Monday, December 31, 2012

Sky Sailors

Sky Sailors: True Stories of the Balloon EraBristow, David L. Sky Sailors: True Stories of the Balloon Era
28 September 2010, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux

Who knew? From 1783, lots of people tried various ways to fly in balloons. At first, it was considered far too dangerous for people, so animals were sent up, but soon people were trying all sorts of dangerous tricks-- flying at high altitudes, setting off fireworks from their balloons, traveling across water. All of this, of course, was fraught with danger, so the public loved it. Improvements in materials and methods were made over time, but the thing that drew people to attempt balloon flight and that drew people to watch it was the danger, and the thought that people could overcome the bounds of physical reality. One airplane flights began in the early 1900s, the number of balloonists decreased, but for a while, it was the choice of daredevils.
Strengths: This was a well-researched book, written in an engaging style. Period pictures and photographs add a lot to these stories of derring-do. Quite fun.
Weaknesses: The problem with many of these high quality nonfiction books is that few students are interested in picking them up. At 125 pages, it seems too long to them. Debating buying it anyway-- I did get someone to read the Black Potatoes book this year!

Yes, it's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, as well as Nonfiction Monday, but I spent most of the day making various dips for a New Year's Party, and this is all that is going to get blogged today!

TOMORROW the Cybils' short lists will be announced! So excited. Need to get the second round panelists organized and ready to roll-- the Cybils' winners are announced on Valentine's Day, which is just around the corner.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Yoko Ono: Collector of Skies

Yoko Ono: Collector of SkiesBeram, Nell and Boriss-Krimsky, Carolyn. Yoko Ono: Collector of Skies.
1 January 2013, Amulet books
ARC from

I learned a lot from this very lovely, middle grade appropriate biography of the artist Yoko Ono. She had a very privileged background, and her family was wealthy enough to send her to the best schools and live in the US for a while. They chose to weather the war in Japan, but remained safe. Returning to the US after the war, they lived in Scarsdale, and Yoko attended Sarah Lawrence. Always artistically inclined, she thought at first that she would study music, but started writing poems and attaching them to objects, becoming one of the first performance artists. In the 1950s, she hung out with the likes of Allan Ginsberg, and was well regarded as an artist, gaining even some popular attention for her controversial pieces. What brought her to international attention, of course, was her relationship with John Lennon. The two were artistically well suited to each other, but were together for a relatively short time. She has continued to work as an artist to this day. Color pictures of her work add a lot to this well researched and formatted biography.
Strengths: Beautifully done and quite informative. I've read a lot of information about the Beatles but knew relatively little about Ono's art work.
Weaknesses: I'm not sure that there would be a lot of interest in a biography of Ono, at least in my school.

We had quite the discussion in my family about how Ono might have been more famous and well-regarded for her art if she hadn't been connected to Lennon, but how she is known by more people because of this connection.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Secret Cellar

The Red Blazer Girls: The Secret CellarBeil, Michael D. The Secret Cellar.
9 October 2012, Knopf

Sophie is back with her classmates, and once again, they are involved in a mystery. Sophie sees a fountain pen that she would like to get for her father at a local antiques shop. When it goes up for auction, the snotty owner of a local bookstore, Marcus Klinger, also bids for the pen, which is from the estate of a local music enthusiast, Curtis Dedmann. Dedmann was also fond of clue oriented scavenger hunts, and when Sophie uncovers a slip of paper with a riddle on it within the barrel of the pen, the Red Blazer Girls set off to unravel another mystery. They enlist their adult friends like Malcolm and their English teacher to help them obtain the antique books they need, and to try to get vital clues, like the walking stick, back from Marcus Klinger. Lots of other things are going on while the mystery is in progress-- the girls' favorite coffee shop, Perkatory, has closed, and there is a school play, but when they talk to the executor of Dedmann's will, they start to realize that Dedmann's house holds some mystery that they must figure out before the house is turned over to Klinger.
Strengths: Just like in The Ring of Rocamadour and The Vanishing Violin, this has an awesome sense of place, and a great, clue-oriented mystery. I may never uncover an elusive German spy in my bucolic, Midwestern neighborhood, but in New York City, I guess that is what people do. I love this series because it's fun and exotic, and the girls have such cool adults around to help them.
Weaknesses: I wish the main characters were boys. Just do. I simply adore Mr. Beil's writing, but I've had a hard time getting boys to pick up this series, and even Summer at Forsaken Lake, which I thought was awesome. I don't know exactly why, but I think that if Mr. Beil wrote a book with a boy main character and a tiny bit more action, it would be fabulous. I can always hope!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Guy Friday- Fantasy Guys

The Paladin Prophecy (The Paladin Prophecy, #1)Frost, Mark. The Paladin Prophecy.
25 September 2012, Random House

Will West's parents have always told him to fly under the radar-- which is really hard when you can run freakishly fast and score so high on standardized tests that elite private schools come recruiting you. Will finds out why his parents wanted him to lay low soon enough. As soon as Dr. Robbins at The Center for Integrated Learning contacts him, things begin to go wrong with his parents. His mother's eye go blank, and his father first texts him to run away from the threatening men in black cars and then disappears. Luckily, Dr. Robbins agrees to fly him out to the school in Wisconsin from California, and he is helped by Nando, a sympathetic taxi driver who continues to help him when he gets to the school. Strange things happen on the plane as well, with pod creatures as well as guardian angels appearing. Once at the school, Will is grateful to make friends fairly quickly, because the mysteries and attacks keep happening, and go on happening for 560 pages. However, I don't want to say too much, because there are any number of twists and turns that I don't want to spoil. There is definitely going to be a book two: Alliance.

I love Michael Sullivan's description on Goodreads: "A wild genre mash-up with enough Tolkien references for any fantasy fan, enough gadgetry for Men in Black sci-fi nuts, and enough creepy darkness for those gothic horror/Darren Shan aficionados." 

Strengths: Number one: Will is a cross country runner, and this has one of the best race descriptions I've read, as well as a great coach.  Number two: It's a huge, honking fantasy book that will take my avid Geek Boy reads about three entire days to read. I adored the character of Nando (taxi driving is boring, so he's willing to do surveillance for Will), and the ensemble cast was great. Even a smart, strong love interest for Will!
Weaknesses: I personally struggled with the whole Paladins and prophecy thing, and will no doubt have severe fantasy amnesia when recounting this one to students, but it doesn't matter. This was easy to get caught up in, and I just enjoyed the ride!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Wish You Were Eyre

Wish You Were EyreFrederick, Heather Vogel. Wish You Were Eyre.
11 September 2012, Simon and Schuster Books for Young People

The Mother-Daughter Book Club is back, and for this final installment, they are reading Jane Eyre.The girls are all struggling with various issues-- Becca is waitressing at Pies and Prejudice, but Megan's grandmother is buys planning their trip to Paris... and gets involved in a romance! Megan is distraught that Sophie, the cousin of Annabelle (aka Stinkerbelle), is an exchange student from France living with her family. Megan's mom is running for mayor, and the girls are helping. Jess is involved in a MadriGals contest but running into problems at her boarding school, and Cassidy is keeping up with her hockey. On top of everything else, the mother-daughter book club from Wyoming that was pen pals with the group in Concord comes to visit over spring break, and the week after, Becca gets to go to Mankato with her grandmother. There is also frenemy drama, boy drama, and ... whew. I'm tired just thinking about everything that went on in this book!
Strengths: The best covers EVER. Big shout out to Lucy Ruth Cummins who designed them all. Not a surprise-- she also designed Belly Up and Cordially Uninvited, both of which I really like. Fun stories, good friends, and while I am sad the series is over, I'm just as glad to see what else Frederick will do!
Weaknesses: It's a bit of a hard sell to interest girls in books about a book club involving classics, so these aren't the hottest circulators, but they do a nice steady business!

