Friday, May 31, 2019

Hurricane Season

Melleby, Nicole. Hurricane Season
May 7th 2019 by Algonquin Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Fig (given name Finola) and her father Tim live along the coast in New Jersey. Her father was an up and coming composer and performer before Fig's birth, but after her arrival, her mother left and her father struggled with the creative process. He has good days and bad days, and is especially disturbed by storms, which frequent their area at certain times of year. When her father comes to school in a very agitated state looking for Fig, her art teacher calls children's protective services and has the family under watch. Fig feels that if she can keep everything together at home and do well on an art project about Van Gogh, her father will seem competent and they will be able to stay together. She gets help from an unlikely source, new neighbor Mark, who rescues her father from a storm and slowly starts helping the two put some coping mechanisms in place. Fig is able to let Mark handle some issues, and relaxes enough to try to make some friends, including Danny, who "like likes" her. However, when her father comes to a Halloween party looking for her, again in an agitated state, Mark takes even more action and makes sure that the father goes to a doctor and gets the help he so desperately needs. Adjusting to the medication isn't easy, but it does seem to improve things, as does the stable presence of Mark. Tim and Mark become romantically involved, children's protective services are pleased that Tim is making progress, and Fig is able to turn her attention back to the academic and social aspects of middle school.
Strengths: It was refreshing to see a child in crisis at a moment when concerned adults were beginning to get involved. Fig's life has been difficult, but when it starts to become impossible, there are people there to help her. I think this is an important reassurance for young readers and a reminder that they should go to trusted adults if they have problems. Fig's attitude is understandable, and she tries her best to hold things together by being the adult but also trying her best in school. She is lonely for friends, but not romantically interested in Danny, mainly because she's 11, but also because she has a crush on an older girl who works at the library. Van Gogh and his problems are worked into the story in an interesting way, and the cover is a nice reflection of that theme.
Weaknesses: There were a lot of issues. The dad's bipolar disorder, Fig's abandonment by her mother, Mark and Tim's relationship, Fig's questioning of her sexuality, and even a passing mention of Danny's father being in drug rehab. That's all fine; it's all appropriate to this age group, but by mentioning so many different things, it makes each one of them seem less believable to readers who may have no background knowledge about some of them. Having Fig's father be gay or bisexual is one thing, but to also have Fig be questioning makes both situations seem more unlikely and forced.
What I really think: This was well written and enjoyable, but I will have to see if I need more books of this kind. With a limited budget, I can buy only a small percentage of each type of book, and books with sad issues and children overcoming adversity make up a large number of 2019 releases.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Great Moments with Alex Rider

People often ask me what my favorite book is. That's a hard question. Over the last twenty years as a middle school librarian, I've probably read 10,000 middle grade novels. It's not as important what MY favorite book is. The essential question is this: What book do I most like to hand to my students?

Without a doubt, it is Anthony Horowitz's Stormbreaker (2001). Out of the ten copies I have, there are usually only one or two available. I stocked up because what if it went out of print? This is my go to title for everyone because it has it all-- action, humor, adventure, strategy, mystery. Over the last fifteen years, Stormbreaker has circulated 1,725 times! This is spread over about twenty copies, because they often fall apart or get lost. 

In 2005, right after I read Scorpia and was pretty sure that Alex had perished, I traveled to England and was in the book department at Harrods in London. I was buying some Jacqueline Wilson books for Picky Reader when I saw a shiny gold book by Horowitz, Ark Angel. Alex lived! I bought a copy and loaned it to students until it was finally published. They were thrilled to be the "only" people in the US to read the book!

Back in 2006, I sent a filled up circulation card to Mr. Horowitz, telling him how much my students had enjoyed his book, and he sent a very gracious letter back where he said "I have never pretended that I write great literature, but I do try to write well and I very much hope that the young people in your library will move on from Alex Rider to discover the many talented writers that are around right now." This seemed so wrong that I wrote back to tell him how wrong he was, and he again replied!

I still have those letters, and I let occasional students hold them and read them. You would think I let them handle the Dead Sea Scrolls!

When my daughter was in middle school, she was one of my library helpers. She worked with a boy on whom she had an enormous crush, and she was thrilled when he read Stormbreaker on her recommendation. When the movie came out, she asked him to go see it, and I got to drive them!

In 2010, my principal told me a story about a fight that almost occurred while students were waiting for the buses-- two boys were arguing about whether Snakehead or Crocodile Tears was better!

Stormbreaker has been a Battle of the Books selection, and it's always a favorite. I just assume that all of my 8th graders have read it, since I recommend it so much. My favorite moment is when I recommend the book to a student, and several other students in the area chime in with "Oh, yeah, that was fantastic!"

Since Penguin Random House sent me a copy before publication, I was able to have two of my students read it at the very end of this school year, and we had long conversations about the books; this is the ultimate thrill for school librarians!

The new Secret Weapon was so good that I bought a copy for myself, so that when I am old and infirm, young whippersnappers can read it to me and we can both be entertained. But really, I should also have a copy of Stormbreaker with me. When I am old and addled and relieving my past, I will need to be able to hand this book to visitors whom I imagine are students asking me for a great book to read. 

Visit the other hosts for the Kids Know Best Blogger Campaign!


