Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Fantasy Books- Cadet of Tildor and Garden Princess

The Cadet of TildorLiddell, Alex. The Cadet of Tildor.
10 January 2013, Dial

Renee is returning to the Academy despite the objections of her father and her pending probation. She knows she needs to do well, because there are no other options left for her, and she wants to serve and protect Tildor, which has many problems. Two opposing forces, the Vipers (who kidnap people, are involved in the drug trade and are more violent) and the Family (who are a bit more subtle and blackmail and extort people) are vying for control of the government, which is headed by the young Lysian, a friend of Renee's. Along with her friends Alec and Sasha, Renee tries hard at her studies, especially when the leader of a famous combat unit, Korish Savoy, becomes a teacher. He is ruthless and drives the students hard, but Renee finds him oddly intriguing, and his young brother Diam a fun distraction from the rigors of Academy life. When the Vipers attack Lysian, things start to happen. Renee finds out that Alec is a mage with healing powers, but has not registered with the government as mages are required to do. She also has a fight with the Family-aligned Tanil, and when Diam and his wolf-dog are kidnapped, she decides to try to save them. Savoy follows as well, but is soon captured by the Vipers, who impel him to fight in gladitorial-type battles. Renee works to free him, but finds out that things are in bad shape at the academy as well. Tildor is in big trouble, but Renee's skills are constantly improving, and will no doubt continue in the (??) next book.
Strengths: Lots of medieval style action and adventure, fighting, running about. Comparisons with Pierce's Alanna have to be made, which is okay, since I've seen a resurgence in the popularity of this series. Definitely can see a next book. Fans of John Flanagan's Ranger's Apprentice series and Nielsen's The False Prince will also adore this.
Weaknesses: A few things need to be explained a bit more-- veesi, the illegal drug the Vipers are dealing with, the role of mages in the society, and how the two factions got started. This would help the world of Tildor make a little more sense. I was a bit dismayed at Renee's fascination with Savoy, especially after he beats her several times. Yes, he's an instructor making sure she has the skills, and he does best her in combat, but when he beats her and then she kinda likes him-- disturbing. Also confused by the Scottish brogue of one of the characters. I can see this being a lengthy series, so want it to be really good!

Garden Princess Kladstrup, Kristin. Garden Princess
12 March 2013, Candlewick Press
Book from YA Books Central and reviewed there.

Adela would rather work in the garden than participate in her stepmother Cecile's fancy plans, but when an invitation arrives for Lady Hortensia's garden party, she really wants to go so that she can get some plants. Garth, the gardener, joins the group going, along with Cecile's sister Marguerite. Once there, however, Adela is impressed by the gardens but horrified by how Hortensia treats people. She bewitches Garth so that he no longer seems to like Marguerite-- he is in love with Hortensia, as are many of her male servants. When Adela sees Marguerite turned into a Daisy, and sees Hortensia take her jewelry, she knows that the magic that has long been outlawed in the kingdom is at play. She takes consul with a talking magpie, Krazo, and he admits to helping Hortensia with her evil plans. Krazo thinks the secret to Hortensia's magic is buried in a silver box in the garden, and once all of her companions have been enchanted, Adela finds the box and manages to kill Hortensia and break everyone free from her spell. The only problem remains that Adela has fallen in love with Krazo, who was turned into a magpie because he attempted to steal from Hortensia. When the bag of jewels disappears on the way home, Adela fears that Krazo will not be able to break free of his former ways. Will he come to her debut ball? And what is his true nature-- thief or not?
Strengths: Adela was a fun anti-princess; she wanted to work in the garden, have a life instead of get married, and has this great line "I don't care what I look like. I care about what I do." (page 158) How many times have I chanted "useful, not decorative" to my own children? The setting is a standard medieval royal one, which children seem to really like, and Adela is 17, which makes her even more intriguing as a princess. Hortensia's magic is pretty gruesome, if you think about people living as flowers for decades, but isn't too scary for younger readers. The garden details are also very vivid.
Weaknesses: I'm not a fan of gardening, so a lot of the details were lost on me. I always think I should like gardening, so this also made me feel guilty!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Middle Grade Monday-- The Reluctant Assassin

So here's the question of the day-- what do you do when a middle grade author brings out a book with a middle grade cover, one which all your cute little middle graders will be begging for--- and it's really more YA? I'd love to hear opinions on this one, because I am still just not sure about it.

Cover image for The reluctant assassin / (W.A....Colfer, Eoin. The Reluctant Assassin (W.A.R.P. #1)
7 May 2013, Disney Hyperion
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Riley is an orphan in London in 1898, and he is not happy working for Garrick, whose job it is to kill people. When they are on assignment, Riley suddenly gets sucked through time. Chevron Savano is also a teenage orphan, and she works for the feds-- after her last assignment ends badly in the US, she is sent to babysit an alt-tech capsule in the basement of a London town house, accompanied by another agent, Professor Smart. This is super boring until Riley is brought through. He's worried about Garrick following, but Chevie thinks it highly unlikely, even after she learns from Smart that the government has been using time travel to hide key witnesses in the past (FBI's Witness Anonymous Relocation Program). Things go horribly wrong, though, and Garrick and Smart are morphed into one person and brought to present day London, where they evil Garrick is obsessed with getting back at Riley, getting the master Timekey from Chevie, and killing as many people in as many gruesome ways as possible. Can Riley and Chevie stop him before he alters the fabric of the universe?
Strengths: Colfer's Artemis Fowl series (2001-2012) was one that was published at a good clip, kept students interested in the new books coming out, and still enthralls readers. This first book is action packed, has good time travel, and incorporates Steam Punk elements in a way that even students who aren't familiar with it can understand. I also liked that Chevie is Native American, and while this is addressed, is not the whole point of the story.
This was incredibly bloody and gory, to the extent where I don't know if I can buy it for my school. The very first chapter starts with Garrick instructing Riley on how to kill someone with a knife, and gets very graphic about how muscle and bone make this difficult. There is a horrible murder of an entire hazmat team, and when Garrick and Smart fuse, there is gore everywhere. Sure, there are other gory books, but it's usually zombies or monsters or animals. It's the human perpetrators of grisly murders that give me pause. Oddly, I haven't seen any other reviews that even mention this. Any thoughts? Anyone else buying this? If I hadn't read it, I would have bought it without thinking about it, on the strength of the Artemis Fowl series.

