Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Keepers

I'm not a huge fan of fantasy, but I do try to keep up with what is being written. I have more readers this year who read fantasy, and (like girls who read romance books) they read about a book a day. Still, when I spend most of a Sunday working my way through over a thousand pages of fantasy explanations that involve a glossary and made up words... I get a little fractious and begin to think that the author secretly meant me some personal harm. On the upside, reading these made me more amenable to purchasing Wexler's The Forbidden Library series.

That said, I loaned the paperbacks I had of these to about ten readers. They invariably returned them the next day and wanted more. Ah, hard core fantasy fans. I don't really understand. Must go read some Beany Malone books now!

22535463Sanders, Ted. The Box and the Dragonfly (The Keepers #1)
March 3rd 2015 by HarperCollins
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Horace sees a shop on his way home from school that looks like it has his name on it, but when he investigates, he realizes it says "House of Answers" instead of "Horace F. Andrews". It's still an unusual place, and he meets Mrs. Hapsteade and Mr. Meister, who run it. He is given a box that makes him feel rather odd, and is soon being pursued by the evil thin man, Dr. Jericho, who calls him a tinker and threatens him. The box appears to make objects travel through time, and Horace isn't entirely sure what its purpose is until he meets Chloe. She is the Keeper of a dragonfly pendant that gives her the power to become "thin" and go through objects. Horace finds out that he has been recruited to bond with the box, a Tanu, which has properties that aren't quite magical, but aren't quite real, either! He is not just a Tanu'ji, but a warden as well, and he, Chloe, and the people from the House of Answers are all engaged in a battle against the Riven, who are trying to get the Tanu for themselves and use them for evil. While Horace's parents are very present and supportive, Chloe's dad has been neglectful and drunken ever since Chloe's mother left, so she is grateful to find refuge in the Mazzoleni Academy that Mr. Meister runs. Along with fellow students Gabriel and Neptune, the group fights the Riven in order to rescue Chloe's father. In the end, Horace finds out that his mother may be involved, and that the Mothergates, that power the Tanu, may be dying. 

Readers who enjoy Black and Clare's The Iron Trial, Wilson's Ashtown Burials series, or Steampunk fantasty stories that involve a lot of gadgets will enjoy this well-developed fantasy world and trinkets and language that are integral to understanding it. The Tanu and the Tanu'ji are very complex, and the way they are developed and bonded together will delight any reader of high fantasy who believes that the line between technology and magic is very thin. 

While Chloe's parents are largely absent, it was delightful to see Horace's mother and father give him a hard time about things like losing his house keys. To then have his mother be a part of his fantasy world was fascinating. Given the small number of parents who actually survive in middle grade books, I can see this being a popular choice with families who like to read books together. 

25816864Sanders, Ted. The Harp and the Ravenvine (The Keepers #2)
March 1st 2016 by HarperCollins
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

While Horace and Chloe are refining their own powers in regard to their Tanu, we meet April, who has found an odd piece of jewelry that seems to give her the power to understand animals. The piece seems broken, and when Isabel shows up claiming that April needs to find the other part of it, April doesn't blink before packing up and agreeing to travel to Chicago with her, especially since she has a run in with one of the Riven. Horace finds out more about his mother's involvement-- she is not a Tanu'ji, but a Tuner. She can play on harps, but none of them bend to her power. Horace also meets Brian, who has been living in the Academy for three years and can fix or create magical implements. April and Isabel are having a lot of problems making it the short distance into the city-- they have Joshua, a young boy with excellent directional abilities, with them, but he breaks his leg. To complicate matters, Mr. Meister can sense that April and her group are coming to meet them, and the rest of her Ravenvine is in Horace's possession. Whenever he puts it in his box, it disappears for a while, freaking April out. Eventually, the two groups meet, and secrets about Chloe's past are revealed, as well as more details about the involvement of Horace's mother. The Riven are still a threat, Isabel is perhaps more evil than she is good, and the Tanu are still in jeopardy from their fading power source. 

The magical objects in this series are so intricate and convoluted that there is a glossary at the back of the book-- and I had to consult it several times! Readers who like the complicated worlds of Tolkien, or who have memorized all of the spells in Harry Potter, will enjoy making their own Tanu out of household and craft items and recreating scenes from this book, while coming up with their own Tanu and working themselves into future plots. Sanders must have masses of notes in order to keep everything straight!

While we learn a little more about the Riven and why they are trying to get the Tanu back, the new characters of April and Isabel are added in a very interesting way, and I enjoyed the fact that we aren't entirely sure if Isabel is good or evil. I'm not sure she knows herself! I'd be very interested in learning more about the Mazzoleni Academy and seeing what the Keepers can do to keep the Mothergates from running out of power. Certainly Mr. Meister will be very helpful at finally putting the threat of the Riven to rest!

If you get these books for your favorite readers, make sure that they are accompanied by a small harp, some yarn, and several fun objects that can be made into Tanu!

Monday, May 30, 2016

MMGM- Bridget Wilder: Spy to the Rescue

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.

