Saturday, March 31, 2018

Olga: We're Out of Here

Gravel, Elise. Olga: We're Out of Here (#2)
March 13th 2018 by HarperCollins
ARC from Young Adult Books Central

Olga and Meh are back after their exploits in Olga and the Smelly Thing From Nowhere. Olga and her friend Chuck are enjoying playing with the strange and smelly pet, but Olga becomes concerned when Meh starts exhibiting strange symptoms. The creature has weird growths on its belly, smells even worse, is picky about food, and is generally lacking energy and enthusiasm. Even the Lalas try to help care for the sick pet, but nothing seems to make Meh better. It's hard to find a vet for a possibly alien creature, and Olga does consult Dr. Spiffle, only to find him taking selfies with her pet and offering no real answers. Luckily, a turn of event points out what was wrong with Meh, who quickly recuperates.

This is a goofy notebook novel, with very little text and lots of cartoon style pictures. Meh's background leads to all manner of wild conjecture, which is accompanied by appropriate drawings. Olga thinks aout what she would do with a herd of Olgamuses, she dreams about traveling to Meh home planet, and even gives us information about scientists in her somewhat oddball way.

I did enjoy the fact that when Meh got sick, Olga consulted her local librarian, Ms. Swoop. Ms. Swoop is a tattooed, hipster librarian who manages to give Olga a little bit of advice, as opposed to Mr. Gumstrap, a librarian who doesn't think children should be allowed in the library and whose lips are the same color as his face. (Which really shouldn't be held against him; it happens to many of us!) She also has the supportive store owner, Mr. Hoopah, who supplies her with olives and other sundries for Meh. Olga's parents are absent from the story.

Readers who like funny, quirky notebook novels like Shreve's Stan and the Toilet Monster, Skye's The Creature from my Closet and or Kowitt's The Principal's Underwear is Missing will enjoy the further exploits of Olga and her stinky pink pet.

Ms. Yingling

Friday, March 30, 2018

Battle for Bearhaven (Secrets of Bearhaven #4)

34051363Rocha, K.E. Battle for Bearhaven (Secrets of Bearhaven #4)
September 12th 2017 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Spencer has enjoyed being with the bears in Bearhaven, especially with his friend, Kate, but the bears have not had an easy time of it. After rescuing his parents in Hidden Rock Rescue, Spencer still has to deal with the evil Pam and his sidekick Margo, who have planted microchips in over 80 bears and have created an evil army to try to wipe out Bearhaven. They're doing a good job so far, and have attacked and set fire to the settlement. Spencer has managed to escape and gone with eight bears to his friend Kirby's house to try to formulate a plan. He calls his parents, who want him to get on the TUBE and get to them, but Spence really wants to take Pam down. The group has found an injured bear  doorstep and rescued her, removing a microchip and treating her head wound. Sneaking into Pam's camp, Spencer and Kirby manage to drain a lot of the tranquilizer darts, but there's still a lot of work to do in order to save Bearhaven from those who wish it ill.

This was nonstop action, and a very clean fight showcasing good against evil. All that Spencer has learned about the bears comes into play, and his dedication to saving the bears and their world is admirable. The bears certainly are fighting as well, which is even more difficult since Pam has managed to turn so many of them into his evil army.

This definitely feels like the last book in the series, because so many of the loose ends are tidied up. Spencer's parents are safe and able to assist him a little, the bears have to move on from the destruction of most of their settlement, and Pam is dealt with. I did appreciate that Kirby was brought in on the action, since she has been a stalwart supporter of the bears and of Spencer.

Fans of Hunter's Warriors or Seekers series will enjoy the animal portion of this series, but readers who just like a good action and adventure tale with lots of fighting will appreciate that Spencer can actually communicate with the bears. Series seem to do better when they are shorter than five books, so that readers don't lose interest, so Secrets of Bearhaven delivers a compact punch of world building, conflict and speedy resolution.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Opening Day! and The Parker Inheritance

35960184Gramling, Gary. The Baseball Fanbook
April 3rd 2018 by Sports Illustrated
ARC provided by publisher at ALA

Did you know that today's MLB opening day is a bit unusual? It is the first time in fifty years that all of the teams have games scheduled, so it really an opening day for everyone. Why they haven't done this since 1968, I have no clue, but then, clueless would describe most of my sports knowledge!

This is why The Baseball Fanbook is such a great resource.  Like The Football Fanbook, this is packed with all manner of information. Record breakers, team histories, old and new players with particular talents, an entire section on baseball skills and how to better your game, and odd facts like why baseball teams wear white uniforms at home and gray ones on the road. (Although we can only hope the laundry situation has improved!)

I was most impressed with the number of teams in the Midwest that have existed at their current locations for over 100 years! I do find it incomprehensible that the Cleveland Indians didn't change their name 50 years ago (the Burning Cuyahogas, anyone?) and am completely baffled that they haven't changed their mascot.

If you can't get to a game today, reading The Baseball Fanbook is the next best thing.

Johnson, V35238085arian. The Parker Inheritance
March 27th 2018 by Arthur A. Levine Books
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Candice's grandmother was a city official in the small town of Lambert before she fell into disrepute. She thought there was treasure buried under the tennis courts and had them dug up. When no treasure appeared, she was relieved of her duties. Candice and her mother are spending the summer cleaning out her grandmother's house after her death, and Candice has some letters that indicate there is still a treasure out there. It's a rough summer-- her parents are separated, and her home in the city is being readied to sell, and there's no one to hang out with in Lambert while her mother is working on her book. Luckily, she finds bookish Brandon, and the two bond. She eventually shares the secret of her grandmother's letters with him, and the two follow the very detailed clues, learning a lot about the racial history of the town in the process. Will they finally find the treasure for which her grandmother was searching?
Strengths: This offers an excellent view of what life was like in the 1950s for blacks in the South, and it was good to see this through the eyes of modern children. Candice's life has some challenges, since she misses her grandmother and her parents' separation has a bit of a twist to it, but her parents are supportive and present, and the mood is generally upbeat. The clues they follow are interesting, and the mystery itself is deliciously convoluted.
Weaknesses: This took me about four days to read. I kept putting the book down and then thinking I was finished. This could have used some tighter editing to make it shorter and more fast paced. I wish the subplot with Brandon being bullied had been left out.
What I really think: This reminded me VERY strongly of Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry by Susan Vaught. The investigative process was similar, it involved civil rights, but the end of the mysteries were different. I will buy because this author is popular in my library and the cover is great.

