Sunday, August 30, 2015

MMGM- Code of Honor

Have you been so busy with the start of school that you haven't heard about the Cybils' call for judges? This is a great year to be part of the excitement, but you only have until September 9th to apply.

If you have read a lot of middle grade realistic fiction and want to apply for that division, Yours Truly would be your Evil Overlord Category Chair. We've had some great groups in the past, and have worked together really well, so definitely take a look at the Cybils FAQs and see if you want to apply for the fun! (And work!)

Gratz, Alan. Code of Honor.
August 25th 2015 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Kamran Smith, whose mother immigrated from Iran in the late 1970s and whose father is from the US, is a football player who is planning on going to West Point and follow in his brother Darius' footsteps. The two have always been close, and invented lots of games based on mash-ups of Persian mythology and modern fantasy stories like Harry Potter and Star Wars. When Darius shows up in news videos reading statements supporting Muslim terrorist activities against the US, the family is shocked and devastated. The Department of Homeland Security descends on the home, and Kamran is taken to be a "guest" of the government. Kamran firmly believes that Darius would never go against their "code of honor", and thinks he has been taken prisoner by the terrorists. He watches the videos more closely, and finds what he believes are clues that his brother is sending him. Agent Mickey Hagerty, who grew up in Ireland and whose brother was a suicide bomber, believes Kamran and helps him escape from the government facility in order to stop what the two believe is a plan to ignite bombs at the Super Bowl. With the help of various agents, some good and some not, Kamran is able to interpret his brother's messages and not only save the day, but rescue his brother as well.

Kamran is a fascinating character, who doesn't waiver in his faith in his brother until the very end of the book. While some might think that the brothers' games are a bit far fetched, I know that my children did role playing games where the Teletubbies met Star Wars, so it seemed perfectly reasonable to me! Kamran is confronted with all manner of people, both Muslim and non-Muslims, and he has to learn to read them and figure out whom to trust. His anger at the attacks on his family by the media as well as school acquaintance's is all too understandable. Hagerty is also a fascinating character, with his Irish background, and we are not sure if he is trustworthy either. He imparts some of his wisdom about dealing with people who stereotype him to Kamran that is valuable.

There are lots of twists and turns in the plot. Despite the somewhat slow start, this quickly became a spy novel that fans of Horowitz's Stormbreaker series or Gilman's The Devil's Breath will love. Readers with an interest in the military or who have experienced difficulties because of their ethnic background will enjoy seeing themselves in the pages of this gripping novel. How can you go wrong when the terrorists are targeting such a sacred American ritual... the Super Bowl?

Gratz has many diverse titles, and his prose is fluid and riveting. His Prisoner B-3807 was shortlisted for the Cybils Middle Grade Fiction Award in 2013; his Brooklyn Nine is engaging baseball fiction, and his Steampunk series The League of Seven shows a thorough understanding of what sort of story appeals to middle grade readers.

Before Mr. Gratz's head becomes to enlarged, I do have to say that I wasn't a fan of Something's Rotten  or Samurai Shortstop. Too Young Adult for my taste!

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.

The Mean Girl Meltdown

24612550Eyre, Lindsay. The Mean Girl Meltdown
August 25th 2015 by Arthur A. Levine Books
ARC from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there. 

When Sylvie's baseball team loses the championship, she plays mean, older girl Jamie, who faked Sylvie out by calling a time out and then tagging her. Undaunted, when a boy comes and talks to her 4th grade class about hockey, Sylvie really wants to play, since her father played hockey when he was younger. She tries to talk her friend Miranda Tan into joining, but Miranda prefers science and is reluctant. Georgie isn't wild about playing, either, but his abuela wants him to play, and his father agrees to coach. Their friend Josh also joins... and so does Jamie! Sylvie has a lot of trouble getting the hang of the game, and Jamie is mean about it. There are also a lot of pranks that target Sylvie-- someone unscrews her water bottle lid, puts mayonnaise in her hand lotion, and locks her in a bathroom. She's sure it is Jamie, and vows to get even, but the coach gets fed up with all of the pranks and threatens to stop the season if they continue. Will ill-timed retribution end Sylvie's hockey career before it even begins?
Strengths: Sylvie's family was the best part of this. She has younger twin brothers who are always doing the strangest things. My favorite quote (from E ARC) was the father saying "Stop dropping dental floss in the waffle batter. It won't make them minty!" The mother was also supportive, and even though the father has a new job and is very busy, he comes to Sylvie's practice when they are announcing the captains, so he can be with her whatever the result. The multiculturalism is nice, and is shown in the illustrations. Miranda is a science geek, which verges on stereotypical, but Max, an African American boy is as well. It's hard to find books with girls in sports, so this was a funny, fantastic read.
Weaknesses: A few things happened without explanation and were a bit jarring-- Sylvie's mother has a baby and then it's not much of a concern. The motivation for the pranks is a bit weak.
What I really think: Even though this is for younger readers, I may have to buy it, if only for the line about the dental floss, and the whole scene with the waffles, actually! Very fun.

