Monday, July 31, 2017

MMGM-- The Losers Club

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Shannon Messenger's Blog and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

Clements, Andrew. The Loser's Club
August 29th 2017 by Random House
E ARC from

Alec is one of those kids who loves to read more than he loves school. It is his solace and refuge, and on the very first day of school, he is sent to the principal's office for reading instead of doing his work in art class. The principal informs him that if he doesn't mend his ways and do better in his classes, she will recommend him for a summer program for study skills. Not wanting to spend six weeks of his summer back in school, Alec does try to pay attention, but there's the problem of after school as well. Both of his parents have gone back to work, and Alec and his brother Luke have to spend three hours in an after school program. At first, this seems like a great idea. Alec will just read quietly in a corner. That's not good enough for the program director, who informs him he will have to do his homework in the designated center, join in Active Games, or join a club. After some problems with his former friends David and Kent, Alec decides to create his own club and try to limit it to people who want to sit and read quietly. He finds another member, Nina, and is secretly pleased that he can talk to a girl and have her seem interested, but there is someone else who would like Nina's attention-- Kent. Kent is a great athlete who enjoys making fun of Alec, and he undermines the Loser's Club as much as he can. Eventually, though, the three actually discuss the problems that they are having with each other and come to a tenuous understanding. The Loser's Club continues to grow, and even Alec realizes that while reading is a great thing to do, it's not the only way he wants to spend his time.

Clements is the undisputed master of the school story, but this book also made me realize that there is a delightful new trend in middle grade literature. More and more, we are seeing children who are having trouble relating to friends, talking to the other gender, struggling in school, or trying to work their way through typical middle school problems... and they have support and actually do the right thing! Is this circling back to the 1950s, when all of the children were models of good behavior? Not at all. Alec isn't perfect. He promises his parents he will bring his grades up, but after a while, they drop. He is mean to a boy who wants to join the club, but when Nina calls him on it, he apologizes!

The fantastic thing about this is that children really do look to books for clues on how they should act. It's hard to know how to handle certain situations, but if they can see positive examples in literature, it's bound to help. Kent and Alec's relationship is extremely well portrayed. Kent is a stereotypical bully in some ways, but in many ways, he's not. He usually only gives Alec a hard time when his friends are around, but when he sees Alec doing fairly well in dodge ball, he actually encourages him to explore sports some more. Alec wins a bet and makes Kent read a book, but he makes the effort to go to the school librarian for recommendations of books that Kent might like. This is how teachers and parents hope that children will act. It's delightful to see.

Clements excels at writing is a short, succinctly written book, with a certain suspenseful feel to it. What will happen with Alec and Nina? Will the group be able to make a Parents' Night presentation? Will Alec be able to keep his grades up? This will keep readers turning the pages, and along the way they will encounter a list of books that the characters like that they might be interested in picking up after they have finished The Loser's Club. Unless they need to immediately reread it for comfort!

Ms. Yingling

Sunday, July 30, 2017

More Dead Parents

31450963DeStefano, Lauren. The Girl with the Ghost Machine
June 6th 2017 by Bloomsbury USA
E ARC from Netgalley

After Emmaline's mother dies, her father locks himself away in the basement, trying to create a machine that will draw her spirit back to the house so that they can visit. He doesn't work, he doesn't take care of Emmaline, and it's as if she has lost her father as well. In anger, she throws a cup of tea into the machine hoping to break it, and her mother appears and has a cup of tea with her. Talking about this later with her friends, next door neighbors and twins Gully and Oliver, the three decide that in order for the machine to work, an object related to a memory has to be thrown in, the ghost appears, but then goes away and the memory is lost. The twins ask to see their dog Tidbit, and three neighbor ladies ask to see their long gone brother, but the only one who uses the machine a lot is Emmaline's father. He seems a little happier, and goes back to work, but Emmaline still doesn't feel that he has returned to her. After a tragedy, her father sees the error of his ways. Emmaline grows old with the machine in the basement, but manages not to use it, with one notable exception.
Strengths: I like the name Emmaline, and the blue and brown on the cover are attractive.
Weaknesses: The entire book is about sadness and loss in a very sad, soggy way. While Emmaline is to be applauded for not wanting to use the machine, I can't think of any of my students who ask for "poignant" books that are this slow and sad.
What I really think: If a ghost machine really existed, I would throw in every memory I had of people who were gone. Then I wouldn't remember them at all, and I wouldn't be sad about them anymore. Is this the lesson the book wants to teach us? Because that's what I got out of it.

32661990Edge, Christopher. The Many Worlds of Albie Bright
May 30th 2017 by Delacorte Press
E ARC from Netgalley

