Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween! The Lure of the Dead

Happy Halloween! Here's a question for school librarians out there: I deliver a three minute lesson to most of the language arts classes during their weekly visits. I've covered plagiarism, internet safety, genre, book care, the newspaper, blogs, reference resources, and several other topics this year, but want something new and exciting, especially  since I give the same lesson to all three grades. Any ideas for something fun that I can cover in no more than five minutes without an LCD projector?

Delaney, Joseph. The Lure of the Dead. (Last Apprentice #10)
21 August 2012, HarperCollins

Tom Ward and the John Gregory, the Spook, are back after Grimalkin: The Witch Assassin, trying to repair the damage to their house while making sure the Fiend's head stays hidden so he can't come back and give them trouble. Tom finds out that he is essential to doing away with the Fiend permanently; it will just take getting possession of three powerful knives, one of which Alice must retrieve from the dark. The problem? Tom will then be required to sacrifice Alice with the very knife she brings back. He wants to avoid telling anyone this, however, so he and the Spook concentrate on rebuilding their library. They have been given the name of a Romanian woman, Cosmina Fresque, who is willing to sell some of her books in order to fix up the house she inherited. The two travel there and look at the books, finding the dangerous grimoire Doomdryte as well as a book by a former apprentice. But, as it often is in this world, Madame Fresque is not all that she seems, and danger is lurking around every corner. It will take Tom, the Spook, Judd, Alice, Grimalkin and many other characters, alive and dead, from the past to keep the Fiend at bay. And this isn't the last book! Slither's Tale, book eleven, comes out in January of 2013!
Strengths: I do not like violent, gory books, but I love these! In between the action and killing monsters with pikes through their hearts, they are deeply philosophical about the nature of good and evil, and I just can't stop reading them! The relationships are always intriguing-- the Spook and Tom, Tom and Alice, even Alice and his mother, the Lamia-- all have such depth and interest. Then there is always the question of whether the Fiend will escape, and more importantly, will characters go to the Dark. It takes a really good series to hold my attention for ten books and keep me wanting more!
Weaknesses: I don't think book 11 will be the last, and any series over 12 books really tries my patience, even if it is awesome. I do want to see the movie when it comes out, although it's probably too scary for my tastes!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Science Fiction on Tuesday

Eve and AdamGrant, Michael and Applegate, Katherine. Eve and Adam
2 October 2012, Feiwel and Friends
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Eve is in a terrible car accident and is transferred from the hospital to her mother's medical lab, Spiker Biopharmeceuticals, to recuperate. There, she meets Solo, who is being raised at the lab after the death of his parents. She also has her friend, Aislin, in to visit a lot. Eve's mother is very controlling and not happy at all about Aislin, who has a drug dealing boyfriend who puts her in danger. To keep her occupied while recuperating, Eve's mother lets her "play" with software that is being developed to engineer a perfect human being. Eve spends a lot of time designing Adam to her specifications, but also gets to know Solo pretty well. When Aislin arrives back at Spiker after her boyfriend has been beaten up by thugs to whom he owes money, Eve's protected world starts to disintegrate. She realizes that she is a product of her mother's experimentation, runs away, and her mother "decants" Adam to lure her back. While the living, breathing Adam is everything that Eve wants in theory, she begins to realize that perfect isn't always what we want. A sequel is planned.
Strengths: I'm usually confused by chapters in alternating voices, but this was well delineated and made sense. I liked the biotechnology element, and this was an amusing and well paced science fiction thriller. The MOST impressive thing was that Picky Reader loved it. Since she also liked Price's Starters and is deep into Cohn's Beta, we decided that she might actually like science fiction. Maybe she'll read the autographed Animorphs book that Ms. Applegate was kind enough to send me for my older children!
Weaknesses: This is more YA, but okay for upper middle grades. There are some jokes and allusions to sex, and "slut" and "bitch" thrown around a bit, but it wasn't too bad. I thought the ending was a bit abrupt, especially since some of the issues could have been worked out in the sequel. I know the mother had to be evil, but it's never my favorite thing.

Rain And Fire: A Guide To The Last Dragon ChroniclesD'Lacey, Chris and Jay. Rain and Fire: A Companion to the Last Dragon Chronicles.
1 October 2012, Scholastic
Hardcover copy from YABC and reviewed there.

This companion to the series that begins with The Fire Within and goes for seven books is an odd assortment of recaps of the different books, explanations of the mythology used, lists of characters and terms used, and biographical information written by the author's wife about how he came to write the books. This struck me, as The Fire Within did, as a particularly English book, much like the Jacqueline Wilson autobiography/memoir that I brought back from Ireland for Picky Reader. I am not entirely sure that US students want to know this much information about the authors of books, but there has been an odd resurgence in the popularity of these titles in my library, so we'll see. I did find that I need to purchase two more volumes of the series which I have somehow missed, and that I was absolutely correct that the first book is really about squirrels and that the US edition was very wrongly reset in Boston!

Hope that everyone is staying safe and warm-- the worst we have gotten in Ohio is a lot of high winds and some light dusting of snow. Got book fair wrapped up, have the library lesson on the newspaper this week. Feel oddly caught up, although I am sure that that will end quickly!

NB: If you are a language arts teacher and for years have assigned students to create a newspaper based on a book, you might want to think about showing them an actual newspaper first. About 3% of my students admit to reading the paper regularly. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Middle Grade Monday-- The War in Afghanistan

Kids of Kabul: Living Bravely Through a Never-ending WarEllis, Deborah. Kids of Kabul: Living Bravely Through a Never-Ending War
15 May 2012, Groundwood Books
Hardcover copy from YABC and reviewed there.

Since 2000, Deborah Ellis has spent a lot of time trying to help the children in the war torn country of Afghanistan. Royalty money from her wonderful The Breadwinner goes to the Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan and Street Kids International funds, and she has continued her research into the plight of these children in this new nonfiction book.In short chapters, a number of preteens and teens are interviewed about their lives. Each chapter starts with a bit of information about one facet of life in Afghanistan. Many of the children are fatherless, and some are homeless, but all want to improve their lives by working hard. This is an important message for children in the US, who do not fully understand how fortunate they are to have educational opportunities.
Strengths: Ellis has a very good eye for what interests young people. Our sixth grade students have a unit study of The Breadwinner, and this is an excellent companion volume. In fact, I may start reading one of the stories aloud every day to my study hall students!
Weaknesses: Many of the pictures of the children interviewed head shots; while there are some photos of the places where they live and study, I think it would have been more powerful to get pictures of them where they live. There are a few, but US children don't really have any frame of reference for what things are like in Afghanistan.

The Breadwinner TrilogyEllis, Deborah. The Breadwinner Trilogy.
25 August 2009, Groundwood Books.

This series is used in our 6th grade language arts classes, and the copies we have of The Breadwinner are from Scholastic. I didn't know that Groundwood put out this collection, but the books are so short that it is nice to see them all together. If, for some reason, you have missed this series, take a look at this collection. From the publisher:
The Breadwinner is set in Afghanistan, where 11-year-old Parvana lives with her family in a bombed-out apartment building in Kabul. When her father is arrested for the crime of having a foreign education, the family is left with no money or resources. Forbidden to earn money as a girl, Parvana must transform herself into a boy and become the breadwinner. In Parvana's Journey, her father has died and the family has scattered. Parvana, now 13 years old, is determined to find them. Again masquerading as a boy, she joins a group of wandering children, all refugees from war, who exist mainly on courage. In Mud City, the focus shifts to 14-year-old Shauzia, who lives in the Widows' Compound in Pakistan and dreams of escaping to a new life in France. 

