Monday, October 22, 2018

MMGM- The Season of Styx Malone

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Always in the Middle and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

Magoon, Kekla. The Season of Styx Malone
October 16th 2018 by Wendy Lamb Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

There's not a lot to do in small town Sutton, Indiana, and as much as Caleb and his brother Bobby Gene try to amuse themselves, they are a little bored, especially since their parents are very strict. There is a reason for this-- their father maintains that everyone in town knows them, but if they went somewhere bigger, like Chicago, it might be dangerous for two young black men. When slightly older Styx Malone shows up in their neighborhood, they soon find out that this young man, who is in foster care, doesn't care all that much about being safe. He wants to have adventures. Not only that, but he really wants a moped he has seen in a store in town, and tries to inveigle the brothers into helping him with an "escalator trade" so that they can work their way up to getting the moped. Since Caleb and Bobby Gene have just gotten into a lot of trouble for trading their baby sister to Cory in exchange for a bag of fireworks, they have something to start the trading. This is a little shady, and the trades get shadier. At one point, the boys hop a freight train and steal an engine from a junk yard. When their parents find out, they aren't allowed to hang out with Styx anymore. When the boys still manage to complete their trades, they are looking forward to the freedom the moped will provide, but things don't go well. Once they learn some secrets about Styx, they are finally able to understand him a little better and find a way to help him.
Strengths: This was an interesting novel, because it showed the dichotomy between street smart, city kids and small town kids with really involved parents. For some reason, many of my suburban African-American students are fascinated by the portrayal of inner city children. Seeing Caleb mouth off to his mother in a way that Styx would is perfect! Their punishment with Cory is interesting as well, since they previously hadn't gotten along with him but find they have a lot in common when they are forced to work together. The escalator trade concept is nicely done as well.
Weaknesses: Unlike Torrey Maldonado's Tight, this really doesn't get all that dangerous, and there's a moment that's a little too Leader of the Pack for my taste, not that students would have any idea of that reference!
What I really think: Something a little different from Ms. Magoon, whose work I really like. Definitely purchasing, but I REALLY want her to finish her nonfiction work on the Black Panthers!

38813761Collard, Sneed B. III. Warblers and Woodpeckers: A Father-Son Big Year of Birding.
October 1st 2018 by Mountaineers Books
Copy provided by the publisher

Sneed Collard has writing chops, and Warblers and Woodpeckers brings together many of his skills beautifully.. He is the author of many nature nonfiction books, several middle grade novels, and a memoir of his childhood, Snakes, Alligators, and Broken Hearts: Journeys of a Biologist's Son.  He and his teenage son had a vague interest in birding, but then decided to ramp it up and devote a year to extensive travel in order to see as many birds as they could. Their travels took them all over the US as well as to the Galapagos islands. Such traveling always involves adventure, mishaps, and moments well worth remembering, on top of the enormous list of birds sighted that the two compiled.

I have zero interest in birding. I like a good walk in the woods more than the average bear, but perhaps my eyesight isn't good enough to stare into the leaves and try to tell the difference between an Ivory-billed or Red-cockaded woodpecker. That said, this book was still an interesting window into what it would be like to go on birding adventures, without the discomfort of being attacked by bees while doing so.

This is more of a book for young adults or adults, given the size and density of the text. It also has a fantastic level of detail concerning different facets of locating, identifying, and enjoying the avian world. There's also a wistfulness concerning connection with family, and especially the difficult process of remaining close to teenage children.

Reminiscent of Bill Byson's travel books with their sometimes slapstick anecdotes, vivid descriptions of places and humorously introspective take on life, Warblers and Woodpeckers will introduce the pastime of birding to the uninitiated and delight birding aficionados with delicious details of an epic year of birdwatching.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Apple Pie Promises

Homzie, Hillary. Apple Pie Promises
October 2nd 2018 by Sky Pony Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Lily loves to bake, especially with her mother, to whom she has been close after her parents' divorce. When her mother suddenly gets a fellowship to study in Morocco because another participant couldn't go, Lily is very proud of her mother, but doesn't really want to have to live with her father and his "new and improved"family. Kimberly is okay, and her daughter Hannah is a year older and goes to the same school. The girls usually get along okay, but because her father's video business is finally taking off, he has his equipment in the spare room, so the girls have to share. Hannah is horribly messy, and Lily is not. Lily tries to remain positive, but when Hannah finds out about Lily's crush and threatens to tell everyone about it, Lily starts stooping to pranks. It doesn't help that Hannah is the head of the haunted house committee for the fall festival, and Lily doesn't always agree with her approached. Lily wants to bake an apple pie for the festival, but her father is too busy to take her apple picking, and it's hard for her mother to find time and band width to Skype. The family is looking for a new house, and as the pranks escalate, Lily and Hannah both become increasingly unhappy. Can the step sisters work things out?
Strengths: Interesting descriptions of life in Seattle, decent baking information, and a very good plot involving school mates who have to learn to live together as sisters. I have seen this with my students, and always marvel at how this would work. This series always has a nice romance, and lots of friend drama besides. I can't wait to put up a display of the books, since the covers all look so delicious!
Weaknesses: I wasn't a fan of the pranks, and they seemed out of character for Lily. Also, the secret to good pie is in the CRUST, and Lily spends most of her time worrying about the filling. (Pie baking is one of my skills.)
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. The Swirl novels and the Scholastic Wish novels have done very well in my school library.

