Sunday, March 31, 2019

Bernice Buttman, Model Citizen

Lenz, Niki. Bernice Buttman, Model Citizen
March 26th 2019 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

Bernice lives in the Lone Star Trailer Park in Kansas City with her mother, her mother's boyfriend, and her four brothers, all of whom were named after the Hollywood stars their different fathers resembled. Her brother's steal things and wander the neighborhood blowing things up, and her mother stops by school to take back Bernice's lunch money so she can pay for her next tattoo. Unsurprisingly, Bernice has few friends and is somewhat of a bully, using her larger size to make even students like Oliver (whom she wishes would be her friend, since he is nice and smells like name-brand laundry detergent) feel uncomfortable. Her only real ally is Ms. Knightley, the local librarian, who compliments Bernice's research skills. Bernice wants to be a stunt man, and is trying to save up for camp, even starting an online collection for an imaginary dog in order to get the funding. When her mother finds out about the money, she steals it and decides to take off to Hollywood to try to make it on a reality television show. The brothers are left to their own devices at the trailer park, but Bernice is packed off to her aunt, who is a fully habited nun living in a convent. Bernice tries to make the best of the situation (although the convent has a decided lack of junk food and television), and tries to behave herself at school, but she runs afoul of the rich mayor's daughter, Imogene, who just pretends to be nice to Bernice in front of their teacher, since she wants to win a helpful student contest. Bernice does find a friend in Francie, but goes back and forth between her old ways (stealing money from a collection plate so she can go to stunt camp, baking a pie with laxatives in it) and trying to improve her outlook. When her mother reappears and wants Bernice to come and live with her again, will Bernice decide to return, or has she found her true home with her aunt?
Strengths: There is something irresistibly appealing about a truly bad character who decides to try for redemption, and Bernice is rightfully compared to Paterson's The Great Gilly Hopkins or Beasley's Gertie's Leap to Greatness. Her life has been difficult, but she knows the way she is supposed to act, and when she is surrounded by kindness, she rises to the higher expectations. The convent is a different sort of setting, but the aunt clearly loves Bernice, despite her challenges. It's nice to see a character struggle with baser instincts and be able to chose the right path. This was an amusing, quick read that was well written and engaging.
Weaknesses: My grandparents lived in a trailer park, so the over-the-top stereotypical depiction of the Buttmans was hurtful. Had standard stereotypes been applied to another cultural group, this would not have been acceptable.
What I really think: I think this would appeal to a slightly younger crowd, so I will send it on to the elementary school. It just made me sad, thinking about my grandparents. Ann Braden's The Benefits of Being an Octopus Ellis's You May Already Be a Winner or Walker's Why Can't I Be You are much more realistic depictions of people living in trailer parks.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Cartoon Saturday- Super Sons

Pearson, Ridley, Gonzalez, Ile (Illustrations). Super Sons: The Polarshield Project
Expected publication: April 2nd 2019 by DC Zoom
E ARC from Netgalley

In a slightly distant future, the sons of Superman and Batman are dealing with a world that has a lot of problems. The polar ice caps are melting, and the cities along the coasts are flooding and uninhabitable, despite the efforst of the Wayne Corporation to install flood walls. There is a plan to install a shield of dust over the ice caps, and Superman is recruited, so must spend time away from his family. Jon Kent and his mother relocate inland (as does the Daily Planet), where Jon is given a hard time by local kids who don't want to see "flood runners" in their neighborhood. Damian (call him IAN, please!) Wayne is struggling with the fact that his own father has to go to China to try to work out bugs in the flood walls. When Jon's mother becomes sick with a mysterious malady, the two boys team up with Tilly and Candace (who has some mythical ancestry/powers) to try to solve it. The ice cap issue is being repaired, but there are plenty of evil forces at work for the group to fight. This is the first book in a proposed series, and ends in a cliff hanger.
Strengths: It's hard to get the format for middle grade graphic novels right, but this does. The amount of text on the page is perfect, and the font a bit larger than other graphic novels, which helps with the reluctant readers who frequently pick these up. The science/environmental tie in is a good one, and it's nice to see Batman and Superman off fighting climate change. Of course, this leaves their sons to save the rest of the world in good, unsupervised tween fashion.
Weaknesses: The graphic novel format does not lend itself to deeply developed characters or plot. I love Pearson's writing and was hoping for a good new adventure book, so I was a bit disappointed. While I had no idea that Jon and Damian were established characters, they apparently appear in comic books, and Damian is of Arabic/Asian descent.( Clearly, this is problematic in the greater scheme of things if you know the story already. I would have been completely clueless if I hadn't read Goodreads reviews. I just didn't understand why he was so nasty. The son of Batman is evil? Not getting that.
What I really think: If Follett does a prebind of this, I will purchase it, but I was clearly not the target demographic. This left me with way more questions than it answered.

Peirce, Lincoln. Big Nate: Payback Time
March 19th 2019 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy Provided by the Publisher

Schulz, Charles. Lucy: Speak Out!
March 12th 2019 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

It makes me incalculably sad that students don't read the newspaper, not even the comics! How do they get through their days? Now that the Columbus Dispatch has dropped Peanuts (I can't fault them, but it speaks to the enduring quality of Schulz' work that they kept the strip running until almost 20 years after his death!), I find myself picking up these AMP! collections from time to time for my Snoopy fix. It's impossible to describe how integral a part this comic was in the life of a child of the 1970s.

Lucy: Speak Out! Is a particularly fascinating collection of strips, many of which focus on women athletes, Title IX, and Lucy's interest in women's rights. I sort of want a Lucy t shirt to go along with my much longed for and yet never realized Hamster Princess one ("I am something that happens to other people!")

Friday, March 29, 2019

Locked in Ice

Lourie,Peter. Locked in Ice
January 29th 2019 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Ever hear of the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen (1861 -1930)? I hadn't either. Interested in outdoor sports like skiing and hiking from a young age, Nansen had the family background to be allowed to study marine biology. Enthralled by the exploring going on in the 1880s, he managed to assemble a team to cross Greenland on sleds, becoming the first people to do so. Thinking ever more grandiose plans, he managed to get financial backing to attempt to reach the North Pole, utilizing a previously undiscovered ocean current to move his ship, the Fram, along. Because of the volatile weather, he seized on a plan to encase the ship in ice and float to his destination. His ship was well built, his supply list complete, and his food innovative (meat chocolate, anyone?). Surprisingly, his plan didn't work, and he and another crew member, Johansen, took off with sled dogs and three sledges to try to traverse the 200 plus miles to their goal. This was in equal parts dangerous and boring, and the dogs that they brought for travel weakened and died. Standard practice at the time was to feed the dogs to their companions. Short of their goal but running out of food, they turned toward civilization and made it back alive. It took time to get news of the Fram, but the ship and crew also survived. After his adventures, Nansen went on to be a diplomat, won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with displaced people after World War I, and is considered a national hero.
Strengths: This is a good length, and offsets the details of planning with adventure. Amazingly, Nansen had a camera with him that he even took on his sled adventure, so there are a number of pictures, many of the dogs! They may have not treated them in the way we would today (there are great notes in the back about a 1986 expedition), but I definitely think there was a soft spot for them. Like this author's Jack London and the Klondike Gold Rush, this was page turning nonfiction.
Weaknesses: There seem to be a disproportionate number of books about arctic exploration, and my students never actually ask for it. They can be persuaded to read about it, however.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and I can see a number of readers enjoying this one.

