Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane

Nobel, Julia. The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane (Black Hollow Lane #1)   March 5th 2019 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Emmeline (Emmy) has bounced around from private school to private school since her mother, a child psychology guru, has accepted different jobs. Now that her mother has a television show in development, her mother decides to ship her off to a boarding school in England! Emmy isn't given any choice, so she soon finds herself arriving mid term at Wellsworth, angering her new roommate and being forbidden from playing her beloved soccer. She also has to take Latin, and her house mother, Madame Boyd, arranges for her to join the Latin Society to get help. Emmy does at least make new friends in Lola, who is on the school football (soccer) team, and Jack, whose brother is a big wig in the Latin Society but who is not a member himself. Emmy starts to realize that her long dead father attended the school, and that the medallions she found hidden in her house might be related to the Latin Society... and that the society might not be a force for good. She lets several people know her suspicions, including school caretaker Jonas, and before long she and her friends are embroiled in a mystery that involves a lot of secret passages in old buildings as well as a growing sense of danger. Some mysteries are solved, but even more are uncovered and will be addressed in a yet-to-be titled sequel.
Strengths: I will personally read ANYTHING set in a British boarding school, like Kerr's The Girl with the Glass Bird and Stevens Murder is Bad Manners. This had a sort of a National Treasure feel to it, with an evil society and various clues to its existence. The inclusion of soccer is always great, and I was glad when Emmy finally got to play. Lola and Jack are great friends, and the adults are all supportive until the turn out to have ulterior motives. Very fun, and a quick read even though it was a little longer.
Weaknesses: Are the British really this mean to each other in boarding schools? Why!? Also, I'm not entirely sure that Latin is taught even in boarding schools in England anymore! But, if you have to have a secret society, I imagine that one relating to Latin is just as likely as anything else.
What I really think: I do have one student who wants to read what he calls "academy books", set in schools for witchcraft, spies, etc. I think he would like this, and it did have a good mystery. I would like to know how many books are in the series-- my readership could support three, but more than that would probably gather dust.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

One Speck of Truth

Carter, Caela. One Speck of Truth
March 5th 2019 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Alma has been raised by her single mother since the death of her Portuguese father when she was young. Her mother had attended college in Lisbon, where the two met, and has steadfastly refused to answer any questions about Alma's father. She won't even say where he is buried, which has led to an obsession with finding this out. Alma's best friend Julia always sticks by her. Recently, the mother has split from Adam, her husband, who was very fond of Alma but will not tell her why he is no longer living with them. Since Julia is Adam's niece, Alma manages to get a little information. Alma's mother is not doing well, working from home a lot, dropping Alma off at Julia's, and selling the furniture piece by piece. When Alma is not registered for the school bus on the first day of school, her mother finally tells her that they are moving to Portugal to meet her grandmother. Alma is a bit scared, but also glad that her questions might finally be answered, since she often "talks" to the idea of her father. When the two get to Portugal, Alma gets to meet a cousin, go to school, and checks the cemeteries to no avail. Perhaps the reason she can't find a grave for her father is because he is still alive.
Strengths: Like this author's Forever, or a Long, Long Time , the writing is strong. Alma is a self-sufficient character who is raising herself in the face of very bad parenting. It's good that she has a support network in her mother's parents and in Adam, who won't answer questions but reassures her that she is loved and that he will be there if there is a problem. The brief glimpses of life in Portugal are fascinating.
Weaknesses: I have a lot of students whose fathers are not in the picture, and Alma's obsession with her father seems a bit unusual. The treatment of the mother by her parents and the shame over Alma's birth seemed very odd-- she would have been born in about 2006. I wish more had been addressed about the mother's mental health-- clearly, something is very wrong, and Alma needs even more support.
What I really think: Not sure about this one. Debating.

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Secret of Vault 13

While I don't have a planning period and seldom get lunch (since it would require leaving students in charge, even though the library adjoins the cafeteria and adults can check through the glass wall), I do have odd snippets of work time during my day. When I am not helping students, I investigate book reviews, work on lessons for teachers, pull together collections and displays, and do general maintenance and repairs. Since my library helpers are often people who love books, we do have some conversations about, well, Geek American interests.

While my own personal fandom is more Little House on the Prairie/BBC murder mysteries, I tend to attract a Tolkien/Star Wars/ThinkGeek sort of crowd who also often run cross country. This year, I have a 6th grade helper who is VERY enthusiastic amount many of these topics (he's the one who jumped up and down when I handed him the Nimoy biography, and for whom I purchased the Star Trek Visual Dictionary). He's the reason I've seen the movie trailer for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and we may have broken into a chorus of Weird Al's Christmas at Ground Zero around the holidays. We have also had lengthy conversations about why I should finally break down and watch Dr. Who, what series I should start with, and why the Doctor Who Annual is not more of a thing in the US. That annual lead us to discover (along with Little Golden Books Star Trek volumes!) the following middle grade novelization.

Since our district is starting to be heavily invested in Social Emotional Learning, I figure that this kind of student interaction fulfills all my duties concerning "making relationships with students", right?

