Sunday, December 31, 2017

Snow Lane

34499246Angelini, Josie. Snow Lane
January 2nd 2018 by Feiwel & Friends
E ARC provided by

In 1985, Annie is the youngest of nine kids in a Catholic family, which was an unusually big family for the time. Some of her siblings are nice; some are not. Her father works several jobs, and her mother struggles to keep up with the demands of so many children. Life has its good moments, like when Annie gets to work on her aunt and uncle's farm, and it's bad, which mainly include her sister Fay. Mainly, however, life involves the day to day struggle to make it through the day. Since Annie has some health problems (she is prone at various times to vomiting and fainting, due to poor nutrition) and isn't able to keep up with the clothing trends at her school, she's glad to have the quirky Kristin for her friend. She is also pleased when Jordan, a boy in her class, is willing to spend time with her. This makes up for her difficult family life, but when her sister Nora goes missing, family secrets bubble to the surface.
Strengths: Middle grade readers are enthralled with the idea of large families, and the details of the day-to-day existence of the youngest child in such a family will appeal to my readers who like sad stories. Annie's life is a struggle overlaid with enough of a mystery to keep the pages turning. Something is very wrong in Annie's world even though she tries to make her life seem ordinary. Her relationship with Jordan is very sweet. The cover is great-- pretty, but darkly atmospheric.
Weaknesses: The ending is a bit abrupt. It's good to have answers, but they arrive all in a giant clump.
What I really think: Found myself liking this more than I thought I would. Definitely purchasing for my 7th grade girls who want depressing books every February. I'd never heard of this author, who generally does paranormal, YA type books.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, December 30, 2017

TBH, This is SO Awkward

34848219Greenwald, Lisa. TBH, This is SO Awkward: A Novel in Text
January 2nd 2018 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Gabby, Priyanka and Cecily have been friends for a long time, but settling into middle school is taking some time. They aren't supposed to be texting during school hours, but they manage to use the small moments they can find to keep each other updated by text or e mail on everything that is going on. They all have their issues-- Gabby's parents are divorced and she may have to move, Priyanka has a crush on a boy, and Cecily gets caught in them middle of new girl Victoria's attempt to break into her social circle by getting involved in the dance committee the girls are on. Victoria is a bit pushy, as is her mother, who e mails the principal and the PTA when she feels her daughter is being ignored. The principal decides that if students can't be kind to each other while using social media, there will be no school dance, so the girls have to band together to make sure that the dance is a reality. This is told entirely through text with a LOT Of emojis.
Strengths: Today's readers will be very familiar with this format, and trying to read a story about people they don't know might be an interesting exercise in determining how much is NOT conveyed through text messages! It is kind of amazing hoe much of the characters' personalities is conveyed in very few words, and I enjoyed this more than I thought I would.
Weaknesses: The use of e mail by the students already seemed dated, and since I have a dumb phone, this was VERY difficult for me to read! I really enjoyed the characters and the storyline, so I wish this had been a traditional story so it could have been fleshed out more. I hope this doesn't become a series. One is quite enough.
What I really think: If I buy this, it will be because I love this author and because I think this book will be a historic artifact very soon, kind of like the books I have about computer dating or VCRs that enable children to travel through time.

Ms. Yingling

Friday, December 29, 2017

Slider's Son

34415787Davis, Rebecca Fjelland. Slider's Son
September 12th 2017 by North Star Press of St. Cloud
Copy received from the author for Cybils Award nomination

The Great Depression has hit the small North Dakota town where Grant O'Grady lives pretty hard, but things are decent for Grant, since his father, Slider, is the town policeman. The family still struggles a bit, and Grant joins his friends in picking up pieces of coal that fall of the passing trains so that the family can heat their home, and hopes to pursue a professional baseball career in order to better his life. His friend Little Joe has bigger problems. His mother is Native American (Mandan Nation) and his father, Big Joe not only drinks more than Slider (who seems to have a verifiable problem), but is abusive to his wife and children. He even manages to break Grant's arm vary badly after the two have a run in. At the very beginning of the book, we find that Big Joe has been killed and left in the family's cellar, and the family is nowhere to be found. The book goes back over the incidents that lead up to this event. We see lots of evidence about how difficult life was at this period in time, including a child who has tuberculosis, a grandmother who has cancer and refuses treatment, and elderly neighbors who struggle with having enough food.
Strengths: This was well researched, and moved quickly, especially since it started with the graphically macabre description of Big Joe's demise. I like the small details, like the store heating the area by burning old tires in a barrel, and small glimpses into the daily life of teens at the time. Not as many opportunities for children to climb up things or shoot things today!
Weaknesses: This had a lot of mature content and was not for readers sensitive to corpses or domestic abuse. I think the issues with Native Americans were well researched, vetted, and handled fairly, but there still may be some who complain.
What I really think: This would have been a bit more clever if Slide would have been the abusive father. This will be a title that selected students will find helpful for the language arts project that involves historical fiction from this time period, and is a great companion to books like DeFelice's Nowhere to Call Home and Hunt's No Promises in the Wind.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Gravedigger's Club

32446366Harris, Robert J. The Gravedigger's Club (The Artie Conan Doyle Mysteries #1)
May 1st 2017 by Kelpies
Copy received from the publisher for the Cybils Awards

Artie and his friend Ham are on an extended break from their boarding school because it has to be repaired, so they are trying to find things to keep themselves occupied. They have heard rumors that odd things are occurring in local church yards, so sneak out at night to investigate. It's not that hard-- Artie's father is a bit too fond of drink, and not as fond of going to work as he should be. The two manage to get in with some of the local constabulary as well as some local gravediggers, and uncover a number of mysteries. Is it really the ghost of the Gray Lady wandering about looking for her true love, or are there more sinister forces on the prowl in 1870s Edinburgh, Scotland?
Strengths: I have a great fondness for Harris, whose work with Jane Yolen (the young Greek heroes series, as well as the Stuart Quartet) is quite superb. I wasn't aware he had done so many other books, but most of his work doesn't seem to have made it to this side of the pond. I'm also a great fan of this time period, and the Andrew Lane Young Sherlock Holmes series is great fun. It's an interesting twist to be reading about this time period through the lens of Doyle rather than Holmes, and Ham and Artie tackle their investigations with great good humor and a sense of derring-do. The mention that Greyfriar's Bobby, the dog, had just passed away after sitting at his master's grave for 14 years was a nice touch.
Weaknesses: The boys seem to get away with a lot of things that children today would not be able to manage, and the book in general might be hard for young readers to understand. A bit more background information might have been helpful for clueless US readers.
What I really think: The paperback of this is actually available through Follett, so take a look if Lane's series, or Holmes stories in general, are popular in your library. I will probably pass, since the Lane is only checked out by a couple of my readers every year.
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Gift (Birdie Mae Hayes #1)

34138396Agee, Jeri Anne. The Gift (Birdie Mae Hayes #1)
November 7th 2017 by Sky Pony Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Birdie Mae lives in a small town in Alabama with her very young brother, Bubba (who likes to run around after stripping off his clothes, hence the cover), and her parents, who operate the only grocery store in town. She's concerned when she gets a new neighbor, but Doyle Baker seems fairly nice. When her father finds out that the Bakers are opening a new grocery store on the other side of town, though, she is worried that the family business will be negatively impacted. Not only that, but she starts to see things before they happen, like Doyle falling out of a tree. After a few more incidents like this, she talks to her parents, who send her off to spend some time with her grandma Mae, who has the same ability. Once she knows she is not imagining things, Birdie learns to deal with her new skill.
Strengths: Nice length, well illustrated, good length early chapter book. Birdie's interactions with Doyle and the children at school are realistic and well done.
Weaknesses: Birdie Mae's "gift" is presented in a way that makes it seem VERY real. Since the target demographic has a hard enough time discerning fantasy from reality, this could be both good and bad.    This is definitely a fantasy book.
What I really think: This is a bit too young for my students, and a bit too Alabama for me.

