Friday, March 31, 2017

Guy Friday- Jack London and the Klondike Gold Rush

29102818Lourie, Peter. Jack London and the Klondike Gold Rush
March 28th 2017 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
ARC provided by the publisher at ALA

Jack London certainly lived fast and died young. He is the embodiment of the life of adventure in the days when there were still frontiers to be conquered. Not content with a rough and tumble life in the US, he took off (with his elderly brother-in-law, who funded the trip) to the Yukon to prospect for gold in 1897. He managed to get all of his gear to a camp (no small feat; the living conditions were unimaginably terrible), rounded up a good group of people, and was making a fairly decent go of it before succumbing to, of all things, scurvy! His experiences, as well as his practice of talking to everyone he met, gave him ample fodder for his writing, which still provides the most intimate picture of living conditions in this particular place and time. 

I've been looking for more interesting narrative nonfiction for my students. Byrd and Igloo, The Boys in the Boat, and No Better Friend have all done very well in my library, and I foresee this joining the ranks of those fine tomes. This book is well-formatted, with good sized text and a lot of illustrative photographs. These don't necessarily show London himself, but aptly illustrate what is going on in the text. The only thing that I didn't like about the formatting was the inclusion of a quantity of illustrations by Wendell Minor-- while well done, they just seemed odd, and I would have preferred period illustrations, perhaps from the news publications of the day. 

Excerpts from London's writings, great appendices of people, places, and information about the Gold Rush, as well as a very nicely arranged timeline of London's life all add informational value to a riveting read about a fascinating time and place. 

Leo, Dog of the Sea 1519-1521

Blog Tour for Leo, Dog of the Sea!
            3/28: Librarian’s Quest
            3/29: Good Reads with Ronna
            3/30: Boys to Books
            3/31: Ms. Yingling Reads

Hart, Alison. Leo, Dog of the Sea 1519-1521
31620955April 1st 2017 by Peachtree Publishers
ARC provided by the publisher

Leo is a ratter on board the Trinidad, the lead ship in an armada on a journey to the Spice Islands and other ports of call. The men, and especially Espinosa, aren't very nice to him. They are glad that he keeps the rodent population down, but grudge him his meager rations. He finds a stowaway, Marco, on board, and has no desire to help the boy, although when he is found and threatened by the men, Leo feels oddly compelled to help him. Marco is put to work, and the ship battles bad weather, disease, sharks, and trouble with the crew. The men are frequently unhappy with the conditions on the ship, and the leadership deals harshly with any complaints or rebellion. Eventually, the ship heads to the New World. A scribe who is traveling on board, Pigafetta, keeps a journal about everything that occurs, and is friendly to both Marco and Leo. He is appalled when Magellan kills a number of natives when they land on the Isle of Thieves.When the ship lands at Cebu, they think that King Humabon will deal fairly with them, but the sailors are soon embroiled in a terrible battle. Pigafetta is disheartened after this, but Marco encourages him to not mourn Magellan, but to press on to the next journey. 

Strengths: Like Darling, Finder, and Murphy, Leo covers history from a unique perspective. This is an action packed tale that readers who likes stories about adventure and fighting will enjoy. The descriptions of being on the boat are very vivid-- can't say it made me want to take to the high seas at all! I especially liked the historical notes at the back of the book. I sometimes encourage my students to read these first so that they will have a better understanding of the historical context. Explorers are studied in out 6th grade, so this will be a good book to have.
Weaknesses: It seemed odd to me that the sailors were so mean to Leo. I know he was a working dog, so they wouldn't necessarily cuddle with him. Just hard for me to believe that dogs aren't always considered loyal companions! At least at the end, Leo and Marco had a special bond. (I loved the interior art work.)

What I really think: Definitely purchasing, since this short (about 160 pages) and fast paced read will interest many. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Army Brats

31573888Benedis-Grab, Daphne. Army Brats
March 28th 2017 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Tom, Charlotte and Rosie Bailey are excited to be moving onto an Army base where they will have a little more freedom to roam. Their mother is in Army intelligence, and their dad works from home. All of the children have a few problems of their own, which come out as they start their new school. Rosie, who was adopted from China, has little patience for other children and is considered mean because of how she treats them. Tom has a tendency to startle and make a squeaking sound, and he manages to run afoul of Chase, the school bully, who dubs him "Major Wimpy". Charlotte is very concerned that she finds a good group at school, and is very glad when popular girls like her nail polish designs and ask her to sit with them. Charlotte is very concerned that her brother's troubles will spill into her own life, so when the children notice that neighborhood dogs are going missing and find a suspicious house in a restricted area of the base, they think it's a good idea to make a video of Tom going in there so that Chase thinks he is brave. They think they have uncovered a dog stealing ring and are working on solving it without adult intervention, but it turns out to be perfectly benign. Rosie manages to make a friend and works on being kinder, Tom finally sticks up for himself, and Charlotte realizes that her popular new friends are not worth hiding her true feelings. 
Strengths: The depiction of life on an Army base makes this worth purchasing. Shopping at the PX, worrying about parents who are on active duty in war torn countries, discussing moving frequently-- there are too few depictions of this in middle grade fiction. 
Weaknesses: The mystery of pets being kidnapped is very trite, but Charlotte's reaction to this was even more disturbing-- let's investigate this bad thing happening on an Army base without letting parents know. Then it wasn't a problem at all... just seemed a bit odd. 
What I really think: This author is hit or miss for me; enjoyed Clementine for Christmas, but couldn't get into The Angel Tree. Still, this is a good purchase for the depiction of military family life, and it's surprisingly upbeat. I think all of the children probably should have been in some sort of therapy for anxiety and socialization.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

#WNDB Wednesday- Families can be diverse

Powell, Patricia Hruby and Strickland, Shadra (illustrator)
Loving Vs. Virginia
January 31st 2017 by Chronicle Books
Copy provided by the publisher

This well-illustrated and photography filled novel in verse dramatizes the events of Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving's relationship in Virginia in the 1950s and 60s. Young readers of today will probably be surprised that the couple faced so many challenges, like being stalked by the local police officer who even came into their house to arrest them because they, as a married couple, were in bed together. This gives a very vivid reminder about how different things were before the Civil Rights movement effected changes. 