25362768St. Anthony, Jane. Isabelle Day Refuses to Die of a Broken Heart
September 1st 2015 by Univ Of Minnesota Press
E ARC from

Isabelle and her mother move from Milwaukee to Minneapolis after her father's death. Her mother has a job teaching, and Isabelle goes to a Catholic school with feisty nuns and the world's ugliest uniform. The elderly neighbor ladies, Flora and Dora, take a shine to Isabelle and share their chicken soup and their sad past with her. Isabelle manages to make friends and slowly comes to terms with her father's death and her new life, even after tragedy befalls one of the elderly ladies.
Strengths: The 1960s setting in this is good-- there are enough things like records and Alvin and the Chipmunks and whatnot, and the neighborhood feeling was strong. Stylistically, this had a very 1960s feel to it, even if it had a very long 1970s title!
Weaknesses: Nothing happens. There's not even much plot.
What I really think: Too slow and sad for my readers. Like the cover.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Saturday Morning Cartoons- HiLo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth

23735610Winnick, Judd. HiLo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth
1 September 2015, Random House Boys for Young Readers
ARC from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there

D.J. comes from a very busy family, and his brothers and sisters all do amazing things. D.J. doesn't. Ever since his best friend Gina moved away, he has felt that he can't do anything well. While out near their old club house one day, D.J. sees a bright flash of light, and finds Hilo lying on the ground, wearing just silver underpants. D.J. tries to find out from where Hilo has come, but Hilo claims his memory is faulty. D.J. takes Hilo home, gets him some clothing (even though wearing just the pants makes Hilo feel "breezy") and feeds him. (Hilo thinks food is "outstanding!".) When school starts the next day, D.J. tells Hilo to stay home, but of course he makes it to school, where he causes a ruckus in the office and gets himself registered. Of course, this is the same day that Gina moves back to town. Unsure of what to think about this, D.J. feels awkward until Gina finds out about Hilo, and then the three are so busy trying to figure out what sort of alien Hilo is and what sort of intergalactic foes he is facing to really reassess their relationship. There are lots of bumps along the way, from finding out that Gina plays a lot of sports and is very interested in science to being chased by huge killer robots from Hilo's planet, but the three manage to work things out and are ready for their next adventure.

Judd Winnick has worked on a variety of more adult comics, such as Batman, and in promotional materials for Hilo, explains how he wanted comics that his young son could read. When an author has a particular audience in mind and researches what that audience wants, it shows. Hilo is full of explosions, action, burps and silver underpants, all of which appeal to younger readers, but also has a keen eye for the more serious concerns of this age group. Living up to expectations, making and keeping friends, and finding one's true interests are all themes that tweens and younger teens take very seriously.

Winnick must also have done his research on current trends in middle grade literature, because Hilo is nicely multicultural. D.J.'s last name is Lim, and the first food he feeds Hilo is rice. Since this is an illustrated book, those and the pictures are all the clues we need to determine that D.J.'s family is Chinese. Gina is African American. It is the space alien who is blond, which is somehow vastly amusing.

Fans of Big Nate, the Lunch Ladies, and Geronimo Stilton  will pick this book up for the full color format and slapstick humor, but D.J.'s earnest vulnerability will make readers take Hilo to heart and wait for a sequel.

My only quibble with this book is that sometimes the characters have pupils, and sometimes their eyes are small, empty white spaces. At first, I thought that only Hilo had these blank eyes, but they all do at different points, and it seemed odd. I'm not an illustrator, so maybe there are difficulties in drawing eyes that I don't understand, but somehow the blank eyes made me look for something different with the characters.

24612577Stine, R.L. Slappy's Tales of Horror
August 25th 2015 by GRAPHIX
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

In four short stories illustrated by different comic book artists (Dave Roman, Jamie Tolagson, Gabriel Hernandez and Ted Naifeh), Stine brings his trademark Goosebumps creepiness to the comic-loving crowd. "A Shocker on Shock Street" involves two children trying out a Shock Street theme park, "The Werewolf of Fever Swamp" shows a boy in a new neighborhood trying to distinguish between assumed and real threats, "The Night of the Living Dummy" has two sisters involved in some sibling rivalry that turns dangerous when their dummies come to life, and in "Ghost Beach", the familiar "Are they ghosts? They are. Wait, no they're not. Yes, they are" formula is used to good effect while two children are staying at a beach house with elderly relatives. In between the stories, we are told by Slappy that we are too weak and scared to read such terrifying tales. 

At least one of these stories ( "The Werewolf of Fever Swamp" ) is repackaged from Creepy Creatures: Goosebumps Graphix (September 1st 2006 by GRAPHIX). Since this new version is in hardcover, it is worth the $21.29 (Follett) if full color pictures are important to you. I may pass, since the three previous Graphix Goosebumps books don't circulate all that well for my library and I spent a lot of money on Squish, Geronimo Stilton and Babymouse books last year!

24727081DiCamillo, Kate. Francie Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon (Tales from Deckawoo Drive #2)
August 25th 2015 by Candlewick Press
E ARC from

Francine is the daughter and granddaughter of animal control officers, and is the most decorated officer in the history of the department. When she gets a call about a ghost raccoon on Mrs. Bissinger's roof that is screaming Mrs/ Bissinger's name, she goes on the call with her trademarked determination and lack of fear. When the call doesn't end with her capturing the raccoon, but with her falling and sustaining injuries so severe that she ends up in the hospital, Francine has an existential crisis and quits her job. She takes another job as a clerk in a bait and tackle store, where she meets Frank and Stella. Frank has heard of Francine's impressive exploits and tells her that he knows where the screaming raccoon is. Can Francine get over her fear to capture the raccoon and return to her previous glory?
Strengths: This has some appeal to beginning readers who want a well-illustrated, somewhat funny chapter book. It is fast paced and involves raccoons, which seem to be very prevalent in picture book literature but lacking in middle grade, so this is a good bridge.
Weaknesses: I just took this one too personally, and found it sad that Francine was SO good at her job and so proud of it, but one incident was enough to make her quit!
What I really think: Too young for middle school, but almost too old at the same time, what with Francine's existential job crisis. Maybe if I were a fan of Mercy Watson or had read the first book in the Deckawoo Drive series, Leroy Ninker Saddles Up. DiCamillo is just one of those authors that doesn't appeal to me most of the time.

This Black Racer was sunning along the edge of the nature trail, the ...
Fun fact: when I was out recently, one of my neighbors had caught a raccoon in his garage that looked very much like this little guy. He had gotten it into a plastic trash can, which he had then laid on its side by the sewer grate at the end of the street, saying he figured that's where the raccoon lived. The raccoon didn't seem like that was home, and kept trying to back away.

