Thursday, April 02, 2020

Happy Walk to Work Day

It's my second favorite holiday after Groundhog Day, because I walk to work almost every single day! It's a great way to help yourself AND the environment!

The List of Things That Will Not Change

Stead, Rebecca. The List of Things That Will Not Change
April 7th 2020 by Wendy Lamb Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Bea's parents are divorced, but she keeps a list that reassures her that her life is still okay. They have shared custody, and live close to each other, so she is able to keep herself fairly organized, although having two reminders about school projects would help. Her father has a posh restaurant, Beatrice, and his partner, Jesse works there. Jesse's sister Sheila frequently babysits her. She has good friends in Lizette and Angus, and sees a therapist, Miriam, to help her deal with the divorce and some anger management issues. Bea also suffers from fairly significant eczema. As her father and Jesse prepare to get married, we see Bea's every day life, but also flashbacks to other periods in time. One of these that recurs is the previous summer, when the family got together and her cousins gave her a hard time. One of those cousins, Angelica, fell out of a top bunk and wasn't hurt, but has recently been experiencing difficulties. Bea mentions that she is not a good person and did something bad over the summer, and eventually tells Miriam what this is and is able to deal with her guilt.
Strengths: This had a lot of good elements: Bea's dealing with divorce and going between homes, her extended family's acceptance (or rejection) of her father's sexual orientation, her relationship with Jesse's daughter, her school projects (making butter in a jar!), and her appointments with her therapist. I especially was glad to see a portrayal of a young person with eczema, as I have had several students struggle with that condition. Stead's When You Reach Me won the Newbery ten years ago, and many teachers and librarians are huge fans of her probing, lyrical writing.
Weaknesses: While Bea is in about fifth grade, she seems very young, and many of the anecdotes involve her life when she is even younger. This is a more character driven story, so there is not a lot that happens. The source of Bea's guilt was pretty obvious and not that compelling.
What I really think: I will pass on purchase because of the young feel and the NYC setting, which does not do well with my students. The exception to this is Mackler's Not If I Can Help It, but that circulates mainly due to the giant gummy bear on the cover!
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

What to do on Wednesday


Humphrey, Anna. Quack
April 1st 2020 by Albert Whitman
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

David "Shady" Cook has selective mutism; he doesn't speak at school, although he will speak when just his family is present. He does have a best friend, Pouya, who has come to Canada with his mothers after living in a refugee camp. When the boys are out biking and save some ducklings from traffic, one accidentally gets brought home. Shady (so called because he wears sunglasses to deal with his anxiety) becomes attached to the animal, and his parents reluctantly agree to his therapist's idea to have Sven be an emotional support animal. In addition to the duckling who ends up being Svenrietta, Shady is lucky to have his big sister Manda and well as supportive and understanding school personnel. One Svenri starts coming to school, more and more students make connections with Shady. There's a lot of other things going on as well; there's a school dance, a Christmas play, and Manda's interest in joining a film club, even though watching Shady and Pouya takes up her afternoons. Told from alternate viewpoints, including that of Shady's former friend Pearl, we watch as Shady begins to make progress with Svenri at his side, but also how he is devastated when the duck goes missing.
Strengths: An author's note describes Ms. Humphrey's own daughter's struggles with this particular form of anxiety, and talks about some other issues involved. It's good to see that Shady has a support network, a good friend, and an understanding sister. Manda's own struggles are interesting to read. The school activities are realistic and show the different difficulties with which Shady has to deal. He occasionally communicates through black out poetry, which some readers will find intriguing.
Weaknesses: I would have been interested to see how the school was so quickly convinced to have Svenri in the building; we have had support dogs, but they go through a vigorous training process. Svenri is trained a bit, and seems to do well in the classroom, but I think I was thrown by the fact that they found her in the wild.
What I really think: This is a bit young for my students, so I may pass. We are certainly seeing a lot of books dealing with all manner of anxiety issues, so this may be helpful to students who want to understand other viewpoints.

When I was in second grade, there was a girl, Judy, with selective mutism. I was a fairly kind child and tried to be friends with her, but it was very hard. Elementary school children don't necessarily have the ability to deal with people who don't talk to them.

