Thursday, December 02, 2021

Shirley and Jamila's Big Fall

Goerz, Gillian. Shirley and Jamila's Big Fall (Shirley & Jamila #2) 
November 9th 2021 by Dial Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Shirley and Jamila are back, and starting school. Jamila gets involved in basketball and makes friends with Seena, whose family background is also Pakistani. Shirley gets a case to help defend Avery against Chuck, the school bully who buys and sells secrets. Knowing his own power, Chuck refuses to cooperate with Shirley and hand over whatever incriminating evidence he has against Avery. This motivates Shirley to take on a new identity and befriend Chuck's sister. She gains information about Chuck and the family home, and eventually plans to break into the house while the parents are gone and the children are occupied in other parts of the house. She and Jamila do this, and have taken incriminating papers from Chuck's safe (which they have cracked), but Chuck comes back unexpectedly. They have to hide in the curtains, and are surprised when Chuck has another visitor who is trying to get information back as well. Will Shirley and Jamila be able to stay friends and help neutralize Chuck as a threat to their school. 
Strengths: Goerz's illustrations are quite possibly the most beautiful ones I have seen in graphic novels. Her street scenes could be framed and hung over couches. Her treatment of light is spectacular. I enjoyed Shirley and Jamila's unlikely friendship, and think the way that they navigate being more than summer friends is realistically done. Judging from the number of middle grade books that have tween power brokers who wield power and have money making enterprises, this is a popular story line.
Weaknesses: Straight up breaking and entering. Criminal trespassing and theft. Wow. As an adult, this bothered me in the same way that Bard's Trespassers did. I just couldn't believe a 6th graders would have a safe and be demanding $400 from a fellow student. Will actual twelve year old readers have this reaction? Absolutely not, but it still bothers me. 
What I really think: I may wait to see what Shirley and Jamila's winter adventure brings before purchasing this one. 

Already have had students asking for this one. Had seventh grade classes in, and they are still checking out the same graphic novels again and again and not reading anything new. Might as well keep Bingo Brown if this is the way things are going. 

Just not having a good week. 
 Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Stuntboy, in the Meantime

Reynolds, Jason and Raúl the Third (Illus.). Stuntboy, in the Meantime.
November 30th 2021 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books 
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Interestingly, the copy I have has the pages inserted upside down. No way to change it, so I'll just have to warn students!

Portico Reeves is ten and lives in an apartment building in the city. He considers this a castle, and loves that there are all manner of different people with different stories living behind all of the doors of the complex. His best friend, Zola, also lives there, as does his nemesis, the mean Herbert Singletary the Worst, who constantly verbally attacks Portico and Zola. Portico has a lot of anxiety, mainly because his parents have decided to take two new apartments, one upstairs and one downstairs, and are fighting a lot about what items each will take. Also in the mix are hid Gran Gran, who spends most of her time "resting her eyes", a cat whose names changes daily, and the different personalities in the building. Portico decides to become a superhero, Stuntboy,  to protect the other superheroes in the building, and has a range of moves that he uses to diffuse situations. This happens more and more frequently as his parents' fighting escalates, and are moderately effective in stopping "the mean times". When he and Zola find out that Herbert's step father is the "super" of the building, their relationship changes a bit, and some of Herbert's motives are made clear. Will Stuntboy be able to make Portico's life better as more and more changes occur. 
Strengths: This is a notebook novel more than a graphic novel; think Big Nate chapter books but with more color and page backgrounds, thanks to Raúl the Third illustrations. There's still a fair amount of text telling the story. Portico has a great outlook on life even though things aren't going all that well and he suffers with anxiety. It's great to see him want to take care of his parents and his friend Zola. I think this capitalizes on the way many middle grade chidlren act, but isn't shown in many middle grade books. His stunts are fairly funny, and the cast of quirky characters also add to the general upbeat tone of the book. There's certainly some serious issues that are addresses, and this is a great book to have about the difficulties and stress young people face when parents divorce. There could definitely be a lot more books on that topic. The format is the real winner here, with a great mix of Reynolds' prose and Raúl the Third's graphics. 
Weaknesses: Portico has a lot of Amelia Bedelia misundertandings that felt more like ones a six year old would have. I can understand the motivation for portraying situations that way, but it always seems a bit off, and I'm not sure how readers in the target demographic feel about this style. It does make the book seem like it would be a better fit for elementary readers than middle school ones. 
What I really think: Reynold's work is popular in my library, and it's good to see a Black male character on a notebook novel (Robinson's Jake the Fake and Craft's New Kid are the other good examples; I'm still waiting for Robb Armstrong's Jump Start to beget a notebook novel about Jojo.). I will purchase, especially since the level of maturity of my students has dropped a bit since the pandemic, as it has slowly dropped over the last twenty years. It's always good to see an author exhibit prowess across interest levels, so that readers can continue to appreciate a favorite throughout their reading careers. 

