Friday, August 31, 2018

24 Hours in Nowhere

38350847Bowling, Dusti. 24 Hours in Nowhere
September 4th 2018 by Sterling Children's Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Gus is a smart kid, and he's bound and determined to make it out of the arid wasteland of Nowhere, Arizona, go to college, and make something of himself. In the meantime, he's stuck in the least livable town in the US with his grandmother, and is being mercilessly bullied by Bo. When Bo seriously endangers Gus by sticking a cholla cactus in his face, Rossi comes to his rescue. Rossi is a fantastic dirt bike racer who usually beats Bo, so the only condition under which Bo will let Gus go is if Rossi gives him her bike. She does, and Gus knows there is no way he can repay her. He goes to Bo's house to confront him, and makes a deal that if he gives Bo gold from the Dead Frenchman's Mine, Rossi can have her bike back. Since the upcoming race in town is high stakes, Gus makes plans to go to the mine, even though many people have perished there in the past. He is joined by Matt, a henchman of Bo's, his friend Jessie (with whom he's had a falling out), and Rossi herself. The group is ill prepared for cave exploration, but do their best despite cave ins, mountain lions, group members getting injured and stuck in various places, and ragged tempers to make it out alive. Their ordeal isn't over yet-- they have to deliver the gold to Bo, who doesn't believe them, doesn't want to give back Rossi's bike, and doesn't play fair when he does. Will Rossi be able to compete for a new bike and chance to go to a bike camp after her eventful night?
Strengths: Bowling is a fantastic writer, and her Insignificant Events in the Life of the Cactus never made it back to the shelf in my library all year! She has a great sense of an exotic (to an Ohioan's eyes) place and fabulously funny scenes. I've quoted the line about the grandmother "planning on using old margarine and whipped topping tubs to battle zombies in the apocalypse" for days! Once the kids get into the cave, this is a great adventure book, and the cover is a great tribute to the art of  Edgar Alwin Payne and other Southwestern landscape artists of the early 20th century.
Weaknesses: The thing that I liked best about Insignificant Events was the overwhelming sense of optimism despite enormous challenges, and Gus' life was just... grim. I understand that that's a good way to encourage him to do something extraordinarily stupid, but I wish that Gus had some of Aven's optimism.
What I really think: I'll purchase this and recommend it heavily to readers who like survival books, but Bo was so very evil!
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Girl in the Locked Room

37570578Hahn, Mary Downing. The Girl in the Locked Room
September 4th 2018 by Clarion Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Jules and her family move to the outskirts of Hillsborough while her father is restoring an old mansion in the middle of the Stonybrook housing development. It's just one in a long series of moves, and there are advantages and disadvantages. While the apartment addition at the back of the mansion is nicer than many of the places the family has moved, Jules wishes they were closer to the amenities of town so she could make friends and do things. Also, the house feels really haunted. Soon, Jules starts seeing the ghost of a young girl, and feels that something is just not right. When she finally talks her mother into taking her to the library in town, she meets a girl her age, Maisie, who share interesting information about the mansion and is glad to hang out with Jules and investigate the house with her. The girls dig deeper, and the girl who is haunting the house, Lily, eventually starts to speak to them. Together, they manage to find out the secret of what happened to Lily and her family, why she haunts the house, and how they can try to make the past different so that Lily can escape her fate.
Strengths: Hahn's books are always very popular in my library, and the covers (after the 1990s) are generally good and scary. The ghost mystery is solid, and somewhat reminiscent of The Doll in the Garden. Interestingly, the part I liked best about this book was the friendship with Maisie, and how Jules started hanging out with her and they both investigate the mystery. I also was glad of the happy ending and the strong family life.
Weaknesses: I was hoping for something a little bit more unusual. There are lots of books where children move into haunted houses and have to help dispatch unhappy ghosts.
What I really think: This reminded my a little of The Secret of Goldenrod. Not as creepy and scary as I hoped, but a good story about moving and being friends with a ghost while solving her mystery.

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Lucky Luna

Lopez, Diana. Lucky Luna
August 28th 2018 by Scholastic
Copy provided by the publisher

Fifth grader Luna loves her family, but she has too many female cousins who are always hanging around. Her primas get her in trouble, or at least that's what Luna claims. As her friend Mabel points out, Luna does pretty well at getting into trouble on her own. When one of her least favorites cousins, Claudia, switches from a private school to Luna's public one, she's not happy. Prone to impulsive decisions that aren't always good, Luna tries to be nice to her cousin, and heeds her abuela's advice on how to deal with her... well, what she thinks is the advice. Since her abuela communicates mainly in Spanish and Luna does not speak it well, she thinks her grandmother has told her to drink water when she is angry. After locking Claudia in the bathroom during her sister's QuinceaƱera celebration, Claudia is grounded from wearing hats to school, which she does to hide her white streak of hair. Luna is concerned about her cousin, because she thinks other classmates are making fun of her "giant" nose, and tries to protect her even as she is flinging dead flies at her cousin, because she misunderstands more of her grandmother's advice.
Strengths: Growing up with 38 cousins on my mother's side (and 4 on my father's), I can't say I ever saw this facet of my life represented in books. My cousins were mainly older and lived a half hour away, but Luna's close knit family is really the star of this book. Luna faces realistic challenges, and is the sort of frank, misguided character that students enjoy more than I do. The cover is bright and attractive, and my 6th graders will adore this.
Weaknesses: Claudia is a much more sympathetic character than Luna; I wouldn't mind a book about her! Also, it is hard to believe that a school would allow a child to wear a hat every day.
What I really think: This is a solid, realistic fiction about a girl facing small challenges and being supported by her family, even if she doesn't always appreciate them. Great for elementary or early middle school. The knitting pattern for this hat needs to be included!

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Missing (Shadow House #4)

39776369Poblocki, Dan. The Missing (Shadow House #4)
August 28th 2018 by Scholastic Inc.
Copy provided by the publisher

Jason and Louise's parents are fighting over the creepy dollhouse that was supposed to be donated, but has mysteriously worked its way back to their home, where it is locked in the basement. When a call comes in from the children's aunt that their cousin, Marcus, is missing, the mother goes from California to Ohio with Lou to help the family. Unfortunately, Lou goes missing! Jason is drawn to the dollhouse, and when he investigates, he finds a small version of Lou among the dolls. He knows he must get her out, and when Connie appears and claims that the house was originally hers, and that her father was involved in a weird secret society that cursed some of the objects in the original Larkspur house, he has a place to start. Lou, trapped in the dollhouse, at least finds friends and helpers in Cal and Sadie. Jason is also accompanied by Rufus and Nina. Marcus is the creepy key to why the Jason and Lou are in the house, and after fighting lots of monsters and having super creepy portals open, stinky goo dropped on them, and a number of other horrendous things, the children manage to find some ways to release people from the dollhouse's grasp and get them back home. The terror seems to be over... or is it?
Strengths: I do not EVER want to be in Mr. Poblocki's nightmares. He has a real talent for scenes that are ooky but not too much for the average 11-year-old. Slimy monsters grabbing ankles, screeching walls of the house, transparent shadow dogs biting at the air.... *shudder*. This seemed to tie together several of the other books, although its been a while since I've read them. There could be another book, but this could also be the conclusion. John Bellairs is mentioned! I have great hope for the resurgence of his books in the fall.
Weaknesses: Creepy dolls, yes. Creepy dollhouses... I'm conflicted. I always really wanted a dollhouse, so creepy ones don't make me happy! Ah, Betty Ren Wright's The Dollhouse Murders(1983). I should see if I can get a student to check that out after reading this series.
What I really think: This series is okay, but I absolutely adore this author's stand alone horror books. It's so much easier to get stand alone books to circulate, but it seems like half my book orders consist of books in a series.

