Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Fairy-Tale Matchmaker

20613749Baker, E.D. The Fairy-Tale Matchmaker
October 7th 2014 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens 
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Cory is miserable as a tooth fairy. Her mother loves the work, but Cory finally reaches her breaking point and quits. She moves in with her uncle and starts looking for other jobs even though she knows the tooth fairies are angry with her. She has other problems as well-- her pet woodchuck likes to eat carpet and shoes, she is in a struggling band, and she's just broken up with her boyfriend (as have some of her friend) and is looking for the perfect guy. Her odd jobs find her babysitting for Humpty Dumpty and for the Old Woman Who Lives in a Shoe, killing spiders for Miss Muffett, and helping Suzie inventory sea shells by the sea shore. When the Tooth Fairies start playing dirty and start sending plagues of bugs that disrupt her odd jobs, Cory goes delving into her family history for some answers to who she really is and what sort of job would be best for her.
Strengths: No one does a fairy tale book as well as E. D. Baker. I adored A Question of Magic and am quite pleased with The Wide-Awake Princess. This has the same modern, fun twist, this time on predominately Mother Goose characters.
Weaknesses: There seemed to be a disconnect between Cory's problems (jobs, boyfriends, fights with mother) and the age of the expected readers. I was also more bothered than I should have been that this included characters that were not in Mother Goose. It's all make believe, so it shouldn't matter!

I can tell what my primary source of Mother Goose was as a child, because illustrations from Mother Goose Rhymes, illustrated by Eulalie, published by Platt and Munk, circa 1953, kept popping into my mind!

Plus, I now have a really overwhelming desire to go to a Storybook Forest. I thought theme parks like that, as well as Northpole, New York, were the coolest thing ever when I was small.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

MMGM-- El Deafo and First Team

Cybils Logo 2014

It's almost here! Time for nominating your favorite books of the year for the Cybils awards. You can start on October first, but make sure you are familiar with the different age and genre divisions before nominating a book! If it has talking animals, witches, ghosts, or magic of any kind, it is NOT in Middle Grade Fiction, but belongs in Middle Grade SPECULATIVE fiction!

Always a fun time. I love seeing what books show up on the MGF list!

20701984Bell, Cece. El Deafo. 

September 2nd 2014 by Harry N. Abrams
ARC from Baker and Taylor

This graphic novel memoir chronicles the author's experiences with hearing loss. After a childhood bout with meningitis at age 4, Ms. Bell had limited hearing and was taught to lip read. She had a variety of hearing aides, some which worked better than others, and a variety of friends, some of whom had issues with her hearing loss and some of whom just had issues. When things get difficult, Bell occasionally would fantasize that she was the super hero El Deafo, and there are dream sequences about what she wishes she could do. At one point, her mother wants her to take a sign language class, but having relied on lip reading, Bell is not thrilled with this idea. This follows the main character up through middle school, deals with a crush on a cute boy, and is generally a great, realistic picture of how one person went through early school years with a hearing loss.
Strengths: There are very few characters in middle grade books with hearing loss, so the details of what Bell experienced were interesting. I especially appreciated the after note where she said that this was a chronicle of just HER experience, and that there are so many different ways to deal with this. I have one student who is a huge reader has a sign language interpreter; I asked her if she would like the book and explained that while it was about a girl with a hearing loss, she doesn't use sign language. My reader was still thrilled to see the book, and is looking forward to the full color version. This will be popular with readers who like graphic novels, but is an interesting story even without the pictures. The friend and boy drama are squarely middle grade and are as important as Bell's dealings with her issues of being different.
Weaknesses:  While using rabbits certainly sets this apart from Smile (knew I couldn't get through the whole review without mentioning that!), it was a bit odd. Bell is clearly about my age, given the cultural references, so it might have been helpful to have a year mentioned, so that readers would have an idea that the technology of hearing aids might have changed a bit. (My cousin had a device similar to Bell's Sonic Ear, and it was a very large device; even my reader says that before she got an implant, she had a unit that was rather cumbersome.)

Green, Tim. First Team (Sequel to The New Kid)
September 30th 2014 by HarperCollins

Brock and his father have narrowly escaped after a harrowing airplane crash, and have decided to lay low in Calhoun, Ohio. They finally think no one will find them, but this puts them in a tough place for money. They rent a run down house in the Flatlands, and Brock’s father gets a job as a “sanitary engineer”. Brock (who has invented a story about his name so he can remain that), runs into football playing Mak and decides to try out for the team, even though baseball is more his thing. Because of his size, the coach decides to give him a try. His skills would indicate he would be a great quarterback (is this something that ALL football players want to be?), but there is already a quarterback on the team… Coach Van Kuffler’s’ nephew. Brock also runs afoul of other player Wentzel because he is from “the wrong side of the tracks”. Despite this, Brock learns football plays for Taylor Lehman, who is on the high school team and being sought by colleges. It doesn’t hurt that Taylor’s sister, Laurel, is not only cute and nice, but works in the town library, and that their divorced mother seems to get along really well with Brock’s father. Mak is tremendously supportive through all of the trouble on the football field, which involves key players becoming injured so that Brock gets a chance. However, all of this is put into jeopardy when Brock’s father’s past almost catches up with them, although salvation arrives from a very surprising source.
Strengths: As always, LOTS of football stuff. Apparently, coaches call plays and players get in trouble for not following them, even if the choice they make ends in points for the team? Remember, I haven’t watched a football game in over 30 years! Brock and his father have a great relationship, Mak is fantastic as a new friend, and Laurel… sigh. Perfect middle school romance. Perfect. She is impressed that Brock is reading Stead’s When You Reach Me, tries to get him to read The Fault in Our Stars (and he has a perfect reaction to that), and the two meet on really equal ground and just enjoy being around each other. The down-and-out Appalachian community is a great setting, and the spy stuff is just icing on the cake. (Or insert appropriate sports metaphor!)
Weaknesses: The spy stuff is over the top, but I loved it. Evil coaches must be a real thing, but they always make me pause. It’s a lot of work to coach if you’re just in it to be evil.

