Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Wonder of Us.

32332925Culbertson, Kim. The Wonder of Us.
April 25th 2017 by Point
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Abby and Riya were best friends while growing up in Yuba Ridge, but when Riya's family moves to Germany to help with the family business, the two start to grow apart. It doesn't help that Abby's parents get divorced and she takes it very badly. When Riya's grandmother offers to send the girls on a "grand tour" of Europe (accompanied by Riya's cousin Neel), the two have a chance to reconnect while taking in all of the historical sites, which Abby loves, and shopping, which Riya loves. They spend time in Florence, Switzerland, Scotland, Iceland, etc., and Neel seems to have hot friends in every one of the places they visit. It's hard for the girls to get over their fight, especially since they haven't been completely truthful with one another about their plans.
Strengths: Great descriptions of what it is like to have a very privileged travel experience in Europe. While there are some overnight trains, there are no youth hostels, and money is never an issue because Riya's grandmother is footing the bill. The friend drama is right on point.
Weaknesses: This was on the long side, and I was expecting more of a romance. It makes sense that there isn't as much, but I was expecting it!
What I really think: I've got a lot of travel books that don't circulate as much as I would like them to, so I will probably pass on this. Great for high school, and perfectly fine for middle grade readers who want a longer book.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Cartoon Saturday- Do Not Open! (Marty Pants #1)

31371252Parisi, Mark. Do Not Open! (Marty Pants #1)
May 2nd 2017 by HarperCollins
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Marty loves to draw, and is very fond of his cat, Jerome, even when Jerome licks his face repeatedly. He's less fond of his older sister and her Neanderthal boyfriend, Peach Fuzz. When Marty finds a cryptic message that claims he is being observed by aliens, he comes to the conclusion that his teacher, Mr. McPhee, is masterminding an alien invasion. With the help of his friends Parker and Roongrat, Marty attempts to head off this threat to Earth, find his missing cat, and get all of his homework turned in on time. 

This notebook novel embraces the same episodic format that The Diary of a Wimpy Kid uses, so there are plenty of random, laugh-out-loud moments. Marty gets bonked by soccer balls, envisions Mr. McPhee melting, and is stalked by a girl he rather likes, Analie. Marty's firm belief that McPhee is an alien, as well as his tortured interchanges with the thug-like Peach Fuzz, give this a bit more momentum and plot than many notebook novels. 

The line drawing are simple and engaging, and do a good job at illustrating the funnier moments-- Marty with his pants pockets full of change or his fingers bandaged, his nemesis Simon's drawing of Anemone Bob TrapezoidShorts, and Marty's imaginings of space aliens and Mr. McPhee's hidden antics. 

The most amusing part of this for me was realizing that I knew the answers to many of Marty's questions before he did, and this will make younger readers very pleased as well. Hand this to readers who want something not quite as fantasy driven as Captain Underpants but a little bit sillier than Pinchon's Tom Gates

Friday, April 28, 2017

Guy Friday- Sci Fi Junior High

30363767Seegert, Scott and Martin, John. Sci-Fi Junior High
21 Feburary 2017, Jimmy Patterson
Copy provided by publisher for Young Adult Books Central
Interview with Scott Seegert and John Martin at YABC.

Kelvin is the son of two supergenius scientists, so he must be a supergenius himself, right? Well, maybe it just hasn’t kicked in yet. When his parents are transferred to new jobs on the Galactic Science Hub, Kelvin has to start all over again at Sciriustrati Fibroculareus Junior High school. Some things are the same as they are on Earth-- making new friends, dealing with new teachers, and working on school projects. Some are NOT the same-- food fights in the cafeteria, anti-gravity buttons teachers can use to keep kids in control, and classmates and staff who represent all of the interesting diversity the galaxy has to offer, whether it’s a science teacher who is a cloud of gas or a boy from a water based family who travels around in a portable aquarium! Kelvin and his new friends find themselves in a difficult position that forces them to break into his dad’s lab to complete a school project. Little do they know that they are on a collision course with an evil scientist, Erik Failenheimer. He’s bound and determined to take over the universe by getting a secret element from the planet Zorb, and his plans have gone slightly awry. He’s been trapped in the body of Kelvin’s sister’s stuffed animal, Mr. Fluffles. While this has allowed him to spy on Kelvin’s family and commandeer a giant robot, it does add a few furry wrinkles to his evil plans. Can Kelvin and his friends manage to save the universe… and get their homework in on time?

