Sunday, September 30, 2018

Property of the Rebel Librarian

Varnes, Allison. Property of the Rebel Librarian
September 18th 2018 by Random House Books for Young
E ARC from
Copy also received from the publisher

When June's parents catch her reading a book of which they disapprove, The Makings of a Witch, they not only take it away from her, but her mother returns it to the school library herself. It's great that her parents are very involved in the school, but not so great that in the wake of her mother's visit, the school librarian, Ms. Bradshaw, is escorted out of the building by the police and the library is closed for a bit. It's even worse when she finds out that her parents are performing (with the principal's okay) a "book extraction" and removing any books that have any kind of material that could be considered at all objectionable by anybody. This doesn't leave many books left, and the library is reopened with a temporary librarian who spends her lunches talking with her mother on the phone. In order to keep herself in books, June starts borrowing them from a Little Free Library she passes on her way to school, many of which have very personal inscriptions "To Brendan" in them. When other students need books, they also come to June, and soon she has a small collection in an unassigned locker with a log cleverly labeled Property of the Rebel Librarian with all loans being kept in code. There is an interesting romance as well, with June being interested in Graham until she finds out more about his politics, and then she is more interested in another boy who is more helpful to her cause. June doesn't feel great about all of this subterfuge, but she also really misses Ms. Bradshaw, and is gratified that reading has become a bit more cool since it is banned. Eventually, there is some media attention that brings everything to a head.
Strengths: June is an interesting character who has to put up with really unfortunate parents. The trajectory of the romances is interesting. The variety of books discussed, and the growing culture of reading in the school will make librarians cheer. Varnes' writing is strong, and the book moves along quickly, which is always important in middle grade literature. I liked all of the supporting characters, such as the older sister and the classmates, and of course hated the parents, principal, and board members!
Weaknesses: I had trouble believing that the principal and school board would be able to remove the librarian, close the library, and eventually let the teacher go. The author seems to hale from the Tennessee area, so perhaps the teacher contracts are much, much different. It also seems odd to me that parents would be able to remove books; schools usually have a policy and procedure to address the issue of banning books. Again, this may be different in other areas, but since I could not imagine such events occurring, it made it really hard for me to get into the book.
What I really think: Even though I like Alan Gratz's Ban This Book, it has not circulated very well at all, perhaps because my students can pretty much get any book they want.

The interim librarian is given a bit of a hard time about the lunch time phone conversations with her mother (and a little derision about her sweatshirt with alphabet letters on it), which, really, she should be able make. Other teachers can take lunch, but it's rare that libraries are closed completely. I take lunch rarely. Even then, it's maybe 10 minutes, when there are no classes scheduled and I've already seen study hall students, and the library remains open with student helpers because the whole front wall of my library is glass that looks out onto the cafeteria, and the adults out there can keep an eye on things. It still makes me super nervous and I don't like to do it. But the librarian should be able to use her lunch to make phone calls, and doesn't deserve negative judging about her choice of clothing. If I can't comment on the young and their skin tight yoga pants, they should not be able to make fun of my cardigans and pleated skirts. (There, Twitter. Feel free to go crazy with this one. Hopefully, with all of the political news, the bullies on Twitter will ignore this one.)

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Little Red Rodent Hood, Ella Unleashed.

Little Red Rodent Hood (Hamster Princess #6)
Vernon, Ursula. Little Red Rodent Hood (Hamster Princess #6)
September 25th 2018 by Dial Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

You want it. You need it. It doesn't matter what fairy tale this covers, your students (even middle school ones!) are going to want this story!

Unfortunately, the E ARC I had turned the pages sooooo sloooowly that I sort of lost track of what was going on; I would quote some particularly delightful lines, but even the bookmarks take forever to load. I made an entire plastic needlepoint coaster while waiting for the pages to turn.

So, here's the Goodreads synopsis. I just love these books so much that I wanted to make sure everyone knew that this is now available. Plus, I still really want a Hamster Princess t shirt that says "I am something that happens to other people!"

"Most monsters know better than to mess with Princess Harriet Hamsterbone. She's a fearsome warrior, an accomplished jouster, and is so convincing that she once converted a beastly Ogrecat to vegetarianism. So why would a pack of weasel-wolf monsters come to her for help? Well, there's something downright spooky going on in the forest where they live, and it all centers around a mysterious girl in a red cape. No one knows better than Harriet that little girls aren't always sweet. Luckily there's no problem too big or bad for this princess to solve.

In this sixth installment of her whip-smart Hamster Princess series, Ursula Vernon once again upends fairy tale tropes and subverts gender stereotypes to brilliant effect. This is a "Once Upon a Time" like you've never seen before."
Cherry, Allison. Ella Unleashed.
September 25th 2018 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Ella does pretty well dividing her time between her dad's place and her mom and her stepfather Krishnan's. She is beginning to enter the junior division for showing Elvis, Krishnan's dog, and enjoys going to the shows and hanging out with her family. Elvis's training isn't going all that well, but she keeps trying. She would like her dad to come to see her, but knows that he is uncomfortable being around her mom. She has a great idea-- if her dad were dating someone, he wouldn't feel so awkward, AND if he had something else to occupy his mind, he wouldn't concentrate so much on Ella! After realizing that the teacher she wants to set him up with already has a boyfriend, she and her friends set up a profile for her dad on the Head Over Heels dating web site, and start to answer e mails from women and try to set up dates for him. She arranges to meet a woman at the zoo, but doesn't like her three children. Another woman agrees to meet her father at an Italian restaurant at the mall, but when her dad is understandably confused about why the woman is talking to him, the "date" doesn't go well. Finally, she e mails a local yoga teacher, pretends to have a biking accident outside her studio, and gets her dad to meet her that way. This seems successful until Beth and her dad go to a dog show and some secrets are revealed. Ella finally has some honest conversations with her family about how she is feeling... and she gets a new puppy!
Strengths: The information about showing dogs was really interesting, and a nice break from children who walk dogs. There are lots of books about that. It's also good to see a family with a workable shared custody arrangement, and middle school readers will find Ella's attempts at fixing up her father amusing.
Weaknesses: This is very similar to Schwartz's Smart Cookie, and Ella's lying and arranging to meet people online was a little concerning.
What I really think: This will be an optional purchase, since I have similar titles.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, September 28, 2018

My Life as a Diamond

Manzer, Jenny. My Life as a Diamond
September 25th 2018 by Orca Book Publishers
E ARC from Netgalley

