Monday, November 30, 2015

Holiday Gift Guide- Coloring Books!

25776044Pippins, Andrea. I Love My Hair: A Coloring Book of Braids, Coils and Doodle Dos. 
November 10th 2015 by Schwartz & Wade
Copy provided by the publisher

When I was in kindergarten in 1970, I received a giant coloring book at our Christmas gift exchange. It may still be under my mattress. For years, I would haul it out and color a picture or two over winter break, carefully signing and dating each masterpiece. In middle school, the school store sold tag board folders that were shiny white with black and white line drawing that the cool kids would color with markers. I never wanted to spend the $1, so I don't have one to show you! At any rate, I wasn't at all surprised that adult coloring books are making the best seller lists! If I didn't spend every spare minute I have reading, I'd love to color pictures!

This beautiful volume of designs to color has a variety of hair designs to color, and is nicely multicultural in its range of hair depicted. What I loved was how detailed the pictures were, and how there are many fun elements, like flowers and words, included in the pictures. The spread of crowns and braids are probably my favorites. A nice set of colored pencils would probably be best for coloring in the small lines, but I used a fine point Sharpie on one picture and was nicely surprised to find that the paper is of such a quality that the marker didn't bleed across the line OR soak through the page. 

This is definitely not a book for children who don't have well-honed fine motor skills, but is great fun for older colorers. My only criticism is that some of the pictures cover two pages, and with the fold in the middle, it lessens the impact of the picture, especially if one wanted to remove a picture to hang on a wall!

MMGM- Pippa Morgan's Diary/ Sally Ride

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.

Kelsey, Annie. Pippa Morgan's Diary
December 1st 2015 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky 
E ARC from

Ten-year-old Pippa is distraught when her best friend moves to Scotland, and tries very hard to make new friends at school. She thinks that Catie looks like an appealing friend, so she lies and tells her that she has tried out for the Voice Factor television show. Catie does become her friend, and the two hang out at Catie's lovely, well-maintained house, but Pippa is worried about her lie being discovered, especially when Catie signs her up for a school talent show. Will Catie still talk to Pippa when she discovers the truth?

Strengths: This has a much more positive message than The Dork Diaries, and is more visually appealing than The Popularity Papers. It's British, but not overwhelmingly so, and the words are nice and big. It has pictures and is easy to read.

Weaknesses: It's a tiny bit young, but my students who ONLY want to read The Dork Diaries would do much better with this. I'd be interested to see if the entire four book series comes to this side of the pond. It has a lot of promise.

What I really think: This is available in hardcover, which is great, but I may wait to order a copy until I see if it will have an Accelerated Reader test. Sigh. 

Sally Ride: A Photobiography of America's Pioneering Woman in SpaceO'Shaughnessy, Tam. Sally Ride: A Photobiography of America's Pioneering Woman in Space
October 6th 2015 by Roaring Brook Press
Copy Provided by the Publisher for the Cybils Awards

Using a plethora of family photographs, long time friend and life partner O'Shaunghnessy has created an engaging tribute to a pioneering scientist and advocate for scientific education for girls. I don't know that I have ever seen so many pictures, letters, and scrapbook items from all phases of someone's life used. It helped to put Ride's life in perspective, and was just so interesting! When I read biographies (and I am a huge fan of them), I always wish that certain events were shown in the accompanying photos, but so few rarely are. The focus of this was well done-- while activities such as Ride's tennis playing are discussed (and accompanied by a picture of her with Billie Jean King! Wow!), all facets of Ride's life are tied to her eventual career as an astronaut and science educator. Because the author had known Ride since they were both 12, this was a very complete and sympathetic portrait of her life. I especially appreciated that two sensitive areas-- Ride's sexual orientation and her death from pancreatic cancer-- are addressed in an age appropriate and matter-of-fact way. The end of the book includes a time line, as well as a description of the major "characters" in Ride's life. 

The photographs really do add a tremendous amount to this biography-- Ride's enthusiasm in any activity looks so contagious, and this book made me feel almost as if I had met her. My only complaint is that the writing is somewhat wooden-- I wonder if O'Shaughnessy is more used to writing for adults, and thus tried to write in a more simple way for younger readers. 

And I'm sure everyone has seen this already, but this was a nice way to start the morning:

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Fast Break

23846031Lupica, Mike. Fast Break
November 3rd 2015 by Philomel Books
Copy from public library 

Jayson's mother dies of drug related problems and her boyfriend pays the rent for two months and then takes off. Jayson is left in the apartment by himself and survives by stealing food and making sure he does well enough in school that teachers don't pry. When he needs new shoes for basketball, he takes a bus to a neighboring town so he can steal a pair unnoticed, but is caught and remanded to children's services. They place him with an African-American couple, the Lawtons, who have a grown son, and they are very understanding of his various plights. Jayson doesn't care, though. He hates his new school, where they have to wear khakis and polos, and while he doesn't act out terribly, he is not nice to be around, either. He is angry on the basketball court, and finds it hard to make friends. He goes back to his old neighborhood a couple of times on unathorized visits, but the Lawtons merely bring him back. His biggest upset is hearing the mother of the girl he likes discussing his background, and how he must be horrible because his mother died from drugs. 
Strengths: Fair amount of basketball, and some interesting times when Jayson is playing against his former teammates. Also nice that the African-American family is the college educated care providers, and Jayson is white.
Weaknesses: Readers might have a little more sympathy for Jayson if there had been more details of how little his mother took care of him, and how difficult it was for him to survive alone. I know this is why he is angry, but Lupica could have made him far more sympathetic.
What I really think: Will buy, but I wish Lupica would write some happier books. Maybe he can't pull off humor, but can't we leave the depressing stuff to non-sportswriters like Gary Schmidt? 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

