Saturday, May 21, 2022

Apple Crush (Peapod Farm #2) and Growing Pangs

Knisely, Lucy. Apple Crush (Peapod Farm #2)
May 3rd 2022 by Random House Graphic
E ARC provided by the publisher

After settling into her new family situation in Stepping Stones, Jen is apprehensive about the new school year. She is excited about being hired by a neighboring farm, where she and Andy, her mother's boyfriend Walter's daughter, are going to help set up for the fall season and help out with the haunted hayride. Andy is interested in Eddie, whose father runs the farm. He's homeschooled, but he and Jen bond over a graphic novel series. With Andy in the city during the week, Jen feels very alone at her new school, and mean girl, Summer, gives Jen a hard time about everything, including her friendship with Ollie. Is it true that boys and girls can't be just friends? Jen gets this message from everyone, including Andy and Walter. She does find some respite in the school library, where they librarian lets her come to draw during her free periods, and in an art club. As the big Halloween event at the farm approaches, will Jen be able to understand her relationships with those close to her a little better?
Strengths: Jen's struggles to fit in to a new school will ring true to many readers, and friend and school drama are always popular topics, especially when it comes to graphic novels. The rural setting, and the brief glimpses we get of Peapod Farm's struggles with their chickens and mushroom logs, are quite fascinating. It's nice to see Jen and Andy get along most of the time, even though there are some problems. Eddie is an interesting character, and his reaction to Jen is very realistic. I loved the scene where Eddie continued to scare Andy at the hay ride preparation even though she told him not to. The mentions of different books that interest Jen are not named, but described well enough that readers will know the kind of books Jen likes; this is a hard balance to get right. Of course, the understanding librarian was great! 
Weaknesses: The most interesting part of Stepping Stones was the family dynamic, and we don't see as much of that here. It makes sense, since the first book was set during the summer, and Jen's school relationships are important, but I wish we had seen a bit more of how things at home were going. 
What I really think:The first book was just the right title for one of my students who was struggling with some issues with her stepfather, so I'm definitely looking forward to being able to give her this title. Hand to fans of Chmakova, Miller, Telgemeier, and Jamieson.
 

Ormsbee, Kathryn and Brooks, Molly (illus.) Growing Pangs
May 3rd 2022 by Random House
Public library copy 

 In this graphic novel, Katie, growing up in the 90s, struggles with anxiety, home schooling, and problems with her best friend Kacey. She navigates summer camp, a theater production, minor dental surgery, and dealing with OCD. She does eventually get help from her parents as well as a professional. Based on the author's own experiences, but somewhat fictionalized. 

This is on trend with current middle grade reads about mental health, and will be popular with readers who enjoy similar titles like Telgemeier's Smile, Libenson's Emmie and Friends series, or Scrivan's Nat Enough.

Friday, May 20, 2022

What Twenty Years Looks Like


 I don't really know what to make of this. This year, I've averaged about 160 books a day. My twenty year average is... about 160 books a day. Circulation has gone back to 2007 levels even though I haven't stopped pushing books. 

Statistics rely on a lot of other things. For example, in 2018 we cut SSR. But how could I have checked out more books in 2020? A small portion of circulation is Chrome Books, but I certainly didn't check out THAT many. Wouldn't 2020 have been smaller than 2021? 

No idea what to make of these numbers. I guess I'll just try to make small increases over the next fifteen years. 

Hazard

Dowell, Frances O'Roarke. Hazard
May 10th 2022 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Hazard should be used to having his parents in the military, since both his mother and father have served for most of his life, but he still didn't quite expect his father to come home missing a leg after a bombing. He seems to be dealing with it... until he tackles someone much too strenuously on the football field. In order for him to come back to the team, he has to go to counseling, and his story is told through texts to friends, e mails with his counselor, interviews with relatives, and older e mails that his father sent to his mother from Afghanistan. His father is now at Walter Reed Medical Center, recuperating and getting fitted for a prosthetic leg. Hazard and his brother Tyler have been to see him a few times, and Hazard knows he should be grateful that his father is still alive. It's hard, though, especially when he starts to realize that his father is also struggling to come to terms with the incident in Afghanistan that led to his injury. Hazard thought that losing a leg would be hard for his father, but it turns out that there are even tougher psychological injuries that need to be addressed. It's not easy for Hazard to come to terms with all of these things, and his anger still is manifesting itself on the football field. Will he be able to understand the root cause of his anger so that he can continue on, hopefull on the football field as well?
Strengths: There are not a lot of books that deal with military families, and the plight of a parent coming home from serving and being injured is one that could use a lot more discussion. Hazard's family life is supportive, and both of his grandmothers step in from time to time to help. It seems like everything is holding together... until it's not. I think that anger issues are often a bit surprising, and the way that Hazard's emotional state is shown is done very well. The questions and answers with the therapist really get to the root of his problems, and we see this unfold at the same time he does. This reminded me a bit of Meyer's Monster in the construction of the format. The text is brief but really packs a punch. 
Weaknesses: I had hoped there would be more football in the book, and the short e mails and nonlinear format occasionally makes it harder to understand what's going on. 
What I really think: This was an intriguing, short read that might resonate with reluctant readers. It's a rather different type of book than Dowell usually writes, but it definitely fills a niche, and is an excellent book to describe and explain some of the causes of PTSD. 

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Blather-- Snapshot of my library

I used to do detailed reports about what went on in the library, and now... I don't. Ever since Sierra Dertinger ofBooks. Iced Lattes. Blessed mentioned that she got a job in a school library and wanted tips for the transition, I've been thinking about what notes I would leave my successor. (At left, my library.)

There just is not enough paper in the world to tell a new librarian everything that needs to be known. I volunteered for FIVE YEARS for the librarian in my position. I weeded HER collection, cleaned out HER back room, and learned to eviscerate a VCR under her capable tutelage. Still, I have spent twenty years finding random keys, "I'm a happy booker" buttons, vintage tissue boxes, and chalk chucks still in the original packaging. 

We have five days left with students. Over 200 overdue books. I need to clean the back room, revamp my curriculum for next year and deal with textbooks and 17 carts of 30 Chrome books, 12 carts of a dozen Chrome books, and who knows how many random student Chrome Books. Nota Bene: Textbooks are NOT my job. Chrome Books are textbooks. Just sayin'.

Because there's so much work, let's visit my library instead! I took some pictures on my way in this morning to show Sierra and other hopeful, shiny, new librarians what glee awaits them. (At left, the circ desk. This is also where I keep deodorant and other toiletries that I hand out thanks to neighborhood bridges. And yes, these include sanitary products.)


Sure, there are the 13,000 books that I have to organize. But there's also the vast space, as well as storage that I am very grateful to have. I've taken down some shelves over the years to have more floor space and to limit the amount of unneccesary STUFF. 

