Sunday, September 30, 2012


Cooner, Donna. Skinny
1 October 2012, Scholastic

Ever, grieving the loss of her supportive, artistic mother, has seen her weight balloon to over 300 pounds, despite the love and support of her father and stepmother, Charlotte. She is a talented writer and singer, but the voice in her head (which she refers to as Skinny) is always telling her that she can’t succeed, that people don’t want to be friends with her, and that she will never, ever measure up because she is fat. Even her supportive best friend, Rat, can’t convince her of anything else, and her thin and attractive stepsisters Linsey and Briella don’t help at all. After an embarrassing incident of breaking a chair, Ever decides that she wants to try gastric bypass surgery in a last ditch effort to control her weight. Her father is reluctant but wants Ever to be happy. Rat is extremely supportive, monitoring Ever’s very specific food requirements, and making her spread sheets detailing her weight loss and exercise. Oddly, Briella’s best friend Whitney adopts Ever as a project, and as the pounds drop off, help Ever with new clothing and hair styles. When school starts again in the fall, Ever is fitting in size 16 clothing and has a new confidence. She hopes that Jackson, with whom she was friends before her mother died, will be interested in her romantically, and hopes that she can get a part in the school production of Cinderella. Even though she is thin, the voice of Skinny haunts her, and Ever learns that just because she is thinner, life does not become easier or less complicated.
Strengths: There are lots of good details about gastric bypass surgery, the dangers it entails, and the very complicated diet that needs to be followed. Ever is a very sympathetic character—in fact, I think it is all the nuanced characters that made me really enjoy this book. Books about eating disorders are always popular with middle school girls.
Weaknesses: If any book deserves to have a picture of an overweight girl on the cover, this would be it, and I am disappointed. Something intriguing could have been done with a picture of the skinny person inside the overweight person. As for the writing, very few weaknesses.

Rivers, Karen. The Encyclopedia of Me. 
1 September 2012, Scholastic

From the Publisher: "Tink Aaron-Martin has been grounded AGAIN after an adventure with her best friend Freddie Blue Anderson. To make the time pass, she decides to write an encyclopedia of her life from "Aa" (a kind of lava--okay, she cribbed that from the real encyclopedia) to "Zoo" (she's never been to one, but her brothers belong there).

As the alphabet unfolds, so does the story of Tink's summer: more adventures with Freddie Blue (and more experiences in being grounded); how her family was featured in a magazine about "Living with Autism," thanks to her older brother Seb--and what happened after Seb fell apart; her growing friendship, and maybe more, with Kai, a skateboarder who made her swoon (sort of). And her own sense that maybe she belongs not under "H" for "Hideous," or "I" for "Invisible," but "O" for "Okay."

Written entirely in Tink's hilarious encyclopedia entries, THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ME is both a witty trick and a reading treat for anyone who loves terrific middle-grade novels."

I mention this one even though the format drove me crazy for two reasons. One, notice that on the cover the girl's feet are slightly darker complected, since she is biracial. Bonus points for paying attention. Two, it is perfect for fans of Louise Rennison. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Gravel Road

Tillit, L.B. The Edge of Ready.
Saddleback, 1 January 2012

Here's the thing. I teach in a middle school, and yet I had students ask me for Fifty Shades of Gray. Really? It sounds so appallingly graphic that I don't even want to read it. Yet some girls had borrowed copies from their aunts and wanted to know if they would get in trouble if they brought them to school. Yes. Yes you will. And if you bring in Judy Blume's Forever, make sure it doesn't have the cover on it.

When I got the ARC for Unchained, in the Gravel Road series, I had a couple of boys who would not read anything else devour it. This book will be the same way. Dani is trying desperately to get through school, because her mother has told her the only way she can improve her life is to get an education, but when her mother can't find a babysitter for Dani's young brother so that she can go to work, she has Dani stay out of school to babysit. To complicate matters even further, Dani gets involved with her friend's brother, who coerces her into having sex (nothing graphic is described at all) and later rapes and then forces her into prostitution. The friend's other brother is a good guy and tries to save Dani. Despite the gritty situations, the book is circumspectly written. We know what is going on, and there are a few words that some people will find objectionable (Rape, pimp, etc.), but no f-bombs and no graphic descriptions. It is an ultimately hopeful story, too, with Dani's grandmother showing up and helping her get an education.

Do I really want kids to read this book? Not particularly. But for the reluctant middle school reader whose life makes something like, oh, Lily B. completely incomprehensible, this fits the bill.