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 Stacking Books.

Magnet Power!: Science Adventures with Mag-3000 the Origami Robot
Troupe, Thomas Kingsley. Illustrated by Jamey Christoph. Magnet Power: Science Adventures with MAG-3000 the Origami Robot, Diggin' Dirt: Science Adventures with Kianai the Origami Dog
1 January 2013, Picture Window Books

Diggin' Dirt: Science Adventures with Kitanai the Origami DogReading catalogs, or even doing searches on Titlewave, can help find all sorts of useful titles. Occasionally, however, I get distracted and end up checking out books on knitting dog sweaters or picture books from the public library!  The nonfiction books above were not quite as frivolous a pursuit-- sometimes picture books on difficult science topics are good to have, and the origami tie in was irresistable. While these had a fun story and lots of information, they really were more appropriate for grades K-3, as the publisher suggests. If you work with younger students, definitely give them a try. I guess the thing I found a bit disturbing is that they seem to be playing off the popularity of The Origami Yoda which is really NOT appropriate for grades K-3. That's definitely a middle school book!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Happy Birthday, Lois Duncan!!!

Hotel For DogsDuncan, Lois. Hotel for Dogs (1971), News for Dogs (2009), Movie for Dogs (2010)

Actually listened to the book on tape for Hotel for Dogs last summer, and was surprised at how well it had held up, since it was published 40 years ago. I was also surprised that my library did not have a copy. I enjoyed the story, and since dogs have been newly popular in my library this year, invested in the entire set.

At first, I was surprised that the second book came out in 2009, but since the movie of the first book also came out then, it makes sense. The second and third books include updated technology (the newspaper is online) but have the same nice relationship between siblings Andi and Bruce, the same somewhat kooky aunt, and the local bully, Jerry, as well as the addition of his criminal cousin!

Have to admit that I have long been a Lois Duncan fan, with Down a Dark Hall being one of the rare books of my youth that I actually purchased and kept. Now, I really, really want a copy of her 1965 title, Debunate Hill! Of course, there is only one copy in the entire state of Ohio, at the Popular Culture Library at Bowling Green, and it's "library use only". Drat.These books represent another side of the author, and should be included in most middle grade collections. The covers alone make them worthwhile!

Movie For DogsHotel for DogsNews For Dogs

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Out of Sync

Out of SyncHumann, Amanda. Out of Sync.(Counterattack)
1 April 2013, Lerner Classroom

Madison loves soccer, and is looking forward to playing in college, and hoping for a scholarship. She also enjoys playing with her friend Dayton, with whom she has played since they were very young, sharing a mad "soccer sync". When Dayton starts to prefer partying to playing soccer, Madison is both hurt that her friend has different priorities, and worried that without Dayton, her own skills on the team won't be able to shine. For a while, Madison tries to continue to hang out with Dayton, going to parties and pretending to be interested in older guys, but when it starts to effect her playing, she realizes that she has to be true to her own dreams no matter what path Dayton chooses to follow.
Strengths: Like the other book in this series that I read, Offside, this has a character who happens to be Asian, but the story is not about her ethnicity. The cover photo is better than Offside! This has a lot of good soccer descriptions, and I think girls will like it because it talks about partying but certainly doesn't glorify it. The theme of losing friends is one that packs a lot of emotional impact. Definitely buying this entire series for next year.
Weaknesses: While Madison was able to make her peace with Dayton's actions, I felt like Dayton somehow needed more help than she was getting. That wasn't what the story was about, but I worried!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Guy Friday-- Jeremy is in a Notebook Novel

Zits: ChillaxScott, Jerry and Borgman, Jim. Zits: Chillax
1 May 2013, HarperTeen

Jeremy and his friend Hector have gotten tickets for the Gingivitis rock concert from their friend Tim, but there are two problems standing in their way of complete enjoyment-- they are not sure that their parents will let them go, and Tim is selling the tickets only because he has to donate bone marrow to his mother because she has cancer.  Being the sensitive and supportive friends they are, Jeremy and Hector try to find a way to support Tim. Pierce shaves his head in solidarity (so does his mother!), and the girls off to spend the day with Tim in the hospital. Jeremy and Hector? They decide that going to the Gingivitis concert is the best way to go-- they'll bring him an awesome leather jacket as a souvenir. The concert is everything they could hope for, except that the jacket is $750. Thanks to the help of their history teacher, who happens to work concessions, they manage to get backstage. Can they bring Tim something from the concert, and will that be enough to help him get through his ordeal?
Strengths: I adore this comic strip! The parents are just goofy enough, and appear an appropriate amount-- always to squash Jeremy or to make him get up before noon! He has a nice group of friends, and the mother's cancer is not maudlin, but handled in a realistic way. The boys van appears often (love how they start it with a retainer!), which will delight my boys, for whom cars are still quite abstract.
Weaknesses: Oddly wordy. Scott was probably so relieved to be able to tell his story in more than four short panels that he went crazy. This is the most YA notebook novel I've seen because of the wordiness-- aside from the drinking and smoking of the rock band, it's all middle school appropriate, although perhaps a tad too interested in how Sarah dances!

