Saturday, October 21, 2017

Cartoon Saturday

35015966Henry, Will. Wallace the Brave
October 17th 2017 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

Wallace is sort of a combination between Big Nate and Calvin and Hobbes, with its slice-of-life descriptions and quirky characters. I can see this being popular with readers who like collections of comic strips. I know that there was a time when I loved books of Garfield comics because the local paper didn't carry them.

From the publisher: "Welcome to Snug Harbor! Will Henry's Wallace the Brave is a whimsical comic strip that centers around a bold and curious little boy named Wallace, his best friend Spud and the new girl in town, Amelia. Wallace lives in the quaint and funky town of Snug Harbor with his fisherman father, plant loving mother and feral little brother, Sterling. "

21411877Than, Gavin Aung. Zen Pencils; Cartoon Quotes from Inspirational Folks
November 11th 2014 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

This is a collection of shorter (1-6 pages) cartoon vignettes that illustrate quotations with explanatory stories. While there are some students who will pick up anything that is a graphic novel, the fact that there is a teacher guide for this backs up my thought that teachers will be the ones who really enjoy this. I can see the book being a springboard for all manner of discussions and activities, but wonder about the appeal of quotations for most middle school students.

From the publisher: "Zen Pencils is an exciting and unique new comic form that takes inspirational and famous quotations and adapts them into graphic stories. From icons like Confucius, Marie Curie, and Henry David Thoreau, to Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge, to contemporary notables like Ira Glass, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Neil Gaiman---their words are turned into sometimes heartwarming, sometimes sobering stories by cartoonist Gavin Aung Than. Be inspired, motivated, educated, and laugh as you read famous words as never before!"
  Ms. Yingling

Friday, October 20, 2017

I am Alfonso Jones

34099859Medina, Tony, Jennings, John and Robinson, Stacey(Illustrators), I Am Alfonso Jones 
15 October 2017, Tu Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Alfonso and his girlfriend Danetta are at a store buying a suit for Alfonso to wear when his father is released from being unfairly imprisoned. They are laughing and joking, and Alfonso is listening to music. When another person in the store thinks that a hanger Alfonso is holding is a gun, the police shoot and kill him. Alfonso was a trumpet player, bike messenger, and good kid. He wakes up in a version of the afterlife that is on a subway train, and he meets others who were murdered by the police. We learn about Alfonso's life and family before the shooting, and are introduced to many other similar incidents that have occurred over the last fifty years. The resultant protests and legal battles are described and discussed in detail in this timely graphic novel.
Strengths: The message of this book is timely and well-delivered, and the formatting of the book is brilliant. I admire the choice to render all of the illustrations in black and white, the text is not too small, nor is there too much of it, and the inclusion of real cases (especially the listing of them in the back of the book) is helpful.
Weaknesses: Some readers would prefer the illustrations to be in color.
What I really think: I will purchase this one, and can see it being used in a lot of different reading circles as well and read by individuals.

22552026Reynolds, Jason. Long Way Down
October 17th 2017 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

This novel in verse follows Will after his older brother Shawn is shot to death on the street while running an errand for his mother. The family is devastated, and the next morning Will takes his brother's gun from the bureau drawer and starts off to look for Riggs, whom he is sure is responsible. In the elevator, an old family friend, Buck, gets on. Will is surprised, because Buck (an older friend of Shawn's and the one who gave him a gun) was the victim of a shooting a few years earlier. When Will's friend Dani, who was killed in a shooting on a playground, gets on at the next floor, Will knows that something is wrong. As the elevator continues down, Will is joined by his father, Uncle Mark, a man named Frick, and eventually, his brother Shawn. They all discuss the culture of gun violence, since all were shot to death. Will has been taught that "the rule" is that revenge must be obtained, but will he still feel a need to continue this cycle after his elevator ride?
Strengths: This book is about the culture of gangs and gun violence, and does not glamorize any of it. The grief is palpable, although another rule is "Don't cry". Reynolds writing is incisive and lyrical as always, and the verse is effective in describing Will's experiences and emotions.
Weaknesses: The inconsistent use of street vernacular makes the nonstandard usage of "ain't" seem forced.
What I really think: I will not purchase, but it is an essential addition to a high school collection.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Spy School Secret Service (Spy School #5)

34228282Gibbs, Stuart. Spy School Secret Service
October 10th 2017 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Ben is activated for a mission-- Cyrus Hale feels that the president of the US is the target of an assassination attempt, and Ben is taken to the White House under the guise of being friends with the president's son, Jason Stern, with the assignment of locating the source. Things never go smoothly for Ben, and the Secret Service dogs go crazy over his coat, Jason is a jerk, and everyone in the entire complex looks like a possible SPYDER  agent. Eventually, Ben manages to thwart an attempt on the president's life, but makes himself Public Enemy #1 in the process. He manages to escape, and gets help from none other than Erica Hale as well as a surprise relation of hers, who is instrumental in helping Ben lay low while trying to figure things out. In order to uncover some of SPYDER's motivation and to clear himself, Ben must talk to Ashley Sparks, with whom he trained when undercover at the evil spy school. Ashley is being held in a secure government facility, and when Ben and Erica show up to talk to her, they find Zoe, Mike and Ben's other fellow students who have the same idea. When everyone is caught, how will Ben manage to convince Cyrus Hale that he is not aligned with SPYDER, and that the evil organization's plan was not to assassinate the president, but something more nefarious... and still a threat?

This series distinguishes itself from other spy stories by having a lot more humor. At first, this came across as a bit goofy, but as Ben's skills at deducing evil plots develop, the plots have become more serious. The double crossing and deviousness of operatives switching sides is wonderfully convoluted in ways that even Alex Rider would have trouble untangling. SPYDER emerges as a complex and difficult threat even when we only see a few of their agents, and even when those agents, like Murray Hill, seem mainly goofily incompetent. This is a clever and thought provoking way to portray the enemy.

The middle grade voice in this is excellent, and the characters engaging and fun. Ben knows that his own forte is deducing things: I adored the scene where he remains on the floor while Erica and Ashley take down other operatives because he is "pathetic at fighting" and they are definitely not. Even better is Mike's comment afterward that the girls are much cooler than the girls in regular middle school! The romantic triangle is amusing as well-- I love the idea that a teen boy thwarted in his affections would join an evil organization in order to get back at his rival! Erica and Ben have a decided connection, but since she's two years older, this is a huge complication which is realistically addressed.

Gibbs is brilliant at inserting necessary exposition of plot into chase scenes. Whether Ben is unraveling SPYDER's plans during a muddy obstacle course or while he is eluding bad guys crammed in a spare tire compartment in a mini van, this device works extremely well at allowing the reader to understand the plot while the story keeps moving briskly along.

While there is so much to love about Ben's adventures, my favorite part is the plethora of laugh-out-loud phrases and situations that jump out randomly at the reader like camouflaged operatives. When the words"pungent muskrat" or "zesty walrus" are thrown into a serious conversation, or we read about an operative using wood stain to blend in with paneling, it's an unexpected delight that encourages readers to keep devouring the pages in order to get to the next hidden bonbon of delectable humorous prose.

