiration behind the world of Rio Luna. Was it based on a particular culture? It was all over the place, and I was particularly thrown by Ollie Oshiro, of the Kohlrabi Court. The author seems to write mainly young adult, and I think it's particularly difficult to switch from that age range to middle grade. Younger readers may not mind, and the pomeranian on the cover might make this more appealing. 

Monday, January 17, 2022

MMGM- Hardcourt: Stories from 75 Years of the National Basketball Association

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Bowen, Fred. Hardcourt: Stories from 75 Years of the National Basketball Association
January 18th 2022 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

I'm a HUGE Fred Bowen fan, and I always learn something about sports from any book of his I read. I'm still trying to process that there is an American Basketball Association in addition to the NBA, and the fact that there is apparently a real team called the New Orleans Pelicans. Reading Hardcourt made me realize that I know even less about basketball than I know about football!

Like Mr. Bowen's Gridion, this is a beautifully illustrated, larger format (11"x 11") book that would look great on a coffee table, or displayed on a shelf next to trophies. It's also hugely informative, laying out the history of the game of basketball and chronicles the changes made in it over the years. Starting with James' Naismith's creation of the game, we see how time and social changes contribute to the way the game is structured today. I hadn't realized that while the game has been around since the late 1800s, it didn't really take off until well after World War II, and had a hard time getting fans during a time when baseball was the preferred sport. 

While the majority of the players today are Black (almost 75%), when the National Basketball Association started out in 1946, it was entirely white. There were many teams in other leagues that were all Black. By 1950, the Boston Celtics drafted Chuck Cooper, and Earl Lloyd and Sweetwater Cliftion also signed on. There was relatively little controversy over this move, perhaps because basketball was not as much in the limelight as baseball. 

The book is divided into four quarters, and discusses the various changes made over the years, including things about points and clocks that I didn't even try to understand, but which my students will avidly discuss. Major players during the ascendancy of basketball's popularity in the 1970s and 80s, such as Wilt Chamberlain (1936-1999), Majic Johnson, and Larry Bird, are familiar names to me, while players since 2000 will resonate more with my students. The 1992 Olympic "Dream Team" is also discussed at length, although I still want to know why pros were allowed in the Olympics. 

There's a bit about the American Basketball Association, which was active for around a decade in the 1960s and 70s and made a comeback in the 2000s. It's apparent a semi-professional league, but I have no idea what this means, and still don't quite believe it exists. The list of the founding year of the NBA teams at the end of the book is very helpful, but I also have my doubts about the existance of the New Orlean Pelicans. My brother watched football when I was growing up, but apparently basketball has not entered my consciousness at all, because I'm even a bit doubtful about the Denver Nuggets, whom the book says have existed since 1976.

Ransome's illustrations are colorful and vibrant, and the book design showcases these nicely against the easy to read text. Both this and Gridiron would be excellent gifts for a young sports fan, and throwing in a couple of Bowen's fiction books would make an excellent package! (Ooh. Or a gift basket, with a ball. Keep that in mind for school auctions.)

If your sports knowledge is roughly equivalent to mine and you work with young sports enthusiasts, it's imperative that you read Hardcourt and buy it for any elementary or middle school library in your charge. If you haven't looked into Bowen's fiction, this is my occasional reminder that you need to gradually replace all of your crumbling Matt Christopher titles with Bowen's work. 

Interview with the Fantastic Fred Bowen!

Ms. Yingling: You’ve written a number of fictional basketball titles, including the fantastic Hardcourt Comeback, as well as the informative Gridiron: Stories from 100 Years of the National Football League. What’s your personal connection to basketball? Do you think basketball is more popular than football in the US, or the other way around?

Mr. Bowen: Thanks for the kind words about my books.  Hardcourt: Stories From 75 Years of the National Basketball Association is my 27th sports book for young readers.  I am proud of all of them.  Now to your questions.

The National Football League (NFL) and professional football is the most popular sport in the United States by several metrics.  The National Basketball Association (NBA) is, I believe, more popular on an international scale.

As for my personal connection to basketball, I played throughout my youth on various teams as I grew up.  My problem was that I didn’t grow up fast enough.  I was 4’ 11” and 92 pounds at the beginning of the ninth grade (yes, they measured us) and I failed to make the school team.  I also got cut from the high school varsity team two years later.

These disappointments, however, did not hold back my love of the game (I also grew to be almost 6-feet tall).  I played on teams and in leagues as well as on playgrounds until I was 40-years-old.  In my sleep, I still dream of playing the game.

Ms. Yingling: Can you explain briefly the difference between the NBA and the various incarnations of the ABA for those of us who were not aware there were two leagues at different points in history?