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy

Ursu, Anne. The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy
October 12th 2021 by Walden Pond Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Marya Lupu lives with her family in a vaguely Medieval, Eastern European area called  Illyria that is beset by The Dread, which can be subdued by sorcerers. Her older brother Luka is to be interviewed for selection for the school where sorcerers are trained, and this could mean financial security and social betterment for the entire family. Marya is a bit hoydenish (given the setting, this seems like a good adjective, but one that has hopefully gone the way of "tomboy"), and her mother is constantly appalled at her "unladylike" behavior. Marya and Luka are often at odds, and he puts her beautiful new dress for the occasion in the hen house, where it is ruined. When the official arrives, the family goat comes into the house through a door that Marya left open, and chaos ensues. Not only does her brother NOT get into the school (although he does not seemed surprised by this), but the family gets a letter that Marya is to report to a school for "troubled" girls, Dragomir Academy. At Rose Hall, Marya and the other girls are forbidden to talk about their pasts, and everything about the school is very suspicious. After having a few epiphanies about the founder of the school and other students, Marya finds herself in the "sanitarium", and is told she has "mountain madness". She claims that she doesn't, but the teachers try to gaslight her into believing that something is wrong with her. Will she be able to determine the link between the girls and the magic of the realm, and how it might affect the approaching Dread?
Strengths: Fans of Ursu's Breadcrumbs and The Lost Girl will enjoy this boarding school story set in a more historical time period. Marya is a spunky character who is ill treated by her family, although it is nice to see that her brother regrets how he treated her. I also enjoyed her neighbor, Madame Bandu, who was a master weaver and saw how Marya's family treated her, and offered to have her babysit her two young sons so Marya could get out of the house. Madame Bandu also is looking into having Marya as an apprentice, and when she is sent to Dragomir, writes her letters. The fact that Marya knows secret weavers' symbols helps her find out more about her school. 
Weaknesses: This is similar to books like Levine's The Two Princesses of Bamarre, Hale's The Princess Academy, and Pierce's Tortall books, but with less action. It does seem like there will be more books in the series, so perhaps those will take a more interesting direction. 
What I really think: Not sure if the Illyrian setting is a shout out to Lloyd Alexander's Vesper Holly books, the first of which is The Illyrian Adventure (set in 1872). This is getting a lot of love for the girl power themes, but there was surprisingly little that the girls were able to accomplish-- it was a lot of setting the scene with society limiting the girls' chances, and not as much of them being able to show their own power. I may wait until the second book to see how the story progresses, especially since I have a lot of books similar in setting and topic. 

Six-Word Memoirs. A Terrible, Horrible, No Good Year: Hundreds of Stories on the Pandemic 
October 15th 2021 by Six-Word Memoirs
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In a recent language arts department meeting (which I attend because there is no better department meeting for me to attend), we all wrote our own six word memoirs, so I investigated this to see if it would be of any help to the teachers. This was fine-- lots of different people from various places and walks of life are included, and the memoirs also cover lots of different topics. I can see having some of these books (there are ten so far) in the classroom if this is an assignment. It might also be interesting as a historical document about the pandemic. 

Any reservations about this title are based on my own preferences and are not reflective on the quality of the book. I'm not necessarily a huge fan of the format (my own memoir is only five words: Read books. Annoyed people. Died.), and I also don't feel that the pandemic was really that unusual a circumstance. My feeling about life is that it is one long succession of various horrible things happening that we all must survive. Or not. The pandemic just spread more horrible things around to more people than usual. I'll purchase if teachers want me to. 