Solomons, David. The Secret of Vault 13
November 6th 2018 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Library copy

Doc, along with sidekicks Yaz, young Ryan, and Ryan's grandfather Graham, manages to defeat an evil Space Lord by reprogramming his robotic army. Before long, though, Graham's begonia has a message for them that leads to an adventure with the Gardeners. They feel the Galactic Seed Vault is under attack from a long ago plot, and the Time Lord and her helpers rush to a wickedly cold planet to try to save the day. Most of the vaults have been destroyed when they arrive, but Vault 13 may hold the key to saving the world.
Strengths: Lots of references to previous Dr. Who episodes (I think. Other reviewers mentioned it, and there were a lot of things I didn't quite get, so that's my suspicion. I did get the reference to the fourth doctor's scarf, because that was the doctor my friends liked.), the new doctor, and an easy to understand and follow plot, even if you don't know the series. I particularly enjoyed that we had Ryan and his grandfather. I could see this being the first in a series, although there is no indication of one.
Weaknesses: Nothing super fresh or new in the plot, but that's not the point. Admittedly, my review is weak because I was just not very interested in the doctor.
What I really think: Reading this did not make me want to rush out and watch the television program (honestly, I probably never will), but I've had enough Dr. Who fans recently that this was definitely worth purchasing. I expect another happy dance from my helper when he gets to check this out!

Ms. Yingling

Monday, February 25, 2019

MMGM- Lety Out Loud

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.

Cervantes, Angela. Lety Out Loud
February 26th 2019 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Lety is very excited to be doing a summer camp at the local animal shelter. A group of students from her school are learning about working with the animals and are assigned various jobs. Lety signs up to write animal profiles, but is self-conscious about her English language skills, since her family has recently come from Mexico and she is still in the ELL unit at her school, along with her friend Brisa, whose family has come from Bolivia. She hopes to follow in the footsteps of Gaby, from Gaby, Lost and Found. Hunter, a grumpy classmate, also wants to be the profile writer, and challenges Lety to a competition. Whoever writes five profiles and has the most pets adopted gets to be the writer, and the loser has to work the stinky pet food repackaging job. To make things even harder, each writer has to work in really hard words, like cerise and supersonic, into the profiles! Lety hopes to win, and is also very interested in one of the dogs, Spike, who has a problem with acting wild at his new homes and getting returned to the shelter. At first, Hunter is just a pain, but as she gets to know him, she finds out that his father has left his family, they've moved in with a grandmother, and the father has given Hunter's dog, Gunner, away to an uncle. There is a dog that looks a lot like Gunner, and he is sad when that dog is adopted. When Lety and Brisa and her pregnant mother are accosted at a local pharmacy and told they should only speak English because "they are in America", Brisa drops out of the program and returns to the school ELL program where Lety's younger brother Eddie is spending his summer. Lety misses her friend, so talks to the director and starts a program where the ELL students can read to shelter dogs. This gets the attention of the local news. Lety also asks for help in locating Hunter's dog. By the end of the summer, the ELL students have been more welcomed by the rest of the school population, and Lety is glad to have helped a lot of animals find homes.
Strengths: There are not too many books that address the concerns that ELL students have. This did a particularly good job. It was also nice to see that while Lety's family struggled a bit, Brisa's family was well to do. Realizing that Hunter was grumpy because of something that had happened in his life was also a good thing for students to read. As in Sonnenblick's The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade, it's good for students to realize that they should"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."
Weaknesses: It's sad to see that the ELL students are not more integrated into school life. Perhaps this is more the case in elementary schools-- our ELL students are in mainstream classes most of the time and meet with an ELL teacher for support. Also, Kansas City news must be really slow if so many news programs feature this animal shelter!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. This author's book circulate really well in my library, since they have a great combination of students struggling to fit in and animal welfare projects!

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Lion Down (Fun Jungle #5)

Gibbs, Stuart. Lion Down (Fun Jungle #5)
February 26th 2019 by Simon Schuster Books for Young
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Teddy and Summer are trying to get the fish cannon for the penguins under control and hoping to avoid being dragged into another mystery when... they are dragged into another mystery! Lily is back in the states and has had a complaint from the local Department of Fish and Wildlife that something not quite right is going on at local celebrity Lincoln Stone's house. His beloved dog, King, has been murdered, and he is sure a mountain lion is responsible. Teddy doesn't buy it, though, especially since Stone wants to use this as an excuse to have open season on mountain lions. Things are up at FunJungle as well-- the giraffes are having explosive diarrhea, which isn't the best thing for a zoo, and JJ McCracken puts summer and Teddy on the case to try to figure out who is feeding them something they ought not to have. There are run ins with the principal at the school, who is a friend of Stone's, an anniversary celebration at the park, and run ins with Marge and Nick as well. Teddy manages to solve the giraffe mystery, the death of the dog (which is unfortunate but realistic), and still spend quality time with Summer.
Strengths: Gibbs has a HUGE fan base at my school, and when Author Study projects were assigned, I thought there would be blood shed over the books! I can see why-- they are reliably funny and well-written, with reliable chase scenes that cause Teddy to save the day. I know and love the characters, and the mysteries are not overly gory or scary. King might have been an adorable Bichon Frise, but apparently a very nasty one.
Weaknesses: Marge and Nick get a little better with each book, but are still unlikable characters. I'm also not a fan of ridiculously bad principals.
What I really think: This book will check out within five minutes of hitting my library. I adore the covers and am glad that they have retained the same delightful style. That said, five books is the ideal length for a series, and I know that Mr. Gibbs has lots of good ideas, so I will be ready to say goodbye to Teddy after the next book. Which I feel should involve a penguin.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Summer of a Thousand Pies

35828100Dilloway, Margaret. Summer of a Thousand Pies
February 26th 2019 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

