Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Lost Track of Time

23013689Britt, Paige. The Lost Track of Time
March 31st 2015 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Penelope is very much overscheduled by her mother and father, who just want her to have as many possibilities as she can. On the first day of summer vacation, her mother presents her with a jam packed schedule where even fifteen minutes of free time is a rarity. Penelope would love to spend time just being, as well as hanging out with quirky older neighbor Miss Maddie, drinking tea, and thinking about books that she might someday write. One day, when the calendar pages have stuck together and she has nothing scheduled, she goes to visit Miss Maddie... and falls into the calendar into the Realm of Possibilities. There, trying to figure out what is going on, she meets Dill, who is looking for the Great Moodler, who is the only one who can fight off Chronus, who is turning everyone into Clockworkers. Penelope comes down with worry warts, fights off the Naughty Woulds and Wild Bore, and discovers that Chronus is trying to dissolve the Range of Possibilities, endangering the Coo-Coos. She and Dill end up thrown into prison, where they meet the Timekeeper, and only through trickery (and some inspiration from the Great Moodler herself) are they able to keep Dill from being "pressed for time" and save the Realm of Possibilities from Chronus' evil grasp. Penelope is able to translate her adventures into strength in dealing with her parents and demanding some time for herself.
Strengths: The comparisons with The Phantom Tollbooth are inevitable; this is almost like a sequel (about time instead of words and numbers) or a re imagining of that classic. That said, I have to reluctantly admit that as a story, this holds together much better. There's more character development, the different creatures Penelope meets advance the plot a bit more, the tie-in with Penelope's life is more profound. Even the pictures are more appealing to me. Really well-written book, and extremely clever.
Weaknesses: A bit preachy. Maybe Penelope's parents are dissuading her from becoming a writer because they really do love her and want her to have a remunerative job when she grows up!
What I really thought: I would have adored this beyond belief if someone had handed it to me when I was 12, and my job prospects might be even more unstable than they are. I enjoyed this, but felt conflicted-- I just don't know if I have readers for this. This might be the one book I buy this year that will get checked out only once a year.

21965096Potter, David. The iPhone that Saved George Washington
January 6th 2015 by Crown Books for Young Readers
ARC from Baker and Taylor's Common Core Collection

I adore time travel books, but this one seemed a bit slow, wordy, and long. Not only that, but who knows how long iPhones will be around, so there is also the issue of the book becoming dated. As much as I like historical fiction and time travel, my students are not fond of either, so I will pass. Definitely take a look at this, however, if those things go over well in your library.

From Goodreads.com:

Percy Jackson fans will embrace this humorous time travel adventure, the first in a series, about an iPhone malfunction that sends three kids back to 1776 in time to rescue George Washington.

On Christmas Day, Mel finds General George Washington lying dead as a doornail in a stable. But Mel knows that George Washington must cross the Delaware River, or the course of American history will be changed forever. Could Mel’s iPhone have sent him back in time to 1776? And can Mel and his schoolmates, know-it-all Bev and laid-back Brandon, come to the rescue? Perhaps, with a little help from two colonial kids and Benjamin Franklin himself.

 Debut novelist David Potter cleverly combines time travel, humor, and American history in this fast-paced adventure. For American Revolution enthusiasts, there's information about historical reenactments, additional reading, and websites.

Monday, March 30, 2015

MMGM- Anastasia and the Romanovs

Have you ever felt like you've pulled your Reading Hamstring Muscle and are just not making the progress that you should be making? On a good day, I really can read four or five good sized novels, but over the past week I've read... three chapters of Weber's Meet the Malone's. Obviously, nothing actually hurts, but it feels very much like it does when I've taken time off running and start back up again. I read a few pages, put the book down to catch my breath, read a few more pages, pet the dog, etc. Very little forward progress being made.

I blame the winter, which was long. The cold weather made just getting to school draining!

If I've sprained my reading muscles, is the best thing to Rest and Ice? How do I Compress or Elevate my brain? I feel very behind on my reading, and want to get back into some sort of groove.  What do others do when they just feel sort of "meh" about every book they come across? Any suggestions gratefully received!

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 occurs today.

22457410Meyer, Carolyn. Anastasia and her SistersApril 7th 2015 by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Anastasia and her sisters live a sumptuous life in the palace with their father, the tsar, and there are many intrigues that catch Anastasia's attention. She is enthralled when she finds her older sister Olga's journal in which Olga details her star crossed love of a guard as well as some of the family secrets. Covering a number of years, from well before WWII until the family is exiled (and later executed), the traveling back and forth to different palaces, the family dynamic with relatives, Alexei's illness, and eventually, the Russian and world events that lead to the family's downfall are all covered.
Strengths: If you want to lose yourself in Anastasia's world, this is the book. I loved all of the details, from the sisters having outfits to wear to tea that matched their mother's sitting room, to the war work the mother had the sisters do, to all of the events that occurred, this is beautifully researched and presents a wealth of information. I've read Meyer's Royal Diary about Anastasia, but she has another book on her as well. There must be a huge trove of the family's writings still extant.
Weaknesses: A bit lengthy for middle grade, especially since it is detail driven rather than plot driven, mainly because most people know how the story ends. A few more details about various affairs than needed, as well.
What I really think: Anastasia is still intriguing, even almost 100 years after her death. I think I will buy this, as it really is THE definitive novel about her. While reading, I realized the Olga was two years younger than my grandmother. That gave me an entirely new perspective on the events. Did not happen that long ago!

And, of course, this is fabulous paired with...

