Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Truffle: A Dog (and Cat) Story

Happy belated book birthday to this delightful picture book! Interestingly enough, it arrived while I was in Cincinnati, watching my daughter's house while she is on her honeymoon and learning to live with her cat Bella! I've never been a cat person, but Bella is a VERY friendly cat who soon decided to drape herself all over me, licking my face and kneading my shoulders! My mother always told me that cats were evil, and I internatlized that. At first, I thought that Bella was tasting me, in preparation for murdering me in my sleep, but this did not seem to be the case.  

Tolerance is certainly one of the lessons of this book, and while I did learn to enjoy Bella's presence, I was glad to be home with my dog Pongo. As a shih tzu poodle mix, he does not shed. Bella, on the other hand, seemed to travel in a cloud of white cat fur, which was an impossible challenge to clean up, even though I brushed Bella thrice a day!

McPhail, David. Truffle: A Dog (and Cat) Story
June 5, 2023 by Peter E. Randall
Copy provided by the publisher

Truffle is a hardworking dog who is employed on a farm, where he makes sure that the rats stay out of the barn, and the badgers who dig holes in the field help to get trucks out of them when they get stuck! He also has an adversarial relationship with the barn cat, whom he believes to be very lazy. Upon his retirement, Truffle takes his inheritance and moves to a village, where the first thing he does, ala Babar, is to buy a posh green suit. He still does not care for cats, especially when he can't help but chase them, and this does damage to his beautiful suit. Cats seem to be everywhere; the tearoom, where they rub up against his legs while he's trying to enjoy a cuppa, the library, and even his barbershop! Eventually, Truffle decides that what is missing in his life is travel, so he books a trip to the seaside. It's glorious, but when he is gazing out onto the water, a cat working on the dock falls into the water. Quick thinking Truffle jumps in and saves him! Tom and Truffle spend some time together and become friends. Upon returning home, Truffle gets to know some of the cats in his neighborhood, and eventually invites Tom to visit him in the village. The two have a delightful time together, and Tom decides to stay, which alleviates Truffle's loneliness. 

McPhail's illustrations have changed over his long career, but Truffle seems to hark back to his 1980s illustrations, and are a bit reminiscent of Tasha Tudor or Garth Williams, two of my favorite illustrators. There's a misty richness to the scenes, and a very cozy sense of place. 

I normally read dog books, like McMullan's As Warm as the Sun, but can get behind titles that promote harmony between species, like Willem's Diva and FleaTruffle: A Dog (and Cat) Story definitely feels like a classic book, and I feel like it was speaking directly to me. Now, I just need a nice green suit. Which would, of course, show the cat hair no matter what color the cat was!
 Ms. Yingling

As you can see, Bella and Pongo have very different feelings about the concept of "personal space"!


Spellbinders: The Not-So-Chosen One

Auseon, Andrew. Spellbinders: The Not-So-Chosen One
June 6, 2023 by Labyrinth Road 
ARC provided by the publisher

After his parents' divorce, Ben isn't happy that his mother has moved him away from the city and his friends, with whom he had a role playing game group for Kingdom of Forever. The five are supposed to be meeting up for the Fantasy Fandom Convention, as has been their tradition, but his friends have VIP tickets and he's angry that they aren't doing things the same way they have been. While he's waiting for them to show up, he's approached by a girl in a fantastic costume who claims that he is the Chosen One. Dubious, he plays along, and is surprised to find himself drawn through a portal to the world of Lux. His notebook, which was a gift from his father, has the Prophet's Seal on it, so Niara has whisked him away, and he's soon riding down a mountain on a hulking usu named Sprinkles, escaping threats like the King's Wings and flying narwhals! He's still getting texts on his phone from his mother, so there's no panic about his whereabouts in the Earth world, but he finds that when he writes things down in the notebook, they come to pass. There are certain rules about what he can and can't make happen, but he uses this power to help Niara survive battles. There are some odd things in Lux, like a statue of the Prophet wearing seatpants and flip flops, and Ben isn't pleased to find out that the Prophecy that brought him to Lux says that he will find the Prophet's weapon... but then be killed! Ben meets Merv, a thief (whose pronouns are they/them) who wants to rob the king's treasury. The two manage to retrieve the weapon from the Gullet of Torment, but Ben ends up in the king's dungeon. The weapon is not what anyone expects, and sheds some surprising light on the entire kingdom. Can Ben use his powers to both save Lux and get back to Earth to reconnect with his mother and make new friends at school?
N.B. There's a great twist in this that I don't want to ruin. 
Strengths: There is a certain kind of middle grade fantasy reader who has internalized Harry Potter and truly half believes that they will someday get sucked into a fantasy world. They write fan fiction, play Dungeons and Dragons, and frequently wear unicorn headbands or capes to school, and save their allowances to buy books. Their parents are often also fantasy readers. This is perfect for them. The middle school friend drama is on point, and it's nice to see that Ben manages to feel a bit better about his move in real life by the end of the book. There's a lot of action, and Ben starts to understand that battles are not glorious, but have sad consequences. There is also plenty of humor, from the stinky usu that he has to ride to the half-a-bubble-off quirks of the Prophet, like the oversize "Have a Nice Day" sacred t-shirts to the weird things that are considered bad language, like "butternut squash" and "cargo pants". There's an overall feeling of being in on a secret that is especially enticing. There's plenty of room for a sequel due to the twist at the end. 
Weaknesses: At 432 pages, this is going to appeal to hard core fantasy readers, especially since this seems to be the first book in the series. In a nit picky moment, Ben talks about feeling woozy the way he did when he got his wisdom teeth out; Ben's no more than 13, and most people don't get their wisdom teeth removed until the end of high school or later. 
What I really think: This is a great choice for readers who love hefty fantasy tomes like Kate O'Hearn's books, Shannon Messenger's epic Keeper of Lost Cities series or Townsend's Nevermore saga.

Monday, June 05, 2023

MMGM- Sweet and Bitter Rivals

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 
Burkhart, Jessica. Sweet & Bitter Rivals (Saddlehill Academy #1)
May 30, 2023 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Rising seventh grader Abby St. Clair has been through a lot of changes in the past year. Her mother has been gone for a while, abandoning the family without explanation when she was seven. Her father is always very busy at work, but has recently married Emery's mother. Emery, who is a year younger and has never had a father, is also going to be attending Saddlehill Academy, a boarding school that is outside Boston and has a lovely campus, strong academics, and an equestrian program that is superb. Abby has her own horse, Beau, (A Dutch Warmblood) on campus, and is excited to train and compete against rival Canterwood Crest. Abby is okay with all of the changes, but a tiny bit apprehensive about how much time her father is spending with Emery. She's also not thrilled that she is in the same house with Selly and Nina, who are both incredibly mean to her ever since Abby made a mistake at a competition that caused Selly to do poorly. When Abby gets a video on her phone from a mysterious source that makes it look like Abby was saying terrible things about Emery, she's devastated. She reaches out to Emery right away to tell her it isn't true, and starts to investigate the sourse with her friend, Vivi. Emery is understanding, especially since she sees the effort that Abby is going to to try to figure out who made the video. Of course, there are also classes to attend, horses to ride, and the occasional cute boy around, so Abby is plenty busy. Selly continues to say mean things to her and tries to undermine her confidence by befriending Emery and telling Abby that Emery is a much better rider. When the true identity of the video poster comes to life, will Abby be able to remain friends with Emery? We'll have to wait until The Showdown comes out on July 25, 2023 to find out!