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

What to Do Today

In the Red

Swiedler, Christopher. In the Red
March 24th 2020 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Michael Prasad and his family live on a colony on Mars, under a dome that controls the environment. His father, Manish, works at a ranger station outside of the dome, so he has taken Michael and his brother outside many times. Michael really wants to get his space suit certification, but he had a disastrous experience the one time he tried, and when he sneaks out to take the test again, his second time doesn't go well either. He blacks out, and comes to in the hospital. His parents are understandably angry; he's been diagnosed with anxiety, and has been told that as long as his "condition" of having panic attacks persists, he is not allowed to travel outside the dome. This makes him angry, and he feels like he is letting his father down. When his friend Lilith surprises him by arranging to meet one night near the edge of the dome so that they can travel outside just to look at stars, Michael decides that it's a great time to travel to his dad's station to say "hi". There are some problems going on in the community that are hush hush-- something with solar flares and the magnetic field around Mars perhaps being compromised, but taking off in a rover for a six hour drive should be just fine. Of course, it isn't. When it is unsafe to stay outside in the rover because of the flares, the two try to hide in a cave, and their exploration leads them to a station that has seen problems. They eventually manage to find Randall, a man who worked with Michael's father, and he helps everyone survive in abandoned shelters, living on old curry ready meals and monitoring their space suits for vital stats. Michael takes several very dangerous chances to try to contact his father's station, and doesn't have panic attacks all of the time. Eventually, he and Lilith are in very grave danger; will they be able to survive and make it safely back to the colony?
Strengths: This had a lot of good details about what it would be like to live on Mars, which is something I wanted from Emerson's Last Day on Mars (Chronicle of the Dark Star #1), before that book took off from the planet. I liked that the emergency took place entirely on the planet, and we got to see the various places where people could live. Traveling across Mars was also interesting, and very suspenseful. I really didn't think that Michael and Lilith could possibly survive! This was a fast-paced, quick read for fans of Sylvester's MINRS, Landers' Blastaway, Levy's Seventh Grade vs. The Galaxy and Buzz Aldrin's fantastic nonfiction book, Welcome to Mars.
Weaknesses: Michael does so many really, really stupid things that I was perfectly okay with him perishing on the surface of the planet. It's good to see a discussion of anxiety and panic attacks, but his condition doesn't excuse how much danger he puts himself and his friend in. (That's me opining while wearing my parent/teacher hat, I know!)
What I really think: Since it is unlikely that my students will read this book and then decide to take a rover outside of a Mars colony, I think I'm safe to purchase it. Since I didn't purchase a similar one about Mars a while back (can't remember or find it; I can only remember that the ARC was four books in one, and I thought it was just one book.), I think I will buy this, since Strickland's Marooned! (2004) series has become weirdly popular in my library recently.

Monday, March 30, 2020

My Spelling List

We all have words that challenge us. My spelling list would include:

  1. beautiful
  2. diligent
  3. ingenious
  4. recommend
  5. principal (of the school building)
  6. abysmal
  7. accommodate
  8. achieve
  9. bureau
  10. restaurant
  11. chocolate
  12. definitely
  13. sincerely
  14. entrepreneur
  15. hemorrhage
  16. intrigue
  17. liaison
  18. lasagna
  19. martyr
  20. superfluous (one of my favorite words!)
Later this week, bonus points for using them in sentences that form a story. Mine begins: "It was a beautiful day, but I was trying to be diligent about getting work done."

Ms. Yingling

MMGM- Wink and A Sporting Chance

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.

Harrell, Rob. Wink
March 31st 2020 by Dial Books
ARC provided by Follett First Look

When twelve-year-old Ross has an alarming lump above his eye, things happen quickly; his father takes him to the doctor for tests, the doctor calls back right away, and radiation is scheduled immediately. This makes it somewhat difficult to process the fact that he has a rare cancer that could cause him to lose his sight in both eyes. His dad and stepmother are very supportive, as is his best friend, Abby, and one of the radiation technicians, Frank. The treatment makes his eye very dry, requiring goopy eye drops, and he also has to wear a hat to school to keep light away from his face. His hair starts to fall out in clumps at the most inopportune time. Not the coolest look. Kids, especially his friend Isaac, give him a wide berth, but someone keeps posting memes about Ross that are quite mean spirited and hurtful. Not one to be dragged down by life, Ross starts to learn guitar from Frank, but is dealt another blow when he finds out that Abby is going to be moving away. Most of the times, he is fine, but occasionally he is hit by the magnitude of the situation he is facing. He makes an uneasy alliance with Jimmy, who has been a bit of a bully at school, but who joins Ross and Abby in a band for the school talent show. Ross might not find enlightenment and inspiration as he struggles through his cancer treatments, but he does find a way to continue to live his life.
Strengths: Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading. Stu Truly. Zen and the Art of Faking It. My Life as a Potato. These are all books that can be placed into the hands of 98% of my students with great success. The main characters are all facing some kind of challenge, but they meet it with good spirits, and get involved in some gentle highjinks along the way. You'd think that a lot of books would be like that, but they are amazingly hard to find. This book, based in part on the author's struggle with a similar cancer as an adult, is on the more serious side, but never becomes maudlin or slow paced. There is a little bit of discussion about Ross' mother passing away from cancer when he was five, but even that is worked into the story in a clever way, with the father telling Ross that he himself struggled with the death and needed help, and Ross may need more than he is asking for.  I especially liked that Abby calls Ross out as not being a supportive friend-- sure, her moving away isn't anywhere near as terrible as his cancer, but it still matters to her. Even the relationships with Isaac and Jimmy ring true and add a layer of depth to the story. Really enjoyed this one.
Weaknesses: This may be because the author's cancer was in 2006, but I found myself wanting a few more details about the process through which Ross was going. What were the treatments designed to do? What were the side effects? How would they know if Ross would have further problems? I know that cancer is a difficult disease, but for middle schoolers reading about it for the first time, more details would have made the process make more sense.
What I really think: The only question is how MANY copies of this I should buy. Two? Three? The addition of the line drawings will make this easier to sell to fans of Notebook Novels, so maybe three.

