Sunday, May 31, 2015

MMGM- Book Scavenger

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.

Happy Book Birthday to Ms. Bertman tomorrow! If you haven't read Book Scavenger, go out and pick up a copy IMMEDIATELY. I won an ARC, and several of my students read it and were deep in the planning stages of doing a hunt... but with the end of the year, we didn't do the job I'd hoped. What a fabulous idea, and a fabulous BOOK. Like Barry's The Worst Class Trip Ever or Korman's Masterminds, it's books like this one that restore my faith in middle grade literature... and in humanity.

22718727Bertman, Jennifer Chambliss. Book Scavenger
June 2nd 2015 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
Also reviewed at Young Adult Books Central

Emily isn't too thrilled about moving yet again, but she's used to it. Her parents are both able to work from home wherever they are, and they are gathering material for their book 50 Homes in 50 States by moving about once a year. Emily is excited about moving to San Francisco, though, because it is the home of Garrison Griswold, the founder of the Book Scavenger Game. It is helpful  that her new neighbor, James, is also a fan of puzzles and is able to help her out with many of the clues, as well as to introduce her to life in San Francisco. When Emily finds a book that Griswold lost in a subway attack, she uncovers a game that has yet to be released. With the help of James, as well as a teacher at school as well as her rock band loving older brother Matt, she is able to work out the puzzles, foil thieves, and get a great introduction to a city she loves. Will she also be able to figure out Griswold's puzzle?
Strengths: The descriptions of San Francisco are wonderfully clear, the Book Scavenger game something that many students will wish actually existed, and the characters are all well developed and intriguing. I especially liked the treatment of the sibling relationship. There's a bit of diversity. No one dies! I'm normally not a fan of puzzles, but these were done in a way that even I was intrigued!
Weaknesses: Mr. Quisling's name seemed a bit overly quirky, and Maddie seemed excessively mean and underdeveloped as a character.
What I really think: Absolutely delightful, and easy to hand to a variety of students: anyone who loves books, mystery readers, students who like travel stories. Even the cover has a cheery and timeless quality to it. A great companion to Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library.

23209943Samuelsson, Marcus. Make It Messy: My Perfectly Imperfect Life
June 9th 2015 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Copy received from publisher

Samuelsson, celebrity chef and owner of the Harlem, NYC restaurant Red Rooster, recounts his unusual path through life in this young readers' version of his adult memoir (Yes, Chef, 2012). Written with Veronica Chambers, who has done some great MG/YA books of her own, this is an interesting overview of an unusual life. After suffering from tuberculosis, which kills his mother, in Ethiopia, Marcus and his older sister are adopted by a Swedish couple who are already fostering a biracial girl. In 1970s Sweden, people of color were not common, and there were some racial issues. More importantly, though, Marcus played soccer with friends and cooked with his grandmother. After he realized that he was too small to become a professional soccer player, he started culinary vocational training, and worked his way into several very good restaurants, where the hours were long and the work crushing. He eventually contacted the owner of a Swedish restaurant in New York City, Aquavit, and was hired there. Life in NYC was very different, and he had a wonderful sense of no one looking at him in a way that didn't happen in the more homogeneous Sweden. He moved up the ranks, eventually becoming the head chef and then going on to a career in television that lead to him being invited to go to Ethiopia to reconnect with his cuisine of origin.
Strengths: My students have been enjoying memoirs like Michaela Deprince's Taking Flight, so I can see them picking this up. Samuelsson's early soccer career, as well as his apparent t.v. celebrity (I don't watch cooking shows, but apparently he has done a lot of them) will appeal to some of them, and this book was a good length (212 pages) and engagingly written. Samuelsson mentions that one fascinating thing about traveling to Ethiopia was "seeing myself everywhere", and this cover will appeal to a lot of my students who want to see themselves on the covers of books, even though I have more students with Somalian or Ghanian backgrounds. 
Weaknesses: I've read a lot of books about cooking, so I could understand all of the foods and methods described. Most of my students will be completely kerflummoxed by some of them. A signature dish of foie gras? Is that even legal anymore?  There are also a few unanswered questions, at least for me. How was Samuelsson's tuberculosis cured? That's a tough disease! I appreciated that a one night stand when young that left him with a daughter was handled delicately and that his parents made him do the responsible thing, but I would have liked to know what happened to her. 
What I really think: I'm glad to have a copy, and I think that my students will take away from this book the lesson of perseverance and following one's dreams. 

Personally, I love reading about cooking, but I don't like to cook and don't particularly care about food. There's a lot that doesn't make any sense to me! What kind of insane person would pay $18 for a bowl of soup at Aquavit? You could buy groceries for a week with that much money! I don't understand why kitchens at restaurants are such brutal places to work.

Extraordinary Means

23149128Schneider, Robyn. Extraordinary Means
May 26th 2015 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Lane should be enjoying his senior year, but instead, he is sent away to a sanitorium because he has tuberculosis. While there, he meets Sadie, a girl he knew years ago, but who has changed from the shy girl he knew. The two develop a relationship while Lane is learning to walk on the wild side, as much as he can in a medically supervised boarding school. In the end, tragedy occurs, and Lane realizes that he has to live while he is able to.
Strengths: Tuberculosis is still an issue, so it was interesting to see a book set in modern times featuring the disease. However. Need MORE depressing books for your high school? Have students who just can't move on past The Fault in Our Stars and want romantic books where people die? This would be perfect. If this is the final cover, it would even display well with TFIOS.
Weaknesses: Tuberculosis is really not curable, (unless things have changed since I read Invincible Microbes) so inventing a strain that is totally drug resistant seems kind of pointless. There are f-bombs near the end. I can't get Wilson's Queenie to circulate, didn't even buy Hayles' Breathing Room, so I'll pass on this one.
What I really think: Had this been less YA (slow and whiny) and had shown a more upbeat picture of a boy with tuberculosis, I would actually have enjoyed it. I don't think that books are romantic at all when one of the romantic interests die. It's just sad, and I don't need more sad.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

I worry about British parenting skills

Pichon, L. Tom Gates: Excellent Excuses and Other Good Stuff
May 12th 2015 by Candlewick Press
E ARC from