The information is presented in a middle grade friendly way, even though there are some topics that are a bit sensitive, such as Jeter becoming pregnant twice while still in high school. I'm not a fan of novels in verse, although in this case it was fairly successful because it provided a distance that was a nice touch to use in dramatizing a real life story. The illustrations are quite nice, and Strickland clearly researched techniques used during this time period. The supplemental information about conditions at the time, as well as the period photographs, make this a great resource. 

And, of course, without Loving vs. Virginia, the following book wouldn't be possible!

Donoghue, Emma. The Lotterys Plus One
March 27th 2017 by Arthur A. Levine Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

The Lottery family was formed by PopCorn, who is from a Scottish family in the Yukon and who is partnered with PapaDum, who is from India, and Jamaican MaxiMum,  and CardaMom, who is a member of the Mohawk tribe. When the oldest child was born, all four friends were at the hospital and found a lottery ticket. When it ended up winning, they all quit their jobs to live an ecofriendly life in a 32 room house where they adopted a multicultural group of children and home schooled them. They changed their family name to Lottery, and the house is called Camelottery. When PopCorn's elderly father almost burns down his house, he comes to live with the family on a trial basis, taking over fifth child Sumac's room. She becomes "Grumps" guide, and tries to understand the man who has not been in contact with the family and seems biased against people who don't look just like him. The family has outings, studies different topics, and Sumac tries to introduce her grandfather to their neighborhood and tries to understand what motivates him. This understanding turns out to be very helpful to her parents, who think that Grumps needs the care that a nursing home could provide. 

Strengths: This was certainly a very diverse book. Even three year old Briar has decided that she is really Brian, although the family does still use feminine pronouns for her. The family is also eco friendly ("way too green to have a car, because it messes up the planet"), eats locally, and are always present and supportive of each other. It's sort of like a Millennial, hipster version of Cheaper by the Dozen
Weaknesses: The foreword mentions that children all like to imagine themselves part of large families, like The Brady Bunch, and that the Lotterys are like that, but also welcoming and inclusive of all manner of differences. This is true, but this book falls on the elementary side of the Pilkey line for me. There are so many odd things in the book (the back porch is called the Derriere, because it's the "butt" of the house) that it's hard to take it seriously, and there are so many different kinds of diversity piled on top of each other that it feels gimmicky. Middle school readers will find it too goofy to be believable, but elementary students might like it.
What I really think: I thought about this one for a long time. On the one hand, it's fairly humorous and lighthearted. On the other, it's not going to help middle grade students understand diversity. The Family Fletcher is a more realistic example of a diverse family. It is headed by two fathers, and they have adopted a variety of children. The situations are more in line with what many children experience. I wish that The Lotterys hadn't employed the twee names (all of the children are trees) or so many alternative lifestyle choices (not having a car, not flushing the toilet, etc.). If there had been fewer children or a more mainstream lifestyle with the diverse parents, it would have felt more realistic. There's not much of a plot, ala Wimpy Kid, or perhaps the plot of settling the grandfather into the family is sort of lost in the barrage of anecdotes, quirks, and pet rats. Perhaps this is an outcome of an adult author trying to transition to a middle grade book and trying a little too hard. 

I really wanted to like this, but I'm not sure that reading this book will make my students more open to people whose lives are different from their own. I much prefer Gennari's My Mixed-Up, Berry Blue Summer, the aforementioned The Family Fletcher books, and Ignatow's Popularity Papers. I am curious to see what others think of this one. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Gauntlet

29346880Riazi, Karuna. The Gauntlet
March 28th 2017 by Salaam Reads
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Farah and her family have moved from Queens to a fancier part of NYC, and Farah is having trouble making new friends. For her birthday, her mother makes her have a big family party, but allows her to invite friends Alex and Essie. Her aunt tells her there is a present waiting for her, and the group finds a creepy wooden box with a game in it. They are a little freaked out by it, but Farah's younger brother Ahmed (who is quite a pistol and is identified as having ADHD) decides to follow the directions and gets sucked into the game. Since Farah is always the caretaker of her brother, she's concerned. The aunt does indicate that the game is dangerous and she did NOT leave it for Farah, but the game has a mind of its own. When Farah and her friends enter the game, they find a complex world akin to that of the Arabian Nights, and have to complete a lot of tasks in order to destroy the kingdom of Paheli ("a riddle, a question that needs to be answered")and return to their own world. They get help from the gamekeeper, Madame Nasirah, a troop of sentient lizards led by Henrietta Peel, and other players who were trapped in the game. Will Farah be able to win the game and escape with her friends and brother?

Strengths: It's great that Simon and Schuster has started Salaam Reads, and even better that one of the first offerings is a fantasy book. We have a significant Somali population at my school, and many of the students are extremely avid fantasy readers who love Rick Riordan, Lisa McMann, and P.B. Kerr fantasy adventure titles. I think that they will be pleased to have a Muslim centered fantasy, even if it is Middle Eastern. Farah's family life is warmly described, and there are a lot of small details that give the story a diverse feeling-- food, clothing, even Farah's relationship with her brother. The adventure was a good one, and the ensemble worked together nicely.
Weaknesses: I felt like I was missing a lot of the background for people and places in Paheli. If these were drawn from Middle Eastern folklore, some explanatory notes would have been nice. 

What I really think: I will definitely buy a copy for my library, but I found Ahmed to be SO bratty that I sort of wished that Farah would have closed up the game box, put it in her closet, and steered clear of it for the rest of her life! (What can I say-- I have a younger brother as well!)

Monday, March 27, 2017

Some Adult Spring Break Reading

31916777Menzies-Pike, Catriona. The Long Run
May 23rd 2017 by Crown Publishing Group (NY)
E ARC from

This book is an odd combination of memoir and history. The memoir isn't anything new-- while the author mentions that she has read a lot of running memoirs that didn't speak to her experience as a reluctant runner, most of the memoirs I have read are much like this. The runner doesn't want to run, but has personal issues, so takes it up reluctantly and finds that it answers many of the questions in her life and helps her deal with issues.

