Wednesday, August 31, 2016

#WNDB Wednesday- Making Friends with Billy Wong

28957386Scattergood, Augusta. Making Friends with Billy Wong
August 30th 2016 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Azalea is looking forward to spending the summer hanging out with her best friend at home in Texas, but when her Grandmother Clark falls, she is sent to help her out in tiny Paris Junction. It's the 1950s, and she is surprised to see a Chinese boy hanging around town. It turns out that he is helping out his uncle, who runs the local grocery, in exchange for being able to go to school in town. In the smaller town where his parents run a grocery, he is forced to go to the substandard Negro school, where there are fewer opportunities. Azalea becomes friends with Billy, but is less thrilled with Willis, who steals gum, throws things at people, and is generally unpleasant. There are, of course, reasons for his behavior, but even once she discovers them, it's hard for Azalea to become friends with Willis. Her grandmother's health improves somewhat, and the two make an uneasy peace, although Azalea still longs for her mother and father. When Billy's uncle's store is attacked, Azalea is somewhat surprised but pleased that most of the town supports the family. 
Strengths: This had a lot of good details of daily life in the 1950s, but more importantly, it discussed how people of Chinese descent (some of whom had probably been in the country far long than my German and English ancestors!) were treated. It's surprising that students often have no clue about things like this, so it's good to have books that highlight how much things have changed for the better. Sure, there is still progress to be made, but this fills a much needed gap.
Weaknesses: Willis was a difficult, if realistic character who didn't really change. In fact, most of the characters seemed pretty static, although it seemed like they might change. I also suspected that something bigger was going on with Azalea's parents, but that didn't seem to be the case.

What I really think: I will buy a copy, but it will require a lot of hand selling. The cover doesn't really make it look like historical fiction, and I'm not sure if that will help or hurt.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Most Frightening Story Ever Told

28186024Kerr, Philip. The Most Frightening Story Ever Told
September 6th 2016 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Billy Shivers is recuperating from a bad car accident, and his family doesn't have a lot of money. He loves to read, and spends a fair amount of time in the public library, but there are a limited amount of the ghost books that he loves to read. When he finds The Haunted House of Books, he tries to ingratiate himself to the difficult owner, Mr. Rapscallion, so that he can read books in the store. He manages to come to an agreement with the owner, but business is bad, and the two try to come up with ways to save the store. After attending a convention of booksellers and trying to find a ghost in a hotel with the aid of a young ghost hunter, they meet a descendant of Mary Wollenstonecraft who claims she has a story that is so scary that the first time it was read, it resulted in the deaths of several of the listener. Mr. Rapscallion decides to give a reading, attended only by five lucky children. These children can only enter if they purchase a book from the shop, but the contest is so popular that the entire bookstore is cleaned out. Billy ends up being one of the participants. Will he be able to listen to the entire story? And will the book store be able to continue. 
Strengths: I love this author's The Children of the Lamp series as well as his Winter Horses. He has an appealing writing style, and there was a great twist at the end. This would be a good choice for elementary readers who like scary stories.
Weaknesses: This is not scary enough for my readers. There is a very, very specific type of book that they find scary. Think R.L. Stine, with heads rolling, blood, people being killed. Or do we just think they're dead. This reminded me a little of Nance's Daemon Hall, which circulates mainly because the cover is really great. This cover... too elementary. This could have been a good scary book with a couple of changes, but the weird names pulled me out of any fear I might have had. (Fedora Dirtbag? Who lives in a "trailer home... with a cigarette in her lipsticked mouth and curlers in her bottle-blond hair". Ouch. ) There is also a description of someone as "Oriental-looking". This helps my point that people my age were at some point told that this was the polite term, but it IS NOT now, and shouldn't be used.)

What I really think: This is just not quite right for my students, so I will pass. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

MMGM- Lost in Hollywood

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.

What do you need today? A happy book, or a sad book? While we know what MY students prefer, here are two choices for today.