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Ruff vs. Fluff (Queenie & Arthur #1)

Quinn, Spencer. Ruff vs. Fluff (Queenie & Arthur #1)
March 26th 2019 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Arthur, an enthusiastic but somewhat misguided mixed breed dog, and Queenie, a particular and discerning cat, both live with their humans at the Blackberry Hill Inn, which is near some mountains (in Maine?). Harmony and Bro are the children who play hockey, and Mom runs the bed and breakfast. When a gues, Mr. LeMaire wants to hike the Sokoki Trail, he wants to hire the children's cousin Matty for twice the going rate, but he is busy. Instead, he hires the children, and insists that they return after they get him to the trailhead. When he doesn't return, their mother is concerned until she gets a text that he was called away on business, and that someone will call to pick up his luggage. This seems somewhat suspicious, and when Harmony has a bad day at hockey with a teammate, she takes Arthur on a hike... and discovers LeMaire's body in a cave. Matty is in the area cleaning brush, and the two called sheriff Hunziger and his deputy Carstairs. Hunziger is an idiot, and before long is accusing Matty of the murder. Matty runs off and Arthur takes a bite at Hunziger, prompting his removal by the local animal authorities for a while. There are some odd documents in LeMaire's room, and the woman who picks up his things acts oddly, so Harmony starts investigating. Hunziger is sure that the murder was motivated by a hunt for artifacts, but the evidence suggests more of a connection with moonshine running at the time of Prohibition, and secrets about local families start to surface.
Strengths: This is a murder mystery, and my students are ALWAYS asking for murder mysteries. The connection to rum running and Prohibition was fascinating. I also enjoyed Harmony's passion for hockey, and the fact that a teammate who gave her grief was reprimanded by his father and made to apologize was great. Readers who like books from animals' perspective will enjoy Queenie and Arthur's take on things, as well as their love for sausage. The Bowser and Birdie  books do well in my library.
Weaknesses: I wasn't a fan of Sheriff Hunziger, Bro, and Arthur all be depicted as not very bright. One character, maybe, but this made me suspect something bad in the water. Hunziger is just evil, but Bro sounds like he might need some intervention.
What I really think: This was about 100 pages longer than my students prefer, and if the book had been from Harmony's perspective instead of both pets, it would have moved along a lot more quickly. However, I understand that talking animals are a personal pet peeve, and that students often enjoy these books more than I do, so I will purchase this title.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins

If you're not familiar with From the Mixed-Up Files, it's a great site that concentrates on middle grade writers, books, and topics. Head over there for a great post about younger middle grade books by Gail Shepard!

GailShepherd, Gail. The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins
March 26th 2019 by Kathy Dawson Books / Penguin
ARC provided by the publisher

Lyndie is not happy that she has to move into her grandparents' house along with her mother and father in 1985. Her father has lost his job under circumstances she doesn't understand, and seems to be drinking more than her grandmother, Lady, would deem wise. Her mother, who normally takes great pride in gardening, prefers to stay in bed. Lyndie has to head back to her private school (that's where nice girls go, says Lady), where she has a good friend in Dawn, whose family is heavily involved in doing good works. Right before school on the very first day, Lyndie finds an injured fawn and takes it to the family barn to help it, which does not get her year off to a good start. She ends up in detention, where she meets D.B., the boy Dawn's family is fostering. D.B. has had to leave his last foster home under sad circumstances, and doesn't really understand the social mores of Love's Forge, Tennessee. School is hard enough, but Lyndie's biggest concern is her father's increasingly erratic behavior. He had fought in Vietnam before Lyndie was born, and has long struggled with the after effects of that, but the recent suicide death of an army buddy has made these problems worse. Her grandmother's controlling presence and her mother's disengagement don't help, and Lyndie soon realizes that she is not able to save her father in the way she was able to save the fawn, and that professional help is needed.
Strengths: It was refreshing to see a book where troubled parents have a support network and are remanded to professional help (even if Lady doesn't approve of it).So many middle grade books show dysfunctional families and completely fail to model good ways to deal with situations. The different story lines meld well together, and the auxiliary characters are interesting. Poor Dawn and her knitting! The topic of PTSD is a timely one, and there are few novels about it. D.B.'s delinquency and foster placements are realistic and add another dimension to the understanding of how PTSD can affect families.
Weaknesses: I've been lately thinking about how different the 1980s were from today, and there were few historical details. I would have almost preferred the story be set in the modern day. While the level of details in Hood's She Loves You are exemplary, there's something to be said for inclusion of details about food, clothing, technology, current events, and popular media to set a story firmly in a time period.
What I really think: This has a good cover, and I need stories about military families, so I will purchase this for next year.

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Little Apocalypse

Sparrow, Katherine. Little Apocalypse
March 12th 2019 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Celia's parents have lost their university jobs and moved the family to a small island on the East Coast where they both found positions. One weekend, Celia's father has to travel for work and her mother has to go to care for her grandmother, so they trust her alone (with a seven page list of rules!). The next morning, she wakes up to the aftermath of a serious earthquake, and runs into a group of children acting suspiciously on the roof of the building. One of them is a boy she has seen before, and who has intrigued her. He shows up in his apartment trying to hide, and introduces himself as Demetri. He seems nice, but when Celia trips on something and his hand grazes her as she falls, it leaves an odd, itchy mark on her skin. Ignoring her parents' rules, Celia ventures out to the library and finds a flyer for a meeting. There, she meets children known as Hunters, who tell her that the earthquake was caused by monsters, and that Celia is the girl of whom they have heard in a prophecy. She is supposed to save the world. The Hunters seem to be at odds with Demetri and his friends, and Celia soon finds out why. Demetri is good, but things are strange and dangerous. Is Celia really going to save the world? And who will save it with her?
Strengths: Bonus points for not killing off the parents, but for sending them away for the weekend. Much more believable! I did like the beginning, with the earthquake and all the power out. There is very strong world building, but I don't want to describe too much about the monsters, because that would lead to some spoilers. There are not a lot of books about monsters (Lorey's Nightmare Academy, Kloepfer's Monsters Unleashed, Coville's Monsters of Morley Manor, Kent's Scary School, Oh's Spirit Hunters, Lubar's Monsterrific Tales, Hale's Monstertown, and Gilman's Tales from Lovecraft Middle School), and most are a little more elementary in their focus and level of goofiness. This is definitely more middle grade, and Celia's struggles with finding friends and with the idea of good and evil add a subtle layer of maturity to this fantasy survival tale.
Weaknesses: The back and forth about the monsters being good or evil, and all the details about them, confused me a little, so this may be difficult for some young readers.
What I really think: I was all set for a futuristic dystopian book like The Rule of Three, Zap, or The Big Dark, so when the monsters turned up, I was a little disappointed. The cover is not good, so I am debating whether I will purchase this one. Monster books see little circulation in my library.
Ms. Yingling

Monday, March 25, 2019

MMGM- Goodbye, Mr. Spalding

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.

