Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Spinny Icky Showdown (Adventures of Arnie the Doughnut)

21531487Keller, Laurie. The Spinny Icky Showdown (Adventures of Arnie the Doughnut #3)
November 3rd 2015 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Arnie and his friend Peezo (the talking piece of pizza) are very excited when the Spinny Icky Showdown game show is coming to Yummy Valley. They apply to be one of the teams (The Dough Brothers) and can't wait to compete. All of the games in the televised competition have "ick" in the titles, so Arnie and Peezo end up doing things like picking up nICKels with chopstICKs while wearing knICKers. The two also solve a very mild mystery concerning the host's wig, but the big concern is battling the pumped-up pumpernickel bread of whom Peezo is afraid. Can the Dough Brothers defeat the Pumpernator, who is also a very sore loser?
Strengths: This is one of those series where the humor appeals to both children and adults. Is it silly? Absolutely. The first book in the series is actually a picture book, but this is a very low lever chapter book that 6th graders can read in a day. I've even given them to 8th graders who are being forced to read Lord of the Flies and need a break. A must for an elementary library, and a lot of fun for the rest of us.
Weaknesses: Paper-over-boards binding makes this something I may have to replace soon. Also, Some day I'm sure I will get in trouble for handing "baby books" to middle school students, and I have it on good authority that I am not allowed to slap people who have that opinion!
What I really think: I don't know what inspired Keller to create this series-- I'm imagining sleepless nights and some over caffeination! What it was, I'm grateful.

25749420Lowery, Mark. The Jam Doughnut that Ruined My Life
September 3rd 2015 by Piccadilly Press
E ARC from

I really, really wanted to like this, but I got about as far as a pot of "toddler wee" being poured on the main character in a science museum, and I realized that it was just too British for my group. It's also only in paperback. Sigh. Take a look if you have a jam doughnut obsession!

'A jam-fuelled week of disaster is set in motion by a single doughnut. Roman Garstang is obsessed with food - particularly Squidgy Splodge raspberry-jam doughnuts - but he is about to learn that things are not always as sugar-coated as they might seem. Because of his Monday-morning jam doughnut, Roman's week takes a very sticky turn ...By Friday Roman has been banned from eating for 24hrs, narrowly avoided a faceful of warm toddler-wee, accidentally shoplifted, been given a lift in a getaway van, styled his teacher's guinea pig with a blue mohawk, started an OAP riot ...and still barely managed to scoff a crumb - or lick - of a single doughnut. Who knew jam could be so deadly?'

Friday, October 30, 2015

Guy Friday: Let's Fight Vampires!

24612021Ma. Roger.The Vampire Combat Field Guide: A Coloring and Activity Book For Fighting the Bloodthirsy Undead
October 6th 2015 by Berkley
Copy provided by publisher

While the interest in vampire romances has faded since since the Twilight movies, many readers still like books about fighting monsters. While this, as a coloring book, isn't something that libraries will purchase, it would be a fun Halloween gift for your teenage zombie war monger.

Important information, starting with vampire anatomy and different assault tactics, is presented. This is usually just a sentence or two, but will be illustrated with helpful diagrams so you know how to do a flank blitz (upper right picture on cover) or can identify the type of vampires from their pictures. There is also a workbook; a combat strategy scenario guide is followed by a weapons selection worksheet. Tools and fighting techniques are addressed. There is some blood and gore shown, but it is all in black line drawings, waiting for the blood thirsty reader to wear out a red crayon on the pages. An interesting inclusion is a guide to silent hand signals that can be employed while fighting, so as not to draw the vampires' attention by  noise.

As a survival guide to fighting vampires, this is really quite good. The pictures are okay for illustrating, but leave something to be desired as a coloring book. There are no backgrounds for the pictures, and some pages only have outlines of hands to color. These are also rather small pictures, and often have a lot of black line filler. I am very picky about my coloring books, and prefer pictures that can accommodate a lot of different colors. That being said, my daughter, who has followed the surge in adult coloring books with interests, wants my copy of this book to give to her college roommate!

To go along with this survival guide, I recommend the following books:

Brewer, Heath. The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod
de la Cruz, Melissa. Blue Bloods
Henderson, Jason. Vampire Rising (series)
Hill, Will. Department 19
Moore, Peter. Red Moon Rising
Rees, Douglas. Vampire High
Shan, Darren. Cirque du Freak
Westerfeld, Scott. Peeps

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Last in a Long Line of Rebels

Last in a Long Line of RebelsTyre, Lisa Lewis. Last in a Long Line of Rebels
September 29th 2015 by Nancy Paulsen Books
E ARC from

When Lou Mayhew overhears that her family might lose their home, she is understandably upset, but since the house has been in her family since the Civil War, it's even worse than it could be. Her father runs a junk yard on the property, which is in the middle of town, and there are several people who would like to see the house gone. Lou knows she must do all she can to save it, and uncovers a mystery about some lost gold. Thinking that the money would help somehow, she and her friends start researching the story to find clues to where the gold might have been buried. Along the way, she also finds out upsetting information about her family during the Civil War, and racism persists in the school system when her father's assistant Isaac doesn't get a scholarship because of the coach. Lou's mother is also due to have a baby very soon, adding a level of urgency to her search. Lou wanted the summer to be interesting, but perhaps not as interesting as it is turning out to be!

Strengths: Lou is a well-meaning, hard working character who is facing difficulties in a constructive way. I would like to see more books like that. The house and town are well described, and the supporting characters have enough depth to make them interesting. Lou starts to go to church to fulfill a promise she has made, and I liked the fact that she went, got involved, and enjoyed going to church without anything preachy about religion. Even though I am not religious and wouldn't go to church now, I spent many, many hours involved in youth group activities, and that's not something that is addressed very often in middle grade literature.

Weaknesses: Somehow, I still wanted MORE descriptions of the house! Some of the mystery got a little convoluted at the end, but it still worked.

What I really think: The Gilbert Ford cover doesn't work for me, somehow, although I really like his Mr. Lemoncello's Library cover, and several others. For a book set in the South, I liked this much more than I expected to and will probably buy a copy. But that cover... I don't think students will pick it up. Maybe the orange and purple combo?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

When everything starts to make sense...

My morning started with a Sustained Silent Reading teacher whose students were not reading effectively. I checked their circulation records and Accelerated Reader points. I e mailed parents about lost books. I talked to all 7th grade language arts classes about WHY their teachers want them to read more than one Jake Maddox book per week. 

I hurriedly but earnestly discussed what students wanted to read, what books they hated, and what they could do to build reading skills rather than staring at their shoes for 20 minutes during SSR

Some students got more books and looked happy. Some students got different books and looked relieved. Some students rolled their eyes at me and looked bored. 