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Wizards of Once

34523213Cowell, Cressida. The Wizards of Once.
October 3rd 2017 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Public library copy

In Ancient Briton, there is the magic son of a Wizard, Xar, and the daughter of the queen of the Warriors, Wish. Xar has no magic, and Wish wants to embrace magic, even though her people are against it and are trying to remove all of it from the world. Xar is trying to get some magic, and thinks that it is a good idea to mix the blood on a sword that Wish has with his own blood. He's a bit unsure whose blood it is, but it turns out to be from a witch. Witches are terribly dangerous, and everyone thought they were gone, although one shows up and is dispatched by Xar and his many magical companions. Unfortunately, his sprite Squeezjoos is injured by the blood, and Wish and Xar approach Wish's mother to see if she can save him. Since both Xar's father and Wish's mother are cut from the same cloth as many British parents (odd and a bit abusive), this request is just made more difficult. Complications ensue, a magical witch killing sword figures largely, and a tenuous peace comes to the world of the witches and warriors, waiting for the next book in the series.
Strengths: This will be popular with fans of Cowell's How to Train Your Dragon series, and seems very familiar. It's got a vaguely Monty Python-esque vibe to it, with lots of goofy characters, the sort of wizards vs. warriors scenario that shows up in lots of books, and has illustrations as well. The cover is quite nice. The parents do improve, and Xar does become less obnoxious as the book goes on. He and Wish are able to work together.
Weaknesses: Nothing particularly new or fresh about the story.
What I really think: There's something about some illustrations of noses that I find really repugnant. Ignatow's Popularity Papers has them, and Cowell's work does as well. Also, there are SOOOO many fantasy books based in ancient British mythology, and I think we just need to say no more. With the influx of new books with fantasies based in other cultures, I would rather spend my money diversifying my collection instead of adding the 200th book that seems vaguely like it's related to the story of King Arthur.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas!

34314557Huett, Caleb Zane. Top Elf
September 26th 2017 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Ollie is happy living at the North Pole and working in the Games and Puzzles division with his good friend Celia, so he's concerned when Santa wants to retire and wants to have a contest to pick his successor. Ollie thinks that one of his children should be picked, but warms to the idea of an elf being in charge. The contest is only for elves under the age of 16, and Celia and Ollie decide that they would be better choices than some of the entrants. One seems especially suspicious-- Ramp claims to be 16 but seems much older, and isn't very competent. There are a lot of contests, from working in the mail room, to a sleigh design challenge and race. Ollie and Celia work together and support each other, although some of the other contestants try to sabotage each other; Andrea tells Ollie that reindeer really like jokes, for example, which almost causes him to not be able to assemble a team of the acerbic and contrary creatures. Both elves do well and advance, and Ollie is glad to work with his mother on designing a new Santa suit. It's an oddly close competition, and when they get right to the end, there is an even bigger problem that might effect the energy that runs the entire North Pole. Of course, Celia and Ollie don't worry about the next competition, but instead try to avert the treachery. Will it be enough to convince Santa to leave Christmas in their capable hands?
Strengths: There aren't a whole lot of Christmas themed books, and there are always students who want some. This is funny, and will appeal to holiday loving readers from 2nd to 8th grade. There are enough descriptions of the North Pole for readers who just like Christmas, but a fair amount of action and adventure to move the story along. The cover will be great in holiday displays.
Weaknesses:This would have been even better if it had been a bit shorter-- some of the competitions drag on a bit.
What I really think: . If any book ever begged for illustrations, this would have been it! I'll probably buy a copy to have on hand for when Funke's When Santa Fell to Earth is checked out.

I do have my concerns about the inclusion of the HeatMiser and SnowMiser. Did the author get permission from Rankin Bass to use these? They are in the stop action The Year Without a Santa Claus. That is based on Phyllis McGinley's 1950s poem by the same name that ran in Good Housekeeping magazine, but I'm pretty sure those characters weren't in the poem. HeatMiser and SnowMiser are not folk characters, so it was odd to see them included. And now their songs are firmly stuck in my mind!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Girl Who Saved Christmas

34298770Haig, Matt. The Girl Who Saved Christmas
October 31st 2017 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

In Victorian London, Amelia Wishart lives a miserable existence in a small flat with her dying mother, who had worked as a chimney sweep. Amelia takes up the job, but meets with disaster while cleaning Mr. Creeper's chimney. It's horrible news, therefore, when her mother tells her that Amelia will be taken care of when her mother passes... by Mr. Creeper. Creeper manages the local work house, which has all of the components of a Dickensian novel; gruel, washing floors, and quantities of downtrodden orphans. Amelia is different. During the past Christmas, she was visited by none other than Santa Claus himself, and was given a bit of hope that things would be okay. She also has the comfort of her cat, Captain Soot, but loses all hope when Creeper forces her into the work house and makes her give her cat to none other than Charles Dickens, whom she sees on the street. At the North Pole, Amelia's plight is having an impact. There is a vicious troll attack on the elf village, Elfhelm, and Santa does not seem to have enough magic to get his sleigh air born. Santa decides that the best way to get magic back is to find some hope in the world, and he believes that this hope resides with Amelia. He takes his sleigh as far as London on Christmas Eve, and looks for the girl. Will he be able to find her in time to deliver presents to all the children of the world?
Strengths: The Victorian London setting is appealing, and the illustrations by Chris Mould have their moments. Including Charles Dickens as a character works as well; it sounds as if the man did travel about a bit, so it's possible he might have run into a child such as Amelia. The details of the elf village and the personalities of the reindeer all add to the mythology of Santa. Reading this would not convince any younger child that Santa was not real.
Weaknesses: This had some really sad moments, and the plot device of having Christmas imperiled is not really new.
What I really think: There aren't a lot of middle grade novels about Christmas, and children ask. This might be more popular in elementary schools than in middle schools.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Secret Snowflake and The Twelve Pets of Christmas

34219884Garland, Taylor. Secret Snowflake.
October 10th 2017 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Library copy

