Saturday, August 24, 2019

Cartoon Saturday- Dear Justice League

Northrop, Michael and Duarte, Gustavo (illus.). Dear Justice League.
August 6th 2019 by DC Zoom
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

In this short, middle grade graphic novel, DC superheroes from the Justice League answer e mails from young fans. Superman is asked if he ever makes mistakes, and a story unfolds with one of his rescues taking multiple wrong turns. Aquaman gets an inquiry about whether he smells like fish, leading to some super hero introspection. Wonder Woman recounts her busy life after being invited to a young admirer's birthday party, and then decides to attend. The Green Lantern thinks about his costuming after being questioned by a young fashionista, and Batman counsels a young writer about being new in town.

The super heroes' backstories unfold with lots of pictures and few words, but it is clear that they struggle just as much as their fans, although in somewhat different ways. I love the administrative side of being a superhero, and the fact that answering e mails is a chore even for the likes of Wonder Woman! There is a good mix of silly antics and introspection that is not a surprise coming from a great middle grade author like Northrop.

The illustrations are done in full color, and this reminded me of the comic books we used to purchase at gas stations on long car trips, although the small size makes this easier to carry in backpacks.

Young readers who are fans of DC comics, or adults who WANT young readers to be fans, will find this an excellent way to introduce the canon of characters in the Justice League and entice readers to look into the comic books. This is a must have for readers who enjoyed Yee's DC Super Hero Girls Adventure Collection, Fridolfs and Nguyen's DC Comics: Secret Hero Society and Pearson and Gonzalez's Super Sons: The Polarshield Project.

Yardi, Robin. Owl's Outstanding Doughnuts
September 3rd 2019 by Carolrhoda Books (R)
E ARC provided by

Mattie has moved to Big Sur to live with her aunt following the death of her mother. Her aunt runs a small doughnut shop, and the two live in a trailer behind the shop. It's been a difficult transition, but Mattie has made two friends, Sasha and her younger sister, Beanie, whose family run a small campground and general store. A short while before school is to start, an owl taps of Mattie's window in the middle of the night. Going outside to investigate, Mattie sees two figures with a white van dumping something into a river. She lets her friends know, and they start an investigation. When Mattie points out that Sasha's father's van is very similar, Beanie enthusiastically puts him on the lists of subjects, but Sasha is angry and won't talk to Mattie. When the owl drops some sludge right in front of Mattie, she searches and finds more of the "gloop", and knows something is very wrong. With Sasha angry at her, Mattie tries to get more help from the owl to figure out what is going on.
Strengths: I am a big fan of stories that involve environmental issues, and the Big Sur setting adds a lot of color to this one. Any book involving doughnut, pie, or ice cream shops is good as well. The friend drama between Mattie and Sasha is very realistic. It's nice to see that Mattie has the support of a beloved aunt when dealing with the death of her mother. The investigation of the dumping moves the story along quickly, although I have to say that my favorite part was the description of the doughnuts at the beginning of each chapter!
Weaknesses: I wasn't thrilled with the chapters narrated by Alfred, the owl, but when Mattie climbs up to his nest and communicates with him by asking questions and having him blink, this really made it seem less realistic. I think younger children might enjoy this more.
What I really think: There were a lot of things I liked about this one, but I don't think my students want this sort of mystery. They are quite a bloodthirsty lot, and want more murder mysteries!
Ms. Yingling

Friday, August 23, 2019


Feinstein, John. Benchwarmers
August 27th 2019 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Jeff is not sure he's going to make the newly created 6th grade soccer team; he's not a great player, and his forte is backetball. He's even more doubtful about his chances when Andi Carrillo tries out, because she is every bit as good as blowhard Ron Arlow. Even though there is a girl's field hockey team, Andi is a soccer player, and the principal doesn't see a problem with her trying out for the team. Coach Johnson, however, does. He talks to the principal as well, and wants support for his decision, which ends up to not let Andi on the team. He tells her and the principal, separately, that it is not about her playing-- he thinks a girl's presence on the team would be divisive, and not the best thing for the team. Andi doesn't think this is right at all, but her lawyer parents know that there's really no good course legally. Luckily, Jeff's father is a sportscaster who does local interest pieces, and he manages to get his station interested. Another reported does an Internet piece that arouses a lot of interest, and Coach Johnson is forced to let her play, since she should have made the team based on her skills. There are a few boys, like Arlow, who don't want her on the team, but most are glad to have her contribute. When Coach J. doesn't play her, though, she can't help the team. It takes some convincing, and a few scuffles within the team and with other teams, but Andi's skills can't be denied. Jeff struggles with playing time as well, but works hard and improves a lot. Andi does miss some play time because she is kicked in the head during a play and everyone follows proper concussion protocol, including a doctor's visit the next morning. When the local championship comes down to the Mustangs versus KP-North, whose coach is even less thrilled about girls playing in the league, Andi and the boys have to not only play a great soccer game but watch for dirty tricks. Have they grown enough as a team to work together to do this?
Strengths: The best part of this book, for me, was that everything that happened seemed realistic. The principal followed procedure, the coach wasn't happy but was within his rights, the news media got involved, things changed. The boys were pretty much okay with Andi, but a few weren't, and when she was attacked, they got angry because she was their teammate. It's even realistic that Coach Johnson realizes what a jerk he was! I'd like to say that there aren't any more chauvinistic coaches and teachers out there, but just four years ago I had to go talk to a history teacher of my daughter's because he repeatedly made really sexist remarks! There were girls on other teams in the book where it hadn't been an issue-- this was just all well done. Jeff's last rung place on the team was also well played, and the friendship and slight romance between him and Andi warmed my heart. There are not a lot of good soccer books out there, so this is a great addition for ALL of my soccer loving students.
Weaknesses: I think the time has come to move beyond situations where girls want to play soccer/football/basketball on boys' teams and just DO. We're there. I really think we are.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. Feinstein just keeps getting better and better; The Sports Beat books were good, but The Backfield Boys and The Prodigy were phenomenal!

