Saturday, May 31, 2014

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek

18667753Van Wagenen, Maya. Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek 
 April 15th 2014 by Dutton Juvenile

Teenaged Maya, upon finding a copy of Betty Cornell's Teen-age Popularity Guide  from the 1950s among her professor father's books, decides that her life is so awful that she might as well try to follow all the guidelines in the book and see if it helps. Her school in Texas is rough, and she hasn't had much social success, so she tries the tips about appearance and behavior that the book presents. Some work well (standing up straight and eating better), and others fail rather miserably (she tries some of the fashions from the book without giving them a modern spin that would make them cute, therefore missing the point but adding comic relief to her memoir). The tips about talking to other people and making friends with everyone are the ones that she takes the most to heart and uses when she moves across the country and starts at a new school.
Strengths: Hard to fault an actual teen who tried this, wrote about it, and managed to get not only a book deal but also an option on it for a movie.
Weaknesses: Having read similar fictional accounts like Cabot's How to Be Popular and Leavitt's Going Vintage, I had high hopes for this one that just somehow weren't met. Part of this could be because life in Texas sounds absolutely horrible, and while this reached the inevitable conclusion that people will like you if you are nice to them, my own brand of Geekdom is somehow more... essentially optimistic than Van Wagenen's, and I ended up just feeling sorry for her. I don't know that other teens reading this will feel the same way. It is awesome that she was able to contact Betty Cornell, and that the Teen-age Popularity Guide was reprinted.

20579056Cornell, Betty. Betty Cornell's Teen-age Popularity Guide
April 15th 2014 by Dutton Juvenile  (Originally 1953, Prentiss Hall)

This is a fairly standard teen etiquette manual from the 1950s: it includes all of the fun chapters on how to wash your hair and use deodorant, moves on to the importance of girdles and gloves, and includes exercises and the all important calorie count guide. A perfectly fine example of this genre, but I'm picking. Having collected a good number of these over the years,  this was missing some of the humor that I have found in other guides, my very favorite being the 1967 latecomer, Edith Head's How to Dress for Success. Still, fun that younger people can see an example of this type of book that isn't crumbling to bits!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Friday-- The Great Greene Heist

Johnson, Varian. The Great Greene Heist
May 27th 2014 by Arthur A. Levine Books
E ARC from; copy also from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there

Jackson Greene, who learned cons from his grandfather and who has followed in his older brother's footsteps in perpetrating them, has given up his life of crime. He's run awful of Keith Sinclair, but now finds that he was not a good enemy to make. Keith is bound and determined to win the election for school president so he can funnel money into his own activities and take it away from everyone else. Keith's rich father has bribed the principal to make this happen. Still, when Jackson decides that the best way to avoid his groups losing money is to have his former girlfriend, Gaby, run, he has a lot of work to do. This involves a lot of friends with odd technical skills, breaking and entering, reformatting a Scantron machine, and a suspicious amount of money. Add to this the trauma of a formal middle school dance, and Jackson has his work cut out for him.
Strengths: This has gotten a huge amount of buzz, from a glowing review from Betsy Bird to a whole internet campaign from Kate Messner. Everyone is thrilled that there are diverse characters. The writing is fine in this one, and students who enjoyed The Fourth Stall will like this one. It's hard to find funny books for boys, so I will definitely be purchasing this one.
Weaknesses: This is the sort of book that I PERSONALLY find completely unrealistic. Ms. Betsy Bird describes this as a sort of fantasy book, and that is definitely the case. This is set in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, which is where I am, so I had a hard time believing all of the following: A rich parent was bribing the principal; the secretary could get away with such racist comments; club funding was dependent on student input at all; there was funding for student clubs; children were able to break into the school; children were able to break into the office; the office had a super special lock; the office blindly agrees to accept a new scantron machine and have the old one taken away without any identification or notification from the "company"; there was a school president, and the election was a big deal; there was a formal dance at a middle school for which girls got formals and boys rented tuxes.

Your average 12 year old will not only believe that these things can happen, but will hope that they do! They do make for a very funny (if unrealistic to adults) book!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Wind Dancer/Curses and Smoke

Platt, Chris. Wind Dancer.
April 1st 2014 by Peachtree Publishers 
Copy recieved from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there. 

Ali blames herself for a lot of things-- the accident that injured her and resulted in the death of her horse, Max; her brother going off to war and coming back from Afghanistan injured; the fact that no one is helping the horses that belong to the old lady near her family. When she and her friend visit the horses at night and realize how bad off they are, she does call animal control, and the animals are taken from the neighbor. Ali's parents think that she will benefit from taking care of the horses, so agree to foster them. They have been so neglected that they must be fed veyr small amounts frequently, so Ali spends a lot of time with them but tries very hard not to get attached, especially to Wind Dancer, who reminds her of Max. Ali's brother, Danny, has a protheses for his missing leg, but doesn't want to use it and doesn't really want to do anything to help himself recover. The parents seem powerless to compel him to do anything, but he eventually starts to help Ali with the horses and begins to see that he needs help himself.
Strengths: This was a nice, well-written short book that covered both the issue of caring for horses and the issue of returning vets with PTSD. This would go well with Rorby's The Outside of a Horse.
Weaknesses: Nothing terrible new or earth-shakingly wonderful, just a very solid book that readers who like horses will enjoy.

Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii Schecter, Vicky Alvear. Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii
27 May 2014, Arthur A Levine Books.
E ARC from

Oh, how I wanted to like this one! Came to the conclusion that it is just too YA for what my readers want-- a lot of time spent on Lucia longing for a slave, Tag, and dealing with her pregnant friend and her upcoming arranged marriage. The research in this was FANTASTIC-- remember, I was a Latin teacher. So, if you have one of the three high school Latin classes left in the universe in your building, by all means by a copy. This would also be a good historical romance for high schoolers; it was balanced well between the romance and the depiction of gladiators. It just moved way too slowly for middle school, and the language was a bit stilted. I think the kicker from me was the lengthy explanation of how Lucia's mother didn't miscarry most of her children-- they were girls, so the father had them exposed in the town garbage dump, and Lucia's mother took poison and killed herself! YA, here we come!

"TAG is a medical slave, doomed to spend his life healing his master's injured gladiators. But his warrior's heart yearns to fight in the gladiator ring himself and earn enough money to win his freedom.

LUCIA is the daughter of Tag's owner, doomed by her father's greed to marry a much older Roman man. But she loves studying the natural world around her home in Pompeii, and lately she's been noticing some odd occurrences in the landscape: small lakes disappearing; a sulfurous smell in the air. . . .

When the two childhood friends reconnect, each with their own longings, they fall passionately in love. But as they plot their escape from the city, a patrician fighter reveals his own plans for them -- to Lucia's father, who imprisons Tag as punishment. Then an earthquake shakes Pompeii, in the first sign of the chaos to come. Will they be able to find each other again before the volcano destroys their whole world?"

Armchair BEA-- Beyond the Borders

I was a little surprised when #WeNeedDiverseBooks became such a cause celebre. Pleasantly surprised, but I've been trying for a year and a half to find diverse books and publicize them, but it's been hard to find both the books and people reviewing them.