I think I would have let the little guy out under a bush and made sure the garage door was closed!

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Making of a Navy SEAL: My Story of Surviving the Toughest Challenge and Training the Best

23014881Webb, Brandon. The Making of a Navy SEAL: My Story of Surviving the Toughest Challenge and Training the Best 
August 25th 2015 by St. Martin's Griffin
ARC from Baker and Taylor

In this memoir, Navy SEAL Webb briefly tells the story of his formative years, during which his family lived on boats and his father once threw him out in the middle of the South Pacific, his years as a SEAL (which included time as a sniper), and his career as a military trainer. It touches briefly on his personal life but concentrates on his various assignments and the life lessons he learned from them.

There are lots of good descriptions about what life is like in the SEALS, and while his missions aren't given too much detail, there is enough to appeal to readers who are fascinated by the military. There wasn't a lot of plot or character development-- this read more like a annotated list of assignments, which made it less enjoyable for me.

The most disappointing part for me was reading the epilogue where Webb gives the briefest possible overview of his activity after 2006. He mentions delivering over a million dollars in cash, finding informers and other secret agent type activities that my readers would ADORE. Perhaps that is another book!

Depending on whether or not this has an Accelerated Reader test for it, and on how many readers I have who are interested in the armed forces, I may buy this. It's a decent length, fairly engaging, and a better choice than some of the adult memoirs on similar topics, since those tend to include questionable language and situations. Probably will purchase.

Thursday, August 27, 2015


First of all, I would like to say that I don't think ANY middle grade books EVER manifest the sort of love/hate relationships with readers that Young Adult books do. Check out some of the reviews for this book on Goodreads and be amused. Readers seem to either adore this and squee when a new one is released, or they abhor them and want the author to rot in the Underworld.

I was just kind of baffled by the entire book.

17331819Houck, Colleen. Reawakened.
August 25th 2015 by Delacorte Press
E ARC from

High school senior Lilliana is good at doing what her high powered New York City parents want her to do, so she's given free rein and plenty of spending money. She also knows the guard at the museum, so when she needs some quiet space, she is allowed to go to a closed Egyptian exhibit to work. When she's there, though, she meets Amon, a bald but very hot guy who seems... disturbed. After lunch with her friends from school, she sees Amon get injured in traffic and rushes to his aid. She gets him some food, determines that he is nuts but harmless, and ends up taking him to her apartment to get him some clothes. She finally realizes that yes, he is a reanimated mummy, and he needs her life force to find his canopic jars as well as his two brothers, who are also mummies. Every thousand years, they have to get together to fend off the advances of the dark god Seth, to whom their fathers sacrificed them many years ago. Since he is kind of cute, Lily willingly follows him to Egypt (he hypnotizes everyone they see into letting them travel without tickets or passports), where they find an Egyptologist and some shabtis to help out, and get to travel into several archaeological sites in order to find Amon's brothers and conduct their ceremony before it's too late. For Lily, however, the palpable heat of Amon's reanimated self is overwhelming, and in between various injuries, she falls in love with him.
Strengths: The cover is very attractive. Egyptian mythology background, and lots of details about mummies and other Egyptian tombs, gods, and beliefs. I always keep in mind that even the ancient cultures had a lot of different versions of their own myths, so I won't complain about not being able to pin down a particular story from the past for the basis of this. A fair amount of action, and a LOT of romance.
Weaknesses: Well, I can see this being very popular with high school girls who like romance books. It's sort of an Egyptian bodice ripper/Harlequin romance. Lots of descriptions of Amon's chest, lots of fainting and being rescued, fantasizing about kissing, and even Amon's hot reanimated brothers hit on Lilliana, who is a wealthy, well-dressed American and rather clueless.
What I really think: Um. Um. "Palpable heat" was actually a quote from the E ARC. I think I am just not the demographic for this, although when I outlined the beginning of the book for my daughter and asked if it would take her THAT many pages to realize that Amon was, in fact, a reanimated mummy, we both agreed that if we met hot, shirtless guy who seemed weird in a closed Egyptian exhibit, we would immediately assume he WAS a reanimated mummy and go with it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

#WeNeedDiverseBooks Wednesday- Clementine for Christmas

24612622Benedis-Grab, Daphne. Clementine for Christmas
August 25th 2015 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Josie has a decent life in Frost Ridge, where she lives with her Vietnamese grandparents and mother. Her father passed away from cancer and her grandfather has had hip surgery, so the extra support is appreciated by all the generations. Josie is very grateful for Clementine, the dog she got for Christmas the year her father passed. She loves everything about Christmas, from the wild sweaters her grandmother knits to the play that is put on at the hospital where she volunteers with Clementine. Oscar, on the other hand, is NOT a fan of Christmas, since that is when his parents' arguments seem to become louder and more frequent. After a particularly harrowing morning at home, someone at school makes him angry, and he gets suspended for hitting another boy. He also has to do community service, and ends up volunteering in the children's ward with Josie. He doesn't want to get into the spirit of things, wearing a costume and singing to children the way that Josie does, but does enjoy hanging out with Clementine, and slowly understands why Josie volunteers of her own choice. When popular fashionista Gabby ends up as a patient in the children's ward, Josie and Oscar are a little surprised. Gabby is having trouble keeping her epilepsy under control, and is concerned that classmates will make fun of her just like they did din her old school, so she promises to help Josie organize the Christmas pageant, if she and Oscar promise to keep her condition a secret. In the end, the three help each other out tremendously, even though there are missteps along the way.

