Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Timeslip Tuesday-- Danger in Ancient Rome

London Through Time by Angela McAllister, Nick Maland
July 2nd 2015 by Frances Lincoln Children's Bks

This is a more literal interpretation of time travel (Timeslip Tuesday is an occasional feature of Charlotte's Library) than a fiction book. It is a fold out panel of a street in London, showing Maisie and Max at various points in time. The years are noted for different scenes, and Maisie and Max can be found in each one, disguised in period costumes. There are only two lines of information for each year, making this more appropriate for the picture book crowd. There is a front and back, going from Roman times to the present. There is also a page of information that includes various things that can also be sought in the pictures. This is a good overview to London. It would be nice if a map could somehow be included to show the expansion of the city. Something similar on Rome would be a good accompaniment to our 7th grade social studies curriculum.

23604418Messner, Kate. Danger in Ancient Rome (Ranger in Time #2)
30 June 2015, Scholastic
E ARC from Edelweiss

Ranger is watching soccer with Sadie and Luke when he notices his metal first aid box humming. As he was in Danger on the Oregon Trail, Ranger is transported back in time... this time to ancient Rome. In the Colosseum, he runs into Marcus, and eleven-year-old slave who was sold to Villius, the owner of the Ludus Magnus gladiatorial school, to pay the debts of his parents, who perished in a fire. Marcus is accompanying new gladiator Quintus, and the two have wandered into the big animal area. Ranger manages to save them, and thinks that he will be able to go home, but ends up back at the school with them. Quintus is in big trouble for trying to run away, and is set to fight the vicious Cleto in the next games. Marcus knows that Quintus doesn't stand a chance unless he gets some training, and since Villius won't train him, Marcus does. The two bond, and go to visit Quintus' brother, Gaius, at the family bakery. As they arrive, the realize that the building is on fire, but Ranger once again comes to the rescue. It's still not enough to send him home, however, and soon Quintus is sent to the arena. He is dressed as a retiarius, armed with a net and a trident. The brutal Cletus is a secutor, heavily armored with a sword. Will he survive? And how will Ranger get back to Sadie and Luke?

Seeing the world through Ranger's eyes offers a fresh perspective, and is not done in an overly precious way. Instead, Ranger senses danger of which Marcus is only vaguely aware, since Marcus is more concerned with becoming a gladiator himself so that he can eventually earn his freedom. It is interesting that he seems to think that Quintus might not make it, but is strong in his belief that he will! Ranger, who trained to be a rescue dog but was too distracted by squirrels to become certified, is highly motivated to save people when he thinks it is his ticket back to Sadie and Luke!

The plot moves along nicely. with a variety of danger that Marcus and Quintus must confront. The animals under the Colosseum, the wrath of Villius, and the apartment fire, and most of all, Quintus' turn in the arena, are all exciting without being too scary to younger readers.

Ancient Rome is not only part of most middle school social studies curricula, but it is also an era of history that greatly interests young readers. Messner has done a very good job of researching Roman culture, and has added good details of both gladiatorial fighting and daily life. The included bibliography lists a wide range of books for readers to continue their studies.

Danger in Ancient Rome will appeal to readers with many different interests. Children who have read all of the Magic Tree House books and are ready for a slightly more complex book will enjoy this series, as will readers who like books with historical settings or dogs. I can see this book sparking a lot of good summer play in the back yard while readers pretend to be gladiators. While there is a great glossary with different Roman and gladiatorial terms, there isn't the necessary warning-- while pretending to be a gladiator, don't hurt anyone with sticks!

23271194Rosen, Lev. Woundabout.
June 23rd 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Netgalley.com

After the death of their fathers in an unfortunate bomb explosion on the family capybara ranch, Connor and Cordelia are sent to live with their aunt Marigold in the odd town of Woundabout. They are allowed in the town only because their aunt is good friends with the mayor- they meet a boy whose parents desperately want to move into town because they think the air will be good for his sister, who has been injured and is in a wheel chair. Or is the air bad for children? All of the children who live in town are sent away. After they meet the mayor, the children decide to investigate a missing "thing" that he has mentioned, although they are discouraged from asking any questions. Their aunt's butler, Gray, does answer some, but they have to find most of the information about the town on their own. There is a dead park, and the river runs sluggishly-- in fact, very little ever changes in town, and people don't want it to. When Connor and Cordelia located the "thing", they set a lot of change in motion, and have to convince the town that it's a good thing.
Strengths: There is some diversity-- Cordelia looks like she might be part African-American, and the children have two fathers. Marigold was a race car driver, which is fun. There's a good message about change.
Weaknesses: This phrase from the acknowledgements did not surprise me: "our editor, Alvina, who took the time to show us what a middle grade book was, even when it was clear we had no idea what we were doing." This book was overly preachy, had akward language that seems born of trying to write down to middle grade, and just was...odd. The pictures did not seem to go along with the text stylistically.
What I really think: I love Little, Brown, but this book was not up to their usual standards.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Quid est? Et cur?

Embedded image permalinkOkay, just saw this over on Netgalley.

I taught Latin for four years. Twenty odd years ago. I might be able to plow my way through this. Have at various points in my life owned Winnie Ille PuQuomodo Invidiosulus Nomine Grinchus Christi Natalem Abrogaverit and Alicia in Terra Mirabili.

Let's think of this in terms of a Venn Diagram. Is there ANYONE in the middle with me?

And yet, I do kind of want a copy...

MMGM- Dogs

22238177Cameron, W. Bruce. Ellie's Story (A Dog's Purpose Novel)
April 14th 2015 by Starscape
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Ellie is excited to be adopted by Jakob, and loves to have her ears scratched and cuddle up to the gruff man, who seems to prefer "work". Ellie understands that this is important, so practices "finding" people. She eventually gets good at it and has to locate a woman who has run away from a nursing home. Ellie also finds missing children and others, delighting in Jakob's company, until he is wounded while finding a child who has been abducted. Ellie is then taken in by Maya, who was a beat cop but is out of shape for working in a canine unit. She is also having a tenuous romance with the man next door, and is trying really hard to keep Ellie active and happy. Eventually, the two go to an earthquake zone to rescue survivors, and Ellie's abilities are compromised. The two do school visits, and reconnect with Jakob years after he worked with Ellie.
Strengths: Good descriptions of what a search and rescue dog's training entails, and interesting jobs that Ellie has to do. Dog books are quite popular with my students, and the cover alone will sell this one.
Weaknesses: The voice of the dog got fairly annoying, especially when Ellie is the ring bearer in Maya's wedding. Just not my favorite thing to read-- I'd prefer it in third person rather than first. I am a bit curious about the adult version of the novel. (A Dog's Purpose?)
What I really think: Falls on the "commercial schlock" side of some line for me, but kids will probably read it. And it also made me want to train my dog to read to children so she doesn't feel valueless and lonely during the day...

6556424Sutherland, Tui. Mud-Puddle Poodle (Pet Trouble #3)
July 1st 2009 by Scholastic Paperbacks
E Book checked out from Ohio E Book Project

Rosie wants everything to be pink and delightful in her world... which is hard, since she has three older, galumphing brothers. When the family decides to get a dog, the boys all want larger dogs, but Rosie points out that poodles are hypoallergenic and smart, and finally gets her way. When Button arrives, however, she is a feisty little thing who would rather dig in the dirt than wear the precious pink collars that Rosie wants her to wear. The more Button doesn't adhere to Rosie's expectations of her, the more interested in her the boys get, and the madder Rosie gets! Button has a lot of energy, and Rosie finally is taught how to harness that energy, and also learns that putting clothes on puppies isn't a great idea!
Strengths: This packed a lot of good stuff in a small book. Rosie's family is Hispanic, but that isn't dwelt upon. The family dynamic is a lot of fun, and the older brother finding out that girls like cute, fluffy dogs was a charming scene. I liked that Rosie's expectations weren't met, but she found a way to make the most of her dog.
Weaknesses: Only available in E Book format. Drat. This would go over well with my struggling readers, and had a lot of good information. I would love to have the whole series!