After the death of her mother, Cady's father has found it hard to keep a job, stay away from alcohol, and to provide Cady with a stable home and supervision. He has enrolled her in a very good school, and her teachers are understanding and supportive, but when she gets in trouble for defending another student and her father shows up to the office inebriated, Cady ends up with children's protective services. They locate a sister of her mother's Cady didn't know about, and soon Cady is whisked away from San Diego in the country to live with her aunt Shell and her companion Suzanne. Cady would love to cook and has a cookbook of her mother's, so she is enthralled that Shell has a pie shop. She meets Jay, the son of a woman who works for Shell, and they start hanging out at the shop and doing some baking. Cady misses her old school and Jenna, her first grade reading buddy who has various health issues including celiac disease but is glad to be in a house with a steady source of food. She also is glad of some connection to her mother. The pie shop is not doing well financially, and along with learning how to bake, Cady and Jay try various ways to help the shop, such as new flavors and marketing techniques. It's important to Jay, because his family is undocumented, and they survive because they live in Shell's housing and work at her shop. They eventually realize that there aren't many gluten free pies in their area, and do a cost-benefit analysis with a helpful older shop patron and realize that, with his help, the business can expand and succeed.
Strengths: I loved the small town setting and the involved townspeople. The intricacies of running a small business are well addressed. Jay and Cady have a very nice friendship. Cady has a difficult life but manages to move forward, while still reminiscing about the good things in the past.
Weakesses: While all of the different issues are handled realistically and well, there are a lot of them. There's same sex parenting, drug and alcohol issues, immigration problems AND financial insecurity. And, to be on-trend with my least favorite trope, yet another father so bereft that he can't function. It's a lot of heavy topics to have in one book. The more heavy topics there are, the less seriously any one of them can be dealt with.
What I really think: Even though this had a lot of sad things in it, it was still fairly hopeful. Since Kids Who Do Things is a always a popular topic, and the cover of this is adorable, I'll buy it for my readers who like a good cooking story.

Ms. Yingling

Friday, February 22, 2019

Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord Cat #1

Marciano, Johnny, Raymond, Emily, and Mommaerts, Robb  (Illustrations)
Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord Cat #1 
February 26th 2019 by Penguin Workshop
ARC provided by publisher

Raj is unhappy that his family has moved from Brooklyn, New York where he had lots of friends and things to do, do rainy Elba, Oregon. Even more unhappy is Wyss-Kuzz, the deposed Lord High Emperor of Planet Lytterbox who is exiled to Earth... and ends up on Raj's doorstep. Raj is hoping to finally get his parents to agree to let him have a pet, and Wyss-Kuzz (who is renamed Klawde by Raj's dad) just wants to get out of the rain and have a space space from which he can plan his return. Raj gets sent to a survival camp for the week, where the participants spend a lot of time in the woods chewing on cattails and trying not to get hopelessly lost, and Klawde spends his days eviscerating toasters for parts to build the equipment he needs to communicate with his planet and make his way back there. He tries to befriend local felines, who are ridiculously stupid, and eventually takes Raj into his confidence, since Raj has opposable thumbs and can help with building things. Raj manages to survive his wilderness experience, and Klawde makes contact with his home planet, and perfects the teleporter, but all is not good when he makes his way back to Lytterbox. Can Raj save his friend in volume two?
Strengths: I really enjoyed Raj's experiences of moving and having to spend time at camp, but the hook of this illustrated novel is definitely the evil Klawde. There are lots of laugh-out-loud moments in both storylines, and the juxtaposition between Raj's real life problems and Klawde's out-of-this world ones is fun. This is a fairly short tome that will appeal to fans of O'Donnell's Hamstersaurus Rex, Blabey's Bad Guys, and Brockington's Catstronauts.
Weaknesses: To be more appealing to the Notebook Novel fans, I would have included even more pictures. I am never a fan of cutesy word play like Lytterbox and Wyss-Kuzz, but that's just me.
What I really think: Also a good choice for readers who liked Winnick's Hilo and Braillier's Last Kids on Earth and are not overly concerned that cats are going to kill us all.

Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord Cat: Enemies #2 (Klawde #2)
Johnny Marciano, Emily Raymond, Robb Mommaerts (Illustrations)February 26th 2019 by Penguin Workshop
Copy provided by the publisher

From Goodreads:
Klawde is not your basic cat. He's an emperor from another planet, exiled to Earth. He's cruel. He's cunning. He's brilliant... and he's also Raj Banerjee's best friend.

Klawde and Raj are back! As summer turns to fall, our favorite warlord cat remains in his pitiful exiled existence. But Raj has an even scarier prospect than cosmic exile: starting at a new school.

And if things didn't seem complicated enough, both cat and human are confronted with two figures from their past they did not expect to pop up in Elba, Oregon...

Heavily illustrated, with a hilarious, biting voice that switches between Raj's and Klawde's perspectives, this is the story of an unlikely friendship that emerges as two fish out of water continue to find their footing in strange new worlds.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Light Jar