Monday, November 29, 2021

MMGM- Pigture Perfect

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Goebel, Jenny. Pigture Perfect
December 7th 2021 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Grace has lived with just her mother since her father left when she was young, but she's okay with her mother marrying Mr. Pine. He's nice enough, and since she and her mother have moved into his house with a yard, she hopes that she will finally be able to get an adorable puppy. When she sees a sticky note that Mr. Pine has left lying about that mentions a vet appointment, she hopes that the puppy will appear under the Christmas tree. Instead, she finds a 75 pound rescue pig! Teacup pigs are not common, and most pet pigs weigh at least that much! She tries to make the best of it, but when Mr. Pine's daughter Emma also moves home, it's hard to keep her new pet (whom she names Bernard) under control. He roots up the yard, destroys food on the table, and gets into Emma's room. When she has him out for a walk, Grace runs into classmate Liam, whom her best friend Sydney thinks is odd. He's hanging out near the local retirement community with an older gentelman, Francis, who seems to know a lot about pigs. He recommends training the pig, and Grace looks into certifying her pet (to whom she has become attached) as a therapy animal. The catch? She needs an adult to go with her to training, and her mother and Mr. Pine are very busy. Emma is not quite old enough, although is frequently called upon to drive Grace places, adding to her irritation. Grace comes up with a plan, but she needs help from Jana and Alejandra, who spend more time with Sydney than Grace has been. Will she be able to convince her mother and new stepfather that Bernard IS working out, and that she doesn't want to trade him in for a dog?
Strengths: Grace is having a little bit of a rocky adjustment to her new living arrangement, but she WANTS Mr. Pine to like her, and tries really hard not to give him a hard time, even feeling bad about the tone she uses with him at one point. This is fantastic, and really true to life for middle school age children who are trying to do the right thing. The interactions with Emma, whose mother suddenly decides to move away, are realistic as well. The details of training a pig and of the problems they can get into if not trained are very good. Grace was such a well meaning character, and I liked her a lot. There haven't been a whole lot of characters lately whom I have enjoyed as much! 
Weaknesses: Grace gives her full name with Pine as her last name, but there is no mention that I caught of Mr. Pine adopting her. That's a pretty big move, but this was in the ARC, so maybe it will change. 
What I really think: Goebel tried her hand with fantasy with Grave Images and Fortune Falls, but she absolutely rocks at realistic fiction! Alpaca My Bags was exquisite, and Pigture Perfect doesn't disappoint. I liked this even more than Kendall's The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City (2017) because of the inclusion of the friend and family relationships, as well as the friendship with Liam. Also, I am a sucker for books where children befriend older people. Of course, I am more on the end of the spectrum where I am the older person!
 Ms. Yingling

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Bounce Back

Misako Rocks! Bounce Back
November 16th 2021 by Feiwel Friends
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Misako plays basketball with her good friends, but when her family moves from Japan to New York City, she misses being on the team. Her parents are excited to go to a new city, but they are soon busy with their own adjustments. At her private school, Misako runs afoul of the captain of the basketball team, Emma, and doesn't want to stand up to her and get on the team. She does manage to make two friends, Nala and Henry. Nala is interested in Japanese culture, especially Harajuku fashion-- she has a huge collection of wigs and a lot of kawaii clothing. Emma is mean to her as well. When Emma thaws a bit towards her and may let her on the team, Misako distances herself from Nala and even goes shopping with the basketball girls on Nala's birthday. Nicco, Misako's cat, starts to talk to her, saying that he is her spirit guide, and tries to guide her through these difficulties at school. Misako also befriends the captain of the boys' basketball team (whose name I can't remember and couldn't find in the E ARC), and the two start a tentative romance. Once Misako gets on the team, she has to juggle working towards the championship with her new romance and her friendship with Nala. 
Stengths: I appreciated the fact that while Misako wasn't thrilled about moving, but was open to trying to enjoy her new life. There's plenty of friend drama, boy drama, and cat drama for young readers who enjoy that sort of thing more than those of us who are old and wizened. The illustrations are bright and colorful and very anime like. I'm not buying any manga series, but will get this in a prebind. 
Weaknesses: So. Much. Drama. It went on a bit too much for my liking, and there were lots of tears and rehashing of wrongs done. Young readers will love this, but it made the book seem very long to me. 
What I really think: This wasn't my favorite (the sparkling eyes, the emotional extremes, the constant changing of Nala's wigs, the talking cat), but my students will love this. For some reason, manga and very strange fashions became the in thing over the summer, so this will never make it back to the shelves before getting checked out again. 

