Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Where the Watermelons Grow

32797683Baldwin, Cindy. Where the Watermelons Grow
July 3rd 2018 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Della Kelly lives with her parents and baby sister Miley on a farm in North Carolina, and the family runs a produce stand. It's a hot summer, and things are not going very well for the farm, so it's alarming to Della when her mother starts to exhibits some signs of the schizophrenia that forced her to be hospitalized when Della was younger. Della thinks that she can help by helping more around the house and consulting the local "Bee Lady" who honey supposedly has affected miraculous cures in the past. No matter what she does, though, her mother seems to get worse. Luckily, with the help of friends, neighbors, and family, Della and her father are able to get her mother into care and try to put their efforts into taking care of Miley and saving the farm.
Strengths: This was a good portrayal of how mental illness can affect a family and make a child think that she somehow caused the problem. Della keeps this feeling to herself for a long time, but eventually seeks help, which is realistic. The farm stand setting is different and interesting. Supportive community is also nice to see depicted.
Weaknesses: Poor Della. I wish that something else were going on in the plot that occasionally provided a diversion for her.
What I really think: I almost want to buy it for the cover, but it's a bit too slow for what my readers tend to want in a problem novel

I always wanted to get this jacket or dress for my girls, but never found any at the thrift store! A little too pink for what I dressed them in, anyway!

Monday, July 30, 2018

Meet Yasmin! and Courage

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.

37865546Faruqi, Saadia. Meet Yasmin!
August 1st 2018 by Picture Window Books
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Second grader Yasmin has lots of adventures in her ordinary life. She explores her neighborhood with her mother, getting just a tiny bit lost, has some difficulty deciding what her artistic talent is for a school art show, struggles with a class project centered around building things, and gets in a little trouble while her grandmother and grandfather are babysitting her and she raids her mother's closet. Despite her sometimes misguided enthusiasm, Yasmin manages to succeed in her endeavors with the help of her supportive family.
Strengths: This nicely illustrated beginning chapter book is sort of like a Junie B. Jones for the new Millenium. There are nice touches of Yasmin's family's Pakistani culture that frame her typical second grade adventures. I especially enjoyed the portrayal of her struggles with painting and building.
Weaknesses: None of the other characters have eyes quite as large at Yasmin's. Also, like Junie B., Yasmin misbehaves a bit. I don't imagine her mother was pleased to have one of her items of clothes hot glued back together after Yasmin ripped it!
What I really think: This is a must purchase for elementary libraries. It's a bit young for my readers (getting separated from mom is a middle school dream, not a nightmare!), but an excellent addition to a diverse collection of beginning chapter books. If Yasmin ever hits middle school, I'd be glad to buy the book!

Binns, Barbara. Courage.
July 31st 2018 by HarperCollins
ARC provided by the publisher at ALA Midwinter

T'Shawn's family is struggling to make it in a economically challenged neighborhood in Chicago. His mother is working, but his father died of cancer, and the family is still struggling with the bills. To make matters worse, his brother Lamont has spent the last two years in jail for robbing a local restaurant and beating up the owner. T'Shawn has a good friend in Dontae, but an uneasy relationship with schoolmate Carmela, whose father is a police officer. When Lamont comes home, T'Shawn is angry, and the close knot community is upset. T'Shawn takes some refuge in starting on a diving team run by one of his teachers, Mr. Hundle, who has secured a scholarship to the elite club. It's a different world, and fellow swimmer Sammy has very overbearing parents. Lamont isn't exactly a problem at home, and even helps with younger sister Rochelle, but he makes everyone uneasy. Several incidents put Lamont in a bad light, and the neighborhood even puts together a petition for his ouster from the community. T'Shawn is okay with this until he finds out some more information about Lamont's progress.
Strengths: This was a positive look at a close knit community that is facing challenges. T'Shawn's family and neighbors watch out for each other, there is a strong church base, and children are interested in education and are well disciplined. There are not many books that show this kind of community, so it was good to see. There are realistic struggles to be faced, but there is a lot of constructive interaction, even when Dontae, T'Shawn and Carmela have a very unpleasant run in with the police. The swim and dive team is interesting, and the racism that T'Shawn has to face is sad but realistic. There's a lot going on (there are also subplots with the homeless shelter at which the family lived, and with Sammy and his pushy parents), but everything is clear and easy to understand.
Weaknesses: This could have used more editing. It's on the long side for middle grade, and T'Shawn does tend to go on a bit too long about the things that are bothering him, which drags down the progression of the story.
What I really think: Will purchase a copy. Many of my students love to read about gangs and life in urban settings. This is less heavy than something like Parker Rhodes' Ghost Boys, but still addresses issues of current relevance.

Ms. Yingling

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Scarlet Ibis

36373608Lewis, Gill. Scarlet Ibis
May 15th 2018 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Public library copy

Scarlet and her brother have a mother who can barely take care of herself, much less them. Luckily, Scarlet prides herself in taking care of her brother, Red, who is on the autism spectrum. When their social worker is due for a visit, she makes sure her mother's medicine is locked up, the apartment is clean, there is food in the refrigerator, and her own room is on the messy side, so it looks like her mother is the one doing all of the work. She understands Red's obsession with birds, and has an arrangement with a neighbor to get into the zoo for free once a month to visit the aviary. Things are going well until her mother falls asleep in bed with a cigarette on a day that Red is home sick from school. They both end up in the hospital, and Scarlet is sent into foster care with Renee's family, including a boy not much older than herself, Jez, who is a great big brother figure for her. Not only that, but the family shares the cultural heritage of the Jamaican father Scarlet hopes to one day meet. Scarlet manages to make friends at her new school, and when they dare her to go into the house of the local "Baba Yaga" who scares all of the children, she does. Surprisingly, she meets a very nice older woman, Mrs. Popescue, who raises a variety of birds. Scarlet starts to visit her, and when she takes Red away from his own foster home, Red stays with Mrs. Popescue for a while after Scarlet's pleading. Of course, this isn't the best thing for Red, and with the help of her foster family and social worker, Scarlet is able to find an acceptable solution to her and Red's living situation.
Strengths: Oh, British parenting! Like the characters in Cathy Cassidy or Jacqueline Wilson books, Scarlet is a fantastic manager who uses her ten pounds a week to keep her family in food, remembers to bleach the toilet, and is absolutely sure that she can hold everything together even with her mum in the hospital! She also settles in to an excellent foster care situation with a sense of relief, even though she wants to visit her mother. I liked that once she got into foster care, the emphasis changed to finding friends, which is a fresh approach for a book on this topic. The occasional illustrations are very attractive.
Weaknesses: There are many things that are a little too easy and coincidental in this book, but it is still a good introduction to a child in the foster care system for children who might have no exposure to this.
What I really think: I'm not wild about the cover, but I think this would be a steady circulator among my students who like books with domestic problems, so I think I will buy it. Reminded me a bit of Durrant's Little Bits of Sky and was an engaging, quick read.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Cartoon Saturday- Making Friends

