Saturday, April 30, 2016

Cartoon Saturday--Stick Cat

25817512Watson, Tom. Stick Cat: A Tale of Two Kitties
May 3rd 2016 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Young Adult Books Central

Stick Cat and his friend Edith live at the top of a very tall apartment house. They have managed to scratch a hole through the wall inside bathroom cabinets so that they can visit each other. They have several games they like to play, but they also like to listen to Mr. Music in the next building tune pianos. When a nearby car crash causes Mr. Music to get stuck inside a piano, Stick Cat springs to action, with the somewhat less cautious and intelligent Edith to help him. Edith is also very daring, and is willing to jump into a neighbor's apron that is hanging on a movable clothesline. The two manage to get into Mr. Music's building, and Edith manages to save the day, although her obsession with grooming her fur almost ends with Stick Cat falling from the clothes line. In the end, everything is okay, and the cats rest up for their next (I hope!) adventure!

Strengths: This is the sort of notebook novel that the children enjoy but that I find clever as well. Stick Cat's love of adventure and willingness to help Mr. Music was charming, and the fact that this was very different from Stick Dog was appreciated. 

Weaknesses: Edith's complaints about her weight, as well as her air headedness and insistence on grooming were cat like, but also vaguely sexist. I appreciate that she saved the day, but was still a little uncomfortable with her portrayal. 

What I really think: Interested to see what the next book will bring, and very sad that there will be no Stick Chicken. 

25742215Watson, Tom. Stick Dog Tries to Take the Donuts (Stick Dog #5)
January 5th 2016 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

With autumn approaching, food is scarce for Stick Dog and his friends. Since they can't climb trees and get apples from the orchard, they must forage the best they can, but all they can find is rubber gloves and balls, which Poo-Poo thinks are food and the rest do not. When they see a man working on utility poles take a box out of his truck, the dogs investigate whether the deflated ball looking objects are edible. Karen also discovers the man's coffee and drinks the entire cup. After deciding that donuts are in fact food, the group tries a variety of tactics, including deflating the man's tires, to abscond with the box of donuts. Stick Dog and Poo-Poo also use the crane on the truck to climb into the apple trees to dislodge some of the fruit, and Poo-Poo gets his chance to finally come face-to-face with his archenemy, the squirrel!

Tom Watson worked as a speech writer for Ohio governor Richard Celeste, which makes me very sad that I didn't pay more attention to the speeches! He has an excellent ear for what makes things funny to both young readers and the adults who have to read the books as well. I read vast passages of this aloud to a friend because I found Karen's reaction to the coffee so funny, and Poo-Poo's rant about the evilness of squirrels is exactly how I imagine my own dog would sound if she could vocalize her own feelings about this "archenemy".

Aside from being hysterically funny, this series is great at showing a group of friends with disparate talents working together toward a mutual goal. The dogs all have their own quirks, and it's amazing how much emotion and humor Watson can pack into a simple line drawing. As far as plot goes, it's not much of a spoiler to say that the dogs do eventually get the donuts, even though they are vastly concerned about the one bleeding strawberry scented blood!

Any young reader who enjoys notebook novels like Big Nate or Wimpy Kid, or has any interest in dogs or humor, will adore Stick Dog. I highly recommend giving the entire series to a young person in your life to whom you read aloud. That way, you can laugh at the antics of Stick Dog and his friends together, and have a great time imitating Karen in all of her caffeinated glory!

28594353October 4, 2016! Can't wait!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans

25937853Northfield, Gary. Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans
April 12th 2016 by Candlewick Press 
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Julius is slightly annoyed with his zebra family while living on the plains of Africa, especially his annoying brother and his mother, who makes him drink from the nasty river where all of the other animals so their business. He isn't annoyed enough to want to be caught by the Romans and taken all the way to Rome, but that's what happens! Along with Cornelius the warthog, Milus the lion, Pliny the mouse, and Lucia the Crocodile, Julius ends up in a gladiatorial school after doing well in the arena and being rewarded by Hadrian. The group have to learn to fight, wear "diapers", and generally get up to a lot of highjinks and have a lot of misunderstandings. 

This is a British import, and The Book zone has a nice review of it. I'm surprised there aren't more books out-- it seemed like it might be a series. 

