Saturday, June 30, 2018

Not So Normal Norbert

36546632Green, Joey and Patterson, James. Not So Normal Norbert 
July 2nd 2018 by jimmy patterson
ARC received from publisher at ALA Midwinter

Norbert lives in a futuristic dystopia where everything is gray and depressing. His parents were arrested and taken away years ago by the Truth Police, and he's being raised by a boring aunt and uncle. When Norbert stands up when the teacher is out of the room and riffs on the Loving Leader of the society, he is also arrested and sent to Zorquat Three with other children who are also deemed a menace to society and who are named Astor-Nuts. In this camp like environment, the quirky leaders encourage the children to be creative, but Norbert doesn't quite get it and thinks that he is still in danger of being sent to an even worse place when he speaks his mind. In the end, he understands what is going on.
Strengths: Anything with the Patterson imprint does well, and the quirky cover will sell this immediately to his fans.
Weaknesses: I do like some of Patterson's stuff, but this was more like Laugh Out Loud than I, Funny, and it rubbed me the wrong way. It was message heavy with the "society crushes creativity", and I just couldn't believe that Norbert was SO clueless. Yes, I'm all for giving children things they like, but they seemed like Brown Sugar Pop Tarts.
What I really think: I'm waiting to purchase a variety of these paper-over-board titles in prebinds, since they wear out quickly and it really hurts my feelings to repurchase them. Well, except Stick Dog and Big Nate.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, June 29, 2018

Al Capone Throws Me a Curve

Choldenko, Gennider. Al Capone Throws Me a Curve
May 1st 2018 by Wendy Lamb Books
Public Library E Book

There are a lot of things going on for Moose now that summer is approaching. He desperately wants to be on the high school baseball team, even though freshman rarely are. Also, Natalie has her 17th birthday, and her growing pains are evident. Her mother still dresses her like a ten year old, and wants to get her hair cut in a much younger style, but Bea Trixle has other ideas and not only cuts her hair in a stylish fashion for a young lady, but gives her two dresses that make Natalie feel more grown up. This causes some problems, including her crush on one of Moose's teammates after he is very nice to her and even gives her a button. Natalie keeps talking about Passerini, and even tells people that they are getting married. Bea even believes her! Moose knows he needs to have something special to bring to the team so that they let him on, and the other boys ask for pictures of Moose with Al Capone, and that sort of thing, which is just not realistic. Natalie hears this talk and brings their father's gun to a practice. This gets Moose in big trouble, but he doesn't tell on his sister. Piper is also causing him a lot of problems, since the warden approaches Moose to help look after her and keep her out of trouble. When the prisoners go on strike, Moose helps out with some of the work. One of the inmates, Fastball, is set to be released soon, so doesn't go on strike. When Bea plays a trick on Natalie so that Moose's father will look bad and her husband will be promoted to warden instead of him, Fastball is very helpful in getting Natalie out of a tricky situation. Moose realizes that while Alcatraz is a good place for him to be, it is not a great place for Natalie, and he helps his parents work through the process of getting her placed where she can flourish.
Strengths: This wraps up the story of Moose's family very nicely, showcases some nice growth from all concerned (even the father and mother!), and offers a glimpse of a particular place and time that is at once unusual and yet universal. The struggles the family has with finding a good place for Natalie would have been more difficult in the 1930s, but are still not easy today, but it was good to see that she had an affinity for bookkeeping and was able to excel at it. Moose's every day struggles with friends, school and baseball are realistic as well.
Weaknesses: I somehow didn't connect with Piper in this book, although I liked her in the past. Maybe too many other things required Moose's attention, so she got less.
What I really think:  Our 6th grade often reads the first book in this series as a class novel, so this will see steady circulation. I just wish we were close enough for the students to go on a field trip to Alcatraz! The notes at the end of the book are fun and helpful.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, June 28, 2018


Boothby, Ian and Matsumoto, Nina. Sparks!
February 27th 2018 by Graphix
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Canine configuration engage! August, a cat, has created a robotic dog that his friend Charlie helps him run. With the advanced robotics the two are able to save babies who are down wells, pull people out of the path of tornadoes, and perform other heroic deeds. They are being pursued by the evil Princess, who is an intergalactic threat who is inhabiting earth in the guise of a mewling, cute baby. Princess is trying to lure Charlie and August so that she can destroy them, and complete her attempt at trying to control all of the animals on Earth.  but Their canine disguise is throwing her off, and she imperils many citizens in her attempts to rout them, but they generally fail. When a busted control panel, as well as a squirrel spy sent by princess, put them at risk, Charlie and August must dig deep to find the resources they need to foil her. Will the help of their robotic litter box and a genetic camouflage bracelet that falls into the wrong hands be enough to save the Earth from certain doom?

As a dog person, I fear for a future where the fate of Earth falls into feline hands, but Charlie seems very caring and August is technologically savvy, so their are worse saviors to have. They both know even that heroic cats are not usually the ones to save the day, so their robot is a dog! This is a nice twist, since for some reason, there are a lot of books about space CATS. (Spires' Binky the Space Cat, Brockington's Catstronauts, Dinardo's Space Cat ; even Pete the Cat has an extraterrestrial adventure!)

Princess is a brilliantly evil villain who looks cute, and her minders often irk her to such an extent that she must apply the "agony pants" to them. She doesn't seem to have as much of a plan as Marmalade in Blabey's Bad Guys vs. the Alien, but her cuteness certainly works to her advantage when bending Earthlings to her will.

This full color graphic novel has bright colors, simple lines, and a comfortable amount of text for younger readers to process. Graphic novels for older readers are often have higher reading levels, and small text that struggling readers find difficult, but like Winnick's Hilo series or
Braddock's Stinky Cecil, Sparks! has just the right amount of humor, color and robotic dogs to make it a great way for a young reader to pass a pleasant afternoon. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Drum Roll, Please

35098024Bigelow, Lisa Jenn. Drum Roll, Please
June 26th 2018 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edleweiss Plus

Melly and her best friend Olivia are attending Camp Rockaway, a music summer camp in the woods with a predilection for bad puns on their signage. Melly isn't very interested in the camp, especially since her parents announced their impending divorce right before she was supposed to leave them for two weeks! Melly likes drumming but doesn't live for it, and when she is assigned to a group and is not with Olivia, she doesn't see the point of camp. There are a lot of typical camp events-- meals, hikes through the woods, substandard bathroom facilities, and a boys camp on the other side of the camp. As Olivia makes new friends, Melly struggles with fitting in until she meets Adeline. She enjoys being with her, and before too long starts to realize that what she is feeling is a crush. She is not sure that Adeline feels the same way, but the two continue to hang out together, and eventually decide they like each other. Melly makes some peace with her parents, takes some musical risks, and is able to be comfortable with many different aspects of herself.
Strengths: Having attended a music camp in high school, the details about every day life (especially the rain!) are absolutely true to life. I've read more camp books lately, and they are always good to have. There are lots of fun characters in this book, and a subtle air of female empowerment, as evidenced through the music, that I really enjoyed. The crush and relationship are very organic and a part of a larger story, which is just what I've been waiting for. Enjoyed this a lot, and readers who liked Grosso's I am Drums will be glad to see another story centered around the evolution of a drummer.
Weaknesses: The story is slow at a few points, but since the book is short, it moves fairly quickly.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing a copy, and glad to have another LGBTQ+ title, because I have a lot of students ask for them. There is a growing imbalance in middle grade books, though, and I would like to see another title similar to Barakiva's One Man Guy.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Scroll of Kings (The Lost Books #1)

