Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Me and Marvin Gardens

25753099King, Amy Sarig. Me and Marvin Gardens
January 31st 2017 by Arthur A. Levine Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Obe lives in a previously rural bit of Pennsylvania that is quickly becoming suburban. Worst of all, the land on which the new houses are going up used to belong to his family, before his great grandfather lost it to pay drinking debts. His family is doing okay, but Obe is fighting with former best friend Tommy as well as dealing with recurring nosebleeds that resultant from Tommy punching him in the nose. His one solace is going to the creek behind his hose and picking up trash there. Once he finds an odd, slimy, hoglike animal that eats plastic, things start to get a little weird. He names the animal Marvin Gardens (his father is obsessed with Monopoly), and knows he has to keep him hidden from the authorities, as well as the neighborhood kids who might hurt him. At the same time, he feels that Marvin's ability to survive on plastic might be environmentally useful, so eventually tells a trusted teacher. Add to this the fact that Marvin's scat can eat through tennis shoes and decks, and there is a time factor that comes into play. 
Strengths: I adored the setting-- how many children have had to deal with seeing land that's been in their family for generations given over to McMansions? I liked that the family was supportive but struggling a lot with working long hours. The middle grade friendship between Obe and Tommy is also spot on. The little insights into what life was like 100 years ago was an interesting inclusion.
Weaknesses: I was really loving this until Marvin showed up. I know that there needed to be some other form of conflict, but this was definitely a fantasy novel once we brought in the mutant animal that ate plastic. Just got kind of weird. 
What I really think: I might have to buy it, just because of the parts I liked. 

The other reason I might have to buy it. Pretty sure this is an aerial shot of my grandparents' farm in Enon Valley, Pa. As you can see, they had to deal with a lot of encroachments. A bit surprised it hasn't been built up, but that might be because of the turnpike right there. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

MMGM-Yours Truly

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.

30227919Frederick, Heather Vogel. Yours Truly (Pumpkin Falls Mystery #2)
January 31st 2017 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young 
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Truly is excited because spring is on its way, and with it both the Maple Madness in her town and the arrival of her cousin Mackenzie for a spring break visit. On top of a knitting class, boys, swim practice, a local bake off, and helping out a local farm with their sugaring rush, Truly finds a journal from 1861, and she and Mackenzie spend a lot of time reading it. There is also a mystery to solve-- who is cutting the plastic tubing used for collecting sap from the maple trees? In the end, Truly and her large, supportive family get through all of their activities and solve several of the town's mysteries as well. 

Strengths: I enjoy this series, as well as Frederick's The Mother-Daughter Book Club, because they paint such an enjoyable picture of the active, small town New England lives of ordinary girls. The father's war injury is treated realistically. The family is great, and the supporting characters (such as the aunt, grandparents, and classmates) are well developed and integral to the story. I've been a sucker for books about making maple products ever since The Miracle on Maple Hill, and the descriptions of this was marvelous-- you could feel the damp chill of the March wind tempered by the sun on your face. Of course, now I just want to spend the afternoon in the family bookstore, eating maple Blondies and petting the cat!
Weaknesses: There is a LOT going on in this book, which makes it a little confusing. I'm not sure what I would have taken out, but combined with the slow pace of life in Pumpkin Falls, this is not a quick pick for reluctant readers. 
What I really think: This will see slow but steady circulation, and I'm okay with that because I love the covers of this series!

Hague, Bradley. Rise of the Lioness:Restoring a Habitat and its Pride on the Liuwa Plains
September 13th 2016 by National Geographic Children's Books
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

From the point of view of one lioness, whom researchers called Lady, the devastation of an African habitat and its eventual restoration is painstakingly covered. The Liuwa Plain National Park is perfect for a variety of animals, but have been damaged due to war, poaching and other human interventions. 

Both history and science are well-represented in this title. We learn how social upheaval in Africa over an extended period of time has affected this preserve, and the damages to the ecosystem are explained quite well. Scientists went in to study the environment and to assess how it might be repaired, and then set out to put measures in place to return the area to a sustainable level. Since the damage took place over a period of time, positive changes also took a while. 