Mr. Bowen: As Hardcourt indicates, the NBA started in the 1946-47 season.  By 1967, the league had ten teams (there are now 30).  The American Basketball Association (ABA) started as a separate, competing league in the 1967-68 season with 11 teams.  Chapter 7 of Hardcourt describes some of the ups and downs of the league as well as the great (and not so great, but very colorful) players in the league.

The ABA lasted nine seasons.  Many teams were founded and many folded.  Prior to the 1976-77 season four of the remaining seven ABA teams - the New York Nets, San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets and Indiana Pacers – merged with the NBA.

One story I did not include in Hardcourt because it is mostly about finance is the incredible story of the Silna brothers.  The Silnas owned the Spirits of St. Louis, an ABA team, at the time of the merger with the NBA.  Instead of taking a buyout of two or three million dollars to fold their team as other ABA owners did, the Silnas negotiated a deal in which they received a very small percentage of the television revenues of the league.  At the time, very few NBA games were on TV.  But some years after the deal, the popularity of the NBA exploded and hundreds of games were shown every season. 

It is estimated the Silnas made somewhere between $300 and $800 million under the deal.  That is a lot of money for not owning a team!


Ms. Yingling: Basketball was invented a long time before the NBA came around. What effect did having a national organization have on the game? Why did it take until the 1950s for basketball to really come into the national interest?

Mr. Bowen: Actually, it took much longer.  One of the surprising things about researching Hardcourt was discovering (or rediscovering) how small-time the NBA was for much of its early years.  For example, in 1961 there were only eight NBA teams.  The 1980 NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers with such legendary stars as Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Julius “Dr. J” Erving was not televised during prime time.  The games were shown on tape delay after the late local news.

My father told the story that as a businessman in Boston he was approached to invest in the Boston Celtics around 1950.  When I asked why he didn’t, he looked at me and said, “they didn’t make a profit for years.  It would have been like investing in the circus.”  It probably would have been worse.  The circus was pretty popular back then.

Ms. Yingling: There’s always so much interest in Jackie Robinson and the integration of Black players into baseball, but there are some fascinating stories about early Black basketball players. Why do you think these stories aren’t as well known?

Mr. Bowen: Basketball was simply not as central a part of the American sports experience as baseball was in the 1940s and 1950s.  Baseball was the most popular team sport in the country by far in those days.  So Major League Baseball integrating was a big story in 1947 when Robinson played for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

When the NBA integrated in 1950 with Chuck Cooper, Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton and Earl “Big Cat” Lloyd, few people noticed because few people were following the NBA.  Those early Black players, however, led the way to such all-time greats as Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Elgin Baylor and Oscar Robertson as well as modern stars such as LeBron James and Stephen Curry.

Ms. Yingling: Basketball seems to have more iconic players than football. Who would be the three most important but possibly underrated players that young readers should know about (and librarians should have biographies of)?

Mr. Bowen: That’s a hard question.  One of the things the NBA has done to celebrate its 75th season is to name the 75 greatest NBA players.  So there have been a lot of great players.  I will talk about three. (Here's the link:

Researching Hardcourt reminded me what a big star Bob Cousy was in the early days of the NBA.  Cousy was only 6’1” but was a wizard with the basketball, dribbling through his legs, passing behind his back and doing a million things that are common today but unheard of in the 1950s and 60s.  They called Cousy the “Houdini of the Hardwood.”

Bill Russell was the greatest winner in the history of team sports in the United States.  His Boston Celtics won 11 NBA titles from 1957 to 1969. 

What makes Russell a great story for kids is that when he was a sophomore in high school Russell tried out for his school’s junior varsity.  Sixteen kids tried out for the team and the school had only fifteen uniforms.  The coach did not have the heart to cut one kid.  So he went to his worst player – Bill Russell – and said he could stay on the team but would have to share a uniform with another player. 

Half of the games Russell sat on the bench in his uniform while the other half he sat on the bench in his street clothes.  Russell, however, got better.  A lot better.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was one of the greatest basketball players of all time.  He won 3 NCAA titles at UCLA, 6 NBA titles and is the all-time leading scorer in NBA history.  But the reason I admire Abdul-Jabbar is that he has done so much after his basketball career.  He is a political activist, historian and author.  Abdul-Jabbar is a good example of someone who is more than “just an athlete.”

Ms. Yingling: There are so many interesting topics briefly discussed in Hardcourt that would make excellent middle grade nonfiction titles. The 1992 Olympic Dream Team and the Harlem Globetrotters are both fascinating, but there don’t seem to be many books for middle grade readers. What are some other topics that deserve books of their own?

Mr. Bowen: One topic that I did not know much about before I started researching Hardcourt was that there was a World Professional Basketball Championship played each year from 1939 to 1948.  The best professional teams, both Black teams and White teams, competed for the title.  The Harlem Globetrotters, for example, won the tournament in 1940.