This series definitely wins my "Unicorns Pooping Rainbows" Award-- and that's a good thing! How sad is it that when I unearth something in my TBR that doesn't involve 18 layers of depressing events that I just want to cry tears of pure joy? This was a fantastic, FUN read. Makes me so happy AND is popular with my students!

26242356Bernstein, Jonathan. Bridget Wilder: Spy to the Rescue
May 31st 2016 by Katherine Tegen Books
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

After the events of Bridget Wilder: Spy in Training, we find Bridget back at home, dealing with her brother and his drippy girlfriend, Abby, her annoying cheerleader sister, Natalie, and her overprotective but supportive adoptive parents. Her friend Joanna has moved to New York to stay with family after her guardian is incapacitated. Boring, right? That is, until Bridget is kidnapped by evil cheerleaders and her father, Carter Strike, goes missing! It's back to being a spy, a process which is complicated somewhat when Bridget's parents insist that her brother Ryan and his girlfriend accompany her to New York, where she is ostensibly visiting Joanna, but where she also suspects Carter Strike has been taken. Bridget talks Joanna's family into visiting the Dominion Building, and that's when things start to get exciting. Sam, Joanna's cousin, turns out to be in the business of giving and getting favors, so he manages to get access into an unvisited floor of the building, where they are pursued by a man in a Strike mask and rescued by a woman named Irina. This puts them deep into a mystery involving Bridget's past, international espionage, nano marbles, and the elusive but still attractive Daley Tookey. 

From the first page, when Bridget is kidnapped by the cheerleaders, to the last, where she is discussing a secret organization known as the Forties with her birth parents, Bridget Wilder: Spy to the Rescue is filled with action, good humor, and a good dose of goofiness. There are great gadgets, like the magnetic chewing gum and exploding lip balm, and the fact that Bridget's primary mission turns out to be saving the son of a foreign dignitary adds an air of seriousness that nicely offsets the exploding toilets.

I loved that the characters all went through a lot of interesting changes. Ryan steps up to protect his sister, Joanna becomes kinder and gentler because of her new family situation, the Wilder parents learn to let Bridget have more freedom, and even Abby undergoes an amazing and unexpected change. The fact that Bridget still has a crush on Dale, but can find Sam oddly attractive, is a facet that will speak very strongly to middle grade readers. 

This series has something for everyone in it, but will be especially popular with readers who enjoyed Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls and Beil's Red Blazer Girls series, and will add a dash of humor to the reading lists of those who like Horowitz's Stormbreaker series. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Sleepover

24569593Malone, Jen. The Sleepover
May 17th 2016 by Simon & Schuster/Aladdin Mix
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Meghan is apprehensive about going to a sleepover. Her parents are overprotective (her cell phone can only call home and 911), and she's never been able to stay the entire night before. Still, with best friends Paige and Anna Marie, she thinks she can make it. Things are a little stressful when Anna Marie's future stepsister, Veronica, comes to the party as well, but the girls all get along. As a present, Veronica has rented a hypnotist. The girls remember her visiting... and then they wake up the next morning. The basement is a mess, there are chicks in the bathtub, and Anna Marie is missing. With the help of Anna Marie's bratty brother, as well as next door neighbor and Meghan's crush, Jake, the girls piece together the events of their night and try to find their friend before they have to tell her mother she's missing. 
Strengths: Will definitely purchase. Do girls do sleepovers? They were huge when I was young, but only four girls? Pffft. Tiny. Very funny, and moves quickly. I especially liked the age appropriate romance with Jake. Nice. 
Weaknesses: A little alarmed that Anna Marie was missing and the girls didn't immediately tell her mother. For a girl whose parents are "overprotective", Meghan is all too ready to run around town without supervision. Veronica was a bit over the top and annoying. 
What I really think: This will appeal to girls who like those "My Face Was So Red" columns in girls' magazines. It's fun and harmless, if a little far fetched, but then, I'm not the target demographic!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Mother-Daughter Book Camp

Even though Wish You Were Eyre was supposed to be the final installment in this series, Frederick gathers the girls for one last romp before college.

27204972Frederick, Heather Vogel. Mother-Daughter Book Camp
May 3rd 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

When Jess' mother finds out that Jess' cousin is working at Camp Lovejoy and that the camp is hiring, all five of the girls go there to work as counselors. Megan, who is heading to Parson's School of design, gets assigned to the craft cabin, as does Becca, who is going to the University of Minnesota. Cassidy has a scholarship to play hockey at Boston University, and helps with swimming. Emma is working on the camp newspaper, and preparing to go to college in Canada. Jess does nature walks and is going to study at Julliard. The girls are all at various stages of their relationships with their boyfriends, many of whom live some distance from them. 

After an initial reluctance to spend the summer away from Concord, the girls throw themselves into their jobs, even creating a book club for the girls who are homesick, using Understood Betsy to help the girls feel better. Typical camp highjinks ensue, and the girls all learn things about themselves and their friendships before they get ready to get on with the rest of their lives. 