Initially, I had a World Wednesday theme and round up going, but have since changed it to #WeNeedDiverseBooksWednesday. Of course, this is also the theme of Mother Reader's 48 Hour Book Challenge this year.

Reading about other cultures is something I have always loved, so there have been a lot of books that I could recommend. Here are some that I found especially interesting:

Agosin, Marjorie. I Lived on Butterfly Hill. (Chilean)
Cervantes, Angela. Gaby, Lost and Found. (Honduran American)
Daswani, Kavita. Lovetorn (Indian-Americans)
Freedman, Paula J. My Basmati Bat Mitzvah (Indian-Americans/Jewish)
Giles, Lamar. Fake I.D. (African American)
Hobbs, Will. Never Say Die (Inuit)
Patterson, Valerie O. Operation Oleander (Afghanistan) 
Peacock, Carol Antoinette. Red Thread Sisters.(Chinese girls adopted in US)
Spencer, Octavia. The Case of the Time Capsule Bandit (African American/ Latino)
Woods, Brenda. The Blossoming of Violet Diamond. (African American)
Zia, Farhana. The Garden of My Imaan (Muslim Americans) 
There are lots more, but that's some to get you started with a pile of things to get you started for the 48 Hour Book Challenge.

Armchair BEA- Giveaway of Bart King's The Big Book of Super Heroes

If you're visiting from Armchair BEA, welcome! My blog concentrates on middle grade literature, so review queries I get involve sports, potty jokes, talking animals and the like. Since these are books my students enjoy, I'm glad to have copies.

However, I recently received a book that REALLY needs to leave my house and go to an actual ten-year-old somewhere before I draft a whole super hero persona for my self. Picking out a name, a slogan and a catch phrase, designing my costume (Wonder Woman like bracelets that are actually slap bracelet/bookmarks), recruiting a sidekick, formulating plans for my lair, vehicle and weaponry... this has to stop! So if you know a reader who might enjoy the following book, make sure you fill out the Raffle Copter below.

18470435 King, Bart. and Paprocki, Greg. The Big Book of Superheroes.
April 1st 2014 by Gibbs Smith
Copy provided by the author.

This is the perfect "nonfiction" companion to books like Peter Moore's V is for Villain, Kraatz's The Cloak Society, Cody's Powerless, and Carroll's Quantum Prophecy books. While more amusing than informational, this heavily illustrated book covers all of the basics about being a superhero. Comic superheroes are analyzed and quoted, there are quizzes and activities (and disclaimers about the chapters on flying), and amusing sidebars abound. (How to make your own "jet pack". Sadly, not an operational one.)

I can see this being a good book to give to a ten year old at the beginning of the summer, but I need to use MY superpowers to finish the laundry. For ten year olds with the whole summer stretched out before them, this would be an awesome resource and a great jumping off point for a lot of activities. Just remember not to jump from very far up!

The only thing that was a bit confusing was the use of traditional comic book superheroes and ones that were made up. I did appreciate the appendix of Early Superhero history, and readers who are really interested in the topic will find further reading in the Selected Bibliography.

And, of course, this is a good opportunity to remind everyone that I have been an actual Superhero for six years. Seriously. I appear in a Marvel Comic Book and everything.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Armchair BEA- Blogging Horizons and Short Stories

This might be a short post: even though I've been blogging for eight years, I don't think I can really up my game. Reading and posting at least one middle grade fiction book every day takes a lot of time. The most important thing about blogging, to me, is to get the titles of new books out into the world.

I would like to go to KidlitCon in October, but it involves flying and talking to people, neither of which are comfortable for me. Still, I'd love to meet my many "creepy internet friends" and I know many of them will be in Sacramento.

Maybe next year I'll hit the ACTUAL BEA and also manage to get on Ellen and create a huge internet sensation with my blog. I do think I have a really good blog, but I'm not all that good at self promotion.

As for short stories and novellas-- not a huge fan, but it was fun to read the Ally Carter novella where the characters from Heist Society met the Gallagher Girls!

Am currently setting up a garage sale for my cross country team, so haven't been a good BEA player today. Off to comment on posts!

#Weneeddiversebooks Wednesday

Here's what we really need for #Weneeddiversebooks: books with characters of all types where the book is not ABOUT their ethnicity. These are paperbacks, and are bound to be in book fairs, packaged with plastic charms. I wish they were in hardcover, or at least prebind.

18693382Schroeder, Lisa. Caitlyn's Lucky Charm. 
27 May 2014, Scholastic
E ARC from

As summer camp comes to a close, Caitlyn, Hannah, Mia, and Libby buy a charm bracelet to take turns wearing and vow to write letters to each other, mainly because Libby is from England and doesn't have a phone. Caitlyn returns home to Connecticut only to find her family very worried about finances, since her father might lost his job. Her older sister is constantly crabby, and Caitlyn is regretting her decision to attend a magnet middle school and be away from her best friend, Jade. At the new school, she would like to be friends with cool Brie and her gang, and decides to run for class president to impress them. She also tries out for a school play and does make some friends, but they aren't all that "cool"-- Esther organizes the Battle of the Books. In the end, though, things go fairly well, Caitlyn realizes she is pretty lucky, and she sends the bracelet on to Mia.
Strengths: Caitlyn's parents are both alive and very supportive. The mother is trying to cut back on spending, and limits Caitlyn's new school clothes purchases, but also makes the family volunteer at a soup kitchen.
Weaknesses: Caitlyn starts off a bit whiny; while her efforts at trying to impress Brie irked me, (as did the whole school election thing. Seriously, authors! NO MORE!!!) the average 6th grade girl may enjoy it. The camp connection is a bit forced, as is the possible magical quality of the bracelet.(This is, however, realistic fiction and not fantasy.)

18693381Schroeder, Lisa. Mia's Golden Bird. 
27 May 2014, Scholastic
E ARC from

When Mia gets the bracelet, she hopes it is lucky, because her life isn't going well. An avid surfer and soccer player, she is not happy with having broken her foot while helping out at her mother's coffee shop, and since she can't be with her active friends, they are ignoring her. The coffee shop is struggling, and Mia's mother does the best she can to run it, since Mia's father died in Afghanistan when she was four. When Lacy Bell, a popular teen actress, comes into the shop with her grandmother, she wants to hire Mia to take pictures of the birds that the two see while out birding. Mia is glad of the money, and comes to like Lacy and feel a little sorry for her. Things continue to deteriorate with Mia's friends, especially when they find out that she is hanging out with a star. Mia yells at them that she's just working for Lacy, and Lacy hears her and ignores her call. Things end well, though, and Mia's friends get to have a slumber party with Lacy.
Strengths: Mia identifies herself as Latina, and there's a great conversation where she is asked "Are you Mexican?" and she replies that she's a lot of things-- Mexican, Guatemalan and white. There's a little bit of Spanish used, but again, the book is not about Mia being Latina. I did really love the idea of an ordinary girl developing a friendship with a star. By the way, in 1976, if Melissa Gilbert had been filming an episode of Little House on the Prairie in my home town, we totally would have been BFFs.
Weaknesses: The letters still felt a bit forces. The bracelet goes to Libby in England next.

