Friday, October 31, 2014

Guy Friday- Urban Outlaws

20613767Black, Peter Jay. Urban Outlaws.
October 7th 2014 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Jack, Obi, Charlie, Slink and Wren are all homeless orphans (for various reasons) who live in a high tech lair in London. They use their computer skills to transfer money from the accounts of wealthy evil doers to worthy charities. They are interested in a mythic computer called Proteus, but when they try to investigate, they bring themselves to the attention of not only the police, but also one of their former targets, Del Sarto. With the help of several adults who admire their work, they are able to escape many close calls and are no doubt onto their next adventure in another book (Yep, Urban Outlaws: Blackout , published June 2nd 2015 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens), since this one ends with London's power grid being infected by a virus.

Strengths: The map of the secret lair made me feel 12-- who wouldn't want a secret lair with no parents? Even the cover shows a lot of action, and there's a lot of hacking and running and evil adults. There's even a more serious story, with trying to find Wren's father, and all of the children dealing with their various losses. A definite purchase for fans of Horowitz's Alex Rider series, but with the added bonus of computers.
Weaknesses: I just couldn't get into this one, because I couldn't get past FIVE homeless children with all of the high tech equipment. I guess that's just proof that I really am NOT 12.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Searching for Silverheels

20311385Mobley, Jeannie. Searching for Silverheels
September 2nd 2014 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
Nominated for the Cybils by Audrey Vernick

Pearl is a big help to her mother in running the family diner in the early 1900s Colorado town of Como. Her father is off working, and things are changing. Her best friend Imogene is obsessed with finding romance, and Pearl has her own crushes, but she also has to deal with local eccentric, Josie, an older woman who passes out leaflets championing women's suffrage. When attractive tourist Frank comes to town, Pearl tells the local legend of Silverheels, a dance hall girl who supposedly nursed miners during a smallpox epidemic in the 1860s, but Josie ruins the story by insisting that Silverheels was opportunistic, and if she was so loved, why does no one remember her real name? Pearl and Frank start to investigate the mystery, and Josie chimes in with her own version. World War I is just beginning, so the town starts to see young soldiers passing through, and German families are given a hard time. Will Pearl be able to uncover the real story about Silverheels? And what was Josie's part in it?
Strengths: WWI home front stories are rare, and I'm surprised we aren't seeing more with the 100th anniversary upon us. This nicely blends local history with several national issues of the time, bringing in details such as the treatment of Germans, war bonds, and women's issues. Because I've read a lot of Lenora Mattingly Weber, the Colorado history was fun. The Beany books mention a lot of it.
Weaknesses: Could have used some editing. At 280 pages, it's a bit long, and historical novels are such a hard sell to my students. There could have been a lot of the variations of Silverheels story that were trimmed. I think the cover is great, but don't know how students will view it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Dirt Diary

17586491Staniszweski, Anna. The Dirt Diary
January 7th 2014 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Nominated for the Cybils by anonymonkey.

Rachel's mother has taken a lot of jobs cleaning the houses of Rachel's classmates in the wake of Rachel's father's departure to Florida to "follow his bliss". The family had struggled previously, but now Rachel and her mother are in danger of losing their house. When Rachel ends up helping to clean the "mean queen" Briana's room, as well as Brianna's best friend, Caitlin. Brianna's boyfriend, Steve, asks Rachel to spy on her for him, and Rachel feels awkward about it, because she thinks that Evan, Brianna's brother, is really nice. Things get complicated when her mother starts flirting with the assistant principal at her school, and she has a typical falling out with her best friend, Marisol. Rachel also makes an uneasy friendship with the quiet Andrew, who is working on a zombie toy movie. There's a big dance coming up, but Rachel's main concern is getting enough money to go to Florida to visit her father. When another student finds all these details in Rachel's "Dirt Diary" notebook, can Rachel survive the humiliation? A sequel, The Prank List, came out in July 2014, and The Gossip File comes out in January 2015.
Strengths: I would have adored this in middle school-- it reads sort of like Betty Miles' Just the Beginning (1976), which I may still own! Very true to life with the different alignment of friends and crushes. Even the storyline about the father leaving will resonate with many middle school students.
Weaknesses: There was a lot going on in this book, but I will buy a copy if I can find a prebind. Paperbacks just don't hold up in my library.

#WeNeedDiverseBooks note: Rachel is half Korean, but that is only briefly mentioned. Do love the pictures of her on the covers! She looks a lot like one of my students!

Cover image for Gossip file / (Dirt Diary Book 3)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


At Kidlitcon, we talked about whether we write "negative" reviews or not. I used to do a "not what I wanted Wednesday" feature where I discussed what lead me to pick books up and why I was somewhat disappointed in them. The following titles are ones that some people must like-- the first three were nominated for the Cybils awards-- but which didn't quite fill a need in my library collection. I do try to be constructive in my criticism of each book, but overall they were just more depressing than my students want. My students certainly do want sad books, but they want very particular sad books about certain issues, and these just didn't fit the bill.

20518999Gantos, Jack. The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza (Joey Pigza #5) 
September 2nd 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Nominated for the Cybils by Cath in the Hat

In this fifth and final book, Joey's father is still on the lam and his mother is suffering from post partum depression. He goes back to his school, where the teachers and staff welcome him warmly, but his mother calls him and demands that he come home to take care of Carter Junior while she goes to the hospital for treatment, since she is concerned that she will hurt the baby. Joey accepts the challenge and cleans the house, which is filthy and roach ridden, and tries his best to take care of the baby, with the help of the pet chihuahuas and the occasional visit from pizza delivery man Mr. Fong. He also is visited by his former girlfriend, Olivia, who has run away from her school and wants to help take care of Carter Junior as well, even though she has several bad experiences with him because of her blindness. Joey unearths his medication from his mother's closet, which helps a bit, and finds money for food. His father reappears and tries to steal the baby, but Joey tells his father that before he comes home, he needs to clean up his act. Eventually, the family is able to organize itself a bit, but the future seems anything but certain for the Pigzas.
Strengths: Our 6th grade reads the first book in this series as a class novel, so there is always some interest in Joey's continued adventures, which are darkly funny and address a student with behavioral as well as possible mental health problems, a diversity issues rarely seen in children's literature.
Weaknesses: This was a very dark book, and Joey receives very little of the help he needs. I am Not Joey Pigza was sad as well, but much more slapstick-- the descriptions of roaches, of the baby's diaper rash, of Olivia's depression and so much else are just heartbreaking in a very realistic way. I almost feel like I should sit beside any student reading this in case they need to process what's going on in the book. This also makes me worry a bit about how Mr. Gantos is doing. Is he depressed? I bought this book without reading it, but now I rather wish I had taken a look before ordering it.