Prineas, Sarah. The Scroll of Kings (The Lost Books #1)
June 26th 2018 by HarperCollins
ARC provided by publisher at ALA

Alex is struggling as the apprentice to an elderly librarian at a castle filled with old, musty diaries and laundry lists, and when Master Farnsworth dies under suspicious circumstances, the Dowager Duchess Purslane has had enough of him and sends him away. Not wanting to go back to his militaristic family, he forges the duchess' signature to obtain lodging and supplies, and journeys to Aethel, where the librarian has noticed books acting in a strange way. He secures a trial period until the end of the month from Queen Kenneret, who is very young and under the thrall of her Uncle Patch. Alex finds the library in an advanced state of disrepair, and sets to work putting things right. As he does so, he comes across more books, all with a strange symbol on them, that seem to have a mind of their own. He also uncovers evidence of a horrible historical event sixty years in the past that dealt with "L.B."s, and was devastating. He often runs afoul of Kenneret (he takes supplies since she won't give them to him), but she is impressed with his dedication. When her younger brother Charlie is kicked out of school again, she apprentices him to Alex. The two don't get on until Charlie challenges Alex to a duel, and Alex proves himself to be quite capable. Uncle Patch is involved in suspicious activities, the kingdom is in a fragile state, and Kenneret has to prove herself. Will the activities in the library, and the arrival of Alex's family, prove to be far more intertwined than we could imagine? I strongly suspect a book two to be in the offing.

Alex is a strong-headed but dedicated librarian who was "chosen" by the Red Codex. He doesn't believe that books are evil, even though they are capable of evil actions, so he doesn't want to destroy them, choosing instead to lock them up. He thinks that the books house the authors' spirits, so wants to keep them alive. There is a timely tie-in between the problems of the kingdom and the emergence of the "L.B."s that modern day librarians will love!

Kenneret and Charlie are brilliantly portrayed as well-meaning royalty who aren't quite sure what the best thing for their kingdom is. Luckily, they are open to trying. I would not be averse to a romance between the librarian and queen!

The library itself could have used more description, as well as more cups of tea by the fire, but times are dire, and we don't quite have the polished wood and gleaming rows of leather spines arranged quite yet. I will allow Alex a book or two to set things right in Aethel before getting the library whipped into shape.

Readers who loves the environment of this author's The Magic Thief or other medieval fantasy books such as Pierce's Tortall, or even the more modern Wexler's The Forbidden Library series, will enjoy imagining that they are working alongside Alex to both arrange books and help save the kingdom with swords and magic.

Glenn, Sharlee. Library on Wheels: Mary Lemist Titcomb and America's First Bookmobile
April 10th 2018 by Abrams Books
Public Library Copy

It's hard to imagine that there weren't always public libraries, but the idea didn't really start to catch on until the 1890s (when my grandmother was born!). Mary Lemist Titcomb came from a poor family but made sure that she became educated. After finishing high school in 1873, she took an internship to become a librarian. After being denied a position at the Chicago World's Fair's Women's Building Library in 1893 by Melvil Dewey because she wasn't widely known outside her community, she stepped up her her game and devoted herself to promoting innovative library services. She installed library boxes throughout her county in stores and private homes, if necessary. Fearing that farmers at the outer reaches of her district did not have books, she created a book wagon in 1905 to take on rounds while keeping the library building open! She was a consummate professional and no doubt the most "famous" librarian of her time.

Glenn has done exhaustive research to fill in spares facts, and since there are relatively few photographs of the time, she has done a great job of locating pictures that show, for example, what Mary might have looked like when she was a girl. The photos are all explained, but this will go far in giving modern children a better feel for the time. I love that Glenn was so dedicated to her topic that she helped get donations to put up a gravestone for Mary and her sister!

Appelt's Down Cut Shin Creek: The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky (April 24th 2001, HarperCollins) remains steadily popular in my library, so I'm definitely going to purchase a copy of this. It's beautifully formatted, and a fun, easy read. Plus, Titcomb is a great example of a woman who did not take "no" for an answer, so would make a great topic (if hard to research!) for a National History Day project. Pair this one with Farrell's  Fannie Fannie Never Flinched: One Woman’s Courage in the Struggle for American Labor Union Rights (November 1st 2016,Abrams Books for Young Readers), or, if you are silly enough to have Parnassus on Wheels on your library shelves since 1969, use Library on Wheels as an excuse to continue to hold onto Morley's fun novel.

1001317Morley, Christopher. Parnassus on Wheels
June 1st 1955 by J.B. Lippincott Company
(Originally published in 1917)

Ms. Yingling

Monday, June 25, 2018

She Loves You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah)

36750127Hood, Ann. She Love You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah)
June 26th 2018 by Penguin Workshop
ARC from ALA Midwinter

It's 1966, and Trudy Mixer is having a hard time at the end of the school year. Her best friend, Michelle, is morphing into a lipstick wearing, Twiggy haircut sporting cheerleader, her father is so involved in his work that he doesn't spend much time with her, and her Beatles' Fan Blub has gone from being the biggest group in the school to having only four members. Not only that, but a substitute teacher uses her real name, Gertrude, and people start calling her that all the time. There's a brief moment of light-- the Beatles are performing a concert in Boston, not too far from her home. Her father has to travel to Japan on business, but Trudy convinces her mother to drive her, and even gets her to practice, since driving stresses her out. When her mother breaks her leg and has a cumbersome cast on her right foot, Trudy must reassess her strategies. There is a new girl in town, Penelope, who has moved from California and spells of Patchouli, and she claims that she is going to the concert with a high school boy, and they intend to take the bus and then the subway to the concert. Trudy rallies the three remaining members-- Jessica, Nora, and Peter-- and uses the summer to obsess over the Beatles' music and make plans for the concert. As president of the FIRST fan club in Rhode Island, Trudy is sure that the group can manage to meet Paul, and soon finds out that her friends all have their own reasons for wanting to make a personal connection with the Fab Four.
Strengths: While there are still students who adore the Beatles (my own daughter included!), I don't think they understand the real impact of the group on popular culture in the 1960s. We have needed this book for a LONG time, and Hood includes so many details about modern day culture that I was definitely transported back to the summer of 1966.Trudy has a typical, middle class suburban lifestyle-- the hard working, quiet father, the Arpege wearing mother who dabbles in reading The Feminine Mystique but still churns out meatloaf, and the bedroom with mint green dotted swiss and a record player. In everlasting middle school (or junior high) fashion, her friends are changing and developing interests that don't match hers. The social issues of the time are worked in very cleverly through the experiences of the other children and include the "hippie" counterculture, the conflict in Vietnam and its effect on the families whose sons were fighting, and the general change in the feeling in the world that is so evident in the evolution of the Beatles' music and wonderfully summed up by this line "Psychedelic was part of the way the world was changing, and it made me feel nervous." (Page 154 of the uncorrected advance proof.) This is a beautifully written and vivid paean to a bygone era that is ingrained in the public consciousness and needs to be explained to younger people.
Weaknesses: I was so caught up in the details (Liddle Kiddles! Melamine dishes! White Pages from other cities in the library! Up the Down Staircase!) that I missed the character development in Jessica and Nora, and was a little surprised at Peter's feelings for Trudy at the end of the book. There were a few minor historical errors, but no 12 year old will catch them, and they all involved things that were just a year or two off.
What I really think: This transports readers to a very particular time and fully invests them in Trudy's quest to meet Paul McCartney. It is a wish fulfillment novel in the very best sense. I cried at the end, but then I was always a girl who loved George best! Definitely purchasing at least two, if not three, copies. Plus one for my daughter for Christmas!

