Saturday, February 28, 2015

Cartoon Saturday-- My Grandma's a Ninja

My Grandma's a Ninja by Todd Tarpley, Danny Chatzikonstantinou
March 1st 2015 by NorthSouth (NY)
E ARC from

This was a delightful picture book that I may have to buy for any of my friends whose children are foolish enough to procreate. If my own daughters are silly enough to have children of their own, I may have to write to the author and suggest a sequel My Grandmother is a Magical Unicorn.

This was very fun, but I have to stop reading picture books!

From Goodreads:
"When Ethan's grandma suggests they take a zip line to school, Ethan realizes that his grandma is a little different. In fact, she s a ninja! Ethan is soon the hit of the school when his grandma drops from the ceiling at show-and-tell, and teaches the kids karate moves and how to do backflips in slow motion. But when his grandma deflates his team s soccer ball, everyone is upset including Ethan. Why can t he just have a regular grandma? But when Ethan tries out his new karate moves during the championship game . .. he's happy that his grandma isn't ordinary."

20256612Prince, Liz. Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir
September 2nd 2014 by Zest Books

This is by no means a middle grade book: way too many casual f-bombs litter the pages. I've seen this reviewed several places, and was intrigued. Prince, born in 1981, never felt "girly" and dressed more like a boy, even having a gender neutral hair cut. She didn't mind being mistaken for a boy, but disliked the bullying that she had to put up with. 

I'm very sorry that Prince had to put up with bullying; that's never acceptable. But I was confused by this. I am much older than Prince, but never felt particularly "girly". Not wearing skirts wasn't an option when I was very small, but I spent most of 6th grade wearing three different pairs of colored Tough Skins jeans (red, green and brown) and often wore my father's neckties to school, for reasons I cannot begin to explain. I was on the weird end of the social scale, but people didn't give me that hard a time. My daughters, born in 1993 and 1998, wore "boy" shoes and jeans, and plain t shirts. My older daughter hung out with the boys and was often the only girl at birthday parties. She still loves to play Lord of the Rings Risk with a group of guy friends. My younger daughter still wears running shoes, jeans, and a hoodie nearly every day, and no one has ever given her a hard time. 

So I'm just confused. In my school, we've  had a decent amount of boys rock some pretty long hair, and as far as I know, no one has given them trouble either. This is 40 years after Marlo Thomas' Free To Be You and Me, which I definitely read when my children were small. We had trucks and dolls, kitchens and workshops. I really thought that most of the US had moved beyond gender stereotypes, but apparently that is not the case. 

March 1st 2015 by NorthSouth (NY) 22061971Isbell, Tom. Prey.
January 20th 2015 by HarperTeen
ARC from Baker and Taylor

In a dystopian US, we meet Book, who is an LT in a camp, and Hope and Faith, twins who have been on the run from the government with their father. When he dies, he tells the girls to split up because they are twins, but Hope thinks that Faith won't survive without her. In the meantime, Book meets a boy, Cat,  who shows up at his camp injured. Cat tells Book that LT means Less Than, and tells him that all of the boys in the camp are somehow damaged by all of the radiation, and are used as a breeding ground for people for the government to hunt for fun. Hope and Faith get captured by the people running the camp for girls, and are the subject of horrible medical experimentations with very bad endings. There is a brief romance between Book and Hope against all of the odds, some mystery involving the girls' father, and attempts at escaping the system which results in being chased around by evil people.
Strengths: A dystopia with a military feel. Lots of action. A little romance. Quick read.
Weaknesses: Horrible treatment of people by other people. Sadistic, Mengele-like treatment, with very little mention of motivation for said treatment.
What I really think: This was super depressing, a bit oddly written, and had a lot of really nasty human-on-human violence, which is something I can't stand. Won't buy.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hitler's Army

21469145Rauch, Georg. Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hitler's Army
February 24th 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

This memoir was penned by Mr. Rauch starting in the 1980s, and self-published in 2006, shortly before he passed away. It was written in German and translated by his wife, Phyllis Rauch. Letters that Rauch had sent home to his mother from the Russian front were the instigation for this tremendously interesting look at life at this time.

