Thursday, April 30, 2015

British Boarding Schools are Dangerous Places

Cover image for Murder is bad manners / (A Wel...Stevens, Robin. Murder is Bad Manners.
21 April 2015, Simon and Schuster BFYR
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Daisy and Hazel attend Deepdean, a girls' boarding school, in 1930s England. Hazel feels a bit out of place, being from Hong Kong, but is thrilled when (after initially being a bit mean) Daisy befriends her and asks her to help with her detective agency. There aren't a lot of things to investigate... until Hazel happens upon the body of the science teacher, Miss Bell, lying bloodied on the gym floor! Hazel runs to get Daisy, but when they return, the body is gone, and the school claims that Miss Bell has gone away. The girls are quick to detail all of the clues, make a list of suspects, and methodically figure out which of the teachers, from Miss Bell's roommate to a dashing young male teacher to a poor drunken Latin mistress who is jealous of Miss Bell. They have to hide their efforts from the staff, but when they accuse one teacher of committing the crime and that teacher later turns up dead, they know that something particularly bad is going on, and they eventually involve law enforcement. Of course, their brilliant detective work is able to solve the crime.
Strengths: The detective work that the girls do is first rate, and clearly inspired by the author's background with Agatha Christie-type mysteries. In a perfect world, reading this book would encourage a tween to pick up Dorothy Sayers. Since it is a murder mystery, and students ask for those so much, I think I will buy it.
Weaknesses: All of my weaknesses are nitpicky. I'm not fond of the bubble gum on the cover-- it would have been fairly new at this time period. There is also one mention of a man using gel in his hair; I would have loved if Brylcreem or Brilliantine or even Macassar oil (my grandmother had honest-to-goodness antimacassars and CALLED them that!) had been mentioned. There are a fair number of historical details, but I just wanted more, I guess.

I also was a bit unsure about Hazel referring to herself as Oriental. With the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, it's been hammered in to me that that term is only used for rugs and food, and the preferred term today is Asian. I've come to the conclusion that when I was young, I must have been told that using the term Asian was rude and Oriental was more polite, because I find myself slipping and using the term Oriental much too often! In a historical book, using the term used at the time is probably correct; I've just had so much trouble with the term that I bristled at it.

There was also a dismissal of "pashes" being not really love, so people shouldn't be bothered by them. This differs from my understanding of them, so I would rather the term not have been mentioned. The way it's handled seems... odd.

What I really think: Despite my petty objections, I enjoyed this very much. Apparently, any book set in a British boarding school in the first part of the 20th century, especially one illustrated with silhouettes, is one that I want to buy.

23013676Kerr, Esme. The Girl with the Glass Bird
March 31st 2015 by Chicken House (first published May 1st 2014)
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Edie's parents have died, and her grandmother goes blind and is sent to a nursing home, so Edie must go to her aunt's house, where she is miserable, tormented by her cousins who do really evil things like catch and eat her large goldfish. Luckily, her cousin Charles is doing business with the Russian prince Stolonov, whose daughter Anastasia is enrolled in the strict, Luddite Knight's Haddon school but having problems there. Edie is offered a position-- she may go to the school, but must figure out why Anastasia says her possessions go missing, she becomes injured, etc. Edie is glad to get away, and quickly befriends Anastasia, who seems fairly normal, even though odd things do seem to happen to her. Since Anastasia's mother has some mental difficulties, she does worry that she is imagining all of the bad things. There is more intrigue at the school as well-- Edie's mother attended the school, and there was some bad feeling between her and some members of staff. The situation with Anastasia escalates, but Edie is able to figure out that there is a real threat, and it comes from members of staff! Her quick thinking saves the day and insures that she will be able to stay with her new friend at Knight's Haddon.
Strengths: Again, the details of life in a British boarding school, this time a modern day one, are intriguing. The psychological manipulation and scheming surrounding Anastasia are actually more criminal than the cover would indicate.
Weaknesses: The involvement of the mystery with Edie's background complicated an already complicated story.
What I really think: Quite a good mystery, but there are only so many books set in British boarding schools that I can force children to read. I will probably not purchase this one.

20307785Primavera, Elise. Ms. Rapscott's Girls. 
March 10th 2015 by Dial Books

The founder of the Great Rapscott School for the Daughters of Busy Parents (which is more US than British) draws on her own childhood experience as the daughter of scientists to provide what she thinks is the necessary care for five daughters of the busiest parents in the world. Four of these arrive in flying, post paid boxes, and are cleaned up, outfitted with sturdy boots, and sent on an adventure to find the fifth girl, Dahlia, whose box was not properly fastened and who is lost. Bea, Mildred, Fay and Annabelle must try to get hopelessly lost on purpose in order to find her, and have all manner of adventures along the way. Ms. Rapscott provides them with the world's most comfortable beds, proper adventuring attire, and plenty of cocoa. Helping out are the very clever corgis, Lewis and Clark. In addition to solving the mystery of Dahlia, the girls have to learn all of the things that they were missing-- how to brush their teeth, what birthday cakes are, and (most of all) to appreciate adventure.

Accompanied by the author's copious illustrations (ala The Invention of Hugo Cabret, many of them help tell the story), this quirky and charming boarding school balances outings where the girls get swept away by the wind to desolate islands with cozy surroundings like the Bumbershoot tree which keeps them warm and dry. The hunt for Dahlia seems almost leisurely, which is fine, because she is found to be very safe and well cared for. Most of the book is very anecdotal, with etiquette and practical skill sessions interspersed with adventures in all weather... and lots of birthday cake.

The girls really have no choice but to become better people throughout the course of the book, benefiting as they do from the attention of an adult as well as some life lessons.. They are all well delineated, separate characters, and their parenting backgrounds expose their weaknesses. Bea can only get the attention of her parents by screaming. Mildred is used to spending lazy days alone in her pajamas. Fay is a timid soul who is very concerned about the whereabouts of Dahlia, and Annabelle is intellectually precocious. I thought that the story of Ms. Rapscott herself, which is touched upon lightly, was really the most interesting one in the book, and an encounter before the girls are sent home for break leads me to believe that there may be further volumes in this series, and perhaps a romance for the teacher.

