Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Eye of Minds

16279856Dashner, James. The Eye of Minds.
8 Ocotber 2013, Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Michael, Sarah and Bryson don't know each other in real life, but meet frequently on the VirtNet, the method of choice for gaming in the future. Their real bodies lay in "coffins" with wiring to let them experience feelings in the VirtNet. Michael spends much more time there than he should, to the extent where he hasn't seen his busy parents for a long time, and is instead taken care of by a nanny. Odd things have been going on in the VirtNet-- a well-known and successful gamer, Skale, has gone missing, and gamers are being found in a vegetative state in their "coffins" after their virtual selves  have difficulties. A villain named Kaine is suspected, and before long, Michael is approached by VirtNet Security to try to hunt him down. Michael and his friends are reluctant, but soon realize they have no choice. They are told they need to find "the Path" and that it will lead them to Kaine. After a long and arduous journey that involves much pain and loss of virtual lives, Michaal alone realizes the solution-- and it's not one he ever would have suspected. The first book in a series.
Strengths: My students are fond of video games, but there are few books out there about them ,mainly because they would be kind of boring if they just talked about kids playing video games. But to get sucked into one... Dashnet does a good job of making this an exciting book with lots of action and twists. I think it will be very popular.
Weaknesses: I found this to be rather violent, starting out with a girl jumping off a bridge to escape being imprisoned by Kaine. It makes me worry about violent video games. The ending didn't seem quite right, but I'm sure the next book will explain more about what's going on.

Monday, December 30, 2013

MMGM- Dog 4491

Collard, Sneed B. III. Dog 4491
November 1st 2013, Bucking Horse Books
Copy provided by publisher

Sam finds a dog wandering around his neighborhood, and notices that she has an odd collar-- it has her name, Sophie, and the phrase Garden 4491. With the help of his grandfather Horace, Sam tries to figure out where the dog belongs, and makes a trip with his grandfather (who is in a wheelchair) across the Expressway to the neighborhood where the number was used... before the 1960s. There, Sam and Horace meet the Cheesebro brothers who are interested in the house, and a reporter who is concerned that the city is going to expand the Expressway and lead to more urban decay. They don't meet anyone in the house, though, so can't return the dog. Eventually,  Sam returns to the house and ends up traveling back in time to 1926 and meeting Sophie's owner, Rollie. The two boys hit it off and discover that the time travel is facilitated by Sophie as well as a closet that was hit by lightning. In Rollie's time, his father, a judge, is being threatened by ancestors of the Cheeseboro brothers, and in Sam's time, there is government corruption preventing the implementation of mass transit and urban regentrification. The boys work together, aided by Horace, and manage to put things to right in both time periods.
Strengths: Admittedly, the cover and the phrase "time traveling dog" put this at the bottom of my TBR pile for far too long. Once I started reading, I was intrigued by Sam, his feisty grandfather, and the circumstances surrounding their urban neighborhood. The interchange with Rollie was believable, something which is tricky in time travel books, and the political intrigue in both eras was also realistic. Mr. Collard apparently shares many of my political leanings; aside from the interest in mass transit and walkable neighborhoods, there is also a brief mention of testing in Sam's school-- the TIL (Testing Instead of Learning) Test! While the ending was somewhat too neat, it was also very satisfying. Given the time travel role that the old house plays in this, I will have to let Charlotte at Charlotte's Library know about this one!
Weaknesses: I could have done without the grandfather's folksy phrases, and perhaps without his run in with the Cheeseboro brothers. And the cover could be much better. Drawings, while they seem like a good idea, are so frequently passed over by students, who seem to prefer stock photos.

17981421 Norwich, Grace. I Am Walt Disney
7 January 2014, Scholastic Paperbacks
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Confession: I used to check out two Childhood of Famous Americans books every day in fourth grade, when I was a library helper at recess, so I am predisposed to love breezy biographies. This I Am Scholastic series has books that are quick and fun to read, with a variety of subjects, although none of the people covered are especially unknown, which would be more fun. (Robert Fulton? Elias Howe? My favorite, Phil T. Farnsworth? My students have no idea.)

Disney makes a great read for several reasons-- he had an interesting life, with as many difficulties as successes. It's more interesting to read about people who fail and then triumph than about people who have everything go their way, especially when those people were born more than 100 years ago, when every day conditions were much different than they are today. Since students are familiar with Disney's work, they are more apt to pick books about him to read. This had a nice blend of information about his work and life, and was fun for me since I saw Saving Mr. Banks over break. (Which I recommend watching once it's out on video and available at the library, since it was fairly interesting, if sad to the point of being almost maudlin at points.)

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday at Anastasia Suen's blog. Instead of having to visit lots of different blogs, all of the nonfiction posts will be at Nonfiction Monday. I'm bound and determined to figure this out this year!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Grown Up Read for Sunday

It's been a sad state of affairs here, and I'm running out of things to read. Went to the actual library and had no luck, so I've been hitting the Ohio E Book Project pretty hard. Since this is verging on "caught up", I thought I would read a grown up book-- I KNOW, right? I'm glad I did, because I found the most amusing book written for women of my semi-advanced age. All of the librarians and teachers who read my blog need to read this one, even Jim and Iron Guy Carl!

