Saturday, November 30, 2013

Saturday Morning Cartoons-- The Popularity Papers

17290257Ignatow, Amy. Love and Other Fiascos.(The Polularity Papers #6)
8 October 2013, Amulet

Lydia and Julie are back, and this time all of their drama surrounds relationships. Julie likes Roland but isn't sure about "where their relationship is heading"-- Jane gives her all kinds of advice, and her dads freak out at the thought of her dating. Jane is busy hanging out with Chuck after they get back together, and Ms. Goldblatt is getting married to Coach Eric, and the girls are in the wedding. Lydia is okay with that, since her mom is happy, but her sister thinks it's as bad as their father leaving them. Lots of drama, all drawn in full color pictures.
Strengths: These are much more realistic and kinder than the Dork Diaries, so I did break down and buy all of them. They are never on the shelf.
Weaknesses:  Some readers may really struggle with reading the cursive in the book. It's very neatly done, and I'm all for forcing children to know cursive, but many of them don't. I find it hard to read these, since I am a word-based, linear thinker!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Guy Friday- QB1

17465445Lupica, Mike. QB1
September 17th 2013 by Philomel

Jake plays football. Not only football, but football in Texas, where his older brother Wyatt just had a winning season and is now playing college ball for the Longhorns. Jake's father made it as far as big league ball, although his career was ended by concussions. Jake has made the team, but doesn't feel that he is as good as Wyatt. Nobody does. Jake has to readjust his style, come to terms with his relationship with his style, and put up with a lot of grief because he is a Cullen, and other players on his team have certain expectations of what he will be like. He is also interested in a slightly older cheerleader, Sarah, who was rather fond of his brother.
Strengths: More descriptions of football plays than I could EVER possibly understand and a good overview of what it is like to play football in Texas. I had no idea that the towns were so insane about it. Lupica is a master at describing rocky father-son relationships, and this is a fantastic stand alone novel that my football loving boys will love.
Weaknesses:  Lupica usually writes feisty girl characters, so I was surprised that Sarah was such a one dimensional cheerleader. The only reason Jake seemed to like her was that she was pretty. Boo.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Historical Titles

Stone, Phoebe. Romeo Blue

May 28th 2013, Arthur A. Levine Books
Nominated for the Cybils by Alex Baugh

In this sequel to The Romeo and Juliet Code, Flissy is still living along the coast in Bottlebay, Maine with her Uncle Gideon and grandmother while her mother remains in England. Derek, a foster child who has been trying to find his father, has a letter from him, and Flissy is concerned that Derek will leave to be with him. World War II encroaches on everything-- ration booklets are coming, Flissy's family are working as spies, and most of the young men they know are being called off to war. Bob Henley has been called up, and he asks Miami to marry him, and also leaves a book of his poems, and Flissy has to deal with a publisher that is interested in them. While Flissy still has a huge crush on Derek, he has other things on his mind. Eventually, Flissy's mother comes back to Maine, and Flissy has to deal with even more family drama.
Strengths: This has a lot of really good details about every day life during the war, and even more details about what it was like to live in a coastal area when spies were thought to be everywhere. There is so much going on, so girls who like drama will be drawn to this.
Weaknesses: This seemed a bit over the top to me, and I never really liked Flissy.

15953254 Anderson, T. Neill. City of the Dead.
August 1st 2013, Charlesbridge Publishing
Nominated for the Cybils by the publisher.

When the bad weather rolls into Galveston, Texas in 1900, people don't know how bad the flooding will be. Daisy and her family hunker down in Lucas Terrace with a lot of her neighbors who see their own houses sailing down the streets. Albert and other boys from St. Mary's Orphanage try to keep the nuns and children together away from the rising waters. Sam struggles to help people in the area, but gets swept away in the flood. Those who survive see the houses tumble down and hundreds of corpses washing away to sea.
Strengths: Somewhat like Blizzard of Glass, (although a fictionalized account) this was rich in details of what the devastation of the storm was like from the points of view of various people. Readers who like survival stories with lots of gory details will be pleased with this one. Historical photos add a lot.
Weaknesses: It was hard to keep the characters straight because they were all undergoing similar, very harrowing experiences. I had to put this down for a while because it got to be a bit too much.

Picture Karwoski, Gail. When Hurrican Katrina Hit Home
June 4th 2013 by History Press
Nominated for the Cybils by Storm's Edge
Copy received from the publisher.

Chazz lives with his grandmother Adele in New Orleans because his mother, Leah, is off studying for a nursing degree and doesn't have time to care for him. Adele is elderly and has recently broken her ankle, but is glad to have Marie working for her. Marie has a daughter and her two children, Lyric and Quen, living with her. Quen has been very ill, so as Hurrican Katrina is on its way, Marie takes Adele and Chazz to her home in the Ninth Ward to take a look at Quen. Of course, once the storm hits, they are all stuck there, along with Chazz's dog, Niki. The group ends up having to stay in the attic, where they ration the little food and water they have and try to take care of the sick baby and Adele. Eventually, Adele and Quen are airlifted out together. After more time, the others are taken to the Convention Center, where they find worse conditions than there were in. Eventually, they all are lucky enough to survive, and the book follows a bit of the rebuilding of their lives.
Strengths: This had good, unflinching descriptions of the difficulties this storm created. Where to go to the bathroom, creepy people boating around wanting to possibly attack others, what the Convention Center was like-- all interesting details. There are not a whole lot of books about this historic event.
Weaknesses:I thought there would be a little more character development with Lyric or Chazz. Also, this is not formatted well for middle school. The unattractive cover and very small print will turn off many readers.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Children With Problems

17262291Sullivan, Sarah. All That's Missing. 
October 8th 2013 by Candlewick Press
Nominated for the Cybils by the Publisher.

Arlo's parents were killed in a car accident when he was very young, so he has always lived with his grandfather, Poppo. Lately, though Poppo has been very forgetful, wandering around town and not quite knowing who Arlo is. When Poppo has a stroke while foraging in the dumpster of a local store, he ends up in the hospital, and Arlo ends up in foster care. Arlo runs away from the shelter and decides to take a bus trip to Edgewater to find his grandmother, even though she and Poppo did not get along and he hasn't seen her in years. A stroke of luck leads Arlo to her, and after some tense calls to children's services, Arlo stays with her, settling in uneasily while waiting for word on Poppo. He makes friends with Maygood, the daughter of one of his father's friends, and tries to figure out what his place will be. His grandmother is trying to sell the large family house, and the man trying to buy it seems less than honest.
Strengths: Arlo and Poppo have a great relationship, and I liked how Arlo was able to develop one with his estranged grandmother as well. The community is Southern but not overly quirky, and it was nice to see how everyone supported Arlo.
Weaknesses: There was an art related mystery that came a bit too late in the book for me; it felt tacked on. Too bad, because it could have been interesting if it had been developed earlier.

15982022Lamb, Jody. Easter Ann Peters' Operation Cool
November 6th 2012, Scribe Publishing Company 

Nominated for the Cybils by Sarah P.