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Hurricane Child

32056397Callender, Kheryn. Hurricane Child
March 27th 2018 by Scholastic
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Caroline Murphy lives in the US Virgin Islands, and is considered unlucky because she was born during a hurricane. Her life certainly bears out this assertion-- her mother has left the family, her father's slightly younger illegitimate daughter has moved nearby, and she is always in trouble at school. She does have an ally in the principal of her school, who knew her mother, but not only are the other students mean to her, her classroom teacher is as well. When a new student, Kalinda, arrives at the school, Caroline tries to befriend her and later realizes that she is interested in her romantically. Since this is frowned upon by their religion and culture, the girls worry about it. Caroline sees ghostly figures around, and eventually this encourages her to find her mother and learn the mystery of her family situation.
Strengths: This is a great #ownvoices novel, and Callender does a great job of showing what life can be like in St. Thomas. The details of food, school, travel, and general daily life are fascinating. It's good for students in the US to get a glimpse of what life is like in other parts of the world.
Weaknesses: Unfortunately, some people are treated in what we consider to be mean ways in other parts of the world. Caroline's dark skin is disparaged, and many people in her life treat her meanly. Her relationship with Kalinda is heartbreaking because of the overshadowing social mores. While this is certainly a reality of which my students need to be aware, I think they might require more explanations in order to understand that this is the way the culture sees Caroline, and not the way they should feel about their own skin, family situation, or sexual preferences.
What I really think: I am very conflicted about this book. I would like to purchase it, but worry it will make my students feel bad about themselves.

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Aru Shah and the End of Time

34967819Chokshi, Roshani. Aru Shah and the End of Time
March 27th 2018 by Disney/Rick Riordan Presents
E ARC provided by the publisher

Aru lives with her mother in an apartment attached to the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture in Georgia, and her mother travels frequently for her work, leaving Aru with a babysitter. The children at Aru's school are much more well off than she is, and Aru has taken to lying about her life. When three children from her school show up at the museum (while Aru is still in her pajamas, no less), she feels a need to show off and lights the Diya of Bharata when she is pressed. She's always been told not to, and with good reason-- when the lamp is lit, everyone freezes and an ancient god known as the Sleeper is released. Aru discovers that she is a descendant of the Pandava brothers, who are warrior princes, and that she must save the world from this ancient evil. Luckily, she has the help of another unsuspecting Pandava, Mini, who isn't thrilled about being pressed into service but is prepared and resourceful. The girls, aided by a pigeon they call Boo, must enter the Kingdom of Death to retrieve three keys that will help them defeat the Sleeper. They must travel to many different places and ask for help from characters from Hindu mythology, and during the quest learn some secrets about their own lives. Even if they manage to save the world now, how long will it stay saved?
Strengths: This fast paced adventure follows a formula similar to Riordan's own books-- a character finds out that she is descended from the gods and must go on a quest, meeting mythological characters along the way, in order to restore order to the universe. The characters are worked in to the plot nicely, and the notes at the back help with some aspects of Hindu culture and history. I am glad that Riordan' is seeking #ownvoices writers for these stories, which will be very popular with my fantasy readers, who will wait eagerly for more books.
Weaknesses: I was not overly fond of either Aru or Mina. Also, I am still a bit confused about the difference between the Hindu religion and Hindu mythology. My guess is that the stories walk the same fine line as the Christian story of Noah and the Ark; it's in the religious canon, but considered by most as more allegorical than historical.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, although the book could have benefited from tighter editing. Also, since I am not familiar with Sailor Moon, any homages to it were lost on me.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Me, Frida and the Secret of the Peacock Ring

35849452Cervantes, Angela. Me, Frida and the Secret of the Peacock Ring
March 27th 2018 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Paloma Marquez has to spend the summer in Mexico City with her mother, who has gotten a fellowship to study there. Paloma would rather be back home with her friends in Kansas, but she is somewhat interested to be living just a few streets away from the home of her deceased father's favorite artist, Frida Kahlo. She misses her father, and is sad she has so few memories of him, so finds the exhibits about Kahlo interesting. She meets several children her own age right away, at a party at the Kahlo house. Tavo is the son of the couple who have funded her mother's summer, and twins Gael and Lizzie are supposed to help tutor her in Spanish. The twins have another motive, however-- they want Paloma's help in finding a peacock ring that was lost after a sealed, secret room in the house was opened. Paloma is a big fan of the Lulu Pennywhistle mysteries, so knows all of the ins and outs of investigating. Sure, the three get in trouble for sneaking out at night, but this doesn't stop them from uncovering a fairly dastardly plot. The twins' father has been jailed as a suspect in the disappearance of the ring, but Tavo's father may know more about it than he lets on. Will Paloma be able to figure out what happened... and survive her summer?
Strengths: First, the cover is fantastic! I'm not sure how many students know about Kahlo, but the Mexico City setting is great fun. The mystery of the ring would normally not be exciting to my readers, who want murder and gore, but there is enough of a conspiracy that I can talk them into this one. I liked the notes from the author about the real events of Kahlo's life, and why she chose to write this book. Just the ordinary details of traveling to another country, having to learn a new language, etc. are great. Another very solid title from this author. (Allie, First and Last, Gaby, Lost and Found.)
Weaknesses: Could have done without Paloma's father being dead. She could have just missed him over the summer.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing.
Ms. Yingling

The Last Grand Adventure

Aladdin is probably my favorite imprint right now. For a long time, it was Scholastic, but between the M!X and MAX books and a bunch of other titles, I find the most positive, fun, well written books to be produced  by Aladdin. Why they don't just preapprove all my E ARC requests or send me boxes of paper ARCs, I just don't know. Had to wait until the day this was published, but luckily the Westerville Public Library was very prompt.

I'm being primarily facetious. I don't feel enough privilege to demand paper ACRs, but I haven't been seeing as many digital titles available as there have been in the past, and it makes me sad!

Also, someone once critiqued my blog and said that I sometimes had TOO MANY titles posted.

Just don't read the reviews if you can't even read three reviews a day. Go away. I read 3-5 books a day because I am a magical ninja unicorn. Deal with it. I'm standing on my front porch and waving my cane at you because I have been feeling grumpy!

35297397Behrens, Rebecca. The Last Grand Adventure
March 20th 2018 by Aladdin
Public library copy

Bea's parents are divorced, her father remarried, and her mother taking advantage of the social upheaval of 1967 to travel in order to report on it. When Bea ends up having to spend her summer with her grandmother, she's not entirely upset, since her young stepsister loves her a little too much! "Pidge" as her grandmother wants to be called, has been forced to move from Boston to a retirement community in California so she can be near Bea's father, and she's not happy with the new, plastic feeling apartment that she has. As soon as Bea's father leaves them alone, Pidge comes up with a plan; she and Bea are going to get on a train and go to Atchinson, Kansas to meet her sister, who really happens to be Amelia Earhart. Over the years, Pidge has gotten letters from her sister, and the last one suggests meeting at the house where they grew up. An epic road trip ensues, with train, bus, hitch hiking with a hippie, and even an airplane ride, much to Pidge's chagrin. After all, if your beloved sister supposedly perished in a plane crash, would you be thrilled about air travel?