Barr, Jennifer Robin. Goodbye, Mr. Spalding
March 26th 2019 by Calkins Creek Books
ARC provided by publisher

Jimmy Frank and his best friend Lola both live right across from the home of the Philadelphia A's field, Shibe Park, during the Great Depression. Both of their families count on the little bit of extra money they can make selling tickets to watch the game from the roof, as well as from concessions. When the owner threatens to put up a "spite fence" in order to block the view, the neighborhood is duly upset, and Jimmy and Lola try to find ways to talk to Connie Mack and the players they know to get this decision reversed. All of their actions, however, are circumscribed by the nasty and violent Polinksi boys, who wreak havoc on the neighborhood. When reasonable efforts don't pay off, Jimmy resorts to subterfuge, which gets him into more trouble than it helps! The whole neighborhood has an emotional investment in the well-being of the team, so they aren't happy with the lack of ticket sales, but they don't feel that depriving the neighborhood of its opportunities is the answer. Will the two entities be able to come up with a solution?
Strengths: This had a lot of good details about the level of poverty that affected every day citizens in the 1930s. It's a concept that modern students have a lot of trouble with. This also showcased baseball in a particularly delightful way, and the descriptions about the daily interplay between the baseball people and the residents was wonderful. I need an entire book about Connie Mack now! The Polinski boys were even in a very Little Rascals, A Christmas Story way, and got their comeuppance very nicely. This was a very fun book to read.
Weaknesses: If this had been about 80 pages shorter, it would have been punchier and more appealing to my students. Sometimes the same issues are covered too many times or in too much detail.
What I really think: Apparently, the US needs more baseball as a unifying influence. Since it's the only sport (other than cross country) that I really understand, I am okay with this. Definitely purchasing for my baseball fans, as well as for our 7th grade unit on historical fiction from the 1930s-1980s.
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Field Notes on Love

Smith, Jennider E. Field Notes on Love
March 5th 2019 by Delacorte Press
Public Library Copy

Hugo is a sextuplet, and has grown up in the shadow of his brothers and sisters. As they graduate from high school and head to university, Hugo knows he should be grateful to the full ride scholarship the group has to the local college in Surrey, England, but he also wants to be his own person. He and his girlfriend, Margaret Campbell, have a summer train trip across the US planned, but when she dumps him, she lets him have the tickets. Only problem-- they are nonrefundable, and issued in her name. He puts out feelers on social media for another Margaret Campbell in the US who would be willing to take the trip, and has almost settled on an octagenarian when it turns out she has to have surgery. Instead, he decides to travel with Mae, who is going from New York to college at USC. She lies to her fathers and tells them that she is meeting up with roommates, and takes off. The two hit it off immediately and have a number of cross country adventures, many centering on Mae's film making efforts. Hugo is debating whether he should return and go to university with his siblings, and Mae is glad to be making the trip, since her grandmother had made a similar one in her youth. Near the end of their travels, family emergencies intervene, but the two realize that they have a deep connection.
Strengths: Anyone else a complete and total sucker for stories like Before Sunrise? Instant connection, swoony romance, epic travel... sigh. Like this author's The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, this is a harmonic convergence of everything I love in a YA romance. Like Kasie West, this author does a top notch YA romance that is also appropriate for middle school students.
Weaknesses: While I appreciate the diversity in having Hugo be biracial and in Mae having two fathers, neither was really developed and felt a bit like an afterthought. Also, I can't call this a "clean" romance (since that is apparently perjoratively judgmental about young people who don't make choices that would follow the long-held preconceptions for that label)  and am not quite sure what to call it. Non-instructional?
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and looking for more like this!

Mendes, Yamile Saied. Blizzard Besties
December 26th 2018 by Scholastic Inc.
Public Library Copy

Vanesa is super excited that her family is going on a real vacation to a ski resort and not to visit family. She's read about all of the teen activities, from ski lessons to s'more making, and can't wait. When the family arrives, she has a run in with the daughter of the people who own the resort, and she and Beck don't get along. After her parents go to get massages, Vanesa decides not to wake her brother Hunter up to go to ski lessons, but leaves a note for him to stay put. She meets twins Eric and Erica, has a good lesson with Bryce, and when she comes back to the room, Hunter is gone! Seeing that his boots are gone, Vanesa borrows skis and goes after him with Beck. A storm is approaching, but luckily, the girls find him at the children's lodge. They all hole up there, and eventually Bryce finds them. When the power is cut, the children start to worry, especially after Hunter has an asthma attack and the land line goes out as well. Will everyone get along and survive, and more importantly, will Vanesa be able to keep up her texting streak with her friend group back home?
Strengths: This is the winter version of a beach read. Fast paced, lots of drama, and a dog as well. This is the first book I've seen by this author, and I'm looking forward to Random Acts of Kittens (2020).
Weaknesses: I did not like Vanesa and her addiction to her phone. Younger readers will probably be much more sympathetic, but as a parent, I just wanted to get her a dumb phone and be done with her nonsense!
What I really think: I buy the Follett bond versions of these for my insatiable romance readers, who love the Wish novels, especially the Suzanne Nelson ones with food on the cover. This didn't have enough romance for those readers, so I may pass on purchase.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Maybe a Mermaid