The Bronte Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Reef, Catherine. The Bronte Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily and Anne.
23 October 2012, Clarion

Here's the nonfiction tie-in for the day! While I found this interesting, I don't think that middle school students are interested enough in the Bronte sisters to warrant purchase. Well researched and fluidly written, this was also extremely depressing, given the subject matter. I knew that there weren't a lot of options available for women during this time period, but didn't fully realize how dismal the future was for the children of clergy at this time. No wonder Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre are so bleak!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Quick Fix

The Quick FixFerraiolo, Jack. The Quick Fix.
1 October 2012, Harry N. Abrams
Nominated for the Cybils and copy provided by publisher/author

Matt is back after The Big Splash, and this time he has been hired by cheerleader Melissa to find out why her boyfriend Will has been acting strangely. Will had a wooden box that everyone in the school seems to want, especially criminal syndicate hear, Vinnie Biggs.Vinnie also wants to hire Matt to get the box, but Matt really doesn't want to deal with Vinnie or his hired thugs, the Thompson Twins, who also make highly addictive Pixy Stix. When Melissa is put on "the Outs", and the box has a piece of paper with the same alphanumerical clue that his dad left before he went missing, Matt knows that the stakes are high. If cheerleaders like the amazing Cynthia are seeking his help, something big is going on, and Matt needs to get to the bottom of it before he, too, is marked by Vinnie and his evil henchmen with a water gun to the pants front and put on "the Outs".
Strengths: Always need funny books for boys, and this has some good moments. Some potty humor, organized crime, running around. Kisses from cheerleaders. All good.
Weaknesses: The whole film noir aspect (Really-- a backyard "bar" where Matt can get whacked on root beer? And Pixy Stix addicts? Sigh.), as well as the "crime boss" of a middle school. This is where the boys and I disagree-- they like the unrealistic feel of kids doing things in school that would never actually happen (Teachers don't see the giant super soakers? Vinnie is making hundreds of dollars?). This is why The Fourth Stall and The Fourth Stall: Part II, Griff Carver, I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President are all popular. I just don't get them at all. I vastly preferred Ferraiolo's Sidekicks, which was much more interesting, and unrealistic enough that I didn't worry about suspending disbelief.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Time Slip Christmas!

A Ghost Tale for Christmas Time (Magic Tree House, #44)Osborne, Mary Pope. A Ghost Tale for Christmas Time.
14 September 2012, Random House

Jack and Annie get sent to Victorian London to help Charles Dickens, in the same way that they helped Mozart, Louis Armstrong, and Lady August Gregory (who collected Irish legends). Unless they help, he won't write his most enduring work, A Christmas Carol. Disguising themselves as well-to-do boys, they try to get an audience with Dickens, but are sent away. They trade clothes with chimney sweeps and get into Dickens house. They follow him out into the town and are accused of a crime because they are grimy urchins-- Dickens shares with them how unfair he thinks society is, and how he struggled to make money gluing labels on pots of ink when his parents couldn't take care of him. Jack and Annie manage to convince him that his writing can change society, so he shouldn't give up.
Strengths: My own children adored these when they were just learning to read. The series started in 1992, so the books were fairly new when they were reading them. There must be 50 books now, along with the nonfiction companions for many, which are nice, short history lessons.
Weaknesses: Ah, history going wrong. A good excuse to time travel, surely, but really? These are all a little predictable, but that's why young readers love them.

Have a Merry Christmas if you are celebrating!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

All Everyone Wants for Christmas-- The Third Wheel

The Third Wheel (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, #7)Kinney, Jeff. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel
13 November 2012, Amulet Books
Copy provided by YABC and reviewed there.

Greg is back, and his life is as complicated as ever. His Uncle Gary has moved in with the family and is sleeping on the couch, and Manny is as obnoxious as ever. When the student council is replaced because no one attended meetings, Greg talks Rowley in to running for social committee chairman. He wins, and plans get under way for a dance. Greg would like to ask someone, but he manages to irritate every girl in whom he is interested. Finally, he and Rowley decide to go as a "group of friends" with Abigail, but the dance ends in disaster as senior citizens take over the hall, a chicken pox epidemic takes off, and Abigail decides that she prefers Rowley.

Strengths: I haven't been the most enormous fan of Greg, since the first several books made me want to slap him. He made many of his own problems. In this book, however, he's a bit more like Big Nate-- he is trying his best, but his good intentions invariably end badly. This is very true to the actions of most middle school students, so they can definitely identify!

If your own personal child is a fan of these, I would recommend buying the entire set in hard cover. In thirty years, there won't be any holdings in libraries, most of them will have fallen apart, and all of the grown ups looking for nostalgia will want these. This is why I have 50 of the 54 Animorphs books in my attic!

Weaknesses: The first 40 pages or so were taken up with back story of Greg's childhood antics. This was interesting, but I kept waiting for the plot to emerge.

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts. Both sites have lots of links to reviews about books that are great for the 4th through 8th grader. It's also Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week at Jean Little Library.

While I thought that winter break should be a two week long reading marathon, both the younger and older generations in my family think that my time is better spent cooking, coordinating presents, and cleaning house. I have posts up until 3 January, and promised Picky Reader a Gene Kelly movie marathon, so have a feeling that very little reading will get done in the next week.

And Cybil's short list chat on Thursday. Deep breaths. The first round panelists have been fantastic to work with, so it should go smoothly despite my incipient panic!


Confessions of a Murder Suspect

Confessions of a Murder SuspectPatterson, James and Maxine Paetro.Confessions of a Murder Suspect
24 September 2012, Little, Brown and Co.

Tandy and her brothers Harry, Hugo and Matt aren't overly fond of their parents, the powerful and wealthy Malcom and Maude Angel, but they don't want to kill them. Someone has, however, in the middle of the night while the apartment was locked. All of the Angel children are supersmart and have other amazing capabilities, so the police suspicion immediately turns to them. The fact that they have a lavish lifestyle but controlling, demanding parents doesn't look good either, and when further incriminating events occur (Matt's movie star girlfriend claims to be pregnant by Malcolm, Tandy realizes the vitamins they have been taking might be more than that), it looks even worse. Tandy does her best to investigate while dealing with the aftermath of her parents' death. Will the real story surface before one of the children end up in jail.
Strengths: Certainly a quick, thrilling read. Big book, but lots of white space, short chapters, lots of titillating but not totally inappropriate events. Patterson knows how to create a story and real readers in. Murder stories for middle schoolers-- it's what they want.
Weaknesses: A lot of weird side stories that didn't make a lot of sense, but made me think this will be a series. Tandy wasn't very likeable, and the whole family was exceptionally weird. The ending might be a bit much for younger students, but okay for 7th and 8th graders who are allowed to watch all the CSI shows.