18691014Fleming, Candace. The Family Romanov: Murder ,Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia
July 8th 2014 by Schwartz & Wade

This is an excellent, detailed overview of the family of Tsar Nicholas, told in a way that will fill in any gaps that young readers might have. Not only are there good photographs of the family's journey, but there are pictures of peasants in Russia at the time used for contrast. There are also quotations from books written by people who struggled through the abject poverty, detailing just how dire the living conditions were. The text is quite readable; even though the book is long (almost 300 pages), Fleming always manages to keep the readers interest with interesting or riveting anecdotes. Since most of my information about this period in history came from a Leonard Nimoy In Search Of episode in the late 1970s, it was good to know that there has been even more research and investigation into the family's demise, and the information is presented well. I bought this for my library because Fleming does such good, literary nonfiction, but I have a feeling it will be hard to convince most middle grade readers to read this much on one period of time. Definitely a good purchase for research in high school and middle school libraries, though!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Best Friend Battle

23013673Eyre, Lindsay. The Best Friend Battle
March 31st 2015 by Arthur A. Levine Books
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Sylvie doesn't like George-- he's mean when he plays baseball, and he's a stinky boy. So when he and his friend Josh start spending a lot of time with Sylvie's best friend, Miranda, she's not happy about it. Josh and George are perfectly nice, but Sylvie suspects them of trying to steal Miranda away, especially when she thinks they get Miranda, whose dog has just passed away, a ferret for her birthday. On impulse, she takes the ferret from George's house, only to find out it is his. She tries to think of a nice present to get for Miranda while taking care of the ferret, with the help of her five-year-old twin brothers. She even gets help from the boys, who seem pretty nice, but when Miranda has her birthday party, Sylvie manages to disgrace herself. How can she manage to keep Miranda as a friend?
Strengths: This was a very nice young middle grade book, dealing with problems realistically. There are lots of supportive, understanding parents, and even some grandparents. The characters are culturally diverse, as well.
Weaknesses: Sylvie is a bit overwrought. I know that real nine-year-olds get that way, but I'm more used to Haywood's Betsy and other mid-century children who were models of virtue.
What I really think: Too young for my students, but great for 1st through 4th graders who care deeply about things like gerbils and birthday presents.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Cartoon Saturday: Notebook Novels

22573833Peirce, Lincoln. Big Nate Lives it Up (#7)
March 10th 2015 by Balzer & Bray/Harperteen

Nate is approached by Principal Nichols to be "buddies" with new kid Breckenridge, who looks kind of familiar. Nte, of course, has a ton of other stuff going on, and isn't liking Breckinridge very much-- he draws, but only pictures of flora, and he's just kind of wimpy and whiny. He's devoted to Nate, though, since Nate kept him from the school bullies. Nate's school, which is in a bad state of repair, is celebrating its 100th anniversary, and the librarian has given Nate a journal written by a girl who attended the school at the time-- and it's illustrated in a style not unlike Nate's comics. Not only does Nate manage to figure out from where he has known Breckridge and make his peace with him, his group finds a way to get the repairs the school needs.
Strengths: While my students like the pictures in the Big Nate books, I appreciate that the stories are just pleasant, realistic stories with some really funny writing. I can see why students are so relieved when there is a new volume out. Loved the "vintage" cartoon style in Edna's journal! They are definitely middle school books, though, and not really elementary ones, with the touches of romance and general attitude.
Weaknesses: Stereotypical bullies and stereotypical wimpy kid? Meh. I do like that the teachers have more facets to their personalities most of the time. I also saw the source of funding the moment it appeared, but students may not. Awful bindings give these an extremely short life span.
What I really think: Wish these were more popular than Wimpy Kid. And had better bindings!

So, I have a lot of reluctant readers this year, for a variety of reasons. There are some English Language Learners who want to read The Lightning Thief like everyone else, but can barely make it through the Carter High books. I have some students in an autism spectrum unit who fixate on certain things that their teacher is trying to steer them away from, trying to get them to read fiction instead of only nonfiction, for example. There are some students who just refuse, for reasons I have yet to determine, to read books that don't have pictures. It's really, really hard to keep checking out the same Big Nate books to the students AFTER I spend five minutes offering all manner of alternatives (Stan and the Toilet Monster-- who can turn that down?)

There's a fine line between students who want Notebook Novels, and those who need them. The students who are reading on grade level don't have a problem getting through Origami Yoda books or the graphic novel of The Red Pyramid. Both of those are challenging, so these students are easy to redirect to the vast majority of middle grade books that, oddly enough, don't have pictures.

For students who find reading difficult, I've been turning to series like Holm's Babymouse and Squish, Vernon's Dragonbreath, Watson's Stick Dog, and Krosoczka's Lunch Lady books. I'm constantly on the lookout for books that work for both groups of students.

This wasn't one of them. I thought the goofy aspects would be good, but there is FAR too much text for my reluctant readers, and it's a bit on the elementary side of the Pilkey Line for my stronger readers. The search continues.

Pallace, Chris and Serwacki, Kevin. Joey and Johnny, The Ninjas: Get Mooned
31 March 2015,March 31st 2015 by Balzer & Bray/Harperteen
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Description from Goodreads.com:
Joey and Johnny, the Ninjas: Get Mooned is the first book in a clever, insanely funny, and highly entertaining illustrated series about two best friends and ninjas-in-training, perfect for fans of the Origami Yoda series.

Joey and Johnny are best friends, but they could not be more different. Joey follows all the rules. Johnny doesn't know what rules are. Joey is strategic. Johnny leaves everything up to chance. Joey is serious. Johnny is . . . well, he carries a clown hammer and wears a dooly-bopper on his head. But there is something these two boys have in common: They are ninjas. And they're both students at Kick Foot Academy, the premier ninja school in Lemming Falls.

But Kick Foot Academy's reputation is about to be put to the test. Their rivals at Red Moon Clan have mysteriously come into possession of state-of-the-art weapons--something that is totally not ninja. And now they have challenged Kick Foot Academy to a Test of Three, culminating in an epic Battle Royal. The outcome will determine which ninja school reigns supreme . . . and which shuts down forever.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Yearly Weeding Post

May have said it best two years ago:

Today is the last day before spring break. This means that we have made it through January, February, and the first round of testing! Hooray!

