Thursday, June 30, 2016

School of the Dead

School of the DeadAvi. School of the Dead
June 21st 2016 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Tony Gilbert's odd Uncle Charlie ends up living with his family, and the two become close when Tony's parents work long hours. The two bond over any number of things, but Charlie is old and dies, leaving money for Tony to attend the Penda School in San Francisco. Tony's parents, wanting a change, find jobs in the city and relocate there. Tony gets accepted into the school after another student, Austin, mysteriously drops out. The principal, Mrs. Foxton, doesn't approve of Jessica, who invites Tony to be part of the Weird History club. She also claims that Tony smells of death, and drags him in to a scheme to get rid of the Penda Boy, the ghost of the founder's son who perished under mysterious circumstances. Tony thinks he sees not only the Penda Boy, but also Uncle Charlie's ghost, and he is soon embroiled in a dastardly plot that puts the very souls of the students in peril. Can he save the day, or will evil triumph?
Strengths: Teachers sucking out the souls of students so they can stay young-- that should be fun. I liked the relationship with Uncle Charlie, and the relocation to San Francisco. Even the creepy school was great. Good villains. 
Weaknesses: This just wasn't written in a creepy way. It should have been creepy and... it just wasn't. Had Mary Downing Hahn written it, it would have scared the bejeebers out of me. 
What I really think: Will have to think about purchasing it.  Depends on how much money I have left in January. The cover isn't very creepy, and Avi is no longer a popular writer with my students. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

#WNDB Wednesday- Nine, ten: A September 11 Story

26875689Baskin, Nora Raleigh. Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story
June 28th 2016 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Starting on September 9th, 2001, we follow the life of several young teens. Sergio has traveled from New York to the University of Chicago to be honored for a high score on a math test. He misses his grandmother, who is raising him, and is trying to distance himself from his father. Nadira is from Columbus, Ohio, but her parents are Muslims from Iran. She wears a hijab, and gets some grief for it at school. Aimee's mother is a high powered business woman who travels to New York City for a big meeting, and Aimee is starting a new school because of her mother's new job. Will and his family have traveled to Disney World, a trip paid for by people in his hometown after his father's death in a car accident. We get a good glimpse of what life is like for the children, and then see what happens to them on 9/11 and after. None are directly impacted, but the event nonetheless changes all of their lives. 
Strengths: Baskin tells a bit about how and why she wrote this book in an epilogue, and I can see why she chose to tell about life right before the World Trade Center disaster. It is interesting that we meet all of the characters in an airport on the Sunday before-- I was actually in the Columbus airport that day, picking up a friend. I can remember very clearly that the security guard waved me around the gates with a stroller. That would never happen now. Most readers will be more interested in the events of 9/11 itself. 
Weaknesses: Four stories was a lot to keep straight, especially since they were not simple ones. I would have preferred two characters, perhaps Aimee and Nadira. Having more doesn't ruin the book, but it does  make it harder to follow. 
What I really think: I will probably buy this, since our teachers assign a project on this event every year. Since middle school students were now all born after 2001, they often lack the most basic knowledge of the event. Since the book covers mostly events before the attacks (as mentioned above), this will not be as helpful for the students' projects as other novels about 9/11, but they will still gain some insight on what life was like before they were born. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Mayhem (Lawless #3)

26892044Salane, Jeffrey. Mayhem (Lawless #3)
 April 26th 2016 by Scholastic Press
ARC from Young Adult Books Central

M is settling into her new school well, and has several good friends. Her parents make her flaxseed waffles and papaya facial masks. It all seems perfect-- until new kid Evel arrives at school and the art teacher is replaced by Dartsey, who proceeds to attack M. With the help of Evel, she escapes and goes home, only to remember her past as a Lawless student. Evel is Ronin (neither Lawless nor Fulbright), and drags M into a whirlwind of travel and explosions, complete with trips through abandoned mines, and a maelstrom of scattered allegiances as she tries to find her mother and figure out what side is right... and what side she's on. 