10-year-old Caz loves to play baseball and is a big Blue Jays fan, so when his family moves to Seattle, one of the first places he goes is the park. There, he meets Hank, who encourages him to join the baseball league. Caz ends up being on the Redburn Ravens team with Hank but also Kyle, who isn't very nice. Since Caz has a big secret to hide, he doesn't want to take the chances of angering any of his teammates. Back in Toronto, Caz was Cassie. Cassie had always felt like a boy, and even mentioned this to his best friend, who didn't seem all that bothered. But things didn't go well, and the family decided to relocate. Caz's father and mother are fairly supportive, and his Nana tells him that "pressure makes diamonds" and that he will do fine. It's nice to be able to live his life, play baseball (which is super important) and not have to worry about having to explain why he was born female but doesn't feel that way now, but he knows that it won't last forever. Eventually, people find out about his ball career in Toronto, there have to be explanations, but things go fairly smoothly.
Strengths: The author put a lot of research into this and had lots of sensitivity readers, and was successful in having an elementary and middle grade appropriate transgender story. The inclusion of lots of baseball is a big plus, and will encourage readers to pick up the book. While Caz has just the one very bad experience, his feelings and issues with various people in his life are not sugar coated. Some people are jerks, some of the people who count the most care the least about what gender he is.  Unlike some of the books I have read on this topic, Caz doesn't really give any reasons for feeling like he is male. That's just the way it is. This seems more believable than the books about children born boys who really like long hair and girls' clothing-- those just leave me with a very negative feeling about gender stereotypes in our society. Well done.
Weaknesses: Caz' age makes sense-- he's too young to worry quite yet about puberty. Still, middle school students sometimes don't want to read about younger students. I do have a growing number of readers interested in LGTBQ+ books, and I'm not sure how well they will like the baseball theme, but I do think it is an excellent way to go.
What I really think: My readers interested in LGTBQ+ topics (who are 99% female identified) will definitely pick this up. I'll definitely purchase, and I do try to get students to read these books, but some just do not want to. Luckily, I haven't had any challenges on the books in my collection, which is nice. I hold LGTBQ+ books to the same standards as the other books, so all of the ones I have are middle grade friendly.

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Small Spaces

Arden, Catherine. Small Spaces
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus
September 25th 2018 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young

Ollie has a fantastically supportive father (who is also a really good cook), but she is not happy. She's quit chess club, doesn't want to talk to her friends, and counts the minutes until school is over. When she is out walking, she meets a frantic woman who attempts to throw a book into the water. Appalled by this, Ollie takes the book and runs home. When she starts to read it, it turns out to be a diary kept by the ancestor of the woman who owns a local farm that makes its money by giving tours and "farm experiences". Her class visits there, and Ollie is a bit unnerved by everything. When the students are on their way home, the bus stops, and their teacher goes back to the farm. Ollie's watch, which was her mother's and doesn't really work, starts giving her warnings. After a creepy conversation with the unnerving bus driver, she decides to leave the bus and head off into the woods. She takes Brian, a star hockey player, and Coco, a city girl she finds somewhat annoying. When darkness falls, the multiplicity of scarecrows arrayed in the fields come to life and come after the children. Using the warning from the book she stole to "stay in small spaces", the children ride out a terrifying night in a cave. When the coast is clear, they continue on their journey, coming across other horrific characters and having to spend another harrowing night in a hay loft. They work through the mystery of the family drama that occurred in the past, see their classmates turned into scarecrows, and have to band together in order to survive.
Strengths: This certainly had some good turns of phrase, was well-paced, and had a good creepy back story. The killer scarecrows are the big draw here, and they are very convincingly done. There need to be more middle grade horror novels that start with stranded school buses. Or ice cream trucks that wander neighborhoods in November. Small Spaces was definitely a scary tour de force.
Weaknesses: The back story, and the reason for the killer scarecrows, was a bit confusing. I had to really think it through, which makes me wonder if some of my readers will have trouble following it.
What I really think: Could definitely have done without the cryptic descriptions of Ollie's coping with her mother's death; she was not a likeable character to me, and I might have liked her more if I could have sympathized with her. However, this had awesome killer scarecrows with rakes for hands, AND an entire school bus of children who were attacked and made into horrible monsters who then stalked the three who escaped, so I'll have to buy it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Eleventh Trade

33952274Hollingsworth, Alyssa. The Eleventh Trade.
September 18th 2018 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Sami and his grandfather have managed to escape Afghanistan after the violent deaths of Sami's parents, and have made their way across Europe to live in the Boston area. His grandfather (who was a well respected musician) has been earning a little money busking, playing the rebab, one of the few possessions they managed to take with them. When the instrument is stolen, Sami is bereft, although his grandfather is understanding and gets work as a dishwasher. When Sami trades his Manchester United key chain to Peter for an I Pod, hoping he can trade or sell it to get money to buy the rebab back, classmate Dan comes to his aid. The I Pod is broken, but he fixes it, and he helps Sami locate the pawn shop that has the instrument. The owner says he will hold it for a month, but it will cost $700 to retrieve it. Dan proves helpful not only in facilitating some of the trades, but in getting Sami involved in a soccer league and in introducing him to his friends. Throughout a series of trades, we see the difficulties that Sami and his grandfather are facing, and when a graduate student pays Sami for an interview, we learn even more details about what happened in Afghanistan. Even with help from friends, it's difficult to come up with that kind of money, but Sami and his grandfather find a supportive community that come to their aid in order to improve their lives just a tiny bit.
Strengths: The framework of the trading, plus the deadline at the pawn shop, moves this one along with a little bit of suspense. The details about Sami's escape from Afghanistan plus those about life in the US as a refugee are going to be helpful for young readers who don't understand what this could be like. The inclusion of soccer is brilliant. The strong and supportive community, and especially the friendship of Dan, are all very hopeful and set a good example for how we should all treat people. While not an #OwnVoice book, the author has done a lot of research and employed a variety of sensitivity readers and fact checkers.
Weaknesses: There are a few too many fortuitous circumstances in retrieving the rebab, but it does make for a feel good story.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing and excited to hand to students. The cover is great and will really help sell the book! I think my ESL teacher is going to want several copies of this!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

A Bunch o' Titles

Nichol, James. A Witch Alone (#2)
September 25th 2018 by Chicken House/Scholastic
Copy provided by the publisher

After surviving the beginning of her magical education in The Apprentice Witch, Arianwyn Gribble is spending some time in the city visiting with her grandmother and her friend Salle, who is trying to break into acting with little success. When they go to a parade for the king, the area is attacked by magical creatures, and Arianwyn is able to repel them fairly well. This brings her to the attention of the counsel, who decide that she would be a good candidate to go into the Great Wood and try to help figure out what is going on with the hex plague. She is sent with her friend Colin as well as the irascible Ms. Newam, and come across some fey who tell them that the city of Erraldur has fallen and her friend Estar might still be there. Since he has the Book of Quiet Glyphs, which might be crucial in fighting the hex, Arianwyn is doubly worried. When she returns to Lull, the Spellorium is terribly busy, so she doesn't have a lot of time to investigate larger matters, although there IS some time for some therapeutic hot chocolate and biscuits! Gimma is assigned to help, and is even meaner and more incompetent than before, although Salle and Arianwyn try to get along with her. Will they be able to help stop the hex from spreading?
Strengths: This was a cozy sort of fantasy book, despite the uncomfortable jaunts into the woods, and is more of a modern fantasy than books with medieval dragons. Arianwyn's apartments are fun, the Spellorium is a great place to work, and even the hex doesn't seem too utterly horrible. This is a great series for readers who sort of believe that if they could find the right book to teach them, they could do magic. (I wish I knew the title of the book I was always checking out of the public library, even though I never could get the spells to work!)
Weaknesses: Just not a fan of Gimma. Her tantrums serve more of a purpose in this one, but I still need to know more about the war.
What I really think: The first book has done well, so I'll be handing this to Harry Potter and Charlie Bone fans as well as any student constructing a personal grimoire during study hall.