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

#WNDB Wednesday- My Brigadista Year

34427289Paterson, Katherine. My Brigadista Year
October 10th 2017 by Candlewick Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Lora's family is poor, but has a decent life in Havana in the late 1950s. Lora wants desperately to go to a better school, but her parents don't have money to send her. Her abuela, who is very forward thinking, offers Lora jewelry that she was saving for her and says she may sell it and use the money for school. Lora does. When she is 13, Lora decides to join the Literacy Brigadistas, which was an idea of Fidel Castro's to raise the literacy rate and help the poorer, less educated people understand concepts in his new government. The Brigadistas, who were often very young and female, were given brief training on how to teach reading and then sent out into remote areas of the country to live and work with families while teaching them to read. They were given hammocks, since the families wouldn't have extra beds, lanterns so that people could learn after their day of working on the farm, and instruction in basic agricultural practice so that they could help on the farms. Lora ends up living with Luis and Veronica, who have three small children, and is also in charge of educating the nearby family. While the women were pleased to learn to read, the men often did not want to learn from young girls. Lora enjoys being with the family and learning of their hardships, but the atmosphere in Cuba is very tense, and the brigadistas are fearful that the resistance will attack them. After making sure that her students all pass their exams, Lora returns to her family, and the experience has a profound effect on her life.
Strengths: I've had several students with Cuban backgrounds who are very interested in reading stories like The Red Umbrella or 90 Miles to Havana. I had never heard of this initiative, and found it interesting that even with a higher literacy rate than other countries, Cuba thought that this was important enough to pursue, and that the country's literacy rate went up from 60% to 96%. The book concentrated more on the positives of teaching people to read, and Lora learned things from the family as well. There are extensive notes in the back of the book about the research, as well as a helpful time line.
Weaknesses: My gut reaction is that some Cubans might not agree with this portrayal, but I just don't have the background in this area of the world to tell whether or not this is a reliable representative of the feelings of Cuban's at this time. I am going to read more reviews before I purchase, just to make sure. As I said, it seems that Paterson covered all of her bases, and Lora isn't at all condescending to her students, but I don't have the background to judge competently.
What I really think: I wish the cover incorporated some of the period photographs of brigadistas, so it would be very clear that this was a historical novel. Something about the illustration makes me think that this was published in the 1990s.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Magic Storm/Predator vs. Prey/ Mr. Lemoncello's Great Library Race

Simpson, Dana. The Magic Storm (Phoebe and Her Unicorn #6) 
October 17th 2017 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

 In the first graphic novel in this series (the other books are compilations of comic strips), Phoebe and Marigold are concerned about the approaching ice storm. While it's nice to be let out of school early, Marigold suspects that the storm is also effecting the magic in the area and must have its origin in some magical elements. With the help of Max, who loves weather, and the increasingly less evil Dakota and her gremlins, the two try to find out what is going on. Using Marigold's translation of goblin legends as a start, they hunt down the dragon Voltina and find a way to repair the magic in their area, and also find a magical side kick for Max.
Strengths: With it's simple, bright pictures, large font, and amusing story, The Magic Storm will be one of those graphic novels that is never on the shelf! I appreciate that this is a fantasy book that readers of Smile, Roller Girl and Sunny Side Up will enjoy. I don't have a problem with my students reading comics, but when it's the ONLY thing they will read, I do have some concerns, since many times the comics they pick are of the strip variety. Readers at this age do need to occasionally read something with plot, character development, and other facets of literature, so this is perfect. The "frenenemy" relationship between Phoebe and Dakota is a bit over the top, but middle school students will understand it.
Weaknesses: The paperback will last six months, tops. I put a Follett Bound copy on my order for January.
What I really think: This was delightful to read on a challenging day.  Like Voltina, I'm all for comfort reading in middle school (instead of eating!), and this will be a literary bowl of mac and cheese to some of my students!

McMann, Lisa. Predator vs. Prey (Going Wild #2) 
October 3rd 2017 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

 After getting involved with Project Chimera in Going Wild, Charlie and her mother and brother Andy are struggling with the kidnapping of her father. Maria and Mac are both having problem controlling when they change into animals, and Maria frequently sprouts a tale. When Charlie finds in formation her father left ten years ago, she and her mother contact Dr. Quinn Sharma and get more information, especially about the evil Dr. Gray who wants the Mark bracelets that let the children turn into different animals. Kelly, who also had a bracelet, claims to have thrown hers away, but is later interviewed by the news for performing an amazing rescue. She blabs the secret of the bracelet, endangering everyone. Charlie and her friends try to find Dr. Gray and take care of him, but are up against the soldiers he is creating. Kelly goes missing, but when she returns decides to join Gray's side. The story definitely is wide open for a sequel.
Strengths: I did really appreciate that Charlie's mother remained with them and helped them through the whole process. That's unusual in middle grade literature, since preteen children must save the world without adult intervention, but this seems more realistic, and is a nice change. There's lots of action, an evil villain, and the ability to acquire super skills from animals. My students adore this author and will be thrilled to see this.
Weaknesses: Not my favorite, although not sure why. A lot of people get injured, but then use their starfish qualities to heal themselves, which made me realize I'm not a fan of reading about injuries. Just slows down the story (think The False Prince series.)
What I really think: I will purchase, just don't understand the appeal.

31226744Grabenstein, Chris. Mr. Lemoncello's Great Library Race (#3)
October 10th 2017 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

This book was a perfect storm of things I have trouble remembering: puzzles, literary references, a fantasy feel (although not technically fantasy), and lots and lots of character names, some of which belong to real people, so I felt a need to look them all up, which made it harder to remember the plot.

This is a tremendously popular series with my students, and there is already a waiting list for this title. But it's also been cross country season, and I just am not going to write a competent review even though it is an essential purchase for all middle school and most elementary school libraries.


If Kyle can make it through the first round, he and the other lucky finalists will go on a great race--by bicycle, bookmobile, and even Mr. Lemoncello's corporate banana jet!--to find fascinating facts about famous Americans. The first to bring their facts back to the library will win spectacular prizes! But when a few surprising "facts" surface about Mr. Lemoncello, it might be GO TO JAIL and LOSE A TURN all at once! Could Kyle's hero be a fraud? It's winner take all, so Kyle and the other kids will have to dig deep to find out the truth before the GAME is OVER for Mr. Lemoncello and his entire fantastic empire!

Filled with brand-new puzzles and games (including a hidden bonus puzzle!), this fast-paced read will have gamers and readers alike racing to the finish line because, like Mr. Lemoncello's commercials say, IS IT FUN? . . . HELLO! IT'S A LEMONCELLO!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Never Say Die! Blog Tour

Horowitz, Anthony. Never Say Die (Alex Rider #11) 
October 10th 2017 by Philomel Books
Copy graciously provided by publisher!

Yes, it's the eleventh book in the series. Yes, the first one was published in 2000, before my students were born. BUT, this is the best middle grade series of all time. If you haven't read Stormbreaker, run, don't walk, to the nearest book source to buy or borrow a copy. You won't regret it!

Alex is trying to recuperate from his final mission in Scorpia Rising. He lost his long term nanny/parent substitute/friend Jack Albright in an evil plot by Razim, so is living in California with his friend Sabine and her parents. When he gets a cryptic e mail, he is sure that Jack is alive, so he takes off to Egypt to return to the scene of her death to look for clues. Luckily, Colonel Manzour likes Alex and not only keeps him safe but gives him some helpful intel. A clue on the wall of the prison, as well as some IP address sleuthing sends to him St. Tropez, but it's okay because he has some cash, a credit card, can speak French, and has had his computer modified so it can connect him to Manzour's people for help... or act as a bomb. He finds the evil Grimaldi twins' yacht, and after some trouble there, realizes that the two have Operation Steel Claw underway. This explains a little bit about how a massive transport helicopter went missing, but time is of the essence when figuring out what the Grimaldi's plan to do with the helicopter. After a false start, Alex figures out their plan, and rushes off to the aid of those affected. Will this path somehow lead him to Jack? And what does his career with Mrs. Jones and MI6 look like now?

Like any Alex Rider book, the best part are the descriptions of his adventures. Who else but a 15 year old boy would want to be flung from the ejector seat of a vehicle up to a bus being flown away by a massive helicopter, hang on for dear life, and manage to not get squashed when the bus is deposited on a train? Despite his lack of training, Alex has managed to develop some very useful spy skills, and has a good feeling for what the evil doers might try to accomplish.

We do get a little more emotional development in this, since Alex is searching for Jack. We get a short glimpse of him trying to live a "normal" life, and it's obvious that such an existence is never going to work for our intrepid spy boy. Interestingly, we see a lot more of Mrs. Jones' emotional journey in this volume, which I appreciated. I'm not reading the series for the character development, but after 17 years, I have a vested interest in this character and definitely want to delve into his psyche a bit more!