Riley is super excited about the Secret Snowflake project that her language arts teacher, Mrs. Darlington, has assigned to help the students be more aware of what it takes to be a great friend. When she gets the name of her long time crush, Marcus, she's thrilled and plans a series of homemade gifts for him. She thinks that Marcus might have her name, too, and is impressed with how thoughtful and perceptive her gifts are. Riley and Sophia pay a lot of attention to the project and realize that Alice, a new girl, could use some friends. Riley is also enjoying her choral group, which spends the holidays going to nursing homes and malls to spread holiday spirit, and makes a new friend in Jacob, the only other 7th grader in the group. As the holidays approach, there is cooking baking, carol singing, and hanging out with friends, but when the big Secret Snowflake reveal party happens, she realizes that her perception of classmates hasn't been entirely accurate.
Strengths: Super cute and fun! I also appreciated that while this is clearly Christmas related, the book celebrates the holiday season in a cultural rather than religious way. Many of my Muslim students are great fans of this type of romantic school story, and this is heavy on the US celebration of the holiday without getting into religious details. I'm a big fan of the Generic Holiday Bush and Winter Carols for this reason!
Weaknesses: I wish that Marcus had redeemed himself , but his depiction is probably more typical of the average, jerky middle school boy. As much as I want every middle school boy to be just like Heldring's Caleb in The Football Girl, it's not going to happen in fiction OR in real life.
What I really think: Only two in the series so far, and I bought them without reading them. I would gladly buy two dozen in a series of these!

34219886Garland, Taylor. The Twelve Pets of Christmas
October 10th 2017 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Library copy

Quinn volunteers at the local animal shelter, and paints ornaments of the Twelve Pets of Christmas that the shelter is featuring in December. Everyone is so pleased with them that she gets lots of orders for custom ornaments. She plans on donating half of her proceeds to the shelter and using the other half to fly out to visit her best friend, Annabelle, who moved away at the start of the school year. Quinn is especially fond of one of the dogs, Buddy, who has made quite an impression on one little boy. Unfortunately, Charlie's mother is in school and can't afford the expense of a pet. Quinn and her new friend, Eliza, spend a lot of time helping out the shelter and finding ways for pets to be adopted. In the end, Quinn finds a way to help Buddy and Charlie as well.
Strengths: Pet and shelter stories are always popular, and I liked that Quinn dealt with difficulties in her life with support from those around her. A mother is never mentioned, but this book lacks the typical hand wringing about the situation. It's nice to see Quinn and Eliza connect over a shared interest, and Quinn's entrepreneurial spirit is a good example.
Weaknesses: This is a perhaps overly positive and sentimental view of a pet shelter; readers who want to volunteer at an actual shelter might be disillusioned.
What I really think: Well done, Little, Brown! If I had tween girls on my Christmas list, these books would definitely be in their stockings. Great covers, fun stories, even a cute small size!

Ms. Yingling

Friday, December 22, 2017

Here, There, Everywhere

33913899Durango, Julia and Terrones, Tyler. Here, There, Everywhere.
December 19th 2017 by HarperTeen
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Zeus (Jesus Bjorn Gunderson) has been moved with his young brother Manny (Grub)from Chicago to the small town of Buffalo Falls. His mother has a vegetarian cafe that's she's trying to make successful, and one of her summer specials is free delivery between 11 and 2. Guess who gets to deliver? Because the family is struggling financially, and the town is small, Zeus goes everywhere on his bike, including the local old folks home on the top of a hill. While delivering there, his younger brother takes a liking to a gentleman who fought in WWII and still inhabits that world in his mind, and Zeus meets Rose, the daughter of a nurse who plays piano for the residents. The two hit it off and start to date, and Zeus becomes interested in the older residents and their quirks. He manages to make some new friends in town and even puts together a band. Things aren't easy with Rose-- she wants to go to an art school in New York, and if his mother's restaurant fails, Zeus might have to move back to Chicago. When mementos are stolen from residents of the memory care unit, Zeus steps in to solve the mystery, and life just goes on in a pleasant, if sometimes sad, fashion.
Strengths: I really enjoyed this one. It reminded me a bit of Hautman's Slider, in that Zeus is taking care of a younger brother while going about his normal life and having a pleasant romance. There's a lot of kissing, but nothing more described, and it's just very sweet. I liked that the family was struggling but working hard toward a long held dream. Zeus was a typically clueless teen boy who wasn't sure what he wanted out of life. Also slightly reminiscent of Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie, with the nursing home connection.
Weaknesses: Two completely random f-bombs, one uttered by one of the residents. I may just white those out, I liked this so much, but WHY?????
What I really think: We need so many more realistic, fun books for older teen boys, and this was perfect.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Christmas in Cooperstown

34050854Kelly, David A. Christmas in Cooperstown (Super Special #2)
Illustrated by Mark Meyers
September 26th 2017 by Random House Books for Young Readers

Mike and Kate are at the Baseball Hall of Fame wrapping presents for a local charity. One of the organizers of the event, Grace, is also trying to get funding for a new community building where children can spend time but also get access to important social services. The wrapping party turns into a sleepover at the Hall of Fame, and when Mike and Kate do some after hours snooping, they find out that the rare Honus Wagner baseball card in the museum display is actually a fake! Mysteries are right up their strike zone, so they start to look for clues and possible suspects. These range from a famous baseball player who visited the museum to a photographer, but the real culprit turns out to be someone that they were not expecting!
Strengths: Filled with lots of interesting information about baseball history as well as preparations for Christmas, this super special is a power hitter that will leave readers waiting for the next Ballpark Mystery on-deck. I especially liked all of the historical notes at the back, and loved that Mike was able to determine that the Wagner card was a fake with his flashlight. It's also great to see Kate and Mike work together.
Weaknesses: Mike and Kate are shown wearing proper pajamas at the museum overnight event. Do tweens wear actual pajamas anymore? They'd be more likely to wear workout gear, but since I think proper pajamas are a good idea, maybe Meyers should also have put them in robes!
What I really think: These are quick, fun reads for elementary or struggling middle school readers. I would LOVE for Kelly to write a similar series with basketball or football, since those sports books are definitely more in demand. My theory is that people who like baseball are just smarter and more inclined to read books!