: There is a lot of appeal to vicariously attending a boarding school while living safely at home. And a boarding school where a decent amount of time is spend riding, and around other kids who ride? Perfect. Saddlehill is a very posh school, and students can have pizza delivered and hang out at the pool, so for my students, this is a great fantasy novel! I absolutely adored that Abby really wanted to be friends with Emery even though she had to fight with her feelings in order to do this, and I can't wait to see how they resolve their issues in the next book. There are plenty of details about riding and caring for horses along with the drama, making this an excellent choice for middle school readers who want the full vicarious boarding school experience!
Weaknesses: The very long Canterwood Crest series is available in paperback, which is why I didn't order it for my library. I would get the first five books if they were available in prebind or hardcover. While I feel like I missed a bit about Abby's background, things are recapped nicely and it's not essential to read that series. 
What I really think: My horse fans were a bit disappointed to find out that this featured English riding but are still SUPER excited for it. I'll have to order the books over the summer so they can be checked out on the very first day back, along with Elliot's excellent Bea and the New Deal Horse. I do have Burkhart's Wild Hearts to keep my readers busy for a little bit!

Barton, Chris and Prabhat, Chaaya. Glitter Everywhere!
June 1, 2023 by Charlesbridge Publishing
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Barton's 2009 Day-Glo Brothers is such a fun title that I knew I would have to pick up this sparkling tome. Learning about objects in daily life is always fascinating, and I'm sure that middle school students will find this book to be very attractive. This is a nice history of glitter (or flitter, as it was called at one time), starting with natural sources like mica and beetles, and continuing on the the development after World War II of plastic glitter. I'm glad that Henry F. Ruschmann of Bernardsville, New Jersey gets a full-name shout out, although I was a little appalled to learn that modern glitter was created perilously close to my childhood. I also loved the discussions about microplastics; I was always leery of plastic craft supplies and bought very little that was glittery for my own children, and could not find a single glittery object to use to stage this book for Instagram. While I definitely find myself in the anti-glitter camp, this is a fascinating book that elementary and middle school libraries will want to purchase. I read somewhere that the cover didn't use plastic glitter because of the environmental concerns!

Ms. Yingling

Sunday, June 04, 2023

The Beautiful Something Else

Van Otterloo, Ash. The Beautiful Something Else
May 16, 2023 by Scholastic Press
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sparrow, whose mother calls her Maggie Grace, tries to do well in school and not get in trouble, since her mother is fragile and constantly keeps them on the move. Sparrow has had to take care of her mother, who often works nights or has demanding jobs, and sometimes falls into depression or addictive behaviors like drinking. When her mother is in a car accident because she has overdosed on an opioid, Sparrow ends up with her aunt Mags at her mother's family home, Windy Hall. Lead to believe that this was a fancy house, Sparrow is surprised that Aunt Mags (who started life as the mother's brother, Cameron) and her partner Luca live in a trailer and rent rooms in the house to college students who work on the property, which they call Rainbow Farm. Things start fairly well at Brightbarrel Middle School where Sully and Wynn immediately volunteer to be friends, although Sparrow has a crush on the more traditional Kylie. Sully identifies as asexual, and Wynn is fond of performance art and speaking her truth. Both help Sparrow to define a unique style that includes red "clodhopper" boots and a more nongendered style. After meeting November, one of the students on the farm who uses they/them pronouns, Sparrow starts to crystalize the feeling that a queer, nonbinary identification leaning toward being a boy but not quite, is what is most comfortable. Aunt Mags is certainly sympathetic, as are Wynn and Sully, although Kylie's mother and Kylie herself, who is attracted to Sparrow, don't have any patience for "weird stuff". After finding a teenage journal of her mother's, Sparrow realizes that the mother was abused by her parents, and was never comfortable with her own gay feelings, which may have lead her into addictive behavior as a coping mechanism. Sparrow eventually shares her feelings with her aunt after keeping them bottled up, and dealing with them only as "the Shadows". Will Rainbow Farm end up being a supportive place for not only Sparrow, but Sparrow's mother as well?
Strengths: This was a bit of a change from Van Otterloo's fantasy books, Cattywampus and The Glass Witch, and will appeal to readers who want a more realistic take on young people trying to define their own identities. Windy Hall is an interesting setting, and the Brightbarrell Middle School staff is filled with supportive and understanding teachers who try to help Sparrow. Her mother's addiction problem is one that more and more tweens have to deal with. The clothing and haircuts that Sparrow tries out will make this book an interesting period piece in thirty years! The story moves forward fairly quickly, and has a positive, if not completely happy, ending. (I feel like Sparrow still has a lot of work to do before being comfortable.)
Weaknesses: This book is close to 300 pages, and there are a lot of paragraphs from Sparrow's science related school papers that could have been cut out. I do appreciate the emphasis on science and ecology, but the papers did slow down the narrative a bit. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who liked the diverse, supportive communities in Bunker's Zenobia July or Luckoff's Different Kinds of Fruit
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, June 03, 2023

Cartoon Saturday- The Dog Knight

Whitley, Jeremy and Indigo, Bre (illustrator). The Dog Knight
May 1, 2023 by Feiwel and Friends
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Frankie is struggling with their identity; even though their mother is supportive and understanding, letting Frankie try on a suit for a band concert even though they end up getting a dress, some people like former best friend Dallas and her brother Austin are mean and call them "Freaky Frankie". After an altercation with Austin and his friends leads to Frankie hitting their head and blacking out, Frankie is taken by a Platinum Retriever she had previously seen at the mall to the Omniversal Doghouse. There, they get the Helm of the Dog Knight, which allows them to understand what the dogs say. In order to be a protector, however, Frankie must pass trials of dog qualities such as loyalty, kindness, stubbornness, an justice. Many of these trials involve defeating gremlins, which are bedeviling the school. Dallas is bothered by these as well, and in working on the trials, Frankie and Dallas come to an understanding. In the end, Frankie becomes the Dog Knight, and it seems like further adventures might be planned with the Pawtheon.
Strengths: Don't we all wish we could actually talk to our dogs? Frankie's selection of the Dog Knight is even better because their mother is allergic to dogs, so the family can't have one! The drawings are all adorable, even the one of the Yorkshire Terror, which are a little disturbing. (I also sense a bit of large dog favoritism!) While Frankie's nonbinary status is supported by their mother, there is realistic (although unfortaunate) tension at school and with Dallas, whose family is not supportive of many things. There isn't a huge level of danger, and this book sets up the basis for Frankie's powers rather than getting into too many quests. The armor they receive for becoming the Dog Knight is awesome!
Weaknesses: I was never entirely sure where the gremlins came from or why it was up to the dogs to defeat them. Maybe that will be addressed in the next novel. 
What I really think: There aren't a lot of fantasy graphic novels, so this will be popular with students who want something like Aldridge's Estranged, Steinkellner's The Okay Witch, or Siegel's 5 Worlds series.

N.B. When I read the book description to my students, they thought I was kidding that this was a real book. This is one to buy and display instead of trying to describe!