Personal Rant: Also, what the heck is with the sheer number of football coaches? There are only 11 players on the field from each team? I’m sure there are more that are on the team, but they are in a confined space. We had over 50 cross country runners, and the district only pays for one coach? Not understanding.

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.

Wheels of Change

20763764Jacobson, Darlene Beck. Wheels of Change
September 23rd 2014 by Creston Books

Emily loves hanging out in her father's shop, and enjoys talking to Henry, the blacksmith. Her father has just made a carriage for Sousa, and has been commissioned to build one for President Roosevelt himself. When Henry becomes very ill, her father has to hire another man, and with the advent of the "horseless carriage", Emily fears for the future of the shop. Emily's mother wishes she would not hang around the forge and enlists her help to put together a tea, for which Emily must improve her baking, not to mention her manners. Emily starts to see more change than just the automobile-- she sees Suffragettes out, goes to a Nickelodeon and sees a woman playing the piano, and sees even more prejudice against black people than she saw when her family chose to visit Henry at his home. In the end, the most pressing problem-- the continuation of her father's business-- is solved, Emily is invited to meet President Roosevelt, and the family decides that they must do what is right even in the face of others' opinions.
Strengths: There is not a lot of fiction set during this period of history (1901-09) when there was a lot of social change occurring. This is well researched and based on the author's own family history. Lots of different topics of the day are presented.
Weaknesses: If all of the girls back in history fought against the restrictive social mores of the time, women would have been fully emancipated in about 1600. I can only compare this against Anne of Green Gables (1908), wherein Anne might have struggled against the status quo but always felt bad about challenging it. In most fiction, girls are portrayed as feeling put upon by having to behave like ladies, and I'm not sure this was as widespread a problem as fiction leads us to believe. I also wonder if the racial prejudices would have played out in real life in the way they were portrayed in the book.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons- Tom Gates

20708841Pichon, L. The Brilliant World of Tom Gates
August 26th 2014 by Candlewick Press 
ARC from YABC and reviewed there.

Tom is in year five, and would rather draw or read comics in class than pay attention to his teacher, Mr. Fullerman, which would explain why he gets put in the very front of the classroom! Tom does occasionally pay attention, but he is a past master at forging notes from home and making up elaborate excuses for why he isn't turning things in. He is also very embarrassed by his father, who does freelance work from a shed in their yard and occasionally shows up at school in his gardening clothes, and also by the "fossils": his grandparents, who serve very odd food (like banana on pizza). His older sister, Delia, is easy to annoy, and Tom does so at every chance. The big thing going on in Tom's world is a concert by his favorite band, Dude3, which he manages to talk his father into attending with him. Tom's own band, the Dogzombies, also have an opportunity to perform at a school concert, but both concerts end up being hysterically problematic. This is the first volume of a seven book British series being released in the US for the first time.
Strengths: Notebook novels are always popular, and this one has pleasing graphics that are somewhat reminiscent of Schoolhouse Rock. Tom is well meaning about most of his escapades, except those involving his sister, and the inclusion of typically British phrases and obsessions (Caramel wafer, anyone? Actually, I could go for a Cadbury Finger right now!) add a new twist to this type of book. A glossary is included at the back.
Weaknesses: Not much of a plot, and the illustrations and type are a bit random and made it harder for me to follow what was going on.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Guy Friday- Dead in the Water (World War II #2)

20799493Lynch, Chris. Dead in the Water (World War II #2)
30 September 2014, Scholastic
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Theo and Hank both want to join the Navy at the very beginning of WWII, but there father is afraid of losing both boys, so Theo heads of to the Army, but in the air division. Hank ends up on an aircraft character in the Pacific, where he is an "airedale", helping planes get off the ship. He is a huge fan of baseball and has even brought mitts and a ball with him, and is always looking for someone to toss the ball around, even when the ship is being attacked (in between attacks, of course!). He has a fellow ball lover in Bradford, who played in the Negro Leagues. On board the ship, the other sailors don't have problems with race, but whenever the crew docks, Bradford finds that he isn't welcomed in restaurants or on beaches, and starts to feel (with the support of his crew mates) that if he is fighting for his country, he should have the same rights as everyone else. The ship sees lots of action, visits the site of Pearl Harbor, and Hank begins to realize that war is a horrible thing.
Strengths: Lynch's WWII and Vietnam books are big circulators among my boys who are interested in war, and their are lots of good details. I hope this shows up in the book fair; it will sell out!
Weaknesses: I adored The Right Fight, but this book got off to a slow start and then had too much baseball when what I wanted was descriptions of what it was like to live on a ship, and more information about the Pacific theater. Will this matter to my readers? No. But it was odd to have expectations for a book and have them not be met. Maybe there are so many WWII books out there that I am looking for specific different topics!