I am very diligent about cleaning out and organizing, but there is still so much stuff. Supplies. Equipment. Cords. Book processing supplies. A tambourine. A stuffed alligator hat. And this isn't the worst. One of our district librarians inherited several drawers crammed full of plastic flatware, because the previous librarian used her back room to host parties for teachers (back when we had assistants, I imagine.) The back room is such a mess because I can only get into it in the morning, and that's when I try to write book reviews. I haven't had lunch outside the library more than five times this year.

 
Sierra is also expecting her first child in October. Inheriting a library is similar to having a child. You can read all the books you want, makes plans, and it's still just... a crap shoot. No matter how hard you try, it can still go so, so wrong. You do what you need to do, and hope for the best. I have zero regrets about giving my toddlers powdered milk with a side of bread and margarine for the fat for their little brains. The pediatrician said it was okay.

Last year, I didn't get the library organized because I spent several days cleaning out the classroom of a teacher who had been here for thirty years. I took fifty trips to the recycling to clear out eight file cabinets. Unearthed 60 boxes of tissues. There were dusty paperbacks, student projects from twenty years ago, and more paperclips than I have ever seen amassed in one location. 

I have at least fifteen more years left to teach, if I am lucky and my district keeps librarians. You never know. I started out teaching Latin, and I have been grateful to be employed every single year of my 24 year career. It could end tomorrow. I'm not leaving a procedure manual. There might be one page of notes. Whoever takes over my job will have a baptism by surprise filmstrip projectors and letters from long dead authors in a file cabinet, but I hope that things are not messy, dirty, and cluttered. 

Note to self: remind daughter that if I die, she needs to clear the cabinet of Clarks loafers and my box with an entire change of clothing out before the new librarian arrives. That person, however, is totally welcome to my cabinet of pain relievers and over the counter meds I keep for teachers. And that stuffed alligator hat.

Dear Friends

Greenwald, Lisa. Dear Friends
May 10th 2022 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Eleni has been friends with Sylvie since they were born; their mothers were in a prenatal class together, so their friendship has a deep history. As 6th grade approaches, however, things are changing. After a difficult time at summer camp, where her camp friend Maddy prefered spending time playing soccer than hanging out with her, Eleni returns home to help Sylvie plan her birthday party, only to find that she is not one of the three girls invited to the sleepover. She's given Sylvie a cool denim jacket, and has one just like it, but the chances of the two twinning at school look bleaker and bleaker as Sylvie continues to hang out with Annie, Zora, and Paloma. Eleni  starts to worry about her ability to make and keep friends, and enlists the help of Adelaide, the daughter of one of her mother's friends with whom she is occasionally forced to hang out, to look back at her FriENDships. There's neighbor Will, who quit hanging out with her when it became uncool for boys and girls to play together; Brenna, from Hebrew School; and Charlotte, who moved away. She starts to write letters back and forth to Charlotte, and tries to reconnect with her former friends to try to figure out what she did wrong. In the meantime, she does have a new group, which includes Rumi, Elizabeth and Anjali. This is good, because the 6th grade overnight trip and Halloween party are on the horizon. Eleni's been looking forward to them for years, but it's not the same without Sylvie, who continues to freeze her out and be mean. This cause issues with Eleni's mother, who is very snappish at the best of times. Eleni discovers that she was meant to be helping Adelaide, not the other way around, after the two have a bit of a falling out. Will Eleni be able to find some closure with her other former friends?
Strengths: Yep. Just about everyone loses at least one friend in middle school. Interests change, distance creates difficulties, and sometimes, people just become mean. Friend drama is one of the top requests for topics in books. I loved the inclusion of Eleni's Hebrew school, and the fact that she rather enjoyed learning about her religion. I spend a LOT of time at church in middle school, and religion doesn't often show up in middle grade stories, which is probably fairly representative of the population, but food to see occasionally. All of the characters are very well developed, and it's easy to see, in retrospect, what happened with Eleni's friendships. The 6th grade ovenight is a good theme to move the story along, and the changes that are made to it because of parental pressure are very realistic. This has a somewhat exotic setting, since Eleni goes to New York City. The cover is great, and I can't wait to hvae a copy of this to hand to students!
Weaknesses: Eleni's mother and Will's father had some serious stuff going on that wasn't well addressed. I'd actually love to see a whole book about Will and how his family is dealing with his father losing his job because of anger management issues. Eleni's mother seemed like she needed a lot of help, but nothing is ever discussed. 
What I really think: Defnitely purchasing, since Greenawald's books (My Life in Pink and Green (2009), Sweet Treats and Secrets Crushes (2010), Reel Life Starring Us (2011), the Dog Beach (2014) series, TBH This is So Awkward, (2018) and 11 Before 12 remain popular titles in my library. This definitely shows some deep dives into the anxiety in modern tween culture. I'm not sure if my students would ever undertake a project like Eleni's to investigate their failed relationships, but I do think they will enjoy reading about it. 
 Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Bound for Home

Hashimoto, Meika. Bound for Home
May 17th 2022 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Emi's mother has recently died of cancer, and her father had died in a lobster boating accident before she was born. After several unsuccessful foster placements, she has landed with Meili and Jim. They live in a wooded area in Maine, and take Emi to pick out a dog from the local shelter. She picks Max, who has been there the longest and has a tendency to run away. Max, whose perspective we also hear, has been abandoned by his family when they were expecting a baby. He still has a tendency to run, although Emi and her foster parents are trying to teach him to stay. On some of his briefer forays into the woods, he meets Red, a cat who was left behind by her family and who has decided she likes being wild. Emi tries to keep Max in line (one of his many eccentricities is his insistence on peeing right in the threshold of her room every morning), and learns to get along with Meili and Jim, who are very glad to have her. When family circumstances are about to change, Emi decides to head out on her own to survive in the woods with Max. This goes poorly, since she is ill-equiped, and both she and Max suffer injuries and privations. They do find a cabin, and don't perish, but eventually have to decide if they want to return home and make a life with Meili and Jim. 
Strengths: Like Hashimoto's The Trail (2017), this is a solid adventure book with good details about surviving in the wilderness. Emi was a sympathetic character who was struggling to feel loved and wanted, and her reaction to Meili and Jim's news was not overly unrealistic. I liked that she wasn't really running away from any mistreatment, and that she liked being with them; it was a preemptive measure based on her previous life experiences. Meili briefly mentions how difficult it is to be of Asian descent in predominately white Maine, and the fact that the two of them had each other was a brief moment of light. Max and Red have very distinct personalities, and the chapters from their perspectives added an interesting element to the survival aspect. 
Weaknesses: There was a lot of grim hunting for food and getting injured, which is completely realistic, but got somewhat repetitive. What's the good of running away if there aren't some awesome Boxcar Children moments of cooking your own food and seeing the sun set spectacularly? Although as an adult, I guess I should be grateful the experience of running away isn't glorified. I guess I wanted some glorification!
What I really think: This made me think of Burnford's The Incredible Journey (1960) and the movie version (1963), which I remember watching on the Wonderful World of Disney as a child. It's a great choice for readers who liked Behrens' Disaster Days, Pyron's A Pup Called Trouble, or some of Jennifer Li Shotz's more adventuresome dog titles. 
 Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Wildseed Witch (Wildseed Witch #1)

