Saturday, June 30, 2012

Mind if I Read Your Mind?

Winkler Henry and Lin Oliver. Ghost Buddy #2: Mind if I Read Your Mind?
1 July 2012, Scholastic

In this sequel to Zero to Hero (1 January 2012, Scholastic), Billy Brocolli and his ghost friend, Hoover Porterhouse have sucessfully contained Rod Brownstone, the bully who was bothering Billy in the first book, but are faced with another challenge. Billy's class is having a Speak Out Challenge (SOC) and the students need to give speeches about how to do something. Billy feels that he has no talents, other than reciting the alphabet backwards, but Hoove has a great idea; since only Billy can since the ghost, Hoove can gather information from the audience and relay it to Billy, who can then pretend to "read" someone's mind. This works well if Hoove shows up, but since he is doing so poorly on the "Helping Others" section of his report card for the Higher Ups that he may never be able to stop haunting Billy's house, Billy can't really count on him. Hoove desperately wants to be free of the bonds that tie him to Billy's neighborhood, which was the site of his family's ranch almost 100 years ago, so that he can visit baseball parks. When Billy is invited to Dodger stadium by a SOC teammate and goes even though Hoove can't, the ghost is distressed. Billy, afraid that Hoove won't show up to help him with his speech, has to decide how to best complete the competition.
While this book lacks the frenetic energy of the Hank Zipzer series, it would be a good choice for elementary readers who like humorous school stories, although the plot is occasionally slowed down by extraneous scenes, like Hoove causing the washing machine to flood the basement with bubbles, that are not as funny as they could be.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Guy Friday-- Outlaws

Wilson, John. Victorio's War. 
May 2012, Orca

I got excited when I saw a new book by the great John Wilson, but wish I had known that this was book #3 in the series. It would have made more sense!(Digital book checked out from public library.)

James Doolan is taken to Chihuahua, Mexico as a prisoner with a group of Apache women and children who will be enslaved. Since he is an American, he is freed when he runs into an old friend, Santiago. The two catch up with all of the things that Jim has been doing since they last met. 

The West in 1880 was a rough-and tumble place with a lot of fighting over territory and property. Victorio and his band of Apaches are supposed to go to a reservation, which would stop the fighting, but the removal of the army would also hurt the local economy. This isn't too much of a concern because Victorio continues to raid farms in the area. Doolan tells of previous conflicts during which he ran into Victorio-- when the leader took his forces into Mexico and were followed by the Buffalo Soldiers even though it was illegal. When the Mexicans were not happy with Victorio, he took his troops back to the states where they continued to get into trouble. For a while, Doolan was captured by Wellington, who fought with Victorio and considered Doolan to be a replacement for his son. Victorio's forces try to stay alive and have lots of fights with authorities, but eventually get trapped, surrender, and move to the reservation.
Strengths: Wilson's books always have LOTS of fighting, action and adventure. There are few newer books on the Old West, and I think that this series might be a good place for students who have not previously been interested in the time period to start their reading. Then they can move on to some Zane Gray!
Weaknesses: Obviously, starting with the third book put me at a disadvantage. The flashbacks made me even more confused. The series is published by Orca, so is available only in e book and paperback formats, but I might spring for prebind copies.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mysteries--Summer at Forsaken Lake

Beil, Michael. Summer at Forsaken Lake.
12 June 2012, Random House Children's Books

Nicholas and his twin sisters Hayley and Hetty are sent to a small Ohio lake front town to stay with their great Uncle Nick while their father is off with Doctors Without Borders and their mother (from whom he is divorced) is busy with work in New York City. At first, Nicholas thinks that the summer will be completely boring... until he finds a movie his father made, meets Charlie (a really great baseball player and a girl), and learns to sail. His sisters are deep into Arthur Ransome's We Didn't Mean to Go To Sea and talking in British accents. It turns out that Charlie's mother Fran was a friend of their dad's, and was even interested in him romantically until the movie filming took a bad turn. A scripted boat crash went horribly wrong, and Fran was hit by the mast of the boat, broke her arm, and lost the movie camera. Nicholas and Charlie suspect foul play, so have Fran recreate the boat scene and tell them all the people who were involved in the filming. They then talk to them, look at the wreckage of the boat, and unearth the camera from an unusual source. Meanwhile, Hetty and Hayley plan a boat trip ala Ransome, but things go badly there, with a neighbor having an emergency on shore and a storm rolling in. Nicholas and the twins stay with the boat and rescue a man who has wrecked his boat... and who knows more about the film incident than anyone else they've talked to. Nicholas and Charlie work on completing the father's film, filling in some back story. What are the chances that the two parents, whose romance was so cruelly cut short, might get back together? And what are Nicholas' chances of having a romance of his own?
Strengths: *Sigh* It's not the plot on this one, it's the...summer. Okay, Penderwick's fans, go ahead and laugh, but I loved this book because it made an idyllic summer at the lake, complete with classic literature, mystery, romance and a ROOM IN A TOWER seem totally and completely plausible. Since I am probably exactly the age that the parents are in this book (and I was born on the coast of Lake Erie), it just spoke to me.
Weaknesses: The mystery aspect will draw students to this book, but I do worry a tiny bit about kid appeal. Mr. Beil's mystery series is very popular, so I think I can hand sell the heck out of this, which is something I have not been able to do with the Penderwicks no matter how I try.

Most importantly, Mr. Beil has posted a his own version of The Seaweed Strangler that he made as a child on YouTube. How awesome is that?