Random Library Blathering:
An eighth grade girl came in yesterday, pulled me aside, and said in a whisper "Is it o.k. if I read THESE books?" and showed me the first two SaraNormal books. I personally was addicted to the books, and told her as much. I also told her that 8th grade is a great time to read a lot of middle school books, because she'll be busy in high school reading To Kill a Mockingbird and things like that. She was so happy that she went back to the shelves to get the third book, and was greatly disappointed that it wasn't there. Somehow, this was the best moment of my day.

After talking about library catalogs, our 65 MackinVia books and the Ohio E Book Project all week, I only had two students interested in our own digital titles and two interested in the public library ones. One girl was very excited about getting audio books, but in general, my students don't like e books. There are a few who read Watt Pad books on their iPhones, but they are definitely the exception.

The number of students who come into the library and have absolutely NO CLUE what to read is absolutely astonishing. I cannot remember my middle school librarian or the public librarians ever recommending a book to me-- I just picked things off the shelf. Conversely, my avid readers only want the newest books and keep me up to date on new series. Most of the books I read were from the 1950s and 60s, and I don't remember there being any new books in my middle school library. And I worked there. My friend Lori and I often manned the circulation desk. The library assistant, Mrs. Greer, was always out there with us, but I don't know that the librarian ever left the work room!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

British Mysteries

14059024 Stroud, Jonathan. The Whispering Skull (Lockwood and Co. #2)
September 16th 2014 by Disney Hyperion
E ARC from Netalley.com

Lucy, George and Lockwood are back, still fighting off Visitors and squabbling with the annoying rival Fittes organization. After a rather disastrous attempt to contain a spirit in an authorized grave, they are under scrutiny from DEPRAC (Department of Psychical Research and Control)—even though DEPRAC doesn’t quite trust Lockwood and Co., they are offered the job of researching the situation and dealing with it. And quite a situation it is. George has seen something in the coffin that lead to it being shrouded in silver, but someone has broken in to it and stolen an artifact out of it. Both thieves are discovered, but both end up dead. The team finds out that the body in the lead coffin was that of Edmund Bickerstaff, who was apparently killed and then eaten by rats, and the artifact was a boneglass with tremendous magical powers. Not only that, but the Level Three visitor whose skull and ectoplasm are in a jar in the Lockwood office starts talking to Lucy and is intimately involved in the Bickerstaff problem. Lockwood decides to investigate Bickerstaff’s long abandoned house, and the group takes the skull with them. It seems to lead them in to trouble, but also help them out of really tight spots. Not to give too much away, but ghosts are never what they seem to be, situations are always more dangerous, and Lockwood and Co. always ready to do their best, especially if they can best Fittes on top of it.
Strengths: Lockwood and Co. need someone to organize their business, and I could totally be an office manager for them. I understand that it would be moving to London, but I could clean and organize, make appointments, keep the place stocked with tea and cake and generally make life easier so that the trio can spend more of their time hunting ghosts.

Oh, strengths of the STORY. Fine. Awesome gory ghost story with fighting, flying ectoplasm, great evil characters and convincing world building. Lucy, George and Lockwood are all endearing in their own way, and a tad mysterious as well. This is a great read for a rainy day, curled up with a cup of tea. Stroud has quite the way with describing characters, too. My favorite was “It looked like a baby yak had fallen on him from on high”
Weaknesses: This is quite lengthy; it almost could have been made into two books. Anything over 400 pages is a bit of a hard sell for middle school students. Hard core fantasy fans will be okay with this, but those wanting gruesome ghost stories tend to want shorter books.

18885674Berry, Julie. The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place
September 23rd 2014 by Roaring Brook Press 
E ARC from Netgalley.com