PART ONE: Theodore Boone: The Accomplice

May 6 – InRandom – Review
May 7 – Homeschool on the Range – Novel Study
May 8 – Min Reads and Review – Spotlight
May 9 – Picture Books to YA – Listicle: Non-fiction books + TV Shows for kids who are interested in law

May 13 – Reading Corner for All – Crossword/Word Search + Review  
May 14 – Two Points of Interest – Review
May 15 – Homeschool by the Beach – Creative Instagram Picture
May 16 – Little Homeschool on the Prairie – Review

PART TWO: Alex Rider: The Secret Weapon

May 20 – Createexploreread – Creative Instagram Picture
May 21 – Alohamora Open a Book – Review + Playlist
May 22 – Somethewiser – Review + Video Clip
May 23 – Lost in Storyland – Listicle: Teenage Spy Survival Guide

May 27 – @gobletoffiction – Creative Instagram Picture + Review
May 28 – Randomly Reading – Review
May 29 – Amanda Seghetti – Creative Instagram Picture  
May 30 – Ms. Yingling Reads – Memorable Moments in Alex Rider History

Me and Sam-Sam Handle the Apocalypse

Vaught, Susan. Me and Sam-Sam Handle the Apocalypse
May 14th 2019 by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Jesse likes to hang out in her tree house with her Pomeranian, Sam-Sam, when she is not trying to teach the fluffy pup how to do search-and-rescue missions. Sam-Sam's primary purpose is to provide comfort to Jesse, but since her mom is away serving in the military, Jesse hopes to prove that her dog is just as fierce and useful as her mother's. Jesse's father teaches at the local high school, and her Aunt Gus helps run the house and help with Jesse. Sometimes, Jesse can be a handful, since she is on the Autism spectrum and averse to itchy clothes and a variety of other things. This makes her the target of several mean children in her school, who are mean because they have a variety of issues in their own lives. Jesse does befriend a new boy, Springer, who seems to understand her eccentricities. When Jesse's father is arrested after money from a library fund raiser goes missing, Jesse is determined to investigate and prove her father's innocence, and Springer is glad to help. When a tornado touches down in their town and Jesse's home is destroyed, things because more complicated. She and Springer are able to work through the mystery, survive the tornado and help out during it, and finally get some help with the bullying they have had to endure.
Strengths: I loved Vaught's depiction of a neurodivergent character. We have an Autism spectrum unit at our school, and Jesse's behavior is very similar to some of those students. Since dealing with meltdowns in class is hard for the students who have to witness them as well, I think reading about characters like Jesse is helpful in making readers more empathetic to people whose behavior might otherwise just seem to be irritating to them. The "cockroaches" who give Jesse and Springer a hard time would certainly benefit from reading a book like this! Having a parent servant in the military is a nice touch, and the mystery is okay. I particularly liked Aunt Gus!
Weaknesses: My students, sad to say, struggle with even the simplest flashbacks in books. This story goes back and forth between the investigation of the mystery to the tornado a lot of times, and even I got a little bit confused. Since there are a lot of clues that Jesse unearths during her investigation, this would have been a much stronger and easier to process story is the writing had been linear.
What I really think: I'm really torn about this. I need more books about neurodivergent characters, but the cover of this isn't immediately appealing. I'll probably end up purchasing, but it will take some convincing to get children to read it. (Also whispering to myself "Sam-Sam and I. Sam-Sam and I." to myself!)
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Zenobia July

Bunker, Lisa. Zenobia July
May 21st 2019 by Viking Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edleweiss Plus

Zenobia has moved from Arizona, where she lived with her dysfunctional father after the death of her mother, and is now living in Maine with her Aunt Lucy and her wife Phil. She is starting a new school, and rather nervous about it, especially since she is a trans girl and no one at the new school knows her background. She wants to keep it that way, so is rather quiet. She does manage to make a friend, Arli, who has a lunch table full of friends who all have some trouble fitting in. Arli is gender queer, and does not identify as any gender, which has caused troubles at home. (The pronouns Arli uses are vo, ven, veir) Zenobia helps her teacher out with some computer problems, but before long there is a really big computer issue-- Chantal (who is Muslim and whom Arli calls Dyna), is the subject of racist threats on the school web site. Eager to find the hackers, Zenobia offers to investigate. In the meantime, one of her aunts' friends takes her shopping and gets her clothes that make her more comfortable, and she makes friends with Melissa. She is invited to Melissa's house for family games, and her mother is very comforting, but Melissa's family is very religious. When it turns out that another classmate, Elijah, is a trans boy, Melissa is not very understanding, and others in the school are negative enough that Zen really wants to keep her secret. Her aunts are supportive of her ups and downs with fitting in, and there are a lot of upsets. In the end, though, Zen is able to solve the hacker mystery, keep her good friends, and even trusts Arli with her identity.
Nota Bene: I have tried to get all of my gender language correct, but it is something that I struggle with. It does change, as well, so what is correct today may not be later.