My Name Is ParvanaEllis, Deborah. My Name is Parvana.
1 September 2012, Groundwood Books
ARC from YA Books Central

Parvana has been taken in by the US military police under suspicion of bombing a school. She refuses to talk to them, even though her English is very good, because she no longer trusts anyone. In flashbacks alternating with the present day, we learn what has happened to Parvana since the events of The Breadwinner. Her mother has been running a school for girls that is under constant threat, her older sister is sent to college in the US, and she has hope for the future that things will get better in her country. The soldiers are not overly cruel, but clearly want to find out what happened to her school, and why Parvana was in the wrong place and the wrong time.
Strengths: It was good to visit with Parvana again, even though her life is still very much affected by the war. She and her mother have been trying to make things better in the only way they know how, and Ellis very ably and touchingly describes their struggle. I always thought that this was a great book for 6th graders to read together, and they actually LIKE the assignment! It's good to see that the book has had a more wide-ranging effect than I knew!
Weaknesses: I found the alternating chapters to be a bit distracting, and thought it made the story harder to follow even though I could see that Ellis was doing this to build more suspense. . Obviously, we need to start with Parvana in custody, but a flashback and more linear trip to the present would make it easier to follow. Small quibble for such a good book.

Dear Blue SkySullivan, Mary. Dear Blue Sky.
2 August 2012, Nancy Paulsen Books
Nominated for the Cybils by Amy.

In 2006, Cassie's brother Sef is going to Afghanistan, despite her mother's objections to the war. Cassie's father is all for the fighting, her sister Van is too caught up in her own teenage drama to care much, and her brother Jack doesn't quite understand all of the details of Sef's deployment because he is nine and has Down's Syndrome. When Cassie has a school project to follow a blog about current events, she happens upon one written by an Afghani girl her age who goes by the name Blue Sky. Cassies finds out how bad things are for the people of that country, and starts to realize that the US military is not always thought to be the good guy... or behaving that way. She then worries about her brother's safety AND whether or not he is doing the right thing by being there, as well as worrying about her father's job, her mother's drinking, her parents' relationship, Jack, and the social dynamics of middle school. Of course, all the while, Cassie realizes that while things may be tough in her world, they are even tougher in Blue Sky's Afghanistan.
Strengths: This was very well done both in dealing with how Cassie feel's about everything going on in her life, but also in how Sef's deployment is not black and white. Blue Sky's posts seem very realistic, and the correspondence between Cassie and Blue Sky is thought provoking.
Weaknesses: One of Cassie's classes is studying The Giver, and a lot of references are made to this. While this book is frequently studied in classes, references to it slowed down the story for me and would be confusing to someone who has not read that book.

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

Sunday, October 28, 2012

One Year in Coal Harbor

Horvath, Polly. One Year in Coal Harbor.
11 September 2012, Schawartz and Wade.
Nominated for the Cybils by Lackywanna

Primrose Squarp is back, and so are her parents, after being missing for a while during Everything on a Waffle (2001). She is settling back in with her parents, trying to arrange her Uncle Jack's romance for him, and hanging out with her former foster parents, Bert and Evie, whose dog Quincehead just passed away. Feeling lonely, they agree to take in another foster child, Ked, with whom Primrose gets along famously. When nearby Mendolay Mountain is in danger of being strip mined, the community rallies to try to stop it, and even Miss Bowzer helps the "hippies" who show up to protest. Ked runs into some troubles, and his father comes to get him at one point. In the end, Primrose manages to get everything in her small town squared away to her satisfaction.
Strengths: Even though her parents are back, Primrose is given a lot of freedom, and both the sense of community and place in the book is strong.
Weaknesses: The first book hasn't left the shelf in my library for four years, so I'm wondering about the interest in a sequel. It doesn't help that the cover art on the new book doesn't look anything like the first.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Letters to Leo

Letters to Leo

Hest, Amy and Julia Denos. Letters to Leo.
27 March 2012, Candlewick
Nominated for the Cybils by Linda Baie

Annie is glad that she has a new puppy, and she's bound and determined that he will be a good dog for her father, who is a bit less than thrilled. Since Annie likes to write a lot, she writes advice, poems, etc. to Leo in order to make sense of her fourth grade year. Her teacher is a little mean (and expecting a baby) and not nearly as nice as her teacher last year, Ms. Meadows, whom she hopes will be interested in her father, since her mother has passed away. Her friend Jean-Marie moves to New Jersey, she gets to meet a famous author, and she is worried that her father is lonely despite her and Leo. Annie makes is through the fourth grade and is ready for a summer at the family's cottage... and a visit from Ms. Meadows.
Strengths: Loved the illustrations of Leo-- super cute! Amy's voice is authentic and her concerns will speak to younger students. This is sort of a modern day B is for Betsy.
Weaknesses: The artifice of writing to the dog wears thin.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Guy Friday-- A Boy and His Dog

Wild LifeDeFelice, Cynthia. Wild Life.
10 May 2011, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Copy From Scholastic Book Fairs

Just when Erik has gotten his hunting license and is planning an outing with his best friend, his parents (who are in the reserves) are called up for active duty. Their parenting plan is to send Erik to his mother's parents in North Dakota, so before he can blink, Erik is on a plane to stay with Oma and Big Darrell. They live very far out in the country and don't even have a computer or cell phone service! His grandmother is nice, but Big Darrell is gruff and strict. When Erik rescues a dog who was attacked by a porcupine, his grandfather forbids him from keeping it. This probably has something to do with his mother's brother, who died in Vietnam, but Erik is upset enough that he decides to take the dog, whom he names Quill, and live off the land instead of staying with his grandparents. This is not as successful as he thinks it will be, but when he comes home three days later, he finds his grandfather a changed man.
Strengths: Decent survival story that a lot of boys will like. I'll definitely be suggesting this to students at the book fair, which is delivered today!
Weaknesses: The book is set in 2011, Erik is 12, his uncle died 34 years ago when his mother was 14. This math distracted me because it only barely worked. Were soldiers still being killed in Vietnam in 1977? The mother would have been born in 1963 and had Erik at 36-- okay. I liked the survival part but could have done without the grandparents still not being over their son's death.

FourmileKey, Watt. Fourmile.
18 September 2012, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Nominated for the Cybils by DLacks

Foster is still struggling with the death of his father, and is irritated that his mother is dating the volatile and unpleasant Dax. Dax is cruel to his dog Joe, rude to Foster, and controlling with his mother. The farm needs to be sold because they can no longer keep up with the work, and Dax is no help at all. One day, Foster meets Gary, who is walking across the US to get to Texas. He stays the night in the barn and starts to help out around the farm in exchange for being able to sleep in the barn. He won't tell Foster why he is walking to Texas, only that he was in the special forces in Iraq, but he is a huge help with the work around the farm, and also with helping Foster work through his grief about his father. When Foster's mother breaks up with Dax and Dax starts to threaten the family, Gary is an even bigger help. Foster knows that he and his mother will eventually have to move to the city to be with his grandfather, and that Gary will leave, but for a while, he needs to be at Fourmile Farm to work through things.
Strengths: Boys hit a developmental stage about half way through 8th grade when they LOVE to read problem novels. Rottman's Stetson, Alex Flinn's work, anything with boys facing challenges. This was absolutely perfect. Problems, but a ton of suspense, and nothing sappy. It reminded me a lot of Shane, which I still love.  I can see this being a great book to hand to boys who have read Green's Unstoppable, which really is more problems than football. I am definitely ordering this one and checking out Alabama Moon.
Weaknesses: There are some words at the beginning of the book that made me pause (pansy-ass), but these didn't continue. There is the death of a dog and some violence, so I think 5th graders and below would have trouble with this.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Mystery Thursday: The Homemade Stuffing Caper