St. Ethelreda's is a very small school for young ladies held in Mrs. Plackett's house. There are only seven students. all of whom would much rather be with the querulous headmistress than with their own dysfunctional families. When Mrs. Plackett and her brother, Mr. Godding, drop dead after eating veal, the girls, especially Smooth Kitty (all of the girls have adjectives attached to their names, like Dour Elinor and Disgraceful Mary Jane), decide that the best plan of action is to bury both of the adults in the garden and continue on as if nothing has happened. This excellent plan would have gone off without a hitch had people not arrived that very night for a surprise birthday party for Mr. Godding. The story is created that a nephew of the pair is sick in India, and Mr. Godding has taken off forthwith to be with him, thus sending Mrs. Plackett to bed with a horrible case of vapors. Soon, Stout Alice is recruited to impersonate Mrs. Plackett, but villages tend to be such nosy places, and the girls have a lot of trouble keeping up their ruse. Eventually, after more murders are committed, they find the perpetrator to be an unlikely person working from an inconceivable set of motives.
Strengths: This is a very effective period mystery, well researched and clever. With the renewed interest in the history of any sort of Victorian-ish setting, this could find some readers, perhaps more in high school for this particular book.
Weaknesses:  While I enjoyed this, it could be a hard sell at the middle school. The murders, by poison, are not gruesome enough, and the idea of farce is one that younger students may have trouble understanding.  The cover might appeal to them, though. I found using the adjective with every girls' name to be a bit much; perhaps this is a Victorian convention that I somehow missed?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Red Pencil- #WeNeedDiverseBooks Wednesday

20454083Pinkney, Andrea Davis, and Evans, Shane (illus.). The Red Pencil
September 16th 2014 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Amira, her disabled younger sister Leila, and her father and mother have a fairly prosperous life in Darfur in 2003. They have a patch of ground with a garden, and a goat that has a kid. Amira is envious of her best friend, Halima, who leaves their village to go to the Gad Primary School. It is expensive to go, but what is holding Amira back is her mother's opinion that girls do not need to know anything but how to take care of a household. When the Jangaweed arrive and attack the town, Amira's father is killed. She and her remaining family escape with Old Anwar, a neighbor. They eventually come to the large relocation camp at Kalma. The deprivation is horrendous, and the family doesn't know what to do. Amira, however, still has her dream of attending school, and is thrilled when she is given a red pencil and a pad of paper by an aid worker. She loves to draw, and knowing that her father wanted her to learn inspires Amira to find ways to educate herself despite her circumstances.
Strengths: The genocide in Darfur is certainly something about which we need a lot more information, and Pinkney does a great job of making this middle grade appropriate. Readers will connect with Amira and start to understand how difficult life can be in other parts of the world. The pictures and short length will entice many reluctant readers.
Weaknesses: I would have liked to see much more factual information about conditions and much less poetic musing. Because there is so little on this topic out there, I wish this had been in prose instead of in verse. For example, more information about the Janjaweed and why they were attacking villages would have been valuable, but since it is from Amira's point of view and she doesn't quite understand events, we don't get complete information.

18667862LaMarche, Una. Like No Other.
July 24th 2014 by Razorbill

Devorah has always adhered closely to the behavioral expectations of her strict Hasidic family, but when her sister has a baby at 18, she starts to question whether this path will make her happy. To further complicate matters, when she is in the hospital with her sister during a storm, she gets stuck in the elevator with Jaxon, a geeky boy of West Indian descent to whom she finds she has an attraction and who lives in her neighborhood, albeit on "the other side". Since she is not allowed to talk to boys, much less date, Devorah finds ways to meet Jaxon, and the two fall in love and make plans to go away together for a weekend. When her family finds out, they send her away to be talked to by a rabbi, and her family starts arranging her marriage. Eventually, Devorah realizes that things will not work out with Jaxon but meeting him still has changed her and her plans for the future.
Strengths: This was a tremendously interesting book, and one that should get all the attention that The Fault in Our Stars and If I Stay are currently getting! Much more positive message as well! The portrayal of Devorah as someone who loves her family deeply but for whom the strictures of her culture are no longer working is deftly handled, and the portrayal of one family of Hasidic culture is something that many readers will not know anything about. (And I read conflicting opinions as to whether or not the portrayal is accurate. Let's go with: it is a portrayal of one family and their interpretation of the culture.)
Weaknesses: NOT a middle grade book, due to a few scenes and some language, as well as a general tone of introspection that doesn't work well for most middle school students. Definitely would buy for a high school library, though! I thought that Jaxon could have been a bit more developed (and a bit less annoying) as a character (since alternating chapters are from his viewpoint), and a glossary would have been nice.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Science Fiction (Gibbs and Myers)

17571237Gibbs, Stuart. Space Case. 
16 September 2014, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Dashiell isn't thrilled about living on the moon with his scientist parents in the first ever permanent moon base, but he realizes that despite the cramped and unpleasant conditions, he is making history. When the base physician, Dr. Holtz, takes an unauthorized outing out onto the surface of the moon and is killed because his suit wasn't on properly, there is lots of conjecture. Did he have space madness? Was he depressed? Or was someone trying to kill him? Dashiell wouldn't have thought much of it, except that he overhead Dr. Holtz talking to someone on the phone when both were in the bathroom late at night. Apparently, Dr. Holtz had a big announcement, but never got to make it. Right on the heels of this event, a new group of scientists arrive at the station, including Kira, who is just Dashiell's age. Since the only other 12 year old is the lumpish video gamer Rodrigo, Dashiell is happy, and inclined to trust Kira with the investigation of the murder. He has been contacted by Zan Perfonic, who has arrived on the shuttle but lacks some of the insider information, to help solve the crime. He and Kira find many clues, including one of Holtz using sign language to indicate that his phone needs to be found-- which the two have to venture out onto the surface of the moon to locate!
Strengths: Gibbs writes a very good mystery for middle grade readers. They are murder mysteries, but full of humor rather than gratuitious violence. This makes them a good step up from clue-oriented mysteries about missing dogs or mysterious neighbors. The details of life in space, from the food to toilet facilities, will intrigue readers and reset the middle grade fascination with bodily functions in a framework of science. Very clever. Good science fiction twist at the end. Of course, this is better for impressionable young people when they are older, because they will not EXPECT jet packs in the way that some of us still do!
Weaknesses:  It wouldn't be middle grade if the teen didn't save the day, but it was a bit of a stretch to believe that none of the adults were all that concerned with the death possibly being a murder.