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A Dash of Trouble (Love Sugar Magic #1)

29918993Meriano, Anna. A Dash of Trouble (Love Sugar Magic #1)
January 2nd 2018 by Walden Pond Press

E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Leo (Leonora) is tired of being the youngest of five girls, all of whom get to work at their mother's bakery on a school day the day before the town of Rose Hill, Texas' celebration of Día de Muertos. She is so angry that she skips out of school during the Halloween parade to spy on her family, and finds that there is magic involved in the bakery! When she goes to the celebration, she hangs out with Caroline, who had moved away to Houston but is back after the death of her mother. Caroline and her father are getting along fairly well, but Leo still feels a bit awkward around her friend. Brent, Caroline's next door neighbor, brought over her homework and visited her every day since the beginning of the school year. Leo feels bad that she wasn't a better friend, and Caroline is thankful that Brent visited but didn't belabor her grief. After Leo finds out about the magic, she tries to get more information from her sisters about what she will be able to do. The girls are not initiated until they are 15, and Leo does not want to wait four more years, so she borrows the magical recipe book and makes some attempts at magical baking which go fairly well. Buoyed by her successes, she decides to tell Caroline about her skills when Caroline mentions that she wrote Brent a thank you note, and he is now avoiding her. Leo tries a romance cookie that makes Brent fall in love with the whole world, and when she tries to remove the spell, things go terribly wrong and she must go to her family for help. In the end, her mother tells Leo that she has to follow the rules of magic and to talk to her family about her plans.
Strengths: The Texas setting and the description of Leo's supportive, involved family are very nice. While Leo's sisters aren't mean to her, they do treat her like a small child, and I think that is a realistic family dynamic. Caroline's situation is not overly dramatized, and it's good to see her and her father making small strides toward the new normal. The inclusion of Latinx culture by an #ownvoices writer in a very natural way was delightful.
Weaknesses: Leo's pretty bratty, and I was more bothered than I should have been about her flippant attitude toward magic and its dangers.
What I really think: This will be good for my students who want magical realism. Callaghan's Just Add Magic, Dunbar's The Truth Cookie, Giada De Laurentiis's Recipe for Adventure series and Littlewood's Bliss series are all very popular in my library, so this will be a good addition to the collection.
  Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Ice Cream Summer and Once Upon a Winter

This fall. Not been good. I've managed to continue to post a book a day because I read like a maniac over the summer, but I've only read 786 books of my 820 goal. Recent bout of strep throat with lingering brain-full-of-snot has not helped matters! This is why some of my reviews were very half baked this fall.

Two more days of school, and then winter break. I hope to recuperate, regroup, and come back a healthier and more motivated librarian in January!

32333142Atwood, Megan. Ice Cream Summer (Orchard #1)
May 2nd 2017 by Aladdin
Copy checked out from The Ohio E Book Project

"Every summer the Garrison Family Apple Orchard opens its ice cream stand and lets two kids run the show. Now it’s best friends Lizzie and Sarah’s turn.

When new kids Olive and Peter join their ice cream team. Sarah had big plans and she’s not too happy about sharing the stand or her best friend. But a disaster at the grand opening results in a mysteriously empty cash register, these four kids have to become good friends—and expert detectives—before this Ice Cream Summer turns into the Worst Summer Ever."

This was a nice, easy to read friend drama set in small town. Families a bit quirky (one has two dads; the other has a mother dating a local policeman), but there is a farm stand AND lots of ice cream. I wasn't really very interested in the whole idea of a zombie hayride, but the kids were passionate about it and were working toward a goal. Enjoyed, purchasing, and looking forward to sequel.

35297422Atwood, Megan. Once Upon a Winter (#2)
December 19th 2017 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Above the Treeline

"Wintertime at the orchard has Peter learning some important lessons about speaking up in this second novel of a sweet series about the bonds of friendship.

Blanketed in snow, the orchard looks like a magical wonderland. But Peter is not so charmed by his new life. He just can’t ignore how he’s always ignored any longer. Sarah, Lizzie, and Olive are always talking over him and bossing him around. And on top of that, it’s really cold outside.

One January day, Peter reluctantly agrees to join the girls on a carriage ride through the freshly fallen snow. But things go terribly wrong when a dog incident has the horses running away in fear, with Peter and the carriage trailing dangerously behind them. Then, Peter hits his head on a passing branch and is thrown to the ground.

Woozy, Peter wakes up alone in the snow but he makes his way to a cozy cottage. Kai, the cool new kid, opens the door and welcomes Peter inside. Kai shows him a magical mirror that brings the two new friends to another world. A world where people listen to Peter and need his help to defeat dragons, warlocks, and other scary things.

Then Peter wakes up in the hospital with a bandage around his head. Everyone is so happy to see him awake. Peter tries to tell them all about the mirror but they dismiss his experience as a wild dream. When Peter goes back to school, it seems like Kai knows what Peter’s talking about. Could the dream have been real? Is there really a magic portal deep in the woods behind the orchard? Even if everyone thinks he’s crazy, Peter is determined to find out."

As much as I like the first book in the series, this one got a bit strange. I'm never a fan of series where the first book is realistic and the second book is fantasy, and that's definitely what this is. Also, Kai was a horribly reprehensible character, Peter was unhappy all the time, and everyone just seemed dysfunctional. Sort of like Seasonal Affective Disorder descends on Ice Cream Summer.  I think I am more confused by this book than anything. My students are becoming increasingly unfamiliar with The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, so I don't think they would get the references.

Monday, December 18, 2017

MMGM-Survivor Diaries: Avalanche!

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Always in the Middle and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

33413947Johnson, Terry Lynn. Survivor Diaries: Avalanche!
January 2nd 2018 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Ashley and her twin brother Ryan are skiing with their parents in the Grand Tetons mountains. They are both very interested in catching a glimpse of a wolverine, so ski off trail in order to look for one. Unfortunately, they get caught in an avalanche! Luckily, both survive and are able to find each other. Ryan has hit his head and disoriented, but Ashley has her well stocked back pack, and the two build a snow shelter and hunker down for the night. The next day, Ryan can remember more, but his feet have gotten frostbitten. Undaunted, Ashley makes a skid and sets off to drag him to where she knows a trail is so that they can get help. During their adventures, they see a bear and a wolverine. Thanks to their knowledge and preparation, an ill-advised outing does not turn into tragedy.
Strengths: Johnson's outdoor details are without parallel, and her writing is crisp and compact, making this a great choice for struggling readers who still want a quality story. Ashley is well prepared, thinks through things before acting (with the exception of the first time going off trail), and has a lot of "grit". I can't wait to see more of these; Lost comes out 3 July 2018.
Weaknesses: Ryan is not very well developed, but he does have a head injury. In the first book, I was somehow annoyed by the premise of the main character being interviewed about the experience, but it worked much better in this book.
What I Really Think: Chances are not good that I will EVER go skiing, but if I did, I would definitely want to go with Ms. Johnson! I love all the details about how to survive things like being washed Overboard! This reminded me a bit of my mother's preparations for driving twenty minutes through the country to work in the 1970s. She had salt, blankets, a candle in a flower pot, and all sorts of other things to survive if her car went off the road in the snow between Boardman and East Palestine Ohio. She even had a CB radio!

