Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Emperor's Riddle

27508527Zhang, Kat. The Emperor's Riddle
May 2nd 2017 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Mia Chen isn't too excited about spending a month of her summer vacation in her mother's hometown in China, especially since it means that her family (including brother Jake and Aunt Lin) have to stay in the family apartment with her uncle. Mia's a little spacey sometimes, but when Aunt Lin is gone one morning, she is sure that something bad has happened. Her aunt's friend, Ying, had visited the night before, and Mia has a bad feeling about him. This intensifies when she and Jake go to visit his apartment, and he is gone as well. Her aunt left a prized family heirloom, a painting, and Mia finds another map on the back of it. Her aunt has long been obsessed with finding the treasure of a Ming Dynasty emperor, and Mia feels that if she can figure out the mystery, she will also find her aunt. She investigates the first clue, and finds symbols carved into an ancient pagoda. This leads her onward, and through luck and perseverance, she manages to figure out the riddle and the location of the treasure. There are problems along the way, and difficulties with her family relationships, but Mia is able to overcome these and have a great adventure in China.
Strengths: This is the only book I've ever read that sort of made me want to travel to China! There are so many great descriptions of life in the town and of the landmarks that I am willing to forgive just about anything. Mia being able to ride buses around and see them on her own or with her brother is great. The mystery is solid, if unlikely, and I can see this being a popular choice with my readers who want a mystery about something other than missing dogs!
Weaknesses: I didn't really care about Jake and Mia's relationship, so her obsessing about him growing up and losing interest in hanging out with her got old. The Emperor's Riddle took a HUGE suspension of disbelief, but tween readers will find this easier to do.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing and will avidly recommend. I'd love to see more middle grade adventures from this author.

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Moon Shadow.

32333241Downing, Erin. Moon Shadow.
May 16th 2017 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Lucia is struggling with the fact that her mother has left the family to live in Sweden with a woman she met at a yoga retreat. Lucia has never been fond of her mother's hippy dippy ways, but she keeps a moon stone her mother gave her. When her birthday approaches, she plans to go to former best friend Velvet's house with her new friends, Anji and Jonathan, to watch the eclipse. Velvet has just become very, very mean ever since she decided that she likes Will, who has been Lucia's best friend. Lucia still likes Will, but hasn't talked to him. A strange thing happens at Velvet's party, and Lucia starts to wonder what is going on. She seems to be having very vivid dreams... that are actually happening while she is asleep. She's freaked out by this, so seeks support from her friends, her mother, her sister, and her mother's New Age friends who start to help her understand what is going on. Will Lucia be able to take her new found power and dare to try out for the play and to rectify things with Velvet and Will?
Strengths: While Lucia has to deal with the abandonment of her mother (who does at least call and Skype her), she has a LOT of support. What's even better is that she consults this support network when things in her life get weird. This doesn't make the magic any less effective, just less scary. I really enjoyed the characters in this and thought that they were all well developed and likable. Even Velvet had her reasons!
Weaknesses: The whole idea of moon magic took more suspension of disbelief than I had, I kept worrying that Lucia was actually having some kind of seizures. Young readers will not have this problem.
What I really think: I have a lot more students asking for books with magical realism, and Moon Shadows, with its friend, family, and boy drama, will be very popular.
Ms. Yingling

Monday, May 29, 2017

MMGM- The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart

Well, it's summer break for me, which means taking the  dog for long bike rides, digging to the bottom of piles that need to be organized, and READING ALL THE BOOKS! I'll be participating in the #BookADay challenge on Twitter, trying to remember to post to Instagram, and participating in some blog tours. 

If you need something to read, look no further than today's review. If it sounds good, go to this link to enter to win a copy! 

26869762Burgis, Stephanie. The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart
May 30th 2017 by Bloomsbury US
ARC provided by publisher at ALA

Aventurine is a young dragon who is bored with being in the family cave and doesn't want to study the way her brother Jasper does. To prove that she can take care of herself, she ventures out and meets a good prospect for dinner... until her dinner turns out to be a food mage who offers her a cup of delicious smelling hot cocoa that turns her into a human girl! Confused and irritated, she heads off down the mountain to the town of Drachenberg with a kindly couple who advise her. They also want her to become an unpaid servant, so she runs away. She is enthralled with the whole concept of chocolate, so seeks an apprenticeship with the two biggest chocolate houses in town. They laugh and kick her out, but she happens upon a third, lesser known house with the help of Silke, who makes everyone's business her own. She comes at a fortuitous moment. Marina and Horst need an apprentice, but Marina is famously hard on them because they don't feel as passionately about chocolate as she does. Aventurine does. Business isn't good, but with Silke's help, The Chocolate Heart manages to get more customers, only to have them scared off when the king and his daughters visit at the same time that the town council carries out a disastrous inspection. That's just the beginning of the problems. Dragons are seen flying near the town, and the battle mages are convinced they need to kill the dragons with poison. Can Aventurine save the town from the dragons, the dragons from the town, and The Chocolate Heart and Marina from leaving Drachenburg?