This first outside acquisition for the James Patterson “Jimmy” line of books does a good job at combining elements that kids like to find in books; plentiful illustrations, goofy science fiction, and middle school concerns that are universal. Or, should we say, intergalactic!

Seegert has clearly been inspired by Mad magazine, and some pictures are very evocative of the late, great Don Martin. There are even similar sound effects in some panels! Not only do these illustrations up the humor factor, but they also support the text in a way that helps struggling readers. Occasionally, dialogue is present with a thumbnail illustration of the character speaking instead of in paragraph form, which is particularly brilliant.

Martin and Seegert have explored space before, in their Vordak the Incomprehensible series, and they cover an interesting cross section of space innovations in Sci Fi Junior High, from synthesized food that could use some work to amazing giant robots. The technology is integrated into school and home life in interesting ways. Using an anti-gravity machine to control students is brilliant, and the description of a fire drill on a space station (go to your locker, put on your helmet, and tether yourself down before the oxygen is sucked out!) is both funny and practical. A space dog who accidentally slurps up matter replicating fluid and can then eat rubber balls and spit out replicas of things? Brilliant.

Of course, junior high is still junior high, and Kelvin struggles with his dad, who tells horrible jokes that his classmates actually like. His younger sister is annoying. A girl in his class has a crush on him, but he in turn has a crush on someone else. Even Galactic Hubs have their bullies, homework, and macaroni and cheese, so readers will enjoy seeing how daily life in space would be wildly different and yet comfortingly the same.

Sci Fi Junior High is a great choice for readers who like space adventure with a hefty dose of goofiness like Tom O’Donnell’s Space Rocks! and Mike Jung’s Geeks, Girls and Secret Identities. Series lovers will be glad to know that this is the first book, so if they’ve finished all of John Kloepfer’s Galaxy’s Most Wanted,Castle’s The Clone Chronicles and Scieszka’s Frank Einstein installments, there are more out of this world books about Kelvin and his friends in the works!

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Posted Blog Tour

Anderson, John David. Posted.
May 2nd 2017 by Walden Pond Press
ARC provided by publisher at ALA

Frost (so called because he wrote a poem that won a competition) struggled to make friends at his new school after his parents divorced and he moved, but he now has a solid but small group. Bench is an athlete who doesn't often play and who has trouble identifying with the jocks, DeeDee is a Dungeons and Dragons fan, and Wolf is a very talented musician. All the boys fall on the geeky end of the spectrum, but because there is safety in numbers, are usually left alone, with the exception of the occasional "nudge" in the hallway. Perhaps this is why a new student, Rose Holland, is drawn to their table in the cafeteria. Rose is a large girl and seems unafraid of everything and very confident despite the immediate barbs from others. When she brashly asks to sit at Frost's table, the boys are too surprised to say no, and an unlikely alliance begins. Rose and Wolf especially hit it off, DeeDee is impressed with her gaming skills, and Frost finds that she is an amusing companion. The problem is that she has changed things, and Bench no longer hangs out with the group.

At the same time, cell phones have been banned at the middle school, so students are finding other ways to communicate. It starts with a few sticky notes, but soon nasty things are being said. Rose is a target of some of these, and the notes seem to be coming from some of the boys on Bench's team. Bench grows even further away from the group. After Rose saves DeeDee from one of the boys and dares him to ride his bike down a local hill ("The Gauntlet"), and makes the ride successfully herself, Frost hopes that things have changed. Rose demands that the boy wear a sticky note that says "I'm sorry" all day even after the notes are banned, but there is a note after that that is particularly hurtful, and which threatens Frost's comfortable world even further.