President of the Whole Sixth Grade

25066586Winston, Sherri. President of the Whole Sixth Grade
November 3rd 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Brianna has moved up a grade from President of the Whole Fifth Grade, and is back with her clipboard and a plan to earn enough money so that her class can go to a leadership conference in Washington, D.C. There are some problems along the way with friends, a lot of difficulty in raising money, and some intrigue with a new girl, Red. Brianna manages to triumph despite her small size and the fact that her classmates think she dresses like a "jelly bean", and the group makes it to D.C., where they manage to meet lots of notables, including the First Family and the First Nephew-- who is very dreamy and very interested in Brianna. Brianna's strong will and insistent personality is once again vindicated. 
Strengths: The trip to Washington, as well as the fundraising, are topics that are not overdone in middle grade literature. The Detroit setting is interesting, and the adults are all actively supportive. The friendship drama is true to life. It's refreshing to see a middle class African American student who is driven and has particular interests (baking, journalism, leadership roles). 

Weaknesses: Brianna is not nice. She's not nice to her friends, and she is really not nice to the people with whom she has conflicts. From page 28 of the ARC: "Braxton was a first rate fungus, but a second-rate human being. Shaped like an evil rectangle with a piggish little nose, he'd been on my case since the day Ms. Galafinkis picked me to be president." There is also a strange incident involving a friend who thinks she is fat that didn't seem supportive and productive. If Brianna were a student at my school, there would be a lot of phone calls home about her interactions with others!

What I really think: The first book in this series does not circulate well, but that might be because it has "fifth grade" in the title. The updated cover on this looks fresh, so I might have to give it a go, no matter how unpleasant I find Brianna. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Guy Friday- The Edge

23719240Smith, Roland. The Edge (Peak #2)
October 6th 2015 by HMH Books for Young Readers

Peak is approached by billionaire Sebastian Plank to take part in an International Peace Ascent. The pitch is odd-- it's last minute, and the details are sketchy. Still, after his adventures in Peak (2007), Peak and his mother are up for the challenge, especially since if they don't go, their friends won't get the job of filming it. When they get to their location, they find out they are in Afghanistan, and the entire Peace Ascent won't be there-- they are spread out in a lot of different areas. That's okay with Peak, since he would rather climb with fewer people. Some of the climbers are idiots, but since his old friend Zopa is leading the climb, Peak is happy. There are some challenges with the climb, but when most of the group, including his mother, is kidnapped, Peak has new challenges to face to get them back. 

Strengths: Lots of outdoor action and adventure, appealing characters, exotic setting-- there need to be a lot more books like this! I loved all the details about climbing, equipment, etc., even though I don't know that I ever want to climb mountains!

Weaknesses: Plank's motivation seemed elusive, but since the group was in a war-torn country, I didn't really question it when the kidnappings occurred. 

What I really think: What took so long? And why haven't I recommended the first book to anyone this year? Definitely buying a copy, and glad that they kept the look of the first book, which is a great example of appealing cover design. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Wishbone Wish

McDonald, Megan. The Wishbone Wish (Judy Moody and Stink)
September 8th 2015 by Candlewick Press
Copy provided by the publisher

Judy and Stink are gearing up for Thanksgiving-- especially the town's Turkey Trot race that is held at their school! Judy is so sure that she will win that she tells her grandmother NOT to buy a turkey. Stink is a little leery of this, since Grandma makes fantastic turkey and gravy. The two train, hoping that they can balance Jell-o on a spoon in one of the races, and Judy even tries to get Stink to eat healthy foods in preparation of the race. When the big day comes, Judy wears her Sarah Josepha Hale Pilgrim ("the inventor of Thanksgiving") outfit and does very well at the race, despite PeeGee the pig running loose on the track. Even though she wins, there are some difficulties with the prize turkey, and her family has to change their plans just a little.

Strengths: This was a very fun early reader book which will be popular with my struggling 6th grader readers who still like Judy and Stink in all of their various incarnations. The fully color illustrations add a festive air to the book, and I loved the community involvement in the Turkey Trot. The sibling conflict is true to life and not mean spirited, and the strong family ties are a great relief after reading so much depressing middle grade fiction!

Weaknesses: I found it hard to believe that a school would have enough teachers willing to show up on Thanksgiving Day to judge races and a costume contest, but it's a nice thought! It also seemed odd that Grandma Lou looked more like MY grandmother than grandmothers today, who are much more hip!

What I really think: Many of my students have been asking for seasonal and holiday books this year, which has not happened before. I am very glad to have this one in my library, and need to investigate the rest of this series (especially The Jolly Holiday), since the books are a nice length and reading level for struggling readers. 