I went to the SSR and personally consulted with each student in the company of the teacher. We uncovered logistical problems, like the fact that books were left in lockers to avoid being late. We found long lost books in, of all places, classroom "lost and found" bins. We talked to a lot of girls who, when they said they were "reading on their phones" meant that they were rereading The Fault in Our Stars... for the fifth time this fall. 

We organized. We made plans. We got new books.

By lunch time, I was exhausted and dispirited. Books hadn't been checked in, I hadn't worked on my upcoming evaluation lesson, and the library looked  like Ground Zero of a megaton book bomb because I was spending every second discussing books with students. 

Then I checked e mail at lunch.

I was offered a possible opportunity to do a Monthly Book Thing by a Major Library News Source. 

This is why I read everything. This is why I talk to kids about books. After ten years of living and breathing middle grade, I might be able to use my accumulated knowledge to reach a wider audience of people who work to get books to kids. 

The world does not always make sense. But it's a fantastic thing when it does. 

#WNDB- Kiki and Jacques

25648348Ross, Susan. Kiki and Jacques
October 15th 2015 by Holiday House
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Jacques is having some difficulties in middle school in a small town in Maine. His mother is dead, his father unemployed and unable to handle her loss, and his grandmother's business struggling. Not only that, but he is made co-captain of his school soccer team since a new player is better than he is. Having even more problems, however, are the Somalian students who are moving into the town in increasing numbers. Kiki's father was killed in Somalia, and she occasionally has to miss school to watch younger siblings. It is her brother who plays soccer with Jacques, and he is very protective of Kiki and suspicious of her friendship with Jacques. Kiki would like to play soccer as well, but is not allowed. Jacques has further problems with a local bully who wants him to help rob a store near his grandmother's.
Strengths: It is good to finally see a chapter book that includes Somali children who have interests and problems not necessarily related to being Somalian. This is a short book, includes sports, and has a lot of cross-gender appeal. The depiction of the small town, with the inclusion of the Catholic church that is important in Jacques life, was interesting. Will definitely purchase a copy.
Weaknesses: The writing in this was uneven, and there were a lot of things crammed into the book. The bully was necessary for some action and plot development, but I could have done completely without the father's grief, unemployment, and alcoholism. That just added a layer of sadness to a book that should have focused more on the intermingling of cultures.
What I really think: I will be curious to see if Ms. Ross writes more, and would love it if she would do more books with Somalian characters, especially if the book is not all about their culture, but about children in that culture having other interests. I think her writing will mature; this was a good first effort, and even has a decent cover for a Holiday House book.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Variety of Fantasy

23846071Smith, Sherri L. The Toymaker's Apprentice
October 13th 2015 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Stefan Drosselmeyer has decided to run away after the death of his mother. He has been an apprentice to his toymaker father, but wants to be a journeyman to a different craftsman so that he can work some of the new clockworks into his toys. When a long lost cousin, Christian, shows up and Stefan's father is kidnapped by mice, Stefan decides to help Christian with his mission. In Boldavia, Christian created a huge advent calendar with clockwork figures set in the side of a mountain, but his digging disturbed the kingdom of the mice. The queen of the mice has bitten Princess Pirlipat, who has turned to wood. Christian was sent with the court astrologer, Samir, to find the krakatook nut, which will cure Pirlipat. Stefan manages to find one in an unlikely place, and the group sets off back to Boldavia, but Christian is killed. In the meantime, a seven headed son was born to the queen of the mice, and Ernst, an accomplished, multilingual rat, is engaged as their tutor. Stefan's father is being held in captivity by the mouse queen. Stefan manages to cure Pirlipat but manages to anger the queen, get bitten, and kill the queen in his fall. Can a trip back to Nuremburg find a cure for Stefan, and can the war between the Boldavian mice and humans be won by either side?

Strengths: This is an adventure set in the Napoleonic Era, which is slightly before the Regency era. Lots of interesting period details about Nuremberg, apprentices, and clockworks. Steampunk aficionados might find enough inventions in this one to keep them happy. Also, even though the talking mice are sort of on the side of evil, Redwall fans might like this as well.

Weaknesses: Just not my cup of tea, although Smith's writing is very good. I prefer her Flygirl.

What I really think: I'm not a fan of sentient mice, but this was an easy to read tale. Can't say that anyone has ever asked for a middle grade retelling of The Nutcracker, but this would be a great one for ballet students who want to have more of the backstory.

24585386Papademetriou, Lisa. A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic.
October 6th 2015 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

My love of books set in India or Pakistan came up against my dislike of books about magic books. I enjoy Papademetriou's realistic fiction, but her fantasy books don't work for me. This had some great multicultural aspects, but lost me with character names of Ralph T. Flabbergast and Edwina Pickle. And the thing with the moths.

If magical realism is popular in your school, definitely take a look at this.

From Goodreads:

"Bestseller and author of the popular middle grade series Confectionately Yours Lisa Papademetriou is back with a magical, page-turning adventure for readers of all ages—a touching tale about destiny and the invisible threads that link us all, ultimately, to one another.

Kai and Leila are both finally having an adventure. For Leila, that means a globe-crossing journey to visit family in Pakistan for the summer; for Kai, it means being stuck with her crazy great-aunt in Texas while her mom looks for a job. In each of their bedrooms, they discover a copy of a blank, old book called The Exquisite Corpse. Kai writes three words on the first page—and suddenly, they magically appear in Leila's copy on the other side of the planet. Kai's words are soon followed by line after line of the long-ago, romantic tale of Ralph T. Flabbergast and his forever-love, Edwina Pickle. As the two take turns writing, the tale unfolds, connecting both girls to each other, and to the past, in a way they never could have imagined.

A heartfelt, vividly told multicultural story about fate and how our stories shape it."

24934636Cody, Matthew.The Peddler's Road (The Secrets of the Pied Piper #1)October 27th 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
E ARC from

I had high hopes for this one. I had to deaccession What Happened in Hamelin by Gloria Skurzynski (Random House, 1993) because it was never read and smelled pretty funky, but I had to wait to weed it because there was a language arts teacher who adored it. This left me short of Pied Piper tales, and fairy tale adaptations do okay, especially with aforementioned LA teachers.

This one had its moments, and I was fairly engrossed for about half the book. I liked that the family was living in Germany, and had a nice older lady helping out, but I didn't like Max all that much. Once they started on the peddler's road and started meeting ghosts, and the brother ends up with Baba (or Grandmother) Yaga, it seemed hard going. Take a look if this sounds appealing; the fact that it is the first book in a series also dissuaded me. Still not getting the fantasy readers I once had. I could have sold this as a stand alone, but not as yet another fantasy series.

