Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Time Slip Tuesday

Time Slip Tuesday is a recurring feature at Charlotte's Library. This is also a good day to announce that my students and I have managed to figure out HOW to time travel. It involves an old date due stamp, but we have yet to find the right stamp pad to activate it, so we haven't managed to travel anywhere yet. And we can only travel between 1992 and 1997. Oh, well. Perhaps I should ask Verizon about the unlimited Time Travel Plan for my phone!

Bedard, Michael. The Green Man
ARC from Netgalley.com
Ophelia, who prefers to be called “O”, is sent to live with her ailing aunt Emily for the summer while her father is in Italy. In a small English town, Emily runs a dusty old bookshop that is in as bad a condition as she is. The books are dusty and outdated, the shop in disrepair, and the business not bringing in enough money. O tries to get her aunt to eat more healthy food, stop smoking, and make small changes to the bookstore. During this all, she is plagued by horrible dreams of a demonic magic show, and eventually finds out that it is an event from Emily’s memory, and Emily is afraid that something bad will occur on August 8, the anniversary of this event. When a descendant of a local artist offers to sell a rare collection of books about magic to Emily, the two hope that this will be the salvation of the book shop, but it might also be their undoing!
Strengths: Much like the book Flightsend, I enjoyed the English setting of this one. A bookshop! Poets! That part was fabulous. I enjoyed the book very much.
Weaknesses: The demonic magic show was a bit odd. Certainly, it gives more meat to the plot, but it also makes it hard to find an audience for the book. It’s not exactly scary, but readers who want a story about running a bookshop in England might not want the scary parts. It’s rather Gothic, and there’s not as much call for that.

Hood, Ann. Little Lion (The Treasure Chest #2)
Having traveled back and visited Clara Barton in the first book, Felix and Maisie find themselves living with their mother, who is divorcing their father. All the two want to do is go home, and they figure that if they can somehow go back in time again, maybe they can keep their family together. With the help of their great aunt Maisie, they locate a family artifact that helps them go back... to Saint Croix in 1772. There they meet a young Alexander Hamilton and determine that he is the one to whom they should give a silver coin dated 1794, but they need to pick their time wisely in order to be believed. This involves traveling on a ship back to New York. Only when they come to terms with what is going on in the present day are they able to return.
Strengths: This would be a nice introduction to time travel for younger readers. I missed a little by not reading the one about Clara Barton, and I may have to pick that one up, since I researched her in the 4th grade for a Wax Museum!
Weaknesses: A little young for middle school, and fundamentally at odds with my philosophy of time travel. I know, I know-- it doesn't really exist, but if it did, it would be caused by something as simple as a stamp pad! This book takes 47 pages for them to figure out how to go back again. And then they didn't have proper time traveling outfits! If it took that long, they could have cobbled something together.

Apparently, I am reading WAY too many time travel books! Still need to find a shawl for my outfit and post a picture of me ready to hurtle into the past. Or the future! (I can only go as far as 2015 with my current date due stamper!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Nonfiction Guy Monday!

Whew! February is going to be a busy month here! The most important event is the Third Annual Boys Read Pink month! This year, Charlie Joe Jackson, of Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading, is joining us because of his declaration on page 123: " If you have to read, read about girls. It helps you understand them better." This was my point when I set out to challenge boys to read books with girls on the covers. Most of the time, when I hand boys books with girls on the cover, they wrinkle their noses, but when I tell them that EVERYONE is reading them, they are okay with it. Even before the month has started, I've had about 15 boys check out "girl" books. Of course, Charlie Joe himself is so popular that I just ordered three more copies!

In addition to Boys Reading Pink , it's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, which is hosted over at Shannon Whitney Messenger's blog and The Nonfiction Monday round up is at Wendie's Wanderings this week. I encourage you to click through and visit some of these sites-- I always find great book suggestions and often other helpful blogs through both of these round ups.

Berk, Josh. Guy Langman, Crime Scene Procrastinator.
E ARC from Netgalley. Publication March 2012
When Guy's father dies and his best friend Anoop tries to get him to join the school Forensics Squad, he thinks "Why not?", especially when he realizes that Raquel, whom he rather likes, is joining. The teacher in charge, Mr. Zant, is not always amused by Guy's tomfoolery, but is very excited about forensic science, and the group learns about fingerprinting and lots of other ways to evaluate crimes scenes. This comes in handy when someone breaks into Guy's attic and steals valuable coins, and later, when the Forensics Squad finds an actual dead body on the golf course where they are having a competition with another school. Guy has recently found that he has a half brother whom he has never met, and gets it into his head that this is the person who stole the coins (he knew their value) and killed the teenager (who looks vaguely like Guy). Tracking his brother down in the city, Guy realizes that he was not the person responsible for either crime, and using his fingerprinting skills, he locates the perpetrator of the theft, even after the "murder" turns out to be a suicide. Along the way, Guy realizes that Raquel is not nearly as intriguing as Maureen, that his father was an interesting if flawed man, and that the world is a complicated but ultimately enjoyable place.
Strengths: Funny, funny writing! Berk has the same sort of knack that Jordan Sonnenblick has for taking an essentially sad story and making me laugh. My favorite line: "Nuttier than a squirrel turd."
Weaknesses: F-bomb on page 211. *Sigh* This was coming very close to the high school line with the sexual innuendo and general language, but it was a good murder mystery AND was funny, so I have to think about this one.