The characters in this book all reflect actual middle school students brilliantly. Josie feels unpopular, even though she is happy with her homemade sweaters and ill-fitting jeans. Oscar is angry at many things, and this shows itself in his behavior at school. Gabby wants to retain her hard-earned popularity by dressing like the popular girls even though it takes ingenuity to stretch her money and is a physical hardship for her when her epilepsy becomes unmanageable. The way that the three of them are thrown together isn't overly forced (although I don't know how the principal of the school could mandate community service without even talking with Oscar's parents!), and they aren't friends immediately-- in fact, they are wary of each other for most of the book!

There were many multicultural characters in the book without the book being about any one culture, which was refreshing to see. Josie is half Vietnamese, Gabby is Hispanic, and Frost Ridge is populated with characters with Asian, Italian and Indian names, as well as several African-American characters. Most of the characters struggle a bit economically, which is more realistic than having them all live in multimillion dollar houses! Middle grade readers like to know that other children are struggling with parents who fight or parents who are worried about their jobs.

Clementine is a fantastic character, too, and her service in the hospital is well-described.

There are not many Christmas related books for middle grade readers, and the cover on this is great, although I would have liked to see one of Josie's grandmother's sweaters in the picture somewhere! Fans of thought-provoking novels like Bauer's Almost Home, Booth's Kinda Like Brothers, or Schroeder's It's Raining Cupcakes will enjoy this tale of community service around the holidays.

I liked this much more than this author's The Angel Tree which was much sadder and felt forced.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Moving Target/ Randoms

24612558Gonzalez, Christina Diaz. Moving Target
August 25th 2015 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

One minute, Cassandra Arroyo is contemplating having an unauthorized adventure in Rome and complaining that her teacher has it in for her, and the next her father has picked her up from school and is driving like a maniac to escape people who are shooting at them! He tries to explain why-- Cassie is marked, and if she finds the Spear of Destiny and bonds with it, she could be in grave danger from the Hastati, who want to control the spear themselves. Then her father is shot! Cassie gets him to a hospital, but he tells her to run and find Brother Gregorio... and to trust no one. She makes it to the abandoned monastery where Brother Gregorio lives, but also seeks out the help of her best friend, Simone. Gregorio tells her more of her story, and is disappointed that she left one of the journals her father gave her at Simone's. As long as she stays in the monastery and wears a ring she is given, the Hastati will not be able to get her, but if she leaves, she will have no protection. Of course, she and Simone decide that the best thing to do is to try to follow the clues they have and find the spear, so that they can use it as a bargaining tool. Asher, Gregorio's nephew, is assigned to protect the two, so when they sneak out of the monastery and want to hear out to look for the clues, he is there to drive them. They head to the small town of Civita based on written notes from Cassie's father, and find a clue that leads them to the Knights of Malta compound. The Knight and the Hastati have both fought for control of the spear, but when the three are there, they learn dark secrets about Cassie's background and Cassie finds the spear. She overhears a conversation that leads her to believe that her father is dying, so she touches the spear in order to reverse his fate. She lies to Simone and Asher about this, however, until (after several more adventures) they end up at the hospital with her father. According to Cassie's vision, he should be awake, but he's not. Instead, they find him comatose, and Cassie is betrayed by an unexpected source, people who also take the spear from her, setting up the premise for a second book.
Strengths: This has a great cover and starts off with a lot of action. Combine that with great descriptions of the Rome setting, and this will be an easy sell. I also appreciated that Cassie's father had come from Cuba, and she speaks some Spanish, but the book is not about her background. THIS is the sort of character we need for #WeNeedDiverseBooks! The legend of the Spear of Destiny is explained well enough, and the clues, supportive characters and twists all work well.
Weaknesses: This dragged a bit while the girls were at the monastery trying to figure out what to do, and I'm still not entirely sure what the Hastati are all about. There are a lot of questions to be answered in a second book!
What I really think: This reminded me a bit of Salerni's The Eighth Day-- a modern, action/adventure novel with a fresh new mythology behind the magic. Not exactly my thing, but I do have readers for it, so I'll definitely buy this one.

Launch a Rocket into SpaceKoll, Hilary and Mills, Steve. Launch a Rocket into Space
June 1st 2015 by QEB Publishing
Copy received from Quarto Publishing

Finally! Science fiction space adventure has seen a resurgence lately, and it's been difficult to find nonfiction to pair it with. The third book in the new You Do The Math series is just the ticket!

Filled with interesting facts (like the ages and heights acceptable for astronauts, a timeline of rocket flights), this book walks you (the leader of a space mission) through the math necessary for select astronauts and planning various aspects of your mission into space. Graphs, charts, timelines and diagrams help the reader calculate things like the weight of something on the Earth and the Moon, the number of calories needed for the astronauts, and the angle of the rocket when it blasts off. When the mission returns, the reader can check their calculations with the answers at the end of the book.

I would have loved to have this sort of book when my children were younger. It's a great resource for keeping children interested in math by connecting the problems with a story. I'm very curious to see what our math teachers could do with these books (also Solve a Crime and Fly a Jet Fighter) in the classroom.

