Friday, February 28, 2014

Guy Friday- Basketball

17944003Howling, Eric. Hoop Magic.
1 March 2014, Lorimer
E ARC from

Orlando loves basketball, but initially doesn't make the school team because he is on the short side. When another player is injured, however, he is on and ready to play. This helps him settle into his new school, which he is attending because he is tired of people asking him about his sister, who is blonde and blue eyed because Orlando was adopted from Haiti. While Orlando isn't the best basketball player, he does a really good job at "announcing" the games, and that really pumps up the team. When he uses his skill when he has a substitute teacher, however, he gets in big trouble and is forbidden to announce anything at school. Once he wins a contest to help radio personalities announce a game, his principal relents, and he manages to talk his team to victory.
Strengths: The Lorimer sports books are nice, easy reads with lots of play-by-plays and nicely multicultural characters. For short books, they pack in a lot of character development and plot. I liked Orlando's sister being better than him in basketball!
Weaknesses: I want to see the cover in person-- on the computer it looks somehow oddly drawn, but it might be a photograph. Covers matter a LOT in sports books. The other drawback is that many of the Lorimer books are not on the Accelerated Reader list, but would be perfect for readers who are ready to move beyond the one point Jake Maddox books. Good news, though-- Steven Sandor's Replay now has a test, so I'll definitely be ordering it!

17334016Barber, Ronde and Tiki, and Mantell, Paul. Jump Shot.
November 5th 2013 by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books

Ronde and Tiki are sad that they are no longer playing football for the Eagles, but they are busy with other things, like working and writing an advice column for the school newspaper. They enjoy watching the basketball team, but notice that the best player, Sugar, is causing dissension in the group and causing the team to lose games. When the coach approaches them to say that one player has left school and he has one spot left on the team, the two decide that Tiki will join the team and Ronde will go to work. Tiki isn't the best basketball player, and he notices that something is bugging Sugar to make him unmanageable. When Ronde finds that another boy at work has been acting out because his mother is ill, the duo discovers that Sugar is acting out because his parents are getting divorced. Ronde decides that he will try being on the team for a while, and he manages to connect a bit with Sugar, and proves a better player than Tiki. Will it be enough to pull the team out of their slump?
Strenghths: This is a nice, short, pleasant sports novel showcasing good values and decisions. The football series has done very well in my school, and when I got two copies of this in with a book order, they were checked out within an hour. Solid stuff for reluctant, sports loving readers.
Weaknesses:  These tend to be somewhat preachy. I would feel better about this if the characters weren't based on real people, not that the Barbers aren't spectacular people. If just seems odd.

Good Sports

Our new school tradition is to wear pajama pants for Read Across America Day.

It's too bad the picture doesn't include the feet of my principals' pajamas-- they are little zebra faces.

What good sports! Have a great Read Across America day.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Middle Grade March

Head over to Deb Marshall's blog and sign up right away for her Reading Marathon this weeked.

The weather is going to be nasty, so we might as well curl up with a book! 


17934467Walters, Eric. The Rule of Thre3
January 21st 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

When all of the electricity, computers and phones stop working at Adam's school, it's the least of his problems. His old clunker of a car doesn't have a computer, so he manages to get his friend Lori back to her farm, and his young brother and sister home. His father is stuck in Chicago, but his mother, the chief of police, is off working. An older neighbor with a background in intelligence takes matters into his own hands, buys a ton of chlorine tablets, and starts putting together resources. Things quickly disintegrate, more because people being violent than there being a huge threat of starvation. Adam's neighborhood closes in on itself, builds fortifications, and gathers a group of people with useful skills. They fend off attackers but are always wary. Adam has a small, older plane that is able to do reconnaissance,  and the group realizes that there are other communities that may be threatening. At first, the group thinks to move out to Lori's farm, but instead turns their neighborhood into a giant farm. They manage to successfully fend off some attacks, but more are sure to come. The second book, The Fight for Power, comes out in 2014, and the third, Will to Survive, in 2015.
Strengths: It is completely a good idea for me to stockpile 100 jars of peanut butter and as many cans of vegetables as I can fit in my basement! This book is the most realistic dystopia I have seen, and it made me feel depressed and desperate. What will students take away from this? If all the power goes out, they get to fly planes and blow things up! This will be hugely popular, so I should probably just plan on buying two copies of each of the books.
Weaknesses: I'd like to believe that human beings would be more noble in the face of danger, but this book is probably more true to life. Herb creeped me out a bit, and I really wonder what he will do in the next two books.

18222566Tarshis, Lauren. I Survived the Nazi Invasion, 1944.
February 25th 2014, Scholastic Inc.
E ARC from

Max and Zena are surviving in Poland the best they can after their father is imprisoned by the Nazis. When Max tries to reach out of the ghetto for some berries, he ends up in the hands of the Nazis, but he and Zena manage to escape and run deep into the woods. With the help of a farmer who hides them in his barn, they manage to find their aunt Hannah, who is working for the Resistance. After several close escapes fighting the Nazis, the Russians come into Poland and the two children are reunited with their father and later immigrate to the US.
Strengths: This was a good, short book covering a topic that all of my 8th graders have to read about every year. Many of the students struggle to get through books that are too long, or too philosophical, so this would be great for them.
Weaknesses: This still has some violence (lots of people get shot; some die) so it won't be good for students who are overly sensitive, even though there are not the grim descriptions of concentration camps. The beginning of the book seemed overly... black and white? Late, there is more of the feeling that some of the Nazis might be humans who are being forced to do things against their will, but the beginning seemed a bit one dimensional to me. I'm not claiming that the Nazis were anything but evil, but I do think there were a huge number of people who either had to commit atrocities or be killed themselves, and most Holocaust books do address this difficult issue. (Disclaimer: A very dear friend of mine lived in Polish Silesia and was forced into the Wehrmacht as a young man. He ended up spending most of the war on the Russian front, hanging out with villagers and waiting for the Americans to come. Long story, but it always colors my perceptions of these books.)

I will still buy two copies. In Permabound or Follettbound, unfortunately, since it only comes in paperback.

18222549Philbrick, Rodman. Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of Katrina
February 25th 2014, The Blue Sky Press 
E ARC from

Zane, whose father was killed in a car accident before he was born, goes from New Hampshire to New Orleans with his dog Bandy to visit the great grandmother he has never met but who raised his father. He is not fond of  the area, but amused by "Miss Trissy" and glad to find out more about his father's cultural heritage (his father was black while his mother is white). Soon, however, Katrina is on her way. The two (and the dog) are offered a ride in a church van, but the dog gets out and runs across the highway, so of course Zane chases him. Bandy ends up back at Miss Trissy's house. Zane manages to notify his mother where he is, but then the storm hits and he has to climb to the attic of his house, where it is hot and he has no supplies. Luckily, he is saved by Tru, a musician, and his young ward Malvina, whose mother is a recovering drug addict. The group investigate several shelters, including the Super Dome, but there they run into Malvina's mother's drug supplier and have to leave. Will they be able to survive, especially with Tru's foot injury?
Strengths: If your library needs a book on Katrina that describes the storm and its aftermath well, this would be a good addition. It covers a bit of the area's culture through Tru's background, and does touch on looters in wealthier neighborhoods and the treatment of black people by the area's private security forces, which is something I hadn't read. This does not sugarcoat the damage (the smells in particular are mentioned). The exploration of Zane's cultural heritage is also interesting.
Weaknesses: Did everyone involved in Hurricane Katrina have a dog? Would Zane really have run after Bandy? Would Bandy really have gone back to the great grandmother's house? Wouldn't the drug dealer have bigger fish to fry at this point? There were several parts of this I didn't quite buy, and the dialect was very strong. I have several books about this historical event, but my students aren't particularly interested in it, probably because we are so far physically removed from the area, and it happened "so long ago"!