36127435Gudsnuk, Kristen. Making Friends
July 31st 2018 by Graphix

E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Middle school can be difficult when it means going to a bigger school where your friends from elementary school are in different classes and even lunch waves, and Dany is having a hard time. There are a few kids giving her a hard time on the bus as well, and her old friends seem to be developing other interests. After visiting her recently deceased Aunt Elma's house and bringing the aunt's sketch book back with her, Dany doodles a bit and brings to life the disembodied head of Neptune, a character from a show who is somewhat evil but whom Dany feels is misunderstood. Later, she creates Madison, a girl who comes to life and becomes her new best friend. Dany encourages her to doodle things like flying rings and wallets that have endless cash supplies. The two go to the mall, buy new wardrobes, and have a generally good time. Madison is a bit confused that she can't remember her parents, and stays with Dany's family for a while. Eventually, the two have a misunderstanding, and Dany is right back where she started as far as friends go. Neptune gives her very bad advice, almost costing her a couple of friendships. After Neptune shows himself at a school pep rally and things get kind of crazy, Dany manages to bond with other kids who help her handle her imaginary friend.
Strengths: Friendships are a huge issue in middle school, especially when circumstances cause changes in relationships. The idea that one could draw a new friend is extremely appealing. I really like that Scholastic is trying to publish more graphic novels aimed at middle grade readers. The text size, topic, and drawings are all very appealing and well done for middle school.
Weaknesses: This had some confusing moments and messages. Perhaps I was missing some details in the illustrations in the E ARCs, but it was hard to follow what Neptune's motivations were, and even the relationship with Madison didn't always make sense. I'm not a fan of disembodied or dismembered heads (think of my reaction to Dogman), so maybe that's why the story seemed odd to me.
What I really think: I definitely think readers will pick this up, and book fairs will no doubt sell out. I was hoping for something a little more like Jamieson's Roller Girl or Holms' Sunny Side Up, but the fantasy elements will most likely be fine with most readers. I will probably purchase this in a prebind in a year or two when I need to refresh my graphic novel collection.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, July 27, 2018

Chadwick's Epic Revenge/ Curveball

35795942Doan, Lisa. Chadwick's Epic Revenge
June 26th 2018 by Roaring Brook Press'
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Terry Vance has always been a problem for Chadwick Musselman, as well as for the rest of the school. When Terry gets held back a grade, Chadwick hopes that his nemesis will go away, but this is not the case. Terry even manages to get the sympathy of some of the 6th grade girls with stories about his father's disabilities, and most of Chadwick's friends don't quite believe him about Terry's capability for evil. His friend Rory(who is tremendously motivated by the junk food that is available at Chadwick's house) tries to help, but Terry manages to manipulate people into doing and saying odd things. The principal, Mr. Samson, is trying to get all of the students in the school to communicate more effectively by means of scheduled "rap sessions", but all that really comes of those is that we are amused by how sad Ms. Samson's own life is! Chadwick tries to stop the rumor mill by running an editorial in the school paper, but his friends still don't believe him. The mind games, which also sucked in the former principal, continue through the school dance. Will Chadwick finally be able to break himself free of Terry's control over him?
Strengths: First of all, I loved the reason that Terry tortured Chadwick. Let's just say that the kid who took my purple crayon in the third grade did not get the job he applied for at Chick-fil-A years later. Hey! My boss asked. Kid was mean! This had a lot of funny, realistic middle school moments and moved quickly. There are some internal illustrations, which always helps to sell this sort of book. Weaknesses: The cover is not very appealing, and some of the situations are over the top in an unpleasant way.
What I really think: I will probably buy a copy because it's so hard to find good, realistic, goofy books, but it will take a lot of hand selling because of the cover.

35297215Mantell, Paul and Jeter, Derek. Curveball
April 17th 2018 by Simon Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books

E Copy from the Ohio E Book Project

Don't have this series? If you have a lot readers who like baseball books, these are a great, quick pick. A little preachy, but all very well intentioned. I think there are going to be nine altogether, and I will no doubt buy them all!

This was fun- Derek goes to spend the summer with his grandparents in New Jersey and gets to hang out with his cousins and extended family. He also has to WORK to earn tickets to a baseball game in New York City and learns to appreciate how much his grandparents and parents do to keep the family afloat. Lots of baseball, a little didactic, but a great read for students who love baseball.   Ms. Yingling

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Remy Sneakers and the Lost Treasure

36127392Sherry, Kevin. Remy Sneakers and the Lost Treasure (#2)
April 24th 2018 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Someone has broken into Remy's house and stolen his notebook, so he gathers his Critter Crew to try to find it. The notebook where his grandfather kept sketches is all he has left of his family, who were scattered after their home was torn down. Buttercup, a cat new to the neighborhood, tries to help, but is rather crafty and mean and gets Remy and his crew into some trouble. The group ends up in the sewers, where they are almost eaten by an evil alligator, but Buttercup proves he is on their side and saves the day. The investigation continues, with Remy visiting a local cafe and getting some clues about an animal in a hoodie who was seen skulking around his house. When Remy finally locates the mysterious creature, secrets about their shared past are revealed.

This beginning chapter book graphic novel has a fun cast of characters, a lot of goofy action and adventure, and a mystery that young readers will find to be intriguing. The black and white illustrations support the larger format text, making this a good choice for beginning or struggling readers.

Remy's fanny pack collection, his love of drawing his surroundings in order to bring him closer to his missing family, and his loyal and supportive Critter Crew are all endearing touches.

Fans of LaReau's Infamous Ratsos, Eaton's Flying Beaver Brothers, and even Krosoczka's Platypus Police Squad will want to go along with Remy as he follows the mysterious creature in the hoodie in order to retrieve what is rightfully his!

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

A Stitch in Time

35795944Kalmar, Daphne. A Stitch in Time
June 19th 2018 by Feiwel Friends
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Donut (born Dorothy) lives in a small village in the early part of the twentieth century. Her mother died when she was born, and her father was recently killed in a car accident. Her Aunt Agnes from Boston has come to stay, but wants to take her back to the city because both she and Donut's Aunt Jo work in a girls' school, and they want Donut to benefit from a good education. Donut doesn't want to leave Sam, a neighbor who has taught her taxidermy, or her friend Tiny. Even though Sam agrees to let her stay, her aunts still want her to come with them, so Donut decides to run away. She's fairly well prepared, and sets up shop in a cabin belonging to a man who played cards with her father. Tiny and Sam know where she is, but she spends several days on her own. She investigates the boat her father left behind, befriends some animals, and realizes that she doesn't love her new Atlas as much without the encyclopedia to use to look up the places in it. When an accident ruins her lodgings and injures her, Donut must come home and formulate a plan for going forward.
Strengths: This was sort of a backwards Understood Betsy, which I loved. Orphans having to live with random relatives were something I adored when I was young, especially in historical settings. It must have been a trend, because there were a lot of books like that. Donut's interest in taxidermy is interesting, and the tiny bits of women's rights well done and appropriate to the time period. Aunt Agnes was very understanding and kind, although it was understandable that Donut was angry about leaving her home. The adventure was good, and the supportive community heart warming. All in all, this read like an early twentieth century novel without having wildly creepy undertones like Rebecca of Sunny Brook Farm or Daddy Long-Legs do.
Weaknesses: Historical orphans are not quite as popular as they were 100 years ago, and the taxidermy descriptions that start the book were a tiny bit stomach churning.
What I really think: Debating. I'd love to be able to hand this to children, but I just don't have a lot of readers who are interested in this sort of book. I do have one or two this year; if I have more next year, I will certainly consider purchasing.