There are some nice human interest moments as well-- there is an explanation of how lonely Lady was when she was first photographed in 2004. The lioness followed the crew back to camp, flopping down and purring in order to find companions!

Like most National Geographic titles, this is well formatted. There are many high quality pictures that support each facet of the story. New terms are printed in bold font, and pictures are captioned. There is a glossary at the end of the book, as well as a nice pictorial table of indigenous animals and a very complete index. This book is not only an interesting pleasure read, but would make an excellent resource for researching endangered animals or the environmental impact of humans. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Warden's Daughter

30780218Spinelli, Jerry. The Warden's Daughter. 
January 3rd 2017 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by the publisher

Cammie lives in an apartment in a prison in 1959 because her father is the warden there. Her mother died in a car accident when Cammie was a baby-- her mother's last act was pushing the stroller Cammie was in away from the car that hit her. A series of "hands" have helped raise Cammie, and the latest, Eloda, is someone to whom she has warmed. Approaching her teen years, Cammie longs for a mother figure in her life, since she sees her father as distant and marginally involved. There are other things going on-- during the summer break, Cammie has a group of friends who want to come to her home because it is located at the prison, and her friend Reggie gets to dance on American Bandstand. There are friendships with the inmates, especially the bubbly BooBoo, who regales Cammie with her life before she became imprisoned. When BooBoo hangs herself in the shower, all of Cammie's emotions come to the front, and she has a break down through which Eloda helps her. When school starts, however, she is on her own to navigate the treacherous waters of adolescence, since Eloda has served her time. 
Strengths: This was much better than Hokey Pokey, and had a lot of good period details. Readers who liked Connor's All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook might find this an interesting book to read to compare and contrast with that title. There is definitely a need for more books set during this time period. My favorite part was the American Bandstand appearance, as well as the descriptions of Reggie's outfits. 
Weaknesses: This was very slow and rather sad. The device of telling it from Cammie's perspective when she was older took away some of the immediacy. I was all set to buy this even though it would probably circulate slowly, but the suicide of BooBoo made this too sad. 
What I really think: Not a bad historical novel, but I agree with the School Library Journal review that it will appeal more to adults than children. Purchase if there is a large Spinelli fan base or a need for novels set during this time period. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Magnificent Mya Tibbs: The Wall of Fame Game

30037862Allen, Crystal. The Magnificent Mya Tibbs: The Wall of Fame Game
January 31st 2017 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Mya is back, along with her older brother Nugget, her father, and her expectant mother. She is bound to beat former friend Naomi at the school educational trivia game, The Wall of Fame. This takes a lot of studying, but she is also motivated to enter her mother in the annual chili cook off because she hears fellow competitor Mrs. Frazier gloat that her mother must stay off her feet and won't enter. With all of her other activities, this is a lot, and things get complicated. With the help of her friend Connie, as well as her family, Mya is able to accomplish everything she wants, even if all of her activities don't turn out exactly as she wants them to. 
Strengths: This was a generally upbeat story of a girl with a variety of her own interests. Her parents are very supportive and deal with her various meltdowns in constructive ways. I liked how Mya's cooking was portrayed, as well as the mother's pregnancy. The cover and illustrations will make this a must purchase for elementary school libraries.
Weaknesses: Good gravy in the navy, is Mya annoying sometimes! Her cowboy boots, her weird expressions, and the fact that the family refers to the unborn baby as Macey (which made me absolutely certain that the baby would be stillborn-- you just don't tempt fate like that!), all reminded me of why I do not work in an elementary school. I also thought the Wall of Fame game was putting a lot of pressure on children in a less than productive way. I'm all for rote learning (I was a Latin teacher), but the idea of putting children's names on a wall for being able to recite lists of facts seemed odd to me. 