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. Nonfiction Monday also 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Catching Up/ Blather

It is true that I have read every fiction book in my middle school
collection. The problem is that it doesn't stay read for long. After finishing in 2011, I've tried to read everything before I buy it (Really. No joke.), except for books in really popular series. Those I have to snag and read over the summer. A disproportionate number of these are fantasy books.

I read very quickly, and have been reading between 2 and 5 novels this summer every day. In order to write reviews, I often have to take notes. When I am reading book five in a series, I often have very little memory about details, characters' names, or things that have occurred. I read so that I can recommend books. I need to know a one to two sentence summary, and know to whom I would give the book. It gets a bit difficult to write series reviews, but I have to read the books so that I can maintain my domination over my collection!

Earlier this month, I had my main bathroom completely gutted and redone. Almost everything in the room was original to the house, which was built the same year I was born-- 1965! When the contractor comes in and says "Wow. We don't see many of these gold starburst counter tops anymore!", you know it's time. Also, when there is no hot water in either sink, no shower, and the toilet has to be stopped from running all the time, things must happen.

Loud things. Violent things I didn't want to watch, like the entire cast iron tub being broken up into smaller pieces and carried down the stairs, pipes being sawed. The dog didn't like this, and it was hard to concentrate. BUT! I did get caught up on a few things.

And now the bathroom is be-a-YOOOO-tiful.

22206699Gutman, Dan. License to Thrill. (Genius Files #5)
January 27th 2015 by HarperCollins

Love Gutman. Man's a god. Not fond of this series, where the main characters are named Coke and Pepsi, and they travel around having improbably adventures. My students, however, were fighting over these a lot this year, and someone lost book three and I had to replace it.

From Goodreads.com: "When we last left our heroes, twins Coke and Pepsi McDonald were in Roswell, New Mexico, and they had just seen a strange beam of light. Now their cross-country road trip is about to take a detour that's out of this world--literally!"

22546129McMann, Lisa M. Island of Shipwrecks. (Unwanteds #5)
February 3rd 2015 by Aladdin

There is a fifth grade teacher who reads the first one of these to her classes, so there has been a lot of demand. Lots of improbable things happen (Look! A magic tube on this weird island!), there are tons of different characters... beyond me. But the students love them. (Two more are in the works.)

From Goodreads.com: "Alex and his friends from Artimé are stranded on a newly discovered island after barely surviving a storm that destroys their ship. And it turns out they’re not alone…

Back in Quill, Aaron’s power base grows as he aligns himself with an unlikely ally. Together, the two enact a drastic, risky plan to finally conquer Artimé—a plan that could ultimately leave everyone in both Artimé andQuill in far more danger than Aaron realizes."

21456821Flanagan, John. Scorpion Mountain (Brotherband #5)
December 2nd 2014 by Yearling (first published November 3rd 2014)

Lydia and Evanlyn have coffee and cakes. The men have hummus and tabouleh. The rooms have carved chairs with comfy cushions. There are war like people doing war like things. Duncan's face gets red with anger a lot. They invent glasses. There's a dog named Kloof.

And... that's what I take from books when I am NOT writing notes and focusing on plotting, character development and the nearly impossible task of writing a gripping tag line.

Enjoy these tremendously; just don't remember them after I read them!

From Goodreads.com: "Hal, his Brotherband crew, and the Ranger Gilan have freed the twelve Araluens sold into slavery. Returning to Araluen, Gilan is given a new mission by King Duncan: protect his daughter’s life. Princess Cassandra has survived one attempt on her life already, and now whispers of a second attempt have reached the kingdom. A deadly sect known as the Scorpion Cult is thought to be behind the assassination threat."

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Rutabaga the Adventure Chef

23167725Colossal, Eric. Rutabaga the Adventure Chef (#1)
March 31st 2015 by Amulet Books
Public library copy.

Rutabaga, who lives in a Anglo-Germanic medievalish world, travels around in search of adventure and exotic ingredients. There are few problems that arise which his concoctions can't fix, whether it's fighting dragons or getting the king's new pet to eat. There are lots of adventures to be had, including tagging along with a group of scary looking soldiers from Fnard who want to avenge their mother's death. Traveling with a kitchen on his back and a ready "Let's get cooking" on his lips, Rutabaga travels the realm and feeds his friends while saving the world.
Strengths: Elementary school students whose parents have let them play Runescape or (heaven forbid) watch The Lord of the Rings movies will like this graphic novel of medieval adventure. It's quirky, and the illustrations are in a style oddly reminiscent of Speed Racer. I can see Pokemon fans liking this one, too.
Weaknesses: I don't know how well this would go over in middle school. My  Lord of the Rings fans are really, really serious kind of people, and my goofy graphic novel lovers don't care much for medieval fantasy.
What I really think: This was just... weird. I suppose dragon obsessed elementary school students would like this, and wouldn't necessarily be looking for actually recipes. A bit of a gross factor in most of Rutabaga's cooking, although there are modified recipes in the back.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Into the Killing Seas

23604428Spradlin, Michael. Into the Killing Seas
June 30th 2015 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Patrick and his younger brother Teddy are ripped from their parents' care when the Japanese invade the Philippines at the start of WWII, and are sent to an orphanage in Guam. Life there is difficult, but they meet Benny, a gruff sailor from New York, who smuggles them aboard the USS Indianapolis in order to get them back to the US. Things go well until the ship is torpedoed, and Benny and the boys end up on a wooden pallet, floating in the seas. Benny has been badly hurt in an explosion, and Teddy is inconsolable-- he hasn't spoken since being separated from his parents, so he is hard to control. His screaming attracts the attention of sharks, and Patrick must fight them, as well as try to ration out their water and avoid the other sailors who are adrift and waiting for rescue. Benny is an invaluable help to Patrick, and tells him stories to help the time pass, encouraging Patrick all the while to be brave and hang on. Eventually, the boys are picked up by another ship and the ending is (mainly) happy, except for one nice twist.
Strengths: Liked this one more than Surrounded by Sharks, because I liked Patrick, and there was enough backstory to make this more than just the boys surviving in the sea. Good details about that, but I liked the historical spin of this one, especially since the Japanese attack of the Philippines was included. Salisbury's The Hunt for the Bamboo Rat and Farrel's Pure Grit would make good accompaniments to this. This will find many readers.
Weaknesses: A tiny bit confusing with the flashback, but I can see why it was written this way. Also not a huge fan of the twist at the end, but again, I can see why it was done.
What I really thought: Definitely one to highlight at a Scholastic book fair. This was realistic fiction; we will attribute the twist at the end to dehydration-induced hallucinations rather than any fantastical element.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Trend Spotting: Quasi-Historical Fantasy/Mysteries

The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency is not alone. While I enjoyed Catherine Jinks' How to Catch a Bogle, I can't get too many readers to take a chance on a fantasy book with a vaguely Regency/Victorian London (or, as R.J. Anderson points out, Depression era) setting. If this is something that goes over well in your library, hurry over to Edelweiss and check out the following E ARCs. I've read all of these in the last week, and it's starting to feel like The Next Big Thing!

For Sparrow Girl and others: Edelweiss and Netgalley provide E Advance Readers' Copies for bloggers and librarians. You might need to apply, and Edelweiss is more likely to approve librarian requests than blogger ones (which makes no sense to me), but you can certainly see.