What does make this book appealing is the history of women and running, and especially the intersectionality of feminism and running. Complete with citations in the back, the author lays out the most complete history of women and running that I have seen. This is fantastic, and would be a fabulous resource for school libraries if we could just separate that part from the memoir!

I should take notes and look up some of the women she mentions, because I see a LOT Of National History Day project possibilities.

I know there are a lot of teachers and librarians who also run (and who might be on spring break!), so this book is worth mentioning.

And is anyone else waiting for this year's Boston Marathon in order to watch Kathryn Switzer return for the 50th anniversary of her groundbreaking run?

Ms. Yingling

MMGM- Braced

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. 

29283087Gerber, Alyson. Braced.
March 28th 2017 by Scholastic Press
EARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Rachel is very concerned about starting middle school and getting a good position on the soccer team. She is struggling with that fact that her mother is pregnant and her friends are not always all that nice to her. When her doctor tells her that her scoliosis is getting worse and she will have to wear a back brace 23 hours a day, she is sure that this is a horrible, horrible thing. To complicate matters, the scoliosis is genetic, and her mother wore a brace but had to have surgery to fuse her spine. This makes her even more nervous for Rachel, and stricter about enforcing the hours that Rachel has to wear the brace. Rachel goes through the typical histrionics (stopping short of the completely hysterical exploits of Blume's 1974 Deenieabout her clothing,what people will think, and how the brace will affect her soccer playing, but generally comes to terms with the limitations of the brace and how she needs to work around them. She even develops a nice romantic relationship with the understanding Tate, who even drops his best friend when he is exceptionally unkind to her. 
Strengths: This is DEFINITELY a topic on which we needed an updated book, and I appreciated how Rachel wasn't pleased with the brace but her parents were supportive and made her wear it. The difficulties were portrayed realistically, with a healthy does of tween friend and boyfriend drama to liven things up. The fact that the mother had also been treated for scoliosis added an interesting dynamic.
Weaknesses: I was Rachel's life wasn't quite so privileged, since this would have made the book more relatable. Not everyone can go to the mall to get all new clothes.
What I really think: This is a great novel, and one which every middle school library needs to investigate. Most of my objections were based on my own experiences.

May 1979
Disclaimer: I wore a back brace in middle school. Because this occurred in 1978-80, my brace wasn't plastic. It was metal, fairly heavy, and had a support under my left arm that resembled the top of a crutch. I had to wear short sleeved boys t shirts under it to prevent chafing. My clothes at the time were a size 1; because times were tight financially for my family, I was lucky that my mother's size 9 clothing fit me. I made myself a couple of jumpers in home ec, and wore a lot of vests and untucked shirts, which were not the way shirts were worn at the time. 

There is only one picture taken of me during this time period where the brace is in evidence. 

I remember feeling fortunate that I was able to wear the brace. My mother and aunts had bad backs, and I had no desire to be in pain in the future. Surgery wasn't discussed as an option-- I don't know if my curve was not bad enough to warrant it. It was somewhat difficult to bowl, the only sport that I did at the time, but I was never ashamed of the brace or felt a need to hide it from anyone. My friends were such that they wouldn't have cared if I had shaved my head and worn flannel sacks to school. Also, there were no boys even remotely interested in me. Looking back, I guess I was lucky. 

Therefore, when I read books about girls who get all bent out of shape about medical intervention, it seems odd to me. That being said, I think there is a girl at my school who is supposed to be wearing a brace now and isn't. The drama is pitch perfect, but it just wasn't my experience. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel

29102821Holt, Kimberly Willis. Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel
March 28th 2017 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Stevie's parents are both killed when a car hits their produce stand, so she must leave New Mexico to live with the grandfather she has never met in Texas. He runs a decrepit hotel, and has quite an interesting staff. Stevie is not sent to the public school, but tutored by the narcoleptic Mrs. Crump at her home, along with the frequently truant Frida. Stevie helps Violet, the head housekeeper, gets to know Roy, the handyman's son, and hangs out with Horace and Ida, long term residents. Stevie misses gardening, so gets her new friends to help her put a garden in to help the appearance of the hotel. She eventually gets to visit her father's sister, and learns some of the details about her parents' lives that her grandfather doesn't want to share. 
Strengths: The motel setting and the cast of somewhat quirky characters was very fun, especially the very cute Roy. Stevie grieves occasionally, but the book is generally upbeat. The gardening angle is interesting.
Weaknesses: More dead middle grade parents and estranged grandparents. I sort of want to poll my students to see what percentage of them have never met their grandparents, because a whole lot of middle grade books hinge on that plot device. 
What I really think: This was well written and fairly engaging, but it was also slow. I want to see a finished copy, because the cover shot makes it look like an odd size. The cover will help this one (in a way that the cover of Effie Zook doesn't), but this may not circulate very much. Debating. 

Weschler, Doug. The Hidden Life of a Toad
March 14th 2017 by Charlesbridge Publishing
Copy received from the publisher

This nicely sized (8.9 x 8.5 inches) book is an excellent introduction to tadpoles and toads. The close up photographs of the developmental stages are clear and crisp, and accompanied by simple explanations. Some of the pictures are labeled, which is helpful, and there are also some nice nature shots of toads in their environments. The back of the book has a glossary, additional information about the differences between frogs and toads, as well as some toad facts and helpful tips for aiding in the fight to save frogs. Who knew that their was a Toad Detour near Philadelphia?

The text is a bit more challenging than Nic Bishop's nature books, but a little easier than Seymour Simon's. While this makes it a good choice for elementary level beginning readers, even middle school students will benefit from the detailed photographs outlining the stages in a simple way.  The smaller format is great, since older students can shy away from books that look too simplistic. I especially liked how the text was presented on a pleasant blue background-- this color complemented the photographs well and made it easy to read. 

