Sunday, September 29, 2013

MMGM-- Starbounders

16248124Epstein, Adam Jay and Jacobsen, Andrew. Starbounders.
24 June 2013, HarperCollins
Copy received from Regal Literary

Zachary is thrilled to finally be able to attend the Starbounders academy, and is quick to make friends, but also quick to get into trouble. When he, Kaylee, and alien Ryic run afoul of Loren, they find themselves on clean up duty while their classmates go on their first field trip. Things get worse when they are inadvertently kidnapped by Skold, an alien in a humanoid carapace who sells space ships, most of which he has stolen. Skold's not a completely bad guy, and helps the kids when they uncover a plot to destroy Indigo 8-- after all, that would negatively impact his business! It turns out that someone was assigned to kill the three friends, and also a hacker names Quee, whom the children locate in order to try to figure out why. They uncover a bigger plot than they could ever imagine, but do manage to save the day.
Strengths: This is the kind of science fiction I like. Space travel, evil aliens, and adventure, rather than futuristic dystopias. I especially liked that life on Earth was still like it is currently, and that most people didn't know about all the intergalactic intrigue. There were fun gadgets and tools, interesting alien life forms, and, of course, children saving the day. The writing was funny and clever as well. Good stuff, and I wouldn't be surprised if there is a series.
Weaknesses: I was leery of reading this, since I was not a fan of The Familiars by these authors. Of course, that had talking animals in it, which I hardly ever like! This was a huge improvement.

17262778Kulling, Monica. Making Contact: Marconi Goes Wireless
24 September 2013, Tundra Books
Copy received from publisher.

Like the other books in this series, this is a picture book biography with just the right balance of information. It covers enough about Marconi's family and childhood that I was interested in seeing how he turned out as an adult, but didn't linger on it. The basics of the wireless telegraph are explained enough so that I could understand the innovation, and I especially liked the bit at the end about how wireless telegraph was the way that help was summoned to the Titanic. I loved biographies as a child, but never read any picture book ones. This would have been an enormous hit for me as a child! I will see if our science teachers can use this as a Common Core nonfiction piece for their sound waves unit. The only weakness if the pictures-- I preferred the David Parkins illustrations.

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, with the Round Up this week at Stacking Books.

 Don't forget to nominate books for the Cybils awards starting 1 October! That's tomorrow!

Darling, Mercy Dog of World War I

Darling, Mercy Dog of World War IHart, Alison. Darling, Mercy Dog of World War I
1 October 2013, Peachtree Publishers
Copy received from publisher.

Robert and Katherine love their dog, Darling, even though she has a tendency to run away and get in trouble in the village. Their father is off fighting in the war, and signs the family up to donate Darling to the war effort. The children are devastated but brave, and leave a note on Darling's collar that she should be sent back to them. Darling ends up under the care of Sergeant Hanson, who has a soft spot for the vivacious but sometimes naughty dog. Darling doesn't do well at carrying messages but has a knack for locating wounded soldiers, so is sent to the front as a Mercy Dog. During a particularly heated battle, Darling manages to save many soldiers in her squad, but sustains grave injuries. Most injured dogs are put down, but Sergeant Hanson alerts a newspaper man who publishes a story about Darling's bravery and manages to get her sent back to England with Private Kent.
Strengths: Aside from the fairly new Soldier Dog, there is little about dogs during The Great War. This book is part of a series entitled Dog Chronicles, and would be especially interesting to elementary students who love to read about dogs. While Darling is injured, the book is not overly gory and ends on a hopeful note.
Weaknesses: This is a little young for my readers, especially with the illustrations. It is more concerned with Darling than with the war, although the stories are certainly intertwined. My readers who are interested in books about war tend to want books that are much more descriptive in regards to the fighting.There was just something young about the tone and overall feel of this one. I will still be interested to see the next one in the series, Murphy, Gold Rush Dog, 1896.

InvasionMyers, Walter Dean. Invasion.
24 September 2013, Scholastic.
E ARC from

Boy, did I want to purchase this one in the worst way. Great cover, aweseom topic. However, f-bombs used liberally. Sometimes, war books have these, but this used one that word as a modifier for socks. Not okay. If you're okay with the vocabulary, definitely take a look, but I'm going to pass.