 Alexander, Lori and Drummond, Allan (Illustrator)
A Sporting Chance: How Paralympics Founder Ludwig Guttmann Saved Lives with Sports 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This was an interesting nonfiction book, which was a nice size. My e reader shows it at 132 pages, but that includes a timeline, fantastic bibliography, notes, and an index. The main text comes in at 110 pages, putting it in that magic 100+ page range that language arts teachers like to require. Using a mix of period photographs and illustrations, it tells the story of Ludwig Guttman's involvement in the treatment and rehabilitation of people with traumatic spinal cord injuries. During WWII, the life expectancy of people with such injuries was about five months, and Guttman felt that this could be inmproved. He attended medical school and started to practice medicine, only to have WWII and the rise of the Nazis imperil him and his family. He moved to England, where he worked with many veterans. After the war, when many of his patients survived, he started to think about improving their quality of life, and felt that sports gave them needed exercise as well as purpose. He started the Stoke Mandeville Games, which grew over the succeeding years and eventually became the Paralympic Games.
Strengths: I am always looking for interesting narrative nonfiction, and this book actually would have been great for this year's National History Day theme of "breaking barriers". It moves along quickly, and the illustrations are great at understanding some of the points, as well as appealing to fans of notebook novels. Guttman's experiences in WWII Germany will add another group of readers to this inspiring tale. Sometimes, it just takes one person to look at an issue differently to make a great impact on many lives.
Weaknesses: While I really liked the style of illustrations, it was a very odd mix that felt like they were just trying to take up space. Not really bad, just an odd choice.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and seeing this being a popular title for both pleasure reading and research.

What to do today?

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Nina Soni: Sister Fixer

Sheth, Kashmira. Nina Soni: Sister Fixer
April 1st 2020 by Peachtree Publishing Company
ARC provided by the publisher

After Nina Soni, Former Best Friend, Nina is back, and this time is concerned that her little sister is a bit too exuberant. She sings a lot, and when Nina is seen by everyone on the bus doing a goofy dance about Lucky the beaver with her sister, she decides that she has to make Kavita "less weird". This isn't easy to do, but Nina is great at making lists and action plans. One rainy Saturday when her parents are not feeling well, Nina decides that she will have Kavita help her build a dam near a storm drain, and this will take her sister's mind off singing. Using dirt from a pile on a neighbors' driveway, they build an oddly effective dam... that just might flood the neighborhood. Luckily, they tell their parents in time, and the dam is dismantled before any real destruction occurs. Since her parents are still ill, she and Kavita go to Nina's friend Jay's grandfather's house for the weekend without them, and Nina realizes that there are worse things than her sister's singing.
Strengths: I love the details of Nina's family life-- I can't think of another book that shows parents being ill with a nonfatal disease. It's also nice to see that Jay's family steps in to help. Like the first book, there is lots of yummy food being described. I like that Nina makes lists and has plans, even if they don't always work out the way she hopes!
Weaknesses: I find storm drains to be extremely dangerous and never let the girls play near any. (There is a particularly tempting one near our local park.) This bothered me a lot, but hopefully will not encourage young readers to head out looking for storm drains to dam up!
What I really think: I would definitely purchase this for an elementary library, but the series is a bit young for my readers.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane

O'Shaughnessy, Kate. The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane
March 3rd 2020 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Maybelle and her mother struggle a little to make ends meet but are generally happy. All Maybelle has of her father is the memory of a voice mail on an old phone, but his laughter has stuck with her. When her mother gets a job on a cruise ship for a month making a great salary, the two know she needs to go, but this means that a neighbor at the trailer park (and teacher at Maybelle's school), Ms. Boggs, has to watch her. Ms. Boggs is very drab and set in her ways; she doesn't get up until 9:00, she has to have her afternoon nap, and she frequently spend time alone in a nearby cemetery and is not to be bothered. When Maybelle hears her father's voice on the radio, hosting a program, she is enthralled, and when she finds out that the radio station for which he works is putting on a singing contest, she knows she has to find some way to get to Nashville. She tries to buy a bus ticket, but ends up losing the emergency money her mother gave her. Surprisingly, when she tells Ms. Boggs about it, the teacher agrees to drive her to Nashville. It's a twelve hour trip, but they will only drive 3 hours a day. Tommy, who has bullied Maybelle in the past, has stowed away in the RV, and his parents agree he can continue the trip. The group has several adventures, including rescuing a dog from a mean owner and winning $1,000 in a scratch off lottery. Maybelle hasn't practiced any singing, picked out a song, or found an outfit for performing, so that is all worked on. Even though she almost chickens out and there are problems along the way, Maybelle eventually makes it to the contest. Will she be able to talk to her father and make him a part of her life?
Strengths: Road trip books seem to be having a resurgence, and this ticks all the boxes for a good one. Disparate traveling companions, a relatable mission, amusing adventures, and a well plotted story with appealing characters. I also appreciated that the father's reaction was realistic, and that the characters weren't soggily sad.
Weaknesses: It was hard to believe that Maybelle would recognize her father's voice, and this had a bit of a quirky, Southern vibe. Ms. Boggs' trajectory was also hard to believe.
What I really think: I have Acampora's How to Avoid Distinction, Bauer's One for the Road, Cooney's Hit the Road, DuPrau's Car Trouble, Gemeinhart's Coyote Sunrise, Pla's The Someday Birds, Stone's Clean Getaway , McVoy's Drive Me Crazy,  and Paulsen's Road Trip, and that's just a few of the road trip books I have. While I love them, my students are lukewarm about them, so I may have to pass on this title.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, March 27, 2020

Fins (Sharks, Inc. #1)

White, Randy Wayne. Fins (Sharks, Inc. #1)
March 31st 2020 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Luke arrives in Florida from a farm in Ohio to stay with his grandfather and aunt Hannah after the death of his mother, since his stepfather doesn't really want him. Shortly after arriving, he is struck by lightning, which leaves him with several interesting scars, some synesthesia and occasional abilities to see things very clearly. His grandfather, wanting him to have something to do, connects him to Doc, who is running a shark tagging program. Joining him are Maribel and Sabina, two sisters who have recently arrived from Cuba. Poachers are killing sharks for their fins, which are used to make shark fin soup, but are leaving the rest of the shark to go to waste. Doc trains the children to tag the sharks (usually the very small ones), and then sends them off on their own to do this. They get into some trouble when Sabina (who is young enough to be missing front teeth) claims to have seen a poachers camp with sharks fins, but this turns out not to be true. She just wanted the attention of the news lady. The fact that the children's pictures appear in the paper is a bit worrisome, since the poachers are still on the loose. The children continue to go out in the boat and tag sharks, but run into a variety of problems. Eventually, they figure out what the poachers are up to and try to catch them. Will the police believe them this time?
Strengths: I always enjoy stories with an environmental message, and there are many interesting scientific details about the animals off the Florida coast. I also like to see children doing things. Mysteries are a popular genre in my library, and it's nice to have characters with a Cuban background. The author is from Ashland, Ohio (home of Grandpa's Cheese Barn!), which would explain Luke's background. Aside from McAnulty's The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, I can't think of any other books about children having been struck by lightning. This cover is fantastic.
Weaknesses: Luke is described as being from a farm in Ohio very frequently, and it got a bit annoying. In general, we are told about characters' traits instead of being shown through their actions, and none of them really grow. Luke in particular has little personality. I had a hard time believing that children were being sent out on a boat alone to tag sharks. With the presence of Doc, the grandfather and the aunt, (who also were very flat characters), it would have been more believable and interesting to have one of the adults involved, especially once there was a clear danger from poachers. I'm all for children having adventures, but this seemed unlikely.
What I really think: I think I will stick with Spradlin's fantastic Menace from the Deep or Carl Hiassen's mysteries to cover this area of the US. It's always interesting to see authors of adult books try their hand at middle grade, but this could have used a bit more work.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Baseball Opening Day 2020 and Martin McLean, Middle School Queen

Kamata, Suzanne. Pop Flies, Robo-Pets, and Other Disasters
March 2020 by Red Chair Press
ARC provided by the publisher