Lost in Hollywood
Callaghan, Cindy.Lost in Hollywood
August 30th 2016 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

When Ginger's Great Aunt Betty Jean seems to be losing touch with reality AND her money, her caregiver, Leo, calls Ginger's mother and requests that the family come and check on her. Since spring break is coming up, Ginger, her brother Grant, her best friend Payton and parents head to Hollywood to assess the situation. Ginger loves ABJ's house, which is decorated in the style of the 1940s and 50s, when ABJ was a big film star. ABJ is a bit... vague, and her money is indeed missing. While Ginger's parents are trying to figure out with the bank where the money has gone, ABJ confides to Ginger that she has hidden the money, but doesn't remember where! She does have a note, and with the help of Leo's niece Margot, the three set out to investigate a lot of fun Hollywood landmarks in hopes of finding the money. With fun details like Leo's burrito taxi and an embarassing visit to a Dior boutique, this is a fun, light middle grade read. 
Strengths: This entire series has been popular, and the addition of a mystery in this book is brilliant. I also appreciate that this isn't a series that has to be read in order, although there is Lost in Rome, Lost in London, and Lost in Paris. I have a waiting list for this already! Fun, intact and supportive family, bacon burritos, adventures in Hollywood-- what more could we want?
Weaknesses: While this is the exact kind of read that adult women seem to favor, teachers sometimes give students a hard time for reading FUN books, especially when they have bright fun covers. I adore these and think they are perfect for middle school readers!
What I really think: I need to read Lost in Ireland RIGHT NOW!!!

28234735Schröder, Monika. Be Light Like a Bird
September 1st 2016 by Capstone Young Readers
Copy provided by the author

When Wren's father perishes in a plane crash, her mother is furious and doesn't deal with the occurrence well. She also disregards all of Wren's needs to remember her father. Instead, her mother decides to get rid of her father's possessions, sell the house, and move away from their Georgia home. Once they are in a new place, her mother immediately starts dating, but when things get rocky in the new relationship, she packs up Wren and moves again. This repeats, but eventually they land in Michigan. At her school this time, Wren manages to get on the good side of the popular Carrie by giving her answers to math homework. Things go well until there is a more appealing new girl, Victoria. By then, Wren has an uneasy relationship with Theo, whom she likes but who frequently is on the receiving end of Carrie's bullying. When Wren and Theo work on a school project together, they run even more afoul of Carrie, whose father wants to expand the land fill he runs, which would wipe out a local pond that both Theo and Wren enjoy for the peace and the bird watching. Theo's mother passed away from cancer, and his father has retreated to the extent that he is neglecting to get Theo new clothes and is not very supportive. The two grieving children are able to help each other and channel their energy into a constructive project. With the help of Randle, the man who buys Wren's father's car, the two manage to save the pond and bring their respective parents around a little bit. 
StrengthsSchröder knows her way around a middle grade novel. I loved Saraswati's Way, The Dog in the Wood, and My Brother's Shadow. This was a good length, had compelling characters, and includes a two current trends-- birding and sadness. I especially liked the friendship between Wren and Theo. It was very realistic and refreshing to see. 
Weaknesses: This had many levels of sadness, and I found it personally difficult to read about the fact that the mother was more concerned with her own grief than Wren. 
What I really think: This is not a book that my students are likely to request, so I will only buy it if I have extra funds left at the end of the year. 

Look! It's the fancy new 2016 logo and the 
2016 Call for Judges!!

Just to make sure you have it, here's the link: 

Also start to think about what books you will nominate in the various categories. Those nominations will open in October!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Maxi's Secrets

28008112Plourde, Lynn. Maxi's Secrets
August 23rd 2016 by Nancy Paulsen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

