Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Game of Stars

Dasgupta, Sayantani. Game of Stars (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #2)
February 26th 2019 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Young Adult Books Central
Kiran has survived her ordeals in The Serpent's Secret, and is back in Parsippany, New Jersey. and is trying to settle back into school. However, Neel's mother, the burping, rhyming demon queen, finds her at school and says that Neel is being held captive by Kiran's serpent birth father, and only she can rescue him. With the help of a portal that appears on the school soccer field, she travels to the underground hotel/prison, but is unable to rescue her friend. Not only that, but Neel does not want her to try. It's too late, and Kiran and Naya must travel to the Kingdom Beyond, where Kiran applies to be on the reality television show, Who Wants to be a Demon Slayer. The people in that Kingdom have heard of her exploits, and her image is splashed everywhere. Kiran finds out that she must not only free Neel, but must find two stones that are critical to keeping the balance in the kingdom. It's not easy to get anything done, and even meeting up with Neel's brothers (in the forms of an owl and monkey god) and the Pink-Sari skateboarders causes more problems than it solves. Kiran even needs to trick her father into providing a fang to break Neel out of his prison, but the final battle has a few surprises, and the story is not yet over.
Strengths: I enjoyed how Dasgupta took traditional Indian tales and adapted them for middle grades. Her notes at the back about girl power groups in Indian, and the influence of things like game shows and off beat products (I sort of want to be Princess Pretty Pants for Halloween) on modern Indian culture are interesting. Kiran is a great character, and her friendship/possible romance with Neel is engaging.
Weaknesses: This often slips into elementary levels of goofiness. My fantasy readers tend to be my most serious students, and they take their fantasy books very seriously! The rhymes got a bit wearing, and some of the dialogue was a bit much.
What I really think: Will definitely purchase, but I would like this better without the goofiness.

Lerangis, Peter. Enter the Core (Max Tilt #3)
February 19th 2019 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Max and his cousin Alex are still enjoying the benefits of the serum that has cured Max's mom and his friend Evelyn, and are also glad that they have unlimited funds, but there is a problem. Bitsy (whose last name is really Niemand) has stolen the vials from them, hoping to win her evil father's favor. Since Max doesn't know if his mother or Evelyn might need more of the serum, he and Alex take off after Bitsy, with the help of Brandon the Pilot. They head off to Iceland in search of the Niemand's, and have quite the adventure. They crash land in the water because of volcanic ash in the air, and are saved Kristin, who works at the Icelandic Museum of Unusual Phenomenon. Following clues left by Verne, the group takes off into the wilderness and ends up in caverns. Brandon is badly injured, but salvation comes from a very unlikely source, which also sheds light on the properties of the serum they are seeking. Max's long search is over, and he is able to return home to his normal life.

Max is on the Autism Spectrum and also experiences synesthesia. He smells odors depending on the emotions he is feeling, which is explained frequently, and there are also descriptions of his aversion to being touched. This is not done with a heavy hand, and Max manages to deal with his challenges well.

There is some light romance between Alex and Brandon, and it looks for a while like Brandon has truly perished, but the sensitive reader can be assured that he is saved.

There are lots of puzzles, codes, riddles, and runes for readers who enjoy working on these, and the idea that Jules Verne planned these all a very long time ago (in French!) is a fun premise. There is one scene that reminded my of National Treasure-- there are some structures in the cave that have been waiting for them for well over 100 years!

Hand this to readers who enjoy adventure tales with a bit of the supernatural to them, like Park's Forest of Wonders, Korman's Masterminds, Stokes 'Addison Cooke and the Treasure of the Incas, Gonzalez's Moving Target and  Gemeinhart's Scar Island.

Monday, April 29, 2019

MMGM- A Kind of Paradise, Mya's Strategy to Save the World

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.

Tan, Amy Rebecca. A Kind of Paradise
April 30th 2019 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Jamie knew what she was doing was wrong, but she had such a crush on Trey and thought she was helping him. Instead, she ended up being publicly shamed by the school and Trey's twin sister, Trina, who posted her apology letter to Trey on social media. Now, unable to hide in her room all summer long, Jamie has to spend 15 hours a week volunteering at the public library. It's not too bad; there's air conditioning, friendly staff like Sonia, Beverly and Lenny,  and the occasional baked good. There are also patrons she comes to look forward to seeing, like the friendly Wally with his weekly flower, and the enigmatic but reliable Black Hat Guy. Jamie also enjoys her increasing level of responsibility in the small library. The director, Beverly, eventually lets her shelve books in the adult section when she proves her abilities, and she is allowed to direct patrons if they ask her questions. She is still working through her problems that got her remanded to the library, and Trina occasionally stops by the library with her cronies to check out cook books, which adds to Jamie's stress. When the library is in danger of losing its funding, and then a tragedy occurs, the town rallies behind its library in order to save it, and Jamie realizes that having to spend time there was anything but a punishment.
Strengths: Jamie acts like a typical tween; she makes some bad choices, she is embarrassed to death by them, she tries to hide, but she still wants to do the right thing. The library coworkers are a good cross section of different types of people, and the patrons have interesting back stories. The challenges of keeping a small town library open are real, even with the windfall that this one receives. I have to say that I envisioned the interior of the Boardman Branch Library of the 1970s the entire time I was reading this book even though it was a 1950s building, and not as old as Jamie's library. Even though not much really happened in this book, it was a charming read for gentle souls who love the library.
Weaknesses: The punishment from the school seemed overly harsh, and I had a lot of trouble believing any seventh grade class would be assigned Jane Eyre. I'm sure it happens, but WHY?
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and this will be the sort of book that sticks around for years instead of being wildly popular for a brief time and then falling apart.I love the cover; I'll use it as an example of 20-teens color and cover art!