Since Sneed Collard's nature books are frequent nonfiction choices for my students, I'm glad to be introduced to Wechsler's work. Classroom teachers will want to investigate his other titles that might provide a brief overview on topics that aren't covered in the textbook, or are covered on a reading level that is too high for struggling middle grade readers. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Cartoon Saturday-The Adventures of Kung Fu Robot

29094001Rays, Jason. The Adventures of Kung Fu Robot
March 28th 2017 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

Kung Fu Robot LOVES peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, even if he has to use his nunchuks to make crunchy peanut butter palatable. He generally makes his sandwiches in the kitchen of a worried boy named Marvin, whose mother doesn't really approve of the robot because of the messes he makes. After being stalked by a ninja (whom they call Steve once they capture him), the duo find out that peanut butter and jelly are in danger of being sent to space by Kung Pao Chicken (because they make people happy, and he is a villain who is bothered by that), Marvin and Kung Fu Robot must work together to make sure this doesn't happen. 
Strengths: The colors and graphics are very distinctive, and there's apparently an app that goes along with this. This is goofy fun for readers who like Hilo, Brailler's Galactic Hotdog, and Captain Underpants. 
Weaknesses: Not really much going on except the running around and fighting. This seemed to be on the elementary side of the Pilkey line. I was ridiculously bothered by Kung Fu Robot's disjointed appearance as well as the niggling thought that students probably don't eat pb&j as much as they used to. Plus, I had the theme song to Hong Kong Phooey blaring through my mind, which led me to ponder whether this was culturally insensitive somehow.
What I really think: There's definitely a market for goofy comic book style kung fu robot stories, but I'm not the target demographic!

Friday, March 24, 2017

I am permanently 12 years old...

Seriously. I NEVER read adult literature. Today is the day before spring break AND the library is pretty much closed for a Dental Clinic. I should be cleaning out the back room or smelly the rest of the fiction (S-Z) for weeding, but instead I was looking at Barnes and Noble for new releases.

I've almost read all of the new May releases and hope to start on the June ones on Monday. Have I mentioned that I really don't have a life?

So far, I really, really want:

McGee, Ron. Ryan Quinn and the Lion's Claw (Ryan Quinn #2)
October 24th 2017 by HarperCollins

Ryan Quinn’s parents want him to forget all about his death-defying escape in Andakar, his role in the Emergency Rescue Committee, and the fact that they’ve been keeping secrets from him his whole life. But forgetting just isn’t an option for Ryan—not when there’s a traitor in the ERC who’s looking to ruin Ryan’s parents and expose the whole organization. Unsure where to turn or who to trust, Ryan and his friends Danny and Kasey soon find themselves off on another adventure, across the world, to help two musicians whose words have started a revolution. But fighting against injustice has put their lives in serious danger, and now only Ryan can help, no matter the stakes. This globe-trotting mission is more treacherous than Ryan could have ever imagined. And just when he feels like he’s cracked the final clue, Ryan stumbles across the biggest secret of all—and it’s about him.

Garland, Taylor. Celebrate the Season: The Secret Snowflake
October 10th 2017 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

This year, Riley Jackson's seventh grade class is having an anonymous gift exchange called "Secret Snowflake." Riley is thrilled when she gets to be the Secret Snowflake for the cutest boy in school, Marcus Anderson, who she's had a crush on for two years. To make things even more exciting, there's a rumor going around the school that Marcus is Riley's Secret Snowflake too! Riley puts her heart into making homemade gifts for Marcus to let him know how special he is to her, even though her friends warn her that Marcus might think her homemade gifts are lame. When Riley starts receiving presents that are just as thoughtful as her own, she is sure that Marcus is just the boy she's always believed him to be. Is Riley's Secret Snowflake her secret crush...or will she be crushed when she finds out who it is?

Buyea, Rob. The Perfect Score.
October 3rd 2017 by Delacorte Press

From the beloved author of Because of Mr. Terupt and its sequels comes The Perfect Score, a new middle-grade school story with a very special cast of unforgettable characters who discover that getting the perfect score--both on the test and in life--is perhaps not so perfect after all. No one likes or wants to take the statewide assessment tests. Not the students in Mrs. Woods's sixth-grade class, not even their teacher. It's not like the kids don't already have things to worry about. . . . Under pressure to be the top gymnast her mother expects her to be, RANDI starts to wonder what her destiny truly holds. Football-crazy GAVIN has always struggled with reading and feels as dumb as his high school-dropout father. TREVOR acts tough and mean, but as much as he hates school, he hates being home even more. SCOTT's got a big brain and an even bigger heart, especially when it comes to his grandfather, but his good intentions always backfire in spectacular ways. NATALIE, know-it-all and aspiring lawyer, loves to follow the rules--only this year, she's about to break them all. The whole school is in a frenzy with test time approaching--kids, teachers, the administration. Everyone is anxious. When one of the kids has a big idea for acing the tests, they're all in. But things get ugly before they get better, and in the end, the real meaning of the perfect score surprises them all.

Ms. Yingling

King of the Bench: No Fear/ Muhammad Ali

Moore, Steve. King of the Bench: No Fear
March 28th 2017 by HarperCollins
ARC from Young Adult Books Central

Steve is not a natural athlete, and plays mainly to make his father happy. He's always warming the bench, but surprisingly makes his middle school baseball team. He's fairly happy to be playing for the Spiro T. Agnew Mighty Plumbers-- even if he never gets up to bat, he gets to hang out with his teammates, ride the bus to games, and watch Coach Earwax fumblingly try to take the team to victory. When a teammate gets hit by a ball in a rather blood-soaked way, Steve because afraid that he will get hit as well, which makes it difficult for him to get up to the plate. With the help of his quirky teammates, will the Mighty Plumbers be able to win, even is head jock Jimmy Jimerino isn't there to take them to victory.

Sports books are popular with boys. Notebook Novels are popular with boys. Why are there not MORE notebook novels about sports? This was a fairly simple story, but there was an identifiable plot as well as character development, two crucial story elements that are sadly lacking in some of the more popular notebook novels. 