This forgotten era of early professional basketball might be an interesting topic for a book.

Ms. Yingling: Would you ever consider writing a historical novel about a sport, like Yep’s Dragon Road? This would be a great way to get sports fans to read historical fiction. What era would you be most likely to pick if you did write one?

Mr. Bowen: I am flattered you think I could write historical fiction.  Maybe I will give it a try one day.  Most of my reading is in American history so I have a background in many historical eras.

Some of my favorite time periods to read about include the 1930s when the U.S. was going through the greatest economic challenge of its history – The Great Depression.  I am also fascinated with the 1960s when the country was trying to find its way through the Civil Rights movement as well as the protests surrounding the Vietnam War.

Ms. Yingling: While this history isn’t part of the NBA, women were involved in the sport very early on. Why was basketball deemed more “suitable” for women? It even shows up in Jessie Grace Flower’s 1911 Grace Harlow’s Sophomore Year in High School and other literature of the time. 

Mr. Bowen: Basketball was supposed to be a “non-contact” sport.  After all, one of Dr. Naismith’s original 13 rules for the sport was that there should be “no shouldering, holding, pushing, tripping, or striking in any way the person of an opponent . . . .”  Perhaps that is why the game was considered more “suitable” for women.

Women often played a toned-down version of the game.  For years, many women in high schools and colleges played a game called “6 on 6” basketball in which three players only played on offense and three players only played on defense and no player ran the whole court.  That version of the game was played in high schools in Iowa and Oklahoma into the 1990s.

I discuss the 6 on 6 game more fully in my Fred Bowen Sports Story series book Off the Rim.

Now women play a very high level of the game in high school, colleges and the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).  I often joke that nothing has improved during my lifetime as much as restaurant food and women’s basketball.

Ms. Yingling: What projects are you considering next? Will we be seeing more of your Soccer Mystery series, or maybe a book on the history of baseball or soccer in the U.S.?

Mr. Bowen: My next book will be part of my Fred Bowen Sports Story series.  Those are 25 books that combine sports fiction, sports history and always have a chapter of sports history in the back.  The new book is about basketball and is called Off the Bench.  It is scheduled to be published in the Spring of 2023. 

I also am scheduled to write a baseball book in the series for 2024 and a football book for 2025.

I have actually written a history of baseball for young readers but my editor for Hardcourt and Gridiron thinks there are too many baseball books.  So I may have to find another publisher for that book.

My plan is to write Fred Bowen Sports Story and sports history books as long as I enjoy writing them and as long as kids enjoy reading them. 

I'm certainly glad to hear that! If you have not investigated Mr. Bowen's work, make it a New Year's Goal to read at least one of his books in 2022!

Sunday, January 16, 2022

A Kind of Spark

 McNicoll, Elle. A Kind of Spark
October 19th 2021 by Crown Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Addie lives in the small Scottish town of Juniper, not far from Edinburgh with her parents and older twin sisters. Nina has a vlog for makeup tips, and Keedie is at university. Keedie is especially helpful to Addie, since both are on the autism spectrum. They both struggle with loud noises, too much stimulation, and people who don't understand their different needs. Keedie has become good at "masking", and people at university don't know about her differences, but Addie is suffering at school. Her teacher, Ms. Murphy, is very mean; she even rips up Addie's paper because her handwriting is poor, and frequently yells at her. Addie's former best friend Jenna will no longer talk to her, deciding instead to hang out with Emily, who routinely makes fun of Addie. When the history of Juniper and its treatment of witches is covered in class, Addie feels a kinship with the women who were tortured and killed just for being different. Along with Audrey, a new girl from England who takes her side, Addie sets out to approach the town government for a memorial to the women who were killed. There are missteps along the way, but Addie learns a lot about herself, her family, and the way that society treats those who are different. 

While the phrase "own voices" has fallen out of favor, it is important to note that the author self identifies as neurodivergent. Books like Rorby's How to Speak Dolphin and Baskin's Anything But Typical, offer good representations of characters on the autism spectrum, but there are other books by neurotypical authors that miss the mark. Addie's frustrations and challenges are clearly defined, and she has a decent support network and a few soping strategies. Her struggles at school and with friends are well drawn and realistic. The tie in with the witches in Juniper's history showcases how treatement of individuals who are different has changed over the years, and it's an interesting connection for Addie to make. 

The one thing I found surprising was Ms. Murphy's treatment of her student, which would not go over well in the US. My school has had an autism unit for over 15 years, so perhaps we are more used to seeing and dealing with neurodivergent children. Jenna's behavior seems more in line with reality, since many friendships are strained while growing up, and having a friend who regularly melts down in class is challenging even for the most understanding friend. 