Satoshi Matsumoto lives in Japan, but spent several years going to school in Atlanta, Georgia, while his father was working there. It was hard enough to fit in with kids in the US, but it's even hard to fit in back at home. He goes to a private school that his grandfather founded, but since his father didn't want to run it, it is under different ownership. His grandfather is elderly and exhibiting many signs of dementia. Satoshi loves to play baseball, and his grandfather was very good when he was young, although he never got a chance to play professionally. When he hears that the school may not have a team the following year unless there are more wins, he tries to step up, but has problems with another boy on the team, Shintaro, whose father may have ties to local gangsters, and also doesn't always want to listen to what the coach tells him. A new girl at school, Misa, is a social outcast because her mother is American, but Satoshi's mother invites the two over, and Misa befriends his sister, Momoko, who has an unnamed disability of which Satoshi is ashamed. After big problems occur with the baseball team, Satoshi must call on the American English teacher, Jerry, to help him with the team, but all of that pales when his grandfather wanders off and can't be found. Will Satoshi be able to get his life back on track and save baseball at his school?
Strengths: Details of every day life in other countries fascinate me, so reading about Satoshi going to the mall, attending classes, and cleaning the baseball field with his team were very interesting. We even get a glimpse at a Japanese barbershop when Satoshi gets a bozu cut for playing baseball. The plot with his grandfather is interesting (he has a robotic pet seal, which I enjoyed because I have been researching robotic dogs!), and Misa's difficulties mirror Satoshi's when he lived in the US. Of course, the big selling point of the book is baseball, and there are plenty of game details, as well as practice ones, to make this book one sports fans will enjoy.
Weaknesses: Some of the social mores made me wonder if this book was set in the 1980s-- children at school call Momoko "retarded", there is an "English Lunch" that Satoshi says must be code for "losers" because there is an overweight boy and a girl with an eye patch, and the students feel free to laugh at others when they mistakenly leave on their toilet shoes when coming into the class. US middle grade fiction has become so politically correct in recent years that this seemed odd, but could very well reflect life in another country.
What I really think: This is available in hardcover from Follett, so I will purchase this as a snapshot of life in Japan. Many years ago, I hosted a teacher from Japan for three weeks, and it was very interesting to hear about their schools!

Zaczek, Alyssa. Martin McLean, Middle School Queen
January 7th 2020 by Sterling Children's
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Martin Lives with his artist mom (who is Afro-Cuban) in Bloomingtom, Indiana, but his father, who is of Irish descent, lives with his new family. When Martin has an anxiety attack at school and his concerned teacher calls home, his mother invites his Tío Billy to stay with them and be a male influence for a while, while he and his husband are moving to Chicago. Billy takes Martin to a club near campus that puts on drag shows. Martin is surprised that Billy is a performer (aka Cassie Blanca), but also enthralled by the idea. He explores creating an alter identity with his uncle and comes up with Lottie Leon, whom he bases a bit on the performer Celia Cruz. While he and his uncle bond over heels and wigs, Martin also has to lead his school Mathletes team to competition. He hangs out with his friends Pickle (who is very small for his age) and Carmen as well. Both of his friends are very supportive of his new interest, and they are also okay with the fact that Martin thinks he might be gay, but isn't really sure. When he starts to hang out with Chris, another mathlete, he finds him attractive and starts to think that he may be gay, but the two just become better friends. When the local all-ages drag competition is at the same time as the mathletes one, Martin must rely on his friends and family for help in taking part in both.
Strengths: This is certainly the first middle grade book I've seen about the world of drag performing, although I have read a YA one years ago. Martin's family situation is interesting, with the very common fact of having his father live far away and the uncommon fact of his mother being an artist blending together well. Billy is a good addition, and his interest in introducing Martin to his world is understandable. Bloomington is fortunately more open to drag performing than Ohio is, but there is apparently youth interest in it. Playing off the extrovert activity of performing against the somewhat introvert one of mathletes was fun. Also, I got to learn about an art form that was completely foreign to me, and even looked up the video of RuPaul singing Sissy That Walk.
Weaknesses: It was a bit of a stretch for me that Martin went from being a quiet mathlete to wanting to do drag so much. It seemed an abrupt shift, although his feeling of empowerment while in character was described well.
What I really think: I had a brief upswing in students interested in theatrics and performing when we had a teacher who ran a drama club, but I will have to see how much interest there is now that that teacher has left. Books on this topic usually gather dust, but I do have a growing population interested in LGBTQIA+ books, so I will consider purchasing.
Ms. Yingling March 2020 by Red Chair Press