Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ruby Redfort: Take Your Last Breath

15841901Childs, Lauren. Ruby Redfort: Take Your Last Breath
May 14th 2013 by Candlewick Press

Ruby is back, and this time her parents are going on a yacht and leaving her with Mrs. Digby. This is good, because there are odd things afoot in Twinsford. Cargo shipments being sent by sea are being rerouted, and the sea life seems to be having problems. There's also an odd whispering sound, and when students from Ruby's school attempt a swim-a-thon, there are more dangers than expected. When Ruby's parents' yacht is beset by pirates, the two are thrown overboard, and at one point, Ruby believes they may be dead. She perseveres with her investigation with the assistance of Clarence and Hitch, and eventually realizes that the problems can be tied to her old nemesis, as well as a generations old lullaby that her mother sings to her. There are a good number of puzzles for readers to work out, including a musical one.
Strengths: There is always a need for mysteries, and many students prefer ones in a series.
Weaknesses: I could not get into this one at all. At all. It went back and forth between Ruby calmly going to school and eating doughnuts, and nearly drowning in the ocean. Her parents seemed like horrible people; I was surprised that Ruby even cared when they were missing, because once they came back, they continued to ignore her. I didn't care much for the first one, and only read this because I ended up with a free hard copy. Sometimes, certain books just don't vibrate with me personally.

Plenty of people DO like this series (there is a third book out, Ruby Redfort: Catch Your Death); I usually like the same things that Katie at Secrets and Sharing Soda likes, so maybe I just read this on the wrong day!

5th Grade Reading
Beesley Buzz
Once Upon a Book Case
Secrets and Sharing Soda
Serendipity Reviews

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons-- House of Robots

20839549Grabenstein, Chris. House of Robots.
December 1st 2014 by Little Brown and Company
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Sammy Hayes-Rodriguez has enough trouble fitting in, but when his scientist inventor mom sends him to school with E, her robot prototype, things get even harder. The robot misbehaves and ends up getting sent home. Things are difficult at home, too-- Sammy's sister Maddie has Sever Combined immuno-deficiency, which means she is home schooled and that the house has to be kept clean at all times (in this case, by a robot). When E is fixed and returns to school, all the children love him and this brings a whole new set of problems. Sammy's friend Trip is jealous and brings his own remote controlled robot to school. There is a stereotypical larger-than-average bully who threatens physical violence to deal with, as well as Maddie's illnesses.
Strengths: We have some cultural diversity, as well as Maddie's physical infirmity, robots, and lots of pictures. Patterson could pick a writer and illustrator to help him do a version of War and Peace and they would read it. The paper over board binding is inexpensive, so two copies are indicated if they can be afforded. Often, students do buy these for themselves-- maybe I can talk some of them into donating their copies!
Weaknesses: This was told in a bit of a disjointed way at first-- Sammy is narrating, and is not an organized recounter of the story, which made it hard to follow. I'm still not entirely sure why his mother chose to send a robot to school, for example.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Guy Friday- Red Zone Rivals

22295091Howling, Erc. Red Zone Rivals.
September 17th 2014 by James Lorimer & Company 
E ARC from

Quinn and Luke are both quarterbacks on their high school team. Their coach quits, and the new coach is a businessman who had played for the school when he was a student. The team is struggling because the school is small, so the coach challenges the student body to try out. One of the boys who does is Walker, whose father was killed in the car crash that cost him his leg. His upper body strength is fantastic, and he can throw a football further than anyone else on the team, but he has trouble running. Quinn is at odds with Luke, breaks up with his girlfriend Emma, and is struggling in math. Walker helps to tutor him, and Quinn stands up for Walker when he tries out for the team and the other players, including Luke, give him a hard time. A fight with Luke gets Quinn suspended from the team for three games, and there are still more problems in his future, including his father's poor health.
Strengths: This had lots of good football plays (I judge books on whether or not I can understand what goes on on the field-- if I can't, I know my students will be happy!) plus some really interesting drama. I could guess what would happen to Quinn's father, but students might still be surprised. I need a TON of these high interest/low level sports books for my reluctant readers.
Weaknesses: ONLY AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK!!! IN CANADA!!! ARGGGGGGGH! I loved this author's Hoop Magic. Don't taunt me on Netgalley if I can't get copies in the US, Lorimer!

The Lorimer Sports books are awesome. I wish we had a US version, since some of the terms and settings are a bit foreign to my students.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Thanksgiving Treasure

1742897Rock, Gail. The Thanksgiving Treasure
September 12th 1974 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young

Addie and her friend Carla Mae want to make flower arrangements for Thanksgiving for their teacher and for home, so they go on a slightly forbidden bicycle ride to the other side of the Platte River in 1947 to get cattails at Old Man Rehnquist's farm. He refused to pay her father after he dug a pond on the property, and is generally the kind of old man who waves his shotgun around at people who trespass on his property, but Addie sees his horse, who looks like she needs exercise, and after listening to her teacher's discussion of the real meaning of Thanksgiving, decides to befriend the old man and take him a holiday dinner. She manages to hide enough food to take out to him, and Mr. Rehnquist reluctantly eats and and agrees to Addie's plan to exercise the horse, Treasure. In a development that should shock no one who grew up reading books like A Girl Called Al, Mr. Rehnquist becomes ill, Addie brings over her doctor uncle... but it's too late. She is left the horse, and the father is left the money he is owed.
Strengths: There are very few middle grade holiday tales, and students still ask for them. This is a short, easy read, and would be great for students reluctant to read historical fiction. It is one of the few books I remember reading in middle school, and I have The House Without a Christmas Tree as well.
Weaknesses: Both (hangs head in shame) of my copies look a bit ragged, having been in the library for over 40 years. The copy in my hand hasn't left the shelf for seven years. Sigh. They should go. I'm sure there were two copies because of the television programs with Jason Robards and Mildred Natwick. Even those programs look extremely dated, having been videotaped instead of filmed, and suffering from a 1970s lack of action!

Interestingly, also an eBook published November 4th 2014 by Open Road Media Teen & Tween.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

#WeNeedDiverseBooks- Oh, Snap! (The Cruisers #4)

17166345Myers, Walter Dean. Oh, Snap!
August 1st 2013 by Scholastic Press

The students who run the "underground" newspaper at DaVinci Academy Middle School in Harlem are pretty pleased that their paper, the Cruiser, comes in third place in a survey by the School Journalism Association, but Ashley, who is editor of the official paper, the Palette, is less than pleased. The two papers start running competing editorials about a number of things, and when the Palette manages to arrange with a well known British school newspaper to run copies of their articles, the staff of the Cruiser contacts the school to see if they can connect somehow as well, mentioning that they have a picture of Phat Tony, who may or may not be involved in a gang related robbery at the local mall. Phat Tony, who has been arrested in conjunction with the suspected event, has capitalized on his "gangsta" status to try to gather would-be rappers at DaVinci, but the British school contacts Scotland Yard, which contacts the local police, and soon the staff of the Cruisers must explain themselves to the local authorities. More light is shed on the event, and Fat Tony is exonerated. and the newspapers agree to disagree.

Other books in this series are The Cruisers, Checkmate and A Star is Born.