Former Boardman Branch Library, From Google Maps

Kyi, Tanya Lloyd. Mya's Strategy to Save the World
April 30th 2019 by Puffin Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

When Mya's grandmother falls ill in Myanmar, her mother heads to her side to take care of her, leaving Mya, her younger sister Nanda, and their father to hold down the fort at home. Their father is not the best cook, so they eat a lot of toaster strudels and ramen noodles, and laundry and house cleaning are not necessarily up to standard. Mya is very involved in her schools Kids for Social Justice group, helping to run the meetings and coming up with fund raisers and letter writing campaigns. She is particularly interested in the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, since her mother is from that country. Her best friend, Chloe, was also involved in this, but lately, Chloe has been way more interested in lip gloss, her cell phone, and whether or not Drew might kiss her. Mya doesn't have a phone (her father just will NOT see reason!), and she thinks the idea of kissing anyone is gross. She's much more concerned with preparing herself to be a shining star at the United Nations some day, working on saving the world. She has a school project that she must work on with Ian-- Chloe and her partner took cell phones, so Mya and Ian are researching texting. It doesn't help that Ian sort of like likes Mya, and Mya finds this partly gross and partly intriguing. Mya starts a multi-pronged strategy to prove to her father that she should have a cell phone, and babysits for horrible neighbor children to earn money, and tries to look after Nanda after school. She even takes cooking lessons from her aunt and tries not to complain about missing her mother, whose absence extends to over nine weeks. There are some problems-- Nanda is an avid skateboarder who is not always careful, Chloe and Mya's relationship is fragile, and Mya starts her period and her mother is not there. Everything works out in the end, her mother and grandmother come home, and Mya's quest for the ever elusive cell phone is successful.
Strengths: This looks like a graphic novel, even though it is not, but some readers will pick it up because of that. I always LOVE books about students who have a particular interest, and Mya's social justice concerns are timely and a good example. (And Mya would be proud that I keep my cell phones for as long as possible-- I've had two in the last dozen years.) Her reasoning behind getting a cell phone is so responsible; I wish my students planned so well! She also interacts with her sister and classmates in a brilliant way-- she WANTS to yell, but she remembers diplomatic training she has had. Her fights with Chloe are completely realistic, as is her relationship with Ian. This is exactly the sort of book I would have loved in middle school. Very Ellen Conford like.
Weaknesses: I was a little confused that Mya was writing to "Premier" until I remembered it was set in Canada, but I'll just try to remind students.
What I really think: Definitely purchase. I could do without the angst surrounding Mya's period, but I know that many people think this is a topic that should be covered in middle grade lit.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Girls of Firefly Cabin

Ellingson, Cynthia. The Girls of Firefly Cabin
May 1st 2019 by Albert Whitman Company
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Lauren, Jade, Isla and Archer all end up in the same cabin at a fairly swanky camp by a lake. Isla doesn't want to be there, but her parents are traveling around Europe, so her Internet business and attempts at reading great Books will have to wait while she and her allergies deal with bugs in the woods. Jade has recently experienced a personal tragedy that makes it hard for her to engage with the other girls. Lauren is glad to be there, since she lives in a group home and hasn't had many advantages. Archer is a rebel with oddly dyed hair, but she wants to like camp, despite living in the shadow of her super mean older sister Makayla. The four are forced to bond through the various camp activities, trying to win various camp competitions so they can be featured in the camp's promotional brochures.
Strengths: This was a pleasant summer camp story, with all of the required elements-- cabin living, homesickness, a few boys, competitions, and camp food. The plot moves along briskly, and the interactions of the main characters are understandable and evolve in the way one would expect. This is more of a straight forward camp story that From Night Owl to Dogfish-- I liked that it was only set in the camp, and dealt predominantly with the relationships of the people who were there. It has a feel good (if unlikely) ending for Lauren.
Weaknesses: I could tell from the descriptions of the characters and from the tone of their interactions with one another that this author normally writes for adults. There were lots of things that felt oddly inauthentic, and there was a decided lack of camp counselors involved with the girls. They had an inordinate amount of unsupervised free time.
What I really think: Camps tend to be a big trend right now, so I will wait to see what other titles might be better suited for my library, since I can't buy them all.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Cartoon Saturday- Marty Pants, Pug Pals

Parisi, Mark. How to Defeat a Wizard (Marty Pants #3)
October 30th 2018 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Marty is still at war with Simon, and irritated beyond belief that everyone thinks the other boy is charming when Marty knows full well his ONLY talent is to draw pictures of a well known cartoon character. When Marty gets in trouble for calling Simon a "monkey washer" and has to apologize, and Marty's dog Jerome eats a paper with Simon's name on it, leaving only the enigmatic word "NOWIS", Marty becomes convince that Marty is actually a wizard who is exerting his evil powers to convince everyone he is wonderful, and sets out to prove this. There are other things going on, like his sister's stressful science project, and Marty gets distracted, even feeling at one point that Simon might not be too bad! When the two boys end up working on a school project together, Marty starts to think that maybe he has misread Simon's intentions... or is that all part of the wizardry as well?

Books where children are well meaning but still get themselves into trouble, like Peirce's Big Nate, are always popular with middle grade readers, who themselves have difficulty controlling themselves in all situations. I once had a student lick the leaves of a flower arrangement on my desk, and when I asked him why, he honestly didn't even know why he had done it. This explains so much of Marty's world, but at least he has some friends, like Roongrat and Parker, as well as supportive parents, to keep him in line a little bit.

This notebook novel has a large number of illustrations than some of this genre, more along the lines of Watson's Stick Dog, Pichon's Tom Gates and Barnett's Mac B.: Spy Kid and than Greenwald's Charlie Joe Jackson series. The pictures themselves are quite pleasing-- strong black lines that can turn goofy at the flick of Parisi's wrist. As an added bonus, there is a flip book of Jerome tumbling down the pages! The pictures are very light, but I knew right away why they were there!

Marty's belief that odd things are happening in his world (In Keep Your Paws Off, he thinks his sister is a werewolf!) might make older readers wonder if he has some sort of developmental disorder, younger readers will love the fact that they are so much smarter than Marty! And who knows-- given Jerome's oddly hornlike ears, maybe Marty isn't imaging as much as I think!