Strengths: I really liked how Zen's identity was described-- she had just always felt like a girl, her mother and father struggled with it, and her aunts were supportive. There wasn't the concentration on hair and clothing (although those were mentioned) that I've seen in other books, which was a nice change. The middle school drama was accurate, and it wasn't all due to Zen's gender. I especially liked the computer interest and the hacking, and the way the teacher handled it was well done-- he took Zen's suggestions but the work was done by the school. Most of all, the love and support of the aunts was great.
Weaknesses: Like The Lotterys, the overabundance of divergent characters made the book less serious. Zen is a trans girl, Arli is gender queer, Elijah is a trans boy, the aunts are either a lesbian couple or Aunt Phil is trans (there are hints, and I wasn't sure, nor do I feel I was supposed to be sure), Arli's mother is perhaps also gender queer (Arli refers to his dad and his "parent") and Brad (Uncle Sprink) is a transvestite. This is a lot to process for middle grade readers who may ever have met anyone like these characters. I would have preferred it if Zen and Arli were the focus, and the other characters were more mainstream, since that would be more navigable for students, would highlight the Zen and Arli's difficulties against a background of binary characters, and also seem more realistic. There are also a lot of asides (Zen's conversations with god, other people's thoughts) that slowed down the plot.
What I really think: I am definitely going to buy it, but I wish it had been more streamlined so that the most important issues were highlighted and could be more easily understood by my students.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Duel at Araluen (Royal Ranger #3)

Aaah. Another Royal Ranger book! I love these SOOOOO much, and I am not alone. Blogger Julia Tomiak has a great post on why SHE loves the Ranger's Apprentice books, and I agree with everything she has said!

At Kidlitcon, someone said that the reason WWII is more appealing to write and read about than other military conflicts is that it has very clear cut bad guys and good guys. I think the same can be said about The Ranger's Apprentive. Not only are the Araluens and Skandians fighting on the side of right, but they are just good people. They are nice to their horses, they treat their soldiers well, they give women equal opportunities. The Red Fox Clan is NOT good. They are also clumsily stupid, mean, and only clever enough to make them worthy opponents.

I don't normally like reading about fighting and violence, but reading these books is sort of like... hitting pillows when you are angry. It releases tension and makes you feel better, somehow. Given the state of the world today, it's a relief to retreat to this world and bash the Red Fox Clan around a bit!

Flanagan, John. Duel at Araluen (Royal Ranger #3)
May 28th 2019 by Philomel Books (first published 2018)
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

When We last saw Maddie and Cassandra, things were bad. Dimon, former palace guard chief, had assembled a rag tag bunch of men angry about the fact that Cassandra might soon be heir to the throne, and they were besieging the castle. The king, Cassandra, Maddie, and many others loyal to the crown managed to barricade themselves in a tower. Sir Horace and Ranger Commandant Gilan are in the north, having been lured there to get them away from the castle. Maddie comes up with a good idea-- hunt down the Skandians, who had some issues with one of their boats, and get them to help Horace's men, so they could get back to the palace. Having discovered tunnels under the palace, Maddie is able to sneak away, find her father, locate the Skandians (who are always up for a good battle!), and start to deal with the Red Fox Clan. Maddie is successful, and Cassandra manages to hold off Dimon's men in very clever ways, including setting fire to their newly built trebuchet! Dimon is not a good commander, so when the stakes get tough, his men start to desert him. The casualties were high in the fight with Horace, so the Araluens are able to deal with Dimon fairly easily.
Strengths: *Sigh* Along with bashing bad guys, there's good cups of coffee by the fireside, humor, and Cassandra giving Dimon a run for his money with her sword fighting. The plot moves along quickly, and there are lots of great scenes with flaming pig bladders.
Weaknesses: We only see Will at the end. And I feel sorry for Maddie. No romance for her, because there is no one her own age. Let's introduce her to some young, new rangers, shall we?
What I really think: I don't like long series; this is the notable exception, along with Alex Rider. Mr. Flanagan can come out with two books a year for as long as he might want.

Riccio, Christine. Again, But Better
May 7th 2019 by Wednesday Books
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Shane is halfway through her junior year in college in 2011, and she's not happy. Stuck in a premed major her parents have forced upon her, she has no social life and is unable to follow her real passion, writing. She applies to a study abroad program in London, lies to her parents about having a medical internship, and heads off for adventure. It's a huge improvement over her old, never-been-kissed life. She makes good friends with her roommates, meets cute boys, and heads off to Rome for a weekend right away. Her internship at Packed! For Travel! starts off brilliantly with her boss being impressed with her blog and giving her an article to write. The travel, hanging out, and romance all tick along, although there is a wrinkle when she finds out that her crush, Pilot, already has a girlfriend. Still, there's lots to do, and pubs to visit, and Shane knows that she has made a good choice. However, when her parents visit unexpectedly and her cover is blown, they are furious. Her father refuses to spend big bucks so that she can be an unemployed writer, and makes her return home immediately. We catch up with her in 2017, when she has finished medical school and is ready for her residency, but still regrets the past. She meets up with Pilot, and the two get stuck in an elevator... that takes them back to London in 2011. Shane has the chance to do everything all over again. She and Pilot decide they should be together, since Shane is tired of Amy in 2017, but their relationship causes other wrinkle, like messing up her writing internship. Shane gets a chance to reboot her life and make different choices, but it's hard to tell when one seemingly small change might change everything... and not for the better.

As with any time travel book, the time travel mechanism is important, and I did like the omnipresent barista who ended up overseeing Shane's life, and the elevator that takes Shane and Pilot back in time. Haven't we all suspected elevators can do that? It's interesting to see two people who know what the future brings trying to navigate the world with that knowledge in mind, and they both have slightly different visions for what 2017 should become.