It is said that in the thirteenth century, in a village called Hamelin, a piper lured all of the children away with his magical flute, and none of them were ever seen again. 

Today tough, pink-haired Max and her little brother, Carter, are stuck in modern-day Hamelin with their father . . . until they are also led away by the Piper to a place called the Summer Isle. There they meet the original stolen children, who haven’t aged a day and who have formed their own village, vigilantly guarded from the many nightmarish beings that roam the land.

No one knows why the Piper stole them, but Max and Carter’s appearance may be the key to returning the lost children of Hamelin—and to going home themselves. But to discover the secrets of the Piper, Max and Carter will have to set out on a mysterious quest down the dangerous Peddler’s Road.

Monday, October 26, 2015

MMGM- Class Dismissed

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.

Go Beyond The Book

The All the Wonders website is now live. Hooray!

25205302Woodrow, Allan. Class Dismissed
October 27th 2015 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Netgalley

Ms. Bryce's fifth grade class drives her up the wall, so one day, she quits! The students are very excited about this at first, but start to worry about the implications of having no teacher. Told from a variety of viewpoints, we see the different concerns that students have. Kyle at first thinks it's great, but realizes that he needs to learn to be more responsible, especially since his mother really needs his help at home. Samantha is more concerned about fashion and her rich father's ability to buy her anything she needs, but ends up helping the class by bringing in an elderly gentleman she knows from a nursing home near her house when the group needs adult supervision. Adam is not well behaved, but begins to resent being a scapegoat for all bad behavior. Maggie is upset that she won't learn things and might not get into Harvard, so she takes over running the classroom. A missed communication results in Principal Klein not getting the message that Ms. Bryce has quit, and the children resort to various methods of subterfuge to hide the fact that they aren't being surpervised, mainly claiming that Ms. Bryce is always in the bathroom. The group manages to get through a class field trip and even puts on a play without being found out. How long can they keep up the charade?
Strengths: Although this is definitely a students fantasy, the explanations of how the students get away with hiding Ms. Bryce's absent are very clever and realistic. A variety of personalities are shown (much like the Mr. Terupt series), and enough family life is depicted that we can understand the characters' motivations. While there are serious moments, this is a light-hearted book, and shows a great understanding of the 5th grade mind.
Weaknesses: Debating whether middle schoolers will pick this up. The cover is great, so they might.
What I really think: This was a fun book with subtle messages about responsibility, learning, and how difficult so many aspects of being a teacher and being a student are. Great fun. Also loved this author's Pet War and will definitely watch his career with interest.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Lots of Dogs!

Hart, Alison. Finder: Coal Mine Dog, 1909
October 2015 by Peachtree Publishers
ARC from the publisher

Thomas' father perished in a mining accident, so when his mother became ill and died, he ended up with his aunt and uncle. His uncle works at the coal mine and does a lot of hunting to keep the family in food. Finder is a mountain cur, a replacement for uncle's hunting dog, Daisy. Unfortunately, Finder is gun shy, so is not at all helpful in flushing or retrieving game. Times are hard, so Finder will be returned, and Thomas is going to have to work in the mines. His father, who moved to West Virginia from Chicago, wanted to be a photographer, and Thomas still has his Brownie camera. Thomas' father didn't want him to end up in the mines, but there is no choice. Thomas is sent down to dig out coal and load it on carts. He is slow, so doesn't earn much money to pay off his parents' debts. Finder is sent to help pull the cart and make things go more quickly, but when there is a fire in the mines, Finder ends up being more helpful that anyone could have realized. Based on a true story.
Strengths: Hart does interesting books about dogs in different historical settings, and this one, set in Appalachia, is particularly interesting. Students today don't quite understand how difficult children had it in the past, and Hart's depiction of life in the mines is very vivid. The notes at the back helped a lot, and the diagram of a coal mine was very useful to me! I always wondered how mining worked.
Weaknesses: Thomas worries about getting black lung disease at one point, and I don't know that workers used that term in 1909. Minor quibble.
What I really think: This is a great book to hand to students who are complaining that their parents won't buy them the latest phone, or that they have too much homework!

25359681Smith, Alex T. Claude in the Spotlight
September 1st 2015 by Peachtree Publishers (first published April 1st 2013)
Copy received from the publisher

In this sixth book in this British series, Claude, a rather roly poly dog who likes to wear a beret and has a sidekick called Sir Bobblysock (who is, in fact, a sock) happens upon a group of young dancers, follows them to their practice studio, and after getting a fly up his sweater that makes him dance maniacally around the room, is invited to enter a dance competition. He isn't too sure about this, but when he finds out that the prize is a a supply of cakes from Mr. Lovelybuns' bakery, he decides he might as well. The competition is sabotaged by a ghost, but Claude has done his reading and is able to diffuse the threat. Now if he can just keep Mr. and Mrs. Shinyshoes from realizing how all of the cakes got into the house...
Strengths: This is an excellent book for beginning readers, slightly reminiscent of the Eve Titus' Basil of Baker Street (1958) series. I adored these in first through third grade. The pictures are appealing, Claude's antics are giggle worthy, and the text is just long enough to help readers transition from picture books to chapter books. A good purchase for an elementary school.
Weaknesses: My struggling 6th grade readers could use books of this length, but there is no way they will go for characters named Sir Bobblysock and Mr. Lovelybuns!
What I really think: I need another cup of tea. And, if I lived in England, people would be offering me tea everywhere I went. Must think about this very hard.

23395685Soderberg, Erin. Stowaway: Puppy Pirates #1)
July 7th 2015 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Wally, the adorable puppy on the cover, has run away from the farm in search of a home... and adventure. When he sees a pirate ship in port, he seizes the opportunity to stow away, hopping into a crate filled with steaks! When he gets into the cargo hold, he meets Henry, a human boy who also wants to embrace the life of a pirate. When Captain Red Beard and the cook, a Chihuahua named Steak-Eye, find the pair, they are prepared to make them walk the plank! Luckily, they are saved by Old Salt, a seasoned veteran who believes the two should be given a chance. When the Salty Bone is attacked by the kitten pirate ship Nine Lives, Wally and Henry manage to save the day and are made part of the crew.

Stepping Stone Books are a great choice for emergent readers who have moved beyond simple text and can handle a longer book. At just under 100 pages, Stoway is a great choice for readers who like dog books like Ilene Cooper's Absolutely Lucy series, or who like fantasy adventure books like Osborne's Magic Treehouse saga.

While we are not told why Henry has run away, he makes a good point for his inclusion on the ship by reminding Red Beard that he has thumbs. Wally's motivation is clearer-- he wants somewhere than he can feel at home. Once he earns his keep on the Salty Bone, he has lots of friends on the crew, and since every good dog needs a boy, it's a good thing that Henry has also decided to stow away.