When Timiny's father gets a job in a rural community, they move away from a bigger city and get settled in Maine. As a consolation, his parents get him a dog-- a Bernese mountain dog that is all white. At first, Timiny isn't wild about Maxi, but soon comes to love her. Timiny is extremely small for his age (we aren't told exactly why), and is frequently pushed into lockers and bullied, even though his father is the assistant principal. The worst person at this seems to be Rory, a next door neighbor who has family problems, but even he has some good moments. Timiny's best new friend is Abby, who is blind and African-American, adopted by a white family. There is also a girl at the school who uses crutches for a degenerative nerve disease. Maxi turns out to be deaf, a problem that often manifests itself with all white dogs. Maxi manages to get involved in some scrapes, and because Abby gets along so well with Maxi, Timiny investigates how she could get a guide dog even though she is under 18. The internet is a wonderful thing-- it also turns up a pager collar for deaf dogs. We are warned at the very beginning of the book that Maxi dies, but it's still sad, since the cause is bone cancer when Maxi is barely a year old. 
Strengths: I liked the frank way that differences were addressed in this book. Abby is very forthcoming about her blindness and doesn't want special treatment at school. The portrayal of her aide was interesting as well. 
Weaknesses: I wish that we knew what Timiny's problem was. Also was not fond of his name. Maxi's "life lessons" at the end of each chapter were a bit much. 
What I really think: This could have been done in such a way that it was effective but not as sad. There's no reason for Maxi to die. It adds nothing to the story. Will probably buy anyway. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom

27833683Neilsen, David. Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom
August 9th 2016 by Crown Books for Young Readers
ARC provided by the author

Gail and Nancy, as well as Nancy's younger brother, Jerry, are very apprehensive when the neighborhood "playground" (a derelict house) is sold to the weird and creepy Dr. Fell. When they meet him and voice their displeasure, they find that he has installed an elaborate playground in his front yard, and all of the neighborhood children are singing his praises with the eerie refrain "What a nice man is Dr. Fell". When children start becoming injured on the playground at an alarming rate, and being tended by Dr. Fell, the new neighbor seems even more suspicious. Dr. Fell manages to convince local schools to bus children to his facility, convince parents to bring their children in for frequent check ups, and convince the children who are injured that their injuries are minor, even when it looks to Gail, Nancy and Jerry as if the child is dead. After Nancy has an appointment with Dr. Fell and comes out rather zombiefied, Gail and Nancy are able to save her but realize that they must ramp up their efforts at investigation. Aided by an unlikely source, the trio uncovers alarming information about this "nice man" and risk everything to try to stop him. 

There were a lot of nice touches that added to the humor of this book, as well as the credibility of Dr. Fell's evil plan. When the first child is injured, and Dr. Fell wants to help, everyone is outraged that a stranger is inviting a child into his home. As a big fan of Ruth Chew and other older titles where children invite creepy homeless men to live in their attics while their parents are out of town, I was glad to see modern sensibilities included in this magical situation. 

The appeal of playgrounds is very strong, especially for middle school children, who often have to spend long moments after lunch standing around on sidewalks, and who are probably routinely told that they are too old to be on playground equipment if they are brave enough to venture forth onto it. I can't think of any other novels that use this particular back drop as a story setting. 

The world building is especially good in this, especially toward the end when the children are helped by someone who knew Dr. Fell years earlier and had fallen prey to to his schemes as a child. The explanations made sense, and the forces of evil encounter were deliciously scary. 

I was apprehensive about the somewhat twee names in the book (Vexington Avenue, Von Burden Lane) and the repetition of certain phrases (Old Lady Witherton could not be bothered), but these would add to the read aloud qualities of the book, and show the author's background as a storyteller. 

Hand this one to readers who enjoy spooky tales set in magical schools-- Loftin's Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy, Gilman's Tales from Lovecraft Middle School or Stewart's Mysterious Benedict Society, although the book that this most reminded me of, for reasons I can't fully explain, was Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Guy Friday- Dog Man

28691896Pilkey, Dav. Dog Man
August 30th 2016 by GRAPHIX
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