Myers, Walter Dean. On a Clear Day
September 23rd 2014 by Crown Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Dahlia, who is of Dominican descent, lives in New York alone since the death of her parents. The world is a scary place in 2035, and gangs roam the landscape attacking people, which has lead to the rise of gated communities and the movement to all on line school. Dahlia is very good at math and has been published in several math journals, so is located by Javier and Michael and recruited to go to London to a gathering of concerned teens who are trying to overthrown C-8, the eight multinational corporations who are trying to control the world. While there, they meet with lots of different teens involved in facets of this movement as well as terrorists.
Strengths: Awesome cover, culturally diverse cast of characters, interesting premise.
Weaknesses: This is DEFINITELY a YA book—random f-bombs, drug use, and bizarre things like “slut strips” thrown into the mix. It also got rather confusing and boring, with all the descriptions about the corporations. I just was not sure what to think of this one. Even though it’s Myers, I would definitely read before purchasing.

It is very sad that Mr. Myers didn't live to see the publication of his last book. He will be sorely missed. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

MMGM-Hook's Revenge

18401242Schulz, Heidi. Hook's Revenge
September 16th 2014 by Disney-Hyperion 
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Jocelyn's grandfather is tired of her antics, so sends her off to a finishing school, where he hopes they will break her of the tendencies she inherited from her father, Capt. James Hook. On the advice of Rodger, the kitchen boy, "She tried to make a game of finding ways to satisfy Miss Eliza without feeling like she was selling her own soul," which does help her get through her lessons, although she still likes to explore the school grounds with Rodger, whose company she prefers to her snooty roommates. When she and Rodger are caught together and accused of impropriety, Jocelyn takes this as an opportunity to run away and seek the adventure she craves... and after a letter is delivered to her from her deceased father, she is transported to Neverland. There, she finds Smee and some of Hook's remaining crew, and vows to find the crocodile who killed her father. After running into the crocodile and letting him get away, her resolve is strengthened, and she and her crew redouble their efforts. After a run in with Capt. Kreuger of the Flying Dutchman, Jocelyn is swept overboard. She has a run in with Tiger Lily, as well as the Lost Boys, and finds that Rodger is now working with Peter Pan and doesn't remember her or their life at the school. Jocelyn managed to save a fairy prince, find out more information about her mother, Evelina, and is able to rally people she meets in Neverland to help her. Will it be enough to finally defeat the crocodile?
Strengths: Jocelyn is absolutely delightful. In addition to wanting to seek adventure but realizing that irritating the teachers at the finishing school was not in her best interest, she has a wonderful interchange with one of the Lost Boys, who wants her to be his "mother" and make sure he takes his medicine or "you will be sorry." To this she replies "I am most certainly not here to be your mother. What is the obsession with mothers here? You and those lost boys will just have to wash, mend, and story yourselves. I have my own business to attend to." (p.123) The boy then offers to still rescue Jocelyn, and she assures him that she doesn't need rescuing; she is on the pirate ship because she is the captain! The twist on the Peter Pan is well done (I wonder if the Greater Ormond Street Children's Hospital is getting any sort of donation?), there's plenty of action and adventure, and I will be looking forward to the sequel next fall, The Pirate Code.
Weaknesses: The plot is a little weak-- will killing the crocodile really serve any  purpose? It's a good excuse to get Jocelyn to Neverland. I'm curious to see how her continued presence in Neverland is explained.

21891469Shecter, Vicky Alvear. Hades Speaks!: A Guide to the Underworld by the Greek God of the Dead.
September 1st 2014 by Boyds Mills Press
Copy received from the author

In this short, well-illustrated book, Hades tells us about his life and domain in a funny, sarcastic tone. A wide variety of underworld related material is included: Greek burial rites, the story of Persephone, descriptions of Hades realms and the monsters therein, and lots of stories. There is always a huge interest in mythology in my school, and this will be a great book to hand to students after they have finished all of the Kate McMullan Myth-o-mania books.

This author's Anubis Speaks! A Guide to the Afterlife by the Egyptian God of the Dead was a Cybils' finalist in 2013.
Strengths: Shecter's research into everything on the ancient world is always good, and she clearly enjoys that time period. The cover (with its shiny red eyes) will immediately draw readers in, and they will get lots of good information about mythology while having a good laugh. The Edward Gorey-esque illustrations suit the mood of the book well, and the length and amount of information included is just right.
Weaknesses: From a school stand point, I'm not crazy about the paper-over-boards format. Books with dust jackets hold up so much better, and this will see a lot of use! From a personal standpoint, I prefer a more serious treatment of the gods (D'Aulaire, Hamilton) since my children were intent on actually becoming pagans and worshipping them at one point in early elementary school, but I know that most of my readers prefer the funny spin on the myths!

