Thursday, August 31, 2017

What Waits in the Water

34229824Scott, Kieran. What Waits in the Water
August 29th 2017 by Point
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Hannha is excited to spend some time at her best friend Jacob's lake house. She's been crushing on him forever, so finding out that he likes her annoying new step sister Katie is crushing, but she figures she can make it work out. Hannah is a great swimmer, but when she is out in the lake, she is sure that she feels hands trying to pull her under the water and drown her. There are rumors that the lake is haunted by the spirit of a girl who committed suicide there, but most of her friends discount her worries. She finds that local boy Collin has an interest in her, but when one of their group gets dragged into the water and doesn't surface, things go bad quickly, and soon Hannah is fighting for her life.
Strengths: The title is AWESOME, and the cover very atmospheric. This is the sort of book my readers frequently reques. (Oddly, murder mysteries but not books about children grieving dead relatives. I blame CSI-type shows.) This read very much like an R.L. Stine Fear Street book, although the chapters didn't end with the suspenseful twists that the Stine ones do. (Everyone's dead. Oh, wait. It was just a trick of the light.)
Weaknesses: A lot of romance and friend drama, as well as the step sister issues. This gets the book off to a slow start. Scott knows her audience, though-- I'd say a good 15 girls in my 8th grade adore this sort of book.
What I really think: Will buy a copy for my creepy mystery fans, but it wasn't my favorite Scott title. Won't see a lot of heavy use, but will last a long time!

French, Gillian. The Door to January
September 5th 2017 by Islandport Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Natalie moved from her hometown in Maine after an incident where one of her friends was shot, but no one could prove who did the shooting. She comes back for the summer to help her aunt out at her cafe, and also to investigate the nightmares that she is having. Her cousin Todd goes with her to a creepy house that is the setting of these dreams, and the two actually catch some "ghost" conversation on a voice recorder. More than that, Natalie gets sucked into the past and witnesses atrocities that happened to three young girls in the 1940s. She somehow feels that the girls want her to avenge their deaths, but she is in even more danger from the group of friends from the shooting incident. While one of them, Lowell, seems to have grown up, several of them are even more dysfunctional and scary. Will Natalie be able to figure out both the historical and current mysteries?
Strengths: I liked how the older and more current mysteries were presented together, and how one of them involved ghosts and the other involved friend drama. I would definitely buy this for a high school collection.
Weaknesses: Too much human-on-human violence. Girls are kidnapped, kept captive, and killed.
What I really think: I don't think I will buy this one. The kidnapping scenes were a bit much for middle school students.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Van Gogh Deception

30971738Hicks, Deron. The Van Gogh Deception
August 29th 2017 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

A boy is found in the National Gallery, staring into space. He can't tell the police his name, although there is a tag on his shirt that says "Arthur". The diagnosis-- traumatic amnesia. He is placed with an emergency foster mother, Mary Sullivan, who has a daughter Art's age, Camille. The two get along well, and during an outing to the museums, Art starts to pick up on some clues about who he is. Unfortunately, these get him followed and result in some high speed chases, fire alarms being pulled, and violence to Christmas trees. Art and Camille end up at one of the places from Art's past, and he starts to remember why he was traumatized. There's a much bigger issue at stake dealing with some Van Gogh paintings. Can the two children stay safe and shed some light on international art forgery?
Strengths: I really liked Mary and Camille, and thought that most of the police were very sympathetic and helpful while observing protocol. When one neglected protocol, it wasn't a good idea! The descriptions of D.C. and the museums were very interesting, especially since I was just there. Art's amnesia made sense, and the mystery worked out well. Lots of details about art.
Weaknesses: There's pretty much zero interest in art related mysteries in my library. Blue Balliet? Gathering dust. Malone's The Sixty-Eight Rooms? Not going out, even though I love it. The one exception is Ponti's Framed, but that had a lot more action, adventure and humor. Plus, it was shorter.
What I really thought: If Under the Egg  or the above mentioned titles are hot commodities in your library, definitely take a look at this one. There's not a lot of art in my school, and I have little interest in it, so I will pass, since I don't see it circulating well on its own.

The QR codes apparently show the art in question, but I couldn't get any devices in the house to read the codes. The school iPad is from 2012, my lap top is from 2010, and I have a dumb phone, so they were lost on me.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Cosmic Commandos

32623541Eliopoulos, Christopher. Cosmic Commandos
July 4th 2017 by Dial Books
Copy provided by the publisher

Twins Jeremy and Justin, while identical, couldn't be more different. Jeremy is devoted to video games, disorganized, and mean to Justin. (His stock phrase is "Stop looking like me!") Justin realizes that being organized makes his day go smoothly, and he is pleasant and kind to everyone, so he has lots of friends. When Jeremy gets a prize from a cereal box, it turns out to be a ring that actually grants wishes and turns him into Cosmic Commando, the main character of his favorite video game. He has some fun with this, accidentally turning one of his classmates into a giant before returning to his original (but perhaps a bit smaller) size. However, when the villains from the video game start hunting Jeremy down, things become dangerous. Luckily, Justin reads a book of cheat codes and can figure out how to help Jeremy, but his twin doesn't really want his help. Can the boys learn to work together to defeat the villain Skorn and save their school from being demolished?

This graphic novel will appeal to readers who enjoy Eliopoulos' illustrations in Brad Meltzer's I Am biography series. There is a good amount of text on the page; just enough to move the story forward and not so much that the text is tiny or takes a long time to read. The full color illustrations have clean lines and are vibrant and humorous, and it's nice that Justin is always shown in blue while Jeremy is in red.

Eliopoulos has twin sons of his own, so his description of the twin dynamic is interesting. I don't know that I have ever seen a depiction where the twins don't like each other. Jeremy is a rather reprehensible character, but he does grow and become a better person during the story, which is good to see. There's a lot of longing for closeness on Justin's part, and he seems like such a together kid that I really felt sorry for him! Not many graphic novels manage to work in a significant emotional element, so this was impressive.

The lower reading level of this book will make it popular amoung the Super Amoeba and Lunch Lady crowd. Superhero stories are always popular, especially when they are combined with illustrations. Winnick's Hilo is somewhat similar to this, and readers who enjoy the action and fantasy of that will certainly like Cosmic Commandos.

Beasley, Cassie. Tumble & Blue
August 29th 2017 by Dial Books
ARC provided by the publisher

Blue Montgomery is dropped off at his grandmother's house in an extremely small Southern town by his father, who races cars for a living. His father claims it's so the two can reconnect, but in reality, Blue's father has a hard time dealing with the fact that Blue's family curse is to lose at all competitions, while his father's talent is to win everything. Blue's grandmother is glad to see him, but the large family is gathering at her house to see if one of them can be granted a  new fate by a mythical swamp alligator during the once-every-hundred-years red moon. Two hundred years previously, a Montgomery and a Lafayette met in the swamp and made a deal with the alligator, which resulted in the family's curses and talents. Blue is glad to meet his cousins Jenna, Ida and Howard who are all living with the grandmother for various reasons, and makes friends with a new girl next door, Tumble Wilson. Tumble parents had been living in an RV but rented a house to provide Tumble with stability. She is a fan of Maximal Star's book How to Hero Every Day and tries to follow its precepts to make up for an incident in the past that resulted in her older brother's death. Tumble's attempts at hero-ing don't end any better than Blue's competitions. When Blue's great grandmother announces that she will die in 38 days (she knows this because of her talent), the Montgomery family starts to put together a "talent show" in her honor. Tumble and Blue try to work on improving their own talents, and in doing so, learn more about their own personal histories.
Strengths: Beasley is a good writing, and this read smoothly and quickly. Tumble and Blue both have interesting motivations and evolve as characters. The magical realism will appeal to some readers.
Weaknesses: This felt like a book I'd read before (maybe Law's Savvy?), and the trim size is very odd, if the finished book is anything like the ARC. (Seems oddly square and short.)
What I really think: Not as depressing or hard to read as this author's Circus Mirandus, but not one that is likely to see much circulation in my library.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Call for Cybils Judges

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

We still need some more people to apply, especially for the first round. The deadline is September 11th.