24885827Liss, David. Randoms.
August 25th 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Zeke's father, who wrote a science fiction television program, has been gone for several years, and his mother has recently been diagnosed with ALS, so when he is approached to be a delegate for Earth to the United Federation of Planets, he thinks it must be a joke. In order for Earth to get into the Federation, they must send a group of four children to be trained to work alongside children from other universes. In exchange for a year's mission, Zeke is told, his mother may be cured of her disease. Soon, Zeke is meeting Charles from Uganda, Park Mi Sun from South Korea, and Nayana Gehlawat from India, as well as a colorful array of alien beings. All three of his fellow Earthlings have exceptional skills, and Zeke finds out that he is a "random" choice. Hoping to score more points by ignoring him, his team excludes him, but Zeke finds companionship in the other randoms, including the lizard-like Steve and the catlike Tamret who seem to have criminal pasts. After the spaceship the group is using to get to headquarters runs afoul of a Phandric ship and is crippled, Zeke is the only one able to take over the controls and destroys the attacking ship with an excess of fire power. He doesn't get in trouble, since he was in an impossible situation, but the Phandrics still want him to pay. His team gives him even more grief, but he and the other "randoms" are able to level up their skills (a process involving practice as well as injected nanites that change their bodies and minds) and figure out what their real purpose in space is. They also figure out secrets about each others' pasts and eventually realize that their purpose is to save the selection committee from being held hostage. Will all of their knowledge, as well as their criminal skills, be enough to save them?
Strengths: Space adventure books used to be hard to find, but there has been a resurgence in them, which is great. Randoms had a diverse cast, a light romance, lots of cool sci fi gadgetry and a well-developed and clever backstory. The book is rife with post original Star Trek references that will delight hard core fans. (Even includes a passing mention to Douglas Adams' involvement with Dr. Who.)
Weaknesses: Very long (almost 500 pages), a bit slow to start, and has rather detailed discussions of  Star Trek, Star Wars, and a few other science fiction movies and story lines. There are very few students now who are interested in Star Trek, but I do have a couple of James Blish books that I can't weed. I was bothered that Zeke wasn't kept updated on his mother's condition, and the resolution of her problems seemed tacked on.
What I really think: Think I'll buy this for the occasional super hard core sci fi fan, but every time the books mentioned Randoms, I thought of the British candy, and now I really want gummy bears!

Monday, August 24, 2015

MMGM- Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Planet Girl

Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards

First of all, you should head right over to the Cybils Website and check out whether you have what it takes to be a Cybils judge! Do you read a lot of books? Blog about them? Recommend them to children? The Cybils would be a great experience for you. We can't guarantee that you'll be accepted (trying to balance teachers, librarians, writers, etc. can be tricky, no matter how much we might love to have an applicant work with us!), but if you don't apply, you definitely won't be!

22718671Greenwald, Tommy. Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Planet Girl
August 25th 2015 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Charlie Joe is not having the best time of his life in middle school, mainly because he doesn't have a girlfriend and all of his other friends (except for Katie and Nareem) do. Desperate for advice, he heads to the library to consult Mrs. Reedy, who gives him A Communication Guide to Boys and Girls, which has a boy and a girl on the back cover who "were dressed like they were from a different planet". Oddly enough, Charlie reads the whole book, and even more oddly, it's actually interesting. He helps one of his friends with his girlfriend problem by quoting the book, and before he knows it, fellow students are lined up to get his advice. The problem is that Charlie can't follow his own advice. He is caught in an ill-advised kiss with Hannah by Katie Friedman, and after that, he comes to the realization that it's really Katie whom he likes. He tries to reconnect with her, but she won't answer her texts. During a Camp Rituhbukkee reunion in New York City, Charlie gets himself involved in a typical caper, and never can quite manage to talk to Katie in the way the book recommends. Finally, under the advisement of the drama adviser, he realizes that his charisma is a valuable asset and that he's been hiding it. An ill-conceived plot involving Katie's rock band and chickens ends with an opportunity for Charlie to finally approach Katie and say those beautiful words "Yeah, we're going out."
Strengths: As much as teachers and parents want to claim that middle school students "don't date", they do declare boyfriends and girlfriends, sometimes at the rate of one a week. I remember chronicling this in middle school (sorry, Jon!), and while I don't see much of it where I teach, I think it is still a biological imperative for tweens to want to feel that they are attractive enough that someone wants to "date" them. Oddly, few books for middle graders are willing to address this. Leave it to Mr. Greenwald, for whose work I have an unabashed love, to go there with Charlie.
Weaknesses: Charlie will often engage in at least one scene that seems unrealistic to me-- this time, it was declaring his relationship with Katie in front of the school. I don't see that students would be given an opportunity to do that, and doubt that there are souls brave enough even if the chance presented itself. Since the rest of the book rings true, we'll forgive that scene.
What I really think: I want to work with Mrs. Reedy. We'd be totally awesome together, and it sounds like she might need some help weeding her collection!

5240171I actually had the book on the left from 1996. Not that long ago to ME, but what's with the hair? I have always giggled at the Rosen Everything You Need to Know Library, and this volume on Falling in Love from 2001 would be just what Charlie would need. My favorite was Everything You Need to Know about Pregnancy and Childbirth. In 112 pages!

21469073Tashjian, Janet. My Life as a Gamer (My Life #5)
April 7th 2015 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

If you have fans of Charlie Joe, this series is another great one. PLUS, there need to be a lot more books about video gaming, if I look at the sort of hobbies my students have!

"Derek Fallon gets the chance of a lifetime--to participate in a gaming company focus group and to test out a new video game called "Arctic Ninja." Together with his friends Carly, Matt, and Umberto, Derek thinks his gaming talents will be showcased. But he soon realizes that everyone has got him beat, including whiz kid El Cid. On top of that, school reading tests have begun and Derek feels doubly off his game. Isn't there anything he's good at?"

MMGM- Courage & Defiance:

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.

Hopkinson, Deborah.  Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in World War II Denmark
August 25th 2015 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Nonfiction is hard for me to review. The combination of my lack of interest in WWII and the fact that I was reading an e galley of this that was loading very slowly makes it hard to put together my usual review, which is a shame, because this book was really good, and is an excellent purchase for middle school and high school libraries.

It is well laid out, with lots of pertinent pictures and plenty of white space. This is hugely important, especially with nonfiction books. The stories are interesting, and a LOT of different people and events are told about in an anecdotal fashion, with elucidating historical information in between the anecdotes. Students who are obsessed with WWII (and I haven't had as many recently, but I don't think we're seen the end of interest in this era yet) will eat this up. It's easier to get through than adult books on the topic, and offers more interesting information than the short, general interest nonfiction about the war. The in-depth discussion of different people and events will make this good for research projects as well.