15981658Ray, Jeanne. Calling Invisible Women
May 22nd 2012 by Crown

Clover wakes up one morning and cannot see herself in the mirror. Thinking that she is perhaps having a stroke, she asks her college graduate son (who has moved home because, as a women's studies/history major, he can't find a job) if he can see her, and he doesn't even notice she's not there. Nor does her busy doctor husband. Her good friend, Gilda, does, although her son doesn't. Not quite sure what to do about this turn of events, Clover eventually finds a meeting/support group for invisible women. It turns out, she is not alone. A fair number of women have been taking a combination of Dexter-White drugs (a hormone replacement, a calcium supplement, and an anti-depressant, combined with Botox usage) that has rendered them invisible. This includes Lila Robinson, who taught Clover's daughter and son. Irritated by being invisible and having no one notice, Clover takes matters into her own hands. She convinces Lila to go back to work at the high school and stop students from misbehaving, which is effective but uncomfortable and exhausting for Clover (they have to go around naked if they want to be invisible) but which Lila keeps up with, leaving the principal daily notes on what she has accomplished. After disarming a bank robber and writing a newspaper article about the experience, Clover decides to become more active. Since the Dexter-White people keep postponing meetings, Clover decides she'll take a group and go to the office, and issue an ultimatum. Along the way, we also meet college cheerleader daughter Evie, who is despondent over breaking up with boyfriend Vlad (whose mother is also invisible), and get an interesting view of husband Arthur and son Nick's days.
Strengths: I read so much young adult and middle grade fiction, and occasionally, I want to read books about people my age. There are not many, and the vast majority are either murder mysteries or romance books, which isn't what I want. Still looking for the spy novel about the middle aged librarian, but this was funny and I adored the support group as well as their can-do attitude in taking down Dexter-White. Sure, there's all sort of subtexts about the "invisibility" of older women, but I liked this just because it was FUN.
Weaknesses: Too short! I wish this were more in-depth because I just wanted to keep reading. I may end up buying some copies of this to give as gifts. I didn't quite buy Clover and Arthur's relationship-- he seemed pretty attentive, considering how stressful and hard his job was.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Trip to the Library

I've been reading a LOT, which is great, but as frequently happens, I am running out of things to read! On Thursday, I went off to the library to inspect the new book shelves, only to find that I'd already read the vast majority of the things there. Sigh. Now I have books that are being published in March, and reviews still to post for January. First World Problems, to be sure!

Here were some books that I picked up that weren't quite what I need for my library, but which others may find interesting. There was enough to recommend them that I brought them home and read through most of them, so here we go.

17302571Farizan, Sara. If You Could Be Mine.
August 20th 2013 by Alqonquin Young Readers 

From Titlewave.com
"In Iran, where homosexuality is punishable by death, seventeen-year-olds Sahar and Nasrin love each other in secret until Nasrin's parents announce their daughter's arranged marriage and Sahar proposes a drastic solution."

What I wanted: Romance with cultural context, like Lovetorn.
What Didn't Work for Me: While this would be a fantastic GLBTQ addition for high school libraries, and was circumspectly done and really, really interesting, it just didn't feel like a good fit for middle school. Too much angst and longing-- middle school students are more interested in lighter romances, since their own experience with romance is fairly slight.

17365807Friedman, Laurie. Can You Say Catastrophe: The Mostly Miserable Life of April Sinclair.
August 1st 2013 by Darby Creek 

From Titlewave.com
"Thirteen-year-old April Sinclair gets her first two kisses--from two different boys--and is not sure how she feels about either one, and cannot wait to be at summer camp with her two best friends and away from her embarrassing family, but her parents cancel her camp plans in lieu of a family RV trip."

What I wanted: Funny, light romance for my readers who like the Darling Crush series.
What Didn't Work for Me: April is the most slap-worthy character I've read lately. Yes, many teenagers whine about their parents, family, and friends, but April takes this too a new level of annoying, cringeworthy whining. That said, I will probably buy this one, especially since it is a series, like The Clique, or Dork Diaries. Doesn't mean I have to like it personally.

17296690Alexander, Kwame. He Said, She Said.
November 19th 2013 by Amistad

From Titlewave.com
When a popular football 'playa' and ladies man and the smartest girl in school lead a school protest, sparks fly as their social media-aided revolution grows"

What I wanted: Urban romance with cultural context, socially relevant high school drama, some football.
What Didn't Work for Me: The style and dialect made this one very difficult to understand, and if I struggled with it, I think my students will, too. This seemed like more of a high school book, as well, given the talk about sex. Great cover, and a great choice to attract reluctant readers in high school.

Cover image for Confessions of a so-called mid... Lennon, M.T. Confessions of a So-Called Middle Child
August 27th 2013, Harpercollins

From Titlewave.com:
"Charlie C. Cooper, reformed bully, gifted hacker, and middle child wants to make "cool" friends at her new school in Los Angeles, but her psychologist tasks her with becoming friends with the school's "biggest loser". "

What I wanted: Fun, realistic fiction title about a girl in a new school, dealing with typical middle school issues.
What Didn't Work for Me: Charlie is just nasty to everyone. At the very beginning, we hear the explanation of how she tried to frame a girl she didn't like by putting laxatives in the cafeteria food, an offense so terrible that her family has to move. And she feels no remorse. Even Charlie's attempts to help Marta didn't feel quite right, somehow. Other girls in her school are even crueler! While Catastrophe was whiny, this one seemed overly mean, so I will pass.

17978095Vaught, Susan. Insanity.
February 18th 2014 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens 
ARC from Baker and Taylor

From the publisher:
"With her deep knowledge of mental illness and mental institutions, Susan Vaught brings readers a fascinating and completely creepy new book intertwining the stories of three young people who find themselves haunted beyond imagining in the depths of Lincoln Hospital."