Georg grew up in Vienna, the son of a Jewish baroness and a gentile miltary man. Because of his father's war service, the family was left alone for a while, and his mother even sheltered Jews for a time. Georg did not manage to escape the draft, but luckily had skills as a telegraphist. He was going to be sent to officer's training, but when he told his commanding officer that he was Jewish, he was instead assigned to the infantry and sent to the front. He was still able to work as a communications officer, so instead of being involved directly in the fighting, he was often trying to reestablish communications, or telegraphing information back and forth. His letters tell intimate details of lice, worn out socks, the extreme cold of Russian winters, and the food situation. After spending time in Russia and being pushed back to Romania, he is taken prisoner by the Russians. Through luck, he manages to make some connections and agrees to spy on and report Nazis, but becomes tremendously ill. He is given special care because of his agreement, and is aided by a fellow Austrian... who turns out to most likely be a party member. Before Rauch has to turn him in, however, the Russians set them free, and he makes his way back to Vienna, eventually reconnecting with his family.
Strengths: This was a fascinating look at a little covered (in the US) facet of WWII-- what it was like to be in the Wehrmacht. It shows vividly that so much of life is luck-- things could have gone wrong for Rauch at so many points in the procedures, and yet he survives. I had a dear friend who was from Polish Silesia who also served against his will, and who was stationed in very much the same areas, so the story rings very true. The inclusion of the letters shows an unusually optimistic outlook, tempered by the analysis of an older and wiser viewpoint.
Weaknesses: I had to stop and refresh my memory on some of the fine points of who-was-where during the war; younger readers might benefit from more historical notes, but this would certainly dilute the narrative.
What I really think: Highly recommended. Just sad that Rauch is no longer with us to see this be widely read.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

K-9 (Knightley and Son #2)

20613680Gavin, Rohan. K-9 (Knightley and Son #2)
February 17th 2015 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
E ARC from

Now that Darkus' father Alan is back and conscious most of the time (after their adventures in book one), they are ready to take on another case. Bill and other members of Scotland Yard's department of the unusual have been attacked around London, seemingly by werewolves! Alan is convinced that they are out in force on Hampstead Heath, but when Darkus investigates, he finds something even more gruesome and disturbing. Tilly is also onto something, infiltrating Barabas King's group of young hoodlums who are working with trained Rottweilers. Add to this Fiona, a "dog whisperer" who thinks her house (near the Heath) has been attacked and to whom Bill is mightily attracted; Wilbur, a police dog that Alan has given to Darkus but who has run afoul of Darkus' stepfather Clive; and Alexis, a student at the school who fancies herself an investigative reporter, and you have lots of goings on in the dark of night around the heath! Even Clive and some teachers from the school get involved in investigating. While the crimes are serious, they don't involve werewolves, and before too long, Darkus is able to figure things out, although at a high personal cost.
Strengths: Very British, comic crime type novel that is a perfect read for students who adore Stroud's Lockwood and Company. There are some good, funny twists, and just enough action to keep sophisticated readers turning the pages.
Weaknesses: A bit long for middle grade, and slow in parts. There were also a couple of scenes that were very gruesome, and the ending was sad.
What I really think: This was gorgeously written and very atmospheric in the very best British tradition of mysteries, and I enjoyed it very much myself. I am a little less confident that it will circulate well, but will probably buy it because it will hold up for a long time for select readers.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

#WeNeedDiverseBooks Wednesday- The War That Saved My Life

Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker. The War That Saved My Life
January 8th 2015 by Dial
Denied a copy through Netgalley, but got one from Westerville Public Library