There are many good comic characters: sisters Piggly and Puggly are always getting into scrapes, Captain Red Beard makes mistakes that readers will laugh at, and Steak-Eye is such a bad cook that his food for the dogs is improved by the addition of a can of cat food!

Throughout the story, Wally tries to prove his worth and ends up showing that his loyalty and skills and skills will make him a valuable member of the crew. Young readers who spend their days wearing tri-cornered hats and eye patches will find Stowaway to be a mARRRRRvelous read.

This is too young for struggling middle school readers, however. The covers look too young, and I just don't see my 6th graders vibrating to there.

23395687Soderberg, Erin. X Marks the Spot (Puppy Pirates #2)
July 7th 2015 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

The crew of the Salty Bone is back, and Wally and Henry are glad to be part of the crew. It is rumored that Captain Red Beard has the map to Growlin' Grace's treasure, and sisters Puggly and Piggly are determined to steal the map. They don't succeed, but since the Captain is confused as to why the map is blank the group is consulted. Luckily, Henry's human skills and knowledge help them uncover the invisible ink, and the ship is soon off to find the treasure. When they arrive at the island, the soon meet Rosie and her crew of Dalmatians who guard the treasure. Henry and Wally are able to circumvent the booby traps and solve the puzzles that Grace left, and Rosie grudgingly lets them dig up the treasure. While it isn't jewels, the treasure is valuable and will take the Salty Bone on their next adventures, Catnapped and Sea Sick, which will be out in January and March, 2016.

Young readers will enjoy pointing out all of the mistakes that Captain Red Beard makes, and will secretly delight in how naughty the pug sisters are. Old Salt, whose wisdom often saves the day, offers advice to Wally and Henry, who know that they need to think clearly about the challenges that face them.

Buried treasure holds a huge appeal for some readers, and if holes are dug in yards and favorite stuffed animals are buried after children read this book, Soderberg is not to be blamed! I also foresee a lot of maps being created by children who liked James' Pirate School series or have graduated from Long and Shannon's How I Became a Pirate.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Battle of the Bots (Robots Rule! #3)

23719394Richards, C.J. Battle of the Bots (Robots Rule! #3)
November 3rd 2015 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

After the events of Robots Rule! and Lots of Bots, George and his uncle Otto find themselves in a difficult situation. Robots have been unofficially outlawed, and people keep dropping off their beloved servants at the junkyard, hoping that Otto will take care of them while things die down. Protesters are trying to destroy all of the robots, but George has more important things to worry about-- he is very close to restoring his parents, who have been digitized and stored in a device that George just can't get to work. Desperate, he corresponds with Dr. Micron, who is imprisoned. When Micron offers to restore his parents in return for being broken out of prison (he is, after all, sorry about everything and has reformed), George jumps at the chance. The good news is that Micron gets the machine to work; the bad news is that he uses it for his own evil devices. Terabyte Heights is once again under siege by Micron, and this time he is attempting to digitize all of the citizens. Can George fight off this current threat, save Terabyte Heights, AND get his parents back?

The pictures in the notebook style novel, as well as the goofy names (Anne Droid, Officer Dongle), will appeal to younger readers, and certainly there is enough fast-paced action to draw in even the most reluctant readers. The thing that I like as this series progresses is George's journey from being a student who can't pay attention at school to a technological wizard who is the only one able to save his town from destruction.

George isn't perfect: breaking Micron out of jail wasn't a great idea. George acknowledges that, but is desperate for help in bringing his parents. As the story progress, however, George must choose between having his parents and the safety of his entire community, and his decision is heartbreaking. It is unusual to find this sort of emotional depth in a notebook novel, but it worked and added a fascinating dimension to the battle.

The side stories, such as Jackbot's growing romance with the groombot Cookie, as well as the communities disenchantment with robots, move the story along and set the stage for a fourth book, which I hope comes out soon.

This series is going to be my number one pick for reluctant readers this fall. Readers will pick the books up willingly, given the bright and appealing covers that show humorous action scenes from the story, and will not have any problems zipping through the well-spaced, illustrated pages. Once lured into the books, I think that they will become connected to George, Jackbot, and the plight of Terabyte Heights, and find that sometimes a silly story can reveal deeper truths about the human experience, as well as the robotic one!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Guy Friday- Losers Take All/Orbiting Jupiter

23310743Klass, David. Losers Take All
October 20th 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Jack Logan's school is nuts about sports, to the extent that their 70 year old principal tries to break a record at the yearly "senior run", outpacing several of the high school senior athletes before dropping dead of a heart attack on the field that is named posthumously for him. To replace him, football coach Muhldinger is elevated to the position, and his first act is to proclaim that all seniors must participate in a sport. This doesn't make Jack happy. He's happy just getting by, trying to avoid the shadow of his father and older brothers' athletic prowess. His friend Becca isn't thrilled, either-- she just wants to work on her college essays and get into Harvard, thereby escaping the drama of her parents' fights. Along with several other unathletic friends, Jack and Becca manage to talk the part time Latin teacher into coaching their low level soccer team. Their change to fly beneath the radar is blown when they lose a game spectacularly and a video is posted online of game highlights, which include Jack making a goal and Muhldinger ranting at the team about their incompetence. It also doesn't help when Rob is badly beaten, and it is likely that his attackers were members of the football team. Jack is at odds with everyone-- his father, Muhldinger, and the football team. He is also good enough at soccer that he is asked to play on a men's team in a neighboring community, which makes him rethink, for a second, the philosophy of his new school team, which is to lose as badly as possible. The team becomes an internet sensation, and news reporters descend, some of them rooting up old secrets about Jack's father and Muhldinger. Jack is confused about a lot of things, but not about Becca, whom he likes a good deal. Will the "losers" cling to their legacy of bad sportsmanship, or will they come to an understanding about the true meaning of competition?
Strengths: First of all, I deeply appreciate the lack of vulgar language and high school situations in this. Since it is about seniors in high school, I was wary. This was quite brilliant on so many levels. Yes, many schools are excessively interested in sports, but the levels on which this affects Jack are brilliantly portrayed, even more so because he starts off being content not to care too much. The relationship with Becca is fantastic, because the two are very equal and play on the same team, AND they ride bikes everywhere! Double bonus points for best and most realistic high school Latin teacher in teen literature, even if Percy writing a sonnet to Becca is a bit creepy. Grandmaster has been hugely popular with a wide range of my 8th grade boys, and I think this one will be as well.
Weaknesses: Are basic school policies different on the east coast? Perhaps they are. I don't see Muhldinger being made principal unless he had his license, and the move to require all seniors to participate in a sport would take many months to hammer out with a school board in reality. Artistic license, I suppose, but that sort of detail always bothers me.
What I really think: I've always enjoyed Klass' sports books, but until I finished this one, I didn't fully understand how deliciously subversive his sports books are! It makes me want to go back and reread Danger Zone, although I remember that Wrestling with Honor also had that facet. Highly recommend for both middle school and high school readers!