I had never heard of the one panel comic In the Bleachers, but the exaggerated comic style will be appealing to readers who like their text interspersed with lots of drawings. There's also a lot of goofy details-- snack bags with chia seeds and tofu, Coach Earwax picking his nose hairs out on bus rides, and anecdotal asides about school culture.

In the tradition of Tim Green and Mike Lupica, we even have a girl on the team-- Becky is not only pretty and nice to Steve, but she plays some heavy duty baseball. We definitely need more characters like her in tween literature!

Hand this to just about any reluctant reader between the ages of 8 and 14, especially if they are wearing a baseball jersey! I can only hope that Steve goes on to play football and basketball in future volumes!

30653724Baretta, Gene and Morrison, Frank. Muhammad Ali: A Champion is Born
January 3rd 2017 by Katherine Tegen Books
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Jack and the Geniuses At the Bottom of the World

31305496Nye, Bill and Mone, Gregory. Jack and the Geniuses At the Bottom of the World
April 4th 2017 by Amulet Books
Copy provided by the publisher at ALA (Also on Edelweiss)

Jack isn't as scientifically talented at his "siblings" Matt and Ava, but he has his moments. When the kids' drone gets stuck on the balcony of a weirdly imposing building, he manages to find a way in, and the children all get to meet Hank Witherspoon, a wealthy inventor. Because all three children had been in foster care but then published a book of sappy poetry that made a lot of money, they are living on their own and even homeschooling themselves. When Witherspoon is impressed with their scientific knowledge and wants them to travel to Antarctica to see the winners of a desalination contest, they are of course allowed to go. Once there, they get to find out about a lot of ways to desalinate water, find out about the climate in Antarctica, and get involved in a mystery about one of the scientists who has disappeared. Will they be able to find her before she freezes? Who will win the contest? And will they all be able to travel to Hawaii since their social worker, Min, objects?
Strengths: This is a fairly good blend of science and adventure. I know that teachers like to have books with science in them, but they are often dry. The addition of a mystery definitely punches this one up a notch as well. It felt a little like Gibbs' Space Camp, so I'll be able to recommend it to fans of that series. I also liked the science notes at the back. This one is more middle grade than Frank Einstein.
Weaknesses: It was completely unrealistic that the children were emancipated from foster care AND home schooled themselves. I understand that dead parents lead to more adventures, but couldn't Witherspoon have somehow been made their foster father instead? Took me a long time to get past that.
What I really think: Good cover, good science, a tiny bit of name recognition, since the science teachers still trot out the (25 year old) science videos. (I wonder if these videos are still all that relevant. It's worse than my teachers showing Hemo the Magnificent (1957) to my classes in 1979.)

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

#WNDB Wednesday- One Good Thing About America

Freeman, Ruth. One Good Thing About America
March 30th 2017 by Holiday House
ARC provided by publisher at ALA

Anais and her mother and brother Jean-Claud have moved to the United States from Congo, leaving behind her father, Oma, and older brother Olivier. She is living in a room in a shelter, and trying her best to survive at school. She misses being in Africa, where it is warmer and sunnier than it is in Maine, but her teacher tells her to think of one good thing about America every day. Some days it is easier than others. Anais is worried about her father, who is being watched by the police, and doesn't understand why it is so hard for her mother to be granted asylum and for her father and brother to come to America. She makes some friends at school, enjoys her classes, and learns many of the crazy customs and practices of America. 
Strengths: I very much appreciated that the author based this book on her work with students during her internship in ELL classes. She also says that she can't know exactly what it is like for her students who are new to this country, but that until they can write their own stories, she hopes this book will fill a need. I agree. We have a fair amount of ELL students in my building, and Anais voice was very similar to one of my students in particular. I, too, would like to buy books written by #ownvoices authors, but until more are available, I think that authors who have experience working with children in these situations are a good resource for my students to understand what it must be like. 
Weaknesses: I'm never a fan of dialect and misspellings, although I understand the choice to use them. While there are some web sites to direct readers to information about what is going on in Africa, I would have liked a short explanation within the book. 
What I really think: I will definitely buy a copy of this, and I know that our ELL teacher will want to read it!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Popular Fantasy

29563587Mull, Brandon. Dragonwatch: A Fablehaven Adventure
March 14th 2017 by Shadow Mountain
ARC from Publisher; also available on Edelweiss

After saving the world in the Fablehaven series (has it really been seven years since the last one came out?), Kendra and Seth are back. This time, they find out that unless they are able to take over control of Wyrmroost, the dragons will escape and take over the world, since Celebrant, the dragon who is a caretaker, wants more freedom for both himself and his charges. With the forces of Fablehaven behind them, Kendra and Seth are able to impress Celebrant enough that they are made keepers. The road isn't smooth-- they have to find a scepter that goes along with the caretaker's medallion. It's a good way to get to know the various inhabitants of their new kingdom, but time is running out. Celebrant is bound and determined to get rid of them, and only Seth's inspired last ditch attempt keeps everyone alive to continue to work on the emerging dragon problem.
Strengths: Mull writes great fantasy books that are complicated enough for kids who adore fantasy but logical enough that I can generally remember the plots. His books are filled with amusing characters, but it never feels like there are too many of them, or that they are all the same. I adore Kendra while disliking Seth and worrying that he will ruin everything-- I wonder if boy readers are annoyed with Kendra and applaud Seth's habit of ignoring rules to good results! Even though fantasy is not my thing, I can definitely appreciate the craft that is evident in Mull's work.
Weaknesses: It's been 11 years since the first book came out. We really, really need a reissued hard cover set to replace the worn out volumes. Great series, but with this new book, demand will be high for the first series, and I'm circulating little piles of tape, glue and paper at this point!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. Mull is the modern day equivalent of Susan Cooper or Anne McCaffrey. Classic stuff the readers are very passionate about.