The Homemade Stuffing Caper: Charlie Collier, Snoop for Hire Madormo, John V. The Homemade Stuffing Caper: Charlie Collier, Snoop for Hire
10 May 2012, Philomel

Charlie is a huge fan of fictional detective Sam Solomon, and prizes his collection of dusty novels about his cases. He tries to emulate him by setting up a detective business in his garage with his friend Henry, and advertises himself as a "snoop for hire" . When birds around his neighborhood start to go missing, a classmate contacts him, but things quickly get much bigger than that. It turns out that Charlie's grandmother was a cryptologist for the government during WWII, and she lets him in on a secret about the mild mannered library volunteer Eugene-- he also worked in the secret service and now runs a detective agency. He realizes that the bird kidnapping is more signifigant than Charlie suspects, and helps him out when things get a bit dicey. Is Charlie up to a real case?
Strengths: Quite honestly, I was expecting a film noir train wreck with this, and was pleasantly surprised. Solid mystery, and while there isn't the death and dismemberment that middle graders seem to want these days, there is some danger and suspense. Charlie is described as overweight, but this doesn't come into play in the story very much.
Weaknesses: My mother, who is 78, was ten when WWII started, so I'm thinking the grandmother and Eugene have to be about 90. Had they been portrayed as part of the Cold War secret service, that might have been better.  It's great that Charlie is inspired by a book, but since this is like Encyclopedia Brown in middle school, it would have been fun to at least mention Donald Sobol's work.

In the middle of book fair, but it's not as much fun to have it only during conferences. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dork Diaries

Tales from a Not-So-Graceful Ice Princess (Dork Diaries, #4)Russell, Rachel Renee. Dork Diaries: Tales From A Not-So-Graceful Ice Princess.
5 June 2012, Aladdin.
Nominated for the Cybils by Gwendolyn Hooks

Nikki's school, Westchester Country Day,  is studying ice skating in gym so that students can participate in the Holiday on Ice charity show. Nikki signs up with her friends Chloe and Zoey in hopes that they can beat the awful MacKenzie. The only problem? Nikki can't skate. This is an even bigger problem when she chooses Fuzzy Friends as her charity-- and her crush Brandon has a big stake in that, because it is run by his grandparents, and if the animal shelter has to close, he might have to move. Nikki has other problems, like her goofy parents and annoying sister, having to read Moby Dick in school and do a project on it, and of course, figuring out whether or not Brandon really likes her. When MacKenzie sabotages Nikki's act for the ice show, will she be able to survive? Apparently, because Tales from a Not-So-Smart Miss Know-It-All came out on October 2nd.
Strengths: This is what 6th grade girls mean when they want to read about romance, and reluctant readers zip through these because the pictures delude them into thinking that there isn't as much text. Very popular.
Weaknesses: Strained my credulity on several counts-- ice skating for gym? Moby Dick? I also wanted to slap Nikki just a tiny bit for being shallow. At least she's not as annoying as Wimpy Kid.

Tales from a Not-So-Smart Miss Know-It-All (Dork Diaries, #5)And, of course, we can all Dork ourselves.

Tales from a Not-So-Smart Miss Know-It-All came out on 2 October. I had to read it super quickly because there was a huge line of girls waiting for it, so description below from the publisher.
"Nikki Maxwell develops a sudden interest in student journalism that may or may not (okay, definitely does) have to do with the fact that mean girl Mackenzie has started writing a gossip column. And there just might be some juicy info involving Nikki’s crush, Brandon, that Nikki doesn’t want Mackenzie reporting to the world. So Nikki joins the school newspaper staff—and ends up as an advice columnist! It’s fun at first, answering other kids’ letters. But when Miss Know-It-All’s inbox is suddenly overflowing with pleas for guidance, Nikki feels in need of some help herself. Fortunately she has BFFs Chloe and Zoey on her side—and at her keyboard!"

Please report in if your school has 1.) a school newspaper and 2.) the newspaper has a gossip column. I know longer believe that this happens anywhere except in middle grade fiction books!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Awesome Boy Science Fiction/Fantasy Books!!!

The Cloak Society
Kraatz, Jeramey. The Cloak Society.
2 October 2012, Harper Collins.

Alex is a junior member of the villainous Cloak society, so for his 12th birthday, he and the other Betas (young members) participate in robbing a bank. Alex is supposed to use his telekinesis to open a bank vault door, but fellow team members Mallory and Titan have to take over when he can't. He also makes the super villain faux pas of saving a member of the Junior Rangers, Kirbie, when she is almost killed by a flying fire hydrant.  He doesn't know why he would do such a thing, other than it seemed like the right thing to do.  Cloak is ramping up their activity and have plans to attack Sterling City and take down the Rangers, but Alex isn't really sure what the plan is after they are successful, and starts to doubt the motives of his group, which means doubting even his mother. He arranges to meet Kirbie, and discusses his doubts with her. He rather likes her, and can see her in color instead of in the constant blue glow that his super powers give him, so he is angry when Cloak kidnaps her and his mother reads Kirbie's minds in order to use her knowledge to give Cloak the advantage. This knowledge does give the group an advantage, but Alex and the other Betas realize that the plan they have is truly evil... and maybe they aren't. Things end badly for everyone, which in this case hopefully means A SEQUEL!!!
Strengths: When I get something really fabulous, I frequently have a hard time explaining it. This was awesome. I loved the snarky tone (the first paragraph is the funniest one I've seen since Sonnenblick's Notes from the Midnight Driver), the brilliantly reasoned explanation for the Cloak's powers, and Alex's struggle to do what is right despite the way he had been raised. The cover promises action and the book delivers that and so much more. Really, really liked!
Weaknesses: The logo on Alex's shirt looks like Darth Vader. And we have another really evil mother, which always distresses me.

11115434Kincaid, S. J. Insignia
10 July 2012, Katherine Tegen Books.

In a future where wars are fought off-planet by gamers funded by corporations, Tom has lived near casinos with his gambling and alcohol addicted father for years, rarely checking into his virtual school, but spending lots of time playing VR games. He comes to the attention of the military and is given the opportunity to go into military training. Eager to escape life with his father, he agrees, only to find out that a condition of his acceptance is having a neural processor implanted in his brain. He's a little leery of the device, as well as of how he has been manipulated, but agrees and becomes part computer. With the help of fellow students Vik and Wyatt, he is able to get used to his new skills and put up with the inevitable bullies. Things get a bit dicey when his quasi step-father appears on the scene and infects his system with a virus that makes him like the man and his corporation, but Wyatt eventually puts that right. Even trickier is Tom's virtual relationship with Medusa, the top fighter from the other side to whom Tom is inexplicably drawn. There are (virtual) battle scenes aplenty, and a second book on the way.
Strengths: Another really great book! Fans of Ender's Game or Falkner's Brain Jack (or even Divergent) will adore this. First off, Sammy Yuen should be hired to design just about every middle grade SFF cover.
Weaknesses: While I really liked the beginning where Tom was in the casinos, this might not speak as well to boys who like SFF. It will, however, draw in more high schoolers, so it's okay. This took me a LONG time to read, but that was probably because I was really enjoying it and wasn't willing to rush through.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Middle Grade Monday-- Military Service Dogs