The details about studying abroad in London are what makes this really worth reading. Travel, dorms, even shopping for groceries at Tesco are all things that would have been completely enthralling to me when I was in high school or early college. It's even better that Shane is happy about being in London, since too many books involving foreign exchanges are a bit whiny.

As an adult who understands Shane's father's reluctance to pay big bucks for a creative writing degree, I found it a bit hard to understand why Shane was unhappy in 2017. She'd made it through the hard part of medical school, she had a serious boyfriend, and we can assume her parents are happy with her. She wants to throw this all away to go back to Pilot, who wants to be a musician? Not quite getting this situation, but certainly can understand wanting to go back and change the past!

Readers who loved the time travel in Mlynowski's Gimme a Call or Asher's The Future of Us, and who want a college aged protagonist who just wants to be kissed and have a beer or two at a pub will enjoy Again, But Better. Maybe it will even help them get their life right the first time around, since we really aren't given second chances!

Monday, May 27, 2019

MMGM- Secrets of a Fangirl

LAST blather: I haven't really read anything in two weeks. 

I blamed it on the end of school, flare of of "spy injury", the fact I won't be coaching cross country in the fall, my mother's continued decline, lots of things. But really, I just can't stand how toxic the children's literature community has become. I posted about a new sports book recently, and thought about mentioning something about the author's behavior, but didn't. Sure enough, there was a very polite, well meaning comment about it. And I chose not to publish it. 

That says a lot. Yes, I know all the issues. Yes, I know that authors can be jerks. And yes, in my school library, I chose not to buy or replace books by these authors. But guess what? My students don't know about these things, nor do the teachers. Honestly, they don't even know about the five year old #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, that I have always supported. Bottom line: they just want books. 

So in order to NOT spend my summer quilting and knitting (which is what I woke up wanting to do), I need to focus on this bottom line. I don't need to log into Twitter to try to quickly post positive comments about books only to find a HUGE attack on myself because of something I've said on my blog about how I run my personal life. I don't need to go to conferences and get flack for something that is not my fault. 

So if you're angry that I'm not fighting your fight, don't read my blog. Unfollow me on Twitter. Do what ever you need to do to make it through the day. Call it self care if you need to. But I'm done with the drama and the personal attacks and saying things even if they are not nice. My grandmother would not approve. 

I just want to read. I want to tell other people about great books. I want to get these great books to kids. And I want to be joyful while doing all of these things.

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Always in the Middle and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor TextsUnleashing ReadersNonfiction Monday.

Dionne, Erin. Secrets of a Fangirl
May 28th 2019 by Arthur A. Levine Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Sarah Anne is an enormous fan of the books of MK Nightshade, so much so that she wins a local trivia contest and gets to compete on a panel. She completely routs the two teen boys, Chris and Ethan, who are also on the panel, since she knows the books as well as the movies. Since she is dressed in pink and a girl, however, the moderator doesn't give her equal time, and poo-poos her knowledge, even saying that her father helped her to win the contest. Sarah Anne (who goes as Sam on line), is furious, and makes up her mind to destroy the boys in the upcoming contest for tickets to the new movie premier in California. She has some problems, though-- no one at her school knows that she is a super fan. She plays lacrosse, hands out with her friend Roxy (who is rather controlling and judgemental), and avoids being identified as a geek at school. When her new science partner, Hugh, turns out to be a huge Nightshade fan as well, this becomes difficult. The contest is played out online, and Sarah Anne finds it increasingly difficult to cover up what she is doing. Part of the contest is to take selfies with a Nightshade hoodie on, and Sarah Anne skirts the rules by going to the mall in full face Ice Dragon makeup, almost running afoul of the rules. She still does better than Chris and Ethan, although people following the game online occasionally give her a hard time. She is having a hard time with Roxy, too-- the game is making her tired and irritable, and she doesn't have time to deal with Roxy insisting that she go to the school dance with Tucker, who impresses her as very mean. Her lacrosse game suffers, her grades suffer, and her parents almost make her pull out of the competition. Even if she wins, will Sarah Anne be able to keep the rest of her life separated from her essential fandom? And will she be happy if she does?
Strengths: The plight of women not being taken seriously in science fiction/fantasy fandoms is a serious one, and it's important to see it addressed in middle grade fiction. Combining this with controlling friends who think they can dictate fashion choices, and the fact that Sarah Anne LETS her friends do this for most of the book, is brilliant and so true. We get just enough information about the Nightshade books for the games to make sense. I love the parents and older sister in this as well, and having the game disrupt Sarah Anne's school work is a great ploy. Having Sarah Anne see herself in Hugh and feeling like she needs to be mean to him in order to distance herself is absolutely spot on!
Weaknesses: It seemed a bit unlikely that the organizers would have games going on during school, but that facet did make the book more suspenseful.
What I really think: Adore this and will be so glad to have it when school starts! It might even get me off the hook for not being about to host a Dungeons and Dragons game in the library. (Students want me to teach them, but I have never played and in fact detest games. But it's sweet they think I can help them! I even looked at books.)