Young, Karen Romano. Stuck in the Middle (of Middle School): A Novel in Doodles. (Sequel to Doodlebug)
19 March 2013, Feiwel and Friends

I really wanted to like this one. Notebook Novel, biracial main character, fun story. However, this was torpedoed by horrible formatting. It shouldn't surprise anyone that fans of the Wimpy Kid books and this style in general are not the strongest readers. They often have vision or processing issues that make text difficult for them, which is why they like the pictures and the larger size font that these books generally have. When I introduce new notebook novels to these readers, they are not sold until I open the book and show them pages. These pages are crowded with information, and the hand drawn font is very small. Sidebars interrupt the linear flow, and there is very little white space. Since this is a very slim volume, many of these problems could have been eliminated by increasing the size of the words and white space, and making the book longer. Marissa Moss's Amelia books look very similar to these, and are very hard to get students to check out. Rachel Renee Russell's Dork Diaries keep the linear flow and the larger font and are wildly popular. Think I will have to pass on this one, which is a shame.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Call for Authors

Every year, we have a Career Day at Blendon Middle School in Westerville, Ohio. This year it is on Tuesday, May 14th. There are three morning sessions where students get to listen to presenters for about twenty minutes, and then a career fair in the gym in the afternoon.

Are there any local writers who might want to come? We don't have any money to pay you, but we have had Joe Blundo and Kevin Joy from the Columbus Dispatch, as well as novelists Linda Barr and Linda Gerber, so you could join this illustrious group.

There is always free food and coffee, and if you are really lucky, awesome swag like a string bag. More importantly, it gives authors a chance to connect with students and vice versa.

We are open to other professions as well. Just let me know if you'd like to come!

Samphire Song; The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy

Samphire SongHucklesby, Jill. Samphire Song. 
2013, Albert Whitman and Company.

Jodie has a lot going on in her life, but being with horses makes her feel better. Her father, with whom she shared her passion for riding, was killed in the war. Her young brother, Ed, is very ill and needs a kidney transplant to survive. Her mother, a freelance writer, struggles to make ends meet, but when she gets a good job writing a regular column, she lets the children have a treat, and Jodie gets to buy a horse. She choses Samphire, a stallion who is skittish and needs training, because she feels a connection with him. She makes good progress on his training until Ed becomes even sicker and her mother loses the column. When she has to sell Samphire, she asks the girl who buys him to let her know if she ever sells him on to someone else, but the girl does not. When circumstances improve, Jodie tries to find Samphire to buy him again, but nothing in Jodie's life is easy.
Strengths: Very readable, and lots of good details about horsey things-- mucking stalls, training, riding, etc. There are always a few girls who are interested in horses, and very few new books about them. (Rorby's Outside of a Horse and the Smiley Georges and the Jewels series being notable exceptions.)
Weaknesses: Why are the new horse books so sad? And why do the girls always want the most damaged horse for sale? And why do their parents allow them to get the damaged horse? Ah, didn't make sense to me, but the girls won't care.

The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy Loftin, Nikki. The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy
1 August 2012, Razorbill

Lorelei's family life is difficult. Her mother passes away from cancer, and her new stepmother Molly just doesn't understand her. When a new charter school opens near the family's home and Lorelei's regular school burns down, the decision is made to send both Lorelei and her brother Bryan to Splendid Academy. Things are suspect there, too-- bottomless bowls of candy and tons of food are provided, but as Lorelei's new friend Andrew points out, the candy and food seem to hypnotize the children. Lessons are not really important, and the two soon find out why-- Splendid Academy is run by women with a different agenda. Only Lorelei can save the students, but only if she can come to terms with her own situation.
Strengths: I don't want to give away too much, since I didn't see the agenda coming as quickly as I should have! Pleasantly creepy, good use of evil teachers; I think I will purchase for Lemony Snicket fans. I get a bit weary of the vast number of fantasy books published; I agree with Charlotte that this was good.
Weaknesses: Not an attractive cover, and Lorelei's family situation was unpleasant and didn't resolve itself in a satisfactory way. While she comes to terms with her mother's death, I thought that the portrayal of stepmother Molly was unhelpful and unfair.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

World Wednesday-- The Vine Basket

The Vine BasketLa Valley, Josanne. The Vine Basket
2 April 2013 by Clarion Books
E ARC from Netgalley.com
Also reviewed at YA Books Central.

Mehrigul would like to go to school in her small village in China, where she is part of the Uyghur ethnic group, but since her brother Memet has run off, she has had to stay home and help with the family farm. If she doesn't return to school, the loca government can send her off to work in the factories to fulfill its quota. There is a small possibility of hope-- an American woman has bought one of Mehrigul's vine basket for the enormous sum of 100 yuan, and has said she will come back in three weeks to buy more. Mehrigul runs into any number of obstacles to making more baskets, including her father's drinking and gambling, as well as outright sabotage of her efforts, but perseveres.
Strengths: Students in the US are woefully ignorant of the challenges faced by their peers in other countries, and any book that clearly shows these is one they should read. It's hard for us to understand how devalued women in other cultures can be, but Mehrigul's thwarted efforts bring this home. The additional information at the back of the book about the Uyghur group is especially helpful. Definitely ordering.
Weaknesses: While the detail about Mehrigul's struggles with her father is important, the repetition slows the story down. Some tighter editing might have made this even more powerful.

Weeding Update:
If you haven't been to Awful Library Books, head on over and wish them a happy blogiversary.  What a great site!