Tillit, L.B. 2 Days.
Saddleback, 1 January 2012

Neema is very attractive and happy with school and her boyfriend Nate, but when her mother's boyfriend puts the moves on her, her mother takes the boyfriend's side and Neema ends up on the streets. She moves in with Nate's family for a couple of days, and his family is not happy. With good reason-- Neema is on the pill, but misses two days of taking it and does end up pregnant. Luckily, she is able to move in with an aunt, and when Neema realizes she is pregnant, the aunt takes her to a health clinic right away. Neema's mother had also been 16 when she had Neema, so no one is particularly surprised. Neema tries to keep up with her school work, with the help of Mike, whom she meets in her English class while assigned a project on I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and Eddie, who acts like a player at school but is really busy taking care of his younger siblings. Neema's mother eventually drops her boyfriend and moves in with Amina as well, and after baby Maya is born, the three women work together to take care of the infant and allow Neema to go to school.
Strengths: Again, girls will be interested in this topic, and nothing is graphic and the language is tame.
Weaknesses: This would have been far more interesting if Neema had had an abortion, or if things hadn't gone quite so smoothly for her. Granted, things aren't easy- Nate won't have anything to do with her, she has trouble in school, she finds out that you can't take infants to parties-- but it all seemed too easy to me. Unfortunately, this book accurately describes the experience of many teen moms.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Guy Friday-- Stealing Air

Reedy, Trent. Stealing Air.
1 October 2012, Arthur A. Levine Books.
ARC from

Brian is not happy about leaving Seattle and all of his friends just because his father is trying to get a new material named Plastisteel off the ground. Because money is tight, the family has to move in with the grandfather. Brian runs afoul of school bully Frankie on his first day, putting him to shame with his skateboarding moves, and escapes being beaten up only with the help of Max and his rocket powered bike! Max's mother is working on Plastisteel as well, and Max has stolen a piece in order to make an airplane. When Brian's dad is unable to secure funding from Mrs. Douglas, Max and Brian, along with their friend Alex, approach her with information about the plane. She won't fund anything until she sees that the plane can actually fly, so the boys get to work on making the prototype work. Brian is still at the mercy of Frankie, who gives him a hard time at every turn, but also is interested in Wendy, Frankie's sister, who seems to like him as well. Can Brian and his friends get the airplane to work, secure funding for the parents AND stay out of Frankie's evil clutches?
Strengths: This starts out with skateboarding and moves quickly into the rocket powered bike... awesome. While there was a lot of information about constructing and flying a plane that didn't interest me, I think that boys will find this intriguing. Brian holds his own with Frankie, and the romance with Wendy is a very nice touch. Strong sense of place and good writing make this second book from Mr. Reedy a very good choice for middle grade boys.
Weaknesses: The theme of bullying seems overdone to me, and it was slightly hard to believe that Max was both that geeky (few of my students are still interested in Star Trek) and that mechanically talented. Will students feel the same way about these topics? Probably not.

Library Ramblings:
Whoa. Had a moment when I almost felt caught up. Amazing what a volunteer every day and two afternoons without cross country practice can accomplish! Books to be shelved not overflowing, Accelerated Reader labeling project ticking along, even TBR pile at home manageable. Fridays are the slowest day of the week, since I purposefully scheduled all of the language arts classes Monday-Thursday. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I have nine classes a day and check out over 300 books, so I am working hard enough! My original thought was to have research classes on Friday, but we can't have any during 4th or 5th period because of the study halls, so teachers don't want to come at all. Sigh. There are enough four day weeks in the year that this scheduling does make it easier to move classes if necessary.

And then there's that 100 slide power point on 100 Great New Books I need to have done for November. Well, being caught up was nice while it lasted.  