I must confess; my younger daughter is president of the UC Harry Potter Appreciation Club, and my older daughter can play a mean game of Lord of the Rings Risk. While my essential fandom is more Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie (back when we were allowed to like those books), I understand Sarah Anne's enthusiasm AND her desire to "keep her geek on the down low". Not that I was ever successful with that. I don't know that it ever occurs to my students to have that approach, and many of them love LOTR and other "geeky" pursuits. This is no doubt why our cross country team is so large. It is the sport of my people!

Ms. Yingling

Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Year I Didn't Eat

Pollen, Samuel. The Year I Didn't Eat.
March 5th 2019 by Yellow Jacket (first published 2019)
Public Library Copy

Fourteen-year-old Max has been struggling with anorexia for a while. His family is doing all of the right things: he's in therapy, they don't make a big deal about food, and his brother Robin is especially supportive. Still, while he is generally holding things together, there are rough moments. When things don't go according to plan (like Christmas dinner with relatives), he gets very upset. Things are going fairly well at school, and he has good friends, as well as a new girl in whom he is interested. He is a runner, and the gym teacher understands that while he can't play contact sports, he doesn't have to sit on the bench. Max is, however, getting slowly worse, and when his brother moves out and his parents separate, his symptoms worsen and he becomes really ill. He starts writing to E., and this helps him more than his journaling had been. He assumes this person is his crush, but who ends up being one of his good friends. While Max continues to struggle, we end the book feeling that he will eventually learn to control his anorexia.
Strengths: This is an #ownvoices narrative; the author suffered from this disease when young, so the details about the thought processes are very good. The parents and brother are particularly well drawn; their love and confusion about how to help Max are palpable, and the toll his problems take on the family are realistic. I'm glad that Max is shown in therapy, and there is some discussion of residential programs. Although the tone of this is light, there is no hiding of details about how bad not eating is for Max's body and health.
Weaknesses: There are some British details about food and schooling that might make this confusing for some readers. There is also a lot of locker room discussion about asking others to exhibit body parts that was a bit alarming to someone unfamiliar with it. Max handles it in a clever way, but this makes me worry about British males.
What I really think: The cover isn't great, and this had a very different feel to it than other books on the topic, but I think I will buy it, since this is on the rare topic of male anorexia, and more middle grade appropriate than Shahan's 2014 Skin and Bones. Just not sure how much it will circulate.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Bird and Squirrel: All Tangled Up

Burks, James. Bird and Squirrel: All Tangled Up
January 29th 2019 by Graphix
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Red, Squirrel, and Birdie are a happy family, but Squirrel is very anxious about letting Birdie do anything at all risky. When Red has to deliver some herbs downstream and needs to be away for a few days, Birdie is looking forward to doing exciting things like river rafting. Squirrel says no to all of these exciting activities, wanting Birdie to read quietly indoors. When Bird arrives and claims to have seen Bigfoot, Birdie wants to go investigating. Bird points out to Squirrel that it's better for Birdie to learn survival skills while they are with him so that when he is on his own, he will be alright. Reluctantly, Squirrel agrees. The groups runs into dangerous spiders and has a few close calls, but Birdie has an exciting time and learns important lessons about confronting danger appropriately, with his father and friend at his side.

This early reader graphic novel is in full color, and the pages are filled with bright, sunny colors that slowly change as the group grapples with the spider. The characters are all very distinctive, and the expressions on their faces appropriately goofy and engaging.

The story is a good one, especially for parents who want to protect their children from imagined harm. Squirrel's nightmares always showcase Birdie being lost or having run away, even though he is always by Squirrel's side. Bird is a nice foil and helps Squirrel give Birdie some much needed space.

It's nice to see that Birdie isn't daunted by his father's fears, but feels that he is strong and ready to tackle anything, despite Squirrel's insistence that he must be protected. When the group is caught out in a storm, though, I'm not sure that their decision to stay with a fox is a particularly good one, even if she is very old and turns out to be well meaning!

Readers who are just starting to get through beginning chapter books will find the format, text size, and plot just right for their abilities, and can add the Bird and Squirrel series to books like Braddock's Stinky Cecil, Eaton's Flying Beaver Brothers, Blabey's Bad Guys or Winnick's Hilo.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, May 24, 2019

Batting Order

Blathery Note: I managed to make it through yesterday without crying. Creating a new map for the school using Google slides helped take my mind off missing students. Our final tally for books not returned or paid for was three, two 7th graders and one 8th grade who was going to try to pay electronically. There are also six books that walked away; Martin's In Harm's Way, Barnholdt's Balancing Act, Ziegler's The Audition, and the first three Coco Simon Cupcake Diaries. Grr!

Goodreads informs me that I am 32 books behind, so Monday (after Picky Reader visits and gets organized for being back in Cincinnati!) I need to start reading, plan a sweater, look at my fabric for quilts for My Very Own Blanket, and spend quality time cuddling with Sylvie! Until I get my most recent "spy injury" sorted, I won't be doing my usual morning workouts, so I will have lots of extra time!