Strengths: It's great to see inner city GIFTED children portrayed, and while gangs are addressed, the book is about journalism and things other than race. These books are all very short. I only have the first one in my library, but I'm going to order the other two now that I have a copy of the fourth. They are reminiscent in size and type face to Paulsen's Liar, Liar series, and while not funny like that series, will appeal to the reluctant middle grade reader who doesn't want to read "baby books". There were several other issues, like a mother who did modeling and commercials and was irritated that her ex-husband found an acting job, that readers will like.
Weaknesses: It's hard for me to believe that a middle school has ONE newspaper, let alone two, but that could be the case. The language seemed a bit off to me. There was some slang, not a lot, and it seemed somehow forced. Does anyone use the word "dig" to mean "understand" anymore?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Forbidden Flats

20342489Eddleman, Peggy. The Forbidden Flats (Sky Jumpers #2)
September 23rd 2014 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Copy received from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

In this sequel to Sky Jumpers, Hopes community of White Rock is hit by an earthquake. The damage to the buildings is  bad enough, but the real danger lies in the fact that the Bomb's Breath, a fifteen foot wall of deadly gas, is lowering dangerously and will affect the community very soon. Local scientists decide that this can be reversed if they introduce seforium into the atmosphere, but the closest place this can be found is 500 miles away across the Forbidden Flats, in the Rocky Mountains. With the help of guide, Luke, several townspeople, including Hope and her friends, take off to try to get the seforium in time, taking with them Ameiphus (the medicine they discovered in the last book) to trade. The journey is treacherous, but Hope finds out information about her birth mother from an unlikely source.
Strengths: This series is a great dystopian one for middle grade readers. I liked the details about what happened during WWIII to make the climate and topography so treacherous, and the structure of the various towns and settlements that the group encounters gives a good cross-section of how people in a post-apocalyptic world might reimagine civilization. The children being the brave ones who save the day never hurts, either!
Weaknesses: The story line about Hope's mother wasn't all that necessary, and slowed down the narrative for me and felt a bit interpolative.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Coolest video EVER!

Is there any doubt remaining that Rick Riordan is a rock star? I love this video! Now if I could just get my hands on a copy of Blood of Olympus! There's been such demand in my library that when a copy comes back in, I have to immediately check it out and deliver it to whomever is next on the reserve list.

Best moment last week: standing behind a student while he was at the lunch table and lowering the book in front of his face. I could see the HUGE grin, and the grab he made for the book was perfect!

MMGM-- Lady Liberty

2869724Rappaport, Doreen, and Taveres, Matt. Lady Liberty: A Biography
May 13th 2008 by Candlewick Press
Copy received from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Told from multiple viewpoints in free verse, this slim volume covers a lot of little known and interesting facts about the design and implementation of the Statue of Liberty. Starting with Eduoard de Laboulaye, a Frenchman who wanted to thank the US, on the occasion of our 100th birthday, for setting France on their own road to independence, this book considers the points of view of workers, people who donated money, and people who saw the statue upon their arrival to the US. Accompanied with illustrations, this brings to life the importance of this national landmark.
Strengths: This is a topic that is good for students to know about, and this is a good length and reading level for a wide range of younger students.
Weaknesses: Like One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin, this suffers from horrible formatting. The words are crammed on one side of a two page spread in maybe an 8 point font. The pictures are okay, but not fantastic enough to crowd out the text. This would have benefitted significantly from being a larger format book with larger type, or even from giving an entire page to the text. It may sound ridiculous, but students base a lot of their choices on the size of the text. I have not been able to get anyone to check out the Charles Darwin book, which is a shame. Good text should not have to suffer from bad formatting choices.

18594423 Brown, Jennifer. Life on Mars
August 5th 2014 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Nominated for the Cybils by Bibliovore

Arcturus Betelgeuse (Arty) and his friends Tripp and Priya are working on the Clandestine Interplanetary Communications Module (CICM) that might allow them to talk to Martians. Arty's dad works at a planetarium, and the whole family is nuts for space, except for sisters Vega (who is more interested in her boyfriend) and Cassie (who is more interested in cheerleading). When their father loses his job and finds a new one in Las Vegas, Arty is mortified because the skies will have too much light pollution for him to continue his work. When the parents have to look for houses in Las Vegas, they leave the children with a pregnant aunt, who of course goes into labor. The sisters go visit friends, but Tripp and Priya are busy, so Arty goes to the home of a new and shadowy neighbor, Cash. His parents don't even know Cash's name, but it turns out that Cash was in the space program but never got to space. He and Arty start hanging out together before the family has to move, and Arty tries to make his peace with leaving his friends and his home.
Strengths: Lots of nice curriculum tie ins and good details on the friendships both with the children his age and with Cash. It was nice to see a story about a boy with a particular interest and passion for a topic. Good cover.
Weaknesses: Found it hard to believe that Arty's mother would send him to be with a neighbor she didn't even know, and the beginning of the book was a tad science heavy. I'll encourage students to struggle through the odd family names and get to the story.

Side note: Even I was not crazy enough to name my children Aurelia and Zenobia, which I was tempted to do. That's just mean, to give your children weird names.

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, November 23, 2014

Black Flame

16073070Blackcrane, Gerelchimeg. Black Flame
April 30th 2013 by Groundwood Books 

Kelsang is an enormous Tibetan mastiff puppy who is born to a shepherding family. His mother is killed early on, and his master is tricked into selling him to an unscrupulous buyer, He gets taken to Lhasa, where he escapes and runs wild in the city. An elderly artist lets him stay in his courtyard and brings the dog food when he comes home, but the two mainly ignore each other. Since mastiffs arevery valuable, other men take him and keep him locked up, which is horrible, since mastiffs like to run. Eventually, he is found by Han Ma, who is a volunteer working to save antelopes, and Kelsang proves to be a great asset in many ways. When Han Ma has to go back to work at a school for disabled children, Kelsang stays with a friend of Han Ma's, and has various adventures guarding a store. When Han Ma and Kelsang are finally able to be together, the two are very glad, and Kelsang is able to roam the mountains, get his exercise, and love his human.
Strengths: This is a great book for #WeNeedDiverseBooks since it was translated (very beautifully) from the Chinese. It is a must read with Secret of the Mountain Dog by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel, since both have Tibetan mastiffs! Readers who like classic animal tales, like Jim Kjelgaard's books or Farley's The Black Stallion series will adore this.
Weaknesses: US readers might struggle to make sense of the setting at first, since they won't have prior knowledge of this area of the world.

I'm just glad that I don't have a Tibetan mastiff! What an enormous dog! It probably sheds the equivalent of my Yorkie Poo every single day!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons-- Lowriders in Space

20980944Camper, Cathy and Gonzalez, Raul. Lowriders in Space.
November 4th 2014 by Chronicle Books
Copy received at Kidlitcon

Lupe (an anthropomorphic fox?), Elirio Malaria (a mosquito), and Flapjack Octopus all work long hours at a car dealership, where they wish that they could open their own store. A way to do this presents itself-- there is a lowrider competition, and the three find a junk car and use their skills to trick it out. Using parts from an abandoned airplane factory, they create a vehicle that manages to go into space, where it gets further embellishment from the stars and scientific phenomena the group runs across. Coming back to earth, their car is deemed the best, and they are able to contemplate new adventures once they have their own shop.
Strengths: The artwork in this is great-- it's done in three colors of ball point pen, which gives it a very unique look. It was great that the main mechanic was female. There is a lot of Hispanic culture as well as some Spanish language in this book. If there is a strong interest in cars in your library, this is a must have.
Weaknesses: The octopus and mosquito seemed like slightly odd character choices, and there's not much interest in cars at my school. Still, middle grade readers will pick up just about anything in comic/graphic novel format. Be interested to see how this does.