Ms. Yingling

Monday, August 27, 2018

Nonfiction Monday- The Big, Bold, Adventurous Life of Lavinia Warren

39090982Raum, Elizabeth. The Big, Bold, Adventurous Life of Lavinia Warren
September 4th 2018 by Chicago Review Press

E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

In the mid-1800s, there were not a lot of life choices for women. Lavinia Warren, nee' Mercy Bump, might have had even fewer options due to her extremely short stature, but instead she successfully completed a year of elementary school teaching after graduating herself. Then, a cousin who was also a promoter of curiosities offered her an unusual opportunity-- come work on his floating museum and travel the world. Accepting this job meant that Lavinia was in a position that few women at the time could have managed. She earned a great deal of money, met the wealthy and famous, lived in relative luxury, and traveled the world. The downside of this, of course, was that people came to gawk at her because she was less than three feet tall. Still, she also managed to marry fellow little person Charles Stratton and have a presumably happy marriage (although no children) at a time when even this option was out of reach for some women.

This biography read like the ones I remember growing up-- while not at all short on facts, the details of daily life were so absorbing that I felt like I learned a lot about what it was like to live during this time. Drawing heavily from Warren's autobiography for the woman's feelings about events and topics, Raum has balanced the difficulties of being of short stature with the difficulties of Warren's resultant fame in a way that doesn't negate these difficulties or manipulate us into feeling that she must be pitied or celebrated for how she lived her life.

Period photographs do a great job at adding a feeling for the styles and locations of the period, and the descriptions of the world travel alone make this a book worth reading. At about 176 pages, this is a fun biography that I hope to be able to entice readers to enjoy!
Ms. Yingling

MMGM- Elephant Secret

It's Cybils' season again! The call for judges is up HERE, so check it out! I'll be stepping away from the Middle Grade Fiction division, but the absolutely fantastic Alex Baugh will be taking my place. It's always a fun and informative experience to be part of this award process, and it's a great excuse to read lots and lots of books! 

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.

Walters, Eric. Elephant Secret
August 28th 2018 by Clarion Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Sam and her father run an elephant sanctuary. This takes a lot of acreage, so they're outside of town, and dealing with the elephants is SO Much easier than dealing with her friends in middle school. It's not an easy life, and she and her father make lots of sacrifices, but it's worth it to protect their herd of sometimes fragile, enormous animals! Their newest addition is Burma, who has a violent past and must be separated from the herd, and they are also dealing with the impending delivery of Daisy Mae's baby. Sam manages to get to a middle school dance with the help of Joyce, her dad's girlfriend, only to have Daisy Mae go into labor. Things look very grim until extra veterinarians, sent by the sanctuary's mysterious patron, arrive to help, and even then, they can only save the baby. Sam is sad about Daisy Mae, but understands that sometimes not everyone can be saved, and devotes herself to the baby, whom she names Wooly, feeling a kinship with her since Sam's own mother died shortly after she was born. Wooly is a rather odd looking elephant, but when James Mercury, their patron, arrives to tell them a big secret. Mercury is a brilliant but quirky scientist who has a LOT of money, and to guard his secret, he is willing to invest heavily in the sanctuary. This is great, since Sam's dad also works at a local diner to make ends meet, but the money eventually comes at a devastating price. Mercury buys Sam and her father out... for nine million dollars, with the disheartening provision that they can't have anything to do with the elephants. Crushed but realistic, they make plans for a new sanctuary, but Sam and her expertise with elephants might be even more valuable than all of Mercury's money.
Strengths: Wow. So much to like here. Tons of information on large animal veterinary science, science related intrigue, a challenging but upbeat and positive father-daughter relationship with the best paternal girlfriend EVER (seriously, I loved Joyce so much she could have her own paragraph!), and all beautifully written by Walters, who has written a ton of books published in Canada that we in the states are being denied. He also wrote the fantastic The Rule of 3 series and Rebound, so his range is really amazing. I've read a number of books involving elephants, and it's an intriguing subject, but the others have been so utterly depressing that I haven't bought them.
Weaknesses: The publisher's description has a huge spoiler, so don't look at it.
What I really think: This was brilliant and I can't wait to hand it to my students!

Ms. Yingling

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Brewster Triplets #4, Ivy and Bean #11

36127472Ziegler, Jennifer. Revenge of the Teacher's Pets
June 26th 2018 by Scholastic Press

Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Darby, Dawn, and Delaney are determined that seventh grade is going to be AWESOME. However, when they get their schedules, they find that not only are they not in classes together, the only class they do have together is not color guard but cheer squad. Unfortunately, this is Delaney's fault-- she signed them up when she thought she was signing up for corn dogs. The triplets plead their case to their long suffering principal, Mr. Plunkett. He tells them that he was behind their separate schedules, and while he would gladly change them to color guard, the class is full. The girls start the school year trying to deal with their separate schedules, and also with their older sister's impending wedding, which she seems reluctant to have their help with, and with putting together their own rooms in their dad's new place. Darby struggles with the participation component of her class, although she makes a sympathetic friend in Wanda, who likes photography. The girls decide to try to embrace cheer squad by cheering for teams that don't often get this service, like cross country and chess. Not surprisingly, the girls quickly find out the reasons that cheer sticks mainly to football and basketball! In the end, the girls find that they are able to have their own interests, and even separate rooms, and still remain close as siblings and triplets.

The Brewster Triplets series is filled with fun, sometimes silly situations, but also addresses real concerns that many students have-- carving out an identity in school, finding new friends, trying different activities, and struggling with all that academic subjects ask of students. Each girl has a different style of coping with these challenges, with gives readers some ideas for how to deal with these issues when they arise in their own lives.

The divorced parents are realistically portrayed, figuring out some of the details of living apart while setting a good example of getting along with each other. In fact, the triplets have a lot of supportive adults in their lives, including older sister Lily and an aunt, but also their poor principal (who is very understand of their "crises"!), their teachers, and coaches.