Smith, Alexander McCall. The Great Cake Mystery.
3 April 2012, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Precious lives in Botswana with her family, which includes her father Obed, who likes to tell her stories about life in Africa. She loves school, and everyone at her school is very nice and follows the rules, until someone steals a piece of cake that her friend Tapiwa had. Everyone in the school is upset and blames Poloko, who is an overweight boy who likes to eat. Using her powers of observation and a little bit of trickery, however, Precious determines that the thief is not Poloko, and solves the crime.
Strengths: The black and red  illustrations in this are beautiful and remind me of picture books from the 1930s and 40s. It's nice to see a multicultural book for emergent readers. I have not read The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, but readers who have would particularly enjoy this look into the main character's life as a child.
Weaknesses: The mystery was not very intriguing, and the language very simple. Sometimes things that didn't need to be explained were covered in great detail.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Monument 14

Laybourne, Emmy. Monument 14
5 June 2012, Feiwel and Friends

Had Dean known the destruction that would occur on his way to school, he might not have run to make the bus. After a freakish rock hailstorm causes the bus to crash, killing many of the passengers, Dean and several others manage to escape when the elementary bus driver picks them up and crashes the bus right into a Greenway store. Mrs. Wooly helps the children clean up and get to work on making pizza, but then takes off to find help, leaving Brayden in charge. Josie is in shock, Astrid knows how to work the pizza oven, and Dean's brother Alex is a tech geek who realizes that the computer network being down is a very bad thing. The children band together to take care of the elementary students. Niko, who lives in the mountains and is a Boy Scout, tries to get everyone to conserve energy and supplies. The devastation was caused by a volcano, which sets off a tsunami that takes out the East coast and also causes an earth quake in Colorado, where the story is set. The earthquake damages NORAD facilities and releases toxic chemicals into the air that affect people differently based on their blood type. Things look exceedingly grim, and the students deal with this in their own way. Brayden and his friend cope by drinking and playing laser tag, Josie sets up a school for the children, and Dean finds himself in charge of food with 8-year-old Batiste. Eventually, everyone feels that they should leave the store, but what will they find on the outside?
Strengths: Very good post apocalyptic stuff! All the adults are gone AND they are in a Walmart like superstore. Doesn't every middle schooler have a dream scenario like this? (In mine, all the kids were in my middle school, which was across the street from the mall and next door to a K Mart.) The details of survival are very good, and the reason for the devastation believable. I was riveted. Fans of Northrup's Trapped will enjoy this.
Weaknesses: Lots of drinking, and two objectionable scenes that make this inappropriate for middle school. Dean's crush, Astrid, is shown taking off her shirt in front of her boyfriend, and ...things happen. Then, an 8th grade girl who wants to be taken seriously tries to force herself on an adult man who is let into the store. While not overly graphic, these could have been omitted. Yes, I know. So much violence and I complain about the sex?

Zoe Letting Go

Price, Nora. Zoe Letting Go. 
28 June 2012, Razorbill
Also reviewed at Young Adult Books Central.

Zoe is not at all pleased when her mother wakes her up, all but throws her in the car, and dumps her at Twin Birch. It's not a hospital, it's not a jail, but the six girls who are there have very strict rules they need to follow, especially when it comes to food and "sharing" with the other patients. Zoe doesn't need to be at Twin Birch; she tries not to fight against the counselors when she has to do therapy sessions, she eats what she is supposed to even though she can tell she's gaining weight, and she hopes that she can leave soon. In order to cope, she writes letters to her best friend Elise, and talks a lot about the food rituals the two develop as well as the problems that they faced in high school. There are problems at Twin Birch as well, and gain, Zoe does not feel that her problems are severe enough to require her to be in this expensive facility. There are parts of her past that she is ignoring, and until she comes to terms with these, she won't really be healed.
Strengths: This is a very good book about anorexia, and I especially appreciated that Zoe was NOT in very bad shape. I think there are a fair number of girls whose anorexia can be dealt with before they really endanger themselves. While more extreme examples are shown in the other patients, Zoe's thought processes are a valuable addition to the canon of eating disorder fiction.
Weaknesses: I could tell exactly what Zoe's problem was from the very beginning, but I'm not sure that most student readers will be attuned to that.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Crowfield Demon, The Vindico

Walsh, Pat. The Crowfield Demon. (Crowfield Abbey #2)
1 April 2012, Chickenhouse

Brother Walter, the hob, and William are back in this sequel to The Crowfield Curse. This time, the chapel at the abbey is slowly crumbling, and Sir Robert's workers are not able to do much to save it. Will knows that this is because there is a demon residing in the chapel. When he is assigned to remove tiles from the chapel to be used elsewhere, he unearths a wooden bowl accompanied by Latin text that indicates it is evil. The other brothers think that perhaps the bowl is the Grail, and insist that it be kept on display. Shadlock, the fay warrior who was bound to Jacobus Bones and is now bound to Will, knows that horrible things are going on but doesn't know quite how to set things right. The brothers decide that the best thing to do is to stay up praying in the chapel all night-- oddly enough, this ends in one death and even more destruction. When the abbot is told about the existence of a demon, he agrees to use Sir Robert again, this time in his capacity as an alchemist, in hopes of binding the demon. Unfortunately, this goes horribly wrong as well. Dame Alys appears throughout the book, and she knows that the bowl was used for blood sacrifices for an ancient religion practiced by her ancestors. She calls the demon Belinus and hopes to free him; Will and Shadlock know the demon is really Raum, and desperately wants Will, because of his innocence. Can the abbey hope for help from an angel in order to defeat this demon? And after all the destruction at the abbey, can they ever rebuild? I think there is probably at least one book still to be written in this series. 
Strengths: This, like the first book in the series, was just a lovely read. I'm not a huge fantasy fan, but this struck a nice balance between the historical elements and the magical ones that I really enjoyed. Will is a sympathetic character, Walter adds some good comic relief, and Shadlock is mysterious. 
Weaknesses: The cover isn't quite as pretty as the first! Not every student will pick this up, but the readers who like medieval fantasies will love it.