I enjoyed all of the details about camp-- it doesn't seem like anyone gets to spend protracted amounts of time at summer camp any more, so it's good that teens can at least read about what that was like. Vogel clearly has fond memories of time spent at summer camp, and does a great job of sharing them. The details about Understoof Betsy and Dorothy Canfield Fisher are fun-- I love that book, and hope that this will help encourage modern girls to read it. 

The covers on these are some of the best around, and the series circulates fairly well. Ill definitely purchase this as the FINAL installment. My objection to the series has always been that I find it very hard to keep all of the characters straight, and since the chapters are narrated by the different characters, that is something one must do. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

#Bookaday-- Summer Refresh

Reading has been stressing me out. 

This is not something I've ever experienced, but since March I've felt behind. I review for any number of outlets-- School Library Journal, Young Adult Books Central, this blog, and I cross post at Goodreads. I have advance copies from Baker and Taylor, Netgalley, Edelweiss, and various publishers and publicists. As long as I read five books a day, I'm caught up. When I'm tired and spend my evenings watching Call the Midwife... not so much. 

Life has been getting in the way of reading-- you know, all of the spy training, missions, rehab with the new bionic foot. I don't like this. Reading should be something I enjoy, and when I'm tired and worried and on super secret spy missions that appear to the unobservant eye to consist of me taking my elderly father for colonoscopies and podiatrist appointments, reading becomes WORK.

So, taking a hint from Donalyn Miller's #Bookaday, I'm trying to relax, rejuvenate, and get back my reading mojo. And perhaps moisturize my hands, which take a beating during the school year. 

26252859One of the things I try to do in the summer is to read very popular books that have eluded my grasp during the school year. So yesterday, I read The Trials of Apollo.

And I'm not going to review it. You all need to buy it. Enough said.

If I'm tired of reading, I can't get my students excited. If I don't read ALL THE NEW BOOKS, I won't know what to buy for my school library and recommend to students. 

So my plan is this: I will read one book a day, review it, and take a deep breath. I'll take the dog for a walk and whip up some soy flour and flax seed meal bread. Hang out some laundry. Organize my cardigans in color order. Then, if I feel like reading another book, I will. If I don't, it's not the end of the world. 

How's YOUR reading mojo? What will you do to balance your reading life with your actual life this summer?

Guy Friday- Dogs

26244566Hardy, Ralph. Argos: The Story of Odysseus as Told by His Loyal Dog
May 31st 2016 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adults Books Central

Argos is Odysseus' loyal dog, who was also called Boar Slayer, since he was the only survivor of a boar attack that killed his mother and littler mates. When his master goes off to fight in the Trojan war, Argos stays behind to protect Penelope and the young Telemachus. After the war is over, Argos gets news of Odysseus' escapades on his return home from a variety of creatures who relay them to him. This way, the reader gets to see the events of the Odyssey in relationship to the occurrences back in Ithaka. Argos fears for his master's safety but is powerless to do anything; he also can't help Penelope as much as he would like. Once Odysseus finally makes his way home, Argos lays down his weary burden, so Odysseus is aided in his difficult return to his home by Argos' son, Leander.

This is a very clever way to retell the Odyssey for today's readers, and I think that this is a great example of Homeric tradition-- tell the same story, but add a new and unique twist on it. I've always thought it was a little odd that Odysseus' story is told mostly in flashbacks, so this is a great way to lay out the timelines of both Odysseus and Penelope so we can understand how they occurred together. 

Argos is a figure who has a small but significant role in the original story, but even though his appearance is brief, it definitely captures the imagination. Did the dog really live for over 20 years, waiting patiently for his master? It's interesting to see the intrusion of the suitors from Argos' point of view, and Telemachus also becomes more of a fully fleshed character when shown interacting with Argos. 

Hardy definitely clearly loves this story and has studied the various translations of the Odyssey and remains true to the original story. For high school readers who are offered a watered down version of The Odyssey in a literature textbook, this will provide more details in an interesting fashion. There are so few books set in ancient Greece that readers who crave books set during this period will pick this up avidly. 

At almost 400 pages, this is a bit long, and the pacing is a bit slow. The prose is oddly stilted and outdated. (page 87, ARC- "This did Eurylochos see with amazement, and then he stealithy crept back along the trail toward the black ship... But when he arrived, so great was his grief and despair that he could not speak, but only cry out in lamentations for many hours.") I've read the Odyssey in Greek, and I know how easy it is to fall into the trap of making one's translation sound like something written in the 1800s, but I wish Hardy had managed to avoid this!

26244553Boyle, Keri Claiborne and Sneider, Jonathan. Teddy the Dog: Be Your Own Dog
May 17th 2016 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Teddy has a great dog life, creating all kinds of havoc but being too cute to be held responsible for it. Then, his aunt sends him a cat. He's none too pleased, but lacking any way of getting rid of the cat, he instructs her on all of the fun parts of being "your own dog". While the cat doesn't care much for riding in cars or bathing in wading pools, the two eventually reach some common ground.