Ms. Yingling

Sunday, December 17, 2017

How Oscar Indigo Broke the Universe/Mr. Gedrick and Me

33913945Teague, David. How Oscar Indigo Broke the Universe (And Put it Back Together Again)
November 7th 2017 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Oscar isn't a great baseball player; in fact, his coach hardly ever plays him. That doesn't stop Oscar from being upbeat and trying to help his teammate on the East Mt. Etna Wildcats.When he accidentally causes the team's star player, Lourdes, to dislocate her toe, the coach has to put Oscar into the game. Fortunately (or unfortunately!), Oscar's neighbor, 90 something Eleanor Ethel Ellington, has given him an odd watch. When the ball comes toward the plate, Oscar presses a button on the watch and stops time for 19 seconds. He wins the game and is hailed as a hero, but that's when his problems start. The powers that be want the watch back, since stopping the world for 19 seconds causes all manner of bad things to happen. In dealing with the people who want the watch back, Oscar manages to find out a little about the watch's history, and in dealing with Ms. Ellington, he finds out more about her history, the history of the town, and her involvement with baseball. With the help of Lourdes, Oscar manages to keep the watch out of the wrong hands, improve his baseball game, and fix the universe.
Strengths: I absolutely adored Eleanor and Lourdes, and their involvement with baseball, as well as their extreme dislike of being told "You play well... for a girl", made me love them even more. I also appreciated that Oscar didn't question for a second that they would be great players. The world building surrounding the watch and its effect on the universe is solid, and even the somewhat goofy agents who come looking for Oscar aren't too over-the-top. Lots of specifics about baseball, as well.
Weaknesses: My readers who want baseball books don't want them mixed up with fantasy, unless the characters are traveling back in time to meet a historic ball player (think Gutman's Baseball Card Adventures or Corriveau's 13 Hangmen). This also had a goofiness that put it perilously close to the elementary side of the Pilkey Line.
What I really thought: This definitely kept me reading and had some facets that I really enjoyed, but I think this would not be popular with my readers. Elementary collections with fantasy fans or students interested in baseball should definitely take a look.

33865988Carman, Patrick. Mr. Gedrick and Me
November 7th 2017 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Stanley Darrow's family has struggled in the six months since his father passed away, especially since he was a stay-at-home father. Stanley misses their bike rides and ice cream, and his mother has had to do her architectural designs from home, where chaos is increasing. Enter Mr. Gedrick, a Mary Poppins' type manny, who pops in to bring order and hope to the Darrow's world while helping the family process their grief.
Strengths: Short, well-written, pleasant in a bibliotherapy kind of way. It's as if Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle had to move in with one of her neighbors because the father had died, and she makes them able to get through their days. Like Nanny and the Professor, but with power tools.
Weaknesses: I think I've had my quota of "dead parent" books for the month, although this had a better mix of sadness and coping than many other books. I've just lost patience.
What I really think: Maybe for elementary schools, but I'm waiting for Carman to come out with another book that's as riveting as 13 Days to Midnight, which my students LOVE.

Saturday, December 16, 2017


Brunner, Max and Mackay, Dustin (illustrator). Superfail
October 17th 2017 by Running Press Kids
Copy provided by the publisher

Marshall lives in a world where most people have super powers, but not everyone has really great ones. For example, he can shoot lasers from his eyes, but he's cross eyed. He can also fly, but every time he does, he suffers from motion sickness. He'll never get chosen to be on the Superteam, like Trevor, and tends to hang out with friends who are "defective" like him; Tim, whose allergies to peanuts endow him with Hulk like qualities, but also restrict his ability to breathe, Crash, who has super speed but can't stop, and Lewis, who, well, is Lewis. When Marshall comes across former super hero Owl Man, he and his friends get sucked into a secret project that pits him not only against another group of defectives, but ultimately against members of the Superteam. Will Marshall, the Owl Man, and the others be able to save the day and prove that even though they aren't perfect, they're super?
Strengths: Superheroes are really popular with my students, as are graphic or notebook novels, and this combines all of those things. Like Libenson's Invisible Emmie and Schade and Buller's Scarlett, this is a mix of cartoon style panels and text. The plot moves along with clear rapidity that will keep young readers engaged, and has plenty of puke jokes. The variety of characters, as well as their quirky super powers, will have readers laughing and thinking of their own versions based on their friends. The artwork is clear and hits the right cartoon note for middle grade; not too simplistic, with an older teen feel to some of the dark tones of the illustrations.
Weaknesses: The print is very small, which could be a deal breaker. My reluctant readers are the ones who prefer super hero stories, especially ones with bodily humor, but they are also very quick to turn a book away if the print is too small. My more sophisticated graphic novel readers, who like Nimona and are okay with smaller print, will not appreciate the barf jokes.
What I really think: Before I put this on the shelf, I will glue the spine a bit more firmly. Graphic novels, because of the nature of the color pages and of the frequent use, wear poorly. I don't quite know how this one will go over with my students, but am interested to see.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Funny Kid For President

34848496Stanton, Matt. Funny Kid For President
January 2nd 2018 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edleweiss Above the Treeline

Max frequently runs afoul of his burly teacher, Mr. Armstrong, but is appalled when he is accused of pooping in the storeroom! Everyone thinks that Max did it, and when he is hauled before the principal, Mrs. Sniggles, instead of getting into trouble, he is encouraged to run for class president so that Mrs. Sniggles can meet regularly with Mr. Armstrong and a student to hash out problems. There hasn't been a president before, and Mr. Armstrong hopes to get his own candidate to win. Max and his friend Hugo try to figure out a way that Max can use his assets to an advantage, and decide that being funny is the way to go. As the election process progresses, candidates start to drop out, and Max suspects a plot behind it. Can he figure out a way to win the election as well as to clear his name after the poop incident?
Strengths: This is a slam dunk for readers who like humorous notebook novels. The class election is not as annoying as some I have read, and Max is an oddly endearing character. The illustrations are clear and well done, and the length and character development are perfect for the target demographic.
Weaknesses: I found it hard to believe that Mr. Armstrong was so evil, but he was brought to justice. Mrs. Sniggles was well meaning, but very odd. Perhaps it's just the Australian origin of the story.
What I really think:  Even though there were too many bodily function jokes for ME to really enjoy this, I have to admit that we did have an issue with a student pooping in the building some years ago! The "mad crapper" or "public enemy #2" not only pooped in the middle of the library stacks, but also in the gym locker room. And yes, I picked the poop in the library up with a tissue, thinking it was... anything else. So, it could happen!

32333185Foster, Stewart. Bubble
May 2nd 2017 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Public library copy
Joe has lived in the hospital near Heathrow Airport from a very young age because of an unnamed condition that compromises his immune system and would lead to his death if he breathed in regular air or ate regular food. He has an older sister who visits him, but she's studying to be a doctor and has little time, and his parents were killed in a tragic car accident when he was small. He has an online friend, Henry, who lives in Philadelphia and has a similar condition. Joe does talk to the nurses and orderlies in the hospital, and has computer access, but doesn't seem to do terribly much in the way of schooling or socializing. Once a year, a television crew comes to document his life, and he does take an ill-considered trip outside the hospital with one of the workers. Joe is frequently very ill, and this is described in great length. He always seems to recover, but his future looks bleak.