18615427Rundell, Katherine. Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms
August 26th 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Nominated for the Cybils by Angiegirl

Wilhelmina lives an idyllic life in Zimbabwe where her widowed father who is the manager of a farm lets her run wild around the countryside with her friend Simon. She enjoys being outside and doesn't want to be civilized. (The original title of this was Girl Savage.) After the death of her father, the owner of the farm marries a woman bent on getting rid of Will, so she is sent to a boarding school in England. Since she has little schooling and no sense of personal cleanliness, and is quirky as well, the other girls give her a hard time. Will runs off and spends some time in the zoo before living in a garage of a boy she has met. After a short time, the boy's grandmother finds Will and tells her that sometimes it is braver to do what must be done, and Will returns to the school and tries to fit in a little more.
Strengths: The descriptions of life in Zimbabwe are very interesting, and it is a place about which not much is written. Will's desire to be true to herself is somewhat admirable, if unwise under the circumstances, and the grandmother's advice is one to take to heart.
Weaknesses: Will was an unlikable character to me, although others may find her more admirable. I thought that her father did her a great disservice in not teaching her how to adapt and cope with life among other people. It was sad and alarming that Will was so neglected, and the end of the book didn't make me think that her situation would ever improve, which was very sad.

20662575Ellis, Deborah. The Cat at the Wall
September 9th 2014 by Groundwood Books

I adore Ellis' The Breadwinner and other books, and think they are fantastic for being "windows" into the lives of disadvantaged children in other countries. Ellis can write a sad story, but make it hopeful. I was hoping for something similar in this one, and the story of the cat in a Palestinian house would have been interesting and informative. When this took a turn into fantasy, it made the story much less effective and much more confusing for me.
From the Publisher:
"A cat sneaks into a small Palestinian house on the West Bank that has been commandeered by two Israeli soldiers. The house seems empty, until the cat realizes that a little boy is hiding beneath the floorboards. Should she help him? After all, she’s just a cat. Or is she? She was once a regular North American girl, but that was before she died and came back to life as a cat. When the little boy is discovered, the soldiers don’t know what to do with him. It is not long before his teacher and classmates come looking for him, and the house is suddenly surrounded by Palestinian villagers throwing rocks, and the sound of Israeli tanks approaching. As the soldiers begin to panic and disaster seems certain, the cat knows that it is up to her to diffuse the situation. But what can a cat do? What can any one creature do?"

Monday, October 27, 2014

MMGM- Nonfiction of all sorts

Oh, the struggle that is middle grade nonfiction! I love literary nonfiction like the great Blizzard of Glass, but my readers blanch when they see the length. They would prefer the 36 page canned nonfiction, and those are decent enough with information, but just no fun to read. Books like Poop Happened find a good balance. Here's a wealth of nonfiction for this week!

20578587Dumont, Briana. Famous Phonies: Legends, Fakes, and Frauds Who Changed History
October 28th 2014 by Sky Pony Press
E ARC provided by the author

This well-researched and kid-friendly book covers a variety of important historical figures who were important, but whose legends have outstripped their realities. Included in this group are (copied from the description): The Yellow Emperor * Gilgamesh * Homer * Pythagoras * Confucius * Mary Magdalene * Hiawatha * Prester John * William Shakespeare * George Washington * The Turk * Major William Martin. For the personalities I knew about, the chapters covered most of the salient characteristics of the legends, and did a good job of covering the reasons why the legends have come under attack at various points in history. I knew about much of the research surrounding Homer, Shakespeare and George Washington, but was glad to see lesser known people covered as well. The only problem with this was that the tone, which was deliciously flippant and made the book much easier to read, occasionally confused me, since I didn't have the background knowledge. This is a good book to keep on hand to use for units on the ways that history can be interpreted, would be useful if students are dealing with any of the individuals, and will be popular with history buffs who don't take history TOO seriously. There are some completely humorless Homerian scholars who would not be amused. (If said Homerian scholars are even still alive, since they were a bit mothbally when I studied Homer thirty years ago at the University of Cincinnati!)

20727516Dipiazza, Francesca. Remaking the John: The Invention and Reinvention of the Toilet
November 1st 2014 by Twenty-First Century Books
E ARC from

I will have to buy this book because it is a wonderfully complete history of sanitation that will be used for a variety of projects. Even though this comes in at a mere 88 pages, it covers the history of toilets from earliest findings to revolutionary new techniques in waste management. I was especially interested in the chapter on the creation of modern bathrooms in the 1920s, since my mother had an outhouse at the farmhouse where she grew up! The downside to this book is that it is really dryly written. If there were more levity of presentation, I could easily triple the number of readers. Twenty-first Century Books seem to be a more academic press, and while it is great that they publish books on topics that interest students, they might give a little more thought to tone. This author's Friend Me is (again) a great resource on the history of social networking, but a bit long and serious for my students.

20690923Stabler, David. Kid Presidents
October 28th 2014 by Quirk Books
ARC from Baker and Taylor

This book is filled with short, illustrated anecdotes about the presidents when they were children. Instead of going chronologically, it divides the stories up by type. A wide variety of presidents are represented, and at the back of the book there is a list of "fun facts" about each president. This would be a good gift for a president obsessed child (and I have a couple at school), or a good reference to have for augmenting history lessons. I prefer photographs to cartoons, and it would have been nice if a couple were included, since most children have only seen pictures of the presidents when they were in office. Still, young readers will enjoy the cartoons. This is sort of The Presidents ala Wimpy Kid. Not quite as in-depth as The Childhood of Famous Americans books, but fun to browse.

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. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

What is NOT MG to me.

I had a parent ask me why I didn't have the book The Fault in Our Stars, and ask who made this type of decision. While things may change after the librarians in my district come up with a policy, so far it has always been the choice of the librarian at each school. My basic rule of thumb is this: since a huge majority of the books checked out in my library are ones that I HAND TO STUDENTS, if I am uncomfortable with something in the book, I don't buy it. And yes, I try to read everything before I buy it.

I have no patience for bad language, see below. While student are tremendously interested in books about drug usage, it seems wise to have only books that show how very bad drug usage is. Anything else seems antithetical to our school and community message. It's okay for there to be vague mentions of sex, but nothing graphic or instructional, and again, I have to be comfortable with the situations surrounding it, so I don't want main characters who think this activity is a good one at a young age. As for violence, I'm okay with violence by or against creatures that don't exist in real life, but not okay with human on human violence that is repeated throughout the book and treated lightly.

Arbitrary? Of course. Everything is. In the case of The Fault in Ours Stars, there was language and sex, but the main reason I didn't buy it was that it didn't feel like a middle school book-- not much happened.It was kind of... boring and whiny.

The bottom line is that I have to feel comfortable handing the book to an eleven year old who is not my own personal child. If I am not comfortable with that, it doesn't make sense to me to have the book in my library.