In this sequel to The Brilliant World of Tom Gates, Tom is back annoying his sister Delia, getting into trouble at school for skiving off almost all of his work, trying to get Norman to be a good drummer in his band, Dogzombie, and dealing with a toothache. In his inimitable fashion, he manages to get sucked into playing in the school band (which doesn't use instruments, but instead performs on makeshift ones created from garbage) but then can't play in a school assembly because his arm is "injured", learns some classic rock from band mate Derek's father, and plays Wild Thing and Smoke on the Water to much acclaim at the Leafy Green Old Folks Home where his grandparents live. Along the way, he does a lot of drawing, eats as many caramel wafers as his sore tooth will permit, and foils the obnoxious Marcus in his plan to win the award for the most gold stars during the term.
Strengths: Notebook novel, with a lot of fun moments like Tom having to wear teddy bear swim trunks because he has forgotten his own. Rings very true when it comes to the distracted sorts of things that middle grade students do. Love the family dynamic, the scenes at school, and the quirky grandparents. Definitely the Leafy Green Old Folks for me!(Or, even better, The Green Leaf!)
Weaknesses: While this book comes in at over 325 pages, there are about five sentences per page. Perfect for students who don't want to read and are told they MUST read 20 pages a day. I find the rebus-type text difficult to follow, and this, like the first, is a bit light on plot.
What I really think: Liked this one better than the first, and love the glossary at the back with the Britishisms. If my students must read notebook novels, at least they can read ones that are the British equivalent of Charlie Joe Jackson! Will also purchase Everything's Amazing, which comes out in September.

Tom Gates is also a rare glimpse into FUNCTIONAL British parenting. My. If I based all of my opinions of British parenting on the collected works of Jacqueline Wilson, or other authors, I would be very concerned for the future of the Empire.

23014756Crossan, Sarah. Apple and Rain
May 12th 2015 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Apple is being raised by her Nana because her mother ran off when she was small to be an actress in the US, and her father is busy with his new wife and impending baby. Apple gets along with Nana, but isn't overly fond of school. When her mother shows up, Apple is very glad, and decides to go live with her in a small apartment. She is surprised to find that she has a half sister who is ten, Rain. Rain is obsessed with her doll, Jenny, and acts as if she is real. Apple's mother is very irresponsible, having parties in the apartment and running off to London for auditions, frequently leaving the girls alone. At one point, Apple misses over two weeks of school so that she can babysit Rain. Eventually, things become impossible, and adults in her life step in to help.
Strengths: I liked this better than The Weight of Water, and rather enjoyed it. Mildly British and VERY much like the works of Jacqueline Wilson or Cathy Cassidy, if those books are popular in your library.
Weaknesses: My readers aren't picking up the Wilson or Cassidy, so I have no good reason to purchase this book.
What I really think: Perhaps the British are so obsessed with murders because all of the mums are dysfunctional. Okay, I have a friend who is a British mother, so not ALL of them are dysfunctional, but you would not know that from reading the UK books that make it over to this side of the pond! That's my next quest-- finding a modern UK book with a great mother!

23508698Nadin, Joanna. Joe All Alone
May 7th 2015 by Little, Brown Young Reader
E ARC from

Joe lives in Peckham, in a run down apartment building with his mum and Dean, her slob of a boyfriend. When the two adults decide to holiday for a week in Spain, they decide it's perfectly okay to leave Joe alone. At first, this is a great idea, because Joe can play video games all day and eat chocolate for breakfast, and he even makes a friend in Asha, who is staying with her step grandfather who lives in the building. Soon, though, the electricity starts to run out, there's not much food, and when school starts back up, Joe isn't able to keep his uniform clean, and a bully demands to be paid a pound a day. Asha knows about Joe's predicament, but since his mum is supposed to be back soon, the two don't worry too much. When his mum and Dean are a week late and Joe gets sick from eating week old, unrefrigerated goat curry, the adults at school and in his building step in and find help for him.
Strengths: Well written, interesting, and sort of Box Car Children-like in Joe's approach to having to take care of himself for a week. Loved how it referenced Wilson's Tracey Beaker!
Weaknesses: A bit too British, only available in paperback, and really? He thought it was a good idea to eat the goat curry? I will have to make sure I investigate E ARCs more carefully. I might have considered buying this if it were available in hardcover.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Guy Friday- Baseball

23399247Shang, Wendy Wan-Long. The Way Home Looks Now. 
April 28th 2015 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Peter Lee's family loves baseball, cheering on the Taiwanese team when they come to a world championship in the early 1970s. When his older brother, Nelson, is killed in a car crash, however, his mother becomes so completely dysfunctional that she can't even get up off the couch to cook dinner, leaving Peter, his younger sister Elaine, and his father to fend for themselves. Peter is grieving for longer than necessary as well (and isn't given any help at home or at school) and feels as if everyone at school doesn't talk to him because of his misfortune. Eventually, he decides that if he can play baseball the way that Nelson did, perhaps he can entice his mother to go to a game, and she will be able to regain her joy in being outside. Since there are too many players, Peter's father offers to coach a team, even though Peter thinks that his baseball experience must be limited, based on the poor players that his father picks. There are some surprises in the line up, which are quite interesting, and everyone but Peter's mother seems to improve a bit. In the end, there may even be a little bit of hope for the woman.
Strengths: I loved The Great Wall of Lucy Wu, so was really looking forward to this one. Shang writes riveting prose, and her "women's libber" twist and 1970s setting is fantastic. There's enough baseball in this one that sports fans will pick it up.
Weaknesses: I was HUGELY disappointed in the ridiculous grief of the mother. It is not an option for parents to submerse themselves in their own grief about a dead child to the point where they can't take care of their living ones. No excuse, and this made me SO angry. I didn't just want to slap the mother, I wanted to punch her in the face. The father didn't help, either, letting the mother get away with it. Argh! Not okay, people. Not okay.
What I really think: Despite my disappointment, I will buy this one, because I never have enough baseball books, it's nicely multicultural, and has a great twist in it. But still! We could have avoided the idiotic mother altogether.

22747814Tavares, Matt. Growing Up Pedro
February 10th 2015 by Candlewick Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there

In this picture book biography, we see how long it can take for a dedicated and talented baseball player to make it to the big leagues. Brothers Pedro and Ramon love baseball, and see it as their way to better their lives. First, Ramon makes the Domican national team, and is then signed by the Dodgers. Pedro follows, but his journey is more difficult, since people underestimate his skills due to his small size. The brothers attempt to play for the same teams whenever possible, and manage to not only become successful, but to share that success with their family and their home town.

Baseball fans who know of these players will be glad to know their story, and I was fascinated by the timeline of events. It was interesting to see how long it took both men to "make it" on a ball team, and to see how low their starting salaries were, compared to what they eventually made! Emphasis is put on their Dominican background, and there are a few interesting facets about their lives there, although it would have been nice for US audiences to have a little more background on Dominican baseball.

