Saturday, September 30, 2017

Saturday Morning Cartoons- Ordinary Mishaps and Inevitable Catastrophes

33783409Vivat, Booki. Ordinary Mishaps and Inevitable Catastrophes
September 26th 2017 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Abby has decided that Murphy's Law is absolutely true. Just when she thought middle school would be somewhat okay (After Frazzled), everything starts to go wrong. Her sister Clara's cat, Felix, is out to get her, she has to come up with an idea for Invention Convention, and her locker has been taken over by a LOCKER THIEF. Luckily, just about the time that Abby is going to lose it right in the school hallway, the other person using her locker shows up. And she's in Abby's science class! And has to work with her on a project! Even though Abby DOESN'T KNOW HER! It's a new student, Jess, who is unperturbed and equanimous about the ordeal. Jess goes so far as to go to the office to calmly inquire about the situation. Even though the secretary admits there has been a mistake, there are no more lockers to be had, so Jess cleans out half the locker and blithely goes about her business. Abby, meanwhile, has focused her panic mode on coming up with an idea with Invention Convention. Eventually, she introduces Jess to her friends Maxine and Logan, and even invites Jess to Antonia's bakery. Shockingly, the world does not come to an abrupt and bloody end, and Abby even has the revelation that perhaps Jess is so unflappable because of her perception of events.
Strengths: This is a quick, focused story that reluctant readers will breeze through, especially since there are more pictures than there were in the first book. Jess is a great example for Abby, and I'm glad that Abby calmed down a little. Invention Convention is one of the more stressful projects students do, and cats really are evil, so Abby does have a bit more basis in reality for the fears in this book.
Weaknesses: Abby is not a likable character because she is so overly dramatic and makes many of her own problems.
What I really think: I will definitely purchase this one. I talked over the summer to an incoming 6th grader who claimed she didn't like to read, and I handed her Frazzled on the first day of school. She can't wait to get her hands on this one!
Ms. Yingling

Friday, September 29, 2017

Hero: Hurricane Rescue (Hero #2)

31931750Shotz, Hero: Hurricane Rescue (Hero #2)
May 30th 2017 by HarperCollins
Public Library E Book

In this sequel to Hero, Ben and Hero are back. As the weekend approaches, Ben plans to spend it with his friend Noah when his mother and sister travel south. His friend Jack plans to run away with his dog, Scout, to see his father north of Gulfport. When a hurricane changes course and is heading directly to their town, Ben's father tells Ben and Noah to batten down the house and stay in the basement. Of course, they decide to go looking for Jack after telling his mother, a doctor who must report to the hospital, that Jack will be with them. Hero uses his rescue dog skills to locate Jack, who has been pinned beneath a tree. Luckily, he is unhurt, but the boys face alligators, sudden flooding, a mudslide, and a Boy Scout troop whose leader has broken his leg and sends the troop off to safety with the boys.
Strengths: This is a very fast-paced, exciting book with lots of action and adventure packed into the pages! It can be read independently of Hero, but readers who like the first book will be pleased to see another short, riveting book.
Weaknesses: There's not a lot of room for character development, but that's okay.
What I really think: Great pick for reluctant readers who aren't quite strong enough readers for Watt Key's survival books.

Cover image for Hero Rescue MissionComing 31 October 2017!

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Who Killed Darius Drake?

34381594Philbrick, Rodman. Who Killed Darius Drake?
September 26th 2017 by The Blue Sky Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Arthur Bash is a big kid who will menace anyone for a candy bar. He's used to protecting others from the annoying, geeky Darius Drake, so he's surprised when Darius wants to hire him. There's a spooky house by the Stompanado housing development on Rutgers Road, and Darius has gotten a message, written in blood, from that address. It reads "Who killed Darius Drake?" He wants Arthur's back up to investigate. When the boys go into the house, they meet Vincent Meeks, a threatening ex con whose childhood accident has earned him the nickname Scar Man. Eventually, the boys find out that there is a big mystery to be unraveled that involves Darius' grandfather, the long lost Dunbar Diamonds, and Jasper Jones, who lost money to Darius's grandfather. Arthur's step sister Deidre figures early on that the cryptic note refers to the fact that Darius almost died in the car accident that killed both of his parents, and this is the key to many of the clues.
Strengths: After a somewhat rocky start, I really enjoyed this, and the variety of clues and mysteries kept me turning the pages. Arthur was an intriguing character, and his family problems were realistic. Deidre was a great and supportive step sister. Darius's background was interesting, and the creepy old house was cool, even if Arthur was afraid that the floors would cave in!
Weaknesses: This felt a bit dated at first, which is too bad because the ending was much better. The beginning of the book was rocky because Darius lived in an orphanage, Arthur calls himself fat, and the threatening note gave a ScoobyDoo quality to the story. (Jinkies, Velma, it's a clue!)
What I really think: This was a solid story that might take a little hand selling. It's good that it looks like a murder mystery, because my students often ask for those. Not a lot of writers think murder is a good topic for a book for 12-year-olds!

29847480Dairman, Tara. The Great Hibernation
September 12th 2017 by Wendy Lamb Books
Public library copy

Jean Huddy is finally old enough to eat the sacred bear liver that keeps the adult citizens of St. Polonius-by-the-Fjord from falling into a deep sleep. When it makes her sick, her mother refuses to report her, feeling that the tradition, while important, is really rather silly. Of course, the adults in the town DO fall asleep, and the children must band together to keep the town going while they try to solve the mystery and find an antidote for their parents.
Strengths: While this is not a traditional fantasy book, I think I would have to class it in speculative fiction, since the adults do fall into hibernation. The world building is quite complete, although I am not entirely sure where the town is located. This had a Lemony Snicket meets Gilligan's Island sort of vibe-- children having to survive on their own. The sub plot about bringing more technology to the town was interesting.
Weaknesses: Very quirky. While I can see strong 3rd and 4th grade readers thinking this is the best book ever, I don't see my middle school students getting past the whole eating the liver thing.
What I really think: I adore, adore, adore this author's All Four Stars series, but I think I will pass on purchasing this one. The cover is too similar to Bo at Ballard Creek, which does not check out even though I love it.
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