20517379Magoon, Kekla. How It Went Down.
October 21st 2014 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

Very disappointed in this. I know it is meant to be "gritty" and "realistic", but far too many f- words. I love this author and feel she does important work, but if my students can get suspended for using bad language, I shouldn't be handing them books that include it. I feel very strongly about this and therefore refuse to use my limited school budget, which is provided by the taxpayers, to buy books that make a conscious choice to include this kind of language.

13597723Barnes, Jennifer Lynn. The Naturals (Click to read Goodreads description)
Published November 5th 2013 by Disney-Hyperion

Since the sequel, Killer Instinct, comes out November 4th, I thought I should read the first one. My students love murder mysteries, and I like Barnes' other work, but this had rather disturbing scenes of torturing women before killing them, and talking about how enjoyable the process was for the killer. A little too much for MG, I think, although it was quite well written and had a great twist. 

Hold Tight, Don't Let GoWagner, Laura Rose. Hold Tight, Don't Let Go
January 6th 2015 by Amulet Books 
E ARC from

This was a very interesting account of the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake in 2010, from the point of view of a teenage girl who was living with an aunt (who got room and board for being the housekeeper of a wealthy woman) and cousin. When the aunt dies, she goes to live in a camp with an uncle. There were so many good details, but because of the age of the main character, the issue of sex in the context of prostitution came up several times, and specific acts were mentioned. I would love to see a MG appropriate book on this topic, but I'll leave this one for the high school to investigate.

18852053Selzer, Adam. Play Me Backwards.
August 26th 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Public Library Copy

I really wanted this one to be middle grade appropriate because I adore Selzer,

Selzer is always brilliant, but this is SO not middle grade that I won't even recommend that one of my 8th graders check it out of the public library. Liberal use of f-bombs, which is disturbing enough, but I had to stop reading when Leon started recounting his, um, life experiences.

Funny as all get out, clever, and sure to appeal to 16 year old boys everywhere, but I can't even recommend it without blushing to one of our teachers who is a big fan of this author. Too much information. Drat.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Timmy Failure: We Meet Again

20758102Pastis, Stephan. We Meet Again (Timmy Failure #3) 
October 28th 2014 by Candlewick Press 
ARC from YABC and reviewed there.

Timmy has been let back into his old school, although Principal Scrimshaw informs him that he is on probation and that any infractions will lead to permanent expulsion. Timmy's glad to be back with his best friend Rollo, but not pleased to see that his arch nemesis, Corinna Corinna, is not only still at the school but also will be his partner for a huge nature project that will make up a huge portion of his grade. Timmy has been approached by another student, Angel, who claims to have the "Miracle Report", a nature report from years ago that received an A+++++ that was found but now is missing. Timmy also has to deal with his mother dating his baseball coach, even though he feels that baseball is an unnecessarily violent game, and with Total, his imaginary polar bear and partner in his detective firm. When the school camps out in the wilderness to gather specimens for the nature project, Timmy's investigation comes to a head AND he must save himself from the dreaded scrum bolo chihuahua by the most horrendous and dreaded of means.
Strengths: The very first day of school, a student came in and asked me when this book would come out. He was thrilled to get the ARC. Few of my students read the comics in the newspaper, so are unfamiliar with Pastis' Pearls Before Swine, but they do love notebook novels, and they do love this series. I was glad to see the inclusion of a massive school project instead of a school election, dance, or something about bullying. I still remember that in the fourth grade (and this has been over 40 years ago!) we had a huge project about animals. I only got an A++ on mine because my pictures weren't very good! I've even camped with middle school students, so that was realistic as well, and does not appear in too many books. The reason my students love the books, however, is more because of the goofy stuff-- riding around on a Roomba vacuum, Flo the Librarian with his motorcycle gang attire, and even Total.
Weaknesses: The polar bear still bugs me. Is he real? No? Sometimes it seems that he is.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Guy Friday- Walking Wounded (Vietnam #5)

21534902Lynch, Chris. Walking Wounded (Vietnam #5)
Scholastic, 28 October 2014
E ARC from

As we start this last book in the series, Rudi has been killed by a sniper. Morris is there when it happens, and asks to be sent back as the mortuary escort. Beck has to stay at his job, and Ivan has been separated from his unit and runs into trouble trying to get back to it. Morris is significantly shell shocked, and has some trouble dealing with his family as well as Rudi's back in the US. Anti-Vietnam sentiment is running high, but Ivan's younger brother is getting ready to go back to war, even though Ivan is thought to be missing in action. Told from multiple view points, this story covers Morris' grief at Rudi's death, Ivan's continued fighting in Vietnam, Beck's sentiments, and even s few snippets of Rudi's perspective.
Strengths: Very good descriptions of what it was like to be fighting in Vietnam. Lynch must have some military experience of his own, or he has done extensive research, because his books have the most harrowing descriptions of war. The depiction of various levels and types of PTSD in this book are fascinating.
Weaknesses: I was a bit confused at the beginning of this, and felt like I had forgotten something that must have happened in a previous book. Spoiler alert: (highlight to see) Has Ivan killed Rudi? Why? Does this appear in another book? Still, the books holds together well, and is an excellent addition to even a middle grade collection, certainly essential for high school. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014


I've been working on a Power Point about diversity in Children's literature, and came across this NPR article, As Demographics Shift, Kids' Books Stay Stubbornly White.

Within that article, it linked an article in the Saturday Review entitled "The All-White World of Children's Books".

What alarmed me was that that article came out the year I was born. After fifty years, we are still struggling with finding books with diverse characters.

The other thing that really bothered me as I was working on my presentation was the paucity of MALE writers of color in just about every ethnic category. This might be one of the reasons that Betsy Bird was so upset in this article: 2013 Middle Grade Black Boys: Seriously, People?

This sheds a lot of light on why there was a big push to get Varian Johnson's The Great Greene Heist preordered.

I've been looking for male authors all morning. For every Walter Dean Myers, there are about five to ten female African American writers. That's great, but since my focus is books for boys, I've been alarmed. Even at Kidlitcon, the group was overwhelmingly female, with the only male representatives being the awesome Mike Jung and ... Mr. Tanita Davis. Tanita's husband helped with technical issues and photography, and we had a great discussion about The Pagoda Building, but I don't know his name.

As a feminist, I have long struggled with focusing on books for boys. If we need books to be windows and mirrors, as Mitali Perkins talked about, we have to have people of all descriptions writing and being written about!