Strengths: This is a bit like Stickman Odyssey, in that there are copious pictures and an attempt at presenting a bit of ancient history. It will be enormously popular and wear out quickly. 
Weaknesses: Not a fan of the googly eyes animals or the potty humor, but can't deny the kid appeal. 
What I really think: I'll buy it, but it wasn't as funny as Stick Dog

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Somewhere Among

25310972. Somewhere Among
April 26th 2016 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books 
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

In this novel in verse. Ema's mother is from the US, and her father is Japanese. They live in the city until Ema's mother, who has had a number of miscarriages, can no longer take care of herself or Ema because she is so sick with another pregnancy. They move in with her father's parents. Her grandmother is difficult and hard to please, and nothing Ema does is right. Her grandfather is older and a bit sickly, but adores his granddaughter. The mother is too ill to do much but throw up and try not to fight with her in-laws. Ema's father comes to visit at first, but the journey from the city is very long, and his mother soon wins out in dissuading the father from coming. Ema has to start school and is bullied by Masa, whose mother hits him. All of this is set against the backdrop of late 2001, and mentions 9/11, which is difficult for the family because the grandfather lived through Nagasaki, and they worry about the mother's parents in the US. Eventually, the mother has the baby two months early, the grandfather ends up in the hospital, and Ema has to deal with her grandmother on her own. 
Strengths: We need more books covering 9/11 as a historical event, and this was a nice perspective from another country. The details of life in Japan were very interesting, and things like how the school day runs and what houses are like will be new to young readers. Ema's worries about her mother and her struggles with her grandmother are realistic.
Weaknesses: This is very sad and moves slowly. Since novels in verse do very poorly in my library, I don't think I'll buy this one. 
What I really think: Reading this felt like being hit repeatedly about the head with a tear-soaked teddy bear. It just got sadder and sadder and sadder. I appreciate that the author was trying to share life in Japan with an American audience, and if this had been ANY happier I probably would have bought it. 9/11 is sad enough without the premature infant and constantly sick mother and grandfather. 

25937859Hartnett, Sonya. Golden Boys
April 12th 2016 by Candlewick Press

When the Jensons, with their well-to-do dentist father, move into a working class neighborhood in 1970s Australia, they incite jealousy in Freya, who is tired of living in cramped quarters with her five siblings and abusive, drunken father. Freya is at first mesmerized by the kindness of Rex, the father, but later realizes that there is something a little creepy about the attention that he pays to the children, and that the family has left their previous home under a cloud. 

I had great hopes for this book-- for one thing, I love the cover. Interestingly, the Australian blurb bills this as "the author's third book for adults". That's what it read like-- there was something about the very slow, descriptive prose and Freya's longings and philosophical musings that made it seem like it was NOT a tween book. There wasn't anything horribly inappropriate, but a decent amount of coarseness. There were also a lot of Australian terms that US readers might not understand. Will pass on buying. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Save Me A Seat

Looking for a fantastic book for a read aloud for next year? Definitely take a look at this! 

Ms. Weeks and Ms. Varadarajan were gracious enough to let me interview them for School Library Journal's BeTween feature, and I'll make sure I post a link to it when it appears in May or June. In the mean time, ask your students what fictional characters THEY would have at their lunch table, and find yourself a copy of Save Me a Seat to read this summer! 

25311520Weeks, Sarah and Varadarajan, Gita. Save Me a Seat
April 26th 2016 by Scholastic
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Ravi (pronounced rah-VEE, please!) has just moved to the US from India with his father's job. It's very different, especially since his grandmother and grandfather are now living in the same house with his family, instead of just down the street. Since he was popular in his old school and did well academically and in athletics, he has every confidence that things will go well at that the popular Dillon Samreen (who is American born but still Indian) will be his friend. Unfortunately, his teacher has a hard time understanding his accent, and the children make fun of his buttoned up shirt and formal ways. He is sent to a resource room with Joey, whom he thinks is an oaf. Joey is very large, but also suffers from an auditory processing problem. He is easily distracted by noises, so needs assistance with organization and tuning things out. His real problem this year is that his mother has gotten a job as a cafeteria lady! He is frequently the target of Dillon's jokes and petty thievery, so tries to help out Ravi even though the other boy is rather rude to him. When the class has a big assignment, can the two band together to outwit the rude Dillon?

Strengths: This was a tremendously interesting book. I loved the descriptions of FOOD-- between Joey's mother's comfort food and Ravi's lunch tiffin, I was hungry while reading this! The cover is fantastic. This would be a great book to read with a class to help build empathy. There's a lot of "putting oneself in another's shoes" in this book, but the two authors do a great job of keeping the story moving quickly. I especially liked that Ravi was surprised that he is not popular, and at the end, realizes that he was mean to other boys at his old school in the way that Dillon is mean to him. 