Horowitz's Stormbreaker opened up middle grade literature to the genre of spy books, and we've seen Carter's Gallagher Girls, McGee's Ryan Quinn, and great series from McNab, Muchamore, Higson, and Gilman. When you think about it, a whole lot of adult like this genre, so it's not a surprise that my students want to escape from everyday reality and read about spy. Personally, I think I would make a great Mrs. Pollifax for the new Millenium. When you think about it, teenagers have a lot to lose. Middle aged librarians whose library jobs might be cut at any moment have nothing to lose. We would be terrifying and ruthless as spies!

Week One:
October 2 – YA Book Nerd – Review
October 4 – The Keepers of the Books - Review
October 5 – Bookstorm Reads – Creative: Favorite Alex Rider Gadgets
October 6 – Hello Jenny Reviews – Promo: Photo
Week Two:
October 9 – Through the Open Window - Review
October 10 – Buttermybooks – Creative: Outfit Inspiration from Cover
October 11 – The Loud Library Lady - Review
October 12 – YA Books Central – Excerpt with giveaway
October 13 – Never Too Many to Read – Creative: Spotlight on book series
Week Three:
October 16 – Ms. Yingling Reads - Review
October 17 – Doodle Mom’s Homeschooling Life - Review
October 18 – BigScreenBooks - Review
October 19 –  Mary Had a Little Book Blog – Spy Kit essentials (what every spy must keep in their bag)
October 20 – Avid Reader – Travel Guide to Egypt

Anthony Horowitz ( is a world-renowned screenwriter for film and television, having received multiple awards. And he is, of course, the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Alex Rider novels, which have spawned a major motion picture and a line of graphic novels. Anthony was also commissioned by the Conan Doyle Estate to write two Sherlock Holmes novels, the critically-acclaimed The House of Silk and Moriarty. Most recently he was commissioned by the Ian Fleming Estate to write the James Bond novel Trigger Mortis, incorporating never-before-published material from 007's creator. Anthony lives with his wife in London, England; they are parents to two grown boys. He will be touring the US for the publication of NEVER SAY DIE.

Ms. Yingling

MMGM- Molly in the Middle

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

27508575Arno, Ronni. Molly in the Middle
October 10th 2017 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Molly's parents are very harried and busy, and one morning, Molly's father gets all the way to her younger sister Coco's school before realizing that she isn't in the car! Feeling very beige, Molly decides to dye her hair multiple colors and sneak an outfit out of her sister's closet. For the first time, people look at her in school, and the very cute Robert asks if she can help him dye his hair. Former friend Nina and new bestie, Christina, invite her to sit with them, seeing that she's gotten Robert's attention, saving her from having to hide in the library at lunch. This is the first year that her best friend, Kellan, hasn't been in school; his mother is home schooling him because she is overly protective of his muscular dystrophy. Molly sees Kellan a lot outside of school, and the two are planning on doing a fundraiser walk for MD, but her new friends make fun of him, and she is enjoying her new popularity too much to defend him strenuously. Robert isn't a great student, but he's nice enough, and he pays attention to Molly. As her parents' fighting gets worse, and her mother goes to stay with a sister, leaving Molly to supervise Coco and watch her older sister Eliza implode, that attention makes her feel better. When Christina plans a spectacular party at her country club on the same day of the MD walk, Molly tells Kellan she won't be able to go with him. Will Molly decide that her new friends are worth the sacrifice of her best friend?
Strengths: This was brilliant in that it plays to a deep psychological need middle schoolers have-- to be popular for who they are. Molly only changes her hair and clothes (with a little sass for Ms. Littman), and yet her old friend Nina comes back, she gets a cute boy writing his number on her hand, and she gets invited to THE most exclusive party of the year! She still gets to hang out with Kellan. The best part? When she ditches Kellan for the party, he actually understands why she did it and forgives her. Of course, it helps that she feels bad. The home environment is also unfortunately realistic; for as many middle grade novels as there are where Really Horrible Things Happen and the parents are prostrate with grief, there are really few books where the parents are just self absorbed and being serviceable but not good parents. The father comes out looking best in this one, and I liked how he listened to Tessa's very reasonable critique of her childhood experience. Kellan is also a stand out character, trying his best despite his overprotective mother, and growing when he doesn't have Tessa to help him out.
Weaknesses: Mrs. Littman's little talk with Tessa about her choice of friends, while circumspect, was unwise. I vividly remember Mr. Clingerman, my 8th grade science teacher, telling me that my best friend, Lori, was not a good influence on me. I was a good kid, and this just made me mad, and it made me dislike him a lot!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and this will always be checked out!

Apparently, I need to find time for students to eat lunch in the library. Molly is just one of many fictional characters who uses this as an escape. Our grades each have lunch a different period of the day, so when 6th graders are eating lunch, I have 7th and 8th grade classes in for research and language arts. If I get lunch, I have to work around what grade is using the library most that day and eat then. Since I have no aide, there's about 25 minutes of one period a day that students can't stay in the library because it's being run by other students. (Who are on the other side of a wall of glass windows from the cafeteria monitors.) I just don't get how the schedules work for students to not only eat in the library, but to find it quiet!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City

33914003Kendall, Jodi. The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City
October 3rd 2017 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Josie's large family lives in a small house in a city in central Ohio, and when her older brother Tom brings home a piglet at Thanksgiving, Josie is determined to keep Hamlet and save him from certain death. Her parents aren't thrilled, but are apparently worn down from dealing with five children, and tell her that she can keep the pig until the new year, but then has to find him a home. Josie thinks that if she can keep the pig that long, her parents will fall in love with him and let her keep him. She trains him to use a litter box, and he gets along quite well with the family dog. He's expensive, though, and needs lots of food and occasionally gets into trouble, such as ruining a neighbors plants and pots. Money is tight, and Josie also has a bill for her gymnastics club that is coming due. Not only that, but police visit the house and tell the family that it is illegal to keep livestock in the city. Her father's job is so tenuous that her parents return all of their Christmas gifts and decide that they'll have a handmade, Secret Santa style Christmas. When Josie finds out that the police have made arrangements for a pig farmer to take Hamlet away, Josie see this road ending in bacon, and launches a battle to save her beloved pet.
Strengths: This actually had more gymnastics in it than many books I've read, and I really need books about gymnastics! The family dynamics were interesting, and I know that my own personal daughter thinks pigs are adorable.
Weaknesses:This had to have been set in Columbus, but it seemed half a bubble off. This is probably because the author lives in New York City. I would think that anyone who lived in Columbus would understand that you couldn't have a regular pig in the city.
What I really think: Maddie's parents needed more back bone. I had a hard time believing they let Maddie keep the pig at all.

 I read this right after Mustaches for Maddie. If only the two books could be combined, and there was a gymnast who had a brain tumor, that would be perfect. Of course, that would leave us with a book about a 6th grade class doing Shakespeare and one of the cast members having a pig, which would be a REALLY hard sell!
Ms. Yingling

Books that Could be Nominated for Cybils MGF

So far, there are 70 books that have been nominated: in previous years, there have been up to 150. I'd love to give everything a fair chance, and would like to see lots more nominations! Here are some books that I hvaen't seen nominated yet; if you were passionate about a title, hope over to  to read the category descriptions and nominate away!

This is just SOME of the books that I would like to be nominated!