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

From You to Me

Holt, K.A. From You to Me
Scholastic Press (May 29, 2018)
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Amelia is tired of being "the girl with the dead sister", since it's been three years since her sister was involved in an accident on the lake. When she starts 8th grade, her teacher gives the students letters they wrote to themselves at the start of 6th grade-- and Amelia gets Clara's. She decides to try to accomplish the things Clara has told herself she would do (like asking a boy named Billy to a dance and trying out for the softball team) as a way to break herself out of her endless cycle of grief. Her best friend Taylor agrees that this is a good plan, and tries to help by making Amelia run with her. Amelia does manage to do some things on her own, like getting into a high school physics class, and her family is managing to move in a forward pattern as well. Her mother is a part-time city planner, and her father has decided to devote himself to his food truck, Pits and Pieces, coming up with new barbecue recipes and items like bacon chocolate chip cookies. He even enters a competition and tricks Amelia and her mother into going down to the lake to meet with the producers. Amelia starts spending time with Clara's friend, Twitch, who is both somewhat comforting and upsetting to be around. Taylor's grandmother, who runs a very cool General Store/soda fountain, also tries to help Amelia process her grief by sharing some of her own life experiences. Amelia manages to make it through some of the items in the letter, and is able to get through more and more of her days without crying.

Amelia is an understandable middle grade character who is trying her best to make sense of the direction her life has taken. She starts the year by trying to "fake it 'til you make it" and has some success with that, with Taylor's help. Taylor is a good friend who tries to figure out what Amelia needs from her, and is sometimes more successful than others.

The small, lakeside town is an intriguing setting, and is portrayed as having lots of traditions celebrated by its residents. Kite Night is a fun local festival, and the 8th graders seem to be very invested in the idea of Prank Day, even though it's hard to believe that that is still something allowed, much less encouraged. I imagine that it is hard for Amelia to avoid the lake entirely; luckily, she can spend most of her time in the General Store, which is right up there on my list of fictional places to visit.

Readers who are intrigued by how young people navigate their way through grief and who have enjoyed books like Geithner's If Only, Dessen's The Truth About Forever, Lopez's Confetti Girl  or Silberberg's Milo : Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze will find Amelia's journey a interesting look at the unexpected places life can take us.

I would like to see more middle grade books dealing with grief about children and parents who move on with a bit less drama. Some people do, so literature should not be all one sided representations. For some reason, I kept thinking about this quote as I read the book:  “You can't wring your hands and roll up your sleeves at the same time .” ~Pat Schroeder

Monday, July 23, 2018

MMGM- See You on a Starry Night

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.

35890037Schroeder, Lisa. See You on a Starry Night
June 26th 2018 by Scholastic
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Juliet's parents have separated, and she has moved into her grandparents' beach cottage with her mom and older sister, Miranda. It's hard to make new friends and get settled into her new community, but luckily, she meets Emma on one of her first trips to the beach. Emma is sending out a note in a bottle and encourages Juliet to do one, as well. They include their e mail addresses but no other identifying information, just to be safe. When Juliet gets an answer right away from a person who seems to be her own age and seems to share her interests, she is a little afraid it's really one of the stinky boys in her school, but is hopeful it is not. While Juliet's mother and sister are busy with their own lives, Emma spends more and more time with Emma and her family, who run the local ice cream parlor and seem to be very organized and efficient, with lots of fun ideas like a job jar lottery. There is also a local book mobile run by an older couple, the Buttons, and soon Juliet is feeling much more at home. She definitely misses her father, who has stayed behind in their old community, but she is learning new ways of communicating with him.

Every child who has divorced parents has a different story, so it's good to see a variety of different ones. Moving is often part of that experience, and Juliet (and the reader!) is lucky that she has moved to such an interesting place and was lucky enough to meet a friend fairly quickly. There is still plenty of drama, but it is reassuring that in the end, Juliet is able to construct a new life for herself, and is able to adapt her relationships with her family to fit her new circumstances. All of the characters have very realistic reactions to the situation-- her mother is stressed but trying to move on, Miranda fits in quickly but still takes time to make sure that Juliet is okay, and we get a fairly vague idea of how the father is coping, in just the same way that his existence is frustratingly shadowy for Juliet as well.

Emma's family is a reassuring presence, and the beach setting makes this a winning choice for readers who enjoyed Greenwald's Dog Beach, Hannigan's Cupcake Cousins or Beil's Summer at Forsaken Lake and I was glad to see that the cover is similar to Schroeder's other middle grade novels, Keys to the City, Sealed with a Secret and My Secret Guide to Paris, since this will make this book easy to find for her fans. This will make a great fall reading book for students who aren't quite ready to be done with summer vacation!

While I do see Schroeder's point about there needing to be books where students who have experienced divorce can seem themselves, the more common situation in my school is students who have never lived with one of their parents. I don't see this in literature quite as much.

Davis, Kenneth C. More Deadly Than War; The Hidden History of the Spanish Flu Epidemic and the First World War
May 15th 2018 by Henry Holt & Company
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

This well-illustrated book covers a vast amount of historical information concerning both World War I and the Spanish Flu Epidemic, which happened 100 years ago. While there are many volumes of history that covers WWI, there is very little about the Spanish Flu epidemic, which was a terribly devastating event.

The effects of this disease were felt all over the globe, and while the severity of the flu and the social implications it had were far worse than the Black Death (which everyone has studied in school!), there is very little coverage of it in history classes. I knew that it had happened, but had no idea of the ramifications. One of the very effective devices of this book is to record accounts of famous people who survived their affliction. Walt Disney, authors Katharine Porter and Ernest Hemingway, and President Woodrow Wilson all were stricken ill but recovered. In the case of Wilson, the hallucinations attendant upon the disease may have negatively impacted his dealings with the League of Nations, and therefore changed the course of history. Hearing about the people who survived gave a graver feeling of immediacy to the assertion that the contributions of many, many people were lost because they did not survive.

In addition to showing a cross section of famous and ordinary citizens, there are accounts of the effects of the flu from Alaska to US army bases to the US Leviathan and locations in Europe. Doctors at the time struggled to figure out the transmission path of the disease and seemed powerless to halt its progress. Medical treatments at the time are discussed, as are the various methods used to try to stop the virus, from gauze masks to limiting social movements to quack remedies.