And here are some more, some of which have been out for a while:

Beddor, Frank. The Looking Glass War
Berry, Julie. The scandalous sisterhood of Prickwillow Place
Colfer, Eoin. The Reluctant Assassin.
Haberdasher, Violet. Knightley Academy.
Lee, Y.S. The Body in the Tower
MacCollough, Carolyn. Once a Witch
Priestly, Chris. The Dead of Winter
Stroud. Jonathan. The Screaming Staircase (Can't wait for book 3 of this series!)

24737347Nix, Garth. Newt's Emeralds
October 13th 2015 by Katherine Tegen
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Books From the Publisher: "Inspired by the works of Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen, Garth Nix's Newt's Emerald is a Regency romance with a fantasy twist. New York Times bestselling author Gail Carriger calls it "charming; quite, quite charming."

 After Lady Truthful's magical Newington Emerald is stolen from her she devises a simple plan: go to London to recover the missing jewel. She quickly learns, however, that a woman cannot wander the city streets alone without damaging her reputation, and she disguises herself as a mustache-wearing man. During Truthful's dangerous journey she discovers a crook, an unsuspecting ally, and an evil sorceress—but will she find the Emerald?"

24336400Davis, Kent. A Riddle in Ruby (Key to the Catalyst #1)
September 22nd 2015 by Greenwillow Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

From Goodreads.com
"In an era called The Chemystral Age, magically augmented alchemy and chemistry have thrust an alternate version of 18th-century colonial America forward into industrialization. 13-year-old Aruba “Ruby” Teach is a smuggler's daughter and picklock prodigy, and she and her mostly faithful servant, Cram, navigate a world filled with cobalt gearbeasts, alchemical automatons, and devilish secret societies."

24885734Anderson, R.J.  A Pocket Full of Murder (Uncommon Magic #1) 
September 8th 2015 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

"A determined young girl joins forces with an adventure-loving street boy to solve a magical murder mystery—and save her father’s life—in this action-packed novel with classic mystery appeal.

 In the spell-powered city of Tarreton, the wealthy have all the magic they desire while the working class can barely afford a simple spell to heat their homes. Twelve-year-old Isaveth is poor, but she’s also brave, loyal, and zealous in the pursuit of justice—which is lucky, because her father has just been wrongfully arrested for murder.

 Isaveth is determined to prove his innocence. Quiz, the eccentric, eye patch–wearing street boy who befriends her, swears he can’t resist a good mystery. Together they set out to solve the magical murder of one of Tarreton’s most influential citizens and save Isaveth’s beloved Papa from execution. But is Quiz truly helping Isaveth out of friendship, or does he have hidden motives of his own?"

The Case of the Missing Moonstone. (The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency #1)

21965114Stratford, Jordan. The Case of the Missing Moonstone. (The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency #1)
January 6th 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Lady Ada Byron's father is dead, and her mother has removed herself to the country, leaving Ada to run wild with very little supervision in her London home other than the staff, and the occasional visit from Mr. Babbage. When her nanny leaves to get  married "Percy B. Snagsby" (aka Peebs) shows up to give her instruction, along with Mary Godwin, whose mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, died when she was young. Mary also makes the acquaintance of a well-read boy, Charles, on her daily carriage rides to Ada's home. The two girls are not too enthralled with Peebs' tutelage, since he is found of poetry and Ada is much more interested in science, as well as anything that will make a mess of her dress! The two girls eventually decide to create a detective agency and advertise in the newspaper to get a case. They eventually are contacted by Rebecca Verdigris, whose maid, Rosie, is in Newgate Prison after confessing to taking an acorn shaped amulet. Ada and Mary use their sparse detecting skills to try to figure out who, in fact, really stole the item. Having figured out that case, the two girls will return in book two, The Girl in Gray, due out August 2015 from Alfred A. Knopf.
Strengths: It was great to see Ada Byron and Mary Godwin used as characters, and the supporting characters (who are revealed later in the notes-- I don't want to spoil the surprise) are a fun touch. The mystery is okay, and using mesmerism in the plot is a good historical touch. Wanted desperately to like this.
Weaknesses: Ada was completely obnoxious, and Mary was too namby-pamby. I couldn't for one second believe they would actually get a client for their agency, that they were as unsupervised as they were, or that a guard would let them in...and out... of Newgate prison just because Ada bullied him. Took me three days to power through this one.
What I really thought: If I can't get students to read the excellent Enola Holmes or LaFevers Theodosia series, this one will sit on the shelf as well.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

#WeNeedDiverseBooks Wednesday-- Scarlett Undercover

18713071Latham, Jennifer. Scarlett Undercover.
May 19th 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Even though I really, really like this book, I have to admit that I dropped the ball with this review. I read it while waiting for my daughter's band concert on a Sunday, had Career Day on Monday, and left for D.C. with our 8th graders on Tuesday. Sitting here a week after I read the book, trying to come up with details... not good. But the book was, and I'll definitely be buying it. I thought it was great that Scarlett lived in a supportive, ethnic community and that her sister channeled her grief at their parents' deaths into her work as a doctor and into her religion, which Scarlett did not embrace as much. The mystery was good (aside from the suspected suicide, which was not the best way to start a plot), and the evil organization manipulating teens is always a big hit.

But as far as details go... I've forgotten, but I wanted to post about this book because I think it is a great choice for older middle grade readers. Make sure you take a look at it!

From Goodreads.com
"Meet Scarlett, a smart, sarcastic fifteen-year-old, ready to take on crime in her hometown. When Scarlett agrees to investigate a local boy's suicide, she figures she's in for an easy case and a quick buck. But it doesn't take long for suicide to start looking a lot like murder. As Scarlett finds herself deep in a world of cults, curses, and the seemingly supernatural, she discovers that her own family secrets may have more to do with the situation than she thinks...and that cracking the case could lead to solving her father's murder."

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Mythology and Super Heroes

Barron, T.A. Atlantis in Peril (Atlantis Saga #2)
May 5th 2015 by Philomel Books
Copy received from Goodman Media International

After Narkazan's defeat in Atlantis Rising, the immortal warlord is back because the Veil of Peace is shredding. Sammelvar and Escholia are worried about their son, Promi, whom they sent to Earth to keep him safe. He's still irritate about that, but cares deeply about his sister, Jalady. He also cares deeply about Atlanta, who is keeping the Starstone, the weapon that defeated Narkazan, safe on Atlantis. When Jalady is kidnapped by Narkazan's mistwraiths, Promi goes into the spirit world to find her, and has many problems. He is captured by his old nemesis Grukkar but saved yet again by by the monk Bonlo, who helps him escape. The two manage to do away with Grukkar, but Bonlo doesn't survive. Meanwhile, in Atlantis, five years have passed. Because Promi had inadvertently rescued a ship captained by Reocoles, he and his crew settled in Atlantis, and the machinist made many "improvements" to the infrastructure there. Shagri, Lekko (one of Reocoles sailors who ends up living at the bakery) and her father, the baker, hold firm against the improvements in technology and are not afraid to speak out when they realize the extent of the devastation to the forest. Shagri is kidnapped by Reocoles after she tries to thwart him, as is Atlanta. After his set to with Grukkar, Promi has been  rescued by Ulanoma and fights the mistwraiths. He is successful, but Narkazan's dark gift is delivered to the forest of Atlantis, and it will not be long until there is even more evil to fight.

Barron is a master craftsman of fantasy worlds. Not only are there convincing forces of evil and a variety of nefarious creatures who must be fought, there are also sentient tree houses, plenty of tea with honey, and bowers fragrant with lush flowers. It is interesting to see how the "improvements" in Atlantis make the inhabitants happy, but are definitely leading to its downfall. There are rich details about mythical creatures, such as Kermi, a talking monkey-like creature, and Theosor, a wind lion who is very helpful and gives Promi much comfort, as well.