Anderson manages to combine laugh-out-loud lines ("It's wombats, actually. And I don't wrangle them. I groom them for professional wombat breeding competitions.") with a fresh and compelling twist on middle school problems. The desire to find a safe group is not addressed enough in middle grade literature, and Frost's concerns about the well being of his friends and the well being of their safe "pack" all ring true. Even the bullying, which is a too-frequent topic in middle grade literature and usually handled in a boringly stereotypical way, is realistic, with snide comments and sneaky backstabbing taking the place of wedgies being given in back hallways.

The characters are all wonderfully drawn and fully realized. If anything, Frost is the least developed, but this is mainly because he is still trying to figure out who he is. Rose is terrific, and if I didn't know better, would have thought she was inspired by one of my own friends growing up. It's hard for me to report on these characters objectively because, well, I would have been sitting at Frost's table in middle school. For years, I have felt proud of myself that my middle school lunch group was mixed gender (and there were six of us), but reading Posted made me realize that we were together because we were all safer together than apart.

Certainly, readers who enjoyed the fantastic Ms. Bixby's Last Day will be quick to pick this up, but it's also a good companion for Weeks and Varadarajan's Save Me a Seat, Buyea's Because of Mr. Terupt, Palaccio's Wonder and other books that teachers are quick to use in classroom discussions but which their students love because of the quality of the stories and the passion that their teachers have for the books.

This one would be a five star read for me if it weren't for one thing-- this is really two books. It's really long (369 pages) for middle grade literature, and the story of Frost's group of friends would have been perfect without the whole issue of the cell phones and sticky notes. Yes, the book made me cry a little, but I think that it would have been read more widely if it were a sparer volume on a topic that isn't as high profile as bullying.

Here are the other stops on the tour.

17-AprLibrarian's Quest
Walden Media Tumblr
18-AprNerdy Book Club
19-AprFor Those About to Mock
20-AprTeach Mentor Texts
21-AprUnleashing Readers
22-AprNext Best Book
Read, Write, Reflect
23-AprBluestocking Thinking
24-AprLitcoach Lou
Book Monsters
25-AprKirsti Call
27-AprThe Haunting of Orchid Forsythia
Ms Yingling Reads
28-AprMaria's Melange
Novel Novice
29-AprThe Hiding Spot
30-AprThis Kid Reviews 
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Rooting for Rafael Rosales

32672758Scaletta, Kurtis. Rooting for Rafael Rosales
April 25th 2017 by Albert Whitman & Company
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Rafael is growing up a few years back in the Dominican Republic, where his father repairs machinery for a sugar cane farm. Rafael is obsessed with baseball from the time he sees his first game, and would love to eventually play on a team in the US. He and his friend Juan are often at odds, although both of them have the same dream. Maya lives in the US, and loves to watch baseball. Her favorite new player is... Rafael Rosales. Her sister, Grace, has a baseball blog, and after Maya posts something, the blog gets tons of hits and the sisters are asked to go on a talk show. Maya is interested in gardening, and is very upset that bees are being killed by agricultural chemicals-- chemicals that her father's company, Alceria, makes. When she mentions this on the talk show, her father gets in trouble. She and Grace are invited to talk to the company, which leads them to donate a large portion of land for a wildflower preserve... mainly for the publicity. In the meantime, Maya has been babysitting Claire, who gets stung in her garden and has to go to the hospital for an allergic reaction, and in alternating chapters, we see how Rosales' path to playing ball in the US is pretty rocky. He is very concerned about worker's rights and pay, and befriends a little girl names Bijou, who later connects with Maya through Grace's blog. Will Maya be able to figure out a way to help the bees rather than hurt them? What role will Rosales play in this?
Strengths: This has a lot of good elements-- baseball, the problem with honey bees, parental employment, working conditions in the Dominican Republic, the plight of Haitian workers, sibling tension, bee allergies, and even Claire's two dads. The alternate narrative kept me turning the pages because I couldn't quite figure where the author was going with the two disparate story lines. It was well written, and I liked all of the characters, even the father, who knew his company was kind of evil but really liked his job. 
Weaknesses: While these elements worked well together, they are an odd combination of things to sell to students, and the book is very slow paced. Also, do any teens blog anymore? And why do my blog posts never go viral and get me thousands of hits? 
What I really think: I think I'll buy a copy, even though it might not see a huge amount of use. I've had an increasing number of students who ask for what I consider "teacher books" (like Wonder and Because of Mr. Terupt), and this would appeal to those more thoughtful students. Also, it was upbeat instead of being sad. The points for that offset the odd combination of factors. 