Friday, June 02, 2023

Will on the Inside

Eliopulous, Andrew. Will on the Inside
June 6, 2023 by Quill Tree Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Will loves playing soccer, and enjoys the kids on his Oakwood, Georgia school team, like his friend Henry. Lately, however, he's been flat-on-his-face exhausted after game, and his stomach is always upset. His parents take him for a colonoscopy, and the doctor strongly suspects Crohn's Disease. He puts Will on corticosteroids and advises changes in his diet, but also says it's a good idea for Will to stop playing soccer altogether. He's not happy about the idea, but his stomach upsets involve protracted bathroom visits that are hard to  manage when he is on the field. He is also attending a Weekend Warriors confirmation type class at his Baptist church, which is run by Mr. Dyson. Several of his classmates go there, and start asking questions. Classmate Griffin has asked Will's friend Henry to the school dance, and while Henry was thinking of asking Julie, he agrees to go at first. While Griffin is usually accepted, there was one soccer player and student, Francis, who wore rainbow socks and had come out as gay, but ended up transferring to a private school after being bullied. Will thinks that Griffin is really fun, and wants to be friends with him. The two bond over the Mirror Realms video game, and start hanging out together. Is it a crush? Will's not sure, but when people in the Weekend Warriors class start asking Mr. Dyson questions about their churches stance on gay people, Will starts to wonder if he is suffering from Crohn's because God is unhappy with Will's feelings. Is even hanging around with someone ewho is a "wrong thinker" going against his religion? He doesn't have a lot of time to dwell on these thought, since getting his disease under control. The steroids are making him break out, causing his face to be red, and giving him mood swings. Middle school is hard enough. How will Will deal with these additional changes?
Strengths: Will is an engaging character who is dealing with a lot. So many of my students are heavily invested in sports, so to see that taken away from a character creates immediate empathy. I love that his teammates still want him to ride on the bus, wear his jersey, etc., but my heart broke for Will when his disease wouldn't even let him do that. The confirmation class was well depicted, and Mr. Dyson carefully walks the line between adhering to the letter of the law in religion and adhering to the spirit of its tenets of kindess and compassion. Will's thoughts about religion are also in line with how  middle school students think. Will's feelings towards Griffin are complicated and a bit amorphous; at the end, he ruminates as to how he identifies very briefly. Is he pan? Bi? Gay? While students in middle school certinaly are thinking about this, it is a process that they haven't necessarily completed, so I loved this light touch. The family, even the older sister, is warm and supportive. I enjoyed this one on many levels. 
Weaknesses: I would have liked more details about how Griffin's diet was restricted. There is just enough information about the effects of Crohn's on Will's stomach; we get the idea without it being gross, but I am not familiar with the disease, so a bit more about the diet and ways to cope would have been instructive and interesting. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, but if this goes to paperback, there should be a soccer ball somewhere on the cover. The cover is gorgeous, but putting sports front and center always leads to more circulation!

Thursday, June 01, 2023

The Cobra's Song (A horror title, really!)

Kelkar, Supriya. The Cobra's Song
(Cover by Dana Sanmar)
May 16, 2023 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

The women in Geetanjali's family are reknowned classical singers, and she is looking forward to her grandmother, Aaji, visiting for the summer. Aaji is getting older, and might not be able to make the trip from India for much longer, so Geetanjali hopes to sing with her. Unfortunately, when she and her mother, Aai, sang at the Marathi Hindu new year, Gudhi Padwa, celebration, the song didn't go well. Now, Aai is busy with new baby Alaap, and isn't too worried about Geetanjali's singing. A neighbor, Heena Mavshi, had been visiting in India and helped Aaji get to the US, but is dealing with the death of her husband Jatin Kaka, which occurred when they were on their way to visit relatives. Heena Maavshi has met an old school mate, Naaglata, on the plane, and invited her to stay with her as she adjusts to her husband being gone. Geetanjali is a little worried about Lata Auntie, as she asks to be called, and finds something unsettling about her. Of course, there are other things going on over the summer. Geetanjali and her best friend, Penn, are working on a song for another celebration in their small town, but since Geetanjali is worried about her voice, she has pulled back. Penn is spending a lot more time with Deepak, with whom Geetanjali doesn't always get along. Aaji is getting frailer, and hiding things about the family's songs from Geetanjali. When snakes start being a problem in the neighborhood, and Heena Maavshi starts acting strangely, it is up to Geetanjali and her friends to figure out what is going on and save the day. 
Strengths: This took a LOT of twists and turns that I did not expect, and I don't want to ruin them by saying too much. This is definitely a fantasy horror book, and the cover, even with the cobra, doesn't necessarily reflect how dark this gets. If you like mice, be aware that a lot of them show up dead, with fang marks in them! This isn't too scary for elementary students, unless they have a deep seated fear of snakes. I did like all of the family stories, and the fact that Geetanjali got to connect with her grandmother, and younger readers will enjoy the friendship difficulties with Penn and Deepak. 
Weaknesses: I knew right away who the villain was because of the etymology of the name, and thoughtful Harry Potter readers might pick up on this as well! 
What I really think: This is very different from Kelkar's historical Strong as Fire, Fierce as Flame or Ahimsa, or the modern day As American as Paneer Pie in that it is definitely a fantasy horror book. I'm not sure why I was so surprised by this! There's still lots of cultural references and strong families ties, but again, don't read this if you have a fear of snakes! 

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Boomi's Boombox

Sekaran, Shanthi. Boomi's Boombox
May 23, 2023 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Boomi Gopalan lives in San Francisco with her mother and grandmother, Paati. 2020 was a tough year, and Boomi not only has to deal with online school like everyone else, but with the death of her physician father. Her mother doesn't talk about him, and her Paati doesn't communicate at all. Since she and her best friend aren't talking much, either, Boomi has to deal with her grief alone. Her mother is very invested in Boomi's ballet lessons and tryouts for her studio, and is alarmed that Boomi has gained weight and is deemed too heavy to be a real ballerina. She tries to restrict Boomi's diet and feed her a lot of dry chicken and leafy salads. When Boomi finds an old boom box that belonged to her father with a note inside that says "change your life", she finds that she is magically whisked away to Thumpton-on-Soar in 1986, where she meets a younger version of her father, Jeevan. His English community is largely Asian, but there are some people who don't appreciate the vibrant community that includes a Disco Baba ice cream truck. Jeevan's sister, Archie, fights the local Peace and Quiet Commission, and a younger version of Paati teaches Bharatanatyam dance lessons, which seem to fit Boomi's style better than ballet. Because of the vagaries of the boom box, she finds herself going back and forth in time, and trying to mend fences with Bebe, deal with her mother and ballet, and also help her father with the problems with his community and his sister. When she inadvertantly causes an accident in the past, will it have ramifications for her future?
Strengths: One of my daughter's favorite books in middle school was Page's Rewind, and really, isn't the best middle grade time travel novel one where the protagonist travels back and meets parents? This was especially bittersweet since Boomi had recently lost her father. The boombox was the perfect mechanism for time travel; anything with music definitely has the possibility of transporting back to the past! Moderrn readers will enjoy the discussion of Boomi's weight, and her insistence in remaining true to who she is. For my part, I loved the description of Thumpton-on-Soar, which seemed very much like London's Camden neighborhood. There's always a danger of changing the present by traveling to the past, and I liked that while a little bit changed, it was mainly for the better, and didn't drastically alter Boomi's reality. 
Weaknesses: This had a strong British feel to it, and my readers don't seem to enjoy that as much as they have in the past. (Back when Rennison's Georgia Nichols books were popular!)
What I really think: There have been some good new time travel books lately, like Salerni's The Carrefour Curse or Schaefer's A Long Way From Home. This felt a bit like those, but mixed with a dash of Dhami's Bindi Babes. , It's closest to Welford's Time Traveling with a Hamster, but with Bharatanatyam or Chanani's Jukebox, although this is NOT a graphic novel! (Something about the cover made me think it would be.)