Ms. Rapscott's Girls is a happier version of The Series of Unfortunate Events, and will appeal to younger readers who like quirky, unusual adventures away from parents. Mary Poppins, Mrs. Pigglewiggle, Nanny Piggins, Harvey's Alice-Miranda books,and other books with fantastical elements and a good sense of humor are logical companions to this boarding school where much can be accomplished as long as one keeps ones' wits about oneself, ones' mittens on, and ones' appetite supplied with much birthday cake... and the occasional ice cream.

That said, this was so impossibly twee it was hard to finish. Many reviewers have said that their 8-year-old self would have adored this, but their grown up self wanted to scream, and I would have to occur with this. I have no patience for twee, and most middle school students aren't fond of it, either. When trying to define "twee" for my 21 year old daughter, I came up with the title "Little Lucy Sparklepants and the Fluffybunnikins Adventure". Too much sugar!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Jumbies/ Izzy Barr, Running Star.

Baptiste, Tracey. The Jumbies.
April 28th 2015 by Algonquin Young Readers 
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Corinne is happy living with her father in a house very close to the woods on an island near Haiti. She misses her mother, but sells oranges in the market and has some good friends. When the evil Severine shows up, things start getting very strange. Not only does Severine put Corinne's father under a spell, she tells Corinne that her mother was Severine's sister, which makes Corinne half Jumbie. Some Jumbie's are nice, but Severine and many of the other magical creatures claim that the isaland was theirs first, and they want it back. There is a white witch who befriends Corinne and her friends, Dru, Malik and Bouki, but if she helps them, she will also have to help the creatures on the other side of the battle. Corinne has a necklace from her mother that holds the answer to this problem, but can the people of the island accept living alongside the Jumbies and their kind?
Strengths: It's nice to see fantasy books that aren't based on British/Celtic mythology. There are so many of those already, and yet almost every fantasy book that comes out gives a nod to some sort of medieval British story line. This was decently spooky, and had lots of adventure. 
Weaknesses: It helped to read the notes on Haitian mythology in the back of the book first. Still, there was a lot of background information that I didn't have, so parts of the book were hard to understand. I think the same will be true of my students. Perhaps that is why the old fantasy tropes are used so much-- less back story to have to describe.
What I really think: I'd like to also find a book on Haitian folk tales to support this!

Personally, I get icked out when reading about swamps, mud, and humidity. Had the same problem with Wilson's Boys of Blur!

21469069Mills, Claudia. Izzy Barr, Running Star.
April 28th 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

This third book in the Franklin School Friends series focuses on Izzy, who is in training for a 10K race. She really wants to beat Skipper Tipton, whose father is the coach of the fitness club. Skipper has brand new, expensive shoes, and Izzy is afraid that her shoes won't give her the edge that she needs. She is struggling with getting along with her half brother, Dustin, who is also an athlete and lives with her family on the weekends. She doesn't like to share her father with Dustin, and is rather angry. At one point, she tells her father that she doesn't want him to come to see her race because it makes her nervous, but that's just her way to not expect him. At one point, she evens donates her new shoes, but then regrets it. With a supportive teacher, parents, and even a school principal who tries to run as a good example for the students, Izzy has lots of help to figure out what she should do.
Strengths: Mills has really hit her stride with this series. I love how the books take the seemingly minor concerns of younger middle grade students and give them appropriate coverage. There are lots of good solutions and supportive friends and adults. I am considering buying the series for my lower readers. I love the variety of well-developed characters in the books.
Weaknesses: Concerned that these are, in fact, too young for my students. I know Mills has done middle grade books, but they haven't been as successful for me (e.g. Zero Tolerance).
What I really think: Great series. Just have to think about whether 6th graders would check it out.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Omega City

18072748Peterfreund, Diana. Omega City.
April 28th 2015 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Gillian and her brother Eric are trying to make a go of living with their scatter brained father after their mother has left. Because their father's book about a Professor Underberg and his inventions has been criticized and his research doubted, he has lost his university job, and the family is now living in their summer cabin while he earns a small living giving lectures and classes. Their father is dating again, but Gillian suspects that Fiona has other motives in going out with her father. Gillian also starts to realize that Underberg left something for the town where he lived, and enlists in the help of her best friend, Savannah as well as science geek classmate Howard and his older brother Nate to help her find out what it is. The clues are hidden in a park that Underberg donated to the town, and when the group (along with Eric) figure these out, they enter an underground bunker-like city that Underberg prepared when he thought the Cold War would end poorly for the United States. Fiona is looking for this city, too, and chases the group. The city hasn't aged well, and between booby traps set by Underberg, Fiona's minions, and the treacherous conditions in the underground area, it is all Gillian and her group can do to survive. Will they be able to make it out AND solve the mystery of Underberg's plans?
Strengths: Interesting take on the Cold War (Which is trending, I think! Better than dystopias or vampires.), and a good dose of science thrown in. The city was fascinating and reminded me a little of a Star Trek episode, for reasons I can't begin to explain. The characters were all well developed and interestingly disparate.
Weaknesses: The beginning was a little slow, and some details like Gillian and Savannah ordering pizza from Nate could have been left off. Once the group gets too Omega City, it's great, but it took a bit long to get there. Fiona was not the best villain.
What I really think: This was better researched and more appealing than many MG books. Just under 200 pages, nice ensemble cast, fresh premise, and lots of actions. Funny moments, too. Pleasantly surprised. Will buy.

