Thursday, July 29, 2021

Homer on the Case and They'll Never Catch Us

Cole, Henry. Homer on the Case
April 1st 2021 by Peachtree Publishing Company
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Otto and his Granddad are interested in homing pigeons and are training Homer to race. He makes good time returning to his rooftop home when they release him some distance away, and sometimes even beats them back! Homer has learned to read from the newspapers that line his cage, and takes a great interest in the human world. He also talks to Carlos, a park pigeon, and makes the acquaintance of Lulu, a parrot who has moved to the area with her girl, Charlotte. When Homer sees a rat stealing a woman's bracelet, and later sees other crimes committed by cats, he is startled to see the crimes reported in the paper. Like the comic character of whom he is fond, Dick Tracy, Homer wants to solve the mystery. It's not easy to do, but when Granddad's pocket watch, which housed a picture of his beloved wife, is stolen, Homer redoubles his efforts. By watching the park closely, Homer and his friends are able to see the thieves steal things, and manage to follow them to their secret underground lair. Once they find the culprit, though, they must figure out a way to communicate their findings to the children, who must then struggle to be believed. Fortunately, things work out, Addison Park is once again safe, and the children even get written up in the newspaper. 

I wasn't quite sure when this book was set, since there was a comment about the picture of Granddad's wife being taken "during the war", the inclusion of Dick Tracy comics (which are, apparently, still being published but which flourished in the mid twentieth century), and small mentions of things like pocket watches and fountain pens. This gave the book an air of a classic title, although it seems to be set in the present day. This is a great way to introduce young readers to all manner of artifacts from the last century; I wonder how an eight year old would react to the idea of a fountain pen!

The mystery is one that is easier for the animals to solve, since they are able to observe the world from a different vantage point than humans. It's fun to see how Homer and Lulu try to communicate with their humans through newspaper clippings and the squawking of seemingly random words! The perpetrator something of a shock, and young readers should be warned against climbing into sewers, no matter how important their quest. 

Cole's pencil illustrations are the real draw here, and will appeal to fans of Garth Williams' or Brian Selznick's illustrative style. Sadly, there are no mice, like in A Nest for Celeste; I have a soft spot for pictures of mice, and some certainly could have been worked into the park scenes!

This reminded me a bit of Eve Titus' Basil of Baker Street, one of my favorites from my childhood, and joins the ranks of books with animal detectives, such as Hale's Chet Gecko mysteries, Gardner's Horace and Bunwinkle and Quinn's Birdie and Bowser or Queenie and Arthur books. 

This was a bit young for my middle school readers, who like a lot more murder with their mysteries, but I can see this being very popular in an elementary school library. 

Goodman, Jessica. They'll Never Catch Us
July 27th 2021 by Razorbill
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Stella Steckler and her younger sister Ellie have had a hard time of it. Their parents struggled with jobs when they were young, and the mother had challenges with her severe alcoholism, but now that the girls are in high school, the parents are successful real estate agents, the mother is sober, and high school cross country has given them an outlet. Stella had a rough time the previous year, and is dealing with so many anger issues that her parents sent her to a summer training camp that specializes in anger management. It seems to have been successful, and she comes back for the fall season stronger than ever. There are problems, though-- Ellie is almost as good as her sister, and another excellent runner, Mila, transfers from another school. The small town at the foot of the Catskills where the girls live, Edgewater, is sometimes known as "Deadwater" because of the murders of three girls years previously. All three were on the cross country team, and were killed while out running. Ellie struggles with her boyfriend, Noah, who is dating Tamara. He won't break up with her, because her father can write him a letter of recommendation to his Ivy League dream school. When Mila goes missing, the whole town is thrown into chaos. Will the Steckler sisters be able to help solve the mystery of her disappearance without ruining both of their lives?
Strengths: I can see how people who read this for the mystery aspect might think there are too many details about running, but I looked at this as a running book that also had a mystery. The cross country details, especially since Stella channels her anger into the physical activity, are wonderful. Not enough of them, if you are a runner! The town's history, as well as Mila's disappearance, is all too true to life, and a reminder to young runners that safety protocols should be observed when running. I liked the drama on the high school team, even though middle school team drama is much different. Definitely a great thriller, with some nail biting moments, and an excellent cover!
Weaknesses: While I would definitely buy this for a high school library, it is more of a Young Adult book. Not only are there multiple f-bombs and underage drinking, but it also had a more slow moving, introspective quality that, combined with high school concerns like getting into college, would make this less attractive to middle school readers. 
What I really think: I won't purchase this, but will definitely recommend it to our high school librarians. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

The World Between: Based on a True Refugee Story

Trebincevic, Kenan and Shapiro, Susan. The World Between: Based on a True Refugee Story 
July 27th 2021 by Clarion Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Kenan is a tween living in Brčko, Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. His family is Muslim, and while tensions are rising among religious factions, his father owns a popular local gym and feels that it is safe to stay. Kenan loves to play football (US soccer), but as the political situation worsens, he finds himself alienated from his teammates and friends at school. When asked if he is Bosnian, Yugoslavian, or Muslim, he replies "My country is Yugoslavia. I'm from the Bosnian Republic. My religion is Muslim." For Kenan, it's that simple, and his family just wants to continue to live in peace. This of course, is not feasible. The family (parents and older brother Edin) is lucky enough to make their way to Vienna, where they have some relatives. It's not easy doubling up with another family, not having any space or privacy, and having to always be very quiet so as not to disturb their hosts. There are many refugees, and while the government is giving them a stipend, they don't necessarily want the refugees to take jobs from the locals, so they aren't allowed to get jobs. They apply to go to other countries, and eventually get clearance to go to the US. Kenan hopes to be in New York City or California, but the family is sent to a small town in Connecticut where they live with a woman named Barbara. She's welcoming enough, but after the family moves out, they find that she was taking money and gifts the family was given and keeping it for herself. The pastor who helps the family, Don, is much more helpful. Living with him and his wife is much better, and Kenan starts to make friends at his school and starts to enjoy life in the US. His parents are still looking for employment, and when the father gets a job, the family must move to a town nearby. Kenan is angry, but realizes that he can still keep in contact with his best friend, and he slowly starts to establish his new, US identity. 
Strengths: While it's hard to remember all the details of the moves Kenan and his family have to make, they do propel the story forward very quickly, which is perfect for middle grade readers. It also shows that leaving a country isn't a one step process. Even though the author came to the US a long time ago, I imagine that many refugee stories have similar trajectories. The details about living arrangements, experiences in school, and family tensions are all valuable for readers who have not living through this kind of situation to understand and appreciate. Kenan's interest in soccer has added appeal; many of my students from immigrant families are HUGE soccer fans, so this will be a good hook to get them to pick up the book. There aren't quite as many middle grade books that involve soccer. 
Weaknesses: While it would have slowed the story down a bit, some of my readers might benefit from a bit more information about the details of moving from country to country. It makes sense that those aren't there, however, since someone's Kenan's age probably wouldn't have understood everything that was going on. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and I think that this will be a book frequently on display that will never make it back to the shelves. Surprisingly, the only book I have about this period of history is Mead's Adem's Cross from 1996.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Stowaway (Icarus Chronicles #1)