So, apparently, I collect clothes in the way that some people collect dolls. Blogging about my fashion choices is a little embarrassing, because I have a LOT of clothes that are older than my students!

I bought this navy sheath dress in 2000 for a trip to Boston, and I wore the jacket when I first started teaching at Blendon... in 2002! I know this because I won a prize for summer reading at the Westerville Public Library the summer before I started, and a couple of us had our picture in the paper. I was wearing this jacket!

The 1970s Trifari angelfish pin is a new acquisition, $2 at the Ohio Thrift Store.

Oh, isn't the internet a wonderful place? Look what I found when I searched for the maker of the jacket, Suburban Petites: You can buy your own! Trust me, I did not pay $60 for this!

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Babysitting Nightmares

As hard I try, I occasionally miss books that are published. I was about way into this Kat Shepherd book when a character popped up and I thought "Wait... this is not the first book!" So, here is a good mystery SERIES to take a look at! I'll mention the other books below; I will probably order them, then read them before I put them on the shelves, although my public library does have copies.

Shepherd, Kat. The Twilight Curse (Babysitting Nightmares #3)
August 20th 2019 by Imprint
E ARC provided by

When Clio's aunt Kawanna brings the girls into the Twilight Theater in Piper, Oregon, to see it before a production of Macbeth starts to rehearse, Maggie is the most excited. She would love to be in the play, but it doesn't have any young cast members. She's excited to babysit the daughter of Emily, the star, at the theater. Juniper is a well behaved child, and Maggie gets to see some of the play as well as investigate the theater. Built in 1929, the theater has had nothing but bad luck, and never has been able to stay open for long. Kawanna tells the girls they shouldn't say the name of the play in the theater, and the girls wonder if the run of bad luck for the current production has anything to do with them. When Clio, Rebecca and Tanya help Maggie delve into more of the history of the theater when weird things start to happen, they find out that the star, Vivien Vane, was not able to perform opening night because the understudy, Norma Desmond, did some underhanded things. Vivien appears to be haunting the theater with the help of the Night Queen. Can the girls keep the theater safe from evil influences, and bring the spirit of Vane some peace?
Strengths: The theater was an awesome setting, and there are lots of similar venues that are having difficulty, so this was a fun way to introduce younger readers to some interesting cultural history. I loved that Norma Desmond was the name of the actress who was at odds with Vane; that, of course, is not a real person but the name of a character in Sunset Boulevard portrayed by Gloria Swanson! I'm sure the dealings with the Nightmare Realm and the Night Queen would have made a lot more sense had I read the first two books, but this held up very well as a stand alone. Nicely creepy, with murderous ghost as well as babysitting and a play production.
Weaknesses: While I understand why the culturally diverse cast is used, it's sort of a cliche. Clio is African American, Rebecca is Asian (this book didn't specify which country), and Tanya is Latinx. Maggie has red hair; the White character sometimes has blonde hair. Oddly, this ensemble is never used for boys. It's not a bad thing, but it is a little odd.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing the whole set for my readers who like mystery and ghost stories.

Shepherd, Kat. Babysitting Nightmares: The Shadow Hand
Published June 5th 2018 by Imprint

"The Baby-Sitter’s Club meets Goosebumps as a diverse group of friends encounter supernatural problems on their babysitting gigs. The typical babysitting job just got a whole lot scarier!

Rebecca Chin is understandably freaked out when something begins haunting her babysitting charge, Kyle. Ever since a powerful thunderstorm, strange handprints have appeared on the walls, shashadows prowl his room, and the baby is not quite himself.

After investigating, Rebecca and her three best friends discover that a sinister, paranormal villain known as the Night Queen has taken Kyle and replaced him with one of her minions. To stop her, they embark on a chilling journey into the woods to outwit the Night Queen and her creepy creatures—or risk being trapped in her realm forever!"

Shepherd, Kat. Babysitting Nightmares: The Phantom Hour
Published January 29th 2019 by Imprint


"Clio has already had one brush with the paranormal, and she's dead set on making it her last.

But her new babysitting job is in a haunted house! At first, Clio's excited to work at the historical Victorian mansion in town--until doors

Clio enlists the help of her three best friends, Tanya, Maggie, and Rebecca, to uncover long-buried secrets from the past. Can Clio face her fear and solve the mystery of the haunted mansion?"

Curriculum Night, so here is another Petite Sophisticate jacket in Blendon Blue, with a Chaps black knit dress. Glass bead necklace completes the look.

Oh, my. Petite Sophisticate went out of business in 2005. No wonder I haven't been finding as many of their things at the thrift store! Good thing I believe in style and not fashion!

I keep all of my shoes at school, since I wear out a lot of tennis shoes on my walk. I prefer Clarks loafers, and change when I get to school, humming Mr. Rogers' "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood" to myself while doing so.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Pavi Sharma's Guide to Going Home

Farr, Bridget. Pavi Sharma's Guide to Going Home
September 17th 2019 by Little, Brown Books for Young Reader
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Pavi has been in several foster homes, as well as the Crossroads group home, ever since her mother became unable to care for her. Her foster mother is now Marjorie, a teacher, whose son Hamilton is Pavi's age and a good friend to her. Pavi has a "business" where she counsels other foster kids and does research on their families and new schools in exchange for school supplies. She is working with Santos, a new 8th grader. When she stops by Crossroads to try to get information from Lenny, one of the Crossroads workers, she sees a little girl, Meridee, and finds out that she is going to live with the Nickersons soon. That family was one of Pavi's placements, and she not only received inadequate care there, but she also saw dog fighting and lost a puppy in one of the fights. She takes it upon herself to try to get another placement for Meridee, having Santos (who has a deeper voice) call Child Protective Services, and coaching Meridee how to fake appendicitis when her case worker is taking her to the Nickersons. There's also her regular life to deal with-- school projects, dealing with Piper, Hamilton's friend, and keeping her grades up. Hamilton and Piper are working together on a series of makeup videos that are very popular, and this gives Pavi the idea to film the Nickersons and use the tape to keep Meridee out of their home. This is an elaborate project, but one that doesn't work. Luckily, things end fairly well both Santos, Meridee and even Pavi herself.
Strengths: With the growing number of children in foster care due to the opioid epidemic, it's not surprising that we are finally starting to see foster children as main characters in books. Pavi's story is interesting because she has such a good rapport with her foster brother, and she has regular contact with other foster children, especially at the group home. She has some keep insights on how to get along with families, making good impressions, and dealing with people who don't know what to say when they find out she is in foster care. Her concern for Santos and Meridee is touching.
Weaknesses: I had trouble believing that she would be able to conduct her business, and it made the story slightly less believable to me. The ending with the Nickersons was nice, but a little too convenient. I also wish we had just been told why Pavi's mother couldn't take care of her at the beginning of the book; I think this is a big concern for readers unfamiliar with foster care, as they might not readily grasp the concept of why children are placed into the system.
What I really think: This was an engaging story with likable characters, so I will probably purchase, but am concerned that some readers might be a little confused by some aspect of the story telling. I did appreciate that the author tried to work more humor into the story, which will definitely gain it more readers.
This washable L.L. Bean dress feels sort of like wearing a nightgown to work, but it's fine with a Petite Sophisticate jacket over it, right? I've had these both for years, and the necklace was a Christmas present from my mom about ten years ago.