25183019Emerson, Kevin. Last Day on Mars (Chronicle of the Dark Star #1)
February 14th 2017 by HarperCollins/Walden Pond Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Liam and Phoebe's families live on Mars because problems with the sun made Earth uninhabitable. Now, further problems are causing everyone to evacuate Mars and move to yet another planet. Liam has never really understood his parents' longing for Earth, but as he and his friends are spending their last days on Mars, he starts to get it. His parents are working at figuring out the final kinks in crucial terraforming plans, so he and Phoebe are waiting to get on the starliner. Of course, they think it a good idea to go out in a solar storm, and see a strange observatory-like building on a hill. They've never seen this before, and their parents don't know anything about it. When Phoebe's parents want her to travel into the tunnels and open a valve, Liam goes with her. Like good space kids, they wear their space suits and take along provisions, which is a good thing when they are caught in a quake. They barely survive, and Phoebe is injured. Luckily, they have enough communication left that Liam's robot, JEFF, manages to send out a skimmer to them. They are saved from falling off a cliff, but instead of going right back to base, they investigate the observatory and find a dead alien with a wrist device. When they do get back, things are very fraught, and it's unlikely that they will make the starliner. Liam's mother gives him an important data key, but he and Phoebe end up trying to catch the starliner with JEFF's help. Evil is afoot, however, and mysterious forces are working against Liam and Phoebe's attempt to catch up with the rest of the Martians.
Strengths: This was a nice mix of Dystopian elements and space adventure. The explanation for why the group had to be on Mars, and why they had to leave, was well done and not belabored. The projects that the parents were working on sounded interesting; like with MINRS, I sort of wanted to know more about the community BEFORE everything started to go south. The frisson of romance with Liam and Phoebe was nice. This is clearly the start of a series.
Weaknesses: Wasn't quite understanding the evil aliens and their plans. There were brief chapters devoted to explaining some of what they were up to, but I would almost rather have had that discussed briefly as they ran into the aliens.
What I really think: Good space adventure. While this is not a hugely popular genre, there are always die hard fans, so I like to add good titles to the collection.

30312806McMann, Lisa. Dragon Captives (The Unwanteds Quests)
February 7th 2017 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

This book is set ten years after the final battle that has left Alex's hand damaged, and his ability to do magic compromised. Aaron is married and has a young child. Thisbe and Fifer are really wanting to do magic, but Alex is worried about them, not even letting them enroll in magic school with their friend Seth. When a dragon, Hux, shows up, Alex finds out that the dragons are outgrowing their wings, but are also enslaved by the Revinir, evil ruler of the former dragon land. The children decide they can prove their worth by going with Hux and making the wings for the dragons, but run into problems. They meet a slave named Dev who helps them, but also lets them know horrible things that are going on in the land to which they have traveled. Can they help the dragons and manage to get back home to Artime?
Strengths: My students adore these. They are very long but fairly easy fantasy stories that seem to appeal to strong elementary readers. The print is large, the plots are easy to follow, and even though the original series is seven books long, readers actually seem to read ALL of the books. I'm sure they will be glad to have a second series with new characters.
Weaknesses: This is fairly standard medeival-ish dragon fantasy. Nothing really fresh, but since no one reads McCaffrey anymore, I guess we could use some new dragon fantasy books.
What I really think: Not my cup of tea, but definitely a serviceable, popular series. Fights almost broke out over who would get my ARC first.

Monday, March 20, 2017

MMGM- What life was like in the 1950s.

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.

31212941Holbrook, Sarah. The Enemy
March 7th 2017 by Calkins Creek
ARC from the publisher at ALA

Marjorie Campbell is trying to navigate junior high in Detroit in 1954. Her best friend Bernadette is frequently absent with earaches, and things are odd at home. The family has taken in a high school boy, Frank, whose parents are dead, and her father suffers PTSD from being in WWII. Her mother is hiding books that the public library was going to burn because of their "Communist" themes. When a new girl sits by Marjorie during class, she is friendly, but doesn't want to be friends with Inga because she is clearly German, although she claims to have moved from Canada. With all the talk about Communist sympathizers, Marjorie doesn't want to get drawn into friendships that may make her look suspect and put her father's job in jeopardy.
Strengths: Wow. I don't know that I've ever read a book that drew me so clearly to a particular time. The details of every day life in 1954 Detroit are exquisite. The thing that really blew me away, however, was the depiction of a time when almost all of the fathers had fought in the war. We don't think about that aspect of the Baby Boom, but it's true. Kurlansky's Battle Fatigue talked about it a little, but this really brought the concept home. It made the whole idea of fighting Communists in the public library seem a little more plausible to me. The other thing that I've not read in another middle grade book is the idea of rampant prejudice. Bernadette (whom I'm assuming is Catholic) isn't allowed to have Lutherans in her home. Negroes live south of 8 Mile Road. We just fought the "Japs" and the "Krauts", so we certainly don't want to hang out with them. I grew up hearing this sort of talk from my aunts and uncles, and being appalled by it, but it was certainly a part of the culture. Given the current circumstances, I think this is important to find out. Children today really don't understand why people were opposed to Kennedy-- hopefully, it won't take 50 years for other prejudices to work themselves out! We clearly need more books about the Baby Boom experience! (I missed being in that generation by 6 months!)
Weaknesses: The print is a bit small, and there's not a huge general plot. Not that I minded-- Marjorie's relationship with Inga would have been enough for me.
What I really think: This is worth buying if only for the scene where Marjorie and Inga's fathers get together for coffee and talk about their experiences during the war-- fighting on opposite sides. Chills. So good! (And one of my students, who normally only likes murder mysteries, loved it as well!)

30840370Shetterly, Margot Lee. Hidden Figures (Young Readers' Edition)
November 29th 2016 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

This narrative nonfiction title follows the lives of several women who worked at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in Langley, Virginia. NACA later became NASA, so some of the women who were instrumental in working with calculations for airplanes during World War II also went on to work with the engineers who were responsible for putting a man on the moon. Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden had a variety of backgrounds but shared several important characteristics-- they were very bright, very motivated to make better lives for themselves and their families, and very unusual for their time. As African American women, their opportunities were limited, and working with the government gave them more opportunities than many women had. There were certainly challenges, both in their personal lives and with the general climate for women in the work force at the time, but they all persevered and contributed greatly to the US air and space programs.