I'm running a little late on my March cleaning, but managed to get my yearly round of weeding done in a much shorter amount of time than usual.

Between the money I get from the school district (about $10 per student), $1,000 from the PTO, and books that I acquire for reviewing or from other sources (Reading Warehouse clearance, for nonfiction), I added 1,017 books to the collection this year! If I don't get rid of some books, things would soon get out of hand!

It's actually gotten easier-- the books I pulled this year are falling to pieces, smell bad, or have begun to annoy me because they just take up shelf space. If students won't read a book no matter how much I try to sell it, it needs to move on to a better place. I only pulled about 250 books this year. Many were nonfiction books that are enormously long. The new nonfiction books are a quarter of the width of the old ones, so we have plenty of nonfiction space.

I will probably pull another 50 books during inventory, because some of my most popular books are in absolute tatters. It was a good thing I had ten copies of The Hunger Games or Twilight; now I might be able to find one or two that are not held together with chewing gum and baling wire. I need to replace some of my Anthony Horowitz and Rick Riordan books. I WISH I could replace my Darren Shan Cirque du Freak books, but the only place that I can get them in hard cover is Half Price Books. Yes, this would be why I have at least two of all of the Zom-B titles.

It would be nice to post a picture of my repair pile this morning-- I have about fifty books that need glue, tape, etc. One of my volunteers spends an hour or so every week just putting books back together. My students aren't particularly hard on things, but books do wear out. I'm glad that they are wearing out rather than rusting out!

Weeding is so hard that it requires cute puppies. It makes the library a more organized place, though, so it's worth it.

Guy Friday- Return to Planet Tad (Planet Tad #2)

20483076Carvell, Tim.  Return to Planet Tad (Planet Tad #2)
September 23rd 2014 by HarperCollins

Following Tad through the year of eighth grade and into high school via his blog, this covers a wide variety of funny happenings in his life. There is a spelling bee, a trip to his grandmother's wedding, and lots of other brief anecdotes interspersed with observations on random things, like Head and Shoulders shampoo or Marshmallow Peeps. Tad also tries to hold several jobs and tries out for the high school mascot position. Sequel to Planet Tad.
Strengths: It's a notebook novel published by Mad magazine. Is there anything more "guy" than that.
Weaknesses: Very little discernible plot or character development. Silly me, I find that rather integral part of a book. But then, I'm so silly that I don't require pictures in my literature.

Aha! I haven't turned into a 12-year-old boy. What a relief.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Mystery Thursday

20652522Lee, Y.S. Rivals in the City. (The Agency #4)
10 March 2015, Candlewick Press

Mary Quinn is back, enjoying the small nest egg given to her for saving Queen Victoria’s life, and basking in her relationship with James Easton, to whom she is engaged, and with whom she has started a detective business. When she is approached by her former employer at the Agency, Anne Treleaven, to help intercept the infamous Maria Thorold when she comes into the country to be with her dying husband, Mary agrees reluctantly. She has fond feelings for Anne and the Agency, but wants to sever her ties. Still, she starts to watch Newgate for glimpses of Maria, and renews her acquaintance with Maria’s daughter, Angelica. At the same time, James’ building company has a suspicious contract to rebuild the vaults in a bank and has been approached by the other founder of the Agency to help run Maria to ground. Mary finds a long lost cousin who is a fighter, and her sense of “otherness” in a very homogeneous London is often tested.

Rivals in the City builds on the first three novels in this series brilliantly. Maria is clearly still very much a threat, and the imminent death of her husband is a good reason for her to return to London. Her preparations for her return to crime are clever, and her use of her daughter is typical of her character and ruthless. The problems with the women behind the Agency seem realistic, and the fact that they approach Mary and James separately allows the readers to see the depth of Mary and James’ devotion to their business and each other. While the introduction of Mary’s cousin seems a bit of a stretch, his appearance and their meeting in London seem plausible. I especially enjoyed how all of the various elements came together at the very end.

Mary and James have a delicious rapport. They want to be married very badly, but feel compelled to observe Victorian mores by being very discreet in their relationship. They take long walks outside or visit museums when they wish to be alone in order to deflect any criticism, but also privately are very forward thinking in their estimation of what women are capable of accomplishing. Maria Thorold is pure evil, but her daughter has grown into a struggling young woman who appreciates the comforts of the life she has lost, but also is grateful for the few comforts remaining to her.

Fans of Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices series who want a more realistic version of Victorian London, as well as fans of Mary Hooper’s historical novels, will find Mary Quinn’s experiences as a multicultural heroine show a different view of this time period, and any readers who like strong female characters will be drawn to both Mary and to Maria, since both show different ways that women with few socially acceptable routes choose to grab a bit of power over their own lives.

Mysteries are always in high demand at my school, so I look at a lot of them. There's a certain kind of mystery that I know will be popular with my students (e.g. Sorrell's First Shot), and while my criteria are nebulous at best, they have stayed pretty much the same over the past dozen years. I was hoping that the following books would work in my library, but I don't think they will. Take a look. Maybe they will work in yours.

23013685Balliet, Blue. Pieces and Players
March 31st 2015 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

This is sort of the third book in the Chasing Vermeer series, but also includes the character of Zoomy from The Danger Box, as well as Early Pearl from Hold Fast. They, along with Calder, Petra, and Tommy are asked to help solve the mystery of a theft at the Farmer art museum by one of the trustees. Like the other books in the series, it has good descriptions of Chicago and the art museums there, has supportive adults, bright kids, and some highjinks. This also had a lot of teen angst about hairy legs and zits. Since I can't get the first three books in the series to check out, I think I will pass on this one. If my students want clue oriented mysteries, they seem to want them to involve murders instead of art.