It's easy to forget that Aventurine is a dragon, until she decides to kick the town council's adviser or roars her displeasure in a way quite unbecoming to a young girl. She feels passionately about chocolate and has trouble understanding the concept of friendship, but her reckless pursuit of what she loves most is charming. Together with Silke's busybody ways and Marina's blustery dedication to her art work Aventurine's dedication creates a supportive world where even dragons can't stand in the way of her success. 

The traditional old world setting is given a fresh feel by the addition of chocolate. The descriptions of both the chilly Germanic town and the delicious chocolate creations are wonderfully vivid.

It's hard to create a fantasy that feels fresh, but The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart does a great job of  introducing amusing new characters and setting them against a backdrop filled with adventure and chocolate! I enjoyed this book tremendously. 

My Love Lists – Guest Post by Stephanie Burgis

Whenever I’m trying to come up with a new book, I sit down and make lots of handwritten lists of things that I love personally, irrationally, and to an unreasonable extreme. These lists are always long and full of random, unconnected things...but almost always, when a new novel idea finally pops into my head a few days (or weeks) later, it includes a whole assortment from that list of personal passions.

And when it comes to my new MG novel, The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart – well, the clue is in the name, isn’t it? :) I have loved dragons ever since I was five years old, listening breathlessly to my dad’s reading of The Hobbit – I don’t think I moved a single inch between the opening and ending of Bilbo’s riddle scene with Smaug! I was utterly hypnotized, afraid to even blink.

There’s just something about dragons – their massive size, their incredible power, and their sheer beauty (despite their menace) – all those glittering scales! Oh, and the fact that they famously hoard and sleep on piles of priceless gold and jewels (and honestly, I’ve always had a thing for sparkly jewelry, too, so I empathize completely)...and the fact that their shiny, gorgeous scales are meant to be utterly impenetrable...

Well, who could not be awed and overwhelmed (even while utterly terrified and certain to be eaten)? I love dragon stories.

And then...well, CHOCOLATE! Talk about another personal passion!

Almost every day of my life, I make myself a cup of rich, dark hot chocolate by heating up a cup of milk on the stove, sprinkling cinnamon and nutmeg into it, and then whisking 25 grams of 70% dark chocolate into the steaming hot milk. When it pours down my throat, it fills me with warmth and delight, every time.

In The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, when my fierce dragon-girl heroine, Aventurine, tastes her own first hot chocolate, she’s overwhelmed in more ways than one. She’s finally found her own lifelong passion – but since it was made by a tricksy food mage, she’s now stuck trying to pursue that delicious passion in the puny, helpless body of a 12-year-old human girl, without any fire, claws or scales to defend herself.

Luckily, she hasn’t lost any of her ferocity, her territorialism, or her inner strength. And when she reaches the human city...well. Let’s just say a dragon – even in human form – always makes an impact!

This book is chock-full of things that I love, from fierce dragons and rich chocolate to castles, ambitious girls, created families and more. I hope hat you guys will love it, too.

And I hope you find some really good chocolate to eat with it!

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.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Orphan Island

25753092Snyder, Laurel. Orphan Island.
May 30th 2017 by Walden Pond Press
ARC provided by publisher at ALA

Jinny lives on an island with either other orphans, which, according to a saying, is the number that must be preserved to keep "the sky from falling". To this end, every year one child arrives in a boat, and one leaves. This year, Jinny's best friend is the oldest child and must leave, and Ess arrives. As the new oldest child, it falls to Jinny to take care of Ess and instruct her in the ways of the island. She teaches her to read and swim, and realizes that this is a difficult job. When the boat arrives with a new child, however, Jinny decides to stay, imperiling everything that she holds dear.
Strengths: The world building is very detailed, and it is an intriguing story. What is going on? What are the kids there? Who is Abigail?Why does the world fall apart? What will happen to Jinny and the rest? Children do like to read books where the children are in charge of everything, so this might appeal to fans of The Boxcar Children and survival stories where the children are living alone in the wilderness.
Weaknesses: This was a cross between The Different Girl and Hokey Pokey. I'm disappointed that there were so many unanswered questions. I kept hoping that all of the build up would lead somewhere, but it didn't. Also wasn't fond of the Blue Lagoon type scene when Jinny hits puberty.
What I really think: I am glad that Ms. Snyder wrote this for herself, and that other people like it. I found it confusing and don't think that my students would appreciate it. As much as I enjoyed Any Which Wall (2009) and Bigger Than a Bread Box (2012), they don't see wide circulation. Will pass on purchase.

