Sunday, August 14, 2022

Hummingbird

Lloyd, Natalie. Hummingbird. 
August 2nd 2022 by Scholastic Press 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Olive Miracle Martin wants nothing more than to attend Macklemore Middle School in her hometown of Wildwood, Tennessee. Because she was born with osteogenesis imperfecta (otherwise known as brittle bone disease), she's been homeschooled by her mother. Her father, Jupiter, is a free spirited guy who comes and goes, and her stepfather works at the middle school. Olive wants to experience the same kind of life that other children do, and wants to find a best friend like Anne of Green Gables or The Babysitter's Club. Her mother insists that she use a wheelchair to prevent falls, and wants Olive's stepbrother, Hatch, to watch out for her. She is a bit disappointed that she can't join some kids she meets for lunch on the first day; they eat in the library and her aide, Ms. Pigeon, takes her instead to "the Madelines", whom she thinks are sweet girls. Olive finds them a bit condescending and mean, and would rather eat with Grace, who has a variety of businesses that she runs from school. Olive decides that she will try out for the school play, since Grace is doing set design, and it's a good chance to try something new. There are other exciting things going on in town; for the first time in a number of years, magical feathers are falling on the town, which presage the coming of the hummingbird. This hummingbird will bestow one wish on a person of its choosing. Olive is determined to find where the bird will appear so that she can make a wish. Others, including Hatch, have the same idea, and Olive puts together a BlumeBirds group to do some investigating. The kids interview older people in the town and try to make the best plan. The play, a story about the life of Emily Dickinson, goes fairly well, and Olive is glad to get a speaking role. Unfortunately, she suffers a broken leg, which complicates many things. Will she be able to continue to attend public school and participate in the play, and which of her new friends will have a wish granted by the hummingbird?
Strengths: Since the author also has OI, there are lots of good details about what this condition entails. For example, Olive can walk, but can be dangerous in a school with lots of careening children. The adults who cross Olive's paths are all very interesting; I wish more middle grade books had better developed adult characters, since they are frequently so important in tweens' lives. Her mother is overprotective, her father is involved but has his own issues, and the teachers (especially a fun librarian!) are helpful as well. It wsa good to see that Olive was able to make some friends, although we do see how some classmates don't understand her reality. The magical realism was well developed, and was rather reminiscent of A Snicker of Magic. The Southern setting included a fair amount of church going, which is not represented all that well in middle grade literature. 
Weaknesses: I bought both A Snicker of Magic and The Key to Extraordinary, but they have not circulated well. It did seem a bit odd that Olive was so fond of Judy Blume's Blubber (1974), but perhaps this was a childhood favorite of Lloyd's. 
What I really think: I really enjoyed reading about how Olive met her challenges with her physical limitations, and Lloyd's own experiences with OI definitely give this a real immediacy. I wish that this had been a realistic story, but understand that Lloyd writes mainly magical realism. She certainly has a lot of fans of her lyrical, fantastical novels set in the South. 

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Surely, Surely Marisol Rainey

Kelly, Erin Entrada. Surely, Surely Marisol Rainey (#2)
August 9th 2022 by Greenwillow Books 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this sequel to Maybe, Maybe Marisol Rainey, we rejoin 8 year old Marisol and her family, which includes older brother Oz, who is good at sports, Mom, and Dad who works on an oil rig and is home one week a month. They talk to him three days a week. Her best friend, Jada, divides her time between her divorced parents' homes. Jada and Marisol like to play with stuffed animals, and name just about everything. Marisol has a lot of anxiety, and when kick ball is introduced in her phys ed class, she is sure that it will end poorly. It doesn't help that classmate Evie is not only good at sports but mean to her classmates as well. This gets Marisol's "brain train" chugging with negative thoughts. Classmate Felix claims he can talk to animals, which gives Marisol some ideas; if Felix acquired this ability by sleeping on a book about animals, maybe she can snuggle a soccer ball and get skills that way. In the end, Marisol's supportive family and friends help her to work through her issues. 
Strengths: This is a great illustrated  novel for developing readers, and addresses many important issues for younger elementary school students. Even though Marisol is unhappy about kick ball, I thought that the phys ed teacher introduced the lesson in a really productive way; instead of just expecting all of the students to know the rules, he tells them about how the game is played and even has them work on component skills. Phys ed today is not the scary class it was fifty years ago, when "gym" teachers expected everyone to be able to do handstands! Marisol gets angry and has to learn to deal with that, and is able to work with her brother on some skills even though she misses her dad. 

Weaknesses
: Like books that paint middle school as terrible, I always worry that negative depiction of phys ed classes aren't helpful. I was very glad to see that Marisol overcame her fear of kick ball and had some success on the field. 
What I really think: I would definitely buy this for an elementary school, but will pass for middle school. Series like Danziger's Amber Brown, Barrow's Ivy and Bean, Brown's Lola Levine, and  and Potter's Piper Green are always a good way to encourage students to find out more about favorite characters. I don't know that anyone reads my favorite, Haywood's 1939 B is for Betsy, but it reminds me of that.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Brave Animals

Berne, Emma Carlson and Rosa, Francesca (illus.)
Balto (Animals to the Rescue #1)
August 2nd 2022 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In 1925, Nome, Alaska was hard to access at certain times of the year. Airplanes were still not reliable, so teams of dog sleds were often the only way in or out. When a diptheria epidemic was identified and killed several children, it was necessary to get the antitoxin serum from the mainland US to the city. The process of getting the sled dog teams through treacherous weather conditions is interesting and has been told in Osborne's 2016 Balto of the Blue Dawn (Magic Tree House #54) and Klimo's 2014 Togo (Dog Diaries #4) , as well as other books, but this book had so much more back information that I learned a LOT. 

We find out more about Balto's beginnings, and how Leonard Seppala trained him and had him working at the Hammon Consolidated Gold Fields. We also get to know Togo, who was twelve when he went 261 through all sorts of hazardous conditions before turning the serum over to Charlie Olsen's team. There are so many details I didn't know, and it was great to see the entire event covered in one book. It was also good that the fame of the dogs, and all the places that they traveled to meet people was covered. 

The illustrations are great, and the emotions on the dogs' faces were rather amusing. I'm interested to see what the other titles in this series would be. It's a great length and set in a font size that is perfect for 2nd-5th graders. I would have adored these as a child, and it's a great title to fans of Stier's A Dog's Day books. 

Lloyd, Megan Wagner. Haven 
August 2nd 2022 by Candlewick Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Haven is a small cat who was rescued as a kitten by Ma Millie and has lived in her house, snuggling with her and basking in the aroma of baking bread. They are occasionally visited by neighbor Jacob Levan, who helps out the older woman and is now raising a cow she once had. When Ma Millie becomes ill, Haven is worried. She tries to find Jacob, but the cows say he has gone into town. How will Haven get there? She finds herself in the company of a fox (who has no name-- thoses are for soft, domesticated creatures!) who is bored. The fox takes pity on Haven and offers to help her get to town instead of trying to eat her. The two struggle to make their way across the treacherous forest, eluding a determined bobcat as well as other threats. When they make it to the town, the fox (who has accepted the name True) goes about her way, but Haven can't find Jacob. Will the cat be able to get help before Ma Millie is in serious danger?
Strengths: Ma Millie's cozy house is a nice foil for the harshness of the woods. My favorite part is undoubtedly the fox, who could so easily have eaten Haven but took her on as a project because she was bored. Are foxes really the wily and deceitful creatures fiction has made them out to be, or is it just their cute faces with inscrutable expressions? The two have an unlikely friendship, but stick together and learn to enjoy each other's company. This is a great book to pair with Hashimoto's 2022 Bound for Home or Burnford's classic 1960 The Incredible Journey. 
Weaknesses: Okay, so Haven saves Ma Millie, but it's really the cows who alert Jacob. They don't get quite enough credit. 
What I really think: There are very few books about cat adventures; I can only think of the Warriors books and Blake's 2012 Last Free Cat. This is a somewhat shorter book, so would be good for elementary readers, but will also work in middle school for the feline obsessed reader who would rather be cuddling a cat than reading about them. I will probably purchase, but enjoyed this author's Allergic a lot more. I'm decidedly a dog person and believe in my heart of hearts that cats are evil and want to kill us all. My daughter's cats have not dissuaded me from this opinion! 