Thursday, September 27, 2012

As Dead As It Gets

As Dead As It Gets (Bad Girls Don't Die, #3)Alender, Katie. As Dead As It Gets (#3)
15 May 2012, Hyperion

In this third installment after Bad Girls Don't Die and From Bad to Cursed, things are even worse for Alexis. It's been a while since she witnessed Lydia's death, and she's trying to move on, but it's hard because she keeps seeing dead people in photographs. To make matters worse, a girl in her class disappears, and Alexis sees Lydia's calling card on the news... yellow roses. Alexis is also trying to move on from her boyfriend Carter, and is dating Jared instead, and is on the newspaper staff, headed up by the quirky Elliot, as a photographer. When one girl after another starts turning up murdered, and Alexis herself has some bad run ins with ghosts, she tries to investigate and find out what is holding Lydia in limbo and trying to set her free. What she finds is that Lydia is not the force behind the hauntings and killings... the force is even closer and more dangerous than she could imagine.
Strengths: Very creepy, with lots of murder and suspense, which my students ask for A LOT. Most of the murders are done by the ghosts, which makes it somewhat better, and I did not see the real murderer coming. Probably book four in the works.
Weaknesses: The murders were a bit too much for me. I liked the first book because it was more psychological horror, and I'd like it more if the ghosts were just scaring people. The murders (and there are two graphic ones) were too much for me.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Sherlock Files

Great minds think alike! Over at Project Mayhem, there is an interview with Tracy Barrett! Head over there to say hello!

The Beast of BlackslopeBarrett, Tracy. The Missing Heir. (Sherlock Files #2)
12 May 2009, Henry Holt and Company

Xena and Xander's family is on a short vacation from London. Their mother is interested in buying some items from an estate sale, so they stay at a bed and breakfast in the country. They hear odd noises at night, and find that Sherlock himself came to Blackslop one hundred years ago to investigate the very same creature. Using their detective skills and the help of new friends that they make in the area, the two consult old newspapers, Sherlock's notes, and the clues they can gather, and solve not only the mystery of the beast in their own time, but in Sherlock's as well. 

The Missing Heir (The Sherlock Files)Barrett, Tracy. The Missing Heir. (Sherlock Files #4)
7 July 2011, Henry Holt and Company

There's a lot of excitement when one of Xena's classmates, Alice, finds out that she is the heir to the throne of Borogovia. She's not overly excited about it, since she would rather go on the British version of American Idol, but her guardian  is pleased. Alice's parents were killed when she was quite young, and she has been raised by an aunt and a nanny, who has a daughter with whom she is friends. When Alice goes missing, Xena and Xander find that Sherlock was involved in a mystery concerning the disappearance of a baby in the royal family-- and the nanny at the time was an ancestor of the Alice's nanny. Again using the resources at their disposal, and with a little help from the Society for the Preservation of Famous Detectives, they once again solve both the new and the old mystery.

Strengths: These are a manageable length for younger readers, and have a lot of action and suspense without being gory or scary. Xena and Xander are appealing characters who rely upon their own skills but consult adults when they need to.
Weaknesses: A little too much coincidence for me in both of them, but that is sort of the point. The two try to solve the cases that Sherlock was not able to, and while doing so solve current mysteries.Hard to believe that several generations of a family served as nannies for another family, but it might happen!

It's been a while since The 100 Year Old Secret was published (Published May 27th 2008 by Henry Holt and Co.), and I like these new covers much better! I just got in book three, The Case that Time Forgot and need to read it!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate

The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the PirateNash, Scott. The High-Skies Adventure of Blue Jay the Pirate.
25 September 2012, Candlewick. ARC from Baker and Taylor

Blue Jay is the pirate captain of the Grosbeak. He has an odd attraction to collecting eggs, which is helpful when trying to get crew members, but now that he has enough he is trying to stop collecting so many. One intriguing egg he can't resist ends up hatching a gosling,Gabriel, whom the other birds consider a god. Luckily, the motherly Junco takes care of him and instructs him in the facets of pirate life. When a doldrums causes the ship to almost crash, Gabriel (who is not yet fledged) falls from the ship. Junco goes after him, and the two end up at the tavern of Poppa Fox (a bird) after surviving attacks by crows and fisher cats. Poppa Fox thinks that he can help the two find their ship mates, and a mole, Hillary, helps them. The pirates are trying to plot their next move and uncover a plot to attack the village. Can Redwall Abbey (erm, the bird village) be saved?
Strengths: Very lovely book design, even in ARC form, and the fighting and swashbuckling with appeal to elementary boys who like pirates and the Brian Jacques books.
Weaknesses: Pirates are an oddly hard sell in the middle school, and even Jacques is waning in popularity. 