I have been weeding for long than they have been around, honestly I have! (http://msyinglingreads.blogspot.com/2009/03/after-train-high-school-vs-middle.html) The good news is that I no longer weed books that SHOULD be on their site, as I did here

On the bright side, I've been letting student and parent helpers have any of the books from the weeded cart, and no one has really wanted any of them. And when the cart was in the circulation area, they complained of the pong. (From dictionary.com "a disagreeable or offensive smell; stink"!). Since I got five new books from YABC to review last night, I think we're okay to get rid of things that don't check out. I'm also ramping up orders for this fall, so need some room!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Pretty Fantasy Books

When the Butterflies Came Little, Kimberly Griffiths. When the Butterflies Came
1 April 2013, Scholastic Press
Copy received from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

When Tara's beloved grandmother Claire dies suddenly in a car accident, she is devastated.  Her mother becomes depressed and uncommunicative, and her wild sister Riley wants to run off to California to live with their father. Luckily, her grandmother has made provisions in her will for the family to be taken care of, and a family retainer, Butler Reginald, comes to help Tara follow the clues and keys that her grandmother has left her. She goes from her decrepit Southern mansion home to her grandmother's equally decrepit house, and from there to her grandmother's research facility on the island of Chuuk in Micronesia. Everywhere she goes, gorgeous butterflies follow her. With the help of one of her grandmother's assistants, Eloni, she uncovers a huge secret related to the butterflies, as well as an evil plot that she must foil in order to keep her grandmother's butterflies safe.
Strengths: Tara is a sympathetic character, and her grief for her grandmother is tempered by her worry and disgust at her mother's failure as a parent. There are lots of clues and puzzles that Tara needs to figure out that lead her to find out more about her grandmother's work with the butterflies. It's fun that she gets to travel around, with the bare minimum of adult supervision. There's also a lot of twists at the very end of the book that I don't want to give away.
Weaknesses: Like Circle of Secrets, this had enough quirky/Southern components that I didn't care for it personally. (Dialect and bad grammar-- ugh!) I'm also not a fan of clue oriented mysteries, and thought that it took too long to unravel and wasn't that compelling. My readers who like magical realism will like it, however, and the cover is very pretty. For the record: in case this is nominated for the Cybils' awards, this is definitely fantasy, since the butterflies have powers that are not realistic.

Emily Windsnap and the Land of the Midnight SunKessler, Liz. Emily Windsnap and the Land of the Midnight Sun
12 February 2013, Candlewick Press
Copy received from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Emily is back in this fifth installment, which jumps right into the story-- there are horrible storms arising, and they are caused by Neptune's nightmares. Emily and her friend Aaron (who are both semi-Mer, which means that they can exist both above and below water) head up to Alaska to try to find out what is going on. It turns out that Neptune has a twin brother, Njord, with whom he fought. Njord has been frozen and immobile for years, but once he is unfrozen, things start to heat up. Njord is angry at Neptune, and wants to get back at him. When Neptune once again fools around with memories, letting the narwhal take those from many of the main characters, Njord sees this as an opportunity to strike. Will Njord be able to take over Neptune's kingdom?
Strengths: I liked how this book picked right up and didn't spend a lot of time rehashing previous books, but would mention any information that might need to be refreshed as the book was progressing. This made the adventure continue unimpeded, and made the book a real page turner. There were a lot of good magical details (I like the memory bubbles especially), and some middle grade friend drama with Emily's friend Shona. This was a fun, quick read, and will be a pleasant surprise for fans of the series.
Weaknesses: The other covers in this series are all in shades of blue and green, so the pinkish orange used when they go to Alaska seems a bit odd. Interior illustrations are not by the cover illustrator, and look slightly cartoonish. The hectic pace of this confused me a little, but then I frequently suffer from "fantasy amnesia".

Sunday, April 21, 2013

MMGM-- Strike Three, You're Dead

Strike Three, You're DeadBerk, Josh. Strike Three, You're Dead.
12 March 2013, Knopf Books for Young Readers
Book from YA Books Central and reviewed there

Lenny is thrilled that he has won the Armchair Announcer contest and gets to meet the announcers for the Phillies and work at a game. He's not a good baseball player, but he's a great announcer and knows his baseball history-- for his audition tape, he and his friends Mike and Other Mike have dug up an obscure story about the worst pitcher ever, Blaze O'Farrell, who happens to still be living in their hometown. While at the game, the new and promising pitcher, R.J. Weathers, drops dead on the mound. Everyone assumes it was just a heart problem, but it looks fishy to Lenny and his friends, and they launch into an investigation. With the help of the local librarians niece, Maria (who is a huge baseball fan herself), the group looks into a variety of threats and manages to solve the mystery.
Strengths: Berk has a couple of good young adult mysteries (The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, Josh Langan: Crime Scene Procrastinator), but I think he has really has a great voice for middle grade literature. Lenny is a hoot, and I loved that both of his friends were named Mike! They al get excited about things and go off half-prepared, and it is always funny. Maria is a great character-- a strong girl that Lenny has a little bit of a crush on. Side characters, like the announcers, the librarian, and the parents are all amusing and just quirky enough to be funny and not annoying. The mystery is a bit improbable, but has a nice twist, and working baseball into the story is great. I would love to see another book involving these characters. The cover is especially nice-- striking and won't date. Brilliant.
Weaknesses: There is some suspension of disbelief necessary to make this work, if one is an adult. Kids won't have this problem!

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 A Mom's Spare Time.

And I had not heard that E.L. Konigsberg had passed away on April 19. There is a nice tribute at From the Mixed-Up Files. 

Henry Reed's Think TankRobertson, Keith. Henry Reed's Think Tank
Viking Children's Book, 1986

Since I could not remember any time travel in Henry Reed (and I'm sorry to say that there isn't any, Anamaria), and I am always longing to reread some of my favorites in the spring, I brought home this last book in the series. Henry is spending another summer in Grover's Corners, since his parents are in Manila (!) and want him to have access to "American activities" like baseball games and decent hamburgers and milkshakes. He and Midge decide to try a different business, and since consulting is the new big thing, they open a "think tank" and charge people to help them with their problems. Soon, they are helping an overweight boy excel by having a kite flying contest, helping get geese away from a neighbor's yard, and entertaining a sixteen-year-old girl. They also lobby to get a girl's allowance raised. The summers are pretty slow in Grover's Corners, but Henry and Midge use their ingenuity to liven things up.
Strengths: Even 1986 was a simpler time than today, if people were impressed by something printed out on a computer! (And probably in dot matrix, to boot!). Children could go riding bikes around, move someone's parked car without being found out, and have strange neighbors they don't know hire them to do odd jobs. Children today would benefit from having more "scope for imagination" during their summers, but lacking that in real life, they can read about Henry's adventures.
Weaknesses: The first book in the series was published in 1958, and the 30 years between the stories (and the almost 30 since this book), show badly. Henry and Midge are politically incorrect about the fat boy, and just not very understanding of other's differences. Midge accuses Henry of being a male chauvinist, rather unfairly. I found that I just didn't enjoy this as much as I did the others when I read them in the 1970s. Sigh.