Anderson, John David. Stowaway (Icarus Chronicles #1)
August 3rd 2021 by Walden Pond Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Once the Aykari realized that Earth had rich reserves of Ventasium, a valuable mineral, they slowly took over, providing helpful technology and protection from other forces in exchange for it. They also put in place a Coalition, and it is on one of their space ships, the Beagle, that we find Leo Fender living with his older brother Gareth and his scientist father, Ventasium specialist Dr. Fender. Leo would have much preferred to stay on Earth, but once the Djarik started attacking and Earth became a battleground over the mineral, it seemed wise to leave, especially after the tragic death of his mother in an enemy attack. When Djarik forces attack the Beagle, steal its Ventasium, and capture Dr. Fender, there is little that Captain Saito can do. The ship is stranded in space with limited communication and dwindling resources. When it is attacked again by space pirates, the group hopes against hope that pirate Bastian Black will take pity on them and help with their rescue. When this doesn't seem likely, Gareth makes a sudden plan-- he has Leo pack a bag, and the two try to stowaway on the pirates' ship, the Icarus. At the last moment, Gareth realizes that the space he finds is only big enough for Leo, so he sends him off alone. It isn't long before Leo is discovered by crew members Boo, a Queleti, and Skits, a robot. They turn his over to Baz and his first mate, the fiesty, metal armed Kat. Baz is not thrilled, and plans to dump Leo right away, but is eventually convinced to help him find his father. They pay hackers Dev and Mac (who is a brain in a jar!)with an ancient vinyl copy of David Bowie's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, and determine that Dr. Fender is being held by the Djarik. With Gareth possibly blown up along with the Beagle, Leo is determined to find and rescue his father, a task which is complicated by the fact that there is a large bounty on Baz's head. 
Strengths: If Earth is as great as we think it is, it seems likely that we will be attacked by space aliens, and that it won't end particularly well. I've watched enough Star Trek to know that while some alien life forms are friendly, a lot are not. The details of life on a space ship are interesting, and it's especially good that this lifestyle is contrasted against Leo's life on Earth. Gareth, although we see him only briefly, is a great character, and the fact that he manages to save his brother is great. Baz and Kat end up helping Leo, but are reluctant to do so. It's Boo, who initially frightens Leo, who ends up being his closest companion. There are plenty of stops along the way to find Leo's father, interesting space aliens, and action and adventure. The series information was taken from the publication data of the E ARC. 
Weaknesses: The flashbacks to Leo's life on Earth, which focus on his grief over his mother's death, slow the story down quite a bit and add an edge of sadness to an otherwise interesting space adventure. Also, as a teacher who frequently is in charge of student inhalers, I was SUPER worried that Leo's one inhaler would run out on his adventures. Perhaps, if one is in space, one should travel with TWO.
What I really think: This has some similarities to Lander's Blastaway, Fry's Jupiter Pirates, or Emerson's Last Day on Mars. I'm curious to see the direction the rest of the series takes. 

Ms. Yingling

Monday, July 26, 2021

MMGM- Weird Kid

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



Van Eekhout, Greg. Weird Kid
July 20th 2021 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Jake Wind is finding middle school a challenge: his dad is a proctologist who can't stop making butt jokes, and his mom "makes people feel emotional about soap"; his former friends aren't talking to him; and it's hard to pay attention in class because he is a shape shifting alien comprised of goo. It's harder and harder to maintain his human shape since there is a distracting "hum" in his town of Cedar Creek View, Arizona, and one unfortunate incident in public when his ear-to-ear grin freaked people out has made his parents very overprotective. It doesn't help that sinkholes have been appearing all over town, and seem to be filled with the same xenogel that Jake's parents found years ago. When they picked up the gel, it shape shifted into the form of a human baby, and they've cared for their little extraterrestrial ever since. His parents' support is one of the good things in his life, along with his small dog, Growler and his uncle, who is helping Jake with his guitar playing. A surprising new good thing is Agnes, who has moved to Cedar Creek View with her mother. Jake's mother wants him to befriend the new girl, and the two have a shared interest in Night Kite comics. When Jake suddenly morphs into a seal in a mall restroom, Agnes has the presence of mind to bling onlookers with the modified flash in her phone, and is quick to discern Jake's secret. Since the sinkholes have brought a team of scientists, headed by Dr. Woll, to town, Agnes doesn't question Jakes unusual background and is quick to use to scientific mind to try to help him. She does, however, blow his secret, and he is visited by "Dairy and Gravy", who claim they are Jake's "sibling bloblets" and want him to visit Dr. Woll's lab. With visions of E.T. being taken away by scientists, Jake is wary, but also knows that the situation is worsening. When the xenogel "imblobsters" his teacher, parents, and even Growler, Jake knows that he and Agnes need to find out how he is connected to the forces that are taking over the town, and save their world before everyone is imblobstered and eating caramel spaghetti burritos!