20893312Vail, Rachel. Unfriended.
25 September 2014, Viking Juvenile

Truly used to be friends with Natasha, but after Natasha dumped her in 6th grade, she started hanging out with Hazel, who is a bit quirky, while Natasha joined the popular table and now (in 8th grade) has lunch with Brooke, Lulu, Jack, and Clay. When Natasha asks Truly to eat lunch with her group so they can work on a History Day presentation, Truly leaves Hazel without so much as an apology or backward glance. This isn't good, because Hazel is not only quirky; she's smart and quite vindictive. Truly treads cautiously in the new group, not believing that Natasha is up to any good, and having a pretty low sense of self esteem. Jack, who accidentally injures Truly at lunch, takes a liking to Truly but isn't quite sure how to let her know; Natasha and Clay have broken up, which makes it hard for Brooke, who may like Clay herself. Everyone has problems that they don't necessarily share with the group-- parents out of work or divorcing, difficult or absent siblings, trouble with school work. Natasha supposedly says nasty things online about some of the group, and then Truly picks up the reins and starts posting pictures and unflattering messages-- or does she? This is why you should never share your passwords with friends-- someone has broken into her accounts and used them to sow dissension in the group. Told from six different view points, this is a good picture of what happens when middle school students don't use social media responsibly.
Strengths: Very accurate picture of the ins and outs of middle school. The awkward romances, the using of secrets against people, the quirky students who cause a lot of their own problems. The messages about using social media are fairly good as well. Also, a painfully correct picture of some of the really awful History Day projects that unfold. No group plays with people playing multiple characters, people. Just don't do it!
Weaknesses: Maybe I was just too tired when I read this, but there were a lot of unanswered questions for me. Entirely possible that I was too tired! There were parents whose business was going under, parents possibly divorcing, a student struggling with school-- didn't feel that we got a lot of answers. I wasn't quite convinced of the resolution between Hazel and Truly, either. I had a friend who stopped talking to me after 6th grade, and we never really spoke again! Good book, just wish some of the multiple issues had been tidied up.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Secrets of the Mountain Dog- #WeNeedDiverseBooks

Cover image for Secret of the Mountain DogKimmel, Elizabeth Cody. Secret of the Mountain Dog.
28 October 2014, Scholastic
E ARC from

Jax lives on a mountain in the Catskills, but because of an accident that her younger sister, Kizzy, had, her mother is reluctant to let her explore outside her own yard. When a very large but tame dog shows up, Jax is glad of the excitement, and hopes that she can talk her mother into keeping the well-behaved animal. Jax also realizes that the building further up the hill from her home is now occupied, and when she travels up there, finds that it is a Buddhist monastery. The elderly Rinpoche and his student, Yeshi, are hoping to reopen it to other monks so that they may study. There is one problem, though-- there is a statue of a demon that has gone missing. The two hope to find it, but others from around the world are looking for the statue as well. Jax is glad to help go through boxes as well, and enjoys hearing about Buddhism from Yeshi. When the monastery is threatened, Jax defies her mother to go help, and learns a lot about how to deal with life.
Strengths: There are not a lot of books that talk about Buddhism, and this introduces some main concepts of the religion without being overly preachy. There is enough action and adventure to offset the philosophy. I was fascinated by Yeshi's story. This is similar to Kimmel's The Legend of the Ghost Dog, and vaguely reminiscent of some Peg Kehret stories.
Weaknesses: We never do find out where the dog has come from! Also, I loved Kimmel's Lily B. books so much that I want all of her titles to be that sort of book!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Magician's Fire (Young Houdini #1)

Nicholson, Simon. The Magician's Fire (Young Houdini #1)
October 7th 2014 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
E ARC from

Young Harry Houdini, an immigrant to New York City from Hungary who makes his meager living shining shoes, tries his hand at a variety of magic and escape acts with the help of his friends, the wealthy but unsupervised Artie and the musician from New Orleans Billie. When an older magician, Herbie, looks to be ill and then disappears from his room in the theater where he works, Harry and his friends investigate. Suspicioun first falls on the Bulgarian magician Zell, but when it turns out that Zell is one of Herbie's friends, the trio of friends must use all of the tricks at their disposal to identify and then thwart the real kidnappers. When they are eventually triumphant, they are approached by the Order of the White Crow, and their adventure is just beginning.
Strengths: Lots of good descriptions of magic acts and lots of daring escapes from a variety of harrowing situations, combined with a decent mystery set in late 1800s New York City. Houdini is an enduring historical figure who will appeal to a wide range of readers.
Weaknesses: The mystery was a bit weak-- very simple and linear, and I saw it coming a mile away. This might not bother the target demographic, but I expected something as complicated and mysterious as Houdini himself. I also found it hard to believe that a struggling street child would have befriended a wealthy boy, but stranger things have happened.

Monday, October 20, 2014

MMGM--The Alias Men (Double Vision #3)

20602953Bradley, F.T. The Alias Men (Double Vision #3)
October 14th 2014 by HarperCollins
E ARC graciously provided by author upon request!

Linc is sure he is done with working for Pandora, and he's concentrating on his family problems, which include sharing a room with his grandfather. When he is once again approached to find a Dangerous Double, he's willing to take on the challenge as a way to get back at his lookalike nemesis, Ben. The fear is that the hat (which can make its wearers invisible) will be used to steal a drone-system prototype so the thief can sell it to a terrorist group. This time, the Dangerous Double is a bowler hat once owned by Charlie Chaplin. While trying to break into a costume repository on the property of Sterling Studios, Linc is spotted by famous director Nigel Floyd and asked to be in a movie that is a homage to silent films. Since he missed out on getting the bowler, this is a great opportunity to follow the trail of the artifact and to uncover the probably thief, Ethan Malais. Several people on the film, which is struggling due to financial difficulties, are suspect, and Ben manages to work his way into the situation as well. Luckily, Linc has help from his costar, the lovely Savannah Stone, as well as the various operatives at Pandora. Can Linc find the hat before it is used for evil?

Sequel to Double Vision and Code Name 711.

Strengths: This is a great action and adventure series that is also funny. I had a sixth grader whose mother was a little concerned because he was wanting to check out a lot of adult mysteries from the public library, and while he was a strong reader, she wasn't sure the content was appropriate for him. I recommended the first in the series, and he loved it. This book in particular has a lot of good funny moments involving Linc's family, the expected action and adventure, and a nice potential romance.
Weaknesses: Ben's presence wasn't quite as necessary, and I'm not sure from the ending whether the series is over or whether it will continue with Linc going to be trained as a spy!