Girly Romance Books

One Tough ChickMargolis, Leslie. One Tough Chick.
22 January 2013, Bloomsbury.
Annabel is back in this fourth book. This time, she tries out for the school talent show, but her dog Pepper goes crazy, so she doesn't get to be in it. The teachers take pity on her and ask her to be a student judge, which means that everyone who is in the talent show is trying to bribe her. Add to this her family life, which is still kind of weird now that her mother has remarried, regular difficulties with friends, and things are.... well, typically middle school. Her big concern, however, is Oliver, and she is increasingly interested in kissing him, but something always happens to interrupt them, including her feelings as well as Oliver's reactions to her. Will the talent show go smoothly? And will things with Oliver ever progress?
Strengths: This is a very true-to-life series, and is starting to replace Naylor's Alice books for a quick, realistic read for my girls. Maybe I should buy another copy of book one!
Weaknesses: Wish they had kept the same style of cover of the other books. Also, personally, I no longer cared about Annabel's kiss, but then I'm old and jaded AND have turned into a 12-year-old boy in my reading habits.

Girl Meets GhostBarnholdt, Lauren. Girl Meets Ghost
5 February 2013, Aladdin.

Kendall lives by a cemetary and has long had ghosts talk to her to try to get her to help them solve the problems that are tethering them to earth. She no longer tells her father about them, because he has enough to worry about-- Kendall's mother left years ago, her grandmother has recently died, and her father's "girlfriend" Cindy won't leave him alone. Kendall would like to concentrate on getting her math grade up, especially if it means spending more time with cute Brandon being tutored, but ghost Daniella has other plans. Daniella was a gymnast and thinks that a fight she had with her best friend is keeping her from moving on, but she doesn't quite remember. Kendall has to follow Jen around, which makes them both uncomfortable, to try to figure out what's going on. She is also being followed by another ghost-- Brandon's mother, who passed away recently. Mrs. Dunham isn't as talkative as most ghosts; she just keeps telling Kendall to put her name "on the green paper". At least Kendall is able to solve Daniella's problems; Mrs. Dunham's case will probably be resolved in book two of this series, The Harder the Fall, which comes out 3 September 2013.
Strengths: This will be hugely popular with middle school girls. Ghosts AND lots of information on clothing and makeup AND a cute boy who's inviting her over to his house for dinner. Pitch perfect for middle school. Looking forward to the series. Love the covers.
Weaknesses: I personally got a bit weary of reading about Kendall's silver eye shadow and her outfits, but that's just me. Many girls will adore this.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Short Seller

The Short Seller Weissman, Elissa Brent. The Short Seller.
7 May 2013, Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Tree Line
Copy received from Raab Associates after review was posted.

Lindy isn't great in math, and hasn't been feeling well. When she is diagnosed with mono, she ends up staying home, and her father asks her to buy some stock for him, since the markets close at 4:00 p.m. and he can't do this from work. Intrigued by how quickly it is possible to make money, and sick and disappointed because she can't take ice skating lessons as planned, Lindy gets $100 from her father to invest as she sees fit. When her money does well, she decides that since her parents have so much money just gathering dust, that she should invest some of that as well. Armed with a couple of books and some internet tips, Lindy spends her days trading stock. She earns a bit, but things go bad and she loses a huge amount of her parents' money. Trying to get it back, she invests in a blow dryer manufacturing business her sister tells her is in trouble, and manages to earn the money back. She breathes a sigh of relief until her father is accused of insider trading, and she has to confess to her wrong doing and hope to get her father off.
Strengths: This certainly has a lot of good information about the stock market, and lots of math. If math teachers are looking for a novel to use in the classroom, this might be it. This author won the 2011 Cybils Middle Grade Fiction Award for Nerd Camp.
Weaknesses: This not a topic I've ever had a student ask for, and the only other math-heavy book I can think of, Alan Ritchie's 1990 Erin McEwan, Your Days Are Numbered, didn't circulate at all, so has been deaccessioned. While vaguely intriguing (How will Lindy be punished for causing such a huge problem?), this one is a bit slow and not as funny as the other titles by this author. I was a bit surprised.

Here is a trailer for the book:

Friday, April 19, 2013

Guy Friday--The Secret Prophecy

The Secret ProphecyBrennan, Herbie. The Secret Prophecy.
30 October 2012, Balzer and Bray

Edward Michael's (Em) father has died, which is bad enough, but shortly after the funeral his study is ransacked, and his mother is committed to a mental institution while he is off with his father's best friend, Tom, and his daughter Charlotte at a symposium. He is also being followed by a man with a gun, and thinks it has something to do with his father's interest in the prophecies of Nostradamus. When it looks like people are coming after him, Em runs off and ends up seeking refuge at a homeless shelter, where he is befriended by a man named Victor. Victor claims to be from Section 7, a secret (British) government agency that has been trying to thwart the evil Knights of Themis, who are trying to create a new world order and kill off vast swaths of the population in order to make the world a better place. The first way they will do this involves a vaccination for the Death Flu that is panicking Britain, and Em and Victor take off to find the factory where this is being manufactured. However, they soon find out interesting information about Em's father. Is Section 7 the good guys? Are the Knights of Themis bad? Soon, Em doesn't know what to think and must work quickly to find out what's going on and to save himself.
Strengths: Don't want to ruin the twists in this-- I probably should have seen some of them coming, but I still liked the direction it took. Lots of action and adventure, as well as Em and Charlotte getting to run around England and France on their own. Interesting sort of futuristic/dystopia bit with the group trying to overthrow society, claiming that the Euro is the beginning of this world government plot. I'm kind of curious about Brennan's politics now! Oddly, the thing that really drew me into this book was the description of how Em reacted to his father's funeral. It made him a sympathetic character, and I think a lot of younger readers will have no experiences with funerals and will find this macabrely fascinating.
Weaknesses: I am still not sure which side is good and which side is evil. Irish books (think Artemis Fowl) seem to like this sort of moral ambiguity. They also seem to think that girls can only be outspoken and active if they are American. This seems like it will be a series, and I think it will be a good addition to my collection of action/adventure/modern fantasy books.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Poetry Friday-- A Poem about WEEDING!!!