Time Slip Tuesday-- A Mutiny in Time

A Mutiny in Time (Infinity Ring #1)Dashner, James. A Mutiny in Time (Infinity Ring #1)
28 September 2012, Scholastic

In the near future, best friends and geeks Dak and Sera mess around in Dak's parent's labs and manage to get the Infinity Ring, the time travel device his parents have been working on for twenty years, to be operational. They think that the parents will be pleased, but they are terrified that having te device working will put them all in danger. TAfter traveling back to the Revolutionary War with his parents, Dak and Sera get separated from them and discover that there is a group of Hystorians who need the device to travel back and fix Breaks in time, historical events that go wrong and cause natural disasters and Remnants (something akin to really bad dreams)in the present day. The Hystorians were founded by the philosopher Aristotle who felt that Alexander the Great should not have been killed as a child. Brint and Mari introduce the two to Riq, who is adept at languages, and decide to send the three back to the time of Christopher Columbus to make sure that he explores the New World rather than the Amancio brothers who discovered America. Or is there job to make sure the Amancio brothers are the ones to sail? Aided by Time Wardens and a series of clues, the three need to make the appropriate change to history and make is back to the Hystorians for their next assignment. Extensive online activities accompany this, and the seven book series by different authors will be released from August 2012 until March 2014.
Strengths: Decent time travel explanations and device, good team of characters. This is Scholastic's next attempt at a Thirty Nine Clues phenomenon, and perhaps it will interest a new group of readers in time travel books.
Weaknesses: Voyagers!, anyone? While I am willing to believe that the number of time paradoxes make it impossible to get our minds around time travel, I still have trouble believing that history goes wrong and needs to be fixed. I might feel differently if I could stand computer games; the online accompaniments could be interesting from a historical information perspective.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Middle Grade Monday--John Coy

There can never be enough sports books for struggling middle school readers, and I particularly like the 4 for 4 series by John Coy. Top of the Order (#1) and Love of the Game (#3)  are ones I got earlier; these next two were back ordered. My only real objection is that the cover format changed at some point, so I have two of the cartoon covers, and two of the photo ones.

Eyes on the GoalCoy, John. Eyes on the Goal(#2)
13 April 2012, Feiwel and Friends

Friends Jackson, Gig, Isaac and Diego are just about to start middle school, but they spend a week at a soccer camp over the summer. Diego has played before, and Gig does well enough, even though he would rather stay home and take care of his family since his father is deployed in Iraq. Jackson (from whose point the book is told) and Isaac get put into a group of players who don't do very well, and they aren't happy about it. Jackson is also struggling with the fact that his mother has a boyfriend. Further complicating matters between the friends is the fact that the soccer camp has some girls nearby, and some of the boys are interested in the girls, and some are more interested in teasing their friends about them. Luckily, their friendships are strong enough to weather both the sports and personal difficulties.

Take Your Best ShotCoy, John. Take Your Best Shot (#4)
28 February 2012, Feiwel and Friends

The boys are still together, and now struggling through classes, detentions, dealing with more girls, and trying to hold the basketball team together after the best player, Isaac, leaves to join a traveling team in order to improve his game. Gig's father is injured, and Jackson's mother gets remarried, so the boys have plenty of difficulties to work through. There is plenty of basketball, however, easily identifiable characters who are likable, and many other qualities that make this series a great one for middle school students. Fans of Rich Wallace's Winning Season series will enjoy these.

Nonfiction Monday-- Biographies

I Am #1: SacagaweaI Am #2: Albert Einstein

Norwich, Grace. I Am Sacagawea, I am Albert Einstein
Scholastic, 1 August 2012.
Also reviewed at Young Adults Books Central; I Am Sacagawea, I am Albert Einstein

This new series from Scholastic also includes I am Helen Keller and I am Martin Luther King, Jr.

There is little documentation about the life of Sacagawea, who was kidnapped by another tribe, sold as a teenager to be the second wife of a French trader, and who ended up on the Lewis and Clark expedition because her husband wanted to go with them and knew her skills could be valuable to the team. The information we have is mainly from the log notes, which detail the birth of her son, an illness from which Clark nursed her back,  and her help and calm attitude during the trip. Little is known about her life after the trip-- she may have died within a few years of returning, or she may have lived to be 94! This book, with its black and white illustrations, covers the basics of her life in 124 pages and includes other resources at the back.

Einstein's life, on the other hand, is well-documented, and the biography of him skims the existing story and presents the bare basics about his scientific work in a way that students can understand. It delineates simply the circuitous route his life took, and addresses but glosses over the nitty gritty of his divorce from his first wife, and talks about his interest in pacifism after World War II. In this book, the drawings were a disappointment, since there are many photographs of Einstein that could have been used.