Asher, Diana Harmon. Sidetracked
Behar, Ruth. Lucky Broken Girl
Benedis-Grab, Daphne. Army Brats
Bowen, Fred. Outside Shot
Buyea, Rob. The Perfect Score
Carter, Caela. Forever, or a Long, Long Time.
Dee, Barbara. Halfway Normal.
Freeman, Ruth. One Good Thing About America.
Galante, Cecelia. Stealing Our Way Home
Gangsei, Jan. The Wild Bunch
Giff, Patricia Reilly. Genevieve's War
Greenwald, Tommy. The Real Us
Hashimoto, Meika. The Trail
Hughes, Dean. Four-Four-Two
Johnson, Terry Lynn. Falcon Wild
Johnson, Terry Lynn. Sled Dog School
Key, Watt. Hideout
Krishnaswami, Uma. Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh
Lambert, Mary E. Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes
Lupica, Mike. Lone Stars Mancusi, Mari. Princesses, Inc.
Margolis, Leslie. We Are Party People
Miller, Darcy. Roll
Palmer, Iva-Marie. Gabby Garcia's Ultimate Playbook
Palmer, Robin. Love You Like a Sister
Paterson, Katherine. My Brigadista Year
Pla, Sally J. The Someday Birds
Ridge, Yolanda. Inside Hudson Pickle
Rosenberg and Shang. This is Just a Test
Sheinmel, Courtney. Chloe on the Bright Side (The Kindness Club #1)
Sonnenblick, Jordan. The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade
Spradlin, Michael. Prisoner of War
Tarpley, Natasha. The Harlem Charade
Trueit, Trudy. My Top Secret Dares and Don'ts
Tubbs, Kristine O'Donnell. A Dog Like Daisy
Vaught, Susan. Super Max and the Mystery of Thornwood's Revenge
Van Draanen, Wendelin. The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones
Vrabel, Beth. A Blind Guide to Normal.
Vrabel, Beth. Caleb and Kit
Walker, Melissa. Let's Pretend We Never Met
Zhang, Kat. The Emperor's Riddle

Saturday, October 14, 2017

This weekend- Living in the City!

33413919Glaser, Karina Yan. The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street
October 3rd 2017 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

The Vanderbeekers family of five children, parents, dog and rabbit have lived on two floors in a brownstone in Harlem. The father grew up in the same neighborhood. Just before Christmas, however, their landlord, Mr. Beiderman, decides not to renew their lease, and they have to move right after Christmas. This is a problem, because the family has gotten a reduced rate because the father acts as the superintendent, and the rent on anything large enough for the family would be prohibitive. They may have to move out of the city! Hyacinth, twins Isa and Jessie, Laney and Oliver all have plans to persuade the reclusive landlord to change his mind, even circulating a petition in their neighborhood. They have lots of friends nearby-- the Castlemans, who run a bakery and have a son the age of the twins; Mr. Jeet and Miss Jessie, who live upstairs and are like grandparents; even the postman has been working in the neighborhood longer than the father has been alive and brings treats for the dog. Of course, other things are occurring while the family is trying to pack up for the move, and they plan to celebrate their last Christmas in style. Will a miracle occur so that they can stay?
Strengths: This had a Melendy Family vibe, but updated for the new millenium. I love the cover, and the idea of living in the city sounds much more appealing than living there actually would be. The close knit neighborhood is wonderful, and the industriousness of the children is charming.
Weaknesses: If the family had to be out of the apartment in a few days, wouldn't they have another one lined up? A mover consulted? Lots of plans made? This struck me as unrealistic; if Mr. Beiderman did rescind his nonrenewal at the last minute, it would still be problematic. This will not bother students, but it bothered me. Also, it is not helpful to portray someone who has lost family as a crazy recluse who can't move on with his life and, in fact, wants to punish others for his pain. That bothered me the most. People move on. There's really no other choice.
What I really think: Since stories set in New York City gather dust on my shelves, I will wait until the end of the year to see if I can purchase this.

34593617Rosinsky, Lisa. Inevitable and Only
October 10th 2017 by Boyds Mills Press
ARC from the publisher

Acadia has always gotten along better with her father than her mother, especially now that her mother is in administration at the Quaker school she attends while her father still runs a used bookstore and cooks vegan dinners for the family in their Baltimore home. When Cadie finds out that her father has another daughter a few months older than she is, and that Elizabeth's mother has passed away and Elizabeth is coming to live with them, she's afraid it will mean bad things for her family. The transition isn't horrible, but Elizabeth is very religious and preppy, and doesn't quite fit in to Cadie's hipster world. (Her parents lived in a cooperative house, and the children at Cadie's school are named things like Raven, Heron and Zephyr.) Will her parents be able to overcome the past and bring the family together?
Strengths: I'd probably buy this for high school, but it was more of a young adult book, but without enough sweet romance for my girls who want older books. Nothing objectionable, though, and I enjoyed it.
Weaknesses: Hippie parents? Cadie would have been born about 2000, and her parents were very young, so they were born about 1980? Communist grandparents? I got stuck on the generational math of this one. We'll just go with hipster parents and move along.
What I really think: I'd buy this for high school but will pass for middle school, mainly on account of the vast amount of the book concerned with putting on Much Ado About Nothing.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Guy Friday- WWII

30122938Katz, Gwen. Among the Red Stars
October 3rd 2017 by HarperTeen
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Valka has trained as a pilot, and idolizes some of the Russian women who have made the news for the aviation exploits, but has had no luck finding a job. When the Germans attack the Russians, Valka answers a call for a women's  air unit. Her long time friend, Pasha, joins the army. The two were just friends, but start to realize, through a series of letters, that they are fonder of each other than they thought. Valka has to learn how to fly for combat, how to get along with superior officers, and how to deal with the fact that she or her comrades could die at any time. Pasha also has to deal with these things. Eventually, Pasha goes on a mission behind enemy lines and needs to be rescued by Valka.
Strengths: World War II is still a really popular topic, and I'm always looking for books on different facets of it. Riordan's The Sniper covers women in the Russian military, but I didn't know how much more involved Russian women were in the military. Plenty of air missions, which is not as much covered as army fighting, so this had several things to recommend it.
Weaknesses: I could have used more of a plot. Once Pasha started trying to recover some photographs and Valka's unit got involved, I was able to connect more to the story, but I struggled for the first part of the book because I couldn't quite tell where the story was headed.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. Liked it MUCH more than Lasky's Night Witches, which was just too brutal.

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Greetings From Witness Protection!/Dog Day Afterschool (Crimebiters #3)

33158544Burt, Jake. Greetings From Witness Protection!
October 3rd 2017 by Feiwel & Friends
E ARC from Netgalley

New York City kid Nicki has been in foster care since the death of her grandmother, who taught her how to be a pickpocket. It's been hard to find a permanent place with her background and attitude, so she's a bit surprised when she is approached by the marshalls of the Witness Protection Program to join a family. Her father has been released from jail but has never come back to claim her, which helps her make her decision. Not only would she join the Sicurezzas, but they would be unable to send her back to the Center, and all her previous records would be destroyed. Why? Elena Sicurezza worked with her brother, a big shot in the Cercatore family syndicate, but crossed him. In order to better hide the family, their name is being changed, they are moving to the south, and the federal agents feel that adding another child to the family will make them harder to trace. Nicki changes her name to Charlotte and moves into a new house with "Harriet Trevor", "Jonathan", and their son, "Jackson". It's an adjestment, especially since "Charlotte" can't commit any crimes, has to keep a B- average, can't be photographed or use social media, and has to generally lay pretty low. Luckily, new neighbor Britney is friendly, and the two gets along even though Britney warns Charlotte that she isn't popular. Slowly but surely, Charlotte learns to live with the Trevors, get along in school, and come to terms with her own past, which might just be the most dangerous part of the entire relocation.
Strengths: Most middle schoolers secretly wish that they could leave their own families and be someone else, at least part of the time. Following Nicki's story is one way for them to do this. She's a flawed but sympathetic character, and her issues are an intriguing lens through which to view ordinary middle school problems.
Weaknesses: Pretty sure that neither foster care nor real witness protection programs work in real life the way they do in the book. There's some suspension of disbelief necessary to buy into this premise.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, since it was an entertaining, well-written story. This is a fun way to get readers who like realistic fiction interested in spy type books, I think, and might encourage them to go on and read things like Carter's Gallagher Girls books.