Ms. Snyder tells us a little more about what motivated her to write this story over at The Nerdy Book Club. I get that she was trying to encapsulate the difficulties of middle school, but it still didn't work for me. Even the 12 year old me, which wants something more like Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus or Karma Khullar's Mustache-- books where the main characters' lives are in fact worse than mine, and yet they still seem to get through, giving me some hope!

Menon, Sandhya.When Dimple Met Rishi 
May 30th 2017 by Simon Pulse
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Dimple just wants to be able to go off to college at Stanford and learn computer programming, and get away from her overbearing mother who just wants her to land the Ideal Indian Husband. And wear eye liner. She also really wants to go to Insomnia Con, a weeklong program where she can work on an app and maybe win a prize and meet the programmer she admires. Her parents, surprisingly, are willing to fund this venture, mainly because they think it's another place she might be able to meet someone. When she arrives, it's not long before she runs into Rishi, who tells her he is her future husband. She throws a drink at him. After this rocky start (his parents told him about their attempts to arrange a marriage for the two; hers have not!), the two seem to get along surprisingly well. They are paired in the app competition, realize they have met each other before, and find that they are drawn to each other. There are problems, of course, including the fact that Rishi is going to go to MIT, but they manage to work through these issues and realize that, sometimes, parents have the right idea.
Strengths: Dimple is a great role model-- she wants to become educated and work in a computer field, not just score a husband. Her interactions with her parents are realistic. Rishi is also fun, and the fact that they are both nice people but have completely different relationships with their parents is very interesting. The romance is super sweet, and even though it is definitely more of a college romance, there's nothing instructional in their actions. I would have loved this in high school or college.
Weaknesses: This falls firmly in the New Adult classification of literature, and I think it would not quite work for middle school students. Drat. I would buy this for high schools, however, because it is circumspectly done.
What I really think: I loved this, but I don't think I'll buy it.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Love You Like a Sister

32333268Palmer, Robin. Love You Like a Sister
May 23rd 2017 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Avery and her mom have always gotten along okay without her dad, who has lived in California since her parents were divorced. When he announces that he is moving back to the east and getting remarried, he wants to reconnect with Avery. The problem? He will have three new stepdaughters, who are all just about Avery's age. Cassie, who is older, is kind of snotty, Kayley (who is her age) just is interested in different things, and younger Samantha seems okay. Lana, her father's finance, is just very different from her own mother. Everyone is trying really hard to get along, but Avery keeps making understandable goof ups, and she's worries about losing her father to these new girls... not thinking about the fact that their own father isn't in the picture as much as they would like. There's a lot of wedding planning going on, and the girls (including Avery's best friend, Lexi) eventually learn to get along.
Strengths: I love how all of the people involved are TRYING to make things work. There's a ton of support and understanding even if the face of challenges. Very positive book about a concern that many tweens have. I think children today are MUCH more likely to be faced with blended families because of divorce than with the death of a parent or siblings. Lots of fun details about their interactions.
Weaknesses: Not a fan of weddings, so all of the planning seemed a bit silly, but I think the target demographic will enjoy it. The same with Avery's budding jewelry business and fashion obsessions.
What I really think: M!X books. So good. My inner tween girl wants there to be an I Can Read type book club where they just come right to my door every month. Can we make that happen?

Ms. Yingling

Friday, May 26, 2017

Beach Party Surf Monkey (Welcome to Wonderland #2)

31858748Grabenstein, Chris. Beach Party Surf Monkey (Welcome to Wonderland #2)
Published May 23rd 2017 by Random House Books for Young Readers
ARC provided by publisher

After solving the jewel thief mystery in Home Sweet Hotel, P.T. Wilke and Gloria are back, still trying to save the Wonderland. This time, the threat is from Mr. Conch, who is determined to buy the hotel and pave it over so his hotel has more room. When P.T. finds out that heart throb Aiden Tyler and internet sensation Kevin the Monkey are filming a homage to beach party movies in his town, he uses his grandfather's connections to get an interview with the producers. Against all odds, they decide that the Wonderland is a perfect fit, and filming begins. All of the guests have to be sent next door, but P.T. figures that once the hotel appears in a movie, they will be able to cash in on the fame for years to come. He and Gloria come up with lots of money making schemes along the way, but the film starts to run into problems. While Cassie McGinty is a great star, Aiden is a spoiled, horrible actor, and Kevin the monkey goes missing! P.T. and Gloria suspect Veronica Conch, but their investigation takes on a new urgency when Cassie also doesn't show up for shooting. How can the two friends save the home they love?
Strengths: I love the setting, the surf boarding monkey, Gloria's interest in business, P.T.
s crazy schemes, and even Grandpa's baloney sandwiches. Maybe this will even encourage young readers to look up some Annette Funicello movies on YouTube! Extra bonus points for including one of my favorite publicist's name for one of the characters. I really needed a smile, and this provided many of them!
Weaknesses: Suspect that the cover will be paper over boards, which is horrible because this could circulate for years without becoming dated. Anyone know of a good way to keep this type of binding in good condition?
What I really think: Such a huge relief to read something upbeat. Phew. A little over the top, but great fun. Definitely purchasing. Even the covers of these are great fun.