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Running Out of Time and Falling Out of Time

Haddix is a local author, so I have everything she has written. Running Out of Time was her first book, and when my daughter was in 6th grade about ten years after this was published, her teacher used it as a class novel. There weren't enough copies, so I personally ordered ten from PermaBound because it seemed to be a popular choice with the students. I think they are still in the book room! Falling Out of Time has just come out, so I thought I should revisit the first book before continuing with the sequel!

Haddix, Margaret Peterson. Running Out of Time
Published 1995 by Simon & Schuster
School Library Copy

Jessie lives in the small, early 1800s village of Clifton, Indiana with her family. Her father is the town blacksmith, her mother is a midwife, and she and her siblings attend a one room school house. When her mother is called out about sick children, the news isn't good; there's a disease making the rounds that is very serious. The town doctor used to come and hand out pills that had more effect than her mother's cures, but he no longer does this. When Jessie's sister also falls ill, her mother tells her the truth: it's not really the 1800s, but rather 1996, and their village is actually a recreation so that they can live a simpler life, but tourists can observe them when they are in public spaces. Her mother wants her to go for help, because the old fashioned clothes might alert the security forces who don't want people leaving Clifton. The mother has jeans, a t shirt, and a windbreaker, but can't fit into them. She instructs Jessie about the modern world, gives her a phone number to call, and sends her out of Clifton. After spending a little bit of time going around the tourist attractions, Jessie escapes in a bread truck and tries to find a phone. She eventually gets ahold of the person her mother wants her to contact, but he isn't who he says he is, and means Jessie harm. She escapes, and manages to call a press conference and invite the press. They don't believe her at first, but then Jessie collapses, burning with fever. She, too, has diptheria, and is unconscious for days. During that time, authorities enter Clifton, take over the town, and put the children into foster care until the parents can be evaluated for competency. Having saved the day and learned secrets about Clifton, will Jessie be able to embrace the modern world?
Strengths: Haddix always comes up with the most interesting and innovative plots, and as someone who owns her own prairie dress and believes she could churn butter and make linsey woolsey dresses by hand, I found the idea of Clifton fascinating. Jessie's mother had good reasons for living in Clifton, but also is unwilling to sacrifice children to continue this lifestyle, and I love that she was prepared enough to keep clothing, even if she and several other women couldn't fit into it! Jessie's reactions to the modern world are great, and I especially like the fact that she was appalled by the perceived rudeness of the other children. Her escape skills are strong, and the press conference was fun. I haven't yet read the sequel, but I am definitely curious about what Falling Out of Time will bring!
Weaknesses: The most exciting part of the book seems to happen when Jessie is unconscious, and the reasons the outbreak is allowed to continue seem weak. I wish that Jessie's attempt to alert people had gone more smoothly (she could have had several women that she met help her) so that we would have learned more about how the people in Clifton were evacuated. 
What I really think: This circulated really well until about 2012, but hasn't gone out much recently. Perhaps the phone booth on the cover doesn't make sense anymore? This was still a good read, but I almost want to see it reworked for an entirely new generation. 28 years is forever in the world of children's literature. Styles change. We'll see if the new book perks up circulation of this one. (That's the new cover above.)

Haddix, Margaret Peterson. Falling Out of Time 
May 30, 2023 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

It can be very difficult to review a Haddix book, because there are so many surprises that I don't want to ruin. The School for Whatnots was a good example of this! This unexpected quality was what my daughter (who was a picky reader) liked best. I can't say much more than the book description describes without giving things away, so bear with me!

Zola and her mother live in Indiana in 2193. Everything is virtual, and there's not really a reason to leave the house. Clothes appear in the Insta-Closet, food in the Insta-Oven, and even when Zola walks to an actual school building, she joins a virtual class with students from all over the world. Most days, the Sirilex system (an ever present computer that answers all of her questions) tells her that the weather is not quite right, and she gets on the treadmill to get her exercise. Because of the virtual reality, she can walk anywhere in the world. Her mother is an artist, and is very supportive of Zola, who also has a mood gauge built into her room. When Zola finds a piece of paper that asks for help, she is confused. Paper is rare, and who would need help? Everything is perfect in 2193, and there is no pollution, and no one ever gets hurt. When her mother pulls her into the Insta-Closet (which blocks the Sirilex system from seeing or hearing anything), Zola learns some hard truths about when and where she is really living. Like one of her relatives, Jessie Keyser, she must escape her comfortable world in order to save those around her. 
Strengths: I love the note that Haddix wrote about being asked to write a sequel, and it wasn't until she made comments that Jessie would now be the age of current students' mothers that she found a way to write one. The brilliance in this is really the way that Jessie's original story is reimagined, and key elements, like the phone booth, are properly dissected in order to make sense to modern young readers. Haddix can write a great Dystopian story (look no further than The Shadow Children!), and she gets a chance at a Eutopia as well. The details of futuristic technology, and especially Zola's dependence on it, are perfect. The ties with Clifton Village make perfect sense and bring the story full circle. 
Weaknesses: The Insta-Closet didn't make as much sense as I wanted it to, although its existence was crucial to the plot. Recycling clothing after every wear instead of washing it? Since a lot of my clothes are over twenty years old, this was just a hard concept for me to swallow! 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and I do wish that there were a hardcover version being rereleased. My two copies have seen better days. 

Monday, May 29, 2023

MMGM- Grounded and They Are Here!

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Saeed, Aisha, Ali, S.K., Al-Marashi, Huda and Thompkins-Bigelow, Jamilah. Grounded.
Published May 9, 2023 by Abrams/Amulet
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