Follow along with the Double Vision: The Alias Men blog tour:
Oct. 6-10The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow features Double Vision: The Alias Men with a review, author interview, plus aGIVEAWAY..!
Oct. 13: Linc hangs out at the great Erik’s blog, This Kid Reviews Books. Linc talks about spy techniques he picked up on his Pandora missions. And there’s another GIVEAWAY
Oct. 14Double Vision: The Alias Men is released! Have a virtual party at the YA Sleuth blog…! And follow F.T. on Twitter @FTBradleyAuthor for more kid spy fun.
Oct. 16: F.T. Bradley gives you Five Ways to Bring MG into The Classroom at the Unleashing Readers blog, plus a GIVEAWAY.
Oct. 17: Linc is interviewed by Lizzy, Fairday and Marcus over at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow blog. A fun post!
Oct. 20Buried in Books lets F.T. Bradley talk about the Double Vision trilogy…
Oct. 20: Also this day, the fabulous Ms. Yingling reviews Double Vision: The Alias Men on her blog for Marvelous MG Monday…
Oct. 21: Another favorite blog, YA Book Nerd, hosts F.T. Bradley and the Double Vision trilogy, plus a GIVEAWAY
Oct. 21: F.T. Bradley hangs out at Sleuths, Spies and Alibis
Oct. 24: F.T. Bradley gives tips for parents of reluctant readers, Seven Ways to Get Your Kid to Read, at Pragmatic Mom’s blog, plus a GIVEAWAY!
Oct. 25: At the Nerdy Book Club, find F.T. Bradley’s top 10 books for reluctant readers...

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.

Weekend Reading

Still recuperating from Kidlitcon, as well as Cross Country season, so gave myself permission to read a lot of books I had on my TBR and not review them. A lot of these were books in a series that came in our latest shipment of new books, but I also worked my way through some books about eating disorders, since my sixth grade girls started out the year interested in problem novels instead of working their way up to them in seventh grade!

Bunting, Eve. One Green Apple
Hoping it was a picture book with more content about a Muslim girl in a dupatta fitting in, but it was pretty elementary. Good for younger students.

Chew, Ruth. The Witch at the Window 
Chew, Ruth. The Would-Be Witch 
I still love these, and they do well with my 6th graders who are struggling.

Drew, Nancy. Mystery of the Midnight Rider (Nancy Drew Diaries #3) 
Drew, Nancy. Once Upon a Thriller (#4) 
Drew, Nancy. Sabotage at Willow Woods (#5) 
Drew, Nancy. Secret at Mystic Lake (#6) 
The first two in this series need to be read in order, but the rest don't, which is nice. I like that Nancy is old enough to drive herself around (albeit not in a blue roadster), but the books are for younger readers.

Magaziner, Lauren. The Only Thing Worse Than Witches 
Should have stopped at Mrs. Frabbleknacker. Too young for my readers, and twee in a faux British way.

Margolis, Leslie. Monkey Business (#5)
Annabelle's life has improved financially while her friend Rachel's hasn't. I liked this series, but Annabelle did seem ridiculously privileged in this one.

Metzger, Lois. A Trick of the Light 
Too YA for me, but about a boy with an eating disorder. Odd voice.

Payton, Belle. Double or Nothing (It Takes Two #3) 
Like this series, and in this one, Ava tries out for the boys' football team in Texas and meets opposition.

Segel, Jason and Miller, Kirsten. Nightmares! 
Nothing that knocked my socks off. May pass on this trilogy unless students ask for it.

Sheinmel. Alyssa. The Stone Girl 
Too much marijuana smoking and sex for middle school audiences.

Wolitzer, Meg. Belzhar
Too YA for my group, and time to let Sylvia Plath fade into obscurity.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

brown girl dreaming

20660824Woodson, Jacqueline. brown girl dreaming
August 28th 2014 by Nancy Paulsen Books

Born in 1963, Woodson traveled from Columbus, Ohio to South Carolina to New York City, living with different family members while problems were worked out. She was part of a pivotal time in Civil Rights history-- everything was supposed to be equal, but it wasn't, especially in the South. Her family had different perspectives on how she should act, and Woodson herself was torn between the different cultures, not feeling that she fit completely into any of them. Her family was very supportive, but faced many difficulties, such as her parents' divorce, the death of several members, and varying levels of prejudice and discrimination.
Strengths: As far as book length memoirs (or novels) in verse go, this was very good, and that's hard to do. The poems are lyrical to read and actually sound like poetry, but also give a good description of time and place and advance the story in a fashion that is not too slow. The feelings of longing and loss are palpable, and the view of history is quite interesting. I am only two years younger than Woodson, but there were very few black people in my school in Ohio, so I knew little of the equality issues during my childhood. I found the story of Woodson's youngest brother getting lead poisoning from eating paint chips particularly interesting-- I remember it being a huge item of concern in the late 1970s, but could never understand why a child would eat paint! (Interestingly enough, one of the projects that my daughter is working on as an intern with the City of Columbus is a lead paint abatement grant program!)
Weaknesses: As beautifully written and interesting as this is, I don't know that students will pick it up. I'll buy a copy, and recommend it, but there are just some books that I cannot gets students to read, and I fear that this will be one. Woodson's fiction is rather hit or miss in my library, with some titles being hugely popular, and others being ignored.

14372480Loughead, Deb. Sidetracked.
November 1st 2012 by Orca Book Publishers

Maddy and Kat have been keen competitors in middle school, but the high school track team is even more fierce, and not everyone who ran in middle school gets on the team. To complicate matters, Maddy's brother Matt is acting rather suspiciously. Someone on the team is stealing things, and everyone is a suspect. Maddy had seen someone bullying Shauna (who is interested in Matt), and thinks that the people behind that might also be stealing. Is Matt involved, too? And will Maddy be able to keep her competitive edge?
Strengths: This had just enough drama to keep readers on edge, and is written in a straight forward style. The bits of romance, as well as descriptions of running are good as well.
Weaknesses: Maddy seems a bit too worried about everything!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A New Darkness

19346538Delaney, Joseph. A New Darkness.
September 2nd 2014 by Greenwillow Books

After The Fury of the Seventh Son, Tom Ward returns to Chipenden to be the new spook. He is young, and people don't have the faith in him that they had in Master Gregory. They trust him to remove a few small problems, but when young girls show up dead in their beds, untouched except for being covered in blood, the people don't quite trust him. Luckily, the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, Jenny, who has decent powers (including empathy for ghosts), approaches Tom and wants to be his apprentice. He is leery of a girl serving, but puts her through the same tests that he was put through. The girl does well enough, and it's a good thing; when the creature at large turns out to be a Kobalos, Tom will need all the help he can get, including the help of Grimalkin, whom Jenny doesn't trust.
Strengths: I'm not a fan of horror, but I read each of these new installments eagerly! There is something about the interplay of good and evil that is very well done and keeps me turning the pages. The addition of Jenny is excellent, and there's a lot of back story about her that could be told. Grimalkin is a fantastic character-- evil, but on Tom's side. She makes some huge errors in dealing with the Kobaloi(?) so Jenny doesn't trust her, which will make the next book interesting.
Weaknesses: The ending. ARGH! Not okay. Not okay! I don't want to spoil this, and I'm sure things will change, but... ARGH.

The movieSeventh Son looks far too spooky for me! Now, if the student who checked out the nice, new copy of Revenge of the Witch on the first day of school could just FIND it...