Gillian Seagret doesn’t listen to people who say her father’s a crackpot. His conspiracy theories about the lost technology of Cold War-era rocket scientist Dr. Aloysius Underberg may have cost him his job and forced the family to move to a cottage in the sticks, but Gillian knows he’s right, and plans to prove it.
When she discovers a missing page from Dr. Unerberg’s diary in her father’s mess of an office, she thinks she’s found a big piece of the puzzle–a space-themed riddle promising to lead to Dr. Underberg’s greatest invention. Enlisting the help of her skeptical younger brother, Eric, her best friend, Savannah, and Howard, their NASA-obsessed schoolmate, Gillian sets off into the ruins of a vast doomsday bunker, deep within the earth.
But they aren’t alone inside its dark and flooded halls. Now Gillian and her friends must race to explore OMEGA CITY and find the answers they need. For while Gillian wants to save her dad’s reputation by bringing Dr. Underberg’s secrets to light, there are others who will stop at nothing to make sure they stay buried…forever. 

Diana Peterfreund has published ten novels for adults, teens, and kids, including the four-book Secret Society Girl series (Bantam Dell), the “killer unicorn novels” Rampant and Ascendant (Harper Teen), For Darkness Shows the Stars (a post-apocalyptic retelling of Jane Austen’sPersuasion), and Across a Star-Swept Sea (inspired by the classic series The Scarlet Pimpernel). Her newest novel, OMEGA CITY, is a contemporary adventure novel for younger readers set in a secret bunker city somewhere under modern Maryland.
Her works have been named to the New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age list, the Capitol Choices (metro DC-area) reading list, and the Texas Lonestar List, as well as having been named to Amazon’s Best Books of the Year. In addition, she’s written several critically acclaimed short stories and a variety of non-fiction essays about  popular children’s literature.  Diana lives outside Washington D.C., with her family.

Monday, April 27, 2015

MMGM- Drive Me Crazy

Congratulations to Maria Selke for winning the Gabby Duran Prize package!

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.

Drive Me CrazyMcVoy, Terra Elan. Drive Me Crazy.
April 28th 2015 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Cassie and Lana are coerced into going on a road trip with their grandparents-- Cassie's Grandma Tess and Lana's Grandpa Howe have gotten married and want to take the girls, who seemed to hit it off at the wedding, on their honeymoon. Lana's pretty cool with the idea-- she misses her grandmother, but likes Tess and is glad her grandfather is happy. Lana is less excited, since she had a lot planned with her friends, whom she texts incessantly. There are tons of cool things that the group has planned, and the girls have a room of their own in nice hotels, but Lana is still bummed, especially when she finds out that her crush might like her and gets her phone number from her friends! Before long, though, Grandma Tess takes her phone away so she can be in the moment and with the people in the car, and Cassie is sure she will surely perish without the constant communication. Lana has reason to be unhappy as well, since her mother is sick and she is sure that her parents have sent her off because her mother is dying. Tess and Howe, seemingly enjoying dealing with two difficult teenagers, decide to travel from California to Maine to see the cabin that Howe used to own. The girls have no choice but to go along.
Strengths: This had many things going for it. The trip is fascinating, and it was fun to see the quirky places Grandma Tess wanted to visit. Everyone is supportive of the girls, and even the issue with Lana's mother is resolved in a productive and yet realistic way. Cassie is a brat, but gets better, and both girls have problems that are not overly traumatic, but which are hugely problematic when one is 12. Extra bonus points for working in technology in a very realistic way.
Weaknesses: Stretches the bounds of reality-- I really had to suspend disbelief that the grandparents would take the girls along on their honeymoon. That's probably because I am a lot closer to the grandparents' ages than the girls', and I would like my OWN adventure, thank you very much!
What I really think: Fabulous book that will sell itself. Great literature? Maybe not, but balances fun with a bit of an issue very well. Other authors take note: THIS is the sort of book I need!

22749726Frydenborg, Kay. Chocolate: Sweet Science & Dark Secrets of the World's Favorite Treat 
April 7th 2015 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC from

At 272 pages, this has more information about chocolate than anyone could ever want! I liked that this started out with an event with which I was unfamiliar-- a campaign by children to keep chocolate bars from rising in price from 5 to 8 cents back in the 1940s. From there, the entire sociopolitical, economic and philosophical history of chocolate is delineated. This makes it great for reference for a report, but unwieldy for pleasure reading.

There are a decent amount of pictures, plenty of science facts about chocolate, and is clearly well-researched. Even little known facts, like Hershey's town in Cuba, are covered.

One of the state standards for writing for my students is that they learn to narrow down their topic. While I enjoyed this, I couldn't help but think that it would have been a better book for the target demographic if the author had decided on a more focused bit of information to present.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Trouble from the Start

22864473Hawthorne, Rachel. Trouble from the Start
April 28th 2015 by HarperTeen
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Avery is a good girl; her father is a police officer who helps troubled kids, and she's a peer tutor and on her way to college to be a doctor. Fletcher has a wild reputation for womanizing and violence, so when he helps Avery home after she's had too much sweet tasting alcohol, Avery's reputation suffers-- especially since Fletcher has made bets that he can take her home. To make matters more complicated, Avery's father has asked Fletcher to live in the apartment over the garage. Fletcher does clear up the issue with Avery's reputation, and the two begin a romance that makes them both reassess their opinions of the other. They play a few little games with each other, dating other people and pretending not to be interested, but they are meant to be together and manage to overcome their difficulties.
Strengths: Nice twist on the star-crossed lovers theme. I especially liked how Avery helps Fletcher with his algebra (after he doesn't graduate because he fails it), and he admits that he missed not only academic success but being with her by blowing off their tutoring sessions!
Weaknesses: A bit too much alcohol, but it's portrayed in an instructive way. Fletcher's father is violent when drunk, so he doesn't drink; when he does, Avery is able to point out to him that he is not his father. Avery is drinking at the party. Otherwise, more YA, but okay for middle grade.
What I really think: Hawthorn should be published in dust jacketed hardcovers, not paperback! Love her stuff, and it's good to see new titles from her.

22864474This book comes out, too, but I'll try to read it before buying it.

Hawthorne, Rachel. The Boyfriend Project
From Goodreads:
Kendall and her boyfriend, Jeremy, have been together forever, and Kendall is starting to wonder if Jeremy is a little boring. . . . So she embarks on a boyfriend makeover. But as Jeremy learns to strut his stuff, other girls start to notice him and, what's worse, he's noticing them back. Then Jeremy breaks up with Kendall and she realizes her makeover project was the ultimate disaster. Is the sweet boyfriend she loved gone forever?