#WNDB- Wishtree, The Pants Project

Applegate, Katharine. Wishtree
September 26th 2017 by Feiwel & Friends
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Red is an oak tree who has been around for over 200 years. She has a number of animal families inhabiting her branches, along with her best friend, the crow Bongo. It is tree policy not to talk to humans, but when a boy carves "Leave" into her bark in an effort to scare off Samar's Muslim family from living in the neighborhood. The tree makes an effort to make Samar's wish come true, and employs various animals in various ruses in order for next door neighboor Stephen to talk to her and become friends. Francesca, who owns the houses where Stephen and Samar live, decides to cut down the tree, which is pushing up the sidewalk, interfering with the plumbing, and causing problems on "Wishing Day" when people follow an old Irish tradition of tying wishes to the tree. Red isn't happy, but starts to make her peace with leaving, although she does break her policy and tells Samar and Stephen the story of a baby left in her care years before. The animals who live in her are less than pleased, and work on a plan. Bongo gives Samar a key on a ribbon; it's the key to Francesca's ancestor's diary, which Samar locates in a storage shed. Stephen rallies his classmates around the tree, and around Samar's family, but will it be enough to save Red from being cut down?
We're Glad You're Our Neighbor Yard SignStrengths: This is certainly on point with current topics in the news, and with multicultural awareness. The sign at left is appearing more and more in my neighborhood. Applegate is a lyrical, effective writer, and I have to admit that I cried a little at certain points of the book. I can see this being used in classrooms, like Palaccio's Wonder, to promote kindness and awareness. I wouldn't be surprised if this won a Newbery Honor.
Weaknesses: This is a very gentle, slow book, narrated by a tree. All of my readers seem to want books that are more fast paced or humorous. Perhaps this would do better with elementary readers or for a class read aloud, delivered by a very enthusiastic teacher.
What I really think: Will probably not purchase. It's a lovely book with an important message, but I don't think I have the readers for it.

30095473Clarke, Cat. The Pants Project
March 7th 2017 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Public library E Book

Note: I use the pronoun "she" for Liv because for most of the book she is living as a girl and has not expressed a desire to use a different pronoun. If there were a sequel, Liv would probably be referred to as "he".

Liv lives with her Mom and Mamma, and goes to a very good private school. As she starts middle school, she's excited but also not happy-- all the girls in her school have to wear skirts, and Liv does not feel like she is a girl. The shoes for the uniform are okay, and she likes her short hair, but the skirt makes her feel highly uncomfortable. She doesn't want to complain, because she hasn't told her parents yet. At school, she is having trouble with her friend Maisie, because Maisie is gravitating toward mean girl Jade and her friends. Jade has made enough comments about how "gross" it is that Liv has two mothers that Liv lies to them and claims that an open house has been rescheduled so that they don't come. Liv does make friends with Jacob, and even wears pants to school with a skirt over them, but she gets in trouble. After that, Liv tries to talk to the principal about how unfair and sexist the rule is, but he won't listen. She starts a petition, with Jacob's help, and eventually comes up with a plan that gets the attention of the news media. Eventually, she is comfortable enough to let Jacob know that she is transgender, and tells her parents as well.
Strengths: This is a great book for middle school about a transgender student. The concerns are middle grade appropriate. Jacob's reaction to Liv's announcement is exactly how we want all of our students to react: you are my friend. I don't care about anything else. Liv's mothers present a little bit of a problem in how Liv's classmates react and how she has to deal with their reactions, but otherwise are just her parents. The issue I have with many LGBTQIA books is that they frequently involve a lot of drinking and descriptive sexual content; this book does not have any of that, for which I am thankful.
Weaknesses: Like Gracefully Grayson, a lot of Liv's discomfort with her gender are manifested through her discomfort with the "gender appropriate" clothing and exterior trappings. I would like to see a book that helps explain, on a deeper level, why a character feels trapped in the wrong body. I also had a LOT of problems believing there were any schools that would not allow girls to wear pants. At the end of the book, I realized that Clarke is a UK author; maybe things are different there. I cannot imagine a school in the US where this would be the case, which made it hard for me to embrace the main premise of the book.
What I really think: We have had several students at various points in similar journeys, so purchased this and it has circulated well. I know that I should rethink my policy to call students "Ms." and "Mr.", but I still like to do that. I may have to start calling transgendered students just by last names, although since I refer to all of my students as "dear" and "sweetie" that seems nicer than calling them "Smith" or "Columbo".

Blathery Notes: And really, EVERYBODY needs an older person in their life who calls them "honey" from time to time. I never go as far as calling everyone "cupcake" one day a year, but I love it when people call me "dear". Also, I love pleated skirts because I'm a bit... oddly shaped and pants are not attractive on me.

Also, I know it's Banned Books Week, and I should be excited, but I'm just not. Should books be challenged? No. But should middle school libraries be expected to have books with graphic sex, profanity, or drinking and drug use? Since a huge percentage of my circulation is books that I personally put into students' hands, it seems... creepy if I give a 12 year old a book from which they could learn details about sex. Or drugs. Or if the book includes curse words which would get them suspended if they used them.

I CANNOT BUY ALL THE BOOKS. Doesn't it just make sense that I buy the books that will get read? Certainly, I try to make sure all students see themselves, but why would I spend money on YA books? The students who really want them can get them in high school, or get a free public library card without ever having to set foot in the library, since our local library delivers to school. I'm just not handing the books to kids.

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Beast and Crown

Ross, Joel. Beast and Crown
August 22nd 2017 by HarperCollins
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Jiyong is a boot boy in the Primstone Manor, where he is friends with Sally, a maid, as well as the governess Roz. When the nephew of the owner of Primstone is chosen to go to the city to participate in the Diadem Rite, he is hopeful that he will be chosen as the heir to the throne. Sally and Ji are glad to accompany him to the city because they hope to buy Sally's brother Chibo from the tapestry factory where her has been working. Brace's uncle doesn't want to take him to the city because of a lotus flower blooming in the tombs under the manor, so Ji and his friends help him sneak in and destroy the flower. This works a little-- Brace will now go to the city, but the children don't have a chance to retrieve the loot they were going to use to buy Chibo. With ogres attacking the city, the Summer Queen is anxious to chose an heir and attend to this impending problem . Unbeknownst to Ji, when he and his friends help Brace in the Diadem Rite, they are not expected to survive. Through an odd set of circumstances, they do, but they are all greatly changed. Will they be able, in their altered forms, to save the kingdom, and can they ever trust Brace or the queen again?