Dumas, Marti. Wildseed Witch (Wildseed Witch #1)
May 10th 2022 by Amulet Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus
 
Hasani is not looking forward to summer even though it will give her a lot of time to build her followers on her YouTube channle, MakeupontheCheapCheap. Her mother is busy with work, and she does NOT want to spend time with her father and her new live in girlfriend across town. While driving to her father's house, Hasani gets angry when she learns about Sandy, and a bridge that they are supposed to cross isn't passable, and vines are growing all over it. Later, a woman from Les Belles Demoiselles school comes to Hasani's mother's house and tells her that since she can do magic, she has a scholarship to the school for six weeks. Most of the students who attend come from families where magic has been part of their lives for many years, but Hasani is a "wildseed"; a witch who shows magic even though there is no family history of it. It's hard to fit in to a school on such short notice, with students who have more knowledge of magic and are a bit more privileged as well. Her roommate Celeste isn't thrilled to have to bunk with her, and LaToya and Angelique also give her a hard time. She does befriend Demi-Rose, or Dee, but the two get in trouble for trying to change Hasani's hair with a potion that doesn't go quite as planned. The teachers are somewhat understanding of Hasani's difficulty is understanding magic and the school, but don't seem to be prepared to offer support to a "wildseed", so Hasani struggles both to understand her new magical world and to befriend her fellow witches. She does her best to learn, and her magic is very strong. When she gets home from the school, she learns some alarming things, and gets involved in a problem with one of her followers. Will she be able to come to terms with her new found identity, keep her father safe from an unexpected threat, AND to grow her YouTube channel? 
Strengths: Hasani is a fun character who is super involved in growing her YouTube channel but is surprised to learn that she has magic. This is the dream of a large portion of my students, and Hasani's stay at magical summer camp charm school is wish fulfilment at its finest! Of course, there is girl drama at the school, but she is able to make a good friend or two AND learn to harness her magic. Who among us wouldn't try a magical portion to make our hair different? There are some good magical details about Hasani's classes (Fragrance, The Art of Arranging, Animal Affinities, and TEA!), a general genteel atmosphere of the school ("Magic is for hooligans. Belles demoiselles use charm."), and spells and potions that the girls are able to use, often to interesting effect. There is the added complication of Hasani's parents' recent divorce, and the problems with his new girlfriend to add another layer of interest. I'm glad to see that this will be a series, and am curious to see how Hasani will use her magic in book two. 
Weaknesses: I was hoping that this would have the deliciously complicated world building of Clayton's The Marvellers or Black and Clare's Magisterium series, but more of the book was spent on Hasani's feelings about not fitting in and obsessing about the number of followers for her YouTube channel than details about the classes, food, or school grounds. That will definitely appeal to middle grade readers who love friend drama, but I was dying to know more, especially with the New Orleans area setting. 
What I really think: The cover of this one is so gorgeous that I would buy it for that alone! So many of my students harbor dreams of being YouTube stars that they will enjoy that part of the book more than I did; after 16 years of blogging, I don't even have 400 followers, so books that have young influencers gaining Internet popularity quickly always seem unrealistic to me. Of course, it's completely realistic that Hasani is able to magically grow flowers! Definitely purchasing, and my readers who enjoyed the make up details in Dee's Violets Are Blue or the magical elements of Little's The Time of the Fireflies, Meriano's Love, Sugar, Magic, Scott's School of Charm, or King's Zach King: The Magical Mix-Up will enjoy going to Les Belles Demoiselles along with Hasani. 

Ms. Yingling

Monday, May 16, 2022

Best Friends, Bikinis, and Other Summer Catastrophes

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


Wientge, Kristi. Best Friends, Bikinis, and Other Summer Catastrophes
May 17th 2022 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Alex and Will are neighbors and have been friends forever. For Alex, Will is more like a fourth brother (she has an annoying older one who doesn't do his share around the house, and two loud younger ones), and they spend a lot of time planning to build a treehouse and hanging out at the pool. When classmate Rebekah approaches them at the pool one day, Alex is not happy to see that Will lights up in her presence and wants to impress her, even if it means leaving Alex abruptly. Rebekah wears a bikini and makes her friend seem very different. Alex isn't jealous; she's worried. She and Will decide to finally build their own treehouse, and line up work doing odd jobs for neighbors, like painting Ms. Tanner's garage door or picking up dog poop for another neighbor. They slowly save their money so that Alex's father, a contractor, can help them buy additional supplies. When Will insists that they bike all the way to a fancier neighborhood to try to line up jobs, Alex isn't happy to realize that one of the houses they approach is where Alex lives. She's even less thrilled that Rebekah is in the babysitting class her parents are forcing her to take before they will pay her for watching her younger brothers. Rebekah is really nice to her, though, and really seems to want to be her friend, too. She even understands why it's so hard to watch her widowed grandfather hanging out with Ms. Tanner. As the summer progresses and Will and Rebekah spend more time together, will Alex be able to navigate the new nature of her friendships?  
Strengths: I would LOVE to see a sequel of this one, and I'm not a huge fan of series. It reminded me in the best way of Anne Emery's Dinny Gordon or Weber's Beany Malone. Alex has a lot of autonomy because her mother is a therapist who works from home, and she is allowed to make her own way around her Illinois neighborhood in an updated and realistic way. The babysitting course is great, and it's fun that Will's mother runs the concession stand at the pool. Alex has to step in to help at home a lot, and the tension between her older brother, who works outside the home and doesn't feel like he needs to help out at home. The fact that Will and Alex know that building a tree house will involve the cost of more than just scrap lumber is great, and the way they go about looking for work is perfect. I would have let my own children proceed in this manner. With all of that good stuff, it gets even better when Rebekah enters the scene. She's NOT a mean girl, and does try to include Alex when she approaches Will, but Alex is the one who isn't very nice. Of course, her jealousy is understandable and complicated; she's not interested in Will romantically, but doesn't want to lose him. Rebekah really tries to befriend Alex, and eventually does voice her frustration, and the two work things out. Then, there's the whole issue with Ms. Tanner and Pops... so, so good! 
Weaknesses: I am not at all a fan of the cover. It's too... pastel. It should involve more green (and perhaps a treehouse), since the kids spend so much time outside. The title makes it sound like a really girly title, and I would love to see the boys in my school read this one, too. I know, I know; all books for all children, but a different cover would really help me convince some of my readers of this. 
What I really think: Definitely buying a copy and can't wait to hand this to students. I wish I could see more books like this, where children have agency and interests and face smaller but important problems with support and optimism. 