Saturday, December 22, 2012


VelvetHooper, Mary. Velvet.
13 November 2012, Bloomsbury USA

After the drowning death of her abusive father, Kitty reinvents herself as "Velvet" in early 1900s London and gets a job as a laundress at Ruffold's Steam Laundry. After fainting several times from the heat, she gets moved into personal laundry because she is literate and a hard worker. She eventually has the alluring Madame Savoya as a client, and gets to meet her when Madame sends two tickets to her public performance as a psychic. Velvet is enthralled, and when Madame intervenes with Ruffold's after Velvet ruins a blouse, she's thrilled to go work as a personal assistant for Madame. She gets drawn into a strange world of raising spirits to talk to those who miss them after their death, and learns to enjoy the rarefied world of luxury that Madame provides. She keeps in contact with another laundress, Lizzie, as well as Charlie, a childhood friend who has become a policeman and would like to marry Velvet, who is more enamored of the gorgeous and mysterious George, Madame's assistant. When Velvet finds out that the spiritual world of the mediums is not exactly as it appears to be, will she be able to leave Madame's employ and survive, once again, on her own?
Strengths: I love stories set in Victorian times, about girls who triumph on their own. Lee's Mary Quinn mysteries, Hooper's Fallen Grace-- such good stuff, and Hooper excels at historical details.
Weaknesses: A bit of a hard sell, and for younger students, who are more interested in historical fiction, the description of baby farms might be a bit much. Still, nothing middle school inappropriate, and I may have to buy this one!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Guy Friday- Lemony Guys

Who Could That Be At This Hour?Snicket, Lemony. Who Could That Be at This Hour? (All the Wrong Questions #1)
24 October 2012, Little, Brown

A young Lemony Snicket leaves his caretakers and runs off with S. Theodora Markson, even though she is the lowest rated of all the chaperones he could have chosen. They drive off to Stain'd-by-the-Sea to do a job-- the wealthy Mrs. Murphy Sallis wants them to get back her valuable statue of The Bombinating Beast, which Snicket just happens to find in the home of Moxie Mallahan, who thinks the statue is a piece of junk. Nothing seems right in this weird, seaside town, but Snicket, aided by librarian Qwerty, Ellington Feint (who also wants the statue) and Moxie, tries to figure out what part he and Theodora are supposed to play in the matter of the statue... and in finding Snicket's parents.
Strengths: The Series of Unfortunate Events books are still fairly popular, so I can see this new series (four books, I think), doing very well. I like the new style of illustrations, done by Seth.
Weaknesses: Every time I read "which in this case means", I want to scream. I disliked the other books, and this is more of the same. Did like these better than the other series. Perhaps a little less weird and condescending, so that will make it easier to get through all the books. The mysteries are always so off beat that I find myself not caring.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sometimes Christmas Doesn't Come From a Store...

It's the present that EVERY school librarian really wants... MORE SPACE!!! And it arrived today, in the guise of Dave the wonderful custodian removing the outdated and defunct Media Retrieval System from the back room of the library. My original plan had been to move in a loft, minifridge and my dog and just live there, but since the back room is also our lockdown area for the entire study hall, I'll just have to be glad I'll have a place to lock up equipment in the summer.

The black box in the center is going away. Whoo!

Said black box at one point held twenty VCRs. At the same time this was installed (about 1995), televisions were hung in all the classrooms. In order to play videos, you had to put one in the player in the back room of the library, and then call the librarian to hit the play button. This was the latest and greatest technology at the time. Remember, laser disks were also the next big thing.

This never worked very well, and quit entirely about two years ago. I am so happy that I no longer have to fight with it and that it will be gone. Oddly, if teachers want to show video clips (like Claudius, a Boy of Rome) now, they usually get them off the internet and show them through the LCD projector.

It's a good thing it's a teacher work day. I may do a happy dance most of the day! In my new, clean space!

Dystopia-- The Kill Order

The Kill Order (Maze Runner, #0.5)Dashner, James. The Kill Order
14 August 2012, Delacorte
Copy from YA Books Central and reviewed there.

This prequel to The Maze Runner series tells the story of Mark and his friend Trina, who both survived the sun flares by meeting up with Alec, a military type, and Lana, a nurse. They have set up a small community, where they are managing to survive with some others. Then, giant Bergs descend with soldiers shooting darts at people, who are then infected by a virus that drives them insane and then kills them. Several of the group die, but Alec, Trina, Mark and Lana set off away from the town, where they happen upon a little girl, Deedee. Deedee has been shot by the arrows but is not ill, a fact which makes her group, headed by the zealous Jed, believe that she is sent by the demons who are causing all the trouble. Mark and Alec get separated from the girls when they try to escape Jed, and stumble upon a Berg landing site, where they find out that the Post-Flare Coalition in Alaska has sent the virus to kill the population, but the virus is mutating. They also find out that the girls are back in the hands of Jed's group, so they take off in a Berg to try to find them. Things go from bad to worse, and even when they find the girls, keeping everyone safe is impossible. The best they can do is to get Deedee to the government facility in Asheville so that she can be studied for a possible cure for the Flare virus. There are frequent flashbacks to thirteen years previous, when Trina and Mark survived the flares and met up with the others.
Strengths: This was an action-packed, nail-biting novel of suspense that will appeal to fans of violent, dystopic novels. I never knew who would die next, and around every corner there lurked some danger or other. Fans of the series will not be disappointed.
Weaknesses: The flashbacks made this a bit difficult to follow (they were almost always dreams that Mark was having), and I'm not entirely sure that I understand how this ties in with The Maze Runner, except for the short chapters that talk about Thomas before and after the main story.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Finding My Place

Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at VicksburgDill, Margo. Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg
White Mane Kids, 2012
Nominated for the Cybils by Publisher/Author

Anna and her mother, brother and young sister are trying to survive during the war in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Her older brother and father are off fighting, and rumor has it that they may be very close to home. Things have been so bad for so long that the family has had their slave dig into the hill by their home and construct a shelter, to which they flee when the fighting gets bad. When Anna's mother is killed, things become even more dire for the children. At first, they stay with their pastor's family, but their shelter is too small, and Anna and her brother James are sent to live with Mrs. Franklin's family. Mrs. Franklin just wants the children to work for her. She abuses the family slave, spoils her whiny son, and is very unpleasant. Anna tries to appease the woman while trying to hunt down her family, but how long can she stand not only the rigors of living in a city under siege but being in such a negative family atmosphere?
Strengths: Very good information about living condition in this particular place and time. I also liked the sans serif font that the book used. Study questions are at the back.
Weaknesses: Horrible cover, and the book was very depressing. Even though Anna was living under difficult circumstances, I would have preferred there to be some bright spot a little earlier in the book.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict (The Mysterious Benedict Society, #0.5)Stewart, Trenton Lee. The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict.
10 April 2012, Little, Brown
Nominated for the Cybils by Deb Nance