Didn't we all secretly want to be part of a group of multiples when we were in middle school? I know I desperately wished to be a twin! Readers who like fun, realistic fiction with challenging but not overly sad problems can add this series to their reading list along with Devillier's and Roy's Trading Faces, Payton's It Takes Two, and the books of Margolis, Santopolo and Birdsall.

Barrows, Annie and Blackall, Sophie.
One Big Happy Family (Ivy and Bean #11)
August 28th 2018 by Chronicle Books LLC
Copy provided by the publisher

Ivy is told by classmate Vanessa that only children are spoiled, and takes it to heart. She doesn't want to be spoiled, so she takes steps so that she isn't. First, she has the great idea to give away her clothes and favorite headbands to her classmates, but her teacher, Ms. Aruba-Tate is NOT pleased with that idea and makes her take everything back. The girls try to bring Ivy's doll Zellaphine to life ala Frankenstein's monster by attaching her to eletricity, and when that doesn't work, they go to a park near their home to pray to the gods to deliver a baby brother or sister to Ivy. Their prayers are answered, although not in the way they imagined. Jean and Jean's baby, Kalia, is a good stand in for a while, and even though Ivy is covered in sticky baby goo, she doesn't feel less spoiled. She tries several other ways to prove to Vanessa that just because she is an only child, she doesn't have to be spoiled, and eventually gets her classmate to see her way.
Strengths:These books are a fun size, with a good mix of pictures and text, and bright and attractive covers. Series are great for emergent readers because they can finish the books fairly quickly and know exactly what to read next. Sibling relationships are important at any age, and there aren't many books that talk about being an only child, so this is a nice change. I would definitely purchase this for early elementary school readers.
Weaknesses: Bean is a sort of Junie B. Jones character-- not necessarily very pleasant. But then, I am an OLDER sister!
What I really think: I have some of these books for my struggling readers (we have a "quick picks" shelf that I recommend to many different students), but this particular volume would do better in elementary school. Middle school students are not too concerned about being spoiled; being popular, not fighting with friends, and potential romances are a little more the speed even for 6th graders.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Two Great High School Books

37007788Kaplan, Ariel. We Regret To Inform You
August 21st 2018 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers

E ARC from Netgalley

Mischa attends a prestigious private school near D.C., at great personal cost to her single mother. Mischa has done everything she is supposed to do, keeping up her grades, doing well on tests, and getting good letters of recommendation from her teachers. When college acceptance day rolls around, however, things go badly, and in the end, Mischa doesn't even get accepted by her fall back school. Her friend Nate is very supportive and tries to help, but Mischa doesn't want to disappoint her mother, so claims that she got into Paul Revere, just so she doesn't have to tell her. She's so upset that she even visits Revere and talks to an admissions officer, and when she is there, catches a glimpse of her transcript-- which has Ds on it! Since the lowest grade she ever got was an A-, in gym, Mischa starts to investigate. A group of girls in her school who like to dabble in hacking help her out, and they soon uncover (after much fun sleuthing!) a grade changing ring that rewards the students whose parents have donated a lot of money to the school and that penalizes students who do very well but are poor. Even though this ring affects Nate, with whom she has an increasingly close relationship, Mischa manages to team up with her arch nemesis to put things to right.
Strengths: This is blissfully middle grade appropriate, which I appreciated. Mischa is a great character who is focused and really wants to make her mother happy by being successful. Her mother, who has pushed her a bit, is completely understanding when she thinks Mischa has gotten into only Paul Revere. The romance with Nate is great, and the peek into the lives of the wealthy and privileged is fun. The hacking and spying is right up there with Carter's Gallagher Girls, but more realistic. I liked it so much that I am slightly sad I don't work in a high school so I could hand it to every reader who comes into the library. (But not really, because I love middle school!)
Weaknesses: There is some borderline illegal activity, but it's essential for taking down the powers that are unfairly changing grades. There is also just a tiny bit of kissing, although to throw off a principal from finding out they had broken into the school to get records, one of the girls takes off her shirt, and there is also an Instagram account that is hacked and made to look like a girl is taking heroin.
What I really think: This was so much fun, both the grade changing ring and the romance, and I really enjoyed it. I just don't think middle school students in my area will care all that much. I would definitely buy this for any high school library.

I do understand that the East coast is more competitive when it comes to colleges, and students who want to go to prestigious universities might feel more pressure, but neither of my daughters gave college any more than the most casual thought and did okay! Have trouble really understanding books like this, but the hacking and spying made it fun!

Henry, Katie. Heretics Anonymous
August 7th 2018 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Michael is angry enough at his parents that they have moved him and his sister yet again for his father's job as he goes into his junior year, but to enroll him in a Catholic school, no matter how good, makes him even angrier. He's an agnostic, and prepared to have a miserable time. Luckily, on the very first day he hears Lucy arguing with the teacher about religious points and thinks he has a soul mate. He does, in a way-- Lucy identifies herself as a heretic, in that her beliefs aren't quite sanctioned by the church, but she is very much a believer. She has a small group of other students who don't necessarily toe the line in plain black shoes, and they all decide that it's time to make their opinions known. They manage to do some underhanded but well thought out pranks, like changing the sex ed/abstinence video, but things get serious when the Latin teacher loses her job when her same-sex marriage comes to the attention of the school. Michael and Lucy start to date, and Michael's issues with his family situation also reach a tipping point.

Personal note: Ms. Henry is clearly a far, far better human being than I am! I have been an atheist since confirmation class, and of all the people who have been flat-out mean to me in my life, religious people have been the absolute meanest. Ms. Henry gets ENORMOUS bonus points for not only really understanding and describing Michael's beliefs, but for describing and being kind about ALL of the different beliefs she portrays. It's an incredibly difficult thing to do, and she pulls it off with a great deal of good humor as well!

Strengths: This is funny, timely, and explores a very little covered area of teen life. I spent a LOT of time involved with my church group in middle school and high school, and even more time thinking about what I believed and what I didn't. This comes up very rarely in literature, and this book covers not only Catholicism and agnosticism, but a couple of other, more exotic beliefs as well. The romance with Lucy is great, and the issues with Michael's family are realistically poignant. The cover is absolutely fantastic!
Weaknesses: Drinking and allusions to sexual behavior, while mild, make this more of a YA title.
What I really think: I would definitely buy this for high school but will hope for something else similar but more in tune with middle school students.