Hale, Shannon. The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare (#6).
September 25th 2018 by Candlewick Press
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Princess Magnolia is all set to share her poster on the growth of seeds into plants and the local science fair, even getting coverage for the monsters so they don't disturb her! She meets up with many of her friends, who all have submitted projects of their own. When one volcano project seems to be harboring a monster in its goo, the princess heads under a table, suits up, and the Princess in Black is ready to fight. She's met by the Princess in Blankets, and the two have quite a fight with the monster. They decide to take it back to the field to send it to be with the other monsters, so have to carry it on the train, which requires the help of other princesses as well. Eventually, the monster is dispatched, the science fair is won (not by Magnolia, who is a good sport about it), and three new monster fighting princesses are minted.
Strengths: Unlike some series that tend to flag as they go on, Princess in Black keeps getting better. Each book shows some character development and some strengthening of her community. Including science experiments in this one is especially welcome. I'm just sad that these were not around when my own daughters were in the target demographic!
Weaknesses: Princess Sneezewort's costume needed some work. Kids probably find it funny, but I was somewhat disappointed!
What I really think: I purchase all of these and check them out a LOT to my struggling readers, especially the boys, since Ms. Hale has had such ridiculous backlash against boys and princesses. With the first book, we only checked it out to boys until the first circulation card was filled up, just to prove a point.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Cartoon Saturday and The Perfect Secret

Schulz, Charles. Snoopy: Boogie Down
October 16th 2018 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by publisher

Snoopy and his friends are back in this collection of classic comic strips from 1978. (There is a lovely frame of Snoopy's nemesis, the cat, swiping the year into the roof of his dog house!) Even though the vast majority of the strips are timeless and universal, we do get occasional glimpses of forty-year-old pop culture, with mentions of Farrah Fawcett-Majors, UFOs, reading the TV Guide, and Snoopy disco dancing! Rendered in full color, the strips exhibit the clean, clear lines of Schulz's simple yet emotive illustrations. It's hard to believe that Schulz has been gone for nearly twenty years, but his comics are just as amusing as they always were!

Kalickey, Ann. My Life in Smiley: I Got This
October 16th 2018 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

Max is back after My Life in Smiley, and continuing his exuberant life in middle school in France. It's August, so for summer break he and his sister travel to Brittany to stay with their grandparents for a bit before starting the school year. Max's schedule is very full and includes German and English classes, and the copy of his schedule listed was very interesting-- all classes don't meet every day, and there's an hour and a half for lunch, much different from the 25 minutes US students get. He hangs out with his friends, schemes to get presents, fights with his sister, and pursues his crush, Nais. This is a notebook novel, with hand drawn style font and lots of pictures. Perfect for fans of Lyttle Lies, Big Nate, Tom Gates, and Planet Tad.
Buyea, Rob. The Perfect Secret
October 9th 2018 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Netgalley.com

In this sequel to The Perfect Score, we revisit the classmates who were involved in Ms. Woods' project to visit the senior center as they start seventh grade. Their teachers are all okay, and they do get to continue to visit the center. Other things, however, have changed. Trevor's parents have kicked his abusive brother Brian out of the house, which makes things better even though his mother misses his brother and there are still some problems with him. Randi's mother is much calmer about her gymnastics, and the two get along much better, although Randi finds out a secret when she attends a camp. Natalie is trying to get Ms. Woods and Ms. Magenta to talk to each other, but since no one will tell her why they have been estranged, it is difficult. She is also helping Gavin's mother learn to read. Scott, whose grandfather is in the senior center, becomes the stat man on the football team, but some of the other players, as well as the coaches, are jerks about it. Trevor still plays football and is very focused on it, but he starts understanding the appeal of graphic novels that Ms. Woods, who is volunteering at the local library, sends his way. When Gavin is injured at school and his mother is involved in an auto accident, many of the secrets that all of our characters are keeping lead to some problems that are difficult to overcome, but with the support of their class, the students work through them.
Strengths: This addresses several issues of current concern in an age appropriate way. Immigration problems, problems with siblings and parents, getting along with high achieving parents, and finding community service that is productive and enjoyable are threaded through this book. Buyea is good at making the characters distinctive so they can be told apart, and I know that teachers often like to use his books as an example of voice.
Weaknesses: I'm not a fan personally of multiperspective books, since each chapter change tends to take me out of the plot for a bit. I would love to see Buyea mix it up a bit and get away from the multiple character, entire year formula he has used in the past.
What I really think: I got the first book in this series late in the year, so I may wait to see how it circulates before purchasing the sequel.


Ms. Yingling

Friday, October 19, 2018

Grenade

Gratz, Alan. Grenade.
October 9th 2018 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Hideki is about to graduate from his school when the American ships appear outside of Okinawa. He and his classmates are each given two hand grenades, and told to kill as many Americans as they can with the first one and kill themselves with the second. Hideki has already been separated from his family, who have been evacuated to mainland Japan. He sets off across the island and is not quite sure what to do, other than to try to survive. At the say time, Ray, an American soldier, lands on the island. He has been taught some rudimentary phrases and has been instructed to try to save the native Okinawans, although his fellow soldiers feel that you can't necessarily tell them from the Japanese and have an alarming tendency to strafe anyone they come across. Ray is not happy, but feels he has no other course of action. To cope, he starts to take pictures from the wallets of the men he has killed, saving them in his rucksack. The island is a hell hole of killing and destruction, with atrocities being committed by just about everyone. Hideki does find his father at their family tomb, but he passes away after telling him to find his sister Kimiko. Eventually, Ray and Hideki run into each other,with grave consequences for both young men.
Strengths: Gratz has these history books down to a science, not that any two are the same or in any way formulaic. There are interesting and engaging characters, tense and exciting situations, lots of information about the events, and a fast-moving plot. I especially appreciated that both sides had good and bad characters; well, the Japanese were not discussed quite as much, so they didn't come out looking very good, since they rather threw Okinawa under the bus. I didn't know much about Okinawa, and there were lots of interesting details, like the hajichi (Okinawan tattoos). I'm thinking that Scholastic should do a boxed set of these titles for book fairs-- the covers look great together.
Weaknesses: It would be preferable to see an #ownvoices account of WWII from a Japanese perspective, but until I can find those, I am grateful to have books that try to portray a non-US view.
What I really think: Like Graham Salisbury (The Hunt for the Bamboo Rat), Gratz does a great job at researching a variety of tense situations and writing about them in a way that is interesting but also does not glorify war. Definitely purchasing.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Truth About Martians