Here is another book about Katrina. Instead of a dog, we have younger twin siblings, one sickly. Same amount of dialect, similar experiences.  Equally good, just don't have readers for it.

17815784 Lamana, Julie T. Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere
April 8th 2014 by Chronicle Books                                                                     
ARC recieved from publisher

From Goodreads "Armani Curtis can think about only one thing: her tenth birthday. All her friends are coming to her party, her mama is making a big cake, and she has a good feeling about a certain wrapped box. Turning ten is a big deal to Armani. It means she's older, wiser, more responsible. But when Hurricane Katrina hits the Lower Nines of New Orleans, Armani realizes that being ten means being brave, watching loved ones die, and mustering all her strength to help her family weather the storm. A powerful story of courage and survival, Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere celebrates the miraculous power of hope and love in the face of the unthinkable."

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Abby Spencer Goes Bollywood

18378827 Bajaj, Varsha. Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood
March 1st 2014, Albert Whitman & Company 
E ARC from

Abby is enjoying life with her single mother and her friends when she has a very bad allergic reaction to coconut. Her mother and grandparents don't have this, but the father she has never met does. Turns out that since her father Naveen last saw her mother, her father has become one of the most popular film stars in India. He's open to meeting Abby, however, especially since his elderly mother is in ill health, so he arranges for Abby to come and stay with him in India. It's a whole new world, from faithful family retainers, to dad's glamorous girlfriend, to the whole Bollywood scene. It doesn't hurt to have cute Indian American boy Shaan nearby, either. The press doesn't know that Naveen has a daughter, and he must consider how to let them know on the eve of his big movie premier without sabotaging the release of his film. Things never go smoothly, but Abby is ultimately glad that she got to know not only her father, but a lot about a facet of her heritage that she didn't know.
Strengths: While this looks like a fun and fluffy "chick lit" novel, it really had deeper moments of self discovery that were spot on for middle school students. Abby has a wonderfully supportive family in both countries, and her mishaps and self doubts will speak to middle grade readers.
Weaknesses: The start of this didn't go down as well for me as the rest of this book. Something about the allergies, the father not knowing the mother was pregnant... certainly by 1999 people were still in touch on line more than this would indicate, but that's a small quibble, since the book did explain it fairly convincingly.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Switched at Birthday

18222555Standiford, Natalie. Switched at Birthday
February 25th 2014, Scholastic Press
E ARC from

Lavender is schlumpy and frizzy haired but very good at playing the ukelele and singing. Scarlet is beautiful and runs with the mean girls. Neither girl is happy with her life for a variety of reasons. When the two inadvertently think about the other while blowing out the candles on their birthday cakes, they wake up the next morning in each others' bodies! Scarlet gets a chance to see how mean her friends are to Lavender, and Lavender finds out that Scarlet's perfect life isn't so perfect after all. To complicate matters, Lavender's body (as inhabited by Scarlet) gets the lead in the 8th grade production of The Music Man, and both girls have crushes on boys and want to ask them to the school dance. Can they figure out how to get back to their own bodies, or will they have to have another identity forever?
Strengths: Fabulous cover, and this is just the sort of  "magical realism" that my girls love to read. There is some of the mean girl drama involved, which they like more than I do, but at least the exploration of this is productive and positive. Very fun. Adored this author's Boy on the Bridge even though it was very different.
Weaknesses: I did get a little confused about who was doing what, but that's understandable. This would be a good use of lavender and scarlet colored ink, to show whose mind was talking! The play and the dance are both realistically done, even though I don't see many boy/girl couples going to our dances.

17777988 Gill, J. Duddy. The Secret of Ferrell Savage. 
February 4th 2014 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers   

Ferrell enters his small town's big sledding race with a lawn chair Super Glued to miss matched skis, and after what looks like a horrendous accident, not only survives but wins. This brings him some acclaim, but it also puts him in the sites of new kid Bruce Littledood, who was the entrant after Ferrell, and was completely ignored. He wants a rematch, and claims to know a deep, dark secret about Ferrell's family. Aided by friends Coby, Eilio and Mary Vittles (on whom he has a bit of a crush), Ferrell not only investigates his family's past, but makes a determined effort to race the annoying Bruce again.
Strengths: This was a quick read, incorporated some history (go ahead, Google "Alferd Packer"), had funny moments, some action, a good ensemble cast, concerned but not overly pushy parents, and a goofy premise. Not to spoil anything, but Ferrell's family are vegan's for a good reason, but the reasons are described within the bounds of acceptability.
Weaknesses: I've been reading a lot of really, really depressing books (was dreaming about stockpiling protein bars again last night, thanks to Eric Walters and The Rule of Three) so this really was just what I wanted. Why did I hesitate about it? The premise ("cannabilism bites"?), the weird names of the characters-- I don't know. I need to think of this like the book Canned; something which 12 year old boys will really, really like. And I did, too.  I just somehow didn't want to!               

Monday, February 24, 2014

Boys Read Pink Wrap Up

Photo from
We've had a great Guys Read Pink month at my library. Some of the favorites: Carter's Gallagher Girls and Runholdt's Kari and Lucas mysteries. I really do think that this exercise leads to some lasting changes in attitudes about reading books with girls as the main characters.

Alexander Vance, our celebrity sponsor and author of The Heartbreak Messenger, is back today to answer some questions about girl characters in middle grade fiction. Fun fact: he said that his boys at home took this challenge as well!

1. What are some of your favorite (middle grade) girl characters. If you were sitting at a lunch table, which characters would you like to include in your group?

I always enjoy girl characters with a lot of pluck—perhaps even a streak of mischievousness. The stock character dating back to fairy tales or Alice in Wonderland or Dorothy and Oz is a girl that is strictly reactionary. Instead of taking matters into her own hands, she mostly just reacts to events in the story. And even though we’ve had plenty of spirited girl characters over the years, I think a lot of readers still start a book with that stereotype in mind until the character proves herself otherwise. So the more pluck, the better.

At my lunch table I would invite Lyra Belacqua, Vesper Holly, Stargirl, and Luna Lovegood. Talk about a table full of pluck. We’d have peanut butter and banana sandwiches and Luna would instruct us on the finer points of the Rotfang Conspiracy. Vesper Holly would tell us about a swashbuckling adventure in the Middle East (did you know she can swear in seven languages?) and Stargirl would laugh. She has such an amazing laugh. Then Lyra would lead us all out of the lunch room in a rollicking rendition of war against the river kids.

2. Even though it's 2014, many authors stick to traditional stereotypes when it comes to gender roles. In The Heartbreak Messenger, the mother does auto repair, and there's a girl soccer player who punches Quentin in the nose. Did these characters just pop into your mind, or was there a conscious decision to get away from the same kind of female characters authors still use?

A little of both. The plot needed both of those characters to be who they are, and their unique characteristics are memorable and a lot of fun. Authors use stereotypes—sometimes without even knowing it—as a shortcut to the rest of the story. It’s an easy way to insert something familiar into the story that the reader will recognize in as few words as possible. But it detracts from the depth of the story because the people we interact with every day aren’t stereotypes. They each have their own unique freckles and phrasings and wishes, and we want the characters we read about to be just as unique. Besides, one of the questions this book explores is, Should I follow the crowd? Is something right for me just because everyone else is doing it? With thematic material like that, I couldn’t very well fall back on stereotypes, right?

3. One of the girls Quentin breaks up with for her boyfriend says  "Someday when you break up with a girl of your own, you're going to want to use flower and chocolates. Flowers at least say 'Thanks for the memories.' And chocolate, well, you don't want to leave a girl completely alone." It's good advice, but how did you come across it?