23714521Schmidt, Gary D. Orbiting Jupiter
October 6th 2015 by Clarion Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

The Hurd family, including 12-year-old Jack, takes in Joseph Brook as a foster child, even though he almost killed a teacher at a juvenile detention facility after getting drugs from another inmate. Joseph also has a baby daughter he would desperately like to see. Jack is very understanding of Joseph, walking with him to school when the bus driver is rude, keeping him as safe as he can from bullies, and rescuing him from the ice after an ill-advised incident on new ice. Joseph does well under the family's care, even though his abusive father gets a lawyer to have him granted visitation. The father also wants to get money from the Jupiter's mother's family before he will give up parental rights, since Joseph is a minor. Joseph manages to get enough information to find out where Jupiter is, and Jack helps him, but things do not end well on any level at all.
Strengths: Schmidt does well at revealing secrets of the past slowly, so I don't want to spoil the book. He also is a great writer, and the cold of a winter in Maine is palpable, as is Joseph's grief. I'm sure that many teachers and librarians will consider this a book that touches their hearts and changes them forever.
Weaknesses: I didn't quite believe that the bus driver, principal, etc. would be so mean about Joseph. Certainly, there are teachers who wholeheartedly support him, and that's a nice touch. I guess we have to have the mean teachers and school bullies for narrative tension. I also had the same problem with this as I had with Lowry's Son: I can't imagine that a teen boy would care so much about seeing a child. After all of the abuse and sadness in his life, you would think he would be content with the Hurds' love and attention, but again, that wouldn't make much of a story. Also, if Jackson's mother protested the Vietnam War in college, she would have been about 50 when Jack was born, if the book is set right now.
What I really think: Very, very sad, but in a way that I don't think will appeal to my students. Plus, I didn't cry at the end, because I figured out the minute the Hurds starting talking about a college fund what would most likely happen.

23615717Harmon, Michael. Stick. 
August 4th 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Speaking of gratuitous language, if you see this book, keep the following in mind: Great premise (player wanting to quit because father is putting too much pressure on him); unlikely but believable friendship, fantastic cover, and gratuitous f-words. Harmon is an engaging writer, but I don't buy his books because of the language. 

Definitely buy for high school, but since the book is also more philosophical than middle grade readers tend to like, I am going to pass on purchasing this for middle school. 

“Stick” is the best wide receiver in the history of his high school—the football seems magnetically drawn to his hands, hence his nickname.

Preston is an outcast, and his pipsqueak stature and nerdy social status couldn’t be further from a star athlete’s.

Stick puts on his football uniform every week to make others—his teammates, his dad, everyone but himself—happy, but he’s fallen out of love with the sport and feels that he’s lost control of his future.

Preston puts on his homemade superhero costume every night to help others, too: to avenge his father’s murder, he’s determined to right the wrongs he sees in his neighborhood and regain control of the flawed world he sees around him.

A twist of fate brings this unlikely pair together in a friendship that is as odd as it is true. Each can see the other better than he can see himself, and in these unexpected reflections lies a chance for mutual redemption

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Velvet Undercover

18658082Brown, Teri. Velvet Undercover.
October 20th 2015 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Samantha Donaldson's family lives in England at the time of WWI, and she and her mother are worried that her father hasn't been heard from and is feared missing. When she nearly wins a Girl Guide competition, where she has excelled in all manner of things, including knowledge of foreign languages, she is approached by a spy organization, La Dame Blanche to be one of their operatives. She is a little conflicted, knowing that if she joins the organization and goes to spy in Germany, she might well die. Captain Parker persuades her, however, by mentioning that he might be able to help locate her father if she is willing to help him. After accepting, Samantha is trained by her "handler", a talented spy named Letty Tickford, who teaches her the finer points of codes, being followed, and disguising oneself. She does well, and is soon sent to Luxembourg to take on the identity of a young woman who has died in order to infiltrate the royal household and extricate a fellow spy. Now Sophia von Schonburg, she must memorize her backstory, locate the operative known only as "Velvet", and serve as governess to the children of the family as well! Samantha soon finds out that her assignment is quite dangerous when her fellow teacher is killed, and she must decide if she can trust one of the German soldiers, Maxwell, in order to survive and to possibly find her father.

World War I has been under represented in young adult fiction in the past, but seems to be a rising trend, perhaps because of interest in television programs like Downtown Abbey or The Crimson Field. Spy stories are always a good bet, and this had plenty of historical details as well as a pulse pounding undercover assignment.

My favorite part of this was the fact that Samantha learns that the world is not all black and white. The war is not necessarily divided into "us" and "them". This makes it hard to know whom she can trust, but she is young enough that she can still see Germans as good people, no matter what her government tells her. It helps that she spent some time in Germany as a child and has good memories of being there. Her struggles in assessing her feelings and weighing them against her loyalties to La Dame Blanche as well as her country are realistic and poignant.

Readers of spy adventure mysteries like Lee's The Body in the Tower as well as Carter's The Gallagher Girls will be enthralled with this story of divided loyalties, romance, and intrigue set against the backdrop of upper class society during World War I.

The only thing that didn't thrill me about this book was the cover. I would have rather seen a silhouette of a girl in WWI era clothing set against the background of a Luxembourg street of that era. This cover looks too modern.

Blather- Frenzied hecticness, but some triumphs

Sylvie wonders if I will ever be home!
We have conferences all day today, so for the past three days, I've seen 250 students per day! Between cross country wrapping up, Kidlitcon, Cybils, and everything else, I've been living for the day off on Friday. I intend to sleep in and maybe watch a movie!

One triumph we had yesterday was figuring out how to get audio books for students with IEPs and 504 plans. We had a school account, and once I added individual students, I was able to download books (like Hatchet, that a class is reading) and then upload the files to a student's individual Google Drive account. I hope that's fair use and legal; only the student can access the files, but can then listen on any device. That's always the struggle!

Kidliterati, a blog run by up-and-coming writers, did a nice interview with me. Now I feel famous!

I'm almost done with my Waiver Day presentation for 3 November. It's an overview of 100+ new books, and I'll try to post it online the day I give it. Westerville people, there are still spots open! Once I rated the auditorium, but now everyone prefers sessions on Google or state evaluations.