Would you like to work with a great group of people, read tons of middle grade realistic fiction, and discuss it with like minded readers? You might want to consider becoming a first or second round judge for Middle Grade Fiction, which I chair. If  MGFic isn't your thing, there are lots of other divisions.

Check out:

MMGM- The Wild, Wild West

Bowling, Dusti. Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus
September 5th 2017 by Sterling Children's Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Aven is not too happy that her parents are moving the family from Kansas to Arizona, where they have gotten jobs running Stagecoach Pass, a run down Western theme park. It's hot, she has to try out for the soccer team, and making new friends is a bit more of a challenge because she was born without arms. Her parents have always been supportive and positive, but Aven has categorized all of the different types of interactions she has with people-- those who ask inappropriate questions, those who pretend nothing is different, those who ask politely about her arms but don't ask her name, those who back away in fear. When she meets Connor in the school library (eating lunch with your feet is a bit embarrassing when you're the new kid), he reacts a little differently. He has been barking at her, but not because he is making fun of her. Connor has Tourette's Syndrome, and has a variety of tics that make him uncomfortable eating in the cafeteria. The two become friends and hang out a bit at Stagecoach Pass. Connor's single mother works very hard as a nurse and he is frequently by himself, so Aven's mother takes the two of them to a Tourette's support group, which is somewhat helpful to both of them. There is a mystery in a locked desk in the park, and Aven and Connor make some headway in figuring it out, with the help of their friend Zion. Things don't always go smoothly-- Aven is sometimes irritated by how people treat her or frustrated by how hard it is to do things, and Connor also struggles with his issues. The two challenge each other, occasionally have misunderstandings, but help each other make their way into the wider world.
Strengths: This struck a very good balance for me. The difficulties of both Tourette's and having no arms are not sugar coated, but there is an overall feeling that life is better if one approaches it with a positive attitude. This is a good message for all children. The parents are great, and their struggles are realistically portrayed as well. Stagecoach Pass is a fun setting, and the mystery adds another level of depth to the book. The writing has lots of Sonnenblick-esque funny moments, and the details about dealing with the challenges will be interesting to middle grade readers.
Weaknesses: The title and cover are a bit vague, which is understandable but might require some hand selling. The mystery was a bit overly coincidental for me, but was explained in a way that I could buy. The only thing I would have changed would have been to have the third "misfit", Zion, be very, very shy instead of overweight. Sometimes, people's challenges are not detectable to others.
What I really think: I would have loved this in middle school. Realistic fiction about people who are a bit different from me going about their daily lives? Yes! I adored those 'windows', and this one seemed especially realistic. Ms. Bowling also includes a note on her research; she did ask a women without arms to check this for accuracy, and her husband has Tourette's and agrees with the characterizations. This also included a family run theme park! Definitely purchasing.

Sonnenblick, Jordan. The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade
August 29th 2017 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Maverick's mother has trouble keeping a job due to her alcohol consumption, which probably also influences her bad taste in men. When her current boyfriend becomes abusive, Maverick vows that he will try to help out the people around him the way that super heroes do, and he carries a small badge that his deceased father gave him as a reminder. He fails at it, though, getting into impulsive problems at school, where it doesn't help that his locker is right in between those of boys who give him a hard time. He is called before the "scary" principal Mr. Overby, "The Bee"twice on the first day. To his surprise, the principal is fairly understanding. Could it be because he really believes the sign Maverick sees in his office: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."? Maverick is told to call his mother, but when she doesn't answer, he calls his Aunt Cat, and claims that she is his mother. As the situation at home gets worse, things start to fall apart at school as well. Luckily for Maverick, the teachers at school are supportive, and Aunt Cat is willing to step in when Maverick needs her. Maverick starts the year wanting to save others, but he will be lucky to make it through sixth grade saving himself.
Strengths: Another excellent addition to the Sonnenblick cannon of serious books that are also funny. Maverick is an engaging, true-to-life middle school student, and the fact that he has problems at home is handled in a painfully realistic way. Principal Overby's philosophy is one I try hard to remember, and this book shows in an amusing yet sympathetic way how much better the world would be if everyone would keep that philosophy in mind.
Weaknesses: There was something half a bubble off about how Maverick thinks about and expresses his problems. Can't quite put my finger on it, but the students whom I have worked with who have real problems tend to... make more excuses for the adults? Talk about their situation as if it's not a problem. The target demographic won't pick up on this, but it seemed odd for Sonnenblick.
What I really think: Definitely will purchase at least two copies, and this will be an excellent introduction to Sonnenblick for my younger readers. I do think that Sonnenblock excels most when the characters are a little older but still are accessible to middle school students, like Peter from Curveball.

Watch the trailer here.
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.

Here's a little vigilante justice, as a bonus!

Peirce, Lincoln. Big Nate: A Good Old-Fashioned Wedgie
August 29th 2017 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by publisher

First of all, I LOVE Mrs. Godfrey. Nate draws insulting pictures of her, so the obvious "punishment" is sitting for more portraits during Nate's lunch. Nate's ego and his methods of attracting middle schools girls are so true-to-life and hysterically funny. The only think I don't understand is this-- why is Peirce one of the few writers who really understands middle school so well? As much as I love Nate, I'd really like to see another novel from this author, since he has such a fantastic middle grade voice.

"Join the unstoppable Big Nate for another round of middle school adventures! From homework and hygiene to hilarious hiijnks – no one quite does sixth grade like Nate and his friends.

Need a way to shut up some snooty kid when he gloats about his private school? Looking for the perfect response when your best friend joins the grammar police? Want a quick and easy way to out-snap even the snappiest comeback? Nate Wright has the answer: a good old-fashioned wedgie!

The whole gang from P.S. 38 is back for more hijinks, hilarity, and underwear hoisting in this new collection of Big Natecomics. Can Chad somehow survive on a diet of kale and soy nuts? Are Jenny and Artur EVER going to break up? And how is Nate supposed to concentrate on baseball when he’s got a crush on his team’s new pitcher? See for yourself! Join Nate and the rest of the crew for another unforgettable round of middle school adventures!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Elementary Chapter Books

34078847Calandrelli, Emily. Ada Lace, On the Case
August 29th 2017 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Ada is not happy. Not only has she broken her leg and has to limit her activities, but her family has just moved to a new town! Luckily, she meets Nina, who is her age, and who also likes to be active and enjoys solving mysteries. Ada spends a lot of time using scientific methods to observe her new neighborhood and details the activities of the neighbors (since she's laid up), and when a neighbor's dog goes missing, she and Nina jump into action. The reality is not as bad as the girls think, but they have fun solving the problem.
Strengths: This was a nice short mystery for readers of realistic fiction books like Springstubb's Cody and the Rules of Life. There's a strong, positive family, girls who have issues with each other but work them out, and a solid story line.
Weaknesses: A tad didactic. There have been scientific girls in books for years; not a lot of them, certainly, but what we really need are books where it seems natural for girls to have a scientific bend. Maybe we aren't there just yet.
What I really think: Will purchase this series for my struggling 6th grade readers.