Semper Fido (Dog Tags #1)London, C. Alexander. Semper Fido (Dog Tags #1)
Publication date given as May 2013; paperbacks available in Scholastic Book Fairs now! (With the book listed below, for $9.99)

Gus has enlisted in the Marines against the wishes of his mother, since his father abandoned the family after a tour in the military. He ends up training dogs at Lackland Air Force base and is assigned Loki, a a dog who has already been in Afghanistan but whose handler was killed.Because Gus works so hard with Loki, they are sent back very quickly, since there is a shortage of dogs who can detect bombs, and many of the units are being sabotaged by these during their patrols. Gus wants to do a good job, stay alive, and be a hero in his younger brother's eyes, so he works hard and tries to distance himself emotionally a bit from Loki.The pair do a good job, saving the unit a couple of times, but it is war, and there are deaths and injuries. Luckily, their training keeps them working and alive, and keeping most of the Marines they are attached to safe.
Strengths: This is exactly what my students want. There is a good balance between the philosophical difficulties of war and the action, and the addition of the dog units is nothing short of brilliant. Very realistic, too-- when the 8th grade went to D.C. last spring, we saw a dog demonstration at Quantico that was exactly as described. Brilliant.
Weaknesses: Agh! Not available in hardcover or prebind!!! No! I need two copies right now. Drat.

Strays (Dog Tags #2)London, C. Alexander. Strays (Dog Tags #2)

Chuck keeps reupping to stay in Vietnam to be with Ajax, the dog who saved his life. During the 1960s, there was concern that dogs would bring back diseases from the jungle, so the dogs were either given to the Vietnamese or put down when they were done serving, and Gus has promised Ajax he won't leave him. He moves from unit to unit, but at the end of the war, he is with a group of guys with whom he is especially close. Double O is from New York City, and is worried about going back to prejudice against blacks in the states. Billy and Doc just want to survive their tours. When Chuck finds out that the canine unit is going to be disbanded and Ajax will most likely be put down, he hears of a dog sanctuary run by a French farmer and decides to go AWOL in order to deliver Ajax there. Despite the dangers, the three men decide to go with him. They face many dangers, including a town full of wounded Vietnamese dissenters under the care of a school teacher who are attacked by the ARNV. Ajax saves the day, and Gus makes the difficult decision to leave the dog with the teacher and her son.
Strengths: Again, awesome books that my boys will adore. Good friendships, close bond with dog, action. The history of the dog unit during this era was something I had never heard. I cried at the end. Cried.
Weaknesses: Starting the book with a ping pong game didn't quite work for me. I felt that there was something about the importance of ping pong to soldiers during Vietnam that I wasn't getting, especially since it seemed to be a motif. Nit picky, though.

Dogs on Duty: Soldiers' Best Friends on the Battlefield and BeyondPatent, Dorothy Hinshaw. Dogs on Duty: Soldier's Best Friends on the Battle and Beyond.
4 September 2012, Walker
Copy received from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

This short (48 page) book is as complete a coverage of Military Working Dogs (MWDs) as I have seen. It goes back as far as WWI in its history of military dogs, talking about how families donated their dogs during WWII and does address how dogs during Vietnam were considered "equipment" and were left behind or euthanized. Noteworthy dogs from many eras are highlighted, and the book is well illustrated with photographs throughout. For the modern era, the training that dogs receive from puppyhood onward is described in great detail, as is the training of their handlers. Specialized Search Dog training is addressed (for dogs who can locate bombs), and the equipment that dogs wear is described. Further resources, a glossary, and index are included. This is an excellent resource, as well as an interesting book that many readers interested in either the military or in dogs will find very informative.

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

Dysfunctional U.S. Families

Applewhites at Wit's End (Applewhites Family, #2)
Tolan, Stephanie. The Applewhites at Wit's End.
8 May 2012, HarperCollins
Nominated for the Cybils by Melissa at One Librarian's Book Reviews

This sequel to Surviving the Applewhites (2002) focuses more on the eccentric family living at Wit's End rather than on Jake, the boy who ends up being fostered by them. The family is having monetary problems, and decides to solve them by having a summer camp for creative children. They manage to get a few children to come, but they turn out to be spoiled, demanding, and interested in following their own programs. E.D. and Jake end up in charge as the parents and various relatives are conspicuously absent for most of the book. There are problems galore, but the major one is a state inspector who threatens to shut down the camp for code violations, which is no surprise, since nothing seems to be organized. Eventually, the adults pull together to save the farm, after the children avert the most pressing danger.
Strengths: This is "kids saving the day" mixed with "quirky dysfunctional" at its finest. Readers who like Southern fiction and artistic characters will be satisfied with this series, which leaves room for a third book.
Weaknesses: This has not been a title that circulated well at my library. At one point, I think Tolan lived in the Columbus area and may even have done an author visit, because we have quite a collection of her work.

The Five Lives of Our Cat ZookRocklin, Joanne. The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook
1 April 2012, Harry Abrams
Nominated for the Cybils by Laura Purdie Salas

Oona and her brother Fred are still coping with the death of their father from cancer a few years ago when their cat, Zook (short for zucchini) starts to have problems with kidney failure. In order to help Fred, Oona starts to tell him stories about the different lives the cat has had, just like their father used to tell stories to them. The two are also dealing with the fact that their mother is dating a man they don't like. Dylan is a male nurse, and ends up being very helpful in dealing with Zook's treatment, and Oona and Fred get a lot of support from their  close-knit, multicultural Californian neighborhood. Unfortunately, Zook is not going to make it, and the family has to put the cat down. Oona deals with many problems surrounding how she got Zook (she lies quite a bit), problems with friends who become estranged, and with her mother moving on after her father's death.
Strengths: This was a very compelling book, even though I knew that Zook would not have a happy ending. Readers of Rocklin's first book, One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street will enjoy this story as well.
Weaknesses: While this could be used as bibliotherapy for those who have to have a pet put to sleep, not all children will be able to deal with the detailed description of the cat being taken to the vet and euthanized. Rocklin does a very good job of this, and makes it sound like a good thing for Zook, but it is still hard to read. I had a bit of trouble believing that the two children were allowed to roam unaccompanied around their urban neighboorhood and to work dancing in food costumes in front of the local pizza shop. (They are about ten and five.)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Books by the Banks


Man, so bummed. How did I miss this? I guess this is what I get for not paying that much attention to Twitter. Well, if Books by the Banks is held every fall in Cincinnati, my old stomping grounds, I will definitely have to go next year. Anyone else planning on going?

Dysfunctional English Familes

Caddy's World
McKay, Hilary. Caddy's World.
20 March 2012, Margaret K. McElderry Books
Nominated for the Cybils by Jessalynn Gale

In this prequel to the Casson family books, Caddy's family has an even harder time when their mother, Eve, has a baby very early and has to spend time with her in the hospital. Saffy and Indigo are still rather small, and Bill comes home from London to take care of the children. Caddy is having a lot of trouble with her three very best friends as they approach adolescent-- Alison keeps getting in trouble in school, Ruby is approached to take a rigorous academic program because she is very bright, and Beth is concerned that she is outgrowing her pony, so she stops eating. Caddy's father can barely take care of them, and the baby is very ill and requires heart surgery, which prompts Saffy and Indigo to think that the baby will die and need to be buried in the back garden. The friends try to stay together, but change is part of the preteen years, and the girls have to learn to face their problems on their own.
Strengths: The new covers are rather attractive and might reignite interest in this older series (the first book came out in 2001), and long time readers who like problem novels will find the back story of favorite characters enjoyable.
Weaknesses: This is British enough that middle school students unfamiliar with some of the vocabulary and habits might get confused. (Cooking cheese sandwiches on top of beans?)