King, Wesley. The Vindico.
14 June 2012, Putnam Juvenile.

Five teens are all kidnapped from the bedrooms by a group of super villians known as the Vindico who are trying to conquer the League of Heroes. All of the teens have problems-- James has been dumped by his girlfriend, Hayden has been all but abandoned by his mother, Sam is generally insecure, Lana has been making poor life choices, and Emily is more interested in computers than in socializing at school. The teens are all to be mentored by a villain who shares some of their characteristics, and while the conditions aren't horrible, they aren't good. Training is difficult, embarrassing secrets about each teen are revealed to the whole group, and the teens are all torn between wanting to have superpowers and not wanting to be villains. They all still like the League of Heroes, and are distraught when they are involved in a fight where they are compelled to attack members of it. When the group runs into Deanna, who has some powers and is working with the League, they need to figure out how they can corral the Vindico without getting themselves killed, and see if the League will take them back despite their involvement with Vindico's evil plans.
Strengths: There are a lot of students who want to read about super heroes and villains, and there is a growing number of books on the topic. This holds up well with Walden's H.I.V.E. books, Jink's Evil Genius series, Ferraiolo's Sidekicks, Carroll's Quantum Prophecy Young's S.T.O.R.M and Cody's Powerless. The cover is very appealing, and despite the huge number of characters, the author does an excellent job of making them memorable.
Weaknesses: While I could tell the characters apart, I would have been far happier with a smaller group. Five main characters, with their attendant villains, their side kicks AND the heroes, was a lot of characters! Also, at the beginning there was an intimation that the Heroes were really the bad guys, and I was kind of hoping that the five teens would become villains after realizing they somehow were the good guys. That would have been a nice twist. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Nonfiction Monday-- Rightfully Ours

Nonfiction Monday was started by Anastasia Suen and  is hosted today at Capstone Connect.

Rightfully Ours: How Women Won the Vote, 21 Activities
1 August 2012, Chicago Review Press

This was an excellent overview of the women's suffrage movement, starting with Lucy Stone, who married the brother of Elizabeth Blackwell (the first woman doctor) in 1854 and didn't change her name! Why is this still so hard for people to understand? Following along in history, the book discusses Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in a much more readable way than the Colman dual biography (Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony : a friendship that changed the world )of the women does. (A great book, but rather lengthy for middle school.)The book doesn't stop there, but continues on to discuss the difficulty of women during the Gilded Age, when things went well but they still couldn't get the right to vote. The difficulties posed by the Civil War and World War II are covered, as are the connected issues of abolition and Temperance. Brief side bars cover lesser known figures and events. There are also crafts included in every chapter. Sometimes these are informative (how to find the North Star when discussing slavery) and some a bit odd (how to pretend you are wearing a corset?), but in general I wish they had been omitted and replaced with more information about the lesser known topics. Still, this will be a great addition to my nonfiction collection, since this is a topic I find vastly interesting. My grandmother was 27 before she was able to vote!

Because this book should be required reading for all 6th grade girls, I'll repeat my comments from 17 February 2006 on it:
A riveting nonfiction title was Karen Blumenthal's Let Me Play, about Title IX and its effect on education in the US and opportunities for women. I learned so much, and I was in school when it was being put in place. The girls in school now take so many of their opportunites for granted. I had my daughter read it-- I only had to tell her about the girl who got a gold medal in swimming in the 1964 Olympics but could not get a college scholarship because there were no college swim teams for girls. She was outraged, and loved the book. This author also has a book about the 1929 stock market crash entitled Six Days in October that I am looking forward to reading.

And many thanks to Jan Eliot, the author of Stone Soup, who celebrated the 40th anniversary of Title IX in her fun comic, Stone Soup. This panel is from Go Comics, but you can also check out Ms. Eliot's web site, Stone Soup. Picky Reader managed to do every single one of her language arts opinion papers on women's rights this year, so she knew ALL about this, and thanks to these comic strips, she informed an entire slumber party of 8th grade girls about it! 

STONE SOUP (c) 2012 Jan Eliot. Used by permission of Universal Uclick. All rights reserved.

Cheesie Mack is Cool in a Duel

Cotler, Steve. Cheesie Mack is Cool in a Duel.
ARC from
26 June 2012, Random House Children's Books

This sequel to Cheesie Mack is Not a Genius or Anything arrives just in time for summer. Cheesie (real name, Ronald) is finally off to his grandfather's summer camp with his friend Georgie, and looking forward to all of it. However, when they arrive, they find out that there was no room in their regular cabin for them, so they are put in with slightly older boys who are not happy to have them, including Kevin, Cheesie's arch nemesis. Cheesie challenges Kevin to a "cool duel" (much the same way as he has a point battle with his sister), and there is a running tally of their activities. Camp activities and schemes abound, and Cheesie and Georgie so their best to survive the summer and make it to middle school.
Strengths: Lots of action and goofiness. I do appreciate that there is actually a Cheesie Mack web site, which is mentioned a lot. This would be good for fans of The Fourth Stall.
Weaknesses: I never like cutesie names, and this strained my credulity a bit. (A cool duel? Really? And the counselors let them?) I did finally buy the first book in the series, and it has not been an immediate success, reinforcing my opinion that this might be best as the elementary level. As Cheesie enters middle school, I will be interested to see if he becomes less self absorbed and has more romance in the books.