Book trailer available here:

Friday, November 21, 2014

Guy Friday- Zombies of the Caribbean, John. Zombies of the Caribbean (Zombie Chasers #6)
October 7th 2014 by HarperCollins

Now that Rice's addition of Spazola Energy Cola to the antidote has not only rezombified everyone but made them into Super Zombies, the crew must find a way to save everyone. Luckily, they have a boat and can sail around the Caribbean, hopefully avoiding most of the zombies. They look for scientist Nigel Black, and find him in a zombie proof fortress. He tells them that they need to find a frilled tiger shark and bring it back to him so he can work on an antidote. After much adventuring, the group does, but the zombie plague is not over yet-- the back of the book warns us that book seven will be The Zombie Chasers: Chews Your Own Adventure.
Strengths: Students LOVE this series. It's goofy and gross, and the cartoons of zombies with eyeballs popping out, people throwing up, etc. is part of the... charm. Lots of action/adventure and children saving the world. Also, a cute dog.
Weaknesses: Not my personal cup of tea. Glad that every single book by this author is always checked out, but getting a bit weary of having the read the books! Seven books is plenty in a series!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Dangerous Deception

20664416Kehret, Peg. Dangerous Deception
October 16th 2014 by Dutton Juvenile

Emmy's mother works in a department store, where she is in charge of selecting the winner of a yearly contest that grants someone's dream (available at the store, of course!). When Emmy snoops through the entries when the mother is sick, she finds a letter from a girl who says her family is hungry. Her mother can only turn over the details to a social service agency because the store policy is to not contact people individually, but Emmy not only decides to help, but takes the letter to school AND shows her teacher, who decides to turn a blind eye and let Emmy's group collect food for the family as a service project even after Emmy explains the situation. Emmy and her friends collect food from neighbors and arrange with Jelly Bean's brother to drive them to a bad part of town to deliver the food. They do this again, and Emmy talks to the girl, Sophie, who explains that her mother is sick. Things escalate, and Emmy not only talks to an elderly neighbor and climbs into a dumpster to rescue the family cat, but she talks to another creepy neighbor who seems suspicious, and takes a photo of what seems to be stolen merchandise in his apartment. She then leaves her contact information all around Sophie's abandoned apartment and goes to the police with the photo. Jelly Bean's brother crashes his car, and he and his brother end up in the hospital, and things go even more wrong from there.
Strengths: Kehret has done good suspense novels for years, and her following at my library is immense. Her writing is smooth and intriguing. I'm Not Who You Think I Am is in tatters, but the students still check it out. This book certainly has suspense, and the requisite children getting kidnapped and surviving by their wits.
Weaknesses: There are so, so many poor choices made by Emmy that this book just alarmed me from start to finish. Your mother could lose her job if her employer finds out she shared the entries? By all means tell your class and your teacher, as long as you instruct them to keep it a secret. Driving illegally with a teenager who is texting? No problem. Do it several times. Climb into a dumpster. Take a cat on the bus even if it scratches you with it's filthy claws. Make sure creepy criminals with stolen goods can find out exactly where you live. Argh! There are notes in the back of the book for various support organizations, and the mother says at the end that she would have gone through official channels to get the family help, but this included too many bad decisions for my taste. Also, what's with the horrible, computer generated cover? If we make it dark enough, no one will notice how bad the picture is?

20170580Ehrlich, Esther. Nest.
September 9th 2014 by Wendy Lamb Books

I strongly suggest reading this personally before putting it into a school library.

Admittedly, my problems with this were predominately personal. My best friend has lived with Multiple Sclerosis for over twenty years. My family has been affected by suicide. I cannot imagine giving this book to middle grade readers.

First, this is a historical novel, set in 1972. When the mother is diagnosed with MS, she becomes depressed in the extreme. While I'm sure this is still common, the treatment differs a lot today. We don't necessarily send people right to residential care, and I really don't know that electroconvulsive shock therapy is used to treat either condition. If this book were handed to a student whose parent had MS, I think it would be unnecessarily alarming. Notes at the end of the book (about past and current treatments) would be helpful.

Second, there are a growing number of books about suicide and its aftermath, and I don't think they are entertaining or helpful. I am at the end of my patience with books about parents who can't see past their own grief to help their children.

Most adult readers adore this book, but I would advise adult readers to look at this one and fully understand it before handing it to younger readers.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ship of Dolls

20708785Parenteau, Shirley. Ship of Dolls.
August 5th 2014 by Candlewick Press
Copy received from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

In 1926, Lexie is sent to live with her grandparents in Portland, Oregon because her mother has remarried and is working nights. The grandparents love Lexie, but are angry with her mother because they feel her lifestyle led to the death of their son in a fast automobile. Lexie is having some difficulty fitting in at school, even though she has a good friend in neighbor Jack. Her class is involved with raising money to pay to see Emily Grace, a blonde, blue-eyed doll, to Japan as part of a peace initiative. Snotty rich girl Louise bedevils her all the time, and the two both want to win the letter writing contest because the winner gets to go to San Francisco to see the dolls off to Japan. This is important to Lexie, because her mother will be singing at the ceremony. When Lexie takes the doll out of her teacher's room at Jack's boarding house so that she can understand her better in order to write the best letter, her teacher "punishes" her by making her sew a new dress for Emily Grace. This is not without its difficulties, but Lexie manages to do this with the help of her grandparents, and also manages to write the best letter... but Louise steals it and passes it off as her own, winning the contest. Lexie's grandmother decides that Lexie should go to San Francisco as well, and accompanies her on the boat there. During the trip, Louise is very ill and eventually owns up to her deception. Things don't go as smoothly as Lexie hopes they will in San Francisco, but she realizes which adults in her life care for her the most. A sequel, Ship of Hope, is in the works and will be from the point of view of a Japanese girl who gets one of the dolls.
Strengths: This would be a good companion to Kirby Larson's The Friendship Doll, and is a great introduction to a fascinating bit of history, since there were apparently more Japanese-American doll projects going on than I ever knew. Over 12,000 dolls were collected and sent to Japan, and although they were ordered destroyed during WWII, around 300 survive. Fun fact: more dolls were sent from Ohio than from any other state!
Weaknesses: There were parts of the book that were VERY slow. I loved dolls as a child, and loved to sew, but some of the descriptions of sewing the doll's dress dragged even for me. Also, the ending didn't ring true to me. I thought Lexie would have made a different choice.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Evil Librarian

Knudsen, Michelle. Evil Librarian
September 9th 2014 by Candlewick Press
Copy received from Isobel Brown at publisher.