This final book in the series is a nice departure from Lawless and Justice, taking M away from the school setting (since the school came to grief in the previous book) and opening the door to all manner of frenetic activity. Any book that includes the characters traveling to the British Museum in London is always a good bet, especially when it becomes the site of a scavenger hunt. I loved that even in the midst of a frantic search for clues to save the day, Jules says "If we live through this, remind me to come back and take my time touring this place." (page 217) 

The characters are fun as well. M struggles with her memory loss, which makes her trust Evel long enough to discover that he's not all bad, even though he's a Ronin. Her friends Chloe, Emma and Jenny are a fun mix of typical tween girls and spies with ninja-like abilities. Villains Cal and his mother Mrs. Watts show up... but are they really villains?

The difficulty in determining which side is good and which side is evil gave me some pause, but readers of Artemis Fowl will enjoy the ambiguity, and the excitement of not really knowing what the next move should be, and whether or not M is one of the good guys or one of the bad guys. 

This is the final book in the series, but readers who want more will be well served by picking up Walden's H.I.V.E. series, Jinks' Evil Genius or Gibbs Spy School series. You never know when your middle school art teacher might crack, and there are lots of good spy tips to learn from these books, just in case you need them!

I'm not normally a fan of cover changes, but I like the embroidered look of the updated covers. Unfortunately, I won't be updating my copy of Lawless just so the series matches!


Monday, June 27, 2016

MMGM- What, your students DON'T ask for books where people die?

I always forget that publishers aren't really interested in providing books that my students want to read. Most of my students don't buy any books. Publishers want to make money. They want to sell books. Who buys books? Parents. Librarians. Teachers. All of these people apparently want heart rending tales of young people living through harrowing experiences. I'm not sure what this says BECAUSE (REMINDER):

Also relevant: 13 percentage of US citizens are on antidepressants . Correlation (if not causation) between people depressed and number of depressing books published? You decide.

That said, this book was decent. I was just hoping for more of a sports story and less of an issue book. I wonder what the percentage of baseball fans on antidepressants is. A disproportionate number of baseball books are depressing. (This is very similar to Shang's The Way Home Looks Now and Lupica's The Only Game. Sibling dies, surviving child can't possibly return to beloved sport. Sigh.)

25721449Bishop. Jenn. The Distance to Home
June 28th 2016 by Random House/Knopf Children’s
E ARC provided by

Quinnen's sister Haley has been gone for about nine months, and the family has managed to move forward, with realistic lapses where everyone tears up and can't speak. Quinnen has decided she can't go back to playing baseball, and is irritated that her mother, in an attempt to spend more time with her, keeps suggesting activities that Haley would have liked. When the family decides to take a local baseball player in for a homestay, Quinnen is pleased, even though the Bandit's player they get is kind of jerky. Quinnen hangs out with her friend Casey, although baseball games are hard because Zach, Haley's boyfriend and the person Quinnen holds responsible for her death, is working at a food vendor at the park. Told alternately in flashbacks and in the present time, we see Quinnen and her parents coming to terms with their loss and figuring out how they can continue to incorporate baseball into their lives. 
Strengths: Quinnen plays baseball, which is a nice touch. There is ONLY the death of the sister, not piles and piles of sadness heaped upon the family's shoulders. There's some nice touches about the difficulties the sisters had because of the 6 year age difference, as well as some tween angst. 
Weaknesses: Why not an upbeat baseball book with the drama coming from the homestay players or perhaps Casey and Quinnen falling out because one makes the team and the other doesn't? 
What I really think: Will probably buy, but don't have to be happy about it. The cover saves this one, actually-- it looks the same as the new Nancy Drew and Phoebe Rivers books.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The World From Up Here

25648199Galante, Cecilia. The World From Up Here
June 28th 2016 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Wren Baker has a difficult family life-- her brother Russell is on the Autism spectrum, and her mother is down so often that she can't even make dinner. Her cousin and aunt have recently moved to town, but Silver is a popular cheerleader and won't give Wren the time of day at school. When Wren's mother must be hospitalized for her depression in Ohio, her father goes there as well, and Russell and Wren must stay at Silver's house. Russell settles in surprisingly well, and Wren learns that Silver is very different at home than she is at school. The two develop an interest in Witch Weatherly, who reportedly lives far up the mountain near their Pennsylvania town. The two manage to work around the objections of Silver's mother and make it up the mountain to interview her. Of course, Silver is injured on the way up, but the two learn secrets that tie into Wren's mother's anxieties, and come to appreciate Bedelia Weatherly in a new way.
Strengths: There were parts of this that I really enjoyed, primarily Wren and her cousin Silver having to learn to get along. I have 38 cousins, most of whom I wouldn't know on sight, and I don't think that I would have gotten along with my closest in age cousin when we were in middle school. It's an intriguing relationship, and their interest in Witch Weatherly had its moments, too. But...
WeaknessesAt 320 pages, this is too long. There's a lot of information that could have been removed that would have perked the story up considerably. While the mystery of Witch Weatherly intertwining with Wren's mother is kind of interesting, the flashbacks to the slow mental decline is depressing and dull. 
What I really think: The cover is so nondescript that it won't circulate well, especially given the length. If I had endless money to buy everything, I might get a copy, but will have to pass. 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Flip Side