Ahn, Flora. Yay for VayCay! (Pug Pals #2)
January 29th 2019 by Scholastic
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Sunny and Rosy's human packs for vacation, but doesn't take her beloved dogs with her! Instead, they get to visit Grandma and Grandpa, who dote on the pups. Sunny explains that there will be all sorts of head rubs and extra treats, so Rosy thinks this is a good plan. When Grandma takes them out to garden, however, she thinks that the dogs are responsible for tearing up some of her vegetables, and thinks they are naughty! They don't get to go outside as much, and their special barbecue treat is canceled! Oh, no! The dogs know that they didn't damage anything, so they start to investigate who did. In their best detective costumes, they go into the garden while the grandparents are away, and take a closer look at the clues. They meet Clove, a groundhog, who is sympathetic to their task, but are not able to solve the mystery. They spend their days doing yoga, watching movies and eating popcorn, and generally enjoying their new atmosphere, but as their vacation draws to a close, they know they much figure out their problem. They find the culprit right under their noses, and he apologizes. More importantly, the pugs manage to alert the grandparents about the thief without getting him into danger. The barbecue is back on, and the pugs find at the end of their vacation that their harnesses are a bit snug after their surfeit of snacks!

Rosy and Sunny are both exuberant puppies, and the pictures of their antics are delightful! How Ms. Ahn packs so much character into simple line drawings is amazing, and the depiction of dogs in their pajamas, doing yoga or just romping around the garden are delightful.

While it's fairly clear to the reader who is stealing the vegetables, we see all of the events from the pugs' perspective, so we can also understand why they are a bit in the dark. I do love the "dog's eye" view presented here-- we only see the legs of the humans, and occasionally hands that are feeding treats or petting the dogs. It's fun to see the dogs' list of the highlights of their vacation-- making new friends, relaxing outside, snuggling, playing, and of course, treats! That was the only thing that concerned me-- I hope that Rosy and Sunny's human takes them on lots of walks so that their extra treats don't cause any health problems!

This series is a step up for readers who have enjoyed the goofy early reader mysteries of Robert M. Quackenbush (Sherlock Chick, Henry) or Kin Platt (Big Max) but who like a few more pictures than Warner's The Boxcar Children or Roy's Alphabet Mysteries provide. The drawings are so much fun that this could also be a read aloud for a younger child who must leave a pet with someone else, and even my middle school students find these to be a bit of a "vacation" read!

Friday, April 26, 2019

Summer of '69

Strasser, Todd. Summer of '69
Published April 9th 2019 by Candlewick Press
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Lucas' summer is ruined when his girlfriend Robin decides to be a camp counselor some distance from their Long Island home. He's doing some work for one of his father's businesses, but otherwise just hanging out with his friends Milton and Arno and his cousin Barry. His home life is not happy. He has a developmentally delayed younger brother, Alan, for whom he has to care; his mother gave up her career as a reporter years ago and seems perpetually depressed; and his father is controlling and distant, preferring to spend his time playing tennis at the club or seeing other women on the side than spending it with his family. Lucas does a lot of drugs, smoking marijuana daily and taking LSD when offered, although he wisely draws the line at heroin. A friend from work, Chris, who dropped out of school at 16, is fighting in Vietnam, and his letters worry Lucas. Lucas' cousin Barry, who is 4-F due to mental health issues, hangs out with a woman named Tinsely who is whole heartedly embracing the Free Love mentality of the era, and who is happy to share these experiences with Lucas, although he is somewhat conflicted about her philosophy in a very middle class, bourgeoise way. He and his friends do attend Woodstock, but instead of being the beginning of a carefree, happy lifestyle, it is the end of summer, end of Lucas' irresponsibility, and the beginning of the end of an entire era.

This is the best description I have read about the different options young men pursued to avoid Vietnam. After Lucas realizes he has not been accepted into ANY colleges, he starts to panic and weigh his options. We hear about their friend Rudy's flight to Canada, stories of young men who try to smoke cigarettes dipped in ink to replicate symptoms of tuberculosis or who cut off fingers, and options that include jail time or taking the physical in San Francisco where the doctors are more likely to declare a 1-Y (qualified for service only in time of war or national emergency) status. Lucas spends a lot of time meeting with a draft counselor, although he is unable to secure a conscientious objector status. It is quite touching that one issue Lucas thinks his father is pushing on him for odd reasons turns out to be his father's way of getting him out of military service.

Loosely based on some of his own experiences during this time, Strasser's details reflect a somewhat bitter nostalgia. During this summer, Lucas realizes that his self-centeredness hasn't helped him or his family, and he seems at a loss as to how to refocus his life. His family, shattering even as he watches, is no help. At first, I thought this might be a sequel to Fall Out because of the details about the family bomb shelter (and how many of those were used a decade later for teens smoking weed?), but it's not.

I am only about 15 years older than Lucas. This means that I was not surprised by the attitudes toward women and different sub groups that are described in the book. I vividly remember my parents gawking at hippies and making comments about their long hair! Alan is discussed as not having been diagnosed as "retarded", but still having difficulties. This was a standard term at the time, although it is very offensive today. The family dynamics were also something that seemed fairly common. However, I was very surprised at the amount of drug use in a middle class, suburban setting, especially since one of the characters is actively dealing and making quite a bit of money. A nice detail was that Lucas kept his condoms and weed in a sock in the back of a drawer, where it was meant to be found, but in order to get to his pills and acid, he had to unscrew the bottom of his stereo.

Very little of what I read is aimed at readers higher than middle grade, so it was an absolute delight to revel in Strasser's sparklingly dark prose, with its elegant turns of phrase and inventive combinations of words.

I'm not going to purchase this for my library because of the sexual content, language (although the f-bombs were used very judiciously for YA), but definitely would recommend for high school and public libraries. This is the only book I have read about this time period that made me really understand what all the sturm und drang among teenagers was about.  Summer of '69 rings absolutely true to the Vietnam era in ways most people have forgotten.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Shouting at the Rain Blog Tour

Check out the blog tour for this new book from Linda Mullaly Hunt!