The details of traveling in the 1960s, and Pidge's reluctance to actually buy tickets, are the most delightful parts of this book. We get to have a champagne dinner in the dining car of The Super Chief, but then get thrown off; we spend the night in a bus station and eat bananas and Twinkies Pidge has in her purse; we get to walk through the dessert and get picked up in a "woodie" station wagon by a very picturesque 1960s painter! A lot of time, travel books ignore the details of getting dirty and being unable to clean up, or the difficulty of lugging bags around. I really felt like I was traveling with Bea and Pidge, although I would have been more prepared!

While Amelia Earhart did have a sister called Pidge, the book is clearly fictional. It is, however, extremely well researched. Details of daily life in the 1960s are spot on, with the possible exception of Pidge wearing slacks in her 70s. None of the women in my life wore slacks during this time period, but I lived in Ohio and not on the fashion forward, daring west coast! Readers are also introduced to information about Earhart's travels and childhood in a way that will encourage them to seek out books like Candace Fleming's Amelia Lost.

Bea's relationship with her grandmother is also just right. The two haven't been close, but soon warm to each other's eccentricities. Middle grade readers who have spent a lot of time with their grandparents often find them to be the most sympathetic adults in their life, and those who don't know grandparents well often long for them. Bea's confusion and delusions are serious but not dangerous, but middle school is often a time when readers see grandparents becoming more frail. I liked how Behrens handled the grandmother's condition, and the portrayal of the divorce and step family will also speak to the experience of many readers, or give them insights into how other families live.

Like Blume's Julia and the Art of Practical Travel or Bustard's Anywhere But ParadiseThe Last Grand Adventure transports family drama into an interesting and vibrant time period and shows us that while fashions, types of travel, and acceptable breakfasts (sugar sandwiches!) have changed over the last 50 years, family ties have not.

The only thing I didn't care for in this book were the "letters" from "Meelie". They were presented in cursive, which my students cannot read. It's like a super secret adult code that they have never been taught. I found myself struggling to not skip them, and they do add some length to the book. I think Pidge's story would have held even if she did not have the actual letters.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Cartoon Saturday: Melvin Beederman

364207Trine, Greg and Montijo, Rhode (illustrations).
The Curse of the Bologna Sandwich (Melvin Beederman #1)
Published May 30th 2006 by Henry Holt and Co.
Library copy

Melvin is a super hero who has some trouble with his super powers. It takes him a little longer to launch into flight, it takes him longer to stop trains, and he isn't fond of his x ray vision, because he gets tired of seeing underwear! His one undoing-- if he is around bologna, he is weakened. Other super heroes give him a hard time. When aspiring actress Candace takes her cape to the cleaners at the same time Melvin does, the two get the wrong cape, and Candace gets some of Melvin's powers. Eventually, the two meet up and are able to change capes and decide to be partners in UNcrime.
Strengths: Many of my reluctant readers LOVE superheroes books. These are a great length, similar to Captain Underpants in their ratio of words to pictures, and on a fairly easy reading level. There are eight books in the series so far, so this will keep them reading for a bit.
Weaknesses: Not quite as funny and clever as Captain Underpants, and while the illustrations might be more attractive than those, they also look very computer generated.
What I really think: The downside of telling your students that you have read all of the fiction books in the school library is that if you buy seven books in the series, you have to READ seven books in the series. (Book 8 did not come in this shipment. Hmmm.)
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Buttheads from Outer Space/Just Friends

Mahoney, Jerry. Buttheads from Outer Space
March 20th 2018 by Sky Pony Press
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Josh and his good friend Lloyd have a lot in common-- they both hate the Quentin, the kid in their class who is always making the cover of magazines, they both are interested in space aliens, and they both think their science teacher, Mr. Mudd, is a little too quirky. When the two go out for Josh's birthday with his parents to a Japanese restaurant, they are very surprised when they meet space aliens in the bathroom who take Josh's brand new iPhone! It's even worse when the aliens turn out to be... buttheads. That's just how these aliens are. They fart out of their faces and smile out of their butts. IAmWeenieBurger and DooDooFartMama decide to take up residence with Josh, but it's hard to hide aliens who have over a hundred ways to expel bodily waste, all of them messy. The aliens are also constantly getting into trouble, especially when they spend $900 on in-app purchases on Josh's phone. That's small stuff compared to their plan to take over the Earth and rename it FRRT, and Josh and Lloyd need to act quickly to avert disaster. It's hard, though, with Quentin trying to expose the aliens, Mr. Mudd acting weird, and Josh's parents being VERY angry about the amount of unexplained destructions going on at home! Can the boys find a way to thwart the aliens' plans so that Earth pets are safe from being eaten by Snertlings?

The friendship between Josh and Lloyd was one of the better ones I've read lately-- they have a lot of shared interests, and work well together under pressure. Lloyd gets along well with Josh's weird but supportive parents. I loved the notes that they put in Josh's lunch every day, and even thought that the way they handled the $900 app purchase was realistic, even though the plot was a lot more concerned with, you know, aliens exterminating the population! Quentin is useful as that annoying kid who always seems to do better than everyone else... and knows it.

For readers who want them, there are fart, butt, and bodily function jokes galore. There is even a prolonged broccoli flinging episode in the restaurant. Younger readers will find it especially interesting that the aliens farts can simulate a lot of different Earth smells, from McDonalds to cinnamon buns to less pleasant aromas.

If science fiction has taught me nothing else, it's that you NEVER give aliens the smaller corner to claim as their own, because they will just start to take over! We need to look no further than Faulkner's The Assault or Walden's Earthfall for proof of this! While this book has more in common with humorous speculative fiction like Emerson's Society for Alien Detection or Kloepfer's Into the Dorkness, the message is clear: be careful of aliens, especially if they eat your couch cushions and then barf them up repeatedly!

This reminded me strongly of Andy Griffiths' Zombie Butts from Uranus (2004), which actually circulated quite poorly in my library. Middle school is a tricky place, and while the average 11-12 year old may find butts hysterically funny, they don't necessarily want everyone else to know this. I think I will pass on purchasing, but elementary schools will definitely want to investigate this title.

35210308Sheldon, Dyan. Just Friends
February 13th 2018 by Candlewick Press
ARC from YA Books Central

Josh is into old movies, old music, and doesn't mind taking yoga classes with his best friend, Ramona. He also has a two friends who are equally off-the-beaten-path for high school students, Sal and Josh. When Jena Capistrano moves to town, Josh falls for her hard. He wishes that she would just speak to him one day, but through a series of circumstances, the two become "just friends". Jena opines that it's hard to be friends with a boy when they could make a move at any moment, but she knows that Josh would never do that. To complicate matters, Ramona has a bit of a crush on Josh, but they've known each other forever. Sal likes Ramona. Jena manages to fall into a crowd of popular kids, so starts dating a hunky football player, and every time the two fight, she goes running back to Josh, which only gives him hope. Will Josh be able to distance himself enough from Jena to move on with his life and relationships?