Cameron, Josephine. Maybe a Mermaid
March 26th 2019 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Anthoni Gillis and her mother have moved frequently as her mother moves up in the ranks of Beauty and the Bee cosmetics. When her mother moves up a level, she takes Anthoni on a long-promised vacation to Showboat Resort at Thunder Lake, a place she spent six "perfect" summers at when she was a girl. When the two arrive, the whole place is in disrepair and is being run by Charlotte Boulay, the now elderly daughter of the owners. Anthoni's mother reconnects with her childhood friend, who isn't really interested in spending time together. Anthoni hopes that she and the daughter might become True Blue Friends, but that doesn't work out either. Instead, Anthoni starts hanging around with DJ, and the two discover some secrets about the resort and Charlotte. Back in the day, Charlotte was the Boulay Mermaid, but how she managed the act is something Anthoni doesn't understand. Since Anthoni's mother's business is not doing well, the two plan to move to Chicago when their time is up at the resort, and Anthoni hopes she can make a friend before they go. When she tells a potential friend that she can show her a REAL mermaid, Charlotte graciously agrees to help, but when the show almost ends in disaster, Anthoni is forced to face some difficult truths.
Strengths: I am a complete sucker for run down resorts and especially Storybook Forest theme parks. The setting was awesome, and I didn't even mind the horrible flashbacks I had to swimming lessons in the lake! Anthoni and her mother's various positive mantras were great fun, and I also had some Amway flashbacks-- my parents sold it briefly, and I helped with the various demonstrations of the products. Anthoni and DJ had just the right level of supervision that they were safe but were able to get into some trouble! The inclusion of information of vaudeville was fun. There should be more middle grade novels about vaudeville!
Weaknesses: I couldn't pin down the timeline. Charlotte seemed like she would be about 90, but the mother would have been at the resort about 20 years ago. I didn't think about it too hard, but something seemed not quite right.
What I really think: I liked this, but I'm not sure how much appeal it would have. I have reached the point in the year where I have no budget left. If I got a copy of this for free, I would put it in the library, but I'm not entirely sure I'll buy it. And yes, I get a LOT of books that I send to other schools because I know my students just won't pick them up.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, March 22, 2019

The Size of the Truth

Smith, Andrew. The Size of the Truth
March 26th 2019 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sam has some unusual characteristics. He's small for his age, especially since his parents had him moved ahead to 8th grade at the beginning of 6th.; His father seems to think he will go to MIT and be a famous scientist, but Sam just wants to cook. His family runs Lily Putt, a putt putt golf course, where he and his father often hand out wearing kilts, not usual garb for Texas. He was also "the boy in the well" and the community has not forgotten that when he was four years old he spent three days stuck in a hole. He does have a good friend, Karim, but is leery of James Jenkins, who was there during the well catastrophe that left Sam with an understandable claustrophobia. James is also there to save Sam when he is pushed into a locker by 8th graders, and the two slowly warm up to each other. Sam is determined to enter the town cooking contest, and he finds out that James, whose father owns a local restaurant and is bound and determined that James plays football, is an excellent ballet dancer. The two try to work toward showing their families that they are very successful at what they do; it's just not what their families WANT them to do.
Strengths: I enjoyed reading about how hard it was for Sam to be skipped ahead two grades, and was glad he had a good friend in Karim. James was a very intriguing character, and his never-smiling, nodding demeanor was spot on for an 8th grade boy! The two have a very realistically evolving friendship, and even their past problems are worked in well. There are a lot of weird but funny moments-- survival camping with the father, time at the putt putt course, a school dance, and the fair at the end of the book make this a fairly amusing read.
Weaknesses: There are a lot of chapters that are flash backs to when Sam was in the well, where he was befriended by a talking armadillo named Abernathy Bartleby (I am so bad with character names!- thanks Kathie!) who helped him survive. These sections were rather strange, and didn't really add anything to our understanding of Sam and his problems. This was somewhat reminiscent of the hallucinatory scenes in Karen River's The Girl in the Well is Me, which many people liked.
What I really think: I'm going to ask some students about this one. I really like the parts of the book that did not have the armadillo in them, but I would like to know if middle grade readers will dislike that part as much as I did.

Thursday, March 21, 2019


Kenny, Padraig. Tin
March 26th 2019 by Chicken House
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Christopher is an orphan boy who works for Mr. Absalom, an engineer who creates mechanicals, a 1930s version of robots. These mechanicals are not perfect, and are all children, according to the English laws of the time. The group ekes out an existence, doing work and repairs for income. Mr. Absalom even tries to sell one of his works, Jack, but that falls through. When Christopher is injured, the truth is revealed-- he is not human, but mechanical like his friends. Not only that, but he is of such high quality that it is suspected he is the work of Philip Cormier, an engineer who produced excellent work but who fell into disrepute when his work on war machines with Blake went badly wrong. The inspectors come and remove Christopher to the care of Blake's son, and Mr. Absalom's mechanicals are ordered to be deconstructed. Instead, they run away to find Cormier, who can claim Christopher as his own work. They find Cormier in a community of damaged mechanicals, and manage to convince him to help. This involves breaking into the agency that oversees mechanicals and stealing the Diviner, a device that can locate separate units. They track Christopher down, but Blake's son wants to continue his father's work, which included "ensouling" mechanicals, which is illegal. There is an epic fight between Blake's creations and Absalom's group of friends, who are sorely outnumbered. With determination, grit, and Cormier's help, can they win their freedom?
Strengths: The world building in this was very good, and the post WWI setting was different and effective. I loved that WWI served as a motivation for much of the mechanicals' roles. The characters are all well developed and distinct, and get along in a very charming way. Estelle, as the lone human, is understanding of the plight of her friends. Cormier is excellent, and Blake is disturbing. There are lots of twists that kept me turning the pages.
Weaknesses: I love a good battle with machines imbued with the souls of rats and lots of crunching of steel machinery, but the inclusion caught me by surprise. Blake was more evil than I expected, and this took a dark, dark turn. Granted, I adore the kind of nasty, vindictive revenge Estelle exacts on Blake, but it was a little unexpected.
What I really think: I did not think I would like this, since Steampunk books, even excellent ones like The Fog Diver, don't do well in my library, but this really sucked me in. I think I will purchase a copy, and hand it to my die hard fantasy fans as a change of pace.

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Kidlitcon Providence

Heading out after work today to Providence, Rhode Island for Kidlitcon! I'm moderating a panel on Saturday afternoon: "Reaching Readers Part II: The Gatekeepers- (This panel continues the discussion on how to reach readers from the perspectives of librarians, teachers, and booksellers. How do you get the right book to the right kid? What strategies help you figure out what makes a book “right”? Gender, diversity, politics, and economics all come into play, making these simple questions a lot more complicated than they might seem at first!)

Super excited to be doing this with Melissa Fox, Sam Musher, Cindy Rodriguez and Carla Molina.

There are so many authors, bloggers, and people who deal with children's books coming to this event, and it's always great to meet new people and see (as my younger daughter puts it) my "creepy internet friends"! She's still not convinced that Charlotte is a real person.

I am a little worried that I will get lost on the way to Providence. I can get lost in my own town! Luckily, I am bring my daughter Claire with me, and she is generally good at getting places. And she has a smart phone.

Since I do not have a smart phone, I won't be posting things on Twitter or Instagram. If you've ever wondered why I only tweet before 7 a.m.-- that's why! Social media is blocked at my school during the day, as it should be, so that's about the only time I get to post.

I'll try to have some highlights on Monday! (Well, Tuesday. We're driving back on Monday.)

And yes, if students are reading this, there ARE people at my house, and Sylvie is guarding it. I always tell them NOT to post on social media when they are away from home, lest someone break in.


