Monday, April 30, 2018

MMGM- The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, The Geek's Cookbook

33004208McAnulty, Stacy. The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl.
May 1st 2018 by Random House
E ARC from Netgalley

Lucy lives with her supportive grandmother, and frequently sees her uncle Hondo, who is young, fun, and a bit misguided. Lucy has been homeschooled, but her grandmother decides that it is time for Lucy to acquire the social skills that middle school will provide. Why? Lucy was struck by lightning when she was young, and because of the resultant brain damage is now a mathematical savant but also suffers from OCD and social anxiety. Her grandmother's idea of sticking things out for one year and making one friend seems all but impossible, since Lucy can't even sit in a chair without repeating the action three times. Lucy is socially savvy enough to realize that her mathematical abilities will not win her any friends, and she tries very hard to do just enough to get A- grades, but an early attempt puts her on her teacher's radar for cheating with a boy named Levi. Levi struggles in math, but is accepting of Lucy and her quirks. When the class has to participate in a social service project-- in a group-- Lucy is not sure how she will do. Luckily, she and Levi are able to work together, along with Windy, to help out a local pet rescue, Pet Hut. Lucy runs the numbers and works out a formula she can use to tell which dogs will take longer to be adopted, so that those dogs can be featured on the web site. In the meantime, her grandmother is considering enrolling her in a school for the gifted, and of course, nothing in Lucy's life runs smoothly. Her friendship with Windy is a good one, until Windy's past friendship with mean girl Maddie complicates things. Will Lucy be able to survive middle school?
Strengths: This had an excellent balance of unusual and usual middle school challenges. Readers who enjoy problems novels because they make their own lives seem better will find Lucy's OCD and social difficulty interesting, while the problems with group projects and friends will appeal to everyone. Lucy's grandmother was wonderfully supportive and no-nonsense, and her attitude contributes greatly to Lucy's resilience. Lucy's problems are not downplayed, but are handled in a realistic way. The pet rescue story line was intriguing, and Lucy's talents in math actually are very valuable to the organization-- I think Lucy may have a really good career ahead of her as an actuary!
Weaknesses: Occasionally, the number one was written as "1" instead, and for some reason, this distracted me. I understand why this was done, but it happened infrequently enough that it took me out of the story.
What I really think: Loved this. Great cover, great story, STEM connections, pet rescue, and group project drama. There should be more books about middle school projects and their resultant drama! This is right behind Landis' Private Nobody, which also involved projects, as my second favorite book of 2018. Dan Richardson's Stu Truly is right up there as well. And had some project-y sorts of things. Seeing a theme!

38473466 Lecomte, Ligouri. The Geek's Cookbook: Easy Recipes Inspired by Pok√©mon, Harry Potter, Star Wars, and More!
May 1st 2018 by Skyhorse Publishing
Copy graciously provided by publisher upon request

While it would be possible to create an entire cookbook based only on the fandoms mentioned in the title (and indeed, there is at least one Harry Potter themed cookbook!), this goes the extra mile and includes an interesting variety of recipes to go along with other books, video games, and shows. Minecraft, Final Fantasy,Game of Thrones, the Matrix, and Batman, as well as The Big Bang Theory, Dexter, and Breaking Bad come into play.

This is a book aimed at adults, and the range of topics as well as the difficulty of recipes show this. I knew that going in, but the book hit so many of the Interests of My People that I had to investigate it. I am a bit surprised that there are no Tolkien, Douglas Adams, or Monty Python recipes. Since the author is French, perhaps French Geekdom is somewhat different.

While I am debating the inclusion of this book in my middle school library because of Breaking Bad and Dexter, which don't seem particularly middle grade appropriate (manufacturing meth and... a serial killer?) this would be a huge hit in a high school, and an excellent choice for a present for a college student who is just beginning to have to cook. I will definitely have to buy a couple of copies for various friends, both of mine and of my daughters'!

If anyone really needs to know how to make this Sauron's Downfall cake, just e mail me!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Positively Izzy

35887167Libenson, Terri. Positively Izzy
May 1st 2018 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Izzy prefers drawing to doing her school work. Her single mother works long hours at the hospital, so Izzy and her sisters Dani and Ash have to pick up a lot of slack at home. Izzy is excited about doing the play at school, but when she blows a test because she doesn't do the review notes, her mother tells her she can't be in it. Bri, on the other hand, really likes school and studies hard. Her mother is the drama teacher, and keeps trying to get Bri to do the play. When another student gets sick, Bri ends up practicing with Dev for the play, although she is freaked out about the idea. Izzy's sister Ash comes up with a plan for her sister to sneak out of the house on the night of the play. There's some friend drama, some more drama with the play, and some much needed family understanding that comes after all of the drama.
Strengths: My students really like Invisible Emmy, so I know this one will be popular. The text-to-picture ratio is good for middle school, the content a bit more appropriate and informative for 6th graders than Babymouse, and the "I Was So Embarassed" factor tremendously appealing to readers. I've had a lot of 6th graders this year who will ONLY read books with pictures... but since they often bring the book back after 20 minutes, I doubt they are actually reading. Books of this length take them a couple days, so I feel a little more confident that they are looking beyond the pictures.
Weaknesses: If students are actually reading graphic novels and notebook novels, that's great. I know that I personally struggle with decoding pictures, which is one reason I'm apparently the only school librarian in the universe who is not a fan of picture books. Pictures just clutter up the page and make it harder for me to read! I find it hard to keep the characters straight in these books for some reason, and really rely on the text more than the pictures. If students struggle with text, the pictures can be helpful. It's often hard to tell which students need what kind of book, so I try not to assume that all emerging readers (Jacqueline Woodson says we shouldn't label them "struggling") benefit from these books.
What I really think: Personally, I don't like this kind of book. See above. They aren't very interesting to me because they lack narrative details that I want. But I buy them because I know my readers do like them. I'm just never going to be one of the librarians who are all "Rah! Rah! Graphic novels!" Besides, students have to have something to rebel against, right?

Also, while I do have "struggling readers" and talk about them in my blog, I never use that term in front of any of the actual students. I do have a "quick pick" shelf for readers who want the feeling of accomplishment one gets from finishing a book, but they want that feeling after one day. I pitch these books to all manner of students, but the ones who are truly struggling know that the "quick picks" section is where they will find books that are comfortable for them to read.

32333296Vivian, Siobhan. Stay Sweet
April 24th 2018 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Public library copy

Amelia is thrilled that she is Head Girl at the Meade Creamery ice cream stand, after working there for several years. The founder, Molly Meade, only hired girls, and started the stand during WWII when her fiance was off fighting. It's a local tradition, but when Amelia finds that Molly has passed away in the stand, she fears for the summer. It turns out that Molly has a great nephew whose wealthy parents are letting him run the business for the summer. Grady's cute, but doesn't understand what the business means to Amelia. The two work together to find the recipe for the ice cream and keep things running, but the business isn't making the profit that Grady's parents want to see. Through letters of Molly's, as well as a visit from her best friend, Tiggy, Amelia finds out some secrets about Molly, has a nice summer romance with Grady, falls out with her best friend Cate, and finds a new direction for her life.
Strengths: Fun summer story with a girl with a mission. Big fan of the pink polos, personally. Molly was an intriguing character, even though she was gone, and the story twist for her is one I can only imagine was all too common during WWII, but was fun to see portrayed. The friend drama with Cate was good, and there were waffle cones!
Weaknesses: There is one unnecessary f-bomb buried deep in the book, and the letters in cursive didn't hold my interest-- I can't imagine what readers who can't read cursive will think of them. I also wasn't a big fan of Grady, although he treated Amelia well.
What I really think: May purchase. Loved the whole girl power, woman run business aspect of this, as well as the historical twists. It will hold up for a long time, and my readers who can make it through 350+ pages of tiny print can handle the f-bomb.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Dog Man and Cat Kid and Puppy Princess

35238109Pilkey, Dav. Dog Man and Cat Kid
December 26th 2017 by Graphix
Copy received from Young Adult Books Central

When Petey's clone shows up on Dog Man's doorstep, the super crime fighter takes him in. Of course, caring for a kitten capable of fixing robots takes some work, and when he is often late for work, Dog Man is glad to hire a nanny... who turns out to be Petey in disguise. Cat Kid gets sucked into Petey's evil plans even though he does not seem to have the same psychological make up as the evil super villain. When Dog Man's life becomes the subject of a Hollywood movie starring Italian actress Yolay Caprese, Petey is determined to sabotage it. With the help of reporter Sarah Hatoff and her menacing purse, Dog Man and Cat Kid manage to save the day.