Promi is understandably angry at his parents, who removed him from the spirit world in order to maintain his safety on account of a prophecy. He comes to realize that he has many jobs to do on earth to keep Atlantis and those he loves safe, and grudgingly comes to terms with them. Shagri is a feisty character who is fully grounded in the mortal realm and whose father makes a mean cinnamon bun. I imagine that Lekko, who is rescued from Reocoles Greek ship, will play a more major role in the next two books.

What I appreciated most was how organized the plot was, and how efficiently the first book was recapped. I often struggle with remembering what happened in previous books in fantasy series, but I was able to get into this right away, and follow what was going on even though the adventure went back and forth between the spirit world and Atlantis. Not many fantasy books are this clear and concise!

Readers who enjoy high fantasy books in the manner or Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, Tamora Piece, and Ursula LeGuin but who also want to explore the fascinating story of Atlantis, will enjoy Promi's adventures as he struggles against both Narkazan and technology to save the mystical island of Atlantis.

I was really surprised at how easy this was to process, and how much I enjoyed it, That said, it didn't feel convincingly Greek at all, which was a disappoinment, AND I was thrown into a crisis when I looked at Barron's web site and realized that there were 12 books in his Lost Years of Merlin series, and I'm missing about half... out of the middle. Noooooo! Since there is a movie in the works, I'd better get on that!

23309689Venditti, Robert and Higgins, Dusty. Attack of the Alien Hordes (Miles Taylor and the Golden Cape #1)
June 16th 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Miles is having a hard time fitting in to his new school in Atlanta. His mother has run off with another man to Florida, and his father has to move them to a cheaper apartment because his job as an electrician doesn't pay very much. When Miles is at oneof his father's work sites, aliens attack the town. Gilded, a much vaunted super hero, shows up to save the day, but ends up dying at the scene. He turns into an old man, and gives Miles his golden cape. Miles is thrilled to be a super hero but doesn't quite understand how it all works. Luckily, he meets geeky Henry, who loves comic books and has wealthy parents to provide him with lots of gadgets. The two figure out how to get Gilded to all of the places he needs to be, even if it means leaving school suddenly! The aliens are still on the move, and they are quite a disgusting bunch, from what we read of them in chapters sprinkled in between Miles' real life and the comic strips portraying his experiences as Gilded. When they finally attack, Miles tries hard to save the day, but has back up from an unlikely source.
Strengths: Got a little bit of everything in this. Superheroes, economic diversity, racial diversity, romantic interest. I liked that Miles became a super hero but didn't know what to do. The learning curve was the best part of this. (E.G. Don't douse a fire by ripping out water tower, because then the town doesn't have any water.) Will definitely buy.
Weaknesses: Goofy names, and the aliens were just over-the-top strange. Deus ex machina ending didn't help me, either, but my readers won't care.
What I really think: The pages of the E ARC turned SOOOOOO slowly that I got rather frustrated with this. Superhero books still appeal to a large segment of my population, and the inclusion of the comic strips will be perfect for my students. I'm just not a fan of pictures, and was very frustrated while reading this!

Monday, June 22, 2015

MMGM- Mason Dixon

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.

11373441Mills, Claudia. Mason Dixon: Basketball Disasters
January 10th 2012 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Copy recieved from Young Adult Books Central and Reviewed there.

In this third book in the Mason Dixon series (Pet Disasters, 2011 and Fourth Grade Disasters, 2012), Mason is expanding his horizons even further. His best friend, Brady suggests that he play basketball, and his mother and father as very supportive of this, having read articles that playing sports is good for children. Mason isn't so sure, especially since his nemesis, Dunk, is on an opposing team. Mason's father is volunteered to coach the team even though he didn't play basketball himself, which leads to some interesting moments. Mason also has to deal with a new elderly neighbor who doesn't like Dog in her yard, as well as a school unit on Colonial Life that involves a lot of crafts and projects.

In the previous books, Mason was afraid of everything, but he is definitely coming into his own in fifth grade. I liked that he confronted his parents about whether or not they actually played on sports teams when they strongly suggest that he play basketball! He has become fond of Dog, even though he wasn't sure he liked animals at first, and is able to defend him to the Animal Control person. Even on the basketball court, Mason is able to learn the plays and do a decent job. It's good to see him make progress towards become more mature. I would love to see a book with Mason in the 6th grade!

The story line follows Mason through various events of fall, which is a popular way to present early middle grade plots. There's basketball, neighbor Mrs. Taylor, colonial crafts at school, and Thanksgiving, and all of these things come together nicely in the end. For fourth graders who are actually studying colonial times, all of the different craft projects (corn husk dolls, punched tin lanterns, sewing, etc.) might make them jealous, because there's so little time in classrooms to do those projects these days! Readers will know and appreciate the history surrounding them, which is a nice touch.

Summer is a great time for readers to get involved in series books, and Mills has several elementary series like Mason Dixon that are a great way to while away a rainy summer day!

Okay-- best way to spend summer as a child? Find an author or a series you like and read every single last one while sitting on the front porch with your dog. What? Not everyone's first choice? Definitely mine. I devoted the summer of 1977, for example, to The Chronicles of Narnia. This was right after Country Time Lemonade mix came out, and I seem to remember a preponderance of Nature Valley Granola bars being consumed as well. All the sugar! But in a form that my mother believed was nutritionally superior to something like Foot Loops. Ah, nostalgia!

22718722Blumenthal, Karen. Tommy: The Gun that Changed America
June 30th 2015 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Here's the thing: I hate guns. My father had an antique hunting rifle that his father had owned, but I refused to let it in my house. Unless you are shooting your own food, there's no reason for anyone to have a gun. You can tell that I am not a member of the NRA.

That said, this was a tremendously interesting book. I love to read about inventions that change the way that people live. Looking back, it's easy to think "Well, didn't the inventors KNOW that this would not end well?", but Blumenthal does an excellent job of explaining why the Thompson Sub-Machine Gun was invented, and how it came to be used in so many criminal activities in the first half of the 20th century.

During WWI, Thompson started trying to develop a lighter, more accurate gun that would shoot more rounds more quickly, so that fewer men would die. It's hard to get our mind around this kind of thinking, but it makes a little bit of sense. Of course, the timing was bad, and by the time the gun was developed, the war was over. Left with lots of stock, the Auto-Ordance company tried to sell the guns to police and other peace keeping forces; that was, after all, what the guns were meant for. However, there were enterprising people who tried to get the guns illegally to other places, including Ireland at the time of the Troubles. Since there weren't many gun laws to speak of, the Tommy gun eventually made its way into the hands of gangsters like Al Capone. Blumenthal does a great job of briefly explaining these criminals' actions, and how they were formed by the use of this gun. She also outlines the evolution of gun laws in a way that would make this book an excellent resource for National History Day projects.

I would like to see a paper copy of this to get a better idea of the layout, but I think I will definitely buy a copy. It is a bit long for most students to pick up for fun (240 pages, some of that foot notes and an extensive bibliography), but I thought it moved quickly and was quite interesting. In fact, the evening after I read the book, I went to see my daughter in the orchestra for the musical Anything Goes! One of the characters, Moon-Faced Martin, had a Tommy gun in a violin case, and I whispered to my companion "Actually, in order to fit in a violin case, a Thompson Submachine Gun needs to be partially disassembled." I love having random bits of knowledge like that!

This author's Let Me Play and Bootleg do well at my library, so I'll definitely be buying.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Finish Line- 48 Hour Book Challenge

Sadly, I couldn't be near a computer this weekend. I was able to read while superintending a variety of other things, but missed the social aspect of visiting other blogs. Knowing that I would be somewhat distracted, I picked books that were not as appealing to read this weekend. Usually, for the 48HBC, I pick books I am really looking forward to.