The Astonishing Maybe

Grimes, Shaunta. The Astonishing Maybe
Published March 26th 2019 by Feiwel and Friends
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Gideon's family moves from New Jersey to Logandale, Nevada just in time for the long, hot summer. When he sees a neighbor girl out rollerskating wearing her bathing suit over her clothes and a baby blanket around her neck like a cape, he doesn't have a whole lot of hope for the summer. Roona turns out to be fairly nice, however, and since the two are going into 7th grade in the fall, Gideon spends some time hanging out in her backyard, putting his feet in the baby pool. Roona's life is difficult. Her father, who is in the military, hasn't seen her for years, and her mother once had an episode that resulted in her being sent to live with an aunt and eight cousins for a summer. Roona is concerned that her mother is unhappy again, and worried because her mother bakes pies and cakes for other people. If she's sad when she bakes them, disastrous things happen. When her cookies are served at a school meeting for incoming kindergartners that Gideon's parents and sister Harper attend and the meeting ends in fights and the police being called, Gideon thinks Roona's worries are worth listening to. He gets talked into taking a bus to the Nellis base near Las Vagas with her, so that she can talk to her father and try to get her mother some help. When the two arrive, secrets about her father are revealed, and the two's parents are called to retrieve them. This does not endear Gideon's parents to Roona, even after he explains her predicament to them. When it looks like Roona will be sent back to her aunt, she shares fears about this happening with Gideon, and he knows that he needs to find her some help. He goes to Miss Oberman, a favorite teacher of Roona's whom they met at the local nursing home during an ill-conceived attempt to try to get a pie back from Miss Oberman's mother. When Roona needs help, both Miss Oberman and Gideon's family are able to step in and keep her safe while her mother gets the treatment that she needs.
Strengths: It was refreshing to read a middle grade book where the character moved into a new house and was more concerned with finding a friend than with the house being haunted! I liked Gideon because even though he wasn't wild about the idea of moving, he was willing to try to make a friend. The details about the summer in Nevada were interesting. The families were both convincing. Gideon didn't tell his folks too much about what was going on with Roona, and they reacted accordingly, but once he shared more with them, they were willing to help. The road trip details were good, and there were several good plot twists. I especially liked that Gideon did the right thing to get his new friend the help she needed, and that a teacher ended up being the "trusted adult" that was essential to Roona's well being.
Weaknesses: Wasn't quite sure where the whole "magical baking" thing was going, but once Roona's situation got more serious, this was dropped.
What I really think: The cover on this makes the book a hard sell. It is generally the sort of sad book my students like in February, especially since there is a road trip involved, but the cover makes it look too happy.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, March 19, 2019


Vaughan, M. M. Friendroid
March 26th 2019 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Danny has had trouble making friends at school, and prefers to hang out at home playing video games. His mother, a nurse, is supportive and worried, and while his father isn't in the picture, he does have an older cousin Vito who is there if he needs him. When he talks to the new boy, Eric, the two have some common ground, and slowly start spending more time together. Eric is a bit socially awkward, but has an uncle who sends him trendy clothes and gadgets, so he's friends with some of the more popular children. His parents are both obsessed with making friends and having the right possessions, and don't seem to be worried when Eric is seemingly gravely injured, which makes Danny's mom worried about him. She encourages him to spend more time with Eric, who is soon nicknamed "Slick" because of his preference for this brand of shoes. Slick tries to make Danny more popular, giving him clothes and helping him with his social media presence, and soon both boys are hanging out with the wealthy Ethan. After Slick passes out at a sleepover, his friends become concerned about him, and the truth comes out. Slick is really an android. With Vito's help, they start an investigation and try to figure out what is going on with Slick's life. This puts everyone, especially Slick, in danger, since he and his family are being used as surreptitious advertising by the evil Jeopardy corporation. Danny hopes that he can save his friend from the loneliness and lack of family he experiences, especially when he realizes that Slick's code is sometimes overwritten and false memories are put in place. Will he be able to help the only friend he has ever known?
Strengths: This is definitely a fresh premise-- androids living among us to sell us things by word of mouth? Fun! The ins and outs of popularity in middle school are realistically portrayed, and working in gaming and social media is timely. Danny is an interesting character, and seeing him warm up to Eric, who is very quirky, is heartwarming. As the book progresses, we get a bit more action and intrigue. Good use of drones as well!
Weaknesses: This switched perspectives in a slightly confusing way, and was ultimately a really sad book!
What I really think: I'm debating this one. On the one hand, having a friend who is an android will appeal to middle grade readers, but there is a lack of FUN things that would come from having a friend who was an android. This was also a bit on the long side.

The Magical Unicorn Society Official Handbook
Selwyn E. Phipps (Illustrations), Helen Dardik (Illustrations), Harry Goldhawk (Illustrations), Zanna Goldhawk (Illustrations)
September 18th 2018 by Feiwel & Friends
Public Library copy

The running joke at my school is that I am a Magical Unicorn. This is how I can do everything I do-- read a lot, remember students' names, fix all technology. I did have students ask about unicorn books in a recent survey, and I had to look at this one from the public library.

I think I'll buy it. It's really gorgeous, with beautiful illustrations in lovely colors. It breaks unicorns down into different types depending on where they live, and discusses habitats and eating habits. It's much more serious than Stuff Unicorns Love; it seems unlikely to me that unicorns would eat so much sugar!

Readers who love the different types of dragons in Tui Sutherland's Wings of Fire series will adore this short, well illustrated tome. In fact, they may need a copy for themselves.

Monday, March 18, 2019

MMGM- Focused

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.

Gerber, Alyson. Focused.
March 26th 2019 by Scholastic
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Clea really wants to do well in school, and thinks it is her own fault that she doesn't get all of her work done and forgets to study for some things. It's hard enough to get out of the house in the morning, but if she would just buckle down and worked harder, she would do okay. It's hard to juggle school AND chess team, but she loves to play, especially since her best friend Red is on the team with her. When she fails several assignments, the school contacts her parents and suggests that Clea get tested for ADHD. Clea is angry-- she's not one of THOSE kids who cause disruptions and use ADHD as an excuse-- but her parents take her anyway to try to figure out why she struggles so much. In the meantime, Clea makes a new friend in teammate Sanam, and realizes that Dylan isn't as mean as she thought he was... and she may actually "like-like" him. There's a lot of drama about who will be able to compete in chess team tournaments, and dealing with a mean-girl teammate doesn't help, although the advisor, Mr. Lee, is very understanding. When the diagnosis comes in, Clea is given a number of coping strategies as well as medicine to try. The medicine doesn't help at the beginning, but after she gets used to it, she finds that her condition was also behind some of her problems with her friends, because she would get frustrated and angry quickly, and blurt things out before thinking. Clea learns to advocate for herself with her teachers, asking for her accommodations of extra time or a different environment to complete tests. She also gets used to budgeting her time and using logs and timers to keep herself on track. Things aren't perfect, but Clea feels much better about being able to handle middle school.
Strengths: This had some great characters-- I was a big fan of younger sister Henley, who was struggling with speech difficulties. This is something I haven't seen in middle grade literature much. The parents were very supportive, even though the father was out of town most of the week for work, and that was nice to see. Sanam, Red, and Dylan are all good characters, especially since they are generally understanding, but occasionally still get irritated with Clea. The most interesting part to me were the details about testing, medication, and coping strategies. Like this author's Braced, these are woven into the story in a way that doesn't slow it down.
Weaknesses: While the details of the chess tournaments make sense, and it was good to see Clea playing the game for several reasons, it slowed the story down for me.
What I really think: I will be very glad to have this in my collection. I actually have a girl who plays chess and is a very similar student to Clea. Not often that there is such an exact match for a student to see herself!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Mozart Girl