Lupica, Mike. Batting Order
May 28th 2019 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Matt Baker is not only struggling with being small and short, but he stutters as well. He loves baseball because he doesn't feel small when he plays, and he can usually work around his stutter. He is being raised by a fantastic, softball playing mother, his father having decamped to London when when Matt was very young. His team, the Astros, is doing pretty well with his coach, Sarge, but Matt starts to notice that one teammate, Ben, is struggling a bit. Ben's father is a mean, pushy baseball father who thinks that Ben should smash every ball that comes across the plate, but Matt knows Ben would benefit from being able to control his bat more. He works with Ben, but it's not always easy. Matt gets along a little better with José , who understands that sometimes Matt needs a little extra time to get out what he needs to say. Sarge eventually recruits Mrs. Baker to help coach the team, and she does a good job with the players. During one game when Sarge is held up in traffic, though, Ben clearly goes against Sarge's rules on a play. When Mrs. Baker benches him because of this, Ben's father is furious. He accuses Mrs. Baker of playing favorites, and is loud enough that the umpire kicks him off the field. In retaliation, he withdraws Ben from further games, even though the team really needs him. Mrs. Baker and Matt go to talk to the two, feeling that they are all involved in the same issue, and Ben's father eventually sees that it's okay to ask for help when single parenting becomes tough.
Strengths: There are a lot of fantasy novels with characters who feel small and slight-- they always save the world from destruction. It's rare to see such a character portrayed in a realistic fiction book, and I KNOW that it is a big concern among middle school students. Ben's father is a type that I have seen when coaching, and parents like him are not easy to deal with. There is a lot of important discussion about how the father feels that Ben should be "manly", even though Ben's mother left the family because the father exhibited a more toxic brand of masculinity. Mrs. Baker is fantastic as both a parent and a coach, and I loved when she gave up watching her television show with British accents to watch baseball with Matt instead. Matt's struggles with his speech are realistic but not overwrought, and the depiction of his meetings with a speech therapist are helpful. Ben's struggles to do what his father wants while still wanting to support his team are heart wrenching, and the solution to this is hard won but, again, realistic. Having José as one of Matt's friends was good, because he had his own issues with language. As always with Lupica's work, there are enough baseball details to engage readers who love the sport, and confuse me utterly!
Weaknesses: A lot of current baseball players are mentioned, and this will date the book in a few years. Also, more brutal editing would have made this snappier; Matt's worries about his speech do slow the plot a little more than they should have.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, although this could have had a better cover. I love the throwback look, but am not sure how my students will feel.

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Trend of 2019- Summer Camp!

Today is the last day with students, and I have spent my week getting the number of overdue books down to seven! (We started with 1,500+ books checked out!)

My policy is to not miss people, especially students. As with parenting, the whole point to teaching is to get the children to move on. I can't miss 250 students every year; how would I go on? But this year, the 8th grade boys are killing me.

By May, most 8th grade boys have become insufferable. They have to jump to hit the top of every doorway, constantly push each other in the hallway, and are MUCH taller than I am! This is still mostly true, but a variety of them have also made a point to stop by the library and tell me that they will miss me. This has got to stop.

It's not just my avid readers, who ask me if I can make a list of summer recommendations because they know their older brothers have struggled in high school. That's easy, even though I feel a need to make a list for the rest of their lives. It's also the massively tall 8th grade boy who transferred in and nearly failed every subject until I started checking his grades who writes me a barely legible thank you note. It's the classics-reading student who thought that C.S. Lewis was anti-Muslim who said "Next year, I think I will say to myself 'I should have talked to Ms. Yingling more.' " It's the basketball player who slam dunks his way into the library and says "Ms. Yingling, of all the things at Blendon, I think I will miss you most." And it's my quiet, introspective cross country runner who informed my that Read Tolkien day was being celebrated on the wrong day according to the Middle Earth calendar who gave me the mug pictured here that he picked out himself, along with a note that started with "Thank you for being the best school librarian anyone could ever hope for" and ended with "I will miss you".

Usually, it's my quiet little girls who read a book a day whom I have to teach to air-hug me. If my All Flavors of Geek 6th grade boy air hugs me for the end of the year and tilts his head to air-put it on my shoulder AGAIN (he's had a tough year, too), I will be a soggy mess for the rest of the day.

Chanting the word "brusque" as my mantra, but tucking a tissue into my pocket!

Malone, Lee Gjertsen. Camp Shady Crook
May 21st 2019 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Archie is glad to be returning to Camp Shady Brook on a scholarship, because it is six weeks that he doesn't have to deal with his stepmother and twin half siblings, and time when he can manage to fleece the wealthy camp goers, since his name is the same as one of the richest men in the area. Vivian is not happy to be going to camp, since this is the first time she has not accompanied her travel agent parents on their summer tours, but an unfortunate incident at school caused them to send her somewhere more "constructive". Vivian thinks that she can con her campmates as well, and when Archie sees her doing this, he worries that it will cut into his territory, and tries to scare her off. It seems to work, and he continues his previous tricks, complete with the help of Oliver, a counselor-in-training who pretends to menace Archie but is actually his ally. When Vivian catches the two conspiring, she wants in, and they grudgingly let her run cons with them. Eventually, the two work up to a competition-- Vivian must con her cabin mate, Sasha, and Archie must con an unconnable kid. Both of their cons cause trouble that may negatively impact the camp, so they try the ultimate con-- to put Camp Shady Brook back into the leagues of respectable summer placements for children.
Strengths: I liked Archie right away, and his backstory was convincing. Vivian was less endearing, with her black leather boots at summer camp and an attitude to match, but she was a nice foil for Archie's preppy camouflage. The counselors were present and just goofy enough, and there was the requisite amount of standard activities, including friendship bracelets, the modern equivalent of lanyards.
Weaknesses: Miss Hess was an over the top villain, the camp seemed luxurious compared to ones I attended and yet was deemed horribly decrepit, and this got rather mean in the middle, before Archie and Vivian decide to mend their ways.
What I really think: There are so many camp books out right now that I am going to have to assess which ones will best fit my needs. My students do like books with cons, such as Rylander's The Fourth Stall and Schreiber's Con Academy, so this is a possibility.