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts

30754002Avi. The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts
May 16th 2017 by Algonquin Young Readers
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Oliver lives with his father, who is a nasty man and unscrupulous lawyer. His sister, who has been raising Oliver since their mother's death, decides to leave their sea side town and move to London to live with an aunt and uncle. After the family home is destroyed in a flood and his father leaves without telling him, Oliver is sent to an orphanage. He does not appreciate the hard life there and decides to run away to join his sister in London. This does not go well-- he steals money from a shipwreck, but that is soon taken from him by bandits who force him to help them rob stage coaches. He falls in with a man named Hawkes who gets him involved with Jonathan Wild, a notorious criminal. He does eventually find his sister and father, but it is under less than helpful circumstances. All three of them are eventually sentenced to death for stealing, and only his father's bribes to the judge get the children's sentences commuted. Oliver is glad that he will be sent with his sister to America, but soon learns that they are to be separated. Will they be reunited in the second book in the series?

Avi has clearly researched writing of this period and does a tremendous job at recreating the pacing and style of novels of this time. Struggling readers might be put off by phrases such as "confounded by such forceful clamors (page 1)", but sophisticated ones will find this easier than reading Stevenson's Treasure Island and even more fun! This would be a great introduction to period literature, since the characters, circumstances, and tropes right true, but the prose is cleaner and more befitting books from the 21st century.

Oliver is a stalwart character who doesn't let criminals, hunger, evil relatives or even a death sentence stop his undaunted desire to better his lot. He is sympathetic to his father... to a point. He realizes that the man has had challenges, but eventually calls him to task for his bad parenting. I do like one phrase that is sort of the family motto-- "People care nothing for suffering. To get on, you must mask your heart with false smiles." Oliver has very much taken this to heart, and it serves him well.

Readers searching for authetic historical novels like Updale's Montmorency, Lee's A Spy in the House, or Bradbury's Wrapped, will do well to pick up The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts or any number of Avi's own books that deal with this period of history.

Don't know that I will buy this one-- the last several Avi titles are gathering dust on the shelves. These might be more successful with older readers.
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Blather- Things that make me cry at the end of the year.

Obviously, the fact that 18 books are still checked out. As I tell the children, it is important that their books are turned in, not only because other children need to read them, and there are fewer books to go around if books are lost and not paid for, but also because I want them to be responsible adults who never have to fear that their electricity is going to be turned off. Yes, there may be other things going on in their lives, and I am always kind and patient, but children who feel no responsibility at all about their lost books are going to have a difficult time dealing with the responsibilities of adulthood.

Because of my history of poor career choices (at least I did not pick up that minor in home ec!), I always encourage students to pursue studies in science or medical fields. When a student wrote me a thank you note that said "Ever since you told me about visiting Italy, you've inspired me to go there and open a cafe that has a bookstore!", I was appalled.

No, child! I don't even remember that conversation! Become a medical radiographer or a phlebotomist!

Oh, but doesn't a bookstore cafe in Italy sound lovely? Fine. I'll let high school crush her dreams.

I did like this one, though, and teared up a bit. "You inspire me to be a better person and to show others compassion."

There was also an 8th grade boy who came to me and asked for a list of book recommendations, because his older brother told him that I wouldn't be with him at the high school next year. I've never had a student do that before.

So, for those 8th graders who love John Flanagan and a tiny bit of sci fi, here are some things to read over the summer.
Adams, Douglas. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Archer, E. Geek Fantasy Novel.
Brooks, Terry. The Sword of Shannara
Gaiman, Neil.
Jacques. Brian. Redwall.
Jobin, Matthew. The Nethergrim and Skeleth. Third book out in September, The Wyrdknot.
MacHale, D.J.
Maas, Sarah J. Throne of Glass (series)
McCaffrey, Anne. The Dragonriders of Pern
Nix, Garth. Has several different titles, mainly high fantasy.
Reeve, Philip. Mortal Engines (series)
Skye, Evelyn. The Crown’s Game
Westerfeld, Scott. Leviathan (trilogy)

Off to shelf read and make sure all of the series books are here and in order. And working on my Follett list for July purchases.