Savage, Melissa. The Truth About Martians
October 2nd 2018 by Crown Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Mylo lives with his parents and baby sister near Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. His best friend, Dibs, is obsessed with Martians and comics, especially Planet Comics. The two boys spend a lot of time together, since Dibs' mother left home and his father is not coping well. Mylo has lost his brother Obie and also has trouble coping with his grief. When there is a huge, sudden flash of light in the sky one night, Mylo is sure it is a Martian flying saucer landing, and with the help of his  friends Gracie (on whom he has a crush) and Diego, he finds the crashed spaceship... and an alien. Of course, the army is ready to come and take away the wreckage for study, but Mylo manages to help the alien escape and hide her. His parents don't quite believe him, of course, and since the entire community is perturbed by the event and doesn't believe that it was really weather balloons, they think it's just his way of dealing with the things that have gone on in his life. Mylo and his friends know better, and do what they can to help, especially since the aliens manage to communicate with Mylo telepathically.
Strengths: As she did in Lemons, Savage does an excellent job of including details of life at this time, from overalls and hankies to Aqua Velva and church picnics. She also provides a good picture of the residents of a community, and shows how they work together in interesting ways, from Mylo's mother delivering bread to a neighbor to how Dibs' situation is finally resolved.
Weaknesses: The reason for Obie's death, and Mylo's grief about it (as well as the grief of a neighbor for the loss of his family), take up a lot of the story and slows it down. In 1947, almost everyone would have lost neighbors, relatives and community members in the war and might have been a bit more resilient. There probably wasn't a lot of grief counseling available, but Mylo certainly needed some.
What I really think: This reminded me a little of Mark Teague's The Doom Machine (2009) which I can't get to circulate even though it's shiny. I may wait to purchase this one even though the 1947 Roswell setting is fabulous.

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Collectors

34614114West, Jacqueline. The Collectors.
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus
October 9th 2018 by Greenwillow Books

Giovanni lives in New York City with his mother, who is an opera singer. His father was a set designer, and the one thing "Van" has kept through all of their moves to different cities is the maquette his father had- a small stage with curtains. He finds objects out on the street and uses them to reinact scenes on the stage. His frequent moves, as well as the fact that he is hard of hearing, occasionally makes it difficult for him to make friends, so when he runs into Pebble in the park, he feels a connection to her. She's a bit odd, wearing a long coat in the warm weather, but he follows her and eventually finds out that she is part of a group of Collectors who gather wishes and keeps them safe in an underground facility. He also meets Mr. Falborg, who collects a number of different things, including Wish Eaters. He claims that Pebble's group is trying to starve and abuse the Wish Eaters, who are little, tiny and cute, and he gives Van a Wish Eater of his own to keep. Since he needs to feed it wishes, he wishes for a number of things in order to feed it, but wishes are unpredictable. For example, his mother is dating the father of Peter Grey, who doesn't like Van very much, so he wishes that the two parents won't be together, and his mother gets a job at La Scala in Italy. When he then wishes to stay in New York, something happens to his mother to prevent her from traveling. The Collectors are after Van, and when they finally corral him, he finds out more information about what is going on, and decides which side he needs to be on.
Strengths: The world building in this was particularly engaging, and Van is able to travel back and forth and meet with inhabitants of both worlds easily, which makes it fun. The story with Peter adds a nice dimension. Van's hearing loss is well portrayed, and his struggles with understanding speech are explained in a way that will help younger readers understand what it might be like. Having an opera singer as a mother is not something many children have, so that was interesting as well.
Weaknesses: It was really hard to tell who the good guys were, and even after Van decides, I'm not entirely convinced. Mr. Falborg in particular creeped me out a bit.
What I really think: If this were a stand alone, I would buy it, but I don't really need anymore fantasy series. They just are not circulating very well. I love West's The Shadows, and will encourage students to read that one.

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Darkdeep and Sven Carter and the Android Army

37542247Condie, Ally. The Darkdeep (Darkdeep #1)
October 2nd 2018 by Bloomsbury Children's Books
E ARC from Netgalley.com

When bully Logan and his cronies send Nico's expensive, handmade drone into the bottomless waters of Still Cove, Nico tries to retrieve it despite the warnings of his friends Emma and Tyler. Of course, the rescue doesn't go well, but the three discover a weird houseboat and island in the middle of the cove (which sounds sort of like a flooded quarry to me). This, of course, has to be investigated, and along with Opal (Logan's girlfriend, who thinks he is overly mean to Nico) they spend some time cataloging the creepy items and checking out the pond in the middle of the island that is especially alarming. When Emma dips her toes into the "Darkdeep", it sucks her under the waters. Luckily, she emerges, but so does the embodiment of her worst fears. As the group continues to return, more and more creatures are brought to life. Logan's father's logging business has been negatively impacted by Nico's father's work protecting an endangered owl in the area, and since jobs have been lost, the townspeople aren't overly keen on Nico. Logan's father works behind the scenes to get Nico's father transferred, which is certainly upsetting. At the same time, the town is preparing for the Radish Festival, and the children get drawn into this as well. They are getting closer to figuring out some of the mysteries of the Darkdeep, but will the monsters break away from Still Cove?
Strengths: Nicely creepy, with fairly scary monsters and the overwhelming feeling that at some point, someone will get sucked into the Darkdeep and not come out. Condie's Matched is very popular in my library, so her fans will check it out, and readers who enjoyed Neal Shusterman's dark tales or McHale's Morpheus Road Trilogy will enjoy it as well.
Weaknesses: Paranormal forces preying on people's worst fears has been done a few times, most notably Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962) and Shusterman's Full Tilt (2003). Of course, the target demographic has probably not read those.
What I really think: Will definitely purchase, although for some reason, this didn't seem at all scary to me. On the bright side, I usually can't stand books where there is an overwhelming feeling of damp and decay, and I was able to get through this!


Vlock, Rob. Sven Carter and the Android Army
October 16th 2018 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Haven't read the first book in the series, Sven Carter and the Trashmouth Effect? Definitely take a look. It's funny and goofy and perfect for middle grade readers.

Unfortunately, I made the mistake of reading this during the first week of school. Once I get the book in the library, I'll have to wait until summer to get my hands on it! With my fantasy amnesia, there's no way I can write a convincing review, but trust me. Just buy these. They'll get read. Just look at the covers! Perfect cartoon-type illustration for middle school!