My Sister Lives On The MantelpiecePitcher, Annabel. My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece.
14 August 2012, Little, Brown
Nominated for the Cybils by Kara Schaff Dean

Jamie's sister, Rose, was killed in a terrorist bombing in London five years ago. While Jamie and Rose's twin, Jasmine, are doing okay, their parents have fallen apart. Their father has taken up drinking, and due to the lack of building work in London, has moved the family to the Lake District where there is work (and also fewer "foreign" people, whom he holds responsible for Rose's death). The mother has chosen not to go with them, since she started having an affair with a man whose wife was killed in the same bombing, and ten-year-old Jamie believes that if he constantly wears the Spider Man shirt she got him, she might come back. When Jamie starts a new school, most of the students are mean to him. Sunya is not, but he can't be friends with her because she is Muslim and wears a hijab. When a minor tragedy strikes the family and the father sees how supportive Sunya is, he starts to come to terms both with his prejudice and with the loss of his daughter.
Strengths: This is one of the few things I have read dealing with the round of terrorist bombings in London that started in 2005. I'm a little surprised there haven't been more middle grade novels dealing with the US bombings on 9/11. This is a good novel for dealing with the aftermath of events that cause racial problems in society.
Weaknesses: VERY depressing. Having read a lot of Jacqueline Wilson books, this one makes me wonder whether British parents are really this dysfunctional, or whether they are very good parents, so their children like to read about problems!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Guy Friday-- Capture the Flag

Capture the FlagMessner, Kate. Capture the Flag.
1 July 2012, Scholastic.

Anna is a budding news reporter from a Vermont town, Henry loves video games, and Jose is greatly enamored with Harry Potter and reading in general. Three are snowed in at an airport in Washington, D.C. after all three went with their parents to a gala at the Smithsonian--- and after the Star Spangled Banner has been stolen. Talking to each other at the airport, they start to realize that they all have connections to the Silver Panther organization that attempts to preserve different facets of American history, and decide that the flag must be at the airport, and it is up to them to find it. They meet Sinan, who was also at the gala with his parents who are in an international musical group, and his dog, Hammurabi. The four investigate Senator Snickerbottom, whom they think might be the victim of an assassination attempt, and have a lot of adventures in the airport. When Jose's mother is held as a suspect in the disappearance of the flag, the group is bound and determine to get to the bottom of it.
Strengths: Messner knows what middle grade students what-- independent children having adventures that involve high speed chases with airport equipment, and scary men with snake tattoos. The characters are all intriguing and have their own interests. I especially liked that the parents were around and supportive, but just slightly clueless as to exactly what the kids were up to!
Weaknesses: One thing that I have loved about Messner's books was how original the plots were. Eye of the Storm, The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z, and Sugar and Ice are all  brilliantly fresh and innovative. This was more ordinary-- it had touches of Steel Trapp, 39 Clues, and even National Treasure, which the characters themselves reference. Middle grade readers will not be bothered by this, but I was a tiny bit disappointed.

Library Blathering:
The first quarter ended this week, and so far this year we have checked out 10,200 books. This seems like a lot until you realize that because I am closed a third of the day for study halls, circulation is down 25%.

Book fair is next week, but only during conferences because of said study hall.

I have had an adult volunteer in almost every day to shelve, repair books, straighten and work on our massive AR labeling project. I've done a tiny bit of weeding (mainly books that smell bad), and am thinking about having someone do a new bulletin board, since the current one has been up for a while.

Currently working on a "100 Great New Books" presentation for our Election Day staff workshops. If anyone would like the annotated bibliography, I'll have it available in a bit.

The weather here in Ohio has been beautiful. I hope to be able to sit on the porch and get a lot of Cybils reading done this weekend!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Historical Stories

A Thunderous Whisper
Gonzalez, Christina Diaz. A Thunderous Whisper.
9 October 2012, Knopf
Nominated for the Cybils by Danielle Joseph

 Ani has trouble fitting in at school in her town of Guernica in 1937 because she is the daughter of the local sardine seller and always smells of fish. Her mother is demanding and unpleasant, but hardworking. Her father is off serving as a cook on the front lines during the Spanish civil war, so the two have to work even harder just to survive. When Ani meets Mathias, whose family has moved from Berlin because his mother is Jewish, she finds it hard to believe that he really wants to be her friend. Mathias' father runs the local movie theater, but also is involved in a spy ring. Ani and Mathias end up delivering messages to the group under the guise of selling fish, and find the job to be thrilling. War is closer than they think, however, and when an unspeakable tragedy occurs, they need to rely on each other to survive.
Strengths: This book covers an aspect of World War II which I knew very little about, so it was very interesting. Notes and pictures at the back help tremendously. Ani and Mathias have an unusual friendship, but it is realistically portrayed and believable. This is marked as Young Adult, but is completely appropriate for use in the middle school.
Weaknesses: A map of the area would have been a good addition (instead of the epilogue), and Ani's mother could have been a little nicer.

Meet Caroline
Ernst, Kathleen. Meet Caroline (American Girls: Caroline #1)
4 September 2012, American Girl Publishing

It's 1812, Caroline's father is a shipbuilder, but after he and her cousin are taken by British soldiers during a routine try out of a new boat, Caroline's mother has to oversee things. Luckily, her grandmother can help around the house, and Caroline has spent a lot of time with her father and knows a little about his accounts, because her goal is to be captain of her own ship some day. Things don't look good to get her father and cousin back, and the was has disrupted daily life in her seaside community. There is a whole series of these books out now.
Strengths: I didn't know much about the War of 1812, and this was very informative. I always like the historical notes at the back.
Weaknesses: A bit young for middle school. I have a few of the older American Girl books, but they don't circulate well at all. Great for elementary school, though!

May B.Rose, Caroline Starr. May B. :A Novel
10 January 2012, Schwartz and Wade
Nominated for the Cybils by The Show Me Librarian

May's parents are in need of money on the Kansas frontier, so they hire her out to Mr. Oblinger and his new bride, who has come from Ohio to live in a sod house on the prarie. The work is not too hard, but Mrs. Oblinger is so sad and negative that May misses her home desperately. She tries to keep up with her school work, but has much trouble reading. When Mrs. Oblinger decides to go back to Ohio, her husband follows, leaving May alone. He doesn't come back. At first, May is glad to be by herself, but as days stretch in to weeks, she starts to worry about when her father might come to get her, and whether or not the food will hold out. When she eats the last morsel after a horrendous stormstorm, she decides to try to make it across the fifteen miles of lonely prairie to her home. A novel in verse.
Strengths: This was a highly atmospheric novel; the dank sod house felt like it was closing in around me, and May's loneliness was palpable. Not many books address the subject of dyslexia in earlier points of history.
Weaknesses: It's very difficult to get my students to read novels in verse, and this does not have a lot of action. Lane's Young Pioneers (aka Let the Hurricane Roar) is also about being stranded on the prairie and has a bit more action and suspense.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

