Sunday, June 30, 2019

Solving For M

Swenden, Jennifer. Solving for M
May 28th 2019 by Crown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Mika is having a hard time as she starts fifth grade in Highbridge Middle School. In order to ease the transition, classes are in pods, and Mika is not in a pod with her friends. Her teacher, Mr. Vann, is very charismatic and tries to make math very lively, even giving them math journals to complete. Mika has trouble with old friends, but does make some new ones. The big concern, however, is that her mother has a spot on the back of her leg that turns out to be a malignant melanoma, and requires much more medical attention than expected. Mika's father hasn't been in the picture for a while, and is living in Florida with his new wife, so Jeannie, a friend of her mother's, and Grandma Beau step up to help with Mika and with getting Mika's mother's medical treatments. This is all stressful for everyone, but Mika takes comfort in her classes, especially math, and in her new friends, who form a group the call The Calculators. Mika spends a little bit of time with her father, which is a welcome break that she feels somewhat guilty about. Her mother continues to struggle with the cancer and the treatment, but luckily the two have a great support network, and are prepared to deal with whatever news comes.
Strengths: This covered what it is like to deal with a parent who has cancer really well. There are just enough details about treatment to make it interesting but not bog down the stories. The heaviness of this plot line is lightened by the classroom adventures and the friend drama. Mr. Vann is a vibrant teacher along the lines of Mr. Terupt, and the STEAM tie in will make this popular with teachers. Mika's emotions and coping mechanisms are aptly portrayed, and it's nice to see her with a strong support network.
Weaknesses: While the idea of working math problems and concepts into a middle grade book is fantastic in theory, the books I have had that do this have never circulated well.
What I really think: The issue of a parent with cancer is one that my students do occasionally want to read about, but this book skews a little young with so much of it taking place in the classroom. This would be great for an elementary library (where they will love the illustrations), but for middle school, I think I'll stick to something like Pyros' Pink Hair and Other Terrible Ideas for my older readers.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Cartoon Saturday- Hotel Dare

Blas, Terry and Aguirre, Claudia. Hotel Dare.
June 11th 2019 by KaBOOM!
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Olive doesn't know her Abuela Lupé well, so when she and her adopted siblings Darwin and Charlotte go to help her clean her ramshackle hotel, she hopes to find out more about her, especially why her grandmother and father don't talk much. There is a lot of work to be done, but while cleaning the rooms, the children find a mask. This seems to be a portal to other worlds. Charlotte explores a futuristic space ship, Darwin is plunges into a weird, cartoonish world with a cuddle muffin he names Sunny, and Olive meets up with Brad, a wizard in training in a medieval world. When they eventuall talk to their abuela about it, they find that shortly after Olive's father was born, her husband disappeared, and she is estranged from her son because she spent so much time looking for him. Her daughter also went into the alternate universes to look for her father and found him, but is still having trouble getting him out. Can Olive and her siblings work together to solve the puzzle and retrieve their grandfather?
Strengths: This had a good original story and interesting illustrations. The three different worlds were distinct enough that I never got confused. There was some character development, which is hard to accomplish in many graphic novels. I liked the inclusion of Latinx culture. Olive says at the beginning that she is queer, but this is never developed further.
Weaknesses: Reading an e ARC on my 2011 Nook meant that I had to read this in 4 point font. I apologize for having missed crucial plot points during my struggle! I feel like I missed something crucial about Darwin's and Charlotte's adoption; this felt almost like book two of a series.
What I really think: This is similar to Aldridge's Estranged or Hicks' The Nameless City. Neither one (and fantasy in general, whether novels or graphic novels )circulate very well in my library, so I am debating about this one.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, June 28, 2019

Level 13 (Slacker #2)