Just as it is a bit less common for girls to be on the autism spectrum, it is harder to find them reflected in books. Kapit's Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen! and Lupica's Team Players do offer glimpses into such characters, but Addie is a welcome addition to the list. It's a good idea to investigate newer titles when dealing with many topics, since diagnoses, treatment, and public perception can change over time. 

A Kind of Spark is a fast paced, interesting read set in an intriguing part of the world for US readers, and dealing with history that might be unknown. Addie's struggles are universal, and will appeal to readers who want to investigate what the tween years are like for others who might not have lives exactly like theirs. 

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Big Shot

Kinney, Jeff. Big Shot (Diary of a Wimpy Kid #16)
October 26th 2021 by Amulet Books
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central
As squirrely as Greg is, he's never been portrayed as a sports fanatic, and we find out why in Big Shot. No matter what sport he's tried, from soccer as a kindergartner to baseball to field day, he's been a spectacular failure. This is fine as far as he is concerned; sports, to him, are more about the snacks. He'd much rather be playing video games, but his mother, a former basketball player, is determined to get him to play something. Eventually, he agrees to try out for a basketball team, thinking that there is no chance he will make it. When star player Preet doesn't make the team because he's out of town for try outs, his father puts together a team of all of the players who were cut... including Greg! They are predictably bad, have horrible gym schedules, and can't even hold their own against a group of older men who are practicing in the gym they've reserved. They don't win a single game. When Greg's mother finds out about a tournament for teams that haven't won a single game, she is eager to enter them, hoping that under her coaching, they will be able to win and she can rectify her own fraught basketball past.

Like most Wimpy Kid books, this is a bit light on plot, focusing instead of humorous anecdotes about situations such as Greg at his father's gym, an unlikely Field Day fixing scheme, an adventure at a major league baseball stadium, and a rivalry with the nearby town of Slacksville. This narrative structure must be wildly appealing to the target demographic, but causes me to struggle. Big Shot has more of a plot arc than Hard Luck, but not as much as The Getaway

We see very little of Rowley in this installment, which is okay. I worry about his toxic relationship with Greg, but here he only has to deal with Greg hosting him for "tasting parties" for the weird snacks his mother buys. Haddock Skin Chips, Sweet Potato Cookies or Seaweed Bars, anyone? Greg does try his best to be a good team mate and sportsman, even if his efforts are sometimes misguided. There is even some talk of the team getting together again, but Greg thinks it might be wise to quite while he's ahead. 

The big appeal of these books is partly due to the line illustrations and hand drawn style of font that gave rise to the trend of Notebook Novels. Other competitors in this field are Peirce's Big Nate, Kalicky's My Life in Smiley, and Pichon's Tom Gates, which have similar formats but differing levels of plot and character development. With the addition of sports, even with Greg's somewhat negative take on them, this will be a hugely popular title. 
 Ms. Yingling

Friday, January 14, 2022

All Star: How Larry Doby Smashed the Color Barrier in Baseball

Vernick, Audrey and Chapman, Cannady (illus.) All Star: How Larry Doby Smashed the Color Barrier in Baseball 
January 4th 2022 by Clarion Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this picture book biography, we see young Larry Doby follow a typical course of life for his time period; growing up in the segregated South but still playing sports with all manner of neighborhood children, having to join the Navy, and playing in the Negro Leagues before being signed by the Cleveland Indians (now Guardians) eleven weeks after Jackier Robinson was the first Black player in the major leagues. Doby faced much of the same prejudice and discrimination that Robinson did, but persevered. The last team to finally sign a Black player did so in 1959. There were still issues, but Doby did get to experience a number of "firsts" to take some of the sting out of being the "second". Notes, a photograph, and a selected bibliography round out the book. Vernick has baseball chops (2014's Screaming at the Ump), and Chapman's illustrations have a charming, 1950s reading texbook feel to them,and are heavy on red, blue, and sand colors. (TO be clear, I love 1950s reading textbooks!) This is a great addition to a collection of sports picture books, or picture books about pioneers in the area of Civil Rights. 

How cool is this Pitch to Plinth Project?

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Bones Unearthed! (Creepy and True #3)

Hollihan, Kerrie Logan. Bones Unearthed! (Creepy and True #3)
November 23rd 2021 by Abrams Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Didn't we all dig in the yard or an empty lot when we were ten and hope that we would unearth some sort of archaeological find? In my case, it was only a rock in the shape of Ohio, but it certainly ignited enough of an interest that I took several courses in ancient archaeology at university. Hollihan's introduction to the book, which covers the many things she needed to learn about in order to research the book, is a great starting point for budding archaeologists. 