True Legend

True LegendLupica, Mike. True Legend.
4 September 2012, Philomel

Drew Robinson is an excellent basketball player who has a good chance of going into professional basketball when he is out of high school.He has attracted the attention of a local businessman, Mr. Gilbert, who is helping him make contacts with media and sports people. Drew's best friend, Lee, puts up with his temper and enables him a bit, helping him with homework. About the only person who doesn't fall under the spell of Drew (aka True) is Callie, a hot shot girls' basketball player who thinks that Drew is a goof. Drew is getting a lot of media attention for his playing skills, but he starts to make poor choices on the court, making plays that show his talents instead of plays that help the team win. When throwing the ball around in the local park, he sees a man in a Lakers hoodie, and when the man later gives Drew a hard time about the choices he makes, Drew does some research and figures out that the man is Urban "Legend" Sellers, who was a huge high school star before losing it all to drugs. He starts to research more about Urban, but doesn't quite make the connection between the man's cockiness and his own, even after he and Lee are involved in a minor car crash with Mr. Gilbert's Maserati. Can Drew figure out what he needs to do to stay on top AND to help his team?
Strengths: Lots of good play-by-plays of close games, a really fun, spunky love interest, and realistic problems make this new title by a trusted sports author one that will fly off the library shelves.
Weaknesses: After the awesome Game Changers, this was a bit of a let down. The plot device of a washed up former star trying to live an anonymous life but being tracked down by an up and coming teen has been done (Finding Buck McHenry, Roots in the Outfield, Hoops, just off the top of my head), and while Drew did learn a little bit of a lesson, I don't feel that he completely understood, I never found him likeable.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Time Travel Tuesday- Victory

Time Slip Tuesday is an occasional feature at Charlotte's Library, and always a good excuse for me to read a time travel book. Paired with a realistic fiction book, I thought these two made a pretty pair.

Cooper, Susan. Victory.
2 March 2006,Margaret K. McElderry Books

Sam Robbins is a child in London in 1805 when he goes to live with an uncle to learn to make rope to help the war effort, but the two get press ganged and end up on Lord Nelson's ship. His story concerns life on the ship and all of its privations, and well as the battles in which the ship participates. Alternately, we get the story of Molly, who moves to the States against her will when her mother marries an American. At an antique shop, she finds a scrap of cloth that is a piece of a flag that flew over Sam's ship. She finds out a little more about it, and when her mother takes her back to England to visit, she and her grandfather go see the ship, and due to her epilepsy, she manages to travel back in time and meet Sam.
Strengths: I really liked each story separately, and loved when Molly went back to London and visited one of her favorite places-- Kensington Palace gardens. That's my happy place, too. The parts about Sam reminded of me of Dowswell's Powder Monkey series.
Weaknesses: The time travel and the coincidences of Molly finding the book with the scrap in it were unconvincing, and came much too late in the book. The time travel by epilepsy was also done in Sherburne's Why Have the Birds Stopped Singingbut makes less sense here.

Verrico, Susan. Privateer's Apprentice
1 September 2012, Peachtree Publishers
Hardcover copy from YABC and reviewed there.

Jameson's parents mother and printer father die in the early 1700s, and after a bit of living rough he is auctioned off for stealing bread. The baker who ran him in purchases him as a helper in the bakery. At least there Jameson has food and clothing, but he is soon taken off the street by sailors from a privateering ship. The ship, under the command of the infamous Attack Jack, is in the service of Queen Anne, working to map the New World so that England can claim territory there. Life on board a ship during this time was unpleasant, and the book is filled with details of weevils in the flour, horrible wounds, and storms at sea. Despite having been press ganged onto the ship, Jameson eventually makes friends with the other sailors and ends up being a valuable crew member.
Strengths: I just had an 8th grade history class assigned to read a book set during this time period, and this would be a good one, since one of the assignments is to discuss events in the book and research what was really happening at the time. The life of a sailor was pretty gross, and middle school students love that sort of thing. This was a serviceable story set during this time period.
Weaknesses: This is a fairly slim volume, so there is no reason for the lines to be so closely spaced and the page margins to be so small. This may seem like a petty complaint, but when middle grade students pick up books, they care deeply about the white space on the page and will put books down if the text is too dense. I was hoping for more fighting at sea and was disappointed that most of the sailor's time was spent living on board.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Nonfiction Middle Grade Fashion Monday

Stories from New York #3Kimmel, Elizabeth Cody. Stories from New York: Forever Four #3
13 September 2012, Grossett and Dunlap

Paulina, Tally, and Miko are invited to go with Ivy and her mother to visit the City Nation magazine offices over Thanksgiving break so they can get a story for 4 Girls Magazine, find out about the workings of a real publication, and interview a mystery celebrity. They are thrilled to be staying in a nice hotel, meeting the celebrity editor, and actually having input into stories the magazine is considering. When the mystery celebrity, who turns out to be teen sensation Quincy, goes missing, the girls guess where she would be and are lauded for finding her. Ivy has some issues with a former frenemy, Dakota, who is trying to steal her former crush Whit, but the girls have a great time in New York and are energized for their next adventure, Staying in Tune (7 Feburary 2012).
Strengths: Glad to see that Kimmel series; Lily B. is one of my favorites.These have great cover illustrations by Cathi Mingus, and are a cute small size.
Weaknesses: I could buy that the editor was named Helvetica, but when the assistant was Garamond, it was like nails on a chalkboard every time I had to deal with the characters. I also don't like New York City, although that may now be against some US law, and while fashion interests me, it also irritates me. Rant later.

Learn to Speak Fashion: A Guide To Creating, Showcasing, and Promoting Your StyledeCarufel, Laura. Learn to Speak Fashion
Design and illustration by Jeff Kulak
11 September 2012, copy from YABC

This beautifully designed book introduces readers to various aspects of the fashion industry. Many middle grade students are interested in the fashion that they seen in teen magazine, but this book introduces them also to the world of designers, runway shows, fashion shoots and practical information about sewing and photography. Step-by-step instructions teach how to make a pair of pants, put together a fashion show and design a photo shoot. Many terms are defined and different aspects of fashion discussed.
Strengths: Adored the 1960s inspired color scheme and line drawings, and the descriptions of all of the inside information about fashion shoots, etc. would be very helpful to readers of the book above. I have a particular students in mind who would love to read this.
Weaknesses: Having made all of my slacks for college (long, sad story), I know that the instructions for the pants would most likely result in something very uncomfortable.  Perhaps a popover blouse pattern could have been included instead. This is petty, but while I liked the illustrations a lot, I was very distracted by the noses on the people, which are often colored in contrasting colors. Don't know why this bothered me so much, but it did!