27206534Johnson, Shawn and Sonnichsen, A.L.  The Flip Side
June 7th 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

High school student Charlotte has a huge secret-- she's really a premier gymnast who may make the Olympic team, but she hides her identity by using "Charlie" when she is in the news. Along with her friend Gwen, who is home schooled, Charlotte keeps up with the grueling schedule of practices and meets, so her homework suffers a bit. Her best friend at school, Zoe, knows nothing of her other life, so is always trying to get her to date. In particular, there is a wrestler, Bobby, who seems to be on Charlotte's wave length. When Bobby and Charlotte get to spend more time together at student council (where she ends up in a desperate attempt to earn extra credit for social studies class), he asks her to prom. Realizing that she wants a "normal" life almost as much as she wants to be on the Olympic team, Charlotte agrees. After some subterfuge, she makes it to prom... only to have the evening end disastrously. Her double life is exposed, and she has to deal with possibly not being able to compete for the team while having to put her life back together. 
Strengths: This had so many things going for it. Great main character who Has a Plan and is trying to stick to it. Light romance that is pleasant and realistic. Lots of descriptions of gymnastics and all of the attendant details of practices, meets, etc. Supportive, if a little clueless, family. Friend drama. I need a lot more books about girls who participate in sports, and gymnastics is particularly hard to find. (Freitas' Gold Medal Summer is one of the few out there.)
Weaknesses: I found it hard to believe that she could successfully compartmentalize her life and that she didn't tell Zoe about her gymnastics. Made for a good story, but it didn't ring true. 
What I really think: More. More just like this. A lot more. Right now. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Guy Friday- Brave Like My Brother

Brave Like My BrotherNobleman, Marc Tyler. Brave Like My Brother
June 28th 2016 by Scholastic Press 
ARC from Young Adult Books Central

When Charlie's older brother Joe goes off to fight in World War II, he sneaks a letter into Joe's bag. When Joe gets it, he starts to write back, telling Charlie about his experiences in being sent to England to prepare for fighting. There's mud, there's rain, and there's Matt. Matt has a chip on his shoulders because he is from a harsh midwestern rural community, and believes that "city slickers" aren't prepared to fight. Joe is from Cleveland, home of the creators of Superman, and resents Matt's implications. Charlie is apparently having trouble of his own with neighbor bullies, and Charlie gives him as much advice as he can. Charlie is sent to France, but unlike so many US soldiers, manages to come back home to his brother. 

This book has many features that make it appealing to early chapter book readers. It has an appealing cover, large font, short chapters, and a fast-paced, interesting story. Young readers will be able to put themselves in Charlie's place and imagine what it would be like to be stateside during the war, worrying about a beloved older brother who is fighting. 

There were a lot of interesting details about Joe's training in England that were new to me, which would make this either a good introduction to the plethora of novels about WWII or a quick addition for seasoned readers. I don't know when the obsession with WWII first takes hold of boys, but this would be a good book even for first graders. The sentences and vocabulary are not overly challenging, and there's nothing too upsetting in the descriptions of the war. 

For readers who are not quite ready for Mazer's A Boy At War, or who want to supplement their reading of Carl Bowen's Shadow Squadron or M. Zachary Sherman's Bloodlines series, Brave Like My Brother is an excellent addition to the body of literature that appeals to readers who still want details about WWII even 70 years after the fact. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Long Game (The Fixer #2)

26073072Barnes, Jennifer Lynn. The Long Game (The Fixer #2)
June 7th 2016 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
E ARC from