A companion novel to Rachel Hawthorne's paperback original Trouble from the Start, this title is perfect for fans of summer beach reads and sweet treats.

17591635Wyman, Carolyn. The Great American Chocolate Chip Cookie Book.
October 7th 2013 by Countryman Press

As much middle grade fiction as I read, when I am set loose in the public library, I have a decided tendency to come home with piles of nonfiction. A 400 page history of the Cadbury company? Four or five books on grammar? A history of paint-by-number sets? Yes, please. So this newish book by Wyman, who has also done fabulous books about Jell-o, Spam, and a delightful tome called Better Than Homemade was something I had to pick up. Wyman's vast research and amusing writing style made this an absolutely delightful book. I was not disappointed.

Only I was, a bit. Not because this book lacked anything. To the contrary, this had everything from detailed history about Ruth Wakefield and the Toll House to the huge cookie obsession of the 1980s (which I completely missed, by the way), to the state of the cookies today.

What disappointed me is that my students will find this TOO long to pick up. The Abdo Food Dude series would love to see Wyman turn her vast food knowledge to some 32-48 page books for middle grade readers. But she seems like a very, very busy lady. Oh, well. Maybe Abdo will soon come out with the third Food Dudes set.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Henry Hubble's Book of Troubles/ Footer Davis is Probably Crazy

So here is a conversation I have about three times a week with one of my 6th graders:

"Do you have any books that are like Wimpy Kid?"

"Yes. Quite a lot. However, they are all checked out but Stan and the Toilet Monster and book two of the Potterwookie series. Why don't you try a short, funny book like Weeks' Guy Time."

"I only like books with pictures."

"Yes, but even though I have bought every single one that has been published in the last ten years, they are all checked out. How about Dragonbreath?"

"I only like books set in schools."

"How about some Andrew Clements' books."

"I only like books with pictures."

"How about some graphic novels?"

"They have too many pictures."

At this point, I seriously want to jump on the counter and scream "You're in middle school! Not all of the books have pictures. In fact, I have SIX THOUSAND perfectly good books that don't!!!"

I'm not one of those teachers who forbid "comic books". Really. I do have quite a good collection. Multiple copies of the Great Literary Work of Our Time, Stick Dog Wants a Hot Dog. But at what point do readers need to diversify? Move on? Grow up?

Until I figure this out, I am trying my best to be supportive of these desires. In fact, when I had this conversation, I was able to show the student that I had just checked out the following book from the public library, and even gave him the check out slip so he could request the book himself. I'll be buying two copies (jacketed hardcover instead of paper-over-boards!!!), but won't have them until August.

22291638Myer, Andy. Henry Hubble's Book of Troubles
February 10th 2015 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Henry (who was named after William Henry Harrison, and is a bit obsessed with him, as well as a bottle of dog poop reportedly from Harrison's dog), has a knack for getting in trouble, and we follow him through a school year of his illustrated escapades.
Strengths: Upbeat, mildly amusing, nothing objectionable. Pictures.
Weaknesses: Nothing particularly artful in the way of plot of character development. Not Tashjian's My Life as a Book, but okay.

Vaught, Susan. Footer Davis is Probably Crazy
22540207March 3rd 2015 by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books

After Footer's (nee Fontana) mother injures herself shooting a snake with an elephant gun from Footer's father's gun collection, she ends up in the hospital. Due to her poorly managed bipolar disorder, she is transferred to a psychiatric facility. Footer's father is an emergency dispatch operator, but good neighbors of theirs, the Joneses, watch out for her. Peavine Jones, who uses crutches because of his cerebral palsy, is her best friend. His father is gone, so he understands Footer's difficulties in missing her mother. TO complicate matters further, other neighbors had a horrific incident-- a grandfather who is raising his two grandchildren was shot and killed, his house set on fire, and now the two children, Doc and Cissy, are missing. Footer and Peavine interview people about the incident because Footer would like to be an investigative reporter, but Footer starts to think that perhaps she was there the night of the fire, and suspects that she may be descending into the same sort of mental illness her mother has. She alarms her teachers with reports on serial killers, triggers the attention of children's services, and ultimately does find out the cause of the fire and the fate of the children.
Strengths: This was a decent mystery, with a lot of diversity in it. Can't think of too many characters in middle grade literature with cerebral palsy, although the disturbing Rune Michaels' title, Nobel Genes, as well as Selfors' Mad Love do involve mothers with bipolar disorder. There are a lot of people supporting Footer, and things turn out as well as they can.
Weaknesses: There's a LOT going on for one book. The storyline with Footer's mother could be an entire book, as could the mystery. Throw in Peavine's problems, and this has a high level of sadness. There's even a neighbor with PTSD.
What I really think: This is why I don't live in the south! My apologies to everyone who lives there, but I couldn't do it. Humidity? Snakes everywhere? Neighbors who keep tons of fire arms, even if they're locked up? People named Footer and Peavine? Ugh. I'm still debating purchasing this book, but again, my students want humorous books, not this level of depression and sadness.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Guy Friday--Evil Spy School

Gibbs, Stuart. Evil Spy School (Spy School #3)
April 21st 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Ben Ripley is doing his best at beginning of the year exercises at spy school when he is blamed for blowing up the principal's office. It's really a plan by Erica and her family to get him to infiltrate SPYDER's spy school, and Ben suspects as much. First, though, he has a disastrous day back at his old middle school before SPYDER does approach him and whisks him away to their ultra secret and very posh training center in New Jersey. There, Ben is in a house with Nefarious, who is always playing video games, and Ashley, the 6th best gymnast in the US who has turned to a life of crime after her failure to make the Olympic gymnastics team. He learns some of SPYDER's ways, takes a bit of a liking to Ashley, and finally is contacted by Erica, who tells him that SPYDER is up to something, and it's his job to find out what. The what ends up involving a lot of bombs, counter spying, and some unpleasant reminders of Ben's past. Which side is offering Ben a better deal?
Strengths: Pitch perfect middle grade novel. Well meaning but accident prone main character who also gets to be a SPY. A frisson of romance. Things blowing up. Awesome cover; glad the series is staying the same. It's hard to keep this series on the shelf.
Weaknesses: A little confusing, all this changing of sides. It makes both spy entities seem disorganized, which is maybe the point, but middle grade readers like their good and evil to be a little more clear cut.
What I really think: Great series, and I was glad to see that Gibbs didn't indulge in some of the mean spirited humor that is in Poached.