I read it once in a fortune cookie. Or was it a Cracker Jack box? Maybe Luna whispered it to me at the lunch table. It is good advice, isn’t it? Russell Stover should use it in their next Valentine’s Day chocolates advert.

4. Do you have any personal anecdotes about your own middle school romances that you would like to share?

My middle school romances? Ha. Ha ha. Just saying that out loud is funny. My middle school romances were all very one-sided. In middle school I always—at any given time—had a crush on a girl. The particular girl would change every few months, but there was always somebody’s name I was doodling in my notebook or spelling out in my alphabet soup. But I was far too shy to do anything about it besides steal glances from across the classroom. Well, that’s not entirely true. I did get up the nerve once to create a homemade Valentine for Girl X. I left it unsigned, of course. I intended to slip it into her locker during the day—through the little vents in front. I must have walked by her locker twenty times that day trying to get the guts to deliver that (anonymous!) Valentine. I think I finally took it home and gave it to my sister. Maybe I would have been better at delivering break up messages for high-schoolers…

MMGM- Space Rocks

18079844O'Donnell, Tom. Space Rocks
February 6th 2014 by Razorbill
E ARC from

Chorkle has gotten permission from his father, the leaders of the Xotonians, to do a recon mission and spy on the humans that have invaded his planet Gelo and are mining iridium there. He's been warned not to be seen, but when he sneaks into their space ship to warn the humans that his people are planning to scare them off by causing a small planet quake, he gets distracted by ice cream bars and ends up getting trapped in the ship when it takes off. Because an alien life form is detected by the ship, the capsule with the four children in it gets jettisoned. Hollins, Becky, Nicki and Little Gus are frightened of Chorkle, but have to trust him to lead them to the oxygen rich tunnels of Gelo so they can wait until their parents can rescue them. While in the tunnels, they come across an ancient holograph of the fabled Xotonian leader Jalasu Jhuk, as well as ancient technology like starships. Soon, however, Chorkle's father and the Xotonian forces find the group and plan to interrogate them. Getting no information from the children, they let Chorkle watch them while the adults try to negotiate with the human parents, but all of this comes to a halt when the legendary Vorem attack. They have tried for generations to find the Q-sik, a deadly laser that the Xotonians used to cause the planet quake. They want it, and will stop at nothing to get it. Everyone decides that the best strategic plan is to let the Vorem attack, and the human children are deemed the most capable ones to pilot the starships. They manage to hold off the Vorem, only to have something disastrous happen to them... will there be a book two to tell us how this all works out?
Strengths: There were lots of things I liked about this: fresh perspective (alien whose planet is invaded by humans), leaders apologizing for mistakes they made, intergalactic harmony, and funny alien exploits. The characters are all well developed, there's some decent world building. Funny science fiction doesn't do all that well in my library, but I'm buying this anyway. Plenty of funny lines and situations, too, like Chortle's observation that humans are "light years beyond my people in graphic design", and Chortle's grand originator's obsession with video games.
Weaknesses: This gets off to a rocky start. Chortle learns English by intercepting communications, and the beginning of the book is rife with descriptions of the humans in odd language. There's also a few Xotonian words and phrases used, including the expletive "guano". I understand the difficulties of this, (it's sort of like writing from the point of view of a dog and trying to explain the "thunder cages" ala Erin Hunter) but it's not my favorite stuff to read. Once Chorkle is with the humans for a bit and is more fluent, this ceases to be a problem.

17324650Bix, Cynthia Overbeck. Spending Spree: The History of American Shopping.
November 1st 2013 by Twenty-First Century Books

Starting with a brief overview of what early opportunities existed for obtaining consumer goods in the US, this proceeds historically through general stores, catalog shopping, department stores, and ends with e shopping and pop up boutiques. Dime stores, infomercials and everything but thrift stores are given brief coverage, all with period photos illustrating what things were like in different times.

Strengths: At 88 pages long, this is perfect for getting students to read nonfiction. It's got a striking cover, the pages are well designed (and have a pretty green on them!) with lots of pictures, and the text is informative and fun to read. I think this will be a popular book, so I'm glad to see it looks fairly well bound.
Weaknesses: I would have touched briefly on the phenomenon of resale, since it seems to be a particularly US concept (didn't have any luck buying random old school t shirts in Ireland!) and a direct result of all the shopping opportunities that exist. Thrift stores are the only ones I go into with good spirit, as I really hate to shop!

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

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Better Off Friends

17228280Eulberg, Elizabeth. Better Off Friends
February 25th 2014, Point 
E ARC from

When Levi moves to Wisconsin from California in middle school, he and Macallan hit it off when they bond over an obscure British television show they both love. Macallan ends up going over to his house every Wednesday, since her father has to work, her uncle can't pick her up, and her mother has been killed in an auto accident. Macallan and Levi become best friends, but it's not always smooth sailing. For a while, Levi dates Macallan's best friend Emily, but when Emily cheats on him, she expects Macallan to lie for her, which gets her in trouble with Levi. Levi wants to make friends with boys, which he does with some of the members of the track and football teams, but Macallan takes offense when some of Levi's friends are jerks to her. Both of them, over their high school careers, date other people, have moments when they don't get along, and start to realize that maybe they are more than best friends. Macallan spends a summer with her grandparents in Ireland, Levi tears his ACL, endangering his sports career, and eventually, the two work out how they really feel about each other.
Strengths: This was a very nice romance book that spanned middle school and high school without veering into inappropriate territory. There's lots of friend and boyfriend drama, family drama, some nice moments when the normally quiet Macallan stands up to bullies-- lots and lots of genuine moments. I should probably just buy two copies of this because it will be popular.
Weaknesses: Not to spoil the ending here, but apparently boys and girls cannot just be friends. That was a little disappointing to me, although all of the romantic middle school girls will think this is brilliant. I wish they had ended up just being friends, like Kevin and Winnie in The Wonder Years. (Although, admittedly, I sobbed through the whole last episode, in part because Kevin and Winnie don't end up together.)

Various reads

18052929Scott, Lisa Ann. School of Charm.
February 18th 2014 by Katherine Tegen Books

In 1977, Brenda "Chip" Anderson's father has passed away, and her mother moves with Chip and her sisters from New York to North Carolina to live with Chip's grandmother. Grandmother is very particular about appearances and very interested in getting Chip's sisters to compete in a beauty pageant. Chip is too much of a tomboy, but when she is exploring her new neighborhood, she happens upon Miss Vernie's School of Charm. Karen and Dana are part of it, and their lessons consist more of working in Miss Vernie's yard than anything else, but they are given charm bracelets and assured that as they learn what they need to know, the charms will fall off. Chip's sisters are both in the thick of preparation as well, and the family settles in and tries to come to terms with the death of the father and how they will make their new life.
Strengths: Liked the mention of 7/7/77-- we were traveling out west on that date, and I remember hearing it mentioned on the radio! The writing is fine and easy to read, the characters well developed, and I have to admit that the Brandon Dorman cover reminded me of Mandy, which is why I picked it up.
Weaknesses: I'm not sure of the audience for this one, or where it was really going. Part of the message seems to be "Be yourself", but then a lot of weight is put on the pageant. I was never sure what Miss Vernie was trying to accomplish, and she was a bit creepy. The subplot with the grandmother discussing why she was mean tempered didn't really work, either. Of course, Frequent Readers know how I do with quirky Southern books, and this one could fit into that category, so maybe it's just me.