Friday, August 24, 2018


34739995Nielsen, Jennifer A. Resistance.
August 28th 2018 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

After Chaya's brother and sister fall victim to the Nazis in the Tarnow Ghetto in Poland in 1942, her parents resign themselves to their fate. Chaya, however, decides to go down fighting and joins a Resistance group called Akiva. This group is comprised of former leaders and children in a scouting group.  At first, she is a courier, taking food and sometimes weapons into the ghetto. She is does not "look Jewish" with her fair hair, so it is somewhat easier for her to move around with her forged papers claiming she is Helena Nowak. It is not so easy for Esther, a timid girl who joins the group. Eventually, realizing the that situation in Poland is getting worse and worse, the group starts to plan sabotage activities, including bombing a cafe. After that, Akiva sustains may casualties, and Chaya fears she is the only one left. She starts out on her own and eventually runs into Esther, who claims she is on a mission from a former Akiva leader to deliver items to the Lodz ghetto. Things are exceedingly grim when they get there, but the girls decide to travel on to Warsaw. Along the way, they find some of their former cohorts who are trying to get more Resistance members to help in whatever way they can. It is clear that the Resistance is not going to "win", but the hope is that the Nazis can be slowed down, and that some lives can be saved. Chaya and Esther eventually end up taking part in the particularly brutal fighting in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Chaya becomes badly injured, but still tries her best to do the right thing in the face of evil.
Strengths: Nielsen is one of the best writers of fight scenes in middle grade literature today. They are my favorite thing, but many young readers like the excitement and adrenalin they provide. Nielsen has great attention to detail, with sights, sounds, and movement in these scenes. She doesn't neglect the more niggling, scrounging aspects of survival either, with details about clothing, food, and the desperate measures people were driven to to survive. There's a bit of philosophy thrown in from time to time (why just die when you could make a difference, if you know that death is inevitable?), as well as politics and history concerning the was as it affected Poland. Another fantastic book to have about World War II, and a nice mix of fighting (which has die-hard fans) and tie-ins with the Holocaust (required reading for my 8th graders).
Weaknesses: This has a ton of information and detail. There were a couple of times when I had to stop and figure out what was going on, and I have read fairly widely about WWII. Because of this, Resistance isn't a great first book about the Holocaust to hand to readers who know nothing about it, but it will be popular with readers who have a decent background knowledge.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. Love the cover.

17168240Bascomb, Neal. The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World's Most Notorious Nazi
August 27th 2013 by Arthur A. Levine Books
Paperback provided by Young Adult Books Central

Adolf Eichmann orchestrated the removal of thousands of Jews to concentration camps, where many met their deaths. He managed to justify his role in this by saying that he didn't actually kill anyone; he just moved people around. It's one thing to do bad things; it strikes me as especially evil to deny to yourself that they were evil. This might also help explain why Eichmann left Germany, moved to Argentina, and tried to live anonymously and escape retribution.

The investigation into where Eichmann was and the planning involved to find him and extradite him to stand trial for war crimes was quite the undertaking, and was a lengthy and harrowing process. I was amazed at the level of detailed planning that had to be done just to get him on a plane and get him to Germany. The book doesn't stint on these details, which shows that a huge amount of research went into this. While readers who want to know everything about WWII will read this for pleasure, it is also an excellent resource for students who want to take their historic obsession a bit further and do a research project on Eichmann's fate.

In this narrative non-fiction book, there is a lot to learn about the various atrocities performed by the Nazis and how they were orchestrated, but the hunt for Eichmann also makes this read like a spy thriller novel. I was a little unsure whether this was fiction or not-- it is definitely written in an older non-fiction style that adheres to the facts while dramatizing them. There are lots of pictures to illustrate the events being discussed, a list of important players in the events, an index, and copious footnotes.

The level of detail in The Nazi Hunters will please the most discerning reader of World War II books. While I was familiar with some of what was going on, there were so many other issues about which I had never heard. There are not as many books for younger readers that discuss what happened to people accused of war crimes as there are books about the fighting, although we are seeing a few like McCormick's The plot to kill Hitler : Dietrich Bonhoeffer : pastor, spy, unlikely hero. It's good for readers interested in this topic to know that the ramifications of WWII didn't end exactly on September 2, 1945.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Blog Tour- Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish

August 13 – The Alexander Times – Review
August 14 – Candid Ceillie – Author Guest Post
August 15 – RhythmicBooktrovert – Review
August 16 – Serial Bibliophile – Listicle

August 20 – LA Bookworm – Review
August 21 – Confessions of a YA Reader-Guest Post: August 22 – Mundo de Pepita– Review + Quote

Here we are at the end of the blog tour for this great book! Sorry I didn't post the beginning of the tour earlier, but definitely check out the great posts to learn more about this intriguing middle grade titles.

Cartaya, Pablo. Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish
August 21st 2018 by Viking
ARC provided by Follett

Marcus is a big kid, and uses this to his advantage in his suburban Philadelphia neighborhood by earning a little money offering "protection" from kids like Stephen Hobert. He has a group who walk back and forth to school with him for the bargain price of $10 a week. He also provides the service of keeping kids out of lunch detention by picking up trash they leave behind-- of course, this also has a price. His "office" is in the library, which gives him a place to hang out while he waits to pick up his younger brother Charlie from school. Charlie, who has Down's Syndrome, has recently been mainstreamed into Charlie's school. Their mother works at the airport and has a very demanding job, although the family struggles financially since the father decided to return to Puerto Rico. After an altercation with Stephen, precipitated by Stephen making fun of Charlie, Marcus gets in big trouble for bullying and for his businesses! The principal suggests that everyone cool down over break, and that both boys might be better off in a special school. Marcus' mother decides to finally visit Puerto Rico and stay for a bit with the father's Uncle Ermenio, who was always fond of the family. Marcus has always wondered about his father, but his mother is disinclined to discuss him. She does offer Marcus his e mail address, and Marcus sends a message, hoping to connect with him. The family spends time with the uncle and also travels around a bit, eventually hunting down the father, who is running a rather swanky hotel. Marcus learns a lot about family, his cultural heritage, and his father on the trip, and it helps him make a little more sense of his life back home.
Strengths: Marcus is a well meaning but misguided kid, and he clearly cares about his mother and brother. His interest in finding his father is also very realistic. The travels around Puerto Rico and all of the details about food, life, and landscape are fantastic! This will speak to a lot of students who have parents who might speak another language and have cultural connections that the students don't fully understand. The relationship with Charlie is nicely depicted-- his challenges affect Marcus a little, but do not preclude him from having other interests. Great cover as well.
Weaknesses: Unless Pennsylvania laws are very different from Ohio ones, I find it hard to believe that the school wouldn't have let Charlie in. It was also a bit strange that the school librarian was at school until 5:00.(Although we won't talk about how early I am at work!) Again, things may be different, but the school situations seemed a bit off compared to my own situation. Also, there was too little about one of Marcus' "clients", Danny, and I wanted to know a lot more about their friendship.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and giving the ARC to an 8th grade student who loved Hautmann's Slider. I think he will really enjoy this one as well.
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Harbor Me