Korman, Gordon. Level 13 (Slacker #2)
June 25th 2019 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Cam Boxer successfully got his parents off his back in Slacker by forming the Positive Action Group, a school organization that took on a life of its own, but now he wants to focus on his video game streaming career. His goal is to get 50,000 followers. This is more difficult than he imagines, since the PAG is constantly putting demands on his time. It doesn't help that Chuck is now going out with Daphne. Cam decides that if he tells everyone that he's failing in school, they will let him out of PAG obligations in order to study, and he can use the time to concentrate on his gaming. He keeps getting sucked into things, like the library fundraiser where he finds an old video game he used to enjoy. He starts playing this game on his stream, with Elvis, the beaver in the background. To his surprise, Elvis seems to really enjoy watching him play, and is quite the draw. His followers grow, but there are still problems. He isn't getting enough sleep, Elvis seems ill, and his school work is still suffering. When classmates start e mailing him assignments, he is apprehensive about accepting them, but soon caves and starts handing them in. It turns out that the video game is a rare first edition that has an outlawed 13th level, and his followers grow even more. There is even a fan base in his hometown, and t shirts with his user name are a hot seller and a big money maker for the local library. When it looks like Cam won't be able to break into that 13th level, his sister Melody helps, and additional assistance arrives from a surprising source. Eventually, Cam will be found out, and there will be consequences, but it's a wild ride until then!
Strengths: Cam is the embodiment of all that some of my students hold dear. Why pay attention in school when they could start their "careers" as famous YouTubers right now! Korman does a good job of having Cam achieve this, but at a price that teachers everywhere will appreciate. He still gets to meet his gaming inspiration, and he does get to be somewhat famous. He does well academically by cheating, but also learns the price of that. The inclusion of Chuck and Daphne's relationship, and it's toll on the group of friends, is something we need to see more in middle grade literature. The idea of fundraising for the library is admirable. This was a very fun read, and for some reason, I love Cam's misuse of the principal's name. I may change my name to Ms. Ying-whatsis!
Weaknesses: I personally found it beyond belief that Elvis would have been taken from his habitat and willingly watched video games, but it's believable and goofy enough that tweens will love it.
What I really think:  One of my copies of Slacker walked away; I suspect it was stolen by a student who couldn't bear to part with it. I'm reordering a copy so I have two of the first book. I wouldn't mind seeing another volume or two of Cam's adventures.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Agent Kathy Puckett and the Case of the Unabomber

Denson, BryanAgent Kathy Puckett and the Case of the Unabomber
June 25th 2019 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

In the early 1990s, I remember the Unabomber being in the news, but I didn't follow the story closely since I had small children and was getting my MLS. I hadn't realized what a huge investigation lead to the eventual capture of the perpetrator of so many senseless mail bomb killings. This book approaches the investigation from the point of view of Agent Kathy Puckett, who joined the UNABOMB task force in 1994. The investigation into the type of person who would likely commit these crimes, coupled with the physical and literary evidence used to identify the cuplrit, is fascinating. There were many people investigating, and they are mentioned along with the bits of evidence they contributed. This book also discusses the thought process concerning the publishing of the Unabomber's manifesto in the newspaper, which ultimately was very helpful. Its publication brought forth David Kaczynski, the brother of Theodore Kaczynski, who thought that the writing was similar to his brother's. As the investigation continued, Kaczynski's profile seemed to match what Pucket knew about the Unabomber's likely profile would be. The book includes the complicated stake out that occurred to finally bring Kaczynski in, and discusses what the case meant to the state of investigations. The source notes are very complete. I'm interested to see what other books in this series are in the works.
Strengths: This was very well done. While there are lots of details about the nuts and bolts of the investigation, and even information about how Puckett struggled as a female investigator at a time where there were few of them, the book moves along very quickly and is an excellent length. The history of events leading up to the investigation are included, and the societal atmosphere when the case became big news is included. I have no interest in true crime stories, but found this to be an interesting and quick read.
Weaknesses: Since I really enjoyed reading about Puckett's involvement in this, it was disappointing that she wasn't more involved in his actual arrest, but history is history!
What I really think: True crime. Wouldn't have been something that interested me in middle school, but my students seem to enjoy listening to podcasts about it, and are always asking for murder mysteries. This is an intriguing nonfiction book that should make them very happy.
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Stonewall Riots: Coming Out in the Streets

Pitman, Gayle E. The Stonewall Riots: Coming Out in the Streets
May 14th 