Happy Thanksgiving! For Throwback Thursday, here is my family's gathering in 1974. From left: the back of my brother's head; my Uncle Chuck, who would debate with me whether cherry or apple pie was best; my cousin Darlene, who was a majorette; my cousin Jackie, who was thankfully only a year younger than I was; me, in a Stretch-N-Sew shirt my mother made; and my Aunt Grace, whom I resemble rather a lot now!

Since my mother had eight brothers and sisters, our holidays were always crowded and busy;  notice we are eating in the living room. I still have the lamp and the rocking chair that are in this picture, as well as the Fire King tear drop bowl that the cranberries are in! When the girls were younger, Darlene would host Thanksgiving at the Fun Center she and her husband owned, so the girls fully believe that laser tag and pools of balls, as well as roller skating, should be part of the festivities. Our gathering will be much smaller and quieter this year, and I'll be doing all of the cooking. Since my mother no longer cooks, I am now in charge of pies as well. 

Enjoy your Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Island Treasures: Growing Up in Cuba

24885639Ada, Alma Flor. Island Treasures: Growing Up in Cuba
August 25th 2015 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Copy from public library

This new edition includes Where the Flame Trees Bloom (1994) and Under the Royal Palms (1998) as well as the new stories in Days at La Quinta Simoni. All of the entries are rather anecdotal; much more a collection of short stories than a connected narrative. Some of the memories are more informative than others. In reading this, I really wanted a lot of details about what it was like to grow up in Cuba in the 1940s and 1950s, and there is some of that. I would have found the whole story of how Ms. Ada's family moved from the ancestral farmhouse to the city more interesting. This is definitely one of those "lyrical" books where the pace is very slow, which makes it a much harder sell to my students. The photographs are nice, if a bit faded, but the illustrations, especially in the earliest book, don't add much to the narrative. I liked this author's Dancing Home, and this was certainly intriguing, but I don't think my students would pick this up. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Max Helsing and the Thirteenth Curse

25392748Jobling, Curtis. Max Helsing and the Thirteenth Curse
November 10th 2015 by Viking Books
Copy Provided by publisher
Review posted at Young Adult Books Central

Since Max's father died, he has been living with the quiet, older Jed who can only cook eggs and clam chowder. The two are both monster hunters, whose daily life involves multiple encounters with ghouls, vampires, and other assorted paranormal nasties. Fortunately, Max has  good friend, Syd, who knows the truth, a younger neighbor boy, Wing, who hangs around, and a "puppy", Eightball, given to him when his 13th birthday is nearing. Unfortunately, Eightball is a drooling, pudgy Hellhound, which is not exactly what Max has in mind. When his birthday comes, he does not have a good day-- Eightball acts strangely, he gets caught in the rain, is attacked by a flame monster at school, suspended, and then attacked by more creatures all day! When Udo Vendemeier kidnaps Wing by mistake, Max has to meet with this evil person who has taken over the body of a security guard, and uncover many family secrets in order to get back his young friend, as well as Jed. 

Jobling's Wereworld series is a popular one, but Max's story is more accessible and action-packed. While love-dovey vampire stories are on the wane, anything with blood and gore, zombies, and reanimated warlocks from the time of the Salem Witch Trials who want to overthrow the world are always great for readers who like scary books. 

This is the start of a series, and I feel like more secrets about Max will surface, and we will see more character development in future books. Where is Max's unmentioned mother? How can Max use his father's notes about monster hunting to good advantage? And will Jed learn to cook anything more? I really enjoyed the character of Syd, who comes to Max's rescue riding her bicycle, but I also feel that there is room for some romance there as well. 

Bonus points for diversity on this one-- Jed is African-American, Wing is Asian, and Syd is Hispanic. This is mentioned briefly in various descriptions of the characters, and while integral to who they are, is not why they are in the story. 

Readers who enjoy Joseph Delaney's very popular The Last Apprentice series (which was made into the movie The Seventh Son), will find this to be a good, modern update on what it's like to be in charge of ridding the world of monsters. Hegarty's Darkmouth or Lore's The Knightmare Academy would also be read-alikes. 

For a good dose of midnight graveyard trysts,threatening gargoyles that come to life, and historically based family curses, it doesn't get any better than Max Helsing and the Thirteenth Curse!

Monday, November 23, 2015

MMGM- Historical Fiction

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.

25648333Joiner, Sara K. After the Ashes
October 15th 2015 by Holiday House
ARC from Baker and Taylor

In 1883, Katrien has always lived on Java with her father, who works for a Dutch company. Her mother is dead, but her Aunt Greet lives with her, and her uncle Maarten also resides nearby. Katrien is very interested in the study of insects, and has all but memorized Darwin's Origin of the Species. She goes into the jungle with her good friend, Salmet, whose mother works for Katrien's family. Greet doesn't think that Katrien should spend so much time with a native boy now that she is getting into her teens, and tries to have her socialize with Birgitta, with whom she attends school. The two constantly antagonize each other, even though Birgitta is interested in botany. When the nearby volcano, Krakatau, starts spewing ash, no one seems very alarmed except for Katrien's neighbors. The DeGroots, who have heard of other volcanoes on the island, decide to go back to the Netherlands, but Katrien's father won't have it. When the inevitable happens, Katrien and Birgitta both manage to survive, and with each other's help, manage to make their weary way across the devastation that ash and tsunamis wreak on Java. Will they be able to put the horror of their experience behind them?
Strengths: This was a very well researched book on a little known topic (unless one has read Pene du Bois' Twenty-One Balloons!), and even managed to capture the narrative style of the times. Bringing in a variety of Dutch experiences in Java, as well as discussions about the relationships between the Dutch and the native people, gives this a well-rounded perspective. Katrien's bent toward science will interest a few more people, and the very human experience of fighting with someone with whom she is forced to be friends may interest readers who like books with friend drama.
Weaknesses: I want to see a finished copy of this before I buy it. The font is very small and close, and given how hard it is to get students to check out historical fiction, the standard Holiday House cover and crowded formatting will make this a challenge to get into the hands of students.
What I really think: If this had a better cover, or were shorter, I might be able to pitch this. I enjoyed it, but just don't see it doing well in my library.