Weaknesses: I find it hard to believe that Dillon got away with so much bad behavior. There are two new students at my school who are struggling with English language acquisition, and reading this made me worry for them! I hope they are being treated much better by our students!

What I really think: I love Weeks' Regular Guy and wish that this had more of the goofy humor of that book, but I still really enjoyed this. Definitely purchasing and recommending!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Curse of the Chocolate Phoenix/ Crisis Zero

What better way to travel through time than to use time traveling CHOCOLATE? Time-slip Tuesday is an regular feature over at Charlotte's Library, and I don't know that I've ever seen any description of time travel by that means, even with all of the wonderful books Charlotte has read! This is a sequel to The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop

Saunders, Kate. The Curse of the Chocolate Phoenix
December 1st 2015 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers 

Oz and Lily, along with their friend Caydon, have recuperated from their adventures and are having fun playing with the rat Spike and the sybaritic cat, Demerara, when agents from the Secret Ministry of the Unexplained come to arrest the cat! It turns out that Demarara found some magical chocolate and went back in time, talked to the first Queen Elizabeth, and altered history. That's always the trouble with time travel, and it turns out that there is a statue of a phoenix that the evil Isadore Spoffard made that has fallen into the wrong hands. The wrong hands turn out to belong to D33, and the children, especially baby Daisy, carry the D33 genes. The two most prominent people in the organization, Nona and Undecima, are out to get them. The SMU assigns Silver, a vampire who has been around for a couple of hundred years but who looks 11, to be their guard, and a romp across time and London begins. There's plenty of action, things set on fire, and some fun romps into various times in history. In the end, everything turns out okay, and the twins clueless parents don't even know what has happened. 

Strengths: Very fun! The tie in with British history was interesting, and the plot behind the phoenix and wanting to control Oz, Lily and Daisy was convoluted enough that fantasy fans will love it. Silver was the best vampire character I've met!
Weaknesses: I did enjoy this, truly. It was British (with plenty of tea and digestives) without being too quirky or disturbing. I just have such bad fantasy amnesia, and I got so caught up with the delightful details (talking flowers on the wallpaper!) that I forget the fine points of the plot. My weakness, not the book's!

What I really think: Definitely purchasing to go along with the first title. 

25741018Rylander, Chris.  Crisis Zero (The Codename Conspiracy #3)
February 2nd 2016 by Walden Pond Press

ADORE this series. However, I checked out a digital copy from the Ohio E Book project, read it while recovering from foot surgery, and didn't get around to writing the review for a week. No concrete memory other than I enjoyed it, although the second one was slightly better because they went to Mount Rushmore. Definitely purchasing to complete a fantastic series. 

"From Chris Rylander, author of The Fourth Stall, comes the third and final book in the Codename Conspiracy series—a hilarious and clever mash-up of middle grade school story and thrilling spy adventure.

There is a computer program so unspeakably powerful that its mere existence is unknown to all but the most senior government agents. This computer program is capable of controlling every aspect of communication, transportation, and defense on the planet. This computer program must never fall into the wrong hands or civilization as we know it will be utterly destroyed.

This computer program is in North Dakota.

Carson Fender—a.k.a. the retired Prank Master, a.k.a. Agent Zero, a.k.a. the all-in-one World’s Greatest Hero and World’s Greatest Screwup—must protect this program, codenamed Exodus. He is paired once again with his best friend, Danielle, aka Agent Atlas. Together, they must expose an enemy agent working from inside their school—an enemy agent with the mandate to stop at nothing to help secure Exodus. Can Zero and Atlas foil this enemy before it is too late? Carson’s final mission will test his loyalty, smarts, and courage as never before."

Monday, April 25, 2016

Unidentified Suburban Object

24921999Jung, Mike. Unidentified Suburban Object
April 26th 2016 by Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic 
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Chloe Cho isn't wild about being the only Asian student at her school, but she HATES that people can't tell that she's Korean and assume that she is Chinese. She's love to know more about her Korean family background, and tries cooking "authentic" food with her best friend, Shelley. When she asks her parents about anything to do with her heritage, however, they refuse to talk about it, saying that it's something they would rather not think about, and besides, wouldn't Chloe rather have pizza? When Chloe gets a new teacher, Ms. Lee, she is glad to be able to talk to someone who knows about Korean culture, especially when she and best friend Shelley fall out. What Chloe doesn't expect is that her parents' reluctance to talk about their background is much more complicated than she could ever have imagined!