The Zora Neal Hurston airport is very busy with people returning home from the Muslims of North American (MONA) Conference. Among the travelers are four children who end up working together to find a lost cat, Snickerdoodle, who has been loose in the airport for a week. Hanna Chen, an ardent member of Animal Allies, is determined to find this cat, and is also dealing with the fact that her father attended a matrimonial match dinner at the conference. Her mother died when she was very young, but she doesn't really like the idea of her father bringing someone else into the home. When Hanna runs into Feek, who is watching his very active young sister while his mother is dealing with his baby brothers, she offers to use her detective skills to find Ruqi. Feek wants to be a poet/musician like his father, and wishes he could get more of his busy father's attention. Sami is usually anxious, but is particularly worried because he wants to get home in time to compete in a martial arts event, and it looks like he may not make the flight. He doesn't want to get roped into the search, but ends up helping. Nora's mother is Congresswoman Sarah Najjar, but Nora is more interested in buiding her NokNok social network following, and since two of her friends at school have more followers than she does, she is hoping that her mother can take her to Chocolate Garden so she can post some content. When it's closed, she's angry, especially since it was her birthday, and her mother pretty much ignored it. There are other issues at home with her friends, most of whom are not Muslim, but especially with her new friendship with Sumaya, who is Muslim, and who thinks that Nora is too busy erasing her own culture. Nora runs into Ruqi in the food court and buys her a snack, since she recognizes her as the little girl who interrupted her mother's speech. When Ruqi is reunited with Feek, and all of the flights are grounded, the group intensifies their search for Snickerdoodle. They all have their reasons; Feek thinks retrieving the cat (who is owned by another musician) will help his father pay attention to him, Sami wants to prove to his parents that he isn't scared of everything, and Nora is working through lots of personal issues with her mother, friends, and identity. Hanna, of course, is on a mission to advocate for pets, but has a lot of her facts about how pets are treated at the airport wrong. Will the four be able to work together, take care of Ruqi, find Snickerdoodle, and deal with their personal issues?
Strengths: This was a fun adventure that reminded me of Messner's Capture the Flag. I love that there is even an airport map, so we can see that the area isn't that big, and there are a lot of places that tweens can go safely, even with Ruqi along. While each character's voice is very clear (the chapters alternate viewpoints), the writing is absolutely seamless, and I wouldn't have guessed that four authors put the story together! The Muslim representation is varied, and there are lots of different issues that come up in passing; prayers are said, cultural touchpoints like dress are discussed, and the MONA conference connects all of the children, so they immediately take to each other, having seen each other in passing. Technology is used in an organic way, with Sami tracking flights, Mona wanting to post pictures, and Hanna using other's posts to try to find Snickerdoodle. Who knew that an airport could provide such an environment for adventure!?
Weaknesses: I'm not the sort of adult who doesn't want ANY lying or sneaking around in books, but given that this was at an airport, I was very worried about the group breaking into restricted areas, and was a bit surprised that they weren't arrested. Also, I think that if four tweens and a toddler went into a high end luggage store in an airport, the clerk would want to kick them out no matter what their cultural background was! 
What I really think: This is a great mix of culture, social media, animal activism, and adventure that will appeal to a wide variety of readers. The cover is great as well. Now all I need to make this airport experience complete is a Crunchy Fluffy Dream Bar from Chocolate Garden!

Smith, Roland. They Are Here: How Invasive Species Are Spoiling Our Ecosystem
May 30, 2023 by Godwin Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Smith, who has written so many good middle grade fiction books(from the new The Switch to the classic 2007 Peak), has a background in science and zoology. After discussing how he came to a career in science and what invasive species are, he lays out about thirty different flora and fauna that are categorized as invasive. Rats, birds, snakes, reptiles, cats, insects, "nibblers and rooters", fish, and mollusks all are examined. The different types of each category that are problematic are described, and Smith also talks about walk can be done to help with the problems they cause by being in the wrong place. There are also chapters on eating invasive species, and on whether or not humans might be considered one as well. The book ends with a chapter on biodiversity, a glossary, suggested readings, and complete ends notes. 

This is a little shorter than most middle grade chapter books, and readers who like narrative nonfiction and are interested in this topic will find this to be a quick read. There are very nice illustrations (which make the invasive species seem perhaps a bit cuddlier than they are; I'm looking at you, feral hogs!), although I wouldn't have minded some photographs, especially of the plants. I live near a wetlands, so it would have been helpful to see pictures to identify invasive plants. I also could have used some information on Callery pears, which I am starting to see everywhere. They are one of the reasons that grass near highways is clear cut; if allowed to grow, the pear trees would soon take over and create a dense thicket of growth! 

This would be a great gift for the science teacher in your life, and is a great addition to environmental titles like Sneed Collards' Hopping Ahead of Climate Change: Snowshoe Hares, Science and Survival and Fire Birds. It's a topic I wish interested more students!

Sunday, May 28, 2023

The First Magnificent Summer

Toalsen, R.L. The First Magnificent Summer
May 30, 2023 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In 1993, Victoria (who is tired of being called Tori) has to spend a month in Ohio with her father. She hasn't seen him for two years, since he walked out on her mother and younger siblings, Maggie and Jack. He's with Lisa and her daughter Annie now, and has a new baby, Devon. The trip starts okay. Tori gets to talk to Meemaw, who gives her some new journals and allows her to eat junk food, and Tori steels herself for dealing with her father. She won't complain or sulk, and she will impress him with her writing as well as the books she is reading (Virginia Wolff, William Carlos Williams, and Charles Dickens), and he will want to move back to Texas. The road trip across the US is hot and miserable; there's no entertainment, and her father packs bologna sandwiches, which are Victoria's least favorite food. They stop at her father's mother's house, which is okay, and at least provides her the space to deal with a personal emergency; she's gotten her period for the first time. Luckily, her mother has provided her with Womanhood Supplies, if not a lot of information about how long her period will last. Her father than drops a bombshell. He and Lisa are living in a trailer at a campground, and while Lisa and her children get to sleep in the camper, Victoria and her siblings have to sleep in a tent. There's a camp bathroom, so everything is just difficult. Her father provides experiences he thinks should be fun, like swimming, and is not nice when Victoria doesn't want to do them. He gets mad at her for constantly "scribbling" in her journal, and never has kind words to say. He's the kind of man who is even mean to the dog, Heidi. There's really no one for Victoria to turn to to get help, since he even listens in to her weekly calls to her mother. It's a tense and horrible summer which ends in her father finding and reading her journals, and being extremely angry. Finally, her mother and Meemaw retrieve the children. The author has a note at the end to children who might have a similar upbringing. 
Strengths: There are many kinds of child abuse, and Victoria's father probably wouldn't even acknowledge that his actions were problematic, especially 30 years ago, when parents were not overly concerned with children's feelings. His demeaning treatment of the children and dismissal of their feelings and needs is probably the most common kind of abuse that children experience. There have been several students this year who come to talk to me about parents who fight; I've never had to ask so many children if they feel safe and if I need to talk to someone for them. This is a particularly sticky situation, so it's good to see how Victoria deals with it. The summer setting is interesting and a bit jarring, since campgrounds have a presupposed atmosphere of fun and lightheartedness. This was definitely a sad and compelling read. 
Weaknesses: While younger readers will probably be more interested in the details of Victoria's period than I was, it did seem a bit odd that her mother had not given her a pamphlet of information along with the supplies. At least Lisa finally stepped in and provided some additional supplies, if not support.
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who enjoyed Stoddard's Bea is for Blended or Lowell's The Road to After

I've read several books like this where families are living at campgrounds for a while, and it makes me remember that my family lived in our travel trailer for a month when we moved from Maryland to Ohio. My dad would go to his new job as an elementary principal while my mother, who had not found a teaching job for the coming year, stayed with us. I never asked my parents about it, but it was an odd time. We owned the travel trailer, so we couldn't have been that badly off, but there was a lot of odd tension over money until my mother got a job a couple of years later. I mention this just because this sort of experience does stick with even young children. 