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The One Who Loves You Most

medina. The One Who Loves You Most 
May 10th 2022 by Levine Querido
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Gabriela lives in New York City with her mother, who is a sign language interpreter and adopted Gabriela from Honduras when she was a baby. The mother suffers frequently from bouts of depression, and has the highs and lows that seem to go with bipolar disorder, although this is not named. Gabriela is used to fending for herself and taking care of her mother because of that. When her teacher, Mrs. Anderson, assigns the students a project to explore their "authentic self" and present it in various ways, Gabriela is conflicted. Ever since hitting puberty, she has become increasingly uncomfortable in her own body, and between that, dealing with her mother, and feeling disconnected from her Honduran background, she has no idea what her "authentic self" is. It doesn't help that she has had a falling out with her best friend Maya. She gets to know Héctor, who is Latinx and identifies as nonbinary and is okay with any pronouns, and Abbie, whose mother is Peruvian and whose father is Indian, and identifies as intersex and trans. Abbie even has a vlog chronicling her journey. Both of her new friends ask Gabriela how she identifies, but she's not able to explain to them, since she is still struggling to understand. Hector suggests some books for her to read, including Garden's groundbreaking Annie on My Mind, and when her former friend Maya sees her reading it, the two start a conversation and start to hang out again. Maya identifies as a lesbian, and mistakes the renewed friendship for a romantic one. She is hurt when Gabriela doesn't want to hold hands or kiss her, but Gabriela starts to understand that while she likes to be with Maya, her identity is asexual. Since she didn't know herself, it was hard to share this information with Maya. When her mother's mental health reaches a crisis level, Gabriela has to stay with Abbie's family, and sees a counselor at school, Mr. Shapiro, who is a trans man and shares a little of his journey with Gabriela. The "authentic self" projects cause a bit of a stir, but also lead to more understanding among the students, and some positive changes in the way the administration handles bullying. Gabriela's mother comes home, and while there is some family conflicts when Gabriela tells everyone she identifies as nonbinary and asexual, her relatives all are supportive in the end. An upcoming school dance gives Héctor a chance to take Gabriela shopping at One Size Doesn't Fit All, an inclusive store where she/they buy their first binder. Héctor's older brother, who is gay, has a periwinkle suit he has outgrown that seems perfect to Gabriela, and they wear it to the dance, even though some students still give them a hard time. Even though things are still difficult, Gabriella finally feels a bit more able to define their "authentic self".
N.B. Since Gabriela uses "she/her" pronouns at the beginning of the book and "they/them" at the end, I have not used "they/them" for Gabriela earlier in the book. 
Strengths: This could be used as a textbook on how to properly ask about and address people whose exterior appearance might not align with their inner identifications. Many of the characters are within the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, and Gabriela learns a lot about describing what she feels from other people, books, and YouTube videos. There is some information about her mother's mental health condition, and she does get help after a somewhat accidental overdose of sleeping pills. The school is very supportive, and the students who exhibit bullying behavior are dealt with firmly and constructively. I appreciated that several LGBTQIA+ books are mentioned; I reread Annie on My Mind (1982) to see how it holds up and decided that while an excellent  book for its time, it would probably be less helpful to modern teens.
Weaknesses: While very helpful, the involved discussions about identity slow the story down a tiny bit and might be apt to date the book if terminology changes, in the same way that the treatment of Annie and Liza has dated Annie on My Mind. 
What I really think: Along with Gino's Alice Austen Lived Here and Sass' Ellen Outside the Lines, this is a good example of how middle grade books about gender and sexual identity are currently being written. medina is a Honduran born transracial adoptee who identifies as a nonbinary asexual lesbian (from the biography in the book), so brings personal experience to Gabriela's narrative. 

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Camp Famous

Blecher, Jennifer. Camp Famous
May 10th 2022 by Greenwillow Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Abby is finishing up fifth grade, and has had trouble fitting in with the other girls. When one incident on the playground ends with her crying in front of her favorite teacher, Ms. McIntyre. Even though one girl, Marin, tries to be nice to her, she frequently is picked on by Quinn. Abby occasionally can avoid the girls, and her parents send her to her grandmother for her birthday, so she doesn't have to be embarrassed when no one comes to her party, but she longs to have a best friend. She's asked to go to summer camp for a long time, but her parents always say it is too expensive. After the incident on the playground, her parents have a meeting with Ms. McIntyre that seems suspicious; no one has a parent meeting just to hear that their student is doing well. Soon, she learns that she is going to Camp Summerah, which Ms. McIntyre's brother runs. It's pretty posh, and Abby is soon on a plane to the camp, which she learns at the last minute is actually a camp for famous children who want to have ordinary lives for a change. One of her classmates, Oliver, is actually a famous reporter on children's issues, and after talking to him, Abby decides that she will pretend to be a famous writer of children's books in order to fit in better. Mr. McIntyre started the camp because he was a child star himself. Abby is in a cabin with Bells, who is a princess, Hazel, whose mother makes money taking pictures of Hazel and blogging about her life, Shira, who is a brilliant mathematical mind, and Willa, who is a ballet dancer who doesn't even want to be at the camp. There are other famous kids as well, including singer Kai Carter, who is very popular at Abby's school. Abby gets along well with the girls in her cabin, and she and Bella becomes especially good friends. She has a pleasant relationship with Kai, and enjoys all the sleep away camp activities. When she makes the other girls angry, she asks to leave camp, and goes to stay with her grandmother. Will Abby ever learn to make and keep good friends?
Strengths: Abby's desire to have a good friends and to fit in with her peers is a universal one, and the chance to reinvent herself in a different setting is something young readers will enjoy reading about. I appreciated the fact that Marin was generally nice to Abby, but influenced by Quinn to be mean. Celebrity always has a certain appeal to young readers, so Abby's opportunity to rub elbows with the famous and influential is appealing wish fulfillment. There are lots of great details about activities at camp, and a realistic amount of tension and friend drama. This would make a fantastic beach read for a lot of tweens!
Weaknesses: It seemed odd that the camp would allowe her to leave and fly her to her grandmother's, but then, it is a camp for children used to getting their way. 
What I really think: I really enjoyed this one, and it's a great camp book to add to titles like 
Rhuday-Perkovich's It Doesn't Take a Genius, Sloan and Wolitzer's To Night Owl from Dogfish, Palma's The Popularity Pact: Camp Clique: Book One and Tan's Summer at Meadow Wood.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Freddie and the Family Curse