Greenwald, Tommy. Dog Day Afterschool (Crimebiters #3)
October 10th 2017 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central 

It's the end of the school year, and Jimmy Bishop is busy making plans for summer. He wants to volunteer at the local animal shelter where he got Abby, his crime solving pooch, play lacrosse, and hang out with his friends Irwin, Baxter and Daisy. Things become complicated when Baxter admits that unless he passes math, he might be held back, and the building that houses the animal shelter is sold, and the shelter will have to close. Jimmy and his friends band together to help Baxter study, try unsuccessfully to solve a mystery involving a stolen answer sheet, and struggle through the end of the year at school, but the animal shelter is a big deal. Unfortunately, Daisy has gotten a new pet, a cat named Purkins who does NOT get along with Abby. After the stolen answer sheet debacle, Daisy and Irwin are not spending a lot of time with Jimmy, so all of the success he has in helping the shelter isn't as meaningful without his friends. With the CrimeBiters somewhat scattered, will Jimmy be able to solve the mystery of who is behind the sale of the building and the destruction caused to the animal shelter?

It's rare that the third book in a series is the most solid, but I enjoyed this book even more than My Dog is Better Than Your Dog and It's  a Doggy Dog World. In fact, there is such a complete and delightful recap of previous books in the beginning of the book that this could be read on its own if necessary. The characters all seemed to come into their own, and the fact that many of them make mistakes and are able to redeem themselves is a theme that should be explored more in middle grade fiction. The tensions between the characters are realistic and honest, and it's great to see the group working together to help Baxter be successful in school and to apologize when a mistake is made and they accuse someone wrongly in the case of the stolen answer sheet.

Children who try to make a positive impact on their world is an underutilized plot, and since this also involves dogs and cats, there will be many young readers who are drawn to this story.

While this has shades of Woodrow's Pet War or Singleton's Curious Cat Spy Club, it also pays homage to the classic Henry Reed neighborhood adventures. Even the illustrations have an appealing, timeless quality. A must read for any middle grade reader who enjoys mysteries or pet stories, Dog Day Afterschool begs to be picked up almost as insistently as the wide-eyed Purrkins.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Saturdays with Hitchcock.

28107326Wittlinger, Ellen. Saturdays with Hitchcock.
October 10th 2017 by Charlesbridge
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Sixth grader Maisie and her best friend Cyrus like to hang out together, especially to see classic movies at their small town Illinois theater run by the cranky Mr. Schmitz. She's not happy when Gary starts hanging around with them, since she feels she's too young to be interested in boys, and Cyrus acts weird whenever Gary is around. Maisie's beloved Uncle Walt moves in with her family while he is recuperating from an injury he received doing one of his own stunts for a movie. His career isn't going all that well, but he's still determined to make it in Hollywood. He and Maisie bond over movies, and he nicknames her "Hitchcock". Maisie's mother Cindy isn't pleased to have Walt back; even though he doesn't do a lot to help out with their mother, Evelyn, the mother clearly thinks Walt is wonderful. Maisie starts to notice that Evelyn is forgetting a lot of things, and has left her tea kettle boiling on the stove, so Cindy finds a caregiver to stay with Evelyn. When an accident happens despite the caregiver, the decision is made to move Evelyn into Maisie's room. Meanwhile, the tensions grow between Maisie and Cyrus; Cyrus has a secret that he won't tell her because he can't. Eventually, we find out that Cyrus like likes Gary, and Maisie starts to think that she like likes Gary, but doesn't feel right since Cyrus is interested in him. Mr. Schmitz turns out to be an old flame of Evelyn's, and he steps in to help care for her. Things seem to be going fairly well, but there's a lot of emotional information for Maisie to process.
Strengths: I am enjoying the recent trend in ailing grandparent stories-- it's so much more realistic than having all of the siblings and parents die. Maisie's relationship with her uncle, as well as the family dynamic in general, is strained but very realistic. Maisie's mother loses her job, and that's certainly something that many children have had to deal with. The grandmother's decline is softened by her reconnection with Mr. Schmitz. The stand out plot line, of course, is the like like triangle, and it's handled very brilliantly. Like Mattie in Dee's Star Crossed, Cyrus is attracted to a boy but doesn't feel that this automatically makes him gay, and we see enough of middle school behavior to understand why Cyrus doesn't want to announce his feelings to the world. It's a nice touch that Gary has a cousin who's gay, so he is kind to Cyrus, even though Gary clearly prefers Maisie. Well done, all around.
Weaknesses: If there are middle school students who like 80 year old movies, they do not go to my school. In 20 years of teaching, I've only had two students who have stated classic movies as an interest, and since I was the only 12 year old with a Gene Kelly obsession forty years ago, I've been looking for them. Maybe it's just my community's lack of good classic movie theater.
What I really think: I will buy a copy of this, but I will have to hand sell it to my growing group of students who ask for LGBTQIA books.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Spooooky Books!

MacHale, D. J. Black Moon Rising (The Library #2)
October 3rd 2017 by Random House Books for Young Readers
ARC provided by the publisher

Marcus, along with his friends Lu and Theo, are struggling to make it through middle school. Lu gets a bad grade and Marcus' parents want him to be involved in extracurricular activities. At least things aren't as bad as they are at Coppell Middle School in Massachusetts, where disasters like the bleachers collapsing at the pep rally are starting to occur almost daily. When Marcus' key gets very warm, he visits Everett in the library and checks out the story of CMS. When he gets there, he manages to meet the evil Nate Christmas (who is busy trying to flood the boys' bathroom) as well as Ainsley, the preppy and peppy class president, and the painfully shy Kayla. . All three are frequently in the middle of the latest disturbance, but Marcus starts to realize that Ainsley is the most likely instigator of events. With the help of Lu and Theo, who also come to the school, Marcus is able to connect Ainsley and the school librarian to a coven that is trying to resurrect a witch with connections to Salem.

When things go wrong around the time of a Halloween school dance, you know there are going to be lots of deliciously creepy factors. The power goes out, white ravens appear, and seemingly benign libraries shape shift out of their plaid skirts into the skin of a wolf-beast! Add a sacrificial circle in the middle of the woods with a dash of Salem witchcraft, and there won't be an unchewed fingernail in the library!

Aside from the creepy mystery, there are some really interesting middle school dynamics going on. While Nate is easily blamed for mischief because he's always in the middle of one scheme or another, it's far creepier to realize that Ainsley, the go-to girl for all events in the middle school, might be the one mysteriously creating trouble! No one will suspect the good girl, who will be given unprecedented access to the school, and unwarranted trust by her classmates! So much more havoc can be wreaked by such a person!

The Library itself is an intriguing space, and there is a lot left undiscovered about its secrets, although we do find out that they still use paper circulation cards. It's nice that Marcus is able to go to Everett for help; as scary as this series is, it's a good idea to have some adult back up just in case. I was very amused by Marcus' choice of extra curricular activity at the end of the book as well.

While there isn't as much about Marcus' biological parents in this book, the ending hints that the trio will investigate the disappearance of Lu's cousin next, and I'm hoping that we find out a little more backstory about both Marcus' family as well as the stories held by the library. We'll certainly have the idea reinforced that having a mechanical fortune teller tell you future is never a good idea! Readers who like MacHale's Morpheus Road series, as well as books by Hahn, Kehret, Poblocki and Barbara Brooks Wallace will scare themselves silly reading The Library with a flashlight under the covers.

Terry, Laura. Graveyard Shakes
September 26th 2017 by Graphix
Copy provided Letter Better Publishing Services

Victoria and her younger sister Katia have been homeschooled, but their parents decide to send them to Bexley Academy. Victoria, despite her love for her odd hat, tries to fit in after girls make fun of her, but Katia is a free spirit who wants to do her own thing no matter what opinion classmates have. Near the school, there is a graveyard where many ghosts hang out, including Little Ghost, who is scared of the other phantoms. He is, however, friends with Modie. Modie is an unusual case. He was injured in an accident that killed his mother, and his father is keeping him alive by killing a tween every 13 years and feeding the spirit to Modie! Modie doesn't like this idea, although he enjoys hanging out with Little Ghost. When Katia runs away from the school during a storm, it looks like she will be the next victim to keep Modie alive. Katia tries to prevent this, with help from Little Ghost.
Strengths: This is a mildly scary and definitely creepy tale that is a great choice for Halloween. The formatting is perfect for middle grade readers-- the text is not too small, the pictures are clear and support the text, and the characters are distinct enough that the story moves along quickly. It's hard to tell from the ARC how much of this will be in color. The color is nicely done, but students would pick this up even if the final copy does have some black and white pages. Modie's moral struggle adds an unexpected depth to this. I will definitely purchase a copy, since my students have become inordinately fond of graphic novels.
Weaknesses: Younger readers might have problems with the idea of the father killing children in order to save Modie, but middle school students will be fine with the idea.
What I really think: I personally am not a fan of the "do your own thing even if it's weird" philosophy when it comes to middle school students, so I wasn't very fond of Victoria and was even less fond of Katia. Middle school is tough no matter how much one follows the social mores, so encouraging students to remain steadfast in behaviors that will bring them under the censure of their classmates seems unwise.
Ms. Yingling

Monday, October 09, 2017

MMGM- We Are Party People, Not on Fifth Street

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and  #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday. 