Strengths: It's pretty amazing that the author was able to fill up 345 pages of Joe's exploits when he really didn't do very much, and there aren't a lot of details about just what is wrong. Readers who adore Lurlen McDaniel might like this one, and although it is British, it is still understandable to US readers.
Weaknesses: Nothing really happens, and there's just layer upon layer of sad. I was also a bit surprised that Joe's day wasn't more regimented, with school and various educational experiences. There should have been a social worker or someone overseeing his care, especially since he is an orphan.
What I really think: If Joe were my child, I would have taken him to the beach for a lovely picnic years ago so he could feel the sand and sun. Not everyone is meant to live long lives.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Open If You Dare

33158535Middleton, Dana. Open If You Dare
October 17th 2017 by Feiwel & Friends

E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Birdie and her friends Ally and Rose have always hung out together, running through their neighborhood and setting up camp on a small island near their homes. When school is out, they spend their summer doing what they have always done, but with a sense of dread hanging over them. When 7th grade starts in the fall, Rose will be back at England and the other two will be at separate middle schools. Rose is irritated with her parents; she considers herself more American than British and doesn't want to leave her friends and return to wearing a uniform to school. She's also tired of being constantly expected to practice violin, and has a huge crush on a boy in their class, Romeo. Ally has her ups and downs on her baseball team, but Birdie is obsessed with a box that the girls have found on their island. It contained an Allman Brothers band concert ticket from 1973, a mood ring, and a cryptic notes saying that the writer, as well as someone else, was dead! Using the clues from the note as well as talking to neighbors, visiting a nursing home, and venturing to the public library, Birdie manages to uncover some information that leads her to believe there wasn't actually a murder, but discovers that solving the mystery is a good way to pass the summer (besides babysitting her younger sister Zora) and make her peace with the changes that the coming year will bring.
Strengths: I was close to Birdie's age in 1973, so I thought this one was fun. My best friend and I had a island in the woods where we set up a camp. Ten years ago, when my daughter was this age, she could have talked to original residents of our current neighborhood. There were a lot of things that I enjoyed about this. It wasn't a murder mystery, but it was charming, and the tween drama is very true to life. The twist at the end was fun as well. Very good conversation between Birdie and her mother about how Birdie feels she fits in as a child of a black father and white mother.
Weaknesses: A teenager would not have had a mood ring in 1973. They weren't produced until 1975, and they were on the expensive side. Also, I don't think a mood ring would still change colors after being in the damp ground for that long. They're pretty delicate. I can't believe a public library would store old books. It works out well for the mystery, but nobody has that kind of storage space. Children aren't going to know these things, but they also might not like the cover.
What I really think: Oh, like Beil's Summer at Forsaken Lake, I'll have to buy this one, and will recommend the heck out of it.

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

#WNDB Wednesday: Just Like Jackie

31926851Stoddard, Lindsey. Just Like Jackie
January 2nd 2018 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Robinson lives with her grandfather Charlie in a small town in Vermont. It's always been just the two of them. One boy at school, Alex, gives her a hard time, never calling her the name that she wants to be called (never Robin, sometimes Robbie) and making fun of the fact that she looks very little like her African-American grandfather. After she hits Alex yet again, she gets sent to group counseling, which Alex attends as well. Many of the children in the group are  not happy about the latest school assignment, a family tree, because they don't have a lot of information about their families, or are dealing with serious family issues such as divorce or illness. Robbie is dealing with Charlie's worsening dementia. He runs the local car repair business, and luckily has a good assistant, Harold, to watch out for him. Harold, however, is very busy with the new baby daughter than he and his partner Paul have adopted, so Robbie tries to cover her grandfather's condition up as best she can. When she can no longer do this, she finally gets the help she needs.
Strengths: This was a quick and oddly compelling read. So many students have family tree type assignments, and they always worry me for the very reasons mentioned in the story! It is interesting that Robbie and her grandfather don't look alike, and the back stories about the grandmother and mother ring true. This had a Patricia MacLachlan feel to it, with a touch of Miracles on Maple Hill.
Weaknesses: The idea that Robbie would be more stoic and calm like her namesake, Jackie Robinson, was an interesting one, but didn't get developed as much as it could have been.
What I really think: A sad book, but at least a hopeful one. I will probably purchase a copy.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Silver Mask (Magisterium #4)

13612968Black, Holly and Clare, Cassandra. The Silver Mask (Magisterium #4)
October 10th 2017 by Scholastic Press
Library copy

Call is in the Panopticon prison after the death of Aaron in The Bronze Key, and since he has the soul of the Enemy of Death within him, he doubts if he will ever be freed. When Anastasia breaks him out and he ends up at her house with his friends Tamara and Jasper as well as Master Joseph and Alex, he knows that there's just no way things are going to end well. Sure enough, Master Joseph wants Call and Alex to bring Aaron back to life so that he can use this skill to take over the world. Call doesn't want to, but there is really no other choice. Using what he has learned at the Magisterium, as well as some journal's belonging to the Maddens, he manages to bring Aaron back, but he's not quite right. Even though Call managed to bring him back without being Chaos ridden, Aaron does not return to his old self. Master Joseph tries to get Alex to bring Drew back, and the struggle continues between the teachers at the Magisterium and the evil forces headed up by Master Joseph. Call survives this book, but how will the fifth and final book deal with the various forces at work?
Strengths: This well-designed fantasy adventure has a fresh twist on children fighting the forces of evil. There's a little bit of romance, and a lot of humor. I especially loved it when Call was in Constantine Madden's room, expected to wear his clothes, and he makes the observation that "He did not want to wear the Underoos of an Evil Overlord."!
Weaknesses: Like many books this far into a series, the middle bit got a bit confusing while all of the various threads were being woven into the plot. I imagine that the last book will be a bit tighter and exciting!
What I really think: This is a really great fantasy series. Enough facets of Harry Potter to make die hard fantasy fans happy, but short enough to be a good introduction to the genre to the more casual reader. A must for any middle school library.

34423751Bachang, Tianxia. The City of Sand
Published November 21st 2017 by Delacorte Press
Copy received from the publisher

From Goodreads:
A multimillion-copy bestseller in China—now available in English! In this heart-pounding adventure, a group of individuals who have come together for an expedition, each with a specific interest, soon find themselves motivated by one common goal: the sheer will to survive.

THE QUEST: To find the lost city of Jingjue, a once-glorious kingdom, along with the burial chamber of its mysterious queen. Both lie buried under the golden dunes of the desert, where fierce sandstorms and blazing heat show no mercy.

THE TEAM: Teenagers Tianyi, who has the ability read the earth and sky through feng shui, and Kai, Tianyi’s best friend and confidant; Julie, a wealthy American whose father vanished on the same trek a year ago; Professor Chen, who wants to fulfill a lifelong dream; and Asat Amat, a local guide gifted in desert survival.

THE OBSTACLES: Lethal creatures of the desert and an evil force that wants to entomb the explorers under the unforgiving sands of China’s Taklimakan Desert forever.