Middle Grade Monday was created and is hosted by the busy Shannon Whitney Messenger and weekly lists of participants can be found at her blog, Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe.

And as for #bookaday, I think I'm covered. So far this summer, mostly thanks to MotherReader's 48 Hour Challenge, I have read 106 books! If you remember last summer, I did a lot of sewing-- that is NOT happening this summer. I am finishing up two quilts for my daughter to take to college, and that is the extent of my sewing! As for running, I've been out every morning for ten days straight but am having trouble working up to the mileage I had last year. I'll try for 125 miles, but at least I'll be able to tell the cross country team that I've been good about putting in the time every day!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Books Come to Life!

Picoult, Jodi and Samantha Van Leer. Between the Lines.
26 June 2012
Delilah hates school because it's boring and the people are mean. When she finds an old fairy tale book with hand painted pictures, she becomes enamored of the story and the main character, Prince Oliver. She starts to notice that small things in the pictures have changed, and it turns out that this is because the characters in the book have completely different lives when the book is closed and they are not acting out the story. This story is told from three different perspectives, written in three different fonts-- Delilah's view, Oliver's view, and the text of the story, Between the Lines. Oliver chafes at being in the book and desperately wants to escape, especially after seeking Delilah's help and falling in love with her. Will the two be able to figure a way to be together?
Strengths: This was a nice idea. Ms. Picoult and her daughter no doubt had a very enjoyable time writing this. It's not as confusing as many books with three points of view, and was a quick read.
Weaknesses: One of my favorite books is Roderick Townley's The Great Good Thing, and this is a tiny bit of a rip off of that book, which describes the characters when the book is closed in a very similar fashion. Also, any book in which the main character describes herself as "weird" because she likes to read irritates me.

VanDiepen, Alison. Vampire Stalker.
1 June 2011 (now in paperback)
Amy has a similar problem to Delilah's, but the stakes are higher-- Amy's favorite books are the Otherworld series with the vampire hunter Alexander Banks. She gets the latest books, writes fan fiction, reads the web sites obsessively. When she is attacked while walking home one night, she finds out the Alexander has come from Otherworld Chicago into Chicago proper-- and so has the very evil vampire Vigo, who has commenced killing people in Amy's world. At first, Amy thinks that the boy is just a fan who is more than obsessed, but after talking to him, and to her brilliant school librarian who has studyied-- and this is beyond brilliant-- the concept of literary physics, she decides that he really is THE Alexander Banks and her world is in peril. Can the two manage to fall in love and save the world?
Strengths: This book didn't take itself too seriously, with the Twilight like obsession of The Mists fan following, but didn't overplay this enough to irritate actual Twilight fans. LOVED the librarian, and her idea that fictional worlds really do exist was great fun. Maybe she's right!
Weaknesses: This begs to be a series, but this came out a year ago and I don't see any indication that a second book is on the way.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Cake and Pretty Covers

Papademetriou, Lisa. Confectionately Yours #1: Save the Cupcake!
1 May 2012, Scholastic

Hayley is having enough trouble adjusting to middle school without having to deal with her father's new girlfriend, her mother's unemployment, or the fact that she likes one of her friends who is a boy... kind of as more than a friend. Her family has moved into her grandmother's apartment above her struggling tea shop, so Hayley spends a lot of time helping out, creating new recipes for cupcakes and trying to get her grandmother to realize that she has to keep up with the times if she wants her business to be successful. Can Hayley manage to keep her life together and make it through the year without any major catastrophes?
Strengths: The cover. An easy sell right there. I can't order enough realistic fiction for girls to keep up with the demand, especially when there is a little bit of romance and some cupcake recipes thrown in.
Weaknesses: I've had enough about cupcakes and struggling tea rooms, but my students absolutely have not. Why is this not in hardcover? Hasn't Ms. Papademetriou written enough that she should get a hard cover? I think so!

The sequel, Taking the Cake comes out 1 September 2012!

SOOOOOOO pretty!

Tracy, Kristen. Bessica Lefter Bites Back
13 March 2012, Random House Children's Books

This sequel to The Reinvention of Bessica Lefter picks up with Bessica heavily invested in both her position as school mascot and in reestablishing her friendship with Sylvie. However, she's still disorganized, and forgets a mascot meeting, which gives her co-mascot, Alice, a chance to schedule all of the good games. Sylvie and Bessica are still not quite in sync, and get involved in a nasty text message battle that ends in them not speaking. Bessica is also worried about her grandmother because she doesn't like her grandmother's new boyfriend, fearing that he is taking her away from the family. Sylvie and Bessica reconcile, only to have Bessica ruin Sylvie's birthday party. Bessica also disgraces herself as the mascot, although she does have a small break through with cute neighbor Noll.
Strengths: Great covers, realistic characters, and authentic middle school experiences make this a series I think my girls will like to read.
Weaknesses: VERY high slappage factor with Bessica. I didn't like her at all, which led me to muse about the characters in the contemporary, realistic fiction I read in middle school. Certainly, I adored Anne Shirley, Betsy Ray, and Laura Ingalls, but did I read contemporary fiction because I liked the characters? I have a feeling that many of them were slightly annoying, but that they made me feel better about myself. Hmmm.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Guy Friday--The Classroom

Mellom, Robin. The Classroom.
19 June 2012, Disney Hyperion

Since Tyler worried about everything in elementary school obsessively, it's not a surprise that he is stressing about starting 7th grade. Matters are made worse when his friend Libby reinforces his belief that 8th graders are evil and out to get him, and encourages him to ask a girl to the upcoming fall dance. Told in a documentary style, this gives brief "interviews" with a variety of stock middle school character; the hulking 8th grader, the good looking popular boy, the girl obsessed with lip gloss, and a mysterious girl named Molly whom Trevor finds intriguing. Also present are a janitor who is zealous about his purview, a principal who is arbitrary and dithering, and various boring and quirky teachers.
Strengths: Boys will like this because it is a "notebook novel" with copious illustrations. It is fairly amusing.
Weaknesses: Like Mason Dixon, Trevor is overly paranoid. I fail to understand why people think middle school is so difficult. I polled my own personal children, and they were all happy to be in middle school and didn't have a ton of angst, and have seen absolutely no bullying.