Ross moves from the Steampunk Dystopian world of The Fog Diver to a more traditional fantasy with scullery maids, cloaks, goblins, trolls and ogres. He does introduce a few elements to the world of the Summer Queen with jade, lotuses and dragons, but also haciendas and tortillas. The quest itself hearkens back to The Sword in the Stone, since Brace needs to be the one to retrieve the diadem from a magical tree that tries to thwart him. The beginning of the book, which talks about Ji's job as a boot cleaner, reminded me of Alexander's The Book of Three and and Taran's position as a lowly pig keeper.

While Ji is certainly the driving force in the group, the supporting characters are distinctive as well. Sally is fairly single minded in her desire to retrieve her brother, and she takes to the adventure well. Roz, as a governess, has a large vocabulary and frequently confuses the others with her language. The queen, as well as most of the adults in charge, have a veneer of kindness built upon a hard rock maple base of evil. Brace is a bit of an enigma for most of the book; will he turn up on the side of evil or good by the end?

The plot is easy to follow (which is always important to me, since I frequently find fantasy books confusing) and moves along quickly with the help of quirky goblins, ogre attacks, and frequent flights from the forces of evil. Readers who are looking for a good dose of traditional fantasy that is delivered by series such as McMann's The Unwanteds, Sutherland's Wings of Fire or Owen's
The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica will find that the imaginative twists in Beast and Crown can keep them occupied while they are waiting for the next book in one of these favorites.

That said, I didn't like the use of both Asian inspired elements mixed with phrases like "Holy guacamole" and a passing reference to tortillas when there was the overwhelming feeling of British manor houses with the scullery maids and boot boys. Felt a bit disjointed to me. Finding Chibo was pretty lucky, but I wasn't convinced that Brace was a character that I would want Ji, Sally and Roz to support.

Liss, David. Renegades (Randoms #3)
September 19th 2017 by Simon Schuster Books for Young
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Zeke and his cast of intergalactic friends are back. In order to escape, they go back to Earth and find themselves in a Phandic reeducation school, where they run into some old nemeses. Zeke and the other humans quickly break out of the school so that they can get their more exotic companions away from the Phands, steal a ship, and take off. Of course, nothing ever goes smoothly, and Alice is injured despite her nanotech upgrades, and the group is separated. Zeke ends up on a planet of NICE Phands who don't believe in the groupthink of the Phandic empire. There are problems galore, from nanotech breakdowns to families being taken hostage, but Zeke and his intrepid group embrace adventure and by the end of the book are open to even more.
Strengths: This is a great series for true aficionados of science fiction adventure. The books are long and packed with all sorts of creatures, technology, and action. They are also very humorous, both with the interactions the characters have with each other and in the turns of phrase. Just very fun books for serious readers who can process all of the details of this well-developed world.
Weaknesses: I can't follow these to save my soul. I keep trying to write notes, but then I get caught up in the humor and action, and it's fifty pages later and I can't remember what happened, just that I enjoyed reading the book. Not a problem for my students.
What I really think: These books won't circulate all that frequently, but they will make the right readers very happy!
   Ms. Yingling

Monday, September 25, 2017

2017 Middle Grade Fiction Judges

Hooray! The Cybils panels were announced at!

There were so many good people who applied to middle grade fiction that I tried to put seven people into round two even though we are only allowed to have five. There were a couple of people I would have loved to have, but keep in mind that there are LOTS of other categories. Some had a hard time getting panelists, so consider other divisions if you didn't get picked this year! I'm looking forward to working with the following bloggers:

Round 1
Deb Marshall

Dick Leonardo

Karen Yingling

Mike Lewis

Sarah Sammis

Shannon Griffin 
Stacy Mozer

Round 2
Alex Baugh

Amy Estersohn

Greg Pattridge

Jennifer Rummel

Tara Smith

Ms. Yingling

MMGM- Two Fantastic Titles

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.

Hautman, Pete. Slider
September 12th 2017 by Candlewick Press
ARC graciously provided by publisher upon request

David is interested in competitive eating-- he can eat a pizza pretty quickly, and he's watched a lot of competitions and thinks he could probably do pretty well. When he accidentally bids $2,000 on a half hot dog and his bid wins, he turns to several local competitive eating events to try to earn back the money before his mother sees the charge on her account. He wins a White Castle-type challenge, but only receives a gift card as a prize. This is somewhat helpful as he trains for the Super Pigorino Bowl at the local pizzeria, but he needs the money that winning the competition at the Iowa State Fair will provide. He embarks on a training regimen that involves insane amounts of food, including entire heads of cabbage, for building capacity. In the meantime, he parents aren't thrilled. It's not the academic success that David's older sister, Bridgette has in college, and he doesn't require the care that his younger brother, Mal does. If his mother labeled things, which she doesn't, Mal would be on the more serious end of the autism spectrum. David is very good at caring for Mal, so when David's parents think he needs more of a summer job than choking down pizzas, they have him tend Mal while the his mother teaches a class. David makes some headway with Mal's increased socialization-- Mal travels further, with fewer meltdowns, when he is wearing sunglasses, and David also thinks critically about the charateristics that make food appealing to Mal, and gets him to add several new things to his diet. Eventually, David's parents find out about the credit card bill, so the eating competition becomes even more important. Will David be able to use his skills, as well as his smarts, to figure a way out of his financial and personal crises?

Not only was David a particularly appealing character, and his role in his family realistically drawn, but his sidekicks Cyn and HeyMan were interesting as well. I liked the idea that the three of them had been friends, but now Cyn (whom David finds a bit appealing) and HeyMan are spending more time together but aren't sure if they are ready to be boyfriend/girlfriend. A lot of intriguing relationships going on in this book, and they are not the same old ones typical to middle grade literature.