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Big Rig and Empty Smiles (Small Spaces #4)

Hawes, Louise. Big Rig
August 9th 2022 by Peachtree
E ARC provided by the publisher

Hazel and her father have been on the road since she was four, traveling together as the father delivers cargo for his friend Mazen's trucking company. Because her mother died shortly after she was born, when Hazel was younger, she would stay with Mazen's wife Serena when her father, a former college English professor, was on the road, but now the two are a good team, listening to audiobooks, watching trucker movies at reststops, and working on a homeschool curriculum. They return to Mazen and Serena's between trips, and the father is thinking about giving up trucking and settling down to another job so that the pair can live in a house. Hazel, whose handle is Hazmat (even though they don't have a CB radio), thinks this is an awful idea, as she wants to grow up and drive a truck herself. The concern is that trucking is a dying career, with the advent of self driving trucks. Driving is always an adventure, and Hazel and her father make decisions together, consulting her mother's ashes, which they keep in a green marble box in the cab. After the two pick up a runaway, Willow, Hazel learns a bit about social media and newer movies than the ones she and her father watch, and comes up with the idea of writing The Great American Novel about life on the road. Willow is quite troubled, and tells them that she is running away because her father is abusive, but when the father tries to get her  help from social services, she leaves them and gets a ride with someone else. While on the road, there are a number of exciting things that happen; the two find an abandoned baby at a truck stop whom they care for before turning over to the authorities, the rescue a kitten from a plane crash near the highway, even taking the cat into a hotel where there is a parade of ducks. This does not end particularly well. When Hazel is interested in film making (because she wants to turn her  novel into a movie), her father adds the history of films to their curriculum. In Chicago, they try to find Charlie Chaplin's original studio, and get caught in a storm and have to rescue children from a bus from a special needs school that has gotten stuck in the downpour. They are even extras in a movie! There are smaller adventures as well, like repeated visits to favorite stops along their route, Hazel's foray into a unit on human reproduction that raises a lot of questions about periods, and exciting news from Mazen and Serena. When someone in Hollywood is interested in Hazel's story, but wants her and her father to consult on the film, which would mean settling down in California, will Hazel decide that fulfilling her dreams means leaving the road?
Strengths: As someone whose family took month long trips across the midwest with a travel trailer to visit friends and relatives, I loved this look at being on the road in a truck! Hazel's interest in trucking as a way of life lead to lots of interesting information being discussed, from how daily life is conducted on the road (showers in truck stops, how cabs are fitted out, even how cargo is unloaded) to the role of women in the trucking industry to the future of trucking with new technologies. Her relationship with her father is solid, and her homeschooling comes up frequently. It's great to see that while her father is sure to cover the basics, he does expand her curriculum when a topic of interest, such as the history of films, comes up. There are lots of adventures that are treated realistically, and Mazen and Serena are a nice foil, and show that Hazel does understand the kind of life her father wants for her, even if it's not one that she finds appealing. This is an especially good choice for readers who haven't had much experience travel and want some vicarious thrills, but also good for readers like me who have been many of these places and now just really, really need a bag of sour balls, a car bingo sheet, and a burger from the Carlock Diner in Carlock, Illinois, the only actual restaurant my family would stop at!
Weaknesses: If Hazel never met her mother and is still having such problems processing her grief, she and her father should probably get some counseling. I've read more books about children dealing with divorced or absent parents, which seems more realistic, but Big Rig was part of a recent batch of books that had not only long dead parents but also boxes of ashes. Just never my favorite, personally. 
What I really think: Fans of The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise Lang's Wrong Way Summer, Downing's When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Peach Pie, Cavanaugh's When I Hit the Road, and Bradley's The Road to Wherever will enjoy this road trip book, which has the added bonus of being the only middle grade book I can think of that addresses long distance trucking as a way of life. Almost made me miss going out to western Iowa and stopping by the Iowa 80 truckstop


Arden, Katherine. Empty Smiles (Small Spaces #4)
August 9th 2022 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

**SPOILERS IF YOU HAVEN"T READ Small Spaces, Dead Voices, and Dark Waters. Proceed at your own risk. 

Coco, Brian, and newcomer Phil are reeling after their experiences in Dark Waters and the fallout from the boat crash. Their parents are very concerned about the kids, and wonder if keeping them apart would be better. Do they brood and imagine things when they are together? When two children go missing from a carnival several towns away, Coco and Brian know that this is likely due to the challenge that the Smiling Man issued; they can get Ollie back if they play his game and win. When one of the children, Tim, shows up in their town they know that things are starting up again. When their houses are ransacked and Ollie's mother's watch is stolen from Coco's room, they know they have to go to the carnival in their town and play the game. When they are allowed to question Tim, he mentions three keys, and the words ghost, mirror, and gate. While the parents aren't keen to let the children go, they see no other option. We also see Ollie operating within the carnival, playing chess with the Smiling Man, and trying to figure out what is going on so that she can leave messages and attempt to reach her friends. He assures her that she is safe at the carnival as long as she stays in her room at night, when the carnies turn into killer clowns, from whom he can't protect her. The clowns, like the scarecrows, have a habit of turning people into little dolls, which are hung up at the carnival. The children finally feel like they have to tell their parents what has been going on, but they don't really understand the dark magic that is involved. They only understand that a creepy man has been stalking and threatening their children, so of course they want to help. Call the police! Get restraining orders! But none of that helps when the clowns come to their homes and turn the parents into dolls as well. Will Coco, Brian, and Phil be able to work with Ollie at the carnival to finally win the Smiling Man's game and be safe from him forever?
Strengths: I always knew Ollie wasn't gone; didn't you? I wasn't surprised that she was at the carnival, but it was a relief to see her again. Coco, Brian, and Phil also knew this, and their dynamic with the parents is the most delightful and interesting part of the book for me. It's so easy to kill off parents (and there are a couple not in the picture) or have the villains kidnap them (and this also happens), but the really effective thing is to have the parents be present, helpful, and a tiny bit annoying, just like many parents are in real life. I adored their reaction to the kids coming clean; we'll take care of it, why did you wait so long to tell us... but they totally don't get it because they just don't understand. Perfect. This will speak to so many middle grade students. On top of that, there are a lot of terrifying scenes, a lot of power that the kids have to change the situation, and firm friendships that stand up to difficult situations. 
Weaknesses: While there is a brief discussion between the Smiling Man and Ollie about why he continues to stalk and torture the children, I could have used a little more explanation about how he came to be, and how the children are able to send him off by finishing his game. He's come back before; will he bother others? It just seemed like there could have been some epic clown battle with the Smiling Man falling off the top of a roller coaster after delivering a rant that explained everything. Perhaps I've seen Snow White too many times. 
What I really think: Anyone with an existing case of coulrophobia should NOT read this book. I find clowns to be tackier than frightening, but this gave ME the heebie-jeebies! Even though my students normally aren't as thrilled with books involving haunted carnivals, Empty Smiles uses that setting to excellent advantage to wrap up a creepy and popular series. I can't wait to see what Arden writes next; I'm sure it will be terrifying!