Monday, October 15, 2018

MMGM- Ana Maria Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle and Girls Who Code #4

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Always in the Middle and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

39397847Burgos, Hilda Eunice. Ana Maria Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle

October 2nd 2018 by Tu Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Ana Maria (or Anamay) lives in New York City with her three sisters and her parents. Her grandmother is nearby, but much of her family lives in the Dominican Republic, including her Tia Nona, who is a well-to-do doctor. When Tia Nona gets engaged, she and her fiance invite the entire family to the wedding. Anamay's father is a public assistance lawyer, and since the family will be getting larger when the new baby is born, there's not a lot of money, so Tia Nona also offers to pay. A lot of preparations ensue, which take Anamay's mind off her anxiety about applying for a scholarship to the Eleanor School, which her parents say they can't afford unless she gets a full ride, and her part in a piano concert at Lincoln Center. Meeting family in the Dominican Republic is fascinating, and the differences between Tia Nona's lavish lifestyle and her other relatives more modest accommodations without indoor plumbing make Anamy grateful for her cramped apartment in the US. She is surprised that her aunt has a young girl Anamay's age working as a servant... and that her aunt is not very nice to the girl. Her aunt is very mean, doesn't call the girl by her own name, and fires her when Anamay gives Clarisa's father and ill younger brother food. This goes against everything her family stands for, and puts her aunt in a new light. When the family returns to the US, Anamay and her friends have a bake sale and send money to Clarisa, allowing her to go to school, especially after Tia Nona is encouraged to hire her father as a gardener. Anamay is still working on her recital piece, which she feels isn't as good as Sarita's. Sarita goes to the same teacher and has a lot of family issues, which put into question her ability to attend the recital. All families have issues, and Tio Lalo's are with alcohol. He didn't make the wedding, is in and out of jobs, and on Halloween is driving drunk and hits one of Anamay's sisters with the car, injuring her badly. Anamay's mother is hospitalized with high blood pressure and put on bed rest. Will Anamay be able to overcome her family issues to do well in the recital and the scholarship test for the Eleanor School?
Strengths: This certainly kept me turning the pages! I especially like the details of life in the Dominican Republic, and the wedding preparations with all of the close knit family. Anamay's interest in Clarisa is realistically presented, and I liked that her family is dedicated to helping others. I was able to keep all of the characters straight, which means that they are all very well described and different. Sometimes books set in NYC don't do well in my library (my students are not going to understand why getting into the school is so important; it's just not a thing where we live), but I think that Anamay's family relationships and personal struggles will resonate with my students.
Weaknesses: There is enough information in this book for TWO books! It's all interesting, but I think I would have made this one concentrate on Anamay's school and piano struggles and the trip to the Dominican Republic. It was good to see her help others there, and to continue that when she got back to the US. The sub plot with the uncle and the sister being injured could make another whole book!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. I have a small but steady number of students whose parents have come from the Dominican Republic, and they often want books set specifically in that county. They are hard to find! (Only Joseph's The Color of My Words (2000) comes to mind.)

Shusterman, Michelle. Spotlight on Coding Club (Girls Who Code #4)
October 2nd 2018 by Penguin Workshop
Copy provided by the publisher

Erin is looking forward to the school talent show so that she can perform using her many talents, and she's also glad that the coding club is working with Mrs. Clark to develop a real time voting app. However, she's been suffering a lot of anxiety with the new developments in her dad's deployment status and the news that Mrs. Clark has taken a job away from the school, and she's afraid to say anything to her mom, since she really thought she had grown out of it. She throws herself into the coding and preparations, and self-soothes by making red velvet waffles and other tasty baked goods. Her friends are helpful and supportive, but can only really help if she tells them what's wrong, which she doesn't want to do. Fortunately, after talking to her friend's sister, Leila, who also suffers from anxiety, she decides to ask her mother if she can talk to a new counselor.
Strengths: It's nice that these books focus on the concerns of different members of the club, since it also gives us another view of the other members. I hadn't remembered a lot about Erin, but she had some interesting interests and skills. I've not read any other books about a child dealing with the stress of a deployed parent, so that alone was worth it. I hope that more girls get interested in coding after reading this.
Weaknesses: I wish that there were a CLASS were the girls learned to code; if it is an important thing to learn, computer skills shouldn't be relegated to only a club.
What I really think: Glad to have these books, and have them cataloged under the same call number even though there are different authors. (Stacia Deutsch wrote the first two, and Jo Whittemore the third.)
 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Definitely Daphne

Charles, Tami. Definitely Daphne (series)
August 1st 2018 by Stone Arch Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Tami Charles, who came out with Like Vanessa in the spring, has a new series of short tween chapter books out. Unfortunately, I read the E ARC, which was the entire series together, and by the time I figured out it was four separate books, Summer Brain had set in and I don't feel I can review this properly. I know I did like the fact that the main character's mother was in the military, and she was struggling with frequent moves.

I will purchase this series, because at 96 pages each, my struggling readers can get a fun, realistic fiction series that makes them feel successful when they finish the books! I didn't quite buy Daphne's success as a vlogger, since after 12 years of blogging I only have about 300 followers, but students won't mind. I will probably buy these in paperback (for about $5) instead of the hardcover, which Titlewave lists at $18.54. That's the problem with some of the specialty easy reader titles (like Jake Maddox)-- the hardcovers are prohibitively expensive.

From the Publisher:
In front of her followers, Daphne is a hilarious, on-the-rise teen vlog star. But at school Daphne is the ever-skeptical Annabelle Louis, eighth-grade super geek and perennial new kid. To cope with her mom's upcoming military assignment in Afghanistan and her start at a brand new middle school, Annabelle's parents send her to a therapist. Dr. Varma insists Annabelle try stepping out of her comfort zone, hoping it will give her the confidence to make friends, which she'll definitely need once Mom is gone. Luckily there is one part of the assignment Annabelle DOES enjoy--her vlog, Daphne Doesn't, in which she appears undercover and gives hilarious takes on activities she thinks are a waste of time. She is great at entertaining her online fans, yet her classmates don't know she exists. Can Annabelle keep up the double life forever?
Cover image for Daphne Definitely Doesn't Do S... cover_image cover_image cover_image
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Funny Kid: Stand Up

39669061Stanton, Matt. Stand Up (Funny Kid #2)
June 19th 2018 by HarperCollins
Copy Provided by Young Adult Books Central