Josiah Wedgewood and Marcus Perry are on their way to an uncertain future. Their whole lives are ahead of them, yet at the same time, death's whisper is everywhere.

One white, one black, these young men have nothing in common and everything in common as they approach an experience that will change them forever.

It's May 1944. World War II is ramping up, and so are these young recruits, ready and eager. In small towns and big cities all over the globe, people are filled with fear. When Josiah and Marcus come together in what will be the greatest test of their lives, they learn hard lessons about race, friendship, and what it really means to fight. Set on the front lines of the Normandy invasion, this novel, rendered with heart-in-the-throat precision, is a cinematic masterpiece. Here we see the bold terror of war, and also the nuanced havoc that affects a young person's psyche while living in a barrack, not knowing if today he will end up dead or alive

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Books for Younger Girls

Sunny Sweet Is So Not SorryMann, Jennifer Ann. Sunny Sweet is SO not sorry. 
1 October 2013, Bloomsbury USA
ARC from Baker and Taylor

When Masha wakes up with her head glued to her pillow, and flowers stuck in her hair, she knows that her annoyingly precocious sister, Sunny, is to blame. She decides to stay home from school, which her mother says is okay. It's a good thing she does, because she's there when her neighbor, Mrs. Song, falls off her bicycle. Masha is able to call 911 and is there when the ambulance comes, but things get complicated. Sunny has come home from school, and both girls go in the ambulance with Mrs. Song. They end up having a whole host of adventures in the hospital, including Masha's arm being put in a cast, and Sunny getting into all kinds of trouble. After meeting some of the children who are patients in the hospital, Masha has a new appreciation of how lucky she is, even if her younger sister is obnoxious.
Strengths: This was a very quick read, and I wouldn't mind seeing further adventures of these two if they were somewhat more realistic. While a little young for middle school students, I could see this being very popular with the elementary crowd.
Weaknesses: I had to suspend disbelief at the circumstances. Don't know that the ambulance crew would have taken the girls with Mrs. Song, and I also couldn't believe that the hospital would cast Masha's arm without a parent. Isn't that why I STILL send Emergency Medical Authorization cards with my minor children whenever they go anywhere for more than a day? Students won't be bothered by this, but it took some of the fun out of the story for me. I worry.

Ukulele HayleyCox, Judy. Ukulele Hayley.
5 September 2013, Holiday House
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Hayley wants to find something to do in the school talent show, so she's thrilled when she buys a vintage ukulele at a garage sale. She convinces her very busy music teacher to show her the basics, and ends up getting a large number of students to join her in forming a ukulele band, just like her great-aunt had. The economy is tight, though, and working against her-- not only is her father back in school after losing his job, but the school board is working on budget cuts--  which will include cutting music. Hayley and her band rally and manage to restore the program with some help from senior citizens at a nursing home the bad visited.
Strengths: This is a nice, realistic story. I especially enjoyed how Hayley's family was protrayed. In the picture of them heading off to garage sales, they are all on bikes, and ALL wearing helmets.
Weaknesses: Not that students would notice, but I thought the issue of the budget cuts was not done realistically. The school board member is shown as pompous and uncaring, and I doubt that even donated money would save the music program. (My district just went through this, and lots of cuts were made to music, despite the efforts of supporters.) My other slight beef is that Holiday House covers are routinely... meh. Not horrible, but not good, either. I had a whole box of ARCs from Baker and Taylor, and when I laid them all out of the table, I could tell which ones were from this publisher. I know it's expensive to do good covers, but it's more of a formatting issue, somehow. Can't quite put my finger on it.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Waiver Day!

Had a great teacher inservice today-- three sessions of 100 Great New Books!