Sheldon's books are wonderful because they cover high school romances in ways that are still appropriate for middle school students to read about. This is a bit of a departure because the story is really Josh's. Even in middle school, there are a lot of boys who want romance books, but they really prefer them to be from the boy's point of view. Josh's feelings are so well described, and his insecurities and confusion about what to do will definitely ring true for boys just starting their romantic lives, no matter what their ages.

The characters in Just Friends are really what make the story. They are all very diverse, with unusual interests or quirky families, and none are stereotypical. While both Josh and Jena have a deceased parent, this is no dwelled upon. The adults in the story are supportive, and Josh even has a father figure in his Uncle Walt, who is helpful. Ramona's parents have a gift shop/new age story that is described in such an appealing way that I wouldn't mind going to Parsons Falls to shop there, and then maybe have some tea at Hava Java!

Romance books are always in demand, and the readers who enjoy them are usually voracious. I love the covers on Sheldon's newer titles-- they are very bright and appealing, and this one is very gender generic, which is excellent for the audience who should be reading it. This is a great book to hand to readers who have moved beyond Byars' Bingo Brown or Paulsen's Crush books and have enjoyed Korman's Son of the Mob, Finnegan's Not in the Script and Scott's Jingle Boy.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Bat and the Waiting Game

Arnold, Elana K. Bat and the Waiting Game
March 27th 2018 by Walden Pond Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

In this sequel to A Boy Called Bat, Bat is concerned that Thor is growing up all too quickly. He enjoys carry the baby skunk around in a sling and feeding him bottles, and while he is trying to be a good skunk nurturer and make sure that Thor gets appropriate exercise and food, it makes him a little sad, too. When Bat's sister Janie gets a part in the school play, Bat has to spend time after school at his friend Israel's house after school. While Bat is getting better at being a good friend, Israel's parents are very fascinating, with their big truck and pottery studio, so sometimes Israel feels a bit left out. As Thor gets bigger and more independent, Bat struggles to deal with the needs of his growing pet and his own desire to be with the tiny skunk.
Strengths: This is just the perfect length, has occasional pictures, and has a perfect tone-- supportive, hopeful, and still acknowledging the difficulties of life. Bat's experience with autism falls right in the middle of what I've seen in the students in the autism unit at my school-- some students have more challenges, and some have fewer. The people in his life are portrayed as working with him in a productive manner, and I especially like how Israel will occasionally call him on how he acts. The information about the skunk is good as well.
Weaknesses: The big, culminating event in the book seemed a tad forced, even if it was very funny!
What I really think: I think I might have loaned the copy of the first book to a teacher and might not have gotten it back, so I don't know how it would do with my students. I suspect that my 6th graders would find this to be a helpful but also amusing. This would be a definite purchase for an elementary school. Since my readers are reading younger books this year, and my school has an ASD unit, I will purchase both books.

35604697Charman, Katrina. The Titanic (Survival Tails #1)
March 20th 2018 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by publisher (

Mutt lives a hardscrabble life near Southhampton, England in 1912. His girl, Alice, has lost her mother, and her father has decided to immigrate to the New World. The two are going to travel in steerage on the fancy new boat, the Titanic, so Mutt is not going to come along. Hearing all of these plans gives Mutt an idea, so he manages to get to the boat and tries to board. With the help of a rat, he  manages to get on board and stays in the mail room for a while, being taken care of by some of the workers. He is bound and determined to find his girl, and comes across several other animals in the meantime. There are the rats, but also the Captain's cat as well as kittens for whom she is caring. There are lots of adventures to be had on board, but when the ship hits the iceberg, things go bad quickly. Mutt manages to find Alice, but ends up on deck with her father. Should he risk everything to jump into the icy water to be with his girl?
Strengths: This is billed as a book for fans of Messner's Ranger in Time as well as Tarshis' survival books; it's not a time travel book, but a survival book from the point of view of the animals. The details about the ship therefore concentrate more on what animals below deck would experience. Mutt certainly understands a lot more than most dogs would, so is a bit anthropomorphized. I have a lot of struggling readers who LOVE books with dogs as the main characters (think Klimo's Dog Diaries), so this will be perfect for them. No word on what the second book might be yet. The notes at the end of the book about historical topics and also animals facts are very helpful.
Weaknesses: I wish that historical fiction would cover a few different topics. While Charman mentions that even after 106 years, books are still being written about the Titanic, I certainly have enough of them in my library. I'd like to see something else about Krakatoa (After the Ashes was a bit long) , and a fictional account of The Halifax Explosion of 1917. Even more books with dogs accompanying explorers or pioneers would be good, Like Leo, Dog of the Sea.
What I really think: Interested to see what the rest of the books might cover! Ooh, maybe some elephants in Asia!
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, March 22, 2018

When the Crickets Stopped Singing and Good Dog

Donahue, Marilyn Cram. When the Crickets Stopped Singing
20 March 2018, Calkins Creek
Copy provided by the publisher

It's very hot in the summer of 1939, and Angie is glad to see new neighbors move in. Reba Lu is the new minister's daughter, and the two get along well. Angie's other friend, Geraldine, joins them in thinking of activities for the long summer days, and the three decide that they will think about people in their town who might not be easy to like, and think of ways that they might be nicer to those people. One is a girl their age, Dodie Crumper, whose mother is a neglectful alcoholic. Another is the slightly odd older daughter of the kindly local doctor. Despite the rumblings of war in the national news, the girls have a fairly carefree summer working on their plan until they start to notice that one of the men in town is rather creepy. He watches them a bit too closely, makes some of the people in town uncomfortable, and is observed behaving in inappropriate ways with young girls... including Dodie. When a tragedy occurs, Angie must decide how to proceed in order to keep her town safe from this man's influences.
Strengths: This has a lot of good details about what daily life was like during this time period, and the book was written in a style that really brought it to life. The characters and their interests seemed true to the time period, and the inclusion of religion was interesting. The note at the end of the book about how public opinion and social mores have changed in regards to predators was very helpful.
Weaknesses: It was a bit hard for me to believe that Angie would have been believed, and the courtroom scene seemed odd, since the man hadn't been charged yet. I don't have a legal background, so maybe that's how crimes were investigated in the 1930s since I always need books for a seventh grade language arts project on historical eras.
What I really think: This covers a topic that is timely but rather depressing. The details were so fantastic that I really wish the topic had been more specific to 1939 and related to the history of the time.

