Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Winterhouse Mysteries (Winterhouse #3)

Guterson, Ben. The Winterhouse Mysteries
December 31st 2019 by Henry Holt & Company
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Elizabeth is firmly ensconced in her new home after Winterhouse and The Secrets of Winterhouse. Spring is coming, and there are some guests at the hotel working on an enormous puzzle. Hyrum pops his head in from time to time, and there are several instances that rumble the house-- Norbridge contributes them to "thundersnow", but Elizabeth is suspicious. Elana is still in very poor health, her age having been greatly advanced by the evil Gracella. Freddy finds out that the author Damien Crowley wrote about something called the Dredforth Method that could bring back Gracella, but the book in which he wrote about it has gone missing. Luckily, Freddy visits, and the two are able to work through some mysteries in order to help Elana.
Strengths: This is a fantastic series for young readers who want something "harder"; the mystery is very well developed and complex, with threads weaving in and odd in a very clever fashion. My synopsis is short because I am NOT a reader who has great comprehension, and while the mystery was fun to read, it was hard for me to remember the details! The reason that I love these books is the description of the house, the relationships between the characters, and the delight page illustrations. The description of Elizabeth's room alone was enough to make me want to purchase this! This has been a favorite with students who like Milford's Greenglass House, Wood's The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, and Funaro's newer Watch Hollow series.
Weaknesses: Both Freddy's parents and Elizabeth's aunt and uncle are given moments of sympathy, which seemed odd. Perhaps Gracella is villain enough? Also, I am personally not a fan of puzzle and riddles, and all of these books have a lot of those, which is good for readers who ARE fans.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. This book seemed like it wrapped up the series nicely, but I'm not sure whether it is over or not. Three and five book series are my favorites, since students seem more apt to pick up the entire series when they are that length, which means that the books wear evenly, and I don't feel like I wasted the taxpayers' money on book eight!
Ms. Yingling

Monday, December 30, 2019

MMGM- Running Wild and Escape This Book

Bledsoe, Lucy Jane. Running Wild
September 10th 2019 by Margaret Ferguson Books
Personal copy

Willa lives with her father and brothers Seth and Keith in the Alaskan wilderness. The nearest settlement is Fort Yukon, and they only have one neighbor. Their father, a high school teacher, moved the family after the death of the mother, and tells the children that humans are just animals, and need just food, clothing and shelter, not all of the fripperies of civilization. Willa, who loves to read and mourns the loss of the encyclopedia after her father burns it out of spite, disagrees. For a while, living off of the grid wasn't bad, but after their father alienates the one couple who are their neighbors and brings back whiskey from a supply run (after years of sobriety) and becomes increasingly abusive, Willa knows that it is time to leave. She gathers supplies and readies her brothers to raft to Fort Yukon. Of course, this is not an easy task, especially since her brother has made a pet of the wolf pup whose mother their father shot. The journey is fraught with peril, and when they arrive at Fort Yukon, it is not as easy to just phone their aunt in New York City as Willa suspected. Luckily, they get help from a family, who not only contacts their aunt, but helps make arrangements for the wolf pup to go to a sanctuary. The children are ready to go to the city with their aunt, but the pup runs away, and they go back to try to find him. Their aunt decides to stay in Fort Yukon for a while and eventually gets a job there, which gives the children the best of all worlds-- the Alaskan wilderness, but with actual adult support as well as friends and an education.
Strengths: Survival tales are always in demand, and this is a good choice to put with Lawrence's The Skeleton Tree, Hobb's Never Say Die and Carter's Not if I Save You First. Willa's reasons for undertaking the adventure are not frivolous, she is fairly well prepared, and she cares for her brothers as much as she can. I enjoyed particularly the view of life before the children run away, and also her interactions with Amelia and her family in Fort Yukon. Her aunt's move to Alaska was a charming addition as well.
Weaknesses: The dysfunctional grieving parent trope has now displaced my former least favorite thing (talking animals), but at least in this case the dysfunctional father affords the children an adventure, and is addressed at the end of the book.
What I really think: I really enjoyed this one. It was a good length, had a variety of appealing elements, and was fast paced. I am glad that Holiday House has gotten better at cover art-- I can see this title having great longevity in my library!

Doyle, Bill and Sax, Sarah. Escape This Book! Tombs of Egypt 
January 7th 2020 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

This blog is devoted mainly to books suitable for school libraries, but on occasion publishers send me activity books. This makes me a little sad, because many of these are ones my daughters would have loved. Tombs of Egypt would have been great to have for the 6th grade unit on this period of history. We built a "pyramid" out of cardboard, and my older daughter's class had an assignment to research and make a model of the items that might have been in a Pharaoh's tomb. (I think this is the same year we made a cuneiform calendar out of dough as well!)

The point is: ancient history is fascinating to some middle school students, and activity books are a great way to get students off of their phones. This book starts with a mission-- an "escapologist" wants help with this Egyptian venture, and gives a variety of drawing assignments that will help along the way. It's a little uncomfortable for me, since there are instructions not only to draw things, but to poke holes through and crumple up pages, but that's part of the fun. There are activities, puzzles, or things to write on every page spread, and a lot of information about ancient Egypt along the way. Accompanied by the escapologist's gopher, Amicus, the reader takes the role of the oldest child of Tuthmosis I and has a variety of adventures, accompanied by historical background and facts about each one.

I will probably give this book to one of our 6th grade social studies teachers, and I can see it being used in some class activities, or maybe as a prize for a student who REALLY likes Ancient Egypt.

Ms. Yingling

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Titles for younger readers

Smith, Nikki Shannon The Amazing Life of Azaleah Lane  
Mari Lobo (Illustrations)
January 1st 2020 by Picture Window Books
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Third grader Azaleah lives in Washington, D.C. area, and is enthralled by the pandas when her class visits the National Zoo. When her teacher offers extra credit for constructing a diorama with the pandas, Azaleah is thrilled, because she enjoys the STEM focus of her school.Her weekend ends up being very busy, with her mother running a local restaurant, her father being a lawyer, and her sister Nia having the leading role in her school's production of The Wis. It doesn't help when her Auntie Sam babysits and her younger sister Tiana's favorite stuffed toy, Greenie, goes missing. Will Azaleah be able to touch base with her best friend Rose, get her work done, and find her sister's toy?
Strengths: This is 112 pages long with bright, happy illustrations. Azaleah is a fun, motivated character who loves her family and wants to do well in school, even if she has trouble managing her time a little bit. I would have adored this when I was in first grade, especially since MY class visited the pandas when they first came to the US. (A long, long time ago!)
Weaknesses: Too young for my students, although the format would work well for many of my lower readers.
What I really think: I would definitely buy for an elementary school, but will pass for middle school.