Both books remind me somewhat of the Childhood of Famous Americans series, although much more detail is given to the adult life and accomplishment of the subjects. The engaging narrative and understandable presentation of often complicated facts makes these good books for reports and leisure reading in grades 3-6.

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts. Both sites have lots of links to reviews about books that are great for the 4th through 8th grade.

Head over to A Teaching Life  which is hosting Nonfiction Monday. This meme was started by Anastasia Suen.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Other Normals

13537496Vizzini, Ned. The Other Normals.
25 September 2012
Reviewed at Young Adult Books Central; ARC from there.

Peregrine, aka Perry, is very involved in a Role Playing Game, Creatures and Caverns, to the extent where his divorced parents decide it would be best if he spent the summer at  Camp Whisiska Lake . Perry doesn't want to go, because he's concerned about his brother, who seems to be slipping further and further into alcohol addiction, and because he has recently made a friend, Sam, who is also into RPGs. When he gets to camp, he finds that Sam is there but doesn't want to talk to him, especially about gaming. The other kids are tough, and Perry gets into a fight. When he ends up at the nurse's office, he meets Mortin Enaw, the author of the manual for Creatures and Caverns, and is suddenly whisked into the world of The Other Normals. Perry is thrilled at first, but soon finds out that things are not going well; Martin has a problem smoking "earth pebbles", and the whole world is in danger of collapse because the princess Ophisa has been captured. In order to get her back, he needs to go back to his own world and kiss a girl named Anna. He tries, but it ends very badly, and he heads back to the Other Normals. There, he and a group of Martin's compatriots, including a beautiful girl named Ada, have a number of adventures while trying to avoid being arrested, eaten, and otherwise abused while trying to restore Ophisa. Juggling the two worlds is difficult, especially since going from one to the other usually ends in Perry being naked. After the various journeys, Perry begins to realize that what happens in the World of the Other Normals effects what happens in his world. Can Perry solve the problems in both worlds AND get a girl in one of them?
Strengths: There isn't a lot of fiction about RPGs, and big fantasy readers are often interested in this games. This was fairly funny and adventurous, and I could see the Geek Contingent enjoying this one a lot.
Weaknesses: This is definitely a Young Adult book-- at least two f-bombs, Perry exposing himself at a school dance, and several other sexual references, not to mention the confusing details of hopping from world to world-- make this more appropriate for high school students.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Saturday Morning Cartoons-- Notebook Novel List.

Ah, the Notebook Novel. School Library Journal used the term, but only have one post tagged with it! Novels with pictures and hand drawn-style font are the big hit of the last couple of years, and with the release of the seventh Wimpy Kid book (The Third Wheel, coming out November 13), there will be another resurgence. On the upside, these books get boys to read something; on the downside, they are usually horribly bound paper-over-board bindings that kids check out and bring back the next period because they have just flipped through the pages. I've opined about ones I prefer multiple times (all three copies of the new Charlie Joe Jackson checked out immediately!); this list includes anything I can think of.

The best way to find similar books is to google "If you liked Wimpy Kid books". Sad, but true. The term "notebook novel" hasn't caught on quite yet. Let me know if I have forgotten your favorite! (And there had to be pictures-- credits at the bottom!)

Angleberger, Tom. The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda, Darth Paper Strikes Back, The Secret of the Fortune Wookie.

Barshaw, Ruth McNally. Ellie McDoodle.

Cooper, Rose. Gossip from the Girls' Room.

Friedman, Laurie.Oh, Boy, Mallory.
BERTRAND DINKLEBAUMGreenwald, Tommy. Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading, Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Extra Credit.

Holm, Jennifer L. and Matthew. Squish, BabyMouse (More graphic novels)

Ignatow, Amy. The Popularity Papers. 

Kloepfer, John. The Zombie Chasers. (Pictures, but not handdrawn script.)

Kowitt, Holly. The Loser List, The Loser List: Revenge of the Loser.

Mellom, Robin. The Classroom.  

Moss, Marissa. Amelia.


Peirce, Lincoln. Big Nate: In a Class By Himself, Big Nate Strikes Again, Big Nate on a Roll, Big Nate Goes For Broke, also Big Nate comic books.

Patterson, James and Tebbets, Chris. Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, Middle School: Get Me Out of Here.

Russell, Rachel Renee. The Dork Diaries. 

Shreve, Steve. Stan and the Toilet Monster.
Skye, Obert. Wonkenstein: The Creature From My Closet.

Tashjian, Janet. My Life as a Book, My Life as a Skater Stunt Boy.