23529761Cerrito, Angela. The Safest Lie
October 1st 2015 by Holiday House

Anna and her family live in Poland, and when her parents realize that the ghettos are rapidly being emptied, they agree to send Anna off to the country, where she will pretend to be a Catholic orphan. Irena Sendler is the woman who chooses the children, and she places Anna in a Catholic orphanage. There, Anna learns to take care of younger children, and also learns that she must believe her fictitious back story if she is to survive. She is eventually sent to live on a farm with a family. They are very nice to her, and Anna is conflicted-- how can she enjoy her new life knowing that her parents are in danger. At the end of the war, she is taken back to Poland, where she finds out the fate of her family.
Strengths: The inclusion of real life characters is always interesting, such as Leni Riefenstahl in Lasky's The Extra and Max Schmeling in Sharenow's The Berlin Boxing Club, so having Irena Sendler was a nice touch. The details of the various places Anna lives are clearly well researched and add depth to the narrative.
Weaknesses: Sendler appears all too briefly, and my students ask more for books on the concentration camps than for children in hiding.
What I really think: I'll buy this because I always need more Holocaust books for our 8th grade, but it wasn't anything spectacular. Holiday House really needs to stop putting bad 1980s style covers on their books, and using smaller than needed font, too!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Basketball (Or Something Like It)

In my effort to have every single decent middle grade sports book published within the last 20 years, I recently went through the Accelerated Reader list of basketball, football and baseball books for titles that had tests but which were not not in my collection. Most that I lacked were no longer in print, but I unearthed a few possibilities.

503726Baskin, Nora Raleigh. Basketball (Or Something Like It)
HarperCollins, 2005

The North Bridge middle school basketball team is off to a rocky start even before try outs. Tensions are running high, and coaches are hard to keep, but that doesn't stop four players who are involved in the team for various reasons to care deeply about the process. Anabel doesn't even play, but her brother does. Personally, Anabel believes that she would be even better than her brother, but their father only cares about Michael's involvement in the sport. Nathan's parents really want him to play, but he has very little talent, despite making the team. Jeremy has other problems. His mother dropped him off at his paternal grandmother's house, saying that she couldn't take care of him any more. His father is nowhere to be seen. His grandmother is glad to have him, and makes him try out for the team. He's a good player, but his mind is elsewhere. Hank is a decent player, but his parents are WAY too interested in his involvement on the team. After finally getting a decent coach, dealing with nutty parents who get themselves thrown out of games, and trying to work together as a team, can the group do a decent job on the court?

Strengths: This book looks at basketball from a different perspective-- why are people on the team? What motivates them to do well on the court... or not do well? I liked the inclusion of Anabel, but was sad that she really didn't get to play until high school. The disparate teammates learning to work together was an interesting way to set up the book.

Weaknesses: I'm not a huge fan of books from multiple perspectives. My struggling readers often are confused by this, and this book is otherwise a great choice for those readers, since it is fairly short.

What I really think: It has a basketball on the cover, has a decent amount of information about what goes on on the court, and would make an EXCELLENT team read, along with the parents of players. Saw on Goodreads that a school somewhere was doing that. What a fabulous idea! Definitely buying, and I think this will be a steady circulator. Don't know how I missed it. Holds up well: only one mention of a Palm Pilot, and one mention of IM'ing.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Fun books, bad examples!

19278261Flinn, Alex. Mirrored.
September 15th 2015 by Harper Teen
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

In the 1980s, Celine struggles with her looks and her distant mother. She longs for the love of Greg, but he is interested only in Jennifer. Even when she discovers that she has magical powers and is tutored in using them by the enigmatic Kendra, Greg is not interested, and she remains a social pariah despite her beauty. Fast forward to the present day, and Greg and Jennifer's daughter, Violet, has struggles of her own. After her mother is killed in a freak zoo accident, her father marries Celine. At first, things are fine, and Celine is nice to her. When Violet becomes a teen and starts to become more beautiful, Celine views her as a threat. Kendra befriends Violet, who also has magical powers, and lets her in on Celine's troubled past. Befriended by Jonah, a person of short stature, and his family, Violet tries to hide out at their home and avoid Celine. What will happen when the two witches collide?

Strengths: Flinn is the master of the modernized fairy tale, and this is a version of Snow White that will appeal to teen readers who like tales of mean girls, witches and magic. The time spent in the 1980s is fun, and the teen movies of John Hughes are discussed; oddly, these are still popular with young people today. Fans of Beastly and Bewitching will find the continued story of Kendra appealing. 