GOOD NEWS FOR HORROR FANS! There are so many horror and mystery books coming out this month that next week will be ALL HORROR TITLES!

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

I Rise

Arnold, Marie. I Rise
August 2nd 2022 by Versify
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ayomide Bosia lives in Harlem, New York City, and just wants to do the things other fourteen year olds do-- hang out with friends, go to school, and occasionally chill in front of a television program. What's stopping her? Her social justice activist mother, Rosalie, who founded the group See Us years ago. Ayo's home is filled with art and music by Black artists, her mother has made sure she's well versed in Black history, and she knows all about a wide range of social justice issues because she spends so much time helping her mom organize marches, protests, and community engagement events. It's wearing, and Ayo just wants to be a teen and pursue her crush on the very cute Devonte. She tries to tell her mother that she wants to step back from See Us, but her mother is completely unsympathetic. Ayo also has questions about who her father is, and her mother has refused to address them. Ayo's second chance is to ask to step back iswhen she has her birthday; her mother plans a scavenger hunt, and if she figures it out, she's allowed to get any gift she would like. There's a lot going on as the school year starts. See Us has a march planned to protest police brutality, Ayo has to put up with new teachers who mispronouce her name and are impressed by her mother while also committing microaggressions, and Devonte asks her to get her mother's signature to absolve the football coach who cut off a player's dreadlocks, and whom See Us has been pursuing. Her mother, of course, says no, but Ayo is so irritated with her mother and pleased that Devonte is talking to her that she forges her mother's signature! Ayo's best friend Naija is also having problems-- after not being herself for weeks, she finally tells Ayo about her problems at home. Rosalie steps in and invites Naija to stay with them because Naija's mother refuses to change the situation. Ayo gets in big trouble for forging her mother's signature, but she is enjoying hanging out with Devonte. Of course, her mother's training sticks with her even when she goes to a high school party where there is drinking and drugs; she schools the group on the problems with Black boys dating white girls, and the fact that cigarette companies target the Black demographic. At school, she brings a lot of information to class discussions. When the See Us protest occurs, Ayo is hanging out with Devonte, although they do watch the television coverage. Things turn ugly, and Ayo's mother is shot by a white policeman and ends up in a coma. Ayo, of course, is devastated, and must rely on an uncle and on her community to just make it through each day. There are calls for Ayo to step up and address the public, especially when it looks like the policeman will not be punished. At the same time, Ayo has her birthday scavenger hunt, and with the help of her good friends, starts to work through the clues. Will she be able to reconcile her own life and past with the ramifications of being Black in the US? And how will she find a way forward when her mother is not there to help her?
Strengths: Ayo is a typical teen; she both loves and is irritated by her mother, and she's not entirely sure who SHE is yet. Is she a See Us heir apparent, or can she differentiate herself from her mother? How can she navigate what she wants to do, when her mother and community are directing traffic? This hits all the right notes with the sometimes problematic mother-daughter relationship. I especially love how well Ayo has internalized everything her mother has taught her! So many important topics are covered, and they are discussed in well reasoned ways; Mr. Gunderson is a white person who is interested in being an ally, but makes occasional missteps and is treated in a constructive way. The romance with Devonte might be the big draw for many of my readers, and while he starts out as a problematic character, it clearly becomes apparent that he is a well-raised in a similar manner to Ayo. The storyline with Naija is brief but important, and the scavenger hunt plays into the middle grade concern with personal identity. If nothing else, libraries should buy this as a historic document; we can only hope that society improves in the years after 2022. Ayo and her mother fear it won't, but still cling to the hope that it will so that they can continue their important work in social justice. 
Weaknesses: This puts its toes just slightly over the YA line; Ayo is at a party where there is drinking, but she doesn't partake. She also tries to get Devonte to sleep with her, and even undresses in front of him, but he refuses to take advantage of her grief. There is absolutely nothing instructional, which is always my rule of thumb. The fact that Ayo and Devonte make good decisions and have a constructive conversation about their situation is something that even middle schoolers would benefit from, so I think it would be appropriate for them to read. The n-word is used, but in the context of why the word is problematic. Any issues that anyone might have with this book are all handled in an enlightening and not gratuitous way, and there is no cursing.
What I really think: I will purchase this for fans of Watson's Love is a Revolution, Buford's Kneel,  and Cole's Black Was the Ink, and those who ask for Thomas' The Hate U Give or Stone's Dear Martin

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

City of Speed- Battle Dragons #2

London, Alex. City of Speed- Battle Dragons #2
August 2nd 2022 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

After his somewhat Phyrric victory in City of Dragons, Abel is looking forward to a new school year, where hopefully his battle dragon fame will make him more popular. Sadly, on the ride to school, he is approached by classmate, Lu, who gives him a snapdragon wedgie and challenges him to a dragon race, on behalf of Jazinda Balk and the Red Talon kin. Not exactly how he wanted the year to start, especially since his sister got herself arrested after an incident with a dragon crashing into a crowd of spectators while she was busy hacking into people's phones and making bets on behalf of the Sky Knights, insuring that a large pot of money was distributed to the crowd, causes dissention among the kin. Silas, who is in trainging to be part of the Dragon's Eye secret police, wants to know more information about the betting on the dragon races, and also about their sister, and offers Abel a job-- arrange for a dragon race, buy a dragon, and see what happens. Along with Roa and Topher, Abel ventures into the seedy and dangerous Burning Market and buys a dragon, Brazza, from a vendor named Otto who owes Silas a favor. It's a chore to smuggle the dragon out, but the boys manage, and hide her in an abandoned building, ordering take out to feed her! When they come back, Brazza is gone, but Arvin Balk, son of the Red Talon leader, is there. He wants to help, but says that it is vital that Abel lose the race. Brazza has to be trained, which is a tricky proposition, but Abel is surprised at how fast she can travel. The race against Lu goes well, but Abel loses by one second on a technicality. Lu's dragon is immediately stolen, and it's up to the group to find out what's going on. It's nothing good, and Silas, Lina, and Abel must work together with Arvin to thwart the evil plot against the dragons and try to save each other. 
Strengths: Like the previous book, this has scene after scene of suspense and intrigue, as well as awesome dragon action. The thing that stood out to me, however, is how concerned Abel was with who he wanted to be, and how he could keep his family together even though they were following different paths. The fact that he is able to come home to his parents and ask them for help when he gets in a sticky situation is awesome, and I wish we would see this dynamic at play in more middle grade literature. The other thing that was a bit surprising was how FUNNY this was! Sure, the We Are Not Eaten By Yaks series was humorous, but in (to quote myself) a "goofiness-I-don't-understand" way. The throwaway phrases like "Peanut Butter and Pickle Wyvern Wafers", "If hopes were halos, we'd all be angels" and "{heard it from} my trainer's cousin's best friend's manicurist's ex-boyfriend's landlord" made me wish that the next project on Mr. London'd plate would be a realistic fiction novel set in a middle school. 
Weaknesses: At one point, Arrvin is revealed to be singing at a big concert in drag, but nothing is ever mentioned further about this. I'm still uncertain about how Drakopolis came to be, but no longer really cared. I personally had some trouble keeping all of the kin straight, and still couldn't read "Wind Breaker" kin without smirking, but younger readers will not have this trouble. I also can't keep the Warriors clans straight.
What I really think: I thoroughly enjoyed everything and there's definitely more adventure in the offing, but I don't want to spoil any of the details. Definitely purchasing, and can't wait to be back at school to recommend this series to students. 