Modern medicine has made great strides in both understanding and treating diseases, and toward the end of the book we are given a lot more explanation about why the Spanish Flu was so deadly. This explanation is followed by a rather complete history of medical sleuthing from ancient times to the present complete with time lines, as well as a good index, excellent bibliography, and complete notes.

This is on the lengthier side of narrative nonfiction for younger readers, which might make this more useful for research than pleasure reading. Children who are very interested in medical topics and who enjoyed Jurmain's The Secret of the Yellow Death: A True Story of Medical Sleuthing, Murphy's Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure, Jarrow's Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary or Wittenstein's For the Good of Mankind? : The Shameful History of Human Medical Experimentation will be riveted by the detailed descriptions of both the disease and its effects on society and the medical communities investigation of the Spanish Flu's genesis and cure.

I didn't find this to be as easily informative as I would have liked-- one of the great things about nonfiction for middle grades it that it makes difficult historical events easy to understand. (Brown's The Great American Dust Bowl, anyone?) This went back and forth between the flu and the war in a somewhat confusing manner. I was hoping for something more like Blumenthal's Six Days in October, which finally allowed me to understand the 1929 stock market crash, or the aforementioned The Secret of the Yellow Death, both of which made things so very clear, plus were written in a way that I annoyed my daughters by reading half of the books aloud to them because they were just so interesting. This book was certainly informative, but not in an easy, fun way. What can I say? It's summer, so maybe I'm feeling lazy!

Sunday, July 22, 2018


Bianco, Margery Williams. Winterbound
January 15th 2014 by Dover Publications (first published 1936)
Ohio E Book Library copy

Kay and Garry like living in rural New England, even though they have their sights on something better if they can ever get the money together to go to college or travel. Their father is on an archaeological expedition, and their mother is trying to make ends meet with young Caroline and Martin as well. When an aunt of hers has a spot on her lung and must take the air in New Mexico but can't possibly go alone, the mother decides to leave the girls in charge and take off. She does hire a companion for them, a Mrs. Cummings, but once she is settled in, the friction between her and the older girls is so unbearable that they fire her and even give her a month's salary she hasn't earned. This makes them short of housekeeping money. Kay and Garry both have plans; Kay is writing and illustrating a book, and Garry works for a young couple with a new baby who also run a local greenhouse. In time honored tradition, they also look to take in a border to help with expenses. There are neighbors and local personalities who help out, but there is certainly a lot they don't tell their mother... and her letters indicate that she is also perhaps not telling them everything. The local landowner who is renting the family the house is oddly involved with their lives, and a little mystery involving him is quickly solved. The mother returns home, the house gets wallpapered, and things are on the upswing as the book ends.
Strengths: Clearly, I missed my opportunity not leaving my girls alone so that I could go care for an ailing relative when they were in high school. Such a common theme in children's books back at this time period, but it makes more sense when you think that parents also would basically kick their children out of the house if they didn't have enough money to care for them, thinking that the children would be better off that way. (Think Hunt's 1970 No Promises in the Wind.) From a child's perspective, it means a lot of FREEDOM, and this is no doubt why I would have adored a book like this when I was a tween. This was somewhat similar to Sorenson's Miracles on Maple Hill, and holds up surprisingly well, even though the details of daily life like stoves and pumps would be a revelation to modern children.  I especially appreciated that the girls were very modern thinking.
Weaknesses: There is some discussion about the local taxi driver who is willing to drive Negro housemaids to the movies. She does so unapologetically, since the women are perfectly nice, she needs the income, and the other women she drives won't find out. Still, scenes like this can often be misread, so bear their inclusion in mind.
What I really think: I'm a sucker for winter books (although this covers several seasons) and I sort of want to buy it for our historical fiction unit because of all of the good details (writing letters every other day! Driving cross country! Spots on the lungs!), but I think the only available coy would be an e copy.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Little Bits of Sky

34541745Durrant, S.E. Little Bits of Sky
September 5th 2017 by Holiday House

Personal Copy

Ira (whose real name, Miracle, annoys her) and her brother Zac are taken from a decent foster care placement yet again, and this time end up at Skilly House, a small care home. Having never known their parents, they are pleased enough with this placement. They get to share a room, the people who work there are generally caring, and they make some good friends. The house manager, Mrs. Clanks, is a bit of a cold fish, but in general, they are content. When they get to spend part of a Christmas holiday with a woman named Martha at her home, it is a nice break. Martha was a teacher, but never had children of her own, so the three have to learn to get along together. It's exciting when Martha asks them back for Easter, especially since some of the other children at Skilly have been adopted, which is always sad. This visit does not go well at all, but even with the difficulties, Martha is still fond of the children. Ira finds out the identity of a girl who had lived in her room forty years previously, and we are given an epilogue about the fate of Skilly House and its residents.
Strengths: This was particularly British, so if you have fans of Jacqueline Wilson or Cathy Cassidy, definitely take a look. I can't think of any US books with children in a residential care setting, so I'm not sure how things would be different, but I think this is a topic about which children should know. Ira and Zac make the best of their situation, and even though the difficulties of their life are readily apparent, this is a hopeful book.
Weaknesses: This is set in a very particular time in 1987, and I'm not sure why. I kept hoping there would be some explanation, but the book could have been contemporary.
What I really think: The cover has sort of a mid-90s vibe to it (because of the setting) and isn't great, but most of my readers who want books about foster children ask for them, so it shouldn't be a problem. I'm a huge fan of Wilson, so I enjoyed it. Any excuse to spend time in England!
Ms. Yingling

Friday, July 20, 2018

Scout: National Hero

35959203Shotz, Jennifer Li. Scout: National Hero
May 8th 2018 by HarperCollins
Public Library Copy

Matt and his family have moved to Nevada, where his mother runs an Army base and heads up their K-9 Training Unit. His father is deployed, so settling in has been difficult. Matt loves extreme sports like kayaking, but they are hard to do alone. When he gets to attempt a rock climbing wall at school, he does better than he expected, and he is invited by some fellow students, including Dev and Amaiya, to try climbing some rocks. This doesn't go quite as well, but he makes some friends and is glad to have a new activity to perfect. Things are good at home as well, since the family has Scout, a dog who was trained in Mississippi with Hero. Scout's a good dog, and Matt is enjoying him as a pet, but his mother has concerns that he isn't settled and focused enough to become a good rescue dog. When Matt is off on an adventure, there is a disaster that happens with an overflowing damn, and Scout is able to prove his worth.
Strengths: Shotz is the best dog adventure writer since Jim Kjelgaard. I have a reluctant reader who was particularly enthralled with her books, and while reading this, it occurred to me that this student might well grow up to join the Marines and train dogs at Quantico! (Our 8th graders frequently visit there on their D.C. trip to see a demonstration of this.) These books are short, action-packed, and featuring engaging dogs and humans. The inclusion of extreme sports in this made it stand out from the others. The cover! A lot of students will pick this up!
Cover image for Scout Fire FighterWeaknesses: I was concerned that this would be Hero retold, but the changes in setting and the inclusion of the military family and extreme sports really made it fresh.
What I really think: Can't wait until September 4, 2018 for the sequel!