Blog Tour!
June 18 – BookHounds YA – Favorite Beatle and why
June 19 – In Wonderland – Favorite Beatle
June 20 – It’s Just About Write – Author Guest Post: If it starts with the Beatles, what makes boy bands and the stories they inspire still so popular today all these decades later?
June 21 – Dotters Daughters Picks – Author Q&A

June 25 – Ms. Yingling Reads – Review
June 26 – Sweet Things – Review + Creative
June 27 – Book Nerds Across America – Favorite Boy Band  
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, June 24, 2018

There's No Base Like Home

32720234Mendoza, Jessica and Dusan, Alana Mendoza. There's No Base Like Home
June 19th 2018 by Tu Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Sophia Garcia wants to follow in her older sister Ellie's footsteps and play on the Waves softball team, but she doesn't make the cut. She is glad when a new team, the Quakes, is formed and she's asked to play on it. She still doesn't feel as if she is as good as her sister, but she's a little resistant to the training her sister tries to put her through in order to be a better player, even though she knows it will help. The girls have a lot of games, and their hardworking parents and extended family support them as much as they can, often bringing delicious food with them! With middle school starting, Sophia and her friend Casey are finding themselves with different interests-- Sophia is still all about softball, but Casey is interested in boys and clothes. It doesn't help that Casey's family is much better off than Sophia's, and Sophia finds herself being a little jealous, while Casey feels that Sophia doesn't listen to any concerns that aren't about sports. Sophia starts playing outfield instead of pitching (which is more Ellie's interest), and tries to stop being so cranky with her family and with Casey.
Strengths: We have a girls' softball team at school, but there as so few books that cover girls' teams. This had a lot of good information about different positions, and the light rivalry between Sophia and her sister was interesting. Seeing the Garcias extended family was nice as well. Illustrations will really help sell this, as will the celebrity factor if my girls have ever heard of these sisters.
Weaknesses: I had a hard time getting my head around a softball season going into December! By mid October in Ohio, it's way too cold to be playing outdoor sports, but this must not be the case in California! I wish this was a bit happier and less angsty.
What I really think: I'll have to buy a copy. I have a fair number of softball books, but a huge proportion of them are historical fiction. It's nice to see what that's modern.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Cartoon Saturday- Mr. Wolf's Class

Steinke, Aron Nels. Mr. Wolf's Class
June 26th 2018 by Scholastic/Graphix
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Mr. Wolf is starting his first year of teaching fourth grade. He sets up his classroom and waits for his students to arrive. He is pleased with their behavior on the rug, but struggles a bit when he ventures out to the office. Another teacher steals his stapler, and he runs a bit late when he's having a doughnut in the teachers' lounge. After he picks up his class from the library, they go back to their room, but one student, Penny, is missing! Mr. Wolf sends a student to the bathroom to check, and lets the principal know, but even when lunch starts, Penny is not back. She does show up at the end of recess, which Mr. Wolf extends, and the class ends the day with show and tell. On the bus home, Margot, who just moved to town, befriends Sampson, and they bond over a shared love of seashells. There is a second book in the works, entitled Mystery Club.
Strengths: Interestingly, this struck me as a sort of B is for Betsy in graphic novel form! You have the variety of students (who are all different animals, ala Marc Brown's Arthur), supportive adults, and very pedestrian activities that are nonetheless pleasantly interesting. This will be an enormous hit in elementary schools everywhere, and my 6th graders will pick the book up as well.
Weaknesses: I didn't believe that Penny was missing for so long, but it makes for a good story.
What I really think: Adding this to my PermaBound list of graphic and notebook novels to purchase in sturdier bindings.
Kwan, Garfield and Song, Dana. Squidtoons: Exploring Ocean Science with Comics
June 26th 2018 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

This is a very detailed handbook about a variety of ocean creatures. From sea dragons to various fish to sharks and many others besides, we are given drawings detailing bodily features, information about habitats and breeding, and many odd and interesting facts that are both important and amusing. While all of the information is scientifically accurate and does not skimp on science (there are a lot of high level terms and explanations of things like gas exchange and failure of creatures to mate in captivity, for example), there is a lot of humor. The statistical facts behind fear of shark attacks pokes fun at the extreme fear they engender while comparing the number of people killed by them to the number of people who die annually at the hands (hooves?) of deer.

This could be a fun book for students who are tremendously interested in marine biology, and could be a useful resource to keep in a classroom where these animals are studied. This is one of those books where it's not a bad idea to buy two-- one to use to look up facts, and the other to cut apart, laminate, and use on bulletin boards!

Friday, June 22, 2018


36405733Shovan, Laura. Takedown
June 19th 2018 by Wendy Lamb Books/Random House Children's Books
Public Library Copy

Mikayle has wrestled in a rec league for many years, always with her friend Kenna. They hold their own, and don't let anyone give them grief because they are female in a sport where most of the participants are male. When they start middle school, Mikayla is really excited to be on the travel team her brothers were on, the Eagles. When she and Kenna go to the first meeting, however , Coach Spence says that girls are not allowed, and he's on the local board, so there's no way they can even appeal. This is enough to encourage Kenna to pursue other interests, much to Mikayla's dismay. She decides to see if another travel team, the Gladiators, will take her. Luckily, Coach Billy is much more open minded, and tells his athletes that they are not to go easy on "Mickey" (as she likes to be called when she's wrestling) on treat her as anything but a teammate. Mickey is partnered with Lev, who isn't thrilled at the guff his friends give him about working with a girl. Mickey isn't thrilled, either, because she's always worked with Kenna. The two make their peace early on, especially since Mickey's brother Evan, a talented high school wrestler, is dating Lev's sister Dalia, and has always been super nice to Lev. Wrestling is a hard sport, and Mickey tries her best even when other teams refuse to compete against her, and she finds that it's harder to win at traveling wrestling than it was in the rec league. Lev struggles with the time commitment of wrestling, and the fact that he doesn't have time to do anything else. When Evan makes an unsportsmanlike move at a meet, both Mickey and Lev struggle with how to address his actions, and it effects them and their families in very different ways.

Lev and Mickey are both dedicated wrestlers with years of practice behind them who are now moving to the next level. Issues particular to wrestling, such as cutting weight and being sportsmanlike, are addressed brilliantly. In contrast to Martino's 2005 Pinned, the idea of cutting weight is highly discouraged, and we see only one wrestler try it, briefly, with unsatisfactory results.

Like Martino's 2011 Perfected by Girls, we also see that there are not yet consistent rules concerning girls involved in the sport, and that the culture is somewhat slow in accepting them. Lev and Mickey are both struggling with this, but they both do a good job at learning to work with each other, and Lev is a great teammate when he needs to stand up for his partner. They even manage to have some fun with it, including a specially decorated "girl" trophy amongst the official ones during a meet. I do think that girls and boys have started working better together in the last 10-15 years, and we need to see this reflected in middle grade literature.

The family issues that both Lev and Mickey face are realistic and important to the story as well. Mickey's parents are divorced and juggling three children's sports schedules, and Evan has chosen to live with their father. Lev's family is very busy, and he feels that they don't get enough time together as a family. There are also issues with friends that come into play in the story and are well done.