Completely hysterical. NOT for MY middle school library.

Cynthia's best friend Annie is smitten with the new, hot librarian, Mr. Gabriel, But Cynthia gets a weird vibe from him... because he's a demon. He wants to make Annie his bride and suck out the souls of everyone in the high school, and Cynthia is not about to let him. With the help of her crush, Ryan, the two consult the adults they think can help-- their Italian teacher, who ends up being killed, and the owner of an occult bookstore who gives them good advice but has his own demon-related agenda. They come up with a workable plan, but fighting demons isn't really covered in the curriculum, and when the new principal and a bunch of substitutes also turn out to be demons that have found the high school to be a handy portal into our world, will Ryan and Cynthia be able to fight them all?
Strengths: Clearly, Ms. Knudsen knows her library humor, but what I liked best was Cynthia's obsession with Ryan. She knows it's wrong; she doesn't need a guy; but she can't stop herself. Lived that! Their shared interest brings them closer, and I loved how they both came to respect each other. Predict this will be wildly popular in our high school library, where I am sending this one. Sadly.
Weaknesses: The first f-bomb was used under mitigating circumstances. The second... okay. But at one point they were just being dropped everywhere. Add to this a lot of demon violence AND Cynthia giving us a bit too much information about her, um, feelings for Ryan, as well as the bookstore owner's.. passion for the female demon, and I would not be comfortable if  6th graders ended up with this in their hands.

This is a shame, since a few editing choices COULD have rendered this just as enjoyable AND ALSO suitable for younger students.

Monday, November 17, 2014

MMGM- At Your Service

18104774Malone, Jen. At Your Service.
August 26th 2014 by Simon & Schuster/ Aladdin M!X
Copy from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Chloe loves living in the St. Michele hotel in New York City, where her father is the concierge. She also likes helping out, and is made a junior concierge by the owner, Mr. Buttercup, so that she can help with the younger guests. She manages to make even the brattiest children happy by scheduling things like practice sessions with the Rockettes for them. When King Robert of Somerstein and his three children stay at the hotel, Chloe is put in charge of their itinery, and accompanied by bodyguards, the royals (along with Chloe's friend Paisley) set off to see the sights. Prince Alex turns out not only to be cute, but also very nice; Princess Sophie seems stuck up at first, but warms to the adventure; but Princess Ingrid, the youngest, decides to run off from the group to investigate all of the penny smashing machines in the city. Chloe doesn't want to tell her father, thinking she will get in trouble, so the children band together to find Ingrid but not alarm anyone back at the hotel. Adventures ensue, there are some nice romantic moments, and everyone is okay in the end.
Strengths: This is a fantastic middle grade adventure. I love that Chloe is empowered to deal with other concierges and businesses in the city, and given opportunities to see New York, but always under some kind of supervision. I think this is probably the sort of book that my readers enjoy the most-- ordinary children who DO something.
Weaknesses: M!X publishes most of their books only in e book and paperback format, which doesn't work well for a school library!

The best thing about this book is that it's HAPPY. There are just not enough happy books for middle grade readers this year. The Cybils nomination list (my own choice included) is enough to drive adults to antidepressants. One 8th grader finished up a book the other day, returned it, and said, in all seriousness "Ms. Yingling, I know you don't hug people, but that book was so sad that I REALLY NEED A HUG!" So I hugged her and gave her a book with pictures of the 100 cutest cats, as well as Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.

So hear this, middle grade writers: We need happier books. I know they are harder to write. I know that humor doesn't feel as literary. But looking back at my past week of reading, there's been mental depression, economic depression, suicide, genocide, fantasy kingdoms going belly up, and dead or dysfunctional parents in nearly every single book. Gah! I really can't take any more sad books, and my students are getting weary of them as well.

Leave the title of the happiest book you can think of in the comments. Please!

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, November 16, 2014

Letting Ana Go

16074809Anonymous. Letting Ana Go.
June 4th 2013 by Simon Pulse

When her cross country coach makes her keep a food diary to make sure that she and the other girls on the team keep up their calorie counts and DON'T descend into an eating disorder, our unnamed character starts to lose weight. Her best friend, Jill, is a ballerina on a dangerously restrictive diet, and her mother has gained weight and is given a hard time about it by her father. When her father ends up leaving her mother for another woman, and she starts to run faster times after losing about ten pounds, she starts to work with her friend on ridiculously low calorie amounts. This brings her the attention of a boy she likes, and she's determined to lose weight to get into a size two dress, even though she is 5'7". Vanessa, another girl on the team, is worried about her, but she attributes that to jealously. After collapsing at a meet, she has to bring her weight up, her mother starts working days in order to be with her, and her friends watch her more closely, but she is now struggling with anorexia and finds it hard to break the cycle. Her friend Jill is hospitalized, as is she, and she does gain weight for a while, but the book has a very sad ending.
Strengths: My readers are already craving a lot of problem novels-- this doesn't usually occur until deep into February! This was a good read, along the lines of The Best Little Girl in the World. There is some kissing and touching, but nothing too bad.
Weaknesses: I was bothered that this is an "anonymous" diary, when you know it was written by an adult somewhere. It's just too specific and message heavy to have been a real diary. I also wish there had been some information at the back of the book about eating disorder support.

I struggle with giving girls books about eating disorders, but in 17 years of teaching, I have only had two girls who had to go into treatment. In the one case, the girl came to my attention BECAUSE she was reading so many books about the topic, and she is doing better now. This book certainly didn't make an eating disorder look in any way attractive, although the fact that the father left the mother in part because of her weight (or at least that was her daughter's perception) was a bit alarming.) At any rate, a good spring board for discussion.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons-- Puppy Version

McDonnell, Patrick. The Mutt Diaries
October 7th 2014 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy received from the publisher.

This is another of the Amp! Comics for Kids series. This chronicles the adventures of Mooch (the cat) and Earl (the dog) as they seek out food, have love affairs with little pink socks, and generally bedevil their owners with their antics. A section is devoted to each of the animals, and shorter chapters are written by compatriots Sour Puss, Crabby, and Chickpea. Unlike Phoebe and Her Unicorn, this is a much more episodic collection, and the artwork is much simpler, with a charming minimalistic universality underscoring the messages of friendship. What I really want now is AAA! A FoxTrot Kids Collection.

Clearly, too much vocabulary for a comic book review!