Book Description
From the author of the New York Times bestseller Fish in a Tree comes a compelling story about perspective and learning to love the family you have.
     Delsie loves tracking the weather--lately, though, it seems the squalls are in her own life. She's always lived with her kindhearted Grammy, but now she's looking at their life with new eyes and wishing she could have a "regular family." Delsie observes other changes in the air, too--the most painful being a friend who's outgrown her. Luckily, she has neighbors with strong shoulders to support her, and Ronan, a new friend who is caring and courageous but also troubled by the losses he's endured. As Ronan and Delsie traipse around Cape Cod on their adventures, they both learn what it means to be angry versus sad, broken versus whole, and abandoned versus loved. And that, together, they can weather any storm.

Author Bios
Lynda Mullaly Hunt is the author of New York Times bestseller Fish in a Treeand Bank Street Best Book One for the Murphys. She's a former teacher, and holds writers retreats for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. She lives in Connecticut with her husband, two children, impetuous beagle, and beagle-loathing cat.


April 22 – A Gingerly Review – Review
April 23 – So She Tries – Review
April 24 – KidLitExchange – Review
April 25 – InRandom – Review

April 29 – Book Princess Reviews – Listicle: Books that take us through an emotional storm
April 30 – Mama Panda Bear – Review
May 1 – Ms. Yingling Reads – Review
May 2 – Elysian Artiste – Moodboard + Review

May 6 – Teachers Who Read – Review + Classroom Lesson
May 7 – Two Points of Interest – Review
May 8 – Just Commonly – Q&A
May 9 – Homeschool on the Range – Inspired by the Book: Learning Unit
Ms. Yingling

Spy School and Lock and Key

Gibbs, Stuart. Spy School: British Invasion (Spy School #7)
April 30th 2019 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Ben and his friends are still trying to recuperate from their adventures in Mexico when they are rushed off on another mission. Cyrus has an accident and can't go with them, but Erica's mother, Catherine, and her father, Alexander, are up for the adventure, even though Alexander is still peeved to find that Catherine worked for MI6 all this time. Murray is in their custody, and they hope to get information from his about SPYDER. Operation Tiger Shark takes the group to London, where a disastrous experience at the British Museum ends with some priceless artifacts being damaged and the group being designated public enemies. They take refuge in a secret room in the Tower Bridge for a bit, but are soon plunging into the Thames, high jacking  a bus and a truck, and making their way out to the estate of brilliant hacker Orion. Mike has several really good ideas, and he and Zoe start to bond over a shared love of fonts, making Ben jealous, even though he isn't sure if he likes Erica or Zoe better. Orion is willing to help the group decrypt a SPYDER flash drive, but SPYDER agents attack Orion's house, and the group is off again, this time in Orion's Russian helicopter, which only Alexander can pilot. Coordinates on the flash drive lead them to Paris, through the sewers, and into the lair of Mr. E., SPYDER's leader, who has some surprises for them. Operation Tiger Shark is successful, but there are still some loose ends, like Murray having decamped, and Cyrus's condition needing to be updated, so I think there will be another book!
Strengths: I've had a notice up that this book is coming out, and my students are really excited about it. Gibbs' series are the only ones where children actually get further than book three, which is unusual! Ben's self doubt, romantic entanglements, and attempts at making himself a better spy are completely realistic, and even children who aren't particularly interested in spying will appreciate him as a middle school character. Of course, the spy details are exquisite-- if I am ever dumped from a height into a river, I know to point my toes and keep my arms to my sides! Catherine is a fantastic character, as is Erica, and their ability to take down bad guys is non-pareil. Murray is interesting as well, although I'm not quite sure on which side he will eventually fall. Orion's loneliness as a hacker was innovative, and Mike's take on his interaction with his dogs was spot on! Another great installment of a highly amusing series.
Weaknesses: Alexander is a tremendously complicated character; I feel like he should have his own adult series, because these books aren't the place to discuss his backstory.
What I really think: Can't wait to see what is next!

Pearson, Ridley. The Final Step (Lock and Key #3)October 30th 2018 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Moira and James, still reeling from the death of their father and of Ralph in The Downward Spiral, are back at school, working on school survival competition in the woods. During the game, they happen upon the injured Mr. Lowery, the family lawyer. This is decidedly odd, but also very alarming-- the man is badly injured, and croaks out "Elves and the Shoemaker" before he dies. Even more alarming is the fact that the body disappears, and the news later reports that his body was found back in Boston, which schoolmate (and former girlfriend of James) Lexie discovers. The kids decide that the school probably did not want the publicity, but when Espiranzo contacts James, things start to look suspicious. How is the Directory and the Scowerers involved? And how is this related to the disappearce of the Moriarty's mother, the death of their father and Ralph, and the death of Lexie's father? There are secret locations, encrypted flash drives, and lots of false clues, which are all further complicated by the fact that not everyone is whom they appear to be. Can Moira really trust James, or is he becoming more and more evil? Luckily, Sherlock arrives to help out his friend, and decades old mysteries are resolved in this final installment of the series.

Told in alternating view points, we hear Moira's first hand account of the events and her concerns about James, and are able to see an omniscient point of view when James' chapters are recounted. This gives readers an interesting view of the events; it's good to know everything, but also interesting to have an insight into the sibling relationship.

There are any number of middle grade books involving Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's immortal character of Sherlock Holmes, including Andy Lane's fantastic Young Sherlock Holmes, Hearn's Baker Street Academy, Cavallaro's Charlotte Holmes novels, Misri's Jewel of the Thames and Springer's Enola Holmes series, and the Lock and Key series is a nice twist, since the main characters are the Moriarty family. Moira is leery of her family's past, but James seems more willing to embrace it, and the exchanges they have as they work through their family legacy is interesting.