A dress with a jacket is definitely my go to look for back to school. Comfortable, inexpensive, and I can fold the jacket up in my pack back if it's too warm to wear on the walk home.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, August 20, 2019


Grey, Melissa. Rated
September 3rd 2019 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Maplethorpe is an elite academy where students can boost their ratings through academics. Since the entire society revolves around these ratings, students like Be x know that every facet of their lives needs to be carefully controlled so that they can go to good colleges and get good jobs. Bex's rating is a 92, but she is very stressed. Chase, whose father is an alcoholic and whose mother has left, has a rating that  has dropped so much that he might be kicked off the team, is tutored by Bex. Noah is a photographer who has a younger sister who is very ill and needs a bone marrow transplant, and he connects with Javi, whose rating is high because he does very well at a video game. Hana is a figure skater whose parents push her so hard that she has developed anorexia; she becomes friends with Tamsin, whose mother owns an herbal remedies shop, after her coach sends her there. Tamsin's rating is very low, mainly because she often skips classes and just doesn't care. At the very beginning of the school year, the school is vandalized by a spray painted sign that claims the ratings aren't real, and the security cameras have stickers put over the lenses. These stickers appear on invitations issued to all six characters. They have to decipher the message, and when they finally attend the meeting, they realize that the ratings system is not something that everyone at their school supports.
Strengths: I loved the premise of this-- everything in your life depends on your ratings in everything from academics to behavior to social interactions. If students actually saw a concrete accounting of how they measured up, wouldn't they behave and pay more attention in school? Wouldn't their parents be more concerned as well? The characters were nicely varied, the romance between Javi and Noah is good, and I loved Bex and her drive to be better.
Weaknesses: I lived in Cincinnati in the 1980s, so the constant mention of Maplethorpe (albeit with a different spelling) conjured up a completely different image for me!
What I really think: This is more of a YA book and took much too long to get to the main point of the plot. I was hoping for something dystopian with a fun social twist, but this just fell short of the mark for me.

Another scorcher today, so a knit dress. $1.50 at Goodwill, and I was egged on by my daughter, because this is shorter than I usually wear. Accessorized by Hang Ten necklace that makes me laugh to myself because no one knows the meaning of it any more.

Will probably also throw on my black Teacher Sweater at some point during the day. I also have a beige one, as well as a navy fleece, since the temperature in the library can fluctuate wildly.
Ms. Yingling

Monday, August 19, 2019

MMGM- Hoax for Hire

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

Martin, Laura. Hoax for Hire
August 27th 2019 by HarperCollins
ARC Provided by Young Adult Books Central

Grayson MacNeil would really like to be able to pay attention in school, get his application essay for a private school written, and get a scholarship so he can pursue a career in photography, but his family is holding him back. His father and grandfather are cryptid hunters and hoax masters who travel the globe fabricating Big Foot and sea creature sightings. Grayson and his brother Curtis often have to accompany them, and when the family gets a big contract to pull off four sea creature sightings in a short amount of time, they end up pulling a successful hoax themselves. This comes at a price-- Grayson is told that if he misses one more day of school, his scholarship application is in jeopardy. Since family finances are tight and his mother has passed away, Grayson feels like he needs to put his own needs on hold. This includes socializing with the fun and friendly Clare from his class. When he finally agrees to meet her at a bonfire party (and even buys the name brand marshmallows for s'mores), things are going great... until he hears a recording of a monster that he himself did! The teens panic and run away, but Curtis and Grayson end up in jail. The people behind the hoax? The only other big hoax masters, the Gerhard family from Germany. Clive and Axel are angry that their family didn't get the big contract, so they have decided to pull out all the stops to sabotage the MacNeils. Not only have they detained the father in Scotland and sent the grandfather off on a wild goose chase to save him, but they break into the MacNeil's property and steal all of the newest and best hoax equipment. With the adults out of the picture, it falls to the boys to pull off the one last hoax in Vermont, with less than optimal equipment. It will be a tough task, but help comes from an unlikely source. Will they be able to pull off this scam, or will the Gerhard family finally win?

This was a completely fresh and engaging novel! There are very few books about cryptids out there (Savage's Lemons, Smith's Cryptid Hunters and Aldredge and DuBois-Shaw' s Sasquatch, Love, and Other Imaginary Things are the only ones I can think of), but the idea that since cryptid hunting isn't lucrative, the family has turned to inventing cryptid sightings was brilliant. I loved how the author just set out all of this information and expected me to believe that the MacNeil clan was involved in the Loch Ness sightings in Scotland, hunted cryptids for years, and that the boys' father, when things became tight financially, decided to stage sightings! The family log book, the years' worth of antique equipment, and the habit of mayors of towns wanting to hire the family to ramp up tourism were all details that made me nod my head and say "Huh. That could work."