 The next books come out July 29th 2014 by Scholastic Inc. and October 28th  2014.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Bite-Sized Magic

18052851Littlewood, Kathryn. Bite-Sized Magic
February 11th 2014 by Katherine Tegen Books 

In A Dash of Magic, Rose won a prestigious baking competition and retrieved her family's magical cookbook from the evil Lily. This third book in the Bliss series finds Rose's family trying to cope with the new law that small bakeries can no longer operate. Since the smooth running of their town depends on the baked goods they provide, they decide to give the items away for a while, but Rose is kidnapped by Mr. Butter and Mr. Kerr of the Mostess Bakery. They want her to tweak the recipes of their top five Food Like Consumer Products. It turns out that they are the front line of the Society of the Rolling Pin, an evil organization that is responsible for dental caries and obesity. Mr. Butter wants to make his products so irresistible that people are willing to kill for them. In order to make Rose do their bidding, they kidnap her family as well. With the help of the Mostess bakers, Rose does tweak the recipes, but also makes the antidotes. Is this enough to save her family and escape from the evil clutches of Mostess?
Strengths: I am very impressed by how different each book is. The first concerns the bakery in the small town, the second goes to Paris, and this one takes us inside an evil corporation. This makes me look forward to another book. Lots of fun details about different magical recipes, and Rose is an engaging main character. Even better-- I have a lot of boys loving this series. Very fun and clever.
Weaknesses: Veers into slap stick a little more than I like, but the target demographic doesn't mind this.

Armchair BEA: Author Interactions

Armchair BEAGreetings! If you're visiting, you should know that I post a review of at least one middle grade book every day, and don't normally blog about much else except school library antics.

I wrote my first author letter in 1981, to John Cheever, and he actually replied. I wrote a few years later to Erich Segal, since we were both classics majors. It was a thrill to hear from both of them.

In 2002, I started sending the filled up circulation cards from books in my school library to authors, and for a while framed their replies. Donald Sobol, Ray Bradbury, Theodore Taylor, Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume all replied. That was always a thrill.

With all of the social media now, it's different. There are more interactions (like Jordan Sonnenblick being my Facebook friend and noticing when one of his books appears in my profile pic), but they are not necessarily of lesser quality. I do miss getting an envelope addressed to me in an author's own handwriting, but having David Carroll favorite my tweet of my dog riding on my bike is really just as fun. Just impermanent.

My first author interaction from my blog was actually very sad. I reviewed Janet McDonald's Chill Wind a month after I started blogging, before I really understood that random strangers could find and read my words. It's still not my favorite book, and the review is really what I felt, but I could have been nicer about it, especially since McDonald was so ill. This taught me to temper my comments and try to be constructive, which is why I list strengths and weaknesses of books. If I really don't like something, I just don't review it.

On the 8th grade trip to DC with my daughter, I ran into Tami Lewis Brown doing a book signing for Soar, Elinor, and when she signed a copy for my daughter (Eleanor!), my daughter said "Do you know EVERYONE in the world?" No, dear, just middle grade readers and writers!

Probably my very favorite author interaction was with Linda Gerber-- we carpooled to a Cupcake Party in Cleveland! She is a great author and so very dear. I also had a great moment with Rick Riordan's wife Becky-- I was a fan of The Lightning Thief early on, and when Maze of Bones came out, I complained about the trading cards in the cover. Becky followed my blog and sent me a library copy of the book and a t shirt! That was an awesome surprise!

Oh, if Anthony Horowitz and David Gilman are ever available for lunch at the same time, I would swim to London so that the three of us could start planning my career as an international spy whom no one would suspect! 

As far as Other Than Words, I'm about the only youth librarian who really doesn't care for picture books. I have graphic novels for my students, but pictures just get in the way of the text!

Monday, May 26, 2014

#Armchair BEA

Trying to be so good about all the challenges and commenting. Whew. Here is where I have been sitting most of the morning, but I've been commenting on blogs and not doing any reading at all. Have found some interesting books and some interesting bloggers, though, so it is worthwhile.

If I were actually AT BEA, I wouldn't be reading, either, right?

Of course, the best part of Mother Reader's 48 Hour Book Challenge is that most of my time HAS to be spent reading, and just a little bit of that involves the computer!

Armchair BEA/ The Pilot and the Little Prince

I am usually very good about posting a review or two a day and not having TOO much personality leakage, but since I had thought about going to BEA but getting to New York just didn't work, I decided to jump right into Armchair BEA. There are recommended posts every day; after today I'll post them underneath the book review. Today, however, for people who might not know me, here's lots of personality leakage!

BEA Questions:

I am a middle school librarian and cross country coach in Westerville, Ohio, and have been blogging for eight years. I started my blog because I was reading my way through all of the hardcover fiction in my school library and needed a way to remember details of so many books!

My blog focuses primarily on middle grade literature with an emphasis on books for boys, because those seem to be more challenging to find. @msyingling, no public Facebook, msyinglingreads for Instagram.

While I read a lot of sports and spy books (which I enjoy more than I thought I would), my favorite thing to read is still middle grade romance, especially vintage. My own school experience was less than stellar, so I like to read more pleasant ones for vicarious thrills.

I ALWAYS need more books to read, so I consult Goodreads, Follett's Titlewave (especially the School Library Journal reviews), book store and publisher web sites, and Netgalley.

On Blogger, I love my "Following" feeds, although I tend to click through only if it's a book I haven't seen or if I am on a mission to visit blogs. I get the most recommendations from Charlotte's Library (especially the Sunday Round Ups), Project Mayhem , Smack Dab in the Middle and From the Mixed-Up Files (author sites with multiple contributors) , Guys Lit Wire and Boys Read Boys Rule for boy-specific recommendations, and Kiss the Book for general recommendations and to see if they have the same opinion I do!

I also like the following activities, since they are geared more toward JUST middle grade reviews:

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.

Whew. Now, on to a book review!

18465525Sis, Peter. The Pilot and the Little Prince
May 27th 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
ARC from Baker and Taylor

This picture book biography of Antoine de Saint-Exupery is incredibly detailed and full of information about the life of the author and what lead him to write his well beloved book. While the main text at the bottom of the pages would be easy to get through with squirmy children, this could also be read by older children who want to look through the detailed, annotated pictures.

That said, this is exactly the kind of picture book my own children disliked and which I don't quite understand. Adults who enjoy picture books will especially adore this, while my own tastes run toward things like Little Golden Books and The Baby Blue Cat and the Whole Batch of Cookies.  Maybe not "literary", but things my children loved.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Now I'll Tell You Everything and Girls Like Us

17017077 Naylor, Phyllis Reynolds. Now I'll Tell You Everything
Published October 15th 2013 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Alice graduates from high school, goes off to college to become a school conselour, dates a guy named Dave and almost marries him, then LIVES THE REST OF HER ENTIRE LIFE UNTIL SHE'S ABOUT 70.

Granted, Naylor has spent the past 30 years writing about Alice, so she's spent more time with her than any living person in her life. More than her own actual children, I imagine. So she's invested in her and wants to create the rest of her life.