The Poetry Friday Round-Up is organized by Kidlitosphere Central, and is hosted this week at Live Your Poem.

On the Collected Works of E.A. Robinson

All that I wanted was a villanelle
as an example. Going to the shelf,
my fingers flexing to embrace the worn
red rebound volume, I stopped short and looked
at where the book was always shelved, and saw
just shiny interlopers. Gone. Could I,
in a fit of cleaning out...Yes. I did.
And not that volume only. How could I
imagine them dispensable and deem
them insignificant? Unloved? The dust
too heavy on their pages? Had I kept
the books, the baggage would be light. To pack
the books was nothing-- a mere weight to tote
upstairs, unpack, reshelve, reread. But now
that they are gone, I want to seize them back.
The close of time is narrowing and pores
with unpermitted eyes on what might be.

Compare with my favorite E. A. Robinson translation of a Horace Ode.
From http://www.readbookonline.net/readOnLine/20827/

Horace To Leuconoe
I pray you not, Leuconoe, to pore
With unpermitted eyes on what may be
Appointed by the gods for you and me,
Nor on Chaldean figures any more.
'T were infinitely better to implore
The present only: -- whether Jove decree
More winters yet to come, or whether he
Make even this, whose hard, wave-eaten shore
Shatters the Tuscan seas to-day, the last --
Be wise withal, and rack your wine, nor fill
Your bosom with large hopes; for while I sing,
The envious close of time is narrowing; --
So seize the day, -- or ever it be past, --
And let the morrow come for what it will.

More notes on Weeding

A lot (well, okay, ten) of people have commented on weeding, and asked for resources or tips about it. Since this is something that all librarians have to do sooner or later, it does bear some mention!

The number one site to visit for weeding is Awful Library Books. This site will show you, with good humor, what you will find if you DON'T weed! The main rule of thumb is that if the book appears on this site, it HAS to go from your library!

There are all sorts of rubrics and guidelines for weeding, but I have not really felt that they quite worked. Like purchasing books, it's a tricky business. But think about why you purchase books-- because they fill a need in your collection, and students read them. Use the same criteria when keeping books.

Here is a good web site, complete with printable book marks and a good acronym, MUSTY:http://www.deeplibrarian.com/free-weeding-printable/

One of my students has been pulling books that meet the MUSTY criteria but which I have kept. The books are old, haven't circulated, are ugly, and sometimes smell, but I have purposefully NOT weeded them. My student asks me one question: "Why are you keeping this?

Smoky the Cowhorse? Stays because it was stamped "August 1969". Not a good reason. Adam of the Road? It won a Newbury, but hasn't been off the shelf in twenty years. The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman? Didn't Cicely Tyson make a tv movie of this in the 1970s? This is not a good reason if no one reads the book. If I feel guilty every time I see a book because I can't convince anyone to read it, the book should go.

But James Blish's All the Stars a Stage? Yes, the dust jacket is gone, it only moves off the shelf every five years, it pongs a tiny bit, but it includes this sentence: "You give me a great big fat blue-green fuzzy frozen pain in my starboard rump, Apprentice Admiral O'Kung."

You need to keep some things that amuse you, to add depth, interest, and passion to your collection. Here are some books that I keep because I personally adore them are: We all have things we hold onto, at least for a little while!

The Trap Door (Infinity Ring #3)

McMann, Lisa. The Trap Door (Infinity Ring #3)
5 February 2013, Scholastic, Inc.
Copy received from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Dak, Sera and Riq have just escaped their last adventure and are ready to address the next Break. This lands them in the US in 1850, and when they seek shelter in what appears to be a Quaker household, they find that SQ has infiltrated many of the safe houses of the Underground Railroad, and slaves everywhere are in danger. Riq is assumed to be a slave and taken to be auctioned off with Kissy and her baby and young son James. Sera and Dak locate another Hystorian, and try to figure out what needs to be done to fix the Break, but Riq has an even bigger stake in this time period-- Remnants of memory are coming back to him, and he realizes that Kissy is actually an ancestor of his. If he doesn't save her, he may not exist at all. There are some technological problems along the way with the SQuare and Infinity Ring, and SQ's interference (as well as Dak's tomfoolery) don't help matters, but the trio survives and are ready for their next adventure, Curse of the Ancients by Matt de la Pena, which will be published in June.
Strengths: Lots of action, and lots of good historical facts presented in an easy-to-swallow fashion. Like the 39 Clues series, this is highly addictive series, and the online gaming component and trading cards draw in students who otherwise might not be as interested in historical fiction. I also like that different writers contribute to the series-- it's interesting to see how their styles compare and contrast.
Weaknesses: Love time travel, but have never been a fan of the "we have to fix pale history" school of books, because it was done best in Voyagers! and everything else is mimicry. Also, there were two incorrect uses of "thee"-- remember, historical fiction writers, that THOU is the subjective case, and THEE is the objective case. Instead of saying "thee does" it should be "thou dost" or "he doth". The gaming component is somewhat irritating, since I can't really let students go online to play at school, but they occasionally ask.