What I wanted: Creepy book like Poblocki's Ghost of Greylock.
What Didn't Work for Me: This would be an excellent, creepy book for a high school library, but two things keep it from being one I want to buy for middle school: it goes a little more into gory detail about the grandfather who killed 6-year-old boys than I would like, and it gets rather confusing, what with the different perspectives and the different levels of reality. I like Vaught's realistic fiction (Freaks Like Us, Big Fat Manifesto, Trigger and Exposed), but she is very edgy and best suited for high school.

At Home: A Short History of Private Life Now I know how my students feel when they come up to me in the library with pained expressions on their faces and ululate "I need a book!" They don't know what they want; nothing sounds good. I understand, I do. In fact, I'd love to have some recommendations now.

Luckily, I do have two things that look good-- I'm a HUGE fan of Bryson's work; I just want to BE Bill Bryson. Plus, I love nonfiction, and his book on home life looks fascinating. The other thing that is calling my name very loudly is Kate Hanigan's Cupcake Cousins, but since it is not coming out until May, I feel like I am not working hard enough if I read either of these!

Saturday Morning Cartoons-- Kung Pow Chicken

17981452Marko, Cyndi. Let's Get Cracking (Kung Pow Chicken #1)
January 1st 2014, Scholastic Inc. 

Second grade chicken Gordon is accidentally turned into a super hero after an accident in his Uncle Quack's lab, so he now fights crime with the help of his younger brother Benedict. When the chickens in Fowledelphia lose their feathers after eating cookies at a town fete, "Kung Pow Chicken" realize that Granny Goosebumps is behind the evil plot so that she can force other chickens to knit itchy wool sweaters for her to sell to the naked chickens. With the help of Uncle Quack, Gordon is able to catch Granny and give an antidote to all of the chickens so they grow their feathers back.
Strengths: This is from the new Scholastic "Branches" series (and there are 3 other Kung Pow Chicken books) which is aimed at emergent readers. My only children were huge fans of I Can Read Books, and this was rather like those.
Weaknesses: It bothered me that Benedict was still stuck in his shell with no explanation, and the "glowy milk" antidote could have been expressed more eloquently. This is too young for middle school.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Guy Friday- Next

Cover image for NextWaltman, Kevin. Next.
December 3rd 2013 by Cinco Puntos Press

Derrick is a good basketball player who has gotten a fair amount of local attention in Indianapolis for his playing. He is on the high school basketball team at Marion High, where he has Coach Bolden, who also worked with his father and Uncle Kid. As the new hot shot on the team, it seems like the older players, especially Starks, are trying to cut him down to size, and it doesn't help that Derrick is trying to make time with Starks' girlfriend, Jasmine. Derrick is struggling with fitting in and playing the way that Bolden wants him to play-- as part of the team, not a ball hog-- and wishes that things would just be easier. His Uncle Kid thinks they can be, as long as Derrick considers the offer from a private school, Hamilton Academy, to attend school there and be on their winning team. The school has even offered his father a security job there, which the family could use. However, Derrick's mother is very proud of their community and doesn't want him to sell out. Derrick has to decide what is most important in his life.
Strengths: Definitely purchasing. This had lots of good basketball descriptions (i.e. I didn't understand what was going on!), but I especially liked the details of how to play well as a team instead of as an individual. The family dynamics were supported but slightly strained, as is typical with teenagers, and even the budding relationship with Jasmine was rather nice. (The two meet at a bookstore, and Derrick buys a book because she is reading it.)
Weaknesses: Bad cover, especially since the library copy I had didn't even have a dust jacket. A teacher who has coached basketball (and isn't much of a reader) just stopped by and wrinkled his nose at the book, saying "What's the title? By Kevin Waltman?"  There are also two gratuitous f-bombs (on pages 140 and 248) but considering that Learning the Game (2005) had many more, I may just employ my spit-and-pencil-eraser technique to gently obliterate them. Authors! You don't want your work bowdlerized, don't be a potty mouth. Geez.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Theodore Boone: The Abduction

10236393 Grisham, John. Theodore Boone: The Abduction
June 6th 2011, Dutton Juvenile

Theodore's friend April, who comes from a wildly dysfunctional family, disappears from her house in the middle of the night. She's been corresponding with a distant relative who has just escaped from jail, Leeper.  When he appears in town, and the police head right to him. He claims to have information, but only if the police cut him a deal for his other crimes. Meanwhile, April's drugged out mother is wild with anguish, and Theodore is not happy with the police investigation, and he's having trouble concentrating in school.  He and his friends try to interview people and post flyers, but the police (wrongly) tell them that they can't. After a body is found in the river, Theodore knows he needs to step up his game. He decides to track down April's rock band touring father and see if maybe April is with him. With his friend Chase covering for him, Theodore takes off with his uncle to try to locate April.
Strengths: This had its moments, and aside from murder mysteries, abduction mysteries are probably the second most popular in my library. This is fairly fast paced, decently written, and Grisham doesn't condescend to younger readers.
Weaknesses: While this was better than Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer,  it was still super sad. Of course Theodore is devastated when he thinks his friend is dead. I found it hard to believe that the police didn't first hunt down April's father, so the ending fell a bit flat for me. The subplot with Leeper never made that much sense, either, other than to distract the police.

I got this at the thrift store for 40 cents, so I will go ahead and put it in the collection for my mystery lovers.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Darling, Angela. Noelle's Christmas Crush
October 1st 2013 by Simon Spotlight

Noelle Holly Winters loves having her birthday on Christmas, but this year she has decided that her birthday party will NOT be Christmas related, and instead will have purple and pink decorations. She agonizes over the guest list and finally decides she will ask her crush, Noel, whose birthday is on Christmas Eve! Not only is Noel supercute, but he does service projects with the student council and is really nice. When he agrees to go to Noelle's party, she is really excited, so when a major snowstorm hits town and she has to cancel, she's understandably bummed. Her birthday is saved when the family goes on their traditional ice skating outing... and Noel is there, too.
Strengths: I like these, I do. I have two copies of each of the first three because the 6th grade girls adore them. They are sweet and innocent, and didn't many of us palpitate over someone at that age, someone from whom a kiss on the cheek would have made our birthdays perfect?
Weaknesses: So easy to make fun of. My fifteen year old delights in doing dramatic readings of these; they definitely have their cheesy moments.