George and Harold, having survived all of the adventures involving Captain Underpants, go through their old papers and find one of their first comics, Dog Man. They decide to reboot the series. Dog Man is created when a good but not very intelligent policeman and a smart dog are both badly injured, and the dog's head is sewn on to the policeman's body. Dog Man loves the Chief, who is less than thrilled with Dog Man's antics, which included licking the Chief's hand and pooping in his office. Petey the cat is the archnemesis in this book, and he has innovative ways to deal with Dog Man, such as creating a giant vacuum cleaner to chase down our hero, and using animation spray to create an army of sentient hot dogs. Oddly, Petey does not triumph. This book has plenty of flip-o-rama pages (which are SUCH a disappointment on an e reader), and was great fun. 
Strengths: This was just fun. I am glad to see a NEW series from Pilkey, and this hybrid hero is worth his kibble when it comes to laughs.
Weaknesses: As soon as get done giggling to myself over the sentient hotdogs, I'll try to make a list.
What I really think: I need to contact Mr. Pilkey and ask if I may use his name in my term "The Pilkey Line". This terms is useful when determining what books will be successful at the middle school level (like The Origami Yoda, which includes more awareness of social interaction, romance, and slightly more mature humor), and which will be more successful at the elementary level (Books like Spaceheadz, which are goofier, have more potty humor, and may not have as much of a coherent plot). The reason I use Pilkey's name in vain is that EVERYONE, regardless of age, likes his books, so he is the constant in the center; everything else falls on either a younger or older side of that line. 

I suppose I should be concerned about the "misogyny in Pilkey"-- in this, the evil mayor is a woman. I ran this question past both of my very feminist daughters, we discussed it, and decided that the benefits of Pilkey's work still outweigh the negatives. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry

28954176Vaught, Susan. Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry
September 6th 2016 by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman 
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Dani Beans' grandmother was an influential writer and Civil Rights activist before Alzheimer's began taking its toll. Now, her grandmother lives with the family, and Dani tries her best to include her in family dinners and talk to her the way she used to. One of the most significant things about her grandmother's past was her "Magnolia Feud" with Avadelle Richardson, who wrote a book entitled Night on Fire about the desegregation riots at Ole Miss in the 1960s. In one of her last coherent conversations, her grandmother gives Dani instructions to find out about the history of the two. With her friend Indri, and her NOT friend, Avadelle's grandson Mac, she works through the clues her grandmother has left her, talks to others who were involved in Civil Rights work at the time, and finds out a lot about her African-American heritage that her parents didn't think she was ready to discover. 
Strengths: I thought that this had a nice balance of racial identities involved in telling a complicated story. Grandma Beans is (as identified in the book) Black, but Dani's mother is White. Avadelle is White, and one of the characters in her book is a White college girl who comes to help out in the 1960s, and stays with a Black family. All too often, Civil Rights stories are told from one side or the other, but by making Dani have a shared heritage, we see that different sides both contributed. 
Weaknesses: This was on the long side (at over 350 pages), which isn't a surprise given Vaught's primarily Young Adult body of work, but since historical fiction is a hard sell, a leaner book would be easier to get children to read. 
What I really think: I was all set to by this until there was an unexpectedly sad occurrence at the end of the book that just didn't need to be there. Now I'll pass. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Paragraphs Bookstore visit with James Ponti!

Here's the most exciting thing-- Framed! (T.O.A.S.T. #1) is going to be a series! Also, Mr. Ponti is working on a murder mystery. Young Adult, of course, but most likely okay for middle grades, too!

Loved hearing about Molly from Blue Moon and about Florian's back story!