Margolis, Leslie. We Are Party People
October 3rd 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
E ARC From

Pixie's parents run the local party business, We Are Party People, and also give toddler classes on music from their storefront in the mall. Her mom and dad dress up as everything from John Lennon to Luella the Mermaid to the Crazy Chicken. When Pixie's estranged grandmother develops increasingly bad problems with dementia, Pixie's mother goes to stay with her and get her resettled. This means that a lot of the party business needs Pixie's help. This is a lot to ask, since she is trying to make her way through middle school with the help of longtime friend Lola and newcomer Sophie. Pixie suffers from shyness and some social anxiety, so when Sophie decides to run for class president and wants her help, and her father wants her to sing at birthday parties, her anxiety escalates, especially since she is also meeting her mother. She is impressed with how well Sophie can go up to other students and introduce herself, and is a bit jealous of her ability to talk to boys. Sophie gives a great speech for the school election, and thinks that being the mermaid at a birthday party would be a lot of fun. Since Pixie doesn't want to do that, Sophie is recruited, but has second thoughts when mean girl and election opponent Jenna is at the party! Will Pixie be able to harness her inner resources to save the day?
Strengths: This is what we need in middle grade novels. Some realistic friend and family drama, a little crush, a fun setting in which a middle grade character DOES something, and a happy ending. Confetti on the cover. I love Margolis' other books, such as If I Were You, and I can't wait to share this title with my readers. This would also be perfect for elementary students who want to read about older students.
Weaknesses: The character development could have been a bit better. Pixie is anxious and anxious and anxious... and then she's not. There were some circumstances that made this make a little more sense, but I wished she had analyzed Sophie's behavior a little more and tried it out with varying degrees of success before finding out what worked for her.
What I really think: First of all, I want to name my next dog Pixie! I was a little put off by the portrayal of Pixie's anxiety at first, but was glad to see her be able to overcome it. I will probably get people who are really annoyed at me by that comment, but honestly, I think the way she felt is pretty much how 95% of middle school girls feel, and I'm including the teachers and librarians in this group! It's people like Jenna and Sophie who are unusual.

Wiechman, Kathy Cannon. Not on Fifth Street
October 10th 2017 by Calkins Creek Books
E ARC graciously provided by publisher upon request

Brothers Pete and Gus live with their family in Ironton, Ohio in 1937. Practical Pete, the younger brother, is the one the father counts on to help around the house, and Gus is the more poetic, distracted, romantic type. When the Ohio River starts to rise after a warm and rainy January, the father asks Gus to accompany him in helping their neighbors prepare for and fight the rising waters. Gus is pleased to be asked instead of Pete, until he realizes that being left in charge of the house and younger siblings is a greater responsibility. Pete accepts his job and performs it with diligence, trying to keep the house dry while not alarming his mother more than necessary. As the water rises, he removes the refrigerator motor and takes it upstairs so it doesn't get damaged, brings food and supplies up, and even positions the family row boat so it can be accessed if needed. Gus helps with sandbagging until the men in the town realize how futile their efforts are. When his father wants him to go home, he instead crosses the river to visit a girl he likes, only to be stuck there when the bridge is closed. His family hadn't liked Venus because her family is protestant and her mother is divorced, but Gus learns some family secrets that make the girl more accepted by his family. Pete evacuates the family to an aunt's house and is worried that he hasn't heard news of Gus and his father, but eventually the family is reunited, and the clean up work can begin.

Historical fiction is a great way to help young readers understand current events. I read this book while Hurricane Harvey was devastating the Gulf Coast in Texas. While the conditions of the flooding are different, the end results are the same. The author based this story on her own family's experience living through this flood; it was interesting to read that the brothers marked the flood level in the garage, and that the house is still standing! This is ultimately a hopeful story about living through and overcoming disaster.

The details about daily life are accurate, but might surprise readers. The fact that Venus is not Catholic is bad enough, but that her mother is divorced? Scandalous. Again, there are many issues today with people from difference religious backgrounds getting along, and it's all too easy to forget that not very long ago, the Catholic/Protestant division was very, very important. Perhaps in 80 years, it will be just as unremarkable to have Muslim neighbors. There are other, more frivolous details as well-- knickers, ice boxes, and popular radio shows are just a start.

The drama between the brothers, as well as the socioeconomic divide between Pete's house on Fifth Street, which should be safe from the flood, and his friend Richie's house closer to the river that is prone to flooding, add interesting dimensions to the book, but the real draw is the flood. Through short chapters, first from Pete's perspective and then from Gus's, we see day by day and hour by hour how the water rises, and what devastation it causes. There's a light but palpable tension as Pete tries to keep his family safe but unaware of how bad things are, and Gus's decision to travel out into the midst of the problem steps the tension up a notch.

The short chapters help to really move the story along. Readers who enjoy survival stories with lots of action and adventure will want to add Not on Fifth Street to their pile of books containing Will Hobbs, Gary Paulsen, and Terry Lynn Johnson titles.
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Caught Offside (Soccer Sisters #2)

34006762Montalbano, Andrea. Caught Offside (Soccer Sisters #2)
October 3rd 2017 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
E ARC from

In this sequel to Soccer Sisters, we follow Val Flores as she works with the Brookville Breakers. She's never minded before that Brookville is a wealthy town, and she lives nearby in a not so wealthy neighborhood, but she starts to feel uncomfortable with Chloe's driver and some of her other teammates. Makena starts to talk about a dance she's going to at her school, and even goes shopping with some of the other soccer girls and doesn't tell Val. When mean girl Jessie suggests that Val would be more comfortable with a rival team, El Fuego, Val starts to question her allegiance to the Breakers.
Strengths: This looks enough like the Alex Morgan Kicks series that my soccer loving girls will be sure to pick it up. Montalbano is a very passionate emissary of soccer and supporter of Girl Power, and the length and writing style will go over well with middle grade readers.
Weaknesses: I was about halfway through before I realized this was a sequel; I was somehow just confused. This seems to have been published previously, and there doesn't seem to be a hardcover copy being published, although Follett is issuing prebinds.
What I really think: The beginning of this could have used more focus (the collapse of the indoor soccer area doesn't seem to have affected as much as one would think), but it's still a solid purchase for middle school libraries.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Mustaches for Maddie