Darraj, Susan Muaddi. Farah Rocks Fifth Grade (Farah Rocks, #1) 
Ruaida Mannaa (Illustrator)
January 1st 2020 by Stone Arch Books
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Farah is a very bright fifth grader who hopes to get into Magnet Academy for middle school, along with her best friend Allie. She is concerned, though, when there is a new girl at her school, Dana, who is mean to both her and her younger brother, Samir. Going to a new school would mean leaving him behind, and Farah doesn't want to leave him with the evil Dana. She starts to fail her tests, going so far as to delete e mails from her teachers when they express concern. With her mother picking up more hours at the local supermarket, Farah is responsible for Samir after school, and she takes her responsibility seriously. Samir was born prematurely, so his medical bills have burdened the family, especially since her parents donated a window to the Orthodox church they attend when his health improved. Because her parents are so involved, they eventually notice what is going on, and let Farah know that it is her responsibility to get a good education, and they will worry about finances and Samir.
Strengths: I love the close-knit family, and Farah's concern for her brother. It's also great to see a representation of an older sibling caring for a younger one after school. There are other supportive adults in her life, like Mr. Richie, her teacher, who does express concern, even if the bus driver is not seeing Dana's behavior. There are lots of details about the family's cultural background (they speak Arabic, the father came to the country when he was 28 and has an accent, holidays, food), but that isn't the focus of the story. There is even a hummus recipe at the end of the book!
Weaknesses: Don't study Latin at Magnet Academy, Farah! Or at least, don't grow up to major in it! This is just slightly young for my readers.
What I really think: Would definitely purchase for an elementary school but will pass for middle school. I'd love to see more of this character, and would buy a story about her in 6th grade!

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Bo's Magical New Friend

Elliot, Rebecca. Bo's Magical New Friend (Unicorn Diaries #1)
December 26th 2019 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Bo is glad to be at school and working towards a patch for her blanket, and she is also glad to see a new classmate at Sparklegrover School for Unicorns, Sunny. Sunny is a bit unusual because he doesn't know what his magical power is. Bo's is to grant wishes, so she wants Bo to make a wish to know his powers, but he does not. When the unicorns go out on a trip, trolls capture Sunny and another unicorn, and the others must use their powers to free their friends. After this, the group prepares for their patch ceremony and parade. Bo manages to get her patch, and Sunny figures out his powers.
Strengths: This is super cute, and the illustrations are adorable. I don't know any six year olds who would not want to read this. The story is solid, with a little adventure and some light friend drama. The little longer length is great for young readers who want something more substantial than an I Can Read book.
Weaknesses: The shape shifting Mr. Rumptwinkle really fell down on the job when the trolls got his students, didn't he? What's the purpose of turning into a bunny and following the unicorns if he doesn't keep them safe?
What I really think: While The Owl Diaries have done well with my lower levels readers, this is just a bit too twee for middle school. I will pass on purchasing, but would definitely get this for elementary school.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, December 27, 2019

I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage.

Hopkins, Lee Bennet (ed.). I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage.
April 16th 2019 by Lee & Low Books

E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

I have a very specific need for poetry books in my library. They need to contain 40 poems, preferably by different authors, and need to use a lot  of figurative language. I have one teacher who always assigns a poetry project in the fall, so I need about 130 poetry books. Generally, my poetry books get checked out once a year; invariably, a couple are lost or damaged, so I need to get a few new ones.

Don't get me wrong; I love poetry. I published a poem in Writer's Digest in 1985. But is it really something our students are going to use in real life? Wouldn't they be better off having a computer class? At any rate, I am also super picky about what constitutes good poetry, and aside from Timothy Steele, there's very little modern verse that I like. This was perfectly fine, and the pictures were fantastic. I also liked the multicultural focus. I need to go back and count the number of poems; if it has forty, I'll buy it.

From Goodreads.com
From the joyous to the poignant, poems by award-winning, diverse poets are paired with images by celebrated illustrators from similar backgrounds to pay homage to what is both unique and universal about growing up in the United States. Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander takes us on a riotous ride through good times and sad spent with his extended family--a journey perfectly captured by Coretta Scott King Award winner Michele Wood's vibrant overflowing and overlapping images. Pura Belpre Award winner Margarita Engle shares happy memories of learning to embroider, accompanied by fine artist and printmaker Paula Barragan's colorful graphic representation of a granddaughter and grandmother at work. Bestselling author Nick Bruel talks about his confusion over having to define himself by a single racial label, which is brought to life by newcomer Janine Macbeth's reflective image of herself trying to figure out her own mixed ancestry. Together these heartfelt poems and captivating illustrations shine a light on the rich diversity of people in our nation as well as the timeless human connections and experiences we all share. Readers of any age and background will find much that sparks their memories and opens their eyes.

Wetzel, Dan. Lionel Messi: Epic Athletes
November 12th 2019 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

The other titles in this series have circulated well, and this is definitely one I will buy. It is especially interesting, because it covers how soccer clubs recruit and train members in other countries. Messi is Argentinian, but trained in Spain when he was very young. When he was 16, he had to decided in which country he wanted to play, because whatever country he chose was where he would have to stay! It also talked about his growth hormone disorder, and the challenges his family faced getting him training and medication. Since he retired in 2018, this is a good look at his career, but he seems to be doing a lot of other things, so students will still know who he is. There's not much out there on soccer, and a growing number of my students are interested in it, so this will circulate well. 