There are several prominent but not overly well known excavations covered in this book, including ones uncovering King Richard, bodies affected by Krakatoa and Tambora, bones found in Benjamin Franklin's basement, an early English settlement in the US that experienced hard times, and even information on human offerings! Each dig has the history behind it nicely explained, as well as information about how the excavation proceeded and what information was added to history because of it. 

There are plenty of photographs, and the book is well designed, with page decorations reminscent of crackling bones, as well as lovely full color edgings. There are pages with "factlets", a lot of primary source quotations, and explanations of terms and places. There are endnotes, a selected bibliography, and a helpful index. 

Like this author's Mummies Exposed! and Ghosts Unveiled Bones Unearthed! capitalizes on the human desire to explore the creepy and somewhat frightening aspects of life and death. Adults have murder mysteries; these are discouraged for some reason for the under twelve crowd, so nonfiction books about the spooky and strange are a great way to feed that longing. Pair this with Albee's  Accidental Archaeologists: Chance Discoveries That Changed the World or Fleming's The Curse of the Mummy: Uncovering Tutankhamun's Tomb for information about archaeology or Williams' True Hauntings: Deadly Disasters or  Braggs' How They Croaked for general horrible endings!

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Overground Railroad and Ain't Burned All the Bright

Taylor, Candacy. Overground Railroad: THe Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America
January 4th 2022 by Amulet Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus 

This was very well researched and covered a lot of additional history of the Black experience in the US, not just travel. I loved that the author traveled to different places mentioned in the Green Book, and took photographs of places that were listed in the travel guide, very few of which still exist. The personal connections to her family were interesting as well. The small things that you would only know about if you lived through an era, like the fact that many Black men who had nicer or newer cars kept chauffeur's caps in the car in case they were stopped by the police, are invaluable. The photographs are excellent, and this book has excellent, in depth coverage of an important period in time. 

This was an adaptation for young people of a longer book, which is great, but was still a bit longer than I wanted. If I have moeny left over, I will buy this, since it would be helpful for research for National History Day. What I'm looking for is something somewhere between this amount of information and Dawson and Harris' Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book

I'm fascinated by the digitized collection of the original guide books accessible through the New York Public Library:

From the publisher:
A young reader's edition of Candacy Taylor’s acclaimed book about the history of the Green Book, the guide for Black travelers
Overground Railroad chronicles the history of the Green Book, which was published from 1936 to 1966 and was the “Black travel guide to America.” For years, it was dangerous for African Americans to travel in the United States. Because of segregation, Black travelers couldn’t eat, sleep, or even get gas at most white-owned businesses.

The Green Book listed hotels, restaurants, department stores, gas stations, recreational destinations, and other businesses that were safe for Black travelers. It was a resourceful and innovative solution to a horrific problem. It took courage to be listed in the Green Book, and the stories from those who took a stand against racial segregation are recorded and celebrated.

Reynolds, Jason and Griffin, Jason. Ain't Burned All the Bright. 
January 11th 2022 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

I somehow missed this one, but it was brought to my attention by one of the teachers, who wanted to know more about it before buying it.

This is a difficult book to review, so I suggest picking up a copy for yourself. It is a very quick read, perhaps 4-6 pages of text as it would be arranged in a traditional novel, but the words are arranged like poetry on highly decorated pages. I was concerned about content, since Reynolds often writes Young Adult Books, but this would be fine for middle school readers. Elementary school readers might benefit from support in reading this in order to fully understand it. The story isn't so much told to us as presented, and it's up to the reader to tease out what is going on. It reminded me a bit of when I was told to teach Latin inductively rather than deductively.

Thematically, this covers the events of 2020 from the view of a young Black boy at home with his family. His mother is obsessed with the news, which is highly repetitive and unpleasant; his father is ill and coughing; his brother plays video games constantly; his sister is on her phone. The boy wonders why the news has so much about racial issues in it, but also why these issues never seem to change.

The illustrations are collage style. This is a very unusually formatted book, so it's hard to gauge student interest. Certainly, libraries where Reynolds' work is popular will want to take a look. I have a teacher who is very passionate about his work, so the book might circulate on the strength of her recommendations.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Operation Do-Over

Korman, Gordon. Operation Do-Over
January 11th 2022 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

Mason and Ty were destined to be best friends. From a very young age, they shared many interests and character traits. They were constantly together, and their families supported them; Mason's keeping nut free snacks for Ty and Ty's stocking the kind of chips that didn't irritate Mason. When "the most awesome girl who ever lived" moves to town, both boys are smitten. Their nerdy hearts thrill to her love of science and time travel, and she's just a nice person. Even though the sporty bullies Dominic and Miggy try to claim her, she decides to hang out with the friends, as well as Clarissa. Mason and Ty realize that they both are interesteed in Ava, so they form a treaty, just like the Klingons and Romulans. Neither will pursue her. Unfortunately, this doesn't work very well, since Ava really likes Mason. He tries to avoid her, but when the two end up at the Harvest Festival together during a horrible pop up storm, they are caught kissing on camera. Ty sees the photo and that's the end of the friendship. Fast forward five years: Mason is a senior, and a lot has happened in his life. His parents have divorced, his beloved dog Rufus was killed while chasing a Roto-Rooter truck, and he and Ty are not friends. After a fracas at school that ended in his favorite teacher being injured, Mason is expelled, and soon after is in a car accident. 