34228261Calandrelli, Emily. Ada Lace, On the Case
August 29th 2017 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Ada's father is also her art teacher, and while Ada would really like to please him, she's not good at art. She is working on George, her robot, to ready him for a competition, so she decides to program him with photoresisters to do artwork for her. In working through the project with her friend Nina, Ada realizes that she can't see shades of red-- she's color blind! Since her parents are both artists, she worries about how they will take the news, but they are kind and supportive, and know that her skills lay in coding and designing instead.
Strengths: There should be more stories that involve children who struggle in school, especially when they are conscientious and just struggle in a few areas. It was great to see a color blind character as well. Fun fact-- when Cross Country race boxes are painted on green grass with red paint, they are invisible to color blind people!
Weaknesses: These are a little young for middle school, but on par with Charlie Bumpers and Jenny Meyerhoff's Friendship Garden books. A definite purchase for elementary schools.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing for my struggling readers.

33313881Warner, Sally. Absolutely Alfie and the Furry Purry Secret
August 29th 2017 by Viking Books for Young Readers
ARC provided by the publisher

Alfie is not looking forward to second grade (she has a BOY teacher), but she's also a little tired of summer. Her mother makes arrangements for her to spend the last three weeks of vacation hanging out with Hanni, who lives close by. Alfie doesn't want Hanni to think she is boring and to say mean things about her at school, so she plans lots of activities. The girls end up getting along well, especially since Hanni's cat has had kittens, and Alfie has taken a liking to one of them, whom she names Princess. The family rule is "NO PETS", but Alfie feels that the kitten will make the rough parts of school easier, so she takes the cat home and manages to hide it in her room for several days. Kittens are more work than you'd think, however, and she eventually has to tell her parents.
Strengths: Since my older daughter kept a cat in her closet for a couple of days when she was in 6th grade, this was absolutely true-to-life! I love how Alfie knows what her family rules are and that she shouldn't break them, but when they get in the way of what she wants, she justifies her actions to herself. I also appreciated how her parents didn't overreact; they discussed the matter with her, and came to an agreement where Alfie is punished, but the cat remains as a family pet. There are a lot of elementary school issues that come in to play in this book, and they are all handled well.
Weaknesses: I wish that Alfie were a 4th grader; this book is on the long side for an early reader, (130 pages), and while my 6th grade reluctant readers might read about a student that age, they will NOT read about a second grader. Alfie and Hanni seemed more like 4th graders to me.
What I really think: Interesting first book in a series. I don't think I'll buy it for middle school, but definitely would fro elementary.

33313882Warner, Sally. Absolutely Alfie and the First Week Friends
August 29th 2017 by Viking Books for Young Readers
ARC provided by the publisher

Second grade is starting, and despite the butterflies in her stomach, Alfie manages to get along with her classmates and her teacher pretty well. SHe hasn't seen her best friend, Lulu, all summer, but she seems to get along okay with Hanni. Ms. Havens isn't quite as scary as he seemed, although Alfie doesn't much care for her classroom being called the "All-Stars". When "Back to School Night" plans are being made, Alfie's table group doesn't follow the instructions on making a project, and Alfie worries that everyone will make fun of her. Mr. Havens works with her, and the students learn important lessons about following directions and working together.
Strengths: Once again, Alfie faces challenges with the help of the supportive adults in her life. Her relationship with her older brother EllRay is quite charming. I may have to look into EllRay Jakes is Not a Chicken. This is definitely a series I would buy for an elementary library.
Weaknesses: While I like the covers by Shearry Malone, the interior illustrations had kind of a 1980s vibe that wasn't as effective.
What I really think: Clearly, we need an older middle grade book about group projects that highlights the work intensive qualities of a MakerSpace. If you need a parent volunteer to make something work, is it really a good educational initiative?

31145011Harper, Charise Mericle. Crafty Cat and the Crafty Camp Crisis.
August 15th 2017 by First Second
E ARC from

While this is a good format for my reluctant readers who really like graphic novels, it is definitely a story about a second grader. Her concerns are not like middle school concerns, so I don't think I will purchase. Great for elementary, though. (Side note: Ugh. Crafts. Unless it's something that can be used, liked quilts or sweaters, I don't have much patience. Very glad my girls are older and I don't have glitter glue in the house any more!)

Second grade isn't always a breeze for Birdie. There are just so many opportunities to embarrass herself! But Birdie's got a secret weapon that nobody knows about--her alter-ego, Crafty Cat! Birdie can become Crafty Cat without anyone noticing, and she always manages to get herself out of a jam using her awesome crafting skills! When Birdie goes to a day-camp for crafting, she knows she's going to have a great time and be the best in the group. But when things go wrong, can Crafty Cat help Birdie set them right?

From Just Grace and Fashion Kitty author Charise Mericle Harper comes the next volume in a hilarious, charming, and sweet new graphic novel trilogy for elementary-age readers about a little girl who can craft her way out of any situation.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Blended Families

Selfors, Suzanne. Wedgie and Gizmo
August 22nd 2017 by Katherine Tegen Books
ARC from the author and reviewed at Young Adult Books Central

Wedgie is a corgi who belongs to Jasmine, Jackson and their mother, who has just married Elliot's dad. Since Elliot is the faithful servant of Gizmo, a guinea pig with delusions of grandeur, not only do the families need to learn to live together, the pets do, too. Everything is cool with Wedgie-- he thinks the "furry potato" smells good and is interesting. Gizmo is less than thrilled with matters. He home was destroyed in the move, and he is temporarily housed in a Barbie Dream House, which is NOT properly equipped for his plans for world domination. Also, Jasmine likes to put him in sparkly tutus. After a week in her room, even his poop has sparkles in it! Both animals get into a variety of scrapes. Gizmo eats too much cereal and has to go to the vet. He also tries to lure Wedgie into the Pool of a Thousand Pees to neutralize him, and attempts to mail Jasmine's abuela, who is from Peru, back home because he is afraid she will want to EAT him. Wedgie tries to endear himself to Elliot as well as the elderly dog next door. When Gizmo decides to run away because of his alleged poor treatment, the family worries about him. Is Wedgie really a super hero who can save the day?

This is a great family oriented story for younger middle grade readers who like books with some illustrations in them. Rissi's Anna, Banana, Tan's Cilla Lee-Jenkins and Sheth's The No-Dogs-Allowed Rule all have similar family issues but supportive families. Elliot is sad that his friends are not nearby, especially when his birthday appproaches, but the younger Jasmine and Jackson are pleased with the new people and places in their lives.

The stars, of course, are the effervescent Wedgie who loves his super hero cape and always tries to save the day, and the plotting evil genius Gizmo. Gizmo embraces my own philosophy-- every day needs an Evil Plan. The illustrations be Barbara Fisinger capture Wedgie's ebullience as well as Gizmo's disdain for it, and add a lot to the charm of the book.

Having had both a dog who would be thrilled if I had a Biju Ting Ting Scalp Massager to use on her butt and a dwarf hamster who managed to break out of his HabitTrail and narrowly escape a harrowing death, I know that the characters of both animals are very realistic. For the best reading experience, grab a bag of cheese puffs and your favorite fuzzy creature and crawl into your nest to read the amusing adventures of a super pet combo.