Monday, August 08, 2022

MMGM: Agent Most Wanted and 12 to 22

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

Purnell, Sonia. Agent Most Wanted:The Never-Before-Told Story of the Most Dangerous Spy of World War II
August 9th 2022 by Viking Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

The world was different for a woman born in 1902. Virginia Hall was expected to marry well and restore her family's fortunes, but for an intelligent and curious girl, this didn't seem like a great idea. There were options available for her that were not available for my grandmother, born in 1893 in a very rural area. Hall was able to attend Radcliffe college, but got bored and switched to Barnard College in New York. She loved all of the excitement there, and because of her family background and wealth, was able to go to Paris to study. She learned a lot of languages, as well as European culture, geography, and politic. She was able to continue her studies at George Washington University, and wanted to join the State Department as a diplomat. Even though she had such fantastic credentials, at the time only six of the 1,500 foreign service posts were filled by women. She decided she would get in through the back door, and got hired in a secretarial role. She served in Poland and then in Turkey, where she loved to hike and hunt. Unfortunately, during one of these expeditions, her gun went off and she shot herself in the foot. With medicine being what it was, she ended up losing her leg below the knee.

Undeterred (which I think is the word that best defines Hall!), she applied for a job as a diplomat in 1936, fearing that things were tense in Europe and that she would be able to help. Even pleas on her behalf to President Roosevelt, who himself overcame mobility issues, went unheard. By 1940, she signed up with the French artillery, and drove an ambulance. When she was due to head back to London, she met British agent George Bellows who was very impressed with her qualifications, and thought she would make a great spy. He gave her the number of someone to contact, but she waited quite a while to do so. Eventually, she was hired and sent on a mission to Lyon. 

What Hall accomplished as an agent is phenomenal, and reading about all of her escapades will be an absolutel treat for my World War II fans who are used to the details of battle. Hall's work was more nuanced and suspenseful, and reading about her one on one interactions and personal encounters with dangerous situations is much  more pulse pounding to me than battlefield descriptions-- if you are in the field with a gun and bombs dropping on you, it seems to me that you go into that with a certain fatal outlook. Hall's success was completely dependent on her skills in reading a situation, her background knowledge, and her expertise. The worst moment was when she misread Father Robert Alesch, who turned out to be a German spy, and had to escape over the Pyrenees on foot! 

Most impressively, Hall continued to work right up until the CIA forced her to retire at age 60. She set up safe houses in Spain, she got an award but had to be given it privately because she was still an active operative, and was one of the first women officers in the CIA. At almost every turn, she was passed over or given poor reviews just because she was a woman, yet it didn't stop her. She had more combat experience than five former directors! To me, her perseverance in continuing to work despite the roadblocks that were deliberately put in her way is the most impressive part of her career. She was eventually recognized as being "an undisputed heroine of World War II" but the CIA, which admitted that they did not use her talents well. 

I had previously read The Lady Is a Spy: Virginia Hall, World War II Hero of the French Resistance by Don Mitchell, and found that book, while informative, to be somewhat less engaging for pleasure reading. Agent Most Wanted, on the other hand, was a brisk page turner that kept me making notes on all of the incredible work that Hall did. Purnell also makes it abundantly clear the obstacles that Hall faced because of her gender and her mobility challenges. 

My only quibble with the book, which I am definitely purchasing and which will circulate very well, is that Hall's picture should have been on the cover of the book instead of the generic YA looking silhouette with flowing hair. The cover strikes me as a continuing roadblock to female accomplishment-- it only counts if we are romantically pretty WHILE we are changing the world!


Calonita, Jen. 12 to 22
August 16th 2022 by Delacorte Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

N.B. If you are an old person like me, before you read this book, watch the Taylor Swift 22 video. Decent song, really, with just a bit of a nasal, robotic, autotuned tone at some points that was hard to escape in the 2010s. The song figures laregely in the book, so it's good to be familiar with it. 

Harper is a bit obsessed with TikTok videos by Blake Riley, and has even tried making some of her own, showing how to recreate music video looks with inexpensive makeup. Even though she's not allowed to post them on social media until she's 13 (her mother works for a local college on social media and is smart about this!), she enjoys doing them. Her best friend, Ava, indulges her, but really wants Harper to get permission to run a dogwalking business with her. Harper's parents won't let her babysit or have any jobs until she is 14. She's tried to show them that she is responsible, taking care of her own dog and helping with her two year old sister, Reese. For her 12 and 1/2 birthday (she was born around Thanksgiving, so her mother feels bad), her parents give her permission to post on social media. Right around this time, she also finds out that Celia, who used to be her friend and is now wildly popular, has invited both her and Ava to her birthday party at the exclusive and very fun Sugar Crazy restaurant. Harper's a little confused, but is feeling good because her video has gotten a lot of likes. When information comes up about the invitation that makes Harper feel awful, she makes a wish using a "Happy Birthday" filter on her phone... and wakes up the next morning to find she is 22! She's visiting home and very confused. Reese, who is now 12, picks up on this more than her parents do, and is soon planning on driving into the city with Harper to help her with her job. Harper is not only a famous social media influencer but works for Blake Riley's cosmetics company as a marketing expert even though she didn't go to college. She has her own apartment, and technology ten years in the future is kind of cook-- phones live in peoples' ears, cars drive themselves, and SkyMail will deliver packages to you by drone in fifteen minutes! The one odd thing is that Celia works with Harper, and the two have a shared TikTok account where they post; Harper thinks that the content is pretty shabby. There's a huge launch going on at a baseball stadium, and Harper is struggling to keep up with what she needs to do to help Blake get ready for it, with Reese's help. When she finds out that Celia is trying to sabotage Blake's success and that she herself instigated this attack, Harper has to find out what happened at Celia's long ago party to make things right. Will she be able to contact Ava, mend their friendship, and return to the past so she can live life differently?
Strengths: Last year, the 6th graders created locker biographies in language arts class, and I'd look at a few each morning. So many of my students want to be social media stars, even though I suspect they don't fully understand how much work that would be. Harper's trajectory makes sense, and seeing her magically travel ten years into the future is very fun. Brody's Addie Bell's Shortcut to Growing Up and Mlynowski's Gimme a Call both address this, and really, it's a trope I'd love to see more of! TikTok is one platform that I haven't had any desire to pursue, but I know my students are quite enthralled, so it's a perfect snapshot of 2022. Celia is an interesting character who just barely makes sense in Harper's life, which puts Harper's whole future in a very tenuous place. I liked the twists and turns this took when Harper met people from the past, and especially loved how she was able to navigate her life at 22 with the help of Alexa and her baby sister. What a great, light summer read!
Weaknesses: I never buy tween fame on the internet, but it's wish fulfillment at its finest. After 16 years of blogging, I have a hard time believing that Harper would get so many followers so quickly. 
What I really think: I'm a sucker for alternate future tales; can I travel back to 1979 right now and NOT major in Latin? Because I would in a heartbeat. Tween readers will be wild about all of the social media success that Harper has, and hopefully take away a little life lesson as well. Calonita's vision of life ten years in the future is really fun, and I hope to still have this book on the shelves in 2032 so students can see how reality compares! Definitely purchasing, since this author's 2007 Secrets of My Hollywood Life series still circulates!

Sunday, August 07, 2022

Waiver Day 2022!

I love the start of the new school year, and look forward to doing professional development for my district! If you aren't registered for my 100 Great Books Presentation, you won't get to experience the extreme snark of my verbal delivery, but you can at least look at the slides. 