18484774Brewer, Heather. The Cemetery Boys
March 30th 2015 by Harper Collins
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

There's a huge demand for the Chronicles of Vladimir Tod books in my library, and certainly quite the demand for scary books, but this started out being rather dull (Stephen has to move to very small town because of family financial difficulties caused by his mother's mental illness and dad's unemployment, he has to put up with really nasty grandmother, he meets hot girl, but her twin brother is menacing) and then got too mature for middle grade. Lots of drinking of horrible sounding liquor, a shirt being removed and a condom mentioned. Sadly, will not be purchasing.

18009950Stokes, Paula.Liars, Inc.
March 24th 2015 by HarperTeen
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

I was looking at the Edelweiss catalog during a down moment-- the PTO has given me another $1,000 to spend, so I'm working on a book order. One of my delightful 7th grade helpers was looking at titles with me, and we were both intrigued by the cover and premise of this one. I started reading it that night, and was rather appalled. It was coarse and vulgar, with the main character making out with his girlfriend, and when the f-bomb was finally dropped, it occurred to me that I definitely didn't want to hand this book personally to my helper. Drat. This could have worked without the vulgarity.

From Goodreads.com
Max Cantrell has never been a big fan of the truth, so when the opportunity arises to sell forged permission slips and cover stories to his classmates, it sounds like a good way to make a little money and liven up a boring senior year. With the help of his friends Preston and Parvati, Max starts Liars, Inc. Suddenly everybody needs something and the cash starts pouring in. Who knew lying could be so lucrative?

When Preston wants his own cover story to go visit a girl he met online, Max doesn’t think twice about hooking him up. Until Preston never comes home. Then the evidence starts to pile up—terrifying clues that lead the cops to Preston’s body. Terrifying clues that point to Max as the murderer.

Can Max find the real killer before he goes to prison for a crime he didn’t commit? In a story that Kirkus Reviews called "Captivating to the very end," Paula Stokes starts with one single white lie and weaves a twisted tale that will have readers guessing until the explosive final chapters.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

#WeNeedDiverseBooks Wednesday-- Blackbird Fly

22663352Kelly, Erin Entrada. Blackbird Fly
24 March 2015, Greenwillow Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Apple (aka Analyn) rails against her mother's insistence at embracing their Filipino culture in embarassing ways like insisting on calling her Apple. Apple's father has passed away and she doesn't have much information about him, only that he loved the Beatles. Apple is having a horrific year at school because she has been listed as number three on the "dog log", a list of ugly girls in her school. Her friends Alyssa and Gretchen are appalled that she is on the list and really want to cut ties with her, so she's glad that a new boy, Evan, seems to appreciate her for who she is. Apple really wants to buy a guitar in order to feel a connection with her late father, and thinks about stealing money from a teacher. She puts the money back, and the teacher offers to loan her a school guitar and teach her how to play. There are a variety of other school dramas, including a costume dance, and Apple learns to embrace her culture and starts to see her own worth after making friends who also have some social problems.
Strengths: This had good descriptions of cultural aspects of the Philippines that are very rare in middle grade fiction. Apple is a likable character who is trying her best to work through difficult situations, and Even is the kind of student we wish all of ours would be-- he sticks up for Apple even when he doesn't know her well. There are a few students who are still interested in the Beatles.
Weaknesses: It never really makes sense to me that Apple has so many social problems, except that she is "other" in Louisiana and subject to a lot of prejudice. She seems like a perfectly fine young lady. I wanted to see the boys who came up with the "dog log" soundly punished.

I was also a bit confused about the students very long lunch hour ( an hour?) and the fact that Apple was allowed to spend it in the library. This has come up in several books lately, but MY library is not a place that would be a quiet and safe retreat for students-- it's just too busy all day long, and during at least one lunch time, there is a study hall that meets in the library!

22571276Harwell, Andrew. The Spider Ring
January 27th 2015 by Scholastic Press

When Maria's grandmother passes away suddenly, she leaves her spider ring for Maria, hidden in their special spot. Maria soon realizes that the ring has powers to summon spiders and make them do her bidding, such as making her a pretty dress. Her grandmother warned her not to abuse the spider's friendship, but that doesn't stop Maria from asking the spiders to make a scene at the evil Claire's birthday party. When a creepy older man shows up, Maria learns not only secrets about her grandmother's past, but a bit more about the danger that she is in because of the organization that had the spider rings-- and the threat that a "great aunt" of one of her friends might be to her!
Strengths:Decent mystery, lots of creepy spiders, good cover. The bullying was more realistic than in many books, and Maria wasn't obsessing about the death either of her grandmother or her father (in the war). Good information about spiders.
Weaknesses:This book seemed to have everything going for it, but as a whole, didn't succeed for me. This ended in a way that would leave it open for a sequel, but the plot never really gelled for me. What I really thought: Looked good and creepy, but there were some holes in the plot that made this less than thrilling. Also bothered by the ages of the grandmother and her friend-- yes, they were later explained by magic, but it seemed like an afterthought.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Clones vs. Aliens

22318569Castle, M.E. Clones vs. Aliens
February 10th 2015 by EgmontUSA

After Popular Clone, Cloneward Bound, and Game of Clones, Fisher and Alex are dealing with lots of changes. Their school is meeting in trailers by the King of Hollywood (which is nice for lunch), and their parents are openind Loopity Land, a science theme park. When a roller coaster ride goes badly awry, it turns out that it was actually a way to contact aliens who show up looking like very attractive twin girls-- 13 sets of them. Dubbed the Gemini, they want to experience life on earth, so the Bas family and the government concoct a story that they are foreign exchange students from Geminolvia. Things go pretty well (with the occasional explosion of aliens from anger) until the aliens want to throw a party at Fisher's house and eat a ton of food. Their population seems to expand, but Fisher and Alex start to realize that they only have one mind. With their parents off at meetings, the boys (and some friends) need to break into a science lab to figure out what's going on, only to find that a former nemesis is a surprising ally. Once again, we learn that space aliens are not quite being honest when they say they just want to come for a visit or to borrow a tiny bit of land.
Strengths: Pitch perfect teen voice (they're aliens... but they are so hot!), fun science tidbits, lots of action, and a flying pig make this a great series for elementary and middle school readers. The cartoon covers strike just the right balance to appeal to this age group. Very fun.
Weaknesses: Fisher's parent are pretty spacey, which always bothers me.
What I really think: Like the series, but hope it sticks to my five book limit! I'd love to see Castle do some realistic, humorous books!