Easter is starting seventh grade, and she's bound and determined to make this a better year. She has done her research and has her plan-- a notebook where she has figured out how she can rise in popularity and make everyone like her. Or, well, be not quite as geeky. This is important, because things are tough at home. Her dad is a factory supervisor who works long hours, and her mother is a former singer who is currently depressed and drinking fairly heavily. Easter is used to cleaning up after her mother, making excuses for her, and taking care of herself and her cat, Yoplait. One of Easter's points is that she needs a best friend, and when Wreni moves to town and takes Easter's side over that of the annoying Horse Girl, Easter thinks she has it made. She even has a boy that is interested in her, but it's hard to keep up with things at school when they are falling apart so badly at home.
Strengths: Easter was a sympathetic character, and her attempts to get her own life together were realistic. There is also a lot of good information about dealing with a parent who drinks.
Weaknesses: Easter uses a lot of odd interjections like "Cartwheeling hamsters!" that are grating and don't sound authentic.

17675470Goebel, Jenny. Grave Images. 
October 29th 2013 by Scholastic Press 

Bernie's family runs a monument company, and her father is struggling to keep up with the workload after the death of his father. Bernie's mother is struggling just to get out of bed, and often doesn't, although we don't find out for quite some time why she is so depressed. Bernie's friend, Michael, is a bit quirky and doesn't mind hanging out with her, so when she decides that the new engraver her father has hired, Abbot Stein, is super creepy, she enlists Michael's help in finding out more about him. Mr. Stein's carvings are beautifully realistic, but very creepy, and when he seems to have them completed even before the subjects of them have passed away, Bernie becomes alarmed and tries to investigate the mystery of the man and his creepy carving tools that were hardened in fire with human bones. Can Bernie figure this out before more people in her town die, and can she help her mother as well?
Strengths: Good creepy cover, and the premise of the evil tools is a good one. Stein is described in elaborate creepy detail, and the investigation makes sense.
Weaknesses: The balance of family problems and creepy mystery is off. There is much too much time given to Bernie's mother's grief. It's hinted at, but not really explained until very far in the book, and overshadows the rest of the plot. Readers who want creepy stories aren't usually as interested in books about family dynamics.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Wicked Cruel

16142110Wallace, Rich. Wicked Cruel.
August 6th 2013 by Knopf Books for Young Readers 

These three short stories are set in the New England town of Cheshire Notch. The first, "Wicked Cruel", details the experiences of a boy who thinks he sees a former annoying classmate in a music video-- but that classmate has passed away from brain injuries, most likely caused by repeated beatings received at the hands of the boy and his classmates. Is the boy really dead? Is he really haunting Jordan? The next, "The Horses of Brickyard Pond", covers Halloween night and follows Danny and Claudine as the attend city parties but also a poetry reading their father gives. Janelle decides to go to this reading with Danny, which angers another boy. Will the mythical ghost horses save Danny... or destroy him? In the last, "Rites of Passage", Owen decides to attend a tea and dance at the local Chase Tavern. He meets Sophie there, but also the ghost of a girl long thought dead. Why does she still haunt the tavern? Will Owen come to grief through his contact with her?
Strengths: Very nice descriptions of life in a small New England town; very creepy and atmospheric! Enough suspense to make this pleasantly creepy. Wallace can turn his hand to anything and have it come out well, I think. He has a good feel for what middle graders like.
Weaknesses: I almost would have liked this better if the stories were more interwoven and all of them happened to the same main character. There could have been more suspense built that way.

Monday, November 25, 2013

MMGM--The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit

17138137Spencer, Octavia. The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit. (Randi Rhodes: Ninja Detective #1)
October 15th 2013 by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Randi's father, who writes detective novels, decides to move from New York City to the mountains of Tennessee after the death of Randi's mother from cancer. Randi loves to investigate small crimes in her urban neighborhood, so is not happy about the move, or about the fact that her father isn't writing. When they get to the small town of Deer Creek, they find it is celebrating it's 200th birthday by uncovering a time capsule that the founders buried, and it is to be opened by none other than the president of the United States. When the ceremony occurs, old man McCarthy lets a skunk loose, and the capsule is stolen. Randi sets out to investigate, making friends with DC, whose mother owns a struggling apple orchard and who shares Randi's love of martial arts. The two find that there are bigger mysteries around, such as why Amber-Grace Sutton's father, the bank manager, is trying to bankrupt DC's mom. They try out their detective skills searching for a lost cat, and find out that a resort is being built... on the site of the apple orchard. Pudge Taylor, whose father has moved the family down from Boston, is in on the planning, but Pudge helps the fledgling detective try to figure out who is behind the various mysteries.
Strengths: This was a solid middle grade mystery, and had a nice multicultural cast of characters. The cover immediately drew me, with TWO characters of color on it. This ended in a way that makes me think there could be a sequel. The appendices at the back on how to perform "ninja tasks" were vaguely amusing as well.
Weaknesses: I somehow thought this would be more of a fantastical, super hero or time travel novel. Since I need more mysteries than either of those, I wasn't disappointed. This would benefit from tighter editing, though-- the print was small and it rambled at times.

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.

Releasing today-- I Even Funnier

17612524Patterson, James and Grabenstein, Chris. I Even Funnier
December 5th 2013 by Arrow (Young) 

Jamie is back, and he's waiting to compete again in the Planet's Funniest Kid Comic Contest. He's a stand up comic-- but in a wheelchair. It's a good thing that he has a sense of humor, because little else is going right in his life. He's still with his unsmiling aunt and uncle, and their bully of a son, Stevie, who goes out of his way to humiliate Jamie at school. Suzie (aka Cool Girl) is dating a new boy from California, so is  not dating Jamie. Jamie still has his friends Gilda, Pierce and Gaynor, although Gaynor's mother is very sick with cancer and he makes a poor decision to steal things out of lockers at school. He ends up living with Jamie's Uncle Frankie for a while, so Jamie moves in as well. This goes well, but Jamie spends too much time practicing his comic routine, and his grades tank. Then, Uncle Frankie has a heart attack. This puts a crimp into Jamie's plans, but strategic YouTube videos save the day and Jamie is able to continue with his stand up routine.
Strengths: I had students asking for this in October. The first book has been so popular that one of the copies I have is falling to little pieces. Like I Funnier, this is a notebook novel, and my readers can't get enough of those. Rafe from Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life even makes a cameo. Just buy three copies now and be done with it.
Weaknesses: Many cultural references will date this very quickly. I'm tired of books about bullying-- there's very little new in any of them. This was also one of the most depressing books I've read-- so many bad things are going wrong in Jamie's life that the juxtaposition of his stand up routine makes this beyond sad to me. But then, I thought the first one was depressing, and the students don't seem to read it that way.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Young Adult Romances

16059410Fiore, Kelly. Taste Test
August 27th 2013 by Walker Childrens 

Nora has been helping her father in his Southern barbecue restaurant her whole life and loves to cook, but she is anxious about winning an opportunity to compete on the reality television show Taste Test. She has to be away from her father and her best friend Billy for an entire semester, and if she wins the competition, she'll spend the following year studying cooking in Paris. To make matters worse, the "dorm" for Taste Test is super fancy, and the other competitors make her feel like a hick, especially roommate Joy and hottie-but-snotty Christian Van Lorton, whose father is a celebrity chef. Joy is somehow involved with one of the judges, and Christian is a formidable competitor in the kitchen. He and Nora fight a lot, which the producers pick up on. A string of accidents (exploding pipes, etc.) plagues the set, and Nora tries to figure this mystery out as she is trying her best to win the cooking competition and also figure out how she really feels about Christian, as well as her friend, Billy.
Strengths: Fun cover, middle grade appropriate romance, cooking-- lots to recommend this one. A fun read. I liked Nora a lot.
Weaknesses: I didn't quite feel that Nora really was that good a cook or liked it that much. The relationship with Christian was rather trite, and the story line about the accidents didn't add much, although it might be just enough so that my romance readers who don't want to read a mystery for class can count this!