Sutherland, Adam. Police Forensics.
E ARC from Netgalley. Lerner Publications, 2012.
Forensic science is discussed in very short, almost Twitter-like snippets in this well illustrated nonfiction title. The books starts with a variety of forensic terms, then talks about gear, different types of tests investigators use, famous crimes, and has interviews with forensic scientists. This is a good book for browsing in order to get a few interesting facts, but might be difficult to use to do, say, a research project describing the job of a forensic investigator. This is certainly a topic of interest to my students, and the bright colors and brief information will make this a popular book.

The Guys Read Pink suggestions for today: Both Alane Ferguson's The Christopher Killer and Walter Sorrell's Fake ID have girls on the cover.

My Family for the War

Voorhoeve Anne C. My Family for the War.
February 16th 2012 by Dial Books for Young Readers

Ziska is only ten when her family starts to realize they are not going to make it out of Berlin before Hitler manages to bring trouble to the Jews, so Ziska is sent on a kindertransport to England. There, she is lucky to run into Gary and his father, who are looking for a child to foster for the duration. The family is more observant of Jewish traditions than Ziska is, but she manages to settle in. Now called Frances, she experiences some trouble at school, tries to find sponsors for her parents, and comes to care for her English family. When London is in danger of being bombed, Frances is briefly evacuated, but comes back after a brief time. Gary goes off to fight in the war, and things become more difficult in London. Frances’ father dies, Gary is missing in action, and Frances feels guilty that she has come to care so much for her foster family. When the war winds down, she manages to find relatives who locate her mother, and she reconnects with her, but the war has changed everyone.
Strengths: This is a different facet of the Jewish experience during the war, and the London experience is one I don’t have much on.
Weaknesses: Our eighth grade unit tends to concentrate on the experience of people in the concentration camps, but this might be a good addition to our Holocaust collection.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Saturday Morning-- Dolls!

McDonough, Yona Zeldis. The Doll Shop Downstairs.
Anna, Sophie and Trudie love living above their father's doll repair shop. While they are too poor to have china dolls of their own, sometimes people leave dolls for a very long time, and the girls get to play with those. The advent of World War I, however, makes it impossible for their father to get the parts he needs from Germany, and the business starts to suffer. The girls have the idea that the family can make dolls, and some that they create that are dressed as nurses get bought by FAO Schwartz. Soon, the family has a small factory going, and the new doll business keeps the family afloat. When the owner of Anna's favorite doll comes back to claim her, Anna is very sad, but the story has a happy ending. The author was inspired by the creators of the Madame Alexander dolls, although this is very loosely based on that.
Strengths: This combines the best elements of Sydney Taylor (All-of-a-Kind Family) with those of Rumer Godden, except the dolls don't speak. My girls were not very interested in dolls, but I loved Betty, my sad, plastic doll who was best friends with Teddy.
Weaknesses: Too young for middle school. It doesn't have the edge that Martin's The Doll People has, and it would be a really hard sell.

Does anyone read Godden anymore? I didn't have many books of my own growing up, but neighbor girls gave me an old copy of The Story of Holly and Ivy (1958)that I still have. I didn't realize that it had been reillustrated in full color in 1985 by Barbara Cooney, but I must say I prefer the original Adrienne Adams' illustrations. Since it is a Christmas story, I loved that it was predominately black and white, with touches of red and green. The color rather ruins that for me!

When looking for this title, I found the news that some of Godden's YA books will be reissued by Virago. I'll be looking forward to seeing these, if only for myself! From the linked site:

"Virago has acqiured 15 titles, including BLACK NARCISSUS, THE RIVER and THE BATTLE OF THE RIVER FIORITA – and four titles for younger readers – LISTEN TO THE NIGHTINGALE, THURSDAY’S CHILDREN (both ballet themed books), THE DARK HORSE and AN EPISODE OF SPARROWS – which will launch Virago Modern Classics Young Adult List.
The deal was done with Anna Davis of Curtis Brown for British Commonwealth Rights , including Canada. Virago will begin publishing in 2013. "

Friday, January 27, 2012

Guy Friday-- Interpersonal Problems

Starkey, Scott. How to Beat the Bully Without Really Trying.

Rodney doesn’t have a lot of hope that life will improve when he moves from New York to Ohio. He and his friends had been bedeviled by the evil Rocco, who would give them wedgies, steal their lunch money, etc., and Rodney’s fears are immediately confirmed when Rishi, the first kid he meets, tells him that the local bully is Josh. Luckily, on their first encounter, a stray baseball breaks Josh’s nose, and Rodney is blamed for it. While this gets him in trouble with his teacher, Mrs. Lutzkraut, and his principal, Mr. Feebletop, it makes him a hero in the eyes of the students. Luck continues to follow Rodney, and every time Josh or his evil henchman Toby threaten Rodney or his new friends, something fortuitous occurs that inclines the bullies to leave him alone. This holds true even when Rocco arrives from New York. When he falls prey to Josh, Rocco warns his family to go back to New York. Rodney is even lucky enough to meet his principal’s baseball hero, Tom Seaver, on a visit to New York, so when his misbehavior catches up with him, his principal is willing to overlook it. The school year ends well, and Rodney hopes that he has put bullies behind him… but will this hold true at summer camp?
Strengths: As a humorous, realistic novel, this is pretty good. For some reason, it reminded me of older titles.
Weaknesses: BAD cover art (if this stays on the final version), and a rather unrealistic portrayal of bullying. The most prevalent form of bullying is not physical violence, but mean whispers and threats under the breath. The sort of bullying portrayed here is easier to stop because it is so overt. I was also bothered by the silly names and the ineffectual, unhelpful adult characters in the book.