#WNDB Wednesday- Talking Leaves

28008153Bruchac, Joseph. Talking Leaves
August 23rd 2016 by Dial Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Young teen Uwohali has been living with his mother even since his parents divorced and his father has been away from the village for various reasons, but he wants to try living with his father, Sequoyah, even though Sequoyah is remarried and has a young daughter. Sequoyah has spent a lot of time dealing with both the Cherokee people and also the US citizens who are trying to take land away from the indigenous people. Uwohali finds it hard to reconnect with his father at first, but then finds out about his latest project-- a syllabary for the Tsalagi language. He had made attempts at this before, but people thought it was witchcraft and his wife even burned his first attempts! With Uwohali's help, Sequoyah is able to persuade the Cherokee that an alphabet that is based on the sounds of their own language will enable them to record their history and make them competitive in a more modern world. 
Strengths: This was very well researched and had a lot of interesting details about life in the early 1800s. Uwohali's relationships with various members of his family are interesting-- he comes to love and admire his younger half sister, and comes to appreciate the many things that his father has done to further the cause of their people, even though such activities have taken Sequoyah away from Uwohali. Bruchac always does a good job at highlighting historical events that have been neglected. 
Weaknesses: This was very slow paced. Historical fiction is a hard sell in middle school, and students may not want to read about the development of a syllabary, no matter how important it is to Native Americans. 
What I really think: This falls within our 8th grade social studies curriculum, so I may buy a copy, but it will take some persuasion to get students to read it. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Bronze Key (Magisterium #3)

Look! It's the fancy new 2016 logo and the 
2016 Call for Judges!!

Just to make sure you have it, here's the link: 

Also start to think about what books you will nominate in the various categories. Those nominations will open in October!

13612965Black, Holly and Clare, Cassandra. The Bronze Key (Magisterium #3)
August 30th 2016 by Scholastic
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Now that Call knows his big, dark secret and things are going okay at the school, he is spending a great summer with Aaron doing normal kid stuff. When there is an awards ceremony for the children right before school starts, his group all goes, and there's a little bit of drama there, with Jasper being a jerk and Call crushing on Celia. However, the biggest drama comes when something tries to kill Call and succeeds in killing another student. Back at the school, Call is still in danger, so Alex, Tamara, et al. try to guard him and also hatch a plan to break into one of the offices and get some answers. Of course, this doesn't go particularly well. One of the big issues facing everyone is that chaos ridden animal are supposed to be rounded up and imprisoned, something which Call thinks is a horrible idea. When the group tries to help a representative from the Order of Disorder hide the animals, tragedy occurs and a couple more secrets are revealed. Don't want to ruin the surprises!
Strengths: This has all of the elements that readers like in Harry Potter, but puts a distinctly different spin on everything. There's a whole different evil force that deals with death, which is kind of brilliant, there are teachers who interact with the students in amusing ways, the magic is all well developed. The idea of the chaos channeling and soul touching is all good. The appearance of a Devoured sister is interesting. I like that four of the five will have metals in the title, and then the last book is The Enemy of Death. Easy to remember which comes in what order. Very nice. 
Weaknesses: A lot of key characters die. Not sure if they are going to come back, but this could be disturbing to younger readers. I'm not sure if I would have this in an elementary library. Fifth graders could handle it, but second and third graders would definitely be upset. 
What I really think: The lichen and tuber eating has got to go (come on, at least Butterbeer sounds good, even if it is disgustingly sweet!), but other than that, this is a very solid middle grade fantasy series specifically designed for readers who liked Harry Potter.

27833800Brittenham, Skip. Between Worlds
August 30th 2016 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young 
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

In the book itself, the story is described by Marshall as "How My Girlfriend and I Found an Ancient Sentient Tree That Teleported Us to Another Dimension to Rescue a Boy Presumed Brain-Dead" (E ARC, page 254.), and indeed, that is what the book is about. 

Aaron is the boy who manages to kill his sister by pelting her with snow balls until she runs onto a lake that isn't frozen all the way and drowns despite his best efforts to save her. He goes into the local "Mystery Forest" to try to find the Wishing Tree, and when he does, he wishes that if his sister can't be brought back to life, then he should be sent far away. 

Switch to Goth-wannabe Mayberry, who is stuck in the wilds of Minnesota because her mother is studied quaking aspen groves. She's so deliberately weird that people make fun of her, with the exception of Marshall, who has his own problems. The two try to find the Wishing Tree, thinking it would help Mayberry's mother out, and when they find the tree they end up getting sucked into a magical world that's just...weird. Like, acid trip weird. Once they come back, they figure out that Aaron is trapped in the world, and unless they save him (since he's been in a coma for two years), his parents will take him off life support. 