Vernon, Ursula. Dragonbreath.

A Blogtastic! NewsletterA nice list of various funny books that are not necessarily notebook novels from The Salt Lake County Library Services can be found HERE.

Big Nate from
Zombie from
Dragonbreath from
Charlie Joe from
Sophia from

Friday, September 21, 2012

Guy Friday: Monster Horror

Stine, R.L. Goosebumps Most Wanted: Planet of the Lawn Gnomes. 
1 October 2012, ARC from
Reviewed at Young Adult Books Central

Jay is not a particularly good kid. He's really mean to Mr. McClatchy, his new neighbor, playing small tricks on him like leaning a ladder up against his house and putting trash in his mail box. His dad has little patience with him, since we find out later in the book that Jay's behavior is what caused the family to have to move. Jay is kept on kind of a tight leash, but keeps getting in trouble. He meets Elliot and befriends him, but the two end up in quick sand, barely surviving, especially after they are also attacked my evil birds who carry off Jay's dog, Mr. Phineas, who ends up being returned only to vomit on Mr. McClatchey's porch. It seems like Jay just can't stay out of trouble, and he starts to notice that every time he is doing something he shouldn't, he see lawn gnomes "watching" him. They seem to be all over the neighborhood, and even though they are too heavy for Jay to move, appear in different places all the time. Between the birds and the gnomes, it's hard for Jay and Elliot to stay safe, especially since Jay insists on going out... at night. There is a rather scary, sci-fi twist at the end that I don't want to spoil.
Strengths: I always thought that Goosebumps books were for younger students, but I can see 6th and 7th graders liking this. It's full of gross, gory stuff that isn't that frightening because kids know that the likelihood of being attacked by lawn gnomes is pretty slim.
Weaknesses: I thought the twist at the end made the book less scary, somehow. These aren't great literature, but will definitely appeal to readers who like scary books.

Professor Gargoyle (Tales from Lovecraft Middle School, #1)
Gilman, Charles. Professor Gargoyle: Tales From Lovecraft Middle School #1
25 September 2012, Quirk Books. ARC from Publisher.

Robert isn't thrilled that he is redistricted to the brand new Lovecraft Middle School, especially when his arch nemesis Glenn also ends up there. While the building is state-of-the-art, there are some weird things in it, like giant rats infesting the lockers and a spooky, cobweb filled attic near the library where Robert finds a two headed rat that he calls Pip and Squeak. When Professor Goyle, his science teacher, finds out that Robert has the rat, Robert starts to wonder what is going on in the school. He and Glenn decide to work together, and with the help of Karina, they discover that the school was built on the site of Tillinghast Mansion, where a mad scientist and several families came to a gruesome end in an explosion. The odd happenings also come in to play when twins Sarah and Sylvia are missing but then return... or DO they? The next book in the series, The Slither Sisters, comes out in January 2013. Book trailer can be found here:
Strengths: This has a really cool lenticular cover, which made me wonder where my copy of Thumbelina was. This causes some processing problems, but will certainly make this a book that students will pick up! The story is somewhat similar to the Goosebumps series-- unlikely monsters are terrorizing students. Interior illustrations are okay, and middle school students do like series.
Weaknesses: The cover should not be the best part of a book.

Some other books I looked at that I don't think would circulate well at my library, no matter how good they are: Angela Johnson's A Certain October has the same problem that her other books do-- there is a disconnect between the content (more YA problems and less action) and the format, which makes the book look very young. Just can't get anyone to read these. Nix's A Confusion of Princes would be great if I had the fantasy readers I once had, but I just don't. Mister Monday has been gathering dust. Legrand's The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls has gotten the most fabulous reviews for being a horror book, but it gets off to a slow start, and is more along the lines of Lemony Snicket. I've finally had a drop in students requesting those, and the read-alikes are staying on the shelves, too, so I'll have to pass. Zettel's Dust Girl was very intriguing, but I can't even get girls to check out  Need this year; fairies are a tough sell to my group.