10594356Leavitt, Lindsey. Going Vintage.
March 26th 2013 by Bloomsbury 

Mallory breaks up with long time boyfriend Jeremy because has a virtual girlfriend in an online game. When their social networking site blows up with this information, and Mallory finds a list of things her grandmother wanted to do during HER junior year in high school, Mallory swears off technology and plunges into "going vintage". She has some clothes and a high school year book of her grandmother's which she found while cleaning out grandmother's house in preparation for her move to an apartment. Among other things, the list instructs Mallory to be in a pep club, make her own homecoming dress, and have a steady. There's not much time, but she embarks on the project, working closely with Jeremy's super cute cousin Oliver. She asks her grandmother for help sewing, and bonds with her sister Ginnie as well. Mallory is concerned about her parents-- money is tight and they fight a lot, and Mallory thinks her mother might be having an affair. In the end, Mallory learns to be less reliant on technology but appreciates it, and learns some things about her family.
Strengths: I have a collection of 1950s teen etiquette books and novels, so I could understand Mallory's preoccupation with this time period. I also appreciated that her grandmother let her know that while the technology has changed, people haven't, and teens still struggle. This was a fun, light romp with serious undertones that I really enjoyed.
Weaknesses: I'm not sure if the cover will entice girls or drive them away. I think it's gorgeous. (Pink and green is my favorite color combination!) Still, I think they will enjoy the romance and family interactions.

15805597Have a copy of Sarah Ockler's The Book of Broken Hearts (May 21st 2013 by Simon Pulse ) that I will be passing on to the high school; not only does too much of the first chapter describe the main character's too tight shorts riding up on her, the chapter ends with an f-bomb. Too bad. I really liked this author's Bittersweet, and the cover is gorgeous.

Another disappointment was Monica Seles' Game On;  while it wasn't bad, it was more about the elite sports training school's rich students and their lifestyle than it was about tennis, and there was just a bit too much mention of sex for middle grade. Nothing graphic, but just too much.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Humorous Elementary Books

12303608Graff, Lisa. Double Dog Dare.
April 12th 2012 by Philomel 

Kansas moves to town because his parents are divorced, and he's not thrilled to be there. He's even less thrilled with Media Club, which puts on the video morning announcements, but when there is a tie for the next host between him and Francine, he manages to get the students interested in a "double dog dare" competition to decide the winner. The two embark on a series of dares that include running underwear up the flagpole, Kansas wearing his sister Ginny's tutu to school, Francine dying her hair green, and a number of other stunts. The two get in a little bit of trouble, but since their families are both dealing with divorces, things are disorganized enough that they aren't in big trouble. That is, until they both get a chance to host the announcements and complete dares on air-- Francine picks her nose and eats it, and Kansas delivers all of the announcements while spinning in his chair... until he throws up. The announcer's position seems less important after a while than understanding friends and staying on the straight and narrow in school!
Strengths: I thought that this would be just a silly, episodic book, but I rather enjoyed it. There was a lot going on in both Kansas' and Francine's families regarding the recent divorces, and I did like how the two children start off hating each other and start to be friends. Supporting characters are strong as well. I got a copy of this at a book look and will put it in the library.
Weaknesses: The children are in fourth grade, which may dissuade some middle school students from picking up the book, as might the cartoonish cover. This is too bad, because I think that they will like the book.
13642352 Jennings, Patrick. My Homework Ate My Homework.
April 23rd 2013, EgmontUSA
Nominated for the Cybils by Publisher/Author

Zaritza has agreed to take care of the class ferret, Bandito, even though she hates the animal and thinks he smells. He also eats her math homework, which causes her to get a failing grade in math. Because of this, she can't try out for the play, so she has classmate Eden tutor her and spends a lot of time making up her math assignment... which is then eaten by Wormy, the family dog that she dislikes. Zaritza eventually gets credit for her math assignment, so gets to try out for the play. She hopes to get the part of Calamity Jane, but that part goes to Eden. Zaritza decides that she'll try to steal the show as in her bit part, but keeps running afoul of everyone from her mother (who is cranky because she is at home with Zaritza's small sister) to her classmates. Eventually, she makes some peace with her situation and helps Eden with the part, and comes to like Bandito as well.
Strengths: Well-paced and fairly funny, this would be a good, short, humorous book for elementary students.
Weaknesses: I found Zaritza to be one of the whiniest characters I think I've seen in middle grade literature. Every chapter is another horrible thing that someone has done to her. While this is somewhat amusing, it got to be rather irritating after a while.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Guy Friday-- Elementary Guys

There's just something about middle grade books that sets them apart. Makes sense, but until I get a big batch of books that aren't middle grade, I tend to forget the difference. Elementary students are much more concerned with making teachers happy, and are much more interested in potty humor, whereas high school students are painfully philosophical. Here are a few titles I picked up that are more on the elementary side of the Pilkey Line.

15818222 Watson, Tom. Stick Dog. 
January 8th 2013 by HarperCollins

Stick Dog lives under a bridge and is quite happy there. He hangs out with his dog friends, Mutt, Poo-poo and Karen. When the group smells hamburgers cooking in the park, they make plans to steal them, and have many humorous attempts to get them from the family. These include some spats with squirrels, thinking Karen is missing and planning a memorial to her, and stealing potato chips out of a trash can. Will Stick Dog and his friends ever get the hamburgers? The sequel, not surprisingly, is called Stick Dog Wants a Hot Dog. (8 October 2013).
Strengths: This is a notebook novel, although we are dutifully warned that the pictures are awful and that the artist can't draw. I will put this in the library because I can never have enough notebook novels.
Weaknesses: The whole plot is centered around the dogs getting the hamburgers. No character development, not much of a plot, and a deus ex machina ending. Clearly, I am not the target demographic for this title.