Grayson was a great character, with his passion for learning and doing well in school. Curtis, whose love of the family business makes his less than enthusiastic about attending classes, is a great foil for him. The fact that the boys do okay on their own, cooking meals, successfully setting up sea monsters, and even getting out of jail by themselves, will appeal to young readers. I would have preferred that their mother were off setting up a hoax to get her out of the way, but the grandfather is such an appealing character that I am glad that he is there, trying to fill the mom sized hole with a tornado of his own energy!

I wasn't sure how I felt about the Gerhards, but I was surprised when they showed up. They are quite evil, and aren't fooling around in their attempts to take down the MacNeils. This took the novel in a direction I wasn't quite expecting, which I loved! This is the sort of book that I can always use-- it's funny, a little dark, and has plenty of unexpected adventure. Hand this to any middle grade reader who isn't quite sure what they want, other than a fantastic read!

I secretly want to dress like a flower child in loose peasant skirts and tops, and occasionally hallucinate that I will wear skinny jeans with chiffon and knit tunic tops. Hahaha. My fashion sense was formed almost completely by the 1980s prep era, so if I can't wear something with a polo, turtleneck, or oxford shirt, I probably won't wear it.

This is an exception, since it's supposed to be 95 degrees today. The peach Limited dress was $5, but it was brand new; maybe a prototype, because there were a lot of new dresses at the thrift store when I got it. The Mercer and Madison top was $2. I do love the dangly lion necklace.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Last Meeting of the Gorilla Club

Nickerson, Sara. Last Meeting of the Gorilla Club
August 27th 2019 by Dutton Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Josh's family has moved from Chicago for a new start, and Josh is starting at Mountain View K-8 school. His first day doesn't go particularly well, partly because of the return of his imaginary friend, Big Brother, whom his parents had him bury in a funeral ceremony when they thought he was too old. Josh has seen a lot of imaginary people (including a woman in the old school library who gives him a book), and his mother in particular is very concerned. Fifth grade at his new school is not too bad otherwise; his teacher, Mr. K., is lots of fun, but it is hard to make new friends, and Josh tends to keep to himself. There is another student, Lucas, who also sees people who aren't really there. His best friend, Moxie, died when they were in first grade, but he keeps seeing her at school, and she talks to him. After Mr. K. shows a video to the class and asks the students to count the basketballs, Josh and Lucas are the only ones to see the unusual occurrence, and Josh also sees Moxie. The two boys are invited to a meeting of the Gorilla Club by Moxie, and go to the home where she died, which is supposedly haunted. Another tragedy almost occurs, but the boys survive and the fact that they have each been able to make an actual friend bodes well for their future.
Strengths: This had a very realistic school setting, and it was interesting to see a story about a character who moves who doesn't move directly into a haunted house. Yes, there are "haunted" areas, but this is a twist. Josh and Lucas are both engaging characters, and the school is a fun setting.
Weaknesses: I was hugely bothered by the author's use of the word Kleenex when tissue should have been used. I remember reading about using trademarked names in Writer's Digest years ago.
What I really think: The cover made it seemed like this would be a funny book, but it was really more of a story about anxiety and grief. I will probably pass on purchase since I am having trouble thinking of students who might want this. If the ghosts had been scarier, that would have helped.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Cartoon Saturday-- More Notebook Novels

King, Zach. Mirror Magic (Zach King #3)
December 31st 2018 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

After his adventures in My Magical Life and The Magical Mix-Up , Zach has reawakened his magical abilities, but is keeping this a secret from his family so that he doesn't have to go back to being homeschooled. His friends Rachel and Aaron always help him out, and the three of them are involved with the school play. After a disastrous incident with a magical paint brush, Zach has an accident with a magical mirror he discovered in the attic when his mom had him cleaning things out. Zach travels through the mirror into an alternate reality, Reverse World. There, he is Jak, and he attends a magical school. His friends have powers, as well as slightly different names and personalities. Tricia is nice, Rachel is timid, Aaron likes dogs, and his mother is a horrible cook! While Zach is in this world, Jak has come into our place of existence, and is having to adjust to all of the changes. Unless Zach cam figure out what has happened, both he and Jak will be stuck and unable to return to their own realities. Will the two boys be able to count on their friends in order to solve the mystery?

Mr. King is a You Tube presence who specializes in videos that make it look like he is doing magic tricks. Zach has struggled over the last few books trying to figure out what his abilities are. It looked as if he did not have any abilities, which is why his family sent him to public school, but it turns out that he can take other people's magic implements (his mother has a ring, his father a watch, and his sister a pair of glasses) and use them himself. The attic that his mother had him clean was full of family heirlooms that all had magical qualities, including the mirror.

The thing that I like best is Zach's relationship with Aaron and Rachel. Aaron is a good friend (who has a cute cat), who supports Zach no matter what goes wrong. And a lot goes wrong! Zach has a crush on Rachel because she is fearless and brave, and she pushes Zach to work through his difficulties instead of giving up.

There are some graphic novel style pages in between chapters, and this is a big draw for readers who like books like Holm's Squish: Super Amoeba and Vernon's Dragonbreath, but want somewhat longer books. Zach is a fun character who would be right as home at a cafeteria table sitting next to Greenwald's Charlie Joe Jackson, Peirce's Big Nate, or Beaty's Dorko the Magnificent.

Russell, Rachel Renee. Masters of Mischief (Max Crumbly #3)
June 13th 2019 by Simon & Schuster
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

When we last saw Max and Erin, they had just thwarted three inept burglars and were headed for a garbage dumpster. That's where they are now, in the middle of the night, trying to figure out a way to get home. As luck would have it, they make it out of the fenced dumpster area and end up in the back of a crowded pick up truck... which is of course being driven by the burglars! They manage to jump out, find a bike and wagon to use to get home, and then have to explain what they were doing. Since Max still has not returned his father's valuable comic book to him, he's hoping to fly under the radar, but that is hard to do since his sister and crabby neighbor saw him come in late at night. Max's father wants him to help clean the garage, and there is a goofy run in with Mr. Howell and Max's father. When the criminals show up at the school again, will Erin and Max be able to head them off, or will they be headed for another adventure in the dumpster?