Woodson, Jacqueline. Harbor Me
August 28th 2018 by Nancy Paulsen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plua

Six students who struggle academically are involved in a pilot program in their Brooklyn school to see if they make more progress in a small group setting. Their teacher knows that it isn't just academic issues that the students face-- they also have a variety of trauma they are processing, so their teacher tells them they can have one hour every Friday to talk to each other without a teacher. The students refer to this time as ARTT (a room to talk). Haley, who lives with her uncle because her father is imprisoned because of the car accident that killed her mother, decides that everyone's story is so interesting that she wants to record them on an old school tape recorder. We hear about Esteban's father being detained for being in the country illegally from the Dominican Republic, and the family's struggles with his absence. Amari deals with racial profiling, and the fact that his father has to talk to him very severely about never, ever playing with toy guns in public. Ashton has moved to Brooklyn from Connecticut because of a downtown in family finances, but he has to come to terms with his white privilege. Holly is African-American, and her mother Kira has been hugely helpful to Haley, braiding her hair most Friday nights because her white uncle doesn't have the skills, but Holly's family is a bit more well-to-do, so she has issues of privilege of her own to deal with. Tiago feels the loss of Esteban keenly because Tiago speaks Spanish and has a pronounced accent, but is from Puerto Rico and doesn't understand why his mother no longer wants to speak Spanish after a man was rude and threatening to her. After all, Puerto Rico is part of the US. There is even some discussion about the land on which the school was built but which would have been the property of the Lenape before it was taken from them. Throughout all of the discussions, the students learn to be more sensitive to the situations of others, and kinder as a result.
Strengths: This has many discussions of timely topics. Woodson is a very lyrical writer, so there are many poetic turns of phrase. The characters all develop nicely throughout the book and learn a lot about the state of the world and about each other.
Weaknesses: This is a slow, introspective book without much action. I also found it hard to believe that the teacher let the children be in the room alone-- we aren't allowed to even have children making up tests in the hallways unsupervised! I would have believed it more if the teacher had just been in the corner of the room grading papers!
What I really think: Readers who like books like Because of Mr. Terupt that are told from different viewpoints and discuss serious topic will like this window into other people's lives.

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Phantom Tower

Graff, Keir. The Phantom Tower
August 21st 2018 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Mal and Colm move with their mother from Texas to Chicago after the car accident death of their father. Their mother has a new position as an administrative assistant for Professor Parker at the University of Chicago. He had suggested they look into renting an apartment at Brunhild Tower, where the rooms are large if run down, and rents are cheap. Brunhild Tower is an old building with lots of interesting nooks and crannies, and when Mal decides to make a map of the building in the video game world where he spends a lot of time, the boys go to investigate. They try opening the doors to apartments, many of which are empty, so that they can add to the map. The accidentally meet the Princess, an older woman who invites them in to tea and warns them that they should not be out and about during lunch time. Colm finds out one reason why-- between 1 and 2 p.m., the elevator shows a 13 floor, and when he travels there, he sees a lot of fading spirits of people from the past. The twins meet neighbor Tamika, who helps them with their investigating, and the ghostly Teddy, who died in the 1930s. Summer is long and hot, and traveling to the Phantom Tower is an interesting way to spend some time each day, but the children want to find out why there is another dimension. Finding out this leads to an even greater mystery as well as a situation that must be dealt with in involving the professor and some deaths at the time the tower was opened. Can the children figure out what is going on and put things to rights?
Strengths: I adore books with magical places (The Greenglass House, The Children of Green Knowe, The Castle in the Mist), and the back story and Chicago setting make this a lot of fun. Also a big fan of children having a magical hour that no one else has. The twins complement each other and have a realistic, antagonistic relationship, and Tamika and Teddy both play off against them nicely. Bit of a twist on a moving story, which was good. The plot with the professor is surprisingly... evil? Not quite, but shows the lengths to which people will go to stay with a loved one, even when it's not a good idea.
Weaknesses: This is a well constructed, amusing story. Not many weaknesses with the book, but I'm just not sure I have the readers for it.
What I really think: This is definitely a stronger novel than The Matchstick Castle, but the cover is a little young, and my fantasy readers still want more adventure and fighting. I'll see what this year's group is like before purchasing.

Ms. Yingling

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Secrets of Tutankhamun: Egypt's Boy King and His Incredible Tomb

Patricia Cleveland-Peck, illustrated by Isabel Greenberg.
The Secrets of Tutankhamun: Egypt's Boy King and His Incredible Tomb
August 21st 2018 by Bloomsbury Children's Books
ARC provided by the publisher

This large format picture book is more reminiscent of Motel of the Mysteries in its vocabulary, content and writing  style. It is part biography of Tutankhamun, with excellent information about the background of the Egyptian royal family at the time and explanations of how succession and intermarriages played into the political climate. There is a chapter about the process of mummification that would be very helpful to have at hand wile reading the first chapter of Rubalcaba's The Wadget Eye that includes information about funeral processions and tombs as well. The last part of the book gives detailed information about Carter's dig that is almost as complete as Schlitz's The Hero Schliemann. I especially liked that the various incidences  of people affected by the "curse" of the tomb are discussed, but the author acknowledges that there were many more people involved with the dig who suffered no ill-effects.

We certainly don't want to encourage young readers to go into archaeology (I have any number of friends with masters' degrees or PhD in the field, many from very prestigious colleges and universities; none of them are working in the field. Most are librarians, actually), but Egypt, Rome and Greece are covered in the middle school curriculum, so the information about the digs of the past is very useful.

The format of this is very attractive, with lots of helpful illustrations arranged on pages to help explain some of the concepts-- shabtis, barges, hieroglyphics, and dig sites will all help students have a better idea about what the artifacts looked like. Some of the illustrations were in color; I can't quite determine how much of the finished book will be.

This is a good addition to a middle school collection that includes Rubalcaba's Digging for Troy even if some students will be reluctant to check it out because it looks like a book for younger students. They can be assured that it is really quite informative and helpful!

Ms. Yingling

Sunday, August 19, 2018

MMGM- City of Ghosts

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.