Hutton, Clare. Emma Moves In (Like Sisters #1)

August 29th 2017 by Scholastic Paperbacks
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Emma and her parents live in Seattle and only get back east to visit her mother's family twice a year. A week at Christmas and a week in the summer is not enough time for Emma to spend with her twin cousins and best friends, Zoe and Natalia, so when her grandmother falls and breaks a hip at her majestic old house, Emma is thrilled to learn that her family will be relocating there to start a bed and breakfast business at the house. It's still not easy to leave everything in Seattle, and sleeping on her cousins' bedroom floor while the house is being renovated isn't fun. Starting middle school in a new town is a bit daunting, especially since all of her clothes are packed away, but with the help of her cousins, she manages to make a decent start. She is surprised that her cousins don't hang out together at school, and even more surprised when one of their friends is really mean to her. Emma is also worried about her grandmother, who is slowly recovering but worried about the house being renovated. When Emma's father doesn't move from Seattle for a long time, she worries that it isn't because a replacement for him can't be found. Emma has always wanted to live near her family, but things aren't exactly working out the way she imagined.
Strengths: I loved the strong family environment, especially the TWO grandmothers living with the family. Zoe and Natalia's abuelita was a nurse, and has been caring for the other grandmother, who was a teacher, but is being really overprotective. I also thought it was realistic that the cousins were harder to get along with for more than a week. There's a little bit of diversity. Mostly, just a very fun story abut family!
Weaknesses: Paperback only. Like Scholastic's Candy Apple books, this might be worth investigating in a prebind. A great choice for students at book fairs, certainly!
What I really think: This would have been exactly the book I would have loved in 6th grade! I feel a little conflicted about the whole American Girl experience, but this book doesn't have dolls associated with it. The connection is mainly a marketing ploy, I imagine!

Ms. Yingling

Friday, August 25, 2017

Rich Wallace's Game Face Series
I rarely buy books that I have not read, but when I saw this sports series by the fantastic Rich Wallace, I knew it would be a big hit with my readers who love his Winning Season series. At 112 pages each, these books are even more fantastic than I expected because the series doesn't have to be read in order! Instead of numbering the spines, there is a list of the books on the back of each volume with the titles in order. If students feel compelled to read them that way, they can; if they only want to read about basketball, that's an option as well.

I am SO excited to meet Mr. Wallace at Kidlitcon when he and Sandra Neill Wallace, Eucabeth Odhiambo, Sue Macy, David A. Kelly, and Phil Bildner join me for the discussion panel "Go Sports! Do the thing! Win the points!: Sports Books for the Unathletic".

27178321Wallace, Rich. Between the Sticks (Game Face #1)
January 1st 2016 by Calico

Griffin enjoys playing defense on his rec soccer league even though it occasionally leaves him winded because of his asthma. When the team's goalie sprains his wrist, Griffin is tapped to be the replacement because of his size and the fact he has some background playing the position. He's not thrilled about it, but tries his best, and eventually comes to enjoy his new role. His parents run a local diner, so are very busy, and Griffin spends a lot of time with his young brother Connor so that he doesn't have to be bored at the babysitter's.
Strengths: There are lots of details about playing soccer: how to do well at various positions, how to get along with teammates, how to be a good sport. The other members of the team get along but sometimes have their difficulties. The thing I liked best, however, was the depiction of Griffin's family. This had a very similar feel to Wallace's very popular Southside Sports.
Weaknesses: Griffin blushes a lot. struck me as an odd detail.
What I really think: These will never be on the shelf!

Wallace, Rich. Chasing the Baton (Game Face #2)
Published January 1st 2016 by Calico

"It is track season and seventh-grader Marcus is struggling at the 400 meter distance and upset that his best friend Torry jokes about his slow times--so he is determined to build up enough strength to earn a place on the 4x400 meter relay at the upcoming track and field meet. "

Griffin does shot put, so doesn't have as prominent a position in this book. My favorite parts in this were Torry and Marcus' dads, who have an accounting business in town. The two families live across the street from each other, and it just seems so ideal!

27178323Wallace, Rich. No Relief (Game Face #3)
January 1st 2016 by Calico

"Seventh-grader Javon is the relief pitcher for his summer league baseball team and they are in the championship tournament--trouble is there is one player on the team they are playing that he cannot seem to get out. "

Javon's father is Korean, and his mother is African-American. His older brother is very nice to him, and teaches him to play the drums. Javon is a little leery of his own abilities, but gains confidence the more he practices. Interesting bit of this book: Lots of ice cream! As much as middle school students like to eat, I think they will find the descriptions of meals and snacks in these books appealing.

27178324Wallace, Rich. Pressure Point (Game Face #3)
January 1st 2016 by Calico

"Seventh-grader Torry is feeling pressure on the basketball court because he has to guard a player on the rival team who is bigger and older than he is."

Torry is really nice to his younger sister Nicki and reads to her, which is sweet. He is very interested in science, and spends a lot of time working on a school project. Interesting bit of this book: Torry has a lot of trouble falling asleep because his mind is full of so many things.

And yes, you can tell it is the start of the school year when I post reviews that are not quite complete. Because of my summer reading, I have blog posts until the beginning of November, which is a good thing. With cross country practice almost every night after school, I am lucky just to read the new books from the fall order. Reviewing them; that's entirely too much time that could be spent sleeping!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Vanished (A T.O.A.S.T. Mystery)

22094457Ponti,  James. Vanished (A T.O.A.S.T. Mystery)
August 22nd 2017 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

After their brilliant solution to an art heist mystery in Framed!, Florian and his friend Margaret are back. This time, Marcus (their F.B.I. contact) approaches them to take a short leave from Alice Deal Middle School and become students undercover at a private school where pranks have caused disruption to everything, even the school computer server. The catch? The president's daughter is a student there, and may or may not be behind the pranks. As the investigation deepens, Florian makes friends with a talented cellist from China, Yin, and learns secrets about the school's history. He also uses his "Theory of All Small" Things to find a long lost keepsake for the president. Just when the mystery of the pranks is just about solved, a Yin goes missing after he plays his first number at a Kennedy Center concert. Has he run away? Been kidnapped? Florian and Margaret have to use their detecting abilities and some of their previous contacts in order to find him.
Strengths: This had lots of great funny moments, which are always a plus in a good mystery. Florian's formality plays against Margaret's more typically middle grade impulsiveness. The idea of secret societies is intriguing, and gives an air of National Treasure to the book. (One of my children's favorite movies). I adored the scene where Florian found the keepsake. The book starts with a bang, and there's plenty of intrigue and chase scenes to keep even reluctant readers engaged. Curious to see what the next three books will be!
Weaknesses: I now understand why the Trumps are so concerned about their son's safety. After Clayton Stone: Facing Off, Bradley's  Double Vision: Code Name 711 , Garretson's Wild Fire Run, Gibbs' Spy School Secret Service, Barnes' The Fixer, and Bradford's Bodyguard series, it's clear that presidential children are often in grave danger and can only be saved by other tweens!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. I'm very glad that Vanished has done so well!

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Lost Boys

31145003Rosenblatt, Darcey. Lost Boys
August 22nd 2017 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Iran in 1982 was a difficult place to be. Reza loves Stevie Wonder music, but it is forbidden, and his mother is spouting her adherence to whatever the Ayatollah has decreed even though it cost Reza his father. Luckily, his uncle Habib understands, but he is active in the resistance and doesn't last long. Reza's best friend Ebi believes in supporting the cause, and Reza finally gives in to joining the army. Many of the boys (who are about 12) believe that if they dies in support of the cause it will be an honorable death and they will go to heaven and be given virgins (which is a deeply disturbing thought if ever there was one-- this article was helpful in illuminating the myth behind it), but Reza quickly finds that the boys are all expendable. After being gravely injured, he is separated from Ebi but ends up in a decent prison camp where the boys are taught by Irish Aid worker, Miles. Miles is very supportive, and even lets Reza play his guitar. Eventually, Miles is asked to leave the country, and Reza realizes that he and the other boys are never going to get to go home. Even though Ebi shows up at the camp, Reza has to make some bold decisions about his future.
Strengths: I thought this offered a good depiction of how even members of the same family can react differently to a sociopolitical environment. Reza feels his mother (whose father was a holy man) loves her god more than she loves him. Ebi's family is more progressive, and angry at his more conservative views. Reza just cannot think that his love of music is sinful, and while he loves his country, he doesn't like the divisions. This seemed very well researched, and offers a glimpse into a very interesting but treacherous time. Modern readers will draw many parallels between Iran in 1982 and current political situations.
Weaknesses: This is not an #ownvoices book. This does not bother me, since I think writers should be able to research and write sympathetic books about other people, but some people will be bothered by this.
What I really think: This is an essential purchase for all middle school libraries. The cover is great, and all manner of readers will be drawn to Reza's story of music, adventure, and personal journey.