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Journey Across the Hidden Islands

25488323Durst, Sarah Beth. Journey Across the Hidden Islands
April 4th 2017 by Clarion
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Ji-Lin is training with her winged lion Alejan to become the protector of her sister and heir to the throne, Seika. When she successfully completes her training, she is allowed to go home for her birthday. Upon arrival, she is thrust immediately into a large celebration ritual, and she finds out that she and her sister are to be sent on the Emperor's Journey to talk to the dragon that is keeping a boundary up that makes the Hidden Islands safe from fierce monsters called koji. Along with Alejan, the sisters start on their four day journey. They run into problems along the way-- at one stop, the town has been invaded by a giant serpent koji who is making a next in the town, there are frequent earthquakes, and the come across a pirate ship claiming to be from Zemyla, where the founder of Himitsu was born. The pirates are really explorers, but Kirro, the son of the captain, has been bitten by a beetle and might die. The Zemylans don't believe the princesses that the spit from a waterhorse will heal Kirro, because in their world, waterhorses have been hunted to extinction. The princesses no they need to hurry to the dragon, but they offer to take Kirro with them to be healed. They manage to do this, and make it to the dragon in time, but are unable to contact the dragon. The princesses' Uncle and the people in the village nearby don't seem overly worried, but the girls are not ready to give up and manage to find the dragon and uncover a plot. Will they be able to save their kingdom?
Strengths: This is a very descriptive novel with a very rich fantasy world. It reminds me of something, but I can't quite put my finger on it. It's quasi-Japanese, which is a change from quasi-Celtic, and who doesn't want to fly around on a lion and save the world from evil monsters. There is enough princessy detail to keep younger readers happy, and enough action/adventure and girl power to delight older readers. I found myself liking this one more than I thought I would. A great choice for readers who liked Hale's Princess Academy or Levine's The Two Princesses of Bamarre.
Weaknesses: Both girls seemed SUPER unprepared for their journey, but I guess their father had their reasons for sending them. It also seemed a little odd that the towns they visited were under such duress but were willing to send the girls on to talk to the dragon, especially given how unprepared the girls were.
What I really think: Will definitely purchase. Kind of hope it's a stand alone, though. I like to be able to imagine a second book rather than have yet another fantasy series!

30653810Hughes, Devon. Escape from Lion's Head (Unnaturals #2)
April 4th 2017 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Mutant talking animals in SPAAACE! Foxes are canines.

Good book. Bad fantasy amnesia! This is an essential purchase for libraries where the Warriors books are popular, but it's just not my cup of tea.

From Goodreads:
"K-07M0 has never had a name. As a fox-bat, she has lived her entire life silently hiding from the other hybrids and the scientists who created her…until the day a new animal gives her the name Kozmo and they help each other escape the underground lab.

In the outside world, Kozmo meets a pack of hybrids just like her, led by a feisty eagle-dog named Castor. But Castor and his pack are being viciously pursued, and Kozmo is forced to do something she’s never done before: trust others to survive. Kozmo will discover that Castor and his friends have unexpected human allies, but can they uncover the truth about why the Unnaturals were created together?"

Ms. Yingling

Monday, April 24, 2017

MMGM- Lucky Broken Girl and Double Cross

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.