If you missed it, here's the PowerPoint presentation.
Waiver day fall_2013 from Karen Yingling

And the annotated bibliography:

Guy Friday-- Sasquatch in the Paint

Abdul-Jabar, Kareem and Obstfeld, Raymond.  Sasquatch in the Paint (Streetjammers Book #1)
24 September 2013, Disney Hyperion
E ARC from

Theo, who has gotten very tall over the summer and has been approached to be on the basketball team, is taunted with cries of “Bigfoot” and “Sasquatch” during one game, but it is the comment about his skin color that makes him pay attention. He is one of a few black kids at Orangetree Middle School in Palisades Park, and is sensitive about it. His best friend, Brian, is Jewish, and is on the Brain Train academic challenge team with him. Theo’s mother has passed away, and his father, a police officer, is very concerned about keeping Theo on the straight and narrow. Theo tries to improve his basketball skills by joining in pick up games of basketball, but because he is not very good, these do not go well. He meets “Crazy Girl”, Rain, and watches as she is accosting by a very violent cousin. Theo’s poser cousin, Gavin, who lives with his grandmother while his mother is providing wells in Africa, makes a demo CD of his music, which irritates Theo by being good. Theo struggles both with basketball, where his coach is trying to use his height as the center of the team’s strategy, and on the Brain Train, where his lack of preparation is letting his perfectly multicultural team down (other members are a white girl, a Vietnamese boy, and a Hispanic boy). Things become difficult when someone has stolen Gavin’s CD from Theo and sold the song to a band, whose performance of the song goes viral. Theo figures out this mystery, as well as a mystery involving Rain, and things go fairly well for him.
Strengths: I liked this one far more than I thought I would, because it involved a lot of good details that I have not found in middle grade literature. Theo talks about race with his father, and there is even a family “Because I’m Black” jar,  to which Theo must contribute if he uses his race as an excuse. Rain is a great spunky character. There are some great lines, like the one about the Brain Train coach, Mr. Jacobsen: “Rumor had it that he had taught at a famous university but he’d accidentally killed a student during a failed time-travel experiment.” (Page 93). Lots of good basketball details, of course!
Weaknesses: The multicultural aspect of the team seemed a little unrealistic, although Theo does describe his neighborhood as a multicultural paradise, so maybe it reflects reality. I also don’t believe that any 6th graders read Dumas’ Three Musketeers—it took me two weeks to read that. Dense.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Jacqueline Wilson E Book Release!

One of the most enjoyable things this summer  was being contacted by Jacqueline Wilson's UK publisher and asked to be on the Blog Tour for her e book releases! Here's some more information-- We'll kick the tour off 13 October, but the books are available now! I don't usually purchase e books, but when Picky Reader was going through her Wilson phase, it would have been easier to buy them this was than travel to England and cart them home. Now if the rest of Michael Lawrence's Jiggy McCue books were available...

Children’s titles by bestselling British author, Dame Jacqueline Wilson now available in the US as Ebooks

“She’s so good it’s exhilarating” - The Guardian
“Jacqueline Wilson does so much to make reading relevant, fun and addictive” –
“She should be prescribed for all cases of reading reluctance” – Independent on Sunday
 Jacqueline Wilson, known throughout Britain as the most popular writer for girls aged 7-15 has sold over 35 million copies of her books in the UK.  She was appointed as the Children’s Laureate from 2005-7 (a prestigious UK award which celebrates outstanding achievement in children’s books) and received an OBE from the Queen in 2002 for services to literacy in schools.   In 2008 she was further awarded a DBE in the Queen’s New Year Honour’s List, making her Dame Jacqueline Wilson.

Her books contain universal themes popular with children all over the world.  Family life, friendship and bullying are regularly featured and her characters often find themselves in difficult circumstances.  Her books have been praised for their unique blend of realism and humor, and she is loved by children and parents alike for her non-patronising approach to writing for children.

The book trailers which accompany Jacqueline Wilson’s releases have become a much-anticipated part of the build up to her new releases. Her YouTube channel has over 2,000 subscribers and the most popular trailer, “The Worst Thing About My Sister”, has received 335,000 views.

For the US ebook launch this year, new editions of her most recent 9 titles have been created with exclusive bold photographic covers, many of which use imagery from the book’s trailers.

Jacqueline Wilson’s ebooks are available through all major ebook retailers.

Please visit for more information about Jacqueline Wilson and the new collection, including book trailers.

For more information, and review copies, please contact
Christine Melanson -

Ghost Town (Sara Normal #1)

Best comment of the week from a 6th grader, at lunch: "Ms. Yingling, why is it that you always look like a librarian from a movie? You know, like a REAL librarian."