7234718Barnett, Mac. The Case of the Mistake Identity (Brixton Brothers #1)
October 6th 2009 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Library copy

I am REALLY late to the game on this series, but thanks to Iron Guy Carl, I now have the series for my library!

Steve Brixton loves the old series of Bailey Brothers mysteries, especially the spy handbook, and has all of their escapades practically memorized. When he has a school project on American quilts, he goes to the public library to check out a book to help with his research, gets mistaken for a detective, and is plunged into a world of mystery and intrigue in order to find the McGuffin quilt. Sadly, the tips from the Bailey brothers don't always help, and Steve, along with his friend Dana, finds the investigating to be hard going. Adults don't believe him, he's wanted by the government, and he's not getting any sleep. Even when he triumphantly solves the mystery, he's stuck with a two million dollar fine for damaging the library book on quilts. Fortunately, he can work this off by continuing his investigations.
Strengths: Despite the lackluster review (second week of school; oddly quiet, but worried about getting research classes lined up, and rather tired!), this was quite fun. It's a great length (178 pages), has some illustrations by Adam Rex, and neatly turns classic child detective mysteries on their ears. Betsy Bird has a fantastic review of it on Goodreads. The librarians are great spies, and all of the odd plot devices are convincingly done, if a bit far fetched. I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.
Weaknesses: Not wild about the covers, so these will take some hand selling.
What I really think: Don't know how I missed these, but glad to have them now!
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The First Rule of Punk

32050089Perez, Celia C. The First Rule of Punk
August 22nd 2017 by Viking
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

When Malu's (Maria Luisa) mother gets a two year visiting professorship in Chicago, she has to leave her father and his record shop in Gainesville. Malu and her father love punk rock music, and her mother is not a fan, so Malu really wishes she could stay with her father. Even though she makes an impassioned plea in an artfully crafted zine, she is living in Chicago before she knows it. It's a fun, quirky neighborhood with lots of other Hispanic residents, which delights Malu's mother but doesn't break through Malu's irritation. On the first day of school, she wears heavy eyeliner despite her mother's objections, and gets sent to the auditorium for a dress code violation talk. There, she meets a boy who has dyed his hair blue (but dresses like Henry Huggins!) who ends up being the son of the local coffee shop owner, Ms. Hildago, and the grandson of her neighbor. Malu's school career doesn't go well, since she has run afoul of the popular Selena, so when a school talent show is announced, she gathers a few people to form a band (the CoCos, after Selena's slur that she is a "coconut"). When they don't make the cut during auditions because they are too loud and not traditional enough to honor the school's namesake Jose Posada, Malu decides to embrace the rules of punk and have an alternative concert. The band, and Malu, continue to have rocky times, but ultimately are able to be appreciated for being true to themselves.
Strengths: It's nice to see a middle grade character with specific interests, and one who takes initiative to change circumstances she doesn't like. Stories about moving are always popular with my readers, and I thought it was interesting that Malu moved to a neighborhood that seemed like a better fit for her, even though she didn't want to recognize it. The zines between the chapters are interesting, the various characters well drawn and unique, and the celebration of Hispanic culture is more in depth than in many books I have read.
Weaknesses: I had a different concept of zines in my head-- Malu's work seemed more like scrap booking to me, but the author is well known for her own zines. Also, Malu's love of punk culture doesn't seem to be doing her any favors, and I found myself identifying more with her mother! (Go wash that gunk off your eyes, young lady, and put on a clean shirt!)
What I really think: I will definitely buy a copy. Many of my students have requested displays of Hispanic literature for Octobers Hispanic Heritage Month, and this will be a good title to include.

Mathieu, Jennifer. Moxie
September 19th 2017 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC from Edelweiss

Vivian is tired of the crap going on in her Texas high school. The girls are constantly subjected to ridiculous dress codes, as well as humiliating classroom checks that result in girls being publicly called out and sent to the office, while the boys are allowed to where highly offensive t-shirts that are sexually harassing. They also don't get in trouble for groping girls in the hallway, and even when one football players is reported for attempting to rape a girl at a party, it's swept under the rug. Since Vivian is a "good girl" whose mother was an outspoken, punk type in the 1990s, Vivian decides to handle these jerks by making a 'zine and trying to get the girls in her school to stand up for themselves. There is a new boy from Austin, Seth, who is helpful to Vivian, and on whom she has a crush. He is a good guy, and not only helps her cause, but is nice to her, unlike the other Neanderthals. The entire culture at Vivian's high school is corrupt, but her actions eventually uncover some misdeeds for which adults in authority are finally able to be punished.
Strengths: This is a timely novel that will be embraced by young women who adopted the "pussy hat" and are being more politically active. The sub plot with Vivian's mother dating a conservative man was interesting to me, and her grandparents are fantastic characters. I'd love to see more socially aware male characters like Seth.
Weaknesses: This is a young adult novel, and there is some salty language and some drinking. I also found it very difficult to believe that boys were able to be so openly abusive, and that the administration handled the dress code in such a way. At my school, male teachers will ask a female teacher to talk to girls if there's something very flagrant (Really, can we still make it against the dress code for girls' butt cheeks to hang out? Or is that insensitive? I don't want to see that view of boys, either!), and we always try to do it very quietly.
What I really think: I had problems with the philosophies on a personal level. I believe in a polite, modestly dressed feminism, but this would not have stopped me from getting back at the jerk football player and his father. I wouldn't have done something publicly at school like Vivian did; I would have set fire to the family's back porch during a football game. No one would have blamed me because I was quiet and ladylike. However, I was falsely accused of running an underground newspaper in high school, so perhaps my views were not as hidden as I had hoped.
Ms. Yingling

Monday, August 21, 2017

MMGM- Kat Greene Comes Clean

27268328Roske, Melissa. Kat Greene Comes Clean
August 22nd 2017 by Charlesbridge
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Kat lives with her divorced mother in Greenwich. She goes to a small, progressive school, and her class is working on a production of Harriet the Spy, and working on a project to go along with that. Kat is paired with Sam, and the two have their ups and downs of getting along. Her friend Halle is a bit obsessed with Michael, a boy in their class whom she thinks like her. Normal, everyday stuff-- except for the fact that Kat's mom is obsessed with cleaning, to the point where her hands are badly chapped and she brings antibacterial wipes to the grocery to use on canned goods. Kat's school has a counselor, Olympia, and Halle encourages Kat to talk to her, but it's hard. Kat looks online and figures that her mother probably suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but when her mother gets excited about making it onto a television show called Clean Sweep, Kat hopes that things will improve. Her father lives across town with his new family, and is very supportive, so when things take a turn for the worst, Kat is able to seek help from her father, her counselor, and her friends.
Strengths: Like Lambert's Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes, this was a solid middle grade novel about a parent with a problem that ends up affecting the tween character. I appreciated that Kat had a lot of support, and that she was able to carry on with her own life while trying to make sense of what was going on with her mother. Her interactions with Halle were particularly interesting-- there is so much friend drama at this age, especially concerning boys. It's also good to see a book pay attention to school projects, since they can be very time consuming.
Weaknesses: New York City is like another planet. Nannies? Calling teachers by their first names? Rapping? I would have preferred a more neutral setting, but this certainly gives some insight into how other people live!
What I really think: Quite an intriguing book. It has enough humor and drama to make it appealing to many of my students. Definitely buying a copy.