There are few murder mysteries for young readers, and they are much in demand. The killing of the lawyer was an appropriate choice-- close enough for the children to be concerned and affected, but not a family friend to add to their already considerable grief. Tying in the most recent murder to the long history of family tragedies wrapped up many of the plot lines nicely as well.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Silver Meadows Summer

Otheguy, Emma. Silver Meadows Summer
April 30th 2019 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
ARC provided by the publisher

Carolina is not happy to move from Puerto Rico to upstate New York to live with her Tia Cuca, Uncle Porter and cousin Gabriella. The family has little choice, though, when her father loses her job and her mother's job as a middle school teacher isn't enough to keep the family afloat. Gabriella is welcoming, but Carolina is leery about her cousin's teenage attitude and her gang of friends. Having to hang out with them at a summer camp at a nearby farm does not sound like a good idea, even though Carolina will get time to do the artwork that she so enjoys. Camp isn't too bad, though, and she makes friends with another artist, Jennifer. They even find a small abandoned cottage on the property, and manage to sneak off and make it their own, although the owner of the farm is very insistent that campers not leave the designated paths after the accidental death of her husband. Carolina really wants to help her family fit in, but it's hard when her parents are struggling, and they all have to get along with Tia Cuca's family. Carolina misses Puerto Rico and feels a bit out of place in New York, especially since Gabriella has forgotten her Puerto Rican roots. The farm is due for some changes, and while these don't make many people happy, they are inevitable, just as so many things in Carolina's own life are.
Strengths: The differences in cultures was particularly well done, since it involved members of one family who all have slightly different experiences. There is very little middle grade literature out there with Puerto Rican characters that doesn't have a West Side Story feel to it, so I was very glad to see this. Summer camps are a big trending topic, and this was a nice twist on one, with some shades of suburban development.
Weaknesses: There is not a lot that happens, which is something my students seem to dislike in books that aren't super sad. I'm hoping that the Puerto Rican connection will help them be interested in Carolina's story.
What I really think: I really enjoyed this, especially since it has a character who has moved from a different environment into a new one (and the house is NOT haunted!). Carolina's story is an interesting but quiet one. It put me in mind a little of Hilton's Full Cicada Moon for no particularly good reason. I think I will purchase this one, but it will need more hand selling than some titles.

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Strangers and Unicorn Bowling

Haddix, Margaret Peterson. The Strangers (The Greystone Secrets #1) February 5th 2019 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

The Greystone kids have a good life, even if their father died when they were all very young. Chess remembers him, since he was four, but Emma and Finn have no memories. Their mother is very supportive; she's able to work from her home office in the basement and be there to provide after school snacks. When there is a report on the news that three children in Arizona have been kidnapped, their mother is oddly affected. When they realize that the children have oddly similar names, the very same birthdates, and even look like them a bit, even Finn worries a bit. It's even more alarming when their mother claims that she needs to go away for business for an undetermined number of days, and leaves them in the care of Ms. Morales, who worked on the PTA with Ms. Greystone, and her daughter, Natalie. Ms. Morales often lets women in troubled home situations stay with her, so Natalie isn't too surprised, and she reluctantly goes with the children to their house to feed their cat, since Ms. Morales is highly allergic. While back home, the children find their mother's cell phone and a letter, and start to try to decipher clues she has left about her disappearance. When the group manages to go into her basement office and finds a tunnel that leads them into another house in a nearby neighborhood, they know that things are not right and they have to figure out what has happened to their mother. The answer is both shocking and unbelievable, and leaves them with more questions than solutions. It also means that they have to try to save their mother in the next book. (No title or publication date available.)
Strengths: Haddix has a knack for very innovative ideas for science fiction related fantasy. I am always caught by surprise by the direction her plots take. The Greystone children are solid characters with distinct personalities, although I thought Natalie had a bit more spark. The fact that Ms. Morales helped out women having domestic issues was quite interesting and added a layer of believability to the children staying with her with few questions asked.
Weaknesses: Ever since Under Their Skin and Children of Exile, reading Haddix's books makes me uneasy. I keep suspecting really weird things to happen. Or, as I put it in one of my reviews, I don't quite believe the worlds that she constructs. They are just too odd. This, of course, is why my daughter liked the books. Felt the same way about this one.
What I really think: Haddix is a local writer, so many of my students have seen her speak, and there is always a demand for her books. I was really intrigues by her notes at the end of the book about Rheta Grimsely Johnson writing "about a sad, odd, true coincidence" that inspired this story, and now I want to know what that was!

Simpson, Dana. Unicorn Bowling (Phoebe and Her Unicorn #9)
April 23rd 2019 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

Think of Phoebe and Marigold as the Calvin and Hobbes of the new  millennium. In this collection of comic strips (which the Columbus Dispatch should definitely consider the next time they get a new strip!), Phoebe and her unicorn pal do indeed go bowling, create a diorama for school, deal with the snotty Dakota, and even go to unicorn summer camp. I enjoy the fact that these are not only funny, but have a lot of good life lessons about how to be a good friend. Makes a good combination. I buy very few comic strips for the library, but this is a particularly good one. 

Monday, April 22, 2019

MMGM- Paul B. Janeczko

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.

I knew of Paul Janeczko mainly from poetry anthologies in my library that have seen years of use; Blushing: Expressions of Love in Poems and Letters (2004), Preposterous: Poems of Youth (1991), Strings: A Gathering of Family Poems (1984), and Don't Forget to Fly (1981). Dark Game (2011) and Double Cross (2017) surprised and delighted me with their spy details, and showed me another side of this author. Sadly, he passed away 21 February, just as this new book showed up on my radar. According to his obituary in Publishers Weekly, there are two more manuscripts in the hands of his editor. I always thought fond thoughts about this author when I handed his books to students; I'm sorry I never got to tell him how much easier he made my job. 

Secret Soldiers is a masterpiece; pick it up for your WWII fans as a fitting tribute to a great author.

Janeczko, Paul B. Secret Soldiers: How the U.S. Twenty-Third Special Troops Fooled the Nazis
April 23rd 2019 by Candlewick Press
E ARC from Netgalley.com

During WWII, there were dozens and dozens of departments and units doing things that 95% of the population still has no clue about. Whether it was the art units or African-American women sorting mail, the Fly Girls, or the Candy Bombers, I am always amazed by the things I read about WWII that most of the history buffs I know aren't even aware of! Certainly, very few people know about the Twenty-Third Headquarters Special Troops, also known as the Ghost Army. Their job was to go in, with about 1,100 members, and impersonate troops of up to 50,000 soldiers or sailors. They were also instrumental in throwing off the enemy by making it look like there were tanks, encampments, and even troop transport ships when they were merely inflatable items and scores of dummies! Even better, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. was instrumental in the idea! It was sort of like a covert USO, made up of artists, sound technicians, and other special effects experts. My favorite was when they staged a naval attack to try to siphon troops away from the area where an actual attack was planned-- they had the fake ships, threw up a smoke screen, played sound effects, and sent in a few bombs! And it actually worked. Tactics like this would probably not work today, but how intriguing that they did.