Thompson, Lisa. The Light Jar 
February 26th 2019 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Nate and his mother leave their home in the middle of the night to get away from Gary, an emotionally abusive boyfriend. At first, Nate thinks that they are going to stay with his grandmother, but she and his mother are not on great terms. The two end up in a very run down cottage belonging to a deceased friend of the grandmother's, far off in the woods. Nate settles in, and his mother goes to get some groceries. It takes her longer than he expects, and the imaginary friend from his childhood, Sam, shows up and is rather helpful. He also meets Kitty, who lives in a the large manor house on the property. Kitty is trying to solve a treasure map that her aunt was not able to solve because she had a fatal asthma attack as a child. Nate's concern over his mother grows as the time passes, but he talks to Sam about his life with his father (who left when he was small) and Gary. He also helps Kitty with the search for the treasure, and manages to feed and warm himself in the chilly cottage. Just when Nate's worry motivates him to go to contact his grandmother, secrets about his own life and Kitty's emerge, and he is able to save the day.
Strengths: This had some very intriguing moments. It has the abusive step parent so prevalent in British tween literature, which my students find fascinating, but also has abandonment in a cottage, a historical secret, and an interesting take on imaginary friends. I'm not usually a fan, but Sam really worked well in this novel. Kitty's plight had deeper and deeper layers, and I don't want to ruin the fantastic twist at the ending. The happy ending also had a lot of supportive family. Really enjoyed this one!
Weaknesses: A few slow bits with Kitty's family mystery and with Sam, but I think that the way this starts, coupled with the nicely creepy cover, will entice students to pick it up and move them quickly through it.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing and think it will do well with readers who like Currie's The House of Shady Street, Oh's Spirit Hunters, and Hahn's The Girl in the Locked Room.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Moon Within

Salazar, Aida. The Moon Within
February 26th 2019 by Arthur A. Levine Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

In this novel in verse, we hear Celi's thoughts as she navigates her life in Oakland, California. Her close knit family watches her closely, and her Mima (mother) is sure that Celi will soon require a "moon ceremony" as puberty descends. Celi doesn't want everyone to know this information about her, but her mother is insistent that her daughter not feel shame about her body in the way that she herself did, but instead embraces a version of an Aztec ceremony to celebrate. Celi also has a crush on Ivan, whom she knows through her community center dancing classes, and she can't get enough privacy to contact him as she would like, since her parents only allow her to use a tablet once a week. Celi's best friend Magda is going through her own changes. Magda is transitioning to Marco, and luckily his parents are understanding of this and frame the change in a way that discusses different types of energy.
Strengths: This was very on-trend in its treatment of gender-expansion, feminist philosophy, and cultural identity while also addressing universal tween issues with parents, friends, crushes, and the changes of adolescence.
Weaknesses: While it's great that this has a lot of Spanish language vocabulary and different types of dancing, etc., my students are unfamiliar with most of these and probably would benefit from a glossary or more explanation within the text.
What I really think: This is sort of a "woke", in verse version of Are You There God, It's Me Margaret.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Bone Hollow

Ventrella, Kim. Bone Hollow
February 26th 2019 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edeleweiss Plus

Gabe is trying to rescue Ms. Cleo's prized chicken from the roof when a hurricane hits and kills him. Since he wakes up and can hear everyone around him, he doesn't quite know that he is dead. His loyal dog, Ollie, remains by his side, but once he starts to roam around and attempt to talk to people, everyone is afraid of him and chases him out of town. Luckily, he meets Wynne, who takes him to Bone Hollow, feeds him, and gets him settled in. It's not easy to be dead but NOT dead, and Wynne tries to show Gabe his new purpose. She has been helping people pass to the other side for many years, ever since her death at a young age, and she's getting tired. Wynne is convinced that Gabe will take over for her, and shows him some of the people she has helped, and the methods she has used. Gabe has had a sad life, losing his parents, sister, and grandparents, so the opportunity to help others, even people who have been mean to him, seems like a possibility, especially since he can keep Ollie with him.
Strengths: This is well written, with an interesting premise and engaging characters. Gabe is a good kid, even though life has dealt him a very difficult hand, and he doesn't hold onto bitterness or resentment. It's good that he is able to keep Ollie with him. Wynne could have been portrayed as an evil character, but instead is quite sympathetic. The world building is solid, with a good description of what Wynne does and how she came to have this role. Auxiliary characters show up at good moments and add to the story line.
Weaknesses: Like Skeleton Tree, this isn't really a scary book, and it had a quirky Southern feel that I never enjoy. Also, since I don't believe that anything at all happens after we die, it was hard for me to feel invested in it.
What I really think: Since Skeleton Tree hasn't circulated too well, I will wait to purchase.
Ms. Yingling

Monday, February 18, 2019

MMGM- Favorite Series, #2

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.

Lerner, Jarrett. Revenge of the EngiNerds (EngiNerds #2)
February 19th 2019 by Aladdin
E ARC from Netgalley

Farting, voracious robots can cause a lot of damage, as Ken learned in EngiNerds. After taking care of most of them, Robot 18 is still on the loose, and Ken believes he is responsible for the satellites falling from the sky and a number of grocery store break ins. His friends John Henry, Jerry, and Edsley are not as convinced, and are less than motivated to help him locate the robot. In fact, they are so enthralled with alien-obsessed Mikaela and her gadgets that none of them but Edsley help Ken out. After his dog, Kitty, runs off and forages under the dumpster at Stuff & Things, which sets off the Data Eater that Ken is returning to Mikaela, Ken finds the robot, who is working as a clerk for Stan and calling himself Klaus. Ken narrowly escapes both the wrath of Stan (the owner of the store who hates kids) and Klaus' shooting of food cubes, and retreats to form a plan without his friends. He decides to lure Klaus to a local park with the promise of a Festival of Comestibles, and douse him with water so he is deactivated. Parts of the plan work, but the other EngiNerds, along with Mikaela, are at the park. Luckily, they are willing to help Ken and Edsely fend off the robot, which results in the most epic food fight in middle grade literature. However, more surprises are on the horizon, and Mikaela, who has earned herself the title of EngiNerd, might not be as wrong as Ken has imagined.
Strengths: The appearance of Mikaela is particularly brilliant. It is completely true to life that the EngiNerds might not get along well with girls, so having a girl appear with gadgets and a confident approach to her own agenda is just a really nice touch. The fact that Dan and Ken have sort of a falling out, and Ken has to hang out with Edsely, who is sort of that "why am I friends with this person" acquaintance, is also completely reflective of the middle school experience. Of course, those are not the things that the average middle grade reader will appreciate. They will be enthralled by the farting robots and aliens on the loose, as they should be, but I'm glad that the relationship dynamics are carefully inserted into the plot. I also loved the parents, who are around just enough to warn Ken not to throw up on his shoes. This was a fun, quick read, and a worthy follow up to the first book.
Weaknesses: CLIFFHANGER ENDING! Gah! Now I have to wait for the next book!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and will look forward to see how the characters get along in the next volume, and how the alien/robot threat will be dispatched by our resourceful and talented crew.
Falatko, Julie and Jack, Colin (illus.)
Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Start a Club by Accident
January 29th 2019 by Scholastic
Public Library Copy