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Cartoon Saturday- Clifford the Big Red Dog: The Movie (Graphic Novel)

Ball, Georgia. Clifford the Big Red Dog: The Movie (Graphic Novel)
Clifford the Big Red Dog: The Movie
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Emily Elizabeth and her paralegal mother live in Harlem, New York City. Emily is starting at a new, elite private school, but the other students call her "food stamp" because she is there on scholarship. When her mother is called out of town to work on Emily's birthday, she's disappointed. Her father is supposed to see her, and her uncle will be staying with her, but it's still lonely. On the way to school, she and her uncle stop at a tent of adoptable pets, run by Mr. Bridwell. Emily see a tiny, adorable puppy, but isn't allowed to adopt him. After a hard day at school, she finds the puppy in her backpack when she gets home, and begs to keep him for just one day. Her uncle agrees, and the next morning, the puppy (whom she has named Clifford) is taller than Emily! This causes lots of problems, and when photos of Clifford and Emily appear on social media, the president of LyfeGrow, Inc., who has had disappointing results of his somewhat vague produuct, decides to kidnap the giant dog and pass him off as the result of his product. Emily's new friend, Owen, comes through with help when everyone is trying to keep Clifford safe, and soon the dog is heading off to Shanghai on a boat to stay at Owen's father's house on a large property. Of course, LyfeGrow goons intercept him, and it's up to Emily to find him. Can Mr. Bridwell help Emily keep her new friend safe?
Strengths: While this has obvious appeal to elementary students who might have recently finished the roughly four thousand Clifford books, this is a solidly middle grade adventure with nice themes of frienship and family. The illustrations are fun, and a nice update. There are some mean girls, but also a lot of people wanting to help Emily. I'm vaguely curious about the movie. Apparently, there was also a television show in the 1990s that I managed to miss. Bonus points for naming the magical Mr. Bridwell after Norman Bridwell, the author of the original books.
Weaknesses: Seems a bit odd that Emily and her mother are living in Harlem; weren't the original books solidly surburban? Not as much fun to have a giant dog in all that space, I suppose. Emily still wears skirts at school. Her uncle living in a truck parked on the streets of New York and not wanting to Emily's mother to know also begged an explanation. We don't really know why Clifford is so large, other than some new agey mention of being big and strong to keep Emily safe, and her love making him grow.
What I really think: I have SO. MANY. QUESTIONS. And yet, I also found this rather fun. I shouldn't buy it, but may if I have money left. It's better than some titles (Rickety Stitch and the Galatinous Goo) but not as good as others. 

Ms. Yingling

Friday, November 26, 2021

Who Was the Voice of the People: Cesar Chavez

Blas, Terry. Who Was the Voice of the People: Cesar Chavez
December 7th 2021 by Penguin Workshop
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

The boycott of grapes in 1966, and the social activism at the time, is very interesting to see covered, and the Who Was books are something that my students ask for a lot because they've read them in elementary school. This graphic novel not only tells about Chavez's life, but about this time period. It concentrates especially on the march from Delano, California to the capitol. Chavez was injured the first day, and the group struggled along the route, sleeping outside at farms on their way. There are some explanations in straight text, which was helpful, and a good conclusion as well as a timeline at the end. A short bibliography is included. 
Strengths: I liked the illustration style, and the feel of the 1960s was captured well. The palette was tans and browns, with some dusky greens, which gave an agricultural feel to the book. I also loved the grape border on some of the text. 
Weaknesses: As with any graphic novel coverage, there's a lot of missing details. 
What I really think: I'd rather have seen a graphic novel about Dolores Huerta than Cesar Chavez, but it's good to see this topic covered. 
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, November 25, 2021

I Know Your Secret

Benedis-Grab, Daphne. I Know Your Secret
December 7th 2021 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Four students get a mysterious text one night, saying just "I know your secret". They are each given very specific instructions to follow in order to escape being revealed. For Gemma, it's the fact that she hangs out with a high school boy, but the other secrets are more involved and have more consequences should they be found out. Ally, who was adopted but lost both of her parents in an accident, works with her grandparents at their animal sanctuary. Todd's mother works at a local grocery store and the two struggle to keep afloat, especially after the COVID shutdowns. Todd has anger management issues and has gotten in trouble for hitting others. The four meet up in a custodians' closet at school and realize they are all getting the texts. It is Explorer's Day at school, and there are all sorts of mini courses going on, and the afternoon will showcase the results of these, so it's easier for the kids to sneak around because regular classes are not going on.  They are instructed to get a bag of clothes from a dumpster, put them in a locker, phone the office about it, go into the principal's office to download a file onto a flash drive, and on and on. While doing this, they try to figure out who is blackmailing them, and also learn a bit about the others and their secrets. Will the four be able to complete their tasks and keep their secrets, or find out who is behind the plot and deal with the problem that way?
Strengths: This read a bit like a suspense movie, and there was a lot of good tension surrounding the texts, the tasks, and the mystery of who was behind this. The secrets that the students had were realistic and sufficiently serious for middle school without being too horrible. The kids worked together nicely, and were able to reason out a lot of key plot points. The cover is great, and it is more realistic that students would have the freedom to sneak around during a special event day. 
Weaknesses: The thought of not knowing where students are in school, even during Explorer's Day, makes me very worried, and I have trouble with any book where students conduct a lot of business out of custodial closets! I'm also not a huge fan of the evil adult trope, so this was just not a personal favorite of mine, even though it was well written and has a great premise. I was also a bit concerned about Gemma's relationship with the older boy, but nothing really came of that.
What I really think: YA titles where someone deals in secrets are popular, and this is an interesting middle grade twist on suspense books like Barnes' The Fixer or Elston's The Rules for Disappearing with a dash of Erlbaum's Let Me Fix That For You and even Rylander's The Fourth Stall. Definitely think that students will enjoy this one quite a lot, but I had purely adult problems getting past some of the logistics. I'll definitely purchase this one, and it will get read a lot.  