I, on the other hand, was rather content to leave her at high school. I didn't want to know about her first sexual experience. Or her second. Or her children. Or her weight gain in middle age. Since I read the series when I was first married (in 1988), this just seems somehow wrong.

Loyal readers who started when they were in school, and who have then had their daughters read the series, will be very pleased. I was just sad because... I'm old, and now so is Alice.

18404410Giles, Gail. Girls Like Us.
May 27th 2014, Candlewick
Book received from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Biddy and Quincy graduate from the special education unit at their school, and are set up in an apartment to live together. Biddy, who is developmentally disabled because of a birth trauma, was raised by a grandmother who was angry with Biddy's mother, and so was strict and deprived Biddy of many opportunities and comforts. Quincy has been in foster care ever since her mother's boyfriend hit her in the head with a brick. She is a bit more able to function in the world than Biddy, but still struggles with some issues. The two share an apartment over the garage next to Miss Lizzy's house. Biddy is supposed to clean and cook for Miss Lizzy, and Quincy will go to work at a supermarket in the food preparation area. While Biddy is fantastic at cleaning, she can't cook, but the girls work out a system where Quincy will. Biddy also helps Miss Lizzy with her exercises, since the older woman is in poor health. Biddy has been raped by a gang of boys, so she is fearful and relies on a huge and heavy coat, and well as lots of junk food to keep herself fat and unattractive. Quincy experiences problems at work with a male clerk; he gets fired because of it and later attacks Quincy after work and rapes her. The two girls work through their shared experiences to both get help from the system, and eventually learn to enjoy being together, and become less fearful of the world around them.
Strengths: While this is not a middle grade novel because of the rape, it was extremely interesting and intriguing. I would expect nothing less from Giles, who doesn't have a lot of books out but always writes something fascinating. This was well written and enjoyable even though it was in many ways shocking. Giles apparently works with developmentally disabled students and drew ably from her experiences. Wonderful book, and a must for high school libraries.
Weaknesses: I don't know that I would change anything in this book!It would be nice if it could be read by  middle schoolers, but the rapes are really integral to the plot.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Circa Now

18453192Turner, Amber McRee. Circa Now
May 27th 2014 by Disney-Hyperion
E ARC from

Circa has some problems at school (people make fun of her because of her name and because she is missing a pinkie finger), and home isn't entirely perfect (her mother is beset by horrible depression that isn't well controlled), but she loves working on photography with her father. The two are working on a Memory Wall of photographs for Maple Grove, the rest home for Alzheimer's patients her great aunt was in before she died.  Her father also creates photoshopped images that have funny stories with them. When her father is supposed to take a family reunion photo out to a park, he is killed when a large storm devastates the area. Circa and her mother stay at her friend Nattie's house for a couple of weeks, and when they get home, Circa finds a strange boy who has hunted them down through a copy of the reunion photo with their photo studio name on it. Because the whole area is trying to deal with the storm damages, the police, hospital, and social workers all let Miles stay with Circa's family. Circa's mother is able to overcome her depression just enough to get through the days and to continue taking portraits, but she forbids Circa from working on the Maple Grove photos. Circa, grieving deeply for her father, wants to work on the photos and also takes great comfort in the "Shopt" photos. Before long, she comes to the conclusion that Miles appeared suddenly with no memory of his past because he is from a "Shopt" photo, and she believes that other things have come true as well. If she can figure out exactly how, perhaps she can bring her father back. This is a REALISTIC fiction novel, however, so she can't. Things are explained somewhat in the end, and there is a relatively happy ending.
Strengths: Bonus points for innovation, interesting details about the residents of Maple Grove, and a depressed mother who manages to overcome her depression enough to take care of her daughter. Good details about photography, and middle grade readers will find the "Shopt" pictures amusing.
Weaknesses: A bit far fetched, with Miles being allowed to stay with Circa's family. Also, I took a strong personal dislike to this, since ANY book about people grieving overly much annoys me right now. Sad fact: people die. They die every single day. Those of us who are left are not served well by wallowing in grief, but that seems to be the most common depiction of grief in middle grade fiction, and it's really starting to annoy me. Chalk it up to being overly sensitive, but it doesn't seem to be helpful.

16126609 De Goldi, Kate. The ACB with Honora Lee.
October 2012 by Longacre Press

Perry is an overscheduled child with overbearing parents; it's no wonder that visiting her grandmother in a nursing home sounds restful to her. Her grandmother, Honora Lee, has memory problems but still is able to bring up some memories that Perry enjoys, so she helps her grandmother put together a book. In doing so, she gets to know other residents and learns a lot about herself as well.
Strengths: This will be popular with fans of Linda Urban-- it's the same sort of introspective, quiet book about children coming to terms with the world around them that she writes. Many teachers will want to read this aloud to classes and perhaps get students interested in similar projects in nursing homes.
Weaknesses:  A bit slow, and a somewhat different style, which might be because the author is from New Zealand.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Guy Friday-- Surrounded by Sharks

18938070Northrop, Michael. Surrounded by Sharks
May 27th 2014 by Scholastic Press 
E ARC from

Davey and his family are on vacation on a small island off Key West. He's glad to get away from Ohio, but the room is small, his parents are snoring, and his younger brother is passing gas, so he takes his book (The Silmarillion!) and heads out to the beach. The water looks so welcoming that he hops in and starts swimming, but ends up going out much further than is safe. He finds a water cooler bottle to cling to, but keeps getting pulled further and further out. Meanwhile, back at the hotel, his family wakes up, finds him missing, and starts to search. Back in the water, Davey is struggling to stay afloat, but when sharks start to cluster around him and one even bites him, drawing blood, he knows that he has to be rescued soon.
Strengths: This was a quick read, and will be popular with students who like survival stories. Northrop is a great writer (Rotten, Trapped, Plunked), and the details of shark attacks are very vivid. The characters are fun (there is an amusing English family), and BOTH PARENTS ARE ALIVE!!!!!
Weaknesses: This somehow wasn't up to the standards of the other books. It was good, and I'll buy it, but it didn't have quite the punch that the other books did.

It's SO clear that I have become a twelve year old reluctant reader boy after all the reading I've done. It's gotten to the point where I would rather read a 120 page football book than a 300 page one about a quirky girl. Personally, I vastly prefer historical fiction or time travel, but I read Angela Darling's Crush books, adventure novels, and goofy books like Rylander's Code Zero because I know there will be lots of readers for the books, and I'll have spent my scant money wisely.

When everyone in the Kidlitosphere is raving about the newest literary quirky/dysfunctional book, it makes me sad because I know it will be mentioned for every award under the sun. Such books also make MY students cringe. Maybe not your students. So I'll try to be fair about the following book.