After the events of The Fixer, Tess Kendrick (now also Keyes) is back at Hardwicke. Her friend Asher's sister, Emilia, asks Tess to help her run for study body president against John Thomas. Tess finally agrees, especially since the boy in question is the one who tried to ruin a freshman girl's life by taking compromising pictures of her and threatening to share them. When he repeats this with Emilia, making her look wasted on drugs or alcohol, the administration Strongly suggests that Emilia drops out. Tess is livid, and unearths information about John Thomas and also starts a social media campaign supporting Emilia. There are bigger problems, however-- a terrorist attempts to blow up a hospital but is thwarted. Unfortunately, the terrorist is a young woman who works as a doctor... and may be carrying the president's son's child. Shortly after, the president is shot. So is a student at Tess's school, and she is the one to find him. Asher is a prime suspect in the death, so Tess investigates. When she gets close to the truth, she endangers everyone at Hardwicke because the terrorist organization, Senza Nome, realizes that Hardwicke has students who are attached to people in power at every level of Washington politics. Even the most benign Hardwicke staff seem to be involved, and some surprising students as well. Can Tess use her skills to "fix" a horrific situation?
Strengths: This was an exceptionally well crafted political thriller, and the use of an exclusive school in D.C. is really rather brilliant. Tess is adept at solving problems, but the writing makes her skills seem plausible. Even her family allegiances are interesting. This is definitely a page turner. I liked how the terrorist organization was not tied to any country or ethnic group, but was only vaguely described. 
Weaknesses: There are a lot of people who are killed suddenly and without remorse. A little too much human-on-human violence for my taste. It's not graphic, but it is merciless. 
What I really think: The first book has done really well in my library among students who enjoyed The Gallagher Girls and A Girl Named Digit. Barnes usually sticks to trilogies, which is always a relief. I definitely won't buy her The Naturals series, because that had a truly adult level of violence and ...ick, but I may buy this one. Might wait to see how YA the third book is. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Catching Up with Series

27277005Stilton, Geronimo. The Hour of Magic
May 31st 2016 by Scholastic Inc.
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central 

Geronimo's latest fantasy novel is due very soon, but he's been procrastinating, and his grandfather doesn't seem to have much faith in his abilities. When his watch is broken in an accident, Geronimo's grandfather suggest he visit an old friend, Minute Mouse, to have it repaired. After a pleasant evening and plenty of cheese, Geronimo falls asleep in a chair at Minute Mouse's house and finds himself transported to the Kingdom of Fantasy. There Blossom, the queen of the Fairies, is aging at a rapid rate. Geronimo must go on a quest to find and fix the enchanted clock. Such a quest is fraught with danger, and Geronimo must deal with the Labyrinth of Illusions, Peaclock the Peacock, the Kingdom of Witches and many other places and creatures before he is able to put the kingdom to right and return Blossom to her former glory. Of course, when he wakes up, he realizes that he has the story for his newest novel.

I haven't read the other seven books in this series, but they seem to be a good introduction to fantasy tropes for beginning readers. The story was similar to The Phantom Tollbooth, and just about any kind of magical creature that has ever appeared in prose makes an appearance. 

The artwork is as vibrant and amusing as it is in the other Geronimo Stilton books, with evil witches, funny frog princesses, and lots of sparkly things like the Sword of Truth. Occasional two page spreads show more detail of characters or places, and young readers will spend hours poring over different monsters and kingdoms. 

It's easy to dismiss the Stilton books as fluff, but I thought this one had a nice message about Geronimo's interactions with his gruff and demanding grandfather. He is able to see how proud his grandfather is of him and this gives him a new understanding of why he is held to such high standards. 

The Hour of Magic is a perfect read for a wet summer day, as long as it can be accompanied by an appropriately cheesy snack!

26892072Mlynowski, Sarah. Genie in a Bottle (Whatever After #9)
April 26th 2016 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Since Abby has found out that Maryrose has been cursed, she goes through the mirror to try to help her, although she really should be spending her time trying to get more books under her belt for the school fundraiser read-a-thon. When she and Jonah end up in the world of Aladdin, Abby hopes that she can use her wishes from the genie in the lamp to rescue Maryrose. Unfortunately, she misspeaks her first wish, releasing the genie. Eventually, she ends up working with a novice genie, Karimah, who isn't very adept at granting wishes. And there are many that need to be made, since Abby finds out that Aladdin has fallen in love at first sight with the princess Badr-al-Badur, who in turns falls in love with him. Her father has given permission for the two to marry, but only if Aladdin can provide jewels and a fancy parade. Can Abby make Aladdin's dreams come true and save Maryrose?