Since Celine's story brings in so many vivid facets of the 1980s, I had to wonder if the names of the characters were a homage to the popular but doomed All My Children couple, Greg and Jenny!

Weaknesses: The emphasis on physical beauty and the obsession with one boy were both disturbing on so many levels. In Beastly, this was used to a somewhat positive effect-- beauty is not everything. In this book, I got a different message, and that seemed odd. 

What I really think: I don't think I would have bought a copy of this, but since I have a copy and it doesn't have anything inappropriate to middle school, I'll put it in the collection. A bit disappointed, though, since I normally love Flinn's work. 

23848186Hubbard, Mandy. Everything but the Truth
November 17th 2015 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
ARC from

Holly is glad that her mother finally has some financial stability after years of struggling after her father's death. The two have recently moved into an apartment in a posh senior facility, and her mother is on probation. Holly loves helping out the residents, and is sure that her mother will do well. They can stay in one place, and Holly can finally make some college plans. Soon, though, there is a demanding new resident to whom Holly's mother has rented the poshest apartment... and he doesn't seem happy with her. Luckily, Holly meets his very hot grandson, and the two click. The only problem is that Malik thinks that Holly is named Lucy, and that she is at the care center because her grandmother is there. Not wanting the very wealthy Malik to think any less of her, Holly perpetuates the lie with the  help of her friend Alex. She ingratiates herself to the grandfather, falls in love with Malik, and is still afraid to let him know the truth about her background. 

Strengths: There are a couple of nice diverse aspects to this. I particularly liked the description of Malik (page 26 of ARC "He looks... Costa Rican. Maybe part Native American or part African American... or some combination uniquely his, because I've never seen a guy so completely drool worthy."). After that, there is no mention of race, although his grandfather is identified as African-American. Holly is afraid of losing her best friend Alex to Rena, but it turns out that the two are dating, and Holly is relieved not to lose Alex as her best friend. Older people are positively portrayed. Malik is already reformed, having had a rather bad-boy past, but Holly doesn't have to reform him. 

Weaknesses: There is an obsession with money and looks, as well as love, that is rather alarming, especially given the fact that Holly is willing to pursue these things at the expense of honesty. True-to-life, perhaps, but not a great message.

What I really think: This series is so popular with my really avid readers of romances that Iw ill have to buy it, but it was still a little unnerving. Disappointed. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Year in the Life of a Complete and Total Genius

Matson, Stacey. A Year in the Life of a Complete and Total Genius
November 3rd 2015 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Arthur has a few problems; he starts school late because his mother has passed away, and he has a "nemesis" in Robbie Zack and gets in trouble for writing borderline threats in his writing assignments. The assignments, as well as letters to his teacher, reading journal entries, and e mails to various classmates, tell most of the story. Arthur fancies himself a great writer, but when it comes to writing a story for a contest, he draws a blank. He is besotted with his classmate, Laurel, and if thrilled when he gets to be in a school production of Romeo and Juliet opposite her. He is less thrilled to be tutoring Robbie at the recommendation of his teacher, but finds that he has more in common with Robbie after all. 
Strengths: There were some nice touches-- the romantic element is spot on for middle grade, Arthur knits, and the teachers are fairly supportive. The father's grief is not dwelt upon.
Weaknesses:This moves rather slowly, especially the parts about the play. I also think that the teacher would be more concerned about Zack's writings about Robbie. It definitely is on the mean and petty side. 
What I really think: If this had been written in another format, I would buy it, but students at my school never e mail each other, so the format makes the book seem already dated. 

23281764Solomons, David. My Brother is a Superhero
July 21st 2015 by Viking Books for Young Readers 

Luke loves comics and super hero tales, so he is really irritated when a passing space alien endows his brother Zach with a variety of powers and gives him a mission to save the world. Zach spends a lot of the time trying to talk Luke out of giving him a cape, and deciding how to best use his powers. Neighbors Lara and Cara are interested in Star Boy after Zack (as his poorly disguised alter ego) saves a busload of people from harm, and Luke spends a lot of time throwing them off the scent. After Zack is kidnapped by the evil Christopher Talbot at the crucial time when he is supposed to be fighting off Nemesis, as decreed by Zorbon the Decider. Will he be able to save the world? And will the aliens ever grant Luke some powers?
Strengths: Decent cover and really nice formatting of the text. Super hero tales are popular with my students, and this had some touches of goofy, as well as some romance .
Weaknesses: Something about the world building failed for me, and I could never suspend disbelief enough to really buy into the story. 
What I really think: Think I'll pass. Just not enough action at the beginning to intrigue my super hero readers. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

On the Run

23310747Bancks, Tristan. On the Run
November 17th 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC from Netgalley

Ben enjoys making stop-action movies and is in the middle of one when the police show up at his door, asking for his parents. They are still at work, and Ben is watching his younger sister Olivia. When his parents do get home, they claim that they are going on an impromptu family vacation, whisk the children into the car and take off for a family cabin with a borrowed car and too few supplies. Ben knows that something is wrong, but plays along, since his parents are fighting a lot and the situation is scary in many ways. He and Olivia try to make the best of it, but when their parents leave suddenly, the two are worried. Eventually, the two are on their own, trying to get to their grandmother's house by surviving in the wilderness using tips from My Side of the Mountain. Ben knows his parents are in trouble and can't see how things will ever work out, even if he can manage to get the very ill Olivia to his grandmother's.