I have to admit that this one kept me reading in order to find out what happened to Aaron, but it had a really odd feel to it. There is also an app that goes with it, and I'm not taking the time to investigate, since I hope to get my students AS FAR FROM TECHNOLOGY WHEN READING AS POSSIBLE THIS YEAR. (Yep. All caps. Necessary.)

Here's the Kirkus Review. I'm going to pass. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

MMGM- Call for Cybils Judges!!!

Hop on over to later today to apply to be a Round One or Round Two panelist or judge! It's a LOT of fun, and you will be extremely well-read in whatever division you choose by the end of the process. 

I am the evil overlord category chair for Middle Grade Realistic Fiction, and there are usually about 100-150 books to read for Round One. That group (5-7 people, usually including me!) recommends 5-7 books for the Round 2 people to read in January, and they decide the final winner. 

If you blog and you've never done this before, it's definitely something worth trying. The call for judges is open until mid-September, and nominations for books start around the 1st of October.

I'm super excited to be going to Mt. Vernon tomorrow for James Ponti's launch of Framed! It will be from 5:00-7:00 p.m. at Paragraphs Bookstore. I've never actually been to a book launch before, so this should be fun. I had the review of the book planned for today months ago-- it was a title I thought was exceptionally good. 

Mt. Vernon isn't far from here, and with school starting, the idea of getting in the car and driving somewhere instead of dragging my boot around our first Cross Country meet of the year sounds positively restful!

MMGM- Framed!

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.

Ponti, James. Framed! A T.O.A.S.T. Mystery
August 23rd 2016 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edleweiss Above the Treeline

Florian Bates's parents are both connected to the art world, and they have just moved back to the US from Italy, so that his father can work at a museum in Washington, D.C. Florian is exceptionally observant, using a theory he has concocted called Theory Of All Small Things, which is very Sherlockian in nature. When he and neighbor Margaret watch a young man in the museum copying paintings, and some of those same paintings later go missing, he is able to crack the case even though no one else can. He is made a "covert asset" by the F.B.I. and agent Mark Rivers makes sure he is trained and keeps him safe. This isn't easy to do when Romanian mob boss Nic the Knife shows up at one of Margaret's soccer games, and Florian later makes the bad choice of going to a gallery opening and being seen by the bad guy. Still, he's not too worried, and Margaret gives him a case as well-- find her parents, who abandoned her at a local fire station 12 years ago. Filled with great characters and lots of action and adventure, Framed is hopefully the first book in a nice, long series!

While Florian is clearly intelligent, he doesn't come off as precocious or smarmy. In fact, he teaches his system to Margaret, who is almost as good at it as he is! He's more than willing to help out the F.B.I. and isn't smarmy about it-- in fact, he realizes that he can be lead astray by planted clues as easily as anyone. This is just a great balance to find in a middle grade characters and shows a lot of understanding about tweens on the part of the author!

The D.C. setting, as well as the art museums, paintings and events, are all quite interesting. While some of the connections are a bit far fetched, none are completely beyond belief. It's too bad that the artwork couldn't have been shown in the book-- I am sure that readers will want to Google the paintings mentioned right away. 

I love that the adults in this book are present and supportive, but not hovering. Florian's parents are very busy with work, so having Agent Rivers take an interest in Florian's abilities is a nice touch. Of course, for teen readers, the best parts will be the kidnappings, car chases, and getting the better of both the criminals and the F.B.I.

Framed! Is a great read for fans of clue oriented mysteries like Blue Balliet's book, but also great for readers who enjoy comic crime novels like Schreiber's Con Academy or Carter's Heist Society. It's such a fun middle grade read, though, that I will be handing this to just about everyone!