17469927Harley, Bill. Charlie Bumpers vs. The Teacher of the Year
September 1st 2013, Peachtree Publisher

Charlie is concerned when he hears that he has been assigned to Mrs. Burke's  fourth grade class, since he accidentally hit her with his shoe the year before. Also, she has a lot of rules and is insistent that everyone keep their desks clean, and Charlie is always a mess. Charlie doesn't want to run afoul of Mrs. Burke, but he manages to get in trouble right and left. He doesn't like his white tennis shoes, so he colors them with black marker. He is kind to the new student, Hector, who comes from Chile, but he climbs on his chair and falls, wastes a lot of toilet paper and creates a mess, and throws another shoe, this time to retrieve a soccer ball that students are not supposed to have out of the gym. In the end, though, he has a talk with Mrs. Burke and finds out that the two of them can get along.
Strengths: This reminded me strongly of Carolyn Haywood's Eddie books; well meaning child who just is constantly messing up. The pictures are fairly charming, and I can see this being well liked by first through third graders. There is a sequel coming out in the spring, Charlie Bumpers and the Really Nice Gnome. A good purchase for elementary libraries.
Weaknesses: Since middle school students are far more interested in gaining the approval of their classmates than of their teacher, this is not one I will buy.

17605480Urey, Gary. Super Schnoz and the Gates of Smell.
1 September 2013, Albery Whitman.

Andy Whiffler was born with an enormous nose because his mother's doctor mixed up her prenatal vitamins with a nasal steroid. When he moves to a new school, he is picked on mercilessly by his classmates, who call him Schnoz and make fun of him. Things change when their school is closed by a huge stink, and they are in danger of having to spend all summer in school. Schnoz finds out that his large nose has hidden powers-- he can use it to fly (using the same principle as the Flying Nun's wimple), and if he sniffs cayenne pepper, he can let out explosive sneezes. It turns out that Environmental Clean Up company is not in his school to remedy the situation, but is instead  trying to harness the horrible black goop under the school to make other places smell bad so that they can get paid to clean it up.
Strengths: Lots of weird, gross humor, with Andy reveling in smelling dirty diapers and rotten food. Some action, fending off the ECU. Plentiful illustrations.
Weaknesses: The illustrations and story line made me think that it was a lot like a Cartoon network show. Again, I am not the demographic for this.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Hardy Boys Adventures

13260655Dixon, Franklin W. Secret of the Red Arrow (Hardy Boys Adventures #1)
February 5th 2013 by Aladdin 

Frank and Joe have sworn that they will give up investigating or be sent to a disciplinary school, but when Joe is forced into holding up a bank while Frank is waiting in line there, the two know that they have to get involved. A classmate, Sharelle Bunyan, asks for their help in a related matter-- someone has been videotaping her brother Neal (aka Neanderthal) while he is sleeping and posting the pictures online. All fingers point to a boy who likes to make films until Frank and Joe see the sign of the red arrow above Neal's door. Everyone they ask about the red arrow, including their father, tells them to stay away from anything having to do with the symbol... so of course they press on. They run afoul of their principal, Officer Olaf, and just about everyone else in their search for the truth, but do finally figure things out.
Strengths: Nice, short, decent mystery with updated technology that boys will like to read about. There's just enough adventure, suspense, and mystery to keep this moving along quickly. The age of the characters and the reading level of the book are more in tune than the new Nancy Drew series.
Weaknesses: Got a bit weary hearing about how the boys were supposed to be retired.

Mystery of the Phantom HeistDixon, Franklin W. Mystery of the Phantom Heist (Hardy Boys Adventures #2)
February 5th 2013 by Aladdin 

Frank and Joe decide not to work as waiters at the event of the year-- the sweet 16 party of local spoiled rich girl Lindsay. They don't, however, key her expensive car as they are accused, and they soon realize that this is just one of many pranks being played around town. The perpetrator e mails them links to pictures, taunting them since they are supposed to be retired. Frank takes a shine to Sierra, who is helping set up Lindsay's party, but the Scaredevils are so active around town, throwing slushies at people and damaging property, that he doesn't have much time to date her. The boys are sure that Colin has something to do with all of the activity but need to figure out a motive before going to CHIEF Olaf, who still has it in for them.
Strengths: I like how these are a series but can also stand alone well enough. The pranks and videos will go over well with middle school boys, and the touch of romance is nice.
Weaknesses: It's a bit confusing that the chapters alternate between Joe and Frank narrating, since I always have trouble telling them apart, unless...

Nope. Still don't know who's Frank and who's Joe, only that Shaun Cassidy is on the left and Parker Stevenson is on the right.  (Photograph from Pinterest.) (Although according to IMDB.Com, Shaun was Joe.)

*Sigh* Guys just do NOT have good hair like this any more!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

World Wednesday--The Mighty Quinn

16073076Parnell, Robyn. The Mighty Quinn
May 14th 2013, Scarletta Junior Readers
Nominated for the Cybils by Shelley.

Quinn has a supportive family and enjoys school, but things get even better when Neally moves to town and into his fifth grade class. She makes up for the horrible Matt, who is mean to all and sundry, especially the trio of immigrant children in the class who struggle with English. Neally's father volunteers at the school, her house is filled with all sorts of books, and they drive a 1975 Volvo infrequently. Even Mickey, Quinn's younger sister, is enthralled with Neally. Their class gets involved in several community service projects, and generally get along, and even the horrible Matt's behavior is explained by the end of the book. While figuring out Matt's behavior is the major plot, most of this book unfolds in episodic chapters.

Strengths: Very cool that Quinn's last name is his parents' names hyphenated, and Neally goes one better-- her stay-at-home father is Standers, her mother is Maxwell, and she's Standwell! The main characters are environmentally conscious, free of religion but tolerant of those who embrace it, and Quinn and Neally are supportive of the students in their class who are English Language Learners and positive role models for their peers.
Weaknesses: It is stated at one point that some of Quinn's grandparents are Chinese (and one of his last names is Lee), and stated earlier that his parents looked very similar to each other, but I had no indication from the illustrations that the family was Asian. No big deal, just a bit confusing. I don't see this book appealing to a wide demographic because of the depth of political correctness of the main characters and the slow pace of the book in general.

I think I want to be Robyn Parnell's neighbor-- we'd frequently get together for tea, I think. I loved this description on page 94: "[Pink] is just a color, you know," Neally said. "I don't care for pink, either... but it's not like colors can zap your chromosomes. I don't understand why some boys act like they're afraid of pink." Oregon must be a much more liberal, understanding place than Central Ohio!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Fairy Tale Twists

17286735Baker, E.D. A Question of Magic
October 1st 2013,Bloomsbury USA Childrens 

Serafina is happy with her life in a small village, engaged to Alek and waiting for the arrival of a niece or nephew. When she gets a letter from an unknown aunt, telling her that she will receive an inheritance if she can be at Mala Kuputsa at a certain time, she goes. Upon her arrival, she doesn't find her aunt, but instead finds an odd hut, and after entering, finds that she has become the new Baba Yaga. This endows her to answer the first question a person asks of her with the truth, but each person may only ask her one question in his lifetime! This occasionally puts her in peril, which is why her hut can move when asked, and why it is surrounded by a fence made of talking bones! Serafina resigns herself to this life to a certain extent, and it's not a horrible one-- she keeps up the house, talks to her cat, gets gifts from people who come to call, and usually feels good about the answers she has to give. She misses Alek, however, and is alarmed that every question makes her age. Leaving notes for Alek in a tree near her old home, she hopes to be able to break the spell and return to her old life if Alek can locate the blue rose tea that will make her young again. The kingdom, however is embroiled in war, so Serfina is very busy being Baba Yaga, a job that is not always safe.
Strengths: I had a vague knowledge of Baba Yaga stories, but didn't know many details. This was fascinating! While it certainly is a great middle grade read, the whole idea of Alek still loving Serfina and being willing to help her even when she is an old lady makes this a great one for older readers as well. This had so many good moments that I gave a lot of thought, as I was drifting off to sleep, to becoming the Baba Yaga myself. Now, to travel to Russia and find a hut on chicken legs...
Weaknesses: Although I think it's a lovely cover, it may dissuade older readers from picking this up, which is a real shame.