My students are definitely wanting more realistic fiction, especially stuff that is funny or sports related (even the girls; the Pretty Tough series is flying off the shelves). Oddly, the only fantasy they've been requesting has been monsters, and the new R.L. Stine has a waiting list. Well, and "books like The Hunger Games". Drat. I have sucha great vampire collection now, fickle children!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Violins of Autumn, The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall

Violins of AutumnMcAuley, Amy. The Violins of Autumn.
19 June 2012, Walker Children's

Betty is living in England with an aunt's family after the tragic death of her mother and brother, and is approached to be a spy because of her fluency in French and German. Soon, she is Adele, and parachuting into Nazi-occupied France to work with the Resistance. With her is Denise, who operates the radio they use to communicate with headquarters. Since the Nazis don't suspect girls to be much trouble, the two are able to add a lot of information to the Resistance-- Adele is taken on a tour of a munitions factory by a German guard, the two go to a party hosted by people sympathetic to the Nazis, and they always manage to escape the round ups and check points. When it seems that there is a double agent in their midst, Adele must work to find out who it is before even more people are killed.
Strengths: This is the best thing I have read for a while. World War II adventure and espionage... from a girl's point of view. I can almost see the appeal of war books for boys after reading this. I've never gotten it before, because I wouldn't want to shoot at people in combat, but I could envision myself as a spy. Adele rides about the country side on a bike... I could SO do that. The details of every day privations and danger are exquisite, and there are two nice romances. One is with Pierre, the tragic French Resistance fighter, and one is with Robbie, an underaged pilot who is rescued by Adele when he is shot down.
Weaknesses: I would have liked a few more historical notes at the back, and perhaps a map.

The Ghost of Crutchfield HallHahn, Mary Downing. The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall.
6 September 2010

In Victorian England, Florence is rescued from life in an orphanage by a great-uncle, who invites her to live at the family's country home. There is a great-aunt as well, but she is mean and prefers Sophia, Florence's cousin who died a year ago. The aunt blames Sophia's brother, James, for the death. Little does the family know how evil Sophia was, and how evil she continues to be while she is haunting Crutchfield Hall. Sophia starts to control Florence, with the intention of killing James, who was involved in Sophia's accidental death by falling off the roof. Can Florence save James and put Sophia's spirit to rest?
Strengths: This was a pleasant, easy read, with just enough creepiness for readers who want a ghost story.
Weaknesses: Nothing terribly new, and dispatching Sophia at the end was rather anticlimactic.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Facets of World War II

Maruno, Jennifer. Cherry Blossom Winter
25 September 2012, Dundurn
ARC from

Michiko's family is struggling during World War II. Since the family was forced to leave Vancouver with the Japanese relocation, they have tried to make a new life, but it is difficult. Her mother does sewing occasionally, her father works in a drugstore, and there has been a school set up for the children. Although they are lacking electricity and books, they have the famous baseball player Kaz Katsumoto as a teacher, and he tries to rally the students together as a team. Many of the non Japanese neighbors are sympathetic and try to help them, including Mrs. Morrison, who is kindly even after her husband is missing in action. Things get progressively worse-- Michiko's grandfather passes away, her mother is pregnant, and her aunt Sadie hopes to get married, which means that if the family has to go back to Japan, she won't come with them. Michiko finds a situation on a farm for the family, and the birth of her sister Hana gives the family new hope.
Strengths: The Japanese relocation is a topic that has only gotten coverage in recent years, so it is interesting to read more on it. There is a first book in the series that I missed, When the Cherry Blossoms Fell.
Weaknesses: This is very similar to the books I have read about this historical period.

Gleitzman, Morris. Now.
5 June 2012, Henry Holt

This sequel to Once and Now takes place in 2009. Fritz, now aged 80, has retired from an illustrious career as a surgeon and is watching his granddaughter Zelda at his Australian home while her parents are off working for Doctors Without Borders. She is having trouble fitting in at school, and is being bullied. She loves her grandfather and tries to make his life better, but her impetuosity gets the better of her. She knows most of the story of Zelda and hopes to be brave like she was, but doesn't feel up to it most of the time. When a horrible fire strikes her area (a fire which she is afraid she caused), Fritz and Zelda must work together to survive, just as Fritz had to work with Zelda's namesake.
Strengths: There are not a lot of books set in Australia, and certainly not many that deal with the problems of wildfires. Zelda's relationship with her grandfather is charming, and it is a nice ending to the series to see that Fritz spent many happy years after his horrible experience during the war.
Weaknesses: While this is an interesting conclusion to the series, this would not be useful to students who need to read a book about the Holocaust.