22875502Jensen, Case, Bird and Lindelof. Before Tomorrowland
April 7th 2015 by Disney Press

Three sets of characters converge at the 1939 World's Fair in New York City: Lee and his mother Clara, who is dying of cancer; Henry, who was made robotic after an accident; Rotwang, the evil scientist who made him that way. All come in contact with the Plus Ultra society, to which Lee and his mother are introduced through a comic book handed out at one of the exhibitions. There is a lot of action, lots of famous scientists, science fiction writers, and Amelia Earhart, who has not died in this reality. The comic book appears at the end of the text. The book is a prequel to an interesting looking movie coming out in May. (Tomorrowland:

I wanted desperately to like this. If I could time travel to any historical event, it would be the 1939 World's Fair. The cover of this is fabulous, the interior illustrations are sort of like the ones in Big Little books from this era, and there is a lot of action and adventure. The characters are typical to the time period, and historical figures are included. But it was so confusing! I felt like I was constantly missing half of the story. Younger readers may not be able to tell the historical figures from the fictional ones, so notes would have been helpful. I was distracted a lot, thinking "Would Bradbury have been at the World's Fair? Would there have been science fiction conventions? How old was Nikola Tesla in 1939?" The real life events seemed to hang together alright, but I probably doubted them because the world building for 1939 was lacking.

The language didn't seem to fit with the era, and there were too few details, which was a same. On top of that, there were occasional anachronisms. Sure, Alzheimers was a scientific term then, but I can't remember it being widely used until the 1980s. (People were termed "senile", at least in my world!) The mother wears a "pillbox" hat, which it clearly isn't; at this point in time, I would have expected a cloche, but the pictures indicate something more like a vagabond. Earhart is referred to as "Ms.", which again would have been possible, but not likely. Lee is mentioned to be wearing jeans, which would not have been dressy enough to be wearing in New York City. Will students be bothered by these things? Absolutely not. But I will have to debate before buying this one, especially since it bound in my archnemesis, paper-over-boards.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

They See Dead People

22747808Yansky, Brian. Utopia, Iowa
February 10th 2015 by Candlewick Press
Copy Provided by Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Jack Bell wants to write screen plays for movies, but he doesn't necessarily want to leave his small hometown. Home to a college of magic, and filled with people with a variety of magical talents, Utopia is the place where Jack feels most comfortable. When a college girl is killed and appears to Jack (since he can see ghosts), he gets drawn into the investigation. Detective Bloodsmith is a big suspicious of Jack, especially after a girl from his school is also killed, and Jack was the last person she called. Jack keeps having weird dreams, and his grandmother, who is a which, tries to help him out until she has a stroke. Or is it a stroke? An age old, evil goddess seems to be on the loose, and the girls may have been targeted. Mix in drama with Brian's friend, Ash, in whom he is slightly romantically interested, drama with Jack's parents, who love each other but fight over money, and unknown evil that may strike again, and Brian has a lot to keep him busy!
Strengths: The small town setting on this is quite fun, and the side story with Brian's father running the unsuccessful bar, Field of Dreams, was interesting. Most books set in small towns concentrate on people wanting to leave, so it was refreshing that Jack wanted to stay. His relationship with Ash seemed realistic, and I appreciated how the police did suspect him when he kept turning up at the sites of murders. In most books, the detectives are rather ignored, which seems unlikely. In the end, there are some twists about the murders, both with real characters and the paranormal ones.
Weaknesses: I could not buy into Jack's desire to write screen plays. The only hints we have that he is interested in movies are his brief descriptions of movies and screen play ideas throughout the book as they relate to situations, which get a bit annoying. There is one f-bomb, in a screenplay description.
What I really think:  This is more of a young adult book, and it moved a bit slowly. I never really connected with the main character, who seemed very static to me. I think my 8th grade boys will like this, and it's a good paranormal mystery with a boy on the cover, and there aren't too many of those.

17412895Johnson, Maureen. The Shadow Cabinet (Shades of London #3)
February 10th 2015 by Putnam Juvenile

Rory is devastated by Stephen's death, but still believes that he is going to come back-- she just needs to find him. For now, though, Charlotte's disappearance at the hands of Jane Quaint takes precedence. With the assistance of Thorpe, Jerome, and some new comers (that she has to decide whether or not to trust), Rory finds out information about Jane's extremely warped cult. Back in the 1970s, twins Sid and Sadie became interested in trying to escape death, and got involved in very gruesome death mysteries, and Jane is still hiding their secrets. Some of these secrets may be useful to Rory in trying to bring Stephen back, however, so she gets entangled with the group. The part of the stone that got blasted into Rory and made her a terminus is crucial to these mysteries, as is a stone called the Oswulf stone. If Jane can find it, things might go poorly. Can Rory and her group defeat Jane and hers, and what about the group that Rory realizes Stephen is part of? Can they be trusted? Plenty of room for a fourth book.
Strengths: Rory is an engaging character, and her reaction to Stephen's death is quite understandable. She is grieving, but also feels that she can actually bring him back. I really liked the information about Sid and Sadie, and their group in the 1970s. London was such a vibrant and edgy place at the time, that it's nice to see that brought into fiction. The magical elements all work out and seem realistic. The inclusion of London landmarks tied to death and spiritualism was interesting.
Weaknesses: There are parts of this that are REALLY gruesome and a bit uncalled for, so this is not for the sensitive soul.
What I really think: This seemed uneven to me. Parts of it really interested me, and parts really dragged. I did not like how sordid parts of it became, and I'm not really interested in a fourth book, but I'll have to buy it. I hope it's the last one.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Small Footsteps in the Land of the Dragon

When I look for diversity in middle grade literature, it often turns out to be books set in the US with characters from other cultures. The following memoir, by award winning middle grade writer Barbara Brooks Wallace, puts a spin on that. Ms. Wallace was born in China to US parents, and spent most of her first 15 years there! For our diversity today, we'll find out what it's like to be the "foreign" one!