Walton, K.M. Cracked.
Bull has a terrible home life. His mother got pregnant in a chance encounter, and his grandfather feels Bull’s birth killed his grandmother and ruined his own life. Both his mother and grandfather are sloppy, abusive drunks who don’t take care of Bull at all. The house is a filthy mess, and the inadequate food is often fouled with mouse turds. Bull takes out his frustration on children at school, including Victor. While Victor lives in a nice house with wealthy parents, his parents wish he was never born and quietly make his life unbearable. The only bright spot in his day (since school is awful thanks to Bull) is his elderly dog, Jazzer. When Jazzer dies and his parents take off to Europe without him to punish him for a poor test score, Victor tries to commit suicide by taking pills. This lands him in the same psych ward that Bull ends up in after an argument with his grandfather leads him to shoot himself. The two must work through not only their own problems, but their problems with each other as well.
Strengths: There are certainly students with this many problems, and it is helpful to understand that the behavior we see in school often has underlying causes that need to be addressed. Great cover.
Weaknesses: This is not suitable for middle school due to language (multiple f-bombs), and would have been, for me, a stronger novel if the abuse hadn’t been so bad. Both Victor and Bull have an offhanded tone about their abuse that made it seem somehow less serious. Hard to explain, but their tone made the suicide attempts seem out of place.

Palacio, R.J. Wonder
Alfred Knopf, 14 February 2012
August was born with severe facial deformities, and also enough health problems to lead to his home schooling. Now entering 5th grade, he has been well for some time, so his parents enroll him in Beecher Prep, near their NYC home. He is hesitant to go, because he knows all too well how people react to the way he looks, but he is somewhat comforted when the principal arranges a before school tour with several classmates. Once at the school, people are polite but occasionally surprised by Auggie’s visage, and he settles in fairly well. He makes friends with Summer, who sits with him at lunch to be nice at first, but grows to enjoy his company. The same is true of Jack, although Julian continues to be somewhat nasty. August has not only the struggles with his appearance, but with fitting in to middle school as well. The book is not all from August’s point of view- we also hear from his sister, Summer, Jack, Julian, and his sister’s boyfriend as well. While things don’t always go smoothly, especially on a class camping trip, August manages to survive his entry into public education.
Strengths: The thing I liked best about this was August’s struggles that were not related to his differences. He loves Star Wars, but doesn’t want that to be part of his persona, so he cuts off his Padawan braid and ditches his Star Wars duffle bag. This is what makes this more of a novel about a middle school student rather than a novel about a boy who is different.
Weaknesses: I would have preferred this to have been all from August’s point of view. Also, in the digital ARC, the boyfriend’s chapters lack capitalization and some punctuation. This was weird and vaguely annoying, since I couldn’t see any real reason for it.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


Snyder, Laurel. Bigger Than a Breadbox.
Rebecca loves her life in Baltimore even though she realizes that her parents are fighting a lot now that her father is between jobs. After her father forgets her mother’s birthday, her mother packs Rebecca and her brother Lew up and moves them in with their grandmother in Atlanta. Hiding in the attic after she realizes that her mother means for this to be a long term visit, Rebecca finds a collection of breadboxes. One of them is not dusty like the others, and after wishing that she had something to read, and finding a book in the bread box, she decides to take it to her room. There, she discovers that the bread box will deliver most of what she asks for-- money, food from Baltimore, an iPod, etc. What it won’t do is provide her with a way to get her parents back together. After asking for a one-of-a-kind jacket like the meanest of the mean girls has at school, Rebecca starts to realize that all of the things must come from somewhere, and she has essentially stolen all of them. She attempts to get the things back, including a special and valuable spoon that she has asked for for her mother’s collection. The spoon belonged to an elderly lady, and returning it causes big problems. Rebecca’s parents attempt to work things out, and while Rebecca isn’t sure if they can do that, the family will at least go back home, without the aid of the bread box.
Strengths: More of my students are wanting magical realism, and this would certainly fit that bill. Snyder’s writing is very effective.
Weaknesses: So sad, and the episode with the elderly lady was rather disturbing. I’m not sure that this would help students whose parents are getting divorced. While beautifully written, I prefer Snyder's Any Which Wall.

Reyes, Laurisa White. The Rock of Ivanore.
Tanglewood Press, May 2012. ARC courtesy of the author.
Marcus, an orphan under the care of the master Zyll, participates in the quest that all boys of a certain age in the medieval kingdom of Quendel go on so that they can be considered men. This year, they are to find the Rock of Ivanore. Marcus takes Zyll's staff and a key that will help boost his magical powers, which are weak. Joining up with Clovis, Marcus heads to Noam to consult the library about the location of the Rock, but the two are attacked by first a talking snake and then Bryn, a Groc who is sometimes an innocent looking boy. Another boy from Quendel, Kelvin, helps them. Soon Jayson, a half human, half Agoran man joins them, and it turns out that he IS the Rock of Ivanore, Ivanore being his human wife whose father opposed their marriage. He agrees to return with them, but must first go to Dokur. The group follows him and eventually gets pulled into a war in that kingdom. Ivanore's father is still in power, but being attacked by his own son, Arik, who wants control of the valuable Celestine mines. Even though Marcus is attacked by Cyclopes and is heavily involved in the battle at Dokur, he manages to survive, save his friend Kelvin, and return home to find the truth about who he really is.
Strengths: Plenty of action and adventure, short chapters, and good alternation between the fighting and the explanation of why they are fighting.
Weaknesses: Reminded me a bit of The Book of Three; I don't get many students wanting medieval fantasies, and there are a lot already.