Sometimes, I read books and then forget to review them! This was the case with Lucky Broken Girl, which I picked up at ALA. I read it in order to write an interview with Ms. Behar (which should come out in May on the site), but completely spaced about writing a review. Definitely take a look at this one-- I loved it, not only for the great 1960s details from the author's own life, but for the description of immigrant life. Also, I had a good friend who suffered an injury very similar to Ruthie's, and was laid up in bed for months!

This has gotten tons of love from Kirkus, Publishers WeeklyLatinxs in Kid Lit, AND The Nerdy Book Club, so you know that this is definitely one hot book!

31247023Behar, Ruth. Lucky Broken Girl
April 11th 2017 by Nancy Paulsen Books
From Goodreads:

Based on the author's childhood in the 1960s, a young Cuban-Jewish immigrant girl is adjusting to her new life in New York City when her American dream is suddenly derailed.

Ruthie Mizrahi and her family recently emigrated from Castro's Cuba to New York City. Just when she's finally beginning to gain confidence in her mastery of English and enjoying her reign as her neighborhood's hopscotch queen, a horrific car accident leaves her in a body cast and confined her to her bed for a long recovery. As Ruthie's world shrinks because of her inability to move, her powers of observation and her heart grow larger. She comes to understand how fragile life is, how vulnerable we all are as human beings, and how friends, neighbors, and the power of the arts can sweeten even the worst of times.

31395317Janeczko, Paul B. Double Cross: Deception Techniques in War
April 25th 2017 by Candlewick Press
ARC provided by the publisher

Not only does Mr. Janeczko do a great poetry collection, but he puts together interesting and intriguing volumes on espionage that rather amaze me. Starting with an overview of what deception strategies AND techniques are used by the US military, Double Cross goes on to thoroughly describe how these are used in a variety of historical settings. 

From the earliest days of Biblical descriptions of battles (Gideon driving out the Midianites) to the siege of Troy and a variety of early European battles, Janeczko points out how these techniques and strategies were employed, and to what effect. In between chapters, there are asides of information such as ciphers and codes (readers can get more on this from this author's Top Secret: A Handbook of Codes, Ciphers and Secret Writing, Candlewick 2006), naming operations, telegraphs, Bletchley Park and more). A wide variety of other operations, from WWII to Korea to Kuwait are painstakingly described, the generals involved introduces, and the tactics enumerated. 

There are a few photographs, although the ARC doesn't show them all, and I definitely want to see a finished copy. Best of all, there is a complete bibliography and very careful source notes. This book would be a great example to show students how sources should be cited, and demonstrate the careful attention to detail that was used in compiling this book. 

Not only is this carefully researched, but like The Dark Game: True Spy Stories from Invisible Ink to CIA Moles (Candlwick, 2012), this is told in a fast paced, interesting narrative style. As much as I would prefer that this author go back to compiling poetry collections, he turns out high quality narrative nonfiction that adventure seeking readers will find hard to put down. 

Remember, there's still time to vote for your favorite for Children's Book Week!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Willows vs. Wolverines

25543131Cherry, Alison. Willows vs. Wolverines
April 11th 2017 by Aladdin

E ARC from Edelweiss

Izzy and Mackenzie usually go to Camp Sweetwater, but this year get sent to Camp Foxtail where they don't know anyone.. and they even get put in separate cabins! Izzy tries to make the best of being in the Willows cabin, and tries to think of the best pranks for the prank war against the boys' Wolverine cabin. This involves lying about an older brother, but she is soon accepted by the girls. She warms to her conselor, Val, and enjoys camp activities. Mackenzie is miserable almost all the time, especially since the camp is not accommodating her need for a dairy free diet. Izzy tries to spend some time with her, but gets involved in the camp talent show with her cabin mates, and has a light flirtation going with one of the Wolverines. In the end, Izzy realizes that she needs to make things right with her friend before heading back to civilization.
Strengths: This book transported me directly back to Camp Kiwatani and Camp Yakewi! Since those were Campfire Girl camps, there were never any boys around, but they are a good addition to any tween camp story. The details are all very evocative, making this a great story for anyone who has been to camp or longs to go. Izzy's struggles to fit in are very realistic.
Weaknesses: This is on the long side, and Mackenzie is a real wet blanket!
What I really think: I may wait to purchase this one and make sure there is an Accelerated Reader test for it. While I enjoyed it, camp stories don't do particularly well in my library.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Cartoon Saturday- My Life as a Ninja