Ms. Yingling

Quicksand Pond

28797122Lisle, Janet Taylor. Quicksand Pond
May 16th 2017 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Jessie, her father and her siblings Julia and Jonathan are staying at a run down house near Quicksand Pond for six weeks in the summer. The father is an English teacher who doesn't like to spend money, so he's fine with the moldy floors and lack of technology. Their mother is staying behind in Pittsburgh to work. Julia finds a group of teens to hang out with, and Jonathan is happy staying close to the house, but Jessie is enthralled with the pond. Once she finds a raft, and meets Terri, a girl from the neighborhood, she spends most of her time outside. Terri has a difficult life; her father is an alcoholic who frequently abuses her. A neighbor, Miss Cutting, meets the girls and tells them they may use the tools in her garage to repair the raft. Miss Cutting's own past is entwined with Terri's family; her parents were murdered when she was young, and Terri's great grandfather was sent to jail for it, although he was most likely not guilty. Terri makes some bad choices, and Jessie is not supposed to spend time with her, especially after there are a series of incidents that make Terri look guilty. Will Jessie be able to prove Terri's innocence, and will the girls' summer activities shed light on the issues from the past bothering Miss Cutting?
Strengths: This had a strong sense of place (I've stayed in a house like this one-- ick!), an interesting historical mystery, and modern day problems that my seventh grade girls who like depressing books will enjoy. Gruesome murder, as well. Cover is appropriately shaded-- not too dark, not too light.
Weaknesses: This was a bit confusing at times, and the ending was a bit odd. It didn't really wrap things up in any successful way. I don't like it when I get to the end of the book and expect there to be more pages when there aren't.
What I really think: Debating purchasing this one. Just not sure.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Space!: The Moon Platoon and Lost in Outer Space

31371259Kraatz, Jeramey. Space Runners: The Moon Platoon
May 2nd 2017 by HarperCollins
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

In 2085, Benny lives in the Drylands. His father didn't come back from a scouting mission, so he lives in a caravan with his grandmother and two younger brothers. When he is picked for the elite academy at the swank Lunar Taj, he knows that the way to better the circumstances for his family is to go. Once there, he meets the other students, including the obnoxious Drue, the daredevil Hot Dog, and the techie Jasmine. When Hot Dog goes out in a Space Runner and crashes, Benny and Drue go out looking for her. Theyfind her, but uncover a mystery as well. Could it be that Elijah West has brought the 100 children to the moon for other reasons?

Benny is a great character who is trying hard to fit into a new environment. Life in the Drylands is hard, so he appreciates all of the amenities of the Lunar Taj in a way that Drue does not. Drue is a spoiled brat, but not beyond redemption. Hot Dog throws caution to the wind, but can back up her actions with excellent skills-- and she's described as a pretty blond. I loved that Jasmine was the tech guru instead of some stereotypical geeky boy!

The Lunar Taj is a solidly described setting. Will technology progress that far by 2085? Children who read this book today could conceivably live long enough to find out! I'm not entirely sold that a Chevelle could be retrofitted and made space worthy, but it's a fun concept. This bore a small resemblance to Reilly's 2007 Crash Course, but has a lot more going for it.

Kraatz's The Cloak Society also offered tweens saving the world; as much as this concept gives me pause, middle school students love the idea. Pair this first book in the Space Runners series with Fry's Jupiter Pirates, McDougall's Mars Evacuees, and Kloepfer's Galaxy's Most Wanted for readers who like Star Wars, Star Trek, and traditional space adventure rather than dystopian worlds.

30652350Olson, Todd. Lost in Outer Space: The Incredible Journey of Apollo 13
January 31st 2017 by Scholastic Nonfiction
Public library copy

Somehow, I managed to miss all pertinent details about Apollo 13. I was only five when the mission started, and knew nothing about it. Missed the movie. This book, therefore, was AWESOME. Like Lost in the Pacific, this is nonfiction told in an engaging, exciting way reminiscent of the We Were There books of my childhood. But better! So much better! Olson's research is impeccable, and his author note at the end was fascinating. I also enjoyed how he framed the event through the eyes of one of the astronaut's teen daughters, Barbara Lovell. Lost in Outer Space lays out all of the details and background about what occurred, but does so in a page-turning way. My only problem with these books is that they are not available in a dust jacketed hardcover, so they won't wear well. ARGH! I am definitely looking forward to the next books in this series, even if I have to buy multiple copies. If more nonfiction were written like this, it wouldn't be so hard to get students to pick it up!

Castle, M.E. Fakespeare: Starcrossed in Romeo and Juliet
May 23rd 2017 by Imprint
Copy provided by the publisher