Nickel, Barbara. The Mozart Girl
March 18th 2019 by Second Story Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Nannerl has just turned 12, and is somewhat sad about her childhood being over. She is also angry that even on her birthday, her talented but tempestuous brother Wolfgang gets all of the attention. While her father allows her to perform along with him, if time runs out, Nannerl is always the one who does not get to play. When the family embarks on a tour of Europe, Nannerl hopes that she will be able to take her symphony to Bach, whom they are going to meet, and help her get it published so that she, too, can be famous. Instead, she spends a lot of time having to help with household chores, work on technical passages of other people's work, and suffer the injustice of being a second class citizen merely because of her gender. She misses her best friend, but does make some new acquaintances, including Sopherl, the sister and wife of other musicians who no longer speaks or performs in public. After Bach laughs at her attempts at composing a symphony without even looking at her manuscript, Nannerl is inspired by Sopherl to finally to take matters into her own hands and bring her work into the public eye against all odds.
Strengths: This was well written, moved quickly, and gave a lot of details about the performances that the Mozart children gave in a variety of European cities. There was a lot of positive girl power, even though Nannerl doesn't have any luck in getting much for herself. This reminded me a bit of some Carolyn Meyer of Ann Rinaldi fictionalized biographies, or the Scholastic Royal Diaries.
Weaknesses: While younger readers won't pick it up, I found Nannerl's tone a half a bubble off. This is the challenge of writing historical fiction; understanding how people felt about social mores of the time. Yes, Nannerl would have been frustrated at her lack of opportunities, but she would also have been less surprised at the unfair way in which she was treated.
What I really think: This is only available in paperback, so I think I will pass on purchase for my library, although I enjoyed reading it myself.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Cartoon Saturday- Julius Zebra

Northfield, Gary. Julius Zebra: Entangled with the Egyptians(#3)
March 19th 2019 by Candlewick Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

After Rumbling with the Romans and Battling with the Britons, Julius and his menagerie of friends are back, having routed Septimus and sent him on his way. Julius, however, would like to catch him, so sets off on his ship, only to be tossed about by a storm and washed up on a beach. Glad to be alive, the group is less glad when soldiers arrive. Luckily, the Egyptians mistake Julius for the horse god Heter, and gladly take him to the palace to install him as pharaoh. Brutus, Julius' wayward brother shows up as well. As usual, Julius gets himself in all manner of scrapes and misunderstandings. Heading to Memphis for his installment, his plan is almost derailed. Luckily, the group is close enough to home that their savior comes from a surprising source, and they are alive to head off on new adventures.
Strengths: There is a lot of fairly accurate information about the ancient world, and it's amusing to have a humorous novel incorporate the topics that are covered in a rather dry way in 6th and 7th grade social studies.
Weaknesses: I have trouble keeping the large cast of characters separate, even though they are different types of animals, and there are pictures of them. Perhaps character development is a bit lacking? Shocking in a goofy notebook novel, I know.
What I really think: The fact that these are published in Great Britain let me imagine for a little while longer that the Classics are still an important part of the British educational system, even though I have some serious doubts about whether Latin and Ancient Greek are still taught to tweens anywhere on the planet. (Nota bene: I was a Latin teacher 25 years ago!)
Ms. Yingling

Friday, March 15, 2019

Captured: An American Prisoner of War in Vietnam

Townley, Alvin. Captured: An American Prisoner of War in Vietnam
March 26th 2019 by Scholastic Nonfiction
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Jeremiah Denton was a naval aviator who was shot down and captured by the North Koreans in 1965, and was held for eight years. This follows his time in various prisoner of war camps, including the Hanoi Hilton. Since Denton was an admiral, he managed to secretly contact other prisoners and make sure that they remained connected and focused on their mission to return home with honor. The North Koreans maintained that the Americans they captured weren't prisoners of war, and therefore cared for under the Geneva Convention, but were instead criminals, and were treated incredibly harshly. The prisoners managed to communicate with notes on small scraps of paper, code, and Morse code tapped out on the prison cell walls. The armed forces have a strict code for people taken prisoner, that they shouldn't give away classified information even if tortured, but the North Koreans were so cruel that they did eventually break some men and forced confessions out of them. Denton gave a filmed interview at one point, and had the strength to blink out "TORTURE" in Morse code! Very little news of the outside world got to the prisoners, but they tried to keep faith that they would eventually be released. As the war dragged on, their families came to resent the military's insistence that families remain quiet about their loved ones who were prisoners, and the POW-MIA association managed to change the government policy on the treatment of these soldiers. After that, the treatment in the camp got a little better. Denton was finally put in a room with another man, easing his feelings of isolation, and food, hygiene and medical treatment became a bit better. The extreme torture ceased. It wasn't until 1973 that an agreement was reached and POWs were sent home. Denton finally made it back to his family after eight years, and went on to be elected to the US Senate.
Strengths: This was perfect. I have so many students asking for books about Vietnam, and the POW experience was a big part of that. This goes into some detail about the torture, and is a great overview of the experience without getting into the more horrifying aspects of the torture. I hadn't been aware of the secrecy surrounding the POWs; I was eight in 1973, and was just starting to be aware of current events. I remember POWs coming home, but wasn't sure from where. While Denton's experiences are the focus of the book, there are lots of other prisoners showcased. There are a decent number of pictures and maps to help readers understand the set up, and relevant supporting historical details are inserted when they are needed. This is just what I needed. Now, may I have one about the Korean Conflict?
Weaknesses: The pages of the E ARC turned so slowly that I read another whole book while waiting for the pages to turn, which was frustrating and made it a bit harder to get a good grip on the events. I'm looking forward to seeing a print copy.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and this will be constantly circulating. Excellent treatment of a topic that is little covered in middle grade literature.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James