18668051 Holczer, Tracy. The Secret Hum of a Daisy.
May 1st 2014 by Putnam Juvenile

Grace has been through a lot by the age of 12. Her father and grandfather were killed in a car accident before she was born and her very young mother has moved them around all over California after being kicked out by her own mother.  When Grace argues with her mother over an impending move and then her mother has a fatal accident in the river (and Grace finds her), Grace is sent to live with her grandmother. At first, she tries to sabotage her placement there so she can return to Lacey and Mrs. Greene, the people with whom she and her mother stayed last. Grace lives in the shed, pulls mean pranks on her grandmother, and is very dependent on hearing from Lacey every week. Slowly, she settles in to school, gets to know the community, and starts to find out information about her parents and grandparents. Her grandmother designed the local park, and her mother did statues of birds out of found objects, including a statue in the central fountain of the park. Slowly, Grace makes peace with her situation and learns that her grandmother does love her.
Strengths: Certainly, this is very beautifully written, plucks at the heartstrings, and has a well-developed sense of place and interesting characters. Having a parent die has got to be the toughest loss to survive, and Grace seems to do better than other middle grade characters in coming to terms with the death. The way that she will think about her mother very briefly at odd moments is very realistic.
Weaknesses: This is slow paced and sad. Not something students ask for or are happy to read if forced. I had BIG concerns about the mother, who seemed  most likely mentally ill, completely unfit to be a parent, and a possible suicide. I felt sorry for the grandmother, who should not have felt guilty for kicking the mother out, and who was then forced to take in Grace. The whole sad scenario could have been prevented with a little sex education or birth control, so it was hard for me to like a character who never should have been born.

HOWEVER, everyone else on the planet liked the book.

People Who Liked It More Than I Did:
Publishers Weekly
Waking Brain Cells
Reading Year
Welcome to My Tweendom
The Book Nut


Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Klaatu Terminus

Hooray! Armchair BEA starts on Monday, and I'm bound and determined to get back in the swing of things and visit lots of blogs to see what people are reading.

Thought for the day: I try to post a book review every day, and keep the review fairly short. There are so many book blogs, so why does it seem like there are so few book reviews? Giveaways and author interviews are fine, but I just want to know what to read next!

18209395Hautman, Pete. The Klaatu Terminus
April 8th 2014 by Candlewick Press
Copy from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there. 

In this final book in the The Obsidian Blade and The Cydonian Pyramid  series, we come to a conclusion of sorts regarding many of the characters. I took notes on this when I read it during state testing, and it made my brain hurt, but I am pretty sure I understood it! (And I looked up every time I turned the page to make sure kids were on task, even though I was in a room where students were all working with people who were reading to them or scribing!)

In 3000 CE, Tucker and Lia are on Romulas. Lia saved Tucker from Gheen, and they have traveled all over via diskos and are now wandering in the forest, being helped by the Whorsch-Boggs family.

In 2012, Kosh sees Lamb Emma and is a little confused. He is later critically hurt and sent to the future to heal.

In 1997, Kosh's brother goes off to study, leaving his grilfriend Emily behind. She and Kosh develop a very closed relationship.

Tucker and Lia travel to 2012 but think Kosh has been killed. They talk to Emma but Koan and Tamm try to kill Lia. Kosh shows up, but Tucker, Lia and Kosh are around when a barn explodes, and they go to the future and are in the Terminus/Harmony and meet Emily 3.

We learn some big secrets about Tucker, Kosh and the various forms of Emily, but even if I could give away the story, I wouldn't!

Strengths: Good world building and time travel, nice twists, and this was easier to read than the others; I seemed to have a better idea of what was going on. If I didn't have to try to summarize, I would have just read and enjoyed this one, although I preferred the 1997 scenes to the ones in the future.
Weaknesses: Some heavy duty science fiction. Some of the Klaatu details are a bit odd.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

World Wednesday- A Time to Dance

18263530Venkatraman, Padma. A Time to Dance
May 1st 2014 by Nancy Paulsen Books
E ARC from

Veda has studied classical Indian bharatanatyam dance for years, and it is the only thing that makes her happy. Her mother would like her to become a doctor or engineer, but school is not a top priority for Veda. Dance makes her feel alive. She has a great triumph at a dance competition, and she even enjoys the way the boys look at her when she wins-- dance makes her beautiful, she feels. When a disastrous bus accident results in the loss of her leg, she is devastated, but with the help of an American doctor, Jim, she is able to work on walking and dancing. She has an embarrassing crush on Jim, but develops deeper feelings for Govinda, a teacher at the school where she starts studying dance all over again with younger children. She realizes what she has felt all along--  that dancing is not just physical, but has a spiritual component as well.
Strengths: This would be a good pairing with Van Draanen's The Running Dream, or Staple's Shiva's Fire. I liked the descriptions of life in India, especially the details of the grandmother's and parents' lives. Veda's reactions are realistic, and the romances are a nice touch.
Weaknesses: The novel in verse format leaves out a lot of descriptions, or makes them more poetic. For students who don't know what living in India is like, I think that straight prose could be more descriptive. Still, I will buy it, because it was very interesting.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Odin's Ravens.

16060302Armstrong, K.L and Marr, M.A. Odin's Ravens.
May 13th 2014 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 
E ARC from

This sequel to Loki's Wolves has  Matt Thorsen back and looking for the hammer of Thor. Ray and Rayna are not in the picture, but Fen and Laurie are having lots of adventures. First, they have to travel to the underworld and retrieve Baldwin, and the hardest part is getting out of there! They have to fight all manner of evil creatures, like draugrs, which are sort of zombie Viking warriors, get some help from the Valkyries, and run into Matt's grandfather again-- and he's still willing to sacrifice Matt. Admittedly, I lost the notes that I had to take on this one, so I'm a little vague on plot , but this was a good read packed with a lot of adventure as well as tons of details from Norse mythology.
Strengths:The characters in this are interesting and have an unusual dynamic. Tons of Norse mythology worked into the plot. I'm still not sure if Ragnarok happening is a good or bad thing, and that gray area is something that I enjoy (think the Revenge of the Witch series, which I think will be the hot book starting next fall, since the movie is coming out soon.)
Weaknesses: Like the Rick Riordan books, there is so much going on that if I don't take notes, I have trouble following the plot. If I lose the notes... well, you can see how good my grasp was! Students seem to do better with fantasy books than I do, but struggling readers would find this a challenge.

Finished inventory. That's the good news. The bad news is that there are about 30 books that just walked away. Have I mentioned that my library has ELEVEN doors, eight going into classrooms? That doesn't help. I'm hoping that some will come back in locker clean out, but really, people, who steals book FOUR in a series? I'm missing Black Heart by Justin Somper. Grrr. Sure as shooting, if I replace it, the book will show up in the gym, and I'll have two.

Fifteen books still out, but I'm hoping to get that number down. The biggest loss this year has been students going to other schools. I've had about 50 lost and paid for.