I've also never seen a novel about competitive eating! It's not a topic that interests me personally, but I can see it being appealing to ever hungry middle school boys who are enthralled by the idea eating fifty slices of pizza or several dozen sliders. The research into training strategies, famous eaters, and different types of competitions is well done, and the creation of a couple of less-than-honest competitors is clever. I especially liked how David got the better of "The Gurge" on more than one occasion!

Of course, the most brilliant thing about this book is the way that it takes a very serious facet of David's life-- his brother Mal-- and frames the relationship the two have with the amusement of competitive eating. David is stoic in the way that many children who have siblings with issues can be, and he is kind and helpful to his brother while being a tiny bit annoyed, but he does feel a lot of pressure to be less of a problem to his parents because of the issues his brother faces. Readers will pick up this book because of the premise and the appealing cover art work, and learn some important life lessons in a way that slips down as easily as pizza crusts dipped in water.

For readers who like Jordan Sonnenblick, John David Anderson, and Gordon Korman and other humorous titles that also include messages of social importance, Hautman's Slider is two delicious and nutritious all beef patties of humor on a sesame seed bun of humanity.

33784946Elliott, L.M. Suspect Red
September 19th 2017 by Disney-Hyperion
E ARC from Netgalley

Richard and his family live near Washington, D.C., where his father does something secretive for the government. They live in a solid, middle class neighborhood with J. Edgar Hoover and other government employees. When a new boy Richard's age moves in, he's glad to find another kindred spirit who liked J.D. Salinger and other books. Vlad's father also works for the government, but his mother is from Czechoslovakia and seems to have somewhat suspect views. McCarthyism is spreading quickly in 1953, with librarians taking books like Robin Hood off the shelves and lots of public figures being accused of being communist. Richard's father (who was involved in enough mission in WWII that he has some intermittent PTSD) is involved in some of the government missions, and hopes that he can redeem a mission gone wrong by bringing in some treacherous Communists. Richard wrongly thinks that Vlad's mother might be dangerous, and tips off his father. As McCarthy's dictatorial ways start to fall into disrepute, Richard and his father become less and less sure that "witch hunting" Communists is the way to go.
Strengths: The details of daily life were fantastic, right from the beginning, and I didn't find any historical anomalies, which made me very happy! Like Wiles' Sixties Trilogy, the chapter start out with period photos and descriptions of what is going on in history. Unlike the Wiles' books, these are short and well placed, and really speak to what is going on in Richard's life. The comparisons to what is going on in today's government are not explicit, but clearly there. Harry Truman. That's what the government needs right now. Harry Truman. Even if he didn't like dogs very much.
Weaknesses: The plot takes a while to develop, but I was so engrossed with the details of Richard's life that I didn't really care. Could have used a few more descriptions of clothing. And cars.
What I really think: So glad to have this to order for the fall! Brilliant depiction of a singular era in US history.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

33783414Burt, Marissa. The 12 Dares of Christa
September 26th 2017 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Christa loves Christmas, and has extensive plans covering everything from decorating to socializing. Even though her family is going to Europe for the holiday because her mother is touring in a play, she knows they can still have an awesome holiday. Right before they are to leave, however, Christa's parents sit her down and break some bad news to her-- they are getting a divorce, and her father will not be traveling with them. Christa is furious with both of them AND devastated that her Christmas plans are never going to be the same! She puts on her best mopey tween mood and takes off for Rome, Paris and London, where she is forced to hang out with the children of other performers and go around in a sightseeing tour with a guide. Her father has arranged for her to have 12 presents and attached dares sent to her, and she enlists the help of some of the other travelers to help her. She has to go outside of her comfort zone a bit (which is tough, especially since she is phobic about new food), and it doesn't help that her mother is apparently dating one of the actors! Even with all of the changes, can Christa manage to have a good holiday?
Strengths: This is a fairly light-hearted tale involving travel to Europe, and it deals with the aftermath of divorce, so this should be appealing to many readers. A light touch of romance for Christa doesn't hurt, and the cover is very pretty. We could use more covers like this one, in fact!
Weaknesses: The way the parents handled the divorce seemed odd, and I could have used a little more explanation about Christa's rather serious food issues.
What I really think: I like my books about traveling to Europe to include a lot less whining, but I think my students will like this one. I do get occasional requests for books about Christmas.

34228320Lundquist, Jenny. The Wondrous World of Violet Barnaby
September 19th 2017 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Violet's mother died of cancer a year and a half ago, and her father has just married one of the teachers in her school, Melanie aka The Hammer. Over Thanksgiving, Violet has to move out of her house and into another one with Melanie and her two children, Olivia and Joey. Melanie seems like the typical evil stepmother-- she won't let Violet paint her room, she has put all of the Barnaby's possessions in the garage, and she keeps "forgetting" that Violet is a vegetarian. Violet is having trouble getting along with her friends Izzy, Sophia and Daisy, who frequently complain about how unpleasant their mothers are. When she is assigned to work on a history project with her crush, Austin, she takes a lot of comfort in commiserating with him, since his mother may move to New York for a year to attend a cooking school. Violet continues to struggle with Melanie's rules and feels that her own interests are not taken as seriously as Olivia's, although she is glad that her father is no longer crying in his bedroom and not paying attention to her. There are some good times, and Violet is surrounded by people who want to support her. She has a counselor at school to talk to, and in the end, Melanie and her children really do want to make a new family that included Violet as well as her father.
Strengths: There need to be more books like Love You Like a Sister that cover the extremely complicated process of merging families in a realistic but hopeful way. I loved the small town community and the close knit relationship between the girls and their families. Violet's processing of her mother's death is realistic, as is her budding relationship with Austin. I thought the use of text messages in this was done particularly well.
Weaknesses: This comes right up to the line of "overly sad".
What I really think: This could be read independently of The Charming World of Izzy Malone, but since I didn't purchase that title, I may pass on this one.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Handbook