20708823Hughes, Shirley and Vulliamy, Clara. Digby O'Day in the Fast Lane.
August 26th 2014 by Candlewick Press
Copy received from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

This early chapter book follows Digby, an English, anthropomorphic dog, through his adventures with his classic but faltering car. He and his friend Percy almost run off a cliff, get involved in a road race, and are at odds with Digby's neighbor, the wealthy Lou Ella, who buys a new car every year. Digby and Percy are more concerned with helping out neighbors than in winning the race. This is charmingly illustrated in black and red, with a retro feel to a lot of it. I am torn between knowing this should go to the elementary school and wanting to keep it for myself because it somehow reminds me of Basil of Baker Street.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Guy Friday- Arcady's Goal

20613835Yelchin, Eugene. Arcady's Goal.
October 14th 2014 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
ARC from Kidlitcon

Arcady is being raised on the eve of WWII in a brutal orphanage  run by an overbearing man he nicknames "Butterball" because his parents were deemed enemies of the state and killed. Food is scarce and punishment is plentiful, but Arcady has skills at playing soccer that set him apart. Hearing the rumor that the inspectors who visit the orphanage are sometimes soccer scouts, Arcady does his best to impress one inspector who does not seem like all the rest. It turns out that the man, Ivan Ivanych, wants to adopt Arcady because his wife left his life before they could have children. Ivan tries to put together a children's soccer team so that Arcady can play, but when the other fathers find out why Arcady was in the orphanage, they kick Ivan off the team as coach and refuse to let Arcady play. When the famous Red Army soccer team is recruiting in a nearby town, the two try everything they can to get a letter signed by the school so that Arcady can try out, but circumstances conspire against them.
Strengths: There are few books written about this period in Soviet history, and there are many things that would be useful to learn about this era. This has a nice sports tie in, and the inclusion of a picture of the authors father with a soccer team in the 1940s is a nice touch.
Weaknesses: There seems to be a disturbing trend in children's historical fiction to not adequately explain the historical setting for readers who have no prior knowledge. This is a nice story, but students might struggle with making sense of the emotional situations when they don't have the back story of the privations in the setting. I liked this better than Stalin's Nose, but still wanted more historical context.

Thursday, November 13, 2014


18079603Blackwood, Gary. Curiosity.
April 10th 2014 by Dial
Nominated for the Cybils by lizjonesbooks

In middle grade fiction, life can always get worse. That's what Rufus Goodspeed finds out when his failed naturalist/ minister father loses his job, and the two have to move into a small flat in 1835 Philadelphia. Soon after, not only is his father thrown into debtors' prison, but Rufus himself is caught stealing (although he is innocent) and sent to a boys' home. There, his superior chess playing skills comes to the attention of Milhouse and he is offered a job with Maelzel, a showman of curiosities. Among these are the Turk, a chess playing automaton that has gone in and out of fashion. Of course, it doesn't really play chess, and has suffered at the hands of the last person who was forced to sit in the cramped cabinet and play games. Rufus is perfect for this. Crippled because of birth trauma and able to win all chess games he plays, he soon learns how to operate the machine, and is set to work exhibiting its wonders. As with any curiosity, there are skeptics trying to disprove it, and a reported by the name of Edgar Allen Poe tries to figure out the mystery. Maelzel is a cruel task master and cares little for Rufus' well being; Mulhouse is too sunken in his own pain and infirmity to be of much help, and Rufus father never makes it out of debtors' prison alive, but support comes from the mechanic Jacques, who is gruff but devises a brace for Rufus' back, and helps him out in times of travail. Support also comes from an unexpected source when things go South with the Turk.
Strengths: Must admit that the length (308 pages) and the bleak topic didn't make me eager to read this book, even though I enjoyed Around the World in 100 Days. This did draw me in nicely, and the historical details were brilliant. The suspense of the various plots kept the book moving along, and the characters kept me invested. While this is not for every middle grade reader, I think I will buy a copy for those readers who will pick up historical fiction that is more complex.
Weaknesses: This would have been a tighter book if some of the subplots had been removed-- there was plenty going on without the addition of some threads.

21441500Tak, Bibi Dumon. Mikis and the Donkey. 
October 6th 2014 by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
Nominated for the Cybils by Stephanie Whelan.

There is a lot of work to be done on the island of Corfu, Greece, and Mikis' grandfather acquires a donkey to help him with it. He tells Mikis that the donkey is a work animal, but this doesn't stop him from treating the animal like a pet. Tsaki (Mikis choses several names but lets the donkey choose the one she likes) and Mikis spend a lot of time together. When the grandfather overloads the poor animals with firewood and causes an injury, Mikis takes the donkey to the local physician because the vet is too far away. The donkey must rest for a week to recuperate. Mikis tells lots of stories about his donkey at school, and meets a girl names Elena who has a donkey of her own. The two donkeys get loose in a grove one day, and late Tsaki has a foal.
Strengths: This is a good window into another culture. The author traveled to Corfu to do research at a Corfu Donkey Rescue, so the details are excellent. The translation by Laura Watkinson is smooth, and the illustrations make me think of books from the 1960s set in Greece.
Weaknesses: I would have liked an idea of a time period on this. I am assuming it is present day, but young readers might not know that donkeys are still in use, especially since motorcycles and trucks are mentioned.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

#WeNeedDiverseBooks Wednesday-- Rain Reign

20575434Martin, Ann M. Rain Reign
October 7th 2014 by Feiwel & Friends
Nominated for the Cybils by Deb Nance

Rose is very fond of her dog, Rain, whom her father found abandoned behind a bar one night. Unfortunately, her father is often angry at her and at the dog, and during a big storm, he lets Rain out of the house without his collar on. Rose tries very hard to find the dog, and when she turns up in a shelter with a microchip, Rose thinks that the right thing to do is to find the dog's rightful owners even though she loves Rain. Add to this the fact that Rose is on the autism spectrum and is obsessed with rules, numbers and homophones, and her father doesn't deal with this well while her Uncle Weldon is more understanding, and that adds a layer of complication to the story.
Strengths: This is a very atmospheric book-- the writing really puts the reader inside Rose's head. Rose's aide at school is explained very well, and students who have experience with students like Rose in their classes might be enlightened by this.
Weaknesses: There are a lot of books now with characters on the autism spectrum, and some hold up a little better as interesting stories. While this is a good character study, not a lot happens in the book, and the style makes the book a bit annoying to read.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Winterfrost and Moonkind

20708772Houts, Michelle. Winterfrost.
September 9th 2014 by Candlewick Pres
Copy received from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Bettina's family is thrown into confusion on Christmas day when her mother must rush off to take care of a her grandmother, who has fallen. Bettina's father was already on his way for an annual visit to a querulous elderly relative, so leaving Bettina alone with one year old baby Pia seems like the best idea-- the nearby Pedersens will look in on her and help her take care of all of the farm animals. Things go fairly well until Klakke, the barn nisse who has lived with Bettina's family since her birth, gets his red pointed cap in a bunch because the family forgot his Christmas bowl of rice pudding and starts to get mischevious. He puts rosemary in the goat feed, hides tools, and then in an inspired moment, steals baby Pia when she is left outside, which is apparently okay to do in rural Denmark and other Nordic countries.  Pia is in turn stolen again, and  it turns out that Klakke is involved in a family row with a relative named Ulf who used to work for Bettina's family, and once that is sorted out, he is willing to give Pia back, just in time for Bettina's parents to arrive home.
Strengths: This is a charming winter read, complete with great descriptions of the wintery Danish forest covered in frost as well as the warm and cozy nisse houses. This had the magical charm of a much older book, and I can imagine many of my readers who like magical realism wanting to run off and find nisse to visit.
Weaknesses: I was just appalled that Bettina would be left in charge of an infant while her parents run off, but younger readers will be fine with that detail. I didn't think that the nisse family problems made for an overly riveting tale, but the whole point of the book was more to be drawn into the world of the nisse.