Myra from Gathering Books asked on Monday what separates young adult from middle grade. I'm sure that there have been entire PhD theses written on this topic, but there are a couple of ways I can tell quickly. The first is PRINT. YA books seem to be written in the tiniest print imaginable, and this is often a deal breaker for middle grade students. The age of the protagonist doesn't necessarily matter, but the tone of the book does. Deeply introspective and slow moving? YA. More action oriented with less navel-gazing? MG. Topic can matter, but it depends on the treatment. Are there a lot of cuss words, graphic descriptions of sexual activity, and then a lot of talking about the problem? YA. Circumspect descriptions, and more attention paid to what is done to alleviate the problem? MG. Middle Grade also tends to focus on characters establishing a personal identity, while YA is more concerned with the place in the world that the character is establishing. YA does seem to be a bit darker, both is topic and in the covers.

Don't know if this helps or further muddies the pond!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Seconds Away and The Fear

Seconds Away (Mickey Bolitar #2)
Coben, Harlan. Seconds Away: A Mickey Bolitar Novel
18 September 2012, Putnam Juvenile ARC from Baker and Taylor

This sequel to Shelter finds Mickey, Ema and Spoon barely recuperated from their adventure when they are plunged into another mystery-- Rachel, with whom Mickey has just become friends, is shot and her mother is killed. When Mickey visits her, he finds an Abeona Shelter butterfly on her door, but also thinks that Chief Taylor is covering up Rachel's father's drug dealing. Spoon's enthusiasm for investigating, as well as his ability to break into the school comes in handy when the group investigates, but things become even more complicated. Mickey, at the suggestion of the Bat Lady, thinks that his father may still be alive, but comes to realize that the EMT he saw at his father's accident was not really a Nazi guard, as the Bat Lady would have him believe. When the Bat Lady's house is burnt down, Mickey finds a variety of pictures there, deepening his confusion and his interest in the Abeona Shelter. He finds out some secrets about Ema's life, and does manage to unravel the mystery surrounding Rachel's shooting. He also makes the basketball team, gets kicked off because he has run afoul of the law, gets back on the team, and is set to head to California with his uncle to make sure that his father is actually interred in his grave. Another sequel sure to be coming.
Strengths: Never, ever dull! Lots of things are happening, but I was still able to follow what was going on. The characters get fleshed out a little more, although Spoon didn't get the attention he deserved. Again, Coben really has a handle on what boys want in a mystery. Can't wait for the next one!
Weaknesses: A few too many story lines. I know that the Abeona Shelter is the one that will weave through all of the books, but for some reason I find this one confusing and thought that Rachel's mystery alone could have carried this one. Still, great stuff!

The Fear (Enemy, #3)Higson, Charlie. The Fear.
12 June 2012, Hyperion Books for Children

Sequel to  The Enemy and The Dead. The zombie plague is still affecting the adults over the age of 16, and some of them manage to stay alive by eating children in graphically described disgusting ways. DogNut's group is pretty safe and secure inside the Tower of London, but some of the children want to venture out to see if they can find friends and relatives they lost. After taking a boat down the Thames, the group runs into other groups of children, as well as plenty of sickos. DogNut doesn't really want to stay at Buckingham Palace with David, who is a little too fond of the power he has now, nor does he want to stay with Brooke at the Natural History Museum. Traipsing around town leads to the gruesome death of several of the children, and the book ends with more sickos being unleashed.
Strengths: Best zombie books ever. Blood, gore, you name it. PLUS, kids get to be in charge of great London landmarks like the Houses of Parliament.
Weaknesses: I had trouble keeping all of the characters straight, and didn't really care because I figured they would all be dead soon. Also, the kids spoke in fractured English that I don't remember from the other books. There was also a long riff by one of the girls about how fat she was. Really? You're living in the Tower of London and trying to save everyone from flesh eating zombies, and you're worried about whether the boys will like you because your butt is too big? I think I zoned out after that. Somewhat disappointed-- I really liked the other books. At least one more to come.

Cybils Middle Grade Fiction Panels

Whew! We can finally announce the Cybils panels. Little did I know how hard it would be to get the right balance between old and new, librarian, teacher and parents, etc. etc. I felt bad when I couldn't have everyone who applied on the panel, especially when I put myself on-- I couldn't see running the shebang if I weren't on the panel.

Can't wait to see what books are nominated!

Round One:
Kyle Kimmel 

Jill of Owl Reads

Amy Koester

Karen Yingling

Ali Breidenstein 

Deb Marshall

Art Spencer

Round Two:
Michael Gettel-Gilmartin

Jennifer Donovan

Cameron Kelly Rosenblum

Andi Sibley

Freya Hooper