The Two Wrong Halfs of Ruby Taylor

Panitch, Amanda. The Two Wrong Halfs of Ruby Taylor
August 9th 2022 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Ruby and her cousin Sarah were close when they were younger, but as they enter middle school, Ruby is increasingly irritated by how "perfect" her cousin is, and also by the fact that their grandmother Yvette clearly prefers Sarah. She thinks it is because her mother is Catholic, and since Judaism is a matrilineal religion, Ruby isn't "as Jewish" as her cousin. Or, it could be because Ruby doesn't always think things through, which often results in incidents like all of the matzah balls for a catering job falling on the basement floor. When cleaning up from the incident, Ruby finds an old chest, but her grandmother tells her to never open it, because a dybbuk who was brought from the old country lives in it. Even though Ruby doesn't open it, she manages to get into a scuffle with Sarah, who trips over the chest and opens it. Dybbuks can't be real, so the two go about their lives without telling anyone. Ruby is excited that there is a new rabbi, and it's a woman. She expects her cousin to be excited as well, since the new rabbi agrees to start a junior chapter of the Sisterhood her grandmother belongs to, but soon her cousin is not only averse to the idea, but she's writing nasty notes to the new rabbi and egging her house. Yvette isn't as keen on the rabbi, since she feels that traditions should be maintained, and has long favored Ruby's brother. She also takes Sarah away from studying the Torah to help her cook. Could Sarah's new found rebellion be the influence of the dybbuk? And what family history must be uncovered before Sarah can be reclaimed?
Strengths: I liked that Ruby and Sarah were involved in groups at church, and that they went to the same school. A growing number of my students have a mix of family backgrounds,s so Ruby's feelings about being "too Catholic" for her Jewish side and "too Jewish" for her Catholic side will certainly resonate. There is a lot of intesting history of feminist thought, which is played out well in the modern day setting. The grandmother's attitude towards girls is also something young readers may see in their own families, but hopefully not as often as in years past. (Yvette must be... early 70s?) The dybbuk's possession of Sarah makes her do lots of things that are uncharacteristic, and it's interesting to see how Ruby is still willing to come to her cousin's aide even though they haven't been getting along, and also to see that Sarah is feeling that Ruby has been avoiding her. The Two Wrong Halfs of Ruby Taylor is a solid family story with an intriguing bit of magic in it. 
Weaknesses: I think I feel fundamentally differently about family than the author does. Your family doesn't have to like you or want to spend time with you just because you are related by blood. Maybe Sarah is just more fun for the grandmother to be around. Since I had 38 cousins, my grandmother wasn't all that interested in ME, even though my mother was very close to her. I suppose with smaller families, grandparents are expected not to play favorites, just like parents. I would argue that if you aren't a nice person, even your parents don't have to spend that much time with you!
What I really think: Like this author's The Trouble with Good Ideas, this is an interesting book with lots of Jewish culture, family dynamics, and magical realism. Since my students aren't too keen on magical realism, I may wait to purchase this title. 

Saturday, August 06, 2022

Invisible: A Graphic Novel

Gonzalez, Christina Diaz. Epstein, Gabriela (illus.) Invisible: A Graphic Novel
August 2nd 2022 by Graphix
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Jorge, who goes by George in school, is apprehensive when called to the principal's office in his middle school. His family has moved out of the district, but he's hoping this isn't brought to their attention until after the end of the year, so he can apply to a magnet high school. It turns out that he and four other students have not met the required 3.5 hours of community service needed for the principal, Mr. Powell, to keep his award for perfect participation. Because the five students all seem to have something in common, they are put together on a crew to help the irascible cafeteria managed, Ms. Grouser, clean up in the mornings. The only problem? Even though they are all Latinx, and the principal thinks they don't speak English, they are all very different. George is of Puerto Rican descent but doesn't speak much Spanish, Miguel (who plays baseball) is Dominican, Dayara is Cuban, Sara is Mexican, and Nico is Venezuelan. We meet all of them when they have been brought into the principal's office to be interviewed after an "incident" and the children clearly think they are being blamed for something. They recount their experiences working in the morning in the cafeteria. We learn more about each student, including the fact that Dayara has a learning disability but isn't getting the help she needs, and Sara misses her mother and brothers in Mexico. Nico seems like he's rich, but he's living with an elderly great aunt while his parents are struggling to escape a  bad political situation. The children meet a little girl outside of school, and learn that Lisa and her mother are living in their van near the school because the mother is having a hard time finding work. They bring the little girl toys and books, and try to bring food as well, either things that were going to be thrown away, or things that they bring from home. They are always afraid of being caught, because Ms. Grouser is horribly mean and racist to them. Nico especially wants to help, and manages to talk to someone at a local restaurant who needs a waitress. Of course, the group is caught just as they are starting to help the struggling family, and they fear they are going to get into big trouble in the principal's office. Is that why they are being interviewed, or does the book have a happier ending? (Spoiler: It does!)
Strengths: Even though Isla to Island has some Spanish in it, it's mainly wordless, so this is the first bilingual graphic  novel I've seen. I love Gonzalez's other work like The Red Umbrella and Concealed, and she can apparently write a wide variety of types of books with great success. Invisible definitely has more of a social justice theme, which is very timely. It's great to see the variety of Latinx students portrayed, and see a little bit about how their backgrounds play into their experiences at school. Nico, whose parents have sent him to live with his great aunt in order to keep him safe, is the most interesting to me, but all of the children have their talents and challenges. While Ms. Grouser is horrible, the other adults end up being more helpful than the students expect, which was good to see. I loved that the students wanted to help Lisa and her mom just because it was the right thing to do. 
Weaknesses: The graphic novel format left me wanting to know a lot more about each of the characters. 
What I really think: This is a great choice for readers who want to broaden their experiences with graphic novels that have cultural connections. I've been thinking a lot about the We Need Diverse Books movement that started in the early summer of 2014, and marvel that there such a growing number of all kinds of books that explore difference cultural identities. For other Latinx graphic novels, check out Farjado's Miss Quinces and Fern├índez's ¡¡Manu!!.

Friday, August 05, 2022

Guy Friday-Race to Fire Mountain (Future Hero #1)

Blackwood, Remy. Race to Fire Mountain (Future Hero #1)
(really, a group of writers from https://www.storymix.co.uk/)
August 2nd 2022 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Jarrell has a lot of trouble paying attention and school and would rather spend his time drawing. This gets him into some trouble with his teachers, especially Mr. Mordi. His parents have to work a lot, so he is occasionally home alone. His older brother, Lucas, is more athletic and doesn't have a lot of patience with him. When Jarrell forgets his key to get home again, Lucas doesn't want to let him in, and Jarrell meets up with his cousin, Omari, who is re-opening his father's barbershop, Fades. He has renovated the inside after a flood, and even hung up a lot of Jarrell's artwork! Omari introduces him to his friend, Legsy, who is very impressed with the artwork and encourages Jarrell. When Jarrell enters the VIP room, it looks oddly familiar, and after he looks into an antique mirror, he finds himself in another world! There's a red clay temple and a sorcerer, Ikala,  and a goddess, Ayana, from his drawings! Ikala wants to regain the Staff of Kundi that Ayana is keeping from him because it was made specifically to destroy him. The two fight, and Jarrell doesn't know what to do. Eventually, that scene fades, but the expression on his face lets Legsy know that he has seen into Ulfrika. Legsy then tells Jarrel that he is really Olegu, the God of Doorways, and he has created the portal. He's been looking for a true descendant of Kundi to help with this this world. Jarrell also meets Kimisi, who is Ayana's apprentice. Working with people from Ulfrika, Jarrell is able to harness his powers as an heir of Kundi to save this alternative world. Will he be able to?
Strengths:
Like Mbalia's The Last Gate of the Emperor, this is described as "inspired by the mythology of Africa and its diaspora" but is a more comfortable length for developing readers, like Patton's Battle Bugs series. I have never understood why middle grade fantasy books have to be so long; Lake's A Coming of Dragons and LaFever's Lowthar's Blade books are still very popular with my students, and I think it's because they are both three books series of much shorter books. The fact that this also has some illustrations makes it even better! The story zips along at a good pace, and the world building is great; I love that the portal is a barbershop! 
Weaknesses: The Pan African mythos is really interesting, but I spent an inordinate amount of time doing internet searches for all of the characters, and sort of wish it had been based on existing mythology. Of course, there are thousands of quasi Anglo-Celtic based fantasy novels, so I can't really argue! This was originally a UK release; I might have changed Jarrell's mom's job in this edition. She drives a double-decker, and now all of my students will know what that is. 
What I really think: This is a fantastic mix of easy-to-read text, occasional pictures, and a portal fantasy that will appeal to many of my 6th and 7th grade readers and will be super popular at Scholastic book fairs! It reminds me in the best possible way of Rodda's 2001 Deltora Quest series. Fans of Giles' The Last-Last Day of Summer who need something a little shorter to read will adore this one, and I see it being a really popular choice for book projects. Perhaps I should buy two copies, since someone lost the first book in LaFevers' Lowthar's Blade, and since it was in prebind and is out of print, there's really no replacing it. 