Nine-year-old orphan Nicholas is taken to the orphange at Rothschild's End and put in the care of Mr. Collum. Since Nicholas has narcolepsy triggered by excitement or stress and can fall asleep suddenly as well as nightmares that make him scream, Mr. Collum assigns him to a small, windowless room by himself where he is locked in at night. Things get even worse-- bullies called Spiders are constantly making his life difficult, and life at the orphanage is bleak. He does make a friend in John, and enlists him in helping to solve the mystery of the Rothschild's lost treasure, which Mr. Collum is also seeking. Nicholas has a photographic memory and can read freakishly fast, so he uncovers lots of clues, some of which lead him to an abandoned observatory, where he also meets Violet, a local girl who is deaf and dreaming of going to an art school. Can Nicholas find the treasure in order to save the orphanage from closing, and can he also save himself from a bleak future?
Strengths: Although some of my students adored these, I had trouble getting into them. This was by far my favorite of the series, which I now feel that I should go back and reread. It is NOT fantasy, but I really can't remember anything about the books.
Weaknesses: I didn't care for the pictures. They somehow didn't match the story in the way the illustrations in Mary Rose Wood's Incorrigible Children series match. Even Chris Riddell illustrations would have been better.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Middle Grade Monday-- The Popularity Papers

The Popularity Papers: Book Four: The Rocky Road Trip of Lydia Goldblatt & Julie Graham-ChangIgnatow, Amy. The Popularity Papers: The Rocky Road Trip of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang. (Book 4)
1 April 2012, Harry N. Abrams
Nominated for the Cybils by  Publisher/Author and copy from Abrams

When Julie's dads have to travel to California to help Papa Dad's parents move to a smaller house, Lydia goes along because her mother is going to London and her sister is going to Guatemala. After they pack up the grandparents, the group returns to Pennsylvania via a road trip across the US. They visit a ghost town, catch a ball game in Albuquerque,drop Lydia off in Pueblo, Colorado to visit her father and his new family, visit Daddy's parents in St. Louis, and Julie's aunt in Oberlin, Ohio. It's a fun trip, but one that makes Lydia think about her relationship with her father.
Strengths: This series is one that  Notebook Novel lovers will enjoy, and it has a MUCH better story line than any of The Dork Diaries.I like the fact that Julie has two fathers, but it's not a source of constant discussion. Two years ago, when I read the first one, there wasn't as much of a demand for this sort of book, but I'm ordering the entire series now. Big props for mentioning Grandpa's Cheese Barn right here in Ohio!
Weaknesses: I took such a visceral dislike to the pictures of Julie that I never bought this series. She looks alarmingly like a frog. I will have to overcome this, since they are books my students will like!

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts. Both sites have lots of links to reviews about books that are great for the 4th through 8th grader. It's also Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week at Jean Little Library.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

PICKLE: The (formerly) Anonymous Prank Club of Foutain Point Middle School

Pickle: The (Formerly) Anonymous Prank Club of Fountain Point Middle SchoolBaker, Kim. PICKLE: The (formerly) Anonymous Prank Club of Fountain Point Middle School
5 September 2012, Roaring Brook Press
Nominated for the Cybils by Laurie Ann Thompson
Review copy provided by Roaring Brook Press

After Ben performs the epic prank of filling his school classroom up with the entire contents of a ball pit he gets from a local pizza parlor, he decides that he needs a group to help him pull off more pranks. His best friend, Hector, won't be any use, since his grandmother is the principal of their middle school. He enlists Frank and Oliver, since they seem like likely candidates for trouble, and Bean, since Frank won't join without her. They plan a birthday celebration for a new girl on her first day, then decide to become an official school group. As a cover, they pretend to be interested in making pickles for the school pioneer fair, and their teacher, Ms. Ruiz, gives them a lot of free reign as their advisor. Eventually, the new girl, Sienna, wants part of the action, which is okay with Ben, since he thinks she is cute. The group manages to pull off several fairly harmless pranks, like filling the school fountain with dish washing liquid and causing a panic at the local zoo while wearing animal costumes, but they save their final prank for the school pioneer fair. Ben doesn't agree with the prank, which ends rather disastrously,  with all school activities being taken away as a result. Ben and his group pull one more prank-- a protest to get school activities reinstated.
Strengths: This was a fairly funny book, and students will enjoy the pranks. Multicultural characters add depth (Ben's family runs a Mexican restaurant), and the illustrations by Tim Probert are perfect for middle school. Always can use funny books for middle school boys.
Weaknesses: The pranks really are rather destructive and need time-intensive clean up from middle school staff, but this doesn't seem to bother Ben and his friends. They absolutely ruin the pioneer fair and THEN complain that they don't have extracurricular activities? They are lucky they didn't get expelled! I found this facet of the book rather alarming-- I'm not big on lesson books, but if students are this destructive, I don't think it's even realistic for them to get away with it, even in fiction!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

D is for Drama

D Is for DramaWhittemore, Jo. D is for Drama
7 August 2012, Aladdin; Copy from publisher
Nominated for the Cybils by P.J. Hoover

Sunny Kim is incensed that she has another bit part in a school production at her arts academy, especially since her sort-of friend was on the selection committee. Since her mother was a famous Korean actress, her family expects her to do better. When she sort of tells them that she has a lead role, she approaches the director about doing a one woman show... which morphs into a full scale production of Wicked with all of the students who never get leads in the school play-- the school bully, an overweight girl who sings really well, a girl who spits, a boy who stutters. When Sunny finds out that the others on the selection committee wanted her but Ilana thought it would be "weird" to have an Asian Mary Poppins, it's all out war, especially since Ilana and Sunny are both romantically interested in Chase. A lot is on the line with Sunny's play, because her mother is having an agent come to the performance. Things go well with Chase, but the production hits a snag, in part because of a budget cut so that the Mary Poppins production can get costumes tailored. Will Sunny be able to call on her friends and pull things together?
Strengths: Very fun, well written, and one that the girls will probably like. The multicultural aspect was nice to have included.
Weaknesses: VERY negative. I wanted to slap Sunny several times, and she was the NICE character. I also could not believe that the director would allow a student lead production to be staged at the same time, and when Sunny's budget was CUT to $1,000 I about choked on my tea. The only play performed at my school had no budget at all. I enjoyed this, but wish it had been nicer and more believable.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Guy Friday- Iraq

Marsden, Carol. The White Zone
28 January  2012, Carolrhoda Books
Nominated for the Cybils by the publisher, who sent the review copy.

Cousins Nouri and Talib live in war torn Baghdad, and Nouri is devastated when his beloved uncle is killed in a bombing. He starts to feel anger toward Talib, because his mother is Sunni, and the Sunni were behind the bombing. Things quickly become more difficult for Talib's family-- Talib is no longer welcome at school, and the family decides to move after their home is bombed. They move to Mutannabi Street, where Talib's father runs a book stall and there is not as much fighting. Nouri misses things the way they used to be with his cousin, but still blames him for his uncle's death. He is very torn because he wants the violence to stop, but he is the one who threw the rock at Talib's window. When Mutannabi Street is the scene of violence and bombing, both boys lose hope, but a freak snowfall (which actually occurred in 2008) in the area cools down the unrest, at least in that small part of the country.
Strengths: There are not too many books about the war in Iraq, and this is a good one for explaining how people can hate others just because of their religion, even when they are family.
Weaknesses: Since this is a difficult bit of history to understand, I would have placed the explanatory note at the beginning of the book so that students were starting with some knowledge of the situation. I will recommend to my students that they read this first.