Badua, Tracy. Freddie vs. the Family Curse
May 3rd 2022 by Clarion Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Freddie Ruiz has always had bad luck; it's why he is called "Faceplant Freddie". He keeps his head down, moves carefully, and limits his interests to RoboWarriors gaming cards. His great grandmother, Apong Rosing, tells him it is because of a family curse that occurred back during World War II, when she lived in the Philippines and her older brother, Ramon, became a soldier and was killed in battle. His cousin, Sharkey, lives next door, and since she is a Mendoza, she has perfectly fine luck, and is an excellent break dancer who works with the Wyld Beats dance crew at their school. When Freddie finds an amulet in the garage while looking for glue for a school project (he's run out; that's how his luck goes!), he is surprised when it comes to life and holds the spirit of his great uncle Ramon! He finds out that Ramon stole the amulet for luck from his best friend, Ingo Agustin, before going on the mission during which he was killed, and that the family has suffered under Agustin's curse. Freddie has 13 days to find Ingo and have him remove the curse or the spirits will kill him! He and Sharkey try to research, but it's hard to find a 97 year old former soldier who may or may not have survived the war! Luckily, they track him down in Nevada, which is a bit too far from their San Diego home to take an Uber when he refuses to talk to them. Sharkey is supposed to compete in a break dancing competition in Las Vegas, but when she sprains her ankle due to Freddie's bad luck, the two decide that Freddie will take her place so they can travel there and stay in a hotel thanks to Wyld Beats sponsorship. The leader of the team, Dale, is very apprehensive, but Freddie works hard and doesn't do too badly, and challenges Dale to a RoboWarriors match to seal his place on the team.  Apong Rosing decides she wants to go to the competition as well, and they are soon on their way. Time is of the essence, since the evil spirits are closing in, and the children manage to make it by bus to the Oasis nursing home where Ingo lives. They must create a distraction when the staff won't let them see Ingo, and this involves breakdancing which actually sets a few things on fire! Will they be able to find Ingo and discover the true nature of the curse, and get him to remove it?
Strengths: This was the perfect balance of a lot of things. It had some social issues, since Freddie has some anxiety about his constant embarrassment. There's the cultural connection with a rich background of Filipino history and family traditions. There's even a little WWII history with the Bataan Death March. The inclusion of breakdancing was absolutely perfect, since break dancing is going to be included as a sport in the 2024 Olympics. Combine all of these things with funny scenes, a road trip, and a thread of self acceptance and personal growth, and this is an absolute winner. The short length helps, and the cover looks fun. There are a huge number of students to whom I can hand this. Definitely worthy of a Kirkus starred review.
Weaknesses: The trip to Las Vegas, and Freddie's very quick inclusion in it, seemed a bit unlikely, but then I'm an adult worried about permission slips and logistics. Children are not going to worry about this, and the spirit deadline doesn't give Freddie much choice! 
What I really think: This was such a huge relief to read after ingesting a large number of lyrical, socially relevant, timely stories. It's possible to address these needs and include cultural content while still having a book that is a bit more light hearted and positive. After all, the information about the Filipino involvement in World War II is pretty dire, but it's handled in such an interesting and (dare I say it?) sweet way that what I took away from this was Ingo's spirit of forgiveness and the Ruiz's determination to move on after tragedy. Definitely my favorite book this month.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Every Bird a Prince, Natural Genius of Ants

Reese, Jenn. Every Bird a Prince
May 10th 2022 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Eren feels increasingly out of step with her best friends Jessie and Kayla, who are pressuring her to provide the name of her crush so that the three can work on getting dates to the dance at their Oregon Wild Rose Middle School. She takes great comfort from vigorous bike rides in the woods, which is a good activitiy since her single mother is often busy with work, leaving Eren to her own devices. Eren doesn't have a crush and is very stressed out about having to provide a name, and decides that classmate Alex isn't the worst person on the planet. Even though Jessie and Kayla are cool with dating either boys or girls, Eren doesn't feel crushes towards everyone, so is very stressed. Using the grapevine of middle school to communicate, Eren's friends let Alex know of her interest, and the two are soon eating lunch together and hanging out in the woods, where Alex likes to run. Since Eren had a very odd experience in the woods with a bird who talked to her and told her that she was to be the birds' champions against the Frostfangs, Eren is glad that Alex believes her and is willing to help. He is also given a bird's feather so that he can talk to the birds the way Eren can. The big problem is that the Frostfangs prey on people by making them insecure and nervous about everything, and Eren, Alex, Eren's mother, and everyone else is extremely insecure to begin with! Eren's mother starts dating a jerk from work because she feels that raising Eren alone isn't a great idea, and she's not likely to get any better offers. Alex agrees to date Eren because he has a crush on another boy and doesn't want anyone to know. His sister, who identifies as asexual and gives the two a talk about consent before allowing them to hang out in the woods together, is supportive, as is Eren, but he is still insecure. Eren starts to realize that she might be asexual as well, and doesn't know how she can possibly explain this to Jessie and Kayla, since they are so invested in the idea of dating. This is perfect ground for the Frostfangs to infiltrate. Will Eren and Alex be able to overcome their insecurities, classmates' opinions, and relationship problems in order to work with the birds to save their school and the world from the Frostfangs?
Strengths: The Oregon setting is great, and Wild Rose Middle School is perhaps the best middle school name EVER. Eren and Alex are thrown together in a realistic way, and I liked that they were able to listen to the bird's suggestion that they be honest with each other, and are able to become friends. The emphasis on "dating" in middle school is drawn in a true to life way, and Eren's apprehension about this will speak to many readers. The fantasy world is well drawn, with the birds being helpful guides and the Frostfangs being terrifying adversaries. Eren's mother's role in this book was quite intriguing. This is a solid fantasy adventure with timely allergorical themes written in a lyrical, heart print fashion.  
Weaknesses: Talking animals are never my personal favorite, so maybe it's just me, but the birds' names seemed a tiny bit twee for middle school. This is definitely more of a middle school book because of the nature of the social situations-- elementary school students don't have dances and are more concerned about hanging out on the playground than dating. They are also a tiny bit less interested in kissing, and that thought is very prominent in Jessie and Kayla's minds. This would be fine for elementary school students who are interested in those topics, but some won't be quite at that developmental stage. Not a weakness so much as a placement suggestion.
What I really think: This is a great choice for readers who like their fantasy with a side of current sociopolitical commentary, like Keller's When You Trap a Tiger, Lorentz's Wayward Creatures, Soontornvat's A Wish in the Dark or The Last Mapmaker, Lowe's Aviva vs the Dybbuk, Higuera's The Last Cuentista, or this author's A Game of Fox and Squirrels