This followed the group from their inception through the many different activities in which they were involved in a very orderly fashion, and there were lots of good pictures of people, equipment, and areas. There were so many fascinating details that I wanted to share with someone: did you know that Quonset huts were called Nissen huts in the UK? That the Beach Jumpers were named that because they wanted other words to fit the acronym for be-jesus? And... Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.!

Here's the thing: I have zero interest in WWII. None. And yet, my students love to read about it, so I have acquired enough of a background knowledge that I could, say, hold up my end of the conversation if I were on a date with a WWII buff. This book was so well-researched; where would you even get pictures of the fake tanks? Surely, there was some kind of security that would have made this difficult to sneak back home after the war.

This is an essential addition to a middle school or high school library, and will probably be my nominee for the Cybils middle grade nonfiction award for 2019.

Well done, Mr. Janeczko.

Sutter, Marcus. Attack on Pearl Harbor (Soldier Dogs #2)
October 30th 2018 by HarperCollins
Library copy

There are a growing number of dogs in war books being published, and these are a great way to sate to appetite of slightly younger readers who  like WWII books. In addition to the four by Sutter, there are:

Calkhoven, Laurie. G.I. Dogs: Stubby (G.I. Dogs #2) (Two books)
Hart, Alison. Darling, Mercy Dog of World War I (Four books)
Klimo, Kate. Buddy (Dog Diaries #2) (A lot, some about war)
London, C. Alexander. Semper Fido (Dog Tags #1) (A couple, plus some sea creature ones.)

Sunday, April 21, 2019

A Wolf Called Wander

Parry, Rosanne. A Wolf Called Wander
May 2nd 2019 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Swift lives near the mountains with his pack; father, mother, and several siblings, including Warm, the smallest and most fragile. They hunt, snuggle in their den, and hunt small animals. When the pack is attacked by another pack, Swift is badly injured and separated from his family. He barely survives, and travels to try to locate his loved ones. His only companion is a raven, with whom he shares some food. This gives him comfort, but a wolf alone is not a happy one. At one point, he sees a female wolf, but she is on the far side of the black river (a highway), and he chases her off so she doesn't get hit by a car. Swift lives on bugs and small rodents, not the quality of food a wolf would expect, while he is healing, and hopes to be able to join a pack of bachelor wolves, but has no luck. At one point, he finds Warm, only to be cruelly separated from him by Warm's death. He misses the mountains, and has to learn the intricacies of his new terrain. Eventually, he is able to reestablish himself, but not as the Swift he once was, but as a new incarnation of himself, Wander.
Strengths: Of all the animals in the world, wolves are the ones about whom my students want books! Even Elizabeth's Hall's Child of the Wolves(1995) still circulated in my library until it fell apart. I always enjoy Parry's writing; it is crisp, descriptive, and facile. (Meaning that it seems effortless and is easy to read. Somehow that term seems perjorative, but I don't mean it that way!) I'm NOT a fan of books from an animal's perspective, so it speaks well to the quality of the writing that I was able to read this and enjoy it.
Weaknesses: It is unsparing in its descriptions of what life in the wild means-- there is a fair amount of animal violence and gore. On the upside, it did NOT start with a description of Swift being born!
What I really think: While not something I'm personally wild about, I'll definitely buy a copy because my students will be glad to have it. Definitely a better choice of an animal adventure story than the sad and confusing Pax.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Cartoon Saturday

Terciero, Rey and Indigo, Bre (Illustrations)
Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Graphic Novel: A Modern Retelling of Little Women
February 5th 2019 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

The March family lives in a brownstone in the city. Their mother is a harried hospital nurse, and their father is fighting overseas. Things are economically tough, and each girl has their own wishes for Christmas that don't come true. Jo, whose biological father left when she was a baby but who was adopted by Robert March when he married her mother, what great literature. Meg, the oldest, wants the latest fashion. Beth, the quiet musician, wants her own guitar, and bratty Amy just wants everything. When wealthy neighbor Mr. Marquez invites them to share Christmas dinner with him, they meet his grandson, Laurie. There are triumphs and tragedies along the way that echo the ones in Alcott's book but are modernized. Several things do change, such as the trajectory of Beth's disease and of Meg's romance, and a surprise announcement from Jo.
Strengths: The events are convincingly updated with added diversity. The characters stay fairly true to form. The illustrations are quite nice, and the colors are good. There are some e mails and journal entries that help explain some more complicated events, like how the family was created. It remains, as always, a good tale of sisterhood and finding yourself in the face of adversity.
Weaknesses: Readers who love the original won't necessarily like some of the updates, but since few people under the age of 50 have read the original, it's not really a concern.
What I really think: I didn't buy Schaefer's 2017 Littler Women: A Modern Retelling  and Baratz-Logstead's 2012 Little Women and Me doesn't circulate too well (although it is SUPER clever and fun). The Anne of Green Gables graphic novel I have goes out occasionally, but it's a paperback and doesn't have this look to it. If your library can't keep Telgemeier and Jamieson books on the shelf, this would be a good purchase, but I don't think it will necessarily encourage readers to pick up the original. I prefer updates to original stories that are more along the lines of Jason Henderson's Young Captain Nemo--  more reimaginings than retellings.

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Terrible Two's Last Laugh

Barnett, Mac and John, Jory. The Terrible Two's Last Laugh (#4)
December 24th 2018 by Harry N. Abrams
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Mile and Niles, pranksters extraordinaire, are back for their last year at their school. They start the year off right, with some mild shenanigans on the bus, and are somewhat surprised when Principal Barkin calls them into his office. For once, they are not in trouble; Barkin just wants their help in upping his own pranking skills, which he has been trying out, not very successfully, on the staff. This comes to a halt, however, when the superintendent of the school dies and the elder, former principal Barkin becomes the superintendent! Undeterred by the nimbus like bullying behavior of the youngest Barkin, Josh, Miles and Niles set out to pull as many amusing and sophisticated pranks as they can, including declaring a Bring Your Pet to School Day that is rather successful. Things can't always go on the way they have been, and the duo gets some bad news. Will the end of the school year mean the end of the Terrible Two?