Williamson, Jill. Replication: The Jason Experiment.
Zondervan, January 2012
Martyr has lived his whole life in a colorless, windowless world, fulfilling her purpose by being used in experiments to keep the rest of the population safe. He and the other Jasons are educated and cared for, but often the target of horrible abuse by doctors and each other. When a new doctor arrives, Martyr finds a little hope that when he “expires” on his eighteenth birthday, someone may care for the “broken” boy he has been trying to protect. The new Dr. Goyer slowly starts to uncover the conditions on the Jason Farm after he moves his daughter to Alaska for this new job, but when Martyr escapes, Dr. Goyer’s daughter Abby meets him. Thinking at first that he is a boy from her school, J.D., Abby soon realizes that Martyr is a clone of J.D.’s father, who is using the clones for his own evil purposes. Can Dr. Goyer, Abby and Martyr expose the horrors of the Jason Farm and save the inhabitants?
Strengths: Fairly good action and adventure, and Martyr’s entry into the outside world is realistically portrayed.
Weaknesses: Not quite sure what the message on this was in this book. McKissack’s The Clone Codes was better on the coverage of clones’ rights. Like many Zondervan Press books, there is a lot of religion, and some of it seem just tossed in to have it there.

There are so many fantasy books out there, and I just don't have the readers in my library for it. Or the money to buy the books.
Lovric, Michelle. The Undrowned Child.
From the Publisher: "In 1899, eleven-year-old Teodora goes with her scientist parents from Naples to Venice, Italy, which is falling victim to a series of violent natural disasters, and once there she is drawn into a web of mysterious adventures involving mermaids, an ancient prophecy, and the possible destruction of the city itself. "

People who really liked this:
Madhouse Family Reviews
Inside a Dog
Book Grotto
The Diary of a Bookworm

Johnson-Shelton, Nils. The Invisible Tower.
ARC from Baker and Taylor; published in January 2012.
From the Publisher: "A twelve-year-old boy learns that he is actually King Arthur brought back to life in the twenty-first century--and that the fate of the universe rests in his hands. "

People who really liked this:
Once Upon a Twilight
Fresh Ink
Night Owl Reviews

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

No, really. Don't do drugs!

Tillit, L.B. Unchained.
Saddleback Educational Publishing, 2012
TJ's mother is strung out on pot and meth; his father has died of a drug overdose. While his mother is getting clean, he is sent into foster care, where he does very well. He enjoys school and does well, learns to get along with his siblings, and is free of the concerns of having drug addled parents in a gang infested neighborhood. When his mother is released, however, he has to go back to her and gets sucked back into the gang. Determined not to follow his father's path, he tries to exist inside the gang but not do the drugs. When gang violence results in TJ being approached to run the gang, he decides instead to leave the neighborhood and resume his educaton.
Strengths: This is a great book for reluctant readers who are drawn to inner city stories about drugs. Bluford High fans will like this series, Gravel Road.
Weaknesses: There is some mention of sex but nothing graphic. This book does not glamorize either sex or drugs. Hooray! Several students have borrowed the ARC from my pile.

Woodson, Jacqueline. Beneath a Meth Moon.
Laurel's family was living in Pass Christian when a devastating hurricane kills her mother and grandmother who stay behind. After a few years with her aunt, Laurel, her father, and younger brother move to a small town in Iowa. For a while, she is happy. She makes the cheerleading squad and starts to date T-Boom, a basketball player. The sadness of her loss is always with her, so when T-Boom gives her a taste of meth, she quickly gets hooked. Soon, everything else fades into the background. She drops out of school, and starts to beg on the streets for money to feed her addiction while living in an abandon store. A local artist, Moses, tries to save her, since he has seen too many others die, but only Laurel can make the decision to wean herself from the meth.
Strengths: My students are forever askinf for books about drugs, but most of them (like the works of Ellen Hopkins) include far too much bad language and sexual situations for middle schoolers to check out of a school library. This was perfect. The drug abuse is evident but not glamorized. The best part was the rural, white, middle America setting!
Weaknesses: Flips back and forth in time in a slightly hard to follow way.

Sand-Eveland, Cyndi. Tinfoil Sky.E Arc from Netgalley.com
Melody's mother, Cecily,has never been the best mother. The most recent problem the two have is running from the latest boyfriend. Cecily decided to go "home", but her mother, Gladys, is not happy to see the pair, since Cecily's last visit resulted in many of Gladys' things being stolen. When Cecily ends up in jail for shop lifting, Mel's only resort is to live with Gladys, who grudgingly takes her in. Mel is happy that she can get a library card, and starts to spend much of her summer vacation at the library, where she ends up getting a job. She learns more about her grandfather, Tux, from the local grocery store owner, and assembles a support group for herself. She counts down the days until her mother can come back, but can her mother pull herself together to care for Mel?
Strengths: This was a compelling, quick read that has a Jacqueline Wilson/Cathy Cassidy vibe.
Weaknesses: Cover a bit weak and happy.

Nayeri, Daniel and Dina. Another Jekyl, Another Hyde.
From the Publisher:"Thomas struggles to accept his billionaire father's marriage to governess Nicola Vileroy and begins to spend less time with his friends and more time at clubs, where someone slips him a dangerous drug, but things get scarier after Thomas begins to suspect Vileroy is part of a sinister supernatural plan. "

This is the third in a series. The ARC came from Baker and Taylor. I will have to look at the books before this, Another Faustus and Another Pan. An interesting, evil, paranormal kind of book, but confusing without having read the others first.