And book two is ALSO coming out on August 1st. Whooooo!


Thursday, August 04, 2022

The Devouring Wolf

Parker, Natalie C. The Devouring Wolf
August 2nd 2022 by Razorbill
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Riley Callahan lives with her siblings and moms in rural Kansas. Mom C. was born a werewolf and is currently the pack alpha, and Mom N. became one, so the family spends a lot of time with the werewolf community. Children usually develop their powers between the ages of 9 and 13, but Riley (who is 12) still hasn't. This year, her younger brother Milo will be participating in the Full Moon Rite. Children who aren't called to be with the pack as werewolves spend time at Tenderfoot Camp, and Riley, whose best friend Stacey turned last year, does NOT want to have to go back to camp. Milo is working on his wolf magic, and is having some success with combining two of the three forms required: alchemy and lithomancy. When the rite happens, Milo is called, but Riley, along with four others, is not. The parents don't know what to do, and have the children go to the Clawroot camp inside the boundaries of Tenderfoot Camp in order to keep them safe. Riley's cousin Dhoneille is there, as is Lydia, Aracely, Kenver and Lydia. The five are all scared and worried about not turning, and there's a brief moment of misunderstanding when one of the girls misgenders Kenver, who uses they/them pronouns. The adults are trying to figure out what's going on, but there are bigger problems; two of the older teens have their wolf stolen from them. Riley, who has been hearing mysterious voices calling to her, is sure that the Devouring Wolf has come back, even though the adults tell her that he is just a myth. In diary pages from a girl named Grace, we find out more about the Devouring Wolf and how he came to be. Riley and her new pack defy the adults and start their own investigations, which they intensify after Milo's wolf is also stolen. Will they be able to figure out what is going on in time to save the rest of their community?
Strengths: Riley's predicament of not becoming a werewolf on her desired timetable will speak to many middle grade readers who feel, for whatever reason, that they are developmentally behind their classmates, even if they are not! The werewolf community is well drawn, and I was easily able to believe that there is a small lupine enclave in rural Kansas. There is great LGBTQIA+ representation with Riley's moms, her sister, who is transgender, and Kenver. The journal entries give just enough information to direct the children to find out more, and since we as the readers seem to have a little more information than they do, it's possible to feel a little more prepared about what is going to happen. There's still plenty of suspense and action, though, and the book is well paced, with quieter times researched being interspersed with attacking wolves. Parker also has a series of YA fantasy books, but made a great transition to middle grade concerns and voice. Very well done. 
Weaknesses: The werewolves use of magic, and the combinations thereof, was very interesting, but we didn't see very much of it. Putting objects inside rocks? Creating magical treats? There wasn't a lot of time to use the magic, since there was the immediate concern of the Devouring Wolf, but I rather wanted to know more!
What I really think: Werewolf books were hugely popular about fifteen years ago, when vampire books were also much in demand. LeFever's Werewolf Rising (2006),  and Moore's Red Moon Rising (2011) are my favorite, but I also have Schrieber's Full Moon series,  Stiefvater's The Wolves of Mercy Falls, and Barnes' Raised by Wolves. Sadly, none of these have circulated much recently, but maybe the growing interest in vampire books will lead to a larger demand for werewolf tales. 

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Coming Up Cuban

Manzano. Sonia. Coming Up Cuban
August 2nd 2022 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

After Fidel Castro's revolution in Cuban in 1959, things were very complicated. The important thing to remember is that Castro was against Bautista's US backed regime, which means that most of the books I've read about this time period by US author, many whose families fled Cuban because of these events, paint a portrait of the revolution being a bad thing. I tried very hard to remember that many people stayed in Cuba, and that Castro ruled for many, many years and was succeeded by his brother Raul. ANY book about this place and time will be extremely complicated, so it is interesting to see different views like Patterson's My Brigadista Year, Gonzalez's The Red Umbrella, and Cuevas Cuba in My Pocket. It seems a little problematic to me that Manzano, who was raised in New York City by parents who were from Puerto Rico, would be the one to tell this story, but given how complicated the situation is and was, perhaps an outsider's view is helpful? I did enjoy the wide variety of characters represented. 

Told from four different viewpoints, we see events unfold, and the characters intersect in interesting ways. Ana's family has been suffering because their father has been off fighting on behalf of Castro. When he comes home, she hardly recognizes him, but he becomes an important person in Castro's government. She isn't quite as sure that the Revolution is good, but wants to believe her father. When he gets in trouble for writing a letter critisizing the Revolution, he is put in jail. When tragedy strikes, Ana and her mother flee and live with a relative in the US. 

Zulema lives in the country and is part of a group that Ana's father would term guajiro; the peasant farming class. I don't know what the percentage of the Cuban population would fall into this category, but Zulema's family is more concerned with surviving. When people from Castro's government come to their homes and farms and demand they put up teachers in their homes and take classes from them, Zulema and her family are conflicted; she wants to learn to read, but why do the people think they can both push her family around AND tell them that now everyone is equal? One of Ana's friends, whose family also supported Castro, ends up in Zulema's village as a brigadista, working to teach people to read. 

Miguel is a pampered boy whose parents send him to the US as part of Operation Pedro Pan. He is at a school, but when that becomes over crowded, he is afraid he will have to go into foster care. His parents, with whom he stays in contact, are trying to leave Cuba and eventually join him. 

Juan, an Afro Cuban boy whose parents went to the US but were killed in a traffic accident there, is being raised by his grandfather, who runs a fruit cart. His health is failing, and Juan worries about his future. His best friend Paco is heavily invested in being a pionero,  and whole  heartedly supports Castro, but Juan isn't sure about the violence he is seeing that is justified by the Revolution. 

Ultimately, I think this works. While the overall sentiment is slightly anti-Castro, there is a lot of balanced insight into why some people supported the Revolution, or were simply divided about how to feel. This seems realistic. There are many, many books about the Holocaust that are not written by Jewish people from Germany. Is there a space for books about the Cuban Revolution that are not written by people with Cuban heritage? The Holocaust was very black and white; the Cuban revolution is this way to many... on both sides. That's why this is an interesting and well-researched book that could start a lot of conversations about recent history that still affects people's lives. Not everyone will agree with this. 