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, September 21, 2014

Jessica Darling #2

18619857McCafferty, Megan. Jessica Darling's It List 2: The (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Friends, Foes, and  Faux Friends
September 23rd 2014 by Poppy
E ARC from Netgalley.com

After her tragic turn as the school mascot, Jessica gets another list from her older sister Bethany-- this one a little more cryptic than the last and dealing with the issue of friends and enemies. This is something that Jessica really struggles with. Since she isn't on the CHEER TEAM and her former BFF Bridget is. She also feels left out of Manda and Dara's dynamic duo, and is not as comfortable with boys as her friends are. When Jessica is seen talking to Scotty, Dori's boyfriend, rumors circulate that they would be an item, and Jessica worries about the effect this rumor will have on her social life, especially since she is taking notice of Aleck, who is in the wood shop class SHE IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE TAKING. Cross Country seems to be the one place where Jessica is happy and comfortable, especially after a group Halloween costume falls apart and a slumber party fails disastrously. Never fear-- Jessica survives and will be back with another book next fall.
Strengths: Like The Dork Diaries and The Clique, this book showcases the worst of middle school girl behavior. Reading  about this is somehow very comforting to girls going through similar experiences, even though I can only think of ONE student in 20 years that was anywhere close to being as annoying as Manda and Sara. It's nice that Jessica is a "late bloomer" and not as boy crazy as some of her friends. Her grandmother makes a nice appearance.
Weaknesses: A bit over the top and a bit heavy on message, even though the bulk of the story reads like the "Was My Face RED!" columns in teen magazines.

22294254DK Publishing. The Fashion Book
September 15th 2014 by DK Publishing
ARC from Baker and Taylor.

I love READING about fashion even though I can't dress myself properly, so this was especially fun. Historical information on different fashions through the ages combined with ways to work those fashions into modern dress. If I ever want to dress like a 1940s "retro tomboy" or rock a "retro Bohemian" look from 1909, I'll know where to turn.

Unfortunately, my students tend to be the opposite of me-- they dress fashionably but don't want to read about it. There is a lot of information in the book, though, and it would be a must have for a larger or public library. I do wonder if the final copy will be in color instead of all black and white.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Death Coming Up the Hill

20256629Crowe, Chris. Death Coming Up the Hill
7 October 2014, HMH Books for Young Readers
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Ashe is dealing with two wars-- the Vietnam Conflict, which is in the news and his history classroom, and the war between his parents. Ashe's father was a promising football player in college before Ashe's mother got pregnant with him, and the two now fight over everything. The father is very right wing, and the mother has started to go to peace rallies. When a new girl moves to his school (and I have given my ARC away already to our new language arts teacher, so I apologize for not remembering her name), Ashe is intrigued by her views on the war, the fact that her brother is off fighting, and the close and pleasant relationship her family has. When his parents marriage falls apart, Ashe is left with horrible choices.
Strengths: There are very few novels set during this period, and this would be okay for 8th graders, although does come very close to the YA line. Bonus points for construction-- it's all in haiku, with the same number of syllables as there were US military casulties during the conflict. This also explores Civil Rights topics of the era.
Weaknesses: The form, although clever, doesn't add a lot to the story. My students lack basic background on this era, and poetry books don't fill in the information as much as they need to. I found the mother and father to be really reprehensible, which took away from the story for me, and also edged this toward YA. I can't fathom that the mother would have favored an unborn child over her 17 year old son, but if she hadn't made that choice, the book wouldn't have been so dramatic. I don't think I'll buy this title, but high schools should certainly investigate it.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Guy Friday- Guys Read: True Stories

20482994Sciezcka, Jon. Guys Read: True Stories
September 16th 2014 by Walden Pond Press  
E ARC from Edelweiss

Well, someone is paying a little bit of attention to all of the new Language Arts standards, although I always have to remember that the personal narrative of which teachers are so fond is frowned upon. This collection showcases amusing NONFICTION pieces on a variety of topics, from Jim Murphy’s painful treatise on the history of dentistry, to Candace Fleming’s account of the elephant Jumbo in Barnum and Bailey’s circus, to Steve Sheinkin’s alarming account of a ship’s crew stranded in the Sahara desert and sold into slavery. There are two cartoon accounts that I couldn’t read well because the E ARC was only available with pictures in a 4 point font, but students will definitely like those. The stand out for me was Douglas Florian’s science poems! I’m super picky and rhyme and meter, but these were really, really good. Definitely investigating his work for purchase in my library.  Other authors contributing are Nathan Hale , James Sturm, Douglas Florian, Sy Montgomery , T. Edward Nickens and Thanhha Lai, who has a marvelous piece on what it was like to grow up in Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s. (Since we were born the same year, I found it fascinating. )

Remember, just like not telling children that the pasta is whole wheat, we don’t HAVE to tell anyone that this supports the Common Core. It’s just fun to read! 