Friday, October 17, 2014

Social Media, The Bane of My Existence

I hate Pinterest. It just annoys me. It takes so much time to add things to a board, and then there's no arranging anything the way I want it to be. Still, if this is a platform that will help teachers, parents, and librarians find books to get to readers, I guess it's worth it. Here's the board I have for Wimpy Kid readalikes.

#WeNeedDiverseBooksPinterest seemed like a good way to make lists of books on specific cultures for the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. My challenge is to make one board a day, then put the titles into a Waiver Day presentation Power Point presentation.

But I really should do a Prezi instead, because that's the cool new thing.

It's a teacher work day in my district. How much of this is pertinent to my job and therefore fair to do during contract hours? Oops. On the clock in a minute. Going to work on book orders, databases and other actual work things RIGHT NOW.

Guy Friday--Slump

Waltman, Kevin. Slump
14 October 2014, Cinco Puntos Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

In this sequel to Next, Derrick Bowen is back at his old school , still dating Jasmine, and waiting for the new basketball season to begin. Coach Bolden is practicing everyone really hard, and the team hopes to be good, but one of the players injures his ankle, and the team isn't gelling the way everyone hopes. Derrick is having trouble in his own life, too: his best friend is so caught up in his relationship with his girlfriend that he never has time for Derrick, Derrick's own relationship is strained because of conflicts over sex, and Derrick's father is in an auto accident which leads to lots of rehabilitation, as well as financial concerns for the family. His mercurial Uncle Kid tries to help out, but Derrick finds himself thinking that many of his problems could have been solved if he had taken the offer at the private school, especially since his father could have worked there. Hard work and a positive attitude help Derrick deal with the difficulties and ultimately triumph.
Strengths: This series, D-Bow High School Hoops, is very well written and intriguing, but is unfortunately solidly for high school students. I love the descriptions of the basketball practice sessions, and Coach Bolden is a great coach. Derrick's relationship with Jasmine is realistic, and his relationship of convenience with Daniella is a tremendously great object lesson for high school boys. The questions and struggles that Derrick has because of his socioeconomic status are ones which many students face. I really, really liked this book.
Weaknesses: HOWEVER, I would not be comfortable handing this to one of my students. It was fine as long as Jasmine and Derrick were considering certain actions, but when Derrick actually follows through with them with Daniella, this becomes too much for middle school. There are another two f-bombs, one used in practice that was kind of an interesting choice, since the coach let it slide, but one hurled by Daniella that was too much. Definitely purchase this for public and high school collections, but read first before purchasing for middle school. Most librarians are more comfortable with these subjects than I am.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Trust Me, I'm Lying

Still super bummed about Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls series being over? Pick up this title and dry your tears while trying to find copies of A Gallagher Wedding(6.5) and Classified Material (4.5).

(It involved logging in to the secret web site. I love that this sort of thing is WORK for me!)

17341550Summer, Mary Elizabeth. Trust Me, I'm Lying
October 14th 2014 by Delacorte Press 
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Julep and her father are grifters of the first order. She's good, but not thrilled with this way of life as a future, especially since her mother left the family years ago when she tired of the traipsing around. For now, Julep is enrolled in the prestigious St. Agatha's in Chicago so that she can break free of her father's life and go to Yale. She runs the occasional scam for pocket money and the occasion complimentary latte, using her best friend Sam's hacking skills and vehicle when necessary, but when she arrives home to her apartment to find it trashed, and later finds a dead rat in her locker, she is very worried. Her father has been gone before when deals go wrong, but this latest development is even more concerning. She's being trailed by a Chevelle, and a nasty Russian girl runs her and Sam off the road and warns her to stay away. Sam (whose family is wealthy), hires a body guard for Julep, but the guard begs Julep not to let on to Sam that she knows about this. School hottie Tyler is there when Julep finds the rat, and turns out to be extremely supportive through all of Julep's travails. Her father has left her hard-to-get-to clues as to his whereabouts, and she needs the help of both boys, as well as several people from school who owe her favors thanks to her scams. Things become dire when Julep discovers that the mob is involved, and they are not willing to let her go free once she knows they are involved. There's double crossing galore, and Julep needs all of her skills, as well as all of her friends, to survive.
Strengths: Ah, a good spy-type tale with some romance thrown in. No parents, just kids saving the day and bringing criminals to justice. There were so many fun details of this-- I loved the subplot of Murphy wanting to ask Brynn to the formal and hiring Julep to help him, and also the fact that he becomes her friend because of it. Lots of twists and turns, and hopefully, a sequel!
Weaknesses: A significant death that I completely didn't see coming. Have to admit, though, that it was handled extremely well for a death of a major, sympathetic character in that the character has just done some rather horrible things, and it's not dwelt on overly much. Nicely handled. This is a necessity for high school libraries, but fine for middle school as well.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

#WeNeedDiverseBooks--Hunt for the Bamboo Rat

20169574Salisbury, Graham. Hunt for the Bamboo Rat.
September 9th 2014 by Wendy Lamb Books

Kenji is supporting his widowed mother and siblings by working in a warehouse in Hawaii, but when Japan starts to assert power before WWII, Kenji is approached by the US Army to serve as an interpreter, since he is perfectly fluent in both Japanese and English. He is sent to the Philippines to live in a hotel frequented by Japanese nationals, and spies under the code name "Bamboo Rat" and tries to get information. When Japan invades the Philippines, Kenji is evacuated to Corregidor with others, and when the Japanese demand surrender or they will bomb the tunnels where people are holed up, Kenji goes with the commander to translate. He is later imprisoned and used as a servant and translator for a Japanese commander. He is brutally tortured but holds fast to his "civilian" status, manages to keep spying, and is eventually released and finds his way to the US armed forces-- where is is suspected of being Japanese and receives more abuse!

A perfect nonfiction title to go with this is Marie Cronk Farrell's Pure Grit:How WWII Nurses in the Pacific Survived Combat and Prison Camp.