34525564Morris, Chad and Brown, Shelly. Mustaches for Maddie
October 3rd 2017 by Shadow Mountain
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Maddie is navigating 6th grade as best she can. She's excited about the play that her class will be doing, and decides to try out for Juliet, even though Cassie, a very popular girl, thinks the role should be hers. Maddie has a vivid imagination and an off kilter sense of humor, and she worries that her classmates won't quite get her jokes or share her love of fake mustaches. When the weakness in her arm and leg become bothersome, her mother makes a doctor's appointment for her, but when the symptoms become worse, Maddie ends up in the hospital undergoing an MRI. The verdict-- she has a tumor near her pituitary gland that is causing lots of problems and could potentially impinge upon the optic nerve. An appointment is made for surgery, but Maddie's parents decide to take her and her four brothers to Disney beforehand. Maddie isn't thrilled to tell her classmates, but is encouraged when they send her off with a basket of gifts and cards. Cassie, of course, feels that Maddie should give up her role in the play, especially since Cassie has a crush on the boy playing Romeo, and even goes so far as to voice the opinion that Maddie is making up the tumor in order to get attention! The surgery goes well, but Maddie later has problems with a cyst and has to undergo another surgery. When Maddie returns to school, she has more confidence that her classmates like her, and is able to talk her teacher into presenting Romeo and Juliet with a happier ending.
Strengths: This is based on the authors' daughter's similar experience, so there are a lot of good details about what it would be like to deal with this kind of medical experience. How Maddie's absence is handled by her school is a good thing to have in a book, since students do occasionally experience the illness of a classmate. The parents are supportive, the brothers are slightly annoying, and there is a good balance between Maddie's bravery and fear.
Weaknesses: A lot of the book was concerned with the play; I know that some schools do more with theater, but books involving theater don't do well in my library. Also, Maddie and her classmates often seemed a little young when they did things like play imaginary games on the playground. This may be because the authors' daughter was nine when she went through the experience, but they wanted to have an older middle grade audience.
What I really think: Debating purchase, since my readers do like medical drama but really don't pick up books with theater in them.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, October 06, 2017

The Perfect Score

34069821Buyea, Rob. The Perfect Score
October 3rd 2017 by Delacorte Press
E ARC from

Mrs. Woods is brought in at the last minute to be a long term sub in a 6th grade class. She is retired, and doesn't particularly care about the all important state assessments; she would rather read with the students and have them enjoy learning. In chapters told from the points of view of different students in the class, we see how the year progresses, the projects that are completed, the home lives of the speakers and the challenges they face, and then the delivery of the test. We hear from Natalie, who wants to be a lawyer like her parents; Randi, who is tired of gymnastics because her mother is pushing her; Gavin, who hates school and feels that it wasn't important to his parents; Scott, who struggles socially and academically, and has to deal with an aging grandfather; Trevor, who is a bully because he is bullied at home. The students also work with a teacher on art and community service projects, and go to a local nursing home to visit the residents. In the end, there is an issue with the testing, and the children figure out a lot of personal connections between their teachers and the residents of the nursing home.
Strengths: There is absolutely no doubt that Buyea is a good writer who tells interesting school stories and tries to incorporate characters from a variety of backgrounds. His Because of Mr. Terupt is one that many of my students have read with teachers in elementary school. The characters are always fully developed and change in interesting ways throughout the stories, and I thought the story about Scott's grandfather was particularly well done.
Weaknesses: There are a lot of problems but not a lot of action. However, the popularity of Wonder has made this type of story more in demand. The cover is good, so I will probably purchase it.
What I really think: Mr. Buyea really, really needs to write a novel about middle school wrestling, preferably from the viewpoint of one wrestler. However, I need novels about wrestlers so badly that I would probably buy two copies even if the story is told from multiple view points.

Ms. Yingling

The War I Finally Won Blog Tour

33865643Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker. The War I Finally Won
October 3rd 2017 by Dial Books

ARC provided by the Publisher

After The War That Saved My Life, Ada and Jamie are settled in with Susan, and Ada is set to have surgery on her clubfoot, when news arrives that their mother has died in a factory bombing. Ada is very confused, and worried that this will mean that she and Jamie have to find another home, especially since Susan's house was also destroyed in a bombing. Eventually, her fears are put to rest, her recuperation from surgery is complete, and the new family moves back to their village to put together a new life. This is difficult with the war going on, and even more difficult because things are always changing. People leave, people die, and change is very hard for Ada. Lady Thornton lets Susan stay in the guest house on the property, and when Lord Thornton is off working on the war effort and Maggie is at school, Lady Thornton decides to close up the big house and move in with them! Ada thinks that Lady Thornton is cold and mean, an opinion reinforced when Lady Thornton makes changes to the living arrangements without consulting her. Things are even more difficult when a German Jewis refugee, Ruth, moves in with them all to be tutored. Germans, even ones fleeing the Nazis, are not trusted, and Ruth is frightened for her family back in Germany, so her presence adds extra uneasiness to the household. The details of war time living, like rationing, black outs, and the results of bombing, are clear every day. One bright spot is Jonathan, who allows Ada to spend some carefree moments riding horses with Ruth, even though Lady Thornton doesn't approve. War time is bleak, but there are small comforts and victories to be found. This is a great book to read alongside Shirley Hughes' Whistling in the Dark, Giff's Genevieve's War, or Sam Angus' tales of the British Homefront.

Strengths: I LOVED this sort of book as a child. Penelope Farmer's Charlotte Sometimes, tales of British evacuees,and really ANY historical fiction books were always my favorite. This has all the elements that I wanted-- girls much like myself, straightened circumstances, and details about what daily life was like at the time. It makes me want to watch more of the Masterpiece Theater show My Mother and Other Strangers
Weaknesses: It's very difficult to get my students to read historical fiction, especially this year when all of my sixth graders are demanding that everything they read have pictures! I do have one 8th grader who is even enjoying books on the Indian Partition of the 1940s, so I will definitely hand her these two books.
What I really think: I will probably buy a copy, since the 8th grade does a unit on WWII, and on the bright side, it won't get worn out overly quickly!

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, October 05, 2017

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street

27395333Currie, Lindsay. The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street
October 10th 2017 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Tessa's family moves from Florida to an older home in Chicago so her father can accept a position in the symphony. Tessa misses her best friend, and strange things keep happening-- lights flicker, doors slam, and her little brother's super creepy ventriloquists dummy, Reno, appears to be crying! Her mother blames it all on the older home and the stress of moving. Tessa is glad to get outside, and enjoys North Pond, where she meets a neighbor, Andrew. She discusses the oddities with him, and with his friend Nina, they investigate. Clues lead them to nearby Graceland Cemetery, and they  begin to suspect that the ghost who is haunting them is a little girl named Inez Clarke, who is said to have died either of a lightning strike or diphtheria. Small sketches appear with Tessa's drawings with the initials "IB", a small, musty box of mementos is retrieved from a crawl space, and the children use local history resources to unravel the mystery and free the ghost.
Strengths: I definitely liked Tessa, and thought that she handled the move better than other fictional characters! She reaches out to children she meets in order to make friends, and even asks her parents for a cell phone in a very mature and reasoned way.The descriptions of the neighborhood are vivid and add a lot to the story. The ghost has good enough reason to haunt the house, and is just the right amount of creepy. Well plotted, nicely paced, pleasant characters; a very winning debut book.
Weaknesses: What parents in their right minds would buy a ventriloquist's dummy for a four year old? Creepy. That said, my brother had a Charlie McCarthy one back in the 1970s. Also, had trouble believing that a musician and artist could afford to buy a house in the neighborhood described!
What I really think: Definitely putting a copy on my order list! The nicely creepy cover will make this one that readers of Ellen Oh's new Spirit Hunters, Peg Kehret, Betty Ren Wright, Mary Downing Hahn, and Joan Lowery Nixon will gladly pick up. Bonus points for the comments that Shady Street sounded like something out of an R. L. Stine novel!
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

#WNDB- India

25712017Chanani, Nidhi. Pashmina
October 3rd 2017 by First Second
E ARC from Netgalley

Priyanka has trouble fitting in to her high school, although she has a good friend and a lot of artistic ability. She doesn't get along terribly well with her mother, who came to the US right before Priyanka was born and won't talk about Priyanka's father. Luckily, family friend Uncle Jatin makes time to take her to an Indian dinner and picks her up from school. When his wife is expecting, Pri worries that the new baby will cut down on the amount of time he can spend with her, and she prays to Shakti that this won't happen. When baby Shilpa is born prematurely and has health problems, Pri feels horrible. Finding a shawl of her mother's that affords her visions of life in India helps her feel a little better. Her mother still won't talk about India, but when Pri wins $500 in an art contest, she wants to go visit her aunt there. After praying to Shakti, her aunt calls and asks if Pri can come and stay with her since she is also expecting. When Pri gets to India, she is sad that the shawl no longer offers her visions, but by talking to her aunt and exploring the country, she is able to learn the background of the shawl as well as her own parentage. She returns to the US with a renewed appreciation for her mother.
Strengths: The artwork is very beautiful, and I loved the use of color for the fantasy sequences and the black and white for every day. I'd love to see more graphic novels that talk about the process of settling in the US. Many of my students were either brought to the US when very young, or are the first generation born here, and I'm sure there are lots of interesting stories. There is a lot of good cultural information in this, not only about food and clothing, but about attitudes and mores as well.
Weaknesses: Priyanka seemed more like a middle school student than a high school one. There were a fair number of reviews on Goodreads that weren't as happy with this as I was, and I think the disconnect between the stated age of the character and her reaction to events might be behind that.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. Readers of El Deafo, Roller Girl, and Sunny Side Up will love this one!