It's hard to go wrong with giant mechaboy tacos, armies of animated hot dogs, and an absolutely adorable kitten, who even manages to look cute in a metal villain suit with razor sharp claws. Full color illustrations make this a weighty, short tome, and Pilkey's work is a slam dunk with so many discerning readers. There are several flip-o-rama scenes, lots of site gags, bopping of villains, and cheesy puns. Pilkey definitely is in contact with his inner six year old, and hits all of the things that are immediate hits with this age group.

Cat Kid, aside from being visually appealing, is a very complex creature, with a background he tries hard to overcome.  He has modified his robot 80-HD, so that it does good rather than evil, and he agonizes when Petey compels him to jaywalk and commit other acts that are "bad". I liked the message that even though Cat Kid did bad things, he could still be a good person.

Dog Man is a book that never needs to be recommended, and readers who enjoy Pilkey's other work or Watson's Stick Dog and Stick Cat series will find Dog Man and Cat Kid to be a just-right mix of goofiness and existential angst.

I have to say that as much as I like Pilkey, buying these just hurts my feelings because they fall apart so quickly. I was glad to see the character of Sarah Hatoff, since there is a huge imbalance between male and female characters in the books, and it's been the only thing that has really bothered me about Pilkey's work. Well, and the whole concept of Dog Man's genesis. Rather creepy. The stitches...shudder.

Furlington, Patty. Super Sweet Dreams (Puppy Princess #2)
May 29th 2018 by Scholastic Paperbacks
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

In this sequel to Party Time, Princess Rosie finds out that her best friend (and cat-in-waiting) Cleo's birthday is coming up. Since the two have such a royally good time together exploring the castle, Rosie wants to find the perfect gift for her friend. She asks her family and the castle staff for suggestions-- King Charles suggests food, Queen Fifi suggests a jeweled collar, and Petal the Cook offers to bake a cake. These are all good ideas, but when the two are saying goodbye so that Cleo can go home at the end of the day, Rosie has a great idea-- the two friends can have a sleepover! They indulge in traditional sleepover activities like pawicures and sundae making, which end in rather a mess and mean that the girls need to clean up. They also run into some problem with Rocky and Rollo, Rosie's young brothers, as well as the ghost of Grizzlebone. Could the that be somehow related to her brothers antics?

This UK import shows an interest in some of the facets of daily royal life, but who doesn't want to read about a Bichon princess? The interior illustrations are not the same as the cover, which looks very much like Clarke's Dr. Kittycat series. They are still charming and show the girls having lots of fun in the castle.

Rosie's desire to give her friend a nice celebration is admirable, and her frustration at running into difficulties realistic. It's good to see that she and Cleo don't just leave their messes, but take the responsibility to clean them up.

Readers who like animal series like Soderberg's Puppy Pirates or Meadow's Magic Animal Friends will look forward to the next two books in this series ((Wish Upon a Star and Flower Girl Power) as will those who love sparkly pink books that include fairies or princesses.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Guy Friday- Adventures: Game On! the Graphic Novel

Adventures: Game On! the Graphic Novel
Ali-A, Cavan Scott, Aleksandar Sotirovski (Illustrations)Ali-A
October 24th 2017 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Ali-A, Clare, and their dog Eevee are attending a launch party for the game Alien Liberator 2. Ali-A gets ready to speak when bizarre things start happening-- everyone starts turning into aliens! At first, everyone thinks that this is a publicity stunt, but somehow the game has infected the real world. Eevee is imbued with super powers and can communicate with Ali-A and Clare, and helps them figure out what is wrong and fix it before Earth is destroyed. Complete with Tyrantor robots and very real threats of explosions, their adventure tests their skills as gamers as well as fighters.

While this book combines two of the things I dislike the most, video games and YouTubers, these are two things that most middle grade readers find absolutely fascinating! The thought that there is someone who is famous for posting videos of himself playing videogames is all but nonsensical to me, but the average twelve year old could probably name a half dozen channels where this occurs. Is this book War and Peace? No. Will middle grade readers love it? Yes.

This book is brilliantly formatted. I've read a lot of graphic novels, and they tend to be very small, with microscopic print. While readers will struggle on with this because there are pictures (and color in this one, to boot), it's great that this is a slightly larger format so the print isn't quite as small. The pictures are clear and well drawn and the blue-oriented color palette is a nice foil for the aliens and fits the science fiction theme nicely.

It also doesn't have that odd smell that many graphic novels have. If more graphic novels were formatted like this, I would probably buy more of them.

Eevee is absolutely adorable, and the fact that she is able to talk to her owners is very intriguing. I rather wish that Ali-A were portrayed as a younger person, but since readers do like to "read up", seeing him as a young man will not be problematic. Clare could be more involved, but her skills do save the day on occasion.

I can see this being a great treat for a young reader who spends more time on the computer than reading, or who wants a bit of respite from reading longer novels about video games such as Anderson's Insert Coin to Continue, Schrieber's Game Over, Pete Watson, Brown's Josh Baxter Levels Up or Chang's Tournament Trouble.

CoderDojo Nano: Make Your Own Game: Create with Code
Horneman,‎ Jurie and CoderDojo
September 7th 2017 by Egmont Books Ltd
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

This book provides clear and precise instructions for creating a video game. While I have coded in the past, I have to admit that I did not follow the book step-by-step to make sure that the instructions were easy to follow, but just read the book.

The chapters start with general information about how code and compute games work, and then shows details about what needs to be done. There are screen shots of what the code should like like as well as decorative illustrations on each page. The text is small but clear and laid out with plenty of "white space", which is actually often colored to set the different elements of coding apart from one another. There are also "Ninja Tips" and "Level Up" boxes with additional helpful hints.

The chapters cover increasingly difficult concepts of programming in JavaScript, going from "Using the Console" to "Setting Up a Loop" to "Player Health". Since I also don't PLAY video games, it is somewhat hard to determine if everything needed for a successful game is included, but students to whom I gave the books were impressed by the extensive coverage of topics.

The bright colors, fun graphics, and detailed explanations of game elements, as well as other information about internet safety and use of code for creating different apps and other games, make this a great book to hand to a child who is obsessed with video games in hopes of channeling that energy and time into learning something productive!

Cube Kid. Ultimate Warrior (Diary of an 8-Bit Warrior #5)
March 13th 2018 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

"In the fifth in this series of five unofficial Minecraft adventure books, everyone's favorite 12-year-old villager-turned-warrior is back this time to use his warrior training on a new quest.