One of the frequent topics of discussion about #WeNeedDiverseBooks is how little speculative fiction has diverse characters. Yes, this book takes quite a turn in the middle and is definitely science fiction, in the way that Sylvia Waugh's Ormingat Trilogy  is! I don't want to spoil it any more than that, but it turns out to be a great twist. 

Aside from that, Chloe's determination to do well at the violin, to remain friends with Shelley, and to find out about her background is the real center of this story. The best middle grade fiction has identity at its core, and Unidentified Suburban object does this beautifully. 

Read my interview with Mike Jung at School Library Journal's BeTween feature. 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Let's get depressed... in FRANCE!

I adore books where people travel, but so many of them involve whiny girls who don't want to spend their time abroad. This is not what I want in a travel book! I also don't want Serious Issues, unless they resolve themselves in a more lighthearted manner. Still haven't completely forgiven Lisa Schroeder for killing off the grandmother in My Secret Guide to Paris, although I did purchase that one and my students enjoy it. And yes, even Maureen Johnson's fantastic 13 Little Blue Envelopes has a sad premise. These two, though... don't know. Want to see what others think about them. 

Stone, Phoebe. Paris for Two
April 26th 2016 by Arthur A. Levine Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Petunia and her family move to Paris so her father can write a book about Flaubert. She's not thrilled, but glad because she embarrassed herself back in Boston with her crush, the piano playing Windel. Unfortunately, Windel's family is ALSO in Boston, as is Alex's family. Alex has a crush on Petunia's sister Ava. Ava is only Pet's half sister, and her father is not in the picture. Their mother, however, dotes on Ava to a completely creepy way, and lets her do things like "accidentally" spill milk on Pet's new, handmade, watered silk dress. Pet likes to make her own clothes, but everyone thinks they are weird. After finding an exquisite doll dress in an armoire, Pet meets the apartment building concierge, Collette, and finds out a fascinating family story involving dress making, the German invasion of Paris during WWII, and some of Collette's family secrets. Collette helps Pet enter a dressmaking competition, and she is one of the finalists until the judges receive an identical entry... from Ava! How can the sisters get over betrayal on both sides?
Strength: Lots of good details about Paris, and the dressmaking part is rather fun. Collette is a fantastic character. 
Weaknesses: I've had one student in 15 years who sews. Yes, I love Taylor's Sew Zoe series, but even that is a hard sell. Petunia wasn't a likable character, Ava was reprehensible, and their mother's favoring of Ava over Petunia was beyond creepy and wrong. Really made me uncomfortable, how she would hug Ava and stroke her hair and then just be mean to Petunia for no reason, even though she ostensibly hated Ava's father but loved Petunia's. Weird. 
What I really think: If I had more girls ask for travel books, I would buy this, but most of the time I'm the one suggesting them, so may pass. The cover is great, but at odds with the tone of the book. 

16068916Friedman, Aimee. Two Summers
April 26th 2016 by Point
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Summer is supposed to spend the summer in the French countryside with her estranged father, but at the last minute, he calls and cancels. That's when our story splits-- in one version, she gets on the plane, and in the other, she stays at home. In both versions of her life, things go pretty well-- in France, she meets a hot waiter, back home, she takes her aunt's photography class and finally talks to a boy she's been crushing on. She is at odds with her best friend in both versions, and finds out secrets about her family's past. 

I should have liked this one. I love the idea of a split reality, love the idea of travel, enjoy this author... and just felt "meh" about this book. Maybe too Young Adult? YA books tend to be a little on the whiny, slow paced side. Or maybe Summer was just having too much romantic luck in both realities, and the high schooler inside me was jealous. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Spelling Bee Scuffle (Sylvie Scruggs#3)