Albie's mother and father are both scientists who deal with Quantum physics. His father is a television personality who also writes books explaining physics to lay people, and his mother has worked with the Hadron Collider. When his mother is diagnosed with cancer, the family moves back to England to be near the mother's father. After her death, Albie's father sends him back to school and immerses himself in his work, but has planted the thought that perhaps in a parallel universe, Albie's mother is alive. Albie thinks this is worth investigating, so he makes a Schrodinger's Cat type box with his mother's quantum computer, a Geiger counter, and a banana, and manages to travel to several different alternate universes. In one, he meets himself, but he is evil and his mother passed away when he was a baby. In another, he is a girl named Alba, and his mother died in a car accident. When he finally meets his mother, there are other complications, and Albie finally realizes that even if he met his mother in another universe, his father really needs him at home.
Strengths: This actually was fairly upbeat, except for the father neglecting the son. (That's what all grieving parents do, right?) Albie is able to make peace with his reality. It moved quickly and was actually fairly engaging. Appreciated that the mother was a high powered scientist, and lots of science was involved. Bonus points for making his device; sort of like the bathtub with the computer in Welford's Time Traveling with a Hamster.
Weaknesses: This is a very British book. I think it will appeal more to elementary readers. Middle school students are less involved with their parents.
What I really think: Will probably pass on purchasing unless I have a lot of students ask for books about grieving or alternate universes.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, July 29, 2017

11 Before 12

32703393Greenwald, Lisa. 11 Before 12
August 1st 2017 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Kaylan and Ari are making plans for their 6th grade year to be the best ever. They make a list of 11 things they need to do before they both turn 12 in November, including making friends with a boy, doing a complete makeover, and kayaking to a small island near their home. Sixth grade has its challenges, and there are moments when she and Ari have falling outs. Home life is also a challenge; her parents are divorced, her mom works long hours, and her brother (to whom she was previously close) is a teenage butthead. Despite all of these challenges, Kaylan manages to make things work, and she and Ari repair their relationship in time to celebrate their birthday together. This is the first book in a duology.
Strengths: Greenwald's work reminds me of the vintage 1950s teen literature that I collect in the best possible way. Realistic situations, spot-on tween voice, and fun premises. So many good touches, and an excellent understanding of how middle school friendships work.
Weaknesses: This one had a lot more going on than other Greenwald titles, and was a tiny bit confusing at first, but not horribly so. Also, salon highlights on an 11 year old? Eh. I don't understand coloring one's hair. Had it done years ago when I won a makeover, and it was ridiculously time consuming. Never again!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and can't wait to hand to students.

3267135218378827Also look for Welcome to Dog Beach, the My Life in Pink and Green series,  Sweet Treats and Secret Crushes, and Reel Life Starring Us.

Must go find Kale, My Ex, and Other Things to Toss in a Blender (May 30, 2017).

And am I the only one who immediately noticed that Ari on the cover is the same picture used for Varsha Bajaj's Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood?

Ms. Yingling

Friday, July 28, 2017

Guy Friday- Jack and Max Stalwart

There is a fun, fourteen book series about Secret Agent Jack Stalwart which starts with The Escape of the Deadly Dinosaur: USA (2004) by Elizabeth Singer Hunt. These are short, easy-to-read books with a decent number of illustrations. In the final book, Jack has to find his younger brother, Max, and this sets up the scenario for the new series, Secret Agents Jack and Max Stalwart.

Thank you to Claire at Little Bird Publicity for bringing these to my attention and providing me with E ARCs. 

Hunt, Elizabeth Singer. The Battle for the Emerald Buddha: Thailand 
(Secret Agents Jack and Max Stalwart: Book 1)
Published July 25th 2017 by Weinstein Books

In Thailand, three gangsters (Grill, Tech and Shark) are preparing to steal the emerald Buddha for an evil art collector who has promised them that if they get it for him, he will give them three tickets to America and $300,000. Luckily, just after they steal it from the temple, Jack and Max arrive on a sightseeing trip with their parents. Realizing it's gone, they spring in to action, using all of the gadgets and code breaking skills they have learned from the Global Protection Force. Of course, they are supposed to be taking a break from that, but when there are transgressors who need to be brought to justice, who has time for vacation! The boys manage to rout the gang and recover the treasure all without their parents realizing what they are doing.

33608904 Hunt, Elizabeth Singer. The Adventure in the Amazon: Brazil
(Secret Agents Jack and Max Stalwart: Book 1)
Published July 25th 2017 by Weinstein Books

After losing the geography bee when answering a question about Brazil, the boys get a mission from the Global Protection Force. One of their agents in the rain forest hasn't been heard from, so while the boys are supposed to be studying, they are whisked off with GPF technology to the wilds of Brazil. Luckily, they know all about the climate and indigenous animals. When they come across Pedro the Pistol, who has a gang of men looking for gold, they suspect that the missing agent is in his hands. They find out they are correct after Pedro captures them as well, and threatens to put all three agents on a boat going down the river. Luckily, Max and Jack are able to use their gadgets and know-how and save the day, getting home before their parents even know they are gone.

These books remind me very strongly of the Magic Treehouse Books-- lots of adventures, fun facts about different nonfiction topics, very cool gadgets that we should all have as a matter of course. They are a bit formulaic (there's always going to be a bad guy that causes Jack and Max to head off on an adventure to save the day), but that's something that appeals very strongly to the target demographic, which is 1st-4th graders. Piles of these books make great summer reading, and when paired with The Secret Agent Training Manual, you know that readers will be occupied making disappearing ink out of all of your lemon juice and leaving lots of coded notes about what they want for supper. Great fun!