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Might Moe: The True Story of a Thirteen-Year-Old Women's Running Revolutionary

Swaby, Rachel and Fox, Kit. Might Moe: The True Story of a Thirteen-Year-Old Women's Running Revolutionary
October 15th 2019 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

Public library copy

Maureen Wilton saw her brother come home from school with a ribbon he won in a race, and decided that she wanted to win one, too. Eventually, she set a women's marathon record on May 6, 1967 with a time of 3:15:23. At that point in time, girls and women were not encouraged to run, but Wilton was very fortunate that her parents were supportive and that she found a coach, Sy Mah, who was willing to work with a girls' running team. Unfortunately, the rest of the world was still not up to speed with women's running, and the negative reactions eventually got to Wilton, and she dropped out of the sport. Mighty Moe tells the story of Maureen's fight to be able to race, her training, and the politics with which she had to deal at a very young age in order to pursue something that she loved.

This is a fascinating snap shot of a (thankfully!) long ago time that young people don't understand. When I was in middle school, there was no girls' cross country team, but for my students, girls have always been able to do anything. Many of their mothers ran cross country. The training methods, running outfits and shoes, insistence of society that girls don't run, and even the grainy pictures taken from 8mm movies all seem like ancient history compared to today!

More importantly, Wilton's fight to keep running, and the toll the negative publicity took on her, are important for young people to understand. It's one thing to participate in a difficult sport; it's another to keep working under difficult conditions when people are repeatedly telling you it's something you CAN'T do! It was fascinating to find out that Kathrine Switzer came to run with Wilton not long after her own fraught marathon run, and that the two connected years later.

This is worth purchasing if only for the history of women's running it contains, but I loved reading about a young girl who had a dream that she was able to achieve despite obstacles, and loved the fact that she helped open up the world of running for other girls and women.  While some of the training methods are definitely not advisable ("kill it to cure it" did NOT work with my Achilles tendon!), this is a fantastic window into a bygone time. Definitely purchasing. 

Roberts, David. Suffragette: The Battle for Equality
May 31st 2018 by Pan Macmillan
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

While there are a number of excellent books about women's suffrage available, including Kops' Alice Paul, Zimet's Roses and Radicals, and Bausum's With Courage and Cloth, this book is a bit unusual-- it focuses more on the British movement to get women the vote. It does touch on some US movements and personalities, but the timeline is centered around the Women's Social and Political Union, founded by Emmeline Pankhurst.

In the US, the women's movement ran into difficulties along racial lines, with African-American participants often being told to keep quiet or go to the back of the parade. It is noteworthy to see African-American women's leaders mentioned, and this would be a great book for students looking to do a National History Day project on someone who has not previously been studied as much. In the UK, the movement ran into more problems along class lines, since the population was not quite as diverse in the early 1900s. I expect that we will see more books that include different voices, and this one is a good start.

Following the different movements, protests, and people chronologically, Suffragette paints an easily understandable trajectory of events. I wasn't aware that the women's movement in the UK was so violent! There's lots of rock throwing, glass breaking, and even jujitsu! My favorite part of this, however, is the large number of thumbnail biographies that accompany the well done illustrations of the historical characters.

There is a very nice bibliography at the end of the book that will get readers started on other books. With it's nicely formatted page design and attractive, colorful drawings, Suffragette is definitely a book that will get young feminists informed about the past so that they can make a difference in the future.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Merry Christmas Titles!

Hapka, Catherine. Santa's Puppy
October 15th 2019 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Santa's fluffy white puppy, Peppermint Bark, wants to constantly be near him, but when Christmas arrives, both Santa and the elves tell the dog to stay behind at the North Pole and keep Ms. Claus company. Undeterred, Peppermint Bark decides to stowaway in the pack of toys on the sleigh. At the first stop, he hears human children, and hops out to investigate. Santa and his sleigh leave, and the dog ends up inside the chimney! Luckily, young Chris and Holly Kerstman hear the barks, and the family helps rescue him. Chris can communicate with the dog, who lets him know they need to find a portal to get him back home. The town of Poinsettia is famous for its holiday celebrations, so there are lots of different places to check for the portals, and Peppermint Bark and the children get into all kids of trouble. Elves Happy and Juniper come to try to find the dog, and they find trouble of their own. Will Peppermint Bark be able to get back home where he belongs?
Strengths: Vaguely reminiscent of Phyllis McGinley's The Year Without a Santa Claus, this is a delightful romp that will warm the hearts of holiday and dog fans alike. Poinsettia's Christmas is the ultimate celebration, and the trouble the children get into trying to find the portal is all light hearted and amusing. Peppermint Bark, who breath smells like warm cocoa, is every child's dream dog, and the ending, with a visit to the North Pole to hang out with Santa, is delightful.
Weaknesses: I found it a little hard to believe that that the portal to the North Pole only opens once a year, but it gives an immediacy to the plot that makes it more exciting.
What I really think: As someone whose house was for years visited by wily elves named Jeek and Glendle who got into all kinds of trouble, I can appreciate a good Christmas story. My students like them as well, and dog stories are popular, so I'm definitely buying a copy of this, even though few of my 8th graders will ever touch it.

Keene, Carolyn. A Nancy Drew Christmas (Nancy Drew Diaries #18)
September 18th 2018 by Aladdin
Copy from the Ohio E Book Project

Ah, Nancy. I'm beginning to think that her father is neglectful (You have a case, so you send your child alone across the country to a ski lodge? Where she gets injured but just continues to hang around?), and I rather missed George and Bess in this one, but we do get a brief glimpse of the Hardy Boys. This had a lot of environmental topics, which I completely support, but this one felt a bit heavy handed. The mystery... they are always a bit Scooby Doo to me, but I'm old. I love this series because it's a great read for middle schoolers, and aside from book 1 and 2 these can be read in any order, but I think 18 is enough, so I think this is the last one I will purchase.