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Huda F. Are You?

Fahmy, Huda. Huda F. Are You?
November 23rd 2021 by Dial Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Huda and her family move from a town where there are few Muslims to Dearborn, Michigan. Before, her identity was tied strongly to the fact that she was the only hijabi girl, but in Dearborn there are so many others that this doesn't set her apart at all. She settles into school and attending halaqa on Friday nights (religion class similar to Confirmation Class or the mysterious Catholic CCD that none of my friends could ever explain), but doesn't feel that she can pin down her own identity. She does find a new friend in Nabz, so she has a confidant, which is important when she has a crush on a nonMuslim boy who seems interested in her but who is more interested in her religion. Huda struggles with all of the "rules" of being Muslim, trying to figure out which ones to follow just to make her parents happy, and which ones make her happy because they align with her religious views. She struggles with learning more about her culture, dealing with teachers who can't pronounce her name, and coming to terms with the treatment of Muslims in the US. Will Huda be able to carve out a place for herself in her family, her school, and the community at large?
Strengths: Graphic novel publication has increased to the point where it is necessary (and possible) to diversify the collection by genre and representation. Aside from the very emotionally fraught Piece by Piece: The Story of Nisrin's Hijab, I don't know that there is another middle grade novel with a hijabi main character. Personal identity is such a huge concern to middle school students, so I am always interested in stories where characters are trying to figure out who they are and where their interests lie. As someone who spent an inordinate amount of time in church and church groups in middle school, I think there should be a few more representations of children in religious settings, even though (or perhaps especially because) my middle school church experience fueled the fires of my disbelief. The illustration style is fresh and colorful. This book will never make it back to the shelves. 
Weaknesses: I, like Ms. Fahmy's mother, am not a huge fan of the title, even though it is very clever.
What I really think: I will definitely purchase this, although I would love to see some more literature about Muslims from other parts of the world. The Pakistani diaspora is well represented, but I have more students with Somalian background, and struggle to find books that represent their culture.

It's always fun when I hear an author who writes for young people on NPR! Here's a nice interview with Ms. Fahmy

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Rules for Vampires

Foulkes, Alexandra. Rules for Vampires
November 23rd 2021 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Leo is a 111-year-old vampire who was taken by her parents and raised by Lady Sieglinde and her husband along with older sister Emmeline who is unfortunately stuck forever in the body of a two year old. When her Birthnight approaches and she fails miserably at making her first kill in order to drink blood, she is afraid to tell her parents. Her plan had been to be invited in to the local orphanage, St. Frieda's Home for Unfortunate Children and take one of the children, but this ends poorly with a spectacular fire that results in the death of one of the residents, Minna, along with the terrible and cruel Orphanmaster. Minna becomes a ghost, and the two have only seven nights to dispatch the Orphanmaster before he gains power and is able to terrorize the area. Putting together a potion to release his ghost is difficult, and Leo relies partially on family retainer Marged for help, as well as a sentient spider, Rodrigo, who often accompanies Leo. Vampires and ghosts aren't supposed to hang out together, but Leo is glad to finally have a friend. Will the two be able to take care of the Orphanmaster and not get in trouble with Leo's parents?
Strengths: Leo's world is a rather dark, grim one which the cover captures perfectly. Being a vampire seems to have very few perks, and Leo is struggling with many common tween issues, like wanting friends and dealing with difficult siblings on top of everything else. She must also save her world from the dread Orphanmaster. The best part of this is the well-developed vampire lore, with the traditional rules of no garlic or silver, being invited in, avoiding the sun, etc., being expanded upon. The plot is well paced and moves quickly, and Minna and Leo work well together. A great Halloween read  A great Halloween read with a decent ook/ick factor!
Weaknesses: I've had a lot more students asking for vampire books, but they are usually looking for Twilight because their mothers read it. Need to investigate and see if this is the flavor that they want. This might be more of an elementary title. 
What I really think: Readers who enjoyed Brewer's Vladimir Tod series, Ursula Vernon's Castle Hangnail, Emerson's Oliver Nocturne, or the graphic novel Ham Helsing will enjoy this fresh look at a Halloween worthy young vampire. 