32492271Caprara, Rebecca. The Magic of Melwick Orchard
September 1st 2018 by Carolrhoda Lab
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Isa's family has moved around a lot because her father's job transfers him, so she's glad that there latest move seems to be lasting a bit longer. She enjoys living near an old orchard, and even manages to make a friend in neighbor Kira. Luckily, Kira is very understanding, because Isa is having a difficult time. Her young sister Junie has a cancerous tumor and has been hospitalized for a long time. Her father is working long hours to pay the bills, and her mother just crawls in bed when she gets home from the hospital, too tired and depressed to make sure that Isa is cared for properly. When Isa has to walk home in shoes that are too small because her mother forgets to retrieve her from school, Isa notices a tree in the orchard that seems to beckon to her, and buries her sneakers under it. This is a problem when she needs to go to school and needs shoes, and when she visits the tree, there are different types of footwear growing from it! Isa repeats this procedure with a cookie that Kira gives her, and also a bell, so that the children in Junie's ward can perform some music. As her sister becomes more and more ill and her parents more and more stressed, Isa hopes that the tree can somehow provide the money the family needs. When selling the orchard and moving to a nearby town seems to be the only way the family can make do, Isa reads up on taking care of orchards and tries to give back to the tree that has helped her.
Strengths: This was a good mix of family problems and magical realism. Magical thinking is certainly a very common coping mechanism for tweens experiencing problems, especially something like the illness of a sibling. The bond between the sisters, despite the difference (six years) in their ages is lovingly portrayed. The parents' actions concerning Junie's illness are realistic, including their neglect of Isa, sadly. They do try to make up for it as best they can. The magic is convincing, and it's not hard to suspend disbelief and imagine the tree trying to help out. The story is generally hopeful, despite the fact that Junie's cancer is rather advanced.
Weaknesses: I was somehow unconvinced that the orchard was all that magical, and especially had trouble getting my head around the appeal of the Melwick Orchard apples. Also, pet peeve of mine-- I am never fond of mothers who neglect a child because they are depressed about another child.
What I really think: My students like very little magical realism, and the books they do like tend to be very happy ones. This would be a good choice if Ingrid Law's Savvy series or Natalie Lloyd's books are popular in your library.

Monday, September 24, 2018

MMGM- Merci Suarez Changes Gears, Dolores Huerta

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.

38185346Medina, Med. Merci Suarez Changes Gears
September 11th 2018 by Candlewick Press
E ARC from

Merci lives next door to her grandparents, Abuela and Lolo, and her aunt and younger twin cousins. Her father has a house painting company, and she and her older brother Roli go to a fancy private school on scholarship so that they have every opportunity. Merci finds it a bit difficult to deal with her well-t-o-do classmates, especially the snooty Edna, who is one reason that Merci is saving up her money for a fancy new bike. Merci has to be a Sunshine Buddy and is assigned to Michael, a new student from Minnesota, and isn't thrilled to have to show him around, especially since Edna "like likes" him and makes life difficult for Merci. Merci doesn't need help with that-- her Lolo is having trouble with his memory, and her aunt needs someone to watch the twins, so Merci is not allowed to try out for the school soccer team. There are a lot of school projects being assigned, and Merci sometimes has to work with Edna on them, with disastrous results. As her grandfather's memory worsens, her brother applies to colleges, and the family has to deal with a number of struggles, Merci needs to learn to grow up and help her family instead of being focused only on her own personal concerns.
Strengths: It's nice to see multigenerational families living near each other-- my own neighborhood has a lot of that. The grandparents are especially fun, and the Cuban culture and food vividly portrayed. Merci's struggles with classmates, projects, and assignments, as well as her changing relationship with her brother, are all very realistic. This reminds me a bit of The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z, but set in Florida.
Weaknesses: The cover isn't particularly great, and there is a LOT going on in the book. Tightening it up would have put more of a focus on the important issues and saved some repetition of less interesting school aspects. Ah. This author has done several YA books, including Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass; it's hard to switch gears between these age groups, even though the author has also done some picture books.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, although it always surprises me that families don't expect or discuss mental diminution in the elderly. After my mother was diagnosed with Parkinsons a dozen years ago, we told the girls exactly what to expect. My mother is doing fairly well for 84, but none of us are surprised when she is confused. I guess it makes a better story the other way, since almost all books dealing with grandparents and dementia react with denial.

36296825Brill, Marlene Targ. Dolores Huerta Stands Strong: The Woman Who Demanded Justice
August 16th 2018 by Ohio University Press
Copy provided by the publisher

Born in 1930 to a family involved in coal mining in New Mexico and in agricultural work when economics demanded it, Dolores Huerta's life was tremendously influenced by historical circumstances. The difficulties of providing for a family during the Great Depression contributed to her parents' divorce, which in turn led to Dolores being raised in California. While her brothers occasionally worked in the fields, her mother refused to let her daughter experience that hardship. Instead, Dolores focused on her education and attended college in order to become a teacher, despite the disparities that plagued education of Hispanics at that time. It was during her years as an educator that she saw first hand how difficult the lives of her students were, especially those whose parents were farm workers. In 1942, the US government had instituted the Mexican Farm Labor Program (or Bracero Program) to fill labor shortages in agriculture, but those workers had scant protection against poor working conditions. Along with Cesar Chavez, Huerta saw a need to organize workers to fight for better conditions, and in 1962 the National Farm Workers Association had its first meeting.

From there, Huerta had much work to do, and a challenging personal life as well. Eventually raising eleven children and spending many years as a single mother, Huerta also had to fight against the male view of women at the time that felt that women should not be leaders but should work behind the scenes. Clearly, little progress gets made this way, but Huerta carefully planned her work to help as many people as she could, even if it meant not taking as visible a leadership position as she deserved. This might explain why she later was involved with the Feminist Majority, where her skills were better appreciated.

I hadn't realized that Robert Kennedy had been a supporter of the NFWA, but his untimely death was a blow to the organization. The group fought hard in the 1960s and early 70s, and made great headway, especially after the Grape Boycott to protest workers' exposure to chemicals. Even after that time, there were many issues to be addressed, and Huerta and Chavez worked hand in hand until his death in 1993.