Whew. Should I include Mull's The Candy Shop War? Really, kids, don't give drugs to your parents, even if they are disguised as candy. And no, no matter how many budget cuts there are, it's a bad idea for librarians, too.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Timeslip Tuesday

Timeslip Tuesday is a recurring feature at Charlotte's Library. Charlotte also does a fabulous round up of middle grade and YA fantasy fiction on Sundays.

Malone, Malorie. Stealing Magic: A Sixty Eight Rooms Adventure
ARC from Netgalley.com, Random House 2012
Ruthie and Jack are still basking in the glow of having discovered an album of lost photographs from a famous artist, an album which turned up in the Thorne Rooms when they used a magic key to shrink down and get into them. When they meet Dora Pomeroy, a decorator who is studying the rooms, they realize that articles are missing, just as art is being stolen from famous collections around Chicago. While investigating, the two travel back to 1937 Paris and meet a Jewish girl. When they realize that her family will be in danger from the Nazis, they try to get back and warn her, only to find that their key has been stolen! They find another way in, and start to realize that the thief is someone they know-- and they may have helped the stealing begin! The two work to put things in the Thorne Rooms to rights, and once again emerge victorious.
Strengths: Love the inclusion of real miniature rooms, time travel, and a good mystery.
Weaknesses: Figured out too early who the thief was! The first book has been a steady but somewhat slow circulator.

Williams, Avery. The Alchemy of Forever.
January 3rd 2012 by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Sera has spent 600 years with Cyrus, and she's fed up. At first, she was glad that he saved her from death with his potion that allowed her to transplant her spirit into another body. She's gotten tired of killing (each new body only lasts about ten years), the Coven of Incarnates, and most of all, Cyrus. When she is due to get a new body, he throws an elaborate party, but she drugs him, runs away, and vows to finally die. However, she comes across a car accident and while trying to save Kailey (who is gravely injured), accidentally takes over her body. Adjusting to Kailey's life is difficult, but "Kailey" is able to say that the accident caused her some memory impairment. Sera is enjoying her new life and thinking that being away from Cyrus and the Coven makes life worth living... and then Cyrus shows up at her school as a substitute teacher! Sera/Kailey tries to elude detection, but then circumstances change... or do they. Another book is surely in the works!
Strengths: LOVED the idea that yes, after 600 years, Sera is sick of Cyrus! This was vastly amusing, drew me into the book, and when Sera took over Kailey's body, this reminded me a lot of Martyn Bedford's Flip. Very well done.
Weaknesses: The ending was very abrupt, but once I realized that there would be another book, that was okay.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday! Hop over to Shannon Whitney Messenger's Blog for a full list of people this week who are posting; here is last week's list of MMGM postings.

Remember when cooking was exciting? In the 7th grade, we had home ec and spent a period every day learning about cooking. We made pancakes and syrup (maple flavoring and Karo!), lollipops, pie-- don't know that the school budget ran to actual food, but we learned how to keep our kitchens clean! I still think about Mrs. Mercer when I am wiping down all of the counters every time I do dishes. I loved home ec so much (8th grade was sewing) that I almost compounded my horrible idea of majoring in Latin with a minor in teaching home ec. Now they don't teach cooking in school, but it doesn't mean that students aren't interested. Appease your budding cooks with these books!

Simon, Coco. Emma on Thin Icing.
Emma's mother has lost her job as a librarian due to budget cuts and is working the 3-9pm shift at a local bookstore, which means that Emma and her three brothers have to pitch in more around the house. With Mia's mother's wedding coming up, Emma needs $250 to buy a junior bridesmaids dress, and she's stressing out. She tries to walk more dogs to make money, and even takes on some cupcake baking on her own. She has to watch her younger brother, keep up with her school work, and help make dinner. She tries very hard to keep everything together but might not be able to afford to buy the dress in time, and then an evil classmate will pick it up! Emma realizes in the end that she can't do everything on her own, and doesn't need to, since she does have supportive family and friends that will help her out if she just asks.
Strengths: Emma's mother gets her job back. Oh, the book? This was very reminiscent of the Beany Malone or Katie Rose stories, which I adore. Teen girl trying to handle things on her own? Apparently still my very favorite thing to read. I have the first two books, and they have been popular.
Weaknesses: I'm not a good judge. Does A New and Different Summer have weaknesses?Absolutely not!

Simon, Coco. Alexis and the Perfect Recipe.
Alexis' older sister Dylan is having a Sweet 16 birthday party and has turned in a monster over the plans. She doesn't want the Cupcake Club to make the cupcakes and gives them grief over every cupcake they pitch. Alexis has bigger probelms, though-- she has a huge crush on Emma's brother Matt, who will be at the party. Since she loves math and research, she tries to scientifically determine how to make boys like her-- soft clothes in soft colors, curly hair, vanilla perfume. It takes a while to get the formula right, but Alexis manages to get everything-- cupcakes and herself-- perfectly organized before the big party. Matt asks her to dance, but there's no chemistry at all. No matter! Her research will come in handy with her conquests down the road.
Strengths: Did like the twist at the end with Matt, and loved that Alexis had a head for numbers.
Weaknesses: The reinventing herself for a boy was disturbing, but so true to life!

Visit the Cupcake Diaries web site for all sorts of goodies!
Other books on cooking and baking!