There are so few middle grade novels about wrestling-- a smattering of Jake Maddox and Matt Christopher titles, Klass' Wrestling with Honor (1990), Spinelli's There's a Girl in My Hammerlock (1991), Wallace's Wrestling Sturbridge (1996), Flake's Pinned (2012, and this does have a girl wrestler!) and the new Petruck's Boy Bites Bug (2018). I believe the reason there are so few is that the culture of wrestling is one that must be experienced in order to convey convincingly. Shovan's son wrestled, and her experiences with teams clearly show. My own disappointment was that since the Gladiators and Eagles are travel teams and not school teams, there were no girls serving as statisticians. My elder daughter was a wrestling stat and team manager for six years; she was such a part of the team that the boys got her hew own pair of wresting shoes when she graduated. Nonetheless, I am absolutely thrilled to have Takedown to include in my middle school collection.

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Everything I Know About You

27242453Dee, Barbara. Everything I Know About You
June 19th 2018 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Tally isn't particularly thrilled about the class trip to Washington, D.C., but the thought of being with best friends Sonnet and Spider makes it somewhat better. When head teacher chaperone Ms. Jordan makes her room with the popular Ava, and even worse, puts Spider with Marco, who had bullied him the previous year, Tally is not pleased. When the group finally gets to the patriotic themed hotel, Sonnet ends up with Haley, and Tally gets along better than she expected with Ava. She does notice, however, that Ava eats very little, and spends all of the free time in the hotel working out in the gym. Ava's mother, Mrs. Seeley, is along as one of the chaperones, and Tally witnesses some of the mother-daughter interactions that indicate that Ava's home life is not all that pleasant. Sonnet seems to be enjoying herself with Haley, and Spider and Marco are getting along extremely well, to the point where Spider accuses Tally of always having to protect him. Feeling left out, Tally makes the poor choice to dye her hair with products purchased at the hotel gift shop, and the result is less than attractive. Tally makes many interesting choices about personal adornment to show that she doesn't care what others think, but this makes her self conscious. Ava and her mother end up being very supportive, but Ava does not react well to Tally's concern about her eating habits. There's lots of drama, lots of sights to see, and a lot to be learned about how people who normally don't interact can get to know and care about each other when normal circumstances change.
Strengths: Always glad to see a book about a trip to D.C. instead of another class election, and this does a good job of including details about the sites AND the attendant drama that frequently occurs. Eating disorder books are always interesting to students, and seeing Ava through Tally's eyes is a good change from the first person narratives I've seen in the past. Also good is the portrayal of Tally's friendships, and how they change when the students are away from their normal routines. All in all, an engaging and timely book that should be included in all middle school collections. Dee has an excellent eye for timely problems that lack adequate literary representation, which is a skill every bit as important as her ability to tell a good story.
Weaknesses: There were some details of the trip that were very unlike the D.C. trip at our school-- a chaperone would never be able to go off alone with just two students, there is a LOT more free time than we give kids (seriously, the bus rolls out at 7 a.m. and we get back at 11 p.m., which leaves no time for movie watching or random hair dying!), and Ava is not old enough to use the exercise facilities in most hotels. Those are small quibbles, but I might say something to the readers in my school who pick up the book before going on our D.C. trip. Tally was not a likable character to me, but she wasn't so horrible that it interfered with my enjoyment of the story.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing to have on hand with Carlson's Faded Denim, Barson's 45 Pounds More or Less, Lytton's Jane in Bloom, Anderson's Wintergirls, Padian's Jersey Tomatoes are the Best, Porter's Dance of Sisters, Maschari's Things That Surprise You, Knowle's Still a Work in Progress, and the ur-anorexia novel, Levenkron's The Best Little Girl in the World.

Weyn, Suzanne. Snapstreak
February 6th 2018 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Public library copy

Vee is going to have to move to a town about ten miles away from where she is currently living with her father, and she'll have to leave her friends Megan and Lulu and finish 8th grade in another school. In order to ease her transition, she makes contact with a popular girl at her new school, Gwynneth, and starts a Snapstreak with her. A local news channel starts a contest at the same time-- two students from different schools with the longest Snapstreak will win concert tickets to a popular boy band. Despite getting her phone taken away and other difficulties, Vee keeps up the streak until she gets a concussion while playing lacrosse and can't use technology. Lulu and Megan step in to complete it, but have agendas of their own. Gwynneth isn't exactly who she says she is, and Vee hasn't been completely honest as well, but things work out.
Strengths: I really want to buy this for the librarian who will replace me in twenty years so that there is something historical from the 2010s in the collection. Technology changes so quickly (Anyone for Pfeffer's Rewind to Yesterday? I have a copy!), and in five years' time no one will know what Snapchat is.
Weaknesses:  The cartoon cover makes this look much younger-- in the book, the girls are in 8th grade, and the Snapchat pictures (actual photographs) make them look much younger. Bit of a cognitive disconnect, there.
What I really think: I'm debating purchase. May wait until end of year to see what the budget looks like.
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Milla Takes Charge (Daring Dreamers Club #1)

Soderberg, Erin. Milla Takes Charge (Daring Dreamers Club #1)
June 5th 2018 by Random House Disney
Copy provided by publisher

Milla is ready to have a great fifth grade year. She loves to write stories about adventures, hang out with her moms, and play with her pet pig, Chocolate Chip, who helps storyboard her stories. Things look good at school, especially with advisory period, for whom Milla's has a new teacher, Ms. Bancroft. Ms. Bancroft wears fun clothes and has quotations from Disney princesses all over her room. When she has to write in a journal about which princess she is most like, she chooses Belle because of their shared loved of books and reading. It's fun getting to know the other girls, including Piper, who loves to cook, Ruby, who is a soccer fanatic, Zahra who loves sewing and fashion design, and Mariana, who is supposed to love swimming like the rest of her siblings, but isn't quite sure. Milla is looking forward to the fifth-grade overnight trip, but she's not entirely sure if her moms will let her go. In addition to very serious nut and dairy allergies, Milla was attacked by a dog when she was young, which resulted in a scar on her cheek and a lot of overprotective attitudes from her mothers! They are also both very busy, so it's hard for Milla to find a time to sit down and ask about going. In order to make them more amenable to the idea, Milla tries to prove that she is really responsible, but her ideas, like taking her pet to school, all seem to back fire. As the deadline approaches and the other girls in her advisory make plans for the trip, Milla has to figure out a way that she can get permission to go on her first actual adventure!

This first book in a planned series with books focusing on each of the girls does a nice job of describing the school, the fantastic Ms. Bancroft, and the personalities and interests of each of the characters. It's hard to create five distinct types that I can keep straight, but the girls all have different enough interests and family backgrounds that they were very easy to identify. Younger readers will also be able to understand more about the girls' interests based on the princesses with whom the girls identify. A surprisingly effective character is Chocolate Chip, whose presence gives Milla opportunity to talk about pet rescue and how some pets require a lot of care. My daughter always wanted a teacup pig, but I didn't realize that the only way to keep them very small is to underfeed them!

It's always good to read about middle grade characters with particular interests and passions, and the Daring Dreamers certainly have these. Piper is particularly nice about keeping Milla's dietary restrictions in mind, and it's good to see that Mariana still hasn't decided what her passion is. There are never enough books about soccer, so I'm looking forward to the volume with Ruby. I would have preferred some more science of technology related interests, or even something along the lines of engineering or building. While the princess theme is really well done when it comes to encouraging the girls to be active and work toward their passions, there are a lot of books about girls who want to write and sew, so having Milla want to be an actuary would have been a lot fresher!