What I really think: If the first book were circulating well in my library, I would have bought this. As it is, I think this is a terrific elementary school book that I don't quite understand because I am so engrossed in middle school!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Guy Friday- Storm Horse

30652337Garlick, Nick. Storm Horse
January 31st 2017 by Chicken House 
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

After the death of his father in the 1960s, Flip has to move from Amsterdam to a remote Dutch island to live with his aunt and uncle on a farm. His mother left when he was younger, and his father was a career thief, so a quiet country house with his cheery aunt and his quiet and stalwart uncle is not the worst place to be. He meets a girl who does not talk, can hang out with his cousin, and is given a hard time by local bullies, whose father owns the local hotel. He also has rescued a horse who escaped a sinking ship, and is allowed to raise it on his uncle's farm. It takes a lot of money to feed a horse, however, and money is tight. Flip sells the record player that was his mother's and buys a little time, but an odd incident with the horse in the hotel puts him in peril. The hotel owner wants to buy his uncle's farm and build another hotel on it. How can he save his new found home and keep the horse that he has come to love?
Strengths: I liked this one. It moved quickly, and kept me interested. It was a good length and didn't spend too much time on any one topic. I liked Flip, and the other characters were intriguing as well. I could use a whole lot of books like this-- stand alone, fairly upbeat, adventurous, and fast paced. 
Weaknesses: The plot of a hotel trying to take over is not new, but the setting made it more interesting. The cover isn't great, but I think I can sell this to a lot of readers. 
What I really think: Oddly compelling. I think this will do well with boys who like Watt Key's Fourmile. It has that sort of more mature feel without being utterly depressing. The Dutch setting is a bit quirky but not hard to follow. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Crystal Ribbon

30652334Lim, Celeste. The Crystal Ribbon
January 31st 2017 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Li Jing has a difficult life in medieval China. Not only is her father a poor tea father, but she is made fun of for her name, which sounds similar to the name of the deity of her Huanan province, Huli Jing. When her parents can no longer afford to feed her, she is sold as a bride to the three year old son of a wealthy family. At first, she misses her own family and is bitter, but she takes care of her husband and finds that he is not a bad person. However, her new family falls on hard times, and she is sold to a brothel to become a geisha. She does not want to fall into this life, so manages to escape with the help of sympathetic acquaintances, and undergoes a magical journey to return to her home. 
Strengths: This was well-researched and well-written. It reminded me a lot of the work of Pearl Buck in its depiction of family circumstances. After my older daughter was born, I read all of the Buck books at our public library, and The Crystal Ribbon's realistic portions were every bit as good as Buck's. The fantasy portions aptly draw in traditional folk and fairy tales in an appealing way. Fans of Grace Lin's books should definitely take a look at this. 
Weaknesses: I'm not entirely sure I have readers for this. Debating.
What I really think: I can see this winning a lot of awards. I liked this one MUCH more than the very popular The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Image result for newbery logoWhich brings us to a good question. Do you buy the award winning books? Do you keep the old ones? I think the defining moment for me was Perkin's 2005 Criss Cross. One of our language arts teachers and I read it at the same time, and both were completely kerflummoxed as to its appeal. I didn't buy it. When I was reading through all the books in my library, I deaccessioned a fair number of older titles that I didn't like personally AND I didn't think students would read. (Always attempted to get students to read them, and removed the books when I failed.) Waterless Mountain, gone. Gay-Neck, gone. It's Like This Cat? Yep, took that one out as well. Kept Hitty, Miracles on Maple Hill, and Banner in the Sky (until it started to pong considerably). 
I might buy The Girl Who Drank the Moon. Not buying Wolf Hollow. Bought The Inquisitor's Tale and already kind of regret it. It's always painful when I buy books and the children don't read them. This doesn't happen often-- I try really hard to gauge what is going to circulate. Talk to students a lot about what they like and don't like. The important thing to me is that students read a lot. If they can read decently written books occasionally instead of Wimpy Kid all the time, then I'm happy. Thoughts? Opinions?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Tales from the Arabian Nights

28588118Napoli, Donna Jo. Tales from the Arabian Nights
 October 11th 2016 by National Geographic Children's Books
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Since the original Tales from the Arabian Nights would include 1,001 stories, this is a well chosen selection of tales. Napoli does a good job at balancing well-known stories with more obscure tales, and also frames the stories within the larger story of Scheherazade's precarious position as a new wife whose life could be cut short by the king at any moment. It was great to have a solid retelling of old favorites Ali Baba, Aladdin, and Sinbad, but I was also glad to read about The Three Apples, The Ebony Horse, and Maaruf the Cobbler, which were new to me. 