The pictures will be appealing to elementary readers as well as reluctant middle schoolers, and the picture book format works well to convey the information in a straightforward manner. Notes and statistics at the end of the book will give readers wanting more information a good place to start.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Armchair BEA- Social Media

Armchair BEASocial Media (From Armchair BEA)
How do you use social media to expand your blogging/writing horizons?  Social Media is all about networking and connections, and utilizing today's technology to the fullest.  Make sure you mention your own social media pages. Do you have another blog, maybe a Tumblr? Have a Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook? Or maybe there's an underrated social media program that you like.

So, here's the thing. I hate computers. And smart phones. Especially smart phones.

When I started blogging almost ten years ago, I didn't really think anyone would ever READ my blog, and several years, no one did. Blogging was just a way to remember all of the books that I read. I was a little surprised to learn that there were not only other bloggers who read middle grade novels, but whole organizations of them, like the CYBILS Awards. There were events, like the 48 Hour Book Challenge. Then came Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Young Adult Books Central, and Pinterest. Tumblr and Vine, which I still don't understand. If I wanted to, I could spend every waking hour connecting with people on Web 2.0 (remember when it was called that?) and never actually read any books. 

This is the first week of our school summer vacation, and I am being a bit of a bum. By that, I mean that I do the minimum amount of housework possible and read 8-10 books a day. I had great plans to participate in Armchair BEA and post stuff everywhere, but I hit a wall.

I can spend about two hours on the computer before I get itchy and need to shut the machine off and go outside to sit on the front porch with my dog and read!

Google+: Karen Yingling
Pinterest: Karen Yingling @msyinglingreads
Instagram: @msyinglingreads
Facebook: Personal account

The Students who make it all worthwhile...

Story from Westerville This Week News, Debbie Gillum reporting. 
Some students read a book for fun every now and then. Others read only those books assigned by their teachers at school.
And then, there are the students who read at least a book a day. Really.
Gabby Freshly, just finishing her eighth-grade year at Blendon Middle School, earned an astonishing 2,053 Accelerated Reader points for the 2014-15 school year. For her three-year career at Blendon, she earned a total of 5,441 AR points.
To put that number into perspective, reading the classic novel Charlotte's Web and achieving the highest possible results after testing about its content, is worth just five AR points.
Gabby just completed the equivalent of reading Charlotte's Web every day, for the last three consecutive school years.
Gabby's mom, Jenny Freshly, is an English teacher, and said her daughter's love of reading started when she was just 13 months old and she discovered a National Geographic article about bald eagles.
"She was just fascinated by that article and wanted to completely understand it," Jenny said. "I read to her as a child but pretty quickly she began to outpace me and started to just read on her own."
Today, Freshly said, she is still amazed at how "incredibly quickly" her daughter reads. She estimates Gabby reads about a book a day.
"When she was in sixth grade, I remember a teacher telling me at a parent-teacher conference that she was concerned by how much Gabby was reading," she said. "She'd sit down before class and whip out a book and start reading."
Even at home, Freshly has to remind Gabby not to read at the dinner table.
However, by no means is Gabby just a bookworm. During her just-concluded years at Blendon, she competed for the school's Battle of the Books team (of course), and also was involved in Mock Trial, student council and played soccer.
Gabby said she prefers to read science-fiction, fantasy, dystopian and historical fiction books.
The AR program encourages students to read a variety of books, including fiction as well as nonfiction.
Blendon school librarian Karen Yingling was a friend and mentor through the pages of three years at Blendon, Gabby said.
"Mrs. Yingling got me hooked on historical fiction and she gave me some good nonfiction books to read. Usually I don't like nonfiction books," she said.
"I want students to love what they read and I was happy to recommend new books to Gabby," said Yingling.
Gabby said her favorite author is J.K. Rowling and her favorite book series was Rowling's Harry Potterbecause "It's really well-written and there's a lot of action."
"Reading is just fun. I get to do things I wouldn't normally be able to do," she said.
Before she even started sixth grade, Gabby asked Yingling if she could be a library helper, and she served as a library helper all throughout her time at Blendon.
"She's very self-motivated and was willing to step up to any challenge," said Yingling.
Gabby read for enjoyment and for comprehension so she would be able to answer the fact-based multiple choice questions on the AR tests.
Just for fun, Yingling did the AR program with the Blendon students this year and earned 400 points.
At the end of the school year, more than 21 students also earned 400 or more AR points and were recognized at a special assembly.
Gabby said she will continue her voracious reading when she attends Westerville South High School beginning this fall, even though she will no longer be striving to earn AR points.
"She reads because she likes to read, not for the points," said Freshly.
Yingling said that Gabby will definitely be missed in the library.
"It's not often that you find a reading kindred spirit like that," she said.

Mystery Thursday- The Search for Baby Ruby

23399255Shreve, Susan. The Search for Baby Ruby.
May 26th 2015 by Arthur A. Levine Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Jess is staying in a hotel with her extremely dysfunctional family for her sister Whee's wedding. Her parents are divorced and at odds, her sister Teddy shoplifts so much that she's had to live in a home for troubled girls, and her brother Danny is a disorganized stay at home father to Ruby. When the babysitter for the rehearsal dinner falls through, Ruby is commanded to babysit. She's not happy about it, but she doesn't have a choice. While watching Ruby, she stays in the bathroom longer than she should, trying on Whee's wedding dress and makeup. When she comes out, the three month old is gone. Instead of immediately alerting authorities, she texts Teddy, and the two of them decide that they will start investigating on their own. Jess, who has an overly keen sense of smell, thinks that a woman she found crouched in a linen closet is probably the culprit, but when she goes in search of her, she gets dragged into a car and kidnapped herself. Eventually, she is tied up and abandoned on the side of the highway, but not before gathering a lot of clues as to the identity of the kidnappers. Will it be enough to find baby Ruby?
Strengths: Middle grade readers are very found of kidnapping stories like Peg Kehret's Abduction, Duffy's Missing, or Roberts' Hostage. I'm not quite sure why. This would certainly fit the bill, and the cover is rather appealing.
Weaknesses: Jess is described at several different points as being chubby, and this is not shown on the cover at all. The family is highly dysfunctional. Both Teddy and Jess make extremely poor choices in dealing with the kidnapping.
What I really think: There were so many things that I disliked about the book. Jess' weight was not discussed in a helpful way. Teddy's problems didn't seem to be addressed. Jess and Teddy's improper actions could well have led to Jess' death, or Ruby's complete disappearance. Yet, my students would love it. Do I want to give them a book when the characters do things that are so very wrong? Contemplating.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Rebels of the Lamp/The Demon Curse