Like Kinney's Wimpy Kid books, the Dork Diaries and Max Crumbly have a cult following of young readers who like the hand drawn font, copious illustrations and goofy adventures. Max spends a lot of time opining on minutiae, such as why the trash bin at the school is so heavily guarded while the computers have no security at all. He also spends a lot of time imaging things, from soaring in his super hero cape to magically building muscles through light exercise.

The plot is sort of the reverse of books like Johnson's The Great Green Heist, Max Rylander's The Fourth Stall or Ferraiolo's The Quick Fix in that Max and Erin are not fomenting goofy criminal hijinks, but trying to prevent them. There are still mad chases through air ducts, hacking into security systems, and trying to hide their actions from parents, but our heroes are trying to stop the thieves, not perpetrate crimes of their own.

The big draw of these books is, of course, the illustrations, which have a Manga style air to them, with big eyes and exaggerated expressions. While I don't quite see the appeal of the books, they are undoubtedly popular with young readers, who will have to wait until the next book to find out how Max gets out of his latest scrape.

Pichon, Liz. Tom Gates: Extra Special Treats (Not)
April 22nd 2019 by Candlewick Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

When Marcus Meldrew gets a Star Pupil Badge, Tom decides that he will try to mend his ways and earn one himself, since students sporting the badge get preferential treatment from teachers. This gets off to a rocky start, since Tom rarely has his textbook or extra papers, and he has a tendency to doodle unflattering pictures of Mr. Fullerman. That's okay; winter is closing in, and soon school is canceled. Tom looks forward to spending time at home, locating his mother's secret stashes of chocolate covered raisins, but his uncle, aunt and cousins descend to plan The Fossil's fiftieth wedding anniversary party and end up staying because their heat is out. The posh family isn't keen on roughing it, although Tom notices that his cousins don't turn up their nose at the snacks provided! At least the family has time to plan an epic anniversary party and gift, and grandma gets the opportunity to knit lots of wooly garments to mail to the family. There's some snow sculpting and outside activity, some DogZombie band practice, and as always, caramel wafers and grandma's sketchy cooking!

I have always been a sucker for a book with a good snowstorm, from Haywood's Snowbound with Betsy (1963) to Kinney's Cabin Fever (2010). While I am not impressed with the British snowfall (it seems like just a couple of inches knocks out power supplies; it's not the three feet of snow that, say, Buffalo, New York is apt to get), the resultant family togetherness is just as much fun.

Of all the characters, I think that Granny Mavis is my favorite. Her sundae-inspired sweaters, complete with cherries atop the hats, are beyond awesome, and her peaches and pasta and cornflakes and chicken are the sort of quirky, passive-aggressive subterfuge that should get one excused from all further cooking duties! Give me a souped up golf cart to drive back and forth from the Leafy Green Old Folks Home, and I'd be glad to party with The Fossils as well!

Tom would be a good companion to Peirce's Big Nate; they are both well meaning but misguided boys with a boundless enthusiasm for what they hold dear. These notebook novels are the homemade apple pie with whole wheat crust of children's literature; books that are sweet and satisfying while still being nutritious enough to be served occasionally, even for breakfast.

Jeans and t shirts. That's all I can manage on the weekends. I understand casual clothing even less than I understand work clothing. Most of my tennis shoes are trail shoes, thanks to the last nine years of coaching cross country.

A friend gave me this t shirt that says "Easily distracted by dogs and books".

Sylvie approves.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Michael Collins: Forgotten Astronaut

Buckley, James Jr. Michael Collins: Forgotten Astronaut
August 27th 2019 by Jeter Publishing
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

There have been a huge number of books about the Apollo 11 moon walk since this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of that event, and all of them have contributed greatly to my knowledge of the space program. This biography takes a slightly different approach, concentrating on the one man of the three who did  not walk on the moon, Michael Collins. While the first section of the book is a fairly standard biography, mentioning Collins' early life and  giving lots of details about his military and flight experience, it gets very interesting when Collins enters the space program. The details of training, as well as descriptions of the rigorous process to even be chosen as an astronaut, are very interesting, and unlike anything I've read. The fact that the applicants were all white males is addressed, and a brief mention is given to women and people of color who were space pioneers. Probably the most fascinating part of the book was the description of the survival training the members of the Gemini and Apollo missions had to undergo-- in jungles and deserts! There was no guarantee that the modules would land in the ocean, so the crew needed to be prepared! I also enjoyed the depiction of the KC-135 cargo plane that would provide moments of weightlessness when it would fly straight up and then back down-- it's nickname was "the vomit comet"! The inclusion of more personal moments, such as Collins going to Dave Scott's house to help with his children when the Gemini 8 mission was in trouble, and his role in notifying Roger Chaffee's wife of his death, gives us insight into the personality of our subject. Where this book really shines, though, is the Apollo 11 mission through Collins' eyes, and the celebrations and tour afterwards through the same lens. This points out that history isn't monolithic, and that there are always lots of stories to be told about any event. There is just enough information about Collins' career after his stint in NASA to make me feel a sense of closure.
Strengths: I bookmarked a lot of pages, because there were so many small things that I learned. This will make the book appealing to readers who adore nonfiction, but the book also was a compelling read, with just enough information to keep it fast paced. I always tell my students that reading biographies is a great way to be allowed to be nosy about someone else's life, and this had a great balance of public and private life.
Weaknesses: This is more of a weakness of my students--I wish my students read more narrative nonfiction. For a while, I could get them to plow through some 42 page nonfiction books, but it's sometimes a struggle to get them to get through a reasonably long book like this one. Maybe now that they aren't allowed to use their cell phones during study hall, we will see a resurgence in nonfiction reading.
What I really think: I am going to start recommending books about the early space program to my readers who ONLY want to read about WWII, because all of the astronauts had a military background. Which is so obvious, but just blows my mind. I think it will do the same for my students.

My favorite moment yesterday was when three 6th grade boys came in. One said "We don't like to read, but my brother said you could help us find good books."