Moonkind (Winterling, #3)Prineas, Sarah. Moonkind.
December 31st 2013 by HarperCollins

In this third book in the Winterling series, Fer stops briefly in our world to visit Grand-Jane, but goes back to Summerland quickly. The Lords and Ladies have broken their vows to give up their glamories, and a stilth is taking over the lands. Fer and Rook need to deal with this somehow, but aren't quite sure how to go about it. Rook wants to use the bit of magic spider web stuck to his hand to strip the glamories with the Lords' and Ladies' permission, but when he tries it on one, Fer is angry that the Lady is killed. She is also taken to a desolate island but manages to escape. At one point, she does back to visit her grandmother, only to find that she has taken ill and is a nursing home. Fer asked her grandmother to come back to the Summerlands with her, where by virtue of being human, she can help overtake the stilth. Fer realizes that the glamories are hard to give up, but the survival of the land is completely dependent upon the Lords and Ladies giving them up and going back to take care of their people and lands. Once she manages to convince them of this, and dissuades Rook from further violence, things do improve.
Strengths: I only had book one of this series, but readers were asking for the others, so I picked up the third at a book look and am ordering the second. I prefer this author's The Magic Thief, but this has some decent action and adventure as well as the requisite orphan saving the world from destruction.The covers are really pretty.
Weaknesses: Have to side with Rook on this one-- I think if the Lords and Ladies would have forcibly had their glamories removed, the land would have gone back to being right. There was very little pleasant adventure in this one-- saving the kingdom was a sad and unpleasant journey.  I also wanted to know what happened to her grandmother. She was just kind of abandoned and the book just ended abruptly. Maybe one more book is coming?

Monday, November 10, 2014

MMGM- Absolutely Truly

Don't you love it when book covers serendipitously match? Yum! I have to say that Absolutely Truly was #1 on my TBR list based almost solely on the beautiful cover. I kind of want to... decorate my office around it! The blue, the touches of red, the owl...

20759639Frederick, Heather Vogel. Absolutely Truly: A Pumpkin Falls Mystery
November 4th 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Truly and her family (two brothers, two sister) move back to her father's hometown in New Hampshire after her pilot father loses an arm to an IED while serving. Truly's grandparents had run a bookstore but are joining the Peace Corps, and Truly's father and aunt True are to run the store. The small town is quite different from Austin, Texas, but the family tries hard to settle in and enjoy their new life, even if it is much colder!  Things are a little rocky, but Truly ends up enjoying her school, even if middle school boys are obnoxious everywhere. She has to work with her dad on math because she struggles with it, but improves her grades enough to try out for the swim team. She also enjoys bird watching, and loves helping out in the store, where her aunt allows her to do display windows.

The big plot is the mystery-- Truly and her friends find a first edition of Charlotte's Web with an unmailed letter in it, and set off to follow the clues and figure out what's going on. Also, the copy of the book, which the family hopes to sell for enough money to pay off a loan, goes missing. As the town festival approaches, will Truly be able to solve the mystery and save the store?
Strengths: Really, really enjoyed this. I especially liked some of the touches like the older town "bag lady" constantly listening to 1960s music. Small town, bookstore with a dog... sigh. The Mother-Daughter Book Club series has been doing pretty well in my library, and this would appeal to the same readers. Mysteries are always popular, and Charlotte's Web is still fairly popular with middle school students, more so than, say To Kill a Mockingbird. Definitely buying a copy, and it will circulate well.
Weaknesses: A bit too book geeky, but has plenty of fun for readers who like that!  
Both mysteries were a fail for me, and this will not be hugely popular. It was a let down to find out where the first edition went, and I wasn't too interested in the clues in the letters, either. Still, there was enough in this one that the mystery seemed subordinate. 

17262191Byrne, Christopher. Toy Time!: From Hula Hoops to He-Man to Hungry Hungry Hippos: A Look Back at the Most- Beloved Toys of Decades Past 
October 8th 2013 by Three Rivers Press

When my students tell me that they don't like nonfiction, I always tell them that they have been picking up the WRONG nonfiction. Cultural history is the sort of book that I love to pick up, and I enjoyed this one. Who wouldn't? Well, okay, most of the toys were from the 1960s-1980s, so they were either ones I had or knew about (Cabbage Patch dolls made NO sense to a teenager, let me tell you!) I particularly liked the way the entries were arranged-- why we loved the toy, and where is it now added that element of "impact" that Common Core so loves to embrace. Even though this is not available in a hardcover or prebind, I think I'll have to buy it; students can share it with parents, who will ooh and aah over the complete array of Care Bears (or, if they are old like me, Liddle Kiddles!( I got a Lolli-Mint doll for my 5th birthday.)

20860761Bix, Cynthia Overbeck. Fad Mania!: A History of American Crazes  
October 1st 2014 by Twenty-First Century Books (CT) 

This nicely illustrated book takes students on a tour through the strange fads that captured people's attention. Broken up into eras, it covers everything from the flag pole sitting and dance marathons of the 1920s through the flash mobs of the new millenium. There are a nice variety of fads, explanations for them, and good sidebars with additional information. This is the sort of nonfiction book that I love, and am I alone in thinking that all students need to know about the brief gold fish swallowing fad of the 1940s? This was a good length for students to read for pleasure, as well as a nice resource for decade research. I would love to have lunch with Ms. Bix-- we could have fascinating conversations, since we seem to share a love of social history!

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.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Anybody Shining

19532887Dowell, Frances O'Roark. Anybody Shining
7 October 2014, Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Arie Mae lives in the mountains and finds the children in her area lacking. She desperately wants a friend, and when her mother mentions that she has a wealthy cousin in Raleigh, Arie starts writing to her, hoping that she will write back. When the local "songcatcher ladies" have a group of Baltimore children visiting the settlement school, Arie is enthralled by their speech and how clean they are. She makes friends with Tom, who is lame because of a fall from a horse, and his sister Ruth, who is a bit snotty. Tom wants to be a reporter, so is interested in some of the hill stories, so Arie takes him on adventures that involve bears and ghosts, even though his mother warns her not to let Tom get too active. There is tension between Arie's father and the ladies who run the school because they want the people to only embrace the traditional ways and not to corrupt traditions with modern trappings. Can Arie learn some big city ways while still being true to her roots? And will che ever hear from her cousin?
Strengths: This is a very good picture of what life was like in the hills of North Carolina in the 1920s. The dialect is not emphasized too much, but there was just enough to add some flavor. The characters are interesting without being overly quirky, and traditional ways are interspersed with an educated population.
Weaknesses: The book design didn't succeed for me-- the cover is very murky in person, and the text is printed in brown ink, with the letters to the cousin in a very light shade of brown that was hard to read. The letters to the cousin didn't really serve a purpose, and since both the letters and the narrative are both in the first person, and sometimes the events of the two ran into each other with no clear delineation except for the color of type.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Cartoon Saturday-- Flying Things (sort of!)

When Phoebe was pitched to me, I was very skeptical, especially when I found out the orginal title was something to do with "Heavenly Nostrils". Ms. Barkes assured me that this was, in fact, hysterical, and I must admit that I did nearly snort tea out of my own nostrils when I read the lines "I need you to SHINE. I brought some glitter and "Crisco"...", just proving the point that occasionally, you need to step out of your comfort zone and read different types of books!