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Marabel and the Book of Fate

Barrett, Tracy. Marabel and the Book of Fate
February 6th 2018 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Ohio E Book Project copy

Marabel has always lived in the shadow of her slightly older twin brother, Marco, since the Book of Fate that the kingdom of Magikos always consults has deemed him The Chosen One. It doesn't hurt that he's talented, brilliant, and super nice, but Marabel has many fine qualities of her own that her parents can't see. When her aunt Mab, who rules the Barrens, crashes the twins' 13th birthday celebration and kidnaps her brother, Marabel knows that only she can rescue him, since everyone else believes the prophecy that Marco will save himself! With her friend Ellie and Florian, a snarky unicorn, Marabel takes off across the land outside Magikos, where "evils" and magic are on the loose. Marabel proves herself to be up to the task of dealing with dragons, fighting with swords, and negotiating with her aunt for her brother's release. Maybe the Book of Fate isn't completely accurate, or perhaps the people who consult it read into it only what they want to, since Marabel manages to accomplish everything that needs done and saves the kingdom even though the prophecy has never said anything about her!
Strengths: I adore Barrett's work, especially The Sherlock Files and Cold in Summer, On Etruscan Time and King of Ithaka, so it was good to see something new from her. There are so many medievalish type fantasy adventure books that one has to be super good before I will buy it. Marabel's tale had a nice twist, some great adventures (being captured by vegan giants) and a fast-paced plot that made this a fun summer read.
Weaknesses: This had a couple of moments like the p(igeon)-mail in Jean Ferris' Once Upon a Marigold (2002) that were clever but also a little annoying, like the Wiz-Fi and Scari instead of Siri. Younger readers probably won't mind them, and they aren't repeated a lot, like the p-mail was.
What I really think: I have so many medieval adventure tales that I almost feel bad purchasing this, but readers who like Levine's Two Princesses of Bamarre, Durst's The Stone Girl or George's The Rose Legacy are usually voracious readers who WANT lots of tales on the same subject, so I think I can justify purchasing this.

Someone commented on my Goodreads account that if I had to justify purchasing a book, I probably shouldn't. But it's such a balancing act. Do I have to buy some popular fiction that is absolute crap because my students will ask for it? Yes. Do I buy all the sports books because I know they will get read? Yes. Do I buy award winners that my students are never going to ask for or read? No. (That's what the public library is for.) Do I buy books that I really enjoy that will be read by significantly fewer students but will remain in the library for a very long time? Yes. Since my annual budget from the school board is about $6,500-$7,000 ($10 per student per annum, usually), I read every fiction book before I buy it, and I donate $2,000-$3,000 worth of brand new hardcover fiction to my school library every year, I don't think I need to justify myself very much. But I still try, so I think I'm a good steward of tax payer money.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Elephant Thief

Kerr, Jane. The Elephant Thief.
March 27th 2018 by Chicken House
Copy Provided by Young Adult Books Central

Boy has lived a difficult life in the impoverished neighborhoods of Edinburgh, Scotland in the 1870s. With no parents, he scrounges for food and clothing with other urchins, and is prey to petty crime lords who work him hard and treat him badly. When he is found by Mr. Jameson at an animal auction, Boy's exotic, ethnic looks encourage the entrepreneur to take Boy along with him to help with his new purchase-- an elephant named Maharajah. Thinking that it would add to the drama of the story, Jameson decides that Boy (whom he names Danny) would make a great Indian prince, named Dandip. Along with Sandev, who has been working with Maharajah, Danny helps take care of the elephant, who has been mistreated by his previous owners. After making a bet with another zoo owner, Mr. Albright, Jameson is under duress to travel to Manchester, England to Belle Vue in a limited amount of time. Along the way, there is a lot of drama, some manufactured, and some not. Maharajah destroys a train carriage and a toll gate, and the group tries to cross a river. So many things go wrong that the group, which also includes a veterinarian and his daughter, begin to suspect that Mr. Albright is sabotaging their efforts, and may be aided by someone in their entourage. Will they be able to make it to Manchester in time for Jameson to win the bet and keep Maharajah? And will Danny's secret identity be revealed?

I love books like Dagg's The Year We Were Famous or Blackwood's Around the World in 100 Days that discuss how difficult traveling was before or in the early days of car travel. Taking off across the countryside in the UK in the 1870s sounds appealing to me, as long as there were inns along the way to stop in. Without phones (or lights, or motorcars), adventure seems more harrowing and exciting. Pair that with an elephant companion, and who wouldn't feel compelled to run off and join the circus?

Danny is put into an untenable position when he is kitted out to look like an Indian Prince. He is interviewed by members of the press, but instructed not to speak, so Hetty, the veterinarian's daughter, helps him out. He is also not allowed to speak to her, even though she is a good friend to him, and he feels badly about this. His background of poverty and abuse make him appreciate good meals, warm clothing, and comfortable beds so much, however, that he is not going to jeopardize his position in any way.

The schemes that businessmen went through at this time are also interesting to read about. Truth was not necessarily part of any of it, as we see with another famous shyster of this time period, P.T. Barnum. It was all about the show. Perhaps this is a timely, if alarming, message to read today!

While this is a great addition to the large body of elephant fiction that includes Morpurgo's The Elephant in the Garden, Smith's Elephant Run, Dinerstine's What Elephants Know, High's One Amazing Elephant and Walters' fantastic new Elephant Keeper, this is also a great Victorian orphan adventure in the spirit of Mary Hooper's great novels set in London, Schlitz's A Drowned Maiden's Hair, Avi's City of Orphans and (for a touch of fantasy) Jinks' How to Catch a Bogle series.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, July 17, 2018


38532223Sylvester, Kevin. MINRS3 
May 29th 2018 by Simon & Schuster
Public Library Copy

**SPOILER ALERT** Can't quite write the review without mentioning a bit of a surprise that occurs early on. Stop reading if you don't want to know!