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

Fenris and Mott

VanEekhout, Greg. Fenris and Mott
August 2nd 2022 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus
 
Mott (short for Martha) is trying to settle in to Culver City, California after her mother has moved her there from Pennsylvania. She misses her best friend Amanda, with whom she hosted a root beer review internet show. Outside her new apartment, she puts a bottle into the recycling bin and hears a "mweep". This turns out to be an absolutely adorable dog, and Mott is incensed that someone would dump an animal. She's also sad that she had to give up her newly adopted dog when her mom lost her job and they had to move to a smaller apartment, so wants to take care of the dog. When she takes him to a shelter and finds out that the animal is actually a wolf, she realizes that he will have to go back to the wild. When the animal makes a break for it, things start to get weird. A guy in a costume claiming to be Gorm the Vicious informs her that  the wolf is actually Fenris, "The moon-eater. The Odin-slayer. The world-ender." Gorm, of course, wants to destroy Fenris, and Mott becomes defensive. Mott makes some notes about Ragnarok. It's rather alarming, but since she promised to take care of him, she takes him home, since she is not going to break her promises the way her dad breaks his. While walking in the park, the two meet Thrudi, who is dressed oddly and carrying a sword, and get more information about Fenriss. She claims to be Fenris' guard. Since Fenris has eaten the Rune of Annihilation, it's just a matter of time before all of the prophecies surrounding Ragnarok come true and the world hurtles towards its end. Many of these are evident; humans have just been attributing them to climate change and other causes. Together with Trudi, Mott travels to a nursery to meet Fenris' mother; thanks to the way the World Tree works, most locations to which they need to travel are very close. The mother, Angrboda, isn't a lot of help, but does give Mott some mistletoe, which could be used to kill Fenris, who has been leaving a path of destruction in his wake. There are a lot of other beings from Norse mythology whom the group meets, and Mott wants more than anything to be able to save Fenris. Will she be able to?
Strengths: Puppies. It's hard to go wrong when you start right in with a puppy. There was no time lost in getting right into this story, but we still found out everything we needed to know. This is not easy to do. The world building also is introduced briskly and is free of info dumps. Thrudi is a great sidekick, and Mott navigates her new California world with a world-ending puppy very well. The different Norse characters they meet are funny and interesting, and Mott works hard to try to save the world. I enjoyed the environmental undercurrents in the book as well. The ending left room for a sequel, but this could also be a stand alone story. Very enjoyable!
Weaknesses: I'm not well versed in Norse mythology, so it would have helped to have notes in the back of the book, or D'Aulaire's Norse Myths or Napoli's Treasury of Norse Mythology by my side as I read this. 
What I really think: This was a short, fast-paced, action-packed fantasy book, and perfect for fans who want Norse mythology but don't necessarily want to read all three books of Armstrong's Loki's Wolves, Harris' Runemarks series, or Riordan's Magnus Chase chronicles. It's more dog focused than Subity's The Last Shadow Warrior, and I think I can convince one of my readers who ONLY wants to read dog books to pick this one up! Certainly fans of Van Eekhout's Kid vs. Squid, Cog Voyage of the Dogs, and Weird Kid will be glad to see another book by this author. 
 Ms. Yingling

Monday, August 01, 2022

MMG- Girls Guide to Love and Magic

August 2nd 2022 by Scholastic Press
It's
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
 at 
and #IMWAYR day 
at 
and 


Rigaud, Debbie. A Girl's Guide to Love and Magic
August 2nd 2022 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Cecily Destin is so excited to be turning 15 during the Labor Day weekend that also includes the West Indian Day Parade that she can't really concentrate on school at Christian Prep. Her parents have a restaurant, Port au Princesse, and will have a booth at the parade. Most exciting of all, her social influencer aunt Mimose will be interviewing the music star Papash and has invited Cecily and her best friend Renee to come along! Her mother isn't too thrilled with Mimose's embracing of their Haitian Vodou culture, and since the death of their mother, Grandma Rose, Cecily hasn't spent as much time with her aunt. She's glad to go to a tarot card reading with her aunt before the interview on the day of the parade, but things go badly wrong. The client, Juste, wants Mimose to perform a ritual, but she declines. He insists, spitting rum on her and causing her to be possessed by the spirit called Erzu. Erzu is concerned with how she looks and is rather laid back, which is good, because Cecily and Renee have to find a way to have the spirit removed. Luckily, she happens upon classmate Kwame, and takes refuge with her aunt in his apartment. His younger brother, Kofi, has been interested in a variety of Black cultural magic since reading Ronald L. Smith's Hoodoo, and is able to give them a rough idea of what needs to be done to bring the aunt back. This sends the four off into the celebration to find items needed for the ritual, including a priestess! They run into all sorts of snags, meet a variety of people in the community, and manage to have a good time despite worrying about Mimose. The interview is thankfully put off, since Papash is busy with other things, which buys them some time. Cecily has always thought that Kwame was kind of cute, and he is sweet, helpful, and seems to have a bit of a crush on her. Will Cecily and her friends be able to navigate the celebration and manage to bring Mimose back to herself?
Strengths: If you haven't looked at this book because you think it is Young Adult, stop right there and go find a copy! Even though Cecily is in high school, this is 100% a fabulous city adventure book similar to Tarpley's The Harlem Charade or Farrar's Song for Bijou. Cecily is in high school, but dealing with many of the same things middle schoolers do; struggles with parents' expectations, missing a grandparent who has recently passed away, and having a very sweet crush on a classmate. Of course, since she's older, she is free to wander around New York City with her aunt even when she is possessed by a spirit. I loved learning about the West Indian Day Parade and all of the different cultural practices, food, and celebrations. She gets a lot of support from community members, Renee, and even her mother, in a surprising twist. Now I almost want to go to New York to experience this for myself!
Weaknesses: It took me several chapters to get my mind around the fact that this wasn't going to be typical navel gazing and whiny Young Adult fare. Not that Rigaud, who also did the fabulous Simone Breaks All the Rules would do that to me, but the Young Adult tone is just not my favorite a lot of the time. 
What I really think: This is perfect for readers who want upper middle grade stories like Watson's Love is a Revolution, Richardson's The Meet-Cute Project, Bajpai's A Match Made in Mehendi or Kasie West's oevre. It was a fantastic summer read. My only regret is that I didn't save it for a Saturday when I could pick up Bibi's Haitian Patties to eat while reading it!


I don't necessarily feel good about my July reading, although I did write a few more reviews than the 64 I wrote in June! I do read the books, but there's not enough room in my library to buy books for which I don't have readers. 

Most librarians don't buy the all the books, either. Writing reviews takes a lot of work! 

School starts next week, and it's been an odd and unproductive summer. Some years are like that. At least I tried to keep on top of books to buy.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Inspiring Women and Girls

Vernick, Shirley Reva. The Sky We Shared
June 7th 2022 by Cinco Puntos Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

During World War II, we meet Tamiko, who lives in rural Japan in 1944 and dreams of one day sewing costumes for the theater. Her parents are dead, and she lives with an aunt. Her brother Kyo, has worked with her in the rice fields, but food is so scarce that he decides to join the army. Tamiko is not happy, but there is little she can do but send a daruma doll with him for luck. She and her friend Suki are told that they will be going to a nearby city to work on a project, and Tamiko hopes she can use her skills. When the group has to walk, she is told that she will not be going because she is somewhat lame, having had polio. She sneaks into the group and is soon working on giant paper balloons that are washi paper with potato glue. There are twelve hour shifts, only two rice balls a day, plus some amphetamine tablets, and the girls must sleep on the cold floor. Everyone works hard, hoping to aid the soldiers who are fighting for the Emperor Hirohito in his holy war. 

In Oregon, in 1945, we meet Nellie. Her father is stationed in Alaska with the army, and her best friend Joey seems distant since the death of his older brother. Life goes on, and the families must deal with rationing, scrap drives, and propaganda. Joey is angry at the local military recruiter and sets fire on his property, but Nellie covers for him, and the man is actually very understanding. Nellie's best friend, Ruby, has a grandfather who raises pigeons, and the girls go about their days, attending school and church. Since the weather has been warm, Pastor Mitchell and his wife, who is expecting, plan on taking some of the children on a picnic in the woods. 