35618037Gemeinhart, Dan. Good Dog
March 27th 2018 by Scholastic
Scholastic Book Club paperback copy

Brodie is a dog who has died and gone to a heaven-like afterlife where dogs run free. He is slowly remembering his life back on earth, and when he does, he realizes that he left his boy, Aidan, behind. He feels that the boy is in danger, so he talks to Tuck, a dog who has been there for a long time, and arranges to go back to earth so he can help. Tuck goes with him, even though both dogs know that they will forfeit their immortal souls. When Brodie arrives back near where his boy lived, he can't find him, and he is besieged by hell hounds who want to do him in. He and Tuck persevere and slowly learn the story of what happened to Brodie as well as Aidan's fate. Aidan does need a lot of protecting, and Brodie, although he is a spirit, manages to do everything he can to help keep his boy safe.
Strengths: Gemeinhart's writing gets better with every book, and readers who liked The Honest Truth will enjoy the emotional roller coaster of this book. Great cover.
Weaknesses: The hell hounds took time away from Brodie's essential mission and didn't seem essential to the plot.
What I really think: I'll probably buy a copy for readers who love dogs and want a tear jerker like Where the Red Fern Grows. Yes, it made me cry, and the writing is excellent, but I could have done without the stereotypical trashy, abusive father. Abuse comes in many more subtle forms.

This is a fantasy book, because there isn't an afterlife of any kind or description. Yes, the same can be said of ghosts or dragons, but it's just cruel to portray an afterlife where I could be together with my dog forever when that just isn't the case. We die, we die. The end.

Remember, this blog (and my reviews on Goodreads) lists MY OPINIONS. I know when to keep these opinions separate from my decisions to purchase books. I only purchase books that I think my students will read and enjoy. If you don't like my opinion, read the book yourself, and post your own review. You also don't have to agree with my opinion on the afterlife. You can just be wrong.

Wow. I must not be having a good day! Or the students are wearing off on me. Or it's time for spring break!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World and Love, Penelope

Happy first day of spring! Of course, we are celebrating that in Ohio with the traditional 2-4 inches of snow. Roads are clear, kids, so come to school!

Blake, Ashley Herring. Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World
March 6th 2018 by Little, Brown
Public Library Copy

Ivy and her older sister Layla have missed their mother's attention ever since their twin brothers were born. Their mother is the author and illustrator of children's books, but having twins at 41 took a lot out of her. When their small Georgia town is hit by a tornado and their house is destroyed, things get even worse. The family spends time in the school gym, and then rents a room at a local bed and breakfast run by Robin. Robin is very kind and supportive of Ivy, and the two understand each other since Robin's partner, Jessa, has made Robin's existence in a small Southern town a tiny bit complicated from time to time. Ivy is devastated by the loss of her home, as well as the loss of her private sketchbook, which is filled with pictures of her holding hands with a girl. When Layla found out from someone else that her best friend Gigi had a girlfriend, Ivy overheard them having a big fight, and both Gigi and Ivy have been at odds with Layla ever since. Ivy is also having trouble relating to her best friend, Taryn. Taryn is boy crazy, loves soccer, and just has different interests from Ivy now, which makes it hard when Ivy's parents send her to live with Taryn's family after one of the twins becomes very ill. Ivy has also made a new friend in June, the daughter of the town doctor. June's father lives in California, and her mother is weirdly overprotective, but Ivy and June share a love of art, poetry, and drawing. When Ivy starts getting pages from her notebook left in her locker with notes suggesting that she would feel better if she talked to someone, she is worried at first, but then somewhat reassured. She hopes that the person who found her notebook is June, since she has a growing feeling that she has a crush on June. Eventually, Ivy's problems with her friends, sisters, and parents reach a point where she must finally talk to all of the people she loves and explain why she has been struggling.
Strengths: Like One True Way and Star-Crossed, this is a great middle grade LGBTQ+ book. I loved Robin's advice that "If a person was [were!] questioning all this stuff, that person doesn't have to know all the answers. They don't have to be sure about anything. They don't have to label themselves as anything but human if they don't want to." I really enjoyed the 14 Hollow Road-like tornado plot as the jumping off point for so much of the turmoil. The fact that her family was supportive, her friends were okay, and June wasn't quite sure at first, but later decided that they could be friends, was a reassuring touch. Despite some drama, everyone acts with as much empathy as can be mustered. Even Gigi and Layla make up, since Layla was not upset about the sexuality of her friend, but by the fact that she kept it secret. Taryn feels the same way about Ivy.
Weaknesses: It seemed a bit contrived that there were two other gay women in the town who both knew Ivy, and it would have been interesting to see how Ivy would have reacted without their presence.
What I really think: There was a bit too much drama for my own taste, but since all stories are different, it's certainly within the realm of possibility. I have had a LOT of readers coming to me asking for books about gender identity and sexual identity.

I have a number I am able to hand them, but it just surprises me that they ask me. Of course, I grew up at a time when people did not discuss ANY sensitive issues outside of their own homes, and even at home, they discussed things in whispers. I have to say that I personally find this to be preferable, but I know that openness and transparency about all manner of issues are preferred today. I find that saying things out loud to other people only makes them worse!

30340847Rocklin, Joanne. Love, Penelope. (Illustrations by Lucy Knisley)
March 20th 2018 by Amulet Books
E ARC from Netgalley

Penelope lives in Oakland, California with her Mama and Sammy. Her father was killed in a motorcycle accident, and Sammy adopted her when she was young. She's a huge fan of the Golden State Warriors, even though her classmate, Hazel Pepper, is from Colorado and prefers the Nuggets. Now that Mama is expecting a baby, Penny is keeping a journal of notes to her sibling. In it, she details a school project her class has been assigned about her family's history in California. Sammy's background includes members of the Ohlone tribe, and since her class studied them in third grade, Penny appropriates fome of Sammy's background for her project. She feels guilty telling this untruth to her teacher, Mr. Chen, and doesn't quite know how to come clean. In the meantime, she and her friend Gabby watch lots of basketball games, think about the drought in California, and deal with the relocation of Nell, Gabby's goat. Penny also does learn a bit more about Sammy's heritage, but has to deal with some prejudice against her mothers at school. When summer arrives, a girls' basketball team is formed, her mothers are able to legally marry, and her sibling finally arrives.
Strengths: For readers who like books in journal format, this is a fairly well paced account of an elementary school student with fairly specific interests, a little friend drama, and a diverse background.
Weaknesses: This is not actually a notebook or graphic novel. There are a few illustrations, but it's mostly text. And would parents really tell a child when they were just one month pregnant? I thought everyone waited until a good three months, since so much can go wrong.
What I really think: Knisley should write a graphic novel. Her style is similar to Raina Telgemeier's and Victoria Jamieson's, and whatever those two write immediately appeals to my readers. Without the pictures, though, this is a bit too young for my students. With pictures, I'm pretty sure my students who like graphic novels would even read a book about potty training!
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Strange Star

Car35574996roll, Emma. Strange Star.
March 20th 2018 by Delacorte Press
Copy provided by the publisher