**Sobbing gently into cardigan sleeve while working on Baker and Taylor order.***

Monday, May 19, 2014

MMGM-- The Qwikpick Papers

18405483Angleberger, Tom. The Qwikpick Papers: Poop Fountain
May 20th 2014 by Amulet Books 
E ARC from

Back in 2000, when the internet was slow and there was not much to do online, Lyle and his friends have nothing to do on Christmas day. Lyle's parents are working at the Qwikpick near their home in a trailer park, Marilla is a Jehovah's Witness, and Dave is Jewish, so the three, spurred by a newspaper article, decide to cross the field near their home to investigate the "poop fountain" at the sewage treatment plant. Complications ensue, especially since Lyle has a crush on Marilla.
Strengths: Bonus points for having a character named Marilla, a typewriter that Lyle uses for his reports, and a fun ensemble cast. In true Angleberger form, there are a lot of asides, a little origami, and some good, middle grade humor with a touch of romance. Unfortunately, the pages of the E ARC turned so slowly that I didn't get to finish the book. I'm hoping to get a public library copy quickly.
Weaknesses: This seemed to move slowly, but that could have been the turning of the pages! I am going to reserve final judgement until after I look at a paper copy. (It did get a bit quicker, and my ARC was snagged immediately by a student fan when I had them up for giveaway!)

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.

We have five more days with the students, and I am about 80% done with inventory. Not my favorite time of year at all. The lost books are the worst part for me, even when students pay for them. It's like little pieces of my soul being thrown in the waste bin. Sigh.

Equipment retrieval very soon as well, so even MORE fun. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Only Everything and The Meaning of Maggie

18475596Scott, Kieran. Only Everything (True Love #1)
May 6th 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Eros (the daughter of Aphrodite, who is NOT a fat male cherub!) has angered Zeus over her relationship with Orion, so she is banished to earth with her mother until she can match make three sets of mortals. Renaming herself True Olympia, she descends on Lake Carmody High like a force of nature: outspoken, inappropriately dressed, and much too royal in her attitude. The same day, another new kid starts. Charlie's father is a football coach, but Charlie prefers music. He tries out for the cross country team to get his father off his back, but turns out to be surprisingly good. He gets caught in True's cross hairs, and she tries to set him up with several girls. Meanwhile, Katrina is suffering in her relationship with the controlling Ty because she feels that she has nowhere else to turn; her mother is so grief stricken by the death of Katrina's father that she can't care properly for her daughter. Aphrodite is also a horrible mother, not getting out of bed and drinking ten bottles of wine a day because she can't handle being away from Olympus. True is worried that they might be stuck on earth forever, but luckily Hephaestus intervenes and gets them back on track a little, and True finally makes a match that was obvious to the reader from the start.
Strengths: Aside from the drinking (which doesn't end well at all), this is a fine YA romance that works for MG audiences. The tie in with mythology is a nice one. Scott's other books do very well in my library.
Weaknesses:  There need to be more positive depictions of people dealing with death in fiction. So  many times, people are completely devastated, and I don't think that's the case in real life. In real life, Katrina would realize that without her father's income, she would need to keep her grades up in order to be able to attend college with some sort of scholarship, and her mother would be even more vigilant a parent instead of letting Katrina move in with her skeevy boyfriend. Makes for a less dramatic book, granted, but readers who have experienced a loss have so few helpful examples of people dealing with grief that it is rather alarming. Sure, you can be sad, but you can't completely torpedo your own life or the lives of your children.

Still, the series should run to only three books, so I'll probably buy it.

18656207Sovern, Megan Jean. The Meaning of Maggie.
May 6th 2014 by Chronicle Books
ARC from Baker and Taylor

In 1988, Maggie's father  has quit his job at an airport because he is having increasingly bad problems with his legs falling asleep. Her mother goes to work, leaving her father and older sisters to take care of things around the house. Starting middle school is hard enough without these worries. She has a crush on a boy named Clyde, and starts a grudging friendship with Mary, who is popular and helps her out in gym class. She is concerned about keeping her title as science fair winner, and documents her life in a journal so that when she becomes president, all the details are known. Maggie's project this year is on multiple sclerosis, and she finds that her father's condition is much more serious than she realized. She wants to "fix" him, but when he suffers a health set back, she knows that all she can do is to hang on and enjoy the moment.
Strengths: This has an appealing cover, and there are some good details about life in 1988. (The library research part will make students wonder!) Drawing on her own family experience, Sovern gives a good description of what it is like to live with a parent who is struggling with a debilitating disease. There are very few books out there that deal with multiple sclerosis, and I have had students whose lives this disease has touched. A portion of the proceeds from this book will benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Weaknesses: Maggie's voice seems rather naive and immature for a sixth grader, especially one with two older sisters. It seems odd that her family is keeping her in the dark concerning the circumstances of her father's illness. I appreciate that the publicist addressed my concern with a historical point: I thought Maggie being taken to Take Your Daughter to Work Day in October of 1988 was odd, since that day is always held the fourth Thursday in April, but wasn't started until 1993. Apparently, companies had their own days whenever they wanted before that point in time. I'm glad they were so willing to check the facts!

The trailer is attractively done, but doesn't shed much light on the plot.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Sparkle Spa!

19872665Santopolo, Jill. All That Glitters (Sparkle Spa #1)
Published February 11th 2014 by Aladdin
ARC from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Aly (who is in 5th grade) and her sister Brooke (who is only in third) love to help out at their mother's nail salon, True Colors. Each girl has age appropriate tasks to do, and there are a lot of family rules; for examples, while the girls can always wear toenail polish, they can only have nail polish on during the weekends. When an older girl from school wants Aly to do her rainbow manicure so she doesn't have to wait, Aly's mom makes a rare exception, but then the girls entire soccer team wants the same manicure. Since the salon is super busy, Aly and Brooke lobby to open up their own spa just for kids in the back of the shop. After some arranging, Sparkle Spa opens and just takes donation, as long as the girls have their homework done!
Strengths: I liked how Aly and Brooke were willing to work within the structure of family rules to accomplish what they wanted. They presented their business plan to their parents very reasonably, and even though they ran into some difficulties, really did have the best interest of the family business in mind. Problems were realistic and addressed in constructive ways.
Weaknesses: A nail salon? Must say that I've never had a manicure or a pedicure, so didn't understand the entire premise of this, but it is a good book for girls who like My Life in Pink and Green, The Teashop Girls, or the books about girls starting cup cake businesses.

15801983Santopolo, Jill. Purple Nails and Puppy Tails (Sparkle Spa #1)
Published February 11th 2014 by Aladdin
ARC from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

One of the regulars at True Colors has a small dog who is going to be a spokesdog for a local animal shelter. When the dog gets loose in the salon, Aly repairs the dog's paw-dicure, and gets interested in helping with the shelter, which is trying to place ten dogs in forever homes. With the donations from Sparkle Spa, they spiff up the dogs. Aly and Brooke would both like a dog at home, but their parents say no. To makes matters more complicated, they are interested in different dogs from the shelter. In the end, their parents are impressed with their responsibility, and the family does get a dog.
Strengths: Again, the girls make a plan and work for what they want. Their family is supportive, but requires them to make a good effort.
Again, I'm not understanding the whole nail polish thing, but girls who do enjoy nail polish will like the manicure hints at the end of the book.