Becca has a hard day at school, and her step brother doesn't make it any better when she has to rush to her friend Kyle's house to retrieve her overdue library book (Oh, Becca. I love you!). Once there, she and Sam find a suspicious book that sucks them into it, and they are suddenly on the streets of Verona, stuck in the story of Romeo and Juliet. There's a pizza war going on; the mozzarella recipe has been stolen, people are trying to fob off Insta-Stix for pizza crust, and tomatoes are flying everywhere. Not only that, but Romeo is obsessed with a girl names Rosalina, Tybalt is making perfume, and Becca's dog Rufus is constantly getting her into trouble. Will she and Sam be able to make their way back home? (Spoiler: Book two, Fakespeare: Something Stinks in Hamlet is released today as well.)
Strengths: This reminded me a lot of Ford's Stick Man Odyssey in that it's loosely tied to a classic, has drawings, and is funny. It's formatted quite well-- the text is about 16 point font, and there's lots of white space, so even though the book is almost 300 pages long, it's a quick read. This is critically important to students, and not enough publishers pay attention to this. The minute I put the ARC of this on my giveaway cart, three sixth graders started fighting over it.
Weaknesses: I was surprised that Castle, with his background in Shakespearean acting, didn't align the story more to the play. I was particularly distressed by the idea that the fight between the Capulets and Montagues was tied to pizza, and by the prevalence of tomatoes, which did not come to Italy from Peru until at least  a hundred years after Romeo and Juliet's setting. I would have been that child who would have read this book in 6th grade and then have been very confused in ninth grade when the pizza war was never mentioned.
What I really think: Definitely purchase if you need more notebook style novels or if there is a lot of interest in Shakespeare at your school. I'm debating whether I can get over the presence of tomatoes! I prefer this author's Clone Chronicles. (I know, I know. I'm okay with cloning, but not tomatoes in Verona in the 1300s.)
Ms. Yingling

Monday, May 22, 2017

MMGM- Restart and I Am Fartacus

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.

Mr. Korman was gracious enough to do this interview for School Library Journal with me. Can cross that off my bucket list now!

32819894Korman, Gordon. Restart
May 30th 2017 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by publisher at ALA

Chase has fallen off the roof of his house and can't remember anything. Not his mother, not his best friends, and not his school. The concussion he has sustained keeps him out of playing football, which makes his father (a former jock himself) unhappy. Chase doesn't mind. His friends Bear and Ambrose aren't the nicest guys-- the three have done something Chase does not remember that has led them to be sentenced to do community service at a retirement facility. The "new" Chase doesn't mind, and enjoys talking to the residents, especially Mr. Solway, a decorated Korean war veteran. Chase is also enjoying working on the school video year book with Brendan. He notices that most of the people he runs into, including his young step sister, Helene, seem afraid of him, but he doesn't remember why. He slowly learns the truth, but realizes that he never wants to go back to being the "old" Chase.
Strengths: This is a bit of a departure for Korman. If you had given it to me blind, I would have assumed it was Sonnenblick. It's very beautifully done, and even though I normally am not a fan of books with bullying, this really worked. Even the video year book and the video competition seemed plausible. That's what it is. Korman excels at putting characters in unlikely situations, and aside from the amnesia itself, this book is completely plausible. Really great story. This would make a fantastic class novel or literature circle book. I'm not generally a fan of everyone reading the same book, but this would lead to lots of good discussions.
Weaknesses: This took me a while to get into, which is unusual. I think it was the disjointed feeling that Chase was experiencing-- I felt disjointed, too!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. I'm also really excited that many of Korman's backlist titles are being released with new covers. Need to refresh your copy of Born to Rock? Now's the time!

25528831Maciejewski, Mark. I Am Fartacus
April 18th 2017 by Aladdin
ARC provided by publisher, along with really cool socks!

Maciek Trzebiatowski (that's Maw-check Chub-a-tess-key for those of you who didn't grow up near Youngstown, Ohio!) has some issues. His family runs a dry cleaning business and think it builds character for him to sort clothes from funeral homes. He lost his hair in a freak accident. His once friend, Archer, has become much cooler than Chub and now gives him a hard time. Luckily, Chub has a good friend, Moby, who has access to better video games and a very cool grandfather. He also has an ally in Shelby, even though he doesn't like her all that much. The three associates decide to make sure that Archer does not become class president, so they do their best to take down his campaign. "The Arch" is more evil than one would expect a clean-cut jock to be, and despite their best efforts, Archer wins the election and starts to use his power for evil. Chub is good at getting the dirt on everyone, including the principal. Will it be enough to keep Alanmoore safe for democracy?
Strengths: There is a subgenre of comic crime that involves a lot of middle school custodians and principals. Think The Great Greene Heist, The Fourth Stall, and I Am A Genius of Unspeakable Evil. I don't quite get these, but my readers love them. What impressed me were the laugh-out-loud funny lines and the general understanding of what the middle school mind finds amusing. I have to see how many times I can work the sentence "I would rather fill my pants with ferrets than spend the summer picking potatoes in Poland." That, my friends, is great writing!
Weaknesses: I was willing to suspend disbelief for many things, but when the plot devolved into gambling and impersonation, I had a hard time believing the book.
What I really think: I love the MAX imprint and can't wait to read more of these! This isn't a perfect book, but I will expect great things from Mr. Maciejewski! (That's "Maw-chee-es-key".)