In 1816, Lord Byron invites Percy Shelley, his companion Mary Godwin and her sister, Claire, to the Villa Diodati in Switzerland. Felix, the black footman, narrates the story. The evening's entertainment is to tell scary stories. The group starts to tell their tales, but they are interrupted by a knock at the door. Since the occurrence coincided with a similar event in real life, this scares them, and they find a girl in great distress at the door. She seems to pass away before their eyes, but they manage to revive her in front of the fire. When she comes to, she asks for her sister, whom she accuses the Shelleys of kidnapping. We then delve further into Lizzie Appleby's backstory. She and her sister Peg live and farm with their parents in the English countryside. Their father is also a cabinet maker, and when a scientist moves to a big house in the area, the father takes a job making cabinets, leaving the girls to harvest. During a Midwinter's celebration, Lizzie's friend Mercy sees an omen that Lizzie and her mother will die in the coming year, which seems ridiculous, because both are hearty souls. When they are out desperately trying to finish work in the fields before a storm hits, both are hit by lightning. The mother dies, and Lizzie is in bed for months as well as blind when she finally takes the bandages from her eyes. Her sister, who loves animals but is considered a hellion, is intrigued by the scientist at the big house, and finds that evil doings are going on. Miss Stine, the scientist, invites both girls to live with her in order to be studied, but as the girls find out more and more about the evil occurring, she refuses to let them leave. This is why Peg leaves with the Shelleys, in order to escape. Mary Godwin's father comes after her and arranges with Lizzie to go with her to Switzerland to find them. This is a great help, since she is blind and has no money, but he only goes so far. Lizzie continues on her own and eventually finds her sister, but will the two girls be able to find somewhere where they can be safe?
Strengths: This is an intriguing group of people, and it is nice publication to honor the bicentennial of Frankenstein. Godwin is a fascinating character, and the inclusion of a story told by a simple country girl as the genesis of that book is an interesting fictional way to add some different elements to the mythology of this great tale. Details about country life in England in the early 1800s are very well done, and the difficulties faced by working families at the time are intriguing. Felix's perspective was also interested.
Weaknesses: There is not as much about the writers as I would have liked. While Lizzie and Peg's story was really interesting on its own, it wasn't exactly what I was expecting to read.
What I really think: This is a British publication, and I imagine that historical works about the early 1800s are in great demand in that country. I'm not sure about the appeal to young US readers, but creepy stories generally do well.

A Problematic Paradox

33024300Sappingfield, Eliot. A Problematic Paradox
January 23rd 2018 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
ARC provided by the publisher and reviewed at Young Adult Books Central

Nikola Kross is a bit of a social outcast, and her guidance conselour (whom she calls "Ms. Hiccup") advises her to try to make herself less of a target. That's hard for Nikola to do, considering that her mother went missing when she was very young, and her father is an eccentric scientific inventor who has set up two mobile homes inside an abandoned SuperMart in North Dakota for the two to live in. When she is accosted on the way home from school by a very weird girl named Tabbabitha, Nikola is very worried when she gets home and her father is nowhere to be found in their compound. When she is later attacked and manages to run off, Ms. Hiccup appears, saying that she was given a pager by Nikola's father, with the instructions that she was to pick up Nikola and drive her to a specific location if the pager ever went off. The two head to Iowa ("On purpose?"), follow circuitous directions, are attacked by a swarm of enormous bees, and finally end up at The School. Nikola's father is a friend of the founder of this institution, Dr. Plaskington, who doesn't seem surprised that Nikola's father was abducted. The Old Ones are on the move, and everyone in the school is preparing for them to attack. Nikola manages to settle in as much as possible, and actually make a friend in her roommate, Hypatia. For once, the scientific curriculum and geeky classmates make her feel right at home. Tabbabitha is still a threat, and The School is preparing its students to fight the Old Ones. Will it be enough preparation for Nikola to survive and locate her father?

Readers who enjoy stories set in schools for children with special powers such as Black and Clare's Magisterium series, Bell's Uncommoners, or Nimmo's Charlie Bone will be enthralled with the details of life in The School. The whole town seems to be part of the campus, and the different magical shops and restaurants as well as the great classes and quirky teachers will appeal to those who want to imagine schools where all of the students are magically minded. While Nikola didn't get along perfectly with all of the students, I especially appreciated that there weren't any real enemies for her there, either. Fighting Tabbabitha and the Old Ones was problematic enough!

I almost wish that we had seen more of Nikola's daily life in the SuperMart before her father was kidnapped. What an imaginative setting. I especially liked her description later in the book of how her father cleaned-- when things got bad enough, he just replaced the mobile homes! Don't we all dream of that when contemplating the area behind the refrigerator?

Having Nikola be the heroine of a science infused story line is quite a nice idea, since girls are often underrepresented in science fiction tales. This reminded me quite a bit of Jennifer Strange in Jasper Fforde's The Chronicles of Kazam, or Lucy Carlisle in Stroud's Lockwood and Company. Of course, the missing father makes definite parallels to the newly repopular A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. It's good to be reminded that girls can vaporize aliens just as well, if not better, than the boys.

Monday, March 19, 2018

MMGM- The Sky at Our Feet

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.

Hashimi, Nadia. The Sky at Our Feet
March 6th 2018 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Jason and his mother live in Elkton, where his mother works in a laundry, and the two live in a small but cozy apartment. One day, his mother tells him that while he was born in the US and is an American citizen, she came to the US on a student visa while Jason's father remained, working as a translator for the US military. After he was killed, she struggled to raise him and has never applied for asylum, even though her friend Seema keeps telling her to. Not long after, his mother is picked up by the police at her place of work, and Jason panics. He grabs a back pack and a few granola bars, and starts off for his Aunt Seema's apartment in New York City. The venture does not start off well-- he loses his backpack and later passes out, hitting his head and ending up in the hospital. He pretends to have amnesia, so buys himself a little time. He meets Max, and girl who is vague about why she is in the hospital, and the two decide to break out and get to Seema's. They do manage to get out, and make their way across the city. Max really wants to see the zoo, and the children manage to get in. Max's medical problems catch up with her, however, but she tells Jason to go on without her. He has several adventures of his own and eventually makes it to Seema's. The big question still remains, however; what will happen to his mother, and to him if she is returned to Afghanistan?
Strengths: The issues of Jason's mother's immigration challenges are related in a realistic, sympathetic, and understandable way. Jason's love for his mother and his Afghan culture are very sweet. The adventure in New York City is what will sell this to children, especially since Jason even has a brush with celebrity. This put me in mind of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler in the best possible way.
Weaknesses: While I would have adored reading the adventure in this when I was 12, just about every decision that Jason makes appalls me as an adult. I also was alarmed by how little planning Jason's mother had done. As a single parent, it seems that she would have had an emergency plan for Jason even if she hadn't had the additional worry of immigration on her mind.  Also, I would have liked a bit more detail about Jason's every day life before his mother's detainment.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. This is a great mix of adventure and very realistic problems, told from an #ownvoices perspective.