18465572Silver, Charlotte. The Summer Invitation
20 May 2014, Roaring Brook Press  
E ARC from

Teens Franny and Valentine (pronounced to rhyme with "lean") live in San Francisco, but when an old friend of their mother's, Aunt Theo, writes a letter inviting the girls to spend the summer at her apartment in Greenwich Village, their parents blithely send them off. Of course, Theo will still be in Europe for most of the summer, but her former ward, Clover (age 28), will be there to watch over the girls.  Thus begins a round of museums, fancy restaurants, and clothes shopping for appropriate outfits that do not consist of the "trousers" Theo holds in scorn. Since Clover is an artist, Franny and Valentine spend a fair amount of time on their own exploring the city. The girls meet a variety of people from Theo and Clover's pasts, and have some romances of their own. Theo is expected back in the middle of August, so the young women put together a party bringing together a quirky cast of characters before heading back to their regularly scheduled lives.
Strengths: This certainly was a Slice of Life into a rarefied world that few teens will ever get to experience, and while there are some slightly risque things (lingerie shopping, Valentine staying overnight with her boyfriend), there is nothing graphic. This reminded me slightly of an older teen version of Elizabeth Enright's The Saturdays, which is one of my favorites.
Weaknesses: I don't think the real audience for this is teen girls. There is so much back information (movies of the 1950s, foreign customs, fancy restaurants, fashion, NYC in general) on which the understanding of the story depends, and most readers will not have any idea about so much of it (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg?).  Knowing that the author had an unconventional childhood helps this book make sense, but I still can't see any of my middle grade readers enjoying this one.                              

Friday, May 16, 2014

Guy Friday-- Steering Toward Normal

18405502 Petruck, Rebecca. Steering Toward Normal
May 13th 2014 by Amulet Books
E ARC from

Diggy Lawson likes his life in Minnesota-- he lives with Pop, having been abandoned by his mother as a baby, but he enjoys living in the country and raising steers for 4H and the state fair. When Wayne Graf is suddenly dumped at his house by Mr. Graf, who (reeling from the recent death of Mrs. Graf)  thinks that Wayne is really Pop's son as well, thinks don't go quite as well. While Wayne has a huge extended family who would like to take him in, Wayne (who is actually Pop's biological son) wants to stay with the Lawsons until Mr. Graf can get his alcoholism under control. Wayne also decides to raise a steer, so the boys are pitted against each other. For the most part, they get along okay, playing pranks on Pop and working with their steers, but Wayne is determined to find Diggy's mother, since he still misses his own so much. This causes tension between the two, but they manage to work out their differences and learn a lot about what "family" really means.
Strengths: If you have students who are interested in the ins and outs of raising steers, this is the book. While I didn't grow up on a farm, I grew up with lots of cousins involved in 4H and spent a goodly amount of time hanging around the cow barns at the Canfield Fair. Spot on details. I also was intrigued by the family situation, and enjoyed the book tremendously. The cover is fabulous.
Weaknesses: I'm not sure I have the demographic who will be interested in this. It would suit 8th grade boys who want a funny book with more serious issues, but I'm not sure the farm setting will resonate. Turn Left at the Cow continues to circulate though, so I may consider buying this.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Lantern Sam and the Blue Streak Bandits

18209357Beil, Michael D. Lantern Sam and the Blue Streak Bandits.
April 8th 2014 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Copy from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there

Henry is traveling on the Lake Erie Shoreliner train in the 1930s from New York back home to Ashtabula, Ohio (the birthplace of Yours Truly, and pronounced ASH tuh BEW luh ) where his father is the captain of the Point Pelee, a freighter. He meets a rich heiress, Ellie, who is traveling to Conneaut (KAHN ee awt) to travel on the new roller coaster, the Blue Streak. She invites Henry to go with her family, but before long, she goes missing. Lantern Sam, a cat who hangs out with Clarence the Conductor, is able to telepathically communicate with both Henry and Clarence, and helps with the investigation. There are all manner of suspicious types on board, and many of them are not all that they seem to be. In between these investigations are Sam's stories of his close calls and previous investigations, many of which involve his much beloved sardines. Ellie is found, but her mother's expensive necklace, also called the Blue Streak, was used in the ransom, and finding it leads to even more evil doers, some of whom are unveiled during the Blue Streak's inaugural day.
Strengths: Beil always does a great mystery, and I love how he brings in details of Ohio places! This had a lot of nice twists and turns, as well as some fun 1930s details. Henry and Ellie are fun characters, and as much as I didn't really want an epilogue set in the present day, I have to admit that I cried when I read it.
Weaknesses: The cover on this is great, but ... a telepathically talking cat who mentions sardines a bit too often? Perhaps fans of Warriors books will be coerced into taking on a mystery because of Sam, but on a personal level, talking animals are never my favorite.

18209398 Boyce, Frank Cottrell. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Over the Moon
8 April 2014, Candlewick
Copy from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

The Tooting family are stranded in 1966. The parents are rather enjoying themselves, since they can see a famous World Cup game and are enjoying the Carnaby Street atmosphere, but before long, things start to go wrong. Little Harry disappears, Big Ben shoots off in to space, and the family discovers Jeremy and Jemimah Potts and the original version of Chitty. The Potts parents are presumed with Harry, and the mastermind behind the whole thing seems to be the evil Little Jack. The Tootings try very hard to get everyone back to the place and time where they belong without ruining the space-time continuum, and Mrs. Tooting especially wants to travel back far enough to prevent Little Jack from becoming the monomaniac he is. Fun details abound, from a trip to the moon to a miniaturizer that has shrunk some of the world's great landmarks!
Strengths: Very British, and lots of fun details about different parts of history. The different versions of Chitty are fun, too, and the Tooting family having adventures together is pleasant.
Weaknesses: A bit young for my group, but a little long for elementary. I finally got rid of the original Ian Fleming book because no one would EVER check it out and it started to pong. This is the third and final book in the series, I think. (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Race Against Time.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

To All the Boys I've Loved Before/Jasmine and Maddie

While I really do believe that the death of a parent when one is young is probably the hardest death to cope with, I do wish that SOME middle grade parents be allowed to live.  No such luck with the following two books.

15749186Han, Jenny. To All the Boys I've Loved Before.
April 15th 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers 

Lara Jean loves her close knit family: doctor father; older, in control sister Margot, and slightly annoying, much younger Kitty. Her mother has been gone several years, and Margot has gotten the family organized and operational. Now that she has graduated from high school and is going to college in Scotland, Lara Jean isn't sure how she will cope, especially since Margot breaks up with neighbor and long-time boyfriend, Josh. Lara Jean always liked Josh; in fact, she had written a letter to him and to her four other "serious" crushes. She's kept the letters in a hat box from her mother, but one day finds that the letters have been mailed to her crushes! Josh is flattered, and the other letters don't cause much of a ripple, but a letter to 7th grade crush Peter Kavinsky leads to an interesting situation-- he's just broken up with the "love of his life", Gen, and wants to pretend to date Lara Jean to make Gen jealous. Lara Jean is leery of her feelings for Josh, so she plays along. Things get complicated, as romance in high school generally does, and Lara Jean has to figure out what she really wants out of a boyfriend... and out of life.
Strengths: Lara Jean is an interesting character with very real emotions. I especially like the fact that she is half Korean but tired of being asked "what she is". Her ethnicity plays a small part in the story-- really just perfect. The strong family ties and the enduring friendships are interesting as well. I enjoyed this tremendously but am debating appropriateness for middle school.
Weaknesses: While there is nothing instructional, there is some discussion of "people having sex". There is also one f-bomb, but since it is used to dramatic effect at a crucial emotional moment... I can almost excuse those. So, is it okay for 6th graders to pick this up and just read that Josh and Margot had sex. If there's not much more discussed? There is also a friend, Chris, who's rather crude. This would be perfect for an 8th grader, but I can't control who picks up books in my library, so still thinking about this one.