People who liked this more than I did:
The Hiding Spot
The Page Turn
 YA Bookcase

17978183Berk, Sheryl. Two to Tango (Dance Divas #2)
February 25th 2014 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
E ARC from

Rochelle and Liberty are both in the running to do a duet with cute boy Hayden, but their teacher, Ms. Toni, won't decide yet who will get to compete. Liberty  is a member of Rochelle's team but a bit of a threat because her mother is a professional choreographer. Rochelle is assigned a tango with Hayden, and Liberty has a more romantic dance. Rochelle's friends Scarlett and Bria try to be supportive, but Rochelle and Ms. Toni have a difference of philosophy when it comes to dance, since Ms. Toni likes discipline and practice, and Rochelle thinks that it is more important to feel the dance. The Dance Divas (the team at the school) is entering in a Leaps and Bounds competition, and Ms. Toni really wants to beat the rival team. The girls arrange a dance off to see who should represent the Dance Divas, but when an injury occurs, the choice is clear-- but the team also needs to find a replacement for a group number.
Strengths: This had tons of information about dance and the politics at a dance studio, a little romantic interest, and a character of color without that being the center issue.
Weaknesses: Not knowing that this was the second book in the series, I was a bit confused. Even though the characters are older, this read like a book for elementary grade students.

The first book in the series is this one:

17287075 Berk, Sheryl. Showtime! (Dance Divas #1)
September 10th 2013 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons- Stick Dog

Stick Dog Wants a Hot DogWatson, Tom. Stick Dog Wants a Hot Dog
October 8th 2013 by HarperCollins

In this sequel to Stick Dog, our eponymous hero and his friends are back, this time in search of frankfurters rather than hamburgers. Finding a hot dog vendor in the park, the friends come up with various schemes to distract Pete from his cart so that they can grab hot dogs and run. These plans include making Pete jealous by eating lots of hamburgers in front of him, flying a helicopter over the cart, and having Karen, a dachshund, pretend to be a giant hot dog. The group also runs into a band of wily racoons on the same mission. When Karen is accidentally put into a basket of laundry and taken inside, the friends change their mission to freeing her from the clutches of a man who does a bizarre mating dance and then runs inside his own house. Luckily, Karen is able to jump from a window and the group is able to focus on the matter at hand: obtaining hot dogs. The real cliff hanger: will they succeed?
Strengths: This was slightly more amusing than the first book; I laughed several times. The racoons were rather amusing. I wish that people who are buying books for second graders would buy this series instead of the Wimpy Kid books, since those really do cover more middle school issues.
Weaknesses: I read this on the same night I read the 5th Zombie Chasers book and a ghost written sports book. I am by no means a literature snob, but the convergence of the three of these made me weep for humanity just a tiny bit. Children will love these. There's something about adding poorly drawn pictures to anything that makes some children want to read a book. Seriously. Mr. Watson should look into illustrating Huckleberry Finn, The Scarlet Letter, or some of the other musty chestnuts that literature teachers seem to feel a need to cram in their entirety down poor high schoolers' throats. (N.B. To Ms. S-K: Picky Reader has NOT been complaining. The opinions expressed are purely my own. )

There's got to be a middle ground, people. We need to find it between To Kill a Mockingbird and Stan and the Toilet Monster.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Guy Friday-- Heavy Hitters

18222561Lupica, Mike. Heavy Hitters: Game Changers #3
25 February 2014, Scholastic
E ARC from

Ben and his friends are back, and this time, they are playing baseball. Not just any baseball, they are all on the All-Star Team after the regular baseball season. In their first game, Ben gets hits hard in the arm by a pitch that came a little too close.  While he's not all that injured, he's spooked. Justin is also having a hard time on the field-- after being put out for one game because he threw his bat, he wants to talk to Ben. In typical 11-year-old boy fashion, Ben forgets about Justin, who then gets into a pet about it, so Ben ends up biking all the way out to Justin's house-- where he finds a for sale sign in the yard. It only gets worse. Justin's parents are getting divorced and his mother is moving him to her hometown an hour away. Justin is trying to keep his temper in check, but is considering dropping off the team. Lily has a plan to get him back, but even the Core Four (plus one) can't improve Justin's mood enough. He does make time to work with Ben on his shyness with the ball, but when the Rams make it to a game against the snotty Pat Seely, he again exhibits enough temper to get him thrown out of a game. Ben feels strongly that Justin needs the chance to make one more good memory before he moves, and makes a plea for his teammate, who is allowed to play in the championship game.
Strengths: I actually understand baseball, having played softball in Little League and seen many of my brother's games, so I was able to follow the plays in this. The championship game in this book might well be the best sports description I have ever read. I was literally on the edge of my seat waiting to see who would win, and I could feel all of the emotions that the boys were feeling. Awesome stuff. Add to this some heartfelt real life problems, as well as characters I have really come to like, and this is an excellent addition to a very popular series.
Weaknesses: The ages of the characters seems too young for the depth of emotion and character that they show. I wish that they were all portrayed as being in 8th grade, because I think their high school careers could be very interesting.

Here's an oldie but a goodie. Waaaaay back in 2006, I was an Office Max Superhero Teacher and still have about 500 comic books in the back room. Now it's online, too!

That's me challenging Dr. Doom on page 16.

I need some new publicity!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Jackpot (Swindle #6)

17981398Korman, Gordon. Jackpot (Swindle #6)
January 7th 2014 by Scholastic Press

Griffin is back, still bedeviled by Darren Vader, and still hanging in there with his group of friends. However, there is a new kid in town, Victor Phoenix, who seems to hate Griffin and be intent on stealing all of Griffin's friends. When Griffin finds out that Victor was the target of bullying at his old school, he hopes to dissuade his friends from hanging around with the kid, but the plan backfires. When the news hits the town that a $30 million lottery ticket was sold nearby and needs to be claimed very soon before it expires, Griffin is bound and determined to find out where the ticket is. He starts by trying to fool Darren into thinking that it's in the garbage somewhere, but that plan backfires. Soon, he finds himself working with Darren (albeit briefly) and interviewing the former hippie owner of the convenience store, Mike. After a lot of running about and adventures, Griffin, Darren, and the rest of the gang figure out where the ticket is. The unorganized Mr. Fielder has been using it as a book mark in one of his many grievously overdue library books... which he has just returned to that Green Hollow Public Library. Can the group locate the ticket before the deadline is up?
Strengths: These books all have a fun, varied ensemble class, and first rate high jinks. Seeing Griffin working with Darren was kind of fun. This is Gordon Korman-- how can you do wrong?
Weaknesses:  This series doesn't get much attention from my students, so I would rather Mr. Korman wrap up this series and move on and write something else. Perhaps it is more popular in elementary libraries.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

World Wednesday-- Dogs in Color

16057929Morpurgo, Michael. A Medal for Leroy
January 14th 2014 by Feiwel & Friends

Growing up in England right after WWII, Leroy frequently goes to visit the aunts who raised his father, Aunt Snowdrop and Aunt Pish. Leroy isn't terribly fond of having to eat bubble and squeak and custard with them, but he likes playing with their dog Jasper. He knows that they miss his father, who was killed in a plane crash during the war, as much as he does. Several years after Aunt Snowdrop dies, he gets a picture of his father in a frame, and finds a long note from his deceased aunt in the back. It turns out that his grandfather was one of the first black men to serve in the army during WWI, and was denied a medal even though he died a hero's death. Family secrets come out, but Leroy is glad to know his true identity. Inspired by the story of Walter Tull, the first black officer in the British army.
Strengths: Interesting details about black officers in the British army, and about biracial children in England at the time. Leroy's mother is French, and a few issues about his treatment at school are discussed. Great cover.
Weaknesses: Not what I was expecting. Morpurgo's books like War Horse and Shadow have a lot of details about the fighting, which is what readers usually want, and this was a bit slow, with more coverage of having tea with the aunts. I wish there had been more about what the father and grandfather actually did in the army, and way less about Aunt Snowdrop's life. This might be a tough sell.