Ada was born with a clubfoot, and her mother is so ashamed that she has kept her in a small apartment her entire life, not even letting her go down the hall to the bathroom. To punish her, her mother will put her in a small cabinet with roaches, often overnight. Ada takes care of her younger brother, Jamie, when her mother works at night, so when she finds that Jamie is going to be evacuated to the countryside because of World War II, she decides to go with him, even though she can barely walk. The two manage to make it to the village where children are being billeted, but no one wants them, so the organizer takes them to the home of Susan Smith, who knows nothing about children and is grieving the friend who left her her home as well as a horse, Butter. Susan knows enough that children need to be clean and dressed, and the two children revel in clean sheets, combed hair, and, in Ada's case, the ability to go outside and use a flush toilet. Ada is given crutches, which add considerably to her mobility, makes friends, and generally thrives. When the government sends a letter to her mother demanding support payment, however, her mother decides to take the children back rather than pay the money. Luckily, both the children and Susan realize that they are meant to be together, and the story has a happy ending.
Strengths: I would have absolutely adored this as a child. World War II Britain, with London children being evacuated? Yes! Mean mother, but wonderful (if curmudgeonly) foster mother? Even better! This was a quick read, and had lots of good historical elements.
Weaknesses: I've weeded more World War II books about British children being evacuated than I care to remember. No one reads them. Maybe because this one is shiny and new, and involves a child with a disability?
What I really think: Enjoyed tremendously, but don't know if I have readers for it. Will probably buy a copy next year.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Incredible Space Raiders From Space

22540209King, Wesley. The Incredible Space Raiders From Space
February 10th 2015 by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Jonah Hillcrest is doing homework in his living room... and then he wakes up aboard the Fantastic Flying Squirrel, where he is unceremoniously informed by a girl named Willona that he has been forcibly recruited as a Space Raider and is on his way to fight Entirely Evil Things, which prey on people's fears and emotions, so only children can fight, since they have fewer. Not only is there a threat to the galaxy, but the crew of the Squirrel is hostile toward the children, and there is a monster, the Shrieker, who is attacking raiders. Jonah is provided with a uniform, a room, horrible protein bars, and a diary, and told that this is now his job, although he would really rather go home and feels there is some kind of mistake. When more and more children start disappearing, he goes on the hunt and finds Sally, a girl from the first of the seven missions, who has been hiding in the ship. It turns out that most of the children were orphans, plucked from the streets or various orphanages, and Jonah really begins to suspect that he is NOT supposed to be there. It turns out he's not, and that the space raiders are not at all what they are purporting to be.
Strengths: Has some good premises-- children fighting evil, space travel, something loose in the ship. The characters on the cover are portrayed as multicultural, which I must have missed in any descriptions in the book, but which is a nice touch. There was a tiny bit of romance. I did buy a copy.
Weaknesses: At first, I thought this had an air of a YA writer writing down to younger readers. Entirely Evil Things? Really? It turns out there is a reason for the sort of hokey premise, but it still portrayed a rather negative space experience.
What I Really Think: Jonah was understandably sad about leaving home. He was sad about kids disappearing. He was sad about the evil crew and the eventual bad with the Entirely Evil Things. This would have been more successful for me if he had been all excited about space travel and the kids on the ship did fun and exciting things. Too much sadness for an adventure book. Really, what is the point of going to space if there isn't a holodeck, hot aliens,  and a food synthesizer that can make you a steak and baked potato out of kale every single meal?

Okay. HOW many years into the 100 Year Winter are we? Clearly, the White Witch must be stopped. It is well below zero again, and my school is on a two hour delay, which means testing is moved again. On the bright side, I finally get to see all of the 6th grade students for books today.

I even told my daughter that she could DRIVE to school, because it was so cold when I walked in. Here's what I wore to walk a mile to school:

Tights, running tights, fleece pants, cotton socks, wool socks
wool skirt, wool turtleneck, wool blazer
Lands End winter jacket, cowl, cotton scarf, glove liners, ski gloves, ski boots

Basically, the only part of me exposed was my eyes, and any tears immediately turned to ice on my eyelashes! I can't even wear my glasses because they fog up under the scarves! So, yeah, it was COLD!