Benton, Jim. The Handbook
September 26th 2017 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Jack loves to scavenge things from the trash, so when his elderly neighbors, the Wallaces, relocate to Florida, he hides quite a haul in the garage. Before he knows it, Mr. Wallace is back in his neighborhood, looking disheveled, and talking in hushed tones with Jack's parents about something he can't find. Jack and his friend Mike go through the boxes and find a suspicious book, Favorite Turnip Recipes of the World. This turns out to be a fake cover for the official parenting handbook that has led their parents to spout platitudes about their faces freezing that way and about eating all of their meals because there are starving children in Africa. Mike and Jack, along with Jack's crush, Maggie, read the book and start to manipulate their parents into doing what they want. They convince their parents that ice cream is dairy, and dairy is good, so ice cream for breakfast is fine, which all seems fairly innocuous until The Parents Agency kidnaps the children and the Resistance comes to their rescue. Who knew that parents were so organized in their attempts to control children, or that the children were so tired of doing things that were in their best interest? There is a lot at stake, at Jack, Mike and Maggie need to weigh the social and political importance of The Handbook before deciding their course of action.
Strengths: This was a lot of goofy fun, and the chapters all started with an illustration, although this does not appear to be (from the E ARC) a notebook novel. Jack and Mike are amusing characters, and Jack's crush on Maggie is on point. Children who are tired of their parents telling them to play outside, wash behind their ears, eat their vegetables, and clean their rooms will find some vindication in the actions of the Resistance. In some ways, this is a topsy turvy Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle for the new Millennium.
Weaknesses: The start of this was a bit slow, and a lot of time was spent setting the stage for The Handbook with the parents spouting platitudes. The plot took a while to emerge.
What I really think: While this has more white space on the page than Benton's Dear Dumb Diary series (which is more text dense than the covers would indicate, leading to some unhappy students), I'm just not sure whether I will purchase this one. None of the sides come out looking very charitable.

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Lone Stars Blog Tour

Lupica, Mike. Lone Stars.
September 12th 2017 by Philomel Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Clay loves playing football with his good friends, and football is a family activity in Texas. His mother is a staunch supporter, even though she worries, and she invites his coach, Monty Cooper, over for dinner. When Clay takes a big hit that knocks the wind out of him, he starts to shy away from some of the contact on the field, which he knows is in direct violation to Coach's dictum "don't play scared". When his friend David sustains a concussion on the field, this doesn't help Clay's fear, especially when he researches the long term effects of concussions and starts to suspect that Coach is suffering from some of them. David's sister Maddie is the team manager for the Pop Warner Lone Stars team, and Clay shares his concerns with her. The two also bond over their love for the Alamo, and start texting each other and hanging out together. When Coach seems to have more and more problems with memory, and is involved in a minor auto accident, David and Maddie put some supports in place to help him get through the season. If the Lone Stars can make the championship, Coach can return to the stadium where he played some of his games with the Cowboys, and he also hopes to go to a Cowboys reunion during Thanksgiving weekend. There are a few more injuries on the field, and Clay has to learn to balance his concerns with his need to play football.

Korman's Pop (2009) was one of the first books that addressed the long term effects of "the cost of business" or "bell ringing", eight years later, this has become a cause of great concern that has been well represented in some nonfiction literature, such as McClafferty's Fourth Down and Inches:Concussions and Football's Make-Or-Break Moment and even Steve Almond's adult title, Against Football. What makes Lone Stars successful for me is the clever combination of Clay's fear on the field and his coach's vivid example of what can happen if a player is not cautious.

As always, Lupica really shines when it comes to the female characters in the books. Clay's mom wants him to be concerned, but she doesn't want to scare him. Maddis knows and loves football, and she and Clay are able to hang out comfortably together. Are they dating? They joke about it, but since they are so young, they are okay with being friends for the moment. Maddie also has some great tech skills to help coach out, and she and Clay make a great team.

I was concerned for a while that the Coach's problems would not be brought to the attention of adults who could help him, but Clay and Maddie are responsible kids and know that eventually the matter will become too big for them to handle.

Of course, middle school readers will want the football details more than the emotional ones, and there's plenty of pulse-pounding, on the field action. With David out of commission, the Lone Stars have to learn to work together as a slightly different team, and their process of understanding what they need to do was interesting, even though I didn't understand most of the football plays!

Readers who enjoy Tim Green, Lupica's other books, Rich Wallace, or David Klass will definitely want to pick up Lone Stars. My only complaint is that I thought the ending was rushed-- I was prepared to read another 100 pages to find out how things went after the championship game!

Join the Blog Tour!
Week One:
September 20 – Teachers Who Read – Review
September 21 – Ms. Yingling Reads – Review
September 22 – YABooksCentral – Excerpt with Giveaway
Week Two:
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September 26 – Mom Spot – Review
September 28 – Teachers Who Read – Reviews
Week Three:
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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Way too much fun...

Image result for snowball microphoneI don't do a lot of media production in the library; the teachers always have the video camera out for the Resident Educator program, and I don't have a fancy iStudio because, honestly, my students are more interested in books.

I DO have a Snowball microphone, Audacity software ( and a tambourine of my very own! If you want to make podcasts or even really cool announcements, You might also want to check out the Free Music Archive. (

We collect Boxtops for Education for the library, and this is my attempt to get children to bring them in. Oh! Those Boxtops! 

How have you used recording technology to further your own plans for world domination?
Ms. Yingling

#WNDB Wednesday- Halfway Normal

32179034Dee, Barbara. Halfway Normal.
September 5th 2017 by Aladdin Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