There can never be enough ensemble books about girls who do different activities with their friends, and The Daring Dreamers Club is a great addition to books like Kimmel's Forever Four, Simon's The Cupcake Diaries, Greenwald's Sweet Treats and Secret Crushes, Margolis's Maggie Brooklyn Mysteries,  or Deutsch's The Friendship Code.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Boy from Tomorrow

36321141DeAngelis, Camille. The Boy from Tomorrow
May 8th 2018 by Amberjack Publishing
E ARC from

When Alec moves into 444 Sparrow Street after his parents' divorce, his expectations are pretty low. He does manage to make some new friends quickly, and finds a cool Ouija type board stuck in a cupboard. When he and his friends get messages that make some sense, he realizes that he is communicating with a girl names Josie who lived in the house 100 years ago. In alternating passages, we see how this communication across time affects both children. Josie is able to gets information about the future, some of which she shares with her professional clairvoyant mother, who is more concerned with her clientele than her children. Josie and her young sister Cass have a governess, Emily, who is very kind, but their mother will lock Cass into a cupboard for an entire day for even small transgressions. On Alec's side, he finds out about the fate of the girls as they get older, and encourages them to seek help, especially once Emily is sent away. Can a friendship across time save both children from unfortunate occurrences in their lives?
Strengths: I find the spiritualist movements in the early 20th century very interesting, and Schlitz's A Drowned Maiden's Hair is one of my daughter's favorites. Saw this compared to Tom's Midnight Garden, and that's not a bad comparison. There's no time travel, but definitely a feel of that. The sisters' relationship is interesting, and I loved that Alec talked to his mom about everything and she believed him. Clipped along at a nice pace, and had some good creepy moments.
Weaknesses: I really wanted the characters to eventually meet, but the 100 year difference makes this impossible.
What I really think: I don't have a lot of call for this type of book, so I will only purchase it if I have funds left towards the end of next year.
Ms. Yingling

Monday, June 18, 2018

MMGM- Strays Like Us

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.

36127483 Galante, Cecilia. Strays Like Us
June 26th 2018 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

When Fred's (nee Winfred) mother is arrested at her job in a pharmacy for stealing medication, Fred finds herself an hour from her home in Philadelphia. She is in Lancaster, at the house of a no-nonsense woman named Margery. Margery seems nice, and she's a good cook, and Fred knows that this is very temporary. The neighbor, Mr. Carder, has a dog that is severely neglected, and when Fred feeds him, Mr. Carder is very upset. Margery has told Fred not to bother the dog, but is understanding. When Fred goes to her new school, she has a run in with mean girl Michelle in art class, tackling the girl when she bullies another girl called Lardvark and calls Fred "trash". Once again, Margery isn't happy, and tells Fred that she will spend two days sanding rust off of metal to get some control on her anger. The girl from school, whose name is Ardelia, stops by, and the two try to feed the dog next door. While they are doing this, they hear calls for help, and it turns out that Mr. Carder has fallen. They call 911, and Mr. Carder is taken to the hospital with a broken neck. Margery grudgingly agrees to take in the dog, Toby, and they clean him up and feed him, settling him down for the night in Margery's shed, which serves as her art studio. Fred is really happy, and when Delia stops by the next day, the girls practice riding Delia's unicycle, and Fred finds out some secrets about her life. When Toby trashes the studio, trying to get into a bag of food, the girls have to tell Margery yet another thing that they have done wrong. Always making the punishment fit the crime, Margery tells Fred that she will have to finish the sculpture that was damaged. While Fred loves her comfortable room, Margery's good cooking, and having a friend and a dog, she is very worried about her mother, and dealing with a lot of anger. She and Delia fall out, and Fred has to attend a custody hearing for her mother. If she can tell the judge that her mother doesn't have any problems, she can go back to live with her,  but will that be helpful in the long run?
Strengths: Fred's mother's problems with prescription drugs is a very timely topic, and Fred's foster care placement is a story we need to have represented more. Margery is a great foster parent-- not perfect, but firm and understanding. The friendship with Delia is a good one, and Toby's plight is a good parallel to Fred's own. This is the sort of sad book students like, especially since it involves a child their age making very poor decisions but being supported by caring adults. I enjoyed this a lot.
Weaknesses: There were a few levels of sad that could have been skipped- Delia had a brother who drowned, and her parents didn't really speak to Delia for a year. Also, dog lovers need to be warned that Toby gets hit by a car but lives. The coincidence of who hits him is a bit much. Will students mind? No. I also have Richard Peck's 1998 novel by the same name stuck in my mind now.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and the cover is great. This will sell itself.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Super Dorks (Pack of Dorks #3)

Cover image for Super Dorks
Vrabel, Beth. Super Dorks (Pack of Dorks #3)
1 May 2018, Skypony Press
Copy provided by the publisher

Lucy is no longer friends with Tom and Becky after Pack of Dorks and Camp Dorks, but they are still attending fifth grade with her. Lucy does have a small group of friends that includes Sheldon, who loves dinosaurs; April, who used to eat boogers; Amanda, who has anger management issues; and Sam, who is very invested in gymnastics. Lucy has Miss Parker, who is a bit quirky and into LARPing, but her friends are in other classes, which doesn't get the year off to a good start. It doesn't help when  Sam saves twins from being run over by a car and breaks his arm, perhaps ending his gymnastics career, April catches a bike thief, Sheldon saves endangered turtles on the school grounds. Everyone else is doing heroic things, so Lucy decides to run for student government. Since Sam is getting so much attention, especially from the popular Tom and Becky, Lucy nominates him, and signs herself up as his running mate. As the election plans start, and secrets about her friends are revealed, Lucy starts to doubt her plan. Will she be able to make an impact in her world and still keep her few but loyal friends?
Strengths: I love the message that you don't have to have a lot of friends; you just need really good ones. To me, five friends is a lot. Lucy is not afraid to step out of her comfort zone when she is in search of something that matters to her, and she is supportive of her friends (especially Amanda, whose mother has abandoned her) even though she isn't especially respectful of Sam's wishes. The inclusion of the efforts to save the turtles was interesting.
Weaknesses: Something about the way Lucy describes her friends and their dorkitude (dorkosity) seems a half bubble off to me. I suspect that Ms. Vrabel was actually a very cool kid in fifth grade!
What I really think: This has a lot of attitudes and occurrences that are more suited to elementary schools, where this would be an essential purchase, but I haven't bought these for middle school even though Vrabel's other work is very popular.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, June 16, 2018

All sorts of WISH titles!

I haven't bought a lot of romance books this year, since my students are all reading nothing but graphic novels. Very depressing. Usually, the some of the 8th grade girls want paranormal or high school romances, the 7th graders read the Students Across the Seven Seas and Simon Pulse Romantic Comedies, and the 6th graders read the Candy Apple and Darling's Crush books. This year, not so much. The Sky Pony Press Swirl novels have done pretty well, and I needed some fresh romance, so was pleased to happen upon the Scholastic WISH series in prebind. Perfect.

Read these in one night and was impressed at how different and well written each one was! Good use of taxpayer money! The covers are super cute!

17696143Nelson, Suzanne. Cake Pop Crush
April 2013 by Scholastic

Alicia's father runs the Say it with Flour bakery in a California town, and she, her young brother Roberto and Abuelita Rosa help out when they can. Her mother has passed away, but Ali has only vague memories of her. When new boy Dane moves to town from New Orleans, Ali is momentarily intrigued, until she finds out that his father owns the corporation behind Perk Up, the new coffee shop that seems to be aiming to put the bakery out of business. Sarah Chan, the spoiled daughter of the mayor, has her eyes on Dane who seems to like Ali despite their differences. Ali thinks she can save the troubled bakery by winning a bake off with Dane, but she loses and the bakery is going to go out of business. In the end, however, Dane uncovers some unfair dealings, and Ali secures several large cake pop orders from the mayor. The business is saved, and Dane and Ali's romance is secure.