23197514 Speakman, Peter and Galvin, Michael. Rebels of the Lamp (Rebels of the Lamp, #1)
May 12th 2015 by Disney-Hyperion
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Parker Quarry is living in California with his mother, who is struggling to make ends meet since Parker's father is in jail. Parker has trouble fitting into his school and also willfully gets into trouble, so his mother decides to send him to New Hampshire to live with an aunt and uncle. Parker's cousin Theo isn't thrilled to see him, since Parker has always been unkind to him. Parker continues to get into trouble, stealing his uncle's keys to the university, breaking into an archaeologist's office, and stealing a metal tube that is turned in by concerned citizens. He and Theo break the tube open and release Fon-Rahm, a jinni created by the evil wizard Visiroth, whose journals we get to read as well. Visiroth also created Xaru, who is far more evil than Fon-Rahm, and who is on the loose as well. It is Xaru's mission to rule mankind with the help of a group of misguided humans called The Path, and Fon-Rahm would like to stop him. With the help of their friend Reese, and with the help of the archaeologist from whom they stole the jinni's lamps, Dr. Ellison, the cousins attempt to thwart the attempts of The Path and Xaru to take over the world. They succeed temporarily, but will Visiroth rise again?
Strengths: Lots of action and things blowing up, a coherent plot, and some travel thrown in. A few surprises along the way as well.
Weaknesses: I would rather have read more character development about Parker, but instead there is a lot of Visiroth. He's evil and his creation wants to take over the world-- I don't need to know his motivation as much. Parker doesn't seem to grow a lot, and that would have interested me more.
What I really think: There could be more evil jinn stories, so this is a good addition. Kerr's Children of the Lamp series, or Stroud's Bartimaeus series are a bit older, so it's nice to see something new. 

23002146Nicholson, Simon. The Demon Curse
May 7th 2015 by Oxford University Press
E ARC from

After the events of The Magician's Fire, Harry, Arthur, and Billie find themselves drugged, locked in a trunk and on their way to New Orleans in 1886, supposedly sent with the help of the Order of the White Crow and a man in a pale suit. Harry manages to escape, of course, and luckily Billie knows a group of people in New Orleans. However, her friends the Islanders are being attacked because they are blamed for the "demon curse" that has befallen Mayor Monticelso. The Islanders, who practive Vodou, but only in order to heal people, are besieged from all sides, by a variety of people who want their land, are bitter about their presence in the town, or who are just prejudiced against them. Pretending to be swamp children from Biloxi, the three manage to be invited into the Mayor's room, and see that he has indeed had some sort of stroke or other medical event that has rendered him incoherent. Harry manages to find a dumb waiter, and sneaks into the office to find some clues. Arthur buys a subscription to the New Orleans Public Library to do some research, and is struck by the same curse. Is it the creepy pickpockets causing this curse? Dr. Mincing? Madame Melrose? Oscar Supont? The man in the pale suit? The children eventually figure it out, securing their position within the Order of the White Crow.
Strengths: This had some good action and adventure, lots of escapes and tricks, and an engaging cast. The descriptions of New Orleans are decent, and there are evil villains in abundance.
Weaknesses: There were a fair amount of historically shaky descriptions-- there's a long scene with a telephone, which might have been able to happen, but phones would have been rare at this time, and probably would have merited more "oooh!". The public library, also, seemed a bit suspicious. At least Arthur does have to pay his way in, which would have been usual for this time. There were just a lot of things that didn't seem quite right to me, not that the target demographic would notice this.
What I really think: I'll stick with the Andrew Lane Young Sherlock Holmes series if my readers want an adventure mystery series set during this time period.

Armchair BEA Questions!

Armchair BEA
Well, I WAS planning on getting to BEA this year, but it just didn't happen. That's okay, there's Armchair BEA. It involves more Instagram than I care to think about, but I can at least visit other blogs and participate in some of the events. 

Tell us a bit about yourself: How long have you been blogging? Where are you from? How did you get into blogging? 
I have been blogging for almost 10 years here in Westerville, Ohio. I took a class on computers in the library, and blogging was mentioned. I was already creating my school's web site, so it seemed like a fun way to keep track of what I read. 

Why do you loving reading and blogging?
I have always loved reading because it gives me the chance to go places I will never be able to go and to live other lives. It's even better when I can share books with my students and give them the same opportunities!

What is your theme song?
The Indigo Girl's Closer to Fine. 

What does diversity mean to you?
Mitali Perkins' comment about books being either windows or mirrors always enters into this answer-- I want to be able to give my students books that represent who they are or who they might like to be. We need characters from all parts of the world, from all walks of life, and with all sorts of varied interests and backgrounds. 

If you were stranded on a deserted island, what author would you want to bring with you? Why?
Jon Scieszka. I could use the time to talk him into writing a good middle grade novel, and he would make me laugh no matter how dire the circumstances were!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Eternal City/ Justice

23383399Morris, Paula. The Eternal City
May 26th 2015 by Point / Scholastic, Inc.
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Laura is on a class trip to Rome with her high school, and is so excited to be there, since she adores studying Classics. There are some annoying kids in her group, and the teachers are a little laughable, but she's enjoying seeing the sights. That is, until most of her group falls in, ash clouds cover Rome, and she sees statues move in odd ways. Someone tries to steal a bracelet with a gray stone in it that her grandfather gave her. With her friend Morgan, classmates Jack and Dan, Danish Kasper and the odd Sofia and Mia, the group tries to see Rome, but soon realize that things are amiss, and get caught up in a struggle between the ancient gods, many of them in the form of birds, that has Rome a complete wreck. Laura doesn't want to get involved, but the gem her grandfather gave her is crucial to the fight.
Strengths: Paranormal adventure set in Rome? Yes! Ancient battle of the gods! Please! The descriptions of the city are excellent, the cast is fairly strong, and the mythology decent.
Weaknesses: While there is some action in the beginning of the book, most of it doesn't occur until about 25 pages from the end of the book. Referring to one of the teachers as POTUS (her last name is Wilson) was annoying; I'm annoyed when this term is used to refer to the actual president!
What I really think: Perhaps my expectations were too high for this, but I was disappointed. Laura's involvement in the battle isn't explained as well as I would like, she doesn't seem at all interested in being part of it, and the writing seemed... off. This is more of a young adult than a middle grade title.