Sassy and Waldo still love going to school (What? You haven't read Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go To School? GO DO THAT RIGHT NOW!) in order to make sure that their boy, Stewart, is safe. Of course, they also enjoy lunch (Meat! Cheese! Meat WITH cheese!) and doing homework, and everyone is completely convinced that they are a student named Salty from Liver, Ohio. When Stewart starts attending the Junior Office Supply Enthusiasts Club after school, Sassy and Waldo are willing to give up their naps while they wait for him, especially since they think a club is a sandwich, and sanwhiches are always a good idea. They hang out in the gymnatorium (which goes by several different names!), run in circles, and attract the attention of other children who want to be in a club. Snacks are, of course, the most important thing, but when they find out that the other clubs are making floats (not root beer ones, unfortunately) for the Founders Day celebration, they start putting theirs together, complete with Food Launcher. The parade has some rough edges, but it does bring Arden and her a foster dog, Jeff, closer together. I'm definitely looking forward to Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go on a Class Trip, which comes out 28 May 2019!
Strengths: Oh, my. This made me laugh so much! If it's not squirrels being dislodged from trees with tennis balls, it's the Office Supply Club doing interpretive dance with sticky notes, or "pepperoni hot dog fun" (which sounds like the best reason for a club EVER!). Sassy and Waldo have very distinct voices that sound exactly what my dog would sound like if she could talk. Because she doesn't. Nor does she ever text my daughters using my phone. The pictures add another layer of hilarity-- read this one when no one else is around with plenty of tissues of handy to wipe away the tears of laughter!
Weaknesses: Should we be concerned that the dogs are in the school food cooler gnawing through the plastic on "hunks of cheese the size of a Yorkshire Terrier"? Nyah.
What I really think: My favorite thing to do with these is to hand them to stressed 8th graders. It always makes them smile. These are SO hysterically funny. Don't buy more Wimpy Kid replacements-- buy multiples of these instead!

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Good Enough

37598648Petro-Roy, Jen. Good Enough
February 19th 2019 by Feiwel and Friends
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Riley has been suffering with anorexia ever since an incident in gym class where other students found out her BMI from a teacher, and took to calling her "rancid Riled" and "roly-poly Riley". She started to limit her food and also started to run excessively, which she also hoped would make her faster for track. When her parents and doctor became concerned and she was not able to reverse the downward spiral of her weight, her parents put her in a residential care program. There, she meets other girls who are also dealing with eating disorders. The facility is very strict-- no exercise, a strict diet regimen, no electronics, and a lot of counseling sessions.One girl, Ali, is especially defiant, doing crunches in her bed when the staff can't hear. Riley is torn-- she wants to stay thin, but she wants to go home. The dynamics with her family are not good, but fairly standard-- her sister is "perfect", her mother is busy and controlling, and her father hasn't connected with her since she became a tween. We see a good cross section of behaviors and reactions from the other residents, and Riley slowly works through her problems, although the path is not a linear one. She does manage to go home at the end of the book, and has to learn to apply what she has learned in treatment to her daily life.
Strengths: This is an #ownvoices book, and Ms. Petro-Roy has clearly drawn on her personal experiences to add an extra level of detail and pathos to this story. Riley's thoughts about her weight and her reactions to her parents, the other residents, and her treatment are all thorough and realistic. Add this to the canon of eating disorder books that includes Anderson's Winter Girls, Carlson's Faded Denim, Dee's Everything I Know About You, Levenkron's The Best Little Girl in the World, Lytton's Jane in Bloom, Porter's A Dance of Sisters, and Price's Zoe Letting Go.
Weaknesses: While the details about struggling with an eating disorder are superb, the book would have moved along more quickly if there had been a more well-defined plot other than Riley's struggle with her disorder.
What I really think: I will purchase, and it will circulate because books about eating disorders are always popular. The cover is not attractive at all, though, and I'll have to recommend it in order to get students to pick it up.

Petro-Roy, Jen. You Are Enough
February 19th 2019 by Feiwel and Friends
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

This nonfiction self-help book is an excellent companion to Good Enough.  Again, it is an #ownvoices book, and Petro-Roy draws on her own experiences with an eating disorder to address a number of concerns that people in recovery might have. She is very good about being inclusive about the types of people who might need this information; even though most novels about anorexia depict middle class, white, cis-gendered characters, the reality is that many different people suffer from eating disorders, and this book is sensitive to that. It is also body positive in a very current way.

Since it is a self-help book, it is definitely geared to people who are struggling with eating disorders. There are interviews with fellow suffers and mental health professionals, tons of helpful information, and exercises readers can do to help with the recovery process. I can see this being extremely beneficial to someone working through an eating disorder.