31290571Kulling, Monica. Mary Anning's Curiosity
Published May 16th 2017 by Groundwood Books

Mary Anning was born in 1799 and had a difficult childhood in Lyme Regis, England. Her father was a carpenter who made extra money by selling shells and fossils to tourists in the town, but after suffering a fall (and battling tuberculosis), he died, leaving many debts. Mary quit school in order to help with the family income, and devoted her time to fossil hunting. There was another man in town, Captain Cury, who also looked for fossils, and competed against Mary in trying to find things like the "giant croc". Luckily, Mary had better skills and more knowledge than the slap dash Captain, and found some major fossils, which she was able to sell. The main story ends before Mary's adult life, but there are some notes about her further career.
Strengths: As an enormous fan of The Childhood of Famous Americans, I enjoyed this tale of an early pioneer in paleontology. Kulling has a wide range of interesting biographical subjects, including my very favorite, Lillian Gilbreth!The illustrations reminded me of Lois Lenski's work, and even the trim size of the book and the font used make this seem like an older title.
Weaknesses: I really wanted a book that students could use for research.
What I really think: A fun, old-fashioned book to read, but not  all that helpful in terms of research for projects.

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.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Things That Surprise You

32711711Maschari, Jennifer. Things That Surprise You
August 22nd 2017 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Emily and Hazel have been best friends for years, but now that they are about to start middle school, things are changing. Hazel has been spending the summer hanging out with the girls on the field hockey team, and they've all started to dress alike. Emily loves a book series called The Unicorn Chronicles, but after she and Hazel go to a launch party for the newest book, Emily fears that Hazel has moved on to other things. She's embarassed by Em's costume, and tells her that twins they meet at the bookstore, Anita and Hector, are made fun of by the other students and should be avoided. Since Hazel's table at lunch is filled with her team mates, Em struggles to find her own place. Luckily, her language arts teacher, Ms. Arnold, is also a Unicorn fan and invites her to a before school group called the Bagel Bunch, which Anita and Hector attend. She doesn't because of Hazel's censure of the group, but could use some new friends to help her get through some family problems. Her mother is working long hours and getting used to being divorced, and her sister Mina is in a residential center for treatment of her anorexia. Em just wants everything to be like it was before. Even though this is impossible, will Em figure out a way to make her life more enjoyable?
Strengths: THESE are the sort of problems that middle schoolers actually face and like to read about. Friends changing. Families going through rough spots. School projects and working with other students. Not knowing what to wear. Picture day disasters. New friends who make everything seem not so horrible. The tween voice in this is perfect. Emily wanting to be Em, wanting to wear her unicorn costume and make clothes for her dog, being a bit disgusted at her friends boy crazy ways-- perfect. The addition of a sibling struggling with a serious disorder worked well. Enjoyed this tremendously.
Weaknesses: I'm going back and forth on the cover. On the one hand, I think readers who are like Em will pick it up, but I really want readers like Hazel to read this, and they might think the cover is too young.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing this one, and excited to hand it to many different readers. "Friend drama" is always something that circulates well!
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Just Dance

34228284MacLachlan, Patricia. Just Dance
September 12th 2017 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Sylvie lives on a farm near a small farm in Nebraska. Before meeting her father, her mother, Min, was a famous singer who toured the world. Now, she gets to sing opera to the cows, and Sylvie is very concerned that she and her brother are not enough to keep her mother "down on the farm". Sylvie herself wants to see  more of the world, and she gets the opportunity when her teacher, Mrs. Ludolf, asks her to help Sheriff Ludolf (who learned English as an adult) write his law enforcement blog. Sylvie goes out with her father on horseback the first day, and then spends a lot of time on ride alongs with the Sheriff. Her blog posts get a lot of favorable feedback, and her haiku are especially praised. When there is a concert nearby with a former costar of her mother's, Sylvie is very concerned that her mother will rejoin him and give up her life on the farm.
Strengths: Fans who like this author's The Truth of Me, Kindred Souls,White Fur Flying, or The Poet's Dog will  be glad to add this sweet and simple tale of how love can bring the most unlikely souls together. Anyone who encourages children to write poetry will appreciate Sylvie's efforts.
Weaknesses: I had an immediate and visceral hatred of this book. For one thing, doing ANYTHING for love is an enormous mistake. It will only bite you in the bum. Sylvie was so whiny about how her mother had to be unhappy in Nebraska after touring the world that I just wanted to slap her and say "Yes! Your whining is going to make her leave you!" I don't think a ten-year-old would have a concept this sophisticated. So, perfectly fine book, very touching, and I just did NOT like it.
What I really think: This is on the young side for my readers, and aside from Sarah, Plain and Tall, none of this author's work has circulated well in my library. I will pass. It would just collect dust.

Ms. Yingling

Friday, August 18, 2017

Guy Friday

33544812Moore, Steve. Control Freak: King of the Bench #2
September 12th 2017 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

In No Fear, Steve warms the bench for baseball, he gets roped into being on the football team. He has no athletic ability, but he does have something that may benefit the team and help them make the championships-- he has an old video game controller that he suspects might be magic, and he uses it to control his teammates on the field when things get bleak. He's not entirely sure, mind you, but it seems like the controller does work on people. Steve manages to get a position as "place kick holder", mainly because Becky O'Callahan is the place kicker, and Steve has an enormous crush on her. The Mighty Plumbers struggle through their season, but Steve becomes increasingly worried about using the controller-- whenever he does, it might win points, but it seems to result in an injury to a team member. By the end of the season, things are so desperate that Steve is sent in. He begs a friend to get the controller out of his closet, injuries be damned, and manages to do quite well. Was it the controller, or his own skill?
Strengths: Steve is realistically goofy, and the story progresses in a logical fashion with lots of non sequitur asides that are meant just to be funny. The coach and Steve's team mates are goofy, as are the teams they play against. The controller is handled in a way that makes sense-- it doesn't really control people, does it? Or... can it? Steve know better, yet had his reasons for believing. Goofy, yes, but in a way that I think middle grade readers can appreciate. If Timmy Failure is popular in your library, this is a must read!
Weaknesses: This was a bit on the goofy side for me-- the names irritated me. Coach Earwax? The Enron Middle School Screaming Bulls? Sigh.
What I really think: We need a lot more books like this-- notebook novels about sports that actually have a plot, no matter how slight. Every elementary library and most middle school libraries need this title.

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Super Max AND Olive Mysteries

34228259Vaught, Susan. Super Max and the Mystery of Thornwood's Revenge.
August 29th 2017 by Simon Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Max lives with her grandfather, Toppy, who is the chief of police. She loves figuring out how things work and how to make them work better, He allows her to tinker with her wheelchair, since he considers it as much a part of her body as her legs. However, if she tinkers with other things around the house and sets things on fire, she is punished by having to watch and review sappy movies! From her window, Max can see the creepy Thornwood mansion, which has been derelict for as long as anyone can remember. Her best friend Lavender's mother gave tours of the building for a while, but the building has become increasingly fragile. There's also the curse that Thornwood left, so his family has never been successful enough to repair the place, and no one else wants to live in it. When someone posts a fake Facebook page about Toppy and gets him in a lot of trouble with the town and the mayor, it looks like the curse is back in action. The devastation doesn't stop at Toppy's reputation-- soon things are being set on fire, bank accounts are being hacked, and Toppy may lose his job if he can't stop the perpetrator. Can Lavender and Max, with the help of the owner of the local electrical supply store and his foster son, figure out the culprit? Is it Junior Thornwood? Max's mother, who lives in California? The answer surprises and shocks Max.
Strengths: This was a fun mystery-- a mix of haunted house and hackers that was intriguing. Max's disability is certainly part of the story but not the whole story, which I loved. Toppy is fantastic-- I'm just sad I don't have anyone to punish with writing reviews of sappy movies. That's brilliant. The writing was really good as well. Bonus points for not being as super sad as Footer Davis.
Weaknesses: There was a lot going on in this story, but it was too long for most of my readers (352 pages). It started to drag quite a bit in the middle, which is a shame. Tighter editing would have made this a top notch choice for middle school readers, who really, truly like books to wrap up in 200 pages. I'm a little conflicted about this-- certainly, they should have the patience for a longer book, but there is something about being able to tell the entire story in 200 pages that is not a bad thing for economy of words. Also, errors in Latin phrase that I hope can be fixed.
What I really think: Will purchase. I've only had one student in a wheelchair, but that is certainly a bit of diversity lacking in middle grade literature. Vaught's son is in a wheelchair, so she hits the right notes.