Hunt, Elizabeth Singer. The Secret Agent Training Manual: How to Make and Break Top Secret Messages: A Companion to the Secret Agents Jack and Max Stalwart Series
 July 25th 2017 by Weinstein Books

I have to admit that I didn't read this very carefully-- the image-rich E ARC loaded rather slowly, and I'm not as interested in code as I was as a nine-year-old. (Did I make my own secret language? Check. Leave notes under rocks in that language for my brother? Check.) I was impressed that there was a nice overview of the history and use of codes, and then a wide variety of different ones. I imagine that all of these might end up in Jack and Max books. The Caesar code is in The Battle for the Emerald Buddha: Thailand, although I don't remember one in the second book. This book is a great motivator for children to stretch their brains over the summer and write notes in a variety of secret codes. This is a skill that is always good to have!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Monsters Unleashed

32711368Kloepfer, John. Monsters Unleashed
July 25th 2017 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Manny and Freddy are working on a monster movie based on Freddy's drawings. They just want to print out some plastic models on the art room's 3-D printer, but their teacher tells them it isn't working properly and has to be returned. Undaunted, they sneak in and print the models... which come alive. Their first thought is to ask for help, but they are already on the principal's last nerve, so want to lay low. This is even harder when the monsters get wet, and the plastic expands. There are three monsters, and each of them is angry, dangerous, and on the move. It's hard for Manny and Freddy to outwit them, until they remember that each of the monsters is based on a fellow student who has been bedeviling the boys. With the school thrown into chaos, they find their nemeses and work together to subdue the monsters and restore some order to the school, and in doing so, find out more about just what motivates that classmates with whom they have not been getting along.
Strengths: Kloepfer's Galaxy's Most Wanted and Zombie Chasers series are very popular with my students because they combine adventure, illustrations, and goofiness in an appealing way. The books are short and easy enough to appeal to elementary students, but fast paced and substantive enough that middle school students find them a pleasant diversion. This has even more complex issues than the other books, and I was intrigued that the monsters had the attributes of the classmates. Interesting premise.
Weaknesses: Wasn't as keen on the Mark Oliver illustrations, mainly because the Steve Wolfard ones were the perfect level of Mad Magazine style goofy for middle school.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. I do get requests for books with monsters in them, and they can be hard to find.

33605563Nicol, James. The Apprentice Witch
July 25th 2017 by Chicken House
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Arianwyn Gribble fails her witch evaluation in a spectacular fashion, and is made an apprentice and sent to the far flung and long abandoned town of Lull, mainly due to her grandmother's intervention. Feeling endures the long bus ride out, but as they near Lull, they are attacked by a creature from the Grim Wood. Arianwyn manages to save the group, and makes fast friends with Salle, a failed actress whose parents run the local inn. Mayor Belcher is not easy to get along with, but shows the apprentice witch to the long abandoned Spellorium, where she finds traces of the last witch to take care of Lull. There's lots to do-- infestations of snotlings, charms to mend, and a wounded magical hare that becomes her pet. Her supervisor, Miss Delafield, tries to help oversee operations, but doesn't understand the true threat facing the area, which has been plagued by hexes and annoying and dangerous animals from the forest. When the mayor's niece (and Arianwyn's enemy from school) Gimma, arrives in the town on a "vacation", Arianwyn has to deal with not only the rising forces of evil, but also Gimma's incompetence. Will she be able to deal with the forces that have been awakened by long forgotten glyphs and pass her witch evaluation?
Strengths: This had a nice British feel to it-- a little bit like a 1940s era version of Delaney's The Last Apprentice series. I really enjoyed the characters, especially Sella and the grandmother. The Spellorium was interesting, as was the town, and it was fun to see Arianwyn grow as a witch.
Weaknesses: I would have preferred there to be more explicit world building and less of Gimma's mean girl drama. There are a few details about the world of Lull, but not enough. Arianwyn's father is out protecting Veersland against the Urisian forces, but we don't get a lot of information about that, or about why magical creatures might be on the loose.
What I really think: This one would be enjoyed by readers who like The Crooked Sixpence and The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, and since I will be recommending those a lot, I think I will buy this one as well. I do have an increasing number of fantasy readers.
  Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

#WNDB Wednesday- Refugee

33118312Gratz, Alan. Refugee.
July 25th 2017 by Scholastic
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Gratz tackles the idea of countries in turmoil by focusing on three children from three different time periods. Josef is a German Jew whose family is able to evade the Nazis after his father is arrested, and eventually book passage on a fairly nice ship bound for Cuba. They eventually run into complications, and the captain attempts to land them in the US and then the UK. Isabel lives in Cuba in 1994, and her family is struggling with the lack of food and the unrest in the country until the father feels that he will be arrested unless they leave. With the help of another family who has built a boat, they start on a perilous voyage to the US which is complicated by Isabel's mother's pregnancy. In 2015, Mahmoud's family can no longer stay in Aleppo, Syria after their apartment building is destroyed. They take off in their car, with a fair amount of resources, but it's a long journey to Austria, and nothing about the trip is easy. In all three cases, loved ones are lost, but eventually parts of the family arrive in safer places. There are some nice tie-ins at the end of the book, as well as additional information about the history of the conflicts that propel these families away from their homelands.
Strengths: This was rather grim, but certainly a book that students today need in order to understand what is going on in the world. Gratz always does excellent research, and he doesn't over dramatize events. I found it particularly illuminating that Mahmoud's family was so well-to-do and had made fairly good plans to get out of the country; I guess I have a typical tendency to think of refugees of people who are forced to leave very quickly with no resources at all, which must sometimes be the case. Their use of smart phones to map their routes was especially interesting, and the father's sense of humor added a very human element to the story. The three narratives change back and forth but are easy to follow.
Weaknesses: Again, a bit grim. Younger readers need to know that there are some deaths, a baby who is given away in order to be saved from drowning, and a lot of violence.
What I really think: This would make a great class read, since some of the historical topics as well as the issue of forced migration might need some explanation for students to fully understand them.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Wrong Train and Vanguard