After his attempts to run for class president in Funny Kid for President, Max has decided that his identity is firmly tied to being the "funny kid". When his arch enemy, Abby Purcell, not only calls him "unfunny kid" but gets a laugh when his own joke did NOT, he is beside himself and feels that amends have to be made. He tries out for the Redhill Talent Quest, only to find that another participant, Tumbles the Clown, is attempting to be funny at the expense of Max. Tumbles heckles Max mercilessly and throws him off his game, but when Max tries to heckle Tumbles, he is admonished for it! Clearly, this isn't fair, and when Max's grandfather disappears from the local nursing home, Max uses this as an excuse to drop out. There is a note from kidnappers, which is highly suspect, but Officer Purcell is still brought in to help, and brings her daughter... ABBY! Max is not happy at all, and gets involved with the search, but also decides to continue to participate. Eventually, a secret emerges involving Tumbles and Max's grandfather. Can Max solve the mystery in time to amuse the audience at the Talent Quest?

This notebook novel is a good mix of illustrations and text, and has plenty of throwaway jokes, such as a backstory of Max trying to make people laugh that includes an account of his birth, complete with his bare baby bum! This is far more amusing than Patterson's I, Funny, especially since it is very clear that Max's grandfather isn't in any real danger. I do like the depiction of "Cranky Pants"-- "Mom says he thinks Planet Earth is his house and everyone else popped in without asking"! (page 18)

It's interesting that Max's downfall is due in part to the fact that all of the students in his class really like their new, young teacher, Miss Sweet. They don't appreciate Max playing jokes on her, and since that is a huge source of his humor, it has a bad effect on his popularity. Also interesting is watching him freeze and be unable to come up with good jokes when him rhythm is thrown off. Losing one's "mojo" happens all too frequently, and it's important for young readers to see this happen to some of their favorite characters.

Like other notebook novels like Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go to School, How to Be a Supervillain, Remy Sneakers, and King of the Bench Funny Kid includes plenty of poop and fart jokes, visual gags, and silly situations that will make readers laugh out loud. Get a copy of this for long summer car trips along with Marty Pants and some Big Nate comic books to insure that instead of hearing "Are we there yet?" you'll be hearing bad jokes!

Stilton, Thea. The Secret of the Crystal Fairies.(Thea Stilton Special Edition #7)
October 9th 2018 by Scholastic
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Even though Thea is off on an international scientific expedition to the Arctic, her five friends in the Seven Roses Unit are willing to give up their exotic spring break vacations in order to magically travel to the Crystal Kingdom to help save the day. Queen Tourmaline is under an evil spell, so things are not going well in the kingdom. it is up to the girls to travel across it, meet with different fairies and creatures, and try to figure out how to reverse the spell. They are guided by Turquoise the fish through an odd ocean, and furthered along by the Current Carnelians. They meet dragons, follow the Rocky Crystal Path, and try to talk Wolf into letting the Sweet Awakening Gem leave the Jade Jungle so that Tourmaline can be released from her spell.

This is a sparkly and colorful book, filled with all manner of sweet, magical fairies, multiple types of shiny jewels, and an air of adventure that comes straight from a video game. There is even a map that shows the route that the group takes, and there is a list of the beings they meet at the beginning.

The draw of these books is the use of lots of color and pictures. The stories are a bit predictable (there are a LOT of them!), and I struggle to keep Thea's friends straight, but there is nonstop action and adventure, although not as many descriptions of food as in Geronimo Stilton books! (Although there are some yummy cupcakes!)  The Thea Stilton Special Editions are more like The Kingdom of Fantasy series; I rather prefer the regular adventures where the girls travel to different countries.

There's no lack of beautiful ball gowns or phrases like "fabumouse" and "mouselets", and the girls (who are pictured as being a vaguely multicultural group, for mice!) all get along well with each other and with their companion and guide, Will. They enjoy their adventures and look forward to seeing their friend and mentor Thea again on their next mission.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Squint

38903003Morris, Chad and Brown, Shelly. Squint
October 2nd 2018 by Shadow Mountain
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Flint, who is very interested in drawing comic books, is now usually called "Squint" by his classmates because he is suffering from a degenerative eye disease the affects his corneas and gives him very poor vision. His classmates, who used to be friendly, now bully him. When McKell suddenly starts talking to him, he is wary that her motives are also devious, but she is friendly and invites him on a hike. She is kind, and Flint soon finds out that it is because her brother suffers from progeria and has a YouTube channel where he challenges people to go out and do things that he can no longer do. When Flint's eyes become so bad that he is eligible for a cornea transplant, he is out of school for a while, and upon his return he realizes that McKell has been out, too. Her brother has passed away, and she struggles with her grief and loss. Flint has been trying to finish a comic to submit to a contest, but once his vision improves, he fears it isn't very good. McKell is also shy and beset with anxiety over her own talents. She writes and performs music with a ukulele. She and Flint spend more time together and encourage each other to break out of their boxes and take chances.
Strengths: Flint is being raised by his grandparents because his mother has opted out of raising him. There isn't a lot of money, and both grandparents work hard to take care of Flint's needs. There is a growing number of books with grandparents assuming parental roles, which mirrors what is going on in society. There are not many books about children with impaired sight (Although Vrabel has both A Blind Guide To Stinkville and A Bind Guide to Normal, and there is the classic Beverly Butler Light a Single Candle (1962), which captivated me when I was in middle school.) McKell's experience with loss is well done, and the inclusion of a character with progeria is interesting, even if we don't see much of him before he passes away.
Weaknesses: I found it hard to believe that Flint's classmates would be so insensitive, although I'm sure that there are places where this is absolutely how people treat others. We had a student with diminishing sight, and as far as I could tell her classmates were kind and remained friends with her. The trajectory of some of the relationships from friends to bullying is well explained, but it was sad. We also had a student who was deaf, and the other students were almost TOO interested in being friends with her and talking about her challenges.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. Even though Flint struggles on so many levels, he keeps trying and is generally upbeat.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Kat Wolfe and Field Tripped