11788073 Waggoner, Susan. Have Yourself a Very Vintage Christmas
November 1st 2011 by Stewart, Tabori and Chang

If you have ever considered collecting Shiny Brite ornaments or vintage Santa salt and pepper shakers, this book is a must read. Waggoner very completely explains the different Christmas trends per decade and includes instructions for how to replicate the decorating and how to make some of the decorations yourself. There are lots of vintage illustrations in this, which it makes it fun to look at, but it is a HUGE lack that there are no pictures of the vast majority of the crafts, and none of the decorating tableaus that are described. Pity. That would have made the book.

Spinner Twirler Tinkle Toy Bird Cage Antique Carousel Vintage Christmas Ornament And yes, I have TWO sets of these spinners that my parents bought when they were first married. And I knew that my love for all blue lights was based on decorating I had heard about from the 1930s. (And my parents always had blue lights.) We have quite a collection of ornaments for the tree, but I came to the conclusion a LONG time ago that it was unwise to get sucked into collecting things that only come out for a month every year. Not that I have gotten rid of the small cardboard  box of vintage ornament hangers...

Wishing all of yours peace during this holiday season, and a bright and happy new year!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas at Ground Zero

Well, okay. This is not the cheeriest Christmas Eve post choice, and the Weird Al song mentioned above doesn't have too much to do with The Darkest Path, but I've been a bit behind in my reading, and this is the only fantasy I have to post for this Tuesday! So instead of reading this review, go have a cup of eggnog and put some reindeer antlers on the dog!

17381993 Hirsch, Jeff. The Darkest Path. 
September 24th 2013, Scholastic Press 

Cal and his younger brother James were taken by the Glorious Path six years ago and have struggled to survive and not run afoul of the religiously oriented but militant military leaders. Cal doesn't believe in the teachings of Hill, who used bad economics in the US to form his group and take over a large portion of the country with his brutal tactics. After Cal is responsible for the death of most of a military base, he finds a dog. When the officer in charge of animals threatens to kill Bear, and possibly Cal, Cal kills the officer. Knowing he has to flee, he finds his brother and the two take off. James believes in the Path, and decides to return to camp, but Cal and Bear take off on an odyssey around the country, trying to get back to New York state. He meets Nat, who is fighting against the Path because they killed her mother, and thinks he might be safe in her Wyoming community, but the Path destroys that, sending Cal and Nat first to an enclave of spoiled Hollywood teenagers, and then right to the very front of the conflict between the government forces and the Path. Can he and Nat help turn the tide against the Path?
Strengths: For readers who like action, adventure, and militaristic books, this is a grab-you-by-the-throat and never let go kind of novel. The idea of a religiously oriented military outfit going around the country giving citizens "the Choice" is a great way to set up a futuristic dystopia, and Cal and James' different reactions to being taken by this group are realistically protrayed, as is Cal's longing for life the way it used to be, which adds a poignancy to the story without bogging it down. Nat is a good, strong (if misguided) girl character.
Weaknesses: So sad. So violent. So many deaths. I know I'm more sensitive to this kind of thing right now, but it was really hard for me to read this. Definitely more of a young adult book; I wouldn't have it in an elementary library.

18114594Reedy, Trent. Divided We Fall
January 28th 2014, Arthur A. Levine Books
E ARC from Netgalley.com

I mention this one because I absolutely adored this author's Words in the Dust and Stealing Air, and they were definitely solidly middle grade. This new title, however, is definitely for high schoolers. The language was coarse but not too bad; what killed this for me was when JoBall texted Danny that she wasn't wearing panties to a party, only her bikini. That's a line crossed right there. However, it's a lot like The Darkest Path, and I know many middle schools will think this would be good. I would read it first to see what you think. From Goodreads.com:

"From the author of the acclaimed WORDS IN THE DUST: an action-packed YA novel set in a frighteningly plausible near future, about what happens when the States are no longer United.

Danny Wright never thought he'd be the man to bring down the United States of America. In fact, he enlisted in the National Guard because he wanted to serve his country the way his father did. When the Guard is called up on the Idaho governor's orders to police a protest in Boise, it seems like a routine crowd-control mission ... but then Danny's gun misfires, spooking the other soldiers and the already fractious crowd, and by the time the smoke clears, twelve people are dead.

The president wants the soldiers arrested. The governor swears to protect them. And as tensions build on both sides, the conflict slowly escalates toward the unthinkable: a second American civil war."

Okay. Here's a cute puppy picture to make us all feel better.

Off to put the sofa pillows in gift bags for my younger daughter. Long story, but we have evil, rogue elves named Jeek and Glendle who deliver presents to our house and are a bit... odd.

Monday, December 23, 2013

MMGM-- The Great American Dust Bowl

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday at Anastasia Suen's blog. Instead of having to visit lots of different blogs, all of the nonfiction posts will be at Nonfiction Monday, although I am having some trouble getting my reviews posted there, since I'm still such a digital immigrant!
16158179Brown, Don. The Great American Dust Bowl
October 8th 2013 by HMH Books for Young Readers 

This graphic novel style book has the most complete and easy to understand explanation of the reason that the Dust Bowl occurred, and also how devastating it was. I had no idea that the overfarming of the plains with the newly invented gas driven plow in order to provide Europe with wheat after WWI led to such severe erosion, nor did I understand the immensity of the dust clouds or the devastation they caused. This is an excellent accompaniment to any book about the Great Depression, and one that could easily be read aloud to a class. 