Kalicky, Anne. Save Me! (My Life in Smiley #3)
June 4th 2019 by Accord Publishing, a division of Andrews McMeel
Copy provided by the publisher

It's official! If even the French are producing books about summer camp, it has to be a trend! This series has been so popular in my library that book two has gone missing-- most likely appropriated without consent. I'll have to replace it because one student has asked for it every week for months.

From Goodreads, since I am hideously behind:
"Max is in trouble, SOS trouble, he's a prisoner in the middle of nowhere. His journal is the conclusive evidence that the next two weeks at summer camp are going to be absolutely miserable . . . or not! His parents signed him up to give him some “independence,” but all it’s given him so far is bug bites! It's super hot, he's got no video games, no salt and vinegar chips, and—worst of all—no friends. He even has to pretend to have fun and participate in activities! But despite all that, his roomies are cool, this girl Clara is kinda pretty, and he found a mysterious diary. . . ."

I wasn't as wild about this one, since Max starts off hating the whole idea of summer camp. Negative thinking is just not my favorite thing!

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Pumpkin War

Young, Cathleen. The Pumpkin War
May 21st 2019 by Wendy Lamb Books
Copy provided by the publisher

Billie lives on Madeline Island in Wisconsin, and her family has bees, llamas, and some crops. Every year, the community has a pumpkin race, and Billie has been the champion most years. Last year, her best friend Sam beat her, and the two have had difficulties for a variety of reasons, even though they reigned as polka king and queen at the last year's festival. Sam has gotten his pumpkin seeds in early this year, but Billie is facing many challenges with her family. Her mother goes into labor early and brings home a colicky younger brother for Billie and her sister Marylee, and a grandfather she has never met shows up unexpectedly. Billie sells honey at a local farmer's market, so much of her energy is focused on her hives, and the family llamas (who spit a lot!) are her responsibility as well. As the summer progresses, she and her friend Cami work on their pumpkins and hope for the best. Can Billie make sure her family gets along, her pumpkins are successful, and her friendship with Sam gets repaired?
Strengths: I loved the island, agricultural setting, and all of the details about what it would be like to live on an island. For example, when Billie's mother goes into labor, they have to call the doctor AND the ferry. Her family life is also great-- both parents are alive, she has a grandmother who babysits (there needs to be more of this in middle grade!) and hangs out with them in her diner. I even liked the estranged grandfather and his wish to reconnect. Summer books are always good to have. The cover is very nice.
Weaknesses: I wish I had known more about Billie's original fight with Sam. The conflict is spot on, and similar to one I had in third grade with Mark T.--deep and unending anger leading to strained personal interactions-- but as a reader, it would have helped to know more about what started it. In the case of Mark T., he stole and broke my purple crayon. I appreciate a good grudge, but they are hard to understand from the outside.
What I really think: While I think it's great that Billie's grandmother is Native American from the Ojibwe tribe, I cannot personally say if the information presented about the culture is correct. According to the publisher, "the book was read for accuracy by Robert Flashingbird, a member of the Eagle clan who is a tribal historian for Red Cliff and the Ojibwe expert at the Madeline Island Museum."

I love books about farming, but my students are less interested. This has been compared to The Secrets of Blueberries, Brothers, Moose & Me by Sara Nickerson and Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones, and those books have not circulated well, so I am a bit conflicted about this one for my library. 

There are actually more books about pumpkin farming than you might think!

Meyerhoff, Jenny. Pumpkin Spice (Friendship Garden #2) (2015)

Kaya, Anna, and Reed hope their pumpkin, Herbert, will take home first prize at the Windy City Pumpkin Fest, but when Herbert suddenly disappears, the friends must catch the thief in time for the festival.
Hill, Melanie Heuiser. Giant Pumpkin Suite (2017)

Twelve-year-old Rose Brutigan has grown seven inches in the last eight months. She’s always been different from her twin brother, Thomas, but now she towers over him in too many ways. The gap in their interests continues to widen as well. Musically talented Rose is focused on winning the upcoming Bach Cello Suites Competition, while happy-go-lucky Thomas has taken up the challenge of growing a giant pumpkin in the yard of their elderly neighbor, Mr. Pickering. But when a serious accident changes the course of the summer, Rose is forced to grow and change in ways she never could have imagined. Along the way there’s tap dancing and classic musicals, mail-order worms and neighborhood-sourced compost, fresh-squeezed lemonade, the Minnesota State Fair — and an eclectic cast of local characters that readers will fall in love with.

Springer, Kristina. Just Your Average Princess (2011)

Working in her family's pumpkin patch every year, seventeen-year-old Jamie has dreamed of two things--dating co-worker Danny and being crowned Pumpkin Princess--but her beautiful and famous cousin Milan's visit may squash all of her hopes.