After Eli Rupp, Rebecca. After Eli
14 August 2012, Candlewick
Nominated for the Cybils by Author/Publisher and copy from Candlewick.

Danny has struggled with his brother's death for a while. His mother is prostrate with grief, and his father has become more brusque and demanding. Danny has kept a notebook filled with the various ways that people die, but when he meets a few new friends during summer break, he starts to move on. Geeky Walter turns out to be a much more interesting and supportive friend than the diehard jock Peter, and summer resident Isabelle and her frenetic twin siblings make Danny think about the world in new ways. He works on Jim's organic farm and learns that his father's way of life is not the only way. He spends the summer hanging out, falling for Isabelle, and finally being able to come to terms with how he really feels about Eli's death.

Strengths: Okay. Not a lot happens in this book, but it's really good! Rather reminiscent of Jordan Sonnenblick's work, because while it is essentially a sad book, it's got really funny writing. The romance is a nice touch, and there's a lot of good goofiness to alleviate the sadness. The chapter headings with people who died in alarming ways are a good hook. Great balance of topics.

Weaknesses: The cover won't make boys pick it up, and the lack of action will turn some off. This is more of a book for 8th graders and up-- there are some vulgarities and allusions to sex-- just enough to keep boys interested in reading a book about grief! 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Matthew Meets the Man

Matthew Meets the ManNichols, Travis. Matthew Meets the Man
28 February 2012, Roaring Brook Press

Matthew plays trumpet in the marching band because that is his father's dream, but what Matthew really wants is to play drums with a rock band. He starts practicing, but has trouble saving money to buy a drum kit, which seems to be fairly essential if he is ever going to put together a group. He has other things that get in his way-- his family's general reluctance to help him with anything, his friends, who have other ways for him to spend his money, his job at his uncle's Mexican restaurant, and his budding relationship with Hope, which complicates everything. When he finally puts together a group, Manhassler, he realizes that the Battle of the Bands competition which he hopes will be his springboard to fame and fortune is scheduled on the same night as his band concert. It's not easy to survive  high school, but Matthew is doing his best.
Strengths: This was a good, short, funny book for middle school boys. Glad that some romance was involved. This will be great for boys who liked Rachel Spinelli Punch Me in the Face, Friedman's The Girlfirend Project, and other funny books with romance thrown in. Of course, Jordan Sonnenblick is the go-to author for this-- can't tell you the number of times I've been describing a Sonnenblick title to students and two or three others around us say "Oh! That's an AWESOME book." At my school, the only complaint we have about Sonnenblick is that he needs to write more books!
Weaknesses: The format could have used work. This is a tiny book with a cartoonish cover, so that says elementary school. It's not. It's about a high school student, but I don't see this being included in any high school collections due to the size and cover. It will be a little bit of a hard sell to the 8th grade boy, but it's exactly what many of them want to read.

Philosophical Musing of the Day: I know that I've discussed how  people who want to write books and love to read are often fantasy fans, but my question today is-- are agents and publishers really looking for more fantasy? There were 127 middle grade fiction nominees for the Cybils award, but 151 middle grade science fiction/fantasy. This seems somehow wrong, since I don't have over half of my students wanting fantasy. Perhaps 20% of my readers want fantasy.

So. Middle Grade writers. If you ever played a sport, write about that. Guy writers, write about being 12 and pining after that girl who sat ahead of you in math class. Heck, all middle grade writers, just go out and read Gary Paulsen's Liar, Liar series and think some deep thoughts. That's the most popular series in my library with both boys and girls right now!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Cybils Nominated Historical Fiction

Child of the MountainsShank, Marilyn. Child of the Mountains.
10 April 2012, Delacorte
Nominated for the Cybils by Amanda

Lydia's family doesn't have very much money in1950s Appalachia, but they make do. Her grandfather has passed away, as has her abusive father, but her grandmother is a strong presence in helping to make ends meet and help her father care for her young brother, BJ, who has cycstic fibrosis. In an effort to help her brother, Lydia's mother has signed papers to put him in a special hospital, but when it is clear that he doesn't have much time left, the family takes him out of the hospital, and he dies at home. This leads to the mother's arrest, and since the grandmother has also died, Lydia goes to live with an aunt and uncle. The snooty girls in her school give her trouble, but she is determined to get her mother out of jail. With the help of an understand teacher and his fiance, she navigated the difficult legal system and also finds out secrets about her own past.
Strengths: There are not many books set in Appalachia, and this one deftly describes the difficulties of life in this area at this time. Cystic Fibrosis also doesn't get much coverage in fiction. Good cover, intriguing plot.
Weaknesses: It's a personal thing, but I can't stand to read things written in any dialect. Interesting how the teacher tells Lydia that while her dialect is fine, she needs to learn standard English as well!

Katerina's WishMobley, Jeannie. Katerina's Wish
28 August 2012, Margaret K. McElderry Books
Nominated for the Cybils by Ruth McNally Barshaw

Life in a Colorado mining town in the early 1900s is rough for Katerina's Bohemian immigrant family. They never seem to be able to save enough money to buy a farm, and everyone is unhappy about how hard life is. Katerina makes a wish for a farm, but it is her hard work that brings the family closer to making this happen. She starts a garden, raises chickens, and makes a deal with a merchant in a nearby town to undercut the company store and turn a profit. When an accident in the mine affects many families, Katerina's plans are set back, but by working even harder, she tries to make life easier for her family.
Strengths: This is the sort of book I loved as a child-- like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, it gives exquisite detail about how hard life was, and how every penny had to be pinched. I liked Katerina's intelligence and work ethic, and the setting was a little more unusual than the normal immigrant or western expansion novel. The practical romance was interesting, even if it might seem a little odd to modern girls that a 13 year old was thinking about getting married!
Weakness: I couldn't quite buy that Katerina was able to undercut the company store-- from what I've read, the companies could be ruthless about keeping the workers' buying power to a minimum. I'm tempted to buy this, but it will be a really hard sell.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Magic Baking and some food

Bliss (The Bliss Bakery, #1)Littlewood, Kathryn. Bliss.
14 February  2012, The Inkhouse

Rosemary's family runs a bakery that they claim ISN'T magic, although after ingesting their various pastries, people always feel better. The mayor of a neighboring town wants her parents to come and bake something to ward off the summer flu, and the parents take off, leaving the bakery assistant and the Bliss siblings in charge. When their glamorous "aunt" Lily arrives, the children all rethink using their parents secret magic cookbook. Lily is estranged from the family and has an ulterior motive, but uses her own magic to get the children sucked in to the idea of using magic. When they attempt some of the recipes, a chain of mishaps occur. Can Rosemary do the right thing and use the magic for good rather than for evil?
Strengths: This is better than other magic baking books that I have read (which I can't find reviewed), and did move along quickly and amusingly. There is a sequel, A Dash of Magic, coming out in January. Am debating purchase.
Weaknesses: Like Mull's The Candy Shop Wars, this freaked me out a bit. This had the same air of "No! Don't drink the Kool Aid!" that disturbed me so with the Mull title. Which the students love. Hard to believe I've had it almost six years!