There’s no time to enjoy his newfound stardom.To save Villagetown, Runt embarks on a perilous quest far beyond the safety of the wall. Between bizarre towns, terrifying dungeons, and epic boss battles, Runt must summon the hero within and say “so long” to the noob! "

These are just books I don't understand, although my library assistants and I have had many conversations about Minecraft, which I keep getting confused with RuneScape, since that was the "cool" game that my own children tried to play with a dial up modem!

This series is fan fiction, so knowledge of the game is really helpful. I do think that this book has more of its own plot, and Runt has a lot more character development than we've seen in the past.

Also, one of my 8th grade girls who normally only reads romance books has been polishing off one of these a day, so she is super excited to read this one.

Definitely purchase this series in prebind for any elementary or middle school library, because the paperbacks will NOT hold up to the constant circulation that these see!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Bugging Out (Monsters Unleashed #2)

35820635Kloepfer, John. Bugging Out (Monsters Unleashed #2)
April 24th 2018 by HarperCollins
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

After Manny and Freddy's adventures with the 3-D printer in Monsters Unleashed, they are glad things have calmed down. When Trevor, a new student who seems obsessed with bugs, asks Freddy to draw him a bug, he does so without thinking too much about it, but later realizes that Trevor has gotten hold of the printer, which the kids had hidden in their old school which had been destroyed by monsters. Trevor has printed out bugs, but they have started to multiply on their own, and soon there is a huge infestation. Manny and Freddie have to bring out some of the monsters to help deal with this creepy crawly invasion of "entomons", and save their community from certain doom yet again.

Even though one of the monsters has turned the 3-D printer to stone, I doubt that we have heard the end of Manny's and Freddy's adventures! Kloepfer excels at writing action scenes-- chases, explosions, bug guts splattering, you name it! These books are short and move quickly, and will be very appealing to readers who enjoy Kloepfer's Zombie Chasers series as well as Lubar's Monsterific Tales.

While this is not a notebook novel, there are a fair number of illustrations, which help to show what the bugs look like, which is very helpful. Of course, the pictures of Kraydon, Oddo, Yapzilla,  Mega-Q and Mungo are fun to see as well,

The children all work together well despite their differences, and the new character of Trevor adds a bit of depth; it's hard to tell at first if Trevor is purely evil or just misguided, and we only find out as much as our protagonists do.

Goofy monsters, swarming bugs, gummy worms, and grandmas who are around to offer snacks at the end of an epic battle-- what more could you want in a middle grade speculative fiction novel?

Not quite as popular as Zombie Chasers in my library, but definitely worth ordering.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Chasing Helicity

28234655Zee, Ginger. Chasing Helicity
April 24th 2018 by Disney Hyperion

ARC provided by publisher at ALA

Helicity's grandmother was a decorated physicist, and she got a name of a scientific phenomenon to honor her. (It was either that or Doris!) When a tornado hits her hometown during a party honoring her brother's football scholarship, Helicity's home is destroyed and her brother is injured. A meterologist, Lana McElvoy, comes to town asking if people have videos of the storm, which irritates people, since seven people from the town perished. Helicity sends a photo, and combined with her name, this interests Lana.  Helicity loves science, but her grades are not quite good enough to get into honors science classes in high school, so she is very surprised when Lana asks her to join her storm team. Andy is having a difficult time recovering, although the family and town seem to recover fairly well. Helicity is glad to be a part of the team, and her adventures in storm chasing get off to a rousing start.
Strengths: This is a good length and moves quickly. I like the idea of the STEM connections, and tornado devastation is a timely topic.
Weaknesses: I had trouble believing that Helicity's parents would just send her off to travel with Lana, especially given their recent experiences.
What I really think: Storm books are a bit of a tough sell, even ones like Bishop's 14 Hollow Road which seemed like a much more informative book about dealing with the aftermath of a tornado. I had friends who lost their home in the 1980 Grand Island, Nebraska tornado, and it was quite traumatic! I was sure the brother was going to become addicted to opioids, which worried me, but he didn't. I will probably pass, especially since this is going to be a series.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

All of the Space Books

35297478Gibbs, Stuart. Waste of Space (Moon Base Alpha #3)
April 24th 2018 by Simon Schuster Books for Young ReadersE ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Dash is missing the freedom of being on Earth-- space stations are very small places, and tensions run high when everyone begins to feel cooped up. On his 13th birthday, his father takes him "outside" to play a bit of catch, but their outing is interrupted by a scream. Space tourist Lars Sjoberg has taken ill, and Chang and Dash's father realize that he has been poisoned. The station Commander, Nina, asks Dash to investigate, because she suspects Chang is a possibility. Along with Kira, as well as his young sister Violet, investigate how someone could have gotten cyanide and snuck it into Lars' lutefisk. Unfortunately, there are bigger problems-- the base is running out of oxygen and is going to be evacuated. Dash is happy to be going home, but wants to tidy up the loose ends before leaving.
Strengths: Gibbs always delivers a nice, solid mystery with great characters, twists in the plot, and lots of humor. This is no exception. I loved that the unpleasant realities of living on a space station are not neglected, but Dash isn't portrayed as being completely miserable, either.The ending of this was particularly good, and I'm a bit sad that Dash and his family went home. There is a nice epilogue about Dash's later life. I usually hate those (Harry Potter much?), but was okay with this one.
Weaknesses: Calling the inhabitants of the space station Moonies and using the acronym MBA for the station is not going to grate on children the way it grated on me.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and may have to look into replacing some of my copies of the first books in each of Gibbs' series, since they are falling apart!

Walden, Mark. Redemption (Earthfall #3)
April 24th 2018 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Still have readers who want dystopian books? Look no further than this great alien invasion series. My readers have been eagerly awaiting this book, which took longer to cross the pond than they wanted. Creeped me out a little-- I wasn't in a mood to read about the thousands of pod people who were suffering, but there's lots of action and adventure in the book, and Sam has some cool powers.

"The thrilling conclusion to the outstanding Earthfall trilogy for sci-fi fans everywhere. Can Earth be reclaimed?

The battle for Earth continues. In order to defeat the Voidborn, the alien race that invaded Earth, Sam must come to terms with the Illuminate powers he has inherited and return to London. The only hope he has for defeating the aliens is to enlist the help of not only his friends, but also what he fears most.

Sam and his friends must find a way to awaken the sleeping Illuminate far beneath the surface of the Earth, but what they don't realise is a dark and terrible secret is also about to be uncovered. A secret that may spell doom for all of humanity.

One thing is certain, whatever happens, life will never be the same for Sam ever again. And he will be forced to confront the reality that he may have to pay the ultimate price or finally watch the Earth fall."

37995226L'Engle, Madeleine. Intergalactic P.S.3
Published February 6th 2018 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Originally published in 1970
Public library copy

I can see this illustrated chapter book being bought by a lot of elementary schools who want to introduce readers to the characters they have met in The Wrinkle in Time movie, but this did not work for me. Why? I have an intense hatred of Charles Wallace that I had forgotten! I adored Meg, I owned a paperback copy of the original book for years and years, but I never liked Charles Wallace and his little pajama'd feet and his precociousness. Those are in full force in this book-- the kid is so freaky that he has to go to school on another planet. Um, no thank you. I have enough trouble getting readers to pick up the original book, so I am going to pass on purchasing this one.

Charles Wallace Murry is old enough to start school, but his sister, Meg, and their friend Calvin know he isn’t cut out for school on Earth―Meg worries that he’ll be more misunderstood than ever. Luckily, with the help of the three celestial creatures Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which, there is another place where Charles Wallace can get his education: Intergalactic P.S. 3, a public school in a completely different galaxy. The three children travel through time and space to reach the school, but for them all to make it home safely, Meg must undergo a test that will challenge her inner strength, her perspective, and her ability to protect the ones she loves.