When my daughter was in kindergarten, I actually enlisted a neighbor in a drill for my daughter about what she would do if I collapsed unconscious on the sidewalk during our mile walk to school. No joke. She had to know our emergency contact name and phone number in case she had to knock on a neighbor's door and have them call the squad for me. Perhaps I worried a little TOO much, but clearly Jason's mother could have worried a little more!

I had a lovely week with my younger daughter home from college, and she'll be home again this weekend so we can go to the Weird Al concert! We are super excited for the Ill-Advised Vanity Tour and bought the tickets in August!

I just completed my 1,001st review on Edelweiss! I feel like I should get a tiny reward... you know, like a Jolly Rancher or something.

Things are a little better now, but there are still bludgeoning things happening all too frequently. The latest was a huge water leak at the fantastic Westerville Public Library that supplies me and my students with books. I had one boy I thought would start to cry when he heard the children's collection might not be circulating for a while. At least I have spring break in a week. That's always a good time to rededicate myself to reading, get a little more sleep, and take Sylvie on lots and lots of walks. While I'm reading!
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Playing Cupid

30652381Meyerhoff, Jenny. Playing Cupid
January 31st 2017 by Scholastic Paperbacks
Library Copy

Clara Martinez has a knack for gauging people's interests and fixing them up with each other, which she and a friend occasionally do at the mall. When she has to come up with a business idea for a school project, she decides to run a matching service for students at her school so that everyone can have someone with whom to dance at the Hot Chocolate Social. There are a lot of other things going on in Clara's life-- her mother left "to find herself" when Clara was young, but Clara's father is concerned that he isn't the best one to raise her. Her friendship with Alivia is fraught with difficult social situations, made more difficult by the fact that Clara only had one friend at her previous school. She has a secret admirer, but doesn't know his identity. Her friend Emily is in danger of being marginalized out of the group. Add to that her struggles in school, and a lot is riding on the success of her business project!
Strengths: This reminded me, in the best possible way, of the Betty Miles' books I read as a tween. Realistic problems, friend drama, school setting-- very fun. I have a lot of readers this year who like light romantic fiction, and this is perfect for those readers.
Weaknesses: This is listed as a Wish Novel, but the others are written by Suzanne Nelson. I wish that Scholastic would publish hard cover versions of these, but I guess I'll have to stick with the prebinds. By the time the pages turn yellow and start to smell, the fashions and technology are probably outdated.
What I really think: Purchasing all the Scholastic books like this I can find, especially You're Bacon Me Crazy, since it involves food trucks!

36671989Bond, Michael. Paddington on Top
January 2nd 2018 by HarperCollins
Originally Published January 1st 1974
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

When school inspectors come to the Browns' door and claim that it is necessary for Paddington to report to school, everyone is a bit surprised. At first, it sounds like a good idea, since they take rolls (role), but after his teacher, Mr. Eustace, confiscates all of his marmalade sandwiches, Paddington has his doubts. Sensing that the bear will be trouble, Mr. Eustace sends him out to get the fish for science class, and the bear of course comes back with fish fingers instead of something that can be dissected. In the end, the school feels that Paddington can wait out a bit longer, perhaps until he finds a uniform. Other stories within this volume include a venture selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door, visiting the Royal Courts of Justice, a birthday treat, and an attempt at physical fitness.

These are all episodic, and Paddington remains his cheerful, somewhat dense self throughout each story. He is, of course, extremely well meaning, and most of the people with whom he comes in contact are glad to help him out, even if they are a little confused by him. This book is a bit unusual because the Brown children must be off at school, and Paddington interacts mainly with adults in his neighborhood, especially his friend Mr. Gruber.

The first book in this series of twelve, A Bear Called Paddington, came out in 1958, and Paddington on Top was originally published in 1974. There is definitely an old-fashioned quality to the narrative as well as the settings. Letting children (or bears!) leave school, people selling things door-to-door, and even small details like Paddington raising his hat in greeting are all occurrences that modern young readers may not understand. For those of us who remember such things, however, this book is a very gentle, comforting read, and the Peggy Fortnum illustrations reinforce that cozy quality.

Michael Bond passed away in 2017, but readers who enjoy classics like Sharp's The Rescuers, Streatfield's Shoe books, and the stories of Roald Dahl will enjoy the Amelia Bedelia-like adventures of our favorite bear from Darkest Peru. The popularity of the more recent movies will make this accessible to those who have been introduced to Paddington's world on screen as well.

Zahler, Diane. Sleeping Beauty's Daughters
August 27th 2013 by Harpercollins
Library copy

Aurora and Luna are tired of living a quiet existence with their father and mother, the Princess Aurora of Sleeping Beauty fame. Both parents are understandably overly cautious, especially since Aurora was also cursed... but if she pricks her finger, she will be the only one sleeping and wake alone. Luna is the younger sister and is especially displeased with all of the strictures about sharp objects, since she is not affected. Of course, Aurora manages to prick her finger, but the two sisters set off to find a way to reverse the curse. They are aided by a little magic tea that keeps Aurora awake, and a fisherman, Symon, who takes a liking to Aurora. Will they be able to connect with the key figures from their mother's past in order to give Aurora a future?
Strengths: Zahler's books are popular with my readers who love fairy tale adaptations, and the covers are so gorgeous.
Weaknesses: Had a hard time getting into this one. I didn't like Luna very much.
What I really think: I apparently read this a number of years ago, but somehow didn't purchase it. I don't know that I have ever posted a review of the same book twice. Oh, well.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, March 17, 2018

King, Zach: My Magical Life

Schulz, Charles. I'm Not Your Sweet Babboo! (Peanuts Collection #10)
March 13th 2018 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

This collection of strips, which seems to date from about 1977 if I have placed the character of Molly Volley correctly with the help of the Peanuts Wiki (who knew there was such a thing?), concentrate on the adventures of the Peanuts characters, mainly at school. Peppermint Patty and Marcie seem to appear more than usual, with Patty attending a dog training school hoping to get out of going to regular school, and Patty and Marcie investigating a country club. Linus has an interesting interaction with a girl he meets at a farm, which angers Sally. This explains the cover. It is rather amazing how well the vast majority of the strips hold up; the only reference I completely did not get was to Bruce Cabot, an actor who appeared in King Kong. There is a baseball team of younger children (Milo, Ruby and Leland) who ask Charlie Brown to help coach them, which was something I didn't remember at all!

Schulz is a cultural icon, and I would love to have this collection in a prebind so that I could include it in my school library. Paper backs only last about three years, no matter how much tape and glue we use! If children insist on reading comics, they might as well be the wholesome and funny panels that still appear in the newspaper today! I really wish that the original dates of publication would be listed on both the newspaper strips as well as collections like these.

I also think that buildings should all be required by law to list the date of construction and any major renovation at the same location by a main entrance, but I don't think that is likely to happen!