After spending fifth and sixth grade in and out of the hospital while ill with cancer, Norah finally gets to start middle school. It's awkward-- all of her friends are familiar with how everything works, and Norah just feels like she is The Girl Who Had Cancer and that no one really knows how to talk to her. That's why it's a little bit of a relief to be put into 8th grade science and math, since her tutor pushed her further than she would have gotten in school. When she meets Griffin, a new 8th grader, they bond over their love of drawing and mythology. The only problem is that Griffin doesn't know she's in 7th grade, and she doesn't want to tell him that she isn't able to attend after school clubs because her parents are limiting her activities while her immune system is still compromised. This leads to some bad decisions on Norah's part-- she skips health class and stays after school to talk to Griffin, and her divorced parents aren't happy. Her mother eventually has to go home to California, where she is a college professor, and it's tough for Norah to have her go away. A variety of run-of-the-mill middle school things happen to Norah, but they hit her harder since she is still in "re entry mode". She has a lot of people supporting her, but she still just needs To figure out how to make her own way in middle school.
Strengths: While Norah is dealing with the unusual circumstance of having had cancer, most of the problematic situations that bedevil her are completely usual to middle school. Her parents are overprotective. Her friends have grown away from her. She likes a boy. She feels misunderstood, and she occasionally does embarrassing things. These are the sort of realistic problems my students ask for. Bonus points for supportive parents who are still alive, and for making Norah a well rounded character with her own particular interests. I enjoyed this one a lot.
Weaknesses: I know what the cover is trying to accomplish (to look like the adult coloring books that are so popular now), but I'm not sure it works. I'll be curious to see a print copy. The only other thing I would change would be to exclude the student mythology presentations. Somehow didn't work for me.
What I really think: While Ms. Dee certainly brings a deeper level of understanding to Norah's character (and her parents) because her own son had cancer, she does such a well researched, modern problem novel that this would have been excellent anyway. A must purchase for middle school libraries, especially since there aren't a whole lot of books (with the notable exception of Sonnenblick's 2010 After Ever After) about students living with the after effects of cancer.

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Rise of the Jumbies. (Book #2)

33590220Baptiste, Tracey. Rise of the Jumbies. (Book #2)
September 19th 2017 by Algonquin Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

When there is an earthquake in Corine's small town, several children go missing, and because Corine is part jumbie, her neighbors suspect that she might be involved. To find the children, Corinne risks her own fate to meet with Mama D'Leau, who agrees to help if Corinne can retrieve an opal for her. The problem? The opal is located in Ghana, and Corinne and her friends Dru, Malik and Bouki must travel there with four mermaids, Sisi, Addie, Ellie and Noyi. On their way, they come across a wrecked slave trading ship, and realize that there mermaids were girls who were stolen from Ghana. Once in Ghana, Corinee meets Kahiri, who helps the children get something to eat, and is instrumental in helping them locate Mama Wata's opal which Ma Dessaly has. It's not an easy task, but once the group has the stone, they make their way back home, where there has been a terrible fire. The missing children are found, although some have been turned in to douens. Corinne decides to accept Mama D'Leau's offer of turning her into her jumbie self so that she can take Severine far away where she will no longer be a problem. Mama D'Leau says that this will be a permanent change, but Corinne feels that her neighbors will never accept her, so she agrees. Will Corinne and her father be separated forever?
Strengths: Nicely adventurous and dangerous romp in the sea with evil creatures. Corinne's struggles with her identity are well done; she says at one point that she is part human and part jumbie and that she shouldn't have to choose. The details about life on her Caribbean island, as well as the glimpses of life in Ghana, are well drawn and will interest young readers. I have had a number of students from Ghana over the years, and am glad to finally find a book where they might see themselves!
Weaknesses: There were a lot of characters to keep straight, and I never was able to differentiate the mermaids.
What I really think: This would actually be paired quite well with Shackles from the Deep-- there's the wreck of a slave ship AND a mention of a building that sounded a lot like Elmina Castle! I think I liked this sequel even better than the original, which rarely happens. Traveling with mermaids-- how could you go wrong?

Ms. Yingling

Monday, September 18, 2017

MMGM- Survival against the odds

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.

29774947Johnson, Terry Lynn. Falcon Wild
September 19th 2017 by Charlesbridge
E ARC from

Karma works with her family's nature education business, and is hoping that she can become an apprentice falconer. She has a gyr falcon, Stark, but learns that the bird must be returned to its original owners. Her father and brother set out on a trip to Montana to hand off Stark, and briefly pick up a hitchhiker Karma's age along the way. Cooper is uncommunicative, and Karma's father is not pleased. After dropping Cooper off, the family turns down a road and finds that Cooper has taken the family cell phone. This is problematic when a tire on the van blows, crashing it on its side and wounding Karma's father. Stark escapes, and Karma takes off for help after consulting her father. The road doesn't take her where she is expecting, and she falls into a pit. Luckily, Stark has followed her and circles above where she is, and draws Cooper to find her! They both feel bad for how they treated each other, and form an uneasy alliance to get help. Everything that could go wrong does. Karma's arm, which was injured in the crash, starts to get infected; they run into a bear; there's an unexpected dip in the river; it storms; and they are very low on food and supplies. Along with the physical trauma of surviving in the wilderness, Cooper has personal issues to work through, and Karma is greatly concerned for the safety of her brother and father. Can the two find assistance before it's too late?
Strengths: Like Johnson' excellent Ice Dogs, Falcon Wild is rich in details about back country travel and all of the challenges one might face in that environment. Cooper and Karma are not foolish about how they proceed, but they do lack some survival know-how, which gets them into all sorts of trouble. The explanations of how to work with falcons is something I haven't seen often in middle grade- other than Jean Craighead George's classic My Side of the Mountain books, I can't think of any. Readers who may have never been anywhere more dangerous than the devil strip of their own front yard adore gripping descriptions of survival, and Cooper and Karma's tentative friendship as they work together adds some more depth to the story.
Weaknesses: I found it a bit odd that Karma's father would have been so unprepared for a trip. I think I take more supplies on my bike when I go two miles to the library!
What I really think: Survival books are always in demand, and I'll be glad to add this to my library collection.

Yes, yes, we all know how much I love Thatcher Heldring's The Football Girl.
If you want to hear the sound of my voice expounding on just HOW MUCH I love it, head over to Jody Lee Mott's Dream Gardens Podcast (Talking Up The Kids' Books We Love.)