Monday, April 23, 2018

MMGM- Running on the Roof of the World

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.

Butterworth, Jess. Running on the Roof of the World
May 1st 2018 by Algonquin Young Readers
E ARC from Netgalley

When Tash and her friend Sam witness a man self-immolating himself in the market place in their small Tibetan town, they are scared for many reasons. The police frown on any activity they do not approve, and punish the transgressors heavily. Sam's father is so bludgeoned by his surroundings that he doesn't care all that much about taking care of Sam, but Tash's parents are both supportive of her... and resistant to the Chinese government. Her father writes what the government tells him in the local newspaper, but also distributes anti-government leaflets. When the police come knocking on their door, they give Tash some papers and a few supplies and tell her to hide and meet them later. They never come. Tash and Sam talk, and decide to attempt to travel to India and ask the Dalai Lama for help. They borrow two yaks from a neighbor and set off across the cold and treacherous landscape to India. It's not easy, and they don't trust anyone they meet. When they get to India, will they even be able to get the help they need?
Strengths: If I ever have to travel in the Himalayas, I am definitely making sure I have access to a yak! This is what I learned from this book. That, and it's essential to carry dried yak dung with me to make a fire. I love this sort of detail. I have been looking for stories set in this area of the world, especially Nepal and Bhutan since I have students who were born in those countries, but I'll take what I can get. This was a fantastic survival adventure story with vivid details about traveling through the mountains. The brilliant part of the book was how it addressed the political climate in Tibet so that younger readers can understand it, and they can see how it affects someone who is their age.
Weaknesses: Because this started with the author's note about being raised in the Himalayas, and the characters had vaguely Western names, I thought at first that they were Westerners living in Tibet and was momentarily confused. It didn't take long to be set straight, and this could just be my reaction. I wish there had been a few more notes about history related to this, just because some readers will not quite understand how the real situation is.
What I really think: Definitely looking forward to sharing this with my readers next year. (I've spent all of the money I had for books-- next order will be in August.)

38732127Fry, Erin. Undercover Chefs
Published February 26th 2018 by 50/50 Press
Copy provided by author

Isaac is a very fast runner, but he'd rather be baking than training as hard as his mother would like. Jane struggles in school, and is worried about her grandfather, but loves to bake. J.C. loves to do scooter tricks that sound a lot like skateboarding (something we need MUCH more of in middle grade book!), and cooks a lot by necessity because he takes care of his younger brothers after school. When all three get an invitation to attend a cupcake competition meeting, they attend to escape other obligations and end up in a dusty, abandoned corner of their school. They meet Dr. Gus, a veteran geology teacher who has been placed on administrative leave by the evil assistant principal, M(r)s. Rappaport after a video of him talking to a rock is posted. Dr. Gus shows them the filthy, old home economics room and tells them they can do their baking for the contest there, after they clean it up. He's trying to keep some of the programs that benefit students but are no longer considered essential. It's not easy to keep up with other commitments and continue to come up with an idea for the competition, but the children take a liking to each other and work very hard to do well. When the final cupcake competition falls on a day that is in conflict with a meet and a skateboarding contest, and Jane has a family obligation, will the undercover chefs be able to overcome their obstacles and help out their school and Dr. Gus?
Strengths: The characters alone make it very clear that Ms. Fry is a middle school teacher and gets it. I've seen Isaac's well meaning but overbearing mother many times in cross country. Jane's family situation is a bit complex (adopted from China, mother died of cystic fibrosis, being raised by busy dad and ailing grandfather), but her learning difficulties are real, and it was good to see her get help for them at the end of the book. J.C.'s situation is all too common and a hard one for teachers to understand, because we most often don't know that it is happening. I also enjoyed Dr. Gus-- our geology teacher left about ten years ago and came back to find that his replacement had thrown out all of the rock samples he had collected over the years. Especially clever was the way that all three ended up being invited to work with Dr. Gus; let's just say that senior citizen networking in Isaac's town is alive and well. Dr. Gus's motivation was really sweet and made me cry! All in all, a fast, tasty read that I really enjoyed.
Weaknesses: While I could almost buy the abandoned home ec lab (although what school has that kind of room going spare?), it was hard to believe that M(r)s. Rappaport thought she would be able to get away with her evil plan. It's a fun part of the plot, just not all that realistic.
What I really think: Sadly, this is available only in paperback, so somewhat difficult to keep for long in my collection. This would definitely be a great e book to purchase for a child for the summer-- currently it is $2.99 on Amazon!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Chris Crutcher

35068371Crutcher, Chris. Loser's Bracket.
Published April 3rd 2018 by Greenwillow Books
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Annie is a high school senior who has a lot of family problems. Her bio mom, Nancy, lost custody some time ago due to extreme neglect and drug use, and Annie has been living with the Howards for a number of years, and she gets along well with their son, Marvin, who is about her age. Annie's sport is basketball, and she's hoping to get some college scholarships, but she is using the off season to swim, a sport at which she does not excel. The one good thing about swimming is that Nancy, her half sister Sheila, and Sheila's son, Frankie, often come to watch her, even though she is not supposed to have contact with them. The Howards know about this, and are generally okay with it, but when her foster father thinks that meeting with her bio family makes her misbehave, he wants her to cut off all contact. Sheila is not any better as a parent than Nancy was, but when Frankie goes missing at one of her meets, Annie blames herself. Nancy's boyfriend, Walter, is the most reliable one in the family, and turns out to be more involved in Frankie's life than Annie imagined. At the same time, the Howard family starts to have problems of their own. Will Annie be able to hold her own life together long enough to graduate and go on to college?

Crutcher has worked as a family counselor and this experience adds a lot to all of his books. He does an excellent job of explaining the challenges that Annie faces in the sort of detail that readers want in their sad books. He also makes it understandable that Annie is not willing to cease all contact with her family, no matter how awful they are to her. The Howards are a solid foster family, but it's good to see them portrayed as somewhat flawed as well. Annie's relationship with Marvin is fun to see, as their sibling bond is typically adversarial at times, but also very sweet.

The inclusion of swimming is fantastic-- aside from this author's Whale Talk, Calame's Swim the Fly,  Crossan's The Weight of Water, Dominy's A Matter of Heart and Luurtsema's Goldfish, there aren't that many books about swimming published for young adults. Readers who like to read about people whose lives are worse than their own (and there are a lot of readers who do!) will find that Crutcher's book, while dealing with serious issues, treats them with constructive levels of hope. It's easy to envision a successful life for Annie, even though it might not be an easy one.

The language in this, as is usual for Crutcher, is "gritty and realistic", which means there are multiple uses of profanity, including the f-bomb. Situations found in young adult fiction are notably absent, but there is a fair amount of descriptions of the abuse Annie and Frankie have suffered. I won't purchase this for middle school, but it is an essential purchase for high school.

Crutcher, Chris. Whale Talk
January 30th 2018 by Greenwillow Books
(first published April 10th 2001)
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

T.J. lives in a small conservative Northwest town where his mixed race heritage sets him apart. He was adopted by a couple who have their own issues, but are very supportive and as understanding as parents of a teen can be. After a run in with Rich Marshall, a local hunter and supporter of school athletics, Mr. Simet suggests that T.J. channel his energy and start a school swim team. There are challenges, like having to practice at the All Night pool, but soon T.J. has assembled a collection of quirky misfits from his school and is leading the team. Mr. Simet is very busy, but promises to help in a bit, and the group gets support from an unlikely source in Oliver, an older man who is living in the All Night gym and trying to avoid detection. Finishing up high school and applying to colleges is hard enough, but T.J. finds himself getting enmeshed in the life of Heidi, a girl he meets through the therapist he still occasionally see. Heidi is the daughter of  the woman Rich Marshall loved in high school... and a black man who was later paralyzed in a sports accident. Marshall is terribly abusive, and Heidi ends up being cared for by T.J.'s family. Heidi's  mother occasionally stays with them, and Rich frequently shows up at the house trying to get to his family. The swim team does well, and T.J. is able to improve his own situation, but things worsen with Heidi's. It doesn't help when T.J. sees high school girls in abusive relationships and tries to understand why they stay. When a tragedy occurs, T.J. finds out some family secrets which help him go on with his life.