If you are an adult fan of Nancy Drew, you owe it to yourself to pick up Cain's snarky Confessions of a Teen Sleuth.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The First Christmas Sweater

Tubridy, Ryan and Judge, Chris (illus.) The First Christmas Sweater
September 10th 2019 by Walker Books US
Personal copy

Hillary the sheep gets along well on the Irish farm where she is being raised. She enjoys making lists, hanging out with her fellow sheep, and dreaming about Christmas. Luckily, Farmer Jimmy, his wife Orla, and the other sheep are all very accepting of Hillary's big difference-- instead of having snowy white wool, she has multicolored fleece! When Hillary hears from her friend Didya the crow (who is always asking questions and talking a lot) that Santa is looking for wool for a Christmas sweater, Hillary hopes that he will visit her farm-- and he does! Of course, Hillary's wool is perfect for the decorated, colorful sweater Santa desires, and before she knows it, Hillary is off on a magical journey to the North Pole to get sheared. She meets the elves, reindeer, and Ms. Claus, and returns to her farm secure in the knowledge that her wool is keeping Santa warm on his rounds.
Strengths: This is a notebook novel, with large text and plentiful pictures. Since it is about Santa and Christmas, the elementary crowd will love it, but I have a large population of English Language Learners who are enthralled with this holiday, and this will be perfect for them. The characters are all well meaning, and even the one difficult sheep, Brian, is redeemed in the end.
Weaknesses: Having just read Parkes' Vanishing Fleece and attended the Rhinebeck Sheep and Wool Festival, I'm pretty sure that Hillary could have been shorn in Ireland, and that she would not have needed a jacket to keep her warm after she was sheared. Also not sure Santa would have gotten his sweater quite so quickly. Ah, isn't that the problem of being a grown up-- we know too much!
What I really think: This will be one the students will pick up for fun. As a parent who always told my children that Santa did NOT exist but who also went to great lengths to build the mythology of Jeek and Glendle, rogue drunken elves who occasionally left presents in the trunk of the car or under the tree OUTSIDE, I give this book bonus points for expanding on the Santa mythos.

The author is a celebrity in Ireland. I don't know celebrities in the US anymore, so I didn't know this until I read the notes at the back!
Ms. Yingling

Monday, December 23, 2019

MMGM- Banjo

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.

Salisbury, Graham. Banjo.
October 1st 2019 by Wendy Lamb Books
Public library copy

Danny lives on a ranch in Nevada with his father and older brothers. He loves his dog, Banjo, but one night Banjo doesn't come home. A neighbor, Mr. Brodie, claims that Banjo was chasing his sheep and was shot by one of his sons. Distraught, Danny hunts for his beloved dog and does find him, injured, in a cave. When he brings him home, Mr. Brodie brings the law and tells Danny that the dog needs to be put down. After trying unsuccessfully to rehome the dog somewhere far away, Danny says that he will shoot Banjo himself. He takes him far out in the woods but can't bring himself to pull the trigger, and abandons the dog instead. He feels awful, but hopes that this way Banjo has a bit of a chance. He does, when he is found by Meg, a girl who rides horses. She soon takes to the sweet tempered dog, but knows that he must belong somewhere. It turns out that Banjo has been microchipped, and after some sleuthing, Meg locates Danny. Of course, having Banjo alive is a big problem for him, especially since Mr. Brodie, who is a decent man, has given him a border collie puppy named Ruby. When further information about Banjo's shooting comes to light, Danny is able to exonerate Banjo.
Strengths: I'm always glad to see books that are set on working farms, and both Danny's and Meg's lives are interesting. The Nevada setting is one I don't see very often. Salisbury is always an effective writer, and he delivers a gripping tale of canine fidelity.
Weaknesses: The softhearted city slicker in me is appalled at the treatment of Banjo. Sylvie is definitely NOT a working dog!
What I really think: Will definitely purchase for my fans of dog books.
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Arrival of Someday

Malone, Jen. The Arrival of Someday
Published July 23rd 2019 by HarperTeen
Public library copy

Amelia is a senior in high school and has lived her whole life knowing she has biliary atresia. It hasn't compromised her health... until she throws up blood during a roller derby match. She attributes this at first to taking a hit she can't remember in her character as Rolldemort, but that's not the case. The doctors tell her that her liver is "turning to cement" and she will need a transplant sooner rather than later. Her best friend Sibby is supportive, but Amelia is uncomfortable being known as "the sick girl" and asking her high school classmates to become organ donors. Her mother is worried, even losing weight so that she can be considered, and her brother who is at college is worried that he can't be at home with her. He deputizes his best friend, Will, to watch out for Amelia, and the two develop a romance. There are also the ordinary deadlines and concerns of high school to deal with, but her health steadily declines. Will all of the medical treatment be enough to save her?
Strengths: This would be perfect for fans of The Fault in Our Stars and other Lurlene McDaniel like titles where a romance is doomed due to a significant health issue. I love Malone's middle grade titles, and she draws me immediately into the story. This does have a more middle grade pacing, which is a good thing, and even the romance isn't quite as dire. Amelia has a good outlook-- it's not the strong, brave character with a deadly illness or the snarky fighter. Instead, she is balanced and nuanced, and her family is fantastic. I enjoyed reading this.
Weaknesses: A little formulaic; you know how this ends.
What I really think: I don't have the readers for YA romance that I used to have and there are too many f-bombs for me to purchase. I would definitely get this for a high school library and will suggest this to my readers who have public library cards.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Cartoon Saturday- Karen's Witch (Baby-sitters Little Sister #1)

Farina, Katy. Karen's Witch (Baby-sitters Little Sister #1)
December 26th 2019 by Graphix
Based on the 1988 novel by Ann M. Martin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

When Karen and her brother go to spend the weekend with her father and his new family (that includes The Baby-sitters Kristy), Karen becomes obsessed with the idea that the older neighbor lady (who wears long dresses and shawls and spends a lot of time in her garden) is actually a witch. She refers to the woman as Morbida Destiny, and is determined to save the neighborhood from her evil influence. Along with Hanni, she spies on the neighbor, makes up spells to ward her off, and eventually crashes a "witches' meeting" at her house-- that ends up being a gardening club meeting that her grandmother is also attending. Karen learns a valuable lesson about judging someone based only on appearance.
Strengths: Farina's illustrations are similar enough to Telgemeiers that readers may not realize the change in authors, but distinctive enough that discerning one will. The colors and style are attractive. I particularly liked Karen and Kristy's close relationship. The cats were super cute, even if cats are plotting to kill us all!
Weaknesses: Karen's obsession with the witch makes this better for younger readers, but who knows? Maybe this series can bring back my name as one that is not for grandmothers!
What I really think: I am debating buying this one. On the one hand, these graphic novels do well, but on the other, middle school students are going to KNOW the neighbor is not a witch. Will they care? Probably not. This is in full color, and I recently had a student complain about the older graphic novels that were in black and white, so I might buy this.