17165935 English, Karen. Dog Days (Carver Chronicles #1)
December 17th 2013 by Clarion Books

Gavin is having trouble making friends at his new school, so when Richard comes over, he wants to show him a good time. He sneaks into his sister Danielle's room to steal candy, and Richard thinks it's a good idea to throw Danielle's snow globe across the room. It breaks, and Gavin must be punished. This comes in the form of walking his great aunt's Pekinese when his aunt stays with the family for a week. Other students make fun of him, but when the dog goes missing, Richard helps Gavin find the dog, whom girls from Gavin's class had found.
Strengths: This is a book for early elementary school students, and deals with issues that concern the: misbehavior, missing dog toys, children stealing things from stores, mean kids as school. I especially appreciated that while Gavin and his friends are clearly black, the story is not about this. Woot!
Weaknesses: I think I've read Nikki and Deja at some point, and they appear in this book but are not particularly appealing characters. Gavin falls on the Alvin Ho side of character personalities-- a little scared and dysfunctional. Not my favorite kind of character, but I can see this series being a good addition to an elementary school library.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Medievalish Books

17667561 Nielsen, Jennifer A. The Shadow Throne
February 25th 2014 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from

In this conclusion to The False Prince  and The Runaway King,  Jaron is back, although gravely wounded. While he is recuperating, he is debating whether he really wants to marry Amarinda when things settle down, but of course, things are not quiet in Carthya. Imogen has been captured by Vargan and the Avenians, but all agree Jaron can't go get her, because it is a trap. He sends Mott to get her, and sends Fink, Tobias and Amarinda to try to rally the Bymar forces. However, Jaron soon realizes that the Avenians really want Mott, so he goes to try to rescue them both, getting taken himself. But Jaron is too wily to be kept down for long, and before we know it, he's checking in with the pirates to obtain allies, sustaining more injuries, being double crossed, rappelling down cliffs, blowing things up, and deciding whether it is necessary to truly love someone before marrying them. But before long, Bevin has him in his clutches at Farthenwood, and it looks like Jaron, Roden and Tobias will all hang. Can Jaron use all of his thiefly wiles to save his own neck as well as his kingdom?
Strengths: This is a very exciting medieval fighting series that fans of Cadnum's Book of the Lion, Flanagan's Ranger's Apprentice and Spradlin's The Youngest Templar series will adore. Great covers. Jaron is an underdog, and uses his tricks to survive and prosper. There are several nice twists in this conclusion that I wouldn't want to give away. Obviously buying this one, since several students are waiting for it.
Weaknesses: I've never been fond of Jaron. I'm not entirely sure he should be leading the kingdom-- he tends to survive on luck and some tricks that tend to lead to him getting injured rather than, you know, actual knowledge, planning and hard work. Students, of course, will not feel this way. I also have my reservations about whether the target demographic (teen boys) will care all that much about Jaron's debating between marrying Amarinda or Imogen and the Nature of Love.

13624404 Haskell, Merrie. Handbook for Dragon Slayers
May 28th 2013 by HarperCollins
Winner of the 2014 Schneider Family Book Award for Middle Grades

Tilda is tired of being the caretaker of Alder Brook, since her father was killed in the Crusades and her mother is off trying to get a betrothal for her. Tilda just wants to run away to a cloistered scriptorium and write a book of her own thoughts, even though her life is lacking in adventure. She also feels bad that her lame foot causes the people of her kingdom to make fun of her, and makes no one want to marry her. When she heads off with her handmaiden Judith to help Sir Kunibert of Boar House with his books, she is kidnapped by her cousin Ivo. Ivo has already turned down the idea of marrying her, has caused Tilda's mother to have an accident that has broken her leg, and has planned to show up at Alder Brook on Christmas Day to receive the rents and oaths of the vassals and take over Alder Brook from Tilda. Tilda thinks this is a fabulous plan, but Ivo thinks she is plotting against him and just pretending to agree. Not to fear, Judith and Tilda's friend Parz (who has not been very successful as a squire and needs to redeem himself) rescue Tilda, but soon find themselves in the middle of the Wild Hunt. Tilda frees two of the horses, which angers the leader, who says that Tilda now owes a great debt, since no one refuses the Wild Hunt. After some adventuring and fighting of dragons, the girls end up at a cloister to recuperate from injuries. Parz is reunited with them, but the nuns have alerted Tilda's family, and Father Rupertus is sent to check on Tilda. Of course, Ivo knows where she is, too, and arranges for Tilda to be the 8th wife of Lord Egin. Ivo isn't going to take over Alder Brook-- he's going to sell off all the assets and bequeath the estate to another lord, leaving the people of Alder Brook with no one to watch out for their interests. Tilda and Rupertus manage to escape Egin, even though he has enchanted most everyone. Will Tilda be able to save herself, her friends, and Alder Brook?
Strengths: Tilda is a fabulous princess. She has her own plans and ideas of what she wants to do with her life, but when she finds that these are at odds with the well being of her people, she changes her mind somewhat. I didn't think I could stomach another European, medieval fantasy book, but this one was very fun. Will definitely buy a copy for the fans of fierce princess tales.
Weaknesses: While the magic elements in this are well done and quite surprising (I've left out a lot about what happens at the end of the book because I don't want to ruin it for people), I think the tale would be just as good without the magic. Got just a tiny bit confusing, but that might be because of my pernicious fantasy amnesia tendencies!

Monday, February 17, 2014

MMGM--The Secret Box

The Secret BoxRingwald, Whitaker. The Secret Box
February 25th 2014 by Katherine Tegen Books
ARC from Baker and Taylor

On her birthday, Jax gets a weird box from her estranged aunt Juniper. Her mother didn't want her to have it, but she manages to get it from being sent back in the mail and tries to open it with the help of her cousin Ethan. The box only has a certain number of tries to open it, and it has to be opened in a certain location. After traveling around a bit, the children decide it must be opened in Washington D.C., at the Lincoln memorial.Jax and Ethan tell Ethan's brother Tyler that there is a geocaching competition with a trophy as the prize, and he's allowed to drive the children there. On the way, they have the box stolen by the Hatmakers, who also have kidnapped the estranged aunt from her home, and the children find out that she was an archaeologist, and that the box leads them to relics from Pandora. The Hatmakers want to use these relics to suck the hope out of people and take over the world, so they must be stopped. Jax finds out crucial information about her long lost father. A trilogy is planned.
Strengths: Lots of action, interesting fantasy (the Pandora's box was a nice and convincing touch), and nice cousinly relationships. Jax turns out to have a Mexican father, and this is shown nicely on the cover. The Hatmakers are African-American, and Mrs. Hatmaker is also shown on the cover.
Weaknesses: I'll buy this one, and middle grade students who like fantasy will enjoy this, but I am SOOOOOO tired of fantasy! I would have preferred straight adventure.

17555088 Meissner, David and Richardson, Kim. Call of the Klondike: A True Gold Rush Adventure
October 1st 2013 by Calkins Creek

In 1897, prospectors brought back a fortune in gold, and set off another gold rush. Two men who made the decision to try to make their fortunes were Stanley Pearce and Marshall Bond. Obtaining funding from their wealthy parents and making good preparations, the two set off for the gold fields, willing to work, and fairly realistic about their prospects. They do fairly well for themselves, hanging out with Jack London and working a decently productive claim, but they soon realize that the won't begin to recuperate the money invested in their scheme, and return home. What makes this book so interesting is that wealth of primary source documents which make up the bulk of it. Knit together beautifully with some narration, this tale is told through letters, telegrams and journal entries of the two men, which had been handed down to Mr. Richardson, a descendent of Stanley Pearce's. The reproduction of these documents, along with period photographs, makes for a riveting account. There is also information about the rest of the lives of these two men, who did their best to succeed, but lacked the luck necessary for being really successful at this venture. I love that the end papers are metallic. This is definitely a must have for most libraries-- highly information AND readable!