There are so many interesting women who have done amazing things, and it is great to see more biographies on a wide variety of these movers and shakers. My library doesn't need more biographies of Helen Keller or Rosa Parks, (no matter how influential they were, we already have those books!) and I would love to see a lot more titles on women of whom I have never even heard.

This slim paperback is nicely illustrated with period photographs that give a nice overview of the time, and effortlessly weaves Huerta's personal story into the epic of her generation. Notes at the end of chapters give additional information about what society was like at the time, a crucial addition for young readers who may not have a deep sense of historical perspective and who believe that the world has always been the way it is right now.

Ohio University Press also published The Jerrie Mock Story and Kammie on First, as well as Missing Mille Benson, about the writer behind Carolyn Keene. Since Dolores Huerta's life coincided with several major social and political  movements, her involvement in key issues offers a unique perspective of the twentieth century. This is a great addition to any collection and gives a fresh choice to readers who are investigating biographies.
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Friday Night Stage Lights

Alpine, Rachel. Friday Night Stage Lights
September 18th 2018 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Brooklyn and her mother had lived in Oregon, where Brooklyn was heavily involved in ballet, until her mother met Stephen, married him, and moved to Texas because his son Tanner was a high school student heavily invested in football. Brooklyn has a new studio, a new best friend, and even a workout area in the basement, complete with a mirror and barre, but it is still a difficult adjustment. Since Tanner is very talented, a lot of time is spent going to his games and planning his upcoming college career. Brooklyn would really like to get into the Texas School of the Arts, and is looking forward to dancing in a show with her partner Jayden in order to bring herself to the attention of the recruiters. It's bad enough when Jayden breaks his leg, but when the failing middle school football team's coach decides that the athletes' game skills could be improved by some ballet training, Brooklyn feels like she will never escape this all-consuming sport. Some of the football players, like Randy, don't take the ballet training seriously, but Logan tells his teammates not to act like jerks, and sees that the training really does help his game. The teacher, Mary Rose, even encourages Brooklyn to ask him to be her partner, and he agrees, under the condition that Brooklyn will learn more about football. Logan's dancing is pretty good, and Brooklyn learns to understand a bit more about the game. She also learns to get along better with Tanner, who has issues of his own to deal with. A falling out with Mia doesn't help, and Brooklyn is afraid to dance a solo, but when the high school championship game is on the same day as her show, she tells Logan he doesn't have to miss it to support her. How will she manage to keep ballet and football in her life?
Strengths: This is a great book for all readers interested in dance OR football, and the cover is wonderful. I love that the difficulties of both ballet and football are discussed in sports terms, but some of the boys are realistically jerky. There isn't really a romance between Logan and Brooklyn, even though Logan is super sweet and even gives Brooklyn a mum, which is apparently a thing in Texas. They just seem to enjoy hanging out together like teammates and good friends. The blended family story was positive, but didn't gloss over the difficulties. The fight with Mia is completely understandable, but it is still nice when they make up.
Weaknesses: This could have been a tiny bit shorter and more focused, with less of Brooklyn's drama. She was sometimes a tiny bit entitled and unpleasant. A tiny bit.
What I really think: Can't wait to hand this one to the boys. Again, it's all well and good to say that all books are for all readers, but having just spent a day at a book give away event, watching parents push aside the truck books for their daughters in favor of pink titles and push aside books with kittens on them to grab Spider man for their sons, I fully realize that students come to me preprogrammed.

Green, Tim. The Big Game
August 14th 2018 by HarperCollins
School library copy

Danny lives in Texas with his mother and former Pittsburgh Steelers player father, who now sells farm machinery. The father pushes Danny to be great at the game, and he's also a fairly nice, polite kid. When the father dies of a heart attack while out on a run with Danny, life changes. Danny gets into trouble pushing Markle, a jerky kid on his team, and the school starts to pay attention to him. His language arts teacher, Ms. Rait, catches his cheating on a test and starts to realizes that Danny can't really read. With the help of a school counselor and Danny's coach, she puts together a plan to help Danny with his reading, but Danny is struggling with so many anger issues that he and his mother pull him out a couple of times, feeling that the school should continue to "help" him by turning a blind eye to his academic failings. When Danny develops a stress fracture in his foot and is out of the game for a long time, his mother finally sees that school is important, since the father was injured during his pro career and really didn't have a back up plan. Danny's friends, Cupcake and Janey, try to help him out, but there's trouble when other players plan a prank that ends with Ms. Rait's house catching on fire, and Danny is at the scene because he was trying to stop the perpetrators. Everything works out, but the road ahead for Danny will be a long one as he struggles with both his learning difficulties and the traumatic after effects of his father's sudden death.

Green always manages to combine descriptive football plays with well developed characters and current social concerns. I'm pretty sure my readers pick the books up for the covers and the fact that Mr. Green played for the Philadelphia Eagles, and it's nice that they get some life lessons imparted in between the punts and passes. Cupcake is a fun friend whose presence lightens Danny's dire circumstances, and he is a stalwart supported of his friend. While Janey isn't as much a go-getter as some of Green's other female characters, she isn't Danny's girlfriend, but rather someone with who he hangs out and plays video games, which is a refreshing change.

Danny's learning disabilities and the way the school has handled them seem a tiny bit unlikely, but are definitely realistically portrayed. Danny has a lot of coping skills that he has used to squeak by in his classes, and I was able to believe that he could make it into middle school with a very low level of reading comprehension. Ms. Rait's methods of assessing his abilities and remediation attempts are good for young people to understand. The teacher also has a leg brace; this isn't addresses very much, but at one time she does gently remind the boys that "handicapped" is not a term that people use these days.

Like Carl Deuker and Rich Wallace, Tim Green does a great job of providing vivid scenes of football games to help make the more serious scenes more palatable, and crafts a book that has a lot of appeal for both young sports enthusiasts and a thorough explanation of more serious issues for older readers who recommend books.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Puffin Graphic Novels, Bobbie Mendoza Saves the World (Again)

Sewell, Anna. Black Beauty Puffin Graphics PlusAugust 28th 2018 by Puffin Books (first published November 24th 1877)
Copy provided by the publisher

Baum, L. Frank. The Wizard of Oz Puffin Graphics Plus
August 28th 2018 by Puffin Books (first published 1900)
Copy provided by the publisher

These Graphic Novels Plus include the full text of the original books after matte, full color illustrated versions. I prefer the matte printing to the glossy, since it doesn't have a distinctive smell that bothers me. This printing method works especially well for Black Beauty's Victorian setting, and the drawings in the Wizard of Oz are rendered in colors bright enough for the glory of the Emerald City.

The graphic versions of bother stories stay very true to the original story line, character descriptions, and even language of the original books. This would make them helpful for struggling readers who are assigned these books for class or want to investigate the titles on their own. Pictures support the tough concepts and vocabulary.