Cedar View Creek is an ordinary, small town, and I loved the fact that Jake and Agnes were able to bike around to investigate the xenogel spreading underneath it. Having the Collaboratory that Dr. Woll was running be located in an abandoned shopping mall was a stroke of brilliance-- could there be anything as benignly creepy? The Southwestern setting also brought to mind Roswell, and made it easier to believe that Jake fell from the sky and his parents just took him in. 

Middle grade parents are tough to write, but van Eekhout strikes just the right balance: they are concerned for Jake's safety, but give him room to explore. They are also endearingly annoying and have their own interests, with which they annoy Jake, of course! Jake's struggles with maintaining his human shape echo the problems that many tweens have with their bodies changing-- I always tell students that of course they trip over things and hit themselves in the face, because their hands and feet aren't where they were yesterday! He has a supportive ally in Agnes, who just might be my favorite middle grade character of all time! She does push ups while reading books, gives Jake an animal encyclopedia so he has options for shape shifting, and is always brilliantly prepared for the situations the two face. Her no-nonsense acceptance that her friend is a space alien, and her fearless drive to help him were great to see. 

There are plenty of laugh out loud lines in this book, menacing but comical aliens, and plenty of adventure. These things, as well as the fast-paced plot, will make it appeal to young readers who always suspect that their best friend or sibling might, in fact, be a space alien. Teachers and librarians will like the book for it's more philosophical themes of belonging, personal identity, and friendship. This is a great choice for fans of Rodkey's We're Not From Here, O'Donnell's Space Rocks, or the old but utterly fabulous Space Race (2000) by Sylvia Waugh. 

Sunday, July 25, 2021

J.D. and Boogie Bass

Dillard, J. and Roberts, Akeem S. J.D. and the Family Business (#2)
August 3rd 2021 by Kokila
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

After his triumph in The Great Barber Battle, J. D. is happy with his continues work at Hart and Son, but feels he should have more fame outside of his hometown of Meridien, Mississippi. Now that it's summer vacation, he wants to make some plans. At his mother's graduation (for which he cut his mother's hair!), his older sister Vanessa and Jessika approach him about working on their YouTube Channel. They will concentrate on hair and make up, and J.D. will get to showcase his hair designs, rather than just giving haircuts. Even though he likes having his own money from working, he approaches his boss and gets the summer off. Vanessa and Jessika have researched equipment and procedure, and have a good start. J.D. is a little concerned when they want to take shots inside the church during Vacation Bible School, but he is most concerned when the girls don't let him have enough screen time. He takes matters into his own hands and writes his own script for an episode, and his friend Jordan helps him out. Will he be able to produce successful videos and build his brand?
Strengths: While my students are interested in becoming YouTube stars, I'm not sure they know how much work that involves! J.D. wants to translate his local fame into something bigger, and his sister helps. She is even interested in a young entrepreneurs program that her school is starting. There's plenty about hair styles as well. There was just enough about the parents and grandparents in this to make it interesting-- the mother was a nurse, but went back for her MBA and works for the mayor, the grandfather retired but now sells burial insurance, and the grandmother is key to the "summer school" learning that J.D. and Vanessa have to do. (I also loved that they talk about having an encyclopedia around!) While a lot of J.D.s activities are pure wish fulfillment, there is plenty of realistic family life to keep this series grounded. Fans of Watson's Ways to Make Sunshine will enjoy this look at small town life. 
Weaknesses: I'm not sure if part of the E ARC was missing, or if the story concludes in the next book of the series, but this seemed to end in the middle. 
What I really think: J.D. is eight, and this is a little young for middle school. I would love to see something with an upper middle grade main character who is interested in the same topics.


Mills, Claudia. Boogie Bass, Sign Language Star (After School Stars #4)
August 3rd 2021 by Margaret Ferguson Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Boogie has a large family of brothers and an unruly dog, and when he is watching Bing and forgets to shut a bedroom door, the dog destroys a favorite stuffed animal. Boogie's mother is not happy (especially when she wakes up from lying down with a headache, there is an indoor luge tournament going on!), and unfavorably compares Boogie to his best friend, Nelson Nanda, who seems to do everything well. Like his friend, Nixie Ness, Boogie is involved in an after school program, and is learning sign language there. He finds it interesting, but also a bit of a challenge. There's a lot to remember, and he feels that he isn't getting the hang of it as well as Nelson is. There is some friction with his best friend because when Boogie tries to make things right with his younger brother and replace the ruined stuffed toy, he doesn't have enough money or access to a credit card. Nelson offers to loan him the money, Boogie declines, but Nelson orders the toy anyway. Boogie is grateful and angry at the same time. Boogie's skills at sign language are better than he thinks, and he is chose to emcee the sign language program after he interacted well with children at a school for the deaf that the after school program visited. He also is able to make his younger brother happy when the new toy isn't quite what he wanted. Boogie learns that he can't always compare himself to others, but has to see his own skills for what they are, and that he is more successful than he thinks. 
Strengths: Family and friend drama is so different in elementary school, and Mills does a great job at showing how much events can effect children, even if they don't say anything about them. Boogie wants to be a good brother, but taking care of younger siblings is hard. He's glad Nelson is nice to him, but angry when he feels he is not as good as Nelson. The inclusion of sign language details should appeal to a lot of readers; I know that anytime my readers see it used, they want books about it! (In middle school, my best friend and I saved up our money to buy a sign language dictionary to share!) There are supportive adults, but they don't quite see all of the details about how the children feel, which is very true to life. My own children went to before school School Age Child Care (SACC), and it's something that many, many young readers experience. I'd love to see more books like this and Clement's The Loser's Club
Weaknesses: Boogie's name is explained, but it still is a pretty quirky name. 
What I really think: This a a great series for elementary schools. I love the occasional illustrations, and at 128 pages, they are a great length for emerging readers. I just wish there were more similar 200 page books like this with characters in the 8th grade so that more of my readers would pick them up. 