I read WAY more books than I actually review on my blog, since I feel an overwhelming compulsion to know about EVERY book that is being published for my target demographic. This sometimes results in me skimming a book, but at least if a student asks for the book, I can tell them why I didn't order it for our library while we are requesting it from the public library!

Garage sale again next week, but this week should be quiet. I'll read all the books I'm looking forward to, especially since there are no cross country activities this week. And tonight, the girls are off to a Weird Al concert, so it's just me, Sylvie the Yorkiepoo and most likely, Inspector Lewis!

Finish Line:
31 hours, 31 books
Friday 5-12  five books
Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight
Sunday 5 a.m.-12,  1-5 
  1. Armstrong and Marr. Thor’s Serpents. Good conclusion to series. Will post review later.
  2. Schreiber, Joe. Con Academy. Very fun.  
  3. Preuss, Margi. The Bamboo Sword. Very well written and researched, loved the inclusion of pictures, but I can’t get children to read Heart of a Samurai.
  4. London Through Time- Not quite a book. Interesting, but not for libraries.
  5. Typhoid Mary- Like Campbell Bartoletti’s work, but just read a similar book.
  6. Schlitz, Laura Amy. The Hired Girl. I liked, but too much detail in a historical book for my middle grade readers.
  7. Wolverton, Barry. The Vanishing Island.  Again, historical is a hard sell, and the time period has to be just right, and this one was fantasy, too.
  8. Hemmings, Kaui Hart. Juniors. Too YA
  9. Schmatz, Pat. Lizard Radio. Very odd.
  10. Smith, Ronald L. Southern and history.
  11. Barzak, Christopher. YA, depressing.
  12. DeStefano, L. A Curious Tale of In-Between. The dead are dead. No one can talk to them.
  13. Gallagher, Toni. My readers like magical realism, but this was… too young? 
  14. Murphy, Julie. Dumplin’. Too young adult. Didn’t like it the way everyone else does.
  15. Petty, Heather. Lock and Mori. Too YA. Rather self-conscientious.
  16. Tougas, Shelley. Too young and didn’t like main character.
  17. Haddix, Margaret. Redeemed. Have to buy, but I’ve lost count of what’s going on.
  18. Sands, Kevin. The Blackthorn Key. Stories about apothecaries don’t do well with my students, nor do puzzles. It was a long shot, but looked interesting.
  19.  Blakemore, Megan Frazer. Very in Pieces- Interesting, but more YA
  20. Dominy, Amy Fellner. A Matter of Heart. Girls in sports! Problems! Liked!
  21. Oppel, Kenneth. The Nest. Dying baby and wasps. Just…ick.
  22. Almond, David. A Song for Ella Grey. Wanted to like, but… didn’t.
  23. Laure, Estelle. This Raging Light. More YA
  24. Lombardo, Constance. Mr. Puffball: Stuntcat to the Stars
  25. Pearsall, Shelley. The Seventh Most Important Thing
  26. Savage. Fires of Invention


23309763Karo, Aaron. Galgorithm.
5 May 2015, Simon Pulse
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Shane, who is still smarting from his breakup with "Voldemort" a couple of years ago (it hurts to say her name), is the match making king of his high school. He has devised a way for guys to improve their personal communications with girls whom they like, and instructs guys who are having trouble connecting with girls on what they should do. While this sounds a little manipulative at first, most of Shane's advice is fairly solid-- spruce yourself up, pay attention to the girl, and be firm and honest in dealings with her. (If the girl asks "Is this a date?", the answer should be an unapologetic "yes".) Shane's best friend, the quirky goth girl Jak, thinks he is doing a good thing, even when one of Shane's clients starts using the technique on her. Shane is even approached by a math teacher who is interested in another teacher, and is successful in helping him as well. Shane soon starts dating one of the hottest girls in school and knows he should be happy, but starts finding that he is a little jealous of the guy whom Jak is dating. When Shane's formula is discovered and publicized through social media, some of the relationships he helped facilitate fall apart... for a while. Is Shane's secret formula really secret... or a formula?
Strengths: This was very fun, and I enjoyed it a lot. I think it's great for guys to read tips like "actually pay attention to the girl", and laughed when Shane changed his line about a girl having great eyelashes for his teacher's use-- being older, the teacher was supposed to ask the other teacher if she used Latisse. The male teacher didn't know what this was, but was assured by Shane that the female teacher would be impressed that he knew. Fun twist at end, good use of current technology and interests... I would like to see a more middle grade appropriate book from this author.
Weaknesses: The falling-in-love-with-best-friend subplot seemed a bit trite.
What I really think: Walks a bit too close to the YA line for me to be completely comfortable with, but since there are so few romance books for boys, and there is a huge need, I may think about purchasing it. 8th graders would love it, but 6th graders might be a bit disturbed. This author's other books definitely cross the line into more high school territory.

23209955Sheldon, Dyan. The Truth About My Success
June 9th 2015 by Candlewick Press

Paloma Rose is a television star, and she has to put up with a drunken, absent father, an overbearing mother, and constant attention by the press. She reacts to all of these things by being a colossal brat, which is endangering her career. Her agent, Jack Silk, is especially displeased. When he sees Oona Ginness working in a restaurant, he notices that she bears a striking resemblance to Paloma. Oona is dealing with the death of her mother, a father who won't get out of bed, and trying to do well in school so she can get scholarships to college. When Jack asks her to impersonate Paloma while Paloma is on a well-deserved vacation, the money he is offering makes her agree. Oona moves into Paloma's house, but Paloma is sent to a "brat camp" instead of a posh resort. There, she spends two weeks in bed before reluctantly participating in camp activities and pretending that she is seeing the error of her ways. Oona takes the show by storm, and no one guesses that she is an imposter. She even reads a paparazzo the riot act for scaring her dog, scoring her big points with the public, as well as an exclusive interview. While Paloma's mother is stressing about getting the house ready, Oona meets Paloma, who has run away from the camp. How can the two combine forces and make it possible for things to work out for both of them?
Strengths: Sheldon is one of my go-to authors for light, romantic books for girls. (Especially now that Janette Rallison is doing demon books. Sigh.) This was a fun celebrity romp, much like Calonita's series, or Rallison's My Double Life. Will definitely buy a copy, since there is an insatiable need for this sort of book.
Weaknesses: Actually, no romance. Huh.
What I really think: Glad that Sheldon decided against embracing the dark side again, like she did in One or Two Things I Learned About Love. The covers don't lend themselves to dark stories.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

#48 HBC

Ended up canceling the garage sale, since it's been pouring rain all morning, so I do have time to read. However, I have no motivation whatsoever, especially since we'll be having the garage sale next Saturday. Still, I've managed to read a few things.

Wood, Maryrose. The Unmapped Sea. Perfectly pleasant book, but my students seem to peter out after book three, and this is book five. Don't know that I'll buy it.

Pinchon, Liz. Tom Ages: Everything's Amazing (Sort of) (#3) My students WILL pick up endless notebook novels, and I enjoy these because while they are simple, realistic stories, they are set in England and caramel wafers are mentioned frequently. Will review closer to 9/8/15 pub date.

Sandler, Martin W. Iron Rails, Iron Men, and the Race to Link the Nation: The Story of the Transcontinental Railroad. (9/8/15) Honestly, I don't think my students would make it through the title. I love history, I love nonfiction, and this was a slog through 224 pages even for me.

Blume, Judy. In the Unlikely Event. Six my public library has 35 holds on 6 copies, I thought I'd better read this one quickly. Interesting, and Blume does a fabulous job with details of the time period, but I'm not a fan of adult fiction. So long and boring!