The Wizard of Oz will seem odd to readers who are only familiar with the 1939 Judy Garland movie, but the darker aspects of Baum's tale come through in the more modern renditions of characters, with Dorothy depicted as a sort of skater girl with a bare midriff! There are fewer and fewer children who have seen the movie, so the graphic novel is a good way to keep the story alive.

My daughter absolutely adored Black Beauty as a child, and was also a big fan of Illustrated Classics, so I may surprise her with this for her birthday!

I know that the copyright hasn't run out on the novels that middle school teachers use in classes, but I'd love to see graphic novel versions of Paulsen's Hatchet, Lowry's The Giver, or Hinton's The Outsiders.

F37677968ry, Michael and Jackson, Bradley. Bobbie Mendoza Saves the World (Again)September 18th 2018 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

After her difficulties with Trans-Dimensional beings in The Naughty List, Bobbie just wants to put her experience behind her and start her new school as quietly as possible. Unfortunately, her Uncle Dale keeps dragging her to a support group for people who have had similar experiences, and they run into Lorain the Bounty Hunter, and when she starts her new school, she not only has Phil and Gumdrop, the elves, show up in her locker, and also has to deal with the talkative and inquisitive Cole Crusterman, who reads Uncle Dale's blog and is constantly trying to live stream his conversations with Bobbie. After a unicorn infestation in her school hallway (which is scarier than you would think!), Bobbie has to go through a portal in her locker to the Bermuda Triangle, because she is the only person who can save the day. Grumpus, who is in charge of the portal, needs to speak to her. Of course, there are a lot of things going on, from the bounty hunter trying to nab just about everyone to Uncle Dale having a crush on the bounty hunter. It feels wrong to Bobbie, and when Grumpus tries to kidnap her and Cole throws himself in her place, she knows she needs to figure out what. Imaginary creatures are crossing into our world more and more frequently, causing all sorts of problems, and Bobbie has to try to stop this from happening, with the help of some kick-butt, militaristic merwomen. She also has to learn to use her fear instead of letting it control her, since this skill will help both with defeating Trans-Dimensional beings and with dealing with the embarrassment inherent to middle school existence.
Strengths: This is what my students who enjoy Notebook Novels really want-- simple, funny stories that are fast-paced and amusing. Fry's illustrations are silly just by themselves, but there are lots of hysterical turns of phrase, like the one describing Loraine, which also is a pretty accurate description of my teaching style: "all the confidence and poise of an exploding can of Cheez Whiz". (Think that one through. Just think it through.) Bobbie's difficulties with trying to fly under the radar and not be considered weird definitely loom large in many middle school minds, and Loraine's instructions on how to embrace her fears are actually solidly philosophical and useful. Fun book.
Weaknesses: With it's Christmas theme, The Naughty List doesn't get checked out as much as it should, so I'll have to sell this a bit more. Also, I suspect paper over board bindings.
What I really think: This isn't great, world changing Literature, but it was a pleasant diversion that made me laugh, and some days that's something that we all need! Definitely purchasing.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Here to Stay and Prodigy

Farizan, Sara. Here to Stay
Algonquin Young Readers (September 18, 2018)
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Bijan Majidi does okay in high school-- he has a good friend, Sean, is on the basketball team, and while he might be a little clueless about girls, he hopes that things will improve. After doing well enough on the basketball court to be moved to the varsity team, he hopes that he will catch the attention of his crush, Elle. Instead, after his victory on the court and a stint helping Stephanie Bergner gather signatures for a petition to remove "Gunners" as the school mascot, he is the target of an awful e mail sent to all of the students in his private school, photoshopping his picture onto that of a "terrorist". Bijan's mother is of Persian descent and his late father grew up in Jordan, but Bijan doesn't really identify as anything but a US citizen. His mother, of course, is tremendously upset about the e mail, and goes to the school, but Bijan just doesn't want there to be a fuss and hopes everything will pass. Yes, there are some jerks on his team-- Drew is also on a scholarship and isn't pleased when Bijan intervenes during an issue with Drew's girlfriend Erin, and Will is just a general jerk-- but Bijan isn't entirely sure they are behind the photograph. He continues to work with Stephanie on the mascot change, which is not popular with all students, and does well on the basketball court, dealing with some additional unpleasantness in the locker room. That doesn't bother him that much, but when another photoshopped picture, this time of Stephanie and her girlfriend, is circulated, he is interested in finding the culprit and bringing that person to justice.

Introducing racial tensions via sports books is a great way to get the attention of lots of readers, and hopefully open some eyes along the way. Bijan's insistence that this is a problem he shouldn't even be having is heart rending and will resonate with many readers. The rarified atmosphere of a private school makes this a little more complicated. It's good to see that there are a lot of people who take Bijan's side, and his most fervent wish is for people to just let him be himself.

The budding romance with Elle is sweet, and the friendship with Stephanie even more interesting. I did like that he and Drew came to an understanding despite their differences.

There is a lot of underage drinking in this, although Bijan listens to his mother and does not drink, and there are a few other situations that, while fairly calm for Young Adult fiction, make this more suited to high school readers.

I was a little surprised that there would be students who would NOT want to change the mascot from the "Gunners", but this book would have been finished well before the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

Graced with a fantastic cover, Here to Stay is a compelling read about basketball, unlikely friendships, and that current sociopolitical climate surrounding race relations in the US. How sad is it that we are still dealing with racial issues like this that were described in books like Cerra's Just a Drop of Water (2016), Budhos's Watched (2016), Walter's Bifocal (2007), and even Cooney's The Terrorist (1999).

36949991Feinstein, John. The Prodigy
August 28th 2018 by Farrar Straus Giroux
Purchased copy

N.B. I have never played or even seen golf. I know nothing about the terminology, the competitions, the players or... anything. I tried!

Frank is a very good 17-year-old golfer. after being a runner up in a big amateur tournament the previous year, he returns to the circuit and wins another big event (under noteworthy circumstances) that puts him in the Masters. He's up against older, competent players, and also gets to meet real life golf stars. (I'm assuming, only because Phil Mikelson was familiar from an arthritis medicine ad!) In the meantime, his personal life has drama. His mother left years ago and is living happily in Japan with her new family, and his father is on track to become the same sort of overbearing parent Tiger Woods' father had the reputation to be. Luckily, his coach, Slugger, calls in a reporter friend, Keith, to try to talk sense into the father. It doesn't go well, and the father continues to work with a rep, Lawrensen, whose only interest is in making money. Frank, to his eternal credit, just wants to enjoy the game and get along with his father. He also doesn't want to go pro any time soon, but wants to attend college. Keith, despite being a reporter and having a run in or two with the father, is very helpful to Frank, even working with him on a cheating incident (another player, not Frank!), and being the one Frank turns to when his amateur status might be in jeopardy. Things work out in the end, but not after a lot of suspenseful twists and turns!
Strengths: My goodness. This was a nail biter. I loved, love, loved Frank and his healthy attitude; I loved that Keith was a really good friend to Frank even though there was no reason for him to be, and I hated the evil father and rep who were trying to push Frank to go pro. This is a fantasy novel-- very few teen boys are going to make it this far, although one of my former students is doing quite well. There are so few golf novels, and this is just a fantastic one. I especially liked the fact that Frank was older but was too busy playing golf to get into inappropriate trouble!
Weaknesses: To me, Keith is a teenage name and Frank is an old man name. I had a LOT of trouble keeping the characters straight at first because of this! Also, my complete lack of knowledge about gold put me at a disadvantage.
What I really think: Brilliant choice for any 5-12 student interested in golf.