7188376Wallace, Barbara Brooks. Small Footsteps in the Land of the Dragon
Commonwealth Books, LLC (July 31, 2009)
Copy purchased from

Growing up in the 1920s and 30s was very different from children's experiences today, and growing up in China has a whole different set of issues. This engaging memoir tells of the Brooks family's experiences living  in China because of the father's work with Standard Oil. They lived in several different locations, at one point two blocks from the fabled Yangtze River. There was no air conditioning in those days, so the best place to be in the summers was the mountains (where the children would be carried up in sedan chairs by coolies!) or the beach. There are countless other examples of the ways in which ordinary life was different in China at that time, from ordinary events such as sleeping under mosquito netting and speculating about the mysterious, wealthy neighbors, to historical ones such as General Chiang K'ai-shek's communist "witch hunt" that students today will find different and fascinating.

We do get a good look at what the expatriate life was like, and learn about places in China that probably no longer exist. I would love to see the Ching Ming apartments in Hankow, decorated with the Chinese manufactured furniture purchased by Bobbie's mother (who left Russia to live with relatives in Shanghai) or be able to stroll through the streets of Shanghai before the Japanese invaded. The country clubs and British schools are part of a pre-war China that quickly faded in the same way that servants and English Manor houses (ala Downton Abbey) went by the wayside in the UK.  While well-to-do families in some countries today still have maids and other servants, it is a very odd concept to most middle class students in the US, so reading about amahs, house boys and other servants will be a revelation to today's your readers.

The best part, for me, was reading about the facets of childhood that were typical of the time period. Tiger Time annuals, dolls and teddy bears, and even the way that Bobbie's poor health was treated all seem so unheard of to us today, and are a good reminder that the world changes.

Readers of Ms. Wallace's Victorian mysteries will be pleased to know more about the author's life, and this would be a good resource for author reports as well. More than that, it is a delightfully distracting look at a world that no longer exists, told by a master storyteller looking back fondly on her life.

Watch a delightful video of Ms. Wallace reading from a previous book, Diary of a Little Devil. Pangea also has a wonderful album of photos I wish had been in the book available on their website.

Confession. I'm usually good about reading ARCS in the order that they will be published, but I read this the week before winter break because it was a frustrating week of tech problems and this was the only book that really looked good. (Love the cover--I'm currently in my holiday sweater from 1985 and a cream, red, green and blue plaid pleated skirt!) I post books on Goodreads as I read them, so apologize for the really early entry!

Bustard, Anne. Anywhere But Paradise
April 14th 2015 by EgmontUSA
E ARC from

Peggy Sue is not happy that her family has moved from Texas to Hawaii in 1960 because of her father's job, especially since her cat, Howdy, has to remain in quarantine for a very long time. She misses her friends and her grandparents, and has to deal with a mother who has chronic headaches and doesn't spend a lot of time with her. To make matters worse, a girl at school, Kiki, continuarlly bullies her and calls her "haole", threatening to beat Peggy Sue up. The few bright spots include a new friend, Malina, hula lessons, and a budding sewing business. School is okay, other than having Kiki in her home ec class, and having to partner with her because Kiki has trouble sewing. Howdy's health is an ongoing concern, as is her mother's, but when there is an earthquake off the coast of Chile while her parents are on another island and she's staying with Malina's family, Peggy Sue knows that the most important thing is to have her family safe and together.
Strengths: I've been looking for historical fiction set in the 1960s, and this was quite good, bringing in information about living in Hawaii. Other than Graham Salisbury's books, I can't think of others set in Hawaii! There is enough girl drama to pull in readers who don't care as much for history. Lots of good details about life in Hawaii, and even though Kiki is the bully, there are some good reasons given for her actions, and she does improve a bit. I liked that it was important but not central to the story, and it's one of the few recent bullying episodes in books that are realistic and make sense.
Weaknesses: This could have had more detail about daily life in 1960. The description of phoning the grandparents long distance was good-- modern children don't understand the concept. I wanted to know more about why the family moved, and more about the mother's illness as well.

There was one historical inaccuracy that seems petty. Peggy Sue goes to the five and dime to get fabric and comes out clutching her purchases in a PLASTIC bag. In my mind, this was as wrong as her hopping into a space ship-- I worked in a fabric store in the early 80s, and know we had paper bags for everything. I don't really remember plastic bags being used until I had my own apartment in the mid 1980s, something that is backed up by this article:

Nitpicky. This is why I am fearful of ever writing a book of historical fiction!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Castle Hangnail/Amulet Keepers (Tombquest #2)

Vernon, Ursula. Castle Hangnail
21 April 2015, Dial Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Molly shows up at the derelict Castle Hangnail and informs its Guardian that she is the new keeper, and a witch at that, even though she looks suspiciously like a little girl. Since the castle will not be able to go on if there is not a new keeper, the Guardian grudgingly agrees to let her in, and gets her set up to take over the castle. There is a list of required activities, such as smiting someone (and Vernon knows the principal parts of the verb! Hooray!), winning over the townspeople, etc. Molly tries her best, aided by her somewhat goofy but utterly engaging staff, even though secretly, she knows she doesn't belong at the castle and that sooner or later her parents will expect her home from "summer camp". Each task is completed with good humor, following the intent of the law rather than the letter, but when the castle's rightful keeper shows up, even the Guardian realizes that Molly is a perfect fit for Castle Hangnail, and must find a way to stay.
Strengths: This was absolutely delightful. For younger lovers of lighthearted fantasy, this is perfect. I can see several of my students wanting to be Molly for Halloween in about third grade. The final illustrations are bound to be wonderful, and looking at the price point on this, I think it will be a dust jacketed hardcover, which is always better than plain paper-over-boards for my library!
Weaknesses: This will struggle to find readers in my library. It really would be best for very strong readers in grades 3-5.
What I really thought: Might be a bit young for my readers, and a bit long, but the Dragonbreath books do so well, and are so clever, that I may buy this one and make the effort to thrust it upon children. Once they pick it up, I think they'll like it, but there is an odd disconnect between interest level and length (384 pages), and it is not very similar to Dragonbreath.