Ms. Yingling

Monday, November 22, 2021

MMGM- Stay Alive

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Philbrick, Rodman. Stay Alive: The Journal of Douglas Allen Deeds, The Donner Party Expedition, 1846 
December 7th 2021 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In Missouri, young teenager Douglas Deeds has lost his father and mother, and all he has left in the world in some money and his horse. He decides to join a group of people heading to California, where life promises to be easier. The Breen family, who have a son Edward about Douglas' age, let Douglas accompany the family and share their supplies. The leader of the party, George Donner, has asked Douglas to keep a journal of the trip. The group heads out with lots of enthusiasm and well equipped wagons; the Reeds have one with a door, bed, and even bookshelves. Someone else has brought a piano. Since the rations needed for the months long trip include 150 pounds of flour per person and 75 pounds of meat, there are many animals pulling the wagons, and they need food as well. Things go fairly well, and the group crosses the South Platte river. As the journey continues, tempers begin to fray, bad decisions are made, and crises occur. The Great Salt Lake is long and arduous to cross, but it is the mountains that prove the group's undoing. Winter closes in early in the mountains, and after the group abandons their wagons and supplies to get through a pass, things deteriotate further. Will Douglas be one of the survivors lucky enough to reach California? 

One of the books I can remember reading in fourth grade (almost fifty years ago!) was Mary Jane Carr's 1934 Children of the Covered Wagon. Certainly, the view of Westward Expansion and pioneers has changed significantly in the intervening years, but the adventure and excitement is still part of US history and interesting to read about. There are several mentions of the Native Americans that are met during the journey. While there are some missed opportunities to insert modern sentiment about how wrong it was to encroach upon them, the exchanges are at least not problematically negative, and at least once there is an explanation that the warring behavior is a response to the atrocities visited upon the population by the settlers. To capture the experience of the Donner party, this is about the only reasonable way to go to tell the story, although some critics will still feel this is not enough. 

Details of traveling distances through a landscape with no modern amenities will be eye opening to young readers who can't get through the day without a drink of water or a wall outlet to charge their phone. Cooking over open fire, walking twenty miles a day, and suffering through extremes of weather will all be novel experiences for most readers. I did appreciate that the book just skimmed the surface of the most notable Donner party feature; the cannibalism. Deeds refuses to partake of his expedition mates, and the epilogue and notes at the end tell us more about what happened without getting into grisly details. 

I just had a student ask for books about "the wild west", and I had to tell him there wasn't much. Aside from a few bookslike Gemeinhart's Some Kind of Courage (2015) Rose's Jasper and the Riddle of Riley's Mine (2017) and Taylor's Billy the Kid (2005), I've gotten rid of most of the books about settling the west because of the problematic depictions of Native characters. Stay Alive is a much needed, exciting title covering an important, though difficult, period of US history. I'd love to see more books like this. 

Hopkinson, Deborah. The Deadliest Diseases Then and Now 
October 5th 2021 by Scholastic Focus
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This is the first book in "The Deadlist" series. In a nicely formatted and illustrated book (available in hardcover and paperback, which will probably show up at book fairs), we see the evolving history of epidemics, starting with extensive coverage of the Great Mortality in the 1300s, with an overview of a few earlier incidents. It was interesting to hear that this was what the epidemic was referred to at the time; we tend to call it the Black Plague. I learned more about this event than I thought it possible to know, and the book continues with further information about other diseases and the people involved in dealing with them, like Dr. Wu Lien-teh, a Chinese doctor at the beginning of the 20th century whose work influenced how we dealt with Covid-19. The 1918 flu also gets good coverage, and there's an overview of other diseases like smallpox, polio, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. this is well-formatted for easy reading, and conversational in tone. Scholastic Focus has come out with some interesting nonfiction titles lately which I very much enjoyed.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Candidly Cline