I haven't seen the movie that is based on this book, but the trailers look much more emotional than this text. While the hardships that the women faced aren't glossed over, they are presented in a more matter of fact way. I found this to be effective, and the juxtaposition of individual experiences with the general sociopolitical climate of the time made history come alive for me.

The most amazing part was how long ago women like Vaughan were able to break through barriers to excel in mathematical and scientific fields! I knew that women had made some strides in employment in the 1930s, and that there were lots of opportunities during the war, but many women were forced out of "men's positions" after the war was over. The intrepid women in this book managed to hang on to their positions. The other noteworthy part was how they managed to raise children while working long hours during a time when child care was not as readily available.

Not only is Hidden Figures an interesting book to read for pleasure, but it is also a very useful title when researching women's history or African American history. Hidden Figures joins Blumenthal's Let Me Play, Macy's Wheels of Change and Farrell's Pure Grit as a must read for girls who want to investigate women who fought for opportunities even when they came with a high price.

32278678Edwards, Sue Bradford and Harris, Duchess. Hidden Human Computers: The Black Women of NASA
December 15th 2016 by Essential Library (Abdo)
Copy received by the publisher at ALA

Covering the same topic in a more research-friendly format, this nonfiction book presents information about black women at NASA in a way that makes it a bit easier to follow the time line. There are also plentiful photographs to support the text, and informative sidebars that explain a variety of topics. I especially liked the last chapter, that talked about the impact of earlier women working at NASA on the state of women in science and technology today. The appendices are very useful, offering a time line, glossary, resources and an index.

I'm definitely looking into some of the other titles in the Hidden Heroes series: The Belles of Baseball, The Muckrakers, and Women with Wings, just for a start!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge

26836203Gray, Kristin. Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge
March 7th 2017 by Paula Wiseman Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Vilonia's grandmother died over a month ago, and she still misses her. Vilonia's mother is so depressed that she can barely get out of bed, and she is neglecting her job, which is to write obituaries for the local news paper. After reading that animals can help with depression, and realizing that the family chickens aren't quite as helpful as dogs, Vilonia offers to babysit her teacher's fish, and then is determined to get a puppy. There's a lot going on-- Miss Bettina, the newspaper editor, must be appeased, the chickens must be kept out of traffic, there's softball to be played, and a Catfish Festival to attend. Can Vilonia juggle everything and improve her mother's mood?
Strengths: This had its moments, and it was good to see Vilonia thinking about others and trying to improve things for her family despite her own sadness. The different pets were a nice touch, and the characters were well developed.
Weaknesses: Between the Mississippi setting and the irresponsible grief of the mother, this wasn't one I personally enjoyed. 

What I really think: I can see this being very successful in elementary and some middle school libraries-- the cover is intriguing and colorful, and the story mostly upbeat.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Cartoon Saturday- Olga and the Smelly Thing From Nowhere

30653691Gravel, Elise. Olga and the Smelly Thing From Nowhere
March 14th 2017 by HarperCollins
ARC from the publisher at ALA

Olga loves animals of all kings, so when she finds one that looks like a cross between a potato and a hamster, she takes it home and hides it in her room, even though it smells really bad. She tries to find out what it is, even trying to take it into the library past the suspicious eyes of Ms. Swoop, the tattooed punk librarian. With the help of a local store owner, Mr. Hoopah, she does discover that Meh (as she names it) loves to eat olives. When Meh goes missing, she enlists the aid of Chuck, who has a small dog with an overactive bladder. They find the Olgamus in an unlikely place, but are just glad to have the strange animal back and to have made some friends along the way. 
Strengths: This is a notebook novel, which means that it could be about anything and some of my reluctant readers would check it out. 
Weaknesses: This was super weird, and mentioned farts and pee more than it needed to. Also, it bothered me that Olga had Captain Crunch eyes-- they are drawn over top of her hair in the same way that Captain Crunch's eyes are drawn on his hat.
What I really think: I will probably buy a copy, and students will check it out, but it certainly was not anything that I liked. It feels like letting children eat weird, off brand Pop Tarts from China or Israel for breakfast. You know, the kind you can get at Odd Lots that come in flavors like persimmon or loquat. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Happy, Happy Thoughts

It's been a weirdly hard winter. Nothing major, just small things. Changes. Other people around me having problems. Fatigue.

And SO MUCH sad middle grade literature.

Maybe I can make a deal with middle grade authors. You may kill off and/or incapacitate all the grandparents you want, just spare the parents, siblings and friends.

BUT! My faith has been restored by these three books! They don't come out for a while; I have reviews up on Goodreads. Whew. So much better. Such a relief to read. Not unicorns pooping rainbows, but realistic problems handled in constructive ways. Add these to your TBR pile immediately!

32075488  34225408  31708332

Another thing that definitely makes my day: Tom Watson. Stick Dog Craves Candy comes out just in time for my birthday!

Mr. Watson did such a fun and gracious interview for School Library Journal! Check out the entire BeTween newsletter is you don't already subscribe to that!

And finally, even though it's probably blocked at everybody's school, a fun musical number. My daughter's friend mentioned the group Daft Punk, of whom I had never heard. It sounded like men in eyeliner screaming, so I didn't investigate. When I finally did, I realized they were just ELECTRONIC DISCO! I love disco, and have a secret adoration of Parliament Funkadelic. Anyway, it was an amazing "new" discovery (they have been active since the 1990s), and it explains SO MUCH about why my daughter (who loves KC and the Sunshine Band, The Bay City Rollers and The Partridge Family) is friends with this person. 