King, Zach. My Magical Life (#1)
September 26th 2017 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Zach comes from a magical family, and his relatives all have objects they use to channel their magic. Zach's father has a pocket watch, but Zach can't seem to find an object of his own. His parents are worried that the magic has "skipped" him, so they decide to enroll him in public school instead of homeschooling him, so that he can learn to deal with regular people. He's lucky to make a friend in Aaron right away, but he also makes an enemy of popular girl and bully Tricia. When Zach finds himself behind the glass in a vending machine (without his clothes on!), he's embarrassed, but also hopeful that he has some magic in him. Aaron loves to make videos, so he and Zach try to figure out what Zach's magic item is, finally settling on two baseball caps (snapbacks). Zach can use these to transport himself and objects, which is very helpful. After Tricia is mean to him again, he fills her locker with chocolate pudding, which explodes all over her. When Zach and Aaron accidentally transport an alligator, with disastrous results, they realize that Zach needs to learn to harness his magic more effectively. Perhaps he will in the next book in this series, Zach King: The Magical Mix-Up, which is due to be published on May 1, 2018.

This book has a lot of colorful interior illustrations on nice, heavy paper, but since it is a jacketed hardback, I think it will hold up better than some similar books in paperback. There are full color descriptions of all of the characters at the beginning of the book, and occasional comic strip style panels throughout the story.

It's easy to believe that Zach's family is magic, and the story doesn't belabor his lack of magic, but rather gives him lots of opportunities to discover what his talents and his objects are. He runs into some predictable trouble, but it's nice to see him work through the process with the help of a good friend.

Zach King is apparently an internet phenomenon, and there is a free app that accompanies this book available at I have to admit that I didn't look at any of the videos or investigate the app, but young readers might find both of these things of interest.

Magic is always an appealing subject to young readers. Fans of King's internet exploits or books like Callaghan's Just Add Magic, Osborne's Magic Treehouse books, Geronimo Stiltoon's illustrated exploits, or older titles like Edward Eager's books will find My Magical Life to be a pleasant diversion.

This is an optional purchase for school libraries unless there is a huge fan base for Zach King: it's an attractive book, but not very well written.

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Science of Breakable Things

29414515Keller, Tae. The Science of Breakable Things
March 6th 2018 by Random House
ARC provided by publisher through Follett's First Look Program

Natalie is dealing with a lot-- her best friend, Mikayla, no longer talks to her; she likes her teacher Mr. Neely but is occasionally overwhelmed by his enthusiasm; and her mother is so depressed that she doesn't get out of bed most days. Natalie knows this is because her mother was fired from her job at the university botany department by Mikayla's mother, but she wishes that she had her "old" mother back. When Mr. Neely suggests that she enter the Egg Drop competition for her science inquiry project, Natalie doesn't really want to, but thinks that she could use the prize money to cheer her mother up by taking her to Mexico to see the rare Cobalt Blue orchid that she was studying. Natalie works with her best friend, Twig, whose mother was a super model and doesn't always see eye to eye with her daughter, and eventually the two work with Dari, a fairly new student as well. Dari is very smart, but is having trouble making friends. The group tries many different ways to cushion their eggs for the drop (my favorite is using marshmallows and chocolate for the S'megg! If only they had incorporated a graham cracker box!). They sneak into the school to practice dropping the egg from a height, and their stealth tactics come in handy later in the book. Natalie's father is a therapist who makes Natalie see Dr. Doris to talk, and eventually things come to a head and her mother also must be brought into the conversation.
Strengths: The situation with Mikayla is SO true to life. Very strange things happen with middle school friendships, and the reasons aren't always clear. There is a good mix of home and school life that I wish I would see in more books. Natalie's ethnic heritage is interesting-- her father is half Italian and half Korean (but not being interested in anything Korean), and her mother is described as having blonde hair. There's a lot of support for Natalie all around, even though it isn't always effective. There are enough other things going on in the story to make the book interesting. Love the cover.
Weaknesses: I have come to the conclusion that I am the only person involved in #MGLit who is tired of all of the depressing stories. Everyone else (including Kate DiCamillo and Matt de la Pena) and is coming out with articles about why Sad Is Good. Fine. It must some horrible, Trump-induced Zeitgeist. I don't get it, but I have given up complaining. All I know is that sad books make me sad, and I don't need any help in that direction. I think a much better plan, when bad things happen, is to ignore them and move on. NO ONE agrees.
What I really think: I will probably purchase. The cover is appealing, the length is right, and it's less depressing than a lot of books.

TWO-WEEK BLOG TOUR (March 5th – 16th)
Week One:
·         3/5/18: Mommy Ramblings
·         3/6/18: The OWL
·         3/7/18: Bumbles and Fairy Tales
·         3/8/18: Cracking the Cover
·         3/9/18: The Book Reaper
Week Two:
·         3/12/18: Fiktshun
·         3/13/18: Word Spelunking
·         3/14/18: The Lovely Books Blog
·         3/15/18: Oh, For the Hook of a Book
·         3/16/18: Ms. Yingling Reads

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Stick Dog Crashes a Party

34848489Watson, Tom. Stick Dog Crashed a Party
March 6th 2018 by HarperCollins
Purchased Copy

Stick Dog and his friends are hungry. After a hilarious episode with a ketchup packet, they decide to go and get pizza at Pizza Palace. When they arrive there, they see a car with two humans and two cats who look vaguely family. It's Stick Cat, Stripes' soul mate! The humans are picking up a pizza and are in town for their wedding. The dogs make plans for getting themselves invited, but since it is at a park, that's easy. Karen still chases her tail a lot, but in between there are a lot of plans the dogs need to make. Stick Cat watches from afar, and aids the dogs in any way he can. When the humans are distracted from the food by fireworks, the dogs dig in, gorging themselves on mashed potatoes and ribs. The other dogs manage to get cake, but Stick Dog is busy arranging things and doesn't get any. Luckily, Stick Cat sees his plight and rolls the top layer of the cake down the hill for the hungry dogs.
Strengths: Stick Dog is the consummate professional.  Watson's career as a political speech writer is definitely evident in this installment-- the verbal machinations through which Stick Cat goes to not insult his friends are hysterical. He is the only one with any strategic acumen, and the dogs would all clearly starve without him. I had forgotten the intersection with Stick Cat; I'm not as big a fan of those, as Edith the cat is not very pleasant. These are so clever and make me laugh so much! Investing in a PermaBound set in the fall, since the paper over board covers wear horribly.
Weaknesses: Edith is not a pleasant character. So spoiled and nasty. Why would stick cat be friends with her? Of course, their humans are together, so it's unavoidable. I sort of hoped that Stick Cat would run away and join Stick Dog's pack.
What I really think: Every middle school librarian should go out and read one of these books RIGHT NOW. You will not be disappointed. Sylvie approves of these books!