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Cartoon Saturday- The Do-Over

Vargas, Rodrigo and Yovaniniz, Coni. The Do-Over
May 23, 2023 by Clarion Books
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Mariana (Maru) and her father, a barber, have moved from California to Columbus, Ohio to be near Maru's Abuela, who runs a local Peruvian restaurant. Maru misses her friends, but is glad to be near her abuela, and wants to help her father out with the business, which isn't doing as well as he had hoped. She posts pictures on Telepik, hoping to raise awareness. These pictures lead Zoe and Everly to visit the shop and ask Maru's father if he would be interested in their organic temporary hair dye, which they have packaged in a water bottle. Maru thinks it is a great idea, and in preparation for the local Harvest Festival, her abuela and uncle help the kids clean up an old food truck and turn it into a mobile salon, True Colors. Maru doesn't tell her dad anything about this, and avoids all of his questions. Maru doesn't want to dye her own hair, which leads to a little bit of tension with her new friends, but they find that they are very busy with cutting and dying people's hair, sometimes giving them hair dos that look like ice cream cones or ears of corn (which, in Ohio, ends up being very popular). Her father isn't pleased when he finds out, but when True Colors needs more help, her father is willing to step in and lend a hand. 
Strengths: This was a fun graphic novel about Kids Doing Things that will appeal to the legions of young readers who themselves have dyed hair and the occasional nose ring. I appreciated that while Maru was sad that she had to leave California and was grieving her mother in realistic ways, she settles happily into her new life with new friends. Her relationship with her father is spot of for middle grade children, so it was good to see that she could turn to her grandmother while she is irritated with her father. The Harvest Festival and the True Colors salon are both a lot of of fun. 
Weaknesses: While the Columbus representation is fine in both the events, setting, and drawings, I was surprised to learn that both authors are based in Santiago, Chile. While I love seeing books set in my hometown, I would love to see something set in Chile. Just a little confused.
What I really think: Readers who like Greenwald's 2009 My Life in Pink and Green, Santopolo's Sparkle Spa, or Ortega's Frizzy will love this graphic novel. Personally, my grandmother's voice was VERY loud in my head when I read this. She would have not approved of people spending money "to look silly". We used to have a school rule that hair couldn't be dyed bright colors, but then people used to not come to school in their pajamas. This made me feel old!

Friday, May 26, 2023

The Labors of Hercules Beal

Schmidt, Gary. The Labors of Hercules Beal
May 23, 2023 by Clarion Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Hercules Beal lives on Cape Cod, and his brother Achilles has come back from Washington, D.C. to run the Beal Brothers Farm and Nursery after the tragic deaths of their parents. Because the farm is outside town, and school busing has changed, Hercules is attending the Cape Cod Academy for Environmental Sciences instead of going in Truro Middle School. It's a short walk away across a beautiful coastal landscape, but Hercules is apprehensive about his teacher, Lieutenant Colonel Hupfer (Danny from The Wednesday Wars). Hupfer believes in a disciplined classroom, and assigns a long term assignment, a Classical Mythology Application Project. Because of his names, Hercules is supposed to try to replicate the twelve labors of Hercules in his own life, and write a reflection on them for Hupfer. This is sometimes hard to do, but as the year goes on and the nursery and school are faced with weather challenges and other difficulties, Hercules manages to do a decent job at this. He occasionally gets in trouble, and is at odds with their new neighbor Mr. Moby, who doesn't want Herrcules' new dog, Mindy, peeing on his yard. After storms ravage the coast, even knocking a neighbor's house down completely and almost killing his wife, Hercules' school moves into one of the barns on the farm, which at least gives him the chance to perform his own version of cleaning the Augean Stables! There are some adventures, such as driving to Ohio with his brother's girlfriend, Viola, whom he fancies might be a vampire, in order to pick up a plant order. Both Beals miss their parents, and we see some flashbacks to earlier days when the family was happy together. When Achilles decides to marry Viola, who is going to have to move away from Cape Cod in order to attend medical school, he needs to leave the farm in Hercules' hands so he can travel to Hawaii to meet Viola's parents. There is some help running the store, but Hercules has his work cut out for him with keeping things running. Even though he is strict, Lieutenant Colonel Hupfer is helpful, and Hercules gets assistance from others as well. Does he have enough of a community to support him when tragedy arises?
Strengths: This was not as traumatizing as Just Like That, but has a similar East Coast setting and introspective tone. Bonus points for including a grown up version of a character from a book set in the 1960s! Lieutenant Colonel Hupfer was definitely my favorite character, and he clearly learned a lot from his teacher, Mrs. Baker. This is a fairly short book, but is packed with a lot of things, including a ton of mythological references taken right from Edith Hamilton's Mythology. There were also some interesting facts about the biodiversity of flora and fauna on Cape Cod. Mindy was a great fictional dog!
Weaknesses: I'm never a fan of dead middle grade parents, and losing both his mother and his father certainly made it hard for Hercules to move forward in his life. The tone was a bit disconnected, maybe to reflect Hercules' grief. 
What I really think: Schmidt's books do not circulate well in my library. I haven't bought them all, but the ones I have bought (The Wednesday Wars, Okay for Now, and First Boy) are just not books my students pick up. I will probably pass on purchase, but I know that all the other librarians and teachers will love this one. If a teacher requests it, I'll buy it. 
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, May 25, 2023

The Museum of Lost and Found

Sales, Leila. The Museum of Lost and Found
May 16, 2023 by Amulet Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus
Vanessa's mother is very busy with work, so she and her older brother Sterling try to pick up the slack while their father is stationed in Germany. The family has been in Edgewood Falls, Ohio after moving around quite a bit, and Vanessa has been friends with Bailey since second grade. In middle school, however, the two are growing apart, and when Bailey doesn't invite Vanessa to her birthday party, this is quite a blow. While out in the neighborhood, Vanessa comes across an abandoned museum that has signs posted that it is to be torn down; but it's too enthralling to stay out of. She finds a usual assortment of trash and debris, but also a large picture of two girls by a fountain. She cleans the place up, and starts a small museum of her own, containing memorabilia of her relationship with Bailey, complete with notes about what the items meant. Soon, however, her space is invaded by Eli, whom she knows from Hebrew school. He wants to have his own exhibit about his late dog, Einstein, and before long there are several exhibits, as well as visitors who are all sworn to secrect. Sterling notices that Vanessa is often not home after school and joins her as well. At one point, Vanessa's items are stolen, and she blames Bailey, but also starts to take a look at how she really treated her friend. After seeing the fountain from the picture in town, Vanessa investigates who painted the picture, and when she finds out it is the first work of famed artist Mariko Marsden, she tries to contact the family of the elusive painter. Being found out will spell the end of the museum, but will it lead to other opportunities for Vanessa and her friends?
Strengths: First of all, there is no Edgewood Falls in Ohio, but there is an Edgewood, and lots of Falls in Northeastern Ohio, so this was a brilliant setting! (I spent most of my childhood near Youngstown.) The idea of an abandoned museum is absolutely enthralling; if you are a fan of Edwards' Mandy and secretly want to clean up derelict buildings, this is the book for you. For younger readers, there is plenty of realistic friend drama that is very insightful. Failed middle school friendships usually have blame to be laid on all sides. The way the art mystery evolved was very effective, and I loved the inclusion of Hebrew school, especially after the family conversation about "having" to attend services for a year before having a bar or bat mitzvah. I imagine that this depicts the way a lot of families feel about religious education: tweens have to do it even if it doesn't really have any spiritual meaning! 
Weaknesses: I didn't care so much about the children's museum descriptions, but actual tweens might be more invested in that. It was nice that when Mariko Marsden funds the reopening of the museum, she stipulated that children will be given space for exhibits. 
What I really think: The author gives a shout out to Konigsberg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler , which has held up surprisingly well as Snyder's The Egypt Game, which I should reread if I still have a copy. This definitely captured the feel of that era of literature, but also incorporated modern day anxiety as well as Vanessa's body-focused repetitive behavior of tearing at the skin on her fingers, which I haven't seen in a middle grade novel before. There's a feel good ending, and was a very enjoyable book. Now, where's MY abandoned museum?