Teddy is appealingly drawn, and the bright colors and simple line drawings lend themselves to reading this to young children and asking them to point out different objects. Teddy is definitely a hipster dog who appeals to adults-- much of the merchandise on the web site is geared toward an older market.

While Teddy originally is leery of having a cat, he keeps an open mind and tries to introduce the things he loves best to the cat, who in turns teaches him a trick or two. 

Teddy is rather a bad dog. He is shown getting into various kinds of trouble, but it is treated as simply cute. Sylvie does NOT agree. She always does what she is told to do! (I'm sure that hipster parents will love this book... and those same parents will complain when their child loses a book that he shouldn't have to pay for it because someone else took it...)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Some Kind of Happiness

13260524LeGrand, Claire. Some Kind of Happiness
May 17th 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Finley has never met her father's parents because of an unspoken rift, but when her parents are having marital problems, they decide to drop Finley off for the entire summer at the family estate. Finley's father has three sisters, who have children who like to spend time with their grandparents, which makes it a little less weird. Finley is a nervous child who copes with the world by writing fantasy tales of "Everwood" in a journal and imagining herself as the main character, an orphan girl. She is drawn to the woods on the family property because of its similarities to her imaginary world, but she is loathe at first to allow her cousins to learn about it, since they treat it (rightly so) as a "game". She uses it to bond with her cousins, however, and they have a great time outdoors, but they also make the acquaintance of the Bailey boys, and their grandparents tell them they are NOT to play with these boys. Over the course of the book, many family secrets come out, and Finley finally gets some professional help with her anxiety and depression. 
Strengths: This was intriguing in an I Capture the Castle or Greengage Summer way. I think a lot of people want to be closer to their cousins, and spending the summer with grandparents in a big house always sounds like fun. There's a huge trend toward stories that deal with topics of mental health. 
Weaknesses: There was enough going on without all of the stories of Everwood. Finley was one of those characters that I just didn't like because she was overly precious and annoyed me, which made it hard to get into the book. I felt like I was supposed to hate the grandmother, but she was my favorite character. I admired the way she hid what she hid, and how she soldiered on without whining about her lot, but these were made to seem like bad things.
What I really think: I'm sorry that Ms. LeGrand struggles with anxiety and depression, but this book just fell flat for me once Finley's eccentricities overshadowed the mystery and the family problems. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Last Day of School

The LCD remotes, Mimios, speakers and Chromebooks are all locked up, and all but TWO books were either returned or paid for. Hooray! 

No Trooping of the Overheads, sadly. I do miss that. Most of the overheads have gone to the Great Warehouse in the Sky. 

 Plenty of reading to do this summer, and definitely will participate in #bookaday. Hop over to Donalyn Miller's website for all the details. 

 Not a fan of being out of school, but am weary and looking forward to a bit more rest. Sylvie is VERY glad that I will be home and there will be an adequate level of staffing!

Hope everyone survives the last few days/weeks of school and has a great summer!

#WNDB Wednesday- The World Beneath

25489059Warman, Janice. The World Beneath
May 24th 2016 by Candlewick Press 
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Joshua is growing up in South Africa in the 1970s. His mother works for the Malherbe's, who are wealthy but rather dysfunctional. Because Joshua had tuberculosis as a child, he is not living with his grandparents in their rural village as his siblings are, but lives with his mother and helps in the yard and with jobs around the house. Slowly, Joshua starts to realize, after conversations with friends and family, that the way of life that he has always known is unfair, and that he and his mother should not have to be subservient and have fewer opportunities than the white Africans do. Change is difficult, however, and Joshua sees the problems that arise when the status quo is questioned. 

Strengths: This is an important topic that has seen little coverage in middle grade literature. The author gives a lot of details about every day life, and writes effectively about the difficulties faced by Joshua and his family. 

Weaknesses: Even I needed a lot more background information about the history of South Africa to understand what was going on in the book. Even notes in the back would have helped. For a South African audience, who knows the background, this would be a powerful book. 

What I really think: While I would love to have books on this topic, I may pass on this one because I think my students will find it confusing. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Lucky/ The Palace of Glass

25943102Hill, Chris. Lucky. 
February 23rd 2016 by Chicken House
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Lucky is a young red squirrel who finds himself being taken care of by a gray squirrel, First Daughter. Lucky has been found out of his nest by dogs who patrol the park and turned over to the Cloudfoots who live in Albion Park even though he is not one of them. He is small, and the leader of the squirrels, Ma, despairs of him being able to make the Patrol to help defend the squirrels against the Northenders, who live among concrete and are rougher. With the help of Maizie, who hopes to move up in the ranks by ingratiating herself to First Daughter, Lucky learns the skills he needs to survive and fight against the Cloudfoots nemeses. When Lucky and pal Nimlet meet Tarragon, the niece of the Northenders' chief, they learn that the other squirrels are really very much all alike, and that Tarragon's uncle might be engineering the struggle for his own glory. Despite the dangers of the park, the young squirrels manage to forge an uneasy peace among squirrel kind. 