When he wakes up, he's 12 again, and at a school sleepover to watch a meteor shower. He is confused, but retains his memories of the intervening years. He knows, for example, that Mason and Ty were the ones who snuck into the sleepover and poured hydrogen peroxide on some students. Once he realizes he's stuck in the past, he tries to fix things. He starts cleaning up after his father, training Rufus to ignore trucks, and steers clear of Ava as much as he can. He even stands up to Dominic, flattening him with a tackle when he snatches Ty's back pack, and tries out for the football team in order to change his destiny. It works for a while, but Ty becomes irritated at how mean Mason is to Ava. After meeting Madame Zeynab, a local fortune teller, while out with the football team, Mason tries to find her again to eleaborate on why she thinks he has "two futures". The one event he tries desperately to avoid is the Harvest Fair, but he doesn't manage. The events unfold too closely to the way they did the first time, despite all of his efforts. Will he be able to salvage his relationship with Ty the second time around?

This novel struck a chord in me, and is probably my favorite Korman title so far. If I could go back to 8th grade and get a second chance, I would change just about everything about my entire life. I identified very strongly with Clarissa, who is another smart girl, but one whom the boys don't like. Her conversation with Mason in his second twirl through being 12 was heartbreaking, but I loved how Mason encouraged her to try out for the track team, and how her adversarial relationship with Ty shook out. I also found it endearing and very realistic that Mason not only tried out for the football team in his second chance, but stayed on it into high school, despite his childhood clutziness. Middle schoolers often explore different identities, but also often feel that they can't make any changes, so this was just interesting to see. Ava was a fantastic characters who was smart, funny, and extremely kind. It was hard to watch Mason be mean to her, even though his motives were clear. 

There aren't as many books about boys' friendships as there should be, and it was heartwarming to see Ty and Mason's relationship. Bonding over shared interests, they supported each other in school, and created their own safe space, away from the Dominics and Miggys of the world. I loved seeing them in high school after Mason's trip to the past, but I don't want to ruin the ending!

Korman always crafts intriguing, original stories with moments of humor and more realistic middle grade concerns. Seeing Mason use his older perspective to try to deal with his friendship with Ty, parents' relationship problems and the loss of his beloved pet was fascinating, and addresses concerns that many children have. Hand this to avid fans of this author's work, and to readers who enjoy Jordan Sonnenblick, Paul Acampora, and Dan Richards. 

Monday, January 10, 2022

MMGM- The Deadliest Hurricanes Then and Now

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 
Hopkinson, Deborah. The Deadliest Hurricanes Then and Now (The Deadliest #2)
January 4th 2022 by Scholastic Focus
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Like this author's The Deadliest Diseases Then and Now, this second installation in the series covers information about hurricanes and the science behind them, illustrating these concepts with information about the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. It differs somewhat from the first book in that it is a deep dive into many facets of the Galveston storm, instead of covering several different storms, although a few others are mentioned briefly. This gives the book a chance to address issues I hvaen't seen mentioned before, such as the disdain with which the Cuban meteorological society and their reports were treated, and how disproportionately affected the Black and impoverished neighborhoods were. I especially liked that the Cuban scientists and the Black citizens in Galveston, were not just depicted as victims, but were given plenty of space so that their accomplishments could be lauded, making their treatment all the more painful. Of course, the big draw for this book is descriptions of how people survived, or didn't survive, the storm. Especially informative was the coverage of how males of all ages were conscripted to help bury or burn the bodies, and of how they stepped up to do this horrific work without complaint. Complete with period photos, weather maps, a timeline, brief biographies of key players and a select bibliography, this is another great nonfiction title to hand to fans of Tarshis' I Survived books. I'm looking forward to the third book in this series, The Deadlist Fires. (May 3, 2022)