Monday, February 23, 2015

MMGM- Colonial Madness

Whittemore, Jo. Colonial Madness.
10th 2015 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Tori and her mother Jill are having a difficult time keeping a bridal shop open in their small town, so when they are notified that they may be given money from a cranky old aunt who has passed away, they are more than happy to compete in the challenge the aunt has issued the family-- live on her estate the way that people lived in Colonial times, successfully survive, and get a lot of money. Tori's cousins Angel (whom she likes) and Dylan (whom she doesn't) are also there, as well as some other relatives whom she doesn't know well. Tori's mother is fairly flighty, and tries to keep chickens and a cow in their bedroom. She is also unreliable when it comes to the challenges, but Tori is determined to make it despite the difficulties. It doesn't hurt that the son of the couple who are in charge of the estate, Caleb, is cute and seems to like her. There are some of the contestants who try to cheat, some more successfully than others, but the competition is amusing, and all of the participants seem to take everything in stride with good grace. Who will win? Read this delightful book to find out!
Strengths: Even though we have the obligatory dead parent (Tori's father), there isn't the air of overwhelming sadness to this book that so many others have. Yes, Tori's mother is a goofball, but the two are genuinely fond of each other, and have a good time together. The "romance" between Tori and Caleb is a nice touch, and this is generally a fun, light read. Thank goodness! I love the cover, and think this would be the perfect book to hand to boys for Guys Read Pink Month. I was so intrigued by the cover and promise of a happier story that I read this in early December, not wanting to wait!
Weaknesses: The one bit of intrigue/evildoing seemed wrong and forced to me, and there is the problem of the long distance relationship between Tori and Caleb after the challenge is over, but these are minor quibbles considering how much I enjoyed the book. A perfect companion for  Bell's Little Blog on the Prairie!

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. Nonfiction Monday also takes place today.

1810696620256726Meyer, Carolyn. Miss Patch's Learn to Sew Book.
December 16th 2014 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by Cindy Mitchell of Kiss the Book

Talk about nostalgia! I ordered a copy of this at school, I think and kept it for years. At some point, it went missing, but my best friend (who is not a sewer) gave me her copy! I didn't own many books, surprisingly, but probably made every project in this.

While the beginning instructions on how to sew are still good, I wish that the interior illustrations had been updated from the 1969 ones. Students today don't have a mental construct of grandmothers with buns and flowery dresses any more, although that was certainly both of MY grandmothers! The sections on quilting are no longer valid-- I haven't traced a pattern piece and cut one out with scissors in twenty years. Once I got a rotary cutter, that was it, and I think even younger people would use those.

This was a fun trip down memory lane for me, but I'm not sure that it will entice students to sew in the way it once did.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Geek Girl

Smale, Holly. Geek Girl
January 27th 2015 by Harper Teen (first published February 1st 2013)

Harriet is socially inept and a klutz to boot, so when her best friend Nat (who has always wanted to be a model) makes her go to a clothing show on a school trip, she is hesitant, especially when it involves a five hour bus ride with fellow geek/stalker Toby. When Toby manages to throw up on both girls, they are kitted out in soccer (football- this is a British book) uniforms and set loose on the fashion show. Harriet manages to knock over several booths and end up under a table with a very good looking boy, Nick, who works for a modeling agency. Wilbur is the scout for that agency and is taken with Harriet, wanting her to come and interview with a famous designer to be the face of her new line. Harriet's step mother is against this, but her father, a rather irresponsible guy who works in advertising, is so excited about the opportunities that he lies to his wife about taking Harriet to Moscow, and she goes off on a modeling job with Nick. There are problems at school concerning her geekiness and a mean girl there, but Nat forgives Harriet her modeling career and stands up for her.

This is a series of four books. I don't know how I missed them when they first came out.

Strengths: Amusing geek-to-chic story that is fast paced and clean enough for middle school girls. The Louise Rennison books seem to have run their course, and there's always a subgroup who likes British books, so I was glad that this new cover appeared on the New Books shelves at the public library. The parents in this are quite fun, too.
Weaknesses: I'm sure I was considered a geek in high school, so I had some problems with the whole geek aspect of this. The bullying by the mean girl was stereotypical and didn't add much to the story. This is supposedly based on the author's life, but it read like a geek story told by someone who had never really been a geek.
What I really think: Fun, even though I don't believe the geeky parts. Will buy.