Rockin' the stereotype, kiddo. Rockin' it in my pleated skirt and cardigan.

12813938Rivers, Phoebe. Ghost Town (Sara Normal #1)
1 May 2012 by Simon Spotlight 

Sara and her father move from California to the Jersey shore to live with Lady Azura, a fortune teller, and help keep up her house. Sara's mother died when she was born, and her father doesn't know that she can see ghosts and communicate with them. Her new town is filled with ghosts, and even has a "haunted house" attraction-- Midnight Manor, where David works. Sara makes friends with local kids, watched Lady Azura pretend to communicate with spirits, and manages to get a warning from a local ghost and avert a tragedy.
Strengths: This series reminded me of the P.J. Night Creepover series that my girls are liking, and the author of this, Heather Alexander, has written at least one of those titles, Are You Ready for a Scare? This was very much like Betty Ren Wright's stories, and since my copies of those books are in tatters, I think I will invest in this mildly creepy series.I sort of want to read them all RIGHT NOW, but none of our local libraries have them.
Weaknesses: I always feel bad when authors write under a pseudonymn. At least this series is available in hardcover, though, and it has great covers!

\Spirits of the SeasonHaunted MemoriesMoment of TruthMischief Night

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Random books

17063685Dowell, Frances O'Roark. The Sound of Your Voice... Only Really Far Away
August 27th 2013 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Marylin is having a tough year. She works really hard a being a cheerleader, wearing the right clothes, getting manicures, and sucking up to the evil Mazie, who somehow is "in charge" or making sure Marylin does everything correctly. This also means dating the right boys and joining the right clubs... but Marylin is starting to resent this. She really likes Benjamin, but Macie considers him too geeky, so Marylin claims to be buttering him up so that the student council funds new uniforms for the cheerleaders. Marylin's quasi-best friend, Kate, has problems of her own. She wants to be a poetry loving, black nail polish wearing guitar player, and be true to her own weirdness, but she misses playing basketball, and worries that her weirdness will get Marylin in trouble. Kate likes Matthew, who is trying to get the student council money for the audio lab, but Kate wants the money to start a school garden. Can each girl be true to herself, or is the siren call of boys and popularity strong enough for them to throw away their unique qualities?
Strengths: The first book in this series is crumbling to pieces and has been really popular. The second is less so. Girls do like to read about friend drama and cheerleading, both of which figure prominently.
Weaknesses: Lots and lots of whining, and several things that seem unrealistic to me. Who would really listen to Mazie? There's a middle school student council with MONEY, an audio lab, and a funded musical production? Does not compute. Girls will like this more than I did.

Oh, and it references Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle by John Tobias, which seemed like an older poem (what, 1966?) when I was in middle school (ten years later!).

16002011 Shen, Prudence and Hicks, Faith Erin. Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong
7 May 2013, First Second

This graphic novel ALSO deals with the cheerleaders insistence on new uniforms, although this time the plot centers around one geek and one jock best friend who find themselves running for student body president so they can take control of the money and give it either to the robotics club or the cheerleaders. A fine graphic novel for high schools, but since it contained a bit too much beer drinking as well as a student body election, I'll pass. It's in paperback as well, which means that it would fall apart in a year. Sigh.

16101038Mack, Jeff. Clueless McGee and the Inflatable Pants. 
13 June 2013, Philomel.

"It’s only fair, isn’t it? Clueless McGee has mastered his Ninja Warz video game and he’d like a trophy. It seems like a lot of extra work to have to win the science fair to get one. . . . Yet that trophy is REALLY nice. And Clueless does have an idea for a magnetic pickle that seems like an obvious winner. So okay, he’s in. Until someone steals the trophy—and then he’s on the case! Clueless will have to call on his finest ninja skills —not to mention some luck and a lot of help from people more competent than he is—in order to solve the mystery. . . .

Jeff Mack continues to hit every note just right in this hilarious series that young middle-graders will be reading, rereading, and exchanging with their friends until (and even after) the next installment lands on the shelves. With comic-style art throughout, this book is perfect for fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, Dork Diaries and for any kid who likes mysteries, likes to laugh, and is a video game master!"