Ms. Yingling

Friday, December 20, 2019

The 12th Candle

Tomsic, Kim. The 12th Candle
October 8th 2019 by Katherine Tegen Books
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Sage lives out west in the town of Goldview, and her family is cursed. Years ago, her mother and her best friend (the mother of Sage's nemesis, Priscilla) got caught in a storm with pink lightning, and ever since, they've had to deal with the Contrarium curse, where if something goes right for one woman, it goes wrong for the other. Sage's family has gotten the worst of it, and her father is in jail for attempting to rob the bank owned by Priscilla's family. Her mother is struggling, and Sage is bitter. Her best friend, Bailee, helps her a lot, and believes in the curse. When the girls happen into a new shop run by the quirky Minerva, Sage gets a candle for her birthday that is supposed to grant wishes. She accidentally wishes that her mother had remembered to pay the electric bill, and the lights come on. She eventually wishes that the curse be reversed, and Priscilla starts having bad luck. Sage feels a need to help that along, though, and brings crickets to school and puts them in Priscilla's gym locker, which causes a lot of problems. She finally consults Mrs. Rimmells, who taught her mother as well, and tries to work out a way to stop the curse once and for all. Is it too late?

The details of modern middle school life are very vivid-- changing for gym and not letting anyone see you, reading The Outsiders, and dealing with other students who aren't very nice. Sage and her mother struggle to afford food and clothing, and Sage is sometimes home alone, with a neighbor to check in on her. There is also some solid magic; the curse is real, and so are the wishes. It's a nice note that even Sage sometimes doubts the reality of the magic.

I loved the description of Mrs. Rimmells, with her bright floral dresses with pockets for tissues and her homemade doughnuts that she brings to school. Priscilla is also a good character-- entitled and sometimes bratty, but not completely beyond redemption. Mrs. Downey's desire to remain Janitor of the Year despite the cricket infestation is amusing as well.

Interestingly enough, Ms. Tomsic provides her own list of read-alikes for this title when the characters mention their own favorite books that they see displayed in Minerva's shop; Wendy Mass, Bruce Coville, Henry Lien, Philip Pullman, and Ingrid Law. The 12th Candle has a good dose of magical realism combined with middle grade drama that appeals to fans of those authors.

That being said, this sort of quirky (Sage's last name is Sassafras) magical realism doesn't do all that well in my library. I may not purchase. Dragons are ruling the day with my 6th graders.

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, December 19, 2019

#Throwback Thursday- The Mystery Box

McAlpine, Gordon. The Mystery Box
September 16th 2003 by Cricket Books
Library copy

Frank Dixon is beyond shattered when his brother Joe is reported killed in World War I, and later thought to be missing as a deserter. He leaves Bayport for Paris, where he sets up a private detective business while searching for his brother. At the same time, a young Carolyn Keene is driven from her home by the very young fiance of her father; she could have stayed, but she wants her father to be happy. The two end up meeting not only each other, but a variety of expat authors from the US-- Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Pasos. There are some light mysteries which the two solve, but this is more of a portrait of a time and place through the eyes of people who never existed... but should have.
Strengths: As far as interesting premises go, this one definitely takes the cake. It's also wonderfully atmostpheric in an All That Heaven Allows sort of way. This has a very specific audience-- bright readers who have read all of Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys but also do well with historical fiction.
Weaknesses: This is more of an adult novel, and does have some mention of drinking as well as some mentions of sex, but nothing overly graphic.
What I really think: I wouldn't buy this for my library today, but I don't really want to get rid of the copy I have, either!

This is still available from Follett!
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

My Survival: A Girl on Schindler's List.

Greene, Joshua M.and Finder, Rena.  My Survival: A Girl on Schindler's List. 
December 26th 2019 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Rena Finder was eleven when the Nazis came to her Polish town. After increasing restrictions and neighbors and relatives being arrested, her family was sent to the Krakow ghetto. When that was emptied, Rena and her mother ended up on a train to Auschwitz-Birkenau, after Rena's father altered her papers so she would seem old enough to stay with her mother. Luckily, the two ended up working in Oskar Schindler's factory, where he made sure his employees were well fed and cared for, even though it was expensive to bribe the Nazi guards and get food and medicine on the black market. At one point, Rena and her mother were taken back to a camp, but Schindler found them and told the Nazis that they were specially trained, and they returned to the factory. Schindler left the country when he felt sure that the Nazis were defeated and the US forces were on their way. After the war, the two went back to their town, but found their apartment occupied by someone else, and also found a lot of anti-Semitic attitude. Most of their relatives had been killed, and Rena eventually got married and moved to the US, where she started speaking to school groups about her experiences in the late 1970s and working with Facing History.
Strengths: There are very few new first person accounts of the Holocaust; Ms. Finder is 90. The details about the difficulty of living and surviving are good, and there is enough discussion of the history of the time included. This is a quick, easily understandable read.
Weaknesses: For such a gut wrenching topic, the writing is surprisingly dispassionate. There is more emotional punch to works by Carol Matas, Alan Gratz, and Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch.
What I really think: I don't have any narratives accounts of Schindler's list, and this will be a good choice for readers in my 8th grade classes who are assigned reading a Holocaust book but who need a more linear account, and one that is not overly upsetting, so I will purchase.

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The Winterbourne Home for Vengeance and Valor

Carter, Ally. The Winterbourne Home for Vengeance and Valor
March 3rd 2020 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