Product DetailsVanilli, Lily. A Zombie Ate My Cupcake.
1 August 2011, Cico

Well, this was just kind of gross, so the students would like it. Why I won't buy it? Tiniest print imaginable, and such a small book that it is sure to get lost behind the bigger cookbooks. Seriously, this is 5 and 1/2 by 6 and 1/2 inches, and the recipes are in about 6 point font. It's also a British book, so proceed carefully before buying it for a school library in the US.

We'll see how Zombigami: Paper Folding for the Living Dead by Duy Nguyen is. Sigh.

A Teen Guide to Fast, Delicious LunchesRau, Dana Meachen. A Teen Guide to Fast, Delicious Lunches
1 January 2011, Compass Point Books

This series also includes books with recipes for breakfasts, dinners and snacks. The background information about nutrition, packing lunches, allergic and vegetarian choices was all good, but I wonder if the food is something students will eat. I have the world's pickiest eaters, so it's hard for me to tell. Interesting that the students in the pictures are high school aged. If cookbooks are popular in your middle school library, these would be a good purchase, but they strike me as too simple for high school and too "weird" for elementary. These would be a great public library purchase.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Middle Grade Monday-- Shadow

Morpurgo, Michael. Shadow.
30 September 2012, HarperCollins

Aman and his mother have been living in England for six years when they are told they have not gained political asylum and must return to Afghanistan. They are placed in the Yarl's Wood detention center. Matt, a good friend of Aman's, enlists the help of his grandfather to try to help the family. When the grandfather visits to try to find out the story, Aman tells him about the death of his father, how the family was living with an elderly grandmother in a cave, and how an uncle in England was able to bring Aman and his mother into England. Aman also tells the story of Shadow, a foreign dog who adopted Aman and protected him from soldiers on his way out of Afghanistan. Shadow has an interesting connection to the English armed forces, and this helps Aman in many ways.
Strengths: Don't want to give away some of the twists here. Did enjoy this and think it is a good addition to books on Afghanistan.I especially liked how it detailed Aman's difficult trip to England, and I didn't know that springer spaniels were the dog of choice for the British army.
Weaknesses: This had a particularly British tone to it; dogs are considered dirty and kept outside in Afghanistan, but Aman warmed up to the idea of sleeping with the dog curled up next to him right away. This makes for a good story, certainly, but points out how much the British love their dogs. (I once attended an Anglican church where the minister's dog slept under the front pew every week!)

 It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts. Both sites have lots of links to reviews about books that are great for the 4th through 8th grader. It's also Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week at Wrapped in Foil.

Hokey PokeySpinnelli, Jerry. Hokey Pokey
8 January 2013, Knopf Books for Young Readers
ARC from

I rarely come right out and say that a book is awful. If I really dislike a book, I just don't review it, and I often say that it's just not something my students want. I've debated and debated about this new book by Spinelli, and feel that I really have to say something about it since many teachers and librarians will buy anything that he writes. With good reason-- Spinelli has some amazing books. Milkweed, Stargirl, The Library Card-- all good stuff. This, not so much.

If James Joyce wrote a novel for middle grade students, this could likely be the result. Admittedly, I didn't read the whole thing, because the poetic language made it hard to discern any plot whatsoever. I read part of the beginning to a sixth grade class, and they were completely confused. Some of my library helpers also read some and could not continue very far. Middle graders normally don't want language that's really hard to figure out, like "plumspun in the thistledown dawn" or "over flowers and The Wall and the mutter of badwords in Jailhouse sails the call of Tarzan. Over Snuggle Stop and Tattooer and Tantrum and Stuff. Veering wide around Socks, over Thousand Puddles and Doll Farm and Trucks.Over great plains and the wild herd flies Jack's lament, over sleepers sleeping and monsters monstering, and all the badlands and goodlands of Hokey Pokey to the everlistening ears of Jack's best pals, LaJo and Dusty. Amigos."

Had I bought this, I would have been GREATLY disappointed. So I would recommend that anyone wishing to purchase this take a look at it before putting money into it. You can choose for yourself!

From the Publisher: "Welcome to Hokey Pokey. A place and a time, when childhood is at its best: games to play, bikes to ride, experiences to be had. There are no adults in Hokey Pokey, just kids, and the laws governing Hokey Pokey are simple and finite. But when one of the biggest kids, Jack, has his beloved bike stolen—and by a girl, no less—his entire world, and the world of Hokey Pokey, turns to chaos. Without his bike, Jack feels like everything has started to go wrong. He feels different, not like himself, and he knows something is about to change. And even more troubling he alone hears a faint train whistle. But that's impossible: every kid knows there no trains in Hokey Pokey, only tracks.

Master storyteller Jerry Spinelli has written a dizzingly inventive fable of growing up and letting go, of leaving childhood and its imagination play behind for the more dazzling adventures of adolescence, and of learning to accept not only the sunny part of day, but the unwelcome arrival of night, as well.  

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Burning Blue

Burning BlueGriffin, Paul. Burning Blue.
25 October 2012, Dial
Copy received from the publisher.

Nicole Castro was the prettiest and most popular girl in school before she was attacked with acid and her face was disfigured. Jay was a loner at the edge of the crowd until his public epileptic seizures brought him to everyone's attention. Both of them are getting counseling at school and form an uneasy alliance. Jay is determined to find out who attacked Nicole, and uses his hacking skills to uncover information. In the meantime, Nicole is trying to get on with her life despite her new challenges. Both have plenty of issues to work through-- absent parents, parents who care too much, and awkward social entanglements that are complicated by their other challenges. If Jay can find out who attacked Nicole, will their relationship change?
Strengths: This was interesting on a lot of levels. The mystery of Nicole's attack was handled well, and I liked how Jay used his computer hacking skills. Jay's epilepsy also seemed realistically portray and was something I haven't read much about. Great cover.
Weaknesses: This is more of a high school book. Only one f-bomb, but several sexual references, and the tone is more introspective navel gazing than action, and that's usually where the line between high school and middle school books fall.

The Darkest MindsBracken, Alexandra. The Darkest Minds
18 December 2012, Disney Hyperion
ARC from Baker and Taylor

I mention this book in case someone is looking for a dystopian trilogy where children are abused. Some shades of Uglies, somehow, and I can see it being popular in high schools. Mainly, I just feel guilty that 60% of the books Baker and Taylor send me are either teen paranormal or teen dystopia, and I rarely review them because they just aren't middle grade. So, to appease my guilt, this description from the publisher.
"When Ruby wakes up on her tenth birthday, something about her has changed. Something alarming enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that gets her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government "rehabilitation camp." She might have survived the mysterious disease that's killed most of America's children, but she and the others have emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they cannot control. 

Now sixteen, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones. 

When the truth comes out, Ruby barely escapes Thurmond with her life. Now she's on the run, desperate to find the one safe haven left for kids like her--East River. She joins a group of kids who escaped their own camp. Liam, their brave leader, is falling hard for Ruby. But no matter how much she aches for him, Ruby can't risk getting close. Not after what happened to her parents. 

When they arrive at East River, nothing is as it seems, least of all its mysterious leader. But there are other forces at work, people who will stop at nothing to use Ruby in their fight against the government. Ruby will be faced with a terrible choice, one that may mean giving up her only chance at a life worth living."