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Saturday Morning Cartoons- Bad Sister and Vampires Don't Wear Polka Dots

Harper, Charise Mericle. Bad Sister
July 13th 2021 by First Second
E ARC provided by Netgalley

This graphic memoir, which seems to be set in the 1970s, given the fashions, level of supervision for children, and other clues, deals with Charise, who spends a lot of time with her younger brother, Daniel. While the two generally play well together, neither child is great about thinking through their activities, and Daniel often ends up injured. There is also some tension between the siblings caused by the parents, who often take the side of the younger child in instances such as Charise not letting her brother use her art supplies. While the activities the children engage in would shock and horrify parents today, they were pretty standard back in the day-- playing with a giant truck inner tube and rolling it down the hill or throwing it with a child inside, climbing trees, riding bikes, dumpster diving, and running and jumping in the house with couch cushions as "safety features"-- were all quite common. On top of this, however, is a lot of deep seated anger on Charise's part that makes her feel that she is "bad" and that she means Daniel harm. Sometimes she does. One of the causes of this anger might be her undiagnosed prosopagnosia; she thinks that Daniel's ability to recognize people is a superpower, but this is not really fully investigated. When her actions (as well as Daniel's willingness to go along with them) result in graver injury, her guilt intensifies and she tries to be a better older sister. 
Strengths: As someone who would put on a plastic space helmet and try to jump a culvert at the bottom of a hill on a big wheel with my brother hanging on behind me, I can attest to the fact that this is an accurate portrayal of childhood activities in the 1970s! My brother and I also had a game in the care that involved balancing on our foreheads on the back of the seat and see who could stay up the longest. What sets this apart is Charise's guilt about how she treats her brother, and her exploration of their relationship and how she can improve it.                                
Weaknesses: I would have liked to see more about the prosopagnosia, but I'm sure that parents in the 70s would have assumed a child who claimed this was lying. Just the way it was! 
What I really think: This will be popular with readers who like a bit of family tension with their graphic novels, like Telgemeier's Sisters, Knisely's Stepping Stones, or Jamieson's All's Faire

Dadey, Debbie, Jones, Marcia, and Low, Pearl (illus.)
Vampires Don't Wear Polka Dots: A Graphix Chapters Book (The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids #1)
August 3rd 2021 by Graphix

The 1990s creepadelic series is back in a new graphic novel version. Eddie, Melody, Howie, Liza, Carey and Ben are back at Bailey school. Eddie and the class's bad behavior has scared off their previous teacher, so when Ms. Jeeper's arrives, they feel that they can take care of her quickly. However, there are things about the new teacher that give them pause. She is from Romania, has bought the local haunted house that seems to have coffins in the basement, and has an eerily glowing green pendant and a talent for subverting any bad behavior very quickly. The kids don't let this stop them, and sprinkle garlic in the classroom in order to try to get rid of the teacher. All of their efforts fail, and they come to terms with their unusual new educator. 
Strengths: Like Applegate's Animorphs, Roy's A to Z Mysteries, and Osbourne's Magic Tree House books, the Bailey School Kids books were something I was always on the lookout for at garage sales and the thrift store, and there are probably still most of the original 51 books in my attic! The graphic novels will appeal to a new generation of readers, for whom the original 80 page books are just too long, and too black and white. The characters are updated to include more vague diversity; the original characters were never identified as being of any specific cultural background, but the graphic novel shows more children of color. Low's illustrations have a good creepy edge to them, and the story seems to be fairly true to the original. 
Weaknesses: The 1980s were not a pleasant time, and I forget that the 1990s were perilously close to that time. Eddie's poor behavior seems particularly unpleasant and out of place in a post Wonder world, and I wasn't amused by the classes attempts to get their teacher to leave. (See The War Against Grandpa for comparative 1980s kidlit.)
What I really think: Because my middle school readers want a lot more murder in their creepy tales, I probably won't buy this series unless the purported Netflix series becomes very popular and students ask for this, but this is a MUST purchase at elementary schools, where it offers just the right amount of creepy thrills for younger readers. (Unless you are my younger daughter, who was super creeped out by these and wouldn't even allow the books in her room!)
 

Friday, July 23, 2021

Guy Friday- The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh

Rutter, Helen. The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh
August 3rd 2021 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Billy Plimpton is very concerned about starting middle school at Bannerdale, since most of his friends are going to Hillside. While Billy doesn't mind having to wear a jacket with his uniform instead of a sweater (this is a British book!), he is concerned that since he won't know many people, they will make fun of his stutter. Billy spends a lot of time thinking about his stutter, especially since his dream is to be a stand up comic, but he doesn't feel comfortable performing for anyone but his Granny Bread. He does attend speech therapy, and is always trying to find ways to "cure" his stutter, such as special tea, classes, or relaxation techniques. For the first few days of school, he manages to hide his stutter, but when there is a class show and tell assignment, he desperately wants out of it. Unfortunately, his teacher is concerned that he hasn't been talking, and calls his mother, who always thinks that Billy should just try harder and not care what people think. Billy comes up with a clever way to address Show and Tell, and most of his classmates, like Shyla, who attended primary school with him, are supportive. Some, like William Blakemore, are not, and tease him mercilessly. The teacher has some good ideas, and invites Billy to a music group, where he learns to play the drums. He flirts with the idea of doing his stand up routine in the talent show, especially since he promised his grandmother she would get to see him perform, but when Granny Bread becomes ill, he decides to participate with his band instead. His band consists of some of his new friends, so when he is approached to drum for a high school group and accepts, this causes some rifts. Skyla is a good ally, but has problems in her own life. With so much going on around him, will Billy finally decide to work around his stutter instead of letting it get in his way?
Strengths: I can't think of any middle grade books that address speech problems, so it's great to hear what Billy's difficulties are and how he addresses them. The dynamic in the classroom, and the steps that his teacher takes to help him are interesting, as is his work with the therapist. His family is close and supportive, but also (in true middle grade way) a little annoying, except for his grandmother. Their close relationship was wonderful to see. There's plenty going on, and the general attitude is fairly upbeat, with occasional lapses into dramatic tween histrionics. Reader's who like Patterson's I Funny will appreciate Billy's love of stand up. 
Weaknesses: This read like an older title in some respects; Billy's reaction to Show and Tell is akin to Blume's Deenie's fit about wearing her back brace, and his attempt at running away made me realize that's not something tweens try lightly anymore. It's also rather British, and it would have helped to somehow indicate the specific setting so that readers aren't confused by the school uniforms.
What I really think: This had the upbeat feel of Pichon's Tom Gates and Berger's Lyttle Lies, and was not too dissimilar from the work of Jacqueline Wilson, who blurbed this. I'm an absolute pushover for books set in England so will purchase this. It would be good to see more lower middle grade books with characters involved in speech therapy. 
 