Bound By Ice Blog Tour

34593610Wallace, Sandra Neil and Rich. Bound by Ice: A True North Pole Survival Story
September 19th, 2017, Calkins Creek Books
ARC received from the publisher

In 1879, George W. DeLong attempted to travel to the North Pole, spurred on and funded by Gordon Bennett Hr., the own of the New York Herald newspaper. After the Civil War, there was quite a mania for discovering new places, and at the time there was a belief that there was a tropical ocean at the top of the world. Bennett, who liked any news that would sell papers, even if it were false, thought to capitalize on this fervoe with DeLong's trip. DeLong was a seasoned sailor and a detailed planner who went into the journey well prepared, with an excellent crew aboard his ship, the U.S.S. Jeannette.Not surprisingly, the trip did not go well. The ship was trapped in the ice several times, supplies ran low, men got sick, and finally, when the ship had to be abandoned, men and dogs perished trying to make it to civilization across the forbidding, frigid land. Amazingly, a handful of the men survived. What I found interesting was that the newspaper really didn't get any reports back from DeLong, so it seems like they didn't really get their money worth!
Strengths: The Wallaces do a fantastic nonfiction book. Babe Conquers the World is one of my favorites! The research is impeccable (the bibliography and end notes are especially impressive), but the engaging way the story is told is what will sell the book to readers. It doesn't hurt that the book is nicely formatted. Plenty of white space, period line illustrations from newspapers, and journal entries from crew members all add to this story of survival against the odds. The journals, as well as the information about DeLong, give a personal touch to the book and invites readers to have an emotional investment in the voyage. There are a number of seafaring fiction books with which this can easily be paired; hand it to fans of Flanagan's Brotherband Chronicles while they are waiting for the next book in the series!
Weaknesses: I am not an adventurer at heart, so it is beyond me why anyone would undertake such a voyage! Even though the writing moves the story along, there is a lot of sitting on ships waiting for things to happen. And scurvy, which is never pleasant.
What I really think: Excellent narrative nonfiction on a topic that is not much covered, but would go nicely with Seiple's Igloo and Byrd.

Catch the Blog Tour for Bound By Ice! I'm very pleased to help get the word out about this exciting book, and looking forward to having both authors participate in my Kidlitcon Sports Panel!

Sunday, 9/17     Nerdy Book Club
Monday, 9/18   Mrs. Yingling Reads
Tuesday, 9/19   The Booklist Reader
Wednesday, 9/20 KidLit Frenzy
Friday, 9/22       The Nonfiction Detectives

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sunday Sadness

Blejwas, Emily. Once You Know This
September 19th 2017 by Delacorte Press
E ARC from

Brittney's fifth grade teacher, Mr. McGinnis, likes to teach his students cultural things as well as the regular school topics, and he encourages them to keep notebooks of their dreams. It's hard for Brittney, because her family is struggling. Her father was a Polish student who disappeared when her mother became pregnant, and now she, her mother, and her younger brother Tommy live with her mother's grandmother. Jack, her mother's boyfriend, is frequently abusive to her mother, and the grandmother is sinking deeper and deeper into dementia and illness. There is rarely enough food to go around, and trips to the food pantry and WIC become more and more frequent. When a birthday card arrives for the grandmother from Alabama, signed "Fuzzy", Brittney manages to hunt down a great uncle who still lives near her grandmother's house. As Jack's behavior becomes more erratic and money becomes tighter, Brittney tries hard to come up with a "plan B" that will help her family survive.
Strengths: I liked that this gave some details about the social services that people who are struggling can access. Students who may need them may learn something useful, and students who don't need them might come to understand a bit more how difficult life can be for others. I liked that the mother had friends that stepped in when they could, and especially liked that Brittney knew to try to get help for her mother because of Jack's behavior. Mr. McGinnis was a sympathetic teacher who didn't pry too much.
Weaknesses: I wished that Brittney had been portrayed as older; she seemed too self aware for a fifth grader.
What I really think: I'm debating this one. It seems a bit slow as well as sad, so it will probably go on my list of books that I will buy if there is money left over. I wish I could buy everything, but where would I put that many books?

Yeh, Kat. The Way to Bea
September 19th 2017 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

Bea is experiencing lots of changes as she goes into 7th grade. She and her best friend, S. aren't speaking after a summer of being apart, and Bea's mother is expecting. Bea feels alone and anxious, and writes haiku in invisible ink, hiding them in a wall, in order to try to cope with her feelings. When someone writes back to her, she is hopeful that her friend is willing to reconcile, but after a while, suspects that the writer may be someone else. There is an understanding librarian, Ms. Rodriguez, who gives Bea a space to decompress; the school literary magazine office. Another student, Will, seems to need to space to be dim and quiet even more than Bea does, and Bea is befriended by the quirky Briggs and Jaime as well. Will (who is not labeled as being on the Autism spectrum, although a note at the back of the book mentions Asperger Syndrome) is slightly obsessed with a labyrinth on a local estate, and Bea tries to get him access to it. Everything comes to a crisis when Bea's mother goes into labor and Bea must abandon Will just as he is set to go through the labyrinth. Luckily, her new friends help her, and she manages to reconnect with her older friends, as well.
Strengths: Definitely on trend with the current fascination middle grade authors have with students with anxiety issues. Bea's parents aren't dead, and while they are supportive, have their own interests that keep them from paying too much attention to Bea. It's good to see middle school students being allowed to work through their own problems. Briggs is a fantastic character (even if he wouldn't be allowed to wear the fedora at my school), and Will is accurately portrayed. The drama of friends distancing themselves is one that will speak to many tweens.
Weaknesses: I found it hard to believe that Bea wouldn't have returned Briggs' interest. The frequent discussions of poetry will not be intrigue my students.
What I really think: This is certainly more upbeat than this author's The Truth About Twinkie Pie, but ultimately a bit long, slow and quirky. I can see this getting a lot of attention from teachers and librarians, and can see it being used as a whole class novel on challenges.

34050819Fusco, Kimberly Newton. Chasing Augustus.
September 19th 2017 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young
E ARC from Netgalley

Rosita (Rosie!) has had some challenges. Her mother moved to California when Rosie was a year old because she just couldn't be a mother. Rosie's father ran the local doughnut shop, but when he has a serious stroke, Rosie has to move in with her grandfather Harry. He's an irascible old coot who subsists on sardines and crackers, and doesn't want to be saddled with a grandchild. He and Rosie's mother have also given away Rosie's dog, Augustus. The dog, also known as Gloaty Gus, was smelly  and ill-behaved, but Rosie loves him and makes every effort to find her dog. With the help of a neighbor boy, Phillipe, she manages to track down her dog after a lot of searching, finding him with an unlikely new owner. Can she convince Harry to bring the dog back home, and will Gus' presence make her life any better.
Strengths: Dogs are very important, and Rosie's longing for her dog is completely understandable. Readers who like sad stories will enjoy the gritty, horrible town and the difficult, somewhat unpleasant characters. Rosie's mother, in particular, is not a nice person.
Weaknesses: This was quirky and sad, but also rather slow moving.
What I really think: As much as I love my dog and understand the need that Rosie has to find hers, there were too many unpleasant characters in the book for me to really connect with any of them. Readers who want sad dog stories may still want to take a look at this.