April lives in an orphanage, and on a class trip to the Winterbourne Museum, she has a disastrous experience and ends up in the hospital after causing a fire that takes out much of the collection. She doesn't get in trouble, however; she is spirited away from the hospital by Ms. Nelson and told that she will live at the Winterbourne house with fellow orphans Colin, Sadie, Tim and Violet. There is a big problem with the Winterbourne estate. Gabriel, who was orphaned when his parents' boat capsized and he was the only survivor, has been missing for ten years. An uncle, Evert, seeks to inherit, but Gabriel has not yet been declared dead. In the meantime, the house is run by the butler, Smithers, and is home to this small group of children who have tangential relationships with the family. April herself has a key with the Winterbourne crest on a necklace that is the only thing she has left from her mother, who abandoned her. Because she is naturally curious and impulsive, April takes it upon herself to investigate the house to try to find a box with treasure that her key will open. She doesn't find it, but she does find a mysterious man living in a hidden room in the mansion. Will she and the other children be able to solve the mystery, despite the many dangers, and settle the matter of the Winterbourne inheritance once and for all? (I don't want to spoil this mystery!)
Strengths: April is a feisty, engaging character with a mystery she doesn't know how to begin to solve. The other students, especially the inventive Sadie, are fun as well. The Winterbourne house is one that readers will wish they could run off to in order to explore its secret passageways, and the mystery is nicely convoluted, but not too difficult to follow. I suspect there will be other books in the series, since this ended with suspicious characters with swords running off into the night.
Weaknesses: There seems to be a trend towards having characters who are orphaned, in foster care, and then approached by some sort of secret organization to work. I know that it helps to get parents out of the way so that middle grade characters can have adventures, but since I do have students who are in foster care, I wish that the portrayal of the system were more realistic.
What I really think: For the sake of my own collection, I wish this were more like I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You, (the very first ARC I ever saw, and one of my most favorite books!) instead of more like Lemony Snicket or the similarly named Winterhouse, but Carter is a fantastic writer, and this would span the elementary-middle school age range instead of the middle school-high school one. I love that the cover incorporates plaid uniforms similar to the ones on the cover of the Gallagher Girls books. (Which are still available in library bindings through Follett.)

The Princess Who Flew with Dragons

Burgis, Stephanie. The Princess Who Flew with Dragons (Tales from the Chocolate Heart #3)
November 5th 2019 by Bloomsbury Children's Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This is set in the same world as The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart and The Girl with the Dragon Heart, but this time we find out more about Katrin, who is ruling Drachenheim, and her younger sister Sofia, who is not a fan of her sister. When Katrin decides that Sofia will be flown by dragon to the Diamond Exhibition in Villenne to represent the country, Sofia thinks this is just another way her sister is manipulating her. When she arrives, bedraggled and ill after a difficult journey, the king and queen are not impressed and politely banish Sofia and her retinue to a small house far outside town. Since she doesn't think she can make much of a difference, Sofia decides to go undercover and explore Villenne on her own. She doesn't quite think through how difficult and dangerous this is; she even has to borrow clothing from one of her ladies maids in order to go out! She is a fan of a professor of philosophy at the university, and after attending one of his interesting lectures (he is also a bit at odds with the local government), she meets some other students-- goblins Talvikki, Berritt and Hannlena, and a kobold named Fedolia. Not long after, her dragon pen pal Jasper shows up in human form! The two go back to the town and have more adventures. Eventually, however, Katrin gets wind of Sofia's antics and shows up in town, only to be frozen with the other leaders by Ice Giants! Sofia knows she must save her sister even if she isn't her biggest fan, and with the help of Jasper and Fedolia, she heads into the giants' territory to try to save her, which takes skills that Sofia didn't know she had.
Strengths: I adored The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart , with it's interesting setting and copious amounts of hot chocolate! It's fun to revisit the same world but deal with other characters. It's interesting to meet Jasper and get more dragon insight into Drachenheim, and the Ice Giants are a formidable and misunderstood adversary. Sofia's non-princess adventures with the goblins at the university are unusual and teach her a lot about what non royals experience. Sofia is able to solve the Ice Giant problem in an unconventional way, and I think there is at least one more book needed in this series.
Weaknesses: I did not like Sofia. She would have small epiphanies about how much harder everyone else's life was, but then she would go right back to her privileged way of thinking. She did make some progress, but she was not my favorite character.
What I really think: I'm curious to see what direction the next book takes.

Ms. Yingling

Monday, December 16, 2019

MMGM- I, Cosmo

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.

Sorosiak, Carlie . I, Cosmo.
December 24th 2019 by Walker Books US
ARC provided by the publisher

Cosmo is the "big brother" of Max and his young sister Emmaline, and is now 13 years old. He still is very invested in keeping his pack safe, but he has slowed down, and is beset with arthritis. Things are tense in the household-- the parents fight all the time, and Max is often sad and anxious. It helps a bit when Uncle Reggie comes back from his recent deployment, although he is out of work and missing the dog he worked with, Rosie. He introduces Max and Cosmo to canine freestyle dance competition. Since Cosmo is a long time fan of the movie Grease, his aged heart soars when he is able to dance. The family problems continue, but Max tries to keep up with school and his other obligations while his world is falling apart. Max believes that he can keep his parents together by winning the dance competition and getting a spot in a movie, but Cosmo is afraid that the neighbor sheep dog, whom he thinks is evil, will do something in the competition to sabotage them. Eventually, things do fall apart, but Max's parents do not split up the boy and his best friend, and Max does not die. (I read the end of the book first, just to be sure.)
Strengths: There are a lot of books "narrated" by dogs, and most of them assume that dogs are a bit less bright than their humans. Not this one. Cosmo understands more about his humans than they do themselves, and he is keenly aware of Max's emotional state. This is the dog book that we all think our OWN dogs would write. It's really more of a story about divorce and its effects on children, but since we see everything through Cosmo's eyes, this becomes a dog book.
Weaknesses: I wish there were more about the dance competition and less about the divorce.
What I really think: Dog books, like horse books, tend to be pretty timeless, and I always need to add a few to the collection every year. I will buy this one. It made me cry at the end, but it also made me feel better about everything I do for Sylvie (who is also 13 and a little arthritic. She has her own rice bag that I heat up and leave with her in the mornings, although now I feel like I should also leave a radio on!).
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Jingle Bells, Batman Smells (and so does May)

Park, Barbara. Junie B. Jones Deluxe Holiday Edition: Jingle Bells, Batman Smells! (P.S. So Does May.)
October 1st 2019 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

First grader Junie B. has a lot of trouble controlling herself, but it doesn't help when classmate May is always tattling on her for the least transgression. Whether it's altering the lyrics for "Jingle Bells" or tussling with May and pulling her sweater, Junie is constantly in trouble. When the class picks names for a Secret Santa, of course she gets May. When the class goes to the PTO Holiday Gift Shop to pick out presents, Junie B. sees something she really, really wants for herself-- a Squeez-a-Burp. She begs for money from home and finally manages to shake down her parents and buys it, along with other gifts for her family. She is determined not to buy May a present, but at the last minute repents and gives May her beloved item.
Strengths: This is a very nice edition of this book-- large format, perfect for reading aloud to a class. Holiday books are always popular, and this addresses several common first grade concerns-- holiday programs, getting along in a classroom, and balancing personal wants against giving gifts demanded by social convention. The pictures are very fun and add to the holiday air.
Weaknesses: Most characters in early reader books are very well behaved, so people like to see different characters, but had my girls acted like Junie B., there would have been some consequences, so it was hard for me to enjoy this. Also, it felt like holiday programs and Secret Santas were things that fell out of fashion about ten years ago.
What I really think: Had I seen this fifteen years ago, I probably would have bought it for Picky Reader, who did enjoy these books. This is too young for middle school, so I will send it on to an elementary school.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