Speaking of, I'm doing instruction on Noodletools for mine, and once I put together a presentation, everyone wanted to hear it. Three more busy weeks!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

#WNDB Wednesday: Juba: A Novel

22864797Myers, Walter Dean. Juba: A Novel
October 13th 2015 by Amistad
ARC from Young Adult Books Central

Based on a real person, this novel starts in New York City in 1842. William Henry Lane, who calls himself Juba, lives in a room rented to him and Stubby by elderly Irish fishmonger Jack. Stubby loves to cook and does well with assisting Jack in going door to door to sell fish, but Juba just wants to dance. He has some luck in a variety of Irish run nightclubs, but does not want to do minstrel shows or "blacken up" his act. It's bad enough that there is slavery in parts of the U.S. and that black entertainers are considered third class. When he is given a chance to arrange a show, he puts together one with the help of a neighbor lady, and is brought to the attention of the traveling Charles Dickens, who mentions Juba in his book about his travels. Soon, Juba is approached about touring in England with a group of black entertainers who are trying to move beyond the minstrel show. Juba decides to go, and enjoys his life in England, although employment is not always easy to find. He is glad that he doesn't have to worry about being sold into slavery, and claims to be from Barbados so he is not an alien. He eventually marries Sarah, and has some acclaim as a dancer, but ends up ill and in a work house at the end of his short life.
Strengths: This was an interesting look at the entertainment industry in New York City, and good coverage of a rather neglected time period. This is clearly well researched and a good addition to historical novels about African Americans that are not about slavery or Civil Rights. The inclusion of pictures and artifacts adds interest as well.
Weaknesses: Middle grade readers may need some background information to fully understand this. For example, many will not know that black Americans were free in New York during this time. They also may not understand the role of the Irish in the city's history, or why so many Irish were there. I can't think of any nonfiction books (other than Black Potatoes) on these topics that would help, so students should just read the end notes first!
What I really think: This was a little hard to get into at first, but I think I will buy the book since it does cover an interesting time period and topic.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Battle Begins (Unnaturals #1)/ The Tournament at Gorlan

24603808Hughes, Devon. The Battle Begins (Unnaturals #1)
October 6th 2015 by Katherine Tegen Books
ARC from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there

Castor and his brother Runt are living with their pack on the ground level of a society where the air and environment has become poisoned enough that the well-to-do live in the sky. Marcus is one of these people, living with his parents and enjoying watching the Mega Monster Mash-up tournaments that have become popular. Even though his older brother, Pete, works as a medic for the animals, he thinks that these are virtual fights, and that the animals are not real. Leesa, however, knows differently-- her chihuahua, Pookie,  was stolen and turned into a chihuahua/spider mix who fought in these televised battles. Castor also finds out how real these events are after he is stolen from the streets and experimented on until he becomes a dog/eagle mix and starts to train for the fights. Living alongside creatures like octopus/elephant mixes, Castor has to decide if he will turn into a killer or remain true to himself. With the help of the humans, the animals investigate ways that they might be able to break free for the horror of the games and make it to the elusive Greenplains.

With its mix of fighting mutants and Dystopian setting, The Battle Begins has a lot of action and adventure. There are alliances, but human and animal, that need to be forged and then reexamined. There are vast conspiracies that are tantalizingly mentioned yet not quite resolved. Who exactly is making money off the fights? Why does Mayor Eris support them so much? Why are people kept out of the Greenplains?

I was surprised at the amount of character growth exhibited by Castor and the other animals. Castor is used to surviving in the wild, with his pack, but being brought into the Unnaturals makes him examine who he really is. Pookie serves as a cryptic adviser, and the two read Charlotte's Web together. Castor even tries to convince the other Unnaturals to fight the system and remain true to themselves. The humans also learn more about the society in which they live and their place within it. This philosophy is balanced well against the action, so never slows down the book.

Clearly, this series will appeal to fans of Hunter's Warriors books, and I've even seen blurbs saying that it will appeal to Animorphs fans, although considering that no new books in that series have been published for almost fifteen years, I doubt there are many young readers who are familiar with those!

Verdict: This series promises to be a nice mix of elements: Dystopia, animals, and games as well. Buying.

23846048Flanagan, John. The Tournament at Gorlan (Ranger’s Apprentice: The Early Years #1)
October 6th 2015 by Philomel Books

This takes place after one of The Lost Stories-- Halt and Crowley have been dismissed and are on the run, King Oswald has been captures, and Duncan is pillaging the country side. But of course, he's not; it's an imposter. With the help of Leander, the two start to round up other Rangers who have gotten the boot from the evil Morgarath and head to a tournament back in Araluen so they can set things right. Do they? Yes, but Morgarath escapes, so we are all set for book two in this prequel series to The Ranger's Apprentice.

You need to buy a copy RIGHT NOW. Anything by Flanagan has been freakishly popular in my library for years. There's something about the Rangers hanging out in the woods, being friends with their horses, drinking coffee after having to sit in the rain for days-- it's just so much fun to read!

My copy came from the public library just before I left for Kidlitcon, and I taunted one of my runners with it. He BEGGED to borrow it, promising nothing bad would happen to it, and had it back in two days. My only regret was that I wasn't able to read it in the summer, sitting on the front porch. That's just nirvana for anyone who loves medieval adventures with engaging characters. Sigh.

Monday, October 19, 2015

MMGM- Big Game and The Boys in the Boat

I really do read all the fiction books before I buy them for my library, or read them when a shipment comes in if I haven't been able to get hold of a copy of popular titles. Every football story, high fantasy epic, problem novel, tome on talking mice running around in underpants. All. There are books I don't buy because I don't have readers for them, and I buy plenty of books that aren't something I personally enjoy.

That's why it is such a delight and relief when there are new titles out that I know will be amusing and well crafted and not make me wanted to keep getting up from reading to groom the poor long-suffering dog! I love Gibbs, and I think his novels just keep getting better. This latest installment reminded me a bit of Donald Westlake's comic crime novels with Dortmunder. *Happy sigh.*

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.