While I'm not a huge fan of notebook novels, there is no denying that students like to read them. Still, there's a difference between serving Jell-o as dessert, and encouraging children to eat Jell-o powder straight out of the package (which kids on the track team did when I was in school. And it probably contained Red Dye #2!). That's what this one felt like. The target audience is a bit younger than middle school, it's really on the silly/goofy side, and the pictures are not as well done as Wimpy Kid. Also, the paper over board cover will not hold up. 

Still, for $7.79 each at Baker and Taylor, this three book series might be worth it. (Clueless McGee, this one,  Clueless McGee Gets Famous(9 January 2014).) Any thoughts?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Timeslip Tuesday-- The Last Present

 It's Timeslip Tuesday, an occasional feature at Charlotte's Library.

17381981Mass, Wendy. The Last Present (Willow Falls #4)
24 September 2013,  Scholastic Press.
E ARC from

When Connor's sister Grace becomes catatonic, Amanda and Leo realize it is because Connor has somehow always thwarted Angelina's blessing of Grace, a blessing which has kept the children of Willow Falls safe. Since Amanda and Leo now have the ability to travel through time (after spending an entire year not talking to each other!), they go to each of Grace's birthdays to try to "fix" the various things that went wrong. Along the way, they learn a bit more about Angelina, and what motivated her to stay in Willow Falls, more about Grace and her role in the community, and start to feel that they are a bit more than just friends.
Strengths: The covers of these are great, and there is a strong following for this series. This was a good conclusion, and tied up a few things about various characters. The emerging romance was a nice touch.
Weaknesses: I got off to a bad start with this because the E ARC indicated it was something like 575 pages long. This was only because the text appeared twice, so the book was only half that. Still, it messed with my expectations, so the ending seemed abrupt. Even though much was explained, much wasn't (why did Grace get taller?). Traveling in time back through your own lifetime would have some appeal, but this wasn't used to the advantage it could have been.

And, great minds think alike. Charlotte is reviewing this later today, and is clearly a more careful reader than I am, adding this comment: "I actually think it is explained why Grace got taller--fixing a particular birthday made the stomach problems that deprived her of proper nutrition when she was little not have happened. So she suddenly became the height she was supposed to have been..."

I am very particular about my time travel books. Of course, if I were able to actually travel back in time, I would probably waste the experience trying to track down and save clothing from the past, like jeans that come all the way up to my waist!

Monday, September 23, 2013

MMGM--Sky Jumpers

Sky Jumpers (Sky Jumpers, #1)Eddleman, Peggy. Sky Jumpers
24 September 2013, Random House Books for Young Readers
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Far enough in the future that I will be dead, Hope is living in a world partially destroyed by World War III and "green bombs". Scientists thought that they could avert some damage of the bombs in previous wars, but they succeeded only in creating a world that could be lived in... if people survive. Hope's community of white rock is surrounded by the "bomb's breath"; air that is chemically changed so that it kills people. It also has knocked out the abilities of magnets, so it's hard to use electricity in the way it is used now. Since so much technology disappeared, the town puts a heavy emphasis on people inventing things, and Hope always fails miserably at the yearly contests, which she feels disappoints her adoptive parents, especially since she is always taking reckless chances, like jumping through the bomb's breath area for fun. When the town is attacked by bandits who want White Rocks antibiotics and injure Hope's father, she knows that she has to use her daredevil skills to save him. She and her friend Aaren set off to a neighboring town to get the guards but have to contend with a blizzard as well as Aaren's young sister Brenna, who runs away to join them. It's hard going, but Hope perseveres and ends up realizing that even though she can't invent things, she can contribute to her community.
Strengths: The world building of this is interesting and within the realm of possibility. I liked that Hope, though orphaned, had a support network. Lots of good action and survival scenes. I didn't think that I would like this one when I picked it up since it had a generic fantasy cover and dystopia has been done to death, but I found myself enjoying this more than I thought. I liked Hope, too, which helped.
Weaknesses: Book two is scheduled for next September, but I wish this were a stand alone since there are SO few of them in middle grade literature! I thought the story was complete, although I'm not averse to reading more about Hope.

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, with the Round Up this week at Sally's Bookshelf.