33605564de Quidt, Jeremy. The Wrong Train
July 25th 2017 by David Fickling Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

A boy realizes that he is on the wrong train to get home late at night, so he gets off. Unfortunately, the station is all but abandoned. When an old man with a small dog approaches him and offers to wait with him until another train arrives, the boy reluctantly agrees. The old man suggests that he tell stories to make the time pass quickly. The stories are all rather creepy-- a girl alone in the house with the electricity out, but the light in the yard turning on and off, a vintage care with a sordid past, a girl who goes to babysit children who turn out to be extra creepy. The boy starts to wonder if another train will ever come as the man tells one story after another and finally makes the boy choose his favorite. Eventually, the boy manages to call his father, who treks through the night to retrieve him. In the light of the next day, will the boy's experience seem like a dream... or a terrifying reality?
Strengths: Just about the only short story collections that do well in my library are scary stories, and this one is a good addition to books like Fleming's The Day I Died, San Souci's Haunted Houses, Kerr's The Most Frightening Story Ever Told, Priestly's Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror, and Schwartz's venerable Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
Weaknesses: This had a distinctly British feel, and US readers might not understand the way trains and train stations work.
What I really think: Will buy a copy to have on hand for Halloween and readers who like a bit of a scare. I'm not really frightened of the dark, but taking the dog out for a walk at night after reading this give me a little bit of a pause!

25740472Aguirre, Ann. Vanguard (Razorland #4)
July 25th 2017 by Feiwel & Friends

E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Before Teagan's mentor dies, he mentions something about Catalina, and she feels compelled to find out what he meant. She, Millie, and James Morrow decide to take off for other parts to escape their reputations and to see more of the post-apocalyptic world of Enclave. They end up getting work on a ship in various capacities. When Teagan meets Szarok, an Uroch who is trying to find his people a new land, she is intrigued by him, but also afraid. When the two get washed overboard, they bond while surviving on an island. They are eventually rescued, managed to outwit the captain of the ship, and end up in a much more affluent and pleasant community and try to make a life there. Szarok must leave and return to his people, and Teagan tries to make a place for herself as the apprentice to another healer. In the end, all three friends are settled in comfortable ways.
Strengths: Fans of the Enclave trilogy will be glad of this new installment that wraps up the stories of a couple of other characters. This read more like Turner's Thick as Thieves or some John Flanagan than Hunger Games to me; it's been awhile since I have picked up the series, but I didn't remember the quasi-medieval feel. Lots of romance, well written, and Szarok's experiences among humans, whom he has been taught to hate, are interesting.
Weaknesses: There's a lot of, um, kissing and ... touching in this one. Szarok has a heightened sense of smell that allows him to gauge people's emotions by the odor they give off, and he and Teagan... breath mark each other a lot. Honestly, it skeeved me out quite a bit. It was sort of like reading about dogs sniffing each other... from the dog's perspective. It's not really instructional, but fairly lengthy and detailed enough that it made me uncomfortable. It slowed the story down as well.
What I really think: I'm not sure that the readers of the other books are going to like this one as much (although Young Adult readers will probably adore this aspect of it), and since the other three books are billed as a trilogy, I might not buy this one.
Ms. Yingling

Monday, July 24, 2017

Spirit Hunters

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.

25117605Oh, Ellen. Spirit Hunters
July 25th 2017 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Harper's family moves from New York City to Washington, D.C. and end up in a decrepit old house. Harper has had problems at school-- she was accused of setting fire to the art room, and was hospitalized for some time, but she doesn't remember any of it. She notices that her four-year-old brother Michael's room feels oddly clammy, and he claims to have a "new friend" named Billy who tells him things that cause him to have headaches. Harper does manage to meet a neighbor girl, Dayo, so she has someone to help her investigate when things get odd. Harper has two bad accidents in one week; she is pushed down the stairs, and also cuts herself on an old metal fire truck. Dayo does some online investigating and finds out some very creepy things about the house, and Harper reconnects with her own "imaginary" friend Rose who inhabits an antique mirror. Things escalate with Michael, and Harper's estranged grandmother finally visits the family and not only helps Harper but gives her the surprising news that she is a spirit hunter who can communicate with ghosts. Grandma Lee is a mudang, a shaman who has worked with the spirit world for a long time, which is the source of the rift between her and Harper's mother. Can Harper save her brother, make the house safe, and come to terms with her inherited skills?
Strengths: No wonder middle school students don't want to move! All of the houses people move into are haunted! Bonus points to Oh for managing to add some new twists to this trope with a benevolent ghost friend, an unexplained hospitalization, and a Korean grandmother with interesting skills. Add to this standard family dynamics (busy older sister, young brother who requires babysitting), supportive and involved parents and a new best friend whose mother is a chef, and this was a fantastic story about ghosts, family, and figuring out personal identity. Really enjoyed this one.
Weaknesses: It was a little hard to believe that Harper's mother was so averse to the idea of ghosts, since Harper's and Michael's behaviors were so erratic, but I suppose if you grew up with a mother who was a shaman, it might warp you a little.
What I really think: Clearly, I need to stock up on salt. Just in case!