24885789Gibbs, Stuart. Big Game (FunJungle #3)
October 13th 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Teddy is having a typical day for him, walking the elephants around the zoo before school, when a gun goes off and they stampede, wrecking a restaurant and a lot of other areas of the zoo. Rhonda, a pregnant rhino, seems to be the target, and this is a serious concern, since poachers might be trying to kill her so that they can sell her horn, which is considered valuable. A little less serious is the vandalizing and robbing of a candy store and an ice cream store-- actions which Large Marge is hot to pin on Teddy. J.J. McCracken, the owner of the park, asks Teddy to help with the investigation this time, but is still underhanded: he asks Teddy not to tell his parents. Along with Summer, McCracken's daughter on whom Teddy has a bit of a crush, Teddy tries to figure out the logistics of how the shooter would have gotten into the zoo, gotten near enough to the enclosure, etc. He's also trying to prove that an orangutan is targeting the food stands, and dealing with the fact that his home has been moved on the other side of the park, because McCracken wants to put in roller coasters. Despite the inept efforts of the zoo security staff, but with help from his parents, can Teddy solve both mysteries and maybe (finally!) get the girl?
Strengths: Really solid, clever set up of clues to the evil doing, and great use of setting. I'm not usually a fan of figuring out mysteries, but this was really top notch. I also thought it was touching that Gibbs gives a nice shout out to the late, great Donald Sobol by comparing Teddy to Encyclopedia Brown. There is plenty of action and poop when animals escape, which lightens the tone a bit.
Weaknesses: Teddy was out of school a lot while he was solving the mysteries. I worry.
What I really think: I'm completely okay with this series going to about 8 books, but I think Gibbs can certainly do other good books as well. Looking forward to them!

24611866Brown, Daniel James. The Boys in the Boat:The True Story of an American Team's Epic Journey to Win Gold at the 1936 Olympics (young reader's edition)
September 8th 2015 by Viking Books for Young Readers

Mr. Brown's neighbor was Joe Rantz, who was part of the 1936 Olympic rowing team. This team was originally formed at the University of Washington, and was comprised of young men for whom life had not been easy. Joe himself had been sent off from his family at the age of ten to cut kindling for the local school and live in the building because his step mother did not care for him. Later, he was left on the family farm when things got bad and his father took off, possibly to California, to try to earn a living. Joe had to perform a lot of physical labor-- cutting down and hauling trees, pouring asphalt, and jack hammering rock off a cliff face to make a dam. A hard worker, Joe was eventually helped by his older brother, a teacher, to enroll in the university, where he fought for and won a place on the rowing team.

Joe's hardscrabble life is interspersed with details about the rowing teams members and races, as well as information about their Olympic journey to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Readers who are interested in sports will find the details about the coaching of the group, and the ins and outs of the difficulties of competing to be on a team and then having to work together with one's rivals to be interesting, but I was enthralled with Joe's story. His long and difficult romance with his eventual wife is a story that was no doubt repeated again and again during the years of the Depression, and explains why some couples from that era were so devoted to each other. Unlike Louis Zamperini in Unbroken, Joe Rantz is a thoroughly likable character who is sympathetic in the extreme.

Like many young reader versions of adult nonfiction, this is still on the lengthy side due to the rather poetic descriptions, but Joe's story is so enthralling that this won't be as hard to sell to readers who want sports stories, or stories of young people surviving against the odds.

I also marvel that we can see videos of some of these historical events, thanks to the magic that is YouTube. The book trailer for this is very nice:

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Dream Things True

23848212Marqardt, Marie. Dream Things True
September 1st 2015 by St. Martin's Griffin
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Alma meets Evan when her father is mowing the yard at Evan's palatial house, and Evan saves her (if not her coffee) when the truck in which she is sitting starts to roll down a hill. Alma had been at a high school in a larger town, but had to return home for family reasons. Her brother, Raul, played soccer with Evan, and when Alma goes to the local high school, Evan pursues her. There are problems, however-- Alma's family are undocumented, and Evan's uncle is a state senator who is campaigning on the platform of removing "illegal aliens" from the area. Many of Alma's relatives are discovered working at a chicken processing plant and deported. Her own mother died attempting to get the children to the U.S. With the help of guidance conselor Mrs. King, Alma is trying to make sure she gets a good education, but her undocumented status is a big problem, especially when Raul and her father are arrested on traffic violations and must return to Mexico. Can Evan and Alma maintain their relationship, given the odds they face?
Strengths: This was a very interesting and well-written book, and the variety of problems faced by Alma's family really drove home current issues with immigration. Evan was a great character-- not only was he wealthy and privileged (which students seem to love in a romance), he had some problems, too.
Weaknesses: Too much sexual content for middle grade. Not entirely instructive, but just too much information for me to be comfortable having this in my collection. Will recommend that my readers check it out of the public library, though.
What I really think: Drat. Wish this had been more middle grade appropriate, because I liked the romance and the depiction of families facing immigration problems.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Saturday Morning Cartoons- The Lord of the Hat

23310740Skye, Obert. The Lord of the Hat (Creature from My Closet #5)
October 6th 2015 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Rob's closet has been fairly quiet; when he and Trevor and Jack try to open it, all they manage to do is mark Jack's hand with a blowdryer-heated brand of Beardy. That's okay, because Rob's father has won a budiness award, and he is taking the family to the awards ceremony in New Mexico. He rents and RV, and Jack and Trevor are invited along. They soon realize that traveling with them is Seussol, a combination of The Cat in the Hat, Collum, and Smeagol from The Lord of the Rings. Suessol is determined that they will travel to the top of a mountain shaped like Beardy that has fire burning on it, and after many goofy travails, the team manages to get there.The next volume in this notebook novel series is A Lego Carol.
Strengths: My students enjoy this notebook novel series, and I live in hope that it will lead them to investigate the books whose characters emerge from Rob's closet. There is an attempt a plot. I can't keep enough notebook novels on the shelves.
Weaknesses: As much as I enjoy Stick Dog, I'm not personally a fan of these. The attempts at goofy humor fall flat for me, the pictures aren't anything great, and there's not a lot of action. They are also paper-over-board bindings, so regularly fall apart.
What I really think: Did you know that brown sugar Pop-Tarts, the last time I looked, had fewer grams of sugar than most of the fruit based Pop-Tarts? Have you ever wanted to avoid a fight with a picky eater enough that you bought and let her eat brown sugar Pop-Tarts? This feels like that. Not really any worse than eating a cherry toaster pastry, but you somehow feel worse handing it over.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Charlie Bumpers vs. the Perfect Little Turkey

25359612Harley, Bill. Charlie Bumpers vs. the Perfect Little Turkey
September 1st 2015 by Peachtree Publishers
Copy provided by the publisher and reviewed at YABC.