25488892Schusterman, Michelle. Olive and the Backstage Ghost
August 15th 2017 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

Olive is okay with going to auditions and attending a theater camp, but has a history of being stricken with stage fright in the presence of her mother. Her mother was a child star and did quite well until she lost her ability to sing, and she is bound and determined to have Olive achieve her level of success. Ever since her father's passing a year ago, the two have struggled financially even though they have kept their posh city apartment, and Olive has noticed that more and more of their possessions have been sold. After blowing a summer camp audition, Olive runs away and happens upon a beautiful old theater. She goes onto the stage and sings the piece that she wanted to sing before her mother pushed her to do something else. The owner of the theater, Maude, comes out and tells Olive that she has won the main role in the newest production, Eidola. As Olive spends more and more time in the theater, she meets others , like Juliana, who are in the production, and Felix, who warns her to stay away from the theater. She also meets a number of ghosts, but since they seem benign, she's not too worried. Eventually, Olive and her mother have a falling out, and Olive goes to live in the theater, although her mother does make the news about her disappearance. Things are not as they seem, and the theater offers the occasional creepy glimpse that something is not right. Will Olive, Juliana, and Felix be able to figure out Maude's plans before the production, and all of the cast, is doomed?
Strengths: Olive's relationship with her mother is interesting. Middle grade parents who want to live vicariously through their children are not often covered, but it is an intriguing struggle. Maudeville is atmospherically creepy, and this put me in mind a bit of Funke's The Thief Lord for some reason. The characters of Felix, Finley, and Juliana are particularly well done.
Weaknesses: Olive's relationship with her mother never really improves, and there is a very brief and unexamined statement that Olive's father did not fall to his death but rather jumped. Both of these threads could be upsetting to middle grade readers, and I wish they had been explained and resolved.
What I really think: Readers who enjoy creepy stories and theater settings will read this avidly, but I preferred this author's Kat Sinclair series, since there was more action.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Karma Khullar's Mustache

27277199Wientge, Kristi. Karma Khullar's Mustache
August 15th 2017 by Simon and Schuster
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Karma and Sara have been friends for years, but as the two are making plans for their sixth grade year, Karma starts to be concerned that Sara is much more interested in clothes, make up and boys. To make matters worse, a new girl moves into the house across the street from Sara. Lacey is pretty, from California, and offers Karma "beauty tips" about dealing with the beginnings of a mustache on her upper lip. When they are all hanging out at the pool, Lacey is even meaner. She and some boys start the phrase "'Stache Attack", complete with a finger over their lip gesture, and Sara doesn't even stand up for Karma! The first day of 6th grade is not great; Karma's lunch spills and others make fun of her, and she finds herself in the company of the two most unpopular kids in her grade... who happen to be the only ones who are nice to her. Things aren't great at home, either. Her father's position at the university has been cut, so he's a stay-at-home dad, and her mother has increased her hours and is rarely home. Karma also misses her grandmother, who lived with the family but recently passed away. She tries to remember what Dadima would have told her to do when things get bad, and even talks her father into taking her to a talk on karma at the family's Sikh house of worship, but there's no easy answer. Karma even tries to go along with her math teacher's idea to tutor Lacey, but this just gets her into even more misunderstandings. Finally, Karma is able to talk to her parents and get some help navigating the choppy waters of middle school.
Strengths: Everyone has a mustache. Karma's mother says it, and it's SO true! I was a definitely more like Karma's mother in middle school (blonde and Methodist), but there were many times that I felt uncomfortable or fought with my friends. Karma's reactions are spot on; I even liked that she thought religion and relying on God could help, mainly because her grandmother had told her this. I think middle school is a prime time for putting a lot of credence in religious help. Sara's reactions to things are accurate as well, and I was very relieved that the two were able to work things out. Lacey was realistically evil; she had her motivations, but I still hated her! I would have loved seeing the details of Karma's every day life and her approach to problems when I was in middle school. Great book!
Weaknesses: The scene where Karma decided to shave seemed a bit overly dramatic, and I was surprised that the tiffin spilled so frequently. I thought the whole point was that tiffins had leak proof seals so they could be transported. Also, if my lunch spilled so often, I think I would take something else, so matter how much I liked daal!
What I really think: This needs a cover like the Aladdin M!X books and a punchier title. I loved the story, but doubt that readers will pick this one up without a bit of prompting.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Twintuition: Double Dare

31448967Mowry, Tia and Tamera. Twintuition: Double Dare (#3)
May 9th 2017 by HarperCollins
Copy received from Young Adult Books Central

Cassie and Caitlyn are still getting used to having magical powers, and it seems like they may be splitting the gift of reading other's thoughts-- one sees mainly happy thoughts while the other sees mainly sad ones. When their father's mother, Verity Lockwood, arrives from England to meet with the girls, their mother isn't very happy. Did the magic have something to do with their father's death? Since their mother is trying so hard to keep them from their grandmother, they only learn the family secrets and information about their burgeoning powers a bit at a time. They also have to deal with their friends at school, who are involved in a Truth of Dare craze. When the girls have a vision that one of their friends is going to be badly injured, will they be able to stop it from happening?

Magical realism is in great demand-- who doesn't want to have some sort of magical power? The girls are shown dealing with the problems that their new found skills are causing in a constructive and realistic way.

While I have a little bit of a hard time telling the twins apart, the supporting characters are tremendously appealing. The British grandmother is caring and yet enigmatic, and the twins no-nonsense police woman mother is great. There's a lot more to the family story, and I'm curious to see if there will be more about this, as well as the girls' father, in further books.

Books about twins are always popular (I really want to go reread DuJardin's Pam and Penny Howard series right now!), and these books are appealing to reluctant older readers who want shorter, easier books that still address the intricacies of middle school relationship dramas. The covers of these are a bit reminiscent of Devillers and Roy's Trading Faces and Payton's It Takes Two series, which have been very popular with my students.

Mowry, Tia and Tamera. Twintuition: Double Dare (#2)
May 10th 2016 by HarperCollins

I somehow missed the second book in the series, but I'll definitely order it. One of my very reluctant readers who would ONLY read nonfiction True Books loved this book. It might have been the only somewhat lengthy fiction book she read in three years! When I looked at Double Dare, I thought "The next should be teal", and by golly, book 2 was! Clearly, the next book will have to be pink, then green!

  Ms. Yingling

Monday, August 14, 2017

MMGM- All the running books!