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Dark Waters (Small Spaces #3)

Arden, Katherine. Dark Waters (Small Spaces #3)
August 3rd 2021 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Even though Ollie, Brian, and Coco are no longer besieged by scarecrows of Small Spaces, and have fought off the Smiling Man in Dead Voices, they are still wary of things that go bump, especially in the day time. After spending some rainy days at Brian's family's inn, the group is looking forward to a brief boat outing while Coco Zintner's mother is interviewing Dane Dimmonds, who runs a tour boat on Lake Champlain that specializes in local history, especially about the mythical serpent, Champ. The kids, along with Ollie's dad, Mr. Adler, and Ms. Zintner, pack their bags and set off on their adventure. When they meet Mr. Dimmonds, they are surprised to find Phil, a school mate, there. Phil is Dimmond's nephew, and helps out on the boat. He was also involved in the terrifying bus trip, and claims not to remember the scarecrows, although he does admit to having horrible nightmares about them. He has also been less than kind to the other kids, especially Ollie, and admits to Brian that he has met someone who matches the description of the Smiling Man in town. Since there was a strange, blackened circle with mysterious words on it left at Brian's inn, the children are already on edge. The boat trip starts out okay, but when Phil is fishing, he catches a small sea serpent, and the voyage takes a disastrous turn. Mr. Adler prevents Phil from getting bitten, but sustains a wound himself. Mysteriously, the engine on the boat goes missing, and the boat starts to fill with water. The kids and Ms. Zintner manage to save Mr. Adler, but Mr. Dimmond is carried off by the water. The group ends up on an island that hadn't appeared on any of the maps, and must try to survive the cold temperatures and lack of radio contact while dealing with Mr. Adler's wounds. There are plenty of creepy things on the island: a forest of hanging fishhooks, abandoned snake skins, and a creepy cabin with the skull of "Tommy" that a crazed, axe-carrying man seems to think is still alive. Could these two be connected with the early 1800s ship, the Goblin, that disappeared in mysterious circumstances? Ollie's biggest concern is saving her father, and since all of the bad things that happen to the group seem to be connected to the Smiling Man, will he somehow be involved with the group's plight?
Strengths: For whatever reason, my students LOVE murderous ghosts, scarecrows, or other paranormal creatures. I'm sure they will be onboard with murderous sea serpents and ghosts of sailors! I love the way Arden takes perfectly benign, pleasant scenarios and gets us all cozy around the fire before making everything slide sideways into terror! It's like plunging into a cold pool on a really hot day-- all the more shocking! Mr. Adler is a great character, and his injury is used to great psychological effect as well; Ollie has already lost her mother, so she doesn't want to lose her father, who has stepped up so well to try to fill in the emptiness in Ollie's life. Phil's appearance, and his experience of being involved with the scarecrows, adds another layer of interest. I enjoyed the fact that lots of Vermont-specific background is included; Robert Frost's poetry, Lake Champlain, and (of course) Champ!
Weaknesses: We didn't see as much of the Smiling Man in this one, and I would have preferred seeing the group deal with his oily evil rather than the spirit of ancient mariners. This ended a bit abruptly, so I'm sure that this character will play a larger role in the next book. 
What I really think: My students will be waiting in line for this new installation, and I can't wait to see how the story wraps up in the summer installment. What a great way to structure a series around the seasons, and four books is just the right length. Perfect for fans of the new crop of middle grade horror like the work of K.R. Alexander and Joel Sutherland, and Hermon's Hide and Seeker, Currie's Scritch Scratch, Lawrence's The Stitchers, Brown's The Forgotten Girl, and Ireland's Ophie's Ghosts
 

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Escape from Hurricane Katrina

Dodson, Judy Allen. Escape from Hurricane Katrina
July 6th 2021 by little bee books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sophie is worried that her mother won't get to her swim meet because she's not feeling very well after treatment for her cancer, but soon bigger issues arrive. It's August, 2005, and Hurricane Katrina is rapidly approaching New Orleans. Sophie lives with her parents and twin brother JoJo is a house in the Ninth Ward that has been in the family for generations. Her father starts to fortify the house and lay in supplies, but with the threat of power being out, her mother contacts a sister to see if they can get a ride away from the storm, since the family's car is being fixed. There's only room for the mother, so the children and their father plan to ride out the storm. They move things to the attic and hope for the best, but eventually feel they need to leave. They have a small raft ready to go, but when they leave, elderly neighbors have difficulties and the father stays with them. The children are told to head to the Superdome, where the father will try to find them. Along the way, they help rescue a family with small children, and Sophie uses her swimming skills to save a baby. When they finally make it to the center, they do find a family friend and feel safer being with adults they know, but are soon separated. Sophie becomes ill because of the water she swallowed while recusing the baby, and the Superdome has limited medical help. The children leave a clue with their whereabouts painted on the field, and have help from another girl also separated from her family, but will they be able to make it in the crowded stadium, be reunited with their parents, and be able to remake their lives after the storm?
Strengths: The best part of this book was the insets with information about what really happened during the storm. Factual information is given to answer questions like "Did people really stay?" and "Did people get sick from being in the water?" Sophie and JoJo are good characters who work well together, and exhibit some normal tween responses to a terrible situation-- JoJo brings their pet turtle with him! The family has made plans, but they don't always go smoothly, which is a great way to show how people deal with disasters. The illustrations are done in an interesting style and give a great feel for the setting and situation. This is a good choice for younger middle grade readers who love Tarshis' I Survived books and can't get enough about natural disasters. 
Weaknesses: The other books in this series are Escape from the Titanic and Escape from Pompeii. There are already SO many books on these topics, and I don't really need any more. I'd love to see fictional titles about about the Halifax explosion (Blizzard of Glass), the Peshtigo fire, or any disasters that haven't been covered quite as much. My favorite horrible historical event is the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and there could be a book that addressed this for younger readers; there are plenty of YA versions.
What I really think: Since I already have the Tarshis and Messner books on this topic, along with Smith's Another Kind of Hurricane and Rhode's Ninth Ward, Herlong's Buddy and Brown's Drowned City, I will pass on purchase, but this is a great updated version if your library is low on books about this event. This one does get bonus points for having a pet cat instead of a dog!