Crutcher writes compelling stories, and uses his background as a counselor to add riveting details. This was originally written in 2001, so there are a few things that feel dated. T.J. and Heidi's racial background might still be unusual in the Northwest, but it is very common in Ohio. Unfortunately, the domestic abuse issues are all too fresh. T.J.'s father is a Vietnam veteran who had trouble readjusting to civilian life; today, someone of that age would be a grandparent. The book holds up well, but it doesn't hurt to alert readers that it is an older title in case they have questions.

The details about swimming are great. Mr. Crutcher must have been a competitive swimmer, and perhaps even a coach. It's good to see T.J. finding a positive outlet for his anger management issues, and also to see him take a positive leadership role. Interim Coach Oliver is an interesting addition to the group of athletes, all of whom face challenges of their own.

Crutcher is a master of the young adult problem novel, and his books should be on the top of the To Be Read pile of all fans of John Green, Carl Deuker, and Miranda Kenneally.

The language in this is very strong, and there are scenes of abuse. I will probably not purchase this for middle school, especially since it is an older title. High schools will want to refresh their (probably very well worn!) copies.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Cartoon Saturday: Marc's Mission

Willink, Jocko and Bozak, Jon. Way of the Warrior Kid: Marc's Mission
April 24th 2018 by Feiwel & Friends

ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

This sequel to Way of the Warrior Kid finds Marc having a very bad day on the last day of school. His nemesis, Nathan James, has called him "Plate Face" one too many times, and Marc gets so angry that he throws a fake pumpkin at Nathan-- which ricochets off him and hits their teacher! The principal ends up calling Marc's Uncle Jake, who has just arrive in town to spend the summer with Marc. Uncle Jake doesn't get mad; he tries to get to the root of Marc's problems and help him to fix them. It's not Nathan's fault that Marc was sent home, it's Marc's fault for allowing himself to become angry and act irrationally. In the same respect, it's not Marc's mother's fault that she won't buy him a new bike; it's Marc's fault for not taking good care of the first bike she gave him. Marc ends up spending time in a summer camp which Nathan also attends, and part of his job over the summer is to learn to understand Nathan's behavior and get along with him. He also continues his physical training (Uncle Jake, remember, is a Navy SEAL), fix up his bike, and learn to get his anger under control. In the end, Marc finds that doing these things, while they may seem boring, make him a better person.

Jocko Willink
From Author's Amazon Page
Uncle Jake is a great, unflappable mentor who shows Marc how much he loves him by being tough on him. Of course, at one point Marc complains that he is tired and wants a day just to goof off and play video games, but this day is shown later to be rather unsatisfactory, since accomplishing something always makes for a better day. Not happy to limit his influence only to Marc, Uncle Jake also mentors Nathan, who is depicted as a lonely and bitter child who lacks adequate adult care and supervision. Marc's reactions to life events are realistic and understandable, and he is quite amenable to Jake's interventions.

While this seemed a bit on the didactic side for me, there are many, many middle grade readers who don't understand many of Uncle Jake's lessons, just like Marc! Aimed at fans of notebook novels like Big Nate, Wimpy Kid, and Middle School: Get Me Out of Here, these books would be fantastic for young readers who struggle with self control, consequences of their actions, and general empathy.

The author looks EXACTLY like I pictured Uncle Jake in my mind!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Deep Water

34495947Key, Watt. Deep Water.
April 17th 2018 by Farrar Straus Giroux Deep Water.
E ARC from Edelweiss

Julie is spending the summer with her father, and helping with his dive business. Her parents separated because her mother didn't find the career opportunities she wanted in their small Southern town, but moving to the big city doesn't seem to have made her happy. When Julie's father doesn't feel well, he send Julie with the father and son clients on a dive. Once down, both the father and son disregard Julie's directions, and before long, things start to go really wrong. The anchor wasn't seated correctly, and the trio loses the boat and Julie's father. They manage to survive by floating, but as they are drifting out to sea, sharks attack, and Shane's father slips away from them. Shane and Julie manage to hold on, drinking rain water and trying to cover themselves from the sun, and eventually wind up on an abandoned oil rig. There, they manage to survive by raising the stores and catching fish, but the mold in the rig makes Shane very ill. Julie hopes to flag down help, but no one knows where they are. Will the two be able to survive?
Strengths: The note at the end of this was very fascinating-- Key had an experience as a teenager that could easily have ended the way this adventure did, but he was lucky. Survival stories are always popular, and Key knows just the right details to put into them. There are a couple of other books that detail surviving at sea, but the twist of finding an abandoned oil rig was what set this one apart. This will definitely be popular. The other thing I love about Key's writing is that he will work in some serious family issues as well, but show the children who are affected by them as being resilient and resourceful.
Weaknesses: Reading about damp and mold... *shudder.* Also, I wish that Julie and her father had better safety plans in place, but then the book wouldn't have been able to happen!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and this will be popular.

Rewind Blog Tour

O'Doherty, Carolyn. Rewind
April 10th 2018 by Boyds Mills Press
ARC provided by the publisher

Alex has the ability to rewind and freeze time. There are a few children like her, but the public fears them, and they are raised in a group home and trained to help solve crimes. Alex works with Mr. Ross, going to crime scenes and rewinding time until she can see what happened. When the two work on a bomb incident, they manage to get the bombed diffused and identify the bomber... who is found dead soon after. Alex has a bout of time sickness, which worries her. Few spinners live past the age of 18, despite the drugs that are available to manage their chronitin levels, and Alex has see too many deaths to think she will be exempt. Ross thinks that she should try a drug trial, and there are lots of things that are irregular about the treatment she has been receiving and how she feels on the different drugs. There are also some problems within the police force, and these become complicated as well. Can Alec survive long enough to both solve the crimes and save herself?
Strengths: While the sci fi time freezing element of this was interesting to me, the thing that my students will like is the murder mystery aspect of this. Well done, and nothing too gruesome for a 6th grader, which I appreciate. Plenty of action and adventure, and some good relationships as well.
Weaknesses: I kept thinking that at any moment something NOT appropriate for a younger reader would happen, so I was kept on the seat of my chair as much by that as by the suspenseful plot!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing and adding to my list of Ferguson's The Christopher Killer, Giles Fake I.D., Morgenrother's Jude and Sorrels First Shot as good MURDER mysteries that are also appropriate for eleven year olds.

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, April 19, 2018

British Mysteries

35849459Hearn, Sam. Sherlock Holmes and the Disappearing Diamond
March 27th 2018 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

In this re imagining of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes as a child, we find John Watson newly enrolled at Baker Street Academy. He meets Holmes and is a bit taken aback by his observations, but finds Martha and her dog Baskerville a calming presence. Teachers Ms. DeRossi and Mr. Gapp seem very nice as well. After a class trip to the British Arts and Antiquities Museum, the children get enmeshed in the theft of the Alpine Star. They suspect that their one unkind classmate, the trench coat wearing James Moriarty, might be involved, but there are many clues to follow and proof to be found before Sherlock can determine who is responsible for the theft and recover the jewel.