23399295Mass, Wendy. Graceful.
April 28th 2015 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss

So, The Last Present is not the last book in the Willow Falls series, but this fifth volume seems to be. Angelina has left town, but keeps sending Grace cryptic postcards. All of Team Grace is having issues of one sort or another in the wake of Grace performing a forgetting spell. Grace's brother Connor is trying to invent 3D glasses. David's father has never been sick, so he has to adjust to his new life. Leo and Amanda are still dating, but sort of irritated with one another. Tara is enjoying life, still writing letters to Julie, and eventually investigates a writing career. Grace seems able to do a lot of magic for someone whose power was drained-- she can conjure up pizzas, but also is able to do some minor magic. She is bound and determined to find the vortex of power in Willow Falls, especially once the magic seems to be unraveling. With help from Angelina and her friends, Grace is finally able to tify up all of the loose, magical ends to her life and move on.
Strengths: Again, great covers, and a strong following. In fact, I think I am missing the first one in the series (why do students lose things?), so should probably get another copy.
Weaknesses: This was told in a rather choppy fashion, from lots of different perspectives. There were text messages, Tara's letters to Julie-- it got a bit confusing. I am not a fan of epilogues that take the characters twenty years into the future and marry them off, but that's what the ending of this is.
What I really think: I really didn't like this. Debating whether to buy it, since things ended pretty well in The Last Present, but suppose I should buy it.

Monday, March 23, 2015

MMGM-- Fatal Fever and Astrotwins

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 occurs today.

I thought that Shannon Hale's Princess in Black was so much fun that I bought a copy for my middle school library even though it's a bit "too young". When I read Shannon Hale's post on boys being excluded from her talks, I wasn't surprised. Appalled, yes, but not surprised. Yes, some books check out more to boys and some check out more to girls, but the whole reason behind SIX YEARS of Boys Read Pink is to encourage everyone to read everything. Always amuses me when something I've been doing for a long time "suddenly blows up". (#WeNeedDiverseBooks, anyone?)

22825553Jarrow, Gail. Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary
March 10th 2015 by Calkins Creek
Copy Provided by Kerry McManus of Boyds Mills Press

A little more than 100 years ago, public sanitation was so completely different than it is today that it is almost unimaginable. Raw sewage being let loose in city streets or rural creeks, crowded living conditions complete with rats and all manner of bugs, and only rudimentary medications to help when people fell ill. This was the world of Typhoid Mary, aka Mary Mallon, the cook who was an unwitting carrier of typhoid in early 1900s New York and environs. Since she herself had never been ill with the fever, and was a clean person according to the standards of the time, she refused to believe that she was responsible for more than 20 deaths of people who fell ill after eating her cooking.

Even more interesting is the work of George Soper, a leader in the sanitation movement, who was able to pinpoint Mallon as a key figure in many of the typhoid outbreaks he was studying. His detection lead not only to Mallon's identification, but to the identities of several other carriers who sickened those around them while remaining well themselves. Also interesting is Josephine Baker, a NYC medical investigator who went on to work extensively with children's health initiatives. Mallon's story is an interesting one, and this book gives background information on typhoid as well as following Mallon's actions and the results of her stubborness to quit working on her employers. Well illustrated, with an excellent bibliography, this is a great addition to a middle school library collection for research, but also for readers who like literary nonfiction in the style of Russell Freedman or Jim Murphy.

It is hard for people today to understand what an epidemic is, or how terrible some diseases can be, which might explain the current trend in the news of people not wanting to vaccinate children. This book explains those things beautifully, and is an excellent companion to Julie Chibbaro's Deadly.

20759558Kelly, Mark and Freeman, Martha. Astrotwins: Project Blastoff
March 24th 2015 by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Twins Mark and Scott have too much time on their hands, so their parents decide to send them for protracted visits with their grandfather in the summer of 1975. There, they have access to a barn full of old equipment, and decide to channel their love of tinkering into building a working space ship. With the help of Jenny, or "Egg" as they call her, who wants to use the ship for a science fair project, the kids research, get help from friends Barry and Howard, as well as the owner of a local body shop and his daughter, Lisa. It's very time consuming, and they aren't sure what fuel they can use, but that's where Jenny's teacher, Mr. Drizzle comes in. The kids all tell the grown-ups that they are just doing a recreation, but manage to get a space suit and helmet, refashioned out of a Vietnam era flight suit belonging to Barry's brother.  Mark is supposed to be the pilot, but ends up breaking his arm, so Scott is sent up instead. They manage to get the ship up, but this gets them into all kinds of trouble.
Strengths: A lot of reviewers have liked this for all of the science involved, and there's a LOT of it-- equations and everything. That's all well and good, but the appeal for middle grade readers will be the idea of being allowed to spend the summer riding around on purple banana seat Sting-Rays and building a rocket. Supportive (if somewhat clueless)parents, and just plain fun make this a great book to hand to a wide variety of readers.
Weaknesses: The inclusion of so much science makes the writing a bit didactic and wooden, but again... we have kids building a space ship in Grandpa's barn. Martha Freeman has written a lot of children's books, so maybe actual astronaut Mark Kelly's writing is represented in the less fluid portions of the text?
What I really think: Most middle grade readers will skip the overly scientific bits and enjoy the summer adventure. Teachers who want books about rockets will use the books in class, so it all works out rather well. Will buy a copy-- just wish the cover were a bit better.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

City Love and other YA books

18160600Colasanti, Susane. City Love
April 21st 2015 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Edelweissis