I should have a new book on the Great Depression to go with this, but instead I will mention this out of print title. It's the best book I've ever read on the era, and is available for about 75 cents at Half.com if you're not picky about the condition not being perfect. Review from November 27, 2007:

Milton Meltzer. Tough Times. 
October 15th 2007, Clarion Books 

This is a thin historical novel, but it should not be underestimated. It is the rawest and most personal account of living through the depression that I have ever read. When I was done, I thought "This is autobiographical!", and sure enough, Meltzer was born in 1915, making him 16 when this book was set. We should all write so well at 92! (Meltzer passed away on September 19, 2009.)

The details of this book were breath taking. What was it like to have your father's business slowly become less and less viable, until you had to get a job instead of going to school? How hard was it to see a professional man you admire lose his job, and your friend also sink into hard times? When everything around you seemed so dire, how did you go on?

All of my students need to read this. Maybe they would complain less. At the very least, they would learn a lot about the Great Depression, something which figured very largely in the lives of my grandparents, and which young people today know so little about.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Emerald Green

17343391Gier, Kerstin. Emerald Green. 
October 8th 2013, Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

Gwen's heart has been broken by Gideon (unless it is made of marzipan, which she can then remold-- a lovely thought), but she still has work to do. She figures out that her grandfather Lucas hid another chronograph right before his death, and she manages to find it, but has to make sure her cousin Charlotte doesn't get her hands on it. This involves much unauthorized traveling about in the past, but also uncovers an additional mystery concerning Lucy and Paul. Gwen is almost killed when visiting the pass, but heals quickly, leaving Gideon to believe she may be immortal, and making him realize that he really does love her. Things are brought to a satisfying conclusion, and Gwen manages to save at least one person in the past from a bad future. Ruby Red and Sapphire Blue make a lovely set with this one.
Strengths: Time travel, intrigue, romance, hidden secrets about Gwen's true identity, fabulous cover-- what's not to like. Xemerius, Lucy, and Gwen's relatives add some enjoyable levity to the book. Admittedly, I gave up trying to make sense of the entire story and just enjoyed reading it. This is one series that would benefit from being read one book right after the other.
Weaknesses: I had no idea what was going on with the intrigue, but that's the fault of my poor comprehension skills and not the book. The Circle? Blood being read into the chronograph? No idea. But I still enjoyed the books!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder

6330420Nesbo, Jo.  Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder
December 29th 2009 by Aladdin 

Nilly, who is incredibly tiny for a grade school student, moves into a new house near Lisa (who is in his class), and makes the acquaintance of Dr. Proctor, an eccentric scientist who has invented a powder that makes people fart. There's the low grade, average ("totally normal")  fart kind (and the farts don't smell), but then there is the industrial strength stuff that causes Nilly to launch into space and chance bodily injury. Dr. Proctor hasn't been able to sell any of the powder, but Nilly and Lisa have a small business going at their school.  Eventually, the two get some revenge on the evil twins Truls and Trym with the powder, but also save the twon festival by using the powder wisely.
Strengths: I'm sure that there are a huge number of tween boys who would pick this up just because it had fart in the title. The book has some amusement value.
Weaknesses: This is translated from the Norwegian, and has that odd, written-by-author-of-adult-fiction feel to it; it's condescending in many ways, plus goofy in a way that I'm not sure would really resonate with 6th graders in the US. 3rd graders, maybe.

17334472I picked up the first book because the fifth one just came out, and I hadn't read any of the others, which include Bubble in the Bathtub, Doctor Proctor Who Cut the Cheese, The Great Gold Robbery, and Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder: The Magical Fruit (October 29th 2013 by Aladdin.

Please know that I adore Captain Underpants. There's a totally different tone with those-- Pilkey seems to understand kids on their level, not try to guess what they will find funny. These just seemed not quite right for older middle grade readers. Anyone out there have them in a middle school library? How do they fare?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Ned Vizzini

This is horrible news. 

When I reviewed Mr. Vizzini's House of Secrets, there were some issues with the Latin, and since I'm the only one on the planet whose Venn diagram has an intersection at YA and Latin, I left these comments on his blog. Sadly, I didn't go back and visit in order to see the one from October.

Loyal Readers know why this is so upsetting to me. Somehow, sharing this conversation makes me feel better. It gives me something to do rather than leak tears the entire evening and alarming my family. 

May 7 2013, 00:21:37 UTC
I did enjoy House of Secrets, but if you include Latin phrases in the second book, you should seek some better assistance in translating. The two (or fewer) of us who both read the books and know Latin would be grateful (and wiling to help you find someone!). 
May 8 2013, 05:17:12 UTC
Thank you Ms. Yingling, I blame Google for any wacky translations, although also I took Latin in high school & college so I am to blame as well!

If you can, please tell me the most grievous offenses.
May 8 2013, 11:13:20 UTC
I am probably the only one who noticed. I realize it's too late to do anything about the current book, but if you would like help on any Latin in the future, I do know some people. Here are my best attempts; it has been 20 years since I have taught Latin. Hey! You could have been one of my students. (Waves cane in air menacingly).

Thanks for being nice about it!

page 342: Latin in book: Inter cinis crescere fortissimi flammis.

English translation: Among the ashes grow the strongest flames.

My correction: Inter cineres flammae fortissimae crescunt.