Sunday, January 09, 2022

Code Name Serendipity

Smith, Amber. Code Name Serendipity
January 4th 2022 by Razorbill
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sadie lives with her moms and her older brother Noah, who constantly gives her a hard time. Her best friend has moved away, and while they can still text, it's not the same, especially since she feels lonely at school. When there's no French toast for breakfast one weekend morning, it is a bad sign; Sadie's grandfather has been struggling with memory issues, and is coming to live with Sadie's family. In some ways, this is great. Sadie can talk to him when she gets home from school, and the two have a good time together. But even she can see that his memory is failing, and there are a couple of scary incidents because of this. At the same time, Sadie finds a dog outside who seems to call to her. She can communicate telepathetically with Dewey, as the dog calls herself. Since one of her moms is a vet, Sadie knows she's not supposed to approach strange dogs, and eventually Dewey shows up in her mom's shelter. At school, where she struggles with a learning disability she tries to hide from her classmates, she has at least made anew friend in Macey, a girl with whom she had not previously gotten along because of an earlier misunderstanding. Macey has struggles of her own, and the two are soon hanging out. Macey even tries to help Sadie with a plan to get Dewey out of the shelter, but when that falls through, her gradfather comes to the rescue. He sets up a shed near the house as a "puppy palace", and they bring Dewey home, lying to the shelter and saying she is their lost dog. They make plans to eventually tell the moms, but how long can they keep up the ruse before they are found out?
Strengths: The fact that Sadie has two moms is a nonissue, although she does explain it to Macey. Macey's mother is deceased, so she had her own family information to exchange. I adored Macey's grandmother and thought it was great she was more formal. Sadie's friendships were realistically portrayed. Her learning difficulties are addressed in a mostly ocnstructive fashion, and her mothers are supportive. Noah is a jerk, but that's also fairly realistic. I'm always interested in stories with good grandparents, and this would be great for fans of Gebhart's There Will be Bears, Acampora's How to Avoid Extinction, Cavanaugh's When I Hit the Road, or Medina's Merci Suarez Changes Gears.
Weaknesses: I'm never a fan of people lying and then getting their way. The fact that the grandfather also lies makes this worse. I also wish that assisted living facilities weren't portrayed as horrible choices for older adults with memory issues, although this did at least spin things positively later in the book. With my mother, the choice was either assisted living, or continuing to ler her live with my father, who would let her do things that would lead to her falling on her face. Assisted living was an immense improvement to her quality of life. 
What I really think: This is definitely speculative fiction; there is repeated communication between Sadie and Dewey. I will probably pass on purchase, but I can see this being popular in an elementary school library. 
 Ms. Yingling

Saturday, January 08, 2022

The Puppy Problem (The Daily Bark #1)

James, Laura and Alder, Charlie. The Puppy Problem (The Daily Bark #1)
January 11th 2022 by Bloomsbury Children's Books
ARC provided by the publisher

Gizmo is very happy with his life with Granny, but when she moves from the fascinating city to the country town of Puddle, he is a bit asea. He tries to make some friends, and comes across a neighbor dog, Jilly, who is a gigantic Irish Wolfhound who has four very young puppies. Jilly is worried that her human will sell the puppies to families far away, and she will never get to see them. She enlists Gizmo's help to find local families for them. Along the way, Gizmo makes other new friends, including Lola, who loves to run, Bunty, who lives at Willow Tree Farm, Bob, the station dog, and Bruno, whose owner has a salon. Gizmo borrows Granny's typewriter and makes a flyer about the puppies, then gives copies to other dogs in town to spread the word. Luckily, there is enough local interest in Jilly's pups that they are all adopted close to home. Gizmo also finds out that Jilly is not able to read, and teaches her this new skill. 
Strengths: The illustrations in this were absolutely adorable, and I can't be the only one who has a soft spot for early reader books about dogs! Gizmo is a fascinating character, and he has his own life apart from Granny, who actually isn't present in the book much at all. He and his friends identify the problem, think of solutions, and try to use their skills to implement their best idea. This is a nicely sized, small book, with color illustrations in the finished edition-- mainly purple, aqua, and brown with pops of red. It's a feel good story, both with Jilly's concerns for her puppies and with her learning to read. I'll be interested to see the next book in the series. 
Weaknesses: I found it a little odd that the humans were not involved in having Jilly's puppies adopted; after getting Pongo from Ohio Fuzzy Pawz, I think it's a great idea for people to have to fill out five page applications and families to be thoroughly investigated before having a dog placed with them. The target demographic of six year olds will NOT be thinking about this. 
What I really think: Clearly, I enjoy this beginning chapter books about animals a little too much. Ahn's Pug Pals, Peter's Jasmine Green series, Higgins's Home is Where the Heart Is (Good Dog #1), Clarke's Posy the Puppy (Dr. Kitty Cat #1) , Butler's King and Kayla, are all ones that I adored, and the bit longer (and my favorite) Falatko's Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go to School has only a slightly harder reading level.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, January 07, 2022

Guy Friday- My Life as a Billionaire

If you don't have this series in your middle school or elementary library, you really need to look into getting them in prebind. They are the perfect book to hand to students who obsessively reread Wimpy Kid books or graphic novels. Along with the Charlie Joe Jackson and Stick Dog books, these are my go to titles for slowly expanding readers' choices when they need a suggestion for something new that also feels familiar. 