23399243Northrop, Michael. Amulet Keepers (Tombquest #2)
April 28th 2015 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Ren and Alex are on a plane to London to stop the Deathwalkers and find Alex's mother (after the events of Book of the Dead). On the way there, the plane runs into a cloud of blood rain that is explained as algae bloom. They also run into Alex's cousin, Luke, who is in London for a sports camp. Ren and Alex are met by a driver from the British Museum, since Dr. Aditi couldn't make it... except Liam turns out to be a thug from The Order and tries to kidnap them. Luckily, Luke is more astute than the other two and doesn't trust Liam, so he saves them. Dr. Aditi shows up and whisks them away to stay in rooms near the Campbell Collection of Egyptian artifacts. The two research Deathwalkers and help a mummified cat, Pri, and eventually figure out that they need to go to Highgate Cemetary to investigate further. They almost get their souls eaten, and someone close to them does. They figure out that there is a tomb raider from the 1800s, Willoughby, who had himself mummified rather inexpertly, and he has risen and is causing many of the problems in London, which include many missing people in addition to the rain of blood. There are lots of harrowing encounters, but Ren manages to get her own amulet from an unlikely source, and she and Alex help defeat Willoughby with the help of Luke as well as Robbie, a boy who had been kidnapped. Alex's mother is nowhere to be found, though, and when Dr. Todtmann shows up, he informs the group that they are off to Egypt. Valley of Kings come out 25 August 2015, and two more books follow.
Strengths: This is a much stronger book than the first, since it doesn't start with Alex's infirmities, although it mentions that he had them before he died the first time. Lots of good action, evil scientists, and romps around London. Excellent, with a 39 Clues vibe. Have only looked at the online stuff very briefly, since I have no attention span for it.
Weaknesses: Seemed unlikely that Luke would keep crossing their paths, and I wanted to see more character development from Ren.
What I really think: Will buy the series and be sad when the horrible crappy bindings fall apart.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Giveaway-- Gabe Johnson Takes Over

Gabe Johnson Takes OverI have to admit that I vastly prefer the original cover and title (Fat Boy vs. the Cheerleaders), but I can see how there might be politically correct problems with that. SO, Sourcebooks has changed the title, but is offering a giveaway. This was an utterly fantastic title, so make sure you enter!

Rafflecopter Giveaway: a Rafflecopter giveaway

New in Paperback!
Gabe Johnson Takes Over
By Geoff Herbach(Previously Titled Fat Boy Vs. the Cheerleaders)
A YALSA 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults Selection
Sourcebooks Fire ● April 7, 2015
Praise for Gabe Johnson Takes Over
“Told in the first-person voice that Geoff Herbach does so well, Gabe Johnson’s account of his development of the ‘leadership bone’ is grand, touching, and hilarious.” —Star Tribune

[A] funny, honest, and an utterly likable narrator; his character growth and the decisions he makes are believable and his refusal to be a victim is refreshing. Give to anyone who has felt like an outsider or just wants a fun, fast-paced book with depth.” —School Library Journal

The funny, profane text embraces the idea that nobody is perfect…Gabe’s character growth will satisfy any appetite…a funny popcorn read.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Herbach’s funny/insightful new novel…there’s poignancy in this story…Gabe stands up for the dignity of all the kids who feel like outsiders.” —Pioneer Press, Pick of the Week

“Herbach deftly walks the tightrope between stereotypes and real people painted in broad strokes, and manages to work in a few surprises…[he]delivers another funny, poignant novel about an unlikely hero determined to save his high school’s marching band.” —Shelf Awareness

Book Info:

From “one of the most real, honest, and still funny male voices to come around in a while” (YALSA) comes a brand-new cast of quirky characters.

Gabe Johnson is having a rough week. In spite of the popular kids and some teachers calling him names because of his weight, and even his own friends calling him “Chunk,” Gabe is normally the funny kid at school. But he’s on edge from trying to kick his soda addiction. So when news breaks that his beloved marching band camp has been canceled due to lack of funding, he’s furious. What makes him even madder? The school’s vending machine money, which had previously been collected by the band, is now sponsoring the new cheer squad.
The war is ON. And Gabe is the high school underdogs’ champion. No one will be safe from the Geeker’s odd brand of wrath—not the principal, the band teacher, the local newspaper, and certainly not the cheerleaders and their jock boyfriends.
GABE JOHNSON TAKES OVER is the story of Gabe’s fight against injustice, but also his fight to reclaim himself. For years he has played along while the popular kids bully him, but no more. With the help of friends and unexpected allies, Gable learns about power, politics, and himself. A funny, touching, and insightful story, GABE JOHNSON TAKES OVER will appeal to any kids who feel like they just don’t fit in.