If you deal with mainly middle grade literature, you should hop over to Charlotte's Library and read her post on "Middle Grade Bloggers as Fans, Gatekeepers, Partners of the Industry, & Members of a Gender-Imbalanced Community, Part I ". This very nearly lead to a Blather post from me, but I'm still thinking about it. I just read a realistic fiction book by an author who is very active in the Kidlitosphere and seems like a nice person, but I can't see any of my students being interested in the book. At all. This has happened before, and I'm never sure what to do. In my reviews, I try to be very clear that I am considering MY students and what THEY will read, but honestly, this often means "What on earth was this author thinking?" The book was perfectly fine, very well written, and the occasional student might find it interesting,  but I need
books that are immediately interesting to students, so I won't be buying this.

If you can't see students being interested in books you read, do you review them? Or just quietly skip mentioning them on your blog?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Retro Sunday-- Tiger Eyes

I've been enjoying the Old School posts at Secrets and Sharing Soda as well as at Lost Classics of Teen Lit, so when I saw that Judy Blume's Tiger Eyes (1981) was being made in to a movie, I knew I had to read the book again. Interestingly, I got rid of two copies just last spring, mainly because one was a thirty year old prebound copy, and the other was a rebound hardcover with no dust jacket and they both smelled bad. It's hard to get girls to read Blume now, but fresh copies with updated covers do wonders. Since there is an entire box of about 75 paperbacks in our book room, though, instead of buying a copy, maybe I'll just give a paperback to anyone who asks for one!

11915342Blume, Judy. Tiger Eyes (1981)

After Davey's father is shot and killed during a robbery at the convenience store in Atlantic City where he worked, Davey's mother and younger brother move to Los Alamos, New Mexico to be with their Aunt Bitsy and Uncle Walter, who never had a family. Davey's mother is distraught and suffers headaches, and Davey has trouble adjusting to school and life away from her boyfriend and best friend.  While biking and hiking in a canyon near her new home, Davey meets a boy she knows only as Wolf, and he helps her come to terms with her situation. She also meets Jane, a borderline alchoholic, who encourages Davey to try out for the school play. Davey is worried about her brother, the fact that her mother is dating one of the scientists at the Los Alamos lab where she has gotten a job, and is still traumatized by the violent death of her father. She also isn't fond of being under the control of her aunt and uncle. After she takes a job as a Candy Striper in the local hospital, she meets Wolf again and finds out more information about him.
Strengths: You know that this was handed out all the time during the 80s as bibliotherapy for girls dealing with the death of a parent. Pair with Lowry's 1977 A Summer to Die! Maybe this will encourage a new generation to explore Blume's work.
Weaknesses: While this holds up better than expected, some of the cutting edge Blume tactics seem odd now-- Jane's alcoholism seems tossed in just for effect, Davey throws in random comments about cliques or sex, and there are some things that should be cleaned up in a reissue-- Davey at one point asks her brother Jason why he's "wearing that faggy apron" (page 172), which he probably wouldn't do if  Mom weren't out working. Davey opines that "It seems to me that she would have more purpose by being a real mother to Jason and me." (page 162) I also thought that the character of Wolf was rather inconsequential.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Introspective Books

17190380Hays, Tommy. What I Came to Tell You
September 24th 2013 by EgmontUSA
E ARC from

Grover's father runs the Thomas Wolfe house in Asheville, and the whole family (which includes young sister Sudie) is reeling from the car accident death of the mother. The father throws himself into his difficult nonprofit job, and Grover spends his time making intricate bamboo weavings that are beautiful and appreciated by everyone but the school bully. A family from the hills who moves in across the street adds complications to their lives, as does the fact that the bamboo grove is being sold and there are always financial problems at the Wolfe House. 
Strengths: The death of the mother is felt strongly by the family, but they slowly come to terms and are at least able to hobble along with their lives. There is a strong sense of place; the author clearly knows Asheville.
Weaknesses: This would be a very hard sell for my students. It is a very slow paced book, and I was not surprised to find that the author usually writes for adults. My students usually like a lot more action and less emotion.