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

STEM Tuesday- The Curie Society

Harvey, Janet, Einhorn, Heather and Liao, Sonia (illustrations).
The Curie Society
April 27th 2021 by MIT Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Three roommates at Edmonds University all face different challenges in settling into college life. Biologist Simone is very young to be away from home, and feels that people don't take her area of scientific interest as seriously. Math oriented Maya is used to the support that boarding schools offer, and is pushed very hard by her ambitious parents. Tech and gaming fan Taj has a side gig providing tech for concerts, and finds her roommates to be annoying. When all three are approached by the secretive Curie Society to be members, they are surprised. The leaders of the group on their campus are Dr. Burkhart, who was in the military and sustained injuries that led to her using a prosthetic arm, Dr. Warsame, the head of the engineering school, and Emma, their orientation guide. While the three don't do well at their initial initiation, failing to work well under pressure, they are soon sent on a super secret field trip to study animals and their adaptive qualities, and find themselves enmeshed in a global conspiracy by evil scientists to run the world. Will the three be able to get along, and use their skills to take down the bad guys?

This read very much like a comic book, with capital lettering that emphasizes a wide variety of words in bold print, and with lots of action and adventure, although not as many written sound effects as something like Batman! The illustrations include a lot of dark colors, which makes sense since a fair amount of scenes are either at night or in underground or enclosed spaces. The print is very small, and rather dense, which combined with some of the themes makes this perfect for older readers. 

There's plenty of science and technology in this; pyrotechnics, drones, surveillance equipment, animal regeneration, artificial intelligence, and much, much more. The tie in with Marie Curie is good to see, and the book ends with a quantity of thumbnail biographies of real women scientists. 

In addition to the science, there is plenty of drama; Simone struggles with being away from home and with people treating her like a child, Maya is unhappy with her career trajectory and is wooed by the rogue scientists, and Taj has a scene in which a fraternity party ends with predatory behavior exhibited by the male students... whom she quickly subdues with some quality ninja moves. Dr. Burkhart's flashbacks also provided some examples of bravery and drama in her own background. 

There aren't a whole lot of science fiction graphic novels, especially for older middle grade and high school readers, but this is a great addition to books like Sanity and Tallulah, Pepper Page Saves the Universe, Cosmoknights, and Space Battle Lunchtime.

Monday, July 19, 2021

MMGM- Linked and A Shot in the Arm

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



Korman, Gordon. Linked.
July 20th 2021 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Chokecherry, Colorado is a smallish town where most of the students have been together for years. There are paleontologists who have come to work on a dig that has uncovered some dinosaur remains as well as fossilized dinosaur poop, and their children are navigating middle school. When serial prankster Link, whose father is a local real estate agent who hopes to turn Chokecherry into an Orlando-like dinosaur tourist destination, gets caught putting peat moss in the dig offices, his father bans him from playing sports. Since that's the root of his popularity, he's angry, but soon there are other things to occupy his thoughts-- a swastika is painted on a school wall. Dana, whose parents work on the dig, is the only Jewish student in the school, so she is greatly affected. Told from various points of view, from seventh grade president Caroline, who wants to see more school spirit, to art club president Michael, who has a great grasp of logistics, we see how this affects the school. It's not just one swastika; there are others, from a tar one on a baseball banner to paint on the ice cream freezer. The students learn about Chokecherry's past, which includes the Night of a Thousand Flames back in the 1970s, when the Ku Klux Klan was still active. Link finds out from his mother than his grandmother is Jewish, but was given to French nuns as a very small child to keep her safe. Her entire family perished, and she only learned about her past a few years ago. Link reacts strongly to this news, and after Dana brushes off his request for assistance "on being Jewish" by telling him he should think about a bar mitzvah, he contacts a rabbi in the nearest synagogue and starts fast-tracked preparation for the coming of age ritual! After lots of class time spent learning about the Holocaust (which the students claim to get tired of, which is sadly very true to life), students feel like they need to DO something, and the idea of a paper chain, inspired by a real life school that tried to collect six million paperclips to commemorate the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, takes hold. Soon, the town is in the sights of ReelTok, a TikTok star, who comes to town to make inflammatory posts and generally stir things up. Undaunted by problems with paper supply and chain storage, the project continues, and Link works tirelessly to prepare for his bar mitzvah. When the truth comes out about who painted the swastikas, how will the various characters be affected?
Strengths: There are several really brilliant things about this book. First, there are many, many places in the US that don't have diverse populations. There are towns like Chokecherry all over the US, and I imagine the populations feel that racism isn't going to really affect them... until it does. The other inspired topic, which Korman addressed in 2017's Restart, is the idea of personal identity in the teen and tween years, and how hard it can be to change once people have an opinion of what kind of person you are. Like his War Stories, Linked treats World War II in a manner that relates it more intimately to today's children. Including a TikTok star who tries to stir things up showcases how social media can have positive aspects (getting donations of paper for the chains), but also extremely negative ones. The variety of characters was interesting, and I did not see the identity of the swastika painter coming. This would make a fascinating novel for class discussions; there are not enough middle grade novels that address changing oneself and redemption. Even though the book addresses serious, timely concerns, Korman manages to work in his trademark humor. The cover and title are great. 
Weaknesses: The dig was fascinating, and I sort of wanted to know more, but there wasn't quite room in the book to investigate that topic further. Where had Dana and her family been before? Where were they going next? I know it wasn't really her story, but I wanted to know more about Dana. 
What I really think: Korman has really come into his own in the last couple of years. He's always been a fun, engaging author, but he's really kicked it up a notch by including more serious themes. I am just in awe of his forty year career!