  Head over to School Library Journal's BeTween feature to read an interview with Ellen Oh!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Almost Paradise.

25453065Shofner, Corabel. Almost Paradise.
July 25th 2017 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Ruby Clyde's mother hasn't been quite right since Ruby's father was killed in a robbery, which sent her mother into premature labor. Because of this, Ruby never really celebrates her birthday, but this year she has bought her own cake. Unfortunately, her mother's boyfriend Catfish decides to take the two from their home and travel to California, stopping along the way to rob a convenience store. Catfish and Ruby's mother are arrested, and Ruby, along with a pet pig she stole, is on her own. Luckily, a woman she met at the campground where they were staying helps her locate an unknown aunt, Eleanor. Eleanor is an Episcopalian nun who has a farm where she cares for animals. She is also dying of cancer, but helps Ruby out. Eleanor lets Ruby live with her and helps get her mother a lighter sentence for the robbery, allowing Ruby some measure of security that she has lacked. In turn, Ruby tries to help Eleanor out by attempting to locate a child that Eleanor had to give up for adoption.
Strengths: It's nice that Ruby finds supportive people to help her out, and the book is clearly on trend-- it's the fifth book in a row with a dead parent that I've read recently. Bonus points for the pet pig.
Weaknesses: A dead father and then a dying aunt? Too sad for me. I did have a little trouble with the fact that Eleanor would have had to give her baby up for adoption in about 2003-- was there that much of a stigma at that point? And do Episcopalian nuns really wear habits? Didn't know that. Perhaps this was historical fiction and I missed it?
What I really think: Just not my cup of tea. Certainly had funny moments, and was well written enough.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Lucky in Love

30285562West, Kasie. Lucky in Love
July 25th 2017 by Scholastic
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Maddie works hard so that she can improve her lot in life. She studies constantly, has a 4.25 GPA, and is ready to leave her bickering parents and college drop out brother in order to attend college and become a veterinarian. She has a job at the zoo to further help her resume. On her 18th birthday, which has been rather a bust, she impulsively purchases a lottery ticket. When she 33 million dollars, life because bother easier and harder. She gives her parents and brother each a million dollars, and this eases tensions around the house. She makes some impulse purchases, such as an expensive car and clothes, a yacht party, and an investment in a long-lost uncle's real estate venture, but realizes that she can't spend money recklessly forever. Her best friends start to treat her differently, and an article in the newspaper paints her in a bad light. The one constant seems to be Seth, with whom she has worked in the zoo. The two start to become closer about the time her ticket wins, but she doesn't tell him about her windfall, so he doesn't treat her any differently. When her college plans are in jeopardy for several reasons to do with her winnings, and even her relationship with Seth is jeopardized, Maddie realizes that while money can solve some problems, others have underlying causes that can't be changed with a blank check.
Strengths: This was a perfect, light romance book for middle school readers. I'm always looking for stories similar to the If Only romances: high school characters with school and boyfriend issues that don't involve any alcohol consumption of more than kissing. This had the added benefit of including a lottery win, making it a perfect middle grade fantasy as well. Great cover, and as an added bonus, a love interest who is a Korean-American.
Weaknesses: The brother's gambling problems and possible depression weren't resolved very well.
What I really think: I can't keep enough of this kind of book on the shelf, so I will definitely purchase!

Ms. Yingling

Friday, July 21, 2017

Guy Friday- The Trail

33605557Hashimoto, Meika. The Trail
July 25th 2017 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Toby has not had an easy life. His parents had him when they were very young, and when their marriage was failing, they dumped him at his grandmother's. Luckily, she is loving and supportive, and Toby has a good friend in Lucas, whose family does a lot of things with him. Lucas and Toby have big plans for the summer, and want to hike the Appalachian Trail together, but when Lucas is no longer able to accompany him, Toby runs away from home to make the attempt by himself. He isn't adequately provisioned, even though he knows better, and runs into many problems on the trail. Luckily, he also runs into supportive people who help him out along the way. He also ends up with Moose, a dog who follows him after he shares his meager supplies. The trail is difficult, but Toby perseveres, learning a lot about the wilderness as well as his life.
Strengths:The details about how to hike the Appalachian Trail, the camping shelters, and the other hikers were fantastic, and will appeal to readers who like survival stories and the outdoors. Hiking the trail always sounded sort of appealing to me until I read Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. Now I think I'll just shoot for Britain's Coast to Coast walk-- it's not necessary to mail oneself supplies in order to do that one! Moose is a nice touch, the plot moves along nicely, and the character development is realistic and doesn't bog down the story. Love the cover.
Weaknesses: This would have been even better without the sad parts. It takes us a while to learn what happened to Lucas, even though I could see it coming. I also could have done without a subplot with two other hikers as well as difficulties involving Moose. These things didn't ruin the book, but I would have preferred other complications.
What I really think: Will buy a copy for readers who like Will Hobbs, Gary Paulsen's survival books, and Paul Greci's Surviving Bear Island.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Tragically True Adventures of Kit Donovan