While you have to look a bit to find the information, the use of the Sherlock Holmes characters has been approved by his estate. I like to see this stated somewhere in the credits, since young readers sometimes aren't aware of the original. Doyle's work is so impressive because of all of the imitative stories it has spawned. Everything from Springer's Enola Holmes to Andy Lane's Death Cloud books pay homage to this fantastic British author.

This book is a completely fresh spin on the tale, however, since it is a heavily illustrated graphic/notebook novel mix! The drawings are not only appealing and engaging, but crisp and clear. I loved how the pages were designed; it's a bit hard to describe, but there is a good variety of framing, panoramic settings, insets, and page decorations that makes this very visually appealing. Usually, I find illustrations a distraction from the text, but these really supported the story well and were fun to look at. I'm assuming that the illustrations are in black and white, but I did look at the Advance Readers' Copy and haven't seen a finished one to compare yet, but the black and white are still stunning.

The characters are all true to their original incarnations, with the addition of much more personality for Martha Hudson, who is given a lot more input into the action of the story. Since it seems to be a boarding school, it's nice that her family home is nearby, and her mother is around to be a parental influence... and provide cookies. Having a cute dog like Baskerville is never a bad idea, either.

  This is a great way to introduce a classic mystery story to students who will read ANY book as long as it has pictures!

35297437Stevens, Robin. Jolly Foul Play (Wells and Wong #4)
April 17th 2018 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

When Head Girl Elizabeth dies of injuries after the school's Guy Fawkes bonfire, Daisy and Hazel suspect that she was murdered. The position of the rake wasn't right, but this doesn't stop the head gardener from being fired. When pages from a notebook Elizabeth kept of everyone's secrets keep cropping up, the Detective Society realizes they have their motive. The five prefects are also suspects, and the girls work on narrowing them down. When Hazel writes to Daisy's cousin Alexander and shares details of the investigations with him (in order to get his help), Daisy is angry and stops speaking to her, which makes investigating difficult. Younger student Binnie goes missing, and it is feared that the murderer has taken her. With time running out, Hazel and Daisy make up, double up on investigating, and figure out who the murderer is before it's too late.
Strengths: Anyone who is a fan of Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers or British boarding school stories will adore this series. The fact that there are actual murders at the school make it easier to get these into the hands of students who might not want to read about England in the 1930s. The mean girl exploits, however, as well as the investigative techniques, make this a series that I wish more of my students would read. The covers are also brilliant.
Weaknesses: There is a romance between two of the girls that is judged more harshly than I think it would have been at the time. After all, in the wake of WWI, there were a lot of highly educated women who lived with female partners, and it was just kind of accepted. It just doesn't seem historically accurate that students would have cared about it.
What I really think: Definitely purchase these for my library. They aren't huge circulators, but I can see them being around for a long time.


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Krista Kim-Bap

35801649Ahn, Angela. Krista Kim-Bap
April 18th 2018 by Second Story Press
E ACR from Edelweiss Plus

Krista and her friend Jason have to work on a project for school about their country of origin and what makes their culture particularly interesting. Krista thinks it is the food of Korea, and Jason certainly agrees. He loves kimchee and just about everything except a particular kind of soup. Krista's mom cooks a variety of foods, and often buys the Korean delicacies, so Krista asks her grandmother for help with her project. Even though she has a rocky relationship with her grandmother, the two start cooking together and enjoy working with each other. Krista also has to dress up, and her sister helps her restyle a traditional hanbok so that Krista can also wear it to a fancy birthday party. Liking the attention she gets when she makes more effort than wearing her regular jeans and t shirts, Krista takes her sister's hand-me-downs and starts to get the attention of some of the popular girls in her class. Jason is a little irritated, but the two realize that it is possible to develop other interests and still stay friends.
Strengths: This was a good combination of family drama/culture problems and ordinary middle school ones like not knowing what to wear and which friends to hang out with. I especially liked Krista's relationships with her family members-- they were perfectly drawn to show that difficult moment where 12 year olds want to be with their families but also want to be autonomous. The grandmother was interesting because the two didn't have a close relationship but grow closer through a shared interest. The topic of double eye folds is handled by the mother in a very nice way.
Weaknesses: There was a bit too much emphasis on what Krista wore, but that might be because neither of my daughters really cared about clothing even in high school!
What I really think: A great purchase for elementary and middle school libraries, but it is only available in paperback. I'll have to see if there is a prebind, because paperbacks don't last at all.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Wedgie and Gizmo vs. the Toof and The Pompeii Disaster

Selfors, Suzanne. Wedgie and Gizmo vs. the Toof (#2)
April 17th 2018 by Katherine Tegen Books
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Our friends are back after their exploits in Wedgie and Gizmo. Gizmo has settled in to life with his new family, and has established some routines. His nap schedule is hectic, but he makes sure to spend some time with Abuela, watching television and eating cheese puffs. When Jasmine is bound and determined to enter a pet in the school parade, both Gizmo and Wedgie are pressed into service. Wedgie embarassed himself last year, peeing on the principal and running a bit wild, so Jasmine thinks he needs to redeem himself. This is even harder now that Emiliy has moved in next door with a mini pig called Pinky (Gizmo refers to him as the Toof). Pinky wears a crown, goes to the beauty shop, and does lots of tricks. Jasmine is very concerned that Pinky will win the prize that she feels Wedgie deserves. In the meantime, Gizmo is trying to muster a cavy army in order to complete his plan for world domination, and even manages to order a drone on Abuela's charge card. This certainly spices up the pet parade, which is rather spectacular, if not as disastrous as it was the previous year.

Selfors captures both Wedgie's and Gizmo's voices beautifully. Wedgie rhapsodizing about a muffin he runs away with under the sofa sounds exactly the way I imagine my dog sounded after she managed to run off with an oatmeal cookie. Gizmo is a brilliant Evil Genius, and his plans to take over the world are pretty darn sound-- if you are a cavy. I'm a little sad that we don't hear from Pinkie, because I imagine the mini pig has a very distinctive vocal style as well.

Of course, much of this book is over the top. Gizmo wears glasses, orders things off the internet, and manages to get aloft in a drone at the school pet parade. The ordinary life of Jasmine and Elliot's family is a nice foil for the celebration of evil genius, and every day details about meals, school, and family chores makes a good argument that Gizmo's exploits are absolutely possible.

Jasmine's jealousy over Emily and her pet rings absolutely true, and Elliot's reluctance to get involved in her plots is something that older brothers will definitely recognize. My favorite character is Abuela, who is the only one who really seems to understand that Gizmo is actually a threat. She keeps telling the family "Yeah, the guinea pig ordered a drone on my credit card", but they never believe her. Even more endearing is the fact that Abuela LETS Gizmo order the drone and even unpacks it and makes sure it is available to him when he needs it.

Readers who enjoy Birney's Humphrey books, O'Donnell's Hamstersaurus Rex, or Reiche's I, Freddy will appreciate this series' use of a guinea pig rather than the overworked hamster. I can't think of too many books that include mini pigs, either, and Wedgie is in a class with the movie character Bolt in his insistence that his cape makes him a super hero!