33622390Tashjian, Janet. My Life as a Ninja
April 11th 2017 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Derek and his friends decide that they need to be ninjas-- and of course, ninjas need black clothes, which makes a huge mess when they try to dye them. His mom (who runs a vet practice next door to their home and is the reason Derek has Frank, a Capuchin monkey they are fostering until he can be trained as an assistance animal) and his dad (who finally has a new job with a guerrilla advertising agency) decide that the best was to short circuit future attempts at misguided ninja-ism is to enroll Derek in a martial arts class with Sensai Takai. Derek is not impressed. He wants to kick things, not think about things, and even when he realizes why he can't just karate chop bad guys, he still wants a little more action in his life. He does get it, but in an unpleasant way. Someone is painting graffiti of a Minotaur on buildings around his neighborhood, including his school. When he and his friends try to investigate (they're ninjas, after all), they run the risk of being blamed. To avoid getting in trouble, Derek is willing to investigate everyone, including folks who work with his mom and dad. The culprit causes some complication in addition to the graffiti, but Derek and his family deal can deal with whatever life throws their way.

Strengths: These are a lot of fun, and are so much better written than Wimpy Kid! They always have discernible plots, character development, moral lessons; everything one wants in a book for middle grade readers. Tashjian is a great writer, so half of me wants her to keep writing these, while the other half of me wants to see something like Fault Line or For What It's Worth (which is brilliant, but not overly popular with my students). I hope that she'll keep writing so we see LOTS of new titles from her!
Weaknesses: Horrible, horrible bindings. These get so much use that they wear quickly. I might have to start ordering these and the Big Nate titles from PermaBound. Gah. Multiple vendors. I'm also not a huge fan of the illustrations, although it is nice that Tashjian gets to work with her son. What I really think: Yep. Checking PermaBound. I need to replace some of my Captain Underpants books, as well. Now if I can just remember my log in...
  Ms. Yingling

Friday, April 21, 2017

Baseball Genius

30312750Green, Tim and Jeter, Derek. Baseball Genius
March 7th 2017 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Jalen would love to be on a travel baseball team, but he doesn't have the money to join. He and his Cat decide they will break into her neighbor James Yaeger's yard and steal his baseballs, which he sells because he is famous and people will give him a lot of money for the balls that he can donate to charity. They get caught, but manage to escape. Unfortunately, Cat's mom invites Yaeger to her birthday dinner, and he recognizes Jalen. Yaeger is in danger of being fired after an injury, but Jalen thinks he can help. Jalen has the crazy ability to be able to tell what pitch is going to be thrown, and Yaeger agrees that Jalen can help. There are other things going on in Jalen's life-- his father works very hard to keep the Starline Diner running, but times are hard. Yaeger agrees to tweet about the food there to help out, but after a disastrous fire, things are even dicier. Can Jalen manage to help Yaeger and his father? And what will happen to his own baseball career?
Strengths: Perfectly fine story. I liked Jalen's father, and Cat was a strong character. Good sense of place, enough baseball to keep fans happy, fast-paced story.
Weaknesses: Confused as to this partnership: Green writes plenty of baseball stories on his own. It read much more like a Green story than like Jeter's The Contract, which is much more message heavy.

What I really think: I'll buy, although I wish it were about football. Baseball players seem more academically inclined and write more books! Green's football titles are always more popular. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Posted Blog Tour!

Middle Grade literature just doesn't get any better than John David Anderson. In addition to the wonderful Ms. Bixby's Last Day and the hilarious Insert Coin to Continue that have come out recently, he ALSO has the fantastic Posted. If he keeps writing, we are going to have to invent adjectives to use to describe how superlatively amusing his books are!