Bauer, Joan. Close to Famous.
Conford, Ellen. What's Cooking, Jenny Archer?
Creech, Sharon. Granny Torelli Makes Soup (contributed by Caryl)
Davis, Tanita. Ala Carte.
Dunbar, Fiona. The Truth Cookie.
Fergus, Maureen. Recipe for Disaster
Ganeshram, Ramin. Stir it Up!
Greenwald, Lisa. Sweet Treats and Secret Crushes.
Hepler, Heather. The Cupcake Queen.
Hurwitz, Joanna.(1982) Tough-luck Karen
Jackson, Alison. Eggs Over Evie.
Mandelski, Christina. The Sweetest Thing
McClain, Lee. Sizzle.
Ostow, Michol. Crush du Jour
Schaefer, Laura. The Teashop Girls.
Schroeder, Lisa. It's Raining Cupcakes.
Smith, Sherri L. Hot Sour Salty Sweet.
Shaw, Tucker. Flavor of the Week.
Whytock, Cherry. My Cup Runneth Over (series)
Winston, Sherry. President of the Whole Fifth Grade

Let me know if I'm missing some good ones!

Nonfiction Monday-- Pets

Middle school students love to read about cats and dogs. Either they have them, or they wish they had them. My Dorling-Kindersley and ASPCA god and cat care manuals are falling to pieces, so I was looking around for some other books about pets. And just so you know, I decided NOT to let my dog "write" the reviews. It may be January, but I'm not that many kinds of crazy. Yet.

Brownlee, Christen. Cute, Furry and Deadly: Diseases You Can Catch from Your Pet!
The Scholastic 24/7 books on war are very popular in my library, so I looked into the Science Behind the Scenes series. This volumn presents several real life cases where pets made their owners very sick-- prarie dogs with monkey pox, kittens with rabies, and baby chicks with salmonella. Medical terms are explained, all article are well-illustrated, and additional information is given about zoonotic diseases. Scientists who worked on the real life cases are also profiled. A glossary and resource pages are included at the end of the book.
Strengths: Rabid kitties-- what's not to like? The short chapters will appeal to nonfiction readers who like a little bit of text with their pictures.
Weaknesses: While this has really good information, I find the format hard to read. This will not be the book for my students wanting information about animal care, but will be great for the students who like grossology type books. I still like the Sheila Keenan Animals in the House for a good overview of the history of pets.

Klam, Julie. You Had Me At Woof: How Dogs Taught me the Secrets of Happiness.
This memoir is not really suitable for middle school students, but I treat myself to the occasional adult book on Friday evenings, because my life is just that exciting! Ms. Klam was trying to figure out her single life and her career when she decided that a dog was what she needed. Enter Otto, a Boston terrier, who so endeared himself to Ms. Klam that she got involved with a Boston terrier rescue group and started fostering dogs. She eventually got married and had a daughter, but continued to make the dogs a very big part of her life. I wouldn't say that this book, or the dogs, really taught me much about the secrets of happiness, but it was an amusing read, and it encouraged me to rub Sylvie's tummy while I read it. Warning: several dogs pass away in this book. Sad.

Lemke, Don. The Amazing Mini-Mutts.
Capstone Publishers, February 2012
E ARC from Netgalley.com
This is certainly fiction, and for grades 1-3, but it was so cute that I had to take a look, even though it is waaaay on the elementary side of the Pilkey side. The Mini-Mutts are tiny little fuzzy crime fighters who are going up against Brainicat, who is evil. The text is simple, the pictures bright, and my children would have loved these when they were emergent readers. This would also be a good book to, um, read to your dog!

Nonfiction Monday was created by Ms. Suen, and today's roundup is hosted at Shelf-Employed.

Saturday Cartoons

Gownley, Jimmy. Amelia Rules: The Whole World's Crazy.
Amelia is not pleased to have been transplanted from New York City to live with her Aunt Tanner after her parents' divorce, but she does find some friends over the summer. When school starts, however, she finds that they are in the nerd statrum of the school hierarchy, and she's not pleased, especially since she doesn't much care for Rhonda. Still, the group hangs together, going trick or treating, surviving gym class, and discovering the real meaning of Christmas. The first in a fairly lengthy series of graphic novels.
Strengths: Has some clever moments that adults will get, even though Amelia is nine. Since my students would read graphic novels about bat guano, I will get this series as I can afford it.
Weaknesses: As always, am struck that struggling readers are attracted to these, and worry that they don't actually read the text. I struggle with separating the pictures from the text, and they are hard for me to read, so when a student turns the book back after one period, I do strongly suspect they have only looked at the pictures. Sigh. Not the fault of the book.

Holm, Jennifer and Matt Holm. A Very Babymouse Christmas.
Babymouse really, really wants a Whiz Bang, an electronic device that does everything including folding the laundry. She schemes and schemes to get one, but it's not looking good. One of her classmates even gets one in the class gift exchange, but Babymouse of course gets whisker conditioner! She dreams A Christmas Carol sort of dream, and can't concentrate on anything in the weeks leading up to Christmas. When she finally does get the gadget she desires, it has no batteries, so she ends up playing with a dollhouse and bonding with her family.
Strengths: Bought this one because I had children asking for holiday books and I had nothing. Of course, the order didn't come in until last week! It will get worn out very quickly!
Weaknesses: Guilty confession-- I don't like Babymouse. Love Boston Jane and Middle School is Worse than Meatloaf, but Babymouse character is high on my slappage meter. I do have the first Babymouse book, but it's not been that popular. Perhaps just too elementary for my tastes.