Rant: While I am ever intrigued by fashion, I find it almost impossible to dress myself. They keep changing things, so most of my clothes, which I bought at the thrift store ten years ago, start to look... not quite right. I LIKE my pants and skirts to come up to my actual waist. I LIKE pleated pants. I have a rainbow collection of shirt jackets because they are machine washable. Once the weather cools, I guarantee that every day I will have on a turtleneck, wool jacket (and not one of these shrunken things), and long pleated skirt (because I can get on my bike wearing them) or wool pleated pants. Occasionally, I try to care, but ultimately... I don't! So I just laugh at the "what not to wear" lists and keep putting on nylons and wearing slips!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Red Thread Sisters

Peacock, Carol Antoinette. Red Thread Sisters.
16 October 2012, Viking Juvenile

Wen is very happy to be leaving the Chinese orphanage where she has lived since her mother, who didn't have enough money for two children after Wen's brother was born,  left her there. The one sadness she feels is leaving her good friend Shu Ling. She promises that she will find a home for Shu Ling and they will be together in the US. Wen likes her new family well enough, but has some trouble believing that her parents and sister Emily really love her and will not abandon her, especially when the father loses her job and the family cuts down on "extras". If bacon and lessons are extras, is Wen? She improves her English quickly, and makes new friends, but she still longs for Shu Ling. When she finds out that Shu Ling is almost too old to be adopted, she makes many efforts to get her friend a family, from contacting the online web site promoting her friend to taking flyers door to door and asking people if they would like another daughter. The US has so much, and the orphanage doesn't even have enough heat or food. Can Wen persuade someone to adopt her friend so her promise will be kept?
Strengths: This was a very engaging book, and I think that for many girls in the US who were adopted from Chinese orphanages, this could be very powerful. The plight of older adoptees is well drawn, and the details of why the adjustment is so difficult make this a book that anyone who deals with children adapting to a new culture will find interesting.
Weaknesses: The cover is HORRIBLE. The girls maybe look Oriental, but what's with the fashionable, high school aged clothing? I would rather see a cover that had a ripped photo showing Shu Ling in the orphanage, and Wen in her new clothing in the US. Something showing the orphanage, surely. Since I got the ARC of this in June, I'm hoping the cover will change.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Saturday Morning Cartoons-- Squish

Holm, Jennifer and Matt. Squish: Captain Disaster
25 September 2012, Random House Children's Books

Squish is back, and Peggy and Pod talk him into going out for the soccer team, even though it means getting out of bed at 7:00 a.m. even on days where there is no school! The team (The Sand Fleas) is not very talented, and their coach just tells them every week to do their best and have fun. Squish is the team captain because Peggy enthusiastically nominates him, and feels like a disaster. When he mentions this to his father, his father asks Squish what he intends to do to make the team better. What a concept! Squish rallies, thinks of strategies, and does manage to improve his team.
Strengths: The creators of Babymouse do a great graphic novel for younger kids. Soccer is always a popular topic, and I imagine these titles are indispensable at the elementary level.
Weaknesses: Squish, for all his comic book loving microscopic creature appeal, seems to young for middle school. Perhaps it is his lack of confidence in himself. Middle school students at least put on a better act.


Pizza, Love, and Other Stuff That Made Me Famous Williams, Kathryn. Pizza, Love and Other Stuff That Made Me Famous
12 August 2012, Henry Holt and Co.

Sophie loves working at her families Mediterranean restaurant, Taverna Ristorante, but she thinks she can be a better cook than her father. When her friend/crush Alex finds about a reality show, Teen Test Kitchen, he encourages her to apply and helps her get to the try outs without her overprotective father's knowledge. She makes the cut and is sent to spend seven weeks at a culinary school in Napa, CA with the other finalists. While she learns about cooking, reconnects with her aunt, and flirts with the attractive French student, Luc, she is also subject to the rules of the reality show and the machinations of the evil producers. Will Sophie be able to be true to her own culinary pursuits while still maintaining her relationships with family and friends?
Strengths: I hate, hate, HATE to cook (Really, why does anyone need to do anything but saute a chicken breast, open a can of tuna, or nuke some vegetables? My family begs to differ.), but I enjoyed reading this. Must be a great book! This is a great balance of a lot of things-- romance, independence, definable interest, friend drama, travel-- and I especially liked how the contestants on the reality show remain friends even though they are sabotaged by the producers. This is just perfect for my 8th grade girls who are a little tired of realistic fiction for 6th graders but not ready to move up to YA books that have a lot of older situations.
Weaknesses: The appeal for this will be somewhat narrow, and there have been a number of books lately about teenagers who want to be on cooking shows. (Stir It Up and The Sweetest Thing come to mind.)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Guy Friday-- Sports and Mr. Terupt Falls Again

 And speaking of sports books, if anyone still needs to nominate a book for the Cybils Awards, no one has nominated either Tim Green's Unstoppable or Mike Lupica's Game Changers, which were my mother choices. Nominations close on October 15, so head on over to see if your favorite book for the past year was nominated.

Real HoopsBowen, Fred. Real Hoops.
1 February 2011, Peachtree Publishers

Ben and Logan need a point guard for their school's basketball team, and they recruit Hud at the local rec center. The coach of the school team is very strict, and one of the rules is that players can't participate in pick up games during the season so they don't get injured or develop bad habits. Hud, however, keeps playing because he doesn't like the drills at school and feels that the rec center games make him a better player. As a captain, how will Ben tell his coach and risk losing a team mate they really need?
Strengths: I always like Bowen's historical tie ins, and this included descriptions of the Rucker Park pick up games and listed all the players who were produced by those. Simple but effective writing, problems that add interest to the story-- perfect for boys who want sports books and might not be the strongest readers.
Weaknesses: I have trouble with the sports details!

Quarterback SeasonBowen, Fred. Quarterback Season.
1 August 2011

Matt is given a journal writing assignment in his language arts class, so makes half-hearted attempts to describe his role on his middle school football team. At the end of every chapter, his teacher makes comments on how he could improve his writing. We find out about how Matt is doing as a quarterback, his problems with another player whom he feels is a threat, his attempts to help a teammate with his math (which involves asking the team statistician-- a girl-- to tutor him), as well as other small details of his life. The historical reference here is Jerry Kramer's  1968 bestseller, Instant Replay.
Strengths: I want to process this immediately and give it to one of my readers who will ONLY read short sports books. I think it would be an excellent way for him to improve his own writing. I love how the writing changes and is modeled for students.
Weaknesses: A tiny bit contrived, but I still love it!

Buyea, Rob. Mr. Terupt Falls Again.
9 October 2012, Random House Children's Books, ARC from

The fifth graders who were in Mr. Terupt's class the year that he started his awesome teaching career but also became gravely injured are glad to have him again for 6th grade. In chapters from different students' perspectives, we see how the students lives and the classroom are different. Lexie is trying to grow up too fast and is hanging out with high schoolers who are getting her in trouble. Peter is trying to deal with his guilt. Luke is staying on top of being the best student in the class. The assignments are different-- the class reads The Westing Game and needs to solve the mystery, there is an ill-fated academic exchange with Woods View school, and Mr. Terupt assigns the class something major-- planning his wedding to Ms. Newberry! Problems arise throughout the year-- Jeffrey finds an abandoned baby along the side of the road, and his family fosters young Asher, several boys try out wrestling, and Mr. Terupt's health looks suspect at times. Through it all, the class is glad to be together and have Mr. Terupt as their teacher.
Strengths: Not many stories take place mainly in the context of school, and the first book in this series, Because of Mr. Terupt, was very popular among teachers.
Weaknesses: I didn't get much of a feel for Mr. Terupt's personality in this one, and there were TWO girls who got their period and one girl who stuffs her bra with toilet paper. Uncomfortable and unnecessary. Again, I would much rather have a wrestling book from Mr. Buyea. I have boys BEGGING for wrestling stories, but no one asking for heart warming classroom tales.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Unhappy Girls