With its battle tactics and territorial disputes, as well as the hierarchies among the squirrels, this will be a good choice for readers who like other books about animals such as Sutherland's The Wings of Fire series (dragons), Hughes' The Unnaturals (genetically engineered animals), Iserles' The Taken (fox), Fiedler's Mouseheart (rodents) or Perkin's Nuts to You (more squirrels), Holt's The Last Dogs or Lasky's Horses of the Dawn

This book stood out to me because the characters were well-developed and easily distinguished from one another. The clan dispute is understandable-- the Cloudfoots inhabit and better territory, and the Northenders want it-- but easily resolved when the squirrels realize that they all can work together. The author's note about the current endangerment of native red squirrels in Europe because of an earlier importation of gray squirrels adds a sense of realism to the struggle. 

The supporting characters are interesting as well. The dogs who patrol the park don't eat squirrels and keep other dogs from doing so, although they can't be everywhere all the time, and one squirrel, who has not been a sympathetic character, does come to grief at the paws of an overzealous Scottie. There are also a few deaths during skirmishes, which makes this an older middle grade book despite the appealing fellow on the cover. 

Know a child who won't read anything but Erin Hunter's The Warriors series? This is a great book to read until the next book comes out!

25938448Wexler, Django. The Palace of Glass (The Forbidden Library #3)
April 12th 2016 by Kathy Dawson Books
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

After ending up with her uncle in The Forbidden Library and being involved in a rip roaring adventure in The Mad Apprentice, Alice has come to realize that her uncle caused her father's death and is determined to neutralize him. When he leaves for a few days, she decides to take Ending's advice and travel to the Palace of Glass to obtain the book, The Infinite Prison, which can then be used to trap her uncle. Traveling through the kingdom of the fire sprites, she meets Flicker, and he travels with her through the land of the Ice Giants. They are all set to do Alice in, but she saves them from the Bluechill, and the leader's daughter, Erdrodr decides to join Alice in her adventure. They find a lot of prejudice against readers in their travels, and face lots of obstacles, like turtles who are jerks, but finally end up at the Palace. She asks for the book and it is given to her immediately, but then she is offered visions of her past, including some of her father and mother, and loses valuable time getting sucked into them. She returns home after Geryon does, and he is angry, but she uses the book to trap him. The problem? Other readers may take over her library, and the Ouroborean is set loose and might destroy everything anyway. Clearly, another book is in the works. 

While the Forbidden Library doesn't seem like the nicest place to be (as opposed to Shulman's New-York Circulating Material Repository from The Grimm Legacy ), the world building is quite complete. Like Delaney's The Last Apprentice series, there is also a nice feeling of ambiguity about who is good and who is evil, which adds a layer of interest to the characters. Should Alice hang out with Isaac, who serves another reader? Is Uncle Geryon as evil as Alice thinks he is? Is Ending a creature of good or a creature of evil? Those sorts of questions keep the reader guessing about which side should triumph.

Unlike some fantasy books, this had a clearly defined goal, and the characters made steady progress toward achieving it, which I really appreciated. While there are some descriptions of the different worlds through which Alice passes, they never drag down the plot. There is a lot of action and fighting, and Alice is triumphant most of the time, which is a nice change from forces of equal potency fighting all the time and ending in a draw!

Alice is a great character who does a good job of assessing her situation and using the forces around her to her own advantage. This series is a great one to give to readers who enjoyed Sanderson's Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians, Yansky's Alfred Kropp, Funaro's Alistair Grim series, or Jink's How to Catch a Bogle series, although The Forbidden Library takes place a few years later, in 1932.

Monday, May 23, 2016

MMGM- Roxbury Park Dog Club

So why is it that fun stories with good messages like the ones below are relegated to paper-only releases when Depress Fests like Pax  and Maybe a Fox get all the buzz, but no children will (or perhaps should) read them? This sort of thing, along with Maker Spaces and social media, make me wish that I hadn't joined ALA.

Should have stuck with teaching Latin. Oh, wait...

Maple, Daphne. Mission Impossible
May 3rd 2016 by HarperCollins
ARC from Young Adult Books Central

Kim is a bit apprehensive about starting middle school, especially since her best friend Sasha has met a new girl, Taylor, and insists on bringing her into all of their best friend activities. Kim is excited about working at the local dog shelter as part of a community service requirement, especially since she is really good at comforting and controlling animals. Kim struggles in school a bit, and the hardest part of the volunteer experience is writing an essay about how her work has helped the organization. This should be easy, because when the girls find out from Alice, who runs the shelter, that it is in financial trouble, Kim comes up with an idea: the girls can walk dogs for people and bring the dogs to the shelter for play time. If they charge, the dogs get socialized, the shelter has money, and people will have more exposure to dogs that might then be adopted. Kim tries to balanceaall of her activities and keep her friendship healthy as well. 