17332422 Zahler, Diane. Sleeping Beauty's Daughters
August 27th 2013, Harpercollins

Sleeping Beauty was awoken from her sleep and has been living with her loving husband and two daughters, Aurora and Luna, but it's not all happily ever after. Manon, the same fairy that cursed Rosamund to prick her finger and die, also cursed Aurora with the same fate. For a number of years, the royal couple has managed to keep their daughter safe, but when Aurora pricks her finger on the pen a new tutor has brought, she struggles to stay awake. With the help of local fisher boy Symon, the girls set off to find the fairy godmother, Emmeline, who softened Rosamund's curse. They have a number of adventures while looking for Emmeline's island, and are chased by Manon. Once they find Emmeline, they learn a few secrets about the family, but can they find a cure in time, before Aurora succumbs to sleep?
Strengths: This had lots more adventure than other titles by this author, and that was a good addition. The cover is beautiful as always. I liked Aurora and Luna's spunk, and the touch of romance was nice as well.
Weaknesses: The adventures smacked strongly of the Odyssey, which left me confused. Also, I thought that Sleeping Beauty's name was Aurora, not Rosamund. Of course, in my family, we are all convinced that Sleeping Beauty's mother's name was Thrimbaba. In our storybook, she wasn't named, which upset my daughter. Every time I read the story, I had to refer to the mother as Thrimbaba. No idea!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Holiday Gift Suggestion/Personality Leakage

17568806Smith, Eric. The Geek's Guide to Dating
December 3rd 2013 by Quirk Books
Copy received from the author.

Disclaimer: This is NOT a middle grade book. It is clearly meant for men in their early twenties to thirties, but I know that many of my readers would identify with this book or know someone who needs it.  Books like this are the reason that preordering exists. If you are a geek of any description, you should probably buy half a dozen copies to keep on hand to give for the holidays!

Even though this book is a bit cute, with "8-bit illustrations" (which must mean that they look like Space Invader characters), it has really good advice. I especially liked that the first chapters were concerned with deciding who you are. Sure, it's cloaked in video gaming language, but it makes a lot of sense. The following chapters offer advice on everything from what to wear to how to ask a girl out, what to do on a first date, and how to deal with following up on a first date, and planning others. There is a little bit about sex (I could have done without the detailed description of how to remove a bra, but it makes sense given the target demographic), but it is not detailed and the information is good (Along the lines of: Think this is an awkward conversation? It is, which is why sex on a first date is not a good idea.). While this is aimed primarily at men, there is a very nice explanation in the front about how this books could be adapted for use by geek grrrls. Since my daughter (who is a sophomore in college) has her own coconut shells and can quote Monty Python, she definitely needs to read this, too.
Strengths: Even without the various geek references (some of which I got; many I did not), this would be a solid guide to dating and social situations. Narrowing the advice to a specific niche market makes it all the more useful.
Weaknesses: No mention of Weird Al. This seems like a major oversight. This book should have been  around in the early 80s, when it would have been most useful to me personally. The content would have been different (how to chat up girls while you are waiting in line to see Star Wars for the 70th time, how to use your love of Tolkien and D&D to connect), the advice would have been useful.

MMGM- The Pet War

17625083Woodrow, Allan. The Pet War
October 29th 2013, Scholastic Press 

Otto really wants a dog. His older sister, Lexi, really wants a cat. Their mother really doesn't want either one, but tells the children that whoever can raise $500 can choose the pet. Both kids embark on a series of money making ventures. Otto doesn't fair very well-- he sells apples that his mother bought, but for less than she paid for them. He makes a disastrous batch of cookies. He puts together a dog walking business, but uses so much of his mother's ink printing flyers that he owes her money. Lexi seems to be fairing somewhat better, since she is tutoring (Otto struggles so much in school that this isn't an option for him) and making custom, glittery posters. Otto's dog walking works out fairly well, but he still has expensive mishaps, like one of the dog's he is walking stepping on a bottle and incurring $80 worth of vet bills. The two occasionally try to clean at their father's apartment, but even that doesn't go all that well. At one point, Otto is so jealous of his sister that he steals $20 from her room. In the end, both children are short of money and stressed by all of the work they are doing. Otto, feeling bad about stealing from his sister, gives her enough so that she can get a cat. Fluffernutter doesn't turn out to be too bad, and since their dad decides to buy a dog, everything works out.
Strengths: Awesome cover, and fun, timeless story. Otto and Lexi are both very realistic and believable, and they get along despite their differences. I also liked how this teaches that having animals is a lot of responsibility and expensive. Very pleasant read.
Weaknesses: Nothing earthshakingly original, but a very solid novel. I will look forward to other titles by this author, who also writes as Fowler DeWitt. This was SO much better than The Contagious Colors of Mumpley Middle School. Wow.

17381996 Seiple, Samantha. Byrd and Igloo: A Polar Adventure.
September 24th 2013, Scholastic Press
E ARC from Netgalley. com

This charming nonfiction book reads much like things I remember reading as a child; nonfiction, but with a definite slant toward the story. Well illustrated with period photos of Byrd as well as Igloo (ahhhh), this was a very nice overview of Byrd's youth and early traveling, as well as an account of his being sent a homeless dog right before his jaunt to  the North Pole. Igloo also made the trip to the South Pole with Byrd, and there are charming pictures of him with penguins. While this is a bit fanciful, with accounts of Igloo being glad to see his favorite stuffed goat toy and being embarrassed to be seen wearing his custom made parka and snow boots, it is still a great record of a Man and His Dog. Well researched, with a great index and source notes, this was great fun, and made me cry just a little, since Igloo did not have a long life. Igloo's tomb stone says it all "He was a more than a friend."

I also liked this author's other title, Ghosts in the Fog. 