Personally, I didn't find this as compelling a read as something like The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club, which followed a smaller cast of characters in a more story-like fashion. This is more along the lines of Rick Atkinson's The Battle of the Bulge.

Take a look and see what you think. As I said, I'm definitely buying a copy because it was a good book, but reading it was a huge slog for me personally!

"When the Nazis invaded Denmark on Tuesday, April 9, 1940, the people of this tiny country to the north of Germany awoke to a devastating surprise. The government of Denmark surrendered quietly, and the Danes were ordered to go about their daily lives as if nothing had changed.

But everything had changed. Award-winning author Deborah Hopkinson traces the stories of the heroic young men and women who would not stand by as their country was occupied by a dangerous enemy. Rather, they fought back. Some were spies, passing tactical information to the British; some were saboteurs, who aimed to hamper and impede Nazi operations in Denmark; and 95% of the Jewish population of Denmark were survivors, rescued by their fellow countrymen, who had the courage and conscience that drove them to act.

With her talent for digging deep in her research and weaving real voices into her narratives, Hopkinson reveals the thrilling truth behind one of WWII's most daring resistance movements."

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Revenge of the Angels.

24612551Ziegler, Jennifer. Revenge of the Angels.
August 25th 2015 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

After all of the trauma and drama in Revenge of the Flower Girls, Darby, Dawn and Delaney are back. This time, they are irritated that they have to be angels in the Christmas pageant at their church when they think their try out for the Three Wise Men was brilliant. Nothing will change Ms. Higginbotham's mind, though, so they are stuck. There is plenty going on to take their minds off the play-- Lily, who was supposed to be home for Christmas break, is visiting Aunt Jane with their mother, while she is looking at library science schools. The triplets have to take their dog, Quincy, to stay in their father's bachelor apartment, which ends with Quincy eating their father's couch and the family going back to mom's house to stay. There, they find several mysteries-- someone has stolen a Christmas heirloom from the Neighbors' house, another neighbor has a cake that vanishes, and their own Christmas decorations on their porch have been trashed. At first, the girls suspect Lucas, but he helps with their investigation instead. When Lily and their mother are stuck in Boston because of snow, and their father has to go to Houston overnight for his job, the girls are left with Lily's friend Bree as a babysitter, and manage to solve the mystery, finish their Christmas shopping, and solve the casting problem with the play in a typical, take-charge fashion.
Strengths: I liked this MUCH more than the first book, since the girls were not so obnoxious! They meddled in things, like Christmas decorations and local mysteries, that 11-year-olds are supposed to meddle in. There were funny spots, fun interactions, and divorced parents who can communicate with each other in a positive fashion. The girls seemed older in this, which makes me wonder if I can buy this book without having the Revenge of the Flower Girls. Hmmm.
Weaknesses: This is told in alternating chapters from the three girls' perspectives, but the voices were not at all distinctive. It would have been more successful if this were written in third person omniscient.
What I really think: The cover reminded me a bit of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, which is probably why I read it. Do get some students who ask for Christmas themed books. Debating. Would definitely purchase both for an elementary school.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-a-Lot

24612623Pilkey, Dav. Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-a-Lot.
August 25th 2015 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

George and Harold are living happily with their twins (that were created as a result of time traveling), but the teachers who were sent to the rest home after their school-wide break down get zapped with Zygo-Gogizzle 24, and this makes Mr. Meaner, the gym teacher, a diabolical genius. He comes up with a formula (Rid-o-Kid 2000TM) that, when inhaled, induces Attention Superfluous Lethargy Syndrome in students, so they are all quiet and do exactly what they are told. Since Original Formula George and Harold are home with colds, Yesterday George and Harold inhale the brown cloud of mood altering substance and become quiet and attentive. Knowing that their colds, which kept them from being affected, won't last forever, George and Harold seek out the only adults they feel they can trust-- themselves in 20 odd years! They take the time machine and find themselves, living next door to each other and both creating comic books! They take themselves back with them, where they engage the now humongous Sir Stinks-a-Lot in an epic battle, where Captain Underpant's Super Power Juice is removed from his system, rendering him temporarily powerless. Luckily, Tony, Orlando and Dawn, the hamsterdactyls save the day, and everyone can return to their regularly scheduled lives... except for Original Formula George and Harold, who are off on another adventure!

There are, as always, multiple layers of jokes in this book. Mr. Pilkey is almost exactly my age, so I appreciated all of the chapter headings that were 1970s songs (The Night the Lights Went Out in Piqua, Da Ya Think I'm Stinky, Laughter Moon Delight). Younger readers will have to content themselves with the less sophisticated humor, like the teachers in their underwear, the signs in school that George and Harold change to thinks like "Teacher Farts Stain Underwear", or the inventive sound effects.

The villain, Sir Stinks-a-Lot (aka Mr. Meaner) was especially fun. The Rid-o-Kid 200 is comprised of "butyric acid, tryptophan, and Clamato juice", and is certainly a huge threat to George and Harold's lives. It was also a good plot device to encourage them to find their older selves.

Aside from the possible political statements about drugging children (Pilkey himself struggled with ADHD and dyslexia in school, earning him a lot of trips to sit in the hallway), there is a warning to that some Grouchy Old People "who have way too much time on their hands" (pg. 18) have taken offense at the language in the previous books, so THIS book will include "references to gardening, Bob Evans Restaurants, hard candies, FOX News, and gentle-yet-effective laxatives".

For that sentence alone, I need to replace all of my falling-apart Captain Underpants books with nice news copies, so Mr. Pilkey can get him $1.37 in royalties.