This addresses lots of valid middle grade concerns in a constructive way. Kim's concern that she will lose Sasha to Taylor is a situation with which many middle school students struggle. It's nice that she and Taylor eventually become friends, especially since Kim is the one who realizes that Taylor is a bit scared of some of the larger dogs. The scene where she is trying, very constructively, to being this up with Taylor is an especially good one-- Taylor is very defensive, and the girls almost have a falling out until Taylor admits her fear. Kim's older brother and parents are concerned, but try to let her figure things out on her own. 

The super cute covers of this series will make girls want to pick these up, especially since the dogs are adorable! 

There are a lot of books where girls have businesses walking dogs-- Margolis' Girl's Best Friend, Greenwald's Welcome to Dog Beach, and even Coco Simon's Cupcake Diaries books. There are also books where girls make money babysitting, baking, and having nail salons. Readers of those books will appreciate how Kim and her friends combine the business aspect with community service! What I'd like to see now is a book where BOYS have a business of some kind!

26074128Maple, Daphne. When the Going Gets Ruff
May 3rd 2016 by HarperCollins
ARC from Young Adult Books Central

Sasha is enjoying her work at the dog shelter but really, really wants a dog of her own, particularly Mr. Smashmouth, with whom she has bonded. Her single mother is very strict and overly concerned with cleanliness, making Sasha bring clothes to change into so that she doesn't get dog fur on her "school" clothes, so she does not want a pet. It doesn't help that Sasha is not very responsible, forgetting to do chores, bring things to school, and has trouble getting class assignments done. A typical Sasha incident goes something like this: for a school project, the girls decide to make Turkish delight, they gather the ingredients and start cooking in Sasha's kitchen, and eventually the entire kitchen is covered in rose scented goo. Sasha tries to clean up, and does admit her mistake to her mother, but things are still a mess. Taylor and Kim try to help Sasha out as best they can, but it's up to Sasha to prove to her mother that she can juggle everything-- school, ballet, the dog shelter AND owning a pet. 

It was fun to read about Sasha's life, since most of it was different from anything I've experienced. Tween readers will love finding out more about ballet, will sympathize with the parental strictures, and will worry about Sasha's relationship with her friends. Fans of Schroeder's It's Raining Cupcakes, Malone and Nall's You're Invited series or Singleton's The Curious Cat Spy Club will enjoy the business aspect of the dog walking business as well as the friend and parents drama included. 

This series would make a great birthday gift for a tween with a dog-- a creative tween could make up quite a cute package with the books and some dog themed items!

Animal Planet Animal Atlas
May 24th 2016 by Animal Planet
Copy provided by Blue Slip Media

This large format book (13"x 11") is a great introduction to biomes of the world and the animals that live in each one. Since this is a topic covered in our seventh grade sciences classes, I was very glad to see it. Starting with a brief description of the eight different types of biomes, this book then discusses what biomes appear on different continents and describes the different animals found there. There are fun sidebars by animal narrators, and short facts about endangered animals and "surprisingly human" characterists scattered throughout. The maps are large and colorful, and the information is arranged in a graphically pleasing fashion. There is an index and list of definitions at the back. While there's not enough information on each animal to make this a good resource for projects on a particular animal (a project that comes up frequently), this would be a good starting point for deciding what animal to research, and would be very useful in a classroom setting to introduce the topic of animal habitats. 

My only objection is the size of the volume-- I understand that it needed to be bigger to fit in all of the maps and information, but it does make it difficult to keep in the library, especially since children area unlikely to check out such a big book. I may give this to our seventh grade science teachers to keep in their classrooms. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

In Real Life/ Wolf Hollow

21525995Love, Jessica. In Real Life
March 1st 2016 by St. Martin's Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Hannah is a high school senior who has always been "the good kid"-- her older sister Grace seems to have a drinking problem, and isn't the most responsible college student. This is why when their parents go out of town for spring break, Hannah's friend Lo comes to stay with the sisters as well. Maybe not the best plan. Hannah has had the same best friend, Nick, for four years, but they've never met. Nick lives four hours away, and while they talk daily on the phone, circumstances have never worked out for the two to meet in person. After a revealing call that Nick makes to her while drunk, Hannah feels that he likes her as much as she likes him... and not just as friends. Feeling like cutting loose before the end of her senior year, Hannah decides to take a road trip to Las Vegas to see Nick's band play and to figure out how he really feels. He's hiding some things from her, and after a frenetic, frolic filled weekend on the Vegas strip, Hannah and Nick finally get each other figured out. 

Hannah is certainly more careful than the characters in Hiaasen's Skink, and Grace had actually met Nick's brother Alex. The two had also talked on the telephone and knew details of each other's lives, such as what schools they attended. Hannah does not go alone to meet Nick, and they are always in public places, so I didn't worry quite as much about the issue of the two having connected with each other on line. Since internet safety is a huge concern, it was good that the author observed some of the standard safety guidelines with her characters!

This was a light, enjoyable romance. Yes, there was some tension about the dissembling that Nick did, but he and Hannah seemed to have a real connection, and it didn't take long before most of the obstacles were removed from their path. There was just enough teen angst to give the story an edge, but not enough to make it overwrought. 