13721875Orr, Wendy. Discovered! A Beagle Named Bella.
March 19th 2013 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

This is the 6th book in the Rainbow Street Shelter series but stands alone quite well. A young married couple adopts Bella, a beagle puppy who becomes destructive when she is left alone all day in their small apartment. Luckily, Tim's father, Matt, has just retired Sherlock, the beagle who works with him sniffing luggage at the airport and needs another puppy to train. Bella fits the bill, has something to occupy herself, and also has a loving family.
Strengths: I liked how this addressed that even the most loving family might not be the right fit for certain kinds of dogs. Even though this is a very easy read, I think that many of my students will find it interesting. At a 4.9 Accelerated Reader level, it's higher than Stockett's The Help (4.4).
Weaknesses: It really is a bit young for my students, but I sort of want to buy the whole series now!

 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 NC Teacher Stuff.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Young Adult Titles

I haven't done a Not What I Wanted Wednesday in a long time, but when I was working my way through a huge TBR pile recently, I came across these titles that were absolutely awesome, but just way too long and young adult for middle school. They were all really good, but I don't think I'd be able to convince my students to read them.

And look how beautifully color coordinated the list is!

15945915Castor, H.M. VIII (432 pages)
August 20th 2013,Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers 

"VIII is the story of Hal: a young, handsome, gifted warrior, who believes he has been chosen to lead his people. But he is plagued by the ghosts of his family's violent past and once he rises to power, he turns to murder and rapacious cruelty. He is Henry VIII."

17237224Wallace, Sandra Neil. Muckers (288 pages)
  October 8th 2013 , Knopf Books for Young Readers 
From Titlewave:
"Inspired by a true story. Felix O'Sullivan, standing in the shadow of his dead brother, an angry, distant father, and racial tension, must lead the last-ever Muckers high school football team to the state championship before a mine closing shuts down his entire town."

The vintage feel of this was UNBELIEVABLY brilliant. 

Beauty's Daughter: The Story of Hermione and Helen of TroyMeyer, Carolyn. Beauty's Daughter. (352 pages)
October 8th 2013, HMH Books for Young Readers 
"When renowned beauty Helen runs off to Troy with Prince Paris, her enraged husband, King Menelaus, starts the Trojan War, leaving their plain daughter, Hermione, alone to witness the deaths of heroes on both sides and longing to find her own love and place in the world. Includes historical notes."
I just don't want to have to explain the activities of the gods or what a courtesan is to 6th grade girls. While this is circumspectly done, there's some racy stuff. 
17290253Leveen, Tom. Sick (288 pages)
October 1st 2013, Harry N. Abrams
"Brian and his friends are not part of the cool crowd. They're the misfits, the troublemakers--the ones who jump their high school's electrified fence to skip school regularly. So when the virus breaks out, they're the only ones with a chance of surviving."
And, good example of why I should read Booklist more:
"Between the pacing and the heroes' salty, blue language (full of lovingly creative, genital-inspired insults), reluctant readers who love zombies will devour it, right up to the abrupt end."
Kirkus Reviews

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Every Day After

Every Day AfterGolden, Laura. Every Day After
June 11th 2013 by Delacorte Press 
Nominated for the Cybils by LibLaura

Lizzie's father has left the family because it is the height of the Great Depression, and he doesn't feel that anything he does helps. This is apparently not the case, since in the wake of his departure, Lizzie's mother has become completely catatonic. It is up to Lizzie to scrape together meals, keep the house clean, and not let anyone know how bad her mother is lest she be taken to the orphanage. Other people have it bad as well-- her friend Ben's father has died, and he has dropped out of school to work for the querulous Mr. Reed, but even that doesn't stop his family from losing their home. To make matters even worse, Lizzie has made an enemy in Erin, who is relentlessly cruel to her, even trying to exploit the mother's illness to knock Lizzie out of the running for school competitions. Eventually, the townspeople step in to help Lizzie, and Lizzie realizes that her father was not the admirable person she has held him up to be.
Strengths: This was very nicely written, and the author clearly did her research into the time period. Her notes at the end about her grandparents make the story seem more likely; children today don't understand just how bad the circumstances were during the Great Depression.
Weaknesses: Unless I can sell this to students on the strength of the Boxcar Children-like survival of a child alone or as a problem novel, this will be hard to get them to read. Historical fiction is not popular in my library, and does better when there is more action and adventure. The journal writing and constant petty fighting with Erin dragged this down a bit.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Finally Friday-- Blather

Here's some interesting stuff from around the web:

10 Interesting Ways to Use Instagram for Your Library Thanks to Ms. O Reads for this post about a link on Pinterest. 10 Interesting Ways to Use Instagram in Your Library. Ms. O. is a Pinterest Goddess, and I can't even remember my log in. I do try to post on Instagram, but I have to have the iPad with me, it has to be charged, and I have to think of something to take a picture of. It's a lot of pressure. Like Tweeting. I did agree with Joel Stein of Time that the internet is good for things like blogging, and that I write a lot more because of my blog. I am just a digital immigrant, and I would rather not have to do anything at all on the computer. Like me some circulation cards, but also appreciate that I can run overdue reports much more easily through Destiny. Still a digital immigrant just trying to survive.

Book Speed Dating: The Mighty Little Librarian has a post on this that's great. I've done this with classes before (although I use a tiny hourglass instead of the fancy LCD projected timer) and it does work wonderfully!

While I don't agreee with The Atlantic that students SHOULD be hacking their school issued iPads to get to music and social media, this article had a lot of interesting information about how computer rollouts need to be considered more carefully. While the iPad has some lovely uses, I don't think that they are particularly good for working on. If the laptops we have at my school are any indication, there is going to be a LOT of tech support needed if every student in the school has a computer to use. Since the average life span of a lap top is 2-3 years, I am still a bit leery of the rush to adopt these for students. Have any of the administrators tried to read textbooks on a computer? It's not easy!

I was having a bad enough week without THIS popping up in my window-- from "12 Jobs on the Brink: Will They Evolve or Go Extinct?" Librarian, of course, was the very first slide, but we at least get this verdict:

Glamour girl Google and her friends Bing, Yahoo and Cha Cha dethroned the trusty silencer of the stacks, our public librarian.
Now, the local library is online, shoes and shirts are no longer required and we can use our "outdoor voice" indoors if we are so inspired. Will the decibel diva's future be shelved?
Verdict: Evolved. Although virtual media and the Internet search deleted the Dewey decimal system, people still enjoy reading books the old-fashioned way and appreciate research help. The new librarian is a digital archivist, savvy with searches, keywords and helpful websites.

And I don't know about you, but I just had a bleah-ish week. It was cold, students were uncooperative and rambunctious, and I'm starting to stress out about the holidays. I'm the kind of person who likes to have my Christmas shopping done in August! After deciding last week that I should have majored in Women's Studies 30 years ago, I've been paranoid for no concrete reason that my district will cut all librarians and have been vacillating between retraining as a medical radiographer or a dietician.

So.... a cute puppy, reading 101 Dalmations. If I had just trained Sylvie from puppyhood to be a Library Dog, she could have come to work with me today and made everything better!

Guy Friday-- Nick and Tesla's High Voltage Danger Lab

17345277Pflufelder, Bob and Hockensmith, Steve.  Nick and Tesla's High Voltage Danger Lab (Nick and Tesla #1)
5 November 2013, Quirk Books
Copy provided by the publisher.