"Yeah," another chimed in, "since we're in middle school now, we want to read something besides Wimpy Kid."

Got the ring leader Korman's Chasing the Falconers and Joe Schrieber's Game Over, Pete Watson, one friend Horowitz's Stormbreaker, and the other Sherman's A Time for War.

Yes, I wear a lot of navy blue! This Liz Claibourne dress ($3) actually has a beige pattern. The cameo came from my best friend's mother's jewelry collection, and was amusing because I had one of my mother's almost exactly like it! (It has a hook on the back to make it a necklace.

Also, I don't have a smart phone, and my arms are not long enough for a good selfie with the iPad!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Curse of the Werepenguin

Woodrow, Allan. The Curse of the Werepenguin
August 13th 2019 by Viking Books for Young Readers
ARC provided by publisher

Bolt Wattle has a horrible life in an orphanage, where his birthmark of a penguin sets him apart. He dreams of one day being reunited with his family, and when he is summoned by the Baron Chordata to come live in Brugaria, he is worried that his family won't be able to find him. During the trip there, he starts to think that maybe the Baron is his father, but when everything surrounding the Baron turns out to be creepy and alarming, Bolt has his doubts. Still, he is in Brugaria and not in the orphanage, so he struggles to make the best of a gloom-spewing "lowly housekeeper", a friendship with the local bandit's daughter, Annika, and the weird Baron himself, who looks to be Bolt's age. The countryside of Brugaria is rife with penguins, but also filled with whale supporting villagers, and Bolt learns a secret about the Chordata family the hard way. Will he be able to make his way in the castle, or will he succumb to the evil that lies within it?
Strengths: Woodrow is a solid writer of realistic fiction, and this is a departure for him. He has clearly studied books like The Wolves of Willoughby chase and understands the orphan-meets-evil trope. From there, he ups the game by working in penguins to the situation, creating the type of "silly horror book" that Bolt doesn't like! The use of goofy names and phrasing is consistent throughout the book, and the back stories all weave well together. The more I think about it, it's quite masterfully done, and the addition of spot illustrations adds another level of penguin horror.
Weaknesses: This is a bit on the long side due to the amount of brilliant description, making this a good choice for strong younger readers who want to laugh and be slightly scared in equal measure. This is most similar to Wood's The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, but sillier.
What I really think: This was very well done, but since I am currently eying the wonderful Philip Ardagh series A House Called Awful End for weeding because the need for Lemony Snicket read-alikes has disappeared in my library, I don't know that I will purchase it.

Do love a nice jacket, and now that I'm not coaching cross country, I don't have to wodge them up in my backpack on the way home from school! This one is very "headmistress at private school" but cost $2 at the thrift store; the sleeveless navy dress was $1. The giant elephant necklace is one of my favorites; I've had it for years.

For #ThrowbackThursday, here's a picture of me heading to my first day in the classroom-- in 1989!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Other Half of Happy

Balcárcel, Rebecca. The Other Half of Happy
August 20th 2019 by Chronicle
ARC provided by Follett First Look

Quijana's father is from Guatemala, and he is very proud of his cultural heritage, although he has never spoken Spanish with his daughter. Her mother is not Latinx, and Quijana identifies more as "American", causing some of her Latinx classmates to refer to her as a coconut. She has a hard time starting middle school, but makes fast friends with Jayden (on whom she has a crush) and Zuri, which makes things easier. Some of her relatives relocate to her area in Texas from Guatemala, and she is apprehensive about meeting her cousins. She also doesn't want to travel to see her abuela, since she doesn't speak Spanish, and the idea of visiting a foreign country doesn't appeal to her. She is very fond of her grandmother Miller who lives in Florida, and is very worried because she is ill. Instead of flying to Guatemala with her family, Quijana makes a plan to buy a bus ticket to Florida, selling the huipil her abuela sent her in order to get the money. In the meantime, there are many problems with her three year old brother, Memito, who is uncommunicative and easily upset by light, sound, and touch. Quijana starts to play her father's guitar, but when he finds out, he tries to control what she plays and how she plays, which leads to an argument between the two that culminates in Quijana breaking the guitar. With so much tension and bad things happening, will Quijana be able to make things right with her family?
Strengths: This has some similarities to Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish, in that Quijana has to deal with people thinking she is Guatemalan when she herself feels "American". (I dislike this term, since people from South and Central America are also "American", but "from the US" is not quite the phrase, either.) The inclusion of the culture adds to her character but isn't the focus of the book. Her friendships at school are well portrayed, and I like the description of her efforts to run away. (But glad they don't work out!) The death of a grandparent is a fairly common middle school experience. This was a well-paced, enjoyable book to read.
Weaknesses: Having the grandmother's illness and the brother's problems diluted both of them; I would have rather had just one, and spent more time discussing her cousins and how the families worked together. (But then, I have 38 cousins on my mother's side!)
What I really think: While I enjoyed this, I'm not sure how well it would do in my library; the cover is not appealing. I will probably purchase, but may wait until my February order.

Game time! Finally, all of the students, so we bring out the jackets! The unicorn pin was a birthday present.

I also made a song for the first three days of classes, to start off orientation sessions. It is to be sung to the OSU fight song tune (which coincidentally, was my high school fight song)

Read, read, oh read a book,
Read a new one every day!
And, when you finish one
check out a new one right away!
Hey, hey, hey!
Visit the library, where we always know the score:
If you read, you'll succeed, you will conquer, you'll lead
so read some more!
Read books!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Rise of the Dragon Moon