24620907Nelson, Suzanne. Macarons at Midnight
January 1st 2015 by Scholastic

Elise moves to a small town from Boston when her mother gets remarried and moves to Switzerland. She's glad to be back with her Brazilian dad, but could do without her stepsister Destry and expectant step mom. After a disastrous costume part at Valentine's Day, Elise stops into A Swoonful of Sugar, a local patisserie that is having a tasting session. She has a very meet-cute with a boy who is drawing sketches, but she doesn't get his name and he doesn't know what she looks like. They meet up eventually at school, and find they have a lot in common-- Elise was the editor of the school newspaper at her old school, and Rajiv is the editor at the new school who grudgingly gives her a job, not knowing she is the girl for whom he is searching. There is a bit of drama and uncertaintly between sort-of-snotty part time model Viv, who is sort of Elise's friend and Kyan, who was very nice to Elise and is definitely her friend, as well as Raj, but eventually the couples sort themselves out.

27856404Nelson, Suzanne. Hot Cocoa Hearts
November 1st 2015 by Scholastic Inc.

Emily's family has a Photos With Santa booth at the mall, and work with a local cocoa shop to try to increase business. Emily is not pleased with having to work as an elf, but is intrigued by Alex, the grandson of the cocoa shop owner. Emily is part of the "Undergrounds" group at school with her best friend Jez, and has a huge crush on the arty and swoonworthy Sawyer. Since her grandmother's death, Emily doesn't really feel like celebrating Christmas, but when her homeroom at school does a Secret Santa gift exchange and Sawyer is her Secret Santa, she enjoys it a little more. After a somewhat disastrous first kiss with Sawyer, Emily starts to doubt that he is the right boy for her, but finds that she has lots in common with Alex.

20553852Nelson, Suzanne. You're Bacon Me Crazy
November 1st 2015 by Scholastic Inc.

Tessa lives in San Francisco and spends most of her time hanging out with her best friend Mei or working at her aunt Cleo's food truck, creating awesome sandwiches. When the spoiled Asher is forced to work at the truck after he breaks his mother's lamp, he messes up a lot until Tessa tries to work with him. Cleo is preparing for the local Flavor Fest, hoping this will imporve business so she doesn't have to give it up, but the evil Mr. Morgan plans a restaurant festival in the same location as the food truck one. Tessa struggles in school to get all of her work done, and her parents work long hours and are rarely home, but she tries to get the food festival reinstated. Of course, the more she gets to know Asher, the more she likes him, even if his friends are all the Beautiful People.

32332935Nelson, Suzanne. Donut Go Breaking My Heart
November 1st 2015 by Scholastic Inc.

Sheyda lives in Manhattan and loves to help out at her friend Kiri's family doughnut shop. When a rude boy comes in, Sheyda waits on him and accidentally spills a box of doughnuts on him. It turns out that he is Cabe Sadler, a movie start in town to film a movie at the doughnut shop. Kiri wants to be an actress, so auditions for a role, but Sheyda is offered one instead. Kiri insists that she doesn't care, but she also likes Cabe, who seems to have more romantic interest in Sheyda. Sheyda works on the film, continues to go to school, and makes a stage model for a scholarship competition. When Kiri ruins it, will the two be able to remain friends, especially when Sheyda and Cabe like each other?

Nelson, Suzanne. Sundae My Prince Will Come
March 27th 2018 by Scholastic Paperbacks

You know I have this on order for next year!

From Goodreads:
Malie's mom manages an ice cream parlor, but Malie's real love is ballet. She dreams of landing the lead in an upcoming production of Cinderella and dancing onstage while her boyfriend, Ethan, cheers from the audience. But Malie's mom is less than supportive.
Then cute new boy Alonzo arrives from Italy. His true love is ice cream -- gelato, to be exact. Alonzo offers a Malie a deal: If she lets him help out at the parlor, she can take dance lessons from his mom, a famed ballerina.

As Malie pirouettes between the parlor and the ballet studio, things start to spin out of control. Does she have feelings for Alonzo? What about Ethan? And if she doesn't get a role in Cinderella, can she find her happily ever after?

Friday, June 15, 2018

Time Tracers: The Stolen Summers

36099474Bondor-Stone, Annabeth and White, Connor. Time Tracers: The Stolen Summers
May 1st 2018 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Taj and his friends are super excited for summer, and have a whole plan of "chills and thrills" worked out-- swimming, junk food fests, hanging out. Taj alsowants to be a good brother to his young sister Zoe and spend time with her. When Taj wakes up on the first day of summer, his mother informs him that it's time for school. Originally thinking she's fooling around, Taj is very confused, especially when he gets to school and none of his friends have very good memories of what happened during the summer. Before too long, Taj meets Eon, who informs him that the summer has actually been stolen, and only Taj can help get it returned. He meets Father Time, deals with time stealing bug-like creatures who hang out in all of the fun places and steal time, and gets to be a dancing mascot at a baseball game. It turns out that Taj has even more special powers, so when the Time Tracers uncover a diabolical plot launched by one of their own, it's up to Taj to save the day.
Strengths: This had a fantastic premise, was definitely action-packed, and had lots of gross and funny moments of time stealers barfing up time and other sorts of things. The world building is solid, and the places that time is stolen are believable. My students will really like this one. It has a Game Over, Pete Watson sort of vibe.
Weaknesses: This almost moved too quickly for me, and I wanted a little more character development, which rarely happens. The ending also seemed wrong to me.
What I really think: The Stolen Summers is an engaging, if frenetic, speculative fiction book that will be an easy sell for my students, even if it is not my favorite.

35604045Edith and Pearce, Phillipa. Tom's Midnight Garden.  (1958)
April 3rd 2018 by Greenwillow Books
Public Library Copy

You either know and love the Tom's Midnight Garden or you don't. I do. It was another one of the few books I managed to acquire as a child, and I kept it for many years. I keep the school library one around, too, although it's a prebind that's getting pretty nasty. I approached the graphic novel version with distrust.

It's not bad. The text seems very true to the original, at least what I remember. The language is a bit stilted at times. The illustrations made me see the outside of the house as it was in 1958 and as it was when Hatty was a girl in a way I hadn't envisioned them before. Not knowing how English houses, and English towns, were set up when I first read the book put me at a disadvantage. The illustrations help. They also somehow removed me a bit from Tom's thoughts, since it's hard to draw what people are thinking and feeling.