Twins Nick and Tesla's parents are going to study soybean irrigation in Uzebekistan, so they are sent to live with their quirky inventor uncle in California. Uncle Newt spends so much time on his inventions that he lets Nick and Tesla do whatever they want, and barely feeds or care for them otherwise, which is, of course, awesome. They have free range of his lab, which comes in handy when they are trying to investigate a spooky house nearby and when they try to figure out why a black van seems to be stalking them. With the help of new friends DeMarco and Silas, they get to make a lot of cool gadgets and  manage to solve one big mystery.
Strengths: This is fast paced, and what student wouldn't pick up a book that starts with the warning headed "Danger! Danger! Danger! Danger!" that continues with things like "ask an adult to read the instructions!" and claiming that the authors are not liable for any damages? There's a nice relationship between the twins and their uncle, and just a lot of somewhat scary chases. Instructions for the gadgets the children make are included.
Weaknesses: Sometimes the plot turns seem to be there solely to justify the experiment or gadget, and the mystery is a bit far fetched.

17884063This sequel comes out on 4 February 2014. Who doesn't want to know how to assemble a robot army?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Whistle in the Dark

17081207Long, Susan Hill. Whistle in the Dark
September 5th 2013 by Holiday House
Nominated for the Cybils by the Publisher.

Clem is forced to leave school the day he turns thirteen. It's the 1920s in a small Ozarks town, and his family needs the income, especially since his grandfather suffers from miner's consumption and his sister Ettie has epilepsy. While working in the mine is fine for some people, Clem wants more from life. He is a talented student, and his teacher, Miss Pipe, thinks he could be a writer. Chafing at his circumstances, he befriends Lindy, whom he knew in school. Her father is a bootlegger and drunkard who makes her run their moonshine selling point in the woods. Things improve a little when Clem is allowed to keep a stray dog, whom he names Pal, but quickly worsen when Ettie dies suddenly. Shortly after that, there is a mine accident in which a man is killed and Clem's father's legs and hip are crushed. Clem fears that he will never escape the mine, but when a tornado wipes out a lot of his town of Leadanna, the mine shuts down and Clem is given an opportunity to earn money through writing.
Strengths: This was an accurate portrayal of the hard circumstances during this time period, and research has clearly been done on several real occurrences, such as the tornado. All of my 8th grade boys who don't want to do their homework should be made to read this. Better cover than most Holiday House titles.
Weaknesses: Very depressing, and not much action. Might be a touch sell, but since I got a copy for free, I'll put it in the library. Holiday House needs to rethink their page layouts-- they always seem odd compared to other books.

17262279 Amateau, Gig. Macadoo of the Maury River.
August 6th 2013, Candlewick Press
Nominated for the Cybils by the publisher.

As a colt, Macadoo challenged his father, who bit off the top of his ear. When the farm where Macadoo was born has to sell off some horses, Macadoo and his mother are to be sold off as meat, but they are saved by John Macadoo and taken to Virginia to live with him and Izzy, his grandson. Izzy loves to write and doesn't want to be a rider, but hopes to be a doctor. Macadoo has a grand life in Virginia, but when John becomes old and infirm, he is sold yet again, this time to Mrs. Maiden, who runs a therapeutic riding school. All the time, Macadoo hopes he can be useful, and longs for the day when he might see Izzy again.
Strengths: Lots of good details about how horses feel, as well as how they are bought, sold and trained. The cover is a good one to appeal to girls who want to read books about horses (this would be fine for boys, but they never seem to ask), even though I checked to see if the horse was missing part of an ear. Clever photo cropping.
Weaknesses:  These horses are very philosophical and poetic.

16670136Pileggi, Leah. Prisoner 88
August 1st 201, Charlesbridge Publishing
Nominated for the Cybils by the author/publisher

In 1885, ten-year-old Jake is sentenced to five years in prison for shooting and killing a man who threatened his father. Once he finds out that he will get to eat every single day and work with hogs, Jake thinks this is a far better life than the one he had with his father. There are a few fights along the way, and some unpleasantness to get used to, but in general, prison is a better place to be. Eventually, though, he is pardoned by the governor and sent to a foster family, since his own father has resigned his parental rights. Even though he doesn't get placed with the hog farming family with whom he was working, he ends up in a decent place.
Strengths: This was interesting, with historical information about a variety of crimes and people at the time. There is a nice message about education-- several prisoners work together to learn to read, including a Chinese immigrant.
Weaknesses: This could be a tough sell. The cover is okay, but the one sentence description of this would be "In 1885, a boy goes to jail, where he works with hogs and learns to read." I talked up historical fiction one week where there was a lot of adventure, humor, or romance, and the students STILL didn't want to check it out!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

World Wednesday-- Pacific Northwest and Alaska

16002013Hill, Kirkpatrick. Bo at Ballard Creek
June 18th 2013, Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) 
Nominated for the Cybils by Katie Fitzgerald

In 1920s Alaska, Bo has been abandoned by her mother and has come into the care of Arvid, a blacksmith, and Jack, a cook for a mining company. The two burly men make a home for Bo with the help of the other people in the community. Bo's best friend, Oscar, is Eskimo, and Bo likes spending time with his mother and sister as well. She enjoys the retired "fancy ladies" Lilly and Yovela, even though they are much too fond of trying to curl her hair and dress her up. Most of the chapters are just descriptions of the seasonal activity that occurs in the small town throughout the year. When a small boy who does not speak shows up, Bo is taken by him, and after an aunt is located but doesn't want the boy, Grafton is also adopted by the kindly Arvid and Jack. Sadly, the shutting down of the Ballard Creek mining company means that the family has to move away, but they carry fond memories of their community with them.
Strengths: This reminded me of the All-of-a-Kind Family books, most likely because it was rich with detail about everyday life in a setting with which I wasn't familiar. I loved how Bo, at age five, was in charge of making the biscuits. There is clearly a lot of research into the way of life at the time. The characters are delightful, and the LeUyen Pham illustrations are superb and add considerably to the story.
Weaknesses: A bit slow paced, and most likely a hard sell to students older than sixth grade. When my third grade class spent the entire year studying Alaskan history in 1973, though, this would have been an awesome read aloud.