Byrne, Gabrielle. K. Rise of the Dragon Moon
August 6th 2019 by Imprint
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Anatolia (Toli) is the firstborn daughter of Queen Una, but she has a terrible secret-- she feels responsible for the death of her father while the yearly tithe to the dragons was being delivered. While she loves hunting dragons (who are fairly evil, after all), she doesn't feel ready for all of the other training her mother thinks she should undergo as heir to the throne. When the queen is kidnapped by the dragons, Toli, her sister petal, and her friend Wix set out to find her. They have as a bargaining chip a dragon youngling, Ruby, who was stolen and hidden by two dragons, Krala and Dral, who hope to fight the reigning dragon queen. They let the children escape, only to try to traverse the exceedingly treacherous pass to get to the mountain where the dragons live. Ruby doesn't do well, and once Toli reaches the dragon kingdom, there is still plenty of danger ahead. Luckily, the queen is somewhat sympathetic. The two learn to trust each other, and eventually Queen Una is freed and Toli finds an unexpected place to practice skills.
Strengths: Toli's kingdom is a matriarchy, and a sort of vague, medieval, Frozen-ish sort of one. This gives it some automatic readers! Toli's relationships with Petal and Wix are solid, and there are some good secondary characters that add a lot to the story, like Spar. The dragon in-fighting has its moments, and make it seem more reasonable that Toli's people kill them. The trek over the mountains is filled with excitement and peril. A quickly moving fantasy novel with strong female characters.
XWeaknesses: Toli's guilt over her father's death always seemed weak to me, even after she starts to tell people later in the book. I know it is important as a motivating factor, but it just didn't have the punch I wanted it to.
What I really think: I'm going to have to ask my avid dragon fans if this book will be one they would like. I'm still not entirely sure the dragons will ever be good; on the one side, we have Toli with her own baby dragon for a while, which is a plus, but there's also a lot of talk of killing the dragons, which Wings of Fire fans may not appreciate. Great cover, though!

We only have 6th graders today, so that means all sorts of activities. This is a Merona knit dress ($1) and a Christopher and Banks jacket ($3) in case I need to jump up and down, chase balloons or do other get to know you activities.

I'm not a fan of the slow start. I wanted to get right to classes and homework, even as a student.

Monday, August 12, 2019

MMGM- Stay

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

Pyron, Bobbie. Stay
August 13th 2019 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Young Adult Books Central

Piper's family has moved around a lot recently since her father is out of work. They've stayed with relatives, but have generally stayed in warm places-- Louisiana, Florida, Texas. Now, the family has landed in Idaho in a homeless shelter. Piper is embarrassed and not happy that her father has to stay in the men's shelter apart from them. Still, there are lots of things to be done to settle in, and the family sets up their rooms, finds a Community Kitchen for their meals, and get Piper enrolled in school. During their travels, they see a woman living on the streets with a small dog, and Piper is immediately drawn to Baby. Jewel is older and in poor health, and often confused, but other people help watch out for her, including Ree, who also has a dog. When Jewel is hospitalized, Baby is left alone. Ree takes care of her, and gives Piper and her father Jewel's knapsack for safekeeping. There is a Firefly Girl group that has meetings at Hope House, and Piper is glad for a familiar activity with other girls who are in similar circumstances. She befriends Karina, who also goes to her school, and finds a place to sit at lunch where she feels comfortable. She tries to visit Baby as often as possible, and she and her friends try to piece together some information about Jewell so they can get her the help she needs. They eventually find out that Jewel struggled with mental issues that required medication, and was on her way to stay with her sister in a pet friendly senior facility in Boise. With the help of the Firefly Girls' cookie fundraiser, money is raised to send Jewel and Baby to Boise. Piper's family is slowly getting back on their feet, and she is glad that she was able to help someone else.
Piper's family is down on their luck, but still positive and working to make their lives better. The realities of living in a shelter, especially when other kids at school know you do, are unflinchingly portrayed, and reading about Piper's struggles will hopefully make children more empathetic. Jewel's journey to living on the streets with her beloved dog is also described in a way that shows how close many people are to being homeless-- just a small series of set backs can be all it takes. The community of homeless dog lovers is especially fascinating. This was just a well-written story with a fantastic combination of ingredients. Combined with the cover, it will circulate as well as Nielsen's No Fixed Address, which has been a runaway favorite in my library.

The one difficult part in the book was the Firefly Girls' cookie sale. Fund raisers are hard on any child, but seem like a bad idea with children living in a homeless shelter. It was fantastic to see them be willing to donate the money to someone less fortunate, though.

Like Bauer's Almost Home (2012), this will see steady circulation because it is interesting, fast paced, and still somehow heart-wrenching. Excellent book with such an appealing cover. There have been a number of books recently involving children dealing with homelessness, including Messner's The Exact Location of Home, Stevenson's Lizzie Flying Solo and Sarno's Just Under the Clouds as well as the Young Adult Roam by Armstrong. These books are a great way for readers to understand the difficulties some of their classmates may face and to build empathy.

Wheeler-Toppen, Jodi. Dog Science Unleashed: Fun Activities to Do with Your Canine Companion 
August 7th 2018 by National Geographic Society
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

This fun, colorful, and well-illustrated book covers four major topics of scientific research; Sniffing Out Senses, Fit Fido, Clever Canines and Pampered Pooches. Each section has at least six different experiments to try, plus a section on real life scientists and activities they do that pertain to these topics. Each experiment has directions, list of supplies, a time estimate, and very complete instructions. These range from seeing what smells dogs are most interested to checking the temperature of dogs who are wearing coats to telling if your dog is right or left pawed! Children and their dogs model all of these activities in full color pages.

While my faithful canine was more interested in napping than doing experiments, this is a great way to get children interested in science and for them to spend more time with their dog in a challenging and productive way. The most used pages will probably be the ones for making dog treats, but there are some really fun experiments, like determining whether a dog recognizes itself in a mirror!

While older readers will be able to complete these activities on their own, those younger than ten may need some help. The print in the books is on the small side, and there is a lot of information on the page. This would make a great gift for a young pet owner who enjoys books like Albee's Dog Days of History or Patent's Dogs on Duty, and it wouldn't hurt to include a box of dog biscuits and maybe a copy of Tom Watson's Stick Dog!

More washable Lands End clothing for another teacher work day. I got these on two separate trips! I usually wear vintage jewelry; this is a Lucite and plastic owl from the 70s. I like to think the students find my jewelry amusing. I never pay more than $3 for a piece.

Welp. Change of plans. Instead, I wore jeans, an old white polo I can get bleach on, and a sweater. Because...