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

The singing has begun!

The important things to remember are 1.) I can't sing; I just pretend I can and 2.) Right after I get off the morning announcements with my song, students stream into the library to return books so they don't have to listen to me sing ever again. 

Both are Due.

I've gotten a language arts teacher involved with her spoke word poem, Ms. Yingling and her Bell. Having some audio problems with this one. Later today!

And, click here for a list of 100 Great New Books for 2023!

This is my magnum opus, from 2007, with my children as back up singers. The Overdue Blues

Ms. Yingling

Wild Poppies and Matteo

Saleh, Haya and Qualey, Marcia Lynx (Translator). Wild Popppies
May 23, 2023 by Levine Querido
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

When their father, a teacher, is killed in bombing in their city of Raqqun, Syria, brothers Omar and Sufyan flee to the countryside with their mother and young sister Thoraya to an aunt's house new Al-Nuaman. There are several families staying there, but they all keep to themselves as they struggle to overcome their trauma and provide themselves with daily necessities. Omar, as the oldest, takes his responsibilities seriously, especially since the mother suffers from diabetes and other health concerns. Sufyan, however, acts out. He and his friend Rayan are approached by the Falcons of Truth, a religious extremist organization that gives them money and presents and then kidnaps them and makes them carry out their agenda of "death to infidels". The Falcons of Truth travel around, finding people who they deem to be religiously suspect and putting them to death. Omar's mother speaks up against them and is saved only when an uncle pays for her release. Sufyan's friend, Salma, decides to go with Omar to find Sufyan, and dresses as a boy so she doesn't get into trouble. With war raging all around them and the Falcons of Truth terrorizing young boys and ordinary citizens, will Omar and Sufyan manage to be reunited and to get back to their mother?
Strengths: This book is translated from the Arabic, and I would love to see more books for young readers that were not written by US or British writers! This is a fairly short book that packs quite an emotional punch. I appreciated the difference in the brothers, with Omar feeling responsible, but Sufyan chafing at the lack of food and the situation the family finds themselves in. There are many details about what life is like in a war torn country, and the story moves along quickly. 
Weaknesses: There are many violent moments captured in this book, so I would keep this in mind. There is no description of rape (I think it is phrased that girls are forced to become wives of the violent men), but there are people held at gunpoint and shot point blank, as well as people who are killed in bombings. 
What I really think: I think it is important for my students to understand that the events in the news affect real people, many of them their age, and that we should be grateful for so many things in the US. I wish there had been a little more about the family's life before the father's death to give perspective; at one point, Sufyan considers using his money to buy a video game console, but realizes that since the family can't even afford food, they might be angry at him. That's a real life detail that makes this a valuable look into a horrible experience for privileged readers. Combine this with titles like Rosenblatt's Lost Boys, McKay's Thunder Over Kandahar, or Saeed's Amal Unbound to show US readers how fortunate they are. 

Leali, Michael. Matteo
May 23, 2023 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Eleven-year-old Matteo Lorenzini loves listening on his birthday to the story of how his parents found him at the fire station in Creekside when he was abandoned there as a baby, after they both wished on the big tree in the center of town for a child. He's happy with his family, but feels he is a disappointment to his father because he is small for his age and not a fabulous baseball player. His father played for the Blue Whales team when he was young, and it meant a lot to him because his father left his family about that time. Matteo receives the family baseball bat that was carved from a branch of the tree for his birthday. Even though he has a good friend in Azura, whose father owns the local bakery, Matteo doesn't feel like he can talk to anyone but his pet goldfish, Cricket, about his feelings of failure, or his crush on Omar, who used to be his good friend but doesn't hang out as much ever since Omar made the Blue Whales team and Matteo didn't. This year, Matteo makes the team, but isn't a great player. Not only that, but odd things are starting to happen to him. At first, it's his socks filling up with leaves, and it progresses to bark like scabs on his legs, and then moves on to leaves growing out of his skin. Does this have something to do with the fact that when Cricket died, he buried him near the tree? Finding the name "Kaz" on the tree, and connecting it with Mr. Kowalski, the elderly school librarian, Matteo asks him about what he knows of the history of the town and the tree, but doesn't get a lot of answers. The tree is dying, and the town is thinking of cutting it down, which worries Matteo. There are a lot of secrets in Creekside, and while Matteo and Azura are working on an interview project to celebrate the town's bicentennial, they uncover some of them, but will they be able to find out what family secrets of Matteo's are causing him to turn into a tree?
Strengths: Creekside was an amazing setting, and I loved that Matteo and Azura were interviewing residents about various facets of the town. The civic pride, especially around the tree, was great to see. I especially liked the depiction of Mr. Kowalski's library. The other interesting thing is that Matteo does consult his parents about the fact that he is turning into a tree, and they try to help him figure out what is going on. I don't want to reveal the family secrets, or the surprise ending, but it is all very satisfying. 
Weaknesses: This author's The Civil War of Amos Abernathy has been very popular in my library, but I'm not sure that my fans of this title are going to be as interested in this Pinocchio flavored fantasy. The fact that Matteo's parents are involved does make this seem like a better choice for younger readers. 
What I really think: This is an interesting modern fairy tale for readers who liked Applegate's The Wishtree or Haydu's One Jar of Magic.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

How to Survive in the Age of Dinosaurs!


Welcome to the blog tour for

How to Survive in the Age of Dinosaurs,

part of National Geographic Kids’ DinoMAYnia – a month-long celebration of all things prehistoric!

 All week blogs are hosting fun excerpts from this handy guide so you will know just what it takes to dodge deadly dinosaurs, ride out mega monsoons and escape other perils of the prehistoric!

How To Survive the Triassic

If you thought things were about to get easier after the death and destruction that ended the Permian period—well, you thought wrong. If you’re not being roasted alive in Pangaea’s vast deserts, you’re in danger of being swallowed up by its frequent monster floods. Despite these extreme conditions, the first dinosaurs managed to rise up in this era. Can you survive along with them?
  • The Triassic: 252-201 million years ago
  • Known For: The first dinosaurs
  • Best Place for Home Base: What are today the North and South Poles
  • Your Main Food Source: Shellfish
  • Try to avoid: Getting swept away by a mega-monsoon

Can You Eat That?

Finding food during the Triassic is tough. The Permian extinction has wiped out tons of species, so the monster-size insects of the Permian are gone, and many other edible things haven’t evolved yet. The interior of Pangaea is mostly desert, dry and barren of food. So for your best chance of finding a meal, head to the coast. The oceans are devastated by the Permian extinction, their creatures destroyed by a major drop in life-giving oxygen. But that devastation means there is a lot of space for survivors to take over. And take over they do. Bivalves (clams and their relatives) make it through the Permian extinction, and with less competition for food and other resources, their populations explode. They go on to rule the Triassic oceans. Along with gastropods (the family that includes modern day snails), these animals have the right stuff to survive the end-Permian conditions: The flat shape of these small, shallow-water dwellers helps them extract oxygen from the limited supply available. Shellfish have been a food source for about as long as humans have been around to eat them. Bivalves are high in protein, making them a great source of energy. There’s evidence that some 160,000 years ago, Homo sapiens lived in caves on the coast of southern Africa. The remains of prehistoric cooking fires littered with bivalve shells show what they liked to eat. There’s a good chance that you could do the same 200 million years earlier. To dig up your shellfish dinner, scout the coastline, looking for tiny holes in the mud. Those are bivalve breathing holes. When you find them, dig down. Modern clams like to hang out about eight inches (20 cm) below the surface, but it might take a little experimenting to figure out prehistoric mollusks’ habits. Once you’ve collected some, steam them over a fire and then devour!  