It's Thanksgiving time, and there is a lot of activity going on in the Bumpers household. Not only are Charlie's grandparents coming for dinner, but Aunt Sarah and Uncle Brandon are bringing bratty cousin Chip, who is going to be staying at the house! Uncle Ron, the fun uncle, is coming as well, as are the Grizbachs and Mrs. Walcott, who don't have anywhere else to spend vacation. Uncle Ron has all sorts of borderline dangerous activities for the children, and Chip is constantly in the way. He gets Charlie in trouble when he kicks the soccer ball against the garage door, eats too many Swedish fish and throws up on Charlie's bed, and interferes with Charlie's attempts to watch a television special about his favorite spaceman character. Charlie, his brother Matt, and his sister Squid (who is just learning to read and spell) team up to try to prevail against Chip so that they vcan have a little peace... as well as whipped cream for their pumpkin pie.
Strengths: There are so few middle grade books about holidays, and I do get requests for them. For a long time, Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday, and in middle school I would have loved to read about how other people celebrated. Charlie's interactions with his cousins and brother and sister are wonderful, and his supportive and ALIVE family is so refreshing. I am enjoying how Charlie is becoming less scared and more mature over the course of the books, and I love how he has his own interests. Highly recommended for elementary school libraries!
Weaknesses: Charlie is slightly young for middle school, although my struggling 6th grade readers find that the shorter length, larger font, and inclusion of pictures are perfect for them.
What I really think: Charlie is definitely growing on me. I did end up with all the books in this series, and I will be purchasing this one as well. I do wish Mr. Harley would do a middle school aged book!

In case you've missed the first three books:

Charlie Bumpers vs. The Teacher of the Year
Charlie Bumpers vs. The Really Nice Gnome
Charlie Bumpers vs. The Squeaking Skull

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Lost Girl

Stine, R.L. The Lost Girl
September 29th 2015 by St. Martin's Griffin
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

In this new, jacketed hardcover, R.L. Stine starts by telling us some of the history of Fear Street. In 1950, Beth Palmieri's family is celebrating. Her father, who started out as a stable hand at Dooley's, is starting his own stable. Beth has had run ins with Aaron, the son, and isn't fond of the family, but is still shocked at the revenge that Mr. Dooley takes on her father, and her mother is distraught when not only her husband is brutally murdered, but Beth goes missing and is presumed dead.

In the present day, Michael and his girl friend Pepper meet Lizzy Palmer, a strange new girl who always seems to be lost. Michael is oddly attracted to her. When Michael and a group of friends borrow snow mobiles from his father snowmobile showroom, Michael hits a boy when he is unable to move. The friends panic and leave the scene, especially when Lizzy claims it is a boy from her school, Angel, who is a psychopath. Michael goes back, and the boy is gone. Unsure of whether or not he actually killed the boy, Michael is plagued by visions. He sees Angel rising from a grave on a history class trip to a cemetery, and gets threatening phone calls, presumably from Angel. One by one, the teens who were snowmobiling are injured, or in one case, killed. Michael and Pepper go to the police and tell them the whole story, but the police can't really do anything because Lizzy doesn't seem to exist. How has she come to Fear Street, and why is she targeting Michael? The answer is as shocking as it is surprising.
Strengths: I found the 1950 portions of this to be really delightful. They turned gruesome all too quickly, but if Stine ever wanted to write a historical novel set in the 1950s, I would read it. The intertwining of the two time periods is clever, and I didn't see all of the twists coming. This will be a big hit with my students.
Weaknesses: A bit too much human-on-human violence for my taste, but it's not too over the top for middle school.
What I really think: So glad to have any new book by Stine. Tried and true horror!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

#WNDB- The Red Umbrella and The Red Bicycle

6768377Gonzalez, Christina Diaz. The Red Umbrella
May 11th 2010 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Purchased copy.

Lucy and her brother Frankie enjoy their life in their Cuban community in 1961, but things are changing. School is canceled, neighbors are spying on each other, and the military is making its presence felt. At first, Lucy thinks that her parents are overreacting-- why can't she go to the movies, hang out with friends, and go to dances like always? Soon, her parents are pressured to be more active in the Revolution and send the children to various organizations. Unwilling to do that, the parents arrange to send the children to the US after the father is arrested for a very minor infraction. After spending some time in a camp in Florida, a family in Nebraska takes the children, and Lucy and Frankie have to improve their English, get used to the cold, and worry about whether their parents will ever be able to make it out of Cuba, or whether they will be able to return.

Strengths: This gave very good descriptions of every day life in both Cuba and Nebraska in the 1960s. I especially appreciated how well Lucy's interests were portrayed-- of course politics are important, but at her age, head band coordination can seem equally important. The danger was not underplayed, and the inclusion of a friend who embraced the Revolution made drove home that point.

Weaknesses: I know I'm always complaining that books are too sad, but given the topic of this book, it was almost too happy. The students and teachers in Nebraska, as well as the family the children were fostered with, were all very accepting, and there were very few problems, which seemed slightly unrealistic. It was a great relief, however, and certainly made the book more enjoyable. Ultimately a good call.

What I really think: The politics and settling in to life in the US are perhaps overly simplified, but I think this is a great introduction to a little covered historical event. Especially timely, with relations with Cuba changing. Adored the cover! Don't know how I missed this one!

23688743The Red Bicycle: The Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle
Published March 1st 2015 by Kids Can Press
E ARC from

Isabella, Isabella and  Simone Shin (Illustrator)
This nonfiction picture book traces the journey of a bicycle from the United States to Burkina Faso, West Africa, where it is used by a young girl as the primary mode of transportation for her family. When the bike is damaged, it ends up being refurbished and used as an ambulance for a local hospital. Additional information about the use of bicycles in Africa, as well as agencies in the US who collect and distribute bicycles to people who need them, makes this an interesting book that can help children be more globally oriented, and could be used as a great springboard for a service project. This is not the sort of picture book that younger readers could read for themselves, but offers just the right amount of information for older readers. I have been buying more nonfiction picture books for my middle school library, and they seem to appeal to a number of readers.

Since I ride my bike as MY primary source of transportation, I like to show my students that not everyone in the world has access to, or wants to drive, a car!

Last call for Cybils' Nominations!

Head over to the Cybils' Website to nominate a book before the deadline tomorrow!

Need a reminder of what some good book were?

Double check these, but I think they still need nominated:

Fulk, David. Raising Rufus. 
Kessler, Liz. Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins?
Margolis, Leslie. If I Were You 

For Middle Grade Fiction, take a look at these titles if you still need to nominate:

al Mansour, Haifaa. The Green Bicycle
Benedis-Grab, Daphne. Clementine for Christmas 
Eyre, Lindsay. The Mean Girl Meltdown 

Kidd, Ronald. Night on Fire.
McVoy, Terra Elan. Drive Me Crazy
Meyerhoff, Jenny. The Friendship Garden
Nickerson, Sara. The Secrets of Blueberries, Brothers, Moose & Me
Pearsall, Shelley. The Seventh Most Important Thing. 
Rosengren, Gayle. Cold War on Maplewood Street

Vrabel, Beth. A Blind Guide to Stinkville

Young Adult Fiction:


Young Adult Nonfiction