22710140Simpson, Dana. Phoebe and Her Unicorn
September 2nd 2014 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy received from Shelly Barkes at Andrews McMeel

Phoebe accidentally smacks Marigold Heavenly Nostrils in the head with a rock while she is skipping it across a woodland pond, and Marigold grants her one wish. After an abortive attempt to obtain infinite wishes or infinite money, Phoebe settles for Marigold being her friend. The two have any number of adventures, from a run in with mean girl Dakota (that ends with Dakota being bald!) to Phoebe's struggles with praticing piano, to meeting Phoebe's parents (accomplished by means of lowering the Shield of Boringness that Marigold uses to obscure her presence). The full color pictures are appealing, and Phoebe does have a delightfully snarky sense of humor that will resonate with tweens. My students are so enthralled with graphic novels that even the boys will pick up this pink cover with a magical unicorn and silver glitter letters. I especially liked that even though this book seems to be comprised of various comic strips, it had almost as much plot development as that other graphic novel favorite, Smile

Sometimes, there are covers so intriguing that I have to read them. "In space no one can hear you flap"? Either going to be awesomely good or horrendously hideous.

Courtenay, L. A. Space Penguins: Galaxy Race

June 1st 2013 by Stripes Publishing
E ARC from

From the Publisher:
"Galaxy Race! Rocky's reputation for death-defying aerial acrobatics gains him an invitation to participate in the galaxy's notorious Superchase Space Race. But will this turn out to be a race to the death?"

Going with the elementary side of the Pilkey line on this one. The interior pictures are more cartoon in nature, and the names of the penguins are beyond goofy. Would middle school students read this? Probably. But I don't think I can bring myself to buy it and purposefully give it to them.

That said, I had an 8th graders ask me for Zombiekins the other day. Sigh.

Definitely a "yes" to Phoebe but a "no" to Space Penguins.

I have a weird job.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Gracefully Grayson

20873172Polonsky, Ami. Gracefully Grayson.
November 4th 2014 by Disney-Hyperion
E ARC from

Grayson has lived with his aunt and uncle in Chicago ever since the death of his parents in a car accident when he was four. He fights a bit with his older cousin, and has trouble fitting in at school, so he's glad when he meets Amelia and they seem to get along. The two start spending time together, frequenting thrift stores where Grayson looks for shirts that are shiny and long and seem like dresses, because he is not comfortable in traditional boys' clothing. When his dynamic language arts teacher, Finn, announces that there will be a play, Grayson is excited to try out for the main role of Persephone so he can have a reason to wear a dress in public. This causes some backlash. His aunt is concerned for Grayson's safety, and is angry at the teacher for awarding Grayson the part. His uncle wants to allow Grayson to embrace his true self, but is also concerned. When Grayson's grandmother dies, a pile of letters from Grayson's mother resurfaces, and the family finds out that even as a small boy, Grayson preferred skirts and identified himself as a girl. Thinking it was a reaction to the trauma of his parents' death, the family ignored this, and Grayson learned to hide his true feelings. The play causes any number of problems, including Grayson getting beaten up, but in the end, understanding and supportive adults help Grayson to start to deal with his issues of gender identity.
Strengths: This is the only book that I can think of about a transgendered tween, and it is written in a way that shows the difficulties but also provides hope. The issue with Finn is realistically addressed as well. The supportive adults shown a good mix of concern, and Grayson's friendship with Amelia is interesting.
Weaknesses: This is a highly philosophical book, and so rather a slow read. Not much happens except for the play, and books about acting and the theater are not at all popular with my students. I also thought that Grayson's reasons for feeling that he was really female weren't convincingly described. Instead of being a loner who finally found a friend who was a girl, it would have been more apparent if Grayson had good friends who were boys, but he had trouble connecting with them on deeper levels. Aside from his love of dresses and skirts (and the fact that Amelia and her friends wore them seems unrealistic to me, since girls at my school hardly ever wear skirts), there weren't a lot of other reasons described for Grayson's feelings.

18166920Kuklin, Susan. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out
February 11th 2014 by Candlewick Press

I wish that this didn't have bad language in it, since it is an interesting and valuable insight into diversity. However, the repeated f-bombs have me sending this right to the high school.

Of note:  This made Grayson's feelings seem usual. I find it a little sad that gender stereotypes are so ingrained in our society that people feel that if they have feminine qualities, they can't remain male, or vice versa.  As with any issues of diversity, since I come to this issue from a straight, cisgendered perspective, I feel I can't really opine on this topic.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Playing for the Commandant

20708768Zail, Suzy. Playing for the Commandant.
October 14th 2014 by Candlewick Press

Hanna, her parents, and her sister Erika are taken from their home in the Hungarian ghetto and sent to Auschwitz. Their father is separated from them early on, and their mother is unable to take the stress and doesn't do well mentally, and so is taken "to the infirmary". Hanna is a good piano player, and manages to secure a position playing music for the head of the camp and his son, Karl. This leads to some abuse from the head woman in their block, until Hanna starts giving the woman food. Playing piano is better than moving rock, like Erika does, and Hanna is able to share her warm coat with her sister, and sneak some food out of the kitchen, but she also has to be very careful that she doesn't run afoul of the Germans. She eventually realizes that Karl is helping the inmates despite his own peril, and when the camp is freed, he turns himself in. She and Erika manage to make it back to their home town, but realize that in order to remake their lives, they will need to go somewhere else.
Strengths: This was a very good Holocaust book, much like I am Rosemarie in that it follows one girl's whole experience of the war. I liked that Karl was included as a sympathetic figure; this is not common in books written by first generation survivors, for obvious reasons, but nice to see included. There must have been a few good Germans who tried to help out. The cover is excellent.
Weaknesses: I wish there were more written about when people got out of the camps. Usually, it is just a chapter at the end of the book, but I'd like to see more about the Jewish Diaspora, or even books about how people remade their lives in the towns they left.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

#WeNeedDiverseBooks Wednesday-- The Perfect Place

8477401Harris, Teresa E. The Perfect Place
November 4th 2014 by Clarion Books

When Treasure's father leaves again and does not come back, her mother feels there is no other option but to take Treasure and her younger sister Tiffany to their Great Aunt Grace's while the mother attempts to locate the father. Treasure is not impressed by the ramshackle house in a small town in Virginia, or with Grace's candy store, where she is forced to work dusting the shelves. While Terrance, who also works in the store, is friendly, too snotty local girls are not, and give Treasure (who insists on going by her middle name, Jeanie, when she is angry with her father) a really hard time, especially when Treasure is forced to go the the local vacation Bible school. There have been robberies in the town, and Grace is suspected by the other townspeople because of previous indiscretions, although we do find out who the real culprit is at the end of the book. The food isn't good at Grace's, and the dust and cigarette smoke bother Treasure's asthma, and all Treasure can think about is having her whole family together again in "the perfect place". She learns eventually that sometimes, the perfect place is the one that isn't perfect, but which has to do.
Strengths: This has a wealth of diverse components-- not only are the main characters African American, but they are working rural poor and Grace is religious. Normally I don't do quirky Southern, but this has some of the elements used to good effect. Treasure's anger at her family are very realistically portrayed, and her asthma comes into the story in interesting and believable ways. I liked this more than I thought I would.
Weaknesses: The mean girls were a little over the top, but Grace's dealing with them was rather funny. It was also a bit of a stretch that everyone in the town thought Grace was a thief.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Hope is a Ferris Wheel