N.B.2- I can't think the word "golf" without hearing my mother say "more money than brains" in my head, which is what she thought of anyone who played gold!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Dogs are the best! (8-Bit Kittens, though...)

37825425Miles, Ellen. Spirit (The Puppy Place #50)
September 11th 2018 by Scholastic Paperbacks
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Lizzie is very used to being around dogs, since her family fosters many of them, and has Buddy, their own forever dog. When she walking to her friend Mariko's house on a very cold morning, she is surprised to see a beautiful white German Shepherd puppy out on its own. The puppy is very friendly, and lets her check his name tag, but seems insistent on taking her some place. Lizzie follows, and finds that Spirit's family have been in a car accident. Spirit ran away from the car, and the little boy's leg is badly injured. Since the father has to go with him in the ambulance, he asks if Lizzie will take Spirit back home, which is near her friend's house. One of the EMT's also knows Lizzie and vouches for her. When Lizzie takes the dog to its home, she is greeted by a harried, heavily pregnant mother and several small children. Spirit was supposed to be adopted by a family out in the country, but proved to be too active in the company of his sister, so the family sent her back. Clearly, Spirit needs a new home and a sense of purpose, and Lizzie and her family are great people to help him find them.

I love the realistic touches that Miles' throws in. Many children's books in the past are very lackadaisical about fairly important safety issues, which can set a poor example for impressionable young readers. Lizzie is also careful about approaching dogs, tells the adults in her life where she is going, and takes excellent care of Buddy as well as the foster dogs, whom she is realistic about leaving when they find new homes. This may seem like a small thing, but it shows a great sense of craft and makes for a very rich, multilayered book.

Mariko and Lizzie are able to have some fun, making maple sugar candy when they aren't playing with dogs! There are also good details about how maple syrup is made, and anyone who has read the Little House on the Prairie books will be glad to have instructions on how to make the candy.

The Puppy Place books include a little bit of information about the breed at the end of the book, and since there are quite a number of these books (as well as a very helpful nonfiction guide), the author mentions the others breeds that are inclined to be service dogs, including Honey, Shadow, Sweetie and Teddy. Such a long series is great for emergent readers who like to read shorter books but go through a lot of them! This author also has a Kitty Corner series for readers who prefer their main characters to be feline!

37825409Calkhoven, Laurie. Hero Pup of World War I (G.I.Dogs #2)
September 11th 2018 by Scholastic Inc.
Copy provided by the publisher

Stubby was adopted from the streets of Boston by Bob Conroy, who managed to sneak him on the ship his unit took to Europe. Once they arrived, the commanding officer allowed the dog to be the mascot of the group as long as he didn't interfere. Stubby proved his worth by alerting men to poison gas, killing rats, and generally improving morale. As Conroy's unit was involved in a broad cross section of WWI activity, and we see the battles and movement through Stubby's eyes. The dog is even injured and in hospital for six weeks at one point, and even loses a friend on the battle field. He and Bob are still in Europe for the Armistice, and once they return to the US go on tour. Stubby was quite the celebrity, meeting General Pershing, the president, and traveling extensively in his retirement.
Strengths: There were a lot of details about how the units were set up, how they lived their daily life, and what happened on the battle field, in the trenches, and in the hospital. Covering the Armistice was particularly brilliant, and the information about Stubby's further career is helpful. The inclusion of pictures brought Stubby to life as well.
Weaknesses: No matter how well written books from a dog's point of view are, there are always moments when it just doesn't quite work for me. However, I did cry at the end! Students will adore this.
What I really think: While there are a couple of other books about Stubby, this one is just the right length and level of detail for somewhat younger readers who are very interested in World War I. There are not nearly as many stories about that war as there are about WWII, so I'm definitely glad to buy this one as well as Judy: Prisoner of War.  Follett has both of these available in prebind.

Sylvie really wants to watch the movie Sgt. Stubby now!

Cube Kid.Tales of an 8-Bit Kitten: Lost in the Nether: An Unofficial Minecraft Adventure
18 September 2018 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

 After lengthy discussion with student, I have decided that you REALLY need to have played Minecraft for these to make sense. That's not going to happen in my world, so I will just continue to read these and put them on the library shelves for students to enjoy.

I have a lot of trouble processing the print, which varies in size and color from word to word, like Geronimo Stilton books. Children must enjoy this, but it slows me down quite a bit. Sylvie enjoyed it, even though we both know that cats really want to kill us all!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Colors of the Rain, Saving Winslow

38507827Toalson, R.L. The Colors of the Rain
September 18th 2018 by Yellow Jacket
ARC provided by the publisher

Paulie lives in Texas in 1972 and is having a difficult life. His father, who struggled with alcohol after coming back from Vietnam, has been in a fight that left one man dead, and then was in a car crash and shot by friends of the man he killed. Paulie's mother is unable to cope, and after her struggles with prescription medication, Paulie and his sister Charlotte (Charlie) end up in the care of their Aunt Bee. Bee is a school principal, and wants the children to come to her school even though it is the center of an integration battle. White parents are upset that black children will be attending their children's school and are threatening to make their own district. Paulie, who is very artistic, find refuge with Mr. Langely (who is black) in the school art room, but he also feels some rage at a black boy, Greg, and picks on him. His aunt isn't happy, and Paulie has to work through his emotions at his own difficulties in order to deal with the racial tensions at his school. There are tensions within his own family as well, as secrets come out about Aunt Bee's past, as well as her current relationships.
Strengths: I was in elementary school during this time period and had no idea of the bigger issues of busing that were occurring. It's a topic that needs to be addressed, and there are a few other stories from around the US, like Hitchcock's Ruby Lee and Me (Alabama) and Frank's Charlie and Armstrong (California). Your average twelve-year-old does not have a good grasp of Civil Rights history, and this addresses several issues that would have been a concern at this time. The verse format of this makes it a fairly quick read.
Weaknesses: Because of the verse format, some information that would be helpful is not presented as clearly as it would have been in prose. For example, for half the book, I thought Paulie's family was black. (Mainly because of the descriptions of food, which  must be common in Texas and is not in Ohio! Also, it was mentioned that it was rare for a woman to be principal, and I knew a fair number of white women principals during this time.) There are some confusing issues presented, and more description would be helpful to readers unfamiliar with this time.
What I really think: Debating. I need more books on this time period, but the cover isn't great. It should be in a 1970s color palette and incorporate some of the great 1970s fonts! What I really need is a book dealing with the busing in Cleveland in the late 1970s.