It is an all too common theme in middle grade literature to have the school principal be either a doofus or evil or both, and it was delightful to see Principal Barkin see the joy in pranking and seek advice from the best two practioneers of it! He had experienced some personal growth in the last book, but really comes in to his own here, even expressing admiration for the very first prank involving his hatch back. It would have been asking too much for Josh to also see the light, but my favorite part of this was Principal Barkin trying to come up with pranks that he could successful pull, and Miles and Niles instructing him on what "grace notes" to pranks would be!

The pictures capture the frenetic glee with which Miles and Niles go about their day, and add a depth to the characters. Superintendent Barkin's evil character is reinforced by the pictures of him in his striped suit, holding bolt cutters menancingly, and Miles and Niles friendship is shown in simple glimpses of them sitting under a tree or touching fingertips after a prank. There is even a light romance that is shown mainly through the pictures.

Yawnee Valley is a great town, and the descriptions of the local cows and small population are somewhat different than the typical middle grade novel setting. I'm not sure that any rural populations are going to be glad that their cows are painted with green and purple polka dots, but the tone of these novels is flippant and jovial enough to almost make me believe that they would find tourist opportunities to showcase these colorful animals.

Notebook novels are always a popular middle grade choice, and readers who have burned through Peirce's Big Nate, Berger's Lyttle Lies, Moore's King of the Bench series and Bergman and Scotts' Zits novelizations will enjoy reading about Miles and Niles exploits... and maybe even trying to recreate them!

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The North Star (The Gemini Mysteries #1)

Shepherd, Kat. The North Star (The Gemini Mysteries #1)
Published March 5th 2019 by Yellow Jacket
Public Library Copy

Zach and Evie Mamuya's mother is an investigative reporter in Minneapolis, so they get dragged along to a burglary at Sophie's house. Sophie's parents are great philanthropists, and they have allowed her to auction off a family heirloom, the North Star diamonds, the raise money to help the gibbons at the zoo. The necklace goes missing at the pre-auction showing party, and that's when Zach, Evie and their friend Vishal arrive. They meet Sophie in the garden, and the four start to investigate. They find things out of place, information about the safe from which the necklace was stolen, and uncover activities of key suspects the police aren't really even investigating. They pay special attention to Sophie's great aunt Marguerite, especially her much younger tennis pro boyfriend and newly hired servant, Derek. They also investigate Gideon, whose activities seem very suspicious. Luckily, the group's investigations help the police run the criminal to earth, and Sophie is able to auction the necklace off.
Strengths: I love the cover, and the interior illustration are great and add a lot to the story. I miss spot illustrations like the ones widely employed in the 1950s-- the books of Cleary, Eager, McCloskey, Norton, and Robertson all had them. Sophie's altruism is great, and while her family has a lot of money, she works on being accessible to her new friends (even though she has her own driver). The police look a bit incompetent (even though the Mamuya's father was one), and the children, of course, save the day.
Weaknesses: Apparently, I watched WAY too much Scooby Doo as a child; doesn't Sophie on the cover look a little like Velma? The cast of characters is right out of an episode (Tennis pro gold digger? Manservant? Great aunt who is all of about 50 who is channeling old women movie characters of the 1940s?), there's a diamond necklace (okay, it was a good explanation, but how many kids' families just have those lying around?), and the chapters had James Patterson-like cliff hanger endings that made me think the next chapter would start with someone saying "Jinkies!" These elements are employed in Lewis' Club CSI Mysteries, and my students like them, so clearly their parents shielded them from Shaggy and Scooby more than mine did, and they won't care!
What I really think: I definitely need more mysteries, and the cover of this one is great and the illustration is more teen than elementary. This will work well for reader's of the new Nancy Drew Diaries and Phoebe River's SaraNormal, although the cover will also appeal to boys a bit more than those titles do. Will probably purchase, along with the sequel that comes out in December, The Cat's Paw.
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Operation Frog Effect

Scheerger, Sarah. Operation Frog Effect
February 26th 2019 by Random House Books for Young
Copy provided by the publisher

Ms. Graham's fifth grade class is an exciting place to be. She lets the students help form classroom rules and homework policy, they work in groups, and there is even a class pet, Kermit. The students are also keeping journals, and we hear from the perspective of eight of them. Blake likes to draw his entries, and he and his mother struggle with housing and other issues. Aviva's mother is in the country without proper papers, and both miss Aviva's grandmother in Mexico. Emily is struggling with the fact that her two best friends are going to another school next year, and there is no way her mother can afford to send her there. Henry wants to be a movie director, so creates scripts for his entries. There are a lot of projects, and Ms. Graham includes a lot of social justice issues in her class. When a group decides to visit a homeless encampment without permission, many people get in trouble, and Ms. Graham is in danger of losing her job until the children are able to make the powers that be listen to their explanation.
Strengths: This is exactly on trend with its themes of social and emotional education. Ms. Graham is an engaging teacher, and her students are generally excited about learning, which is a good example to see in literature. The characters are all well defined, and the plot moves along nicely.
Weaknesses: There are quite a lot of social concerns included in this book. While this is quite common currently, I think it confuses young readers to have to deal with so many. And not so much a weakness as an observation: I'm trying to determine what it is that makes certain books set in elementary school unpopular with my readers, while others are fine. Sadly, class pets seem to be a big dividing factor, and the cartoon style on the cover makes this seem a bit young to my students.
What I really think: This will be popular with elementary students who enjoyed Buyea's Because of Mr. Terupt, Korman's The Unteachables, Palacio's Wonder, Woodrow's Field Tripped, Woodson's Harbor Me, and other books that include a cast of characters that represent a variety of current cultural talking points or with fans of Varnes' Property of the Rebel Librarian and other books where the teacher's job is imperiled. However, I'm sending my copy over to the elementary school, because I think it will get more use there.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Aru Shah and the Song of Death

Chokshi, Roshani. Aru Shah and the Song of Death (Pandava Quartet, #2)
April 16th 2019 by Rick Riordan Presents
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