Page 398: Latin in book: Viribus fenerat ipsa terra.

English translation: The earth itself lends strength.

My correction: Inter cineres flammae fortissimae crescunt.

Page 405: Latin in book: Terrarum me introduxisti qui isti mihi ostende.

English translation: Show me the ones who brought me the world.

My correction: Demonstra (illos) (me) mihi mundum tulerunt.
May 12 2013, 07:09:59 UTC
These are beautiful. I am going to share these on the House of Secrets Facebook page. Please send me a message through my website http://nedvizzini.com/contact/ and we can discuss Latin in Book 2, I think you could be a great help!

Thank you Karen!!!
October 25 2013, 14:43:12 UTC
Ms. Yingling, where are you? Can you please help me with the Latin in House of Secrets 2?If you can, please give me your email address or email me through http://nedvizzini.com/contact/ 
Thank you!


Guy Friday-- Extreme Biking

17190363Stone, Jeff. Lion (Five Ancestors: Out of the Ashes #2)
September 24th 2013 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Copy received from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there. 

Ryan, having escaped from his evil uncle who was dosing him with dragon bone, is trying to kick the habit with the help of his friend Phoenix and his grandfather. He still has the amazing strength and endurance that he gained from taking the ancient drug, but detoxing from it can lead to terrible cramping. When Ryan's mother agrees to let him go to California to visit his uncle Peter because of the constant rain in their own area, Phoenix and Ryan's other friends Jake and Hue Die go as well. When video of them riding shows up on line, a lot of attention is paid to them, and they get approached to compete in a night race. They do lots of training, but there are problems surfacing relating to the dragon bone. Before long, DuSow (the poison hand!) has the group in his sights, and they will need all of their wisdom and their mad biking skills to stay safe.
Strengths: The Five Ancestors series has been really popular in my library, since it is a favorite of Mr. Buxton's, and this new series is FABULOUS. So much action and adventure, plus the added thrill of mountain biking. It is very evident that Mr. Stone bikes-- I do wish he would write a couple of stand alone books involving the subject, because there are some readers who would love that but aren't fans of fantasy.
I particularly like that Hue Die more than holds her own with the boys, and the descriptions of scenery as well as Chinatown add a lot of atmosphere to the book.  
Weaknesses: This does get a little more violent than I would like, but DuSow is evil and deserves what he gets! The drug usage (even though it is a mythical drug) and withdrawal also makes this more appropriate for somewhat older readers, although both are well depicted.

17981406 Lasky, Kathryn. Horses of the Dawn: The Escape
January 7th 2014, Scholastic Press

Elementary school librarians who have a large following for Erin Hunter's Warriors books will want to purchase this immediately, but I will pass. I have had a few more girls interested in horse books lately, and I rather like Lasky's historical fiction, but this one would not get as much circulation in my particular middle school. If it were a single book, I would buy it, but you know it's going to be like the six book Wolves of the Beyond or the FIFTEEN book Guardians of Ga'Hoole, and I ...I just can't. I was plugging along bravely through the whole birth of the foal, right up until the horses got thrown overboard and were in danger of being attacked by sharks. Then there was the ghost horse. Instead, I think I will brush off my Walter Farley Black Stallion books to give to horse lovers.

From Goodreads.com:
The horses are in danger. They were rounded up by the two-legs and forced onto a boat to cross the wide ocean. The journey went badly and the boat was deemed too heavy, so the two-legs forced the horses into the sea and sailed away, leaving the herd to die in the deep.

By a miracle, the horses survived and made it to land. All but one -- the ghost horse, the leader of the pack. Now it's up to her daughter, only a filly, to take charge of the terrified herd. Stranded in a new land, surrounded by two-legs, will the horses find a way to live safe and free?

Here's my Christmas photo, thanks to Picky Reader, my younger daughter. 

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Fire Storm

12516499Lane, Andrew. Fire Storm (Young Sherlock Holmes #4)
1 October 2013 by Farrar, Strauss, Giroux

Young Sherlock is back, and is he ever busy! First, he has to deal with the evil housekeeper, Mrs. Eglantine, who is holding something over his studious uncle's head. Sherlock finds that there is another secret keeper in town, the unscrupulous Harkness, who keeps earns his living by blackmailing everyone he can. With his friend Matty's help, Sherlock manages to destroy all of Harkness' files, freeing the town from his grasp. However, after this is done, Amyus Crowe and his daughter Virginia go missing. With the help of his music tutor Rufus Stone, Sherlock and Matty cleverly follow a clue and head to Edinburgh, but on the train Rufus goes missing! Luckily, Sherlock has some connection and can follow a clue. He thinks that the Paradol Chamber is back and may have some of his friends, but he also has to deal with the Resurrectionists in Edinburgh-- creepy, half dead people seem to be inhabiting the city. After finding all of his companions, Sherlock is glad to be home, having a nice cup of tea brought to him by the new, NICE housekeeper... but then he is poisoned and ends up on a ship bound for China. We just will have to wait a bit in the US for Snake Bite  and Knife's Edge.
Strengths: This one seemed more like Doyle's work than the previous books. The change of scenery was nice, as was the small bit of mystery everywhere he went. I like the love interest with Virginia, and since Amyus spent most of his time being kidnapped, we didn't have to listen to his dialect! This series can be read out of order, I think, which helps.
Weaknesses: A bit busy, so there was not as much character development.

As if blogging weren't enough of a "time suck" (I do love blogging, because when I forget a book I can look it up and be reminded of what I thought of it!), I try to keep up with Twitter and Instagram. I suppose that a Smart Phone would make this much easier. Students will post hundreds of pictures a day, and it takes me an hour to frame two posts. And the memes! Memes everywhere!