I'm debating purchase, however. Over the years, I have had a large variety of novels concerning eating disorders, and those have circulated well. There is something about reading about the problems of other people that is tremendously soothing to middle school students. It makes them feel that their owe problems are not so horrible. I have also had nonfiction books about problems such as anorexia and cutting, but those have rarely circulated. I think this would be better for a high school library, not because of anything with the content, but because high school students might find this useful in understanding the struggles of others-- helping friends or themselves. I think my middle school students would not make it through the detailed descriptions unless they had an eating disorder, and there have been mercifully few of my students who have had this experience.

I will definitely recommend this book if the need arises, but don't know that I will purchase for the library. I will definitely recommend that my public library purchase this title.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

A Drop of Hope

Calabreese, Keith. A Drop of Hope
February 26th 2019 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Times are tough for many of the students at Rod Serling Middle School in Cliffs Donnelly, Ohio. Ernest, whose father runs a local parts factory, has just lost his grandfather and needs to clean out his attic. Ryan's father, who works at the factory, watches too much television news and makes sure that Ryan does lots of work mowing other people's yards for money, even though Ryan insists on mowing for one elderly lady for free. Lizzy's father has left, and her single mother works long shifts at the hospital, leaving Lizzy in the acre of an aunt and cousins who think she needs a makeover. Tommy's brother went to the military and left behind his tools, which Tommy takes to school to hide so his father doesn't sell them. Winston Patil's father is a well-to-do doctor who has moved the family from Chicago to small town mid-America because he thinks it's charming, but Winston has a hard time fitting in. When Ernest finds a selection of old, mint condition toys in the attic, he feels they need to be shared with others, and after a chance encounter with a couple of classmates at a local well, he starts to do this, with interesting results. Tommy starts drawing, the elderly neighbor notices Ernest's resemblance to his long deceased great-uncle, and others in the town find out surprising things about themselves and others. Encouraged by their outspoken and supportive teacher, the children try to improve their community in small ways, and by working together, form unlikely friendships.
Strengths: The descriptive writing is strong, imparting a strong sense of place, intersting, unique characters, and an overwhelming sense of hope in the face of straightened, but not dire, circumstances. The different threads of the stories were woven together well, and there were lots of touching moments. Teachers looking for a read alouds along the lines of Because of Mr. Terupt will enjoy this one.
Weaknesses: This was a bit on the long side, and was very slow with lots of characters to keep straight.
What I really think: I'm not entirely sure about this one. Since I'm out of money for this school year, I will keep it in my for my August book order.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, February 15, 2019

To Night Owl from Dogfish

Holly Goldberg Sloan and Wolitzer, Meg. To Night Owl from Dogfish
February 12th 2019 by Dial Books
E ARC From Edelweiss Plus

Avery and Bett are very different girls. Avery lives with her architect father in New York City, loves to write, hates gym and swimming, and has some anxiety issues. Bett is a California girl who lives with her builder father and loves animals but is not a fan of rules. The two connect when Bett finds out that their fathers are dating and have been less than truthful with them, and ferrets out Avery's school e mail with come sleuthing. The two start an e mail conversation and try to thwart their fathers' plan to send them to the same summer camp in Michigan, to know avail. Once at the camp, they continue to e mail each other, having gotten technology waivers. Their fathers are on a motorcycle trip in China, which stresses out both girls. They try to make the best of the situation, and start to like each other, especially once Bett contacts Avery's long distant biologically mother, a friend of her father's and an internationally known playwright. Kristina shows up at the summer camp and takes the girls out one night, which ends in the girls getting kicked out of camp and Bett's grandmother, Gaga, being contacted. They all go to Kristina's acting camp, and Gaga even ends up getting a role in the play.

Then the unthinkable occurs. After a disastrous trip in China, the fathers break up. The girls were invested in the future of this relationship, but so were Kristina and Gaga. The girls return to their lives, continue to communicate, and are devastated when the fathers are interested in other people. They plan a rendezvous at the premier of Gaga's play in New York, but their plans don't go according to their desires. Soon, they are planning to trick their fathers into sending them to the same summer camp. Since Gaga is paying for Bett's tuition, they manage to both attend a traditional summer camp in Maine. Here, their communication is in the former of paper and pen letters, and includes a wider variety of recipients. The girls grow apart a bit, but a tragedy brings them, as well as their families, together in an unexpected way.

In the tradition of Cleary's Dear Mr. Henshaw, Clements' Extra Credit and the Danziger/Martin collaboration, P.S. Longer Letter Later, Sloan and Wolitzer do a great job of portraying two very different girls through their epistolatory efforts, updating some of the correspondence to e mail. We get good descriptions of the other characters through the girls' eyes, so Gaga, Kristina and the fathers are well developed even though they have auxiliary roles in the plot.

Since this book covers two years' of summer camp plus the intervening time, there's a lot of change and growth for the characters. We see Bett calm down a it and not be quite as angry with life, and see Avery be a bit more adventurous and less anxious. My favorite character is Gaga, who completely reinvents herself by becoming a Broadway actress in her retirement years! It's interesting to have an outsider's view of the fathers' different relationships as well, and to see how they impact the girls.