Ozma, Alice. The Reading Promise.
When Alice's librarian father was afraid that she, like her older sister, would stop wanting to be read to, he proposed that they start a "streak" and read every night for 100 nights. Or so. The beginning of the streat is lost to the mists of time, but every night for about 3,218 days, they read books aloud, ending when Alice went off to college. Through this time, Alice and her father struggled with the departure of Alice's mother, financial problems, and the teen years.
Strengths: It's great that Alice is championing reading, and was so greatly affected by this effort by her father to stay connected to her by sharing what he loved.
Weaknesses: I thought this would make me feel like the worst mother in the world. I HATE to read aloud. Hate to be read to, as well. This made my ineffective parenting look good. Not that the level of dysfunction in Alice's family was horrible, it was just sad, and really not all that interesting. I was hoping that she would tie in how the books they read affected their lives, but there wasn't much of that. Great concept for a book, but a little weak in the execution, which is surprising since Alice clearly read a lot of good books. I feel mean saying this, but I had higher expectations.

Guy Friday-- Skateboarding Guys

That's it. I'm just going to order EVERY Orca Sports book on skateboarding that I can find, especially if they are by the following author:
Ross, Jeff. Powerslide.
Casey (aka "Head Case") is approached by actor Jack Coagen's agent to train Jack to skateboard for his next film, and then act as his stunt double. This is great news for Casey, because he doesn't know what he wants to do with his life after high school graduation. Unfortunately, rival skateboarder Goat declares that he is a much better candidate for this job, and challenges Casey to several ill-concieved challenges that end up in minor injuries for both. Goaded on by Jack, who is trying to understand skateboarding culture as well as the techniques of the sport, the pair try a very dangerous race down a mountain road that ends in even more severe injuries. Can Casey find a way to incorporate skateboarding into his future plans while ensuring that he still HAS a future.
Strengths: I didn't understand half of the skateboarding descriptions, which means that my boys who skate WILL. Nice, tight story line, action, adventure-- pure awesomeness. I know just the student to hand this two today.
Weaknesses: Was there a moral to the near death experience? I forget. Yeah, just enough to make the adults happy. Perfect.

Take a look at these other titles for good skateboarding/extreme sports books:

Let's Go to Paris!

Nesbet, Anne. The Cabinet of Earths.
Maya and her family, including five-year-old brother James, move to Paris. Her mother has cancer and has always wanted to go, so when her father gets a fellowship from the Society of Philosophical Chemistry to study there, Maya can hardly complain. Shortly upon arrival, strange things start to occur-- odd relatives show up, Maya's face appears on a statue, a packet of pictures appears. Maya and James spend a lot of time with their colorless cousin Louise, who is helping with their French, and the very strange Henri de Fourcroy who tells them a little about their strange family history. The Cabinet of Earths turns out to be a way to make people immortal-- their "earths" are bottled and kept in the cabinet, and they are fed "anbar", the essence of lively children, to keep them happy and vibrant. Once Maya finds out about this, and finds that she is the keeper of this cabinet, she is torn-- she can keep her mother alive, but must then be a part of this evil process that could strip the livliness from her brother.
Strengths: My readers are trending away from medieval fantasy, and I know just the student to whom I would hand this. Even though the cover and the title on this one set me into defensive "I don't want to read anymore fantasy!" mode, I was drawn into the story very quickly.
Weaknesses: Maya's life in school was touched on much too briefly-- I think I would have left it out. Even the friend she makes there doesn't add much. The father's position was also rather vague, although the family needed a reason to be in France. This writer show a lot of promise, but I have a feeling that her next book will be much better. Don't mean to damn with faint praise, this one was oddly compelling and yet bothered me at the same time.

Levin, Mark and Jennifer Flackett. The Family Hitchcock.
Maddy, Benji and the entire Hitchcock family are traveling to Paris even though family finanaces are tight and the children would really rather stay at home. Swapping houses with a Parisian family, the Vadim's allows them to afford this, and luckily, the Vadim's home is much posher than their own. Opera tickets show up at the door, the family is able to borrow swanky clothes and go, and things seem to be looking up. However, a case of mistaken identity gets them involved with dangerous if attractive villians involved in an international crime plot.
Strengths: Lots of action and adventure, car chases, and a humorous tone make this a book that will intrigue elementary students.
Weaknesses: Every character was reduced to an annoying stereotype with irritating catch phrases. Also, if this is "written by Dan Elish", how can this be Levin and Flackett's first children's book? Coming up with an idea is very different from writing this, and the writing in this is definitely very much like Elish's The School for the Insanely Gifted.

Enclave, Fracture and Bunheads

Aguirre, Ann. Enclave.
In a post apocalyptic world, children are so expendable that they are not even named until they reach 15. Up to then, they are called "brat" or "boy" or "girl". At their naming ceremony, they are also put into one of three groups: breeders, hunters or builders. Deuce has always felt she would be a hunter, and is pleased when she is. She is also paired with the malcontent fade, who has lived outside of the underground world and doesn't care for all of the rules that supposedly keep people safe. When the community is threatened by mutant "freaks", Deuce and Fade are kicked out for trying to
warn everyone, and try to survive on the Topside, assembling a band of others on their way to a settlement that Fade thinks exists.
Strengths: Seems to be a lot of research and thought into a post apocalyptic experience. I found the information on canned food especially interesting. As the cover says, fans of The Hunger Games will love this one, since it is pretty bloody. The reviews all said 8-12 grades, but there was nothing particularly objectionable except for the survival-type violence.
Weaknesses: This felt slightly derivative to me. Part Invitation to the Game, part City of Ember. I've never been a fan of dystopia, and I've had to read so much of it. Students who actually like dystopia will probably find the similarities to other books amusing.