26892049Eyre, Lindsay. The Spelling Bee Scuffle (Sylvie Scruggs#3)
April 26th 2016 by Arthur A. Levine Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Sylvie and her friends are horrified to learn that the fifth graders' baseball field is being removed so that there can be a playground for kindergartners, and the fifth graders want to take over Sylvie's baseball field! In order to put Jamie off, Sylvie proposes a contest-- whichever grade wins the upcoming school spelling bee will have full control of the remaining field. Sylive is sure that Miranda will be able to win, but when Josh does instead, everyone is worried. It doesn't help that Josh is out sick for a week with a bad case of the flu. Sylvie is beside herself with worry, and when the new boy Daniel, offers to give her a spelling list in exchange for "being his girlfriend", she reluctantly agrees. Daniel doesn't play baseball much because he has a "robotic leg" which the other students tease him about; he lost the leg to cancer AND his family moved, so he's not having the best year! Sylvie realizes that Josh has studied a lot for the spelling bee, and when he is given a word that was on Daniel's list, she is struck by her conscience and lets the secret out. The spelling bee is a tie, Sylvie gets in trouble for her bad decisions, and the two grades have to work out a plan for the baseball field. 
Strengths: I really admire several things about Eyre's work-- she writes about small but important concerns elementary students have, she works in diverse characters in a natural way, and Sylvie's family is supportive and humorous. These are essential for elementary libraries in the way that Cleary's Ramona or Haywood's Betsy books were thirty years ago. 
Weaknesses: Not fond of Jamie's group being called "munions" (minions?) or the use of the phrase "smirkety smirk", but other than that, nothing I can really explain!
What I really think: The first two books in this series do MUCH better than I thought they would. This wasn't as brilliant as Mean Girl Meltdown, but I will add it to my collection for readers who like the series. 

More Than Enough: A Passover Story

25776236Wayland, April Halpin. Kath, Kathy (illus.) More Than Enough: A Passover Story
March 15th 2016 by Dial Books
Copy provided by the publisher

In this picture book, a family makes preparations for Passover. They go to a charming farmer's market for walnuts, apples and honey, adopting a cat from a shelter along the way. They make charoset, get dressed up, and go across the lawn to visit their Nana, who is hosting the family celebration, which they celebrate with lots of food, fun, and cousins as well as the cat! All along, the phrase "Dayenu" is invoked, and the children are grateful for everything that they have. At the end of the book, there is a list of definitions of terms and phrases for those unfamiliar with them. The music and lyrics for the "Dayenu" song are also given. 

The illustrations by Kath are warm and relaxing, and set a festive but comfortable atmosphere for the book. Even with a little rain, the celebration goes smoothly, and everyone is happy. This would be an excellent introduction to the holiday for children who are not Jewish, and a great book to keep on hand for holiday reading for families who are, and the message of being grateful is one that everyone can use from time to time. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Guy Friday- Little Guys

So here's the thing: I have not seen a basketball game since about 1974, when my family would go to high school games and I had an enormous crush on Fred Davis. I even asked the poor boy for his autograph! I don't watch football; the only sport that has any appeal to me at all is running. Still, I know that many of my students adore sports and want to spend inordinate amounts of time watching them, playing them, and reading about them. 

There are relatively few sports books, and I do have students who really and truly have read everything I have. This is why I am glad when sports players write books. I don't care who helps them. Their name on the cover makes it easy to hand the book to a student. Ronde and Tiki Barber, Amare Stoudemire, Cal Ripken and Derek Jeter have all tried their hand at writing books for middle grade students, and I'm glad to see that younger readers also have a book that hits their interests. Little Shaq has done well with my struggling readers, and I'll be looking forward to Little Shaq: Star of the Week when it comes out 25 October 2016. 

And as for Fred, I understand that he has gone on to become quite the pillar of the community!

25663555O'Neal, Shaquille. Little Shaq Takes a Chance
April 26th 2016 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
ARC from Bloomsbury
Also reviewed at Young Adult Books Central

Little Shaq is not at all excited about the upcoming school art fair because he doesn't feel that he is good at anything artistic. His cousin Barry doesn't help, but his friend Rosa suggests that he try lots of things before giving up. It's not just art that makes Shaq frustrated-- he is also leery of trying new foods like sushi as well. Once he tries several forms of art, and is frustrated by each one of them, he finally tries sculpting. He likes it, and is able to complete his project in time for the art show. He also decides to stop being stubborn and to try sushi as well. 

This is a short book (64 pages) that is set up like an I Can Read book. There are no more than about five sentences on each page, and the illustrations by Theodore Taylor III are plentiful. These are two crucial elements for readers who are either beginning to read or are struggling with it. These readers like to be able to turn pages quickly and finish books, and the pictures provide clues to the content. 

While the reluctance to try something new is a topic that will resonate best with younger readers, the bright covers have cartoon style pictures that make them look solidly middle grade. Older readers can carry them around without being embarrassed. 