18371574Salane, Jeffrey. Justice
31 March 2015, Scholastic
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there

In this sequel to Lawless, M is back, but this time she is at the Fulbright School and not the Lawless one. Joining her are her friends Merlyn and Jules (whom she wanted to be with her) as well as Cal, whom she likes but doesn’t trust. Fulbright students include the tech savvy Keyshawn and M’s roommate Vivian, and there are plenty of adults guiding their progress (like Calvin’s dad, the school principal), or getting in their way (like M’s mother, who is captured by the Fulbrights). Keyshawn’s technology plays a very large role in the book, from the performance enhancing drugs the children are given to the tech suits they wear that communicate with the drugs in their systems. There are lots of mysteries to solve, as well as lots of training, and M and her friends throw themselves into all of it, hoping to figure out which side is trying to destroy the world and which side is trying to save it!

 Keyshawn’s technology is a fascinating part of this book, even though some of it seems highly dangerous! M is drugged, has a tracker installed in her arm, and gets to wear a suit that makes up for her body’s deficiencies. She also has to deal with a wide variety of people who may be trying to save the world, if they aren’t trying to destroy it. She does receive a posthumous message from her father that is quite touching, but what is she to think about her parents’ wishes when her mother kicks her away from a helicopter while it is flying over snow covered mountains?

Besides the technology, the most fun part of this was the traveling—in trying to solve the mystery of the Mutus Liber, the team travels to Prague and London at the behest of the mysterious Mr. Doe, and spend some time getting up to no good in the heavily guarded British Library! M gets to try her hand at flying an airplane again, this time with slightly better results!

 For fans of art theft mysteries like Ally Carter’s Heist Society or readers who enjoy Horowitz’s and Gilman’s spy novels, Justice is a great blend of technology, adventure, and divided loyalties that will keep readers turning the pages to find out whether M is fighting on the side of good or evil!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

MMGM- Summer!

Summer vacation begins today! Have a lot of reading planned, although I hope that I can find better books than I struggled through this past weekend-- a lot of depressing stuff, and more quirky fantasies than I thought were possible to have been published. Sigh. Well, Armchair BEA starts on Wednesday, so that will be fun!

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.

Dairman, Tara. The Stars of Summer 
May 5th 2015 by Putnam Juvenile

In this sequel to All Four Stars, Gladys is given a summer at camp by new friend Charissa Bentley, whose parents run the local camp. Since her friend Sandy is being sent to a sleep away camp, she hopes to be able to use the opportunity to sneak into New York and complete some of her reviewing assignments for the newspaper who mistakenly thinks she is much older. Instead, she gets sucked into working in the camp kitchen and into remedial swimming lessons with camp celebrity, a teen author who sometimes deigns to be nice to her. To complete an assignment on hot dogs (that is really the work of the evil G. Gadfly), she cajoles her parents into taking her to beaches, where they eat hotdogs and also bond as a family. When Gladys discovers Gadfly's evil plan, she works to make sure he can't complete it.
Strengths: Fun, upbeat story about a child with an interest and passion. I especially liked how the PARENTS were the ones that really grew, although Gladys does stretch herself as well. The family bonding time is a relief after the neglect of the first book, and the villains are just wicked enough to be believable. Enjoyed this quite a bit.
Weaknesses: In the first book, the first chapter was absolutely hysterical and action packed; I kept waiting for something like that in this book, but it never came. This also stretched credulity quite a bit, with two young writers. I was proofreading 8th grade papers where students didn't use any capitalization, so a best selling 12-year-old author? Hard to believe. Also had trouble believing the camp kitchen part. Students will not have this problem.
What I really think: Loved the first one, and this is a worthy second. Hope the series doesn't go beyond three, though-- I'd much rather have stand alone titles!

23399303Mackler, Carolyn. Best Friend Next Door
May 26th 2015 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
ARC from Young Adult Book Central and reviewed there.

Hannah is sad when her best friend Sophie moves to Canada, and she's not happy when the girl who moves in next door is wearing the same shirt she has on, has the same birthday, and likes peanut butter but hates pizza! In addition to missing her best friend, Hannah is upset because her step mom, Margo, who is soon adopting her, is having a baby. Emme isn't happy about moving from a warm island to a cold, landlocked place, and she's unhappy when her cat Butterball goes missing... and ends up at Hannah's house. When school starts, Hannah's year is going smoothly, but Emme is stuck with a difficult teacher as well as mean girls in her class. Eventually, Hannah and Emme become friends because they both love to swim and embrace their differences. Hannah is instrumental in telling Emme's two mothers about Emme's difficulties at school, which results in Emme being moved to another class. The two have their ups and downs, especially when they go to winter camp with Sophie, and Emme and Sophie hit it off, much to Hannah's consternation. Fifth grade is a difficult year, with lots of drama, but in the end, the girls end up even better friends.
Strengths: There's some bullying in this, but it is done in a realistic way. Mean girls in Emme's class make fun of her because she's small, but always in a joking way, quietly and behind the teacher's back. There's even an anti-bullying assembly; those are a real thing, although I doubt they do any good at all. The fact that Emme has two mothers is very matter of fact, and Hannah's difficulty in accepting the new baby is realistic for this age group. Generally upbeat, with small but significant-at-the-time problems. Nice middle grade entry from a YA author.
Weaknesses: This came very close to being TOO angsty when Hannah got upset at camp, but pulled back in time. Butterball having an illness also was almost overboard. There was enough going on without these two events.
What I really think: This is more of an elementary school book, but I may buy it for 6th graders, who are still having more friend drama than boyfriend drama. Seventh graders might even read it, but it's much too young for 8th graders.

A Handful of Stars

23399197Lord, Cynthia. A Handful of Stars 
May 26th 2015 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Lily's dog, Lucky, is her main connection to her mother, who was killed in a car accident when Lily was very young. Lucky is mostly blind, and when he runs away across the blueberry barrens, he is fortunate to be caught by Salma before he gets to the woods. He eats Salma's sandwich, and Lily feels bad. Her grandmother suggests taking a special casserole to Salma's family as an apology and thank you. Salma's family lives in a migrant worker camp while they are harvesting the blueberries, and Salma is rather tired of always being in a different place. The girls make a connection, and soon Salma is helping Lily paint bee boxes to sell to raise money for eye surgery for Lucky. The girls plan on selling them at the local blueberry festival, and also decide to sell blueberry enchilladas. Lily's former best friend, Hannah, is bound and determined to be the blueberry queen at the festival for the second year, but is helpful when Salma wants to enter the competition. There are problems along the way, but in the end, there are some innovative solutions that make everyone happy.
Strengths: The conditions under which Salma's family lives are interesting, and there aren't a whole lot of modern books (this brought to mind Blue Willow) that cover this population. Lily and Hannah's relationship was very well portrayed, and the setting of the small, close-knit community and the supportive grandparents were an endearing touch .
Weaknesses: While the overall tone of this book was as cheery as the very nice cover would indicate, the underlying feeling of Lily's sadness over her mother's death was an unnecessary detail. Lucky's plight was sad enough, and given the age of the dog, I was surprised he survived the book. Why interpolate so much sadness when it's not necessary?
What I really think: Will buy because of the cultural diversity and the dog on the cover, and will use it when the 7th graders need problem novels.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Princesses and Cookies