Part of me wants to buy this for my school collection. I have Dan Jolly's graphic novel of O.T. Nelson's 1975 The Girl Who Owned the City, and it has increased the circulation of the original (and also prebound) version. I'm just not sure. All too often, children pick up the graphic novels, flip through them for 20 minutes, and return them. This is a picture book sized volume, and there was something about the color palette that wasn't quite right. I think it was that the same one was employed for both time periods. It's sort of a drab greeny yellow that would be good for the modern day, but I then wanted something prettier for Hatty's era. Interesting to read if you're a fan, but I'm still debating.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The House That Lou Built

29752051Respicio, Mae. The House That Lou Built
June 12th 2018 by Random House Kids/Wendy Lamb Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Lou lives with her mother and grandmother in San Francisco. Her father died before she was born, and her grandfather passed away a few years ago, but she has a large, supportive extended family and many friends. Her mother is training to be a registered nurse and is struggling financially. She's looking for jobs, and favoring one she is offered in Washington state, because the cost of living is much cheaper. Lou does not want to leave the area, especially since her father's family left her a small plot of land, and she dreams of constructing her own tiny house on it, so that she and her mother can have their own space. She even enlists her friends and her shop teacher, Mr. Keller (who is also a family friend) to help her get materials and construct it. The problem is that she doesn't ask her mother's permission, and gets in trouble for traveling so far from home to work on it. There are lots of activities and get-togethers for her large Filipino family, and Lou is desperate to do anything to stay with them. She hopes that the house will be enough for her mother to reconsider, or at the very least, the award Mr. Keller nominates her for that she actually wins.
Strengths: Books where kids have skills or talents that they use to Do Something are always popular in my library, especially when they are upbeat and have some moments of humor. Lou's love of building is admirable, and a much more integral part of her personality than Ellie Engineer, which seemed a bit forced. Bonus points to the author for mentioning how rare shop programs are-- my district hasn't had any at the middle school level since 2003. I especially liked that she got her friends interested and involved. Fear of relocation is a huge thing for 7th graders, so this will make the book even more appealing. There were lots of good details about Filipino culture, but that was not the main focus of the book. Great cover, and overall fantastic debut novel.
Weaknesses: Lou engages in a fair amount of lying and deception. I hadn't noticed how many characters in middle grade novels lie and sneak around until someone mentioned that they needed books that didn't include these things!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and I see it being a popular title.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Why Can't I Be You, Full-Court Press

36260498Walker, Melissa. Why Can't I Be You 
June 19th 2018 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Claire is very excited about summer, because she is being allowed to stay home by herself. Her friend and neighbor, Ronan, has plenty of plans for things they can do around the trailer park where they live. Things start to get derailed a bit when Claire's friend Brianna introduces them to her cousin, Eden, who is a year older than they are and acts like she's 16 rather than 12. It also doesn't help that Brianna has moved into a fancy new house with a pool, and Claire starts to feel a bit bad about her mother cleaning houses for other people, and about living in a small home. Ronan's father is back after having left the family for a while, but he is struggling with depression, and this is impacting Ronan's life. Claire's own father is very supportive, has frequent visitations, and gets along well enough with her mother. Summer's not bad, but it's more confusing than Claire expected, and Eden seems to be siphoning off Claire's friends, including Ronan. Will this affect their joint birthday party planned for the end of the summer?
Strengths: Like this author's Let's Pretend We Never Met, this book explores the difficulties of navigating friendships in middle school. I love that Walker takes very common facets of middle grade friendships that are rarely covered in literature and deftly explores them. It is really hard to have friends who are wealthier, even if your family is happy with what they have, and it's annoying to lose a friend to someone who is "cooler". Eden is an all too common type of 12 year old, and it's nice to see her contrasted against an ordinary 11 year old who doesn't really care that much about clothing or boys (other to have them as friends). Bonus points for having her be biracial-- my own daughters have biracial cousins who are younger than they are, but it is a common occurrence that I have only ever seen mentioned in Kate Hannigan's The Cupcake Cousins. I really liked Claire's network of support and how it manages to extend to help Ronan. With such an appealing cover, this will never be on the shelves.
Weaknesses: I saw another review that was a bit surprised at the cell phone and social media use-- unfortunately, it seemed very similar to what I notice my students having and using.
What I really think: Definitely looking forward to seeing what Ms. Walker writes next!

Delle Donne, Elena. Full-Court Press (Hoops #2)
June 12th 2018 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

As the school year continues, Elle has a lot of activities planned, she's playing basketball, enjoying her new dog, Zobe, and trying to keep up with homework. At the suggestion of one of her teammates, she starts volunteering at a special needs program, and she would like to spend time with her friends and family. She finds that she is struggling with basketball-- she's not doing the good job she normally does, and she doesn't have an explanation for her slump. She is falling behind in her school work, since it's often past 10 p.m. when she even gets a chance to start it. It's even hard to squeeze in visits with her sister Beth and walks with Zobe, whom she would like to train as a therapy dog. With her older brother getting ready to go to college, she struggles with finding a balance, and also someone to whom she can confide her struggles. Luckily, her best friend Avery is understanding, and eventually comes to the rescue and helps Elle get her schedule figured out.
Strengths: This had an excellent mix of realistic middle school struggles and basketball. It also has a lot of good interactions between Elle and her family, from already missing her brother, to wanting to help Beth, to having to explain her bad grades to her parents. The fact that she's in a basketball slump is a great plot line, and struggling to keep up with her friends is something I don't see much in middle grade. Add in the volunteer work-- I really like this series, and the fact that Elle also has a little crush on Amanda doesn't hurt at all!
Weaknesses: The cover is a bit young. My girls who want to read about basketball don't want books about younger kids, and the style of drawing makes this look a bit elementary. I'll hand sell it, of course, but a "tougher" cover would have sold itself.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and can't wait for Out of Bounds in October.

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Legend of Greg

36750064Rylander, Greg. The Legend of Greg
June 12th 2018 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Thursdays are usually bad in Greg's world, and his health food owning father's world as well. But the Thursday when Greg goes to the zoo with his elite private school classmates is especially bad when a polar bear tries to attack. His teachers are angry, and no one seems to have noticed that his best friend Edwin seemed to mesmerize the bear into NOT attacking Greg. When his father, who has just come back from another quest for ingredients for his funky teas and soaps, is attacked at his shop and kidnapped, things are definitely not looking good. With the help of a family friend, Greg finds out a LOT of interesting things he did not know about his family situation. For example, he's really a dwarf. Yes, a Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, Gimli sort of dwarf! Not only that, but Edwin is an elf, and they are the sworn enemy of the dwarfs. In fact, it's suspected that Edwin's parents might be behind the kidnapping, so Greg is having a hard time trusting his friend. When he travels into the dwarfs' realm under the city of Chicago, he meets other dwarfs his own age, and is amazed at the instant rapport he has with them. His first order of business is to find his father, but if a cute girl can make him a dagger and help him with his mission, why not? Things turn out to be more dire than his missing father, and when the adults don't seem to believe them, the dwarf children, along with their assigned tutor, take it upon themselves to try to save the day. Things don't go as well as expected, setting up the start of a war that will take at least two more books to settle!
Strengths: Rylander has proven himself as a master of the middle grade adventure trilogy with The Fourth Stall and Codename Zero, and he certainly cements this reputation with The Legend of Greg. Even the chapter titles are hysterical, but despite all of the humor, I really felt like Greg's problems were serious and real. The trust issues with Edwin-- wow. Serious stuff, and really well handled. Plenty for my fantasy fans as well-- talking swords, quests, underground encampments. I thought about this one for quite some time after I read it. It's quirky, but in a way that middle grade readers will enjoy. Bonus points for the breakdowns of which celebrities are which type of creature. May I be an elf? I just really want to run the library at Rivendell. And wear pretty robes.
Weaknesses: This will not have quite the wide appeal of Rylander's other two titles, but will be fantastic for fantasy readers.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing and can't wait for the next book!

Monday, June 11, 2018

MMGM- Essential Fandoms

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.

This is a hard post to write. When I was in middle school, I was completely and totally addicted to both the Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie series. I owned the books, and I did not own many books. I was able to do an oral book report for which I forgot to prepare on AoGG because I had practically memorized the book. I watched the first movie in college. I bought all the paperbacks. I had Montgomery's journals. I also had a prairie dress, skipped a 5th grade skating party to watch the LHotP television show, and coerced my parents into traveling 100 miles out of our way on summer vacation so I could visit DeSmet, SD. When I say that these books are the base of my essential fandoms, we are talking hard core.