Wood, Fiona. Six Impossible Things. Enjoyed this, but kept wondering if it were too YA.  Not because of any objectionable content, but more because of the slow pace and introspective tone. When the first f-bomb dropped, I knew it wasn't one I was going to buy. May not review. Interesting for high school or public library collections. Set in Australia.

So here at 11:00 I've got five books and about seven hours of reading.

Deception's Pawn

16138673Friesner, Esther. Deception's Pawn
April 28th 2015 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Copy received from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

In this sequel to Deception's Princess, Maeve, the favorite daughter of the evil High King is being fostered at Dun Beithe by Lady Lassaire. Maeve relishes the freedom of being away from home, but finds her fellow foster daughters to be rather tiresome. She has made her way to this location because she heard rumors that Ea, her falcon whom she thought was dead, had been nursed back to health by Kian, the son of Lady Lassaire and a popular choice for a husband among the young ladies. Maeve sneaks out to spend time with Ea and is discovered, and Kian makes a wary pact with her to train her to use a sling, get Ea to return to her, and other skills that would be helpful to a headstrong lady. SHe must keep this training secret from everyone, since it's not the sort of thing that nice girls do, so Lady Lassaire, as well as the girls, all think there is a romance going on between the two. When Bryg, the girl who helped heal Ea, sees Maeve in a compromising position with the man that Bryg likes, Bryg makes sure that all of the foster daughters turn against Maeve, committing annoying and obnoxious acts against her. Maeve doesn't have to put up with this treatment for long-- word comes that Odran, who left her to train to be a Druid, is deathly ill, and Maeve travels to be with him. While there, she has to determine whether she and Odran really are meant to be together, or whether her romantic connection will be found elsewhere.

Like all of Friesner's heroines, Maeve is unwilling to settle within the constraints of her time period. Her love of falconry, her attempts to use weapons, and her demands to be considered equal to the men she meets are all delightful and adventurous. Romance is a big part of her life, since there are few other paths open to women at the time besides marriage and motherhood, but Maeve thinks that she could combine marriage with a fair bit of adventure. Her growing relationships with Kian, Conchobar, and Odran are all different but interesting.

Much of the middle of the book is concerned with Byrg's nastiness, and I wish that this had been replaced with a more adventurous plot. High school readers might really enjoy this, but I (like Maeve) had little patience with the girl drama. Luckily, it doesn't last long, and Maeve is out falling into bogs and having adventures before too long. We do find out a bit more about her father's kingdom and the role she will play in it, but the ending is somewhat vague, which I rather like. Friesner's books usually are series of just two, so I doubt there will be another book featuring Maeve.

There are always a few readers who adore medieval fantasies with feisty girls, and this is perfect for fans of Cashore's Graceling, Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Robin McKinley and, of course, Tamora Pierce. Now THAT would make a great adventure-- now I want to go on an adventure with Katsa, Cimorene, Aerin and Alanna. What fun that would be!

Friday, June 19, 2015

#48HBC!!! Starting Line

Head over to Mother Reader to register for the 48 Hour Book Challenge and get all of the details!

I'm starting at 5:00 p.m. We've had an all day sort of rain for the Cross Country Garage sale, and I finally gave up! After a week of bathroom remodeling and then the garage sale set up, a tiny bit of weariness has set in.

Hoping to read 6 hours tonight and tomorrow night, then get a solid twelve hours in on Sunday, for a total of 24 hours. Don't know what books there are to read, and may not be near computer for social media, but I'll try for that number.

Unless I take a very long nap, which is a distinct possibility!

Guy Friday-- Bear Island

Greci, Paul. Surviving Bear Island
March 25th 2015 by Move Books

Tom Parker and his father are on a kayaking trip to a remote island when they capsize, and get separated. Tom is glad that his father made him carry a survival kit in his pocket, because otherwise he would have no food, and starting fires would be much harder. He's very worried about his father, and tries to look for him, but also has a lot to do just to keep himself warm, fed, and free from bears. Help doesn't come for quite a while, so he must survive in an unforgiving wilderness. He is glad that his father taught him so well, because he is injured several times, and runs across just about every perilous situation that exists in the wild. Will he be reunited with his father?
Strengths: Excellent descriptions of wilderness and survival tactics. There is an edge-of-your-seat quality to the writing that will make it appeal to my readers who like survival fiction. Tom is a likable character, the story moves quickly, and fans of Will Hobbs and Gary Paulsen will adore this.
Weaknesses: The formatting is a bit odd. The way a page looks when a reader first opens up the book can be a huge influence, and this had font that was a bit small, and less white space than readers tend to like. I know it sounds picky, but there are a lot of times when I have to show a student the text of a book-- if the font looks big, they are more likely to read it. There was also WAY too much about the mother's death, and it added absolutely nothing to the story. It was enough that Tom and his father were separated. I also would have liked a more definitive ending.
What I really think: The adventure/survival portion of this was so strong that I will buy a copy despite my very strong objection to the storyline about the mother's death and the father's dysfunctional way of dealing with it.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Mothman's Curse/Daughter of Deep Silence

Hayes, Christine. Mothman's Curse.
June 16th 2015 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC from Netgalley.com
Also reviewed at Young Adult Books Central

Fox and Josie like to hang around their father's auction house near Athens, Ohio and snag some of the cooler stuff for themselves. They occasionally bring along younger brother Mason, as well, especially since their mom has passed away, although their aunt and uncle have moved in to try to help out. When Fox (who likes to have his own auctions and claim that items are haunted) finds a Polaroid camera that spits out pictures of a creepy guy in polyester whom they soon find out is John Goodrich, whose tragic story is the stuff of local legends. Goodrich and his wife spent a lot of their time and money trying to avert tragedies around town only to have a mudslide kill Mrs. Goodrich but spare John and his house. Fox's father has been contracted to auction off the estate, but his leg is badly broken when visiting the house. Did he really see the legendary Mothman? Josie finds a pin that gives her visions of various stages of the Mothman curse, with which she is now saddled. Another tragedy is going to hit Athens, and the Mothman's presence is presaging it, but no one believes the children. Can they find a way to save everyone and cast off the curse as well?

Josie and Fox make a terrific brother-sister team. Not only do they work the auction house well and are helpful to their family, but they also do a fantastic job at figuring out the Mothman curse and dealing with it in an effective manner. Fox starts off the book as kind of a goof, but manages to become more serious, and Josie goes from being a fearful shadow of her brother to being the kind of girl who is willing to sacrifice herself if that is the only recourse. Their mother is dead, which was an unnecessary bit of sadness, but they are handling their grief well. The other adults in their lives are supportive and helpful.

The use of local legend, landmarks and lore works very well and makes for a story that is much creepier than the cartoonish cover would indicate. Like the southeastern Ohio setting in Black's Doll Bones, this view of Athens is a bit gritty and macabre, but never devolves into "hillbilly" stereotypes. The descriptions of place don't weigh the book down at all, but are deftly worked into a plot that is well paced and which has its share of action and suspense.

This is a great title to hand to students who adore scary movies and would rather watch those than read, and a better written alternative to R.L. Stine books. There is always a demand for creepy books for middle grade readers, and this is deliciously spine-tingling but won't keep anyone awake at night. For too long, anyway!

A haunted Polaroid has been used before, in the Scholastic Poison Apple Now You See Me, but this works, too! I was glad that the camera in Mothman's Curse didn't require film!