When the balloons are almost done, the soldiers let Tamiko know that they will be used to bomb the US. Tamiko tells the other workers, who are all glad to help the soldiers and hopefully bring a swift end to the war by attacking the US. Suki has been sent home because she is coughing blood, a sure sign of tuberculosis. Hiroshima is bombed, and Suki feels that attacking the US is not the best idea, but Tamiko is still so worried about her brother that she falls out with her friend over this. Conditions continue to worsen as the Japanese food supply is cut off, and even the local trader has nothing to give Tamiko for a picture frame, or even to eat herself. When Kyo comes home, but is injured, Tamiko continues her attempt to fold 1,000 origami cranes and hope that the war will soon be over. 

On the church picnic, Nellie is worried about Joey, who is still struggling with his brother's death. When Mrs. Mitchell takes some of the children into the woods to look for another, Nellie is just about to head after them when there is a huge explosion. One of the balloon bombs made in Japan had landed on Gearheart Mountain but not exploded, but detonated when it was perhaps kicked. Five children, along with Mrs. Mitchell, were killed. Joey and Nellie both worried it was their fault, for various reasons, and their small town of Bly is rocked by the deaths. They don't quite understand why the Navy had to be called in to investigate, but they later find that these bombs have landed around the US, but had not killed anyone. There had been a gag on the press reporting the bombs, which was lifted for public safety, albeit too late for Bly's residents. When a family of Japanese citizens goes through town shortly after the funerals, since internment camps were being closed, the residents attempt to stone them. Nellie, however, goes out with a pitcher of water and yells at her neighbors to leave them alone. She's all too aware that her father is still out there, and that more hate is not the answer. 

Just when I thought there were no more WWII stories for me to discover, here is one that is entirely new. This is based on the only civilians who were killed by enemy weapons on mainland soil, Vernick does a masterful job of weaving together both sides of the balloon bombs in a sympathetic way. Young readers might be surprised by Nellie's derogatory use of the term "Japs", but this book does manage to capture the sentiment of characters from both Japan and the US. 

In addition to delving into the complicated emotions that war engenders, which were well researched and had several sensitivity readers for Tamiko's story, there are a delightful plethora of historical details about daily life. Lee and Low, now the parent company of Cinco Puntos Press, always produces books that handle cultural topics sensitively. I'm a huge fan of working the smallest details into a story, such as the teacher being (gasp!) barelegged but drawing a hosiery line up her leg, visiting the Best Novelties store to look at toys, or describing some of the meals caused by rationing. Vernick doesn't collect these details just for life in the US, but does a great job of mentioning details of clothing and food in Japan. The one inclusion that I found fascinating and wanted more elaboration for was the pills that the girls working on the balloon received with their rice balls; I knew that the Germans gave their soldiers cocaine and methamphetamine so that they could fight longer, but the stimulants for the girls was only mentioned in passing! 

This was a sad but utterly riveting book detailing two sides of a devastating conflict that should have been a warning against all future wars. While Burkinshaw's The Last Cherry Blossom or Napoli's In a Flash offer rare glimpses of life in Japan during WWII, there aren't many books that cover this topic, so this is a great addition. Other than Seiple's Ghosts in the Fog or Giff's Island War, there is little about attacks on US territories during WWII. The combination of historical detail, unusual history, and exploration of the emotions of two similar girls on opposite sides of a conflict made for riveting reading. If you read just one WWII book this year, make it The Sky We Shared



Chambers, Veronica and Baker, Rachel. Shirley Chisolm is a Verb
July 28th 2020 by Dial Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central 

For readers who are too young for Bolden's Speak Up, Speak Out! The Extraordinary Life of "Fighting Shirley Chisholm (2022) or as an excellent classroom read aloud, Chambers and Baker's Shirley Chisholm is a Verb introduces Chisholm and her career in politics through lively illustrations and innovative prose.

Moving forward from the thought that "Verbs are words that move the world forward", we see Chisholm's childhood in Barbados, her move to New York City, and her path through college and her early career. She started in education, working in early Head Start programs, and using every opportunity to better the world around her for others. She ran for a seat on the New York State assembly and won that, then continued on to serve as a congresswoman and eventually run for president. This was not an easy course to follow, since both women and Blacks faced a lot of opposition, but she was dedicated to changing the world and never gave up.

The use of boldfaced verbs, and pages revolving around how Chisholm "campaigned", "represented" and "created" gives an interesting focus and rhythm to the information presented. This drives the story forward in a compelling way that a standard text might not. This has a lot of information for a read aloud, but the format of the prose keeps the story from seeming lengthy.

Baker's illustrations are bold and bright, and capture some well known photographs of Chisholm. Some of her 1960s and 1970s polyster suits are captured with bright colors; there were so many astonishing outfits that I wish a few more bright colors had been used in the clothing. I love that she didn't default to the black and navy ensembles that so many current women politicians wear!

Chisholm's legacy is well addressed, with information about Ferraro, Obama, Clinton, and the host of new female representatives that have been elected in recent races. The personal note from Chambers, with her recollections of seeing posters for Chisholm as a child, end the book on a personal note.

There are a growing number of picture book biographies, like Bryant's Fall Down Seven Times, Stand Up Eight: Patsy Takemoto Mink and the Fight for Title IX, Levy's I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, and Sotomayor's Turning Pages: My Life Story, that cover pioneering women in the political arena. These make me hopeful that soon there will be so many women in office that it will no longer be noteworthy. Young readers of all cultural backgrounds will soon be able to picture themselves in the highest offices in the land.

Tarnowska, Wafa' and Mintzi, Vali. Nour's Secret Library
March 29th 2022 by Barefoot Books
Copy Provided by Young Adult Books Central

Nour lives in Damascus, a city she loves and which lives up to the meaning of its name, which is often described as "fragrant". She and her cousin Amir love rambling around the city, and wish to have a secret club that would meet in the storeroom of Nour's father's bakery. When the war comes to their neighborhood, they hide in a nearby basement. The fighting wears on, and they spend many nights hiding in the basement, although there is some time during the day when people can go out for more supplies. Buildings are destroyed, and things are very difficult. Nour notices that books help people pass the time, and starts to pick up books that she sees spilling out of abandoned buildings or lying on the street. Soon, her family's home is filled with them, and her parents want to know her plan. She and Amir put together a secret library in the basement of a damaged building that still has some people living in the upper floors. The word spreads about this precious resource, and soon they have a large number of people using their collection for all kinds of reasons; finding medical information, teaching children, or reading to forget the horrors of war. Books, after all, "don't fight with each other like people do".

This timely tale also includes information about Syria and Aleppo at the end of the book, as well as information about famous libraries through history. There is an author's note that informs us that this book is based on the real life library that children put together in Syria.

The illustrations are rendered in beautiful shades of teals, browns, and reds, and the illustrator does an interesting job of playing with the saturation of these tones to indicate whether the moods and settings are dark or light. The prewar pictures have a lot of white space on the page, with light colors of teal, and the basement features very dark colors of it. This was very striking. There is an impressionist feel to the pictures, and the roughly done lines give a feeling of motion to the pictures.

It's good to see Nour and Amir's life before the war, and with what is currently going on in Syria and now Ukraine, this is an excellent book to introduce what children go through during times of war to young readers, but also shows the resiliciency and hope of the young.

There are a lot of picture books about libraries and reading, but not as many that show libraries set up during wartime situations. Stamaky's Alia's Mission gives a graphic novel treatment to a similar setting in Iraq. This is a great book to pair with Tokuda-Hall's Love in the Library, which covers a library that was created in a Japanese internment camp, and has a similar feeling of hope. Tate's William Still and His Freedom Stories also would be a good companion for this one, and talks about the power of words during the time of the Underground Railroad in the US.