Cabot, Meg. From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess
May 19th 2015 by Feiwel & Friends
ARC from Baker and Taylor

gallery_nrm_1418333586-royalweddingOlivia goes to a private school in New Jersey and lives with her aunt, uncle, and step cousins. She's bullied and flat out beat up by Annabelle (whose father is her guardians' lawyer), but luckily rescued by... Princess Mia! Who turns out to be her half sister! And whisks her away to a posh hotel to meet her father! The reason she hasn't met her father previously? Her mother died in an accident when she was a baby and left instructions that she wasn't to be raised as a spoiled royal. Her father has been sending her letters, as well as significant support to her family, even though they might have been misappropriating it. When the aunt and uncle consider a move out of the country, the royals step in. Olivia is thrilled on so many levels: she fangirls over Mia, loves Grandmere's poodle, gets a phone of her own finally, as well as a significant wardrobe, and feels loved instead of being an inconvenience. Her aunt and uncle raise objections to her being taken to Genovia, but mainly because they want to keep their greedy paws on the royal money.
Strengths: Olivia is biracial, and the cover shows that clearly. She does get away from the bully and finds a supportive family. This might gets younger readers interested in The Princess Diaries, which would be nice, since they are taking up an entire shelf in my library and not being read. Interestingly, Royal Wedding (June 2nd 2015 by William Morrow & Company) also introduces Oliva, but is being published as an ADULT book, which makes me worry.
Weaknesses: Stereotypical bullying. We never find out how Olivia's parents got together, or what happened. There is conversation in texts. Everything seems a bit over the top, and yet very similar to Mia's story. I'm sure there are more books forthcoming.
What I really think: Meh. I'll buy a copy, but there was nothing fresh or interesting in this. Cabot provided the interior illustrations, which are better than, say, Ruth Chew but have a very 1970s vibe to them.

23309659Freeman, Martha. The Secret Cookie Club
May 19th 2015 by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Four girls meet at Moonlight Ranch Summer camp. They don't get along at first, but bond when their conselour, Hannah, helps them make cookies. When camp is over and they go their separate ways, Hannah gives them recipe boxes, and the girls promise to stay in touch. Grace, who is half Chinese-American, goes home to Boston, where her very uptight parents control everything she does. She has to work on a project with Shoshi, a girl she really dislikes, but getting a batch of cookies helps her learn to get along with the other girl and eases the tension with her mother. Emma (from a wealthy suburb of Philadelphia) is supposed to be working on a family projects, but loses the pictures and has troubles with her mother. Cookies again save the day. Olivia, whose parents run a very successful barbecue sauce company, has trouble with math and has to watch her brother's sports. Lucy, whose lawyer father spent time in jail before leaving her mother, doesn't have enough money to return to the camp the following year. Her grandmother, who is rather hippie-ish, seems to have agoraphobia, and her mother works as a waitress in Beverly Hills, although they live in their own, very small, home there. Lucy babysits triplets and manages to save them from a coyote. As the year progresses, the girls write back and forth, send cookies, and plan for the summer.
Strengths: Friend stories are always popular, and this had a little bit of variety in the characters. They all had different problems.
Weaknesses: All of the girls are very privileged. Even Lucy, who is supposedly poor, lives in a neighborhood where the cheapest single family homes run about a million dollars. The other girls-- gracious! I didn't know it was possible to buy a house for nine million dollars! Yes, I got so distracted by the descriptions of the neighborhoods that I looked them up on Zillow. Olivia has a housekeeper who makes her snacks. Lots of private schools involved. It was beyond ridiculous.
What I really think: There's an attempt at diversity, but like so many other ensemble books, the characters are basically all the same, just happen to be Jewish or African-American. Wait! We're missing the red headed girl on the cover. I'd like to see a more realistic group of friends, or at least a little economic diversity, but the camp seems QUITE posh.

Looks like there is a sequel in the offing, given the ending of the book.

22693811Birdsall, Jeanne. The Penderwicks in Spring
March 24th 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Obviously, I cannot comment coherently on The Penderwicks judged on  my RANT four years ago. I knew this one was out, I requested it from my library, I tried my best to read it. I even got out the first two books in the series and tried to get students to check them out. No one would, not even for a class that required a novel with family interactions. I'm so conflicted about these. All of the people who like the same books I like think these books are great. I want desperately to like them-- the covers alone, with the silhouettes make me want to adore them.

The characters I want to slap soundly.

I'll keep the first two and see if anyone will ever read them. *Sigh* Perhaps if I didn't care so much, this would be easier!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Guy Friday- Stick Dog Dreams of Ice Cream

23015965Watson, Tom. Stick Dog Dreams of Ice Cream
May 19th 2015 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
Also reviewed at Young Adult Books Central

Stick Dog and his friends are so hot, and desperately want some fresh water. They go in search of some, and count on Poo Poo's sense of smell to help them find it. They come across children playing in a lawn sprinkler, and have a humorous tussle with it. What really intrigues them, however, are the sweet, sticky puddles that they find on the pavement after a music playing truck visits a neighborhood and people get things from a man in the truck. Since dogs can read (I knew this!), the dogs know that this is ice cream, and they decide it will make them cool and give them refreshment. They stalk the truck and plan a very brilliant heist. Other titles include Stick Dog, Stick Dog Wants a Hot Dog, and Stick Dog Chases a Pizza. I am hoping that the final book in the series will involve the dogs going for Chinese food and being adopted by loving families!
Strengths: I do believe that these are becoming increasingly clever. While the dogs have had strategy in the past, this really goes above and beyond. They do, of course, get momentarily distracted by squirrels, but who doesn't?
Weaknesses: I worried that Karen's favorite ice cream flavor was light brown. Is that chocolate? And is ice cream okay for dog's to eat? They make disgusting dog ice cream, so perhaps eating that much ice cream might not be good for dogs. Not that I've ever tasted the disgusting dog ice cream...
What I really think: These are growing on me. I just want better bindings.