They Called Us Enemy

Takei, George. Eisinger, Justin (co-writer), Scott, Steven Scott (co-writer), Becker, Harmony (Artist). They Called Us Enemy
16th 2019 by Top Shelf Productions
Public library copy

This graphic novel follows Mr. Takei's recollections of his family's time in internment camps during WWII. Interspersed with panels of his TED talk, television interviews, and other appearances where he talked about his experiences are panels showing how he felt about what happened to his family. There is background history about his parents as well as the treatment of Japanese-Americans as well. Seeing the internment process from the point of view of a young child is very valuable, and it helps that there is some explanation from an older view point to accompany this. The black and white illustrations are clear and easy to follow, and show clearly the conditions at the various camps. There is also some discussion about topics tangential to his experience-- Japanese-American soldiers, the bombing of cities in Japan, and the aftermath of the war, with compensation for Japanese-Americans and also the current state of politics.
Strengths: This is a fascinating (but terrible) period of history, and there are not many more first person accounts of this to be written. I especially appreciated how Takei states his recollections but processes them through a later, adult lens. I would love to see the television series about the internment in which he stars, Infamy.
Weaknesses: Going back and forth from interviews to general history to the experience in the camps might make this hard to follow for younger readers, but the book is definitely worth having in a middle school library.
What I really think: Purchasing, and now sort of want to read all of Takei's memoirs!

Ms. Yingling

Friday, December 13, 2019

Someplace to Call Home

Dallas, Sandra. Someplace to Call Home
August 15th 2019 by Sleeping Bear Press
Public library copy

Hallie, Tom, and Benny Turner have left Oklahoma after the desertion of their father and the death of their sister and mother, and find themselves in Kansas with a broken down car. They are approached by Swede Carlson, who owns the land where they have stopped, and bargain with him to do work on his farm in exchange for being allowed to camp on his land. The Carlsons are doing surprisingly well in 1933, and have a soft spot for the children because their daughter Tessie has Down Syndrome, as does Benny. Tom manages to get work in a local garage a couple of days a week and helps out on the farm, while Hallie helps in the house and with Tessie, and arranges to go to school. The Carlsons let them live in a hired man's shack and help them out with food. Things are going well until local ne'er do well Harold Morton, whose dad owns the bank, starts to harass Tom, getting him fired for ostensibly stealing from him and eventually trying to frame him for a wrecked car. The Turners are hard workers and have shown the local people that even Okies can be honorable, so once the sheriff and Hallie prove Tom didn't wreck the car, things go better for the struggling family.
Strengths:The books that I like best about the Depression, Blue Willow (1940), Macaroni Boy (2003), Hitch (2005), Tough Times (2007), and All the Earth Thrown to the Sky (2011) won't last forever, so it's good to see some new titles about this era. The opening scenes with the children breaking down and looking for food pulled me right in, and the Carlson's helping them out was heart warming. The details about food, clothing, work, and general living arrangements were just what I want from historical fiction. This made for a very pleasant afternoon of reading.
Weaknesses: The whole story with Harold Morton was a bit simple and silly, and there was an episode where Benny was fighting with Tessie over "Ragman" that also seemed like it was written for second graders. Actually, both of these things reminded me a bit of Grace Livingston Hill novels, so perhaps they were in keeping with the era.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing for our Decades unit, and the story was intriguing in a Boxcar Children sort of way, especially the first few chapters. It's good for my students to see just how bad the Great Depression was!

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, December 12, 2019

If the Fire Comes: A Story of Segregation During the Great Depression.

Daley, Tracey. If the Fire Comes: A Story of Segregation During the Great Depression.
September 1st 2019 by Jolly Fish Press
Library copy

Joseph McCoy's life is difficult, due to the Great Depression and the drought in California in 1935. His sister is unable to walk due to complications from polio, and both of their parents have died, leaving them in the care of an uncle who is having trouble dealing with his own problems, let alone theirs. Joseph shines shoes to help earn money, so he hears a lot of talk about what is going on in town. Joseph also struggles to get a wheelchair rigged up for his sister, but people sabotage his efforts. When an all-black Civilian Conservation Corps camp settles outside the mostly white town, tensions rise. Joseph has come into possession of a small flock of messenger pigeons, and Mr. Jackson, a local man who is a bit different, helps him to train them, since Jackson worked with them during WWI. When forest fires threaten the town, the pigeons are instrumental in letting the CCC workers know and help the town prepare.
Strengths: It's difficult for students today to grasp how hard life was during the Great Depression, and this pointed out some of the situations that children their own age had to deal with at this time. The treatment of the disabled will come as a surprise, and the treatment of African-Americans is all too familiar still. The tie-in with a WWI vet is interesting; trench warfare was ghastly, but there aren't many portrayals of veterans of that conflict in middle grade literature today. The information at the end of the book supports a lot of topics that students might not know a lot about.
Weaknesses: Joseph's entries about caring for the pigeons took me out of the story a bit, but they were short and did have good information.
What I really think: This series has some fascinating titles. There is also Journey to a Promised Land: A Story of the Exodusters, and Lines We Draw: A Story of Imprisoned Japanese Americans.