We meet up again with Aru and Mini after The End of Time and plunge right into the action. The Night Market is filled with zombies, and Aru sees another Pandava fighting... her. Clearly, it's a shape shifter in Aru's form, but that doesn't keep Brynne from being very angry at Aru when it turns out the bow and arrow of Kamadeva has been stolen. Not only that, but Aru, Brynn and Mini, as well as the pigeon-tutor Boo are blamed! Uloopi, the naga queen, sentences the group to retrieve the bow and arrow or to be exiled from the Otherworld! Brynne is hostile and doesn't seem like a great travel companion, but it's even worse when Aiden shows up to help in Boo's place, and Aru can't get over the time she sounded like an idiot in front of him. With only eight days to retrieve the stolen goods, however, there is no time to waste, and soon the group is headed on a magical quest to the naga realm on enchanted gazelles! Aru needs to find the thief's name, speak it, and will then be able to locate the stolen items. This quest takes the group through many portals, and they must talk to many different characters to obtain the information and artifacts they need. Mini is kidnapped and taken to the land of sleep, so on top of everything else, Aru must rescue her. At one point, they are in Little India in New Jersey, and are soon off to enter the Ocean of Milk to try to get an item that the thief is also seeking. This leads to an epic battle between the thief. Since Aru Shah and the Tree of Wishes is due out in spring of 2020, I don't think it's much of a spoiler to say that Aru's side manages to win.
Strengths: Of all of the Rick Riordan Presents books, this channel's Riordan's own work the best. Immediate action, great humor, and a formulaic quest will keep middle grade readers desperate for the next installment. There are mythological creatures sprinkled through the whole book, and a very helpful glossary of terms and people at the back. The characters are all very different and engaging, and of course Brynne becomes less hostile. Her love of food is a fun touch, as is a secret about Aiden's past lives. There is also plenty of backstory scattered throughout-- Aru's mother and her unwillingness to discuss her father and Mini's parents' pressure on her to become a doctor as well as a first rate Pandava-- but it never bogs down the plot, which is a sign of great writing.
Weaknesses: There are a LOT of characters, and it's always a struggle for me to keep all of these, as well as all of the locations on the quest, straight in my mind. I'm also never sure where the line is drawn between Indian legend/ mythology and Indian religion, and wouldn't mind a note to that effect in a future volume. I imagine many of my students also would benefit from an explanation.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and looking forward to meeting the other two Pandavas in the upcoming volumes.

Monday, April 15, 2019

MMGM- Project Me 2.0 and Birds of Every Color

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.

Gangsei, Jan. Project Me 2.0
April 16th 2019 by Aladdin/Simon Kids
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Farley's life has its ups and downs. He has really good friends in Josh and Burt, even though they have a tendency to call him "Fartley". His parents are supportive, but his father was the sort of popular, athletic kid that Farley definitely is not, so Farley thinks he disappoints him. It's summer vacation, and the big news is that one of Farley's old friends has moved back to town near Burt's house and is eager to get back together. The bad news is that it's Anna, who shared Farley's love of comics and was super cool, and Farley does not feel ready to meet her. He decides to use the summer for self improvement, and even clicks on some internet links to help him with his project. The lights flicker, his computer starts acting strangely, and a tiny, doll-sized surfer dude named Tomy materializes in his bedroom and starts to give him advice! Always worried that his parents will find his new friend hiding out in the Sea Monkey aquarium or in the hammock he has made of Farley's underwear, Farley nevertheless embarks on his program to improve himself. He tries to eat healthier foods, goes running with his father, and generally tries to organize himself a bit more. Sadly, he is not able to avoid Anna during the summer, but the two still are friendly, and Anna remains as cool as ever, even joining the band that Farley has put together with his friends. As the bands first gig approaches, Farley starts to realize that Anna may actually like him for himself, even though working through some issues with Tomy hasn't been a bad idea.
Strengths:The biggest concern for middle school students is personal identity. Who am I? What do people think of me? What activities can I do that will define me as the person I want the world to see? Farley's struggle to move beyond the first version of himself is one that readers will find relatable, and the fact that it is treated with humor gives a great perspective. If you can't laugh at yourself in middle school, life is going to be very hard, and Farley is a well-balanced character with understandable flaws as well as reasonable expectations. He also typifies the goofiness and lack of forethought that I see every day in middle school. Anna is a great character, and their relationship is very sweet. Gangsei writes especially excellent parents in her first book, The Wild Bunch, as well as in this.  They are just involved enough to be annoying, but are also present in a pinch.
Weaknesses: Will today's readers understand the term "2.0"? We don't seem to have versions on things anymore, since everything is version 36 or so. The only problem I had with the writing was that on the same page Farley is complaining to Anna that his friends don't seem the real him, they just think he is the clown he sometimes pretends to be, he mentions that the gym workers must be required to be muscle bound and tank top clad. Maybe Rob has a PhD in nuclear physics, and Farley relies on outward appearances to judge inner character as much as his friends. I was hoping this interchange would go somewhere meaningful, but it didn't. Will students notice this? Not at all.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and this cover will sell the book immediately. I love the stripes on the sides of the MAX books-- makes them easy to pick out if they ever make it back to the shelves.

Collard, Sneed B. III and Braden (Photographs)
Birds of Every Color 
March 10th 2019 by Bucking Horse Books
Copy provided by the publisher

This innovative nonfiction picture book for older elementary students discusses the purpose and story behind the different colors of birds. It starts with beautiful spreads on a few different colors, with a discussion of a particular bird with that color, and why that color is significant. It then explains how birds' colors are developed, with complete scientific explanations, with new terms explained and pronounced. My favorite part was the delineation of what different colors SAY to other birds! I did not know that birds with blacker caps and whiter whites on their faces became the rulers of their flocks! At the end of the book, there is a nice layout of different birds, as well as a glossary of terms used.

Like all of Collard's books, the photography is exquisite, and the research well done. This would be a great baby gift, since it's the sort of book that grows with a child's increasing understanding; babies will enjoy pointing out the colors of the birds, but older children will find the science fascinating.