20821303Levine, Kristin. The Paper Cowboy.
September 4th 2014 by Putnam Juvenile  

Downer Grove, Illinois was an interesting place in 1953. Tommy Wilson lives in a neighborhood where the neighbors raise chickens and vegetables, and are from a variety of places in the world, having been displaced by World War II. When his sister Mary Lou is badly burned while burning the trash in the back yard, Tommy has to take over her paper route. This event also pushes his already stressed mother over the edge. A new baby, the death of her mother, Mary Lou's extensive hospital stay and attendant bills and incipient mental illness drives the mother to regularly flog Tommy with a belt for the most minor infractions. Tommy, in turn, takes his anger out on others, especially, Sam, the son of local grocery store owner Mr. McKenzie. Sam was burnt in the war, his father was in a concentration camp, and Mrs. McKenzie is in the hospital dying of tuberculosis, but this doesn't stop Tommy from giving Sam a hard time. Tommy rather likes Sam, but his friend Eddie (whose father has lost his job for drinking) is merciless. Tommy plants a communist newspaper in Mr. McKenzie's store, and the neighbors stop shopping there. Tommy feels bad about this and decides that an older neighbor lady, Mrs. Kopecky, must be the communist. He makes an arrangement with her where he will teach her to read English if she teaches him to play the accordion, and he hopes to be able to discover something that will prove that she is a communist. Everything in Tommy's life continues to devolve into chaos, but when his mother reaches a critical state, the neighbors do pull together to try to make life better for the family, and for others in the neighborhood as well. 
Strengths: This is certainly a little covered historical time period, and a fairly interesting story. The coverage of paper carriers is particularly interesting, since it's something with which today's youth have no experience. Levine did her research, and her prose is readable. The inclusion of a neighbor who studied psychology and attended lectures by Sigmund Freud was interesting.
Weaknesses: I wanted to like this more than I did. It went on a bit long, there were too many different problems. Tommy wasn't a convincing bully, and his mother's mental illness didn't quite ring true. Even the concern about communism seemed off-- from talking to older relatives, it always seemed like everyone thought McCarthy was an idiot, and regular middle class people didn't concern themselves with neighbors who might be communist, but that could just be the people I know. I also wonder how many girls were paper carriers in the 1950s. Entirely possible, but possibly a rare occurrence.

The thing that bothered me most is not Ms. Levine's fault-- the bike shown on the cover didn't look right, and in fact Norco Performance Bikes weren't manufactured until the 1960s. Why not include an iconic Schwinn on the cover?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Cybils! Cybils!

The Cybils are Coming!Choosing judges is so hard, because there are always about 45 people I would like to include. I don't want to get rid of anyone who has served before, but like to include new people. Like to balanace librarians, parents, writers, etc.

If you weren't chosen, please stick around, continue to blog about books, and apply next year! Also remember to nominate your favorite books in the different categories, starting in October.

Here are the lovely people who volunteered to work with me in Middle Grade Fiction this year! We are all ready to READ!

First Round

Mark Buxton

Earl Dizon

Rosemary Kiladitis

Kyle Kimmal

Deb Marshall

Brenda Tjaden

Karen Yingling

Second Round

Alex Baugh

Terry Doherty

Jennifer Donovan

Heidi Grange

Skink: No Surrender

17978481Hiaasen, Carl. Skink: No Surrender
25 September 2014, Knopf Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Richard has troubles of his own-- his father was killed in a skateboarding accident, and his stepfather is a bit vague if supportive. But his cousin Malley is trouble. Her parents are sending her away to school at Twigg Academy so that everyone can have a break. She says she is going early for orientation, but Richard doubts her... and has reason to be. She has run off with a guy she met on the internet named Talbo Chock, but Richard researches and finds out the the real Talbo died in combat. Having met a wildlife activist, Clint Tyree aka Skink, on the beach, Richard enlists his aid in finding his cousin, since the law enforcement called doesn't seem to think Malley is in danger. Richard and Skink take off, to the dismay of Richard's mother. Skink reassures her he's okay, and puts her in contact with his agent, Mr. Tile. Taking clues from brief phone calls, Richard and Skink locate the runaway couple, and follow the trail through the wetlands until they find them on a houseboat. Malley clearly is scared and wants to get away, but Talbo is clearly unhinged and does not want to let her go. Luckily, Skink is a tough old bird who won't give up, even if it means fighting alligators!
Strengths: This is action packed, like Chomp, but is grittier than anything Hiaasen has done for younger readers. Chomp has some good comic moments, but this had the element of real-life-scary suspense. Not only is Richard in danger from things that come out of the water and can kill you, but Malley has very foolishly put herself in danger by ignoring every internet predator warning she has ever gotten. Skink is a fabulous character, and one that we don't see enough in MG fiction-- an older person who is fully in charge of his faculties and of the situation! While this is "gritty", there's really nothing in it that makes it inappropriate for younger readers. Hiassen has really found the perfect mix between his adult stories and middle grade interests with this great book.
Weaknesses: A bit of suspension of disbelief is called for, and there are some gory scenes and a death that might upset very young readers, although it is handled believably and is the result of the characters karma. I would give this to 5th graders, but perhaps not to younger readers.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