And now...meh. For one thing, my students don't read the books. My own daughters didn't read the books. As quintessential a part of the reading life of women my age as these were, I just don't think they are as relevant as they once were. Wilder's work comes under constant scrutiny about the family's dealing and attitudes with Native Americans.  As far as Montgomery goes, I came away from this newest treatment of her life feeling that while she had challenges in her life, they were mild compared to what many women faced, and she comes across TO ME as spoiled, entitled, and very selfish. Since as an adult I have found Anne herself to be overly precious and annoying (She would be the sort of modern student who wears animal ears to class every day and then doesn't understand why classmates thinks she's weird and don't want to be her friend. Actions have consequences.), the Montgomery book, no matter how well done, was the final nail in the coffin for my love of this author and her work.

As for the Wilder book, it was also very well done. There's just no reason for me to have either of these books (especially the Wilder one, due to content) in my library. Your library may be different. Proceed accordingly, and remember that my opinions are my opinions, and you are just as entitled to your own. Please feel free to express them without being rude about it.

36369872Rosenberg, Liz. House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery
June 12th 2018 by Candlewick Press
E ARC from

There is a lot of information available about Montgomery's life, and Rosenberg does a good job of putting together an in-depth overview of the writer's life and career. Since many of Montgomery's stories are largely autobiographical, readers who are very familiar with Montgomery's work will find this to be extremely informative. It is also an interesting look into the life of one women in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Montgomery was far from the only women not raised by her own parents at this time, and the fact that she was able to get an education was rather remarkable. She was able to get a decent number of teaching positions, even if they weren't exactly to her liking. Her struggles with finding a life partner are interesting, because they seem so atypical of the time. She had many men interested in her, but they didn't suit for one reason or another, and the man she eventually married was not a particularly good fit. By the time she married, she was well on her way to a solid writing career, but she didn't particularly seem to enjoy her extremely good fortune in this regard. There is an informative time line at the end of the book, and this is as complete a biography as I have read on this particular author.

I read a digital ARC of this; perhaps the final copy has photographs? It seems odd that there wouldn't be any.

There are a few things that should be kept in mind-- there are a couple of passing mentions of sex, and frank discussion of the various mental illnesses that both Montgomery and her husband are said to have suffered from. While nothing is graphic or disturbing, some younger readers might be confused or disillusioned. Just something to keep in mind.

Miller, Sara. Caroline: Little House, Revisited
Published September 19th 2017 by William Morrow
E Book from Ohio E Book Project

I always sort of wondered about the long suffering Ma. Pa always seemed like a less than ideal partner, which made it seem hard for me to imagine that Ma would have been really swept off her feet enough to leave her family and travel into the wilderness. As the family leaves the Big Woods, Ma is pregnant, which adds a whole new layer of complication to sleeping in a wagon, crossing perilous rivers, and all manner of things. I loved the detailed descriptions of what was needed to have to make the journey in a covered wagon, and thought it was interesting that Ma thought a lot about Bible verses-- she would have, most likely, but I never really thought about it. Trips to the general stores, setting up housekeeping... all of these are details that I loved about the originals, and it was fun to revisit them through Ma's eyes. Then we get a little surprise with Ma and Pa that makes this not a book for young readers.  So, I enjoyed it, but I won't be buying it for my library. It's really more of a book for women my age who loved Wilder's books when they were young.

Anyone else remember the television series, when Ma went back east for a reunion and sort of rekindles a romance with a classmate? Now, Michael Landon was kind of cute, but I still remember sort of rooting for Ma to leave him! At least in this  book he is a bit kinder and sweeter to Ma than he was in Wilder's stories.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Everything Else in the Universe

36723023Holczer, Tracy. Everything Else in the Universe
June 12th 2018 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
ARC provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter

Lucy's family has moved from Chicago to San Jose, California for her father's medical residency and to be near family. When doctors are drafted for Vietnam, he chooses not to be deferred so that he can do his part. He promises Lucy that he will return, and he does, but he has lost an arm in an explosion in the operating room. The family is just glad to have him back, and he has a prosthetic arm, but he's still having trouble transitioning. There are lots of other things going on in Lucy's life even though it is summer. Her mother has gotten a job, and has Lucy go over to her aunt and uncle's every day. There, she must deal with her cousin Gia, who is protesting the war, and her cousin Josh, who is eligible for the next draft. She also meets a new boy in the neighborhood, Milo, who is very interested in dragonflies and other insects. When the two find a helmet, a purple heart, and a family photo buried near their homes, they try to find out to whom they belong and run into problems at the local veteran's club. There are family activities and barbecues, but nothing is the same as it was before, and despite Lucy's best efforts, she cannot make life return to the way it was by herself.
Strengths: The story line with the father's acclimation to civilian life and life as an amputee after serving in Vietnam is one I have been waiting for, especially after reading Partridge's Boots on the Ground and O'Connor's Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth. The large Italian family is portrayed with fondness and good attention to detail. Because this is set in California, there is a lot of tension about the war, and including Gia's philosophical predicament is a nice touch. There are a decent amount of historical details-- Grandma Miller is delightful in the way she turns herself out! The family relationships and emotions are also well done. Everyone is supportive but unsure of how to properly proceed at some times.
Weaknesses: There is a lot going on in the book, and some of my readers would struggle keeping everything straight. I wish that there had been more description of Lucy's interactions with her father, but he plays a much smaller part in the story than I had expected. I would have rather heard more about him and less about the mystery of the helmet and Milo's insects.
What I really think: I will purchase this one for our 1960s unit, but am not sure it will have as wide of an appeal as it would have had if the story had concentrated more on the father's experiences.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Cardboard Kingdom

30623090Sell, Chad and various authors. Cardboard Kingdom
June 5th 2018 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
ARC provided by publisher at ALA

In an ordinary suburban neighborhood, a group of multicultural children spend their free time creating characters that inhabit the titular "cardboard kingdom". There are battling sorceresses, monsters, and dragons. There are also some realistic problems that include babysitting an active younger brother, dealing with a grandmother who doesn't believe girls should be loud, and parents who are divorcing. There is also a neighborhood bully who bedevils the children, but only because his own life is dysfunctional. Through a series of short comic stories, we learn more about each of the children, their family situations, and the imaginary world that they create that helps bring them together.
Strengths: This was a brightly colored graphic novel with few words and a fun story. It will circulate all of the time. This was better than most graphic novels, and hits lots of social hot buttons. It was good to see children amusing themselves and being imaginative, and to see families that were doing well but weren't necessarily affluent. (The mere fact that children are able to play outside in a neighborhood with houses indicates a certain level of comfort to me.)
Weaknesses: The lack of words in some sections made parts of this a bit hard to follow. It was also rather heavy on moral messages.
What I really think: Honestly? In the end, I will pay $18 for a prebind of this that will last no more than two years. I know that many teachers get really excited about graphic novels because they think they help kids get into reading. If I were sure about this, I would love them too. I'm just not convinced.

36374386Owen, Erich. Fruit Ninja: Frenzy Force
May 15th 2018 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

This is based off of a video game, involves children with powers saving the world, and has a snarky tone. ("Man, this idyllic neighborhood is such a drag. I'm cursed to live my life in a peaceful town free of any serious conflict.") Children will love it, and I did appreciate the discussion at the back of the book about whether tomatoes are fruits or vegetables (In 1893, the supreme court decided that for trade purposes, it was a vegetable because of the way it is used!), but this came down more on the Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy side of the graphic novel continuum rather than on the Phoebe and Her Unicorn side. Not as many jokes for adults as Phoebe has.
Ms. Yingling