29742894Bailey, Patricia. The Tragically True Adventures of Kit Donovan
April 25th 2017 by Albert Whitman
E ARC from

In 1905, Kit's mother has passed away from the flu. Her father is still working in the mines in Goldfield, Nevada, and is badly injured by a falling beam. When he confronts the owner about the working conditions, he is fatally shot. Luckily for Kit, a kindly older woman, Clara, takes her in and helps her out. Kit feels a lot of guilt for both parents' deaths, and also has to deal with children at school who think her father was an agitator. After she decides not to go back east with her Aunt Minerva, she and her friend Arnie decide to investigate and try to clear her father's name. To this end, Kit disguises herself as a boy and goes to work at the local newspaper office. Can she find the documentation she needs to take down the mine owner? Help comes from an unlikely source.
Strengths: As much as I am against tween parents dying, it was a much more likely occurence in 1905. There are not as many books set in this time period out west as one would think. This had a lot of interesting things in it, included the important role of newspapers in town life at the time.
Weaknesses: A bit on the long side, and not blessed with a great cover.
What I really think: I love the Caroline Lawrence P.K. Pinkerton Mysteries series set out west, but it just does not circulate. I will have to pass on this one.
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen

25692020Florence, Debbi Michiko. Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen
July 11th 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Jasmine is looking forward to her family's New Year celebration. Her grandmother is coming from Japan to spend a month, and her cousins and aunts and uncles will be spending two days making mochi, a Japanese treat made by pounding sticky rice and molding it into shapes. They will then have their New Year's celebration. Jasmine is angry that her older sister, Sophie, is allowed to help in the kitchen because she is over ten. Jasmine is not, so she gets stuck babysitting younger cousins. She decides that she wants to help anyway, and wants to break with tradition even further to help pound the rice instead of mold the balls. Her cousin Eddie makes fun of her, her grandmother is shocked and dismayed, but Jasmine's parents give Jasmine a chance to prove herself.

31145072Strengths: The strong family support network was good to see, and I liked that Jasmine also had an older neighbor lady who let her climb the trees in her year and hang out when being at home got to be too much. Sophie is a realistic older sister who does everything first. It was also interesting that even though the family clearly had a very strong Japanese cultural background, they had pizza for their mochi making day dinner. The spot illustrations and engaging story make this a great choice for elementary school libraries.
Weaknesses: Jasmine is a bit bratty, and a little unrealistic about her competencies. The target demographic will be more sympathetic to this. I also could have used more description of mochi earlier in the story, although there is a nice explanation of it in the end.
What I really think: This seemed too young for middle school, but I love the books that are coming out that are aimed at third graders (the best year ever for reading, in my opinion!) like Cilla Lee Jenkins, that are fairly simple to read and have some pictures. This makes them great choices for first graders who are strong readers but who still enjoy some pictures. I would have loved this when I was about six!

Also out is book two, Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth.

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Moon Princess

33605562Laban, Barbara. Moon Princess
July 25th 2017 by Chicken House
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Sienna and her father move from England to Shanghai for his banking job, and also because Sienna's mother, who was working in Shanghai, has disappeared. Her father has given her up for dead, since the police have stopped looking, but Sienna and her invisible dog friend, Rufus, feel she is still alive. Since he is so busy, Sienna's father hires a housekeeper, Ling, to take care of her, but the woman is mean and keeps Sienna locked in the apartment. On the few occasions she has made it outside, she has caught the eye of a boy who works in a restaurant.When her father is working out of town and she catches Ling making copies of her mother's jewelry in order to steal the originals, Sienna runs away. She pairs up with the boy, Feng, who knew her mother. Feng's brother Gege is also missing. The two decide to travel to a temple for Guanyin where the two were working, and they meet not only a helpful doctor, but also Sienna's mother's invisible friend, Minka the cat, and Feng's invisible dragon. Will the children be able to find their missing relatives and unravel the mystery of the temple.
Strengths: It's good to see mystery adventures set in China, and elementary readers may be interested in the imaginary animal friends. Sienna and Feng have an interesting friendship, and do try to save the day.
Weaknesses: This is a German/UK title, and the handling of tales from other lands seems a bit different from the way it would be handled in the US. I was hoping for more of a #ownvoices treatment. The author did major in Far Eastern studies, but something about this felt half a bubble off. Ling's depiction seemed a bit like a stereotypical villain, which lessened her impact for me.
What I really think: I prefered Kat Zhang's The Emperor's Riddle or O'Brien's In the Shadow of the Sun for middle school.

Ms. Yingling

Monday, July 17, 2017

MMGM- One for Sorrow

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.