Three girls from different background end up in an apartment near Manhattan for the summer. Sadie's parents live very near, but she's glad to be away from them while still in her beloved NYC. Darcy is from California and having fun discovering the city. Rosanna is from Chicago and has always wanted to live in NYC, but finances are really, really tight. The three get along okay, and soon all have boyfriends. Sadie finds Austin, who is also interested in urban planning, Rich Darcy finds formerly wealthy Jude, who is working as a street performer and has been cut off by his parents. She also has a random encounter with a hot guy in a dressing room at the Gap, which is when I should have know that this was veering too far away from middle grade. All three girls make slight progress in their work and educational careers, but spend most of their time having idyllic romantic trysts in various New York venues.
Strengths: Middle grade girls love to read about girls in college, who have their own places, and who have romances. This would be great for that, but also included too much information for me to actually buy.
Weaknesses: One of the girls is molested as a child. One of the boyfriends ends up being married. Just ended up being TMI.
What I really think: Enjoyed tremendously, and would buy for high school or public library, just not for middle school.

18340618 Mills, Wendy. Positively Beautiful
March 3rd 2015 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens

I was so intrigued by this title, but I think it is more for a high school audience. Not because of the breast cancer issue, but because of Erin's dysfunctional reaction to it-- running away with someone's airplane is just not a good idea. Very intriguing book, but I just wanted to slap Erin for giving her already suffering mother an even harder time. I also found it a bit hard to understand why her mother wouldn't have gone ahead and had a double mastectomy to prevent further incursions of cancer.

From the Publisher:
"Erin Bailey's life changes forever the day her mom is diagnosed with breast cancer. It's always just been Erin and Mom, so living without her is not an option. Life takes another turn when the cancer is linked to a rare genetic mutation, and Erin must grapple with the decision of whether or not to have her own DNA tested. Her only outlets are flying lessons, where looking to the horizon calms her deepest fears, and her new friend Ashley, a girl she met in an online support group. But when a flash decision has Erin flying away to find her new friend, she embarks on a journey from the depths of despair to new love and a better understanding of the true meaning of beauty. This thought-provoking story brings readers to the emotional brink and back again, as they experience Erin's fear, her frustration, and ultimately . . . her freedom."

18718848 Arnold, David. Mosquitoland.
March 3rd 2015 by Viking Books for Young Readers

The only reason I finished this was because I was stuck at a band concert and had nothing else to read. Loved the cover and book design, but by page 9, when the f-bomb was dropped for the first time, I was already tired of Mim and the Young Adult prose style. Why does Young Adult prose often feel so... self indulgent? It's a perfect fit for high school students, who are that way themselves, but I vastly prefer the straight forward middle grade voice. Definitely look into this book for high school and public libraries, just not middle school ones. 

From the Publisher:
I am a collection of oddities, a circus of neurons and electrons: my heart is the ringmaster, my soul is the trapeze artist, and the world is my audience. It sounds strange because it is, and it is, because I am strange.

After the sudden collapse of her family, Mim Malone is dragged from her home in northern Ohio to the “wastelands" of Mississippi, where she lives in a medicated milieu with her dad and new stepmom. Before the dust has a chance to settle, she learns her mother is sick back in Cleveland.

So she ditches her new life and hops aboard a northbound Greyhound bus to her real home and her real mother, meeting a quirky cast of fellow travelers along the way. But when her thousand-mile journey takes a few turns she could never see coming, Mim must confront her own demons, redefining her notions of love, loyalty, and what it means to be sane.

Told in an unforgettable, kaleidoscopic voice, Mosquitoland is a modern American odyssey, as hilarious as it is heartbreaking.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Teddy Mars: Almost a World Record Breaker

22138391Burnham, Molly B. Teddy Mars: Almost a World Record Breaker
March 24th 2015 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Teddy has a large family, and the children are all very individual. Teddy's interests are Star Wars and the Guinness Book of World Records, which he eagerly peruses with his friend Lonnie. He's NOT a fan of his young brother Jake, who does disgusting things like climbing into Teddy's bed... with wet pajamas. Teddy gets a tent for his birthday and decides to move into the yard to live, and his parents, who have to look out for the interests of six children, let him. He finds an unlikely ally in Grumpy Pigeon Man, a next door neighbor who hires Teddy to take care of his pigeons, giving Teddy much needed cash to outfit his new home. Teddy goes through the year putting up with his family, trying to break records, and trying to stay out of trouble at school.
Strengths: Supportive family, realistic problems that are not horribly depressing, and some light humor make this a good choice for younger readers.
Weaknesses: This was broken up by chapters headed by months, but also had random paragraph headings in bold print that I found distracting. For a book this short, I would have liked a few more illustrations.
What I really think: I do need some books that are easier to read, and it's okay if they include younger characters. This, however, seemed more like a book for really strong second grade readers than weak 7th grade ones, so I think I will pass. Fine for elementary school libraries, though.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Guy Friday- Frank Einstein and the Electro-Finger

23167686Scieszka, Jon. Frank Einstein and the Electro-Finger
March 17th 2015 by Amulet Books
E ARC from Netgalley.com

In this sequel to Frank Einstein and the Anti-Matter Motor, Frank is back with his robot sidekicks Klink and Klank and his best friend Watson. The group is trying to find a way to have electricity that is free and wireless, and using some of Tesla's theories, they come up with the Electro-Finger. This is especially timely, because their arch nemesis, T. Edison and his simian sidekick have bought up all of the different energy plants in the area and are tearing them down. When only one is left, they can raise the prices as high as they would like and soak the public. The Electro-Finger gets off to a rocky start, but will it be enough to thwart Edison?
Strengths: Just go buy your child's science teacher a copy of this right now. It talks about all kinds of science, and even has diagrams. It's a notebook  novel. It's by Jon Scieszka. It comes in an inexpensive paper-over-board format, so get a copy for your child's robotics coach and the able and talented coordinator as well.
Weaknesses: It talks about all kinds of science, and even has diagrams. It's by Jon Scieszka and isn't as funny as I hoped. It comes in an inexpensive paper-over-board format,
What I really think: Just not my favorite. Circulates well, people seem to like, but it's not something I need four copies of, like Knucklehead, which is quite possibly the funniest book ever written. I'd love to see realistic, funny fiction from Scieszka.