There was as great article in the Columbus Dispatch, entitled "A Feel For Words" by Charlie Boss on Tuesday about boys and reading. It gives much of the same advice that I do-- get boys books that THEY like, find men to model reading, make it hands on and fun. Walter Dean Myers, as the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature has said "Reading is not optional." Summer is a hard time for me because I can't make sure that my students are getting great books and reading. 

Myers, Walter Dean. All the Right Stuff. 
24 April 2012, Amistead.

Paul is very lucky to get one of four public service jobs available through his school in Baltimore. He will be working at a soup kitchen for senior citizens, which is run by the 84-year-old Elijah. Paul is struggling because his mostly absent father, who has had problems with substance abuse, has been shot in a store robbery gone wrong. Luckily, his single mother is hardworking and holds him to very high standards. Elijah teaches Paul not only about soup but about the "social contract" and how it should motivate everyone, even in their gritty urban neighborhood, to do what is right. As part of his job, Paul is also mentoring a student, who turns out to be 17-year-old Keisha. Keisha has spent years doing the right thing and seeing no result; a brief lapse in her drive led to her becoming pregnant, taking time off school, and putting her chances of getting a basketball scholarship to college at risk. She hopes that Paul will help her perfect her game. A lot of the book is spent discussing the social contract and how it will play out with individuals in the community, especially when Paul's friend Sly has an idea for a business to help people who have made poor choices in the past succeed.
Strengths: It is wonderful that the characters in the inner city setting are still depicted as hardworking and desirous of personal success. Paul especially is an engaging character, and Elijah is amusing. 
Weaknesses: This is a very slow and philosophical work. French philosophers are discussed. By name. I think that this would be an extremely difficult sell; readers who loved Slam, Game, and even The Mouse Rap are likely to be disappointed in the lack of action. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sound Bender

Oliver, Lin and Theo Baker. Sound Bender.
1 November 2011, Scholastic.

When Leo and Hollis' parents are both killed in a plane crash, they must move in with their uncle. Crane is a bit odd-- he buys and sells rare artifacts and may or may not be a criminal. Leo tries to settle in to his new life, but is unsettled when he receives a package for his 13th birthday... from his father. It includes an odd recording. Leo loves sounds, and frequently hangs out at Jeremy's used record store, so takes the disk there. He finds out that he was not in fact born in New York, but on one of the islands where his parents traveled for his father's work as an ethnomusicologist. Apparently, Leo was given special abilities by the native tribe there and is a sound bender-- he can touch objects and know information about their past. When one of the artifacts that his uncle has makes him even more curious about his father's work, he takes off for a remote island to meet with a friend of his father's who is studying dolphins and may be able to shed some light on the legality of his uncle's dealings.
Strengths: Leo was a very well developed character, and the first part of the book was oddly intriguing, with the vintage recordings and life in New York.
Weaknesses: The plot was a bit of a let down. Oliver's writing is fantastic and absorbing, but I somehow couldn't quite buy the evil experiements with dophins thread.

Wood, Maryrose. The Unseen Guest. (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place #3)
27 March 2012, HarperCollins

Penelope Lumley and her charges are back. In this installment, Lord Frederick's mother finally comes to visit her son at Ashton Place, where she could not bear to return after the death of her husband. She has with her a new beau, Admiral Faucet (who not only wants to marry her, but wants to set up an ostrich facility at the manor!), and brings some interesting news-- her husband also had trouble with howling at the moon on occasion, as does Lord Frederick. Admiral Faucet is intrigued by the children and thinks that showing them off might be even more lucrative than ostrich breeding or racing. Penelope tries to keep up with the children's education, overcome her fear of the woods, and find out the secrets about her own parentage as well as that of the children. Another installment is surely due, since many questions are left unanswered.
Strengths: This is a great series for students who love Lemony Snicket, Barbara Brooks Wallace, or Joan Aiken's The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. The beautiful prose and English country house setting is great fun. I love Penelope!
Weaknesses: These books require a certain mood, which I was not in when I read this. As a result, I found myself getting slightly annoyed with the tone at times.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

All These Things I've Done

Zevin, Gabrielle. All These Things I've Done.
6 September 2011, Farrar, Strause and Giroux

Anya is just trying to keep her family together, but it is difficult. Caffeine, chocolate, paper, texting, and just about anything fun has been outlawed. Her family is in the chocolate business, which is now run by Mafia types and resulted in the assassinations of both of her parents. Her grandmother is dying, her developmentally challenged brother is being courted to work for the syndicate by the most evil of her uncles, and her younger sister Natty needs a lot of attention. When Anya's ex-boyfriend is poisoned by some of the family's chocolate, she ends up in prison but is freed by the father of a new friend. While it is helpful having Win around, since his father is not only in a position of authority, but Win is cute and nice-- Win's father realizes that the two cannot date, or the press will have a field day with it. Anya doesn't want to have to deal with the family's business, but as more and more information about the poisoning surfaces, she comes to understand that the chocolate underground will be there whether or not she supports it, and perhaps she is more competent to run it than she is!