Brown, Don. A Shot in the Arm (Big Ideas that Changed the World)
April 20th 2021 by Amulet Books
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Disease isn't new. Pandemics aren't new. Even vaccinations aren't new. But when you're in grade school, everything is new! (Well, except for your teachers and parents!) While COVID-19 has been such a devastating occurrence, it would be great if it lead young readers to investigate more about it, as well as the history of viruses and how they have affected society. 

Brown introduces us to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who lived in England in the late 1600s. Her society was dealing with smallpox, and we are given a good history of that disease and the treatments it inspired. When smallpox threatened her own family, she investigated an innoculation where smallpox scabs were inserted under the skin, and this seemed to be fairly effective in lessening the effects of the disease, and Montagu is credited with popularizing this defense against a devastating disease. 

We then cross the pond and deal with smallpox in the Colonies, and see how Cotton Mather ran into difficulties when he tried to help the Boston smallpox epidemic of 1721 with the treatment. The alternate approach, to inoculate with cow pox, is fully explained, and there is discussion of other vaccinations (as they are called after those experiments) as well as the push back against them. Other scientists, like Koch and Pasteur, are introduced, and protection against diseases like anthrax in farm populations is discussed. Polio gets full coverage, which is quite interesting, because I had never heard of some of the deaths related to some of the vaccines, and how people were a bit leery-- I assumed that everyone was completely behind either the shot or the oral vaccine for polio! The faulty link to autism is debunked. 

Of course, COVID-19 ends the book, so is a nice way to frame all of the previous information into something that young readers have experienced themselves. The politics surrounding the creation and distribution of the vaccine are omitted, and that's probably just as well. This current pandemic receives just an overview, which will be perfect when we are out of the throes of it. The additional timeline of virus research and brief biography of Montagu, bibliography and author's notes round out this useful graphic nonfiction book. 

In addition to being a timely resource, this is an excellent addition to readable narrative nonfiction about diseases. Jurmain's Yellow Death, Murphy's An American Plague, Davis; More Deadly Than War, Jarrow's Fatal Fever, and Murphy's Invincible Microbe are all books that are oddly enthralling, and appealing to readers with a scientific bent. 

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Margie Kelley Breaks the Dress Code

Farr, Bridget. Margie Kelley Breaks the Dress Code
July 13th 2021 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Margie goes shopping with her father (her mother died when she was a baby) and gets the perfect skirt for the first day of 6th grade, but when she wears it, her teacher measures the distance from the hem to her knees and sends Margie to the office on a dress code violation. She has to wear an old pair of gym shorts instead, getting her negative attention. She and her best friend Daniela are interested in being on the Quiz Bowl team, but Margie finds sexism there as well. Most of the team are boys, and there is only one girl of color on the team. Margie starts taking notes about how girls are treated in class as well, and finds that they aren't called on as often. She is so angry that she wears her skirt again, gets dress coded, and has to spend the day in In School Suspension. There, she finds that girls of color have an even harder time with the administration and are dress coded more often. Boys who wear shorts that aren't long enough are completely ignored. Irritated, she decides to stage a protest that just gets her in more trouble with the administration. There are some teachers who are more progressive than others, but Margie and her friends still feel that the culture of their school needs to change. Will they be able to make their voices heard?
Strengths: This book is completely on trend with all manner of current social concerns. Body positivity, fourth wave feminism, intersectionality, gender issues, racial issues, and how to effectively run a protest are all covered in modern, politically correct ways. Margie is shy at first, but becomes emboldened when the situation motivates her. I enjoyed all of the details about Quiz Bowl teams and competitions. The principal and teachers are not depicted as being completely close minded, which is refreshing to see. Readers who enjoyed Mathieu's Moxie (2017), Pola's Leggings Revolt (2016), Schroeder's Don't Judge Me (2020),  or Firestones Dress Coded (2020) will want to add this to their reading list. 
Weaknesses: This ended a bit abruptly, and I wasn't wild about the depiction of the grandmother. While certainly all of my grandparents had dentures, Margie's grandmother, even if she was raised in Ireland, seemed unlikely to have them. (This article is from 11 years ago!) Margie is critical of her grandmother and her hidebound ways, but also is judgmental about what her grandmother wears and how she looks! Even though the first chapter starts with a protest sign reading "Clothing does NOT define us", Margie herself describes a teacher who addresses intersectionality and other current sociopolitical ideas this way: "She's definitely the most fashionable. Today she's wearing a floral tunic over black leggings and a thick neon yellow chain necklace." What we wear matters a LOT, and Margie herself delivers a mixed message.
What I really think: Since my students have been wearing pajama pants, athletic slides, ball caps, hoodies, midriff tops, blankets around their shoulders, and shorts so short that their butt cheeks practically hang out and no one has said anything this year , I don't think they will relate to this title. When we did have a dress code, it was equally enforced, and girls were never called out for "being a distraction". Perhaps this is the way things are in Texas, but here is Ohio we moved on from measuring shorts, checking how low necklines are, and prohibiting leggings so long ago that we had a teacher wearing running tights and a flannel shirt the other day. 
 Ms. Yingling