Strengths: Really good use of classic novel as an inspiration for a character;  My Side of the Mountain is one of my favorites, and I'm glad it is still read... in Australia, too. This had a variety of survival elements, from finding food in the wild to escaping from the police. It's a nice length, too, and doesn't have the trouble with translation that sometimes plague Australian imports.

Weaknesses: I like my adventure novels to be a little more fun, and Ben and Olivia certainly weren't having fun. When I got done reading this, I felt like I needed a shower, and some lines about Ben's grandmother's cookie jar having cat hairs and possibly weevils.... ewww. Good writing, yes, but I don't enjoy being skeeved out!

What I really think: Haven't had much in the way of fresh new survival novels lately, so think I will buy this, weevils or no!

23846058Kreller, Susan (trans. Gaffney, Elizabeth). You Can't See the Elephants
October 13th 2015 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers

Mascha is spending time with her grandparents because her own father can't deal with her after the death of her mother. She is bored in her grandparents' subdivision, but soon meets Julia and Max. They hang out together, and Mascha soon realizes that both children are being beaten. Since their father is a well-to-do business man, no one believes them, or tells them that they need to mind their own business. Finally, Mascha comes up with the great idea to keep the two children in an abandoned farmhouse in a nearby field. She brings them food, but there are no facilities, so the children begin to complain about being dirty. Clearly, this is not a well thought out plan, and eventually the authorities find the children... and blame Mascha for kidnapping them. She is even vilified in the local news. Finally, her grandparents believe her and agree to alert the authorities. 

Strengths: This was a good translation. The book was nominally reset in the US., which probably is better for most readers. This was rather like de Vries Bruises, and is a bit more graphic in the descriptions of injuries than most US books. For some reason, this is the sort of child abuse novel that my students like to read. 

Weaknesses: Now I am worried about German parenting skills as well! The entire neighborhood knows that the children and the mother are being severely injured and nobody does anything? Seemed odd to me. And I would rather have kept the German setting. 

What I really think: I will probably buy this for my readers who like Hawes' Waiting for Christopher or Roberts' Don't Hurt Laurie, but it wasn't something I enjoyed personally. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Ticket to India

20487349Senzai, N.H. Ticket to India
November 17th 2015 by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
E ARC from

For Maya, a family trip back to Pakistan is tinged with grief over the death of her beloved grandfather. Her grandmother, whose health is also not good, is upset that the two of them were not able to make a long planned trip back to India. Surprising Maya, the grandmother tells the story of her family's journey from their home in India to Pakistan during the partitioning of India in the 1940s. The grandmother's family was killed in an attack on the train, and the grandmother had to rely on others to get by. Before leaving their country, the family buried treasure that included the family Quran as well as a ring she had always hoped to give to her husband. After learning about this, Maya and her older sister Zara are on board with going alone with their grandmother to India. However, once there, the grandmother ends up in the hospital. The girls know they should go home, but since their grandmother had made all of the travel arrangements, they decide to try to get to her small town and find the chest. India can be a dangerous place, especially for children alone, and when separated from Zara, Maya ends up being the target of a kidnapping scheme. With the help of Jai, an Indian boy who is orphaned and working for less than savory characters so that he can provide for his younger sister, Maya tries to fulfill her grandmother's dream of returning to her home and retrieving the family artifacts.
Strengths: I find India to be fascinating, and the Partition is a historical event that few of my students know about. This story gave the event a very human face, which was nice, and set the history against modern day adventure. The details about being in Pakistan and India are very vivid, and the fact that Maya is from the US and doesn't completely understand the culture will make this easier for readers in the US to understand. Very interesting.
Weaknesses: This worried me a good deal. The choices that Maya makes are HUGELY bad, and could well have ended in her death. She makes bad decisions more than once, even when her sister tries to dissuade her. While this is realistic, it kind of freaked me out a bit. My students will not be bothered by this, nor are they likely to be in a situation where they are on their own in India.
What I really think: I'm always trying to get my students to read about other places in the world, and this does balance adventure with serious family issues well, with the added bonus of history.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Frozen Heart- Fairy Tales

You just never know. The moment I went to put  A Frozen Heart on the new books shelf, an 8th grade girl grabbed it, clutched it to her chest, and rapturously checked it out. Apparently a good choice to have in the library. 

Semi-shameful side note, when my girls were young, I was so adamant that they have as little screen time as possible (no more than 30 minutes of television or an educational computer game like Millie's Math House) that I didn't let them watch any Disney movies. I wanted them to be able to converse on pop culture, though, so I let them read the Grolier Disney books that I picked up at the thrift store for a quarter. This lead to interesting twists on the stories. My older daughter was horrified that Sleeping Beauty's mother did not have a name, so she created one: Thrimbaba. I had to make sure that I always included her name when I read the book! We also added endings where Cinderella decided not to marry the prince, but to go back to school to major in corporate accounting and Snow White went on to major in environmental science so she could become a forest ranger-- clearly, those woods were not safe and there needed to be someone in charge! 

I was out of work and at home  for nine years. Had to do something to keep mentally sharp!