MMGM- Gabby Duran and the Unsittables

Allen, Elise and Conners, Daryle. Gabby Duran and the Unsittables
May 12th 2015 by Disney-Hyperion
Copy provided by the publisher

Gabby is such a good babysitter that movie stars will fly her to Florida to watch their children, so it's no surprise when the mysterious Edwina shows up and offers Gabby an out-of-this-world babysitting opportunity... literally. Edwina is part of the Association Linking Intergalatics and Earthlings as Neighbors and needs someone who can babysit the children of visiting aliens. When Gabby does well with Philip, who is a giant, gelationous blob who just wants to be loved and played with, Edwina promises to keep in touch and line up other jobs for her. This is important to Gabby, because her mother is struggling to make ends with Gabby and her sister after the death of her father in the military when Gabby was quite young. Gabby plays the French horn, and would like to attend a good music school if her family could afford it, and she sees working for A.L.I.E.N. as her ticket to this life. When Edwina next materializes, she has Wutt, an alien princess, for Gabby to watch. The downside? Wutt is being targeted by an anti-alien group, and if anything happens to Wutt, her family might vaporize the Earth. No pressure, especially since Gabby has school as well as a concert to attend while tending to Wutt. Complications ensue when a substitute teacher seems to surmise Gabby's secret, and Wutt's safety is imperiled at every turn. Can Gabby keep herself and Wutt safe and be prepared for the French horn solo in the concert?
Strengths: This takes interests that many middle grade students have-- making money and babysitting-- and puts a humorous, frenetic twist on it. Gabby truly believes that no child, even an alien one, is "unsittable", and her techniques are admirable. The characters, from geeky sister to harried best friend to turn-coat school custodian, are multi-faceted and engaging. The action is nonstop, and there are great details (like Wutt turning into a goofy looking hat to evade detection) that will make this appealing to middle grade readers.
Weaknesses: Sometimes that action got a bit too goofy and over-the-top for me. Gabby's mother's brief appearance was hectic, and the confusion between the words "what" and "Wutt" reminded me of the Abbott and Costello "Who's On First" routine, but younger readers won't be familiar with that and will find the pacing to be perfect. (Remember, I adore Anne of Green Gables, and my students think it is WAY too slow!)

Here's a giveaway, and apparently my library gets one from Disney, too! Whee! Didn't realize, but must mention this per FTC guidelines!

Need a copy for your own?
OUT OF THIS WORLD prize pack
One (1) winner receives:
·         a copy of Gabby Duran and the Unsittables
·         branded Tumbler and UFO light-up flyer.

Giveaway open to US addresses only.
Prizing and samples provided by Disney Hyperion.

Leave a comment below about your WORST babysitting gig to be entered to win!

About the Book:
Case File: The First Unsittable

Summary: The Association Linking Intergalatics and Earthlings (hereby known as A.L.I.E.N.) has a new member. After months of investigation, Gabby Duran, Associate 4118-25125A, has proven herself to be a babysitter extraordinaire. Her celebrity clients fly her around the country to care for their rambunctious little humans. Our spy, Associate 4118-23432B, otherwise known as Edwina, believes Gabby can be trusted with the truth: aliens are living among humans on Earth. And here at A.L.I.E.N we believe that even extraterrestrials need a babysitter now and then. No one was up to the task...until now.

After accepting the top-secret position, Edwina has paired our new associate up with her first charge, a little girl from the planet Flarknartia. The timing for associate 4118-25125A is less than ideal. It's a school day on Planet Earth, Gabby's audition for the solo part in the band is tonight, and this tiny alien is a bit more than meets the eye. 

Can Gabby Duran, Associate 4118-25125A, First Sitter to the Unsittables, keep her otherworldly charge safe in the unpredictable halls of middle-school and keep A.L.I.E.N hidden?

About the Authors:
Emmy-nominated writer and New York Times best-selling author Elise Allen made a name for herself with her acclaimed young adult novel Populazzi (Harcourt), and the Jim Henson's Enchanted Sisters chapter books (Bloomsbury).  In television, she has written for talent ranging from Bill Cosby to Kermit the Frog, and is currently writing for the new Disney Junior showThe Lion Guard. Her dog may or may not secretly be from another planet.

Daryle Conners is an award-winning writer, filmmaker and video game designer. She writes joke and riddle books and has designed many game titles for the PC and iPhone/iPad including Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Scene It? Harry Potter, Hot Wheels Slot Car Racers, and Scene It? Twilight Saga. Her non-fiction books include Lunchtime LOLZ, Nintendo DS Hot Tips, ROFLs,Video Game Secrets and Monster High Jokes, all for Scholastic. Daryle lives in Seattle, where she still babysits from time to time.


Learn more at the Official Site
Follow Disney-Hyperion on Twitter
Follow Elise Allen & Daryle Conners on Twitter

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, April 19, 2015

Double Vision (Twintuition #1)

22836658Mowry, Tia and Tamera. Double Vision (Twintuition #1)
21 April 2015, HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss

Twins Caitlyn and Cassie move from San Antonio to the small town of Aura, Texas because their mother has been hired by the police force there. When their mother was in the army, they moved around a lot, so the girls wanted to stay in San Antonio. They certainly didn't want to move to a small town and live in a small rundown house. When the kids in school are mean, and both girls start to have weird visions, they are more determined than ever to go back "home", especially when a boy in their class claims that their mother "took" his uncles' job. Despite their differences in dealing with their difficulties, the girls want to help out their mom. Can their visions be changed before bad things happen?
Strengths: There are some really good, positive elements in this. I love the cover. Magical realism with African-American characters is hard to find for middle grade. Their mom's job is a nice touch, and she is a hands on parent. Story is decent.
Weaknesses: The character development didn't quite work for me-- the mean kids in the school didn't really have any motivation, and a lot of the interactions with the twins didn't make sense. The magic wasn't well explained, either.
What I really think: I'll probably buy, since there are some good things in the book, and the cover will entice a lot of girls to pick it up. I just wish it were better.

18075234Shusterman, Neal. Challenger Deep
April 21st 2015 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

From the Publisher:
"A captivating story about mental illness that lingers long beyond the last page, the novel features haunting interior illustrations by Neal Shusterman's son Brendan.

Laurie Halse Anderson, award-winning author of Speak, calls Challenger Deep "a brilliant journey across the dark sea of the mind; frightening, sensitive, and powerful. Simply extraordinary."

There's nothing bad one can say about this book because Shusterman is a brilliant writer and this is clearly a story he felt he needed to tell. For middle grade readers, it is overly confusing and sad, so I will not buy it.

Shusterman was the favorite author of a student I once had who is no longer with us, so I had to read this. All I can say is that the book made me feel that my own personal family situation is fortunate in comparison. Mr. Shusterman might well feel that he is the luckier one.