Patterson, James. Public School Superhero.
March 16th 2015 by Little, Brown and Company
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Kenny lives with his grandmother is a bad area of Washington, D.C. His middle school, Anacostia, is a wreck, and the teachers sit at their desk watching sports center while students bully each other. Luckily, he is being raised by his grandmother, who taught elementary school for 62 years and keeps a close eye on him. Not close enough-- after getting in an altercation with classmate Ray-Ray, his punishment is to teach Ray-Ray chess. He does, and learns from his co-conspiritor how to steal food and generally behave in ways that a "grandma's boy" normally wouldn't. Kenny has a comic book collection as well as a rich fantasy life wherein he is the superhero Stainlezz Steel. The community is rallying around the school, and Kenny is chosen to speak at a rally, which worries him. Eventually, his grandmother finds out about his secret life of crime, but while she isn't happy, she works with Kenny to set him on the straight and narrow while looking out for Ray-Ray as well.
Strengths: Kenny's grandmother and Principal Yetty are great characters. There is a little bit of Civil Rights history shown. The community rallies around the school. Kenny makes mistakes but feels badly about them and mends his ways. This has lots of pictures and will be a book that students pick up avidly. I do like the original cover (bottom), that showcases a person of color on the cover, as opposed to the tiny version of Kenny's superhero on the final cover. Glad Patterson is thinking about books for middle grade readers and actually giving grants to schools and libraries. Can't complain about that!
Weaknesses: Bullying. SOOOOOO tired of this topic, and students are as well. Again, this is stereotypical, and nothing fresh and realistic. While I'm glad that the book isn't in dialect, the few "modern" slang phrases seem a bit out of place, enough so that it made me wonder if they were incorrect.
What I really think: Have to buy. Glad kids will read; wish it weren't so dang depressing! Would vastly prefer to give students Kinda Like Brothers. It seemed more hopeful.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Secrets of Eastcliff-by-the-Sea/ Seven Second Delay.

20759557Beha, Eileen. The Secrets of Eastcliff-by-the-Sea
August 26th 2014 by Beach Lane Books

Annaliese's great grandmother is celebrating her 90th birthday, and is issuing invitations to all of her progeny, inviting them and their sock monkeys, which she made for all of them. The sock monkeys are all personalized and have a secret hidden within them. Annaliese is very fond of Throckmorton, so she helps find sock monkeys, many of which are hidden in the attic. She and her brothers have been forbidden from going there because there are secrets about her mother that her father doesn't want her to find out. The children manage to be a big help with both the sock monkeys (who talk amongst themselves, but not actually to the children) and the party. Family secrets are revealed, however, and Annaliese finds out much that she wanted to know.
Strengths: A cozy winter mystery for children who are inordinately fond of sock monkeys. This had a much older feel to it.
Weaknesses: Think this might take place in the 1920s or 30s, because there are nannies and flappers, but it's never really specified, which I found distracting.
What I really think: Sentient sock monkeys. I'm just not sure I have readers for this, although I rather like the cover.

23217714Easton, Tom. Seven Second Delay.
February 1st 2015 by Holiday House (first published May 1st 2014)
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Mila is trying to get into the UK in a dystopian future when the island is blocked to people from the Third. Her companion, Julian, is killed, and she is thrown into a detention center. Since she doesn't have a phone implanted in her head, the authorities know she is an interloper. They offer (at first) to try to rehabilitate her and make her a citizen, install a phone, and link her to Adam, an agent, so he can keep tabs on her. When the doctors find what they think to be a bomb in her head, though, they want to kill her, and even bomb the entire complex, killing a number of agents, in an attempt to do so. Since Julian trained her very well, she was able to go on the run. Adam thinks she is okay, and hides her from the authorities as much as he can, putting his own career in danger. When it looks as though Mila is killed on the run, Adam is put on "gardening leave", but Mila has utilized the fact that she has "seven second delay" on her feed, and has escaped. Never for long, however-- she is constantly being tracked down, and frequently innocent people around her are killed by the government. Eventually, she is found by Adam, who takes her to a friend to get the bomb removed. Will they be able to do this? How will Mila be able to survive?
Strengths: This is a mix between a dystopian novel and a spy one. LOTS of action, many things blowing up, people being killed in violent ways. Also has a rather philosophical bend about CCTV and modern communications. Interesting. For Holiday House, a good cover.
Weaknesses: This lost me somewhere in the middle. Mila ran and ran, and the mystery of her involvement with Julian was addressed a little late for my taste.
What I really think: Too much human-on-human violence for my taste, but if your library has an insatiable need for dystopian books and you can stomach people getting their jugulars severed by corkscrews and getting shot in the face, go for it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Recipe for Adventure #4: New Orleans

18693647DeLaurentiis, Giada. Recipe for Adventure #4: New Orleans
June 17th 2014 by Grosset & Dunlap

Alfie and Emilia's Zia Donatella has sent them to New Orleans via a batch of gumbo, and they wander into a restaurant where a band is playing. They meet Nanette and Rex, whose family owns the place, and who play in the band. Claiming that they were on a school trip but now staying with an aunt who wouldn't mind in the least if they stay the night with a strange family, the two children enjoy the family's food. They also find out that the restaurant has been struggling since the death of Mama Minnie, since she didn't leave a cookbook with all of her recipes. A picture surfaces showing a much younger Minnie and a friend, and the four children set out to find the friend and hope that she has a cookbook. After seeing the sights in New Orleans and eating lots of good food, Alfie and Emilia do exactly that, save the day, and head back home to await their next adventure.
Strengths: This is a fun, easy series that would be great in elementary schools. I like how they showcase a lot of different cultures and talk about the food there, as well as other elements.
Weaknesses:Older readers might find it odd that the children just randomly travel around magically. This doesn't address anything about Hurricane Katrina, which seems like a huge lack to me. I think that all of the elements of New Orleans culture are correct and treated with respect, but since I know absolutely nothing about it, I can't be sure. I've been permanently scarred by the Horn Book article "Are We Doing It White?"
What I Really Think: Bought the whole series, and my 6th graders are enjoying them. These short, easy series books are doing well in my library this year.