23281652Ryan, Carrie. Daughter of Deep Silence
May 26th 2015 by Dutton Books for Young Readers
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Frances and Libby are two of four survivors when the luxury yacht Persephone sinks-- but it was attacked and the people on it brutally killed by agents of Senator Wells and his son Grey. Libby dies on the raft, and when Frances is rescued, Libby's father offers to take her in and give her Libby's identity so that she can be kept safe. Senator Wells made up a story about a big wave sinking the ship, and Frances (now Libby) won't rest until she can bring him down. This is made more complicated by the fact that she still has feelings for Grey. To what extent is Grey a part of his father's conspiracy? Libby also has trouble with her half brothers, who were adopted by Libby's parents when their own parents died-- Shepherd does not believe that she is really Libby. Libby very cleverly carries out her investigation and plots her revenge, all the while fighting with her feelings about Grey.
Strengths: Middle school students love murder mysteries as well as romance books, and this fits the bill well without being inappropriate. There's a lot of sighing and pining, but the violence is more of a concern. Even then, it wasn't too bad. The rich family setting, the intrigue, and Libby's attempts at cracking the mystery make this a fun read, right down to the twist at the end.
Weaknesses: A bit on the long side, at 370+ pages, and the cover makes this look like a historical novel, when it's not. I think I'll buy a copy for the 8th grade girls who can't get enough romance books. A much better story from this author than The Forest of Hands and Teeth, which I did NOT understand!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

#WeNeedDiverseBooks Wednesday

18781037Faulkner, Matt. Giajin: American Prisoner of War
April 15th 2014 by Disney-Hyperion

Koji Miyamoto and his mother, Adeline, live in San Francisco, but Koji's father is in Japan. When Pearl Harbor is bombed, Koji is on the recieving end of a lot of racial slurs and discrimination, even though he is American born. When his mother is told he will be sent to a relocation camp, she goes with him because he is so young. At the camp, he is bullied because he is not Japanese enough, and the other boys push him around and call his mother a "floozy" for talking to soldiers. He makes friends with Mr. Asai, an older man who is trying to be productive while at the camps, putting in a garden and helping others out. Koji, however, is bound and determined to get into trouble and makes plans on escaping with some other boys after getting involved in their gang, stealing supplies and cigarettes, but luckily is not with them when they are caught by guards.
Strengths: This was a nice twist on the Japanese internment camp story-- it is a fascinating bit of history, but unfortunately most of the books on the topic are much the same. I enjoyed the style of illustrations (this is a graphic novel), and Koji's mixed heritage gives a different perspective to this. The historical notes about the author's family's involvement were interesting, too.
Weaknesses: A lot of violence, with the boys at the camp being idiots, and more of the term "floozy" flung around. These things didn't advance the story, and in fact took up valuable space that I would rather have seen filled with either more historical context, political thoughts, or constructive behavior.
What I really think: Will probably buy, and wonder what it is about the ink that makes some graphic novels smell so bad!

22328530Springstubb, Tricia. Moonpenny Island.
February 10th 2015 by Balzer & Bray/Harperteen

Flor loves living on a small island in Lake Erie. She doesn't mind that in the winter there are about 200 people; she loves the way the island is quiet when the summer visitors are gone. She has always had a very good friend, Sylvie, who was just her age, but when Sylvie's older brother runs into problems, Sylvie's parents send her to the mainland to go to a school there. As the only 6th grader, Flor is lonely, especially when her mother goes to Toledo to take care of her grandmother. Being the only 6th grader isn't much fun, and she's not overly fond of Mrs. Defoe, even though they both like Anne of Avonlea. When she meets Jasper, whose father is studying trilobites on the island, things get a little better. The two have some adventures, but there is overwhelming sadness everywhere in Flor's life. Her parents had been fighting, which is one reason her mother left, and Flor is concerned that her mother is tired of life on the island. Her older sister Cecelia is acting oddly, and Flor doesn't know quite what is wrong, but she's worried that she is losing her, too. Eventually, even Jasper has to leave, and Flor is not quite sure how her life will continue with all of her losses.
Strengths: Absolutely brilliant setting. Having been to Kelley's Island a couple of years ago, I can imagine what the school is like, and the interactions of the various residents are fascinating. The problems that Flor faces are all very realistic and well portrayed, and the book moves along well. Springstubb is an engaging writer.
Weaknesses: The wonderful setting begs to have a FUN summer story instead of all of the sadness. I also found it a little hard to believe that Mrs. Defoe had been assigning Anne of Avonlea for over 40 years. Why start with book two?
What I really think: Will probably pass on buying this for school, even though there is an Ohio link. Just too sad. I almost missed this book, because the cover made me think it was in the Sheila Turnage series!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Floyd C. Dickman


I had Floyd for one of my first Library Science classes, back in about 1996. He knew so much about children's literature and was a very kind man. He gave me a board book copy of Martin Waddell's Owl Babies when he found out that I had two very small children at home, and we used to read it before I would go to classes, because the classes invariably went past the kids' bedtimes.

A huge loss to the world of children's literature.

Scare Scape

22749516Fisher, Sam. Scare Scape
February 24th 2015 by Scholastic Press (first published July 1st 2013)
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Morton, James and Melissa move from their bright apartment in the city to a creepy old house in a town where their British born father can work in a planetarium. The move seems to be motivated by their mother's recent death, but this is only mentioned briefly. Morton is a huge fan of the Scare Scape comics, although his brother is no longer interested in them. After they break a lawn mower on a creepy statue of a garden gnome and make wishes on it, things start to happen. Melissa gets a huge closet filled with clothes, and Morton's Scare Scape toys start to come to life. He wanted them to be more realistic-- not start terrorizing the neighborhood! Things happen at a frenetic pace, and it's tough to keep on top of the flesh-eating slugs and zombie twins. The siblings are helped by Morton's new friend Robbie, and Melissa's new friend Wendy, and they need all the help they can get when James turns into a Snarf and requires rotting food to eat. Living in the house of Scare Scape author John King turns out to be quite challenging, and not as much fun as Morton would have thought! Can the siblings manage the magic so that their new home isn't destroyed by creatures such as the zombie twins?

It's rare to see a book where the siblings are portrayed as having a close but occasionally troublesome relationship, so it was great to see Morton, James and Melissa interact. The situation with their mother's death could use some more explanation, but the way the children are dealing with it is realistic. Morton is sad that James doesn't share his interests anymore, and Melissa is a bit irritated that James seems to be getting along well with HER new friend, Wendy. The father is busy, but present, cooking horrible dinners and making sure the children are okay. Supportive family is missing in so many middle grade books, so I appreciated that.

It is also hard to find books with monsters, and I've had a lot of students asking for them. The illustrated "monster deck" illustrating and describing the attributes of the various creatures will be a big hit with readers who wish that they could get their hands on John King's Scare Scape comics!

The book has a fair amount of action with great details like James the Snarf belching yellow smog and King Crab spiders chasing students. I liked the mystery of what happened to John King, but I wish that this portion of the story would have been tightened up a little bit. There is a lot going on, and readers who like monsters are generally a bit more interested in the antics of zombie twins rather than the motivation of creepy authors.

For readers who liked Lorey's Monster Academy or R.L. Stine's Goosebumps books, Scare Scape is a natural choice, and I can even see recommending this to readers who like family tales like The Penderwicks but want something creepy and more exciting.

Fisher, Sam. The Midnight Door (Scare Scape #2)
March 31st 2015 by Scholastic Press
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there

Just when Morton thinks that all of his Scare Scape toys are no longer going to attack him and his siblings, the town is beset by hordes of two-headed mutant rodents! Hoping that this is just a Halloween occurrence, Morton keeps an eye on the situation, but also has to deal with his father's long hours and bad cooking, his friend Robbie joining a punk rock band with Nolan and the bully Brad, and Mrs. Smedley, who is "babysitting" the children at their father's request. Things start to get even weirder when another boy in school, Derek, has a toy advertised at the back of the Scare Scape comics that starts actually working-- a working antigravity laser can cause some big problems when used at school! How did the objects from John King's creepy comics start coming to life again? When Nolan goes missing and Brad is turned into a Snarf, Morton reopens his investigation into John King's life and work. He finds some documents in the house, but suspects that others may have been sold... and may have fallen into the wrong hands. Bit by bit, the full terror of the Scare Scape world is revealed, but there are still many questions surroundings John King's life and work.