Creech, Sharon. Saving Winslow
September 11th 2018 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

When his somewhat irresponsible Uncle Pete's miniature donkey is ailing and gives birth prematurely, Louie's mother and father let Louie try to nurse the baby back to health, warning him the whole time that it is likely the animal won't make it. Since Louie is missing his brother Gus, who is in the army, and feels like his track record with keeping animals alive isn't great, Louie does his best. Louie hangs out with his best friend, Mack, a lot, and Mack has a huge crush on Claudine, who has just moved to town. Her sister Nora is a little younger, and when Nora meets the donkey (named Winslow), she doesn't want much to do with it, since her baby brother was also premature but didn't make it. Louie was a preemie and DID, so he has every confidence in Winslow. The donkey has some rough patches, but pulls through and starts to grow and become a bit more rambunctious, which doesn't please some of the neighbors, especially Mrs. Tooley, who claims that Winslow keeps her baby awake. Louie and Nora become friends, and when it is eventually clear that Winslow must move along, Nora helps Louie to find the best place for Winslow to belong.
Strengths: This is one of those heart-tugging books that would make a great read aloud. Creech uses a lot of rich, figurative language, and with a cute cover like this, who would NOT root for Winslow?
Weaknesses: This was slow moving and introspective, and something about the style reminded me of 1980s Patricia MacLachlan books.
What I really think: I'm sure the public library will have a copy of this, so I think I will wait to purchase until I get a feel for my readers this year. The ones in the past would not have cared for this.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Big Nate Goes Bananas

Peirce, Lincoln. Big Nate Goes Bananas September
18th 2018 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

You know you need it, and it's out today!

"The school year is winding down, and Nate can’t wait for summer vacation:  baseball, beach trips, and…overripe bananas?  Yuck!

Turns out Nate has a problem with fruit that’s past its prime.  And that’s not all that’s bugging him.  Kim Cressly is making Chester jealous at Nate’s expense, Artur is challenging him in the Hunny Bursts mascot contest, and his replacement social studies teacher is none other than Coach John.  In banana terms, it’s all left Nate feeling a little bruised.  Can he make it to summer without slipping up?

Join Nate and the gang for more shenanigans in this newest collection of Big Nate comics!"

Am I the only one who has a love/hate relationship with Nate? I find him hilarious, and I love the notebook novels. However, I have some students who will ONLY read Big Nate and Wimpy Kid books. This is fine; try some Stick Dog. I LOVE Stick Dog. But at what point do you force something else into their hands because otherwise To Kill a Mockingbird is going to be a big shock to their system in ninth grade?

I had a girl in tears yesterday because she had to have a book, ANY fiction book, that had a human as the main character. It could be fantasy, but because of the essays for the project, the main character had to be human. Unfortunately, she is a huge Warrior Cats fan who doesn't read anything else. I tried books with fighting, books with cats, books set outdoors-- nothing made her happy.

At what point is it more helpful to students to encourage them to step a little bit outside their comfort zone? Since I read football books, all the fantasy books, and well, EVERYTHING, even if it's not my personal cup of tea, I have less patience for this.

Any strategies for delicately dealing with this would be appreciated!

Claudius: Boy of Ancient Rome

Why? Just because. Because I haven't taught Latin in 25 years and I still practically have this memorized. Because I still have a toga in a filing cabinet at work, just in case. Because the 7th grade curriculum still includes Ancient Rome. Because this Encyclopedia Britannica film is even older than I am. Because I have it on 8mm film, and still keep a projector for it. 

Because I cry at Vistus' fate. Every. Single. Time.

The Storm Runner, Last Kids on Earth and the Cosmic Beyond

34966353Cervantes, J.C. The Storm Runner
September 18th 2018 by Rick Riordan Presents

ARC provided by the publisher

Zane Opisbo lives in New Mexico near a volcano, and has very supportive neighbors in Mrs. Cab and Mr. Ortiz. He also has a fantastic uncle, Hondo, who is young and fun. Zane struggles a bit with a deformed leg that kids at school make fun of, and he wishes he knew something about his father, but his mother won't give him any information. When something crashes into the volcano and a mysterious girl, Brooks, shows up at school, Zane's life gets complicated. It turns out that his leg problems are due to the fact that his father was a Mayan god, so the demon Ah-Puch has come looking for Zane. Unfortunately, after Brooks is injured and Zane's dog, Rosie dies, Zane pledges himself to Ah-Puch as a soldier of death! This is never a good idea, and Zane has to work with Mrs. Cab (who turns out to be a Mayan Seer), Brooks (who is a shape shifting nawal), his uncle Hondo and a variety of mythological creatures like Jazz, a giant, in order to prevent Ah-Puch from destroying the world. During all of the travels and fighting, Zane finds out secrets about himself and his lineage, as well as details about the ancient Mayan prophecy that his actions have set in motion.
Strengths: A lot of readers ask for myth-based fantasies like The Lightning Thief, and up until recently, it was somewhat difficult to find them. There were a couple of other Greek mythology books, and a few Norse, but not much else. That's why it's so exciting to see the Rick Riordan Presents imprint, as well as titles like Aru Shah and the End of Time. The Storm Runner follows the basic Riordan formula of a child who needs to save the world, an amusing round of travel in order to do this, and secrets being revealed to the protagonist in order to make this possible. However, this has its own flavor, and I very much enjoyed Zane's life, and especially his uncle Hondo. I wish more stories had a trusted adult accompanying the main character. Not a parent, necessarily, but someone a bit more fun. This story had humor, lots of action and adventure, and tons of characters from Mayan mythology. Thankfully, there is a list in the back with descriptions.

Actually, the thing that thrilled me most was that this was an exciting mythologically based fantasy book that was a standalone! There are a lot of children who want to read books like The Lightning Thief but look at long series and just are not ready for that kind of commitment!
Weaknesses: I felt that Zane's mother didn't have a large enough role in this; I just really wanted to know more about her. Also, Zane should have known better not to pledge himself to Ah-Puch. Anyone who has read anything about demons knows you don't do this, even for your dog. But, it was to save Rosie, so what else could he do?
What I really think: Will definitely purchase. In fact, am debating biking the ARC over to one of my student's houses on spring break. (Yep. Got a little carried away reading this one early!) Is it a good thing or a bad thing that this student's parents wouldn't even think this is creepy?