Chocolate Pretzels RecipeAfter reading those two books, and currently looking at Patterson and Paetro's grim but so far not middle school inappropriate Confessions of a Murder Suspect, we need something light! Spent a lot of yesterday making Holiday Pretzel Bites (picture from and peanut blossoms. While listening to Janis Joplin. Guess it's that kind of weekend; rainy and sort of depressing.

Doesn't help that Google Plus Chats is making me feel rather incompetent-- the Cybils short list discussion needs to happen on 27 December, and I'm still trying to get the last two panelists all set up to participate. I don't have the stomach for technology-- it makes me panic!

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Saturday Morning Cartoons-- I Funny

I Funny: A Middle School Story
Patterson, James and Chris Grabenstein. I Funny
10 December 2012, Little Brown
ARC from Baker and Taylor.

Jamie Grimm wants to be a stand up comedian... well, a sitting down one, since he is in a wheelchair. He has some stage fright that he's working to get over, sometimes by being the class clown. He lives with an aunt and uncle, and his cousin Stevie bullies him mercilessly-- even pushing him out of his wheelchair and abandoning him at one point. Luckily, he has his Uncle Frankie, who lets him tell jokes to the customers in his diner, and several supportive friends who encourage him to enter the The Planet's Funniest Kid Comic contest. He wins, but Stevie starts the rumor that Jamie won only because the judges felt sorry for him. Can Jamie regain his confidence to continue on in the competition? And why is he in a wheelchair and living with his aunt and uncle?
Strengths: This is a notebook novel, so kids will pick it up. I like Chris Grabenstein's work, and I did appreciate that the story is about a boy who wants to be a comedian... who is also in a wheelchair, and not the other way around.
Weaknesses:  Not sure I liked holding off on the explanation of why Jamie was in the wheelchair, especially when the reveal was rather melodramatic. Also, the references to "classic" comedians and their jokes might be lost on students.

I must admit that I'm torn about Patterson's work in the same way that I'm torn about books by Ronde and Tiki Barber, Cal Ripken, A'mare Stoudemire, and anyone writing as Matt Christopher. I don't feel as bad about Christopher, since he has passed away, so it's not like he's pressuring Stephanie True Peters to work for him. But the situation bothers me, and I'd love an explanation. Is it to Kevin Cowherd's advantage to write for Cal Ripken? Since Grabenstein has done his own books, why is he writing for Patterson? Certainly, Read Kiddo Read is a good project. Maybe I'm just worrying for nothing. I was very happy to see that the third Middle School book is by Lisa Papademetriou.

Friday, December 07, 2012


Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. WashingtonAsim, Jabari. Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Book T. Washington
Illustrated by Bryan Collier
4 December 2012, Little, Brown

This picture book biography covers mainly Washington's youth, from his days as a slave being unable by law to be able to read, through his family's life in West Virginia where he worked in the coal mines, to the fulfillment of his dream of getting a college education at the Hampton Institute. I love how this book points out how much Washington wanted to learn, and the extreme lengths he went to in order to make his education possible-- walking 500 miles to get to the school, working as a janitor to afford his room and board, etc. Afterwords fill in more information about his later career. A short bibliography is included.
Strengths: This would be a good read aloud during Black History Month since it stresses the importance of education. It would be a good introduction to Booker T. Washington, and might encourage older students to read a longer book about his entire career.
Weaknesses: While Washington's struggles are portrayed, the book waxes a bit idyllic somehow. Perhaps that is just the difference between picture books and biographies for older students.

Am I the only one feeling a little blog weary... or maybe just weary in general? I looked at the picture of Scrooge and thought "His nightcap looks comfy!" There are just three more Cybils books that I need to read (if I can find copies), I've been having trouble setting up the Google Hangout to discuss this in late December, and the library lesson this week was less than successful. I did go to the Scholastic warehouse sale yesterday to pick out some books with our book fair profit (we didn't sell enough for cash profit-- Bah! Humbug!), and put in the last book orders of the year today. Also get to teach daily life in ancient Rome all day, which should make me happy. I will chalk this general ennui up to the recent cold snap.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Historical Fiction

The Quilt WalkDallas, Sandra. The Quilt Walk
September 2012, Sleeping Bear Press
Nominated for the Cybils by the publisher and copy received from them.

Emmy's father has decided that his fortune lies in Golden, Colorado in 1864, so he packs up the family and heads out from Illinois with provisions to set up a building supply company. Emmy's mother isn't thrilled to leave her family and friends, and it's hard for Emmy to leave behind her cat, but she embraces the adventure. They join a wagon train that includes young Mrs. Bonner, a newlywed whose husband is abusive, and Joey, a young boy Emmy's age. The days are long and somewhat tedious on the trail, and Emmy's grandmother has sent her with quilt pieces for a log cabin quilt, that she works on while on the trek. Various calamities befall the group, but they make it to Colorado and set up shop there without too many incidents.
Strengths: Having been raised on Little House on the Prarie, I wish more students would read books about this historical era. This might intrigue some students to start.
Weaknesses: Read a little like some later episodes in the LHOTP television show, where Albert started drinking, Ma considers having an affair, or Laura sets up a meth lab in an abandoned sod house. Could have done without the Mrs. Bonner details and had more information about the trail.

The Island HorseHughes, Susan. The Island Horse.
1 March 2012, Kids Can Press
Nominated for the Cybils by Sheila Ruth

Since her mother became ill, Ellie's father has been out of work in order to take care of her. After her death, Ellie is trying to regain some happiness in her life through her friends and thinking about wild horses, but when her father announces that he has gotten a job in a rescue squad and is moving them to a remote island, she feels that all of her chances at happiness have been dashed. Sable Island, off Nova Scotia, was a desolate and treacherous place in the early 1800s, so Ellie is not thrilled that she and her father will be alone at a station fairly far from the small main station. While her father is off at work, Ellie must do her chores and stay close to home, but she does occasionally get visits from Sarah, who lives at the main station, and she sees the wild horses of the island up close. When the annual round up of these horses is about to take place, she takes her father's advice to try to lead her favorite horse, Orchid, away from the men collecting them. Will her efforts be enough to save the horses, and will the island ever feel like home?
Strengths: Students who like Misty of Chincoteague might enjoy a different story about wild horses, and students looking for historical fiction set in Canada will find this an interesting portrait of a specific place.
Weaknesses: The excitement of the horses is a bit overshadowed by Ellie's extreme sadness about her mother's death and moving to the island.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012


SuperCody, Matthew. Super. 
25 September 2012, Knopf
Copy from YABooks Central and reviewed there.