Ormsbee, Kathryn. Candidly Cline
November 9th 2021 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Cline lives near Lexington, Kentucky with her mother and grandmother, since her father died when she was very young. The family is struggling a bit. Cline's mother is a waitress who works long hours at a close knit diner, and her grandmother is struggling with Alzheimer's. Cline's passion is music, and she really wants to be a singer songwriter even though her mother tells her that there is no money in it, and that's why the mother gave up her idea of a music career. When Delia, another waitress, mentions a workshop for young singer songwriters being held at the University of Kentucky, Cline knows that this will make all of the difference in her life, and she needs to pursue attending even when it means lying to her mother. Her grandmother supports her and even gives her $100 towards the $300 needed to attend, and that's enough for Delia to agree to drive Cline to class when she also has a class at UK. Conveniently, the workshop meets on a day that Cline's mother works late. Cline also gets a job babysitting at the nursery where her best friend, Hollie, goes to church, and earns $15 a week. She manages to apply, get accepted, and show up to the workshop without the full payment, but the organizers agree to take payment by the end of the classes. Learning more about music is perfect, and Cline also enjoys working with Sylvie, who is a bit prickly at first because she was suffering from a migraine, but quickly warms to Cline and to the idea of a collaborative song. Meanwhile, her grandmother steadily declines, and Cline struggles with telling the world that she's not interested in boys the way all of her friends are. An incident with Hollie estranges the two and causes Cline to worry that it's not safe to tell others about her emerging sexuality, even as she realizes that she has a crush on Sylvie.Will she be able to continue her musical ruse long enough to compete in a talent show with her new collaborator and crush?
Strengths: Cline is definitely an intriguing character, who has strong opinions about what she wants out of life. I did enjoy the fact that she knows throughout the book that she's not interested in boys, but this isn't quite a coming out story, either. Her community is filled with supportive and helpful characters, like the abetting Delia, and Mrs. Yune, who runs the church nursery but doesn't agree with all of the church's views. The class is interesting, and the collaborative relationship with the rock-centric Sylvie is a nice foil for Cline's classic country music background. The mother is realistically busy and struggling to adjust and pay for the grandmother's medication; there's even a mention of splitting pills in order to be able to afford them, as well as negotiating with a local pharmacy. The progression of the relationship with Sylvie is realistic and nicely paced. 
Weaknesses: I was not a fan of lying about taking the class, and this is emerging as a trend, with similar themes of deception in taking classes in Kim's Stand Up, Yumi Chung and Joseph's Sydney A. Frankel's Summer Mix-Up. This is especially concerning because Cline was supposed to be watching her grandmother. Also, as someone who pursued her passion of teaching Latin even though it was a superbly bad idea, I agreed wholeheartedly with the mother that Cline should be more concerned with remunerative career choices.
What I really think: My students will read anything with an LGBTQIA+ theme, but never pick up books about girls who want to be singers (sadly, the somewhat similar Tune It Out circulates infrequently). Debating.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Double Clique

Staniszewski, Anna. Double Clique (#2)
December 7th 2021 by Scholastic Paperbacks
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus 

After her disastrous start at her new school in Clique Here, LB (a compromise between Lily and Blake, the two names she had used) is doing a bit better, and looking forward to getting back to school after winter break. SHe's still hanging out with her long time best friend, Kat, and they continue to attend art events for Kat and science related ones for LB. Parker, another science nerd on whom LB has a crush is still in the picture. Her mother is struggling to keep up with her new job, but her dad and older sister Maisie step up to get things done at home. Kat banned LB from hanging out with the science club, but Owen and Priya ask for LB's help with an ernergy initiative they need to turn in to the principal. Ashleigh is still around, but when she has a family friend attend the school, L.B. is dismayed-- it's Courtenay, the mean girl who made her life so miserable at her old school. Courtenay's father stole money from the school, so she had to leave, and now her parents are getting divorced. She seems a little nicer, but LB is not trusting her, especially since she seems to have her eyes on Parker! LB feels that she and Kat are drifting apart, so is willing to go to a roller derby class with her, and even joins the school play (The Wizard of Oz) as a set designer. This works well, especially since she and Parker get to work on special effects together. Will LB be able to deal with Courtenay, sustain her friendship with Kat, and deal with all of the other curves that life throws her?
Strengths: WISH novels (especially the ones by Suzanne Nelson) are hugely popular in my library, and my readers enjoy the mix of family and friend drama with a little light romance that is employed here. LB is a sympathetic character even though she often acts without thinking about the consequences. I liked seeing the glimpses of her home life-- dad being willing to take Maisie shopping for a strapless bra, Maisie trying her hand at making dinner, the mother coming home late but still wanting to touch base with LB. Priya and Owen are a realistically annoying couple, but it was good to see them relinquish power in the science club so that others could speak up. The relationship with Parker is nicely done as well. I would have definitely spent some babysitting money to order this one from the Scholastic Book Club!
Weaknesses: There are several references to LB's "unruly hair", which is not supported on the cover. Also feel like I missed the reason for the roller skates. Also, the name Courtenay was somehow painful to read, and LB changes her name again at the end of the book. I would have thought she would have learned her lesson! 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, just endlessly sad that Scholastic publishes so many great titles only in paperback. I guess I should be grateful to get so many titles in hard back; this is not the case with many UK titles. 