Brallier, Max and Holgate, Douglas. Last Kids on Earth and the Cosmic Beyond (#4)
September 18th 2018 by Viking Books for Young Readers

Copy provided by the publisher

Jack and his friends have managed to survive the monster apocalypse so far, and are looking forward to winter and Christmas. For Jack, the apocalypse is more fun than his regular life, since he had been in foster care and didn't have a lot of friends at school. He also gets to hang out all the time with his buddy-crush, June, as well as Quint and Dirk. They are constantly trying to upgrade their arsenal, even though some of their projects, like the Sled-Shot, don't end as well as they hope! When the sight another human, they are momentarily hopeful, but it turns out to be the Villainess, who takes Jack's beloved Louisville Slicer and is ready to turn the entire world over to the evil forces of REZZOCH. With lots of explosions, monster slaying, and high jinks, Jack and his friends have to figure out how to defeat her and survive another day.
Strengths: There's always a need for a good apocalypse tale, and if involves monsters and copious illustrations, so much the better. For readers who aren't quite ready for all the detail of Higson's The Enemy and who are still enjoying Kloepfer's Zombie Chasers, this is a great choice. The chidlren work well together, the world building is solid (there's a map!), and the level of goofiness is just right for upper elementary and middle school students.
Weaknesses: Paper over board covers are becoming my least favorite thing ever. If I had the capability, I would color photocopy the cover and put it under mylar. You'd be surprised at how much better books with mylar covers last! Reinforcing books with tape or adhesive covers just peels and gets messy.
What I really think: My students will be thrilled to have this, and it's like whole wheat, fruit juice sweetened Pop Tarts-- a tiny bit more nutritional value than most graphic novels.

There is a Netflix series coming out soon for people who can bring themselves to pay for television. I just can't. That's what commercials are for!
Ms. Yingling

Monday, September 17, 2018

MMGM- Spooked! Blog Tour and Mascot

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.

Jarrow, Gail. Spooked!: How a Radio Broadcast and the War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America
August 7th 2018 by Calkins Creek Books
Copy provided by the publisher

In these days of "fake news", this overview of the 1930s radio scene and the specific event of the broadcast of The War of the Worlds is both timely and fascinating. Starting with the adaptation of the H.G. Wells' novel to radio and details of what it took to put this into production and ending with the lawsuits filed and the impact this had on laws regarding radio, it covers everything that is essential to know about this pivotal media event.

Readers today are unlikely to know anything about Orson Welles or even radio entertainment, so Jarrow does a good job at setting the scene, describing the role of radio in the average US home, the types of programs that were common at the time, and also details about how phones worked and how people got information. There was also extensive background about Welles' career and Well's novel.

There are lots of period photographs that are extremely helpful in explaining the story. For example, when letters were written about the program to the network, people typed them. There is a nice photograph of a woman with a typewriter, which young readers will find most instructive. I know, because I keep a typewriter at my desk in the library, and many of my students are not quite sure what it is! The inclusion of some of the artwork from an illustrated 1906 version of War of the Worlds.

Supplementary material at the back includes footnotes, an instructive author's note, and a fantastic bibliography broken down into different topics. Jarrow's documentation of her research should be held as an example to authors writing a young adult nonfiction book; not all of them are this complete, and I can't imagine that a more comprehensive yet manageable tome on this topic.

My daughter's fourth grade science teacher (at a math and science magnet school) had an entire unit on this event. He worked in math and science concepts, had them listen to clips of the broadcast as well as watch a movie version, and my daughter really enjoyed it! Unfortunately, he retired after teaching her, or I would definitely buy a copy of this for him!

Check out the Blog Tour!

Wednesday, 9/12 KidLit Frenzy
Thursday, 9/13 Deborah Kalb Books
Monday, 9/17 Ms. Yingling Reads
Tuesday, 9/18 Middle Grade Minded
Wednesday, 9/19 Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook
Thursday, 9/20 Middle Grade Book Village (with guest post by Gail Jarrow)
Friday, 9/21 Always in the Middle     

36099196John, Antony. Mascot
September 11th 2018 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Noah Savino lives in the St. Louis neighborhood of the Hill, which is great, because he loves baseball. Well, he used to. After a devastating car accident, he is in a wheel chair and trying to figure out a new normal. This doesn't include Logan, his former best friend and teammate, who has been a jerk. When quirky new student Ruben moves to the area, calling himself "Double-Wide" because of his size, Noah is glad to have one person who doesn't know all of the details of his accident. It helps that Ruben is also very matter-of-fact (and has some slight autism spectrum characteristics) and just ASKS Noah about issues that have to do with his wheelchair bound state if he doesn't understand them. When another former friend, Alyssa, runs afoul of Logan and gets roped into competing against him in an upcoming pitching contest, Rben and Noah offer to help her. So does neighbor Mr. Riggieri, after they break his car windshield. Noah is not happy that his mother is starting to date Mr. Dillon, a neighbor who has a younger daughter Makayla. Mr. Dillon being friendly and helpful, and his mother being happy... just doesn't sit well with him, since he is still processing his father's death. His physical rehab isn't going very well because he's not working as hard as he should, a fact which his gym teacher, Mrs. Friendly, is able to point out to him. Along with learning how to catch from his wheelchair for the pitching contest, Noah has a plan to make Mr. Dillon look less appealing to his mother, and for Mr. Riggieri to reconcile with his children. Life goes on, and while Noah is generally moving forward with his life, there are some moments where he has to process his recent loss in order to keep making progress.
Strengths: If you want readers to gain empathy about people who are facing challenges they are not, it's not very effective to have a slow paced, lyrical novel that discusses and analyzes these matters. A lot of the readers are going to claim the book is boring and give up! If you throw in dog farts, practical jokes, some friend fighting, and a sport, readers will actually pay attention to the book and get information about what it would be like to be in a wheelchair, how you might feel if your father passed away, how to be friends with someone who is quirky, how to deal with a parent dating, and how fathers sometimes fall out with their children over issues like same sex marriage. That's all in this book, but in a way that is fun to read. I also adored the details about life in this very specific neighborhood. Noah's personality and coping mechanisms were brilliantly described. He doesn't wring his hands, but does admit he doesn't work hard enough. The reasons his friends quit talking to him are very realistic. The fact that sometimes happy things can make a grieving person inexplicably sad is a very true thing that I have not seen represented in middle grade literature. Very well done, Mr. John!
Weaknesses: I got to the end of this and I could remember mascots being mentioned several times, but completely missed which one the titular mascot would be. Also, I'm not sure that there are many tween girls comfortable enough in their own skin to ask a boy if he's "looking at her boobs". (Since Noah is in a wheelchair, that's his eye level.) It's the only detail that seemed unlikely.
What I really think: Can't wait to hand to students! Great cover-- wish we would see more like this, especially if girls are the main character. It's one thing to say boys should read books with girl protagonists-- it's another to get a 13 year old boy to check out an aggressively pink book with a girl on the cover. Librarians need a tiny bit of help in overthrowing cultural preconditioning.

I read this right after reading a sad, slow, lyrically written book by Major, Well Known Author. THAT book had ME hanging over the edge of the chair playing with my shoelaces so I didn't have to read, so I can only imagine how it would go over with my students.