I'm glad I'm not alone on this one. It's fantastic to get books translated from their original language to English so we can learn more about other countries, and I was hoping that this one would have some good details about daily life and the Chinese landscape, like Zhang's The Emperor's Riddle. Instead, it's a rather standard fantasy about tomb robbers with rather unsympathetic characters. I loved this brilliant comment by Josie: "If I'm so bored with a novel that I start hoping the main character will be brutally maimed to liven things up a bit, that's your brilliant indication that I'm not enthusiastic about what I'm reading." I'm going to hand this to one of my readers who goes through 2-3 fantasy books a day, so as an 8th grader really has read just about all of my fantasy books, but I'm not going to put it in the collection. An inordinately large portion of the books that look brand new but have never circulated are fantasy books that are just half a bubble off. I'll see what the 8th grader thinks.

Monday, December 11, 2017

MMGM- Snow One Like You

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

36536177Blitt, Natalie. Snow One Like You
Published 2017 by Scholastic
Purchased through Scholastic Book Clubs

Mia can't wait for this year's Winter Festival in her hometown of Flurry, Vermont, and she's hoping to get her picture taken in a sled at the parade just the way her mother and grandmother did. But this year, there may not be any snow! If the festival is canceled, this could mean bad things for her mom and stepdad's hotel, which relies on this yearly surge in business. Her best friend Lark doesn' understand quite how important the festival is, but Mia finds an ally in Yoshi, whose father has moved the family to Maine to escape the pressures of being a weatherman in California. Mia has to deal with her young step siblings and her free spirit dad and his wife. Mia tries everything she can think of to keep the festival moving even if there isn't any snow, but will she be able to save the day?
Strengths: Clearly, when I read the Scholastic Book Club flyer I was sucked right back into 7th grade and felt an overwhelming compulsion to order this. The cover is cute, the story has the right blend of girl power and romance, and it has an "exotic" setting for someone in Ohio. Considering that Taylor Garland's two Celebrate the Season books have been going out every single day, only to be returned by a girl who has brought her best friend with her so the friend can check it out immediately, I am not the only one charmed by these upbeat holiday themed stories.
Weaknesses: This is one of those books that is only available in paperback from the Scholastic Book Clubs. NOT FAIR!!! I want a pretty hardcover for my library!
What I really think: Waiting desperately for a prebind to be available from Follett.
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sad Birds

33946654Kadarusman, Michelle. The Theory of Hummingbirds
October 16th 2017 by Pajama Press
E ARC from Netgalley.

Alba is recuperating from what is hopefully the final surgery to correct her club foot, and she's very excited to get the cast off-- so excited that she is making plans to run in a cross country race. Her doctor even says she will be able to do anything! She mentions her plan to her friend Levi, who suffers from very bad asthma, but he isn't quite as sure about it. He is much more concerned that the librarian at their school, for whom they do a lot of work, has discovered a worm hole in her office and might be in danger of getting pulled into another dimension and being unable to get back. Alba is also concerned that her mother might find Dr. Schofield attractive, since it has always been just the two of them. When Alba finally gets the cast off, she starts right into physical therapy, but when Levi again disputes her ability to compete, the two have a falling out. Will Alba be able to run, or at least walk, in the race, and will Levi come around to supporting her?
Strengths: I loved that Alba was able to work with the runners even when she couldn't run-- she was keeping times. I also enjoyed the librarian, and the work that the children do in the library is realistic. At one point, the principal shoos them out because there is no one there to supervise them. Alba's medical issues are well explained, and she meets her challenges with positive but not candy coated thoughts. In a note at the end, the author explained that she herself had been born with a club foot, although hers was corrected at an earlier age.
Weaknesses: The characters read much younger than sixth grade. It was very clear that the librarian was not traveling through a worm hole but was resting in her office. I assumed she was eating her lunch while sitting on the floor because it was the only time she could get peace. Levi's worry and insistence on this theory seemed more like the reaction of a third grader.
What I really think: While I like the depiction of Alba's handling of her challenges, this seemed a bit young, and also had some odd Canadian wordings. (E.G.: supply teacher instead of substitute.) I may wait to purchase until I see if this has an Accelerated Reader test, although it would work well for the 7th grade unit on personal challenges.

Strange, Lucy. The Secret of Nightingale Wood
October 31st 2017 by Chicken House
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Henry (Henrietta) and her fractured family move from London to Hope House in the English countryside after the death of her older brother, Robert. Henry's mother is "sick", her father scarpers off to Italy for work, and Henry is left with a nanny and the Berrys to take care of her baby sister, whom she calls Piglet instead of Roberta. There is an evil doctor who is trying to get her mother committed to a local asylum so another doctor can experiment on her, and who is keeping her mother doped to the gills in the meantime. He even tries to sedate Henry with "soothing syrup". Henry meets a "witch" in the forest, whom she calls "Moth". Moth was a nurse who has connections to Hope House and tries to help Henry cope with her mother's condition. Henry also has imaginary conversations with Robert, about whose death she feels a lot of guilt. When the doctor and his wife take Piglet to care for, Henry enlists the aid of Moth and manages to carry out a ruse that is effective in getting her mother released from the asylum. With the help of Moth and others in the community, things slowly get better, and both her mother and Moth come to terms with losses in their lives.
Strengths: This was well written and compelling. As a fan of all things English, I read through this rather quickly. The various mysteries come together well, and this had the feel of classic British literature.
Weaknesses: I was personally offended by the portrayal of not one but TWO mothers who are completely stricken after the death of their sons. Mothers are stronger than that, especially if they have other children. Also, I can't think of a single student to whom I could hand this.
What I really think: Maybe just one of those books that does better across the pond than it does in the US. Unless I see an uptick in circulation of The Secret Garden or Five Children on the Western Front (which covered the idea of the vast number of deaths during WWI more effectively) I won't purchase.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Smarty Marty and Frankly, Frannie

31447879G., Amy. Smarty Marty Steps Up Her Game (#2)
March 14th 2017 by Cameron + Company
Library copy
Synopsis from
"Smarty Marty, and her little brother Mikey, are back in the first in a series of illustrated chapter books, about a girl who loves baseball, written by San Francisco Giants in-game reporter Amy Gutierrez. Smarty Marty is the official scorekeeper for her little brother’s Little League team. But when the game announcer fails to show up for the first game, Marty is called to announce the game, inspiring her dream not only to score but to announce. But not everyone is happy about a girl getting to announce a baseball game."

This was a positive, well written young middle grade chapter book. I wish that in 2017, girls were still not given a hard time about things like participating in sports, but clearly, there is still some work to do. I liked that Marty was not going to put up with any guff and stood up for herself nicely. The formatting of this was excellent-- lots of white space, a few illustrations, larger text. I wish I had read the first book in the series, which came out in 2013.

This would be great for an elementary library.

7640262Stern, A.J. Frankly, Frannie.
May 27th 2010 by Grosset & Dunlap
Donated Copy

Synopsis from
"She’s already got her resume, business cards, and mustard packets (which are so much more grown up than ketchup) ready. So why is it taking eleventeen hundred years? Frannie’s class is visiting the local radio station and the radio host is no where to be found. Should Frannie cover for him—after all, this could be her big break! But what happens when listeners call in with questions, and Frannie doesn’t know the answers?"