Books about camp are always popular (I think not as many young people get to go to camp these days!), and family and friend dramas are the mainstay of middle grade literature. Readers who want to explore these topics, and to be introduced to some "old fashioned" methods of correspondence will be intrigued by Avery and Bett's communication in To Night Owl from Dogfish.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Watch Hollow

Funaro, Gregory. Watch Hollow
February 12th 2019 by HarperCollins
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Lucy and Oliver Tinker's father repairs clocks for a living, but the business isn't doing well. After the death of their mother from cancer, the family moves into an apartment attached to the business and is struggling to make ends meet, to the point where school mates taunt the pair about being on food stamps. When the mysterious Mr. Quigley shows up and offers Mr. Tinker a large sum of money to fix a clock that is built into a house, Watch Hollow, that he has inherited, the family packs up and moves to the wilds of Rhode Island for the summer to complete this task. Of course, the house is big, spooky, and decrepit, and has interesting quirks, like wooden animals. Oliver meets Teddy, the son of the former clock repairman who was unable to fix it, and Lucy finds out that the wooden animals come to life at midnight! It turns out that the clock, which somehow powers the house, feeds off of the power of the Shadow Wood, but evil is lurking there in the form of The Gar, which is trying to get into the house. The Shadow Wood is encroaching on the house and feeding off the fear of the animals and the children, and can only be repelled by Sun Stone and love. While the father and Oliver try various repairs, Lucy tries to figure out how the animals can help save the clock and the house. The ending reveals surprising villains and leaves the door open for a sequel.

Watch Hollow is a deliciously spooky setting, and the clock with places for wooden animals is fresh and interesting. Who wouldn't want to befriend a wooden dog named Torsten that comes alive at night? The world building is especially solid in this novel, complete with creepy historical back story of original owners of the house and a complex but sensible reason for how the clock is powered. One fun use of the shadow wood was that the acorns from the trees helped clear up Oliver's acne!

Lucy and Oliver don't actually hang out with each other at the beginning of the book, which I thought was especially realistic. Oliver is busy with Teddy and helping his father, and Lucy is more interested in investigating the animals and the original owners. They both learn a lot about the house, but it doesn't make much sense until the communicate and share what they know. It's a good thing they do, because The Gar and his minions are NOT fooling around and want to take over the house. If the children weren't there to stop them, who knows how widely the evil would spread!

This is slightly reminiscent (how could it not be?) of the newly popular Bellairs' The House with a Clock in Its Walls, and will be popular with readers who like spooky tales like Oh's Spirit Hunters, Currie's The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street or Schwab's City of Ghosts.

I could have done without the death of the mother, the bullying before the children moved, and the premise that love could save the children. The first two are just tropes that have been tremendously overused, and the third is just personal distaste. I wouldn't count on love for anything more serious than tying my shoes. And even that is a bit foolish-- well tied shoes are important.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019


Armstrong, C.H. Roam
February 5th 2019 by Central Avenue Publishing
E ARC from Netgalley

Life can go wrong quickly. For Abby's family, it starts with step father Nick's hours being cut, her mother having an affair with a coworker and losing her teaching job, Nick losing his job, her mother having a seizure, and hospital bills making the family behind on their rent. Before Abby knows it, her parents and younger sister Amber have left Omaha and are living in their van in Rochester, Minnesota. They park in the Wal-Mart parking lot while they wait to get into a shelter, trying to stay warm and eating at a soup kitchen. Abby goes back to high school to resume her senior year, and immediately falls afoul of Trish, the most popular girl in school, especially when Zach, Trish's ex-boyfriend, starts dating Abby. Still, there are good things. Classes go well, Abby enjoys choir, and she makes a strong core of supportive friends who even loan her clothing to go to the homecoming dance. The family gets into the shelter, but has to leave after two weeks. Abby has a job delivering newspapers, and her parents are trying to find employment. Nick gets part time work as a custodian at a church. Things are bearable until Amber and then Abby get very ill and winter becomes colder. Desperate, the family starts sleeping at the church, cleaning up their things at 4:30 a.m. They are eventually found out, but the pastor is helpful and finds some solutions for them. Things are looking up until Trish is part of a performance group that has a show at a soup kitchen... and Abby is in the audience. It gets splashed all over social media that Abby is homeless. How will her friends react?
Strengths: Like Nielsen's No Fixed Address, this gives a very good picture of what circumstances can drive families into homelessness, how it affects teens, and the ups and downs of it all. Abby's family is very fortunate in the people whom they meet and the help that they get. Abby and her family tries to stay positive. Abby's school experience is front and center, and her efforts at hiding her condition are well portrayed.
Weaknesses: Several f-bombs, the mother's affair, and the general level of introspection and thinking about college make this firmly YA. Also, I found it hard to believe that the mother would have been fired. We have had teachers in similar circumstances in my district, and they are still employed.
What I really think: Since this is in paperback, and has the more high school issues, I won't be purchasing, but it was really well done. I would buy it for a public or high school library.

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

How I Became a Spy: A Mystery of WWII London

40640809Hopkinson, Deborah. How I Became a Spy: A Mystery of WWII London
February 12th 2019 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Bertie is a very young civil defense volunteer who lives with his father at a boarding house for single policeman after the family home was destroyed and his mother and brother relocated to the country. On his first official call, he forgets his helmet, brings along his dog, Little Roo, and leaves his coat with an unconscious woman he finds in an alley. He also finds a red notebook after an encounter with an American girl, but later realizes that the notebook belongs to someone else... someone who is working as a spy. Once he meets the American girl, Eleanor, he finds out that the journal belongs to her former tutor, a french woman named Violette who gave the journal to Eleanor for safe keeping. The journal is in code, so Bertie approaches his friend David, a German Jewish evacuee staying in London with foster grandparents, to help them out. David is a fan of Sherlock Holmes and loves codes. As the messages emerge, the trio gain more facts about Violette's involvement with the resistance to the Nazis. They manage to keep going through the "baby Blitz" of 1944 and survive until D-Day, using their connections to important war leaders to get Violette's message heard.
Strengths: This had a lot of good details about living in London and having to deal with air raids, shortages, and general war time activity. I liked that young people had believable war time roles. David's plight was interesting and realistically portrayed; he knew his parents hadn't survived, but he tried to focus on his life in London and things he could control.
Weaknesses: I wasn't as interested in Bertie's guilt over his brother's injury when their house was destroyed, but it was handled well and not harped on too much.
What I really think: This is an excellent book about the London home front, which is a fascinating topic, and includes lots of clever use of codes and ciphers. There are four practice exercises that can be done as the story unfolds. I will definitely purchase, but just wish that there were more books about Vietnam and Korea!