Strengths: Salisbury does the very best novels about the Japanese experience during WWII. Under the Blood-Red Sun and Eyes of the Emperor are two favorites at my school. This book was full of excellent details about the war experience in the Philippines (a little covered topic), but also had suspense, intrigue, and enough fighting to keep war mongering boys interested. I thought that Kenji's fight for his own identity as a Japanese AMERICAN was very interesting, and the way that he was able to understand both the Japanese and American views of honor and duty was fascinating.
Weaknesses: On the gruesome side, certainly, with Kenji being hit in the face, burned with cigarettes, etc. The Japanese certainly don't come off very well in this book, but certainly were the perpetrators of lots of violence during this time period. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Robots Rule

Richards, C.J. The Junkyard Bot (Robots Rule #1)
HMH Books for Young Readers (October 7, 2014)
E ARC from

George Gearing lives with his uncle, who owns a junkyard and repairs machines, because his parents have died in an accident. George is a wiz at making and repairing robots, but doesn't have a lot of money for equipment. His favorite robot is Jackbot, who might be a bit rickety, but is his best friend. When he has a run in with Ann Droid, whose father runs TinkerTech Laboratories, the biggest robotic manufacturer around, she lets him use her father's workshop to repair Jackbot. Having access to decent parts leads George to rennovating Jackbot to the point where he develops artificial intelligence, and results in him repairing the other household robots so they no longer malfunction. Soon, however, Jackbot is kidnapped, and George teams up with Ann to find out what has happened. They come across an evil plot by Dr. Micron, a scientist at TinkerTech, who wants to roll out a line of robots that will take over the whole world. Not to spoil things, but considering there is to be a sequel I feel safe in saying that George is victorious, lands an internship at TinkerTech, and will go on to solve the mystery of some family secrets.
Strengths: Robots seem to be an up and coming thing, and this book hits a lot of things that readers will like. There is adventure and action, but also a robotic dump truck gone amok, which of course results in garbage being dumped on people. I liked both George and Ann, and the fact that they get to single handedly resolve a problem where a mad scientist is trying to take over the world will make this popular with young readers.
Weaknesses: I am not a fan of goofy names, and this stretched the point with Principal Qwerty, Officer Dongle, etc. Given the fact that there are lots of illustrations, I would have liked it if this looked a tiny more futuristic than it was.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Need a nominee for Cybils MGF? Try one of these!

Cybils-Logo-2014-Web-SmThe nominations for the Cybils Awards close on Wednesday, so if you don't know what to nominate, definitely take a look at some of these.

These were all books that I liked initially and have checked out well, OR that have surprised me with the number of students that really liked them. There are a lot of sports books, because that's what many students like to read, and we don't see many of them nominated, even though they often tell fascinating stories in addition to the sports. I've also included diverse books that my students have liked. When we come up with a short list, we like to have a large pool of books from which to choose, and these are all ones that I'm pretty sure will NOT cause the other panelists to want to hurt me!

See what you think? Do you have a favorite of your own? Nominate!

Behrens, Rebecca. When Audrey Met Alice
Bowen, Fred. Double Reverse
Clements, Andrew. The Map Trap
Elliot, L. M. Across a War-Tossed Sea
Feinstein, John. The Walk On
Freitas, Donna. Gold Medal Winter
Greenwald, Lisa. Welcome to Dog Beach
Hilmo, Tess. Skies Like These
Jeter, Derek. The Contract
Johnson, Peter. The Life and Times of Benny Alvarez
Kadohata, Cynthia. Half a World Away
London, C. Alexander. Blood in the Water
Lupica, Mike. Fantasy League
Mackall, Dandi Daley. The Secrets of Tree Taylor
Northrop, Michael. Surrounded by Sharks
Wertheim,  L. Jon  and Tobias Moskowitz. The Rookie Bookie
Woodrow, Allen. The Pet War

Blathery kind of note-- just go back from Kidlitcon, but it took over 30 hours of waiting for planes that were delayed. I really thought that I would end up just living at Chicago O'Hare! I was a little late to comment on MMGM and IMWAYR posts, but I tried to get to most of the blogs who participate and comment to spread the word about Cybils-- sorry if cut and paste was sometimes involved! I do try to make thoughtful comments that prove I read the post, but I don't know how much longer I can remain upright and conscious!

MMGM--The (Almost) Perfect Guide to Imperfect Boys

20759547Dee, Barbara. The (Almost) Perfect Guide to Imperfect Boys
September 30th 2014 by Aladdin
Copy received from Kate Shapiro and Company

Finley and her friend have categorized boys into tadpoles, croakers and frogs, based on their evolution from elementary, fart-obsessed kids to fully evolved humans capable of being boyfriends. Since middle school is a maturing process, some of the boys change in interesting ways. Such is the case with Zachary (aka Freakazoid) who was annoying in elementary school, moved away, and came back... sorta cute. Combine this ever changing scenery with problems in school that include an evil Spanish teacher, problems with Maya, annoying younger siblings and a mother who cares more about them than Finley, and it's easy to understand Finley's general discomfort. When her notebook is discovered and Maya turns against her, Finley must figure out how to salvage her reputation as well as her growing relationship with Zachary.
Strengths: Ah, personal identity. This is truly THE middle grade drama, not bullying or class elections or dances. Even with all of the digital technology out there, plenty of paper notes and notebooks are kept by students, and trying to figure out how everyone else fits into the world is a rather strong preoccupation. Dee captures this well, with all the squirmily embarrassing details in which middle grade readers revel as well as a nice, light romance.
Weaknesses: Boys are divided into categories of weasels and beagles, not frogs. Oh, wait. That was me and my friends. In college. No, this was perfectly spot on, except that even though I talk to middle grade boys at length every day, I've never really noticed the voice change problem.

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.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Angel Tree

20894027Benedis-Grab, Daphne. The Angel Tree  
September 30th 2014 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from

Pine River is a town with lots of troubles, but the one saving grace is that every year around Christmas time, an anonymous benefactor puts up a lovely tree in the town square. People put pieces of paper with their wishes on it, and the people in the town who are able to fulfill them do. Four children in town are especially interested in this. Lucy, who was adopted from China and who has an assistance dog named Valentine because of her blindness, wants medical help for Valentine, who has cancer. Max's family's house burned down, and they are in a cramped apartment. Max is a troublemaker at school. Joe's mother is in the armed forces, and he is sleeping on the floor at his uncle's apartment, and is also having trouble making friends. Cami, who loves to play the violin,  lives with her grandmother, who favors Cami's cousin, who is interested in more academic matters. The four all are intrigued by the tree (and are all recipients of help) and are bound and determined to figure our who is behind the tradition. They investigate several people in town, and eventually decide they know who is behind organizing the townspeople to help each other out.
Strengths: Lucy makes this a good candidate for #WeNeedDiverseBooks, and the theme of children in need is indicative of the continued poor economy. I can see this being popular with teachers who still feel a need to read Christmas books to students, since there would be a lot of community service tie-ins. Well-written, with nicely developed characters and an overall pleasant message. 
Weaknesses: I did not care for this personally. It was depressing and required a lot of suspension of disbelief, and for me, finding the benefactor took away all the magic, even though it motivated the students to be more giving. I also am not a big fan of Christmas, and think that it is not a topic that needs to come up in books as much as it does.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Kidlitcon Update

Greetings from Sacramento! After sleeping in because my roommate Charlotte is a super stealth ninja (I woke up to the gentle click of the door and the smell of coffee; truly impressed!), I have deposited myself in the lobby of the Citizen Hotel, where they have a lovely red velvet couch upon which I can sit with my BOTH my back touching the couch AND my feet touching the floor, and there is 1940s music playing. I firmly expect the Andrews Sisters to round the corner at any moment, although so far it has only been bleary eyed people who are glad to know The Secret of the Keurig in the Armoire. (I brought my own tea bags and am sitting here with tea; no addiction at all!)