18772058 Pakkala, Christine. Jasmine and Maddie.
Published April 1st 2014 by Boyds Mills Press
E ARC from

Jasmine has a very difficult life. Her father has died from cancer, and after she has an issue with stealing from a family who is trying to help her, her mother takes a job as a school custodian in a town near and aunt and uncle. Since money is tight, they live in a trailer park, and Jasmine is ashamed of this. Maddie rides on the same bus, but has a loving and supportive family, although she feels that she is not as popular or, ironically, as well dressed as Jasmine, who was given a lot of fancy clothes by the family in the other town. Maddie doesn't make the travel soccer team, and her friends are distancing themselves from her, and Maddie also misses her grandmother and is tired of being compared to her older sister Lexi. Maddie and Jasmine start a tenuous friendship, but when Jasmine gets it into her head that she could get money for her mother by trading rings with Maddie and selling Maddie's, a lot of trouble begins.
Strengths: There are not many books that address the issue of social class distinctions, or especially trailer parks, and I thought this was well done. This would be good for girls in the seventh grade who want sad books.
Weaknesses: So sad. So very sad. There's the painful issue of dealing with the deceased father, but then really the only other thing we hear about is school work, especially a poetry project. Is it worse to have to do poetry homework or read about other people doing poetry homework? My girls inform me that the only time they want to read about homework is if it is MAGIC homework.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Superheroes and The Pilkey Line

Ah, yes, the Pilkey Line. The point at which a book falls on either the elementary side or the middle school side. Pilkey is really too young for middle school, but still has a strange appeal. Sometimes it's hard to tell, and it's not always an easy call, but reading these together recently made me think about this concept.

Bacon, Lee. The Dominion Key (Joshua Dread #3)
13 May 2014, Random House
E ARC from
Also reviewed at Young Adult Books Central

Joshua, Milton, Sophie and Miranda are all attacked by evil villains named Grifter and Lunk (who is  made up of concrete but dissolves in water!), and the parents decide they are no longer safe. Since the kids all want to go to school together, they end up at Alabaster Academy, a school for Gyfter children that is set on a remote, Gothic Island. It turns out that Grifter and Lunk work for Phineas Vex, and they are trying to assemble the components for The Device. The one remaining item they need is the Dominion Key, which was produced by a teacher at Alabaster, Dr. Fleming.When Alabaster's security is breached, the group, along with Cassie, the principal's daughter, heads off to a cabin where Fleming claims to have hidden the key. Along the way, they meet up with Marvin and Gus, retired superheroes who do their best to help the kids with their outdated technology. The group almost loses Miranda, uncovers some secrets, and may finally manage to contain Phineas Vex... or do they?
Strengths: Again, the clever writing makes this a delight. I even have an 8th grader who was a little leery of these who tore through the first two. There is a strong sense of the kids being in charge, and the look into the past of the parents is really fun, since they are involved but don't dominate the scene. I adored Marvin and Gus, who were sort of like a washed up Batman and Robin. There's a tiny bit of romance hinted at, and in general the tone is pitch perfect for middle grades, even up to 8th!
Weaknesses: I'm never as fond of evil teachers, but there is a nice twist with one here. Covers improving, but still not strong.

18090043Jensen, Marion. Almost Super
January 21st 2014, HarperCollins

 Benny and Rafter Bailey are all set to get their super powers on 29 Feburary, the day when their family always gets a power. They are especially happy, because the daughter of the rival family, the Johnsons, is making their lives at school hard. Unfortunately, they get really lame powers, but no one knows why. Both families claim to be the good side, and claim that the other side is the villianous one, but it's never clear who is correct. It turns out that Juanita has also gotten a lame power (she's a super flusher and can unclog toilets), but the kids trace their problem down to October Jones. Only by working together can these arch enemies find out why their super powers are not what they want them to be. Seems like there will be a sequel.
Strengths: This has goofy elements that are fun, but more elementary. Anytime a spork, "super flushing" powers and multiple burps are mentioned, it falls on the elementary side of the Pilkey Line. There's plenty of action, and I can see this being a good series for elementary students who aren't quite ready for Joshua Dread
Weaknesses: I like more black and white shading with my super villains/heroes, so I was bothered that I didn't really know if the Baileys or the Johnsons were the good guys. Goodreads describes this as Savvy meets The Incredibles, which is accurate but doesn't make me want to read the book!

Monday, May 12, 2014

MMGM- Cupcake Cousins

18453193Hannigan, Kate. Cupcake Cousins
May 13th 2014, Disney-Hyperion 
ARC received from the author

Willow and Delia are even more excited than usual that their extended family is renting a house in Michigan, because their Aunt Rose is getting married. They are hoping that they won't have to wear the horrible, floofy pink dresses and be flower girls-- if Aunt Rose can experience their wonderful cooking, maybe she'll have them do the cake instead! The problem with that is that Mr. Henry has Cat cooking for them all, since she lost her restaurant in the South and inherited the house next door. Willow and Delia manage to run afoul of Cat again and again, but work their way back into her good graces every time. They have to put up with their older sisters, three year old Sweet William (who keeps getting into trouble with the family goose), and Delia is also worried about her parents. Her father has lost his job in Detroit, and her parents seem to be fighting a lot... will they get a divorce? As the wedding approaches, it looks like the girls will have to wear their pink dresses, but manage to save the day anyway.
Strengths: This was a very fun read about summer activities that will appeal to many readers. The addition of recipes is always good, and the illustrations are charming. The families are supportive, even with the problems, and the inclusion of multigenerational characters is interesting. The fact that the cousins have different backgrounds but still have the same eyes is very nice.  The summer activities make this kind of like The Penderwicks, but without the annoying pretension.
Weaknesses: If an actual child were named Sweet William, I think he should be able to press charges, family obsession with flower names or not.. There were a bit too many small catastrophes throughout the book, which made the one at the end lack some impact.

The cousins depicted look just like my girls and my nieces, which is great for #Weneeddiversebooks!

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.

Atkinson, Rick. D-Day: The Invasion of Normandy, 1944.
May 6th 2014, Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)  
E ARC from

This is a shorter version of the adult book, The Guns at Last Light, but still weighs in at 224 pages. This was a very complete overview of the planning that went into the implementation of D-Day, the events of the invasion itself (including the badly flawed air drops), and the consequences of the operation, from the fatalities to the worldwide implications. Period photos on almost every page illustrate this nicely. Lists of key players, maps, and other appendices make this particularly valuable. Even though it is a long book, the pages use white space well, and it's not too dense. Avid readers of WWII books will make their way through this with ease and will revel in the details. Most interesting fact: total war-related deaths of World War II-- 72 million. How does one even calculate that kind of human loss?