Gutman, Dan. The Pompeii Disaster (Flashback Four #3)
April 3rd 2018 by HarperCollins
Public library copy

After being stranded briefly in 1912, the Flashback Four makes it back to Ms. Z for their next assignment. Since she has collected pictures that could have been taken because photography had been invented, she wants to up the stakes and send the children back to 79 a.d. and the eruption of Vesuvius. Of course, things don't ever go well, the children are mistaken for slaves and hauled off from their target-- taking a photo at the moment Vesuvius erupts. In the meantime, they learn a lot about how the Romans lived.
Strengths: I really like that the group has a mission, and the technology of time travel, as well as the gadgets they use once they get there (Ear buddy for translation would be fabulous, wouldn't it?) in order to communicate and fit in. Gutman has read his Pliny the Younger, and the historical details are good (dormice stuffed with dormice would probably not have been fed to prisoners, but how could you not include them?). This is a fun series for readers who have moved beyond Magic Treehouse and Ranger in Time. In fact, you could do a fun unit comparing the Pompeii versions of all of these!
Weaknesses: I like my time travel to be a little less goofy, and I'm not a huge fan of Julia.
What I really think: I definitely purchase these titles. They aren't wildly popular but see steady circulation, and they're great to have on hand for the students who like time travel books. The Baseball Card Adventures still have a special place in my heart!

Monday, April 16, 2018

MMGM- Woodpeckers: Drilling Holes and Bagging Bugs

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.

Collard, Sneed. Woodpeckers: Drilling Holes and Bagging Bugs
April 15th 2018 by Bucking Horse Books
Copy provided by the publisher

This beautifully photo illustrated book offers an overview of the woodpecker world. Headlined by clever chapter titles (Sapsuckers- Slurping Sap and Taking Names), we learn everything from what qualities make a woodpecker different from other birds, how they communicate, raise families, and eat. There are also chapters on different types of woodpeckers, including endangered ones and how students can help advocate for them. The writing is engaging and funny at points, and shows a real enthusiasm for the topic, which is bound to get readers excited as well. At the end of the book, there are resources for learning more on the topic as well as a glossary and, my favorite, photo bloopers!

The photo credit page is brilliantly complete, and I may use it to show students that yes, you do need to cite all of your sources!

Like Collard's other books,  Hopping Ahead of Climate Change, Insects, and Firebirds: Valuing Natural Wildfires and Burned Forests, this is a perfect length for middle grade and upper elementary readers (48 pages-- just long enough to have enough information, but short enough to be fast paced) and beautifully formatted. The photos, of course, are gorgeous and perfectly illustrate the points the text is making, but the page set up, font choice, and use of colors and inset text boxes all make this an appealing book. Check out his new web site,

35576416Partridge, Elizabeth. Boots on the Ground: America's War in Vietnam
April 10th 2018 by Viking Books for Young Readers
ARC provided by the publisher

The conflict in Vietnam was horrible, contentious, and defined the 1960s in many ways. In order to give an all-inclusive look at the many facets of this era, Partridge has arranged interviews with a wide variety of people who were actively involved at the time. There are also chapters relating to people who have since passed away but were essential to what was going on; Nixon, Johnson, Walter Cronkite, and others. This offers a lot of interesting perspectives, from soldiers from a variety of ethnic backgrounds to medics, nurses, protesters, and even Country Joe McDonald.

Flipping perspective from the home front to the battle front we hear how events abroad were received and interpreted by those involved, and those who were witnessing events through television or campus activity. Arranged in chronological order, we are able to see the changes in the political administration, the opinions of citizens, and the conditions for soldiers as well as ordinary people trying to survive in Vietnam. This historical progression continues up until the dedication of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. in the early 1980s.

I found it particularly interesting that the author was a senior in high school in 1968, and was active in protesting the war while on a college campus... for a while. The most striking part of the entire book for me was the foreword, since her personal reflections are indicative of what I believe the vast majority of the population felt about the conflict. She and friends were traveling and picked up a hitchhiker (people did, then) who turned out to have been returning from Vietnam. Since the group was not particularly supportive of the military, they maintained a polite silence but let the man spend the night with them rather than turn him out in the cold. I recently read a fiction book that talked about the problems faced by a conscientious objector who was vilified by his neighbors. While admittedly very young at the time (I attended kindergarten in Kent, Ohio starting in the fall of 1970 and my father was a graduate student at Kent State), my recollections were more that few people talked about Vietnam, but everyone was sensitive that those who served had a difficult time, and those who lost family members also had a hard time dealing with the situation. The foreword seems to corroborate this feeling.

No one I knew voiced strong opinions because they didn't want to cause people to feel bad. The book did a great job at pointing out that California did have a lot of tension, because the population included both university protesters as well as service men and women shipping out. I was about Partridge's age when the memorial was built, and even though I read the paper every day, I don't remember much about it at all, even though it was quite the ordeal for the organizers to get it approved, designed, and built.

This is an essential purchase for middle school and high school libraries. It is readable enough for students who are interested in military events to read for pleasure, and a wealth of information for research. Along with Russell Freedman's Vietnam: A History of the War, Boots on the Ground is hugely helpful in understanding both the events and the emotional environment of the US during this time.

The one thing that has always stuck with me, for some weird reason, is that it was technically the Vietnam CONFLICT. War was apparently never declared.

31332397Jensen, Cordelia and Morrison, Laurie. Every Shiny Thing
April 17th 2018 by Abrams/Amulet Books
E ARC from

Lauren is angry with her well-to-do parents because they have sent her brother Ryan, who is on the autism spectrum, off to a residential school. She misses him, and thinks her parents just got tired of dealing with Ryan's problems. She attends a private Quaker school that preaches simplicity even though most of the students are from very rich backgrounds and don't necessarily follow these teachings. Sierra's father is in jail, and her mother is an alcoholic who has finally found herself unable to take care of Sierra. Anne and Carl, neighbors of Lauren's, are fostering Sierra, who goes to the same school that Lauren does. Used to taking care of herself as well as her mother, Sierra is surprised at the level of affluence, but is glad that Lauren befriends her and helps her navigating the different environment. However, Lauren's anger turns into a plan to appropriate unused items from the well-to-do and sell them in order to donate money to a program for autistic teens. Lauren starts not only stealing from friends, but from stores as well. While Sierra doesn't want to help Lauren, she doesn't want to lose her as a friend, either. There are several projects going on at school, and lots of drama as Lauren and her friend Audrey fall out. Sierra's mother struggles with rehab, and Sierra tries to stay in contact with her friend Cassidy, but Lauren's issues imperil her own progress. Eventually, Sierra realizes that in order to help the people you care about, you sometimes have to bring their misdeeds to light.
Strengths: There are not enough books about children in foster care, although we are seeing a number of good updated ones. (Byar's 1977 The Pinballs does not count!) This had a good mix of events, and some added appeal with Lauren stealing. There is something my students like about other children doing things that they ought not to do. I'm not usually a fan of dual perspective, but it worked in this case.
Weaknesses: I had a little bit of trouble believing that Lauren would really miss her brother that much, and the level of affluence (which I definitely saw when I taught at a private school) might be utterly baffling to my students! Could have done without the "verse" style, but it does help to delineate Sierra's story.
What I really think: The shoplifting story alone made this book worth reading-- it's a topic not covered well enough. Add the foster care story, and this is a very readable and timely book.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Battle of Junk Mountain

32720278Greenburg, Lauren Abby. The Battle of Junk Mountain
April 17th 2018 by Running Press Kids
E ARC from

Shayne loves to spend summers in Maine with her grandmother, even though it hasn't been quite the same since her grandfather passed away. This summer, things aren't going the way she wants them too-- her mother is staying home to work, and her best friend Poppy has to help out with the family business. Even Shayne's grandmother has gone back to work, waitressing at a local restaurant, and Shayne is supposed to help out there as well. When she proves less than helpful, she returns to her mother's idea of helping her grandmother ready things for a local rummage sale to help supplement her meager income. With Poppy unavailable, Shayne makes friends with the quirky Linc, the grandson of her grandmother's cranky neighbor. Linc is very interseted in war enactments, and may be able to help Shayne find something in her grandmother's "junk mountain" that will be worth money. Even though she really wants to help, Shayne can only do so much, and eventually has to bring in adult reinforcements to help.
Strengths: This is the third book I've seen on hoarding in the last two years (Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes, Smart Cookie), but it is interesting and realistically done. I even bought that Shayne's mother would have sent her on her own. Shayne is hopeful that she can help, and works really hard to try to assist her grandmother. It doesn't hurt that the book is set in the summer in a Maine vacation town.
Weaknesses: I wish the neighbor hadn't been so cranky.
What I really think: This had a good combination of summer, problems, and hopefulness that will make it popular. Definitely will purchase.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Orphan Band of Springdale