So, for #throwbackthursday, here's Doris Gates' Blue Willow. Since I just read Don Brown's fabulous graphic nonfiction book, The Great American Dust Bowl, I was thinking of this title, and had no idea it was published in 1940. No wonder it is such a painfully realistic description of  The Great Depression!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Joshua Dread: The Nameless Hero

Between Cybils reading and stuff in general, I got behind on stocking up with books, so I don't have a book with a cultural context to review today. Here are some books reviewed by others; it was gratifying to see that a large percentage were reviewed by members of the Cybils Middle Grade Fiction panel. I started World Wednesday because the panel last year was disappointed in how few multiculturally diverse books were nominated. Here's what I found; please add a comment if I missed something!

Becky's Book Reviews; Serafina's Promise by Ann Burg.
Buxton's Blog O'Books; Salt by Helen Frost
Buxton's Blog O'Books; The Other Side of Free by Krista Russell
Geo Librarian; Bo of Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill
Geo Librarian; The Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher
Kid Lit About Politics; Africa is My Home by Monica Edinger.
Kiss the Book; Growing Up Muslim by Sumbul Ali-Karamali
Kiss the Book; Imprisoned by Martin Sandler
MyRandSpace; Celebrating the World's Languages by Jue Isabella
Provo Library; Written in Stone by Rosanne Perry
TMC Guys Read Book Club; The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis. 

17190375Bacon, Lee. The Nameless Hero (Joshua Dread #2)
September 24th 2013 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central.

When Joshua and Sophie get an invitation to attend the Gyfted and Talented summer program, they are so excited that Milton forges an invitation that gets him picked up by the bus and reluctantly admiteed even though he doesn't have any superpowers. The training involves having super hero uniforms designed for them (even though the kids think they look funny), training with gelatinous monsters, and learning to put up with celebrity super heroes like nFinity. Joshua goofs up constantly, but happens to be in the right place at the right time and becomes the new super hero flavor of the week. The celebrity is nice, but with the evil Phineas Vex still around, Joshua not only has to convince his evil villain parents that the path he is chosen is a good one, he has to improve his skills, deal with an adoring public AND fend off Vex.

The third book in the series, The Dominion Key, comes out May 13th 2014 from Delacorte Books for Young Reader.

Strengths: Lots of suprisingly funny lines and situations, engaging characters, and fun action and adventure. I have some kids who can't get enough super heroes, and Joshua is inept without being too annoying about it. He does triumph in the end, and having his parents be the Dread Duo adds even more fun.
Weaknesses: I didn't buy the first book last September-- the cover was bleah,(even though it's Brandon Dorman, who did Fablehaven) and there wasn't the interest in super heroes. Since then, I've had a lot of students ask for such books.  I ordered the first book and hope that the series doesn't pull an Alfred Kropp, with the second book being so much better than the first.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Alien Invasions!

16700289Falkner, Brian. Task Force (Recon Team Angel 2)
September 24th 2013, Random House Books for Young Readers 
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

I love book talking The Assault, because all I have to say is "If aliens come to Earth and want just a TEENY bit of Australia, just say NO!" And this is why. The Bzadian forces are waiting until the Bering Strait freezes so they can launch their final assault on the U.S. To combat this, the Allied Combined Operations Group brings out the teenagers that were physically altered to look like the aliens. Lead by Lucky Chisnall, they launch lots of attacks against the Bzadian forces, and Lucky comes up against Bzadian Kriz several times, in some intense yet amusing scenes. There is lots of good weaponry and fighting tactics, and a tremendous battle scene at the end. The best part, however, is the twist in the Epilogue-- I can't wait to see how that turns out in the (sure to be) third book.
Strengths: Lots of action, and a convincing premise about the alien invasion. Fantastic cover; the first book in this series is very popular in my library, so I'm thrilled to have a copy.
Weaknesses: Really? The aliens take over most of the Earth but have to wait until the Bering Strait freezes to get their heavy equipment over to the U.S. to finish the job. Really? They can't just, I don't know, fly in with their space ships? While waiting for the Strait to freeze gave the Recon Team something to do, and made sense from a land-based military strategic point of view, I just kept thinking "They're space aliens!" Maybe it's just me. The boys will still love it.

17465460 Pace, Greg. Project X-Calibur
October 31st 2013, Putnam Juvenile

Ben can fix just about any machine, but he feels that he doesn't compare favorably to the legends his now deceased father read to him. When he is approached by a weird little kid who turns out to be THE Merlin, he finds that he may be essential to saving the planet from Dredmore, aliens who are bound and determined to take over the Earth. A few select children have been identified for this role, and are needed to fly the reproductions of the alien spaceships. Under the guise of going to London for a science fair, Merlin whisks Ben off to be trained to fight and fly by none other than Percival Pellinore. Along with the buff Malcolm, Ben meets Kwan the surfer, Darla the claustrophobic gamer girl,  and the somewhat reluctant Tyler. Also included in the mix of fighters is Ivy, Pellinore's daughter, who is very competent but whose father is reluctant to let her fight. Ben worries that he will once again be the least prepared student, but like the famous Arthur, he has hidden depths.
Strengths: Nice ensemble cast, good hook with Merlin and the King Arthur legend, and fast paced. Lots of action and adventure. Great cover. Sure to be a series.
Weaknesses: Would have preferred a stand alone title, and could have done without the subplot of Ben's father having passed away.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Middle Grade Monday-- Earthfall

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday at Anastasia Suen's blog. I'm still working through posting on the site-- new technology can be so hard for a digital immigrant!