Strengths: Grab a copy and take the dust jacket off-- the book itself is brown and embossed with "Balanchine Extra Dark"! What a fun thing, but no one will notice! Love this author and liked the sound of this book, but it took me forever to pick up. I'm glad I finally got to it. It was excellent and I am greatly looking forward to book #2 which is due out on 18 September 2012. Not wild about the cover, but the TITLES ARE IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER!!!!!!! (Sorry, but gladdens my librarian's heart!)

Weaknesses: Too much sex. Not graphic, or described too much, but mentioned.  I have one copy in the library, but will send a second copy to the high school because I'm not comfortable handing it to everyone. I will also want to read book two before adding it to my collection.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Time Slip Tuesday-- Circle of Secrets

Time Slip Tuesday is a recurring feature at Charlotte's Library, where there are always great middle grade fantasy reviews and an awesome weekly round up on Sundays.

Little, Kimberley Griffiths. Circle of Secrets.
1 October 2011, Scholastic
Shelby is angry at everyone. Her father, because he's going away and can't leave her with her grandmother, who is in the hospital. Her mother, who walked away from the family a year ago. The new students in her school who slyly taunt her. Shelby's mother is a healer and her house is in the swamp, so her new classmates have plenty of ammunition to tease her. When Shelby meets Gwen, she is relieved to have someone to talk to, but she's concerned because Gwen's parents are missing and she is staying on her own. While dealing with Gwen's problems, Shelby becomes somewhat more understanding of her mother's difficulties in living away from the swamp with Shelby's overbearing paternal grandmother, and starts to embrace the odd life the two make in the swamp. Gwen's secrets, however, take on a new urgency when they put Shelby in danger.
Strengths: This was a good ghost mystery, reminiscent of Barrett's Cold in Summer. There is a very strong sense of place, and Shelby's difficulties are realistic and not easily solved.
Weaknesses: Anything with a quirky/Southern component is never my favorite, especially when there is a bit of dialect ("jest" for "just"). No idea why.

Coert Vorhees' Lucky Fools was too much like Zadoff's My Life, the Theater, and Other Tragedies. Theater is not something my students are interested in, and the book has been a hard sell. Also, when the main character is trying to convince his father that it's a good idea for him to major in If his father loved him, he would just say no.

Hemphill's Sisters of Glass (2012) would be great if I had students interested in a novel in verse about Venetian glass blowing in the fifteenth century; oddly, I don't. Doller's Something Like Normal (2012) would be a great addition to a high school library, since it deals with a young man coming back from serving in Afghanistan; unfortunately, it has a lot of gratuitous foul language and sexual allusions.

Mary Downing Hahn's Mister Death's Blue-eyed Girls (2012) was a very good Young Adult book, but significantly different from the author's  middle grade ghost stories. This was clearly a very personal novel for the author, but the historical setting and the murder plot, combined with the length, make me less motivated to get it for a middle school library. The Fabulous Teen Librarian at my public library who does school visits felt the same way.

Going to the public library was a great way to kick start the Summer Throwdown. The problem with going to the library is that I get distracted, most often by the adult nonfiction. I also pick up things, like the ones listed above, that really aren't quite right. They LOOK good, though! I read 4.25 books (one was a picture book about Julia Child). This is a time when I wish I did NOT have my blog scheduled ahead, because there is a weird lag between reading the book and posting the review.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Middle Grade Monday-- Middle Grade Gods

And the most powerful middle grade god would be Rick Riordan, whose The Lightning Thief (2005) made me SO happy. At last count, I have three entire library shelves devoted to Riordan's various series, and I haven't even had a chance to order my requisite five copies of this third book in the Kane Chronicles. (Note to Disney Hyperion: the end of May is a HORRIBLE time to release books. Think about the school year. I can never get copies before all the books are due.) I must admit to reading this book in an extremely casual fashion, sitting on the front porch with a glass of lemonade. If I don't remember details, it doesn't mean I loved it any less.

Riordan, Rick. The Serpent's Shadow. 
1 May 2012, Disney Hyperion.

Sadie and Carter are once again trying to keep the world from imploding. Apophis manages to hunt them down at a museum party in Texas and destroys the last copy of The Book of Overcoming Apophis, as well as most of the King Tut exhibit and an entire gathering of magicians. They manage to make it back to Brooklyn House and the comfort of Bast with a miniature cabinet that Sadie felt compelled to save. It turns out that the cabinet is a receptacle for one of the five parts of the pharaoh's soul, and the twins decide that if they can find the sheut, or shadow, or Apophis, they could manage to kill him. First, they figure that having some practice in dealing  with this spell would be helpful, so they decide to find the sheut of Bes and restore that. They are working with Senret, who is rather devious and not reliable, but who is their last chance at defeating Apophis. There are others helping them with their cause-- Walt is still dying, and Sadie would give anything to help him, even while she still is rather fond of Anubis, despite Isis' warnings that the gods and mortals shouldn't mix. Zia shows up again, but her involvement with the senile sun god Ra turns out to be more important than anyone thought. Even the twins deceased parents show up in the Duat, and their father helps. Even with all of this assistance, it is going to be difficult to overcome the barriers that the evil Jacobi and her magicians throw up in order to finally get rid of Apophis and keep the world safe for the poor mortals who don't know any better.
Strengths: As always, Riordan's smooth writing and sense of humor make these books a delight. I was a bit sad that this series was only going to be three books long, as I will miss Sadie and Carter and all of their friends, but they might show up in bit parts in other series, which is always a comfort. 
Weaknesses: Sadie got a bit annoying with the whole Walt vs. Anubis romance. Really? You're saving the world from destruction but you are worried about what to wear for a dance? Well, if you are 14, this would probably really be the case!