33877154Griffin, Paul. Saving Marty
September 19th 2017 by Dial Books for Young Readers
ARC provided by the publisher

Lorenzo Ventura lives on a peach farm, Maple Clutch, in southwest Pennsylvania with his mother and his grandfather, Double Pop. His father was killed while serving in the military, and the farm is not making a lot of money, so Lorenza mother is trying to cobble together loans, part time jobs, and business schemes to keep it afloat. After their pig has a litter, all of the animals are sold off, and when their dog, Bella, also has a litter, the plan is the same. However, one of the piglets got overlooked and gets adopted by Bella. Soon, Marty (named after Lorenzo's deceased father) thinks he is a dog. Lorenzo is fond of the animal and hopes he can keep him, even though his mother is constantly saying he has to go. Lorenzo's best friend, Paloma, gets involved in different schemes with Marty, such as entering him in a dog race to win money. As Marty gets bigger and bigger, he gets more and more destructive, but Lorenzo stills wants to keep him as a pet. When Paloma goes off to a music camp and secrets about his father's fate are revealed, Lorenzo is even more determined to keep Marty, since the pig is his only companion. Will he be able to save Marty?
Strengths: Marty does not die at the end of the book, which I was expecting. Griffin knows how to tug at the heart strings, and there are some clever and unusual elements in the setting and characters.
Weaknesses: This was very, very sad. The big secret (highlight for spoiler): Lorenzo's father committed suicide a week before Lorenzo was born. Why would you ever let a child find that out? Lorenzo was fine before finding that out.  It was a bit odd that Lorenzo thought about his father so much, since he never met him. The mother's exasperation and wishy-washiness over the pig annoyed me. If she was having money problems, she should have worked with her father, come up with a plan, and moved on. Instead, it takes the pig nearly killing the grandfather before they arrange to get rid of it? Lots and lots of bad choices made by everyone in the book. 
What I really think: Will pass on purchase.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Saturday Morning Cartoons- No Place Like Home

34051360Holm, Jennifer L. and Matthew. Swing It, Sunny
September 12th 2017 by Graphix
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Sunny is back from her big Bicentennial summer grandfather's in Florida and trying to get back into the swing of life without her brother Dale. He is enrolled in a military school and very angry at their parents, so he won't even really talk to Sunny on the phone. Sunny hangs out with her friend watching t.v. after school, helps with her little brother, and wishes things were the way they had been before. She goes trick or treating as a nurse, and she and her friend later ambush neighborhood rowdies who have stolen someone's candy. Dale visits during Christmas but is very negative and isn't thrilled with her gift of a pet rock. As the year wears on, an older girl who is on the flag line moves in and teaches Sunny how to twirl flags. Dale starts to be more communicative, and Sunny's disposition improves a bit.
Strengths: The details in the pictures and the size and length of the text is exactly what my students prefer, and the story of Sunny's brother's problems is done with a deft touch-- not too many details, and focused on how Sunny feels. The color scheme and the details of Sunny's house are EXACTLY correct. Aside from the fact that my parents had a 1960s television console in a different corner of the room, the family room looked exactly like the one I grew up in! Children really did watch a lot of Gilligan's Island and Brady Bunch after school, although I was never allowed to watch t.v. if I had friends over. Loved the grandfather. Great introduction to a time period with a story that is accessible to current 12 year olds!
Weaknesses: I wished there had been a few more details about middle school and middle school culture in 1977. Maybe in the next book! In general, graphic novels leave me wanting a lot more information about what a character is doing and thinking. If this would have been a regular novel, I would have loved it more, but since the Holms do a perfectly formatted graphic novel for middle grade, my students won't feel this way. Could have used a little more information on the flags-- was it color guard? Flag line? My cousin was a majorette, but I didn't pay much attention other than watching the half time shows she was in.
What I really think: Buying these in PermaBound or FollettBound format so that they last a bit longer.

34228234Romito, Dee. No Place Like Home
September 19th 2017 by Aladdin
 E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Ever since her mother's death, Kenzie has not had a permanent home. She travels from hotel to hotel with her father, an environmental consultant who home schools her and who has a roster of nannies in every town who can watch her when he is at work. When He gets a posting to Las Vegas for six weeks, he enrolls Kenzie in middle school. She's apprehensive, but thrilled for the opportunity to be a "real" student once again. Even though she knows she will soon be leaving, she tries out for the lead in the play (Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz), irritating Shelby, who wants the role. She also runs for class president against the cute Tate, with her new friend Ashia as her vice president. Of course, she gets the part and a vice presidency, and also joins the book club. She still spends her weekends traveling with her dad, and makes a new friend in D.C., Mayleen. Eventually, she has to tell everyone that she is leaving, and no one is at all happy. The principal even tells her that she should do the open skate anymore, to give her classmates time to get over their trauma. Of course, after she tells everyone she's leaving, her dad lets her know more about his plans. Kenzie has to really think about what she really wants out of life-- more adventure, or a more stable home and school life.
Strengths: Kenzie is an interesting character with a fascinating life, and it's intriguing that she is able to go so easily to the forefront of middle school society. My students love the Aladdin M!X books and would pick this up just for the cover. The writing is great, and the story has realistic middle grade emotions. The way that Kenzie deals with the absence of her mother is very well balanced, which is hard to find in middle grade books.
Weaknesses: This had two very overdone topics-- school elections and school plays. Books with those elements just do not circulate with my students, and I am personally very weary of reading about them. (Oddly, many books cover both topics. Or add bullying into the mix, which is also overdone.)
What I really think: I will buy this one if I have money left over at the end of the year.