Sunday, August 21, 2016


27414384O'Connor, Barbara. Wish
August 30th 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC from

Charlemagne's father, Scrappy, is in a correctional center for fighting, and her mother is incapable of getting out of bed to care for her, so "Charlie" is sent to live in the Blue Ridge Mountains with her aunt Bertha and uncle Gus. She's angry at everything and unhappy with being at school, especially when some girls are mean to her. Fortunately, she meets Howard, a boy with "an up and down walk" who is super nice, as is his entire family. The two spend a lot of time trying to capture a local stray dog, whom Charlie has named Wishbone, and they eventually get the dog to stay at Charlie's house. Charlie's sister Jackie has stayed back in Raleigh with a friend, graduates from high school, and seems to be getting on with her life, which irritates Charlie. Howard's entire family, as well as Bertha and Gus, make Charlie feel welcome, and she eventually realizes that she is not going to be able to go back to her mother. 
Strengths: Despite the sad state of Charlie's family, everyone else she comes in contact with is helpful and supportive, so this is a very warm, feel good story. I kept turning the pages, and even though not a lot happened, it kept my interest. I liked the inclusion of Charlie's experiences in Sunday school and vacation Bible school-- a lot of children go to church without thinking too much about it, but that is rarely reflected in middle grade literature. There were lots of nice descriptive touches, and the emotions were there but not overdone. 
Weaknesses: Quirky Southern. Urgh. All of the "He don't..." just about pushed me over the edge. Not a fan personally, and Southern stories don't do too well in my library, either.
What I really think: This was very easy to read because it was so well written, and rather enjoyable, but I don't think I will be able to get children to read it. Very much like Naylor's Faith, Hope and Ivy June that just sits on the shelf. 

Saturday, August 20, 2016


26072954Hooper,  Mary. Poppy. 
August 30th 2016 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens 
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Poppy is a housemaid for the DeVere family, and when World War I starts affecting England, the family decides to move to a smaller house and let the great manor house be used as a hospital. They let most of the staff go, although Poppy is invited to stay on. After talking to a former teacher, Miss Luttrell, she finds that she can apply to be part of the Voluntary Aid Detachment and learn some nursing skills, and Miss Luttrell will even give her a bit of an allowance, having been saddened that such a bright pupil hadn't been able to go to college. Seeing that the world around her is changing, she applies and is accepted. As she starts training, her brother Billy joins up, and the son of the DeVere's, Frederick, does as well. She thinks that there is something more between her and Frederick, especially after she sees him at the memorial service for his older brother, who is killed in the war. Most of her time is spent on the wards, caring for the many wounded soldiers who lost limbs, eyesight, their faces and, in so many cases, their lives. I was thrilled to find out that there is a second book to this, called Poppy in the Field, which I hope is published soon in the US!

Strengths: Wow. Hooper does a fantastic job at taking the daily life of a fairly obscure person from history and bringing it to life. Her Fallen Grace and Velvet cover facets of life during the Victorian era, and I've long recommended At the Sign of the Sugared Plum (set during the plague and fire in London in 1665-66). I was surprised that we didn't see more books about WWI over the last few years, since it was, in my mind, even more pivotal and devastating than WWII, at least in Europe. Poppy also addressed the enormous social change in British society at the time. If you have any readers who have caught The Crimson Fields on PBS, this is an absolute must read. 

Weaknesses: It's hard to get my students to read historical fiction, but I think I can sell this one as a romance and trick them into reading it!
What I really think: Definitely buying a copy. Love the cover!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Guy Friday- Comic Crime Novels