This sequel to Powerless find Daniel and his friends back and still worrying about the influence of Herman Plunkett. After Plunkett's great nephew Theo is nearly killed when his car goes over a rail near where the friends are hanging out, the crew feels a need to investigate several things. Why did Eric's powers leave him? Why was Daniel able to help? Is Theo good or evil? Will the family find the information about the Supers in Herman's papers? When the Shroud starts to manifest all over town, it's clear that the investigations need to be stepped up. Daniel has hidden the ring that he got from Plunkett and kept it a secret from his friends, but it may be the key to all of the odd things happening.
Strengths: In the three years since the first book came out, super heroes have become a hot new thing with middle grade readers. This was a highly anticipated sequel in my school! Great cover, and intriguing story with plenty of action and suspense.
Weaknesses: The first book had a lot of information about the history of comic books that I found interesting, while this did not until close to the end. Daniel seemed to make some of his own problems in this book, and I didn't find it quite as interesting as the first book.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012


Insignia (Insignia, #1)Kincaid, S. J.. Insignia.
10 July 2012, Katherine Tegen Books

In a future where wars are fought off-planet by gamers funded by corporations, Tom has lived near casinos with his gambling and alcohol addicted father for years, rarely checking into his virtual school, but spending lots of time playing VR games. He comes to the attention of the military and is given the opportunity to go into military training. Eager to escape life with his father, he agrees, only to find out that a condition of his acceptance is having a neural processor implanted in his brain. He's a little leery of the device, as well as of how he has been manipulated, but agrees and becomes part computer. With the help of fellow students Vik and Wyatt, he is able to get used to his new skills and put up with the inevitable bullies. Things get a bit dicey when his quasi step-father appears on the scene and infects his system with a virus that makes him like the man and his corporation, but Wyatt eventually puts that right. Even trickier is Tom's virtual relationship with Medusa, the top fighter from the other side to whom Tom is inexplicably drawn. There are (virtual) battle scenes aplenty, and a second book on the way.
Strengths: Lots of action, an underdog  protagonist with the opportunity to save the world, and video games. It's what the boys want!
Weaknesses: Somewhat hard to follow in spots, and the neural processors are kind of creepy!

Monday, December 03, 2012

Middle Grade Monday-- Super-Sized Slugger

Cal Ripken, Jr.'s All-Stars: Super-sized SluggerRipken, Cal and Kevin Cowherd. Super-Sized Slugger
6 March 2012, Hyperion

Cody is not happy about moving from Wisconsin to Baltimore, especially since he has to put up with fellow students' assessments of him as "the fat kid" until he can prove himself at baseball. Even this is difficult because of Dante, who plays the same position as Cody and is the school bully. He makes Cody's life miserable until neighbor (and sports enthusiast) Jessica gets a good kick in when Dante is trying to beat up Cody. Things go pretty well in baseball, and Cody starts to fit in and even loses a little weight, but then a rash of thefts break out at his school. Cody has a sneaking suspicion that Dante and his evil older brothers have something to do with this, especially when an phone is planted in Cody's binder and he is blamed for the theft. Can he prove his innocence?
Strengths: This was exactly what my sports loving boys want. Just enough sports, another story line, characters with whom they can identify. This read a little like Matt Christopher and was an enjoyable, quick read. The bullying, for which I have exacting specifications which are almost always not met, was fairly believable and true to form.
Weaknesses: Cody's weight was an issue at the beginning, but then wasn't discussed. I would have liked to see the progress he made. The theft ring was not as believable, but no worse than mafia involvement in Tim Green books!

Matty in the GoalMurray, Stuart A.P. Matty in the Goal.
1 January 2012, Enslow Publishers
Nominated for the Cybils and copy provided by the Publisher

Matty loves soccer but isn't very good at it, like Gibb. When the team needs a goalie, he volunteers, thinking that he might as well, since he isn't as fast or strong as the other players. He is helped by a college student from Congo to improve at his goalie skills, and ends up doing quite well in a game against a team of foreign students who are really good players. He also realizes that Gibb doesn't have it easy, since his father is pushy and yet unsupportive.
Strengths: I liked the ending, and the descriptions of soccer and of improving at a sport are very good. I have little call for soccer books, but may purchase the football one in this series, Tony's Last Touchdown, since many of the boys who like to read about football need high interest, low level books.
Weaknesses: Like many hi/lo books, the prose in this is a bit wooden.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Heroes of Olympus

Heroes of OlympusFreeman, Philip. . Heroes of Olympus.
Adapted by Laurie Calkhoven from Oh My Gods.
1 May 2012, Simon and Schuster.

Myths and stories about the ancient Greeks and Romans have been popular at my school for a long time because I was a Latin teacher in a former life. I was an early fan of Rick Riordan (breathlessly awaited Sea of Monsters back in 2006) and will take any opportunity to foist ancient stuff on kids.

But I'm torn about this one. I really want it, because other than Edith Hamilton, where can I find the story of Scaevola or Lucretia? On the other hand, it's honkin' long (342 pages) with tiny text, and just not as exciting as I thought Calkhoven would make a book of myths, given her excellent work with The Boys of War. It's the sort of book that students will pick up because it's got a guy in a toga with a lightning bolt on the cover, but it will be back by the end of the day because it reads sort of like a Loeb translation.

Probably buy it for the directory, glossary, and index.

Product DetailsNow I'm sad. I have to go watch Claudius, a Boy of Rome and translate some sentences from Jenney's First Year Latin.

And I probably knew this, but one of the authors of this, Eric Baade, died back in 1999. I met him at a conference, and he was the nicest man. Was relieved to know that Thomas K. Burgess, whom I also met, is still living.

I miss teaching Latin.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Girl Books--Send Me a Sign, Frozen

Send Me a SignSchmidt, Tiffany. Send Me A Sign
2 October 2012, Walker

Mia has it all-- she's a cheerleader with a hot, soccer playing boyfriend, she has a good group of friends including best guy friend Gyver, and she's ready to start her senior year. Unfortunately, she also has leukemia. Her parents freak, and she has to spend the last month of summer vacation in the hospital undergoing chemotherapy. She decides not to tell her friends because she doesn't think they will understand, so she pretends she is visiting her grandparents. Gyver is the only one who stands by her. When she comes back, tired and slightly balding, it's hard to care about the things that once interested her friends. When she has to go back for more treatment, she does tell her boyfriend Ryan, and he is very supportive. Her mother still thinks she should keep the cancer a secret, and tries to pretend that nothing is wrong with Mia. Her dad is Mr. Information. She's torn between Gyver and Ryan as a romantic interest. Eventually, Mia becomes so ill that she has to tell her friends. There is drama, but they work it out, and Mia's prognosis seems to be good.
Strengths: This will be perfect for fans of Lurlene McDaniels' books. There's a lot of good information about cancer treatment.
Weaknesses: There is a little bit of discussion of drinking and sex, but nothing graphic. The part I liked least was the whole Ryan versus Gyver dilemma, and it also seemed beyond weird that the mother was so insistent on keeping the cancer a secret, and that Mia went along with it. Thirty years ago, maybe, but today I think this would be an unusual course of action.

Frozen Casanova, Mary. Frozen.
1 September 2012, University of Minnesota Press

In the 1920s, Sadie Rose has suffered the tragic loss of her mother, a prostitute, at an early age, and the experience rendered her selectively mute. She has been fostered by the mayor of her small Minnesota town and his wife, and raised in a very sheltered fashion, attended by Aasta and Hans, who work for the mayor. When she finds pictures of her mother en dishabille, she wants to find out more details about what happened, and starts to be able to speak again. She makes several new friends, but the mayor is not happy that she is talking to other people, mainly because he and other members of the ruling class of the town know more about the death of Sadie's mother than they will admit. Sadie eventually runs off and finds work in the same brothel where she was raised. Can she make peace with the past and find out what really happened to her mother?
Strengths: Picked this up because this author's Moose Tracks (1995) is still a popular mystery. This is a good, historical mystery as well.
Weaknesses: More of a high school book, what with the mother who was a prostitute. Nothing graphic, but the discovery of self and introspection makes this not quite for middle school.