St. John, Lauren. Kat Wolfe Investigates (Wolfe and Lamb Mysteries #1)
October 9th 2018 by Farrar Straus Giroux
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Kat and her single mother live a hectic and stressful life in London, where her mother is an underling in a sketchy vet practice. When their home is broken into, Kat's mother decides they must leave. They look for new jobs, and find one in a small coastal town where the vet passes away and left not only the practice but a house, car, and temperamental cat! They move, and are immediately welcomed by the vet-starved populace. Kat is hoping to save up for her own computer, so she starts a pet sitting and walking business. Once of her first customers is the Portuguese bird artist Ramon, who wants her to watch his talking bird, Bailey. When Kat shows up to work, she finds suspicious circumstances and thinks that something has happened to him. She lets Officer Singh know, but there are other, bigger mysteries going on in England at the time, one involving her estranged grandfather, who is the Minister of Defense. With the help of Harper, who has broken both legs in a fall from her horse, necessitating her father hiring Kat to exercise the animal, and local retired librarian Edith, Kat stumbles into a world of international intrigue.
Strengths: I loved the scenes where Kat and her mother move into the small town and set up their veterinary practice. I've spent too much time over the summer watching shows like Doc Martin and That's My Boy, and the descriptions are similar to what is described about small town life in those places. This then segues into more of the British type of murder mysteries, with M15 and other more serious organizations. Students love this sort of thing, which makes this title an interesting mix of All Creatures Great and Small meets Stormbreaker.
Weaknesses: It was a bit of a jolt when this changed from the cozy seaside veterinary practice to the disappearance of Ramon. I just wasn't expecting it from the cover and description.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, as this was great fun. Boy, do the British love their CCTV! (Or hate it, I know!)

Woodrow, Allan. Field Tripped
August 28th 2018 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by the publisher

When the fifth graders of Liberty Falls Elementary School take there annual trip to Mink's Mystery Mansion, the children who go have their own agendas in mind. Aaron has just changed schools again, and hopes to be able to make new friends. With his father in the military, he should be used to change, but it's still hard. Eddie is related to the inventor, Edward Minks, but his family is struggling financially, since Minks gave away all of his money for the greater good. Eddie has blueprints of the mansion and hopes to find a secret room with a book detailing all of his ancestor's undiscovered inventions. Jessie also hopes to make friends, and finds a kindred spirit in Anna, who has brought her rabbit Mopey along in her backpack. Chloe hopes to continue in the good graces of the popular Sophie, but starts to realize how mean and selfish her supposed friend is. When a horrible snowstorm strands the school at the mansion, the children try to investigate and find the inventions-- some so they can earn money, and some so they don't have to write an assigned paper on their field trip.
Strengths: I really like Woodrow's work, especially Pet Wars, and there are not enough books about field trips. Not that my students ever take them, thanks to budget cuts, but they are always fun both to go on and to read about. This is a bit different from Woodrow's other school stories in that it has a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Mr. Lemoncello's Library vibe to it, with funny inventions, odd occurrences, and a mystery to be solved. The relationships between students evolve in realistic ways. The cover is fantastic. More books should have Slinkies on the cover!
Weaknesses: This is a solidly elementary school book. The goofiness falls on that side of the Pilkey Line, and the characters all have more elementary concerns. Jessie's cat back pack that meows was a big indicator of that. If Mr. Lemoncello did better in my library, I would keep this, but I think I will send it along to the elementary school.
What I really think: I would definitely purchase this for elementary. Having a narrow interest range isn't really a weakness-- it just makes it sad for me when I relaly like a book but know my students are just not going to vibrate to it.

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

#WNDB Wednesday: All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah

The pressing question is this: Why is the Sydney Taylor All-of-a-Kind Family series not available in a nice, new hardcover editions with original illustrations? The books were published in the 1950s, with a book about Ella coming out in 1978, so chances are VERY good that any and all library copies in existence now are pretty nasty. I recently deaccessioned a thirty year old PermaBound edition of book three, which was all my library had.

This new picture book would be a great introduction to the series, but chances are not good that anyone can FIND the original books anywhere!


Jenkins, Emily and Zelinsky, Paul O. All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah
September 11th 2018 by Schwartz & Wade Books
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

It's Hanukkah on New York's Lower East Side in 1912. Young Gertie, who is four, is very excited about all of the preparations that her parents and four older sisters are making. Making latkes is especially intriguing, since they are made only once a year. Gertie wants to help, but the others tell her it is too dangerous and she should read her library books instead of trying to help out. Angry, she goes to the next room to hide, thinking they will be sorry they ignored her, but no one comes. Eventually, Papa comes looking for her and takes her out to the family celebration to eat the delicious latkes.

This simple story is a good introduction to the classic Sydney Taylor All-of-a-Kind Family (1951) middle grade books, which were some of the first books about Jewish children that reached a main stream audience. Today, there is a Sydney Taylor book award for contributions to Jewish children's literature. These books showcased the daily life and celebrations of a family in an immigrant neighborhood in New York City in the early 1900s and were some of my favorites when I was young-- they were sort of the equivalent of The Brady Bunch when it came to positive and fun depictions of a large family.

The story is simple and easy to follow, and the notes at the back are helpful in understanding so of the concepts of the time, as well as the history of the series. Zelinsy's drawings, while vastly different from the Joe and Beth Krush illustrations in the original books with all of their fine-line details, depict the era well. The family's apartment is clearly laid out, and made sense for the first time to me-- of course it was just two rooms! The colors are happy, and the sense of movement and joy comes through the rough outlined shapes.

All-of-a-Kind Hanukkah is a great addition to a collection of holiday books, and also a good way to develop an interest in a classic series. Give this one to readers who love Little House on the Prairie early reader novels, American Girl books, or historical fiction picture books.