26959786Hahn, Mary Downing. One for Sorrow
July 18th 2017 by Clarion Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Annie moves to a new town and starts school. One girl, Elsie, comes and befriends immediately. Of course, Elsie is the sort of girl that the other students don't like, but she is very possessive. She even invites herself to Annie's home, averring the entire time that they will be best friends. Elsie has a difficult home life-- her father is a German butcher, and in 1918, this leads him to be considered suspect by many people. Elsie's stepmother is cruel to her, and Elsie is in turn cruel to Annie. Eventually, Annie makes friends with the popular Rosie and tells Elsie to leave her alone. When the flu epidemic starts to effect the girls' neighborhood, some of them decide that going to calling hours in people's homes is a good way to get cake and candy. Annie isn't very comfortable with this, but continues to go with her friends. Eventually, the hostility between the girls increases. Elsie dies, and Annie is accused of trying to make Rosie ill with a flu mask that Elsie had. It's not Annie's fault, however; even in death, Elsie is an overbearing presence who has undue influence over Annie's actions. After a serious accident, can Annie manage to extricate herself from Elsie's cold and evil clutches?
Strengths: The beginning of this is more of a historical novel, and the details of life in 1918 are really very brilliant. Hahn's grandmother's stories were the inspiration for this tale, and the deep connection to this time is really clear. The promise of a ghost story will keep readers engaged, as will Elsie's character. Hasn't everyone had one of those "friends" that we wish would just leave us alone? Rosie and Elsie are great opposites, and Annie is a marvelous Everygirl, stuck in the middle. The ghost story is up to Hahn's wonderful standard of creepy. Combined with this ghostly cover, it will see a lot of circulation. A must purchase for all middle grade collections.
Weaknesses: Elsie is just one of those characters who begs people to be mean to her, and that's not a politically correct thought these days. She is also called "fat". It's all accurate, given the historical time period, but some people will complain.
What I really think: There is a huge need for creepy books, and combining creepy with history is quite brilliant!

Ms. Yingling

Meet the Chapter Books Tour!

Growing up, there weren't a lot of books in my house, which was weird, since both of my parents were elementary educators! They didn't care much for reading, and always seemed a bit... confused at how much I liked to read. We did go to the public library, but never often enough for the enormous amount of books I consumed. When I was in second grade, we were awarded a slip of paper for every book we read aloud to an adult during one month-- I read 109. My poor mother. (At left, me in 6th grade, showing pure joy at getting an Anne of Green Gables book for Christmas!)

We did have Little Golden Books (they could be purchased at the grocery) and for a couple of glorious years were members of the I Can Read Club, so two books came in the mail every month. That was the best. Books were rarely a present, until I started to ask for them in middle school.

Oddly, I don't ever remember going into a book store until I was in about 4th grade. There was a Walden Books right by the Sears in the local mall, but it wasn't until I started babysitting and earning my own money that I started buying my own books.

It makes a HUGE difference to own books. My own daughters had a ton of books, usually from the thrift stores. I feel a little bad about that, and at least we donated a ton of books to their elementary classrooms. At the time, buying new books wasn't an option in my world.

If you have small children in your life, here are some great books to get them reading and avoiding the Summer Slump!

32078144Zemke, Deborah. The Curse of Einstein's Pencil (Bea Garcia #2)
June 6th 2017 by Puffin Books
Copy provided by the publisher.

Bea is "almost friends" with the smartest girl in her class, Judith Einstein. When the two are paired to compete in the Geography Stars competition in their class, Judith wants to do as well as her older sister did. Bea wants to do well, but keeps getting distracted by missing her best friend Yvonne, by her drawings, her younger brother, new neighbor Bert, and even small things like what pencil she will use. Judith is a tough task master, and says that she needs Bea to memorize a lot of the trivia so that their score is good, but Bea has a lot of trouble concentrating!

35305755Kelley, Jane and von Innerebner, Jessika (illus.) Octo-Man and the Headless Monster (The Escapades of Clint McCool #1)
May 9th 2017 by Grosset & Dunlap
Copy provided by the publisher.

Clint (whose real name is Walter), is constantly in trouble at school, where his impulsive behavior is ill-received. When walking home with his mother and two best friends, Marco and M.L., he sees a monster, and manages to get into a kerfluffle with it, taking off its arm. Unfortunately, the monster isn't real, but is part of a film. Clint is ordered off the set, but thinks he could definitely improve the film if he were to be involved. Luckily, the director was a similar child, and lets Clint become involved, although in an unusual way!

Krulik, Nancy, and Thomas, Louis (illus.) Crash! (The Kid From Planet Z #1)
May 9th 2017 by Grosset & Dunlap
Copy provided by the publisher.

When his family's space craft crash lands on earth, the family plans to fix it, but spends the night in a house that is for rent. When they wake up, someone has taken their craft! While they are trying to get it back, Zeke enrolls in school and tries to be as much like theEarth children as he can, so as to not arouse suspicion. He does fairly well, although his cat, Zeus finds it harder to fit in, although he ultimately is the one who is able to get a job and earn enough money for the family to get their ship back from the junk dealer who has hauled it away.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Wait for Me

30037877Leech, Caroline. Wait for Me
January 31st 2017 by HarperTeen
Public Library Copy

During World War II, Lorna's life is fairly ordinary. She does chores with the help of Nellie, a Land Girl assigned to her family, socializes with her friend Iris, and knits care packages for the troops. Her two brothers, John Jo and Sandy, are off fighting, so a POW is sent to help them out. At first, everyone is leery of Paul, a young German whose has been badly scarred in the fighting. Paul speaks good English, since he had a British aunt living near his family in Dresden, and he does not believe in the Nazi ideals. The more she talks to Paul, the more she gets to like him, especially since he is much nicer than the American soldiers hanging out in town. When their relationship is found out, Lorna's brother isn't happy, and many in the community turn against her, especially when John Jo is missing in action. War changes people, and Lorna tries to figure out what the best path in life is for her. When the war ends, and Paul's home town is badly bombed, will this path include Paul?
Strengths: There were lots of good historical details about every day life-- what people wore, the difficulty of cooking with rationing, how the people in a small village get along. The idea of Land Girls and POWs used to work on farms are things that not many students will know.
Weaknesses: There are a few scenes that are a bit more mature-- Lorna is attacked by a soldier but does get the better of him; Nellie falls pregnant; and there is some kissing between Lorna and Paul. Nothing instructional, and nothing that would traumatize a 6th grader.
What I really think: I always need a lot of WWII books, and think I will buy this one for some of my more sophisticated readers who normally read romance books.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Saturday Morning Cartoons- Suit Your Selfie