15927544Parry, Roseanne. Written in Stone
June 25th 2013, Random House Books for Young Readers 
Nominated for the Cybils by JoneMac

Again in the 1920s, but this time on the northern Pacific coast, Pearl's father has been killed in a whale hunting expedition. Her Native American family refuses to send her off to a trade school, so she is able to stay with her family, although she wishes she had known her mother (who died when she was young) and had learned the traditional weaving of her mother's tribe. Things are financially hard for everyone in the area because of the lack of whaling opportunities, so people are having to take nontraditional jobs, like Pearl's Aunt Susie, who runs the post office and scandalizes everyone by living alone. Collectors from museums frequently contact Pearl's family, asking about totem poles and ceremonial masks that they could buy, and smaller carvings, baskets, and woven goods are sold as well. When Mr. Glen comes to town and stays with the family for a while, Pearl uncovers an even more sinister purpose than just taking artifacts away from the area, and tries the best she can to preserve her people's pride and way of life.
Strengths: Again, lots of research, and I really appreciate the afterword where Ms. Parry says that her students when she taught in this area wanted stories about people "like them", so she wrote one. Pearl's fiestiness is historically accurate as well, and I really enjoyed the epilogue that talked about her long and splendid life.
Weaknesses: Slow and sad. So sad. While I breezed my way through Bo at Ballard Creek, I had to keep setting this down because I just couldn't read any more horrible things. Even the cover is depressing! It's nice to see books set in different cultures, but that doesn't make them exempt from the standard rules of middle grade fiction-- the best titles have adventure and humor galore.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Girl From Felony Bay

Snow! We have snow! This is not right at all, even for Ohio! Biking to school was difficult because while the roads were fairly clear, the road was strewn with ice-encrusted fallen leaves. Oh, and it supposedly felt like 15 degrees out. Awesome. This is why I don't check the weather. It just makes the commute worse!

16248112Thompson, J.E. The Girl From Felony Bay
April 30th 2013 by Walden Pond Press
Nominated for the Cybils by Jen Robinson

Abbey Force has had a tough year. Her mother has died of cancer years ago, and her father is currently in a coma after falling from a ladder in what looks like an attempt to hide stolen goods. Because he can't defend himself, he is considered guilty in the theft of Miss Jenkin's treasures, and his law firm has to cover the costs. Abbey's home, Reward Plantation, has to be sold, and she has to live with her drunk and marginally abusive Uncle Charlie. When visiting her old home, she runs into Bee Force, whose African American family was at one time enslaved by Abbey's family, and whose mother is dead. She is being raised by her fiesty Grandma Em while her father is starting up a business in India. Abbey begins to suspect that part of the plantation, the Felony Bay section, belonged to her friend Scoogie's family, having been given to them at the end of the Civil War in an informal arrangement. Her father appears to be trying to deed the land over to them, but her Uncle Charlie has gotten his hands on it and is using it for nefarious purposes. The more Abbey and Bee investigate, the more alarming things they find out, and the more endangered they become. Will Abbey be able to find out what really happened with her father?
Strengths: I had various copies of this in my possession, and could never bring myself to read them because of the very depressing and quirky/Southern beginning. Since this was nominated for the Cybils by none other than Jen Robinson, when I got a copy at a book look, I knew I had to power through it. I'm glad I did. The mystery is believable, as is the actual physical danger the girls find themselves in, and the mystery winds up neatly without everything being tied in a perfect bow. The friendship with the girls is great, and the characters all are well portrayed and interesting. This reminds me of books I read as a child, but I can't put my finger on just which ones.
Weaknesses: Bad cover, somehow. Did not appeal to me at all, and as I said, reading the first chapter put me off as well. Still, knowing this will help me to recommend it to readers, even though it might take a bit of hand selling. This should have started off with the girls in grave danger and flashed back, even though I normally don't like that device.

Monday, November 11, 2013

MMG Nonfiction Monday-- Medical Experimentation

I love it when I pick up two books that are seemingly unrelated and read them in quick sucession, only to find out that they go together extremely well. Without giving away too much about Kate Messner's Wake Up Missing, know that these two books make for an excellent pairing on the topic of medical ethics!

17324649Wittenstein, Vicki Oransky. For the Good of Mankind.
October 1st 2013, Twenty-First Century Books (Lerner)
Copy Provided by Blue Slip Media

Starting with an explanation of the Hypocratic Oath and the early experimentation of Edward Jenner with smallpox vaccination, this book followers the history of horrific medical trials up to the present day. It includes chapters on Nazi experimentation as well as the other experiments done while nations were at war, and gives unglaring details about the effects of these experiments on the subjects, who were usually very young, poor, or mentally disabled. Luckily, the book does cover the outcry about these experiments and discusses the 1981 adoption of the Common Rule medical practices that clearly delineate how researches should proceed in ways that safe guard human health. Of course, even when these things are supposedly followed, there are still tragedies, and several recent cases of these are covered as well. This is fairly gruesome in spots, so I don't think it would work in an elementary library.
Strengths: This is a fairly readable nonfiction book, but its strengths would really be to use it in a classroom setting. I liked that there were discussion questions for the chapters at the end, as well as downloadable resources available at The book is well-illustrated and proceeds in a logical fashion.
Weaknesses: While the writing made this one feel like a quality, individual nonfiction title, something about the formatting of the book made it feel like more of a series book written to spec. I liked the look and feel of The Secret of the Yellow Death a bit more.

VICKI ORANSKY WITTENSTEIN has always been curious about new ideas, people, and places. That curiosity has taken her life in many different directions.  So far, she has been a student, a criminal prosecutor, a writer, and an advocate for children and families.  She is the author of a number of science and history articles for young readers, as well as the book Planet Hunter: Geoff Marcy and the Search for Other Earths, which won the 2013 Science Communication Award from the American Institute of Physics.  She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York. For more information, and for a free discussion guide, visit

Follow her blog tour!

Mon, Nov 4
Tues, Nov 5
The Prosen People
Thurs, Nov 7
The Nonfiction Detectives
Fri, Nov 8
Growing with Science
Mon, Nov 11
Ms. Yingling Reads
Tues, Nov 12
Through the Wardrobe
Wed, Nov 13
Kid Lit Frenzy
Thurs, Nov 14
Fri, Nov 15
The Fourth Musketeer

17286690 Messner, Kate. Wake Up Missing
September 10th 2013, Walker Childrens

Cat suffered a concussion falling out of a tree and has had to deal with the lingering effects. When the opportunity arises for her to pursue aggressive treatment at the I-CAN (International Center for Advanced Neurology) facility in Florida, she goes, even though she will miss her parents.She meets the other kids who are there-- Quentin, who was injured playing football; Sarah, a hockey player; and Ben, who fell off a horse. There are also other kids who are farther along in their treatment, but there is something that seems odd about them. Kaylee and Trent have already had the gene therapy portion of the treatment, but their personalities seem to have changed. Even though Cat feels some improvement in her headaches after just a couple of days, she finds out information that makes her think that the doctors at the lab don't have the best interest of the kids at heart. The four feel they need to escape, and this plunges them into mad chases through the swamp. Concussions are the least of their worries at this point-- escaping the mad men who were supposed to help them and surviving become the main priority.
Strengths: Hate to say too much about the plot and spoil this one. Like the Capture the Flag series or Eye of the Storm, this has a nice ensemble cast. I appreciate how Messner must have set out to make a book that would appeal to both boys and girls. Lots of action and adventure and heart-pounding chases.
Weaknesses: Two deaths make this iffy for elementary students. While I think this will circulate well, I somehow didn't buy the premise of the scientists experimenting on children. Messner does a great job writing suspense, but I still like her more realistic books better. (The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. Sigh.)

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday at Wrapped in Foil.