After MINRS and MINRS2, the children are in a situation that makes it very clear that they need to get back to Earth to warn everyone about the evil Thatcher. Not everyone believes Christopher that a transport can get them successfully back, and even he admits that the calculations have to be followed exactly for the group to make it. Pavel continues to be an absolute jerk about Grinders, and some of the group doesn't even want to make them trip. Five of the children set off, only to find an enormous and unpleasant surprise waiting for them. Thatcher is on the transport, and up to his evil ways. Christopher thinks that perhaps he should have killed him, or should still kill, but can never bring himself to do so, thinking idealistically that he should hand him over to the authorities to face justice. When the code received from the Oracle doesn't work, and the craft is in danger of being shot down as it nears Earth, Thatcher at least proves himself to be useful.Once they land, the group manages to break away in a digger and find some rebel forces who help them a bit. There are a lot of puzzles and mysteries, and it takes a meeting with Melming himself to finally point Christopher to a path he must pursue to save Earth.
Strengths: The cover is green! I predicted that in the review of book two! A trilogy is perfect, and this wraps things up nicely. For some reason, it occurred to me that this would be a good follow up read for students who really liked The Hunger Games. Some of the same themes of social justice, some of the same cruelty; definitely dystopian. Bringing Melming in was a nice touch.
Weaknesses: I would have killed Thatcher without a second thought after all the turmoil he caused. I also started fading a bit when there were a lot of puzzles and political history just over halfway through, but since the book isn't hugely long, I was horribly affected by Fantasy Amnesia.
What I really think: This is a very serviceable space adventure series that is solidly popular in my library. Very interested to see what Sylvester writes next.

Monday, July 16, 2018

MMGM- Fashion!

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.

Whittemore, Jo. Lights, Music, Code! (Girls Who Code #3)
March 13th 2018 by Penguin Workshop
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Maya and the coding club are going to be working on a new and innovative idea for incorporating technology into the school dance, and are having trouble coming up with ideas and with implementing them. (Programmable bracelets would be great, but who has the money?). Not only that, but when they do settle on an idea, it requires a lot of work, and Maya has spread herself very thin. It doesn't help that Maddie, the friend who got her in trouble for shoplifting, is moving to town and wants to hang out with her. Maya's parents do NOT approve, but it's hard to shake Maddie, even after she says and does some things that should warn Maya that she hasn't really changed. Soon, the club has a plan, and Maya is working hard on her part of it, but when she finds out that Sophia doesn't have a nice dress to wear, she's bound and determined to help her friend out with a spectacular outfit to help her catch a certain boy's eye. Will she be able to finish it in time?

Stories that involves children actively involved in projects and organizations are always my favorites, and since there is such a huge need for people to go into technology fields, I love the Girls Who Code series. The technology is made more appealing by being used for fun things like robots and flashing lights. When I was learning HTML and JavaScript, I tried to teach my daughters, who were this age at the time, and it was too boring for them. My brother, however, just bought some kind of programmable lights for his girls to investigate!

The ensemble cast if nicely diverse, and it's fairly easy to keep the characters straight. Maya's sister is a great addition, and it's nice for younger students to see older girls they can admire and ask for assistance.

The fun illustrations scattered throughout the book also make it easier to identify the characters, and add a fun facet that might help attract readers to the books... and help make them coders!

There are very few books of any kind that include coding as a key plot element-- Gene Luen Yang's Secret Coders is the only one that comes to mind. There are a lot of books that include groups of girls doing projects, so Girls Who Code will be popular with readers who like Simon's The Cupcake Club, Kimmel's Forever Four, or Singleton's The Curious Cat Spy Club.

34411495Rubin, Susan Goldman. Coco Chanel
March 13th 2018 by Harry N. Abrams
Personal Copy

Ordinary people who did extraordinary things and impacted the world in ways we can't even begin to fathom-- that's why I love biographies. Given that anyone can wear pretty much anything out in public these days (Can you imagine grown women going out in public back in the day wearing the classic black leotards people used to wear to dance classes? I just can't, yet that's basically what leggings are. *waves cane*), it's hard for young readers to understand that comfort for women's clothing was not really a concern. That Chanel changin the materials and silhouettes of clothing allowed women the freedom of movement to pursue pastimes that one could not in a corset and 20 pounds of underpinnings. Fashion is a big concern of many middle school students, so this could be very interesting to many readers.

The book is short, well-written, and addresses Chanel's deficiencies without defending or lingering on them, which I appreciated. Yes, we need to know that historical people weren't saints, but 12-year-olds don't need to know every sordid detail.

It's also a nicely formatted tome, with pretty pages, lots of pictures, and a manageable amount of text and information. I'm excited to have this in my library next year.

I'm going to blame my inability to dress myself with the slightest sense of currency to my childhood. Everything on this page looks... totally reasonable. Oh! Look at the nice bright colors! Vests! Turtlenecks! Jeans with rainbow trim!

Really, it's a wonder that anyone my age gets out of the house at all.

I want that skirt and vest combo in the inset in the worst way!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Lucky Little Things

35791923Erlbaum, Janice. Lucky Little Things.
July 24th 2018 by Farrar Straus Giroux
ARC provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter

Emma and her mother have struggled since the death of the mother's best friend, Jenny, from cancer. Middle school is tough, friendships are changing, and the social dynamics are hard to navigate. When Emma finds a letter on the ground that tells her that her luck is changing and instructs her to make a list of things she WISHES would happen, she does. They include things like hoping her mother finds a boyfriend (her father hasn't been in the picture for years), she gets a role in the play, she doesn't have to visit her grandmother for the summer, and her friend Savvy stops being weird. She does get a role in the school play, Umbilical, her friendships shake out in the messy, haphazard way of middle school, and she and her mother are able to make a little peace with the fact that Jenny is no longer with them.
Strengths: This is more constructive and positive than many books that concentrate on grief, so the depiction of moving on was a good one. Emma's friendship dramas are also realistic.
Weaknesses: There was a little disconnect between the age of the characters and some of the reactions and language. Yes, middle school students might get involved with inappropriate texting, and I can't quite explain it. Ah. The author has written primarily for adults in the past. That would explain it. Not a bad start, but half a bubble off.
What I really think: Will probably pass on purchase. Although I love the cover, it looks a little younger and happier than the contents of the book.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Miss Communication (Babymouse: Tales from the Locker #2)

36689710Holm, Jennifer L. and Matthew. Miss Communication (Babymouse: Tales from the Locker #2)
July 24th 2018 by Random House Books for Young Readers

E ARC provided by publisher Babymouse REALLY wants a smart phone, but her mother doesn't think she is responsible enough. After she manages to carry around the tv remote for two days and not break it, she is deemed responsible enough to get a Whiz Bang Mini and is absolutely thrilled. Her parents lay down some ground rules, but Babymouse is SO excited to get the contacts for all of her friends and use her phone to watch videos of baby koalas... in class. Her phone gets taken away, and also comes to grief, so she has to get a new phone, for which she now owes her brother Squeak. The phone is really, really interesting, and useful for communicating with friends. Babymouse does follow the rules and doesn't answer an unknown text, which later becomes a problem! Babymouse has other things going on in her life, like a report on Ancient Rome that she wants to do on time, making videos to upload to Tubular, and having beauty emergencies, like getting her whiskers threaded.
Strengths: Babymouse has a built in audience, so this is a must purchase for every school everywhere. It's also an excellent cautionary tale about the problems that might come with having a smart phone, which is an experience that is all too common for upper elementary and early middle school students. Babymouse's experiences are spot on, funny, and timely. This covers much more universal concerns than the first book.
Weaknesses: Am I the only one who doesn't particularly LIKE Babymouse?
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, but may wait to get a prebind because the paper-over-board versions hold up so poorly.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, July 13, 2018