This was originally entitled Chub and the Cadre of Evil, which I think is a MUCH better title, even if your average 12-year-old doesn't know how to pronounce "cadre".
  Ms. Yingling

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Easy Readers

Butler, Dori Hillestad. King and Kayla and the Missing Dog Treats (#1)
Peachtree Publishers (March 1, 2017)
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

King loves his human girl, Kayla, especially when she makes him peanut butter dog treats, his FAVORITE food! He sits patiently and asks to lick the bowl nicely, but Kayla informs him that raw dough is not good for dogs. The two meet Jillian, Kayla's good friend, and hew brand new puppy, Thor. Thor is full of energy, but King patiently lets the puppy chew on his ears. When it is time for sampling the delicious treats, some are missing, and King gets blamed. Kayla points out that King's breath does not smell like peanut butter. Other possible culprits are investigated, and eventually Jillian and Kayla figure out who took the baked goods.

This is told from King's perspective, and young readers will be amused that King is trying so hard to communicate with Kayla, but she just always thinks his barking means he needs to go outside! King tries very hard to help Kayla with her investigation, since he knows the true culprit long before she does, and there is a gentle humor in this.

The illustrations are simple, bright, and charming. There's plenty of white space on the page for readers who are just starting to navigate text on their own. The reading level is similar to the I Can Read book series, and the story is broken down into three chapters.

It's great to see books with diverse characters, and King is a very appealing dog, with his love of all things food and his devotion to Kayla. His enthusiasm is spot on-- I'm pretty sure if my dog should talk, she would sound just like King.

This is a great choice for emerging readers who like McDonald's Judy Moody and Friends books, Clarke's Dr. KittyCat, and Birney's Humphrey the Hamster.

Butler, Dori Hillestad. King and Kayla and the Case of the Secret Code (#2)
Peachtree Publishers (March 1, 2017)
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Kayla and her friend Mason both get mysterious letters dropped off on their porches. King can figure out right away that the letter smells like oatmeal and like Kayla's friend Jillian, but when he tries to communicate this, Kayla just thinks he needs to go out. When she and Mason start to investigate the clues, they are able to decode the letters and figure out what King knew all along.

This is a great introduction to one of my favorite word puzzles, the Cryptoquip! It's introduced in a way that's easy enough for younger readers to understand, and will no doubt inspire some coded messages, and maybe even a secret spy party.

King's exuberance once again steals the show, and his shame at being called a "bad dog" is sad. Whether he's trying to behave himself or enthusing about his FAVORITE THING, his eyes tell the story very appealingly. Readers will find a lot of humor in King's antics while they enjoy helping Kayla solve the mystery.

Hand this series to readers who have devoured Elliot's Owl Diaries, Haas' Bramble and Maggie series, and Potter's Piper Green books, or older titles like Adler's Cam Jansen or Sharmat's Nate the Great mysteries.
  Ms. Yingling

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Cartoon Saturday--The Pudding Problem (Lyttle Lies)

Berger, Joe. The Pudding Problem (Lyttle Lies)
Margaret K. McElderry Books (May 9, 2017)
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Sam doesn't tell the truth as much as he should, so his mother is not sure who broke her prized dog statue... or put a ping pong ball in the peanut butter... or stole his grandfather's home grown potatoes. Sam even has trouble with the truth at school, but his bigger problem there is the class bully who has "dead eyes", has his sister deliver a juicy cheeseburger every day for his lunch, and makes classmates "pay" if they run afoul of him. Sam rescues a cat, Pudding, from the bully, but the cat has some issues. Pudding occasionally pees in things and gets wild, but has huge, innocent eyes that endear him even to Sam's frazzled mother. Sam would really like a cheeseburger for lunch, but gets cheese on bread every day, and his grandfather (a magician) teaches him to visualize that this sandwich is really something more delicious. His grandfather later comes to the rescue with the more serious problem of Sam's lying.

This is a Notebook Novel with definite British tones to it, but like Pichon's Tom Gates: Excellent Excuses (and Other Good Stuff), the charming pictures and goofy tale of a boy who means well but often gets off on the wrong foot make this a book that fans of Peirce's Big Nate will adore. This has very little text in paragraphs, and at times reads very much like a comic book.

Sam's family is great-- even his sister is supportive. His father plays jazz guitar and annoys the family, his mother is frequently in overdrive mode, and Sam's grandfather spends a lot of time on his allotment, growing radishes. He has a shed there where he can make tea, and the picture and description of it made me want to have one of my own!

Tweens often struggle with doing what's right and telling the truth when doing so is inconvenient for them, and The Pudding Problem shows how one young boy struggles to deal with a difficult classmate, rescue an animal, and manage all of his activities while keeping himself out of trouble. Perhaps it was Pudding's big eyes that made this so appealing, but I enjoyed this tremendously!

  Ms. Yingling

Friday, May 19, 2017

Super Heroes and Super Villains

The staff at my school thinks I really do have super powers. When one maintains that one is a magical unicorn, this is bound to happen. While it is sweet that they have such confidence in my abilities, my powers seem to be on the wane at the close of the school year. How bad is it? I have forgotten passwords to crucial accounts very morning this week and find that I have to create a spreadsheet and print it off in order to go about my day.