Culley, Betsy. The Natural Genius of Ants
May 10th 2022 by Crown Books for Young Readers/Random
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Harvard's father is a doctor whose mistake has led to the death of an infant. Unable to deal with the guilt, he has decided to take Harvard and his five year old brother Roger back to his hometown, where he rents a house from a friend who is struggling with debt after the death of his wife to cancer. The friend's daughter, Nevaeh, befriends Harvard. The father wants Harvard to have a project, so sends for an ants for a farm via mail order. All of the ants arrive dead, but Harvard gets ants from the outside and places them in the farm that he and his father build, only to find that they have a queen ant as well. Roger misses his mother, who works in a lab studying parasites and can't get away, and they try to get play dates for him, but he often just follows Harvard around. Harvard is worried about his father, especially after he realizes that his father is trying to write letters to the mother of the baby who died. Harvard finds the mother's address and sends her a letter saying that his father feels sorry, but doesn't know how to apologize properly, even though his mother has told him that it is a complicated legal issue. There is a women in town who feels a similar guilt, since she forgot her son in the car and he perished, and Harvard approaches her and asks if she could talk to his father about how to deal with a mistake like this. Eventually, Harvard's mother comes to visit and takes Roger back with her, and Harvard and his father try to help Nevaeh, who has run out of asthma medication. When a storm downs many trees on the property, this help is especially appreciated. Will Harvard's father be able to heal and move on from his mistake?
Strengths: The idea of a summer away from home is always appealing, especially when it is in the country and in a location where a parent was raised. Harvard takes good care of his brother, even when he is annoying, and looks out for his father as well. He's a great character, and his friendship with Nevaeh is well developed. I especially liked the inclusion of her asthma. Harvard knows a bit about the condition because his mother also has it. The ant farm is something I haven't seen much in middle grade literature, and this gets bonus points for never having the farm destroyed and ants everywhere, which seems almost necessary in a middle grade book! This was a quick and interesting read. 
Weaknesses: I found it hard to believe that Harvard didn't get in big trouble for writing to the mother of the baby, and that he was kept in the dark about an issue that clearly made it difficult for his father to function while he had sole care of Harvard and his brother. 
What I really think: Harvard is ten, and this reads very young. It would be a good purchase for an elementary library where ant farms are popular, as long as young readers can deal with the two infant deaths, which are not described in much detail but definitely play a large role in the story. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Science of Being Angry

Melleby, Nicole. The Science of Being Angry
May 10th 2022 by Algonquin Young Readers

Joey is a triplet who lives with her brothers Colton and Thomas, two moms, and older half brother Benny in an apartment. When she and her two brothers go out at night to swim in the complex pool when they are not supposed to, Joey punches the security guard who tries to talk to them. Since this isn't the first issue, the family is evicted and end up in a hotel. Benny goes to stay with his father, who is the gym teacher at the children's charter school. Joey has long had anger issues, and the breathing exercises her moms recommend don't really work. She is alienated from her friends, especially Layla, so is glad when she is asked to join a hockey team. When her class starts on a DNA and genetics unit in science, this is an additional source of tension for Layla, since her father was a sperm donor, and she has only basic information about him. Wondering if her anger issues might be genetic, she wants to try to find out more, and enlists Layla to help, since her former friend is very interested in genealogy. The two manage to submit DNA to 23 and Me, and are anxiously awaiting results. Joey starts to have trouble on the hockey team with Eli, who calls her "Bruiser" and aggressively "fools around", shoving her all in the name of "fun". Joey's instances of aggression start to escalate, and her moms talk about putting her into therapy. She also struggles with her relationship with Layla as the two reconnect, and she doesn't want to tell her friend what is really bothering her. Will Joey be able to find out more about the causes of her anger, her family genetics, and the real nature of her feelings for Layla?

Like Gerber's Focused, Pages' Button Pusher, or Carter's  Fifty-Four Things Wrong with Gwendolyn Rogers this is an interesting look at a tween who is struggling with understanding and dealing with her neurological differences. This is something we are seeing more and more with young people, as mental health issues have been exacerbated during the pandemic. Joey's moms are very supportive, and don't make Joey feel bad about her actions, but do try to help her deal with situations, and dole out reasonable punishments when needed. They are a bit slow to get her help, but do think about it and eventually take her to family and individual therapy. 

I was more interested in the dive into genetics, and the debate over nature versus nuture introduced in Joey's science class. It was also good to see that the school mentions that the genetics project is meant to be inclusive of a variety of families; assigning family trees is rarely a good idea in middle school anymore, since familes are much more richly textured than they have been in the past. Joey takes a look at how her Mom, to whom she is genetically related, looks and acts, but also tries to understand how Mama, who is not genetically related, has informed her personality as well. 

There are not too many books that include information on children who were born through in vitro fertilization, other than Robert's Nikki on the Line, so it is good to see this kind of representation in middle grade literature. This also felt reminscent of Smith's Code Name Serendipity, but with a more middle school feel, thanks to the inclusion of hockey and a budding romance. 

My readers will be interested in the friend drama between Joey and Layla, as well as the fact that there is more to Joey's feelings than friendship. I don't want to describe too much of this and ruin some nice twists and turns in the plot, but fans of this author's Hurricane Season, Ashley Herring Blake, and Barbara Dee will enjoy the inclusion of the LGBTQIA+ themes. 

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor

Zhao, Xiran Jay. Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor
May 3rd 2022 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Zachary and his mother escaped from China after his father was arrested and killed for his political beliefs, especially his support of the Uighur Muslims. They now live in Maine, where his mother works at a university, but also at Target to make ends meet. Zach feels akward at school, where he is one of the few Asian students, and he's a bit leery when he meets Simon Li.  Zach and his mother are Hui, and he knows that just because he meets kids his age who are Asian, they might not have the same experiences. The two bond over the video game Mythrealm, but things quickly go wrong when Zach's mother is attacked an becomes comatose. It turns out that Zach is a descendant of Qin Shi Huang, the First Emperor of China, and Simon is the host of Tang Taizong. Because Zach hasn't learned Chinese history or language, Qin Shi Huang has found it hard to bond with him, and must be aided by an augmented reality portal-lens. This device is used for gaming, and produced by Jason Xuan's XY Technology corporation. These immortal emperors insist that in order to save Zach's mother, Zach must go to China to help with a problem. The portal between the spirit realm and the human realm is in danger, and Zach must find an ancient seal in order to close it back up. It turns out that Jason Xuan is the chosen host of the Yellow Emperor, and he's behind the drive to shatter the portal plug. The group, which soon includes Melissa Wu, who is the host of Wu Mingzhu, heads out to get the seal from the Dragon King. They encounter a large number of challenges and set backs, and even after they get the seal, things aren't seasy. Zach, having been injured a number of times in their journeys and fights while channleing Qin Shi Huang, finds out that he was lied to in order to compel him on the journey. Finding the seal isn't enough to keep the portal in good repair, and the group must go on another timed mission to retrieve five-colored stones to create a new plug. Given that his new found friends have lied to him, will Zach want to go on this new mission?
Strengths: I can't think of another book with a Chinese Muslim character, so it was great to see Zach bring his family's experiences to his quest. There is a lot of historical content introduced all through the adventures, as well as a lot of myths and legends that are widely known in China but not necessarily transmitted to children of immigrants. The tie-in with video games is cleverly done, and characters are sometimes introduced with brief, video game style descriptions. (This is also described in Anderson's Insert Coin to Continue, but having never played video games, I didn't quite understand this.) The quest follows the standard middle grade format, and Simon and Melissa (as well as the figures they channel) are good allies to have, especially since Zach spends a fair amount of time unconscious! The groups travels through Chinas are interesting, and Simon and Melissa try to get Zach up to speed by telling him a lot of stories. My favorite parts of the book where the ones where Zach is trying to strike the right balance in speaking for Qin Shi Huang, trying to bellow with just the right amount of force and authority. The deception makes sense, and there's definitely enough unfinished business for a second book. 
Weaknesses: While it's great to see information about Chinese history and legends, there is a lot of it, and sometimes the inclusion slows down the flow of the story. 
What I really think: There are quite a number of fantasy quest stories with cultural connections, and while my students are eager to pick up these books, they don't always want to invest in a long series. I may wait to see if this is going to be a 2-3 book series or a longer one. If it doesn't wrap up the story in three books, I might pass on purchase, since my readers just don't read series that continue past that point. There are a few exceptions, but I would love to be able to hand them more stand alones. 
Ms. Yingling