30635597Kelkar, Supriya. Ahimsa.
2 October 2017 by Lee & Low/Tu Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Above the Treeline

In a small town in India in 1942, Anjali is worried that her mother has lost her job working for a British colonel, Brent. At the age of ten, her biggest worry is that there won't be enough money to buy a new dress for her for the holiday. It turns out that there are much bigger problems brewing. Anjali's mother has quit her job so that she can join the resistance to the British, which in her case means learning to spin and weave so that India isn't dependent on the British processing their cotton. Anjali has a friend, Irfaan, who is Muslim, and while the two of them never minded the religious difference, this also becomes a problem. Anjali's mother is upset with the way Untouchables, whom Ghandi started to call Harijans, are treated, and decides that she and Anjali will clean out their own outhouse instead of leaving it for Mohan. Mohan, of course, needs the work, but the discussion with him about what his people need gives them some insight. For one thing, the term he preferred was "Dalit". As the political situation in India becomes more and more serious, it's not enough for Anjali and her mother to give food and treats to the Dalit; they set up a school, and eventually, the mother is taken to jail for "inciting riots". While Anjali fears for her mother, she would like to see change in her society but realizes that it will be very difficult.
Strengths: I especially liked that the author based this on her grandmother's actions at this point in history. There are a lot of great details about what every day life was like, and good discussions about the Indian social structure and how it wasn't beneficial to the society as a whole. Anjali is a typical ten year old, who is more concerned with how things affect her. The inclusion of an older uncle who is opposed to the family's work in the resistance is a good one. This is a fascinating period of history that I wish more of my students knew about.
Weaknesses: There might be a lot of this that middle grade readers might not understand. Some more extensive notes on Indian history at this time would have been helpful. Also, I wish that Anjali had been a little older and had a better understanding of her society.
What I really think: I thought this was a great book, but it's not something my students are going to pick up without a bit of convincing. I have Bradbury's A Moment Comes, Sensai's A Ticket to India (which discusses Partition from a modern view point), and my favorite, Venkatraman's Climbing the Stairs, but my students are not interested in historical fiction as much as I would like them to be.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Sven Carter and the Trashmouth Effect, The Empty Grave

30187807Vlock, Rob. Sven Carter and the Trashmouth Effect
October 3rd 2017 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Sven and his friend Will have their quirks-- Will navigates the world while dealing with OCD, and Sven has a compulsion to lick or eat disgusting things, hence his nickname, Trashmouth. After a weird biking incident where Sven thinks his arm has been detached from his body (with gruesome details), Sven visits Dr. Shallix, but comes to no conclusions. He gets more information after a new girl in his science class, Alicia, vaporizes Will! Obviously, this is upsetting, especially when Alicia claims that Will was an alien "Tick" who had come to destroy the Earth. In order to defeat the Ticks, Alicia decides that she should keep Sven around; besides, she sort of likes him. After a series of adventures that include snakes with clown wigs that get set on fire, murderous room service chicken dinners, tin foil underpants, a giant toilet at Niagra Falls and a clone of Sven with a face on its butt, Alicia realizes that Sven is indeed the Tick's secret weapon, and in order to save the world, they need to either figure out how to stop the plan from unfolding... or neutralize Sven.
Strengths: Although my reading preferences might suggest otherwise, I am not, nor have I ever been, an actual 12-year-old boy, and it takes books like this to reaffirm that. This was a bit too much on the gross, inexplicable side for me personally, but I think that this (as well as the great cover) will make it appeal to my readers. Lots of funny turns of phrase, a decent enough plot, and a great female character in Alicia. Very interested to see what this author produces next. (Skateboarding. Please. Involve aliens if you must, but get those skateboards in there!)
Weaknesses: This was a bit on the long side. I would have cut some of the beginning about Brandon Marks and the bullying. Didn't really add much to the story. Sorry, Mr. Vlock. Judging from the acknowledgements, YOU really liked having Brandon in the book.
What I really think: I will definitely purchase this, but I think it is not a bad plan to tell readers that it is a funny science fiction story and NOT a realistic book about BMX biking!

32324555Stroud, Jonathan. The Empty Grave (Lockwood & Co. #5)
September 12th 2017 by Disney-Hyperion
Public Library Copy

Lockwood, Lucy, George, Holly and the others are back in this final book in a fantastic, spooky series. After the exploits in The Creeping Shadow, the crew suspects that Penelope Fittes is really Marissa Fittes, egged on by the Skull, who suggests that the essence of the two are the same. Investigating Marissa's tomb reinforces this idea, and when the Fittes agency starts to shut down all of the other agencies, and George is brutally attacked, Lucy suspects that the final confrontation is at hand. It's likely that Portland Row will be attacked, so much time is spent fortifying it as well as creating a portal to the Other Side in Jessica's bedroom. This comes in handy when the attack inevitably occurs, and allows the group to break into Marissa's base and finally halt the progression of the Problem and save the small agencies.
Strengths: Despite the lackluster review (I don't want to give things away), I adored this so much that I spent five days reading it! I didn't want to finish it too quickly! The information we receive about the Skull is fascinating, and its relationship with Lucy is the best part of the book. Flo Bones and Kipps also get some good coverage. Lots of salt and silver slinging, intrigue, nasty cold ghost details, and a quickly moving plot. Honestly? My favorite part was when they were putting the Portland Row house back together at the end of the book? Why? Since my most longed for fictional job is to be Lockwood & Co.'s office manager, I was planning to repaint and have the carpets cleaned about the time they started taking the artifacts off the wall. I never thought that Stroud would include that bit, but it made me ridiculously happy.
Weaknesses: There is not enough Lockwood. Sure, some of his appeal is that he is brooding and enigmatic, and there is a scene where he and Lucy share a moment, but there's no kiss, and just not enough interplay between the two. I was beginning to think that Lucy would somehow bring the Skull back from the dead, because those two spent MUCH more quality time together.
What I really think: A TELEVISION SERIES??? That's something that I might actually watch, even though I don't normally do creepy. Such a great series. Stroud's work holds up nicely, too: The Amulet of Samarkand (2003) still circulates with my heavy duty fantasy readers.

28006120Riordan, Rick. The Ship of the Dead (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #3)
October 3rd 2017 by Disney-Hyperion
Copy provided by the publisher

I have apparently been very, very good. A copy of this arrived in the mail yesterday afternoon, and after I wept for about 45 minutes, I jumped right in, knowing that I HAD to finish it last night so that I could give it to a student today. I'm not giving it to him first thing in the morning, because he would do nothing else all day, but after the cross country meet, immediately after his race, I will let him have the book.

I've given up reviewing Riordan. There's a mission with lots of stops with the different gods, and a big set to, and lots of good details about Norse mythology. I even had a dream about Sam fighting someone. The details about Ramadan were interesting-- clearly, Riordan has lots of people proof read his books so he gets things right. The whole point to ME of a Riordan book are the snerks. At least once every three pages, I would laugh out loud, and after yesterday, I really, really needed that.

Next Trials of Apollo out in May, and then what? Do think there is going to be a final volume where everybody meets up and finally saves the world from everything. Then, sadly, Percy and Annabeth will probably get married, and the series will be over. After that, though, I bet that Riordan will go on to do other things, unlike some famous series writers. And the books he writes will still be really good!