Schwab, Victoria. City of Ghosts
August 28th 2018 by Scholastic
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

It's not easy to be the daughter of famous paranormal investigative book writers, especially when you can see ghosts! Cassidy's parents don't really believe too much about ghost hunting, but are more interested in the history and legends that people believe, and they certainly don't really think that Cassidy's best friend is a ghost, although they do joke about her talking to "Jacob". Cassidy can, however, see ghosts after a near-death experience from which Jacob saved her. She can travel to the other side of  "the Veil" to commune more closely with spirits, but there aren't a whole lot of opportunities in her town. When her parents are approached to do a television show and the entire family heads off to Edinburgh, Scotland, Cassidy finds that the supernatural there is much more intense. Based in a flat run by a nice Scottish lady (and her ghostly husband!), Cassidy and Jacob accompany the parents are their forays into the haunted places of Edinburgh. The spirits are very strong, and Cassidy is pulled into the Veil against her will more than once. Not only that, but a very despicable spirit, the Raven in Red who steals the souls of children, is bound and determined to y
capture Cassidy's spirit and use it to resurrect herself. Luckily, the landlady's niece, Lara, also can see spirits, but she uses her powers to put the spirits to rest. To Cassidy, whose best friend is a ghost, this seems somewhat like murder. Still, Lara knows a lot more about Cassidy's abilities, and the two spend quality time with the spirits. When Cassidy is in grave danger, Lara is able to save her. Lara is still concerned that Jacob should be dispatched before he gains too much power, which suggests that there is more of the story to be told.
Strengths: Ghosts who want to suck out your soul. Yep. That is exactly what my students like to read, when they aren't reading gruesome, blood soaked murder mysteries! This is a great title with a cover that will ensure that readers pick it up. It made me happy because there were supportive, if a little flaky, parents who are involved in ghost hunting but are sort of clueless (sort of like LaFevers' Theodosia books), they get to travel to Scotland (Like Runholdt's Kari and Lucas mysteries), and they learn a bit about ghost hunting. The Raven in Red was decently scary, and the book is action packed in the second half, when some readers attention tends to wander. Well done all around.
Weaknesses: The beginning was a tiny bit slow, but so were the starts of Bell's Frozen Charlotte and Alender's The Girls of Hysteria Hall , but the creepy cover serves as a promise to readers that things will some become bone chillingly scary!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. I'm hoping that the talk of grave robbing in Scotland will encourage readers who like this to pick up Lane's Death Cloud series, which I love.

Ms. Yingling


38337259O'Connor, Barbara. Wonderland.
August 28th 2018 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Mavis Jeeter and her mother have moved around a lot, mainly because her mother is never happy with any of her jobs. It's hard on Mavis, who just really wants to stay in one place and make some friends. When the two move to Alabama so her mother can be the housekeeper for the Tullys, Mavis is superexcited. Not only do they have a nice, if small, apartment as part of the job, but there is a girl, Rose, just her own age. There's plenty to do in the gated community, including riding Rose's skateboard, talking to the gatekeeper, Mr. Duffy, and trying to corral a greyhound they find in the woods. They also have to deal with Amanda, who has an on-again-off-again friendship with Rose, and as usual, Mavis' mother finds plenty to complain about with her job. Mr. Duffy is finding it hard to cope with his job after the death of his job, and Rose worries about him. Mavis is bound and determined that getting him a new dog will solve all of his problems. The dog they find (and for whom Amanda has been caring!) is from a local dog racetrack, Wonderland. When they bring the dog to Mr. Duffy, he says the dog must be returned, but this actually ends up helping things work out for everyone, in unexpected ways. How long will Mavis be able to stay in her current situation before her mother decides it is time to move on?
Strengths: This reminded me a lot of Constance Greene's A Girl Called Al, but just in the plot line about Mr. Duffy, and it certainly ends in a MUCH happier way. I loved seeing both sides of the economic divide-- people who live in gated communities, and people who work for them. Mavis is a force of nature, and her optimism in the face of difficulties is refreshing. Rose's shyness and difficulty in dealing with her overbearing mother is interesting as well. It's fun to watch her break free. Henry is a great dog, and the way his future and Mr. Duffy's become entwined is very realistic. I was very glad at the end that Mavis' mother was able to adjust her outlook on life-- that doesn't happen often, and it was refreshing to see.
Weaknesses: I wish there had been a lot more information about Wonderland and greyhound rescue operations. Also, I am having a LOT of trouble getting my mind around the fact that people hire people do do their household chores. I know they still do, but I just can't envision it!
What I really think: I really liked this, but I am debating if it might be too young for middle school. The friend dynamics are a bit more elementary. Still, I might be able to get this one checked out because of the dog, but my 8th graders would definitely find it too young.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Life According to Og the Frog

Birney, Betty G. Life According to Og the Frog
July 3rd 2018 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

Og has been living in Room 27, alongside George the bullfrog. This is not an ideal situation, as bullfrogs are loud and tend toward bullying. When Og is transferred to Room 26, he really can't complain. Things seem a bit quieter, although there is a hamster in the room, Humphrey, who seems nice but can't manage to communicate with Og. Mrs. Brisbane seems very nice, and a custodian, Aldo, frequently talks to the animals and shares his food with them. When students find out that Og was removed from his swamp home by a fellow student's grandfather, and that's how he ended up in the school, there is an uproar. Some of the students think that Og should be returned to his friends and family, but other students think that Og is enjoying his life in the classroom, which is a safer place for him to be. Mrs. Brisbane even has a herpetologist visit the classroom to explain about life in the swamp and to help the students decide whether Og should remain with them or be transferred to a wildlife center, since taking him back to his swamp might transfer diseases to other animals. Og isn't quite sure what to think. He misses his old life, but is warming to his work in the classroom. When the class votes, one vote appears to be from Humphrey (who can write in a small notebook!), which bodes well for future communication between the two classroom residents.
Strengths: This is a great way to sneak life science facts to elementary readers. We learn a lot about what Og eats, what the swamp was like, and the sorts of activities in which frogs participate. It's also fun to see how different students react to Og and his predicament, and it's good that the teacher brings in a specialist to give the class more information. With an appealing cover, this is bound to be a popular book with students who like animal fiction. My younger daughter, who was a very picky reader, was a big fan of the Humphrey books, which were brand new when she was in the target demographic.
Weaknesses: I always have trouble with talking animals, and this time I was stuck on the fact that Og could understand English but NOT hamster? It would have been nice if the two classroom pets would have had more interaction, but perhaps they will as the series continues.
What I really think: Since I don't have the Humphrey series in my library, I will send this on to one of the elementary schools, where I am sure fans of Humphrey will be very glad to read it.