22208289Grabenstein, Chris. I Totally Funniest.
January 26th 2015 by Little, Brown and Company

Jamie Grimm is back (I Funny, I Even Funnier) and dreading the finals for the Planet's Funniest Kid Comic competition. He's worried he'll choke and not be able to say anything. He's worried that his bully cousin will do something to him. He's worried that the competitors will blow him away. When the competition is postponed, he has two more weeks to worry, and THEN a big storm hits the east coast and destroys his home as well as his uncle's restaurant. The good news is that the award has been increased to a million dollars, and that would certainly come in handy. He has some misunderstandings with his friends, and people keep saying that he is only getting the sympathy votes because he is in a wheelchair. Can Jamie overcome all of these obstacles and rock the competition?
Strengths: Middle grade readers love jokes, and they love pictures in books, so this will be very popular. Jamie's struggles with his disability, and other's perception of it, are not usually addressed with such frankness. The inside information about talk shows and reality competitions will appeal to readers interested in celebrity culture.
Weaknesses: I think that these are depressing. Jamie's cousin Steve is such a stereotypical bully that it's ridiculous. All the descriptions of Jamie's stage fright get wearing, and the jokes are not very funny.
What I Really Think: This isn't like giving cotton candy to kids for breakfast; it's sort of like Froot Loops or Lucky Charms. Which I was never allowed to have as a child, although we frequently had Apple Jacks, which are really no better.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Blather-- Limping towards the finish line.

Today is the last day of school. There are twelve books still out, but after mailing notices home, calling and talking to or leaving messages for parents, giving repeated notices to children and hunting them down at the end of the day, looking in their eyes and saying "You do realize that you will be with me in the library instead of going to field day, don't you?", I will still not get the books back. I like to have five or fewer books still out. I have given up keeping track of books checked out to students who leave the district.

There were about 14 books that came up missing in inventory; these were just stolen. That hurts. There's never any rhyme or reason to the titles, either. Farewell, books 8,11, and 12 of Shan's Cirque du Freak manga. We'll miss you, Arnie the Doughnut. So long Toft's The Twilight Circus. Goodbye, Gilman's The Devil's Breath. At least it was the third copy of that title. Some I will replace; others I will just mourn.

The annual Flocking of the Overheads is now, sadly, outdated. Now, it's collecting LCD remotes and the various pieces of Mimio equipment. Most of that will happen on our teacher work day tomorrow.

There are always students that I will miss, but I try not to think about it. There will be staff who leave as well. There will be new people next year. Maybe I will like them even better.

It was hard to muster enthusiasm this year, but I did come to school every day (Well, there were two days I had to take my parents to doctors, I went to Sacramento for Kidlitcon, and I accompanied the 8th graders to D.C., but I never woke up and called in sick!). I was always completely dressed, USUALLY in a skirt and not in jeans.

This is going to be a summer of regrouping. Cleaning, reading, getting a lot more sleep than usual. Then, come August, I will be back to my old level of annoying enthusiasm. I even have a theme for next year; those usually last about two weeks, but my rip off of an old Ohio tourism slogan makes me happy.

So does this:

Many, many thanks to Deb Nance at Readerbuzz for the following picture. I'm not entirely sure I could get through the day without the thought of Dav Pilkey and Jarrett Krosoczka with underpants on their heads.

How to Speak Dolphin

23399186Rorby, Ginny. How to Speak Dolphin
May 26th 2015 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Lily is being raised by her stepfather, Don, after the death of her father in the war and her mother two years previously in a car accident. Her brother, four-year-old Adam, is severely autistic and obsessed with dolphins. There is a nanny, Suzanne, who helps with Adam, but Lily still has to do a lot, and wishes that Adam could go to a school where he could get more training. Don considers one, but is more interested in dolphin therapy after he treats a dolphin for cancer, and Adam seems to bond with Nori, the young dolphin who ends up at the Sea World-like attraction. It's hard for Lily to make friends, but she meets Zoe in the local park when she is playing hooky from school. Lily is homeschooled because she is blind and her parents are overprotective, but the two girls get along well and start to bond over the shared opinion that Nori should be sent back to the wild. They do a lot of research on dolphins, as well as on treatment programs for children on the autism spectrum, and eventually manage to convince Don that they are right.
Strengths: This is a well balanced book, giving the ups and downs of different treatment programs for autism spectrum disorders as well as the dolphin issues. No characters are portrayed as completely black and white, and they are all open to different ideas. Lily and Zoe both treat Zoe's blindness very matter-of-factly without being either overly condescending or noble. The writing is solid, and the story moves along well.
Weaknesses: Can there be any more sadness in one single book? Lily's difficulties with her brother would have been enough basis for a book without the death of BOTH of her parents or the addition of Zoe's blindness. This doesn't get maudlin or hand-wringing, but it's still a lot of issues for one book.
What I really think: I realize my dislike of this is entirely personal. I am debating buying it, because there is a weirdly large interest in marine biology among my students (in Ohio? Don't get it.), and we do have an autism unit here at my school. If I can come up with a list of students I think will read it, I will put it on my list for fall. (I do that with all my books-- if I can't assign students to books in my mind, will anyone read them?)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer

22926534Jones, Kelly. Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer
May 12th 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

E ARC from

Sophie and her parents move to her to her great uncles farm from Los Angeles when her father loses his job and her uncle dies. It's a difficult move; Sophie misses her abuela, who has passed away, as well as her extended family, and isn't too wild about the run down farm. She finds an address for a nearby company that sells "unusual chickens" and writes away for a catalog. She also finds an unusual chicken, whom she names Henrietta, who may or may not have the power to move things like the hen house! In letter to the uncle, grandmother, and the chicken company, written on an old typewriter, Sophie tries to figure out what is going on with the chickens, especially after more unusual chickens show up and a neighbor claims that they are hers. With the help of several new friends, Sophie learns how to care for chickens and decides to show her chickens and alert the area of the chicken theft attempts. In the end, she finds out some interesting things about the farm and the chickens.
Strengths: This was absolutely charming! The illustrations lend a lot to the pictures, and even though there were some sad things (job loss, death of grandmother and uncle) in the book, the story was upbeat and funny. It wasn't slap stick goofy, which makes it good for middle grade readers. I can't really explain why I liked this one so much; I just did. The diversity was nicely done as well, and the supportive community nicely described. Brava!
Weaknesses: I had my concerns that while elementary students would pick this up instantly, it might be a hard sell for middle school. This will not stop me from buying a copy and telling children "No, really. Just read this one." Luckily, most of my students know they can trust me!
What I really think: Maybe it's the warm memories of McBroom's Farm that this evoked, but I just adored this. If I had ten year olds on my gift list, I'd buy multiple copies to give away. This does have a very timeless, classic feel to it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Orphan Army