Buy | Buy on Bookshop.org


How to Survive in the Age of Dinosaurs:

A Handy Guide to Dodging Deadly Predators, Riding Out Mega-Monsoons and Escaping Other Perils of the Prehistoric

 (ages 8-12, Paperback, National Geographic Kids Books)

 Boom, boom, BOOM … Look out! That’s a T. rex coming your way!? You’ve been transported back in time to the age of the dinosaurs. What do you do?! Test your chops and discover if you have what it takes to survive at a time when Earth looked, well, a tad different in this ultimate survival guide to the prehistoric age. Find out how to make it through exploding volcanoes and mega monsoons—while dodging giant Permian bugs! See how to fend off an angry pterosaur and learn what to do if you’re caught in a stampede of enormous titanosaurs. Discover what you could eat (spoiler alert: You better like the taste of insects!), and find out which hungry creatures just might try to eat you! Packed with tips, tricks, and helpful maps, this is the ultimate handbook for dinosaur fans who want to know what life on Earth was really like when dinos ruled. Could you survive in the age of dinosaurs?  

About the Author

Stephanie Warren Drimmer is an award winning science writer based in Los Angeles, California. She writes books and magazine features for kids about everything from the strangest places in space, to the chemistry of cookies, to the mysteries of the human brain. She has a degree in science journalism from New York University...but she thinks she likes writing for kids because she's secretly still one herself.



About the Expert Contributor

Dr. Steve Brusatte vertebrate paleontologist and evolutionary biologist and professor at the University of Edinburgh who specializes in the anatomy, genealogy, and evolution of dinosaurs and other fossil organisms. He has written over 110 scientific papers, published six books (including the adult pop science book The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, the textbook Dinosaur Paleobiology, and the coffee table book Dinosaurs), and has described over 15 new species of fossil animals. He has done fieldwork in Brazil, Britain, China, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania, and the United States. His research is profiled often in the popular press and he is a “resident paleontologist” and scientific consultant for the BBC's Walking With Dinosaurs team.

Website | Twitter



  • One (1) winner will receive a copy of How to Survive in the Age of Dinosaurs!
  • US/Can only
  • Ends 6/3 at 11:59 pm ET
  • Enter via the form below
Visit the other stops on the tour for more chances to win  

Blog Tour Schedule:

May 22nd— Mom Read It

May 23rd— Ms. Yingling Reads

May 24th – From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors

May 25th -- Log Cabin Library

May 26th— Mrs. Book Dragon

The Storyteller and Heroes of the Water Monster

Hobson, Brandon. The Storyteller
May 2, 2023 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ziggy and Moon Echota live in Poisonberry, New Mexico with their father. They are Cherokee, and Ziggy often has strange dreams that he is living in the past, when Native Americans were forced from their land by Andrew Jackson. He's very anxious about everything, and it doesn't help that his mother disappeared when he was very young. Many people he knows have had relatives disappear, like his friend Sheila, who had an aunt go missing. The police don't seem to care, and give scant attention to the cases. Ziggy is in a bad with his friends Corso (who is white) and Bojack-Runt. Ziggy begins to think that his mother's disappearance might have something to do with a nearby mysterious cave, and a girl at school, Alice, is reported to have information about it. She claims that the cave is inhabitant by the Nennehi, who are spirits. When Alice shows up at Ziggy's house in her nightgown with a coyote who can talk, Ziggy gets drawn into an odd and fascinating  world of stories and legends where he meets a variety of fanastical creature who help him on his quest. Will he be able to overcome his fears and to solve the mystery of his mother's disappearance?
Strengths: This was on the shorter side for a fantasy book, and seems to be a stand alone. Most of my students are not avid fantasy readers, and they blanch visibly when I suggest books that are 400 pages long and are the first in the series. Stand alones are a great way to introduce readers to fantasy books. This was fast paced, had a lot of details about Cherokee lore and figures, and dealt with Ziggy's anxiety in a realistic way against the background of a fantasy adventure. The concern about Native women going missing and the trauma that those disappearances cause is something that is starting to finally get some attention, and I haven't seen it addressed in middle grade fiction before. Hobson is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.
Weaknesses: This ended a bit abruptly. I may check a finished edition to see if I missed something in the E ARC. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who like James Bird's book, Young's Healer of the Water Monster , or Roanhorse's Race to the Sun

Young, Brian. Heroes of the Water Monster (Healer of the Water Monster #2)
May 23, 2023 by Heartdrum
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Edward and his father Ted move to a nicer house in Chandler, Arizona so that they can live with Janet, Ted's new girlfriend. Her son, Nathan, was taking care of Dew, a water monster, but as he gets older, is losing the ability to communicate with her. Edward is learning how to navigate this care, and the two are trying to get Yitoo, an older spirit, to mentor Dew. The local river is drying up and in danger. Yitoo feels that people are stealing water from it, but Edward is somewhat uncomfortable because Yitoo is blaming the pale people, and Edward is half white. Will The two boys be able to work with Dew and Yitoo and successfully avoid an environmental disaster?
Strengths: Edward and Nathan's relationship is such a good one, and I loved that they worked well together and embraced their cultural heritage. Surely not all middle grade step siblings fight with each other! Dew and Yitoo are interesting figures, and the powers they have are helpful to the ecological disaster unfolding in the area. The book moves quickly, and continues the story from the first book. 
Weaknesses: I need a good book with an overview of figures in various Native American folklore, since I don't know much about Navajo legends. It would help to have something like Napoli's Treasury of Norse Mythology, but with explanations of figures  and basic stories from some of the larger Native tribes. This would help when I needed some more background in modern folklore retellings like this one. 
What I really think: this is a good choice for readers who like fantasy novels that also deal with other issues, like Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls or Barron's Maya and the Rising Dark

Snyder, Laurel. The Witch of Woodland
May 16, 2023 by Walden Pond Press
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Bea and Zippy have been friends for a long time, but recently they have been growing apart as Bea is more interested in boys, make up, and being popular, and Zippy just wants to write. Zippy's mother wants her to have a bat mitzvah and arranges with the local Rabbi to give her lessons, since the family hasn't attended religious services frequently and Zippy hasn't received religious instruction. Zippy has lots of questions for Rabbi Dan, and isn't thrilled about the process, but goes through with it to make her mother happy. The tensions with Bea increase as Bea complains that Zippy hates everyone. She also dresses in black, and thinks she has magical control over the universe. When real magic occurs and Zippy seems to summon Miriam, whom she thinks at first is a ghost but who turns out to be a dybbuk, Zippy has to reevaluate many things in her life and decide what is important.

I loved that this had Jewish representation, but that Zippy's family only practiced their religion on holidays, since that is the relationship that so many people have with religion. This is a good choice for readers who want more information on dybbuks, which also appear in Lowe's Aviva vs. the Dybbuk (where the family is on the very religious end of the spectrum), Panitch's The Two Wrong Halfs of Ruby Taylor and Markell's The Ghost in Apartment 2R.