 We're just going to call this "Meme Monday".  For more middle grade titles, head over to Shannon Whitney Messenger's Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe to see a list of bloggers with middle grade reviews. 

I just recently found the It's Monday: What are you Reading meme at Teach Mentor Texts, and there's a huge list of people who have book reviews up. Since I only blog about what I'm reading, it seems a bit silly to devote just Monday to the cause, but it is an interesting group of reviews. 

Lastly, at Ms. Martin Teaches Media, there's the Book Blogger Confessions meme, started by Tiger's All-Consuming Media and For What It's Worth. 

I think I'll just stick to Middle Grade and Nonfiction Mondays. Mondays are hard enough already!

Nonfiction Monday-- Running

Nonfiction Monday was started by Ana Suen and is hosted today at SimplyScience Blog.

Bobrick, Benson. A Passion for Victory: The Story of the Olympics in Ancient and Modern Times

26 June 2012, Knopf Books for Young Readers (E ARC from Netgalley)

Starting at the first reported Olympic games in ancient Greece and following the progression of such contests of athletic ability up until the 1936 games in Germany, Bobrick gives a well-researched yet entertaining account of how the Olympic games evolved over the years into the international spectacle we have today. Incorporating stories of individuals as well as the games, the history and politics of the game are covered, with lots of interesting facts making the events come alive.
Strengths: This offers so much amusing information about the Olympics that it should be a very popular title. Inclusion of period photos adds interest.
Weaknesses: This stops at the 1936 games! I was hoping that it would continue to the present day, so I was disappointed. Perhaps a second volume is in the works? This was also very hard to read on my Nook.

Yakin, Boaz and Joe Infurnari. Marathon.
19 June 2012, First Second Publishers, E ARC from Netgalley.

I had such high hopes for this book, since the history of ancient Greece is covered in our 7th grade curriculum, it's a graphic novel, and I like to have books to inspire my runners. I was a bit put off by this title, however-- it was VERY violent. I know the ancient Greeks weren't the most peaceful of people, but the various beheadings and other killings put the GRAPHIC in this graphic novel, and I think I'll pass. Do take a look at it for high school, or if your stomach isn't as weak as mine.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day

Lupica, Mike. Game Changers.
8 May 2012, Scholastic. Also reviewed at Young Adults Book Central.

Ben McBain is a good, driven middle school football player, who is probably better than the quarterback on his Pop Warner team. However, Ben is also on the small side, and the quarterback on his team is also the coach's son. Shawn O'Brien is hard on himself when he does poorly, and Ben tries to make friends with him in order to help him, and therefore the team. This works for a while. Ben visits Shawn's house, where Coach O'Brien ( a former pro football player) has installed a turf field in the backyard, complete with electronic ball catchers, and starts to realize that football is not fun to Shawn. The two work together, even though Ben's teammates think he's not helping his own goal of becoming quarterback by improving Shawn's skills. Ben's parents and his friend Lily are supportive, and this makes it easier when the team loses game after game. Eventually, the team, and Shawn's mood, starts to improve, but the boys realize that in order to win games, they are going to have to convince their Coach to make different choices on the field and to really see where the team's talents lie. While this book has very strong themes of personal identity and conflicts with parents, the play-by-play sports action keeps this book moving along.

Strengths: Afraid gushing will be involved here. This book made me cry. I really did not understand the emotional connection that boys have to football, nor how deeply they feel winning and losing, and how football is a huge connection to their fathers. While this book could have veered into the preachy and overdone, Lupica has a fine touch with the balance of emotion. Shawn's father is kind of an idiot, but never too much of one, and when he realizes his mistakes, it isn't some great revelation. Most of all, I liked this quote (page 159) "He heard a knock on the window then, saw his dad, saw Jeff McBain make a goofy face once he knew he's caught his son's eye. In that moment, Ben thought how it was never hard being Jeff McBain's son, that things never seemed complicated between them, not for one day of Ben's life. " (Go ahead, grab the tissues.)

From the Mixed-up Files had a post on Dads in Middle Grade Books, and I think Jeff McBain is my new favorite dad.

Weaknesses: There has also been a lot of talk about the BEA panel on Writing Strong Female Characters in Middle Grade Books (this report from Rebecca Behrens), so while I liked Lily, I wasn't sure how I felt about the repeated insistence that she was cool for a girl. Perhaps less discussion of it and more action? At the same time, it IS difficult for a middle school boy to be friends with a girl, so you can't completely ignore the fact. I'm curious to see what Lily's role will be in this series!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Saturday Cartoons

Fearing, Mark. Earthling.
20 June 2012, Chronicle Books
Bud is not happy that he has to move with his scientist father out into the desert, but he doesn't have much time to worry about it. The first time he tries to catch the school bus, he is instead picked up by an intergalactic transport to Cosmos Acadamy. Luckily, he meets the friend Gort who assumes he is a Tenerian exchange student, which is good, because Earthlings are feared and hated. Bud settles into school and life with Bud's family, but there are quite a few wrinkles. Tenarian's are great athletes, so Bud is pressed into helping make the ZeroBall team better, even though he is not very good at sports. There are some students who give him a hard time, and Bud and Gort have a lot of trouble figuring how they will get Bud home. They also have to deal with evil administrators!
Strengths: Even though this had some goofy moments, it never stepped over the Pilkey Line. I think middle school students who like graphic novels will adore this one AND it could be used for their language arts assignment on science fiction, since there really is a good story to it.
Weaknesses: Felt as if I were missing something with the storyline of Bud's mother dying; maybe there is a sequel in the offing? That would also make the rather abrupt ending better as well.