I wish that there were a little more basketball in this story, but young readers of any age interested in basketball will find Shaq's story of trying new things to be amusing as well as informative. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Eureka Key

25663631Thomson, Sarah L. The Eureka Key (Secrets of the Seven)
April 5th 2016 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Since Sam is always getting in trouble in school, his parents are more than happy to send him off to a sketchy summer adventure when he wins a contest. He gets on an airplane to travel out west, where he finds that there are only two other kids who have won the puzzle contest, Theo and Martina. The woman in charge claims that the adults who entered just didn't have the same skills, and the three kids all complement each other. Not surprisingly, they need to save the country, and possibly the world. The Founding Fathers of the US had a secret group with hidden treasure, and it's in danger from forces who want to use it for their own good. 

Strengths: Decent ensemble cast, and it's nice that Martina has mad analytic skills. Adventure and danger in the west. Puzzles for those who like them. Ties with American history. Certainly had its good points. 

Weaknesses: Very much like the movie National Treasure, and rather like The 39 Clues series in some ways. I had trouble suspending disbelief that Sam's parents just sent him off without checking the organization out. 
What I really think: Since another mystery book with a similar cover (Broach's Missing on Superstition Mountain) doesn't circulate well, I think I'll pass. Sure to be a series. 

Key Hunters

Scholastic. They have the BEST selection of middle grade humorous fiction, hands down. They don't publish nearly as many of the sad, sad, sad books that are coming out. So why do I feel slightly conflicted about them? I'm less than fond of their book fairs (I never have enough in sales to get cash profit, and I don't need more paperback books) and I'm not wild about books that come out only in paperback. They will not last in my library. 

This series has some promise, but read like Mr. Luper was told to synopsize different genres as a general introduction for elementary students. The illustrations had that odd, Cartoon Network, computer generated vibe to them as well. Debating purchase, but would probably buy them right away for an elementary library. Do like the covers.  

26892062Luper, Eric. The Mysterious Moonstone (Key Hunters #1)
April 26th 2016 by Scholastic 
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Cleo and Evan are hanging out in their school library even though the new librarian is mean. No one knows what has happened to the old librarian, but when the two venture behind a hidden panel, they find a secret library hidden under their school, and a note from their librarian that she is trapped in the pages of a book and must be rescued. The two then get sucked into a Victorian England/Sherlock Holmes type mystery where a diamond is missing. The mean librarian is there, playing a villain, and they must solve the mystery and get back home, hopefully with the nice librarian. They don't succeed this time, so are off on another mission with...

Key Hunters by Eric LuperLuper, Eric. The Spy's Secret (Key Hunters #1)
April 26th 2016 by Scholastic 
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Cleo and Evan get involved in a mystery with Viper, an evil villain with henchman and an underwater lair. Again, the evil librarian shows up as one of the characters in the books, and we aren't entirely sure if she's evil or she plays those characters. She wants the key that Cleo and Evan have, but they refuse to give it to her until they find the nice librarian, which they don't do in this book. Maybe when they get to book three...

Key Hunters by Eric LuperThe Haunted Howl coming September 2016

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Blendon Move Up Night- Welcome!

If you are here for Blendon Move Up Night, we're excited that your 5th grader will be with us next year!

It's very important to be "in the loop" when your student comes to middle school. Papers often get left at the bottoms of back packs, but if we have your electronic communication details, you will get important e mails and details that your student might not tell you.

Please fill in the form below. Only Ms. Yingling and the PTO president, Ms. Mulick, will be able to see this information.

The Eye of Midnight

25183073Brumbach, Andrew. The Eye of Midnight
March 8th 2016 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher 

William and Maxine are set, for various reasons, to spend time with their Grandpa Battersea in New York City in 1929. When they arrive at the big, creepy house, no one is home, so they go exploring and find all sorts of foreign relics in a hidden basement. Grandpa shows up, but then goes missing, and the children get drawn into a seedy underworld group. There, they meet Nura, who has carried The Eye of Midnight all the way to New York from her home in the middle east. Complications ensue, evil must be fought, and Will and Maxine get more of an adventure than they bargained for.

Strengths: This reminded me of the Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody books, which I definitely liked. It also had a clever use of the adventuring in the 1920s, as well as the underworld figures. The writing was fine, and the fantasy was well-developed without being annoying. 

Weaknesses: I wanted Maxine and Will to have a more developed relationship with their grandfather, and perhaps more knowledge about his background. Then their desire to save him would have felt more natural to me. 

What I really think: Not my favorite thing, but one of the character's is named Sufjin, and I have a fantasy reader who has the same name, although it's transliterated differently. It's difficult to find fantasy books with Middle Eastern mythology, so I'm glad to have this one.