22749530Pyron, Bobbie. Lucky Strike.
February 24th 2015 by Arthur A. Levine Books
E ARC from Edelweiss

Nate is scrawny, living with his grandfather because BOTH of his parents were killed by drunk drivers when he was four, and plagued by bad luck. When he is hit by lightning while playing Goofy Golf, his friend Gen manages to save him, and he suffers few ill effects. He does find that his luck seems to have changed. He wins carnival games, his toast comes out okay, and his grandfather's business improves. However, the more good luck he gets, the more people around him give him a hard time; his grandpa wins a new truck and people actually sabotage it! Gen sticks by his side, although she is very concerned for the turtles on the local beach. When there is a hurrican, the beach side community battens down, but Gen is struck by lightning, saved by Nate, and in a coma. The townspeople help out the turtles on her behalf, and she eventually recovers.
Strengths: I loved The Dogs of Winter (even though it was a bit sad) and A Dog's Way Home. This had the possibility of being really good and happier than many things once Nate's luck changed...
Weaknesses: but then it got all depressing again. Even the supporting characters, like Chum, have too many problems. The grandfather says things like "I'll be dipped and fried". The turtle aspect would have been a hit with science classes studying biomes and habitats, but this is just too sad a book.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Elementary Books for Middle School Readers

13447545Viorst, Judith. Lulu Walks the Dogs (#1)
September 4th 2012 by Simon & Schuster

Lulu wants something (we are not told what), and her parents are going to make her earn the money for it. They point out that that nice boy, Fleischman, does all sorts of odd jobs, so she can, too. She approaches Fleischman to tell him that she won't encroach on his jobs if he doesn't encroach on hers, and proceeds to round up jobs walking dogs. Her mother goes with her to the homes, where she meets three dogs who seem to like her, and she starts her business. Things don't go smoothly, and Fleischman, in the most annoying fashion, is there to help. Lulu eventually gives him a cut of the pay, but really wants to be able to do the job by herself. She ends up alienating her associate, but later making up with him.
Strengths: This is well designed, with lots of white space and pictures, different sized fonts, and touches of color. The size of the book makes it look like it is a middle school book, even though the target audience is clearly a bit younger. The story is delightful and funny.
Weaknesses: A hard read. The AR reading level on this is 5.1. I need books on a second grade level for some of my struggling readers. Hoping this will appeal to them anyway, and they will power through because it's so funny.
What I really think: I love Judith Viorst's poetry for adult women, and this has the same refreshing, frank, funny tone. Nothing condescending. Just loved this. Buying the set.

Lulu's Mysterious MissionViorst, Judith. Lulu's Mysterious Mission
April 8th 2014 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Lulu's doting parents go out of town despite her objections, and leave her in the care of the best babysitter in town-- Sonia Sofia Solinsky. Ms. Solinsky is very firm and on to all of Lulu's tricks, no matter what she does. After Lulu attempts to import cats, to which Ms. Solinsky is allergic and an unfortunate incident involving a dresser in front of Lulu's bedroom door, Ms. Solinsky lets it slip that she is actually a spy. At that, Lulu begs to be trained as a spy for the remaining six days, but Ms. Solinsky demands utter obedience. After that, Lulu has much more fun, learning to disguise herself and being instructed in the ways of spies. When Lulu's parents return, she is crushed to find that they never want to travel again without her, which means she won't need a babysitter! She uses her wiles to insure that she will be able to keep up her spy training.
Strengths: Anything with spies goes over well with middle school students, even struggling ones. Definitely funny and engaging.
Weaknesses: Not an emergent reader book. AR level is 5.9. Very few middle grade books are written at this level. Great for strong second graders, not great for struggling 6th graders!
What I really think: Even better than the last one. Looking forward to more!

Urgency Emergency! Big Bad WolfArcher, Dosh. Big Bad Wolf
September 1st 2013 by Albert Whitman & Company

To compare, this had a better reading level (2.8), but was too elementary for my kids. Sort of clever, but too young looking for 6th graders to want to pick up. Fine for elementary school, which is the target demographic!

The quest continues. Looking into some Step Into Reading Spider-man books, too, after a fight nearly broke out over the one that I picked up at the thrift store!