35879383Nesbet, Anne. The Orphan Band of Springdale
April 10th 2018 by Candlewick Press
E ARC from Netgalley

Gusta Neubronner is on a bus from New York City to a small town in Maine in 1941 when her father disappears. He is a union organizer, and has told Gusta a little bit about what to do if men come for him, but she just didn't expect it. At least she is on her way to her grandmother's house, and manages to arrive without other incidents. Her grandmother runs an odd sort of orphanage, so there is plenty of room for Gusta. She settles in to school, gets to know her cousin, and finally gets a much needed pair of eyeglasses. In order to pay for the glasses, she helps a German optometrist who keeps pigeons. As WWII heats up, everyone comes under suspicion, especially the optometrist and Gusta, who is unable to furnish a birth certificate to the school. Gusta plays the French Horn, and is glad to be approached by the high school band, but when her uncle needs an operation to repair damage done by the looms at his work, she sells the instrument to help pay for it. She also writes to a labor organizer in New York who worked with her father, hoping to get some representation for the uncle's case. Long held family secrets emerge, and eventually Gusta is able to make sense of her world.
Strengths: I am constantly fascinated by books involving Germans in the US during WWII, but aside from A Tiny Piece of Sky and Bunting's Spying on Miss Muller (1995), there aren't that many. This Nesbet's own mother's story, and the love that goes into the details is very evident. I would have adored this one as a child.
Weaknesses: A bit long (448 pages) for my students. The biggest reason WWII books circulate is for an 8th grade unit, and this could have had a few more details about life on the home front.
What I really think: May purchase this one if I have the money remaining to do so. This author's Cabinet of Earths and  Cloud and Wallfish don't circulate particularly well. Again, perfectly fine book, and it may be great for your library.

Ms. Yingling

Friday, April 13, 2018

Guy Friday- Trapped in a Video Game

38243915Brady, Dustin. Trapped in a Video Game
April 10th 2018 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

Jesse is not a fan of video games, but his best friend Eric is obsessed with Full Blast, an alien invasion game that a classmate's father has provided to some of the boys in his son Chris's class. While looking for Eric, Jesse comes upon the game on the television in Eric's basement, and gets sucked into the game! His right hand is replaced by a blaster, and he and Eric have to play the game. As the game proceeds, they find out that a boy who has gone missing in their neighborhood has also been sucked into the game, and they discover that there is a significant bug in the programming that they have to figure out how to fix the game before they are stuck as well. Of course, since this is the first in a five book series, we know that further adventures await the boys. A short lesson at the back of the book on computer coding and how games are put together is interesting.
Strengths: This was about the length of a Jake Maddox sports book, and shares a similiar font size, amount of illustrations, and level of reading difficulty. The story moves along quickly, and Jake and Eric are sympathetic characters. Readers who enjoy video games but who are not strong enough readers for Anderson's fantastic Insert Coin to Continue will adore these books.
Weaknesses: This title is not year listed on Follett, and is published in paperback. While it would make a great gift for a reluctant reader or an addition to a classroom library, it wouldn't hold up to the circulation it would see in my building without being available in prebind.
What I really think:  This is a great choice for readers who are interested in video games but not terribly interested in reading. My students who pick up Patton's Battle Bugs book would be all over this. I will definitely keep my eye on this title, but if an Accelerated Reader test is not available for it, I won't purchase.

Poetry Friday: A Round of Robins

Hesterman, Katie. Illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier. A Round of Robins
March 27th 2018 by Nancy Paulsen Books
Copy provided by the publisher

This picture book sized poetry book follows Mama and Dad bird as they hatch a clutch of eggs, supervise raising the chicks, and send them off into the world. The rhymed couplets give brief information about how the nest is built, eggs are laid and hatched, and some of the activities of young chicks. Eating worms, splashing in puddles, learning to fly, and eventually being persuaded to leave the nest are all covered, and the final pages indicate that this is a process that will be repeated.

The pastel illustrations have a good portion of red in them, and the backgrounds show a good use of watercolor wash with pen and ink accents. Ruzzier may not have been trying to replicate the bird in Eastman's Are You My Mother, but the young robins certainly brought that fictional bird to mind.

The poems cover the material about bird life cycles very thoroughly, although it might have been nice to have a short section at the end of the book with more information and a few photographs, to reinforce to younger readers that all of the information is real and not a story. The poems are simple but well crafted; I am very particular about rhyme and scansion, and nothing stuck out as awkwardly done.

I normally deal with collections of poetry, or thematic poetry book that tell stories of school, so I haven't read many that teach science facts. There are apparently a number of these, however, such as Andreae's
Bustle in the bushes,  Harrison's Crawly school for bugs : Poems to drive you buggy and A place to start a family : poems about creatures that build and Lin's Our food : a healthy serving of science and poems. Who knew?

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Doughnut Fix

36548900Janowitz, Jessie. The Doughnut Fix
April 1st 2018 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Tristan's family decides to move from New York City to a small town after his father loses his job and his mother decides to open a restaurant. Tristan is so upset that he doesn't even tell his best friend, thinking that his magical thinking will somehow stop the move from happening. It doesn't. Soon, the family is ensconced in a run down house at the outskirts of a small town on the East Coast. Tristan isn't happy, his sister Jeanine is even less happy because she is not in an Able and Talented program, and four year old Zoe just shows her unhappiness by biting people. When the school district suggests that the children don't start school until the new year, the parents decide that Tristan and Jeanine should each have a project to keep them busy. Tristan has visited a small store in town and been intrigued by their chocolate cream doughnuts, which are no longer being made. He eventually earns the recipe, and embarks on a project to produce and sell the doughnuts, aided by Josh, the son of the local librarian. The boys perfect the recipe, source and price the ingredients, come up with a business plan, get a permit, advertise, and manage to produce a batch to sell. When their debut date ends up coinciding with a snow storm, they are afraid The Doughnut Stop is doomed. Is their chocolate cream doughnut really the kind of product that changes lives?
Strengths: This was a fast paced, fun read that had a great mix of middle grade elements. Even though there was a lot of detail about setting up a business, those details were offset by raccoon poop, a younger sister who zip lines in the basement and opens up several bags of flour as "fairy dust", and lots of chocolate! There's the middle grade angst of moving and making new friends as well as some spot on sibling rivalry. I was able to remember the details of this very clearly for several days after I finished this, which means that the writing was organized and strong.
Weaknesses: I found it impossible to believe that the school wouldn't take the children right away, and also that the mother didn't have a better plan for setting up her restaurant. Also, Zoe would hvae constantly been in time out were she my child.
What I really think: Great cover, solid premise, and a very easy to sell topic. Definitely purchasing!

Random comment: For over half the book, I was operating under the assumption that Tristan was a girl. Even with a friend trying out for the boys' basketball team. Maybe it's because we have a female teacher who is named Tristan, or the scene where Tristan doesn't want to take a ride during a rainstorm from a strange man (who turns out to be the mayor), but when I finally noticed the pronoun "he" was used, I was surprised!
Ms. Yingling