Everlasting Nora

Crus, Marie Miranda. Everlasting Nora
October 2nd 2018 by Starscape Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Nora and her mother have been living in her father's family mausoleum after they lost their home, and her father, in an apartment fire. They manage, like many others who live in the cemetery, to eke out an existence. There isn't enough money to buy the uniform and supplies needed for Nora to attend school, so she helps her mother do laundry for one family and also makes and sells garlands of flowers. She has good neighbors in Jo and his grandmother, Lola Mercy, and they are very supportive when her mother does not return one night and men associated with loan sharks break into Nora's home and steal the her father's watch and the money she has been collecting to travel to live with her uncle. Because she does not show up to do laundry, she loses that position, and she starts to panic when her mother is still missing. She goes to the mahjong game her mother regularly attends, and talks to some of her mother's friends. Most of the friends can only say that her mother owes them money, but Rosie has some more information. Eventually, Nora finds her mother, who is very sick. Lola and Jo help her tend to her mother's medical needs, and Nora reaches out to the women who employed them, who helps a little. Because circumstances are so dire, Nora attempts to break into the home of the man who stole her watch to get it back, and she finds that there are some issues that have stood in the way of her mother maintaining contact with her brother. Will Nora be able to get her mother the help she needs?
Strengths: It's so important that students read about what life is like for other children their age in other parts of the world, or children in the US whose lives are very different. If you liked Saaed's Amal Unbound or Yang's Front Desk, this is another great title to offer to students to expand their horizons. I love that Nora is bright and would really like to attend school, and even does some work with a man who has a mobile school that comes to her area. Even though Nora struggles to get food and water, she is upbeat and proactive about her own life and shows a lot of resiliency and skill in survival. For adults who loved Little House on the Prairie for the way Laura had to use her pluck to survive, I believe that books like this are the thing to hand to students now instead! The glossary of Filipino words and phrases is helpful, and the details of every day life are amazing!
Weaknesses: I'm assuming that this takes place in the modern day, but it might help readers who don't know about life in the Philippines to somehow indicate this.
What I really think: As a child, I loved books set in different historical periods that told me details of every day life. If there had been books about children in other parts of the world, I would have loved those as well. It's great to see more #ownvoices accounts of life in different countries! Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

A Trio of Fantasy Books

https://www.flickr.com/photos/gr8dnes/5256191075
The books were far better than the trio of SKUNKS that I met on my way to work today! It was 72 out (at an hour Kevin Sands calls "to early for honest folk, too late for brigands and thieves"), and also garbage day, so I passed THREE skunks. They hide in the shadow of the garbage bins, and even though I religiously wear my glasses in the morning, they were hard to see. Two resulted in an awkward jog (with twenty pounds of books on my back!) away from the little critters, and one I avoided by side stepping into the street. Too much excitement!


38533036Easley, Sean. The Hotel Between
September 4th 2018 by Simon Schuster
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Cameron lives with his Oma, who works at his school as a substitute teacher, and sister Cassia, who has been challenged all of her life with the complications of spina bifida. His mother is dead, and his father has disappeared, although Oma says he was stolen and didn't abandon them. One day, Cam is coming home from school and see a mysterious building; the Hotel Between. He meets the mysterious Nico, and finds out that the amulet on the necklace he wears that belonged to his father ties him to the place in a strange way. Hoping to find his missing father, he gets more and more involved with the hotel, working there and meeting people like the Old Man and Stripe, who are vaguely evil and mysterious, and almost certainly know more than they are telling. The hotel has a series of doors that connect to different parts of the world and facilitate travel and the "best vacations" that people have ever had-- even if they are not going to remember all of the magical details. The hotel has some problems, however, and is always in danger of having the pins that connect the worlds fail in disastrous ways. Cass is very ill, and Cam believes that the hotel may hold the secret to healing her, and that their father disappeared when trying to figure this out. Will Cam be able to find his father, or will the mysterious hotel hold more grief for him than anything else?
Strengths: There is a lot of great world building going on with the hotel, its mechanics, and the people inhabiting it. It was very clear that while Cam put so much hope in the hotel, he was going to be disappointed, because things were much more complicated than they seemed at first. It's a great concept (a central door to get to a lot of different locations), and the mystery with the parents also worked well and was solved in a very interesting way. My favorite past was probably Oma, in her flowered shirts and khakis!
Weaknesses: Even with all of the action and adventure, there was a strong feeling of sadness and anxiety that overshadowed the fun elements of the book.
What I really think: Something about this cover, and the overall plot, reminded me of Oliver's The Shrunken Head. This is the sort of fantasy that doesn't do particularly well with my readers (who seem to prefer old school medieval fantasies or happier magical realism), so I am debating.

Saunders, Kate. The Land of Neverendings
August 14th 2018 by Delacorte Press
Public library copy

Emily's sister Holly has passed away, and Emily finds herself missing Bluey, Holly's stuffed toy that the two created many adventures around. The toy was cremated with her sister, and she understands this, but she finds herself struggling. Her parents are moving on as best they can, and her father wisely does not mention her sister and her mother has taken a job. Her friends are a bit weird about it, or it could just be the middle grade years. Emily spends time after school with a neighbor who runs an antique store. Ruth lost her son ten years ago, and also is nostalgic for his toys. She and Emily talk a lot  over cups of tea and biscuits, and Emily takes comfort in this. When Emily starts hearing and seeing toys come from the imaginary land of Smockeroon, she worries that she is hallucinating, but Ruth has had similar experiences, especially with a fat black toad of gried showing up. At first, it is comforting to spend time with the beloved (if a bit strange) toys, but things start to take a very dark turn. Ruth is almost killed in a home fire while her spirit is visiting the imaginary world, and Emily must figure out how to deal with her past but also move forward.
Strengths: I very much enjoy Ms. Saunders' work, especially The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop, Magicalamity, and Beswitched,  and she is a very British writer in her use of lots of cups of tea and lots of very good biscuits. (Custard creams for the win!) She also has a way of taking lighthearted topics and making them rather dark, which also seems particularly British to me (think Jacqueline Wilson's books for 8 year olds-- lots more child abuse than US fiction has!) Beloved toys certainly have lots of unplumbed powers, and books about grief are certainly on trend.
Weaknesses: Grief is also incredibly boring, not only to experience but also to read about. I understand where this book came from, and commend Saunders for her efforts, especially this: "Young people weren't supposed to die. When you had a dead young person in your family, it was like joining a weird club that nobody on earth wanted to be a member of." Yes, and that's why it's a best practice to pretend the person never existed, and move on. Since this is hard for young people to do, Emily really should have been in some sort of grief therapy.
What I really think: My students rarely willingly pick up a book about toys-- I think in the US, toys start to be uncool around the age of 6. I just don't see this being read in my library, so I won't purchase it.