24183675Taylor, Billy. Thieving Weasels.
August 23rd 2016 by Dial Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Cam Smith finally gets into Princeton, where Claire, his girlfriend at his exclusive prep school is also going. Life is good... until his Uncle Wonderful shows up and whisks him away, saying that his mother has tried to commit suicide and Cam needs to be there for her. SIcne Cam's entire family are grifters who have multiple fake identities and have used him in their scams since he was young, Cam has little patience for this. Still, he is alarmed at his mother's state in the mental hospital, and touched that she has purchased a home and a car for him, and furnished the house with pieces of his transient childhood he assumed were long gone. He's less touched when his cousins and other relatives get him roped into a plot to kill an old organized crime figure. How can he escape his past when his relatives keep coming back to drag him into their schemes?
Strengths: Loved all of the schemes, the sketchy relatives, and Cam's attempts to break free of his past. I've always been a fan of Donald Westlake, and this read a bit like some of the Dortmunder books, although Cam is much classier than that character! 
Weaknesses: More of a YA novel. Drinking, drugs, sex (although cleverly and circumspectly done), and one f-word buried deep in the book. Just a bit much for the average 6th or 7th grader. 
What I really think: I have two copies of Schrieber's Con Academy and will just give that to my students instead. Would buy this for a high school library, though!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Travels with Gannon and Wyatt: Hawaii

29563250Wheeler, Patti and Hemstreet, Keith. Travels with Gannon and Wyatt: Hawaii (#6)
September 6th 2016 by Greenleaf Book Group Press
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Gannon and Wyatt are off to Hawaii with their father, an artist, and their mother, who is an airline steward. They are homeschooled, and their homework often involves reporting on their adventures and researching the curricular tie ins. While their parents are working, they are in the care of Alana, and on a mission for the Young Explorer's' Society. On one trip, they see a man struggling in the surf and rescue him. Barely able to speak, he gives them a map and indicates that they need to keep it hidden. The man turns out to be Professor Makaha, who is investigating reports that the grave site of King Kamehameha has been found. Mr. Sato shows up, claiming to be working with the professor and wanting information from the boys. Along with Alana, the boys decide to investigate and uncover a conspiracy. 

The descriptions of the flora and fauna in Hawaii were very detailed, and Gannon and Wyatt get to experience a lot of it! From getting caught in a blizzard to getting a little too close to an active volcano, the boys experience the outdoor wonders first hand so that readers who may never get there can understand them. 

This series describes lots of different countries and climates, and discusses the ramifications of human footprints on delicate ecosystems. I can see this being used in a STEM classroom to illustrate a number of science related points. There is also a wealth of information about the culture of Hawaii. 

Readers who like travel books with action and adventure, like Skurzynski's Mysteries in Our National Parks or Marsh's Real Kids, Real Places books will learn a lot from their adventures with Gannon and Wyatt. 

My favorite part was where they find the tiki statue in a building site and then bad things start to happen. Wait... that was a Brady Bunch episode. That's the first place my mind went when we found out about a hotel that developers want to build. While I can see these being popular with some children, this book was a little too pat for me, and my students would think the cover is cheesy. Think I'll pass on purchase, since I don't have the other five books in the series. 

The First Day of School

 The students arrive today, and there are a million things I should be doing, especially working on my first book order of the year, which has usually already been delivered by this point in the proceedings. 

Instead, I am obsessing about the Latin on my Hogwarts lapel pin. The red pin underneath says "Librarian". The motto reads (From the Harry Potter Wiki): The school's motto is Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus, which, translated from Latin, means "Never tickle a sleeping dragon".

The Latin is clearly wrong. Since it is an imperative, it should use the "noli me tangere" construction, and read something like Nunquam Titilla Draconem Dormiendum. Unless you want to warn ALL the students. Then it would be Titillate.

This is my 19th year teaching. My first four were spent teaching Latin. About once a year, I start wishing I were still doing that. Why is that day today?

I studied Latin at the University of Cincinnati. Today, Picky Reader is moving into Siddall Hall there. On the bright side, it will be very difficult for her to make life choices that are a fraction of the amount of horrible mine were! She is majoring in accounting and finance, and is in one of the business honors programs, which seems to have a lot of support. She is looking forward to studying, and loves the campus, which is improved to the point that not a single building where I lived still stands. 

All will be well. We do not raise our children to be always by our sides. We raise them to have their own lives. 

The library lies in readiness, as soon as I find the hidden USB port on my new Acer Chromething at the circ desk and can plug in the bar code scanner. 

Off to work. It's already 5:10, and as my grandmother would say, the day's not getting any younger.

Have a good one, whatever you're doing.