The Second Life of Abigail WalkerDowell, Frances O'Roark. The Second Life of Abigail Walker.
28 August 2012, Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Abby is having trouble at home and at school. At home, her mother is distracted reading history and her father is either working or harping on Abby's weight. At school, her frenemies Kristen and Georgia subtly torture her-- calling her names, stealing her lunch out of her locker, and going behind her back to arrange get togethers with Abby's mother, so that Abby has to be with them. When she is bitten gently by a fox in an abadoned lot, Abby takes this as a sign that she needs to change. She takes solace in being outdoors, and during one of her walks, she follows a dog that leads her to Anders. Anders lives with his grandmother on a farm while his father is struggling with post traumatic stress disorder after having served in the military. He's trying to write a poem about the animals that Lewis and Clark discovered on their exploration, and Abby is soon helping him research. She finds new friends in Anoop and Jafar, and eventually Marlys, who also takes refuge in the computer lab during lunch, and is eventually able to stand up to Kristen and Georgia, having gained strength by helping Anders and his family.
Strengths: This is what middle school bullying looks like. The girls secretly record Abby eating candy bars and threaten to put it on YouTube. They get her locker number by telling her mom they have a surprise planned to put in her locker. They call her names like Tubby. Abby isn't fat, but she is a little overweight, and this is realistically portrayed and will speak to many middle school girls.
Weaknesses: The recurring image of the fox is not going to draw girls in, especially in the first chapter where the fox is described as "ancient of days" and never dying. There are several small chapters devoted to the fox and its dreams, and at the end, the fox tells Crow the story and then "leaped into the invisible air" to find another one. This didn't seem to fit with the rest of a very good story about bullying. I was also fairly put off by the parents' negative involvement-- they not only are harsh with Abby about their weight, but force her to be with the bullies against her will.

The Humming RoomPotter, Ellen. The Humming Room.
28 February 2012, Feiwel and Friends.
Nominated for the Cybils by Suzanne Santillan

Roo's drug dealing parents are killed, and she is shunted off to a foster home briefly before being taken into the care of an uncle she has never met. The uncle is reclusive and lives on a small, remote island with fairly forbidding household staff, but Roo is glad to be somewhere safe for a while. She hears odd noises in the house, and finds odd things-- the house had been a children's tuberculosis hospital for many years, so she thinks maybe there are ghosts. Still, she blossoms under the care of a tutor she doesn't want, and the remote attention of her uncle (i.e.: he doesn't talk to her, but orders clothes for her that are just like her worn out ones but nicer). She also enjoys being on the island, and solving small mysteries as they arise. There are bigger mysteries afoot, however, but solving them may mean that she has to go back into foster care. Inspired by The Secret Garden.
Strengths: Great beginning- my students love books about murder and drug dealing! The house and island are well described, and the characters are described with rich detail.
Weaknesses: Not a lot happens. The mystery was a bit of a let down, and most of the book involves Roo wandering around a bit despondently. To quote Betsy Bird, this is a bit "Penderwickish".

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Shadow on the Mountain, On the Run

Shadow on the MountainPreus, Margi. Shadow on the Mountain.
1 September 2012, Harry N. Abrams. ARC from Baker and Taylor.

When the Nazis invade Norway, Espen decides to join the Resistance movement and is frequently called on to carry messages. While the privations of war are never as terrible as they are in some places, the Nazis infiltrate every aspect of life, and the Norwegians never let up in their opposition to them. Very few Norwegians, including a boyhood friend of Espen's, join with the Nazis, because they fear the Russians more, but in general, the Norwegians do everything they can to irk the Nazis. Espen keeps up his work over a number of years until he is in danger and has to be smuggled out of the country.
Strengths: Ever since reading The Klipfish Code, I have admired the Norwegians and their tactics to irritate the Nazis. This book has enough spying and danger to make it appealing to my war-mongering boy readers, and will be great for out World War II/Holocaust unit.
Weaknesses: At 300 pages, this is a bit lengthy, and I could have done without the changes in perspective. (Which alternates between Espen, his sister, and a Nazi sympathizer named Aksel, although all the chapters are in third person narrative.)

Borreau, Clara. On the Run.
10 October 2012, Random House. ARC from

Anthony starts to be suspicious about the story that his father has been gone for two years taking pictures when he notices that the postmarks on all the letters are the same. His sister Lise admits that their father has been in jail because he is a thief, and their grandfather had a life of crime as well. Anthony wants to visit his dad in jail because he misses him, and when his father escapes and stops by their house, Anthony wants to go with his father. He does, and the two either live rough or stay with criminal friends. It's a little boring, but in one town Anthony meets a girl with whom he enjoys seeing the sights, and it turns out that her father is a policeman who is looking for Anthony's father. The two are on the run again, but it's clear that this way of life is not something that Anthony will be able to keep up for long. What is the right thing to do?
Strengths: This is a short book, and translated from the French, so children wanting a book about a French criminal are in luck.
Weaknesses: I think that something is lost in the translation, although it was interesting to read a French middle grade book.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Fantasy Tuesday-- Behind the Bookcase and Terra Tempo

Steensland, Mark. Behind the Bookcase.
9 October 2012, Random House Children's Books
ARC received from Baker and Taylor

Sarah and her family move into her grandmother's house in order to fix it up. It's creepy and decrepit, but has been for years, and Sarah's mother says it has always been that way, and there is even a locked door in the basement that the grandmother claimed lead to Penumbra, where the souls of the dead lived. There's a lot of creepy knocking going on, but the family blames it on the pipes... until Sarah is sucked into another world, called Scotopia. She meets Balthazat, who claims to be the King of the Cats in the world, and wants to go back with Sarah. Sarah is okay with this at first, until she meets Jeb, a boy who has half of his face missing. Jeb claims that Baltazat is lying about everything,  and it turns out that Penumbra is connected to the grandmother's house because the house is a portal. The fate of both worlds impacts ours, of course, and Sarah and Jeb have a lot of adventures and meet a lot of quirky characters while trying to sort things out.
Strengths: The illustrations are rather Edward Goreyesque, and I was intrigued by the premise at first. The title is attractive to librarians! (Although I don't really want to investigate what is behind mine!)
Weaknesses: First rule of traveling to another world-- don't eat or drink anything, especially when it is offered by a talking cat! Okay, that didn't get Sarah into trouble, but I had a hard time getting into this book. It his all of the fantasy elements that I don't like-- map at the front, talking animals, saving the world-- and I didn't enjoy it. For portal to another world and grandmother who was guardian, I prefer Roberts' Green.

Terra Tempo: Ice Age CataclysmShapiro, David. Terra Tempo: Ice Age Cataclysm.
1 October 2010, Craigmore Creations
Also reviewed at Young Adult Books Central (ARC from there)

Jenna and Caleb go with their mother to visit a great aunt whose attic she is helping to clean. Their Uncle Al is out ranging, but the kids are allowed to look in his office, but not touch his desk. Of course they do, and they find instructions on how to time travel. This is too good to leave, so Jenna takes the book with her. The next day when they go back to the house, the children, along with their always prepared friend Ari, go to the crest of the hill described as having a "reverberator", deliver the chant as instructed, and travel back in time! Immediately, they are attacked by a short-faced bear, but Jenna chants another incantation and a mythic bird comes to their rescue and flies them off. The three see an amazing array of creatures and natural formations, which luckily Ari knows all about. There is plenty of danger, and the kids have to find someway to get back home... and when they do, their Uncle Al catches them and reprimands them for sneaking into his things and undertaking a dangerous adventure. But he is secretly pleased, and more adventures may be in the works for the trio.
Strengths: I do love time travel, and this is rich with details about a specific point in the past. The graphic novel format might draw in readers who normally stay away from time travel books.
Weaknesses: Something about the printing process of the full color graphics made the book have an odor that made my head hurt.