Blake, Ashley Herring. The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James
March 26th 2019 by Little, Brown
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Sunny has had cardiomyopathy for two years, but has just been told she will have her heart transplant. The woman who has raised her, Kate, knows that she is afraid, but is supportive. Once Sunny has the surgery, Lena, her biological mother shows up. Lena was a friend of Kate's, but struggled with alcoholism after the motorcycle death of Sunny's father, and gave up custody to Kate. Kate owns a bookstore on an east coast island, hangs out with long time friend (an crush) Dave, and is over protective of Sunny. When Sunny is recuperating, she is allowed an outing to the beach. There, she meets Quinn, whose mother is a marine photographer who is staying on the island for the summer. The two quickly become fast friends and decide that they will embark on a "kissing quest" to find a boy to kiss for the first time. Sunny has fallen out with her friend Margot over a secret that Margot blabbed to members of her swim team after Sunny got sick, so she is glad to have someone to hang out with. Lena visits, and Sunny is finally able to get some information about her past. As she spends more time with Quinn, Sunny begins to realize that she would really rather kiss Quinn than a boy, but she doesn't want to lose her friendship. The physical recuperation goes slowly and hits some rough spots, and the emotional recuperation does as well, especially when it comes to Kate and Lena's relationship. Eventually, Sunny is able to be true to herself, Quinn, and even Margot, and forges a new normalcy for herself and her family.
Strengths: Aside from Pitchford's Nickel Bay Nick, I can't think of any books that deal with a child who has had a heart transplant. The medical details and plot are a nice foil for the family and relationships issues; any one of these alone could have become boring, but together, it made for an intriguing tale. The problems with Margot are realistic, as are the problems with Lena. There are more and more young readers with nontraditional families, so it's important to see this reflected in the literature. Quinn and Sunny's relationship is similar to the one in this author's Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World, and my students enjoy that book.
Weaknesses: Sunny and Quinn are both very nervous about liking girls, which lends a more YA level of angst to a middle grade story. Realistic, and liked by the target demographic more than by me. Even in my middle class, Midwestern school, students (especially the girls) seem to be completely unphased by students who identify as any manner of LGBTQ+. Still, all stories are different. I'm just old enough that I have no patience for angst in any relationships, fictional or otherwise!
What I Really Think: I will definitely purchase, and it is nice to see an LGBTQ+ story that doesn't involve heavy drinking and way more details than anyone needs to know.
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Stick Dog Gets the Tacos (and Saves My Day)

Some days are just tough as a teacher. Whether it's that all of the children who had the flu are back in school but still not feeling great, the fact that spring break is less than two weeks away, or the start of the new grading period, students were unkind yesterday. They were especially unkind to the study hall monitors, and I pulled two 8th graders into the library to cool their heels for a bit.

Both were failing every class, yet had brought no books or supplies to last period study hall. One's life plan is to work at a video game store he frequents. Had he asked the management if they hire people without high school diplomas? That would be a good place to start. The other was going to drop out of school at 14 to work in his father's business, which would be passed to him. He had not asked his father if there were any academic expectations, and he felt he did not need to learn math or anything else because he would have people do everything for him. He did not need to be kind to people, because no one would ever tell him what to do, and he would tell other people what to do.

I had another student who is very bright but also failing all of his classes; I suspect from conversations with him that he frequently stays up until 2 a.m. playing video games.

I am great with recommending books. I rock at helping with research and projects. I even have my successful math moments, if there is a moment to warm up. But parenting children who are not mine? It's really tough. It was tough enough with my own girls. They're grown, and even though I think I did a good job, there's always that doubt. Enough that I don't want to have to parent other people's children. A friend posted this article on Facebook, and I couldn't agree more. (Even though I'm a bit alarmed by the whole web site. A lot of articles about people seeming surprised that parenting is difficult. Hmm.)

SOOOOO, I was very glad that the Westerville Public Library sent the following book to me. Seriously, if there are people out there who don't have Stick Dog, they are missing out. Stick Dog is brilliant. And kind. And funny. And even if Karen (the dog, not me), has her reasons for thinking that Stick Dog is not very bright, she is so wrong. Stick Dog is more clever than all of us put together!

Watson, Tom. Stick Dog Gets the Tacos. (Stick Dog #9)
February 5th 2019 by HarperCollins
Public Library Copy

When Karen comes back from looking for barbecue potato chips in a garbage can and reports that a dog is being abused, the whole group takes off to save it. Karen says that children are hitting the dog with a stick. And it's in a tree. Stick Dog has his doubts, but the group is first distracted by the idea of climbing trees (all "those whisker-twitching, nut-munching demons (aka squirrels) would be practically extinct" if Poo-Poo could climb trees!). When they get to the house where the abuse is occurring, they realize that the dog being hit with a stick is actually a toy unicorn that the people call a piñata. Children at the house then proceed to hit a birdie with racquets, and the dogs are convinced there is bird abuse. When the birdie gets caught in a tree, the people are all distracted by it, and leave some guacamole on the table. The dogs discuss the fact that it is probably made of boiled, mashed green birds... and that sounds tasty. They attempt to try some, but the people interrupt and bring out a bag of chips. The dogs get a taste, but are interrupted by a taco delivery. These have a promising meat smell, and while the humans go back and forth between the food and birdie in a tree, the dogs manage to cart off tacos, and even figure out that the piñata most likely contains dessert.
Strengths: Like Pixar films, Stick Dog has a child level and an adult level of humor. Stick Dog is a philosopher, and consummate manager of his tribe. He understands that they are not very smart (Karen thinks she is getting taller, when in fact the puddle in which she is standing is evaporating on a hot day), but never makes them feel bad about it. He works with them on their level to achieve the desired group goals. Plus, there is food involved. And squirrels.
Weaknesses: This lacks the complete and total brilliance of Stick Dog leading his tired band of friends up the hill in Stick Dog Slurps Spaghetti, but really, Stick Dog has no weaknesses.
What I really think: I want to bring Stick Dog and all his friends home and give them nice soft beds and regular feedings of healthy kibble, although I would keep a tiny jar of instant coffee around so Karen could have an occasional tiny sip. And a barbecue potato chip from time to time.

I think I will check all of these out to 8th graders today-- maybe it will change some of the negative energy to positive!