Need more fantasy? These also had pretty blue covers, but weren't quite what I needed. 

25738896              25387463

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Hatter Madigan: Ghost in the H.A.T.B.O.X.

26113776Beddor, Frank and Kress, Adrienne. Hatter Madigan: Ghost in the H.A.T.B.O.X.
April 19th 2016 by Automatic Publishing
Copy received from Media Masters Publicity

Hatter has always lived on the outskirts of the Wonderland Millinery Academy, ever since the death of his parents. Now, his brother Dalton is the head bodyguard for the Queen of Hearts, and he is entering the Academy as a Cap, hoping he will be good enough to become a Milliner and help defend Wonderland. Not everyone thinks he should be there-- Rhodes especially makes fun of his background, his tendency to be emotional, and his lack of sewing skills. Hatter does manage to make some friends, however, from Astra, whose family usually does not do well at the Academy, to Newton, who is blind but uses technology to help him with his schoolwork. Hatter also meets the illusive Arlo, who fills Hatter in on the secrets of the Academy's new fighting practice field, the H.A.T.B.O.X. Why do so many Caps faint when they enter? Is it anxiety, or an evil plot by Dr. Shimmer, who runs the facility?

There's lots to be done-- Hatter must take classes in textiles, where he learns to weave the magical caterpillar thread into hats and to harness the White Imagination. He must defend himself from Rhodes, and also deal with grueling early morning runs and after school detention, which he can't seem to escape. Before moving on in the Academy, all Caps must pass a test to determine if they'll continue and what path they'll take, but can Hatter overcome the challenges thrown in his way to stay enrolled, especially when saving Arlo may stand in the way?

Since it's been a long time since I read The Looking Glass Wars, I felt like I was missing some of the intricate details of the world building-- there are a lot of levels in the school as well as in the Wonderland kingdom that I could only guess at. There are a lot of fun features of the school, though-- the Textillery has a lot of magical elements for creating garments, the H.A.T.B.O.X. is a fabulous venue for training, and the boarding school has interesting ways to get to one's room as well as scrumptious sounding food. 

Hatter is a main character in Beddor's Young Adult The Looking Glass Wars trilogy as well as the Hatter M. series, and this look at his teen years is a middle grade friendly way to introduce readers to the world of Wonderland. Part Charlie Bone  and part Ender's Game, with its boarding school setting and intricate fighting strategies and weapons, this book will be a hit with readers who enjoy well-developed fantasy books or Steampunk tomes like Kress' The Friday Society or Westerfeld's Leviathan. 

With the release of the second Disney live action treatment of this world, Alice Through the Looking Glass, being released in May, Hatter Madigan: Ghost in the H.A.T.B.O.X. is a great way to keep Alice fans busy until then!

Maybe they'll try their hand at sewing: when I dug down to the bottom of this fantastic hatbox sent by Media Masters, I found not only a pincushion, but a tape measure, pins, and a great set of travel scissors! 

Monday, April 18, 2016

MMGM- ALL the books

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.

Schroeder, Lisa. Sealed with a Secret
April 26th 2016 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from

This sequel to My Secret Guide to Paris finds Phoebe and her sister Alice back home in London following their adventures in Paris with Nora and Justin. Alice is pining for Justin and also making college plans-- she thinks it is a great idea to head to the states so that she is on the same continent as her "one true love"! Phoebe feels sad that her sister isn't paying as much attention to her, and they aren't as close as they used to be, so when she finds an antique compact with a letter folded inside of it, she holds out some hope that the "magic spell" it delineates is worth a try! She also hopes that the compact is worth enough money that it will help defray the cost of her sister's education, taking pressure off of her hard working parents. The letter is from a sister to her younger sister who was sent to live with another family during the Blitz. Phoebe sets off to follow all of the clues with her good friend, Ned, and has a lot of adventures, including tracking down the writer of the letter and visiting the woman, with her parents and sister in tow! 

Strengths: Lots of good details about landmarks, and well as some very clever introduction to history. Nicely snuck in! Adorable cover, supportive parents, good friends, realistic problem with the sister. This was even better than the first book, since no one died. I enjoyed it thoroughly and think my students will as well. 

Weaknesses: A tiny bit far fetched that Phoebe was able to track down the writer of the letter, and I couldn't help wondering why Alice didn't just go to a community college in the UK if her higher education was such a burden on the family. 