Ms. Yingling

Monday, February 11, 2019

MMGM- Bad Babysitters

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.

Cala, Caroline. Bad Babysitters
February 9th 2019 by HMH
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Malia finds a battered copy of a Baby-Sitters Club book in a giveaway pile, and decides to put the idea into action with her best friends Bree and Dot because "seventh grade was turning out to be all kinds of meh" (from E ARC). She and her friends don't have money to buy anything at the mall, and her long time crush still doesn't know she exists. Some of the people who go to her school are mind-bogglingly rich, and throw epic birthday parties, and she's hoping that if she can put together such a party, her life will improve. Malia has two supportive parents, but her older sister is much more successful than Malia feels she is. Bree has a complicated step-family, and often feels lost in the shuffle. Dot has a hippie-dippie mother who doesn't let her wear deodorant and has a cupboard full of "hemp flakes (scary), cashew spirulina algae balls (so scary),[and] sugar-free, vegan peanut butter cookies", and is counting the days until she can move to New York and live her own entrepreneurial life while wearing all black. They think Malia's idea has some merit, so set up their company, put something on the PTA list-serv, and sit back to wait for the calls to come in. They get one job that pays quite a bit, but they blow all of their money at the mall. They have another job lined up, though, so look forward to saving for their party. When they show up, however, they are met at the door by Malia's sister Chelsea and the bad news that she has set up a rival company, Seaside Sitters, and has stolen their jobs! It doesn't help that the website Bree has set up is poorly done, but the girls regroup and take any job they can get, from watering plants to feeding cats. Eventually, Chelsea becomes evil enough that the girls feel they need to retaliate, and put together footage of the Seaside Sitters being less than exemplary caretakers. Even though they've missed the chance for an epic pizza party, they still manage to have a birthday party, and their 7th grade year starts to look up.
Strengths: Like Mancusi's Princesses, Inc., this is the sort of light, amusing book I would have adored (and purchased for myself in paperback) when I was in middle school. I love that the starting place is the Baby-Sitters Club, which readers at my school know about because of the Raina Telgemeier graphic novel. The characters are all interestingly flawed but well-meaning, and encompass so many of the characteristics of tween girls. It's also great that the parents are present and supportive, with the exception of Dot's dad, who is realistically not in the picture. This just made my day and restored my faith in middle grade literature!
Weaknesses: While the reason for some of the girls to be very wealthy and others to be on the struggling side makes sense, I still had trouble believing that anyone would pay "stacks of twenties" for tween babysitters. Or hire three of them to watch over thirty children at a wedding. And do tweens still go to the mall? I thought the problem was that NO ONE went to the mall, which is why they are all closing down. I enjoyed the retro feel, but worry that this might not resonate with my students.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing and using to wean readers off of Babymouse and Dork Diaries.

The sequel comes out in August 2019.

Mann, J. Albert. (AKA Mann, Jennifer Ann. )What Every Girl Should Know
February 12th 2019 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Netgalley

Has anyone read this? I feel I have to mention this because I am a big proponent of the right to legal abortions existing, but the book just didn't accomplish what I wanted. It is a fictionalized biography of Margaret Sanger's early life. This is great. I was a huge fan of the Childhood of Famous Americans series. This is well researched, and describes in great detail how horrible the conditions for women could be in the 1800s. Sanger certainly had every reason to work to change the conditions for women like her  mother, who suffered from tuberculosis but was constantly pregnant.

Having read some biographies of Sanger, I knew a lot of the basic background information, but I felt the book didn't necessarily explain everything that a young reader who didn't know this information might need to know. Sanger's father rubbed elbows with many progressive thinkers of the time, but there isn't much context for how important they were. We see a little of Sanger's attempts to get an education and leave home, but not enough. The afterword explains some, but more details would have been useful in the narrative.

This isn't really useful for research, since it takes place before Sanger began the reproductive rights work for which she is famous, so the book ends up being an extremely bleak picture of one family's existence in the late 1800s. I'm just not quite sure what to think of this one. I'd love to be able to have a middle grade appropriate book about Sanger, but I'm not sure this one is as informative as I would like one to be.


"This compelling historical novel spans the early and very formative years of feminist and women’s health activist Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, as she struggles to find her way amidst the harsh realities of poverty.

Margaret was determined to get out. She didn’t want to clean the dirty dishes and soiled diapers that piled up day in and day out in her large family’s small home. She didn’t want to disappoint her ailing mother, who cared tirelessly for an ever-growing number of children despite her incessant cough. And Margaret certainly didn’t want to be labeled a girl of “promise,” destined to become either a teacher or a mother—which seemed to be a woman’s only options.
As a feisty and opinionated young woman, Margaret Higgins Sanger witnessed and experienced incredible hardships, which led to her groundbreaking work as an advocate for women’s rights and the founder of Planned Parenthood. This fiery novel of Margaret’s early life paints the portrait of a young woman with the passion and courage to change the world."