18405519Herrera, Robin. Hope is a Ferris Wheel
March 11th 2014 by Harry N. Abrams
Nominated for the Cybils by Esther

Star has moved into a trailer park in Calfornia with her mother and sister, Winter, near their mother's friend, Gloria, who works in a beauty salon. Star has told people in her school that she lives in the park, and the other students make fun of her for that and for her "mullet" haircut. Winter is in a school for difficult children after the family moved away from Oregon because Winter's "creative writing" about zombies eating brains and people's blood exploding got her expelled from her previous school. Star isn't thrilled with her teacher, Mr. Savage, either, especially when she writes the vocabulary sentences wrong and doesn't turn them in. He does, however, let her start a Trailer Park Club, and only the twins Denny and Genny, whose older brother goes to school with Winter, join. Winter gets a job at the mall in order to make enough money to drive back to Oregon to visit their father, but when they finally get there, they find out some old and new family secrets. Star has changed the club to an Emily Dickinson club, which attracts a few more members, and starts taking an interest in poetry. Eventually, she comes to understand that her family has its share of problems, but the members love each other and work their way through them.
Strengths: At Kidlitcon, we talked about diversity in books, and this certainly had a lot of details about living as a member of the working poor. Things aren't horrible in Star's family, but their trailer is a bit run down, they have a food card, and talk about wearing hand-me-downs and shopping at thrift stores. There are not as many books with this kind of setting. Even the characters are not typically middle class; there are details about the mother's struggles with single teen motherhood that would seem familiar to some students and very foreign to others.
Weaknesses: Nothing really happens. There's one food fight that has its moments, but this is a very slow paced book. I don't know that students can be beguiled to read a book about a poetry club and making friends. The vocabulary sentences are vaguely amusing to me (I adored writing them in the 6th grade), but most of my students thought the inclusion of them was pendantic.

21816730Flower, Amanda. Andi Under Pressure
September 16th 2014 by Zonderkidz
Nominated for the Cybils by author/publisher

In this sequel to Andi Unexpected, Andi and her friends are going to a science camp at Michael Pike University, where Andi's aunt works. Andi and her sister are living with their aunt after the death of their scientist parents while on a work assignment.Even though the camp is a bit geeky, Andi likes it, so when explosions, missing equipment, and other small catastrophes mar it and threaten to close it down, Andi and her friends start to investigate. The strongest suspect is janitor Polk, who was implicated in the death of a security guard's father 40 years ago and was made to step down from his position of professor. The college science students are where the police should really be looking, and Andi figures out the mystery.
Strengths: This author is from Akron, so there are some nice Ohio ties. Science teachers are frequently asking me for books that will support their curriculum, so there might be some tie ins with chemistry and other science topics. Good to include if students like clue oriented mysteries.
Weaknesses: Stretched my personal credulity to think that students would be sabotaging Bunsen burners, but maybe not. I also didn't think it was necessary to kill Andi's parents, but that's an ongoing complaint with middle grade novels in general.

Monday, November 03, 2014

MMGM- Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Making Money

If you're not familiar with Charlie Joe, you should be. He is the marvelous main character of the eponymous Guide to Not Reading, Guide to Extra Credit, and Guide to Summer Vacation.He has also been the celebrity sponsor of our Guys Read Pink celebration in February, so he's near and dear to my heart. This book took so long to review because I had to wait until a student returned one too late in the day for someone else to check out!

18465569Greenwald, Tommy. Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Making Money
August 26th 2014 by Roaring Brook Press

Charlie (with the help of his friend Katie) writes about his attempts to make money, initially so he can buy the latest hot gadget-- a Botman. He attempts to run a dog walking business, which ends poorly, and  goes to his father's law office, which at least does not end with his mother having to get gopher pee removed from the seats of the car. When his friend Jake has a bar mitzvah and Zoe is there, his focus in fund raising changes-- he wants to be able to go visit her when she moves to Ohio, because she mentions that she might want to kiss Charlie. Charlie comes up with the marvelous idea that he will throw his own coming of age celebration, based on an Ethiopian tradition of jumping over a cow. As with all things Charlie, things work well... until they don't.
Strengths: This is my favorite book in the series so far. Somehow, the unlikely plot really works well, and Charlie's adventures are hysterical. The relationship between middle school boys and girls is brilliantly portrayed, and there are just enough pictures in the book that reluctant readers can be tricked into thinking this is a notebook novel.
Weaknesses: The copies I ordered came in that horrible paper-over-board binding. Drat! I don't know if that's just Baker and Taylor, but I would much prefer the dust jacketed version, which hold up much better in my library.

20518965McDonough, Yona Zeldis. Little Author in the Big Woods: A Biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder  
September 16th 2014 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

This short (152 pages, with notes) biography is a great overview of the author's life, and does a good job of addressing, in a simple way, some of the slight differences between what she actually did and how she chose to write about it. Even the rumors about Rose Wilder Lane's role in the books publication is briefly addressed. This is one author who has really fallen out of favor in my school, and since she was a favorite of mine, this is really a surprise. Maybe this book will entice readers to pick up the series. My one pet peeve about any biography is a lack of actual photographs when they exist-- the illustrations by Jennifer Thermes are eerily evocative of Garth Williams' work, but photos would have been much better. I know there is probably a permission/cost issue, but the book would have been so much better with them.

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

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Oh Yeah, Audrey!

20702027Shaw, Tucker. Oh Yeah, Audrey.
October 14th 2014 by Amulet Books
E ARC from

Grieving for her mother, teenager Gemma runs away from home to spend the weekend in New York City, meeting members of an Audrey Hepburn fan club and recreating scenes from the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's before going to a movie screening. Bryan is a wealthy boy from Bel Air, and Trina, a girl who has followed Gemma on her Tumblr blog, meet up and plan their trip. When the group meet up with the ultra rich Dusty at an auction of Hepburn's wardrobe, Gemma is swept off her feet by him, and abandons her ex friends and takes off with Dusty, who has purchased the black Givenchy feathered fringed dress for Gemma to wear. the two make the rounds of New York's underground social scene, and even while Gemma feels bad about leaving her new friends, she feels more like Audrey's holly Golightley than she has ever felt. in hue he need, though, she learns an important message- the beginning of the movie isn't glamorous, it's sad and lonely, and Gemma realizes that she needs to make her peace with her father and move on from grieving for her mother.
Strengths: I adore Shaw's Flavor of the Week, and keep waiting for him to write more romance with boys as more central characters. He writes very readable and engaging prose with a strong sense of place, and the life lessons learned in this are poignant and real. I enjoyed it a lot. A great purchase for public or high school libraries. I need to watch the movie again!
Weaknesses: I have absolutely no audience for this in the middle school. The romance with Dusty stops short of being inappropriate, but the whole premise of being enamored of Breakfast at Tiffany's will have my students shaking their heads.