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

Sunday, February 16, 2014

YA Books

13634097Schmidt, Tiffany. Bright Before Sunrise
February 18th 2014,  Walker Childrens 
E ARC from

Told in alternating chapters, we hear the story of one evening from the point of view of Brighton, who is still struggling with the death of her father after five years, and from the point of view of Jonah, who has moved to the ritzy Crosse Pointe neighborhood after his mother divorces his father, marries Jonah's physical therapist, and has his sister Sophie. Jonah is miserable in his new school, where he feels out of place and disconnected with his past, which includes baseball and his girlfriend Carly. Brighton is trying to live up to her psychologist father's dictum to make the world a better place, and Jonah is the only student in the high school that she hasn't roped into volunteering. She's angry that Jonah won't even give her the time of day even though she has been unfailingly nice to him. After Jonah breaks up with Carly (who thinks he is cheating on her with Brighton, thanks to a flyer she finds in his car), Brighton ends up babysitting his sister, and the two start on their night long collision course. Jonah takes Brighton to a party in his old neighborhood the night before she is to be at a memorial service for her father, emotions run high, and the two finally come to more than an understanding with each other.
Strengths: Nice romance, and this has a Sarah Dessen type tone that my 8th grade girls adore. There is enough detail about high school to make this intriguing to younger girls, but not enough that it is that dissimilar from middle school. Since Send Me A Sign was SO popular, I'll be buying this.  
Weaknesses: Like this author's first book, it walks that fine line-- there's some drinking, but it doesn't look like a good idea, and Brighton not only doesn't partake, but fends off a boy who is trying to encourage her to drink. I could have done without the description of Jonah being enthralled with glimpses of Brighton's plain white cotton panties, but again, there are worse things. Nothing more than kissing and long sighs.

15721638 Johnson, Maureen. The Madness Underneath
February 26th 2013 by Putnam Juvenile

Rory is tired of being at home with her parents, so when her therapist says it's time to head back to Wexford, she's leery but ready. Settling in takes a while, and being normal after an attach by the ghost of Jack the Ripper that almost killed her is hard, especially when she finds out that the attack has left her with the power to dispatch ghosts. She feels somewhat bad about this, but this is a good skill to have and the Shades (the ghost hunting police) want her back. There has been another murder near Wexford, and some research indicates that the school is built on the sight of Bedlam, the infamous mental hospital, and the Shades feel that ghosts are somehow escaping into London. Complicate this with Jane Quaint, a "therapist" who has seen Rory's friend Charlotte but who has some unorthodox methods of treating people, and there are bigger problems than Rory feeling that she will fail all of her exams. The ending of this book leave the way wide open for a sequel.
Strengths: Johnson's writing is always fun to read, and I enjoyed this. A couple of people have commented that it was different from the first book, At the Sign of the Star, but I didn't remember enough about that book, so that didn't bother me. Some romance, some mystery.
Weaknesses: A bit too much of Rory's settling back in; I would have prefered to jump right back into the ghost hunting. Not sure where the therapist line is going, and there is the death of a character that I didn't expect.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Weekend Blather

Happy 8th Blogiversary to me tomorrow! Ah, from what humble beginnings does greatness proceed. (*cough*)

It's been such fun to connect with other bloggers and readers as well as authors. The blog has also served as a great auxiliary memory, and has led to fun things like being a Cybils committee organizer, reviewing for Young Adult Books Central, and being a part of the Kidlitosphere. Eight more years? Why not?

So, this weekend is still fairly snow covered. When my daughter asked me what I was doing today, I replied "Well, I need to do three modules of my online class for recertification, and then I'll try to read three books and review them." Oh, I did figure out what I SHOULD have named my blog: Welcome Tome. Drat.

Her reply? "Wow. You sure know how to have an exciting, exciting day."

Of course, she then went up to her room to spend the day writing up science labs and studying for some giant history test, so it's not like being 15 made her day any more exciting.

My loyal dog, Sylvie (who is insisting today that she is changing her name to "S'LV!") curled up at my side, and we spent some time with the latest John Flanagan. It came in about two weeks ago but has already checked out five times. I always joke with students when they check out a book that I haven't read yet, and tell them to bring the book back Friday on their way out of the building so that I can read it. Luckily, Jacob V. took me up on that! Reading The Royal Ranger was certainly more fun than my class!

17465470Flanagan, John. The Royal Ranger (The Ranger's Apprentice #12)
November 5th 2013 by Philomel

Horace and Cassandra's teenage daughter Maddie likes to sneak out of the castle and go hunting, oblivious to the dangers that await an heir to the throne. At the same time, their friend Will is grieving the death of Alyss and vowing to bring her murderer, Jory Ruhl, to justice. Hoping to solve two problems at once, they decide to have Maddie trained as the first female Ranger... by Will. Maddie shows up at Will's humble cabin with a maid and tons of luggage, and is dismayed that training is so hard. She does the work, however, and manages to bond with her new horse, Bumper, and learn to use weapons. After investigating the death of another Ranger, Liam, the two realize that children in nearby communities are disappearing, Will and Maddie go undercover and find a larger, devious plan in place. Can Will overcome his grief and rage to solve the problem? And will Maddie's skills as a Ranger be up to the task?
Strengths: It's hard to describe how popular these books are at my library. I enjoy them, too, even though they are the sort of medieval quasi fantasy that isn't quite my cup of tea. The writing is fluid, the characters are sympathetic, and the descriptions of life, weapons, battles, etc. are very vivid. Better take this back on Monday, because readers are waiting!
Weaknesses: This was disappointingly predictable. Maddie's snotty at first (which I didn't quite believe), then sees the error of her ways. Will is wracked with grief, but gets through it by educating Maddie. Even Jory Ruhl comes to a fairly predictable end. And really, with Cassandra and Alyss's behavior in the past, we are surprised that a girl can be a Ranger? I would have liked it more if Maddie had been reluctant to be one, or if she was a successful one and then decided life at the castle wasn't so bad-- anything that would have been a bit of a twist. Knew all too soon every turn that this would take.

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

17910570Foxlee, Karen. Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy
January 28th 2014 by Knopf Books for Young Readers 
E ARC from

Ophelia and her sister Alice have come to live in a city where it is always cold and snowy so that their museum curator father can work on an exhibit of his specialty-- swords. He feels it is a good change of scenery for the girls, who are still suffering from the death of their mother. Ophelia spends a lot of time investigating the museum, even though another museum worker, Miss Kaminski, says it could be dangerous, because girls have gotten lost and never been found. Ophelia finds a locked room that holds a strange boy who claims to have no name, and during various visits, he recounts how he came to be held prisoner. He was enchanted, and told that he had to save the world from the Snow Queen,  but he has to rely on Ophelia to find various keys and swords to fight her off. In the meantime, their father is distracted by the exhibit, Alice has become enthralled with the strange Miss Kaminski, and almost too late does Ophelia realize the danger they are all in.
Strengths: There was something about this book that made me think that teachers and librarians would think it was the best thing ever, so I knew I had to read it. It had its moments, and it would be good for a unit of fairy tale adaptations, since it involves the Snow Queen. If you or your students liked Ursu's The Real Boy or Breadcrumbs or Prineas' Winterling, definitely pick this up.
Weaknesses: I found Ophelia to be a rather weak and uninteresting character. Her most memorable feature was her need to take "a squirt on her puffer", a phrase that is repeated frequently. (It refers to her asthma inhaler.) This isn't the sort of book either I or my students care for, so I will pass on purchasing, but I see this getting a lot of love.