Friday, July 16, 2021

Temple Alley Summer

Kashiwaba, Sachiko, Satake, Miho(Illus.), Udagawa, Avery (Trans.)
Temple Alley Summer 
July 6th 2021 by Restless Books 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Kazu is very interested when he sees his neighborhood on an antique map, and intrigued that it is labled "Temple Alley", especially when the name of the temple is Kimyo, which can be translated "back from the dead". When a new girl, Akari, appears in his school, the mystery deepens. He sees her come out of his house, and while he doesn't remember her, everyone else seems to. Not only that, but her mother seems to be invisible! He decides to do his summer project on the temple, instead of having his mother help him grow tomatoes, and is soon asking around the neighborhood to see if anyone around his recently deceased grandfather's age might know anything. Ms. Minakami is very helpful at first, but when Kazu asks his uncle about their home's relationship to the temple, he finds out that Ms. Minakami might have stolen a family heirloom. Ms. Ando is also helpful, and it seems likely that Akari is her daughter, who was ill for a long time and died 40 years ago. Akari acknowledges that she has come back from the dead, but doesn't remember much of her past, except for a story in a girls' magazine called Daisy. After trying to locate the magazine for his new friend, Kazu asks Ms. Ando if she has the magazines. She does, and Kazu is enthralled by the same story, The Moon on the Left. This story is printed in the book. It ends abruptly, and Kazu tries to find the rest of it. This leads him to some unexpected places. Will Kazu's investigations lead to his family's ties to the temple being used to resurrect more people? Or will it effectively end the existence of those who have already come back?
Strengths: This is a very gentle ghost story that brings in snippets of Japanese religion and culture, daily life, and an interesting connection to a story. Kazu is just an ordinary boy who finds himself in an odd circumstance, and he does his best to investigate and understand it. I loved the little funny things, like his mother being so irritated that the men from the neighborhood association visit and that she has to make lunch for Kazu during the summer. (And that ramen is the quick, go-to lunch, instead of a peanut butter sandwich!) There are some good friend connections, especially with Akari. I especially loved the depiction of Daisy magazine and the young writer whom Kazu manages to track down. I have to admit to trying to see a similar neighborhood on Google Earth, because I wanted to see where Kazu lived! The illustrations reminded me, somewhat oddly, of Meindert de Jong. 
Weaknesses: Early on, the translation seems a bit rocky, but it improves. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to translate an entire book. The ending seems a bit abrupt.
What I really think: It's great that we are starting to see a number of books being published in the US that are written by writers from other countries. Kashiwaba is a well known Japanese children's author, and recently we've seen Kuzki's Soul Lanterns, Brown's While I Was AwayKadono's Kiki's Delivery Service, Kamata's Pop Flies, Robo-Pets, and Other Disasters that are written by Japanese authors or US authors who have lived in Japan. 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

The Halloween Moon

Fink, Joseph. The Halloween Moon
July 20th 2021 by Quill Tree Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Esther Gold loves Halloween so much that even her bat mitzvah was Halloween themed, and now that she is thirteen, her parents have informed her that she is too old to go out trick-or-treating. She is crushed; she isn't wild about the candy but loves the costumes and the traditions of the holiday. To circumvent her parents unreasonable dictum, she tells them that she and her friend Agustín are going to a movie, and they tell her not to wake them up when she comes in! There are all manner of strange things going on in the town, and when the adults all seem to be falling asleep, including their parents, Esther and Agustín, along with classmate Sasha, seek the help of Mr. Gabler, who seems to be unaffected. He always gives out toothpaste because of his occupation, but proves again and again that he "wasn't always a dentist" by using un-dentistlike skills! There's also the creepy Dan Appel, the strange robbery at an illegal art collection, and a terrifying plunge into the "Halloween dream". Will Esther and Agustín  be able to wake up everyone in their town?
Strengths: There are not as many Halloween books for middle grade as there could be, especially since 8th grade is usually the last time kids get to go out trick or treating. Banning a tween from going out is quite the punishment, and readers will sympathize with Esther plight. Agustín is a good friend, and Sasha starts off as someone with whom Esther doesn't get along, but the two eventually warm to each other and mend misunderstandings. Mr. Gabler was definitely my favorite character, and it was interesting why he didn't fall asleep. The Halloween queen is not someone I would want to meet late at night under a full moon!
Weaknesses: It took me a while to figure out why the writing style wasn't working for me, but I think it was the detached tone and the fact that there was more description and conversation than action. It also was a bit annoying that the main character was usually referred to as her entire name. 
What I really think: This wasn't quite as scary as my students seem to want, and the writing style was a bit odd, so I think I will pass on purchase. 
 

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Maya and the Robot

Ewing, Eve L. and Almeda, Christine (illus.) Maya and the Robot
July 13th 2021 by Kokila
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Maya lives in an apartment in the city with her mother and baby brother Amir, and visits with her dad on the weekends. She is really interested in science and technology and looking forward to 5th grade, until she realizes that her two best friends, MJ and Jada, have the cool science teacher while she is stuck with Ms. Rodriguez, who has the desks arranged in rows. Maya goes by her middle name instead of her first name, Patricia, but is too afraid to correct her teacher. Zoe, the most popular girl in the grade, gives her a hard time about this. Maya helps out Mr. McMillan, who runs a local variety store, after school, and when she is cleaning out a storage closet, she finds a robot (Ralph) that Mr. Mac's son, Christopher, had developed when he was younger. Knowing Maya is interested in working on such things, Mr. Mac helps Maya get it back to her home, where she starts to work on it. With some help and a little luck, she gets Ralph to work and starts to program him to do all sorts of interesting things, like greet people in other languages, grocery shop, and clean up things around the house. As the school science fair approaches, Maya decides to bring the robot, and finds out information about Mr. Mac's son as well as some of her classmates. 
Strengths: This started with quite a bang! The most common complaint I hear about books is that they don't have "anything happen", but this was funny and engaging from the very beginning, in the way that Dairman's All Four Stars was. I loved Maya's science interests, and her feelings of insecurity when she has to be in class away from her friends will resonate with readers. Her family and community are also supportive, and I want a shop like Mr. Mac's down the street from ME! Ralph the robot is awesome, even if his skills require a bit of suspension of disbelief. Even the backstory about Christopher is handled in a sensitive way. I love the bright cover! 
Weaknesses: This is just a bit young for my library. The inclusion of recess, and of one teacher for all classes, makes this hard to sell to my older readers. 6th graders would pick it up, especially because of the great illustrations, but I don't see 7th or 8th graders being interested.  
What I really think: This was a very fun book, and it was great to see so much science and technology represented. I would definitely buy this for an elementary library, and it would make a great gift for a tech obsessed child. 

Ms. Yingling