Need your own super hero? Or, in the case of retrieving overdue books, a super villain?

I can help with that!

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135336878928024  18635040  19561918

Anderson, John David. Minion. (2014)
Bacon, Lee. Joshua Dread (2012)
Boniface, William. The Adventures of Ordinary Boy (2006)
Carroll, Michael. The Awakening (2006)
Cody, Matthew. Powerless (2009)
Ferraiolo, Jack. Sidekicks (2011)
King, Wesley. The Vindico. (2012)
Kraatz, Jeramey. The Cloak Society (2012)
McCullough, Kelly. School for Sidekicks (2014)
Moore, Peter. V is For Villain (2014)
Can you see why the following two books felt kind of five years ago to me?

31145183Harper, Benjamin, Hines-Stephens, Sarah, Syed, Anoosha. Bug Girl.
May 2nd 2017 by Imprint
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Amanda has long been friends with Emily, but now that they are in middle school, they don't talk. Amanda is very interested in insects, but this has been perceived as nerdy by her classmates. Unfortunately, the two are thrown together when their mothers are kidnapped before the Oyster Cove Festival, and they find out secrets about their families that brings them together.
Strengths: The pages are beautifully formatted, and I liked the style of the  pictures. It was nice to see a tween girl with an interest in science, and I loved that the mothers are the ones with powers. This had a lot to recommend it.
Weaknesses: This felt offensive to my people. That would be the Nerd Community. The tone was... odd. As if cheerleaders were trying to write positive things about geeks. The meanness was off the charts, and it doesn't help to have a girl interested in science if everyone makes fun of her for it. The plot was nothing new-- I don't know why this raised my personal hackles so, but it really, really did!
What I really think: I will probably buy a copy to keep up with the insatiable demand for "books
with pictures". Sigh.

31933997Fry, Michael. How to Be A Supervillain
May 2nd 2017 by jimmy patterson
ARC from publisher at ALA

Victor's parents are supervillains, but he is a boring rule follower. He gets apprenticed to a lame supervillain named The Smear in order for him to learn some skills, even though his parents tell him that the battles are all staged. Complications ensue. Lessons are learned. Victor comes to terms with who he is.
Strengths: This is a Notebook Novel. Just the other day, a student wanted to know if there were more than three The Odd Squad books by this author.
Weaknesses: Nothing fresh, and Fry's illustrative style makes me think I'm looking at Berke Brethed's work and I always expect Opus and Bill the Cat to show up. I'm vastly confused by the introductory page of the "Jimmy" books. They query "Who would do the best job of making books that kids will love? Yeah. Kids!" BUT KIDS AREN'T MAKING THESE BOOKS!
What I really think: Will buy a copy and use it as Wimpy Kid Methadone.

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Wild Lily

27827647Peyton, K.M. Wild Lily.
February 28th 2017 by David Fickling Books
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

It's the 1920s, and airplanes are not quite as scary as they were before the war. Wealthy Antony asks for one for his birthday, and his father lets him have one-- after all, he is impressed that Antony wants to take flying lessons instead of just trying to bring a plane home without instruction. Lily's father is the gardener for Antony's family, so she grew up with him and loves him from afar; when he wants someone to parachute from his plane, she is the only one who agrees. Antony has an older sister who is both blind and deaf, and his friends from school are enthralled by her beauty. With Lily's help, he sets up a party in the family's grotto for his school mates, but the party ends in tragedy. After his father is arrested for a variety of ill considered dealings, Antony isn't quite sure what he will do, and eventually makes some very poor choices. While Lily still pines for him, she can see that the two of them will never be together, and tries to get on with her life.

Lily's adoration of Antony is somewhat disturbing, but completely typical for the time period. The class divisions are clearly delineated, but it was good to see that Lily was able to get along with Antony and his friends, and that they were kind to her. The treatment of Helena was interesting as well, although I would have though that by this point Helen Keller's life might have given the family some insight into how to better help her.

The plane, of course, is a major character as well. It's hard for us today to understand how enthralling the idea of flight was, since flight today is more like an annoying bus journey instead of a glorious "slipp[ing] the surly bonds of earth". Like cars, planes were a luxury, but also an obsession. Even my five uncles managed to pool their resources in the 1940s and bought a small plane, which they would land in the field by the family dairy!

This was definitely more of a young adult novel than one for middle grade readers; the tone is a bit more introspective and sad.

Peyton has written fantastic books about British life for a long time-- her 1967 Flambards is considered a classic, and my daughter's favorite book is her 1994 Snowfall. Sadly, for British society, these books usually show how hard it is to keep together these grand estates. Teens who got caught up in their parents' obsession for Downton Abbey will find this a distracting read, which will hopefully get them to investigate other books set during this period by authors such as Sayers, Christie and Waugh.
Ms. Yingling