Friday, November 19, 2021

Wings of Fire Stuff!

This from Scholastic/Graphix for all of the Wings of Fire Fans out there:

On Friday 11/19, we are kicking off our FanWing Readalong with discussions on Home Base and sharing fan content from GraphixBooks on Instagram and our Scholastic social platforms.


Ms. Yingling

Guy Friday- Batpig

Harrell, Rob. Batpig: When Pigs Fly (Batpig #1)
November 9th 2021 by Dial Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Gary is an ordinary pig, who hangs out with his friends Carl (who is a fish) and Brooklyn (who is a bat). They hang out in their city neighborhood, eat sandwiches, play video games, and read Crimson Swine comics. When he is accidentally bitten (I thought by Brooklyn, but the sysnopsis says by a radioactive bat, and I don't remember Brooklyn being radioactive.), he develops super powers. He and Brooklyn work on honing these together, and don't tell Carl because he doesn't keep secrets well. This leads to sadness and anger on Carl's part that the other two acknowledge but don't quite know how to handle. Still, they work on costumes, catch phrases, and ring tones suitable for a super hero, and Batpig starts to save the day on small occasions. Carl's Lizard has a junk food combo dripped on him that turns him into the villain on the cover, and as Batpig makes the news, it's harder and harder to hide things from Carl. When they finally let their friend in on the secret, he does a decent job of keeping it. Batpig also battle The Butcher, whose real identity is clear to the reader but not to Batpig, and narrowly manages to save his friends and the city from destruction. 
Strengths: This is based on a character from Ross' comics in Wink, and hits the middle school sweet spot for goofy while cleverly working in issues of personal identity. The city setting is interesting, and Gary's parents are both alive! I also enjoyed how characters from Gary's regular life are the ones who become the villains he must fight. The illustration style is fresh, and I enjoyed the muted orange and purple-toned color palette, which was a nice change for a super hero story and gives it an air of gravitas. (I would have expected bright primary colors.) A great follow up to Wink
Weaknessses: Not sure if this is good or bad; It took me about half the book to realize that Brooklyn was female, because the convention of longer eyelashes on cartoon girls was not observed. The character's gender doesn't matter, but I'm old and was briefly confused. Also, still have questions about why his little cousin Mervyn wears a shirt and pants, but Gary only wears pants.
What I really think: I have limited space for graphic novels, so only buy a small percentage of the ones that are published, but will purchase this for the good balance of super heroes with friendship issues as well as the larger font and fun illustrations. Plus, you know, BATPIG. 

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Only if You Dare

Coleman, Allen. Only if You Dare
August 31st 2021 by Holiday House 
Public library copy

The only short story collections that circulate well in my library (other than the Guys Read collections, which take a lot of hand selling) are the scary stories ones. Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (which I don't think are very good), San Souci's Short and Shivery or Dare to Be Scared, and Scholastic's Midnight Library books all do very well. Let's not forget Lubar's Lawn Weenies books, which look like they will be goofy but are rather chilling.

Like Lubar's work, these stories generally tick along with a somewhat creepy vibe, and then take a surprise twist, like the weird The Substitute. It's hard to say too much about the stories without ruining them. My favorite was Hi, Jenny, about a cell phone that made a few too many demands on its young owner. 

I'm definitely putting this one, as well as Out to get you : 13 Tales of Weirdness and Woe on my order list, since I cannot keep enough scary books around to make my students happy!