23658272Rudnick, Elizabeth. A Frozen Heart
October 13th 2015 by Disney Press (first published May 26th 2015)
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Elsa and Anna are great friends when very young, but an accident caused by Elsa's powers makes her cut herself off from her sister. Once their parents are killed in an accident, Anna's life becomes even more lonely and boring. When she meets Hans during Anna's coronation, she thinks she has found a way out of her boring existence, but Elsa is opposed to such a violent extent that she unleashes her powers of ice and freezes Arendelle. She runs away, and Anna takes off after her, leaving Hans in charge of the town. Eventually, she runs into Kristoff, who normally sells ice but whose business is thrown off by Elsa's sudden climate change. He reluctantly agrees to help Anna find her sister, but there are many obstacles in the way. When tragedy strikes, Hans turns out to be an untrustworthy character, and the solution lies in an unexpected corner.

Strengths: This is strong action/adventure book and a good look at the difficult relationship that sisters have. I liked how Hans was painted rather sympathetically, since his older brothers and father were not particularly nice to him, and he did his best to run the kingdom, even though he didn't have the best motivations. For an adaptation of a movie for younger children, I thought this struck a good balance. Readers of Levine's Two Princesses of Bamarre and other fairy tale retellings will enjoy this. 

Weaknesses: Elsa didn't get nearly enough backstory or attention. 

Verdict: I don't know that I would have spent money on this, but it's actually fairly well written, so I'm glad to put it in the library. I do have 6th graders who still wear Frozen t shirts, and the print is rather small for them, but it holds up well as a fairy tale retelling.

Moses, Will. Fairy Tales for Little Folks
September 15th 2015 by Viking Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

The simple retellings and elaborate two-page picture spreads of classic fairy tales make this picture book a good introduction to stories to which all children should be exposed. Little Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, Rumplestiltskin, Snow White, and Puss in Boots are recounted in straight-forward adaptations of traditional European versions of these tales. Each merits a four to six page retelling, with two to three thumbnail drawings accompanying the text, followed by an elaborate two page spread after each story. The spreads are very detailed, and young readers will spend many happy hours locating events and characters in each one. Since the book has five tales, and the text is somewhat dense, this would also work well for older students who need to have classic tales for various projects. The folk art of Moses has an old-fashioned quality that complements the stories. 
Strengths: This is a good introduction to fairy tales, with very colorful and detailed folk-style illustrations.
Weaknesses: Since I have read lots of folk and fairy tales, I am always looking for either culturally diverse collections or annotated stories with some insight into their geneses. This didn't even reference which versions (Grimm, Perrault, etc.) were retold.
What I really think: This reminded me of collections from the 1970s. I'm not a fan of folk art, and this would have been a difficult picture book to read with my own children, who had a rather short limit when it came to the amount of words that had to be read before the pages were turned. That said, it will work fairly well for the 6th grade fairy tale unit, where the students have to take a standard tale and set it in another country. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

MMGM- Space adventure!

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.

I think that 2015 will go down in the annals of middle grade literature as The Year Authors Tried to Depress the Living Hell Out of Everyone. Don't know why. Spent a quality weekend getting caught up on reading, but it was JUST. SO. SAD. I ended up on Sunday evening watching YouTube videos of 1980s BBC comedies because I couldn't even face picking up the last Zombie Chasers book, lest the main characters find out their grandparents have Alzheimers, their parents are clinically depressed alcoholics who are starting to abuse them, and the dog has leukemia WHILE fighting the zombies. 

Seriously. I had my fears. Not that Kloepfer would ever do that to me. 

So it's nice to read a book where they at least fight against the alien invasion with bravery and resolution, and the fact that all of their parents were brutally killed in the initial attack is dealt with fairly well. But see? Even our action/adventure books are sad!

24885694Sylvester, Kevin. Minrs
September 22nd 2015 by Margaret K. McElderry Books

Christopher and his best friend Elena live on Perses, a planetoid that an Earth company, Melming Mining, has colonized. Things are going pretty well, but there will soon be a communications blackout between Perses and the Earth, and some of the other children are worried. Christopher plans a blackout party, but during the celebration, the settlement is attacked. The children are sent down to the mines, and Christopher's father gives him some clues to find an emergency beacon that has been hidden. The children all band together to find food and work out a survival plan, but it is difficult to get everyone to work together, especially since many of the children are traumatized by having lost their parents in the raid. Christopher, with the help of Elena, rallies the troops as best he can, and even tries to train them to raid the food supplies of the attackers, or "Landers" as they are called. Some of the plans work, others go awry. When they find four children in a locked room, they discover than Melming was using children to get some of the resources out of the mine. When the Landers discover the children, things get even more intense. Loyalties are tested, secrets are found, and Christopher and Elena have to figure out the best way to get the most of the children to survive. 

Strengths: This one reminded me of Mars Evacuees, and I wanted to know more about the colony before the attack, but only because the premise was so intriguing. Lots of action and adventure, some good leadership skills displayed by Christopher, some good twists and turns to the plot. Interesting use of Oliver Twist, as well. 