Some people who were fonder of it than I was include:

The Late Bloomers Blog
She Dreams in Fiction
Views from the Tesseract
Waking Brain Cells

Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day!

RUN, don't walk, to the Cybils Website to see the winners!

Especially happy for David Carroll, whose Ultra is the Middle Grade Fiction winner! Now if we could just get the book published IN HARDCOVER in the US, I'd buy five copies. My cross country runners all want to read this one, and the paperback won't hold up that long!

Congratulations to all of the winners. Jonathan Stroud's The Screaming Staircase was another one I enjoyed tremendously!

Happy Valentine's Day! Dogs make the BEST Valentines, since they love us so much, but we'll have a more stereotypical book as well. I'm not a huge fan of the holiday, but hope that you all have a great one!

18114570Various Authors.Lucky Dog: Twelve Tales of Rescued Dogs 
January 28th 2014 by Scholastic Press 
E ARC from

What better book to post on Valentine's Day? Dogs can be the truest loves of our lives, and this collection of twelve short stories by an impressive array of middle grade authors shows how a variety of these relationships start. Centered around the Pawley Rescue Center, the stories are not connected, but all deal with dogs from that facility. I'm never good with describing short story collections, so we'll go with the Goodreads description:

"This collection is full of heartwarming and hilarious stories about the Pawley Rescue Center, where rescued dogs find their way into hearts and homes. You'll meet Foxtrot, a feisty Pomeranian who can't bear the thought of leaving her best friend. And Beatrice, whose bark is definitely worse than her bite. And then there's Pumpkin, one of the 101 Chihuahuas who turn life at the center upside down. Whether drooling, dueling, or just fooling around, these captivating canines will show you why the dog is kid's best friend!

LUCKY DOG features sweet and silly stories about playful pups and the kids who love them by some of your favorite authors: Randi Barrow, Marlane Kennedy, Elizabeth Cody Kimmel, Kirby Larson, C. Alexander London, Leslie Margolis, Jane B. Mason and Sarah Hines Stephens, Ellen Miles, Michael Northrop, Teddy Slater, Tui T. Sutherland, and Allan Woodrow."

Strengths: This is a good choice for reluctant readers, since they can break the book down into the stories. They are all easy to follow and realistic. Many of my reluctant readers do like animal books, and perhaps if they like particular stories, they would be more inclined to investigate the other writings of the author.
Weaknesses: Short story collections are not popular in my library, but I think the very appealing cover will win over readers. 

17334461Darling, Angela. Rachel's Valentine Crush
December 3rd 2013 by Simon Spotlight  

Rachel has long had a crush on Brody, ever since they sang together in the church choir. He's gone on to bigger and better things, and has moved to California where his singing career is taking off. When he releases his second album, Secret Crush, Rachel is sure that she is the one mentioned in the song. Of course, other girls are sure of this, too. When Brody decides to come back to Minnesota to give a concert, he throws a party and plans on going to the school dance. Rachel's father, a hard working snow plow driver, won't let her go, even though Grandma Nellie thinks she should be allowed. She is eventually allowed to go to some events, where she finally gets to talk to Brody. Is she his crush, too?
Strengths: OMG! Brody's a STAR! And he's coming back home! There are some girls who will absolutely adore this latest installment in the series. It's nice that the (somewhat cheesy) covers show boys of a variety of ethnicities. I like the holiday tie-ins, since few books have them. The next one to come out includes spring break! (Drat, we missed St. Patrick's Day. Could have had a nice book with a ginger with freckles on the cover, please?)
Weaknesses: These are a love/hate kind of thing. Some girls will not be caught dead with them. They do suit a certain population very well, though, so I intend to buy them all, no matter how cringe inducing and text message filled they get.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Tesla's Attic

17197651Shusterman, Neal and Elfman, Eric. Tesla's Attic (The Accelerati #1)
February 11th 2014, Disney-Hyperion 
E ARC from

Nick, his father, and his brother move from Florida to Colorado Springs after a disastrous house fire that claimed the life of Nick's mother. They move into the creepy, decrepit old house left to them by a great aunt, the attic of which is filled with all manner of broken junk. Nick decides to have a garage sale, and it does eerily well-- people are desperate to offer him huge sums for useless equipment. A girl from his new school, Caitlyn, picks out a reel-to-reel tape recorder, Mitch buys a primitive metal "See-n-Say", and Vince purchases a wet cell battery. When the sale is over, four creepy men in pastel suits buy everything that is left and leave their card with Nick in case any of the items are returned. There's a good reason for this-- all of the items have weird powers. The tape recorder records what people are actually thinking, the See-n-Say finishes Mitch's sentences with the truth, and Vince's battery can reanimate dead flesh. There is also a box camera that Petula, who has a huge crush on Nick, purchases, and it takes pictures of the future. After Nick's brother catches an asteroid in a baseball mitt from the attic, the pastel suits return and offer him a huge amount of money for the mitt. At first, the father refuses, but when they also offer him a job fixing copiers at NORAD for a huge sum of money, he capitulates. The baseball mitt has somehow caused a celestial object to be set on a collision course for Earth, and the group is distracted from the pastel suits, whom they find to be a group called the Accelerati, by the fact that they will all soon be dead. Or will they? Since this is the first book in a trilogy, you may assume that they survive.
Strengths: The beginning of the book, with the toaster falling on Nick and the garages sale, was great fun. There's a lot of action and adventure, some good character development and characters (Caitlyn's clueless boyfriend Theo is a hoot, as is the school bully and the cafeteria lady, Mrs. Planck). The gadgets are fun as well, and some more serious issues underlying everything.
Weaknesses: The pastel suit guys never seemed very menacing, but they clearly are. I could definitely have done without the death of Nick's mother and also one of the children. That was rather gratuitous and shocking. It also seemed like the plot fell apart a bit and everything got confusing. I also had a slight historical problem with the premise that the great aunt was a romantic interest of Nikola Tesla's, when he left Colorado Springs in 1900. It seems unlikely that toasters and other things would have been in the attic, having been given to the great aunt, but it's a possibility.

I feel bad that I didn't love this more, since I usually adore Shusterman's writing.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

World Wednesday: Fake I.D.

 The best part about this book: The main character is black, his best friend is Hispanic, and the book is not about their race, although it is mentioned! It's just a good murder/mob/Witness Protection mystery! Yeay!

12787708Giles, Lamar. Fake I.D.
January 21st 2014 by HarperCollins

Nick Pearson isn't really Nick, but in his family's newest relocation to escape his father's former boss so his father can testify against him, he is. This means a new school, but fortunately, he runs into Eli and starts working on the paper. He kind of likes Eli's twin sister Reya, but doesn't want to run afoul of her jerk jock boyfriend. Nick's father is still getting himself into trouble, and when Eli is found dead in the newsroom of an apparent suicide (his wrists are slit), Nick starts to suspect all sorts of things. The mayor's son, Dustin, gets in a car accident that kills two of his friends, and a bomb goes off at  Reya's house, gravely injuring her mother. When Nick uncovers a plot to get the town some money to build new municipal buildings, he finds out that lots of people are culpable and that he was right about Eli's death being murder. Can he help put things right without endangering himself and his family?
Strengths: The students love murder mysteries, and this has some gory moments. I did like the conspiracy, how so many people were involved, the police involvement with a tiny bit of racial profiling (although when the policeman mentions "you people" to Nick, it ends up being "you people in the Witness Protection program. Mostly.), and I also liked the bit of romance. Definitely a must for high schools, and good for middle schools if you can take the high body count, because the language is mercifully okay. Probably should buy two copies to keep up with demand.
Weaknesses: High body count, some bloody descriptions. I'm no longer a good judge of this since they all make me rather queasy. Also, rather small print, which may turn off middle school students.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