Ms. Yingling

Friday, August 17, 2018

Charlie and Me: 421 Miles from Home

Cover image for Charlie and Me
Lowery, Mark. Charlie and Me: 421 Miles from Home
28 August 2018, Yellow Jacket Press
ARC provided by publisher

Martin and his younger brother Charlie had such a fantastic time on their family vacation to Cornwall. They hung out with their parents, ate fun food, and saw dolphins frolicking in the sea. Back home in Northern England, things have changed since then, with Mom being depressed and Dad being distant, so Martin decides to take Charlie back to the coast. Armed with a stolen tin of Christmas cookies, his back pack, and just enough money for a ticket, the two board a train and start their adventure. They run into a lot of snags, some which deal with the health issues both boys face. Charlie has always had heart problems due to his premature birth, and Martin has debilitating migraines as well as panic attacks. After eluding train security, they are befriended by Henrietta (Hen), an older girl who is very helpful when the boys are separated. She gets her boyfriend to drive Martin to the next train stop to meet up with Charlie, but some secrets are revealed and Hen ends up completing the journey to see the dolphins with Martin.
Strengths: Ah, taking the train in England. My daughter and I decided that if we had to spend eternity anywhere, we would spend it on the London to Liverpool Virgin train in the fancy section we were accidentally upgraded to when we where there in 2016! There are a lot of good details about how Martin and Charlie are able to travel, and the description of the sea side is also wonderful. Hen is a good Samaritan, and the back story (which I am trying hard not to spoil!) is emotional and effective. This has some of the same vibes as Mosier's Train I Ride.
Weaknesses: For an adventure tale, this is a little slow and sad.
What I really think: British tales have taken a downtown in popularity in my library, so I am debating purchase. If I can't afford it, I'll just dust off Ibbotson's One Dog and His Boy for my students.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

P.S. I Like You

25486998West, Kasie. P.S. I Like You
July 26th 2016 by Point
Personal Copy

Lily is a budding song writer who is frequently distracted in her chcemistry class by writing song lyrics. Her family is chaotic, with older sister and two young, high energy brothers. Her artistic parents struggle to provide for the family with their jewelry and cabinet making businesses. When Lily finds a note in her desk, she starts corresponding with a classmate, who seh eventually figures out is Cade, her best friends ex-boyfriend who is a huge jerk. Not only did Cade get her saddled with a weird nickname, he's just mean to her. How can his letters be so nice? He doesn't know who she is, however, so when their paths start to intersect (he coaches soccer for one of her brothers) how can she keep their correspondence secret? Lily is also interested in several other guys at her school, but keeps coming back to her pen pals letters. She's also trying to enter a songwriting competition, even though he brothers have broken the guitar she saved up for and can't afford to replace. Will things even work out for her and Cade?
Strengths: I am always looking for middle grade appropriate high school romances, like the If Only series, Susanne Colasanti, and Sarah Dessen. West is the newest author that I think will work out for my students. Yes, high school romances are always a little more angsty, but this one is sweet. I appreciated that Lily's family is intact and supportive, even if they are a bit intrusive.
Weaknesses: This pointed out to me that I am NOT 16. She wants to be a songwriter? And all that back and forth with "Can I like him? Or is he horrible?" sort of made the adult in me want to scream. But, as my daughter pointed out to me years ago, this is just because my soul has shrunk in the dryer and is riding up and making me cranky!
What I Really Think: My 8th grade readers will love this, but it wasn't my favorite. Cute cover.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Finding Langston

36982551Cline-Ransom, Lesa. Finding Langston. 
August 14th 2018 by Holiday House
ARC provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter

Langston and his father have moved to Chicago from Alabama in 1946 after the death of Langston's mother. Langston misses his grandmother as well as the slower pace of life in the South. In the city, the two live in a very small apartment, and the father works long hours and does his best to cook dinner. There are some neighbors who are very helpful, like Miss Fulton, who teaching at a high school. Langston struggles in school with other students calling him "country", especially Lymon and Clem. In trying to avoid those boys, Langston happens upon the George Cleveland Hall Branch Library and finds, to his jubiliation, that it is NOT a whites-only library. In fact, the librarians are very kind, and help him to find books on different topics. One thing that interests him especially is the poet Langston Hughes, for whom he was named. There are letters from his mother to his father that quote some lines of Hughes' poems, and reading them makes him feel closer to his mother. Langston keeps both the bullying and the library from his father for a long time, but after his grandmother passes away and his father must travel to Alabama, Langston shares his sadness and frustrations with his father, and the two try to improve how they go forward.
Strengths: The Great Migration is a fascinating but underrated period in history, and I would love to see more books about it. The relationship between Langston and his father seems very typical of the time period, and the longing for Alabama that Langston feels is probably something many children felt, even though conditions in the South weren't great. There are enough details about life in the city at this time to make Langston's story more interesting, and the trouble with classmates will resonate with children today.
Weaknesses: I wish there had been less about Clem and Lymon and a LOT more details about daily life. The treatment of blacks in Chicago during this era is touched on, but not given the full treatment it received in Betty Before X , which was fascinating.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, although I wish the cover were a little better. There are some fantastic photos of this era that could have been used.

Chicago Blacks Migration
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

A Touch of Gold

36575823Sullivan, Annie. A Touch of Gold
August 14th 2018 by Blink
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Kora is the daughter of King Midas who was famously turned into gold. Dionysus took a little bit of pity on her father and allowed him to reverse the curse and bring Kora back to life, but he promised to wash ALL of the items he turned into gold with water from the sea, but he missed 12 items. In return, Dionysus left Kora with skin and hair of gold. Fearing for her safety, her father has kept her hidden in the palace with only her cousin Hettie for a companion, and her uncle has removed all of the gold from the palace. Because she is 17, her father is entertaining suitors for her, but they have all been put off by her appearance as well as by the rumor that she can turn people to gold. One suitor is different; Duke Aris Wystlinos is not frightened by her appearance, and even has a pleasant conversation with her about shared interests. When her father's gold objects (which seem to keep him energized) are stolen, Kora knows that she must use her powers of detection to hunt them down to save her father's life. Aris volunteers a ship at his disposal, and the group takes off. The captain of the ship, Royce, isn't too thrilled, especially when Hettie appears as a stowaway. The most likely culprit to have stolen the items is the dastardly pirate Skulls, with whom both Aris and Royce have crossed paths. Life on the high seas is fraught with danger, but there is some romance as well, even for Hettie. As Kora closes in on the gold and becomes closer with Aris, there is a lot of double dealing that goes on, and she is unsure whom to trust, how to proceed and whether or not she will be able to retrieve the gold and save her father.
Strengths: This was a great, epic adventure for fans of Cooney's Goddess of Yesterday, Friesner's princess tales, or Yolen's Young Heroes sagas. The twist on the Midas tale was very well done, and my inner 16-year-old swooned at Aris's attention to Kora and his willingness to undertake the adventure with her. This is quite a swashbuckling, bloody tale, and I appreciated that the cover isn't overly feminine, since this would also be good for readers who enjoy sea faring tales like Blacklock's Pankration, Cadnum's Ship of Fire or Dowsell's Powder Monkey.
Weaknesses: There are very few authentic details about ancient Greek life and culture in this. They aren't really necessary, but I was hoping for them. Even the names and clothing don't seem Greek.
What I really think: My school used to have a teacher who would assign 7th grade language arts classes book set in ancient Greece and Rome to go along with the social studies units, and I owuld have loved to buy this book for that, but it's no longer done. The Friesner books have been gathering dust for the last two years, so unless I can drum up more interest, this may book I don't purchase but recommend that students get from the public library.