20578966Larson, Kirby. Dash.
August 26th 2014 by Scholastic Press 
E ARC from Netgalley.com

After the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, Mitsi's life in Seattle falls apart. Her friends no longer talk to her, and her family is given a week to report to a relocation camp. They sell or give away many of their belongings, but Mitsi is devastated to learn that she will not be able to take her beloved dog, Dash, with her. No one seems to want Dash, but eventually, a new neigbhor, Mrs. Bowker, agrees to take him in. Once Mitsi arrives in a camp, she must spend her time acclimating herself and her family. Her grandmother finds other older ladies to hang out with, and her parents busy themselves as well, but her brother Ted falls in with a bad crowd of teenaged boys who steal and generally cause trouble. Eventually, the family gets moved to somewhat nicer quarters and settle in, and Mitsi even makes a friend, Debbie. Mrs. Bowker has been sending Mitsi letters from Dash, and after a while, dogs are allowed at the camps, and Mrs. Bowker travels to deliver him.
Strengths: This had a lot of good details about what life was like for Japanese-Americans during this time period, and covers the events leading up to Japanese going into camps as well as events that happen once the family is there. Clearly, Larson has done her research. This also kept me turning the pages even though I've read a number of books on this subject. A good companion book to this author's Duke, and is a good resource if World War II is studied in school.
Weakneses: Mitsi's emotion was tied up more in Dash (and in her brother) rather than in anger at being in a camp. There are quite a few books out there on this topic-- Kadohata's Weedflower, Conkling's Sylvia and Aki, and baseball themed ones from Fitzmaurice and Hughes. Uchida's Journey to Topaz (1971) is still excellent, and based on her personal experiences. For emotional impact, I still think that Julie Otsuka's When the Emperor Was Divine is still the most gut wrenching, especially when it comes to pets. This is certainly a good choice for a fresh title on this topic, although there are others I would buy instead if I had a limited need for books about the Japanese Internment.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Slice of Life Tuesday- Busy

I don't do busy.

Well, normally.

When the planets align, I have a plan that I stick to very closely. I go to work early, get things organized, help a lot of students in the library, go home, talk to my daughter, snuggle with my dog, and read for five hours before going to bed early and repeating this routine.

Cross Country season, ailing parents and LIFE has gotten in the way of this recently.

Practice goes from 3-5, except on Tuesday, when we have meets and I get home closer to 7. We also go to invitationals on Saturday mornings, so instead of sleeping in and going grocery shopping, I leave the house at 6:00 a.m., stand in fields yelling at children for a while, and get home about 2 p.m. Naps occasionally happen despite the best plans. Visiting my parents and doing a variety of chores for them takes some time as well.

"Losing" a few hours a day throws my plans into chaos: my dining room table is full of all the clothes I have worn during the week, books pile up unread in my office, and meals become just plain weird-- last night Picky Reader and I had scrambled eggs and couscous. I put the last of the garden tomatoes on mine.

Because of the way my days are normally structured, I read a lot. When I don't, I get antsy. I also like my world to be tidy. REALLY tidy. When it isn't, I don't feel comfortable.

Cross Country is a really worthwhile endeavor, and I love supporting the students and getting to know them in another setting. That said, when we have our final meet on October 7, I will be a bit relieved. I will be glad to go to Kidlitcon in Sacramento that weekend and meet old blogging friends for the first time. Then, when I return home I can once again spend more time talking to my daughter while rubbing the dog's stomach, read lots of books, and corral all the untidy piles of LIFE that have accumulated in all the corners of my world.

Oh, and get to work on reading all of the CYBILS middle grade fiction nominations. That starts 1 October!

Home (The Magic Thief #4)

18298645Prineas, Sarah. Home (The Magic Thief #4)
September 16th 2014 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Someone is stealing the locus stones of the magisters, and Conn is accused because everyone else will die if they touch the stones. He wants to investigate, but Rowan (who is now the duchess) and Embre (the underlord) want him to stay safe in the Dawn Palace as ducal magister. The street urchin in Conn balks at this, so before long he is back in the Twilight, pretending to be a chimney swift and discovering that Crowe is back and trying to mastermind a plot to take the government back from "youngsters". The magics are acting up, and spells are going awry,and Conn needs to figure out what his role in the kingdom really is, especially since all he wants to do is to return to Heartease, where he can be warm and eat Benet's fantastic cooking. (There is a lovely illustration of his room in the attic, complete with fire. Sigh.)
Strengths: This seems like it is a nice and cozy conclusion to a steady series. After all of his travails, Conn finally figures out what his lot in life is. I liked the characters and the setting.
Weaknesses: Things threaten to blow up in this one but nothing really does. There could be a bit more action.

These didn't quite blow me away, but they are enjoyable and have circulated well. Good comfort reading for your die hard fantasy fans. Check out the others in the series:
The Magic Thief, The Magic Thief: Lost, The Magic Thief: Found