What I really think: I'm going to London this summer! I'm going to London this summer! I'm going to London this summer! 

(For Picky Reader's high school graduation, we are treating ourselves to a trip. She desperately wants to see England. It took me until I was 40 to be able to go, so I understand her compulsion. We are deep in plans, and I can share our exploits if anyone is really interested!)

25937832Springstubb, Tricia. Cody and the Mysteries of the Universe
April 12th 2016 by Candlewick Press
E ARC from 

This sequel to Cody and the Fountain of Happiness finds Spencer's entire family moving in with his grandmother, and Cody struggling with more new neighbors-- Maxie and Molly Meen, who go to her school and live with their father, who is a bug exterminator, some of the time. Cody loves to study bugs but isn't as fond of wasps after she is stung, so she can forgive Mr. Meen, but Molly and Maxie don't want Cody and Spencer to be out in the shared yard or on the porch! Since Spencer's mother and father are working in the house to set up a business, this puts a crimp on the children's activities. Eventually, the children make peace, and Cody's life improves.
Strengths: As in the first book, the families are tremendously supportive. GG is a fabulous character, and her interactions with Spencer and Cody are fun. I also liked Cody's relationship with her older brother, and her reactions to his dating life! Dealing with mean kids is a huge part of elementary school, and this is detailed in a very realistic manner. The first book is popular with my struggling 6th grade readers, and this is a must have for elementary school libraries.
Weaknesses: The Meens? I'm picky about character names, and this seemed a bit much.

What I really think: Will purchase, since it is happy and the first book is popular. 

25937866DiCamillo, Kate. Raymie Nightingale
April 12th 2016 by Candlewick Press

Raymie's father has left her family and run away with a dental hygienist, so her plan to get him to come back is to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition. It's 1975, so of course baton twirling is involved. At the insistence of her father's secretary, Mrs. Sylvester, Raymie signs up to take twirling lessons from Ida Nee. These are not as successful as she hopes, but she does meet Louisiana, who is living with her grandmother and hopes that she can win the prize money, and Beverly, who wants to sabotage the competition because she's tired of them. The three become reluctant friends and embark on a series of adventures, from retrieving Raymie's library book from the local nursing home to trying to get Louisiana's cat from the pound. None of the girls has an easy life. Raymie's mother is depressed, her neighbor dies, and no one seems to be looking out for her except Mrs. Sylvester. Louisiana's parents are dead, social workers want to take her to a group home, and her grandmother is struggling financially. Beverly's parents are divorced, her father lives in New York, and her mother occasionally beats her. In the end, not much happens, but the girls do manage to be successful in some of their ventures. 

Stop the presses! I mostly agree with Betsy Bird on this one!

Strengths: Even though there are lots of depressing things in this book, it's not too sad. There are some funny episodes. The pages have lots of white space, and it's only 262 pages long. 
Weaknesses: This didn't need to be historical, and aside from yellow shag carpeting and wood paneling flapping on the grandmother's car, there were very few details that made this even seem historical. Modern readers would benefit from having the importance of baton twirling explained. Holm's Sunny Side Up is a much better picture of the world during this time period. If you're writing about 1975, you MUST mention the Bicentennial. 
What I really think: Kate DiCamillo is a fine author who does a lot of good for the world of children's literature, but I am not fond of her books or writing style, nor are my students. Maybe she does better with younger readers. This will win the Newbery, but I'm not buying it. The cover design even leaves room for the medal. 

20649206Miller, Sarah. The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Trial of the Century
Published 2016 by Schwartz & Wade

Like this author, and enjoy interesting literary nonfiction, but this was on the long side, and I don't think children would read it, even with the spectacular murder involved. It's a fantastic book on the subject, but at almost 300 pages, I don't think I'll buy it. 

Fun fact: it's been over 40 years since Elizabeth Montgomery did a made for tv movie on this topic, and over twenty since that lovely actress passed away at much too young an age.

"Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.

In linear narrative, Miller takes readers along as she investigates a brutal crime: the August 4, 1892, murders of wealthy and prominent Andrew and Abby Borden. The accused? Mild-mannered and highly respected Lizzie Borden, daughter of Andrew and stepdaughter of Abby. Most of what is known about Lizzie’s arrest and subsequent trial (and acquittal) comes from sensationalized newspaper reports; as Miller sorts fact from fiction, and as a legal battle gets under way, a portrait of a woman and a town emerges. 

With inserts featuring period photos and newspaper clippings."