My quest for early chapter books continues. I enjoyed this one, since Frannie is really interested in business. Have put the first five of the series on my order for January. There are nine books so far, and it the first five do well with my struggling readers, I will buy more.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Wimpy Kid vs. Everything Else

I kept forgetting to bring home a copy of The Getaway. Not shocking, since I was still disappointed by Double Down's lack of any apparent plot. I had been booktalking historical fiction, and since my favorite has always been books written in years past, I had a copy of Henry Reed, Inc., that came home in the same backpack.

The Getaway is probably the best Wimpy Kid yet, and had the most plot. Basically, Greg's parents decided to spend Christmas break at a warm, exotic resort, cost be danged, but when they head off to Isla de Corales, nothing goes right. They have trouble getting on the flight, their luggage gets lost, there are bugs, the father gets ill from the water, the activities are all booked up, and Roderick runs off with a girl instead of hanging at the teen zone with Greg. For most students, who have never traveled to an exotic locale, the details of the trip will be new and interesting (Who knew about so many bugs in these fancy resorts? Makes sense, never thought of it.), and will also make them feel better about not traveling. Greg tries to have adventures and strike out on his own, which causes problems, and his family actually deals fairly well with everything that comes their way. The ending actually had a bit of a twist and closure not usually found in these books.

But I still didn't care for it, even though it read more like Big Nate Sails the Bahamas. I realized why when I read Henry Reed. Fascinatingly, it came out on the same date 59 years ago, and the colors are even similar. (Blues are now very green based, making my huge quilting stash hard to use with new fabric!)

Henry's father is in the diplomatic service, and he's lived all over Europe, but is spending the summer with his pleasant and placid Aunt Mabel and Uncle Al in Grover's Corners near Princeton University. There are only a handful of houses, but the neighbors are all fairly interesting and understanding. Henry even has a barn at his disposal, because his mother inherited it, and uses this to set up his research business. He and neighbor Midge, form a partnership. I adored Midge beyond measure. When asked by Henry "What are you going to put into the business?", she replies "I'll furnish the brains." Henry laughs, but sees her point and takes her on! Accompanied by Agony, the beagle, the two set to researching for fun and profit. There are gentle high jinks all along, and at the end, Midge insists that the business be renamed Reed and Glass (Henry does own the barn), and the two repaint the sign together.

Henry and Midge are both industrious, curious children who are not content to sit and stare at their phones all day, which would have been QUITE boring in 1958. They find clients, do research, earn money, and occupy themselves all day without the interference of adults, although I imagine the well-upholstered Aunt Mabel kept them well furnished with peanut butter sandwiches and cookies, and Uncle Al does come to their rescue in times of need and wonders things like "How did those sheep get in there?" without really needing to know particulars.

Yes, the 1950s had their problems. But Greg Heffley and his family are negative and boring to me, and I don't want to be a part of their world for very long. The fact that my students do, when they could instead be spending time with Henry or Anne or Homer or Laura... it just makes me sad.

7577605For more in-depth review, check out A Book Discussion with Myself. 
Kinney, Jeff. The Getaway (DOAWK #12)
November 7th 2017 by Harry N. Abrams
Purchased copy

Robertson, Keith. Henry Reed, Inc.
November 7th 1958 by Viking Children's Books
Purchased copy

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Early Chapter Book Mysteries

I have to admit that when I got these early chapter books at the beginning of the school year, they languished at the bottom of my TBR pile. Sure, they were cute, and anything by Animal Planet has great photo illustrations, and these even had some full color drawings as well. Cute stories, but nothing my middle school students would pick up, right?

Wrong. I have just finished putting together a one book shelf collection of "readers", labeled with a pink sticker so my student helpers know where to shelve them. (Pink stickers were all I had in my stash of supplies.) My struggling readers can go to the shelf and find books that are all half or one Accelerated Reader point, and all below level 4.0. They generally read them very quickly and are so pleased and happy when they finish the books and pass the AR test.

Yeah, yeah. The whole "testing is evil" thing. Well, since most of these students were only reading graphic novels at the beginning of the year, I do think that having an easily accessed collection of books has helped them feel confident enough to read an entire chapter book, and I do think they are acquiring more reading and, yes, test taking skills.

Since many of my struggling readers are ELL students, I really liked that these Animal Planet Adventure Books involved animals in different settings. Sometimes, I have students who have no working knowledge of farms or zoos, and certainly no idea of what it's like on the New England Coast. Even though these books don't have AR tests yet, the reading level on the back is third grade.

Books like this make my school year easier! Definitely a great choice for elementary and some middle school libraries. Nicely done and amusing!

All synopses and this statement from Goodreads:
"Perfect for reluctant, challenged, and newly fluent readers, the Animal Planet Adventures chapter book series combines fun animal mysteries with cool nonfiction sidebars that relate directly to the stories, bringing the best of the animal world to young readers. With full-color illustrations and photographs throughout. "

Copies provided by the publisher.

30364301Nichols, Catherine. Dolphin Rescue (Animal Planet Adventures #1)
February 14th 2017 by Animal Planet

Siblings Maddie and Atticus love living by the sea. Their dad traps lobsters off the coast of Maine. They love helping with the family business and volunteering at the local aquarium. The summer is shaping up to be a super one, for sure. Then one day they spy a pod of dolphins in the cove looking distressed. How will the kids use their knowledge of animals and their awesome problem-solving skills to help the dolphin family get safely back to sea?

30364298Herman, Gail. Farm Friends Escape(Animal Planet Adventures #2)
February 14th 2017 by Animal Planet

During summer vacations, cousins Luke and Sarah help out at their grandparents' petting zoo. But what happens when the animals get loose overnight? Can Luke and Sarah use their knowledge of animals and their awesome problem-solving skills to get the animals back to safety?

33785411Catherine Nichols. Puppy Rescue Riddle (Animal Planet Adventures #3)
September 5th 2017 by Animal Planet

A storm is coming to coastal North Carolina. Amy and Elliott - volunteers at the local dog shelter - have a job to do. The rescued puppies need to get to higher ground, and fast! The kids scramble to get the puppies into their cages, and then the van of volunteers and dogs is on its way. But they are one puppy short. Did it run off in the rain? Is it back at the shelter? An old book, a series of riddles, and a spooky storm all lead to a mystery only the kids can solve.

33785416Herman, Gail. Zoo Camp Puzzle (Animal Planet Adventures #4)
September 5th 2017 by Animal Planet

Nine-year-old twins Ava and Rosie are headed for adventure. City kids, they don't know what to expect from a small zoo in Iowa-and they have to live there for the rest of the year while their mom writes a book! Being away from the busy city and their friends feels like punishment, but Dad sets up a project for them all-running a zoo camp for students to attend during spring break. That could be cool, but as they're getting ready, the kids realize that some of the animals are missing! They'll have to solve the mystery-fast-before the campers arrive.