The Last Apprentice: Slither (Book 11) Delaney, Joseph. Slither: The Last Apprentice #11
22 January 2013, Greenwillow

From a new area of the County, Slither emerges. He is a new kind of creature who feeds on the blood of humans and animals. He has an arrangement with one of the farmers in his district, and when the man is gored by a bull and dies, Slither promises to take two of his daughters to their aunt and uncle, in exchange for having the older one, Ness, to sell to satisfy the requirement to sell a human girl into the slave trade once every 40 years. Nessa wants to save her sisters Briony and Susan, but fears for her life as a slave. Luckily, the group meets Grimalkin on their way, and the feared assassin helps them defeat a haggenbrood in the arena and also ends up saving Nessa, although Susan dies. A glossary at the back defines the many new terms that Slither brings to this story.
Strengths: My readers and I have all been waiting to see how Tom Ward's tale ends.
Weaknesses: This does not advance the plot much at all, and was just pointlessly gruesome. It didn't make any sense to add a whole new mythology to an already overly long, if intriguing, story. I was also really disturbed about the treatment of women in general in this book. The blood and gore were somewhat expected, but the extreme misogyny was not. It's bad enough that Slither has to sell a purra (human female) into slavery, but we find out that Slither's race killed ALL of their women and now breed only with humans because they thought having women of their kind made them week. There was also some incipient Stockholm syndrome thing going on with Ness and Slither that was just all kinds of creepy.

I love this series, but if I had read this book before I bought a copy for the library, I may well have skipped purchasing it altogether. It creeped me out, but not in the good way that the rest of the books did. And the new terms got REALLY annoying. And, come on, "Valkarky" ?

I liked this review at The Guardian,  which opined on the overuse of blood and gore. Hippogriff's Aerie had more positive thoughts on the book, as did Jade at Book Bitz, and Tatty's Treasure Chest.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

World Wednesday-- The Garden of my Imaan

Congratulations to Sally K. in The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle giveway! Walden Pond Media is handling the fulfillment, for which I am grateful. I think this spring is going to have a lot of wet bike rides!

The Garden of My ImaanZia, Farhana. The Garden of My Imaan
1 April 2013, Peachtree

Aliya doesn't like to wear her hijab in public, because people think that all Muslims are responsible for the problems after 9/11, and it's easier to practice her faith if others don't know about it. Since her family is from India, she doesn't think that she shares much in common with other Muslims, especially the new girl, Marwa, whose family is from Morocco and who wears hijab. Aliya is having enough troubles with the bratty Juliana, who ends up running against her for student council rep; with Carly, who doesn't invite her to a birthday party at a spa; and with various boys in her class who say rude things about Mawra. Aliya has an assignment from her "Sunday school" to better herself during Ramadan, and both her grandmother and great-grandmother think this is a great idea and try to help her. When Mawra wants to know if Aliya is going to fast, she decides to give it a try, even though it is very difficult for her. This year, Thanksgiving coincides with Ramadan, making the time even more difficult for Aliyah, since her demanding great aunt is visiting. Seeing how brave Mawra is, and how she stands up for herself and her religion gives Aliya motivation to improve her own religious practices, and she considers wearing hijab herself.
Stengths: The Columbus metropolitan area has a fairly sizable Somali population, and several of the girls in my school who wear hijab happen to be voracious readers. I had a lengthy conversation not long ago with one girl who wanted ANY book that had Muslim characters in it, and I had to tell her that there are just not that many. I will be so happy to be able to hand her this book. Since she would be familiar with the terms and practices, she will connect more with Aliya's emotions and her conflict about her faith; for me, I found the overview of a culture with which I was not familiar very interesting. Perhaps my favorite moment was when Aliya's great grandmother, in a conversation with Aliya's friend, Winnie (who is half Korean), tells Winnie "Chinese, Korean, same thing." Even as Aliya is struggling with trying to prove that she is different from people from other Muslim cultures, her own family has difficulty distinguishing between others' cultures! I will definitely be looking for other books by this author, and am so glad that Peachtree published this!
Weaknesses: I understand why the main character is in 5th grade, I just wish for my purposes that she was older.

Check out the blog tour for this title:

Monday (April 15)

Blue Owl Reviews (BlueOwlReviews.blogspot.com)
3 Bookworms (lettersnumbersandbooks.wordpress.com)

Tuesday (April 16)
Kid Lit Reviews (Kid-Lit-Reviews.com) also on Twitter (@KidLitReviews1)

Wednesday (April 17)
Ms. Yingling Reads (msyinglingreads.blogspot.com)
It’s About Time, MaMaw (itsabouttimemamaw.blogspot.com)

Thursday (April 18)
Books in the Moonlight (booksinthemoonlight.wordpress.com)

Friday (April 19)
Paper Tigers (papertigers.org)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Magic Baking

The Whizz Pop Chocolate ShopSaunders, Kate. The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop
March 12th 2013 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Oz and Lily are okay with their family moving to a larger home in another part of London, especially when they find out that their family had connections to not only a chocolate shop, but a magical one. With the help of Demerara, an immortal talking cat (who is named after a sort of light brown sugar because her fur is that color), the two realize several horrible family secrets. There were three brothers, but one of the uncle's, Isadore, fell in love with a woman who later married his brother. There was also an argument about whether their magic chocolate should be used for good or evil, and in the end, Isadore killed his brothers in a train wreck. The chocolate in question made people immortal, and it can only be made if the molds that the brothers' mother gave all three are brought together. MI6 is greatly interested in this, and arrange for a neighbor boy with some magical powers, Caydon, to help the twins find the third mold. While attempting to retrieve this from the bottom of the Thames, Oz is kidnapped by Isadore, who is immortal, and held in his home in an abandoned subway. Joined by the talking rat Spike, Lily tries to figure out what is the best plan to retrieve her brother and also to keep the family chocolate from ruining the world.
Strengths: Saunders' books are always a treat for me. Beswitched and Magicalamity were great fun. This one was no exception. I adored the house in London with its secret passages and chocolate making equipment; the easily distracted parents who can be persuaded that really, their son has not been kidnapped by an immortal evil great uncle but is really at a music camp; and the endless cups of tea that are consumed for every imaginable event! Add to that talking cats, immortality, chocolate-- there's just nothing that didn't make me sigh with happiness. I saved this as an incentive for making it through the week-- perfect Friday evening reading!
Weaknesses: This is too girly a cover for this book. I assumed it would be about the workings of a shop sold magic chocolate, but that was just the motivation behind all of the running about. This is a great adventure book for both genders, but I'm afraid that boys will have to be persuaded to pick this up. Now, if the talking RAT had been on the cover, that would have been better!