Shelton, Dave. A Boy and a Bear in a Boat.
12 June 2012, Random House
A boy approaches a bear in a boat and asks how long it will take to get "just to the other side". Well, apparently longer than a three-hour tour, because the bear runs into "unforseen anomalies". The duo drift for days and days, subsisting on bizarre sandwiches and, since this is a British author, tea. They run into storms and giant sea monsters, have to catch fish, and end up on a weirdly antique ship after their smaller boat floats away. When that, too, is destroyed, the two sail off into the sunset with the boy using the bear as a boat.
Strengths: Rather cute in a Paddington Bear sort of way, with illustrations by the author.
Weaknesses: When I looked at the reviews on Goodreads, I was very surprised how much everyone seemed to like this. It just left me shaking my head. There was no point. We have no motivation for the boy to get on the boat with the bear (it's a tiny bit creepy, really), and there is no conclusion. Maybe this is something for much younger children, or British children, and I just didn't get it.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Guy Friday--Fake Mustache

Angleberger, Tom. Fake Mustache.
1 April 2012, Amulet Books

Friends Lenny and Casper get into their fair share of trouble in the town of Hairsprinkle, but when Casper uses his money to buy a nice suit and Heidelberg Handlebar Number Seven mustache and use this get up to rob the local bank, Lenny has to stop him, especially when Casper frames Lenny for the robbery. The power of the mustache is soon so great Casper has gathered a fortune large enough for him to buy the company that produced the mustache (as well as other fun novelty gimmicks) and to run for president, a step toward his evil masterminded goal of taking over the world. Lenny finds help in the form of Jodie O'Rodeo, a tween television musical star whose family lives in Hairsprinkle. In this rollicking adventure, the evil-doers are flaky and unapologetic, and the heroes are just trying to the right thing-- as long as someone will bring them some PopTarts as they try to save the world from the evil lurking behind the fake mustache.
Strengths: Like Angleberger's other work (The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda, The Return of Darth Paper, and Horton Halfpott), this is a nonstop GoofFest filled with quirky names, inexplicable obstacles, and giant sticky hands (there's a combo package for the next Scholastic Book Fair!). Totally orginal and unpredictable, fans of funny books as well as notebook novels (this has a fair amount of illustrations) will gladly pick this book up. I am always interested to see what Mr. Angleberger thinks up next!
Weaknesses: I didn't personally like this. Will I buy a copy or two and push them relentlessly on readers. Absolutely. Was it something I would reread on my own? Erm.... I'm not sure what it was-- either the use of odd names, which I always dislike, or the fact that I am not in fact a 12 year old boy (the I Am A Genius of Unspeakable Evil phenomenon), or an issue of falling on the elementary side of the  Pilkey Line of goofiness-- but it didn't speak to me.

It will scream loudly at my reader, though, and that's what really matters!

I thought I might be able to find several covers with mustaches on the cover, but for now we will have to content ourselves with Snidely Whiplash and the book Mustache!

Hannan, Pete. My Big Mouth: 10 Songs I Wrote That Almost Got Me Killed.
1 July 2011, Scholastic.

Davis Delaware and his father move to a new community after the death of Davis' mother. His new high school is home to boring teachers and catatonic students, but also a bully (Gerald, aka "the butcher"), a talkative but friendly Dweeb (Edwin), and a cute girl who wants to start a rock band (Molly). Edwin and Molly start the Amazing Dweebs band, practicing at Edwin's father's barbershop in preparation for the Rock Around the Dock battle of the bands. All the while Davis is joining the poetry club at school, taking karate lessons, having a rocky relationship with Molly, and trying not to get permanently injured by Gerald. This is illustrated with goofy drawings, some from Davis doodling notebook.
Strengths: Loved this description: "It was your basic English teacher/librarian uniformL Cardigan sweater, white button-down blouse, skirt below the knees and --here's the kicker-- glasses with that chain around the neck. Those are pretty much the universal symbol for I think I'm smart and I know I'm old. (page 7) Some clever writing, a good basic plot, romance in a humorous setting.
Weaknesses: Again with the bullies pummeling students in the hallway and teachers looking the other way. Sigh. Not only that, but this is set in high school. Not sure what the goofy line between middle school and high school is called, but I'm thinking this lands on the middle school side of that. May just not be understanding and liking it because I am a girl.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Tokyo Heist

Renn, Diana. Tokyo Heist. 
14 June 2012, Penguin Young Readers
Also reviewed at Young Adult Books Central

Violet loves reading and drawing manga, and is not happy that her mother is going away for the summer and dumping her on her father, whom she does not know well. When she finds that her father will be spending the summer in Japan working on a mural for the Yamada's corporation, she feels a little better, especially since her friend Reika is there for the summer as well. Things become complicated when the Yamadas have some sketches supposedly done by Van Gogh stolen from them, and are under pressure to find a painting that once accompanied them. The painting has not been seen since 1987, when the brother of Mr. Yamada bought the works and shortly thereafter committed suicide. There is a yakuza, or mafia, link to these pieces of art, and Violet is convinced that her father is in danger. Can she and Reika find the pieces and art and keep everyone safe? Like Violet's own manga character, Kimono Girl, they probably can, but not until after a lot of adventure in Japan.
Strengths: Very good use of setting and culture in the mystery. There are a lot of students interested in manga, and this would certainly appeal to them. Anyone who liked Carter's Heist Society of Runholdt's Mystery of the Third Lucretia will love this one.
Weaknesses: Violet didn't gel as much as a character for me. Perhaps there was just so much going on?