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

United to Strike: A Story of the Delano Grape Workers

Zenk, Molly. United to Strike: A Story of the Delano Grape Workers
September 1st 2019 by Jolly Fish Press
Library copy

Tala, a Filippino-Mexican-American girl living in Delano, California in 1965, wants to be an investigative reporter. Her parents work in the food industry, which is experiencing problems due to the poor treatment of  farm workers. She is an only child, and her family is a little better off than some. Her best friend, Jasmine, comes from a large family that struggles. Because of this, when there is a strike, Jasmine's father crosses the picket line to work. Otherwise, the family would have no food. As a result, Jasmine is treated poorly at school. Tala's father is instrumental in the efforts to unionize and set up boycotts, and she writes articles about this. She tries to stick up for her friend, but the two are at odds as the efforts drag on. The whole community is affected, but eventually, positive changes are made.
Strengths: This is a great portrayal of a little known but important period in labor history. It is also perfect for both Hispanic Heritage and Filipino Heritage month in October! I enjoyed the fact that it also included friend drama, so middle school readers will pick it up for that as well. The strong family ties and the commitment to a cause were good to see as well.
Weaknesses: The different view points and diary entries made this hard to follow at some points.
What I really think: I am glad I purchased this for out 7th grade Decades Unit, especially since the book is set in the 1960s, and that project is a precursor to studying The Outsiders. It is a perfect companion to Brill's Dolores Huerta Stands Strong: The Woman Who Demanded Justice.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019


Van Eekhout, Greg. Cog
October 1st 2019 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Cog looks like an ordinary twelve year old boy, but he is an advanced android that the scientists at uniMind use to watch learning (cognitive development) behavior. He lives with Gina, who functions as his mother and sets him to do certain tasks so she can watch how he handles them. Often, he does not calculate the entire impact of his actions (like saving a chihuahua from being hit by a truck by getting in front of the truck), which makes him very much like the average middle school student! When his latest exploit leads to him being returned to corporate headquarters, he is not happy there, especially since Nathan, one of the scientists, wants to alter his "mind". With the help of Trashbot, Proto the  robotic dog, a computerized auto named Car, and his sister, ADA, Cog breaks out of uniMind and sets off on a mission to find Gina. Cog seems to have odd powers that can occasionally control other robots, which is why uniMind wants to study him, so they are of course in hot pursuit. The group of gizmos gets into all sorts of scrapes along the way, many involving the unwise use of Car! ADA turns out to be a destructive/offensive unit, so has some untold depth of weaponry and tactics hidden within her system, which helps the group evade capture for a while, but they are eventually brought in by the police. When Nathan arrives to take them back to headquarters, Cog knows that he doesn't have their best interest at heart. Will Cog be able to prevent his brain being probed for the unknown X-Module that gives him extra capabilities?
Strengths: Cog is a fun character, and books with road trips, especially when it's escaping evil scientists, are always in demand. I loved ADA and her latent destructive capabilities! This is a book that had my children read it when they were young, they would have gone around acting like Cog and reenacting scenes from the book! Readers who enjoyed Pattersons House of Robots or Richards' Robots Rule! series will enjoy this one.
Weaknesses: Cog talked like a robot and sometimes doesn't seem to understand the human world. This is used well for humorous effect, but wouldn't a cognitive development model be better used interacting with other children from the beginning and becoming fluent in their language? The target demographic won't get this, but I kept thinking about it, mainly because of the "robots" currently in use in people's homes that are programmed to interact vocally, like Siri and Alexa.
What I really think: Van Eekhout does great middle grade science fiction books, including Voyage of the Dogs, The Boy at the End of the World (2011),  and Kid vs. Squid (2010). My readers who like robots tend to want more serious books about them, so I'm debating this one even though I would definitely purchase it for an elementary library.

Monday, December 09, 2019

MMGM- Into the Blizzard

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.

Tougias, Michael J. Into the Blizzard: Heroism at Sea During the Great Blizzard of 1978 [The Young Readers Adaptation] (True Rescue Series) 
December 10th 2019 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

There are few things I like saying more than "Back during the blizzard of '77..." because it makes me feel a thousand years old. I also vividly remember a show hosted by Leonard Nimoy called In Search Of that had an episode entitled The Coming Ice Age. How things can change in 40 years! Now, global warming is much more of a threat, but for those of us who can recall having to climb out of a second story window to get out of the house to shovel the front door open (okay, I didn't have to, but my cousin did!), the next ice age seemed much more likely for a while.

I don't remember this incident involving an oil tanker off the coast of Massachusetts, but I do have a small group of readers who like this author's True Rescue Series. I bought A storm too soon : a remarkable true survival story in 80-foot seas, but have to admit that both of these were VERY heavy going for me. There are so many people involved, and so many details about particular events, and I also found them a bit slow, despite the adventurous nature. There are a lot of Young Readers' Editions of adult fiction, and some work better than others. For readers who are really interested in the topic, these are great books, but the earnest adult concentration on the intricacies of the situation might be harder for less sophisticated readers (like me!) to connect to this title. I will purchase this for those who like narrative nonfiction, since it will circulate steadily for a long time.

Plus, any time I hand it to someone, I get to say "Back during the blizzard of '77..."

Sunday, December 08, 2019


Cotteril, Jo. Jelly
January 7th 2020 by Yellow Jacket
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Angelica feels a bit awkward in her school, so she acts out by being the class clown. It seems to work-- before the mean kids can make the joke, she makes it, so she doesn't look like a victim. Home life is a little rough; her mother tends to date men who treat her badly, and the writing is on the wall for the latest boyfriend. Jelly (as she is known) tries to help her mother out as best she can, not complaining about things and trying to appease her difficult grandfather. When a school talent competition is announced, Jelly thinks she will do a stand up comic routine, but she secretly writes angsty poetry that helps her deal with her life. When her mother's new boyfriend, Lennon, starts to encourage Jelly to play harmonica and share her poetry (even turning one into a song), she starts to think that perhaps overcompensating with comedy is not necessary.
Strengths: This was a body positive title with a strong main character who had good coping skills. While Jelly is heavier than most of her classmates, she is also portrayed as a strong soccer player, and the story doesn't concentrate on her weight. The thing I liked best was her having to deal with her mother's boyfriends, and her sense of loss when her mother breaks up with Lennon, if only for a while. Adults coming and going from tweens lives is not covered much in literature, and can be fairly traumatic.
Weaknesses: This has been compared to Judy Blume because of its frank discussion of periods; that was my least favorite part of Blume's book, especially as a tween. I am also personally not a fan of poetry written by characters in books.
What I really think: There's been a resurgence in interest in my Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson titles, so I will be purchasing this very British feeling story. I think the cover will age well. Now, if I could just get the Louise Rennison Georgia Nicholson books to circulate!
Ms. Yingling