List copied from Goodreads.com, which is now my source for series books in order!

3.84 of 5 stars 3.84 avg rating — 118 ratings — published 2013 — 5 editions book 1

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92 avg rating — 76 ratings — published 2013 — 5 editions book 2

4.0 of 5 stars 4.00 avg rating — 36 ratings — published 2014 — 5 editions book 3

4.0 of 5 stars 4.00 avg rating — 18 ratings — published 2014 — 4 editions book 4

4.33 of 5 stars 4.33 avg rating — 6 ratings — published 2015 — 3 editions book 5

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Hopper's Destiny

Fiedler, Lisa. Hopper's Destiny (Mouseheart #2)
March 17th 2015 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
Copy from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

After the events of Mouseheart, the evil rat emperor Titus has been taken prisoner by Firren, and Hopper offers to take the citizens of Atlantia to the Mus encampment in order to be safe. The Mus, headed by Pinkie, don't agree. To make matters worse, exterminators enter the subway, and things are looking even more grim for the mice, especially when Zucker is killed and Firren is missing. Hopper ends up Upland, flung about like a rag, and is saved by a cat. Ace is no ordinary cat-- he relocates mice that he finds and helps them to survive. When he hears about Felina, he is interested in helping overthrown her reign of terror. Ace introduces Hopper to some of his friends, and Hopper gains some allies, such as basketball playing rodents who live in a sports arena. Hopper tries to make some peace with his past by revisiting the pet shop where things started to go badly for him, but finds other secrets about his past when the fighting comes to a head over Atlantia. Even if Felina can be neutralized, will the kingdom live in peace? Probably not, since Pup has become a psychotic threat, leaving the story open for another book.
Strengths: There is a lot of battle strategy in this book, and the different factions all go through a lot of changes. I liked that not all cats were portrayed as evil; while Felina certainly was, Ace set a good example of how different animals can get along. Even better was his explanation that there is a difference between hunting mice because he is hungry, and hunting them for sport or just to torture them. A lot of the background of the prophecy is explained, as well as Titus' reasons for working with Felina. Pinkie's motivations are discussed, but the most interesting character in the next book with be Pup, who has been badly damaged by all of the various set backs he has had in his life. Brooklyn also plays a large role in this book, and the descriptions of that area are interesting.
Weaknesses: Pup really shouldn't be as damaged as he is portrayed. Yes, Pinkie and Hopper left him for dead at the pet shop, but they thought he was dead. The identity of La Rocha seemed a stretch for me, but students will like it.
What I really think: Talking animal books. Ack! Never my favorite. That said, I have a student who will be thrilled to get the ARC.

21469088Kochalka, James. The Glorkian Warrior Eats Adventure Pie (The Glorkian Warrior #2)  March 17th 2015 by First Second
Copy provided by the publisher

In this sequel to The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza, the Glorkian warrior and his super smart back pack are trying to defeat a space snake before it attacks another pie factory, but Buster Glork, the warriors arch nemesis, foils their plan and the snake escapes. The warrior has a baby alien that he allows to suck his brains because he thinks it's cute, but this causes him to pass out. The backpack and oddly ungrammatical sidekick Gonk try to help, but it is Buster who blasts the alien and saves the warrior, but the two still continue to fight. Eventually, the alien baby is fed energy crackers, becomes huge, and can survive on its own, and Buster and the warrior come to an agreement over pie.
Strengths: This is silly and upbeat, with brightly colored cartoons that will appeal to a variety of young readers. There are fart jokes, Gonk's silliness in repeating phrases, and an evil villain who is finally defeated.
Weaknesses: Even with the plot recap on page 93, the story line is very difficult to follow. My struggling readers, who are drawn to this type of book, may have trouble understanding what is going on. I don't have a problem with this being silly, but I do worry about the disjointed nature of the narrative.
What I really think: This is the only book I have ever read that seems like it would be more amusing under the influence of a heavy duty psychotropic drug. I'm not advocating drugs, but the strange plot and psychedelic colors did make me wonder about the habits of the author.

When I e mailed the publicist at First Second, we talked about some books being like giving children cotton candy for breakfast; this certainly had that feel. I thought this was an odd choice for First Second to publish, but couldn't put my finger on exactly why until my library reserve came in and I read Glorkian Warrior on the same night as I read the book below:

17934457 Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust
 Loïc Dauvillier, Marc Lizano (Illustrations), Greg Salsedo (Ink), Alexis Siegel (Translator)
April 1st 2014 by First Second (first published 2012)

A grandmother tells her young grandmother a story she has kept secret for years; her parents were taken by the Nazis from their home in France, and she spent much of her childhood staying with a neighbor and hiding on a farm. After the war, the family with whom she stayed helped her look for her parents, but her father never came back. Her mother was in very bad shape, but with the help of the neighbors, was able to function in a post war world.
Strengths: Our 8th grade studies the Holocaust, but there are always some students who can't quite handle too much information about concentration camps, for whatever reason. This is an excellent introduction to the atrocities committed during this time, and a good story about one young child's experiences.
Weaknesses: As with many graphic novels, the print is very tiny. This book is smaller than a picture book; increasing its size to those dimensions would make the text more readable, and would be fitting given the age of the main character.
What I really think: This is the quality of work I expect from the publisher. High quality graphics and a high quality, thought provoking story.