Monday, May 09, 2022

MMGM- Answers in the Pages and Pirate Queens

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

Levithan, David. Answers in the Pages
May 10th 2022 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by publisher

Gideon is a fifth grader, and he and his best friends Joelle and Tucker are enjoying school, especially Mr. Howe's class. They are starting to read The Adventurers, and when Gideon brings it home, he leaves it on the kitchen table while he plays video games, and his mother picks it up to read. She tends to flip to the end of books, and she's appalled by something about the main characters, Oliver and Rick. She takes the book from Gideon and arranges a meeting with Principal Woodson. Soon, a book challenge is being worked through, and Gideon is appalled. He figures that there must be some swearing, and checks a copy out from the library to read, to see what the fuss is about. It's a fun book, and he doesn't see anything concerning. He is also interested in a new boy at school, Roberto, and the two find common ground and start to hang out together. When it turns out that his mother thinks that the characters in The Adventurers are gay, and that's why she wants the book pulled. This causes specific consternation for several people. Mr. Howe is gay, and has not been secretive about his husband. A classmate, Curtis, comes out to the class as gay, and doesn't understand why the book would be inappropriate. More importantly, Gideon is worried. He LIKES Roberto, and soon finds out the feeling is returned. When he finds out that the author, Mr. Bright, is from his town, he e-mails him to ask about the nature of Rick and Oliver's relationship. That's not the point, though. Why is Gideon's mother so concerned about the characters' sexuality, when it is just one facet of their personalities, and one that is shared by many people in the community? Luckily, the school has a challenged book procedure, and there is a public hearing after the board has worked through that process. Community members say hurtful things about the LGBTQIA+ community, but the board is concerned with the book itself. Gideon and Roberto have continued their relationship, hanging out, holding hands, and kissing, but Gideon is afraid to tell his parents. Will the community support the inclusion of The Adventurers, and will Gideon be able to tell his parents how he is feeling about all of these new things in his life?
Strengths: This is the story about book banning that elementary and middle school libraries need because it is accurate, factual, and addresses current events in a realistic and measured way. I have read too many books about book banning (that shall not be named) that show ridiculous circumstances that, while certainly seem to be happening, don't seem true to life. Levithan, the author of the 2003 book Boy Meets Boy, knows all too well how book challenges unfold. The school has a process that is followed, and all of the characters work together fairly politely. The fact that there is nothing explicitly stated in the book that Rick and Oliver are gay, and that the whole challenge is based on an interpretation of vague language it very clever! The students' reactions are measured as well, and there is only a slight resistance among them about gay characters, which is very accurate. The other wonderfully brilliant part of this book is that Gideon and his classmates are also reading Harriet the Spy for another class; if you don't know about the LGBTQIA+ connections that book has, go fall down that research rabbit hole! Of course, the part of the book that my students will like the most is Gideon and Roberto's age appropriate romance. While fifth grade seems a bit young to me for kissing, middle school romances are big on hanging out, holding hands, and the thrill of just being near another person. Interestingly, it has just been this school year when I have to pause a moment when a student requests a romance book. In the past, the request has usually been for a girl-boy romance, and I now have to be careful to offer other selections as well. The author's note about his own experiences, as well as the brief overview of LGBTQIA+ literature for young people, are very helpful, and I'm kind of sad that my school library didn't have Garden's Annie on My Mind (1982); it seems to dated to buy now, but I would have kept a vintage copy. Finally, this book is worth buying if only for the shout outs to various authors, like James Howe, who have supported LGBTQIA+ literature over the years. A well done book in so many respects, which is not a surprise coming from Levithan, who has so much experience in the publishing industry. 
Weaknesses: I'm beginning to think that I am the only one who has trouble with the story-within-a-story concept. While I would love to read Rick and Oliver's story, going back and forth between Gideon and the book challenge and the text of The Adventurers took me out of the narrative in a jarring way.  I've been annoyed by other books that do this recently, so it might just be me. I also thought it was a bit odd that Gideon's mother didn't talk to him about the book challenge, but then it occurred to me that maybe she already knew that Gideon was gay, and the book challenge was more about coming to terms with her own life. That handling of the events was very inspired. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and am glad to say that my readers no longer feel they need to ask for this type of book in a whisper. I, on the other hand, probably still drop the volume of my voice. I lived through the 1970s as a young person and saw a lot of grief caused by public acknowledgment, and that sticks with me. It's good to see the world changing, but personal change is harder! As a librarian, I try to keep all of my conversations with students as private as I can.

Lewis, Leigh and Woolley, Sara Gómez . Pirate Queens: Dauntless Women Who Dared to Rule the High Seas
January 11th 2022 by National Geographic Kids 
Public Library Copy

I'm not sure how I missed this innovative collective biography by a graduate of Blendon Middle School, but I was glad that Ms. Lewis e mailed me and brought it to my attention. 

This was a fascinating look at a wide range of historical female pirates. The most recent being Ching Shi, who lived from 1775-1844. This historical aspects makes it much easier to frame the women's exploits as adventure and shattering stereotypical gender boundaries, since "pillaging and plundering" seem like activities that everyone is discouraged from these days! I loved the introduction explaining how Lewis and her daughters were fascinated by pirates, and how this led her to research them. The fact that a broad time period and wide range of cultures is represented is wonderful. Artemsia I of Caria, Sela, Sayyida al Hurra, Grace O'Malley,  and Anne Bonny, in addition to Ching Shi, all get coverage. 

And what interesting coverage it is! The artwork by Sara Gomez Woolley, in typical National Geographic full color, is vibrant and rich in period details. There are poems for the women, and there are notes on the poetic forms at the back of the book, which was much appreciated, and not surprising given Ms. Lewis' lineage. There is a prose overview of the life and work of each pirate, and lots of sidebars on fashion, other historical figures, and pirating details. This all adds up to concise but well-rounded and complete pictures of the life and times of each woman. 