Miranda, Megan. Fracture.
Delaney is out with friends, playing on the ice in Maine, when she falls through and is underwater for 11 minutes. The doctors don't think she will survive because of the brain damage, but she surprises them all and wakes up with little cognitive impairment. She does, however, occasionally get an "itch" in her brain that seems to draw her toward people who are dying. Her friend and neighbor(and also rescuer), Decker, is glad to have her back but alarmed by the changes in her and confused about his feelings for her. She meets Troy, who is also a coma survivor, and is at first comforted by the similarities in their experiences, but when she realizes that he too is drawn to the dying, but acts on this impulse in a way she doesn't agree with, she is not sure what to do.
Strengths: I was immediately drawn into this absorbing tale of struggle and loss. Brilliant lines, great characters, a nice amount of teen angst without overdoing it. Really enjoyed this.
Weaknesses: The moral dilemma gets a little complex for middle school, and the dropping of f-bombs becomes a bit gratuitous toward the end. Great for high school, but I will pass.

Flack, Sophie. Bunheads.
From Goodreads.com "As a dancer with the ultra-prestigious Manhattan Ballet Company, nineteen-year-old Hannah Ward juggles intense rehearsals, dazzling performances and complicated backstage relationships. Up until now, Hannah has happily devoted her entire life to ballet. But when she meets a handsome musician named Jacob, Hannah's universe begins to change, and she must decide if she wants to compete against the other "bunheads" in the company for a star soloist spot or strike out on her own in the real world. Does she dare give up the gilded confines of the ballet for the freedoms of everyday life?"
What I wanted: More books about ballet. Aside from Ballet Shoes the paperbound Dancing on the Inside and A Dance of Sisters and the oddly named Jersey Tomatoes are the Best, there's very little to give my girls who dance. Has anyone written a happy ballet book?
Why This Didn't Work For Me: Since Hannah is 19 and living on her own, this book is a bit mature for my girls. It's usually the 6th graders who want books on ballet. While the romance is fairly innocent, there are several gratuitous uses of the f-bomb that bothered me.

Time Slip Tuesday--Day of the Predator

Scarrow, Alex. Day of the Predator.
Sequel to Time Riders.
Liam and Maddy, Time Riders stationed on September 10 and 11, 2001, are joined by Sal and and a new version of their support unit, Bob, now a woman named Becks. Liam and Becks are sent to stop the assassination of Edward Chan, the father of time travel, but when they are at that period in time, an explosion sends them back to the Cretaceous period... with Chan and several of the students and teachers! The group tries to survive and battles wily dinosaurs while trying to get a message through to 2001 about their coordinates. Meanwhile, in 2001, Maddy is trying to find the group as well as trying to get through to Foster, her mentor, on September 12. The message does get through, but brings with it new risks of time contamination, and the Time Riders have a lot of clean up work to do before they can go back to just monitoring.
Strengths: Dinosaurs bring lots of action to any story, so that was fun. I also liked the secret service agents, even if they were the bad guys.
Weaknesses: Still not entirely sold on the method of time travel presented in this series, but it does address the whole issue of time travel changing the world.

Make sure you check out Charlotte's Library for more books on time travel on many Tuesdays, as well as a fabulous round up on middle grade and young adult science fiction and fantasy reviews.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Nonfiction Monday-- Blizzard of Glass

Walker, Sally M. Blizzard of Glass: The Halifax Explosion of 1917.
In December of 1917, several ships containing hazardous chemicals in the harbor of Halifax collided. The resulting explosion was the biggest man made one until Hiroshima. Not only did the heat and shock waves destroy all of the buildings nearby, but the resultant tsunami also caused major damage. Thousands died. The devastation was incalculable, and this book does an excellent job of explaining this for middle grade readers-- after an introduction of how things aligned for this to occur, the catastrophe is followed through what happened to the members of several families. Maps, copious period photographs, and well-researched information and harrowing tales of survival make this a book that many readers will enjoy.

Thanks to Deb Marshall, of Just Deb for recommending this! One of our school volunteers, a former history teacher, really enjoyed it as well!

Turner, Pamela S. The Frog Scientist.
Like the honeybees in The Hive Detectives, the frog population in the US has been at risk for years. Not only are the numbers decreasing, but there has been a decided increase in the number of frog mutations that are turning up. One scientist, Tyrone Hayes, has dedicated his life to finding out what chemicals may be harming frogs. One of the most common chemicals that farmers use and that ends up in the pond water is atrazine, and Hayes has determined that this chemical often feminizes male frogs, leaving them unable to procreate, which may be one big reason behind the drop in population. This book details how he goes about his research, describing days in the field and at the labs, and also discusses the long term ramifications of this research.
Strengths: This series was recommended to me by my public librarian, and it is a very good one with lots of information. The books are engagingly presented in an easy to read but informative way.
Weaknesses: Again, the picture book format orientation of this series may work to its disadvantage in the middle school setting. Might take some arm twisting to get students to read them, but I will definitely be purchasing some when I have the money.

There's a new Nonfiction Monday page by Ms. Suen, and today's roundup is hosted at The Swimmer Writer.

Middle Grade Monday can be found at Shannon Whitney Messenger's blog.