While there is a lot of underage drinking, as well a few Vegas style highjinks, this stopped blissfully short of becoming instructive in any area, and is middle grade appropriate even though the characters are in upper high school and college. 

Fans of Dessen, Colasanti, Kantor, Jennifer E. Smith and Bloomsbury's If Only romances will find this tale of meeting Prince Charming after knowing him virtually to be a great 21st century tale.

26026063Wolk, Lauren. Wolf Hollow
May 3rd 2016 by Dutton Books for Young Readers
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Annabelle lives in a small, rural town in Pennsylvania in 1943. Her school is crowded, but she shares a desk with her friend Ruth, who is quiet and pleasant, much like Annabelle's life. When Betty Glengarry moves to town to be raised by her grandparents, that changes. Betty waits for Annabelle on her walk home, and demands money or things, and hits Annabelle when she stands up to her and refuses to give her anything. Betty also threatens Annabelle's younger brothers, and carried through with the threatened beatings. Annabelle capitulates, but even that doesn't really help. At one point, Betty hits Ruth with a rock, and the blame for Ruth losing an eye is placed on Toby, a WWI vet who lives in an abandoned smoke house and is considered harmless but potentially dangerous by the community. When Betty goes missing, Toby is again blamed, and Annabelle gets involved both in the search for the missing girl and in protecting Toby from people who mean him harm. 

Strengths: This will probably win the Newbery this year. It is lyrical, has that sad, nostalgic vibe going, and feels a little bit like To Kill a Mockingbird. 
Weaknesses: This is very slow paced, and uses language that adults love but younger readers (and I) find to be pointless and boring. (E.G. "At times, I was so confused that I felt like the stem of a pinwheel surrounded by whir and clatter...") That's on the very first page, where it is crucial to have "something happen" and hook middle grade readers. There is also a very disturbing scene where Betty kills a bird. While there wasn't anything inappropriate, the topics discussed require a certain maturity to understand. 
What I really think: Authors of adult books really need to do their homework before switching markets. I just don't see the target demographic being interested in this book. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle

25776220Fox, Janet. The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle
March 15th 2016 by Viking Books for Young Readers 
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Kat and her brother and sister are sent away from London to Scotland, where a distant uncle lives. Their father is often away doing mysterious things, and their mother is trying to survive the Blitz. Scotland is damp, dark, and spooky, and their uncle is gravely ill, so they are met by his wife, Lady Eleanor, who is beautiful but creepy. She has opened a school for children who are escaping the cities and has engaged teachers for them. Kat finds many odd things, from the nightly infusions of drugged cocoa to the ghostly children who seem to wander about the grounds. Along with brother Rob and an American boy, Peter, Kat tries to investigate the creepy castle as well as the disappearances of several children, including her sister. Lady Eleanor's plans are told in alternating chapters, so the reader knows her evil intentions, even if it takes Kat a while to figure out exactly what they are. 
Strengths: This was really quite a masterful Gothic novel. It reminded me a little of The Snowstorm as well as The Little White Horse. This had all of the elements that a Gothic mystery needs-- absent parents, creepy relatives, run down castle, children left to their own devices. I enjoyed it tremendously.
Weaknesses: My students are not fond of historical Gothic novels. I'd like to say that I could hand this to readers who like Mary Downing Hahn or Dan Poblocki, but it's got a different flavor to it. 

What I really think: May have to buy a copy; at least it will be a book that sticks around for years and years, and the occasional reader will pick it up. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

My Weird School Fast Facts

27064330Gutman, Dan. My Weird School Fast Facts: Sports
                      My Weird School Fast Facts: Geography
June 21st 2016 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

A.J. and Andrea from the My Weird School series narrate these collections of random facts. Their pictures appear before the facts they present, and the two carry on a joking back-and-forth about how boring and irrelevant the other is as they offer up tidbits of information. 

27064334In Sports, the chapters are broken down into the major sports like football, baseball and basketball, with additional chapters devoted to golf and other sports. There are random things mentioned, such as how referees have to wear black underwear in case they split their pants. There were a lot of things mentioned that I had never heard before, so it was an interesting read. 

In Geography, there are chapters devoted to The Earth, Continents, Water; Mountains, Deserts and Forests; The Fifty United States; and Natural Disasters. Again, A.J. and Andrea both chime in with snippits of knowledge. 

These would make great gifts for reluctant readers, because the information is funny and intriguing, but also short and well illustrated. These aren't quite what I would pick up for fun; I'd rather read a 300 page book on the history of Cadbury chocolate, instead of short unconnected facts, but my students don't. Gutman is always fun to read, but I wish he would come out with some more stand alone fiction. The My Weird School series is definitely on the elementary side of the Pilkey Line. 

Guy Friday- Six Kids and a Stuffed Cat

27206506Paulsen, Gary. Six Kids and a Stuffed Cat
May 10th 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Jordan, who is prone to nose bleeds caused by stress, takes shelter in the school bathroom when a storm approaches and the overly protective administration buckles down the school. He is quickly joined by Avery, who spent his first day of school sleeping behind the stage. Mason, a go-getter who has a finger in every pot, and Taylor, the boy whom he is tutoring, both show up, and Regan joins them. Devon is also there, but he spends his entire time playing air guitar, something for which he is known in the school. The storm precautions wear on and on, but the boys discuss each other's activities and personalities, and are sad when they have to leave the restroom. 

This is a very short book-- the E ARC was 150 pages, but the story was only half of that-- the rest of it was the same story written as a play. This would be why Paulsen deliberately chose sexually ambivalent names, but the fact that it is set in a bathroom rather limits the casting to one gender or the other. 

I was looking forward to this, since Paulsen's recent books like Liar, Liar have been so hysterically funny. This had moments, but overall seemed a bit contrived. While I know that 8th graders definitely ponder their impact on their world, and their position within it, I don't know how much they actually discuss this with others; this level of joint introspection seemed suspect to me, and I couldn't believe that a stuffed cat that smelled like vomit in a bathroom full of tween boys wouldn't have ended up in the toilet by the end of the lockdown. 

Our 7th graders do a Paulsen author study unit, so I will buy a copy of this, but I wasn't blown away by this. 

28813488Cube Kid. Diary of an 8-Bit Villager Warrior
May 17th 2016 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

I mention this in case anyone knows of a middle grade reader who likes Minecraft. There must be a lot of them, because I even see t-shirts and hoodies printed with Minecraft characters. There have been several different books published, but none of them make a lot of sense unless you are familiar with the game. Since my experience is limited to downloading a free app and having a digital pig swimming in a blocky pond, this book was very hard for me to follow. 

This is fan fiction, but even so, I would have liked a little more plot and, well, sense. There is a lot of dialog composed of "hurrrg", and there are a lot of characters that I don't understand. Perhaps an overview at the beginning would help? This would make the books appeal to children who were not allowed to play Minecraft but wanted to know more about it. 

My daughter and I discussed this. She said "Why would you read a book about Minecraft if you didn't know anything about it?" I replied "For the same reason you read Disney picture books, but I didn't let you watch the movies. The books let you be familiar enough with the basics so that you could converse with your friends."

Still waiting for this, apparently. I'm sure many of my students will want this, but I'm not sure if I want to add Minecraft books to the library collection. 

Cube Kid left a nice comment. I'm sure that these are popular, and they'd be fantastic gifts for kids who had this interest, but since the only versions I could find are paperback, this just doesn't seem like a good fit for a school library.  There is a series of three so far: 
Diary of an 8-bit super warrior (Minecraft)  coming out in August 2016, and Diary of an 8-Bit Warrior: Path of the Diamond coming out in December 2016.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Basil of Baker Street

27206609Titus, Eve. Basil of Baker Street
May 17th 2016 by Aladdin (first published 1958)
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

I've mentioned before that I am a sucker for cartoon mice, and this is the book that may have started it all. I was pleasantly surprised to see it reissued with the original Paul Galdone illustrations. Since the Ruth Chew reissues have been so successful in my library, I'm definitely ordering this as well as Basil and the Cave of Cats!

Basil is a mouse who emulates Sherlock Holmes to such an extent that he moves an entire mouse community into Holmes' cellar so he can watch his idol at work. Basil's Watson is Dr. David Dawson, who tells the story. Neighbors of Basil's, the Proudfeet, are distraught when their twins daughters, Agatha and Angela, go missing. A ransom note is delivered, Basil sizes up the man who delivers it, and soon he and Dawson are off to the seaside town of Mousecliffe-on-Sea to hunt down the Terrible Three, who are behind the kidnapping. Disguised at seagoing mice, Dawson and Basil chat up a local shopkeeper and locate Harry Hawkins, who has been acting suspiciously. After several escapades, including a run in with a barn owl, the twins are located, taken back to London, and reunited with their parents, who issue a strong warning against going off with men who offer them candy!

Since I read this when I was six, I always thought of it as a children's book, but this is actually a very solid middle grade mystery. The author intended it as an introductory bridge to interest young readers in the Sherlock Holmes' stories, and this is certainly a great way to do it. I certainly didn't get all of the fantastic references to places in London (reinvented for mice) or Sherlock Holmes' capers and habits, and this takes on another level of interest since I know these things now. Younger readers will be captivated by Basil and his methods of detection, as well as by the charming illustrations by Paul Galdone. 

The plot is simple enough for younger readers to follow, but has much to offer older readers as well. The London setting will be interesting to students who have read (or have had read to them) classic stories such as Mary Poppins or Peter Pan. I haven't seen the Disney movie version of this, The Great Mouse Detective, but children who have seen that will find it interesting to compare the movie to the book. 

It's rare to find a reissue that has some staying power. Perhaps because this is historical fiction Basil's escapades have the same charm and intrigue today that they did when I read them in the early 1970s!