Lasky, Kathryn. Den of the Forever Frost 
(Bears of the Ice #2)
October 9th 2018 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by the publisher

Cubs Stellan and Jytte, along with their cousin, Third, are making their way across Nunquivick (which is in the same world as Ga'Hoole and the Beyond) to try to find their father, Svern, who had fought the evil powers behind the Ice Clock and whom they suspect is now in the Den of the Forever Frost. Their mother, Svenna, is still imprisoned in the headquarters of the Grand Patek and doing calculations about the Ice Clock while also befriending the poor cubs who have been tortured. The cubs meet a wide variety of creatures and come across many dangers in their trek. When they find a tourist area in the Firth of Grundensphyrr and take a tour, they uncover a Roguer plot but also find some clues to lead them to their father, who is fighting Dark Fang. After saving their other cousin, Second (who is now named Froya), they find the Den of the Forever Frost and are told that they are the keepers of the key to the Ice Clock. They are sent on a further quest to talk to the owls.

Readers who enjoy animal fantasy books like Hunter's Warriors books, London's The Wild Ones or Iserles' Foxcraft series will enjoy the detailed world building and in-depth fantasy plot. There are a huge number of incidental but well developed creatures, from talkative wood frogs and helpful ice spiders to the owls and wolves that appear in Lasky's other series.

The land of Nonquivick is also well described, and there is a map in the book. Considering that the cubs are navigating only by the stars, they do quite a good job getting where they want to be! The world building also includes a variety of vaguely Scandinavian words like yoickhynn, nachtmagen, and fyngrot. These are apparently used in other books, according to the Ga'Hool Wikia, so fans of those books will be pleased to see the characters and concepts from the books used again.

There's plenty of action and adventure, villains to be vanquished, and voles to eat as the bears continue their journey to save both their parents and their world.

N.B. If I can read these books and think about them critically despite the fact the bears save wood frogs from freezing but whack and eat voles, I think 7th graders can read an occasional book with a human protagonist without throwing fits. Even football books are easier for me to read than fantasy books with maps and the dreaded talking animals!

Monday, October 08, 2018

MMGM- In Your Shoes and Trapped!




It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Always in the Middle and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

Gephart, Donna. In Your Shoes
October 30th 2018 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by publisher through Netgalley

Amy has just moved to town to live with an uncle after her mother's death. Her father will come eventually, but he is getting training to work in her uncle's funeral parlor and only visits on some weekends. She is leery of starting school, especially since she thinks people notice that one of her legs is longer than the other. When she is head in the head with a rogue bowling shoe on her way into the building on the first day, she takes this as a bad omen and starts writing a fairy tale involving the incident. The wearer of the shoe, Miles, is mortified, even though it's his friend Randall's fault. Miles is an anxious young man who feels most at home at the family bowling alley, although even there is a sadder place since the death of his grandmother. He's trying to bowl a perfect game, would sort of like to ask a girl to the school dance, and is saving up for a special present for his grandfather's 75th birthday. Amy doesn't have that hard a time at school, and even meets a like-minded friend, Tate, who is into weight lifting and knitting. The girls are library helpers during their lunch for [real life] librarian John Schu. Randall has a crush on Tate and is trying to figure out a fun way to ask her to the dance, and Amy often wanders off to the bowling alley to have a hot chocolate and escape the funeral home. She enjoys bowling with Miles, although the regular shoes make her hip hurt. As the grandfather's birthday party and the school dance approach, the four children learn more about each other and develop even closer relationships, which help them cope when things don't always go well.
Strengths: I liked seeing the development of the relationships between the children, and the light romance is always welcome. Amy is generally upbeat, and even though she doesn't really want to move, she does a good job at settling in and making friends. Miles' relationship with his grandfather is sweet, and the bowling alley setting is fabulous (Anyone remember Ed?).
Weaknesses: There was a LOT going on in this book, and I think it would have been stronger if it had concentrated on just a couple of difficulties instead of introducing so many. For example, Amy should have been in grief counseling, and I would have been interested to see her practice some coping strategies. I also would have found more in-depth information about leg length discrepancy, anxiety, or severe asthma (which were all just touched on) helpful and informative.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and the cover will make sure this never gets back to the shelves. Our high school has a really good bowling team, and I was in a league in middle school, so I am glad to see another book with bowling beside Crystal Allen's 2011 How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy.

Ponti, James. Trapped (Framed #3)
September 25th 2018 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Florian and Margaret have their most important mission yet-- Marcus has been accused of stealing valuable library books and of having ties to organized crime, and only they can prove him innocent. We start with the two of them brilliantly crashing a fund raiser to get information, the flashback to the case that gets Marcus in trouble. His first case was never solved to his satisfaction, and when someone intercepts a dead drop key in a library book and finds a pile of classified documents in a post office box, he feels the cases may be related. The trio go back and investigate the four most likely suspects, who all have ties to books or libraries, and some of whom have very personal ties to Marcus himself. As always, adults underestimate the detective abilities of the children, who in turn completely underestimate the spying skills of Florian's mother! Eventually, Florian works out the code, and has to ask Nic the Knife for help in bringing the federal agents in to corner a Russian spy.
Strengths: Like Stuart Gibbs' various mysteries, Ponti's work is always just a pleasant relief to read. I push through a lot of books that are either poorly written or don't interest me, so just letting Ponti's clever, deft prose wash over me and his characters amuse me is wonderful. There are so many interesting details about D.C., libraries, and various things that I kept turning the pages to see where the story would take me next. Good stuff. The affection the children have for Marcus is great to see, and Margaret and Florian's friendship is fantastic. If I recall correctly, there are supposed to be five books in this series.
Weaknesses: This is a tiny bit on the long side.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. I think the covers may be working against this series. It doesn't check out as often as Gibbs' work, but then Gibbs' books have really appealing covers.

BLATHER: Cross Country season is finally over, and I a hoping to get caught up on... life pretty soon! It's a good thing I'm not involved in the Cybils' awards this year, because I have only managed to nominate two books-- I can't imagine the wreck things would be if I were category organizer! 

It's a bummer when life gets in the way of reading, but that's the way it is sometimes!