17334202Walden, Mark. Earthfall
August 27th 2013, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Copy recieved from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there. 

Sam is trying his best to survive. He is living underground and trying to stay away from the alien drones who are after him. It's been a long time since the aliens came and turned everyone, including his family, into mindless Walkers who are constructing odd alien buildings. When Sam is above ground trying to find food, he is stung by one of the drones and meets Rachel, who helps him and takes him back to meet Dr. Iain Stirling and other teens whose brains were not addled by the aliens. It turns out that the alien invasion has been planned for a long time. At first, Stirling was working with Sam's father for the Foundation, which paid them well and provided them with advanced technology. Only later did they find out that the organization represented the aliens, the Voidborn, who were bent on taking over the earth. Sam was immune to the mid altering transmissions because his father implanted alien technology in his brain; the same is true of the other teens. The group finds a way that they can incapacitate the aliens, but the implementation is risky. Same seems to be the key to everything, but is he strong enough to do the job?
Strengths: I really liked this one! It had a lot of survival and action, and the plot moved along quickly. Sam's longing for human contact was realistic, and the ensemble cast of teens was fun. The evil scientist working for the aliens was convincing, and there was also a nice question of Sam's real parents and his identity. This seems likely to be a series, and I'm okay with that. I'm curious to see how this continues.
Weaknesses: This is a British book, and the British have no compunction about killing characters off. Some are mentioned briefly, but there is at least one death of a major and sympathetic character. We just aren't as used to that in the US, and younger readers might be upset.

17199270 Greenburg, Jan and Jordan, Sandra. The Mad Potter: George Ohr, Eccentric Genius.
October 29th 2013 by Roaring Brook Press

This short, picture book biography of George Ohr, who lived in Missippi in the late 1800s and early 1900s, is nicely illustrated with period photos of the man and his family, as well as with color photos of his pottery. It gives an overview of how he attempted to support himself with his work, and how he created the persona of the "mad potter" in order to become a tourist attraction and sell more pottery. It also discusses how his pottery was "discovered" in the late 1960s and became an expensive and highly sought collectible. I love biographies, and this one could be used as a nonfiction piece with Holly Black's Doll Bones

multicultural childrens book day Mark your calendars for 27 January 2014! Pragmatic Mom and Jump Into a Book are working on a day to celebrate "books with cultural context" (thanks to Uma Krishnaswami for that term.)

Last year, I attempted to do "World Wednesday", and didn't gain much steam, although I do think it helped to increase the number of diverse books I reviewed. I should have followed through more with the weekly synopsis, like Charlotte does with fantasy books. 

Too Cool for this School

16142126Tracy, Kristen. Too Cool for this School.
August 6th 2013 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central and Reviewed there
Nominated for the Cybils by Little Willow

Lane Cisco is riding high at Rio Chama Middle School, where she has successfully been selected as a seventh grade class captain, so is in the good graces of 8th graders Leslie and Robin. She'll get to help plan the parties and hang out with the other super cool, well-dressed captains. Her picture will be permanently displayed! Things are great (she even has a "secret" boyfriend, Todd) until her cousin Angelina comes from Alaska to spend a month with her family while her mother is on a honeymoon. Angelina is weird, messy and has the audacity to wear things like glow-in-the-dark wolf t -shirts and not care what anyone else thinks. Not only that, but she decides to go by "Mint", her middle name, and takes Lane's classroom by storm. Of course, the cool girls know that she is hopeless and give Lane a hard time, but Todd and his friend Jagger (who is the crush of Lane's best friend, Ava) think she is awesome. Lane tries everything she can to tone down Mint's personality, but fails utterly. She does manage, however, to salvage her reputation as a class captain and make her peace with Mint.
Strengths: Middle school girls love books where girls are mean to each other (The Clique, Dork Diaries), and this has the added complication of a relative actually having to share a room. Lane's struggles with popularity and clothing will ring true to many girls. I appreciated that there was a big class project on Julie of the Wolves, which is a classic that still actually gets read.
Weaknesses: Lane had a very high slappage factor, and never really grew as much as I hoped she would. The "class captain" subplot seemed odd to me, and I personally never understand the whole "being popular" and obsession with clothes in middle school. Still, this will get checked out.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Metro Dogs of Moscow

15841820Delaney, Rachelle. The Metro Dogs of Moscow
January 15th 2013, Puffin Canada 
Nominated for the Cybils and copy provided by the publisher

JR is happy with his human, George, and enjoys his life traveling around the world, but when he ends up in Moscow and sees a homeless dog stealing sausages and looking like he's having a good time, he chafes at his constraints. When a window is conveniently left open, JR begins his adventure on the streets. When he meets Boris, Ania, and Fyodor, they introduce his to all of the pleasures of life in the wild-- baked potatoes stuffed with bacon, trips on the subway, and rolicking in the mud without a leash on. Some of the other embassy dogs see JR out and want to try this life, too, but they run in to problems when some of the street dogs and one of the embassy dogs disappear. JR and his friends manage to figure out the mystery without the humans knowing, and locate the missing dogs.
Strengths: We went back and forth on whether or not this was a fantasy book-- the dogs never do anything that isn't realistic, but they do talk to each other. This was mainly a romp-in-Moscow book, with the vehicle being dogs instead of children. The mystery is a nice touch, but again, the dogs solve it by noticing things, not by doing anything undoglike. A light, fun read, a bit reminiscent of Miss Bianca in the early pages of The Rescuers.
Weaknesses: I would have appreciated more background on the dog situation in Moscow-- I had no idea the were either a problem or famous. Some more local color, other than the food, would have added a lot to the book as well.