Tashjian, Janet. My Life as a Billionaire (My Life #10)
April 6th 2021 by Henry Holt & Company
Library copy

Derek spends the day working for his friend Matt's brother, and is supposed to get $40 for his efforts. When Jamie doesn't have any cash at the end of the day, he tries to give the boys lottery tickets instead. Disappointed that he isn't any closer to buying the 3-D printer that he wants, Derek still takes the ticket. When the news is on, and he hears numbers that sound familiar, he is surprised to find that the ticket is actually a winner. His mother points out that he is too young to claim the money himself, and events proceed very realistically. He and Jamie agree to split the money, and their parents dissuade them from getting it in one lump sum. While Derek does buy his printer and a few other silly things ($9,000 shoes?!), he also helps out his friend Umberto with a new wheelchair he can use for skateboarding, and donates to other charities as well. Knowing Derek, he manages to combine his new found wealth with his other interests of skateboarding, videotaping, 3-D printing, training assistance monkeys and hanging out with his friends. 
Strengths: This is wish fulfillment at its finest-- what middle school student doesn't dream about winning a lot of money? I did appreciate that it was all done very realistically, and the legalities were well addressed. Having a lawyer involved (as would have probably happened in real life) would have slowed down the story. Derek is a great kid who makes a conscious effort to do good things even if he doesn't want to. He buys the expensive shoes, but then feels bad about it. His parents are supportive but reign him in when needed. His friends are all very different, and interact with him in fun ways. 
Weaknesses: This was rather episodic, which is a change from the other books, that have more of a plot. This will not bother the fans of this series at all. 
What I really think: I buy all of these books without reading them now, since I trust the author, and am never disappointed. It just takes me a while to be able to get my hands on the books to read them myself, since they are always checked out!
 Ms. Yingling

Thursday, January 06, 2022

The House on Hoarder Hill

Lish, Mikki and Ngai, Kelly. The House on Hoarder Hill
August 3rd 2021 by Chicken House

Hedy and her younger brother Spencer are sent to spend winter break with their Grandpa John, whom they haven't seen for some time, because their parents have to go off on an archaeological dig. Their grandfather was a famous magician who has been depressed ever since a magic trick went awry and his wife, Rose, went missing. He's not thrilled to have his grandchildren around, especially since his big, spooky house is packed to the gills with tricks and memorabilia that he doesn't want the two to touch. There are some good reasons for this that they discover when they go into rooms where they shouldn't be going. There are reasons-- Hedy wants to find out what happened to her grandmother, since no one will talk about her. When a picture frame magically has words appear, "find me", Hedy is sure this is a message. The two children find a talking bear rug and deer head who let them in on some of the secrets of the house and the grandfather. Another message, "Ask Nobody for help", reveals another magician, Mr. Nobody, whose spirit is being kept in the attic. The secrets pile up, and Hedy and Spencer enlist their nearby cousins to help them. When Mr. Nobody threatens the family, will they, and their grandfather, be able to keep the house safe?

This was a very British book, with lots of tea and a stern but helpful housekeeper, and parents that feel a need to suddenly abandon children with estranged relatives.  Hedy and Spencer get along well, and their cousins Max and Jelly, join in to the adventure willingly, and a great uncle fuels their interest in the fate of their grandmother. The parents do manage to return home at a critical moment, and in time for Christmas.

There are a variety of magical elements that are very appealing. Doug, the talking rug, and Stan the deer, are magical but benign enough for the children to trust. They are good allies when the children release the evil Mr. Nobody without their grandfather's knowledge. The Kaleidos, which is probably responsible for Rose's disappearance, is an excellent mystical tool. There is quite a blurred line between what "tricks" the grandfather does, and what actual magic he might have. 

For readers who like spooky houses, like the ones in Funaro's Watch Hollow, West's Long Lost, Oliver's Curiosity House series, Dawson's Mine, or Benko's Unicorn Quest, visiting Grandpa John's house near Marberry Rest will be a great way to spend some time. This also reminded me strongly of Harrison's Pinch of Magic, Carman's Floors series or Anderson's The Memory Thief, and even had a touch of John Bellairs' The House with a Clock in Its Walls to it. 

Books about magicians, like those about pirates or circuses, don't circulate well in my library, and since this seems to be available only in paperback, I will pass on purchasing for my library.

Ms. Yingling