Pastis, Stephan T. Suit Your Selfie: A Pearls Before Swine Collection
July 18th 2017 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

When I put this author's Skip School, Fly to Space in my library, it was checked out by one of my library helpers who thought it looked funny. He took it to class with him, but got caught reading it, and his teacher took it away from him! While she did so with good humor all around, this had the unintended effect of making every child in the class want the book. It came and went daily for about a month! When I told the first student that, in fact, the newspaper had a brand new cartoon by this author every day, he started heading right for the newspaper when he came in to work in the library.

Isn't that why YOU read the newspaper when you were 12? Of course, I was taught that the comics are the "dessert" and one should read the newspaper in order so as to become an informed member of society. I still feel a little naughty if I read the comics first on Sunday.

Pastis writes the middle grade Timmy Failure series, and children like that. I don't find comic strip collections all that enthralling, since I get my daily dose of them from the newspaper. My recent experiences with Andrews McMeel publications lead me to believe that school libraries need to include more of these AMP! Comics for Kids books because children today are being deprived of a basic reading opportunity. Sure, I suppose you can get the comic strips on line, but it's just not the same!

As for the content of this particular strip, I always find them funny. Who doesn't have a character like Rat or Pig in their world? It's nice that the AMP! line takes a few of the more political or edgy strips out when putting together their compilations, so these would even be great for emerging readers in elementary school. I'm pretty sure that Nancy and Sluggo helped me learn to read!

Ketchum, Liza. The Life Fantastic
January 1st 2017 by Merit Press
Public Library Copy

In 1913, Resa LeClair had a brief moment of fame singing on a Vaudeville stage when she was young, but after her parents retired to a small town in Vermont, she thought that her singing career is over. Because she has perfect pitch, her father wants her to go to work in the tuning room of the Estey Organ Company, leaving school so that she can earn some money and reduce the family's reliance on borders. This sounds like prison to Resa, and when she wins a local talent contest and makes some contacts with people in show business, she knows she has to leave her town. With the help of a young African-American song and dance man, Pietro, she and her brother Pascal (who wants to jungle) earn a spot in a company and travel with them. Maeve, who has a marching dog act, helps ready Resa for the stage and includes Pascal in her schtick with the dogs. Pietro and Resa become good friends, but when the act leaves New England, people are less understanding about a white girl talking to a "colored boy". Resa's father attempts to bring the children home, but Resa knows that her life doesn't lie in a small town, and she continues to work on the Vaudeville circuit.
Strengths: Perhaps because I was in the pit orchestra for my high school's production of Gypsy, I've always found Vaudeville fascinating. There is only one other middle grade book about it that I can think of, Tubb's Selling Hope, on this topic. Working racial issues into the story adds even more dimension and interest. This is based on events in the author's grandparents' lives, making this a great historical novel. I even love the cover. Having recently visited the American Sign Museum, I can say that the type of bulbs used are historically accurate!
Weaknesses: A bit slow and long for middle school.
What I really think: I don't think I'll buy a copy for middle school, but I enjoyed this book tremendously and think it would be a great addition to a high school library.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, July 14, 2017

GUY FRIDAY- Lights, Cameras, Cook!

33413923Harper, Cherise Mericle. Lights, Cameras, Cook!
July 18th 2017 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Caroline, Rae, Oliver and Tate are contestants on the high stakes Next Best Junior Chef television program. They are competing on a television show judeged by world class chefs, so they are all very nervous. Tate is only nine, so he has a lot of energy and sometimes less than ideal behavior, Oliver is the self-proclaimed "King of Calm", and Caroline and Rae are both rather nervous. All of the children work together on the various challenges and are good sports, which is great to see, and there's lots of details about both television filming and cooking. Winners of challenges get to choose kitchen gadgets, and there is a lot of inventive food described. Unfortunately, I read a digital ARC of this, and since there are a fair number of illustrations, it loaded slowly, making it difficult to go back and get details.
Strengths: Lots of good details about so many things! Readers who enjoyed Ganeshram's Stir It Up will love this one. There are a lot of cooking themed books for upper middle grade readers, so this one was nice to see. Elementary schools will definitely want this, and it's great for avid cooks in middle school as well.
Weaknesses: Nine year old master chefs? Not in my world. Of course, I hate to cook. Why spend all that time when you could just have an apple and a can of tuna? That said, when I was younger I loved to read cookbooks, so I can see the appeal.
What I really think: I wish I could post interior illustrations, but they aren't photographing well from my Nook. There are interviews with the children that definitely made me think about the old Betty Crocker kids' cookbooks. I really wonder if those were the inspiration for the Aurélie Blard-Quintard illustrations!

Ms. Yingling