While some of the questions from the first book are answered, there are even more questions introduced, so I strongly suspect there might be another book in the series. As in the first book, there are fantastic scenes with various monsters, a great illustrated center section with monster descriptions, and intriguing mysteries about Morton's predicament. There's even a Scare Scape comic at the end of the book, which is a great addition! I just wish the explanations about King's activities were described a little more clearly and briefly.

Robbie's interest in the band, and Morton's feelings of abandonment are so true to the middle school experience. Brad is described as a "bully", but his actions are never very stereotypical, which was a relief, and both he and Nolan end up being more interesting than I thought they would be. Melissa has some clever moments, but the character that I found most fascinating was Mrs. Smedley. I thought that she would turn out to be some sort of monster fighter, but she hasn't... yet! I loved the description of her "Mrs. Smedley's hands were buttery soft and she smelled ever so slightly of violets." (From ARC) She bakes cookies and scones, and it would be awesome if she also ended up fighting monsters!

Middle grade readers enjoy scary books because it takes their mind off of the drama going on around them on a daily basis. Flesh-eating Coackroaches, Ten-eyed Salamanders, and Shark Hounds certainly will make fans of horror fiction (such as Dan Poblocki's books) feel much more relaxed about any upcoming algebra tests!

Monday, June 15, 2015

MMGM- Cassidy's Guide to Everyday Etiquette and Obfuscation

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.

22837085Stauffacher, Sue. Cassidy's Guide to Everyday Etiquette and Obfuscation
June 9th 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Cassidy is very irritated. When her great-grandmother passes away, she is left with an inheritance-- a copy of Emily Post's etiquette manual and a month of  lessons. That would be bad enough, but her best friend Jack and her sister Magda (who inherited time at a forensics summer camp instead!) are both enthralled with new neighbor Bree, who is a girly-girl from Georgia who competes in beauty pageants. Cassidy has no choice but to take the lessons, and ends up talking quite a bit to Delton, who has trouble interacting socially with others, as well as a young police officer whose fiancee is insisting he learn better manners for their upcoming wedding. Since Jack is not interested in her pranks anymore, she enlists her new friends in them, with varying degrees of success. She manages to damage the mannequin used for lessons, and generally finds that her pranks fall flat and only get her in to trouble. Will Cassidy be able to behave herself properly at the upcoming etiquette dinner?
Strengths: This was a funny, upbeat book filled with vaguely amusing adventures, and a great cast of characters. The premise of an etiquette school is a fun one. The parents especially are written just the way parents in books should be written: ALIVE,  a bit quirky, and annoying to the main character. I liked that Cassidy was able to be friends with boys, and that she and her sister had decided interests. There was even a nice multicultural aspect-- Jack Taylor's mother from India.
Weaknesses: Cassidy was very annoying, and this dragged down the story quite a bit. In fact, she was SO annoying that I didn't like the book until I broke it down into component parts. Had Cassidy been a character I liked, this might well have been my favorite book of the year. The cover could be a lot better-- this is actually a good funny book for BOYS as well, but they won't like the cover. Just disappointed, somehow. I should love this, but was irritated by Cassidy. Her desire to be a "hobo" was odd and rather politically incorrect.
What I really think: I am hoping that Cassidy won't annoy middle grade readers, since I need more upbeat, realistic fiction.

23245015Hilary Koll, Steve Mills. Solve a Crime: You Do the Math
Published April 1st 2015 by QEB Publishing
Copy received from publicist.

This 32 page book would be a good addition to a math class and could be used when lessons for the day are done. Middle grade students are very interested in forensics and would enjoy seeing how various types of math are used to solve crimes. Each two page spread focuses on one aspect of the crime, and one type of math: for example, the "Types of Crime" pages have a graph on falling crime and a chart where students can work out the fraction, decimal and percentages that different types of crimes represent. There are comic book style illustrations that move the investigation forward. Working the different problems would be an essential part of reading this book for me, so younger readers might need some assistance with the math.

23245014Hilary Koll, Steve Mills. Fly a Jet Fighter: You Do the Math
Published April 1st 2015 by QEB Publishing
Copy received from publicist.

This book centers around this premise: "You have been given command of a squadron of jet fighters and their pilots." This will entice many middle grade readers to find out about topics that affect flight, such as speeds, measurement data for different types of jet fighters, and the history of jet fighters. I like how each of the pages have math problems to do as part of the story, AND answers are listed in the back, which is very helpful. Each book also has a glossary and index. This title is a little more browsable than the previous title, but both would be a fun treat in a math class.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Between the Notes

Between the NotesRoat, Sharon Huss. Between the Notes
June 16th 2015 by Harper Teen
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Ivy's family has to move from their big house in a nice part of town into a cramped apartment in a less desirable area because her father's business is not doing well, and her brother Brady requires extensive therapy because of his developmental disability. Her mother goes back to work, and Ivy tries to settle in to a new routine that involves riding her bike to school and trying to hide the move from her frenemies, Willow and Wynn. Long time friend Reesa is more understanding, but the two girls both like the same boy-- the enigmatic new James Wickerton. Reesa fawns over him, but he and Ivy really connect, although Ivy also seems to have caught the eye of stoner and neighbor Lennie. There's lots of drama about the move and the boys, but it is Ivy's adjustment to a new type of life that is most interesting.
Strengths: This kept me reading. In some ways, it seemed very much like a middle grade book, and it was just interesting to read about Ivy's new life. The inclusion of visits to a food pantry and Ivy's brother added some depth.
Weaknesses: A bit slow and depressing for a middle school romantic read, and the author totally lost me when she whipped out the following on page 191(from E ARC): "Stand there like a f*ing idiot in front of James and let him think you care if he's rich and don't say a f*ing word and f* f* f* f*." I don't care if this makes Ivy laugh because she 's not "the girl who said "f*" out loud." She did, and it's unnecessary and offensive.
What I really think: Probably buy for high school, but not for middle school.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Saturday Morning Cartoons- The Flying Beaver Brothers

22551756Eaton III, Maxwell. The Flying Beaver Brothers and the Crazy Critter Race (Flying Beaver Brothers #6)
March 10th 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Copy from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Ace and Bub are tired of living in a the half-a-house that their penguin friends built for them, so when they see a flyer for Crazy Critter's race, they enter in order to win the grand prize...a houseboat! The race involves sailing around the Shark Tooth Islands and planting tree seeds. Neither the Beaver Brothers or their competitors, the Roping Racoon Sisters have a lot of time to ask questions before the race starts, but when the seeds start sprouting vicious vines, Ace and Bub start asking questions. Is someone trying to sabotage Crazy Critter's Race, or is he trying to get more houseboats sold?

This graphic novel for beginning readers has a good balance between the pictures and the simple text. The smaller size makes the book easy to hold, and each volume in the series is done in a different color, which can be very helpful when readers are trying to identify which book they still need to read. For reading aloud, adults need to prepare themselves to make lots of sound effects. Since Ace and Bub get involved in lots of action and running around, readers need to be able to intone "broff!", "blobba-lob" and "piff piff piff" with enthusiasm.

Ace and Bub get themselves into some strange situations, but try to do the right thing. There is even a tiny environmental message about invasive species of plants in this one, if adult readers really want to encourage science lessons.

If Krosoczka's Lunch Lady books and Holm's Babymouse ones are always in your young readers' library haul, definitely investigate these go-getting sentient beavers! Spa-loosh!