Johnson, Jaleigh. The Door to the Lost
July 3rd 2018 by Delacorte Press
Copy provided by the publisher

It's not that I don't like fantasy books. The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart? A Crooked Sixpence? Yes, please! But there are just certain elements that make me hang over the edge of the chair and obsess about my toenails in a very 12-year-old way. Is there a map of the world? Is the setting vaguely but not concretely medieval? Is magic illegal/endangered? Are the children the only ones who can save the world? Are there shape shifters or talking animals? It doesn't matter how good the book is: if it's not what I want to read, it can be a challenge to get through the book and remember details.

As a new school year gets underway, I think it's good to remember this. Teachers, if you're a huge fan of Wonder and don't understand why Joey doesn't like it, look at what he normally reads. Is it all football books? When was the last time YOU read a football book? Joey may feel the same way about Wonder as you feel about Tim Green. It's not Joey's fault, it's not the book's fault, it's just the wrong combination.

Did I read The Door to the Lost. I really did, because I want to put it in my library, and I read ALL the fiction books before doing that. Do I remember what Rook and Drift and Fox did when Rook was making doors to try to get to ... Vrona from... Threlkhaven? No. But my toenails look fabulous!

So here's a much better review from someone whose first love is fantasy books:

Monday, August 13, 2018

MMGM- The Brown Bookshelf

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.

If you don't know The Brown Bookshelf, which has been around since October 2007, you owe it to yourself to visit. I've followed it for years, and have always gotten a lot of good recommendations for books and a lot of interesting insight from authors. One of the contributors to the site, Paula Chase, has a new book out. James Baldwin is frequently mentioned as an influence, so it seems like a great way to start the school year by reviewing the reprint of Baldwin's book and introducing Chase's new title!

36627668Baldwin, James. Little Man, Little Man.
August 24th 2018 by Duke University Press Books
E ARC from Blue Slip Media

This reprint of the 1976 collaboration between Baldwin and artist friend Yoran Cazac was interesting historically, not only from the point of view of seeing inner city scenes from the 1970s, but because the book was written for Baldwin's nephew so that he could see himself in a book. Over forty years later, we are still struggling to find books that portray all readers.

Four-year-old TJ is given free rein to explore his lively Harlem neighborhood with his friend WT and neighbor Blinky (so called because of her glasses). While they don't roam far, the freedom that they are given to talk to people, go to stores, and be unsupervised will seem odd to children today. Their neighborhood is not entirely safe-- at one point, the children see a man who was shot, and WT injures his foot on a broken bottle that falls off a roof because a woman with a drinking problem is trying to hide them from her husband. What is particularly interesting is the social network that the children have. They buy groceries for an elderly neighbor, Miss Beanpole, and even go into her home, which is darkened and secured, which indicates her distrust of the area. While TJ's own parents are supportive and present (there is a nice scene of Sunday morning breakfast), WT's mother is absent and his father is abusive. In addition to Miss Beanpole and the grocer, the children also often interact with Mr. Man and Miss Lee. These adults have their own problems (Miss Lee is the one hiding the bottles), but are kind to the children.

Styles in literature change dramatically over the years, so this format might strike the modern reader as something different. It's a picture book, but one which is too long to read to young children. It has very young characters, but the situations they face are more in tune with what older readers might find interesting. It is a book that is more episodic than plot driven, and concerned with detailing the minutiae of TJs life rather than being concerned with a plot driven narrative. The pictures definitely seem fresh because illustration styles have also changed-- Cazac's line drawings are similar to illustrations with which I am familiar from 1960s books, but have more color and activity added to them.

Reviews at the time mentioned that this book "lacked focus", and I can see that, but it is a valuable book to read. The language arts teachers in my school like to have students read historical fiction (including stories that were written long enough ago to become "historical"-- and that could be a book that is two years old!) to gain perspective on how daily life and culture were different, and how this can influence the choices that characters make. Little Man, Little Man is interesting because it is a rare primary source snapshot of a particular place and time.

To get an idea of what the atmosphere in children's publishing was like in the early 1970s, I highly recommend reading Augusta Baker's 1974 essay for The Horn Book, The Changing Image of the Black in Children’s Literature.

35068789Chase, Paula. So Done.
August 14th 2018 by Greenwillow Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Bean and Tai are neighbors in a low-income housing project and have been friends for a very long time, but recently things have been strained between them. Tai hopes that when Bean returns from spending the summer with her aunt and sister in the suburbs and the pair start their 8th grade year, that things will return to normal. When Bean decides that she would rather not be called by her nickname and prefers to be addressed as Mila (or Jamila) and still doesn't want to spend time at Tai's house, Tai is rather irritated. Mila is struggling as well. While her mother is not part of her life because of a drug addiction problem, her father is much stricter that Tai's grandmother, who still allows Tai's father to be at their house, even though he struggles with substance abuse as well. Tai is very interested in her new relationship with Rollie, and in investing herself in the neighborhood activities with her friends Mo and Sheeda. Mila is thinking about distancing herself, and is wondering if the suburbs are a better fit for her. When tryouts for a new Talented and Gifted school are announced, and two new students move into the area, the neighborhood is abuzz with who might make it into the different programs. The dancing program is extremely competitive, and Mila feels she can work hard enough to get into it, but Tai isn't as fond of ballet as she is of hip hop, and feels that the good ballet dancers get preferential treatment. Mila and Tai go back and forth in their relationship because of all of these factors, especially a critical incident involving Tai's father that is eventually addressed in an appropriate manner. Will the girls be able to embrace their similarities and remain friends, or will their differences wear down their relationship?
Strengths: This gave a nicely balanced description of the Cove neighborhood (which shows up in this author's earlier work, the Del Rio Bay Clique books), detailing the good parts as well as the problems. Friend relationships are SO important to middle grade readers, and the differences that Tai and Mila are experiencing are very true to life. The auditions for the TAG program are a facet of middle school life not often covered in literature, so the drama surrounding those was refreshing. The cover is fantastic and will sell itself. I'm very much looking forward to having this books available to recommend to my readers!
Weaknesses: There is some slang in this, and I'm always conflicted about slang, since it sometimes dates a book very quickly and deep in my heart of hearts I want to keep all of the books I love in the library forever! Also, slang usage (even in the age of the internet) can be different in various locations. There were several times where I had to look up phrases in order to make sense of what was going on, although most words could be understood with contextual clues.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing this for fans of Renee Watson, Sharon Flake, and Maddie Ziegler.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

New school year! New slide show!

How do you know it's the start of a new school year? You don't remember half of your passwords! So, until I can get logged in to, here's the link to the Google Slide presentation!

Our district starts the year with professional development and two teacher work days, so I will have students starting on Thursday.