So, to make your day, Lose Yourself to Dance, by Daft Punk:

Ms. Yingling

Guy Friday- Gang Tackle

29394218 Howling, Eric. Gang Tackle
August 30th 2016 by Orca Book Publishers
Copy provided by publisher at ALA

Jamal is a senior at an economically struggling school in urban Toronto. Football has been cut, so he won't be able to play. Luckily, a local business man, Mr. Fort, offers to provide $20,000 and equipment from his company, Fort Sports. The catch? He wants to coach. The team is glad to be able to reassemble and have great new equipment, but they realize early on that Fort has his own agenda. A sports channel follows their team, and Coach Fort is constantly prattling on about how disadvantaged the players are and how he is saving them from a life of flipping burgers and stocking shelves by helping out the team. Behind the scenes, Fort is ill-equipped to coach, makes racist comments, and is anything but helpful to boys who have other concerns on their minds. Jamal works at a McDonald's while his mother is a clerk at Best Buy, and when their car's brakes need repair, he tries to find a way to get money. Unfortunately, he takes a local gang up on their offer and gets arrested while trying to rob the store at which his mother works. Fort steps in to save him, but the boys on the team decide that playing football is not a pleasant experience when they have to deal with their self-centered coach. They publicly state that they want to "sack the coach", and Fort pulls his support. Trying to find a way to fund the team, Jamal puts his computer programming skills to use and comes up with a football game app. When the news cover it, he manages to sell enough copies to continue the football season.
Strengths: Orca Sports books are consistently good, even if they aren't great. They are set in  high schools, which middle school students LOVE, they cover social problems as well as lots of sports details, and they are short and easy to read. The covers (with the exception of my personal favorite, Crack Coach) are simple photo illustrations that age well. The characters are diverse. Why don't I have every single title they have published? I know some librarians have made comments that their students don't read football books, but I cannot keep enough titles on my shelves!
Weaknesses: I wish these were a bit larger. The Canadian paperbacks have especially small margins, so when I buy these in a prebind format, there is very little white space on the page. I'm sure this is a measure to keep costs down, but I would love to see these titles in a nice dust jacketed hard cover.
What I really think: Putting this in the collection immediately and putting it on hold for one of my students who reads three football books a week and has literally run out of books to read. He's had to resort to humorous books that have no sports. He's not pleased, and since he's an 8th grade boy, there's a LOT of eye rolling and sighing when I ask him to try other types of books!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Calico Girl

Nolen, Jerdine. Calico Girl
February 14th 2017 by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Callie's father Hampton is the son of a plantation owner and a slave, so while her father is free, the rest of her family occupies a tenuous place in society in 1861. Hampton's sister, Catherine, is now in charge of the family's land and possessions, and is being told to sell slaves further into the south so that the money can be used for the war effort as well as to feed her own family. Callie's half brothers are to be sold, but Hampton manages to get them all taken to a fort and put under protection of the forces from the North. While there, Callie meets Mary K. Pearce and starts to get an education, and is offered a position in a school further North. Told from alternating perspectives of different members of the family, we get a feel for what it was like to have been a slave, and then to experience freedom during this difficult time in US history.
Strengths: It was very interesting to me that Ms. Nolen felt compelled to write in the preface that while she was not allowed to discuss slavery in her family, she was very intrigued by it. I have seen this phenomenon when our 8th graders study the Civil Rights movement-- there are always some parents who don't want to hear "negative things". In this well-researched novel (I appreciated the timeline at the beginning of the story, the notes and bibliography, as well as the inclusion of an actual but little known historical figure), Nolen doesn't shy away from the difficult aspects of slavery, but concentrates on the more positive things, such as family loyalty and love, as well as the eventual freedom of the characters.
Weaknesses: While the premise of the book is a good one, the language is very stilted, and it is very slow paced.
What I really think: I understand what Nolen was trying to do, but her background in picture books is evident. For a successful middle grade novel, the philosophical pondering about family and place in the universe need to be offset by more adventure and excitement. This might be a more successful book for elementary students who need an introduction to slavery during the time of the Civil War.

I love Ally Carter's work. Really. But Grace is seriously annoying, and I just want to slap her for most of the book. She is forever going off half cocked and is then surprised when things don't end well. Also, she was offered a pretty good alternative to Alexei. I'm one of those people who think that Princess Diana would have been better off if she had stayed with Prince Charles. If she really wanted to get back at Camilla, she would have stayed married and never let her come to light! Anyway, teens and tweens don't have these objections to the series.

30254923Carter, Ally. Take the Key and Lock Her Up
December 27th 2016 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

After Jamie is badly injured and Alexei is accused on murder in See How They Run (Embassy Row #2), Grace is hiding out with them in a remote woods in the US. When a place lands near them, they panic with good reason-- the Prime Minister is there to try to get Grace to come back. She doesn't, and the three are on the run again. As long as Grace and Jamie, descendents of the deposed family of the princess Amelia, are alive, they will be hunted down to assure the stability of Adria. Grace is tired of running, so thinks it's a good idea to hunt down the PM and see what she has to say. She is drugged in a park in DC and flown to Paris, where she meets with the Society but manages to escape. She eventually meets up with Alexei, and the two try to figure out a way to survive. Eventually, Grace tells everyone her brother is dead, and ultimately lands in an unusual situation that she is told her mother helped create.Will she bow down to the demands of the Society, or will she come up with a solution on her own?

This satisfying conclusion to the Embassy Row series addresses many of the loose ends. Grace manages to reconnect with her mother, find out more information about the Society, and also learns more about Alexei's past as well as the history of Adria.

The best part of these books is always traveling around Europe with a hot guy, not worrying about funding or travel arrangements. Even though her life is supposedly in jeopardy, you have to envy Grace her ease of travel. It helps to have well connected friends!

I do love that when the Society tries to derail her plans, they at least offer up Thomas to replace Alexei. Teens will agree with Grace's choice and root for her to return to her one true love, but I thought that Thomas had a lot to recommend him!

Readers of Benway's Also Known As, Monaghan's A Girl Named Digit, and Lee's A Spy in the House who want to hone their international espionage skills will definitely want to pick up this series after they finish Carter's The Gallagher Girls and Heist Society series!