Kidlitcon is very interesting. Meeting the bloggers and authors with whom I have worked for years was fascinating. I loved that Tanita Davis ( actually remembered that I had won a copy of her marvelous book Ala Carte, and it was fun to talk to her about topics on which I would love to see books written, and to hear about her time living in Scotland.

Charlotte ( did a great presentation on "Finding Your Blogging Voice". It was good to hear that I'm not the only one who feels bad saying things that are less than positive about a book, and seeing examples of engaging bloggers was helpful.

My arch nemesis, Kelly, ( not only wiped the floor with me in number of books and pages read when she was a Cybils panelist (It's not a contest. So why is there a list of readers with most books read, hmmm?), but demonstrated how she has mastered social media in ways that I never may. If I can't even post a picture from an iPad, what are my chances with Twitter Analytics? And Pinterest. Honestly, the only time I've ever spent considerable time on Pinterest was when my older daughter would be out late on dates and I would wait up for her with Pinterest and a glass of wine. Since I rarely drink, and it was the only thing that made Pinterest palatable to me, I don't see anything good coming of this. Maybe if Picky Reader starts dating...

So many people looked vaguely familiar- our profile pictures are all so tiny! It was fun to see that the lovely Jen ( was just my height; working at a middle school, I forget that 5'2" is short in the real world. Cybils database guru Sheila ( once again came to my rescue by loaning me $3 when the restaurant didn't take Discover. Freya Hooper ( boosted my self esteem by saying that if she posts a book on Goodreads that I haven't read, she feels really successful!

It was fun to have a little introvert downtime with Leila (, Maureen (, Anne (, Melissa ( and several others.

Have gotten a few things read, and look forward to today's sessions ( Kidlitcon 2015 will be in Baltimore, so if you have time and resources next October  to attend, definitely plan ahead!

Not in the Script

20613581Finnegan, Amy. Not in the Script (If Only #3)
October 7th 2014 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
E ARC from

Emma is a very successful young actress who has just gotten a role on the new show, Coyote Hills.  This means moving to Tuscon (her family is in Fayetteville), and also working with two young men that she would like to avoid. One is Brett, another long time actor on whom she has had a huge crush, but who turns out to be rather a jerk. The other is Jake, who is switching from a successful modeling career. Emma's best friend Rachel has a huge crush on Jake, and Emma has promised to introduce them. Emma has had a string of bad relationships that ended in spectacularly public fashions, so she has sworn off boys. The problem? Jake is not only extremely good looking, but also sweet, fun to be with, and an upstanding citizen to boot. He takes care of his mother, who's had a stroke, and genuinely likes Emma. If they both liked each other and there were no problems, there would be no story, so complications abound. Emma's ex shows up, Brett plays unattractive games with Emma's affections and reputation, and Emma is worried what Rachel will think of her relationship with Jake. Emma and Jake do manage to put together a charitable foundation together, but will they ever be able to date in public?
Strengths: This whole series is GREAT for middle school students who want romance books! The characters are older (in this case, late teens, but living away from home), but they don't DO anything inappropriate. There's just the requisite melting when there is a hug or kiss, and a lot of pining. Perfect. After all, what 12 year old doesn't think Hollywood is a possibility? Emma had her moments, but I may have had a slight crush on Jake myself!
Weaknesses: This should have been published in August so I could have gotten it in my first book order. Now I'll have to wait until January to order it. *Sigh* Amy Finnegan sent TWO COPIES to my school. How very sweet of her. I got them processed and on the shelf, and they went out RIGHT AWAY. The girls adore this series, and this book is good for the guys as well, because of the alternating chapters.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Guy Friday- The Rookie Bookie

Wertheim, L. Jon and Tobias J. Moskowitz. The Rookie Bookie
October 7th 2014 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Mitch's family has moved from California to Illinois, where his artist parents feel that they will be more successful with their shop. Mitch hopes so-- he is quite fond of money, and backs up his affection with some realistic math skills. He applies these math skills to sports teams as well, and has on more than one occasion taken bets on games, hence the title of the book. Mitch's older brother, Kevin, is a decent football player on the high school team, but Mitch's small size and lack of athletic ability means that his skills are quite different from his brother's. Trying to fit in to his new school, Mitch investigates the sports options but realizes that the best way to connect with people is to offer them the opportunity to bet. Against the school rules? Maybe, but if you don't think about it too hard, you don't actually know this. Mitch enlists the help of football playing Jamie, who happens to be a girl but is good at sports and willing to help him collect money for his scheme. She's a little leery about the legalities, but when Mitch tells her that his family needs money, she keeps going. Mitch does make a few other friends and becomes involved in the life of his new school, but sooner or later his side business is sure to be uncovered. Luckily, he also makes himself valuable to the football coach, and the basketball coach approaches him at the end of the book, leading me to believe that there will be a book two!
Strengths: This has a lot of things going for it-- sports, a girl (even though Mitch IS. NOT. INTERESTED. IN. HER.), a unique problem at school, and some problems at home as well. I thought the voice was convincingly middle grade, even when Mitch talks about statistics and money and math. It's really, really hard to work math into a middle grade novel, and many have tried, but this was probably the most successful treatment of the topic that I've read. Hats off to Wertheim and Moskowitz for transitioning to MG fiction!
Weaknesses: Some of the math talk isn't quite as good as others, and it took a little bit of a stretch for me to believe that Mitch didn't know that taking bets was against school rules. On the other hand, we've had students at my school try to sell oregano in baggies and say that it's marijuana, so it's possible.

20256652Proimos, James. The Complete Adventures of Johnny Mutton
October 7th 2014 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC from

Johnny is a lamb who was left on Ms. Mutton's door step, and because her eyesight is bad, she has raised him as a child. When he is old enough to go to school, so children notice, but he basically treated like an eccentric child. This book includes three Johnny Mutton titles; all are very anecdotal.
Strengths: The illustrations are great, and if I actually bought it, students would check it out due to the cover alone. However...
Weaknesses: This falls squarely on the elementary side of the Pilkey Line with the kindergarten setting. The formatting is more like a picture book than a notebook novel. This will be popular in elementary schools. It is not like Captain Underpants because there is too much "mushy stuff" between Johnny and his mother. Basically, he likes her. This is not usually a theme of middle grade books! Characters can like their parents, but also have to be slightly irritated by them, or somehow distance themselves.

That said, I have so many students this year that ONLY want to read books "with pictures" that I should probably buy it, but I have had to bite my tongue and NOT say "Middle school books don't usually HAVE pictures" (in a snotty librarian tone) so many times that I just can't.