Electric Boogerloo- I am Fartacus #2

36373578 Maciejewski, Mark. Electric Boogerloo- I am Fartacus #2
July 17th 2018 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

After barely escaping being suspended in I Am Fartacus, Chub and his former best friend Arch start seventh grade at Alanmoore Middle School. There are a lot of new students from a neighboring school that was torn down, and one of them is carrying around a mint condition Ronin Girl comic that Chub desperately wants to see! There is a new principal, Ms. Lockhart, who is systematically bringing past troublemakers to her office to let them know she is watching them. The McQueen triplets have been in, so are nervous, and Arch and Chub fear that the principal wants to suspend one of them as an example. When the Wahoolie sculpture of the school mascot (a kangaroo) is stolen, Chub knows that he is the main suspect. With the help of Moby (and his wonky digestive system), Shelby, and the rest of the cadre, Chub puts together his resources to investigate the theft. Megumi, the girl with the Ronin Girl comic, wants to help as well, and ends up being a valuable member of the team. Chub finds out a lot about his friends, and is met with some surprises. Is he able to solve the mystery, clear his name, and remove all reason for his parents to relocate the family back to Poland?
Strengths: Fans of Johnson's The Great Greene Heist, Rylander's The Fourth Stall and Ferraiolo's The Big Splash will love this junior high comic crime novel. There's a good balance of understated goofy (Moby's gastrointestinal issues), a light romance, and a fairly believable mystery. The ensemble characters are what really makes this book-- there are a fair number of them, but they are all so well drawn that it's easy to tell them apart. The comic connection adds an additional level of appeal.
Weaknesses: Ms. Lockwood is rather over the top. I'd like to see some books where the principal isn't evil, but is really a super hero in disguise. Also, the portrayal of the librarian is a bit unflattering. Why not turn tables and have an old, seemingly sleepy librarian who is actually a ninja spy? (Clearly some personal views here-- my father was an elementary school principal!)
What I really think: Much to my surprise, I am Fartacus did not circulate as well as I had hoped. Still buying this one, and the fact that is seems like more of a mystery might help sell the series.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Scream and Scream Again

35657880Stine, R.L. Scream and Scream Again
July 24th 2018 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

It's so hard to write reviews for short stories, since no two are the same, they are fairly short, and (in this case), they are all sort of gory/scary and I don't care as much for those.

This is, however, a book most middle school libraries need to buy. If your copies of Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark or Horowitz's Horowitz's Horror are falling to pieces (like mine are), you definitely need to purchase this. It's got an impressive number of middle grade writers, the stories are varied, and they all have a level of scary that will allow children to sleep at night as long as they don't read them under the covers with a flashlight right before bed!

It's also a welcome addition to the R.L. Stine shelf, since most of those books are twenty year old prebinds that seem most unhygienic at this point, but I still can't throw them away.

Here's a description for Amazon.

R.L. Stine—the godfather of Goosebumps—and some of the most popular authors today bring an unrivaled mastery of all things fearsome, frightening, and fantabulous to this terrifying anthology of all-new scary short stories.
Scream and Scream Again! is full of twists and turns, dark corners, and devilish revenge. Collected in conjunction with the Mystery Writers of America, this set includes works from New York Timesbestselling authors telling tales of wicked ice-cream trucks, time-travelling heroes, witches and warlocks, and of course, haunted houses.
Read it if you dare! With twenty never-before-published scary stories from some of the most popular authors today—including Chris Grabenstein, Wendy Corsi Staub, Heather Graham, Peter Lerangis, R.L. Stine, Bruce Hale, Emmy Laybourne, Steve Hockensmith, Lisa Morton, Ray Daniel, Beth Fantaskey, Phil Mathews, Carter Wilson, Doug Levin, Jeff Soloway, Joseph S. Walker, Alison McMahan, Daniel Palmer, Tonya Hurley, and Stephen Ross—it’s sure to leave readers screaming for more.

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

ANOTHER pointless review-- Books and Beaux

My take away from this Mid Century "Career Romance"? A fun snapshot of history that I'm going to keep, and a reminder that I really think books and politics, at least on the middle school level, should remain separate. I am in the minority on this, I know, and I do want to be able to have a wide range of books so all of my readers can see themselves, but I am not going to get involved in politics on the internet. Just not. My grandmother would NOT approve.

31217453Campbell, Rosemae Wells. Books and Beaux
1958 by The Westminster Press
Personal Copy

Sue Stratton is disappointed that she didn't get a library position near her home on Long Island or in NYC, and instead has to head off to the wilds of New England to be an assistant on the bookmobile for the State Library. She works for Miss Bean, and with Addie, a pleasant, hearty girl. It's a different sort of library work, loading up books and spending weeks on the road delivering them, often via local "librarians" who circulate books out of their front parlors. It is apparently hungry work, because Addie and Sue are constantly planning their next meal, which always seems to include lots of rolls and pie! Addie has an admirer in a "hermit", Stan Granby, who is starting up a dog training school, and Sue's interest is piqued in his friend Philip, who is a bit of a bratty guy, having been unsatisfied working for his father. Sue brings him to task for not playing fairly with the old man, and Philip is grateful to her and starts finding excuses to be in her area to squire her to various church suppers and square dances. The girls are constantly worried about the new state budget, hoping to get an increase so the old bookmobile can be updated, but concerned that the budget will be cut, even though their services are valuable to their patrons. When Mrs. Parsons, a librarian who is never pleased with their work and whose husband had been involved in state government, seems to be working against them, the girls come up with a plan to take their representative on the road with them to show how important their work is. Will the budget work in their favor, and more importantly, will romance?
Strengths: Well, I just want to travel back 60 years and work on a bookmobile now so I could rent rooms, go to square dances, and eat my own weight in doughnuts while working hard to deliver books to rural patrons who don't have the internet! This paints a very optimistic picture of the influence of libraries and of a time before computers. Mrs. Parsons would very likely support President Trump, and it was interesting that she complained about books written by possible Communists! I imagine that Sue would be heavily involved in Twitter if she were working today.
Weaknesses: A bit didactic and political, but then the author was heavily involved in library organizations. Not many books that mention the Library Bill of Rights!
What I really think: Librarians and fond patrons of libraries will enjoy this, if they can find a copy, and it's fairly forward thinking in its attitude toward women working, even if Sue and Addie also want some romance in their lives.
Ms. Yingling

My Family Divided

35795912Guerrero, Diane and Moroz, Erica. My Family Divided
July 17th 2018 by Henry Holt & Company
ARC provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter

Actress Diane Guerrero's father and mother came to the United States from Colombia in the 1980s in order to make a better life for themselves and for their son. They came on a ninety day tourist to visit a sister and did not leave. While they struggled, they were able to hold down jobs and have places to live. They tried to obtain citizenship, but were thwarted by the bureaucracy, as well as by a fraudulent lawyer who took a lot of money for little results. Diane was born in the US and struggled a bit in school, but had a solid group of friends and enjoyed her life in Boston, eventually attending a performing arts school that got her started on her way to her eventual renown for television shows like Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin. When she was 14, her parents were arrested and deported. Luckily, she was able to stay with family friends, and even managed to go to a very nice private college, but her family's situation was never resolved to her satisfaction. The book, which has a few black and white pictures of Guerrero, her family, and friends, shows the effect this had on her.
Strengths: This was a fast paced look at how immigration laws affected one family that also talks a bit about how this is a more and more common experience in the US.
Weaknesses: I wish that the cover were a photo instead of an illustration, since this is nonfiction. I'm not sure how many children will be familiar with this actress.
What I really think: Will purchase this instead of Saedi's Americanized: Rebel Without a Green Card  as a timely book on a topic of interest and as a read along for books like Restrepo's Illegal. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Random, Pointless Review

So, we have officially reached That Day in the Summer when it's just time to go back to school. I don't want to clean anything, I don't want to knit, I don't want to read, I just want to fling books at children!

I recently moved all of my books downstairs, which has been helpful. I've been trying to reread my collection of 1950s and 60s teen fiction, hopefully weeding books that really don't make me that happy, or that I could get somewhere else if I really needed them. (My Maud Hart Lovelace books are in a holding pattern-- I don't have them on the shelf, but can't quite give them away!)

Here's a review of a book that no one needs to read. You won't be able to find a copy, and unless you're Charlotte, you just really don't even want to read it! But here's the review, anyway, because it makes me feel like I accomplished more with my day than just making that disgusting casserole with hotdogs, rice, green beans, canned tomatoes and 2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese. I'm not going to eat it, but I cook for some people who want very strange things!

34856556Cone, Molly. Reeney
E. M. Hale and Company, 1963
Personal copy, weeded from an elementary library in 1975!

When Reeney's mother dies suddenly of unexplained causes, her family is thrown into confusion. Her father seems incapable of doing any household chores, and her brother, Matt, is a year older but tremendously immature. His main concern is to work on his car so that he can date the dishy Mary Ann, who only dates him for his car. Domineering Aunt Ada has demanded to stay with the family, but Reeney claims she can manage on her own, even with orchestra, her friends, and dating Steve Montgomery, the lead in the school play. Cooking is a challenge, and she often forgets to turn on the oven to cook the meatloaf, and her mashed potatoes have lumps. Laundry isn't much better, since she shrinks her father's wool socks by not hand washing them, and turns all of Matt's clothes pink when a red sock gets into a load. Cleaning seems an insurmountable task, especially when her friends come to help and claim that pushing all of the furniture into the middle of the room is a necessity. Luckily, the kindly neighbor Mrs. Turner comes to the rescue and teaches Reeney the most important thing that will make her a "good little housekeeper"-- making pie from scratch. Reeney drops orchestra, starts to have doubts about Steve, and manages to keep the household running, but then disaster strikes. Her father has to go to Denver suddenly for business, at the very time when Matt finds out that Mary Ann isn't going to prom with him because he has been grounded from his car. He runs away, and Reeney is left to find him. She is ridden with guilt because she has not been understanding of his sensitive needs in the way her mother was, and has focused instead on keeping him fed and clothed, even nagging him from time to time to pull his own weight. What was she thinking? When he comes home, she makes sure he is okay, tells him Mary Ann isn't worthy of him, and helps him cram for a test he needs to pass in order to pass a class. Reeney dumps Steve and misses prom herself, and when Aunt Ada comes to visit and buy sheets at the white sale, Reeney is able to assure her, and her father, that she has learned to sublimate her entire personality so that the men in her family can live the exact same life that they did when her mother was alive.

Sorry. That review took a bit of a bitter turn, didn't it?

Strengths: Very indicative of homemaking standards in 1963, which is a bit scary. It's not enough to wipe down the baseboards every week, make sure the laundry is done, and insure that the potatoes have no lumps and the pie crust is flaky, but women had to make sure that all of the emotional needs of their family were met. The father and Matt are not expected to do any housework; it is never even considered. The father's only attempt at interacting with his children is to comment that Matt "needs more discipline" and to eat Reeney's cooking "approvingly". On the bright side, Reeney had some small defense mechanism working that she dumped Steve, but I'm sure it's not long until she finds another boy for whom she can make pie and chain herself to for a lifetime of servitude with a smile; washing his socks by hand and making sure that he is greeted with a pleasant smile at the end of a hard day of work and not burdened by the demands of his children.
Weaknesses: This sort of book had an unholy hold over me when I was a teenager. I LOVED books where girls had to take care of the household on their own (Weber's A New and Different Summer was another one.) It makes me wonder how much children's books today serve as weapons of social engineering to quietly mold the readers the way society wants them to be. Hmmm.
What I really think: I really should get rid of this one, but I still enjoy reading it, in a very warped sort of way. Is it, in fact, Reeney's success with pie crust that makes me vibrate to it? I may never know. The heart wants what the heart wants, even when it isn't good for us!


35603805White, J.A.  Nightbooks
July 24th 2018 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Alex ventures down to the basement of his apartment building to burn his creepy short stories that he feels make him a weird outsider, and he hears his favorite movie playing in an apartment when the elevator stops on the wrong floor. Even though he knows better, he knocks on the door, and when the woman who answers invites him in, he enters her apartment. Too late! She's Natacha, an evil witch who kidnaps and enslaves children, and now he is stuck! She intends to keep him, and Alex worries that he will never get home to his family. He soon meets Yasmin, who has been captive for some time. She is quiet about the fate of the other children also captured by Natacha, but does give Alex some helpful advice to keep him alive. The biggest piece is that Natacha loves stories, since they seem to quiet the problematic, magical apartment. Alex tells the stories he has with him, and is supposed to be writing every day, but he finds himself unable to do so. Eventually, some of the evil creatures in the apartment destroy his stories, and he must finally do some writing. He and Yasmin read books in the witch's library and try to figure out a way that they might be able to escape. Will they be successful, or will they find themselves in the situation of the children who were captured and who are no longer in the apartment?
Strengths: One of the things my readers want? Kidnapping tales! Weird, but true. The only short story collections that do well? Scary stories! This combines both beautifully, with a dark, fairy tale twist. I liked that there was a little bit of hope that they could escape, even though Yasmin had been there for a while. The ending was particularly fun.
Weaknesses: The cover makes this look like it would be more like Prineas' new Scroll of Kings rather than a scary tale, but I don't know what else could have been done. Maybe a bit of a nod to Hansel and Gretel and the witch's gingerbread house?
What I really think: I need to brush off Nance's Daemon Hall (2007) when school starts. I don't know that it circulated at all this year, but it is a similar title that will be good to hand to readers after they finish this shiny new book!
Ms. Yingling