16240743 MacLachlan, Patricia. The Truth of Me
25 June 2013, Katherine Teegan Books

Robbie is happy to spend time with his grandmother Maddy, because his parents, both classical musicians, are emotionally distant. His grandmother is a bit quirky, and he mental health is a concern to the parents, but not enough that they don't avail themselves of the free babysitting when they have to travel to perform. Maddy has taken to camping in the woods and feeding corn bread to bears, which interests Robbie, but during one camping trip, Maddy falls and hurts herself. Robbie and his dog Ellie have to find a way to get her help, and Robbie discovers why his mother is emotionally distant.
Strengths: This is a short, easy read that a lot of elementary teachers will rave about. MacLachlan is able to pack a lot of emotional punch using very simplified vocabulary.
Weaknesses: This is another book where not enough happens and too many emotions are discussed. I could see myself picking this up at age 6 and not being very interested in it. That said, this isn't quite an easy reader because of the topics covered.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Real Boy

The Real BoyUrsu, Anne. The Real Boy.
24 September 2013, Walden Pond Press
Copy provided by the publisher

Oscar is the downtrodden assistant of the only magician left in the Barrow, the lower class but magical market town for the shining city of Asteri. He is abused by the apprentice, Wolf, until Wolf is brutally murdered in the forest. Caleb has magical business on the Continent, so leaves Oscar to run the shop, with few instructions. Since Oscar usually collects and processes the herbs used in the spells for sale, he doesn't do well dealing with customers. Luckily, the apprentice of the healer sees his plight and helps him out. Callie teaches him how to interact with others and is a great comfort when things slowly go more and more awry. Callie is desperately trying to cure the sick children in Asteri, to no avail, but worse problems are arising. The shops in the Barrow are all attacked, and many are destroyed. The destruction spreads as far as the green house were Caleb grows herbs, and the forest as well. With the number of sick children growing, Callie and Oscar try to figure out what has gone wrong in the Barrow and to fix it before it is too late.
Strengths: There are lots of twists in this, and I don't want to ruin them! The friendship between Callie and Oscar was my favorite part, and I also liked that he had support from his cats as well as the local baker (who was once a magician). Points also for having a semi Victorian setting rather than a medieval one. As always from this author, beautiful writing.
Weaknesses: I found the message of this one confusing. Is magic good? Evil? Good only if used appropriately? And was I missing Pinocchio references? They seemed to be there, but weren't carried through. There were parts of this that I adored, but also parts I did not. The buzz I've heard so far backs up my thought that this will be enjoyed more by teachers than students. Still adore The Chronus Chronicles!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Wig in the Window

12848132Kittscher, Kristen. The Wig in the Window.
18 June 2013, Harper Collins

Sophie and Grace are great friends, and spy on their neighbors to pass the time. All goes well until they spy on the guidance conselor at Sophie's school, Dr. Agford, and think they see her hacking a bloody body on the kitchen counter with a cleaver.  Of course, they phone the police with this information, and (of course) it turns out that Dr. Agford was really doing something benign instead. Sophie gets in big trouble with her parents as well as the school, and has to work in Agford's yard as well as undergo some counseling with her. Sophie makes friends with Trista, a heavy girl who doesn't take any ribbing from anyone, and tries to recuperate from her social downfall. She and Grace still suspect something is up, and when they are contacted with a woman who claims to be from the FBI, they continue their investigative efforts. Agford isn't the woman they think she is, or even the woman she tells them she is. Even though their relationship has its ups and downs, Grace and Sophie are friends who use their skills to uncover an even bigger mystery than they expected.
Strengths: This has some really great laugh-out-loud lines, and was a bit quirky without being annoying. The mystery grew naturally, and even though it seemed a bit far-fetched at the end, I believed it because of the build up. Realistic school relationships, well developed characters (Trista was awesome), and funny situations-- good stuff. I even could believe Agford's group of girls with -issa names, since my daughter was in a preschool class with Hannah, Savannah and Anna!
Weaknesses: This would have been a better story with some tighter editing. I found myself flipping pages a bit in the middle, wanting the pace to pick up.

And remember, middle school students have become BLOOD THIRSTY! They all want murder mysteries. Sic transit poor Encyclopedia Brown. (Who is now about 62 and looks more like the father than the boy in this picture.)