We're starting to see a wealth of diverse collective biographies, from Shatz' Rad Women A to Z (2015) to Baptiste's African Icons (2021), but I have not seen one about pirates! This is a great nonfiction accompaniment to Schulz' Hook's Revenge (2014) or Avi's  classic The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (1990). 
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, May 08, 2022

The Road to After

Lowell, Rebekah. The Road to After
May 10th 2022 by Nancy Paulsen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Lacey, her younger sister Jenna, and their mother have been allowed to leave their home only infrequently for the thirteen years of Lacey's life. There are lots of rules that have to be followed to keep their father happy, and he becomes violent and abusive when the rules are broken. When her father is gone, her mother packs up Lacey and her sister, and with the help of the police and her grandparents, the family is removed from their house. They have to leave their dog, Mac, behind. The mother presses charges, and the father is put in jail. They stay briefly with their grandparents, Mémère and Pépère, but soon move to an apartment at Caring Unlimited, a shelter for families displaced because of abuse. There are counselors for the girls, which is especially important for Jenna, who at the age of four has never spoken. There is a garden at the shelter, a library nearby, and the mother gets helps to apply for a graduate program. They are concerned about being seen out in public, and it's a new experience for Lacey to have so much freedom, and the three slowly get used to being out of their home. Eventually, they pack a donated van and move from Maine to Virginia for the summer. There is a woman to watch the girls while the mother attends classes, but Jenna screams for so long that the mother tries to take the girls to class. This isn't allowed, so Mémère comes to watch the girls. After the summer, the family returns to Maine and live in a house across the street from the grandparents. They adopt kittens, join a homeschooling co-op, and try to navigate a different life. They have to go through the legal process to make sure the father doesn't hurt them again, but slowly readjust to their new life. 
Strengths: While we pick up the story as the family is being removed from their unfortunate situation, there are plenty of circumspect details about the father's treatment of them described as Lacey and her sister learn to deal with the world outside their home. There are a lot of good details about the legal process as well as the therapeitic one, and it's good that the grandparents and Caring Unlimited are there for support. Things are better, but it doesn't mean they are perfect; one of the kittens they adopt becomes ill and dies, but this leads to a very fortuitous trip to the animal shelter. This feels very authentic, and Lacey's somewhat confused emotions are nicely portrayed. The author says in an afterword that she had experience with domestic abuse, and she is able to use her experiences in a very effective way. There are also sketches throughout the book that she has done, and the book ends on a positive and hopeful note. 
Weaknesses: This is a novel in verse, but it reads very much like prose, which is how the vast majority of novels in verse are constructed. I do have a few students asking for this type of format, which I haven't in the past, although they do seem to prefer ones with cultural connections, like Faruqi's Unsettled or Warga's Other Words for Home. 
What I really think: The abuse in this book isn't quite as bad as the abuse intimated in Stronger Than You Know, and the characters are a bit younger. Hand to readers who want books that show what it's like to escape a horrible home situation, like Smy's The Hideaway or Raúf's The Star Outside My Window. This is also a good replacement for Vigilante's The Trouble with Half a Moon (2012) if that one has fallen apart! Ten years seems to go by in the blink of an eye when it comes to books!

Saturday, May 07, 2022

Smaller Sister and The Daily Bark: The Dinosaur Discovery

Willis, Maggie Edkins. Smaller Sister
May 3rd 2022 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Lucy and Olivia used to be close, since they are not far apart in age, but as they enter middle school, Olivia starts to distance herself from her younger sister. The family has moved, and both girls have had trouble finding a new friend group. Olivia is suddenly interested in clothes, make up, and boys, and has no patience with Lucy's desire to play games. When Lucy hears whispered conversations between her parents, she finds out that her sister has an eating disorder. Since Lucy has been made fun of for being heavier that some of the other girls, Lucy starts to wonder if her own self worth is tied to her weight, and begins some restrictive practices of her own. Olivia's depression and disordered eating continue to worsen, and Lucy is very concerned for her sister. The parents have Olivia in therapy, but don't seem to be able to connect emotionally to either of their daughters in any meaningful way. For example, the parents surprise Lucy with two weeks at theater camp, even though she has no interest in theater and is apprehensive about being away from home. Luckily, she makes friends at camp, and starts to believe that there might be girls back home who might accept her for who she is. Slowly, she develops her own style, learns to deal more effectively with her concept of body image, makes a few friends, and comes to terms with her sister and their difficult relationship. 
Strengths: Readers will either immediately side with Lucy, and her enthusiastic embrace of her own identity which quickly turns to doubt, or with Olivia, who is just miserable and wants her sister to leave her alone. I don't have a sister, but know that while many women are glad for this relationship when they are older, the tween and teen years can cause a lot of problems with siblings. This is a realistic portrayal of two girls who are facing mental health obstacles. While the parents are in the picture and purport to be supportive, they somehow don't provide all of the help that either girl needs. I know that books about anorexia are consistently popular with my readers, and this is the first time I have seen one in graphic novel format. 
Weaknesses: I would have liked a little bit more factual information about anorexia for readers who might not know much about it. 
What I really think: Not my cup of tea, but I can see this being popular with fans of Telgemaier and Libenson and graphic novel authors who write about dysfunctional families and individuals. 


James, Laura and Alder, Charlie. The Daily Bark: The Dinosaur Discovery
May 3rd 2022 by Bloomsbury Children's Books
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this sequel to The Puppy Problem, Bob is back reporting for The Daily Bark. Since he's the travel reporter, he is at the train station when a stunning new dog is afraid to jump down from the train. He helps her, and finds out that her name is Diamond, and she has gone to live with Mr. Marcus at his Curiosity Shop as a requirement for him buying items in an estate. He doesn't like dogs, but Diamond is an instant celebrity. When Bob sees other dogs giving her gifts, he decides that he should as well. He's recently unearthed some spectacular bones under the park bandstand when he was chasing a mouse, so gives her one of these. Of course, the enormous bones turn out to be from a dinosaur, and when Mr. Marcus finds out, he wants to try to sell them. The other dogs on the newspaper rally to thwart these endeavors, and end up sending Mr. Marcus out of town when he falls onto a soft shipment of grain on a moving train! Diamond ends up with the new owner of the Curiosity Shop, and exciting times are once again had by the dogs in Puddle.
Strengths: The illustrations in this are so enticing, and make me want to pack up and move to a small town in England and run an antique store, like Marcia Lois Riddington at Smoking Monkey Antiques. Sigh. The colors are gorgeous, and the dogs are imminently appealing. The story centers the dogs in a fun way, and they get the better of the humans.
Weaknesses: Stretched credulity a bit with Mr. Marcus never coming back to his shop, but that's what sometimes happens if you choose to be mean to dogs in children's books! 
What I really think: I liked the first book a little better, but this is a tremendously fun series, and I would definitely buy it for an elementary school library. I was trying to resist reading Applegate's Doggo and Pupper, but with Alder's fantastic illustrations, I'm may not be able to!