18244299Maberry, Jonathan. The Orphan Army (The Nightsiders #1)
May 19th 2015, Simon & Schuster
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Milo lives in a post apocalyptic society in a pod of other young people who train to fight against the space alien "bugs", or Dissosterin invaders that have taken over Earth. When he comes across an odd pyramid, he meets an equally odd girl who tells him that the Heart of Darkness is missing from the pyramid, and will spell disaster for them all. Barnaby, Milo's Cajun friend, warns him that the girl might be a Rougaroo-- a werewolf. It's a good guess, because there are all sorts of threats in Milo's world, including Stingers and the Huntsman, both of which are dispatched by the bugs and sent to attack Milo's encampment. The Stingers, huge robotic attack beetles, are the biggest threat, and both the wolves and the witches help Milo fight against them, since the Huntsman goal is to enslave everyone on Earth. and hopes to use the Heart of Darkness to create an endless swarm army.
Strengths: Maberry can certainly write. The prose is beautiful and evocative. The characters are well developed, and there's a good amount of action. The Stingers sound terrifying and gross. There's a good amount of diversity in the characters as well.
Weaknesses: Like this author's Rot and Ruin, this is rather long (400 pages) and a little too philosophical for the middle grade demographic. I had to take notes to keep everything straight. While the world building was okay, I felt that the back story of how the world became dystopian was lacking.
What I really think: If I had a strong core of fantasy fans, I would buy this, but I currently do not have those readers. I'll look at the rest of the series and consider. I did buy the Rot and Ruin series, and lots of readers pick it up; few finish.

22747766McIntosh, Fiona. The Whisperer
April 14th 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Copy received from the publisher

Griff works at Tyren's circus, and is happy building things because it keeps him busy and far away from people... and he can hear their thoughts. When Tyren finds this out, he wants to exploit Griff's talents, but he has also recently taken on Tess and her magical creature menagerie, whom he saved from the Stalkers. Lute is the son of King Rodin, whose brother Janko is in charge of the Stalkers and who really wants to take over the kingdom. He makes an attempt, killing Rodin and attacking Lute, but Lute escapes with the help of his long time aide, Pilo. Griff also escapes, and the two boys realize that they can speak to each other-- Griff hears "the whisperer" and knows what Lute is doing. Eventually, Pilo (who is separated from Lute after an attack) finds Griff, and is convinced he is really Lute! With the help of a number of people, including Calico Grace the pirate and Bitter Olof, the dwarf, Griff and Tyren solve the mystery of their lineage. Can they manage to save the kingdom from Janko as well?
Strengths: Had a The False Prince, John Flanagan sort of feel to it, with a decent amount of adventure and some royal twists. Supporting characters were well-drawn, and both Griff and Lute were likeable. They passed out more than one would expect, but at least they weren't constantly injured like Sage. Best of all, this is a stand alone title, with the fate of all the characters neatly wrapped up in an epilogue. I was able to read this and remember it, which is not the case with all fantasy books.
Weaknesses: No new ground here, with a fairly stock setting and plot. I could foresee a lot of the events even without psychic powers.
What I really think: Since I have a hard cover copy, I'll put it in the collection, but I don't know that I would buy it. Apparently, my lack of fantasy readers has been going on for at least three years. (Given my anti-fantasy rant on The False Prince review!)

Monday, May 18, 2015

MMGM- Fort and The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club.

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.

It's not every day that I read a book and think "Oh, finally. Just a fun, not overly depressing middle grade romp,", but it's such an enormous relief when I do. Even better was the fact that Kirkus Reviews thought the title was good. 

DeFelice, Cynthia. Fort.
May 19th 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Wyatt is visiting a small town for the summer and loves it, because his father doesn't really pay any attention to him and lets him run around with his friend Auggie all day as long as he checks in periodically. Auggie's great aunt and Uncle, Hildy and Heinie, supply food and building materials, along with the occasional calendar featuring scantily clad women. The boys decide to build a fort out in the woods with pieces of an old, pink ice cream stand, and run into some trouble. At first, they think that Gerard, an older boy with special needs, has ransacked the place, but they find out that it's the work of local bullies J.R. and Morrie, who framed Gerard for a fire and generally have abused him. They come up with Operation Doom, a way to get back at the bullies with jars of honey, a flimsy nightgown of Hildy's, and a number of other clever boobie traps.
Strengths: Yes. This. This is what we need more of. A fun adventure book with believable derring-do. I love this author's Under the Same Sky and The Ghost of Fossil Glen, so it's good to see a new title by her! Even the bullying was handled in a realistic way-- J.R. and Morrie were annoying, and Wyatt and Auggie took care of them without undue navel gazing. Huzzah!
Weaknesses: Wyatt's obsession with Aunt Hildy's chest was a bit creepy, but otherwise, I adored this!

22718705Hoose, Phillip. The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club.
May 12th 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

E ARC from

In this wonderful piece of narrative nonfiction, Hoose brings us the experience of Knud Pedersen in his own words. As a Dane, the teenaged Pedersen was perturbed that his government had caved so easily to the Nazis demands, agreeing to cooperate with the Nazi soldiers in exchange for relative safety. While Norway was fighting the Nazis, it took a while before opposition to the Nazis took hold in Denmark, and that opposition was started by a group of teenagers headed by Pedersen. At first, the boys contented themselves with painting graffiti and doing small amounts of damage to Nazi property, but soon escalated to major acts of arson as well as stealing weapons and accumulating quite an arsenal. When the Danish people saw that not everyone was acquiescing to Nazi demands, the Resistance was able to take off. The Churchill Club, as the group called itself, continued to bedevil the Nazis, although the boys found it difficult to think about actually killing the soldiers. Eventually, the group was found out and arrested, and spent a lot of time in various jails. By this point, however, the Resistance was going full force. Luckily for the boys, they were tried by Danish officials and, in part because of their age, were not sentenced to death.

Based on intensive interviews with Knudsen, as well as Knudsen's amazing archive of photographs and research, this well-researched book tells a riveting tale of people who stood up for what they believed, even though they were very young. I have always been interested in the various resistance groups, especially since most of them utilized my primary source of transportation-- the bicycle!

Since we have been requiring students to read more nonfiction, this is a title I will order eagerly. This was a great length, had amazing primary source information, and was extremely interesting. I am so glad that Hoose followed up on a forgotten e mail with Pedersen, because this was a fantastic book.