No Returns (The Battleband Saga #1)

19489832Giles, Gail and Vanasse, Deb. No Returns (The Battleband Saga #1)
February 12th 2014 by Running Fox Books
Copy received by the publisher

Pod and his friends Flaco and Manny have been working on songs for their band, Fly, for a while, but things are heating up now that they have a spot in the Battleband competition. They all want to win, for various reasons. Pod struggles to control his world since his mother disappeared and his police officer father has become distant. Flaco's abuelo is elderly and ill, and Manny is conflicted about his upcoming bar mitzvah. When Manny's lyrics summon the James Cagney look-alike Fred, it seems that the group may have made a deal with the devil-- their souls in exchange for a chance of fame for Fly. Sure enough, the win the battle of the bands, are suddenly popular at school, and have the opportunity to open for a famous band called Seventh Circle. When Fred wants them to sing a disturbing song about suicide, they know that they have to step away from fame before Fred uses the band as an instrument of evil. With the help of their school librarian, they find problems with Fred's "contract", but will it be enough to save them? Since what Pod wants most is to have his mother back, and Fred seems to have some knowledge of her, there may be another deal in the works in book two.
Strengths: The characters are all interesting and engaging, and I enjoyed how the families are all present and supportive but not really clued in to everything the boys are doing. There are good details about performing with a band, and the reactions of the peers in school are realistic. Love that the librarian is the one who can help them defeat the devil!
Weaknesses: There is a bit of a disconnect between the style and the target demographic. The boys are all 13, but the style of the book is more descriptive and slower paced, which seems to appeal more to high school boys, who also are more likely to have a band. The Faustian connection also is something that might be more suited to high school readers, so I wish the characters had been older.

17559899 Simmons, Kristen. Three.
February 11th 2014 by Tor Teen
E ARC from Netgalley.

This continues the series begun with Article 5 and continued with Breaking Point, and is high demand in my library by dystopian lovers. In fact, if this is back ordered in my recent Baker and Taylor order, I may need to break out the Barnes and Noble gift cards and get a copy. I even have a teacher chomping at the bit to get it. That said, I couldn't bring myself to read almost 400 pages on my Nook when they weather was so bad. I'll read it this summer, when the thought of the world coming to an end doesn't seem quite as likely!

"Ember Miller and Chase Jennings are ready to stop running. After weeks spent in hiding as two of the Bureau of Reformation’s most wanted criminals, they have finally arrived at the safe house, where they hope to live a safe and quiet existence.

And all that’s left is smoking ruins.

Devastated by the demolition of their last hope, Ember and Chase follow the only thing left to them—tracks leading away from the wreckage. The only sign that there may have been survivors.

With their high profile, they know they can’t stay out in the open for long. They take shelter in the wilderness and amidst the ruins of abandoned cities as they follow the tracks down the coast, eventually finding refugees from the destroyed safe house. Among them is someone from Chase’s past—someone he never thought he’d see again.

Banding together, they search for a place to hide, aiming for a settlement a few of them have heard about…a settlement that is rumored to house the nebulous organization known as Three. The very group that has provided Ember with a tiny ray of hope ever since she was first forced on the run.

Three is responsible for the huge network of underground safe houses and resistance groups across the country. And they may offer Ember her only chance at telling the world her story.

At fighting back."

Monday, February 10, 2014

MMGM- Secrets of the Book

18308645Fry, Erin. Secrets of the Book
4 February 2014, Two Lions
E ARC from

Spencer's mother makes him volunteer at a rest home, and Ed, the man he is visiting, gives him a Pandora's Book, which has the ability to bring famous people from the past to life. This is a bit of a problem with Socrates appears to Spence and his friend Gregor. Gregor is on the autism spectrum, so doesn't do well with loud noises or change in routine, but does fairly well talking to one of his idols. Of course, nothing is ever that simple-- a man shows up with Pandora's Other Book, looking for Spencer's help right around the time that Ed goes missing from his rest home. Ed has told his granddaughter Mel where to find Spencer, and she helps the boys figure out how to work the book. It turns out that the "other book" has the bad guys, and while the man in charge of the book is no saint (he turns out to be Al Capone), he has kept things safe, but can only continue to do so with Spencer's help. With Ed missing, and Gregor's dog taken hostage, can the kids return things to the way they should be without giving away the secrets?
Strengths: I love how Ms. Fry works cross country running into the book! There are some especially nice touches with Mel and Gregor's motivations for running that I liked, and the tiny bit of romance is good, too. Gregor's situation is portrayed realistically; in fact, it's one of the better portrayals of a child on the autism spectrum that I've read, and there are so many right now. The plot moves along nicely, and the characters from history remind me a little of Lubar's Flip, but with better action.
Weaknesses: Fry's Losing It was such a good novel that I was hoping for another realistic fiction book from her, since there are already so many fantasy books. No majr problems with this, just some quibbles-- Spencer's degenerative eye disease is mentioned at the beginning of the book, but then not addressed much later. There is one mention of track practice being canceled because of DRIZZLE-- is that what they do in California? (Yes, apparently it is!) Since this is more action/adventure than fantasy, I'll buy a copy.

18139989Plumeri, Arnauld and Bloz. In the Beginning: Dinosaurs #1
Papercutz, 7 January 2014
Review copy provided by publisher

This hardcover graphic novel introduces readers to lots of facts about dinosaurs. The information (strung together loosely by the narrator, cartoon archaeologist Indino Jones) has information on a variety of individual species, but also pages on eras, how fossiles are formed, dinosaur tracks and the disappearance of the dinosaurs, just to name a few.
Strengths: This is much better bound that other Papercutz books, so I will probably put this in my library. The information about dinosaurs is interspersed with funny anecdotes about them, so children interested in dinosaurs will not only get good information, but be amused as well.  I can see this being carried around constantly by some children who are really interested in dinosaurs, and would be a good gift for a first to third grader with those interests who is a strong reader.This is the first book in a series.
Weaknesses: I know that younger eyes don't have a problem, but the small dimension of the book ( 6.70 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.50 (d)) makes the font very small and hard to read. This is a translation of the French edition, and there are a few politically incorrect things that point to its European origins. (Fat, pushy wife, bullying dinosaurs.)

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

Sunday, February 09, 2014

One or Two Things I Learned About Love

13578298Sheldon, Dyan. One or Two Things I Learned About Love.
December 10th 2013 by Candlewick Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Hildy's summer looks like it is going to be boring-- nothing but working at a farm stand with her friend Ely and putting up with her annoying younger sister Zelda and her serial dating older sister Gus. When she goes to the mall with her friends, she meets Connor, who is working at a coffee shop, and he asks for her phone number. They go out and click right away, which is a vast improvement on Hildy's previous two and a half dates. Soon the two are inseparable, texting all the time and hanging out. However, Connor becomes a bit over protective, and soon Hildy is wondering if she should wear her bikini in public, call Ely on the phone, or spend time with her girl friends. The course of first love never runs smoothly.
Strengths: Short, romantic book with lots of good first relationship details ("Isn't it so cute?"). Attractive cover, and no horrible problems. The diary format will appeal to reluctant readers. Will no doubt purchase.
Weaknesses: There are a lot of details skipped over-- this does read very much like a real diary. For example, Zelda is ten but has all kinds of melt downs, and is described as "having a syndrome", but this is never explained. Connor is a bit creepier towards the end than I would have liked, but Hildy realizes this before any major problems occur. Didn't like this quite as well as other books by the same author.