Bauer, Joan. Squashed (1992)

Humor, agriculture and young love all come together in Joan Bauer's first novel, set in rural Iowa. Sixteen-year-old Ellie Morgan's life would be almost perfect if she could just get her potentially prize-winning pumpkin to put on about 200 more pounds—and if she could take off 20 hopes of attracting Wes, the new boy in town.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019


Durst, Sarah Beth. Spark.
May 14th 2019 by Clarion
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Quiet Mina comes from a large, noisy family. When her storm beast egg starts to hatch, she is excited to bond with the animal and train it to help control the weather in Alorria, which is always temperate and beautiful because of this control. When Pixit is hatched, he turns out to be a lightning beast, which doesn't seem to fit with Mina's personality. Nevertheless, the pair are soon sent off to the capital to train at the Myrtis Lightning School. Once there, she makes friends with Jyx and her dragon Chauda, and starts to think that she might not be in the wrong place. When on a training flight, several members of the school get blown off course and end up on the other side of the mountains, where they are forbidden to be. There, Mina meets some of the outlanders who rescue her and help both her and Pixit heal and get home. They tell her that the ten-year storms that they have on their side of the mountain are deadly, and Mina starts to realize that they might be connected to the ten-year festival that is going to occur soon. On a class trip to the city, she runs into the prime minister by accident, and asks about this coincidence. The prime minister is outraged, but luckily one of the teachers is sympathetic and aware of the situation, and sends Mina back to her family for a week so that the prime minister won't be able to hunt her down. Back at school, Mina realizes that she can't remain silent about the storms on the other side of the mountain, and she starts an awareness campaign. This results in the school being locked down and the festival being moved up, which could prove deadly to her friends on the other side. The students take their dragons across the mountains and rescue people, and also take them straight to the festival, storm-buffered and weary, to explain their plight to the public. This gains popular attention, and the prime minister is forced to shut down the festival and finally address the concerns about the storm dragons altering the weather.
Strengths: This has a lot of action and adventure, a flying pet dragon,  a magical school, and evil adults who must be thwarted. Add to that an appealing main character who remains quiet but still manages to be powerful, sparkly flying dragons, and a tween saving the day... if it had a few explosions, it would be perfect. But at least there are a couple of fires. Seriously, this is a great dragon novel.
Weaknesses: I was never entirely sure how the dragons changed the weather (although there was an explanation), and why this made the weather on the other side of the mountains worse. Not essential to the story, but I was curious.
What I really think: I don't buy a lot of medeivalish fantasy because there is just so much of it, but books like this, that have all the elements middle grade readers crave and are fast paced and exciting, definitely have a place in my collection, and readers who are waiting for the next Tui Sutherland Wings of Fire book may be placated by this!

Ms. Yingling

Monday, May 20, 2019

MMGM- The Usual Suspects

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.

Broaddus, Maurice. The Usual Suspects
May 21st 2019 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Thelonius is a bright kid, but his behavior has sent him to a special education unit where the few students there are Emotionally Disturbed. The teacher is old and tired, and most of the work is on the computer. Thelonius' mother is very supportive and not happy with his shenanigans, and is having him tested very soon. His friend Nehemiah is also in the class; his family is less supportive, and he tends to have episodes where he runs around the classroom screaming. Thelonius' misbehavior is usually more deliberate, and he will occasionally pit classmates against each other and take advantage of the ensuing chaos. One of the teachers in the class, Mr. Blackmon, is wise to his ways, but tries to figure out what motivates this otherwise bright student. When a gun is found in a park near the school, the principal is eager to find out who is responsible... and rounds up the usual suspects, which include Thelonius and his classmates. Determined to find out who is responsible, Thelonius and Nehemiah investigate, going up against school bully Kutter as well as the mastermind who employs him to do her dirty work, Marcel. It's tough to get out of class long enough to talk to others and find clues, but this doesn't stop Thelonius. He eventually solves the mystery, but prefers to get the school evildoers in trouble for the gun instead of the actual suspect.
Strengths: This certainly had a fresh, new cast of characters, and treated them with an equal amount of respect and humor. ED units usually have much more troubled students, but this unit was realistic, and certainly represents a population that hardly ever makes it into #MGLit books. Thelonius is a somewhat more troubled and devious Big Nate. That he is surrounded by well meaning adults is fantastic; his mother, Mr. Blackmon, and the best principal, Mrs. Fitzgerald, that I've seen for a long time! (Well, other than Mac Barnett's Principal Barkin, who really endeared himself to me!) I love how she addresses the fact that the pull out program isn't working, and has made plans for some mainstreaming and resource room programs.
Weaknesses: There were some things, like the slang and the names (Tafrica, RaShawn) that seemed a tiny bit unlikely, and a few differences in how the school was run that gave me pause (Thelonius hadn't been tested but was in a pull out program?). But you know what? Mr. Broaddus tells us that he volunteers a lot at his children's school, so I will believe that he is reporting accurately. It's just different from my school. I did occasionally get so caught up in Thelonius' behavior that I lost sight of the mystery, but the behavior is what will draw students to this book.
What I really think: I have some students who need this RIGHT NOW. I will definitely be purchasing, and this will be popular with fans of Big Nate, Charlie Joe Jackson, and Maldonado's Tight. Odd combination, but one that is badly needed!