There will probably be more complaints, although I do not understand challenging these books, even after reading this breakdown in Business Insider. But I'm sure that there will be an outcry from some quarters about Old Harold and his husband and twins.

Even more reason to upgrade to a nice new set.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Guy Friday- Con Academy.

22749775Schreiber, Joe. Con Academy.
August 4th 2015 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC from

Will Shea enters Connaughton Academy after his parents, who were missionaries, are killed on a remote Pacific island. He meets Andrea, whose parents where US foreign aide workers in the Balkans who were also killed. Except... they are both working cons. Will's father is really in New Jersey, and Will wants to get away from it all and get a decent education. Andrea doesn't appreciate her home turf being invaded by another con artist, so she offers Will a bet; whoever can fleece unpleasant but very rich bully Brandt Rush out of $50,000 gets to stay at the school, and the loser will leave. Will doesn't want to take the chance that Andrea will expose him, so he contacts his uncle and starts to set up a scam. He gets himself invited to a casino night, places some large bets and wins by cheating, and then invites Brandt to go to an online gaming site in person. Of course, it's all a scam, but when Brandt wins big, he's ready to go back. The problem? Andrea has become his girlfriend and talked him into donating money to a charity... on the island from which Will claims to be. This speeds up the time frame quite a bit. To complicate matters, Will has developed a relationship with Gatsby, who works in the library and is a member of the Academy's exclusive Sigils organization. Will is invited to join, but must complete a challenge before they will accept him. Then there's the little matter of keeping up with his classes. Things come to a humorous head very quickly, as one would expect from a book by the author of the fabulous Game Over, Pete Watson.
Strengths: Such fun, and perfect for readers who want books that are a bit more mature than The Forth Stall. An excellent choice for high school readers, but also appropriate for middle school. Rather like Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls in a way, with con artists instead of spies. Loved the romance, the rivalry between the con artists, and all of the details about how to talk Brandt out of his money. This will never be back on the shelves.
Weaknesses: None that pop into my head! Does Will mature? A little. Okay. Maybe a tad weak on character development, but this was so much fun that I didn't care.
What I really think: I love everything about this but the white cover, which will show dirt too easily!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall

The Dead Girls of Hysteria HallAlender, Katie. The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall 
August 25th 2015 by Point
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Delia, along with her academically minded parents (Brad and Lisa) and her flighty younger sister, Janie, head to the house that Delia has inherited from her namesake, Cordelia Piven. The two had written letters for a while when Delia was younger, but she was still surprised to have inherited the property. When the family gets there, they find out that it was a "home for troubled women" until the 1940s, and is considered haunted by the locals. Since Cordelia apparently committed suicide, the family is concerned, but decide to stay in the house. Bad call-- evil spirits cause Delia's death, and she finds herself with the other ghosts. She doesn't take well to being dead, although over time she does manage to befriend Theo, a young contractor who drowned on the property in the early 1940s, as well as as other young women, some of whom are helpful, and some of whom are decidedly scary. Delia knows her aunt was trying to tell her something, and hopes to locate a letter with some explanation. She does, and starts the arduous task of trying to figure out how to deal with Hysteria Hall. This becomes more complicated when her sister and mother return to the house. Janie has become a Goth, and feels somehow at fault for Delia's death. Since she is "troubled", the house wants to claim her, but her presence allows Delia to make some progress on unlocking the many layers of mystery surrounding all of the horrible happenings.
Strengths: Been a fan of Alender's since Bad Girls Don't Die, and this did not disappoint! So many good things going for this story-- loved Theo's existence outside the hall, the various inside ghosts were multifaceted, the life of the aunt was intriguing, and Delia's attempts to make things right (in between trying to get used to being a ghost) were constructive. Very nice.
Weaknesses: I could have done without the back story of Delia's ill considered attempt at going to Florida for spring break against her parents' wishes, and the end of the book could have been tightened up a bit-- there was a lot going on .
What I really think: I always say I don't like scary books, but this was really good. For some reason, it made me think of Down a Dark Hall; maybe just the cover, because the stories are not really similar! Should probably buy two copies!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Wednesday, almost a week in!

We started school last Thursday. Saw almost all the 6th graders that day, the 7th graders the next, then all of the 8th graders on Monday. Yesterday I got six new boxes of books, and luckily had a fabulous volunteer in to help process them. There are still odds and ends that need to be done, so it's a good thing that today should be fairly light.

No lesson, no visits to SSR, but will probably check out about 300 books. In four days, we have checked out 1,500 books. Not to mention lots of textbooks.

I work in a LIBRARY, so we deal a lot with books. I am fortunate.

In my continued efforts to read all of the fiction books in my library, there were a few I had to take home from the order last night. Not necessarily worth full reviews.

22943025Whitby, Adele. Secrets of the Manor, France: Adele's Story, 1910;  Camille's Story, 1910
       I forget how Claire and Camille are connected to the other books that are set in England; cousins, perhaps? These didn't seem overly French, and the family seemed a bit too close to the servants, but we find out why. Scandal in manor houses for ten year olds. Had an 8th grader check out both Longshore's Manor of Secrets and the first one in this series. I predict that she will read one of these a day, and it will make her ridiculously happy. Definitely easy comfort reads for middle school.

15802075Santopolo, Jill. Sparkle Spa: True Colors(#4) and A Picture-Perfect Mess (#6)
    Let me just say that I have never in my life gotten a manicure, but I like how the girls in these books take charge, are concerned about giving to charity, and look for business opportunities. I liked book 4 a bit more, since main character broke her arm, and the other sister had to figure out how to keep the business going. The other book was fun but I couldn't see such a fuss about school pictures. Or that much glitter!

Sharpe, Luke. Billy Sure: Kid Entrepreneur
   Really had trouble connecting with this one. I think students will pick it up for the cover, but I didn't find the invention business to be all that believable. The font was odd and hard to read; that might have been my main problem!