Napoli has done a number of these folk tale books, including ones on Norse, Greek, and Egyptian mythology. Her backgrounds as both a linguistics professor and scholar and as a writer of children's fiction work well together to present a well researched but highly readable overview of these Middle Ages tales from cultures from North Africa to South Asia. 

The illustrations are brightly colored and support the stories well. They have a flavor of ancient Indian art or Persian miniatures, and this is carried out to good effect with the page decorations as well, which are rendered in bright colors of red, gold, and bright blue. 

The addition of side bar information explaining topics such as Medicine in the Muslim World or the historical impact of wheat are also interesting and help readers to understand the stories. There is a very complete and helpful map at the end of the book, and a helpful index is included. 

While Napoli's collections are fun to read for pleasure, they are complete, annotated,  and formatted in a way that they are useful to readers who may need to do research as well. The D'Aulaires managed to combine these elements into beautifully crafted collections, but these new titles from Napoli definitely give those a run for their money!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Matchstick Castle

29996858Graff, Keir. The Matchstick Castle
January 10th 2017 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young 
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Brian's father has an opportunity to work with a telescope at the South Pole, adn since his mother is dead, he ends up being shipped off to his Uncle Gary's in Boring, Illinois for the summer. THere, along with his cousin Nora, he is expected to Beta test his uncle's new educational software, Summer's Cool! This is even more boring than the town, but when Brian and Nora get a chance to investigate the woods behind the house (where they have been told NOT to go, of course), and find an enormous, dilapidated house. Inhabited by the van Dash family, including young Cosmo, the house has structural problems but is fascinating. It is also in danger of being torn down by the city, although the van Dash family has a bigger problem-- one of Cosmo's uncles is missing, probably trapped within the house itself. There are also crazed wild boars, giant killer wasps, and all manner of events that are far more intriguing than studying lessons on a computer. Brian and Nora get drawn in to the family's story and work with the uncle's to find a way to sabotage the city's demolition attempt and save the house. 

This was an interesting fantasy adventure that was reminiscent of classics like Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as well as Snyder's Any Which Wall. Summer has become boring for many children, so reading books about children who get to have adventures might be the most exciting thing that happens!

Any book that involves magical houses is one that I enjoy, and while this was a little light on magic, it was certainly an imposing edifice full of danger. As an adult, I was rather concerned about Brian's safety when he tried to get between upper floors of the house that were falling to bits, but young readers will find this to be an enthralling adventure full of pulse-pounding circumstances. 

The cover is a great one-- I wish that the interior of the book had a few pictures as well, but the prose descriptions paint a vivid portrait. This would make a fun movie, as the set would be as much a character as Brian or Nora. Hand this one to readers who like quirky adventure with odd and unusual characters. 

I don't know that I will buy this one. It had a really good premise, but somehow fell short. 

ALA Midwinter 2017

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Whew. ALA Midwinter was a great experience, but I am glad to be home!
I am very grateful to my district for not only allowing me two professional days to attend the conference, but for letting me take my two personal days for travel time. Traveling in January is always iffy, and I didn't want to be stuck in Atlanta when I was planning on being back.

ALA Midwinter also would not have been possible without my tremendous volunteer and substitute, Meg Gutches. She's so good that some of the 6th graders (who may need to have their eyes checked) are sure that we are the same person! Not only was she able to run the library brilliantly, getting children books and keeping things organized, but she also took my texts during the Youth Media Awards presentation and pulled books for the students! Plus, she loaned me the suitcase that I brought back crammed with books!