A Good Kind of Trouble

Ramee, Lisa Moore. A Good Kind of Trouble
March 12th 2019 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Shayla is a good kid who doesn't like to be in trouble. Her older sister, Hana, is outspoken and interested in protests, but not Shayla. She's the kind of kid who will pick up a desk that has been knocked over by someone else so the her teacher doesn't get upset with the class. She likes hanging out with her friends Julia and Isabella, and doesn't understand why other people think it's weird that they are Japanese American and Latinx and not black. There's a lot of friend drama going on, but also a lot of boy drama. Shayla really likes Jace, with his green eyes, but Taylor is constantly talking to her, and even her annoying lab partner, Bernard, seems to be interested in her. After doing well on the timed mile in gym, Shayla is approached by her gym teacher, who is also the track coach, and Shayla joins the track team. Middle school has its tense moments, but near Shayla's West Los Angeles neighborhood there are even tenser moments-- a police officer has shot a black man, and the trial is bringing the Black Lives Matter movement to the forefront. At first, Shayla is concerned, but not overly interested, but when a verdict of not guilty comes back, she decides she needs to act. She wears a black armband to school, and brings some for friends as well, even though the principal makes an announcement that wearing armbands is against the school dress code. Shayla doesn't want to get in trouble, but feels that it is important to stand up for her beliefs.
Strengths: This has a great middle school voice and excellent grasp of key middle school concerns. Crushes, lunch table musical chairs, scary classmates who turn out to be okay-- so much good stuff. It was good to read a book acknowledging the black suburban experience, and the struggle of wanting to be accepted by friends. The various romances were also spot on, and Ms. Ramee must have chaperoned a LOT of dances to get those details right! The fact that this covers Black Lives Matter issues against this background is a brilliant way to get more readers to pick up this book.
Weaknesses: So they run track around Christmas time in California? Track does not start until March in Ohio, so I was confused by this. I will not fault this for breaking the unwritten rule that a "diverse friend group" must also include a blonde or red-headed girl! (Am I the only one who has noticed this? Look at the covers of tween books, especially if there are four girls on the cover. There are so many books with ensembles like that, and I'm not sure that is realistic!)(Now I'm distracted and want to go find all of those covers and post them!)
What I really think: Definitely purchasing; if nothing else, this is a very good snapshot of the historical moment of 2019, but it will see a wide readership because it falls squarely in the "drama" category that is so frequently requested by my students.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe

Hernandez, Carlos. Sal and Gabi Break the Universe
March 5th 2019 by Rick Riordan Presents
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Sal is new to Culeco, a school for the performing arts in Miami, having moved there with his Papi and American Stepmom after his Mami Muerta (the spirit of his mother, who is deceased) kept appearing in their home! He runs afoul of Yasmany, whose locker is next to his, but saves his own skin when the boy bullies him by having a dead chicken appear in Yasmany's locker, but then all traces of it disappear. Gabi is a friend of Yasmany's, but she and Sal hit it off. It turns out that there really was a chicken, but Sal brought it through a wormhole in a locker, and when it returned to its own dimension, all traces of it are gone. When his Mami Muerta appears again, his father (a scientist) tries to find a way to make her not return. He installs an enormous remembranation machine and tries to keep track of the calamatrons that are being left in our dimensional plane by things from other planes. Gabi has a newborn brother, Iggy, who is very sick and has spent the entire month of his life in the hospital, and Gabi wonders how Sal's powers might be used to help him. Sal has Type 1 diabetes, and occasionally has issues with it, but is good about checking his levels and is well versed in how to deal with light headedness and other symptoms. Yasmany is having troubles at home, which make him act out at school. When it looks like Iggy might not make it, Sal and Gabi try to increase their research, deal with their families, and stay out of trouble at school.
Strengths: I really liked the fact that the diabetes was just one factor with which Sal had to deal, and it was depicted realistically and without drama. The Cuban cultural connections are interesting, with lots of descriptions of food, relatives, and some Spanish language phrases. Sal and Gabi are both rather fun and likable characters, and I loved how supportive American Stepmom was. While most of the Rick Riordan Presents has some sort of mythology included, this is more of a science fantasy with Cuban culture, which was a nice innovation.
Weaknesses: There's a LOT going on in this 400 page book, and some of it is not well explained. I never felt very sure about what Sal's father was trying to accomplish, or about how Sal brought things from other universes. Gabi has a lot of "dads" with really odd names (e.g. Grizzly Dad'ums), and that was never made clear, nor was the existence of a robot/android character. The plot is a bit hard to discern with all of these wacky goings-on.
What I really think: If this were going to be a stand alone, I might buy it, but Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe is due in March 2020. There are so many fantasy books, and with my readership, space constraints, and budget, I can buy about a quarter of them. Since I can't get anyone to check out the very similar Margot and Mateo Save the World by Darcy Miller, I think I will pass on purchasing.

Ms. Yingling

Monday, March 11, 2019

MMGM- Young Captain Nemo

Henderson, Jason. Young Captain Nemo
March 12th 2019 by Feiwel Friends
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Gabriel Nemo lives alone (but with access to a lawyer in case things need to be signed) near the sea, and has access to a state-of-the-art submarine, the Obscure, that he uses to help ships in need. He has two good friends, Peter and Misty, who help him man the ship. When they sneak away from a school fund raiser to save a ship and have an encounter with a giant animal that has inhabited a sunken WWII era plane, Gabriel knows he is going to have to ask his parents, who are living at the bottom of the sea in a lab, for help. They agree to a "school trip" for his friends, and the trio are soon off. Also in on this adventure is Gabriel's sister Nerissa, who has inherited the Nemo gene for trouble making and has spent the last few years with her own ship, the Nebula, ramming illegal whaling boats, so she is wanted by the government. After some research on one of the creatures that they are able to capture,  Gabriel finds that the creatures they saw were "Lodgers", giant, crab-like creatures that feed on plastic pellets in a garbage zone and use abandoned ships for their shells. They can apparently communicate with each other, and when Gabriel tries to recreate the sounds, it calls the creatures to the lab, which they try to destroy in order to save their fellow creature. Nerissa knows that the navy is trying to kill the creatures, but if they try to blow them up, the resultant explosion will be horrific, since their eating habits make them basically mobile oil fields! After an epic battle that involves tremendous planning and skill, crisis is averted, but there are further wrinkles-- Misty is tired of lying to her parents, even though she loves the adventure. Luckily, the Nemos have some resources, and off to start a legitimate school that Gabriel, Misty, and Peter can attend while they have further adventures!
Strengths: I love that this just jumped right into the action and explained all of the backstory in small snippets interspersed with giant, flying sea creatures in WWII planes. Perfect, AND everyone's parents are alive! I was completely in awe of the scenes in the water, both sailing and diving. Wow. I don't know if they were accurate, but they certainly seemed so to me. The details from Verne's Nemo story are threaded throughout in a way that made me want to go back and read the original (okay, a translation!), which is a great thing for young readers up for the challenge. The characters are all great-- I loved that Peter didn't want to get wet (he can't swim!), Misty didn't want to lie to her parents, especially if there were a chance she might end up dead on the ocean floor, and that Gabriel, as much as he loves his adventures, misses his parents. All treated lightly, but effective just the same. Nerissa is an interesting study in opposites-- she's a criminal, but for all the right reasons! The details about the ecology of the ocean are great as well, and might lead to further research. Brilliant all the way around.
Weaknesses: I need more details about the properties of Nemo glass, how that much mother of pearl is harvested for use in the ships, and how the lab is powered! Perhaps that information will be woven into the next book.
What I really think: I was really looking forward to this, and had read a couple really awful books before I picked it up, so I found myself sighing in happiness, relief, and satisfaction while I read this. I had to stop in the middle to do real life things like laundry, cooking, and cleaning, and I was NOT happy until I got back to the book. Isn't that how we want students to feel about what they read?
Ms. Yingling