23657454Chamakova, Svetlana. Awkward.
July 21st 2015 by Yen Press

Graphic novel. Fans of Roller Girl, Smile, etc. will love it.

Science Club and Art Club fight for table at club fair. Art club doesn't do much, Science club wins awards but has obnoxious students. Main character, Peppi Torres has embarrassing encounter with Jaime on her first day and feels bad, but can't bring herself to apologize. Clubs try to earn place, both goof up. Peppi cries a lot.

Thank goodness that my middle school experience, while horrible, was not this fraught. I did like this enough to put a good deal of tape on it to try to get it to hold up to wear, but didn't care for it personally-- it was sort of like "middle school, as performed by cast of Speed Racer". Did like the author's notes on her working process at back.

A Whole New Ballgame

22718747Bildner, Phil and Probert, Tim. A Whole New Ballgame
August 18th 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
ARC from

Things are very odd at the beginning of fifth grade, and Rip (aka Mason Irving) and Red (aka Blake Daniels) aren't quite sure what is going on. The venerable Mrs. Hamburger is not their teacher, and the staff has changed, including the principal they were expecting to have. Instead, they have Mr. Acevedo, a tattooed, pony-tail and jeans wearing, test-hating new teacher. He wants them to learn things and not do endless worksheets. They have fun projects, like investigating gross stuff. Red, who is on the autism spectrum, has a few problems with the changes, but has Rip to help him out. The two end up on the basketball team, which is also under Mr. Acevedo tender care, and his attitude that the process in the most important part of any project holds sway on the court as well. Rip has some problems with all of the changes as well, but his mother (herself a teacher) tells him to hang in there, especially when some of the parents start complaining about the lack of test preparation. Rip gets to work on a project with Avery, a girl who uses a wheelchair and has a bit of a chip on her shoulder about it, and learns to look at things from her perspective. Will the class be able to learn things AND do well on the mandated testing?
Strengths: This was a feel good story, with supportive (if somewhat misguided at times) parents, caring teachers, and a really, really diverse cast. Rip is African-American, Red is on the autism spectrum, Avery is physically challenged, Mr. Acevedo is Dominican, there are Russian twins... I'm probably missing some. The length is good, and students will find the classroom methods amusing.
Weaknesses: Too preachy about testing, and I can't say that personally I am a fan of teachers who wear jeans and have other hipster affectations. Standing on desks? Sounds like a safety hazard to me. Do classrooms still have clawfoot tubs for reading? That was sort of the "in" thing about thirty years ago. Okay, okay. All objections mainly personal. Looking forward to having the series for my students.
What I really thought: Tried a bit too hard, but was a good effort. Will definitely buy. The pictures will help sell this, anything with sports will circulate, and I can see this being a good transition book for readers who don't want to move beyond books the length of Jake Maddox books.

22749764Bartoletti, Susan Campbell. Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America
August 4th 2015 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

With the variety of books out about typhoid and Mary Mallon, it's looking like a great idea for a National History Day project!

The interactions of Mary Mallon, the cook of the title, investigator George Soper, Dr. Josephine Baker and others are ably covered in this engaging nonfiction book from the author of Black Potatoes, The Boy Who Dared, and many other fiction and nonfiction titles. The fact that Mary refused to believe that she was a healthy carrier of the virus is the hardest part of this story to believe, since she always seemed to have left her positions right after the outbreaks of typhoid fever, and there is mention in this book about the fact that had she complied with the doctor's orders and not returned to work (to a maternity hospital, of all places) and infected more people, she wouldn't have had to live in a secluded cottage on an island off of New York City.

This was somewhat spoiled for me since I had recently read something on the very same topic, but it was certainly a well done book, and Bartoletti's style makes for something very readable. There are some nonfiction books of this length (240 pages) that would be difficult for middle grade readers to get through, but I think I will buy a copy of this because it reads enough like a story to make it interesting.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Glass Gauntlet

Roy, Carter. The Glass Gauntlet
August 18th 2015 by Two Lions
Copy provided by MB Communications

Having found out that his father is the head of Bend Sinister in The Blood Guard, Ronan Truelove is being sent to a Blood Guard school with Greta and Sammy. Not being a wealthy organization, it's held in a fairly modest cabin on a mountain, but the three make some progress with various skills. When Ronan's mother needs to try to find his father, the children are left with Dawkins, and of course, the Bend Sinister attacks, with the evil Patch Steiner heading the attack. The group manages to escape, meet up again with Dawkins, and make their way to the Galls Gauntlet competition. The prize is a million dollars, but what the group really needs is the gauntlet, as well as the Damascene 'Scope. These two things will be used to restore Flavia's soul to her, once they get that back from Ronan's father. If they don't, she is in danger of dying, and when a Pure dies, it puts the whole world in danger. There they meet other children, including Agatha and Kieran, who are vying for the prize, which includes a million dollars. They are shocked to discover that unsportsmanlike behavior is rewarded. Dawkins finds some interesting facts out about his past, which help shed light on the present circumstances, but Ronan's father is still on the loose with Bend Sinister, and as long as he is, the Pures are not safe.
Strengths: This is an appealing series, with lots of action and a fresh world building. Sure, it's boy-saving-the-world, but it's not a medieval world, and he's not a reluctant hero. Greta and Dawkins are great characters, and even Agatha has her moments. The pacing moves the story along quickly. This is one book that my students have loved, and have asked repeatedly for the sequel. There is sure to be another one after this.
Weaknesses: I was hoping for more character development for Ronan and Greta, but Dawkins was really the only one we find out more about. I also had trouble fitting Patch Steiner into the picture, and there were no fantastic catch phrases like "super corn nuts crazypants", which I still adore!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and will look forward to book three.