(Illustration by Leonard Shortall, I think.)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Thing About Luck

And I read this weeks before the National Book Award lists came out. As usual, with these lists, I just shake my head a bit and wonder if my students are just completely unlike any other readers. I have 750 a year, and pay close attention to the books that they ask for, and use this information to form my opinions of what they will like and hence, what I should buy. Really, a good portion of my day is taken up with these conversations, helping students find just the right book. Reluctant readers especially can be very particular about what they will and will not read.

Choosing books that are both well written AND about things students what to read sounds like a successful strategy, but every time one of these awards lists comes out, I doubt myself. Or when I see other teachers and librarians raving about books that my students WILL. NOT. TOUCH.

Doubt makes us better at our jobs, right?

8559036Kadohata, Cynthia. The Thing About Luck 
4 January 2013, Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Summer's family works with custom harvesters, and her parents normally travel around the west to run the combines, but this year they have both gone back to Japan to help with elderly relatives. That leaves Summer, her quirky younger brother, and her grandparents, Obaachan and Jiichan, to go with the Parkers and an Irish crew to harvest. Obaachan does the cooking, but her back has been very painful. Jiichan drives the big trucks, but the long hours involved in this work are hard on him. Summer had contracted malaria from a mosquito bite and was very ill, so now if frightened of mosquitoes-- a problem in the field. She takes a liking to the Parker's son even though Obaachan does not approve. When Jiichan becomes ill, Summer tries to help out by driving a combine, but is not skilled enough to do it well.
Strengths: There was clearly a lot of research into the details of this-- custom harvesting, malaria, Japanese culture. The brother might be on the autism spectrum, although he is never clearly identified as such. The touch of ill-fated romance is nice. Summer is a likable character, despite her worries.
Weaknesses: This might be a hard sell to students. There are so many off beat topics all together, and not very much action. Even though Summer is a 7th grader, most of this book might go over better with elementary school students, but the romance is something that older students would take to heart.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

You Can't Have My Planet, But Take My Brother, Please!

You Can't Have My Planet, But Take My Brother, PleaseMihaley, James. You Can't Have My Planet, But Take My Brother, Please.
10 April  2012 by Feiwel & Friends

Giles is insecure, mainly due to his smart older brother and cute little sister. While he is hanging out in the woods near his family's summer retreat, he meets an alien real estate agent who is trying to sell Earth to King Mooby, since the residents of Earth have violated their lease and are going to all be shipped out to Desoleen. Giles ends up with a copy of the lease, a blue but very cute alien lawyer his age, and the responsibility of cleaning up Manhattan so that the aliens don't take over. He has a few other helpers-- three of his friends, as well as a parking meter named Stanley, a space ship named DubDub fueled by rhymes, and trash collectors who replicate themselves by turning the garbage they pick up into new collectors. There are obstacles, of course-- it's a rather unbelievable story, and he is up against the likes of Princess Petulance, but Giles is tremendously motivated by not having to relocate to Desoleen among the ferocious Kundabons,
Strengths: This was certainly a goofy, fast paced story, and I didn't feel like I needed to suspend disbelief too much because Giles' predicament sucked me right in. Lots of good gadgets and aliens.
Weaknesses: The preponderance of gadgets and aliens made this seem overly hectic to me. The print is very tiny, which makes it a hard sell to middle grade students. This would have been better with some editing, and the story line would have been cleaner.

Monday, September 16, 2013

2013 Middle Grade Fiction Cybils Judges

Whew! I hope that you have been over to the Cybils Web Site to see all of the judges. Apparently, Twitter has exploded with this topic; I've been at work and practice all day and finally realized *eep* -- didn't post my category.

Here are the long suffering people who will have to put up with me. Seven of the twelve are new to the Cybils. It's tough to get a balance of librarians, teachers, writers, new people, etc. etc., but I think this looks like an awesome group. I am hoping to run some biographies of them later if they approve; I like to be able to put a face and experience with a blog name!

First Round

Mark Buxton

Jennifer Donovan

Heidi Grange

Deb Marshall

Jennifer Rumberger
Julie Williams

Karen Yingling

Second Round
Alex Baugh

Kathy Burnette
@ thebrainlair

Melissa Gaynor

Michael Gettel-Gilmartin

Kyle Kimmal