Asher, Diana Harmon. Sidetracked
August 22nd 2017 by Amulet Books
E ARC from

Joseph is having a tough time in middle school. He's small for his age and suffers from ADHD enough that he spends time each day in the resource room. When his teacher there, Mrs. T., suggests that he run cross country, he is skeptical, but when he sees Heather doing well at running, he thinks it might be okay. This is the first year for the team, so it's very small, but Mrs. T. is the coach. Joseph isn't fast, but he keeps running, and keeps thinking about his personal best. He becomes friends with Heather, whose mother is off in Hawaii studying flowers and doesn't want to come home. The two make an unlikely pair but look out for each other. When Heather is elbowed in the woods, Joseph makes sure that the boy who did it is eventually found out. Joseph also makes peace with another runner who has given him a hard time, Charlie, which is a good thing, since they will be together for indoor winter track and track in the spring. There is an interesting side story involving Joseph's grandfather, who lives with the family, and the quirky, older librarian.
Strengths: This was a good debut effort and showed a decent knowledge of cross country. There were lots of good details (Yep, the boys pee in the woods! We call it "I dropped my watch.") and it was nice to see a strong female character. Good length, no major flaws.
Weaknesses: The editor's note at the beginning was extremely offputting. It's 2017. "A boy cannot be small weak and terrible at track... A girl cannot be big, tough, and lightning fast like Heather." Since when? While I am glad that Heather is the fastest runner, her description as a very tall, larger girl doesn't make much sense. The fastest girls in middle and high school are usually very small. Our girls' team is hugely better than the boys, and it's not an issue. It 1982, maybe, it would be an issue. Joseph is identified as having ADHD, but many of his behaviors make me wonder if his issues arise more from being on the autism spectrum.There was also a weird scene in the book where Joseph sees a teammate being stared at by the other runners, and the teammate says that it's because he's black and the others think he will be fast. That just seemed odd. These are small quibbles with a good story. I suspect that Asher watched her children run rather than coaching a team.
What I Really think: Will definitely purchase.

34007206Odhiambo Eucabeth A. Auma's Long Run 
September 1st 2017 by Carolrhoda Books

E ARC from

Auma has a very fortunate life in her Kenyan village. Her father works in Nairobi, but comes home from time to time, bringing presents and encouraging Auma in her dream to be a doctor. Because he earns a good income, she is able to afford to go to school. When he comes home this time, however, he stays for longer, and is suffering from an undisclosed illness. Is it malaria? Many people have been dying in Auma's village, which makes her want to pursue medical studies even more, especially when Mama Karen tells her about a new disease that seems to be striking many people, especially those who work in large cities, like Auma's father. It is the "slim disease" or AIDS, and weakens people so much that they die from a number of unrealated causes. When her mother also becomes ill, Auma tries to locate a treatment for her, but ends up with her grandmother after her mother's death. Her grandmother wants her to marry, but Auma is not willing to give up her dream of being educated. Thanks to her athletic ability, she is granted a scholarship to high school. She is sad to leave her younger sister and grandmother, but knows that getting an education is the only way to make her life better.
Strengths: Excellent #ownvoices look at Kenya at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. This is something that students today hear very little about. I also think it is important for my students to understand that in other places in the world, people have to pay to go to school. The details of every day life are also exquisite; we need more books set in other parts of the world that talk about how other tweens live. Great cover. Pair this with Jan Michael's City Boy (2009), about AIDS in Malawi and how it affects families there.
Weaknesses: The running isn't talked about as much as the cover and title would indicate.
What I really think: Well written, engaging, a great length. I hope to see more books by this author!

Knight, Phil. Shoe Dog: Young Readers' Edition
Paula Wiseman Books, September 26, 2017.
(Actually, read the adult version from the public library.)

I am going to assume that the Young Readers' Edition is somewhat shorter and takes out the one or two cuss words. Probably a little kinder in the descriptions of Knight's coworkers as well. As it is, the adult version was not too bad-- I would probably buy it for a high school library.

Why do we care about Knight? Mainly because of his connections to big names in distance running. When Bill Bowerman coowns your company and designs your shoes and Steve Prefontaine is the first athlete associated with them, you know you're in the big leagues. Not surprisingly for someone who has found so much success in life, Knight does a good job explaining why he was interested in bringing Japanese running shoes to the US in the early 1960s, and how he slowly and painfully built his company to be what it is today. It took a good 20 years for the company to get on solid ground, and another ten before it became the major player that it is. I found the descriptions of Knight's dealings with the Japanese in the days when telephoning and mail were the only methods of contact to be very interesting, his associations with others in the running business engaging, and his stick-to-it-tiveness to be a good lesson for many young people. The history of running as a sport that we get along the way is also good.

A must purchase for any school with a healthy running program. Distance runners are usually also devoted readers!

34460612Leonard, Dion. Finding Gobi: Young Reader's Edition: The True Story of One Little Dog's Big Journey
Published August 29th 2017 by Thomas Nelson

While running a 155 mile, multistage ultramarathon in the Gobi desert, Dion Leonard was repeatedly accompanied by a small dog who would run right along with him despite temperatures of over 120 degrees! At first, Leonard mainly ignored the dog, concentrating instead on being able to finish the race and place well, since he was back after recovering from an injury. After a while, however, the dog's devotion wins him over, and he finds himself curled up with the dog at night, feeding her his precious food, and carrying her over streams. When the conditions are particularly brutal, he does leave her with race organizers. His friends suggest he name her, and she ends up with the handle Gobi. Gobi's enthusiasm at seeing him motivates Leonard to run even when he suffers greatly from the heat, and he finishes second in the race.  Gobi becomes an international phenomenon. Not wanting to leave the dog behind, he starts investigating how he could bring the dog to his home in Edinburgh, Scotland. With the help of his wife, and international animal rescue operation, and a network of Chinese citizens, Leonard spends quite a bit of time and money to clear the path for Gobi to come home with him. Delightful pictures of the two can be found on Twitter @findinggobi, and a movie of the book is in the works.
Strengths: The first part of the book has a lot of fantastic details about running, and the second half is concerned with finding Gobi after she has run away from her caretakers. I appreciated that Leonard discusses how most Chinese do not want to keep dogs as pets, but very clearly shows how this is a cultural difference that we should respect. The book moves quickly, and even though we know there will be a happy ending, the process of getting Gobi "home" is very interesting.
Weaknesses: Sometimes the prose seems a bit overly simplistic. I'm curious to see the adult version. There is even a picture book!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. Dogs AND running. What a fantastic combination!

34218224Reynolds, Jason. Patina (Track #2)
August 29th 2017 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Patty loves to run, but even more than that, she loves winning races. This is understandable, since there is a lot in her life that hasn't worked out. Her father passed away before her younger sister Maddy was born, and a few years after that, her mother lost her legs to diabetes. The girls are fortunate in that their father's brother and his wife (whom they call Momly) are caring for the girls, but they do get to see their mother once a week when they take her to church. The girls attend a fancy charter school, where Patty doesn't feel she quite fits in. She misses her best friend, Cotton, from her old neighborhood. Patty takes very good care of her sister, but is difficult on the track team and at school. When she is assigned a group project in history, she is not excited to work with the other girls, even though they do pick her topic, Frida Kahlo. Patty's event is the 800, so she's not excited to run a relay, either, especially when one of the other girls in the group upsets her with a comment about Momly. When a car accident injures members of her family, Patty learns that she occasionally has to rely on the help of others, and it makes her appreciate the help she has been getting more.
Strengths: Ghost has been wildly popular in my school, so I'm hoping that readers will pick up this second book. The character development really shines in this story, and is very well layered and nuanced-- the whole concept of learning to work in a group is huge, yet rarely discussed in middle grade literature. The details about how Patty and Maddy ended up with their aunt and uncle, as well as their aunt's back story, were realistic and compelling. There is a lot of good track information as well; if I worked with runners doing relays, I'd definitely make them waltz together! The inclusion of the health consequences of diabetes is handled deftly as well.
Weaknesses: I really disliked Patty at the beginning of the book, so I was glad to see her character develop. I wish the coaches were nicer and more helpful. And this is personal-- I was VERY confused by Momly serving turkey legs for dinner every night. I can't say that in 30 years of grocery shopping, I've ever even seen a turkey leg in the store!
What I really think: This is a title that is growing on me. I do love the covers, and can't wait to read the next one!