A Dash of Magic (The Bliss Bakery, #2) Littlewood, Kathryn. A Dash of Magic. (The Bliss Bakery #2)
12 February  2013, Katherine Tegen Books

Rosemary is back and determined to get the family cook book back from her evil aunt Lily, who has built an empire on her television cooking show and the sale of her "secret ingredient". On air, Rose challenges her aunt to the Gala des Gateaux Grands competition in Paris. If she wins fair and square, she gets the book back, but if she doesn't, she has to leave her aunt alone. After retrieving her ancient great (times some) grandfather Balthazar and his untranslated version of the book, the entire family takes off to Paris. Balthazar has done the competition before, so know a little about what to expect, and the group, especially Thyme, run about Paris getting the magical ingredients needed, such as lovers' whispers, a ghost's wish, secret of the Mona Lisa, and the blush of a queen. Accompanied by a talking cat and a French mouse, the group tries unsuccessfully to get the book back, but in the end, everything rests on Rosemary's ability to bake and Balthazar's help to defeat Lily.
Strengths: This went down as easily as Angel's Breath cake. Don't know why it was such fun, but it was. Glad I ordered copies. Can't say it will be wildly popular, but is a good fantasy series to have on hand. This was much more what I expected The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop to be like.
Weaknesses: I can believe the magic cakes, but not that Rosemary was suddenly able to get into an exclusive competition just because she challenged Lily to it!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Middle Grade Monday-- Lincoln's Grave Robbers

 Make sure you  enter The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle Giveaway!

Lincoln's Grave RobbersSheinkin, Steve. Lincolns Grave Robbers.
1 January 2013, Scholastic
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Who knew that grave robbers would be motivated to steal Lincoln's corpse because of the incarceration of a major counterfeiter? When master engraver and very active criminal Benjamin Boyd is sent away for making bogus plates, business is bad for his boss, "Big Jim" Kennally. Since the other bills being made are easily found out, he's not able to sell as many of them for as high a price, so he concocts another scheme-- he will hire a team of men to steal Lincoln's body, dump it near a lake, and then Big Jim, with a solid alibi for the time the body is stolen, will find the body and ask for a big ransom. He puts together a team which includes a man working with federal detectives. (Did you know that the Secret Service was started to deal with counterfeiters, and that it took the assassination attempts on three presidents before anyone thought to guard them?) The thieves run into a variety of problems, but manage to escape after a botched attempt at Lincoln's tomb. They are rounded up in the end, and Lincoln's body is placed under somewhat better safeguards... eventually!
Strengths: While I haven't had a chance to read Bomb yet, I'm sure it's great, because Sheinkin can spin a historical tale and make it interesting. Grave robbers, counterfeit money-- all great stuff. This has an easy narrative quality that makes nonfiction go down easily. Pictures and a complete bibliography at the back make this a must have.
Weaknesses: It was very difficult to keep all of the characters straight, although there is a nice list at the beginning of the book. The problem with digital books is that it is SO hard to flip back to this list. Also, on the E ARC, there were some problems with turning pages when the next one contained a picture.

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 NC Teacher Stuff.

Weeding: A sad, sad story.

So it's 5:30 a.m. on Friday morning and I am SOBBING in the stacks. Messy, blubbery, gasping sobs. Why? I don't want to remove Constance Greene's A Girl Called Al from the shelf. It was published in 1969. It was ten years old when I read it. It's now 43 years old, which is the 1979 equivalent of a book from 1936. The book has not been checked out since 2005. That's 2/3 of these kids' lives.

And it kind of needs some glue. Not in good shape.

I had a weeding epiphany this week when I had students help me remove books from the shelves. The stark reality is that if I buy 600 books a year (and my budget isn't that large, but my money management skills and ability to get free books are EPIC!), things have to go. Not only for space, but if I am constantly trying to give The Moves Make the Man to boys who want basketball books who check it out and bring it back right away, what am I doing?

The books in my library collection represent a huge amount of my time, since I have read all of the fiction. If I read the book and thought it wasn't good at the time, I got rid of it. Now the collection is full of books that I liked. This is not, however, always indicative of what students will like. And it's their library.

I used to think that if the content were good, I should keep the book. This week I came to realize that styles change, books become weary, and my idea of OLD and the students' idea of old are wildly different. Also, I thought that if a book was super awesome, it didn't matter if the back cover was taped back on and there was a huge mud stain on the front page. This is not true for my students.

The bottom line is that I want students to get excited about reading and books. It's better to have a lean and mean collection with a bunch of fresh, awesome books than to pack the shelves with multiple copies of Madeleine L'Engle books in various stages of disintegration.

I will chant this to myself all day as students peel my fingers from crumbling copies of Fitzgerald's The Great Brain, Robertson's Henry Reed, and duplicate copies of The Chronicles of Narnia. And little piles of paper that were once Lois Duncan and Joan Lowery Nixon books. The students are letting me keep The Mark of Conte, Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones, and some sports books from the early 70s that still circulate.

They also hand me tissues.