I got nothing done on Friday because the 8th grade welcome leaders had all the tables pushed against the stack in the main library and were being enthusiastic, and there were workmen installing the security camera equipment in my back room, loudly drilling though metal. I eventually gave up and went home to work. The library is a hot and holy mess, I haven't processed new books, and I don't have a good schedule. Never been less prepared for a school year.

This must mean it's going to be the best year ever, right?

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Maybe This Time

West, Kasie. Maybe This Time
Published July 9th 2019 by Scholastic Point
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Sophie is bound and determined to make it out of her small Alabama town and attend design school in New York City for college. To earn money, she is working at a florists, and since the town is small, the owner also does a lot of event planning, and Sophie must go along to help. Her best friend, Micah, is often at these events, since her father is the local caterer. Since business is difficult, he has applied to have Jett Harte, a former television chef and personality, mentor his business for a year in exchange for a share of it when the business is doing better. This would be fine, except that Jett is a bit of a difficult diva, and his son, Andrew, isn't any better. Smug, privileged, and very sure of himself, Andrew introduces himself to Sophie by messing up some of her arrangements, and almost all of their interactions end poorly. The book follows the calendar of events through the year, so we start at Valentine's Day at the local senior center, hit Mother's Day celebrations, weddings, and end up at Thanksgiving dinner. At each event, we can track Sophie's progress at college and scholarship applications, get a glimpse of her difficult family life, and watch as she and Andrew spar and get into trouble on the job. Micah thinks that the two have a spark, but Sophie is too determined to make her college dreams come true to focus on a romance with a boy who is often annoying. Is Micah a better judge of character than her friend?

Kasie West writes intriguing high school romances that also appeal to middle school students, due to their lack of sexual references and other more mature themes. The settings are usually more grown up, with the main characters having jobs and other responsibilities. This is a hard combination to find, and readers who enjoy Jennifer Colasanti, Sarah Dessen and Jennifer E. Smith will find these books a great way to wile away a summer day.

The small Alabama town, with its cast of quirky characters, is a fun setting against which to place a variety of celebrations. From a town picnic to a local fall festival, Sophie gets to work with her friends during amusing events. Who doesn't want to spend time at a senior citizens' Valentine celebration, or at a New Year's Eve barn dance, especially when there is the promise of romance in the air?

Micah is a great friend, and I love to see teens with jobs they enjoy. Even though Sophie's passion is fashion design, she channels her creative energy into the floral arrangements. Andrew is a bit of a mystery, and a decent guy whose quirky father is inordinately difficult. I'm not usually a fan of the Cybil Shepard/Bruce Willis Moonlighting sort of romance, where the characters hate each other and fight all the time but eventually fall in love. This isn't quite like that; Sophie and Andrew just get off on the wrong foot and can't seem to get their bearings with each other.

Romance books are always popular, and Maybe This Time takes the reader along for a year of festive celebrations where hard work and romantic possibilities go hand in hand, and are even accompanied by a corsage!

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Refreshing Graphic Novels

August 8, 9 and 12 are teacher work days in my district, and 6th graders start on the 13th, with 7th and 8th starting the next day. I love being back at school! My favorite thing in the world is getting books to students.

Graphic novels are NOT my favorite thing. They just aren't. I don't like to read them myself, and it worries me when I have students who will read nothing else. I know that most librarians and teachers are all "We LOVE graphic novels! They get kids to read!", but... do they? More often, they use graphic novels to avoid reading, and this is what worries me. As an occasional treat, absolutely! Read a graphic novel every single day. But read some other books as well. Reading only one thing, whether it be fantasy or dog books or nonfiction, is a very narrow way to experience the world. If I can read football books, anybody can read anything.

Do I think that parents, teachers, and librarians should rip graphic novels out of children's hands and tell them to read "real books"? Of course not. Do I think that, on occasion, a graphic novel is not the best choice for a school project? Yes, I do. Also, occasionally, Harry Potter books or books with talking animals as characters are not the best choice for projects, and I've had students actually cry about that. Again, I'm not saying students can never read Warriors books. I'm just saying that maybe they can read two books every year that aren't something they've read before.

Now, before everyone spouts off on Twitter that I am a horrible person who should never be allowed near children (and it's been done before, for other reasons), let me say this: My library HAS graphic novels. We have a LOT of graphic novels. Eight shelves of them. I am using a small windfall in my budget to refresh the collection, in fact, so we will have even more.

Also, I am allowed to have opinions, even if they diverge from the popular ones.

But does a little of my soul die when I spend $15 on a book like the ones below, that will start falling apart in two years? (I get it, the paper is heavy. The pages fall out.) Yep. It does.

Am I the only one? For the record, I am also not a fan of picture books. (Except for Nancy Rose's squirrel books. Man, those are fantastic.) To me and my own personal children, picture books were what were read to us before we had the skills to read chapter books. But I do have some picture books in the library as well.

Tessier, Greg and Amandine. Chloe
Published May 2nd 2017 by Charmz (first published February 2011)
Library copy

Chloe is in 8th grade, and feels awkward. She looks up to popular girls Anissa, Naomi and Leslie even though they are shallow and mean to everyone. She copies their fashion style, and talks her parents into taking her shopping to trade out her t shirts and jeans for belly baring tops and mini skirts. She does make a few nice friends and is still kind to people around her, and she feels that she is successful in her middle school mission because an older boy decides he likes her, making Anissa and her friends jealous.
Strengths: This is a colorful series of graphic novels akin to Telgemeier's The Baby-sitters' Club, and has lots of friend drama with a late middle school/high school setting. Also, a lot about fashion if readers are looking for that.
Weaknesses: Argh! Perhaps the French are at a different place in the women's rights movement? And they let tween girls show their midriffs at school? Or has life changed this much since 2011?
What I really think: This is exactly why I try to read everything before I buy it. This wasn't horrible, and it will certainly get read, but it's just not something I really liked or thought was good. On the bright side, if I have students who gravitate towards these, I know they can alternately use a book with a good, strong female character! (Which we aren't allowed to say anymore.

It's a series that also includes:

Ms. Yingling