Weaknesses: I wish we had found out something about the Landers, especially since there is a sequel in the offing. Also, the parents could have been kidnapped instead of killed. Same effect, but not so distressing

What I really think: Definitely buying a copy, and need to label all of the good new sci fi books in my catalog system. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Minna's Patchwork Coat

23197867Mills, Lauren A. Minna's Patchwork Coat
November 3rd 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 
ARC from Kidlitcon

Minna's family is struggling to make ends meet in early 1900s Appalachia. Her father is suffering from black lung disease, so her mother sells patchwork quilts to keep the family fed. Minna is not able to go to school because she lacks proper clothing, although her mother has taught her to read. She watches her younger brother and is learning about herbal treatments from the local wise woman, Aunt Nora, who is part Cherokee. Aunt Nora's grandson, Lester, is not allowed to go to the school, so Minna teaches him what she knows. When Minna's father dies, things get even worse, but the community rallies around and the group of quilters makes a coat for Minna to wear to school. The mean girls make fun of her, but she knows the love that went into the coat and wears it proudly. 

Strengths: This had a very Little House on the Prarie fell to it-- triumphing against adversity, doing what must be done, etc. Good descriptions of daily life in Appalachia, with an emphasis on racial tolerance.

Weaknesses: This was rather didactic and slow moving, since this is an elaboration of a picture book. There are a few mentions of Cherokee culture, and I don't know enough to know whether or not they are accurate.

What I really think: When I was a child, I would have adored this book on so many levels. I loved history, I loved sewing, and the moral tales of L.M.Montgomery and Alcott were some of my favorites. That said, my students today don't like ANY of those things, so it would make no sense for me to buy it. Elementary students might like this gentle tale more than middle school students would. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Saturday Morning Cartoons--Dogs and Cats

23848350Schade, Susan and Buller, Jon. Scarlett: Star on the Run
November 3rd 2015 by Papercutz
Copy provided by the publisher

In this intriguing mix of graphic and regular novel, we follow the story of Scarlett, who escapes from Pafco Studios, where she is a film star, but terribly mistreated by the owner. When a window is left open, she escapes and manages to find a cabin in the woods. It is inhabited by the elderly and ailing Frank, who is not overly surprised that Scarlett can talk. Scarlett, and later her friend Trotter, take over running the house and taking care of Frank until he ends up having to go to the hospital. The dog and cat alert the neighbors and get Frank the help he needs, and then they refurbish his house. The daughter of the neighbors, Enid, notices that odd things are going on in the house, and meets the two, and helps them discover some truths about themselves. 
Strengths: The graphic panels sneakily get readers invested in Scarlett's story, and then there are chapters that are mostly text. Brilliant! Goofy enough to appeal to middle school students, this one was fun for me to read as well, with the somewhat instructive subtext of "help people in need".
Weaknesses: The font in the text portion is very small, and not a typical typeface. For picky readers, text size can be crucial.

What I really think: I wish that there were more books that lured students in with graphic portions and then gave them something more to read. I remember these authors from Mike and the Magic Cookies when my girls were small! The Mad Magazine quality to the illustrations translates well to a middle school audience. Sadly, only available in paperback.

October 13th 2015 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy Provided by the Publisher

Earl and Mooch are simple souls, delighting in hot cocoa, lolling in bed, and finding identical snowflakes. They are not overly fond of winter's cold, but find solace in each other's company and seeking warmth and comfort whenever possible. The simple line drawings are very sweet, and the humor is gentle. I'd say that these are more amusing than Red and Rover, kinder than Garfield, less complex than Peanuts, and probably cuter than any comic strips currently being published. 

Sylvie wants to know why there aren't any mugs with pictures on them. Or doggie t shirts. I was slightly confused by Mooch's speech impediment; sometimes it is just snow, and sometimes it's "shnow".

11519399Kanata, Konami. Chi's Sweet Home #8
February 28th 2012 by Vertical (first published January 1st 2011)
Series recommended by Jean Little Library

This paperbound translation of a Japanese original has very little text. It's cute, and follows the adventures of a small house cat. Maybe I missed a lot in the first seven books, but there wasn't a whole lot going on other than Chi hanging out with another cat who said "Suspicious!" a lot. I was a little weirded out by the fact that this is clearly set in Japan, yet the family looks very Anglo-Germanic. I guess this is the situation with anime programs as well. 

25241619Pastis, Stephan. Sanitized for Your Protection (Timmy Failure #4)
October 6th 2015 by Candlewick Press
Copy from Baker and Taylor

Timmy's school is trying to raise money to provide books to a boy with a vaguely Russian name, but the money is stolen. Timmy, of course, suspects Mollie Moskins, who smells like tangerines. When Mollie's family and Timmy, his mother, and his mother's boyfriend Doorman Dave all go on vacation together, he tries to prove that she did it with the help of his imaginary polar bear. Highjinks ensue.

Strengths: Notebook novels in general are popular, and this one is no exception. This series is constantly checked out. Vaguely clever, with decent pictures, the books are nicer and kinder than The Dork Diaries but about on par with Wimpy Kid as far as character development goes. 

Weaknesses: This just about exceeds the level of goofiness I can stand with the names and Timmy's polar bear. 

Verdict: I will grudgingly buy this one; Baker and Taylor has it for $11.09. It will get my money's worth out of use. It would be one thing if children read these OCCASIONALLY and read some other things in between, but most of the core readers for this flat out refuse to read anything else, and it does drive me a bit batty. I am holding on to the ARC and tempting one such reader with it until he finishes his Accelerated Reader goal, because I am that mean.