There were lots of great moments at the conference that made me glad I went. While technically, books are a very small part of my actual job, they are a huge part of what I do in my spare time, and I do think this work benefits my students and colleagues. Here are my favorite moments:

  • Meeting Library Jim in person! We go back to 2008 and have identical dogs. I saw very few librarians I knew, so I was glad to talk to him. 
  • Telling Michelle Bayuk of Quarto Books about a great but out of print version of the Aeneid that they may investigate. 
  • Gushing with a Scholastic rep over Gordon Korman's newest book and mentioning that one of my life goals is to interview him! Might happen!
  • Hearing from publishers, especially Shadow Mountain, that they read my reviews and appreciated even the critical ones!
  • Running into Carter Higgins masquerading as a librarian. I've been looking forward to her book A Rambler Steals Home. 
  • Catching up with Wendy Shang. We bonded over Jan Knudsen at Kidlitcon a while back. 
  • Hearing from Ramin Ganeshram that she has a new middle grade series in the works. 
  • Talking with Tim Tingle about basketball. He mentioned a book I HAD NOT READ!
  • Discussing books with Zareen Jaffery and Hena Khan of Salaam Reads and getting a copy of Amina's Voice signed for one of my own Aminas!
  • Shaking Caroline Cooney's hand! I love her books. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

MMGM- The Someday Birds

26800718If you haven't heard, the Newbery Honor books were Ashley Bryan's Freedom Over Me, Gidwitz's The Inquisitor's Tale, and Wolk's Wolf Hollow. The winner was Barnhill's The Girl Who Drank the Moon.

I haven't seen Freedom Over Me, but the other books didn't seem like anything that would appeal to my students. I did buy the Gidwitz, but the children who have checked it out have brought. It back after the first few chapters. Oh, well. At least now I can say that I've been to ALA Midwinter, and there were some nice moments that I will post about tomorrow.

Pla, Sally J. The Someday Birds
January 24th 2017 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Charlie likes things a certain way, and stress makes him resort to self-comforting activities like washing his hands repeatedly. His mother is dead, and his journalist father has recently been badly injured in Afghanistan. His grandmother is taking care of him, his older sister Davis, and his younger twin brothers, but when an opportunity to send the father to a hospital in Virginia, she leaves the children with a friend in California. Of course, the friend becomes unable to watch the children after the grandmother has left, and the four prove themselves to be incapable of watching themselves. Enter Ludmila, an odd character who has been hanging around their father's hospital room. Not trusting her, Davis inveigles her boyfriend to drive the family to Virginia, but they have an accident in Las Vegas. Ludmila comes to their rescue, and the group spends the rest of the book having a fairly enjoyable road trip and finding out secrets about Ludmila's past and her involvement with their father.

Strengths: Road trip books ALWAYS do well in my library, and their just aren't enough of them. Ludmila's story, and the information about the war in Bosnia, was very interesting, and her ties with Charlie's father were convincing. Sad, but not maudlin. Davis and Charlie were also interesting characters, and the portrayal of Charlie's OCD/Asperger tendencies was done naturally. Lots of fun adventures and interesting places (Wall Drug, the Field Museum, etc.).
Weaknesses: I wish that Charlie's eccentricities had been labeled. I'm never sure what the correct stance on this is, but Charlie is definitely not neurotypical, and it would be helpful to know. If Charlie were at my school, we would probably refer to his as "on the spectrum" and seek some sort of support for his behaviors. 
What I really think: Another review called this oddly endearing, and I feel the same way. I love the cover. This will be a hit with readers of How To Avoid Extinction, Far From Fair, and other books with problems that are faced with optimism and resilience.

28686894Williams, Marcia. The Tudors: Kings, Queens, Scribes and Ferrets!
October 11th 2016 by Candlewick Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

This brightly colored, comic book style is "told" to us by Arthur Inkblot, scribe of Queen Elizabeth's court, and his ferret, Smudge, who adds information in the borders of the pictures. Each page covers a topic of history of this era, such as the Wars of the Roses, Christopher Columbus, or Palaces and Potties. Along the bottom of the pages, there will be asides such as how sewage was treated of the state of medicine. There are a lot of humorous anecdotes in the style of the You Wouldn't Want to Be Books. 

Each page is stuffed with facts and intricately drawn pictures. This is the sort of book that the right child will spend days poring over, making it a good choice for extended travel or lengthy visits with less than exciting relatives! Be prepared to make a stop at a library at some point for a more informative nonfiction book that might be needed to answer questions that arise about a variety of British monarchs and practices!

More useful for pleasure reading than research, this book lacks any kind of table of contents, index, or bibliography. It is the sort of book that appears in museum gift shops and makes a more useful present than giant pencils or "funny hats of history"!