While the ages of Aladdin and Badr-al-Badur seem very young, there are some good details about the world of the Arabian Nights. Mlynowski is always good about pointing out the differences between Disney versions of stories and the traditional ones, so it's good to see that the princess isn't named Jasmine. There are descriptions of food, living conditions, and the plight of street children. 

Badr-al-Badur is very interested in community service, and is not a stereotypical princess, no matter how trite her falling in love at first sight with Aladdin in. To his credit, Aladdin is impressed more with her fine qualities than her beauty. 

This series appeals to readers who like light fantasy tales such as Buckley's The Fairy Tale Detectives or De Laurentiis' Recipe for Adventure series. They may even pick up this author's The Wishing Day after Abby mentions that she is reading it for the contest! It would be fun to pair these tales with readings of the folk tales or original stories that inspired them. 

Some of these books are a little odd. The mix of fairy tale world and real world in this seemed off. Was Aladdin wearing tennis shoes and playing soccer in the school yard at one point? And he really fell in love that quickly? And they want to get married? And Aladdin's mother makes outfits for three people overnight? Just struck me as unbelievable and possibly culturally incorrect at some points. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Time LOOP Tuesday- The First Last Day

26875716Cirrone, Dorian. The First Last Day
June 7th 2016 by Simon and Schuster/Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Haleigh and her friend Kevin are enjoying the last day before middle school doing all of their favorite things, but it ends badly; Kevin's grandmother, G-Mags, has a stroke. The next morning, however, Kevin isn't sleeping on Haleigh's couch, and her mother denies that anything like that happened. It's still the last day of summer vacation, and Haleigh has to figure out how that happened. She narrows it down to a paint kit, and a picture that she has made, wishing for things to continue as they are. After the day continues for a long time (at one points, 60 days was the figure mentioned), Haleigh is tired of it. She finds out that there are things in the future that she would like to see happen, and is determined to find out where the paintbox came from and how to reverse the wish, even if it means things change. 
Strengths: Losing a grandparent is a reasonable sad thing to have in a middle grade novel, and Haleigh does have very supportive parents, as does Kevin. This is convincingly told, and the time loop/wish fulfillment feature works well. 
Weaknesses: The time loop isn't exactly fresh-- Christmas Every Day by William Dean Howells was published in 1892, and there are movies like Groundhog Day that cover the same idea. However, I can't think of any time loop novels in my library, and my students may not be familiar with the trope. 
What I really think: Debating. This is closer to the magical realism books that do decently well in my library than to the time travel books I like, but the cover isn't great and it might be a bit of a hard sell. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

MMGM-- Ms. Bixby's Last Day

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

I've made no secret of the fact that I am not a fan of sad books, mainly because my students don't ask for them and won't pick them up when I recommend them. However, since I make it my aim to read every single middle grade fiction book released every year, so I can judge them for the Cybils awards, there's no avoiding them. 

SO! My new rule is this. If there have to be sad books (because language arts teachers seem to love them), they should only be written by authors whose other works include books about evil super villains and Dungeons and Dragons style adventures. That way, there's a good dose of humor to save me from feeling like I am "being beaten about the head with a tear soaked teddy bear."

27064348Anderson, John David. Ms. Bixby's Last Day
June 21st 2016 by Walden Pond Press
ARC from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there

Brand, Topher and Steve are enjoying their year in school because their teacher, Ms. Bixby, is one of "the good ones". She listens to her has her fair share of quirks, like working part time as a clown, having a pink streak in her hair, and spouting quotations. When the boys find out that Ms. Bixby is sick and has to finish the year early, they take some consolation in the fact that they can give her a good "last day". When her cancer treatment doesn't go well, and she ends up in the hospital, the three decide to skip school, gather the ingredients for a celebration, and make their way to the hospital to visit. They have manage to locate her favorite (very expensive) cheesecake, have quite the adventure getting a bottle of wine, and after several disaster, make it to the hospital. During the course of these events, we find out more about why Ms. Bixby was such an influential person in the boys lives, which are far from easy. They even manage to get Ms. Bixby out to a park, where they share their celebration. 

While this is a sad book which made me cry, it also has a healthy does of humor. Brand, Topher and Steve manage to get themselves involved in a lot of realistic trouble. When they skip school, they make sure that they call into the attendance office in a realistic way. When they try to buy a bottle of wine, they approach an older man to say that they are his nephews, and he then runs off with the money. Dangerous? Yes, but something I can see middle school students doing. 

The relationship between Ms. Bixby and each boy is slowly revealed. We find out that she is helping Brand through a very difficult time, and why she is so important to Steve and Topher. We also learn a lot about the interplay between the boys, and there are some altercations when they become frustrated with each other. Even briefly mentioned relationships ring true-- when they run into Steve's sister at a McDonald's, Steve deftly counters her threat to tell their overly involved parents with an equally effective threat about her own behavior. This encounter tells us volumes about the family dynamic and adds a layer of depth to the characters. 

Anderson tugs at our heartstrings with this one, but he is also true to his own style by inserting guffaw-inducing descriptions of the cheesecake after it has spent time in a backpack, comic chase scenes, and even some terribly sophisticated booger humor. This makes it a perfect book not only for adults who are fond of reading books like Wonder, The One and Only Ivan and Almost Home that require boxes of tissues to be kept at the ready, but also for middle school readers who enjoy slapstick humor. Not many books manage to balance the two, but Ms. Bixby's Last Day does so artfully.

This is almost a reboot of A Begonia for Miss Applebaum, but without the creepy ending and with much better adventures. Yes, I cried buckets. But I laughed, too. THAT, my friends, is good literature!

6/2/2016 Nerdy Book Club
6/3/2016 Next Best Book
6/6/2016 Walden Media Tumblr 
6/7/2016 Teach Mentor Texts
6/8/2016 This Kid Reviews Books
6/9/2016 Read, Write, Reflect
6/10/2016 Flashlight Reader
6/13/2016 Julie Falatko
6/14/2016 A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust
6/15/2016 About to Mock
6/16/2016 Kid Lit Frenzy
6/16/2016 The Hiding Spot
6/17/2016 Unleashing Readers
6/20/2016 Ms. Yingling ReadsNovel Novice
6/21/2016 Maria’s MelangeNovel NoviceAll the Wonders
6/22/2016 Lit Coach LouNovel Novice
6/23/2016 Novel Novice
6/24/2016 Satisfaction for Insatiable ReadersNovel Novice
6/27/2016 Librarian’s Quest
6/28/2016 Educate.Empower.Inspire…Teach
6/29/2016 Bluestocking Thinking
6/30/2016 Reading Writing, and the Stuff In-Between
7/1/2016 All the Wonders 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

My Life in Pictures

My Life in PicturesZemke, Deborah. My Life in Pictures
March 8th 2016 by Dial Books

Bea Garcia is upset because her next door neighbor and very best friend in the world, Yvonne, has moved to Australia. To add insult to injury, a new family moves into Yvonne's house, and they have a horrible boy named Bert who makes fun of Bea, wrecks her cardboard box building, and is generally horrible. Bea and her brother Pablo try to ignore Bert as much as possible, but since he is also in her classroom at school, Bea struggles with putting up with him. On the bright side, Bea loves to draw, has a great dog, supportive family, and manages to make new friends at school. 
Strengths: This is a good choice for readers who like books like Lola Levine and Ivy and Bean. A sort of B is for Betsy vibe, which I always enjoy; a child with a clear (if misguided) interest; and a positive message about putting up with people one finds difficult make this a book I would have gladly handed to my children. Bea's Hispanic family background adds a bit of diversity as well. 
Weaknesses: I'd rather children be encouraged to like science and math rather than art, Bea never really makes peace with Bert (although that is certainly realistic), and I would have liked a few more details about Bea's cultural background. 
What I really think: This is too young for middle school, but I would definitely purchase this for an elementary library. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Saturday Morning Cartoons- The Nameless City/ Never Say Narwhal

Hicks, Faith Erin. The Nameless City
April 5th 2016 by First Second
Public library copy.

Kaidu comes to the big quasi-Asiatic city to meet his father, a military official, for the first time, and to train to help his people, the Dao,defend the city. So many people have tried to rule the city that it has a lot of names, and is therefore essentially "nameless". Rat is a street girl who occasionally gets help from monks, and after Kaidu narrowly beats her in a race, she agrees to help him learn to run in exchange for food. This is dangerous, because Kaidu is not supposed to leave the palace or to be consorting with people who are not Dao. In the end, of course, Rat manages to save the day.
Strengths: This is a graphic novel, and the story line is a little more sophisticated than many. First Second puts out interesting graphic novels, and the artwork in this is quite nice, although the characters all look vaguely the same. 
Weaknesses: These books always smell awful, and fall apart so easily. This is a huge problem, since they are also on the expensive side and get a lot of use.
What I really think: I should buy this, and $13.19 at Baker and Taylor isn't as bad as it could be. Buying this hurts less than replacing my copy of Stickman Odyssey, with which my students are obsessed. Of course, since it's a trilogy, I'll have three moldering piles of graphic novel dust in a couple of years...

26155743Krosoczka Jarrett J. Never Say Narwhal: Platypus Police Squad #4
May 17th 2016 by Walden Pond Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

It's out. I'll order it, but then I'll have to read it because I let my E ARC expire. Decent enough series, but by the time the last one is published, the first one will be in tatters. Sigh. Five books max for a series, people. Five books. After that, I just lose interest. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Guy Friday- As Brave As You

As Brave As YouReynolds, Jason. As Brave As You
May 3rd 2016 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Copy provided by the publisher

Genie and his brother Ernie travel to Virginia to spend the summer with their grandparents, since their parents are having marital difficulties and need time alone to sort things out. It's been a long time since Genie has seen his grandparents, and he does not realize at first that his grandfather is blind. Grandpop gets by very well in the house, and has an aviary which he tends, but is frightened of leaving the structured and safe environment of the house, especially after an incident outdoors. When Grandpop thinks that Ernie should learn to shoot a gun when he turns 14, neither Ernie nor Grandma think this is a good idea, but Genie and family friend Crab manage to sneak Grandpop out of the house to work with Ernie, with somewhat unpleasant results. Throughout the summer with his grandparents, Genie learns that while some mistakes can be fixed, it's much harder to make others right. 
Strengths: This had very realistic middle grade problems such as aging grandparents and parental squabbling, and wasn't hopelessly sad. There are also excellent details about life in the rural South (sweet tea sounds horrible, but Genie grows to enjoy it), and a support network of caring friends and family to help Genie through his difficulties. There are very few books that talk about learning to shoot guns, and there are readers whose families hunt who will find this interesting. 
Weaknesses: The subplot about the uncle's death in the military was unnecessary and slowed down the story, which came perilously close to the "nothing happens" category for middle grade. Philosophical musing is more often successful in young adult books, and that's Mr. Reynold's first field. 
What I really think: At over 400 pages, this might be a tough sell, but it will be interesting to see what else Mr. Reynolds produces for middle grade readers.  I did appreciate that the language and situations were tailored to this age group. 

I read this and several other books by Mr. Reynolds so that I could interview him for School Library Journal. I thought this article by Brook Stevenson at Gawker Review of Books was very interesting: Confronting Grief in YA Literature. Mr. Reynolds and I clearly have completely opposite views of how people should handle grief, which would explain why I had very little patience with the grandparents in this book, who were still struggling their son's death after 20 years. That's about 19 years longer than I allow myself. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Mystery Thursday- Geronimo Stilton

27277003Dami, Elisabetta. Thea Stilton and the Hollywood Hoax (Thea Stilton #23)
May 31st 2016 by Scholastic Paperbacks
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

When the five "Thea Sisters" get a package from their friend Jenna in the mail at their boarding school, they decide to take Jenna up on her invitation and jet to Hollywood. Once there, they get to see many famous sites and go roller skating as well. Since Jenna's sister Terri is working on the set of a film starring the dashing Johnny Ratt, the girls decide to tag along and see the film being made. Mysteries start popping up-- Princess Lane has gone missing, and the girls think they see her in one of the photos taken of the set, and one of the film reels has gone missing, which would put the film even further behind schedule. The Thea Sisters start investigating, and the reader is encouraged to help them. Pages with a magnifying glass recap the clues and help the reader with the investigation. Eventually, the girls find Lane, and realize that her mystery is entwined with several others. 

There are many different series within the Geronimo Stilton franchise, and this subset seems aimed at readers who are intrigued by celebrity stories and fashion. The Thea Sisters have a little more friend drama occurring, and fewer goofy, humorous incidents involving gross things. The story moves quickly, and the characters are not well developed, so it helps that each of the girls has a particular interest (violin, sports, cooking, etc.). 

The real draw of these books is the use of color and engaging fonts on each page, along with the full color illustrations. Everything turns out well in the end, and the Thea Sisters claim Lane as one of their own, telling her that "true friends are forever".

Readers who have outgrown Babymouse and want a series with a lot of books will do well to check out this branch of the Geronimo Stilton series. 

28192909Dami, Elisabetta. The Phantom of the Theater: A Geronimo Stilton Adventure (Creepella Von Cacklefur #8)
May 31st 2016 by Scholastic Paperbacks
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Geronimo receives an invitation from Creepella, a writing colleague, to go see her famous cousin, Violetta perform in an opera with an assortment of friends and family. When they arrive at the theater, they find that someone has given Violetta chocolates that have made her incapable of singing the high notes she must reach for the performance. Geronimo starts investigating all of the spooky, odd things that are going on at the theater. There are lots of creepy secret passages filled with cobwebs, gross snacks of bugs and slime, and apparitions popping out of doorways and wall panels. In the end, Geronimo is able to find out who gave Violetta the candy, reverse the damage, and enable the show to go on. 

This full color, illustrated novel has plenty of pictures on each page, and key words are printed in fancy fonts in a variety of colors. There are even full page spreads of pictures when there are clues to be found or puzzles to be worked out. There is a page of musical riddles with the answers provided upside down on the following page. While the mystery isn't overly sophisticated, the story provides clues so that readers can attempt to solve it. 

There are lots of characters to remember, and the general tone of this is frenetic. Sound effects like moans and singing are splashed across the pages in colorful fonts, and funny phrases like "abso-mousely" pepper the dialogue. I'd love to know how "fabu-mouse" is rendered in the original Italian. 

Aficionados of Goosebumps who make frequent forays into the pages of Babymouse or Squish will be delighted with this Addams Family type adventure with the Geronimo and his fellow writer, Creepella von Cacklefur. 

Beware! Space Junk! (Geronimo Stilton Spacemice #7)Dami, Elisabetta. Beware! Space Junk! (Geronimo Stilton Spacemice #7)
April 26th 2016 by Scholastic Paperbacks
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Geronimo is the captain of the MouseStar1, which is being inspected by Sally de Wrench, a capable space traveler on whom Geronimo has a huge crush. Geronimo's cousin Trap and sister Thea set up a fancy dinner for the two and trick them to get them to the restaurant, but when the two are dining, the ship is attacked by space debris. Geronimo must hurry to the bridge to investigate, and the source is soon found to be the planet Cleanix. MouseStar1 travels there, and Geronimo meets the mayor, who claims that the junk is not his fault. As the group travels around the sparkling city, they find a culture of conspicuous consumption and learn the reason why junk is being blasted into space. After much peril with evil robots and the Galactic Garbage Shooter, Geronimo is able to inform the mayor of a better way old items could be disposed-- the Stellar Garbage Sortrix that can recycle 99.9% of the garbage.

This seemed like it would bring in more philosophy to this series, and perhaps teach a lesson about consumerism and recycling, but the deus ex machina ending just brought in the Sortrix to wipe out the problem with little effort. I was a little disappointed, but readers are not really going to care .

This series includes Geronimo's regular family characters of Thea and Trap, who bedevil him even though he is the captain of the ship. His crush on Sally will be amusing to younger readers, who just like embarrassing situations, but will make Geronimo a sympathetic character to older readers who might struggle with crushes of their own. 

The real draw of this series is the mile-a-minute adventure filled with colorful full page spreads of the futuristic city, a fun story about space travel in the company of aliens and robots, and the typical colorful font that makes younger readers interested. There aren't a lot of space adventures for very young readers, aside from Courtenay's Space Penguins: Galaxy Race and a variety of emergent reader versions of Star Wars. Hand the Spacemice series to readers who devoured all of the Ricky Ricotta books. 

Why so many Geronimo Stilton books? I have a few in my library, but don't really need that many. When the chance arose to review them for Young Adult Books Central, however, I knew that I had to have copies to give to two of my readers who adore them. They'll make good summer reading. 

You have to love the Philosophy of Geronimo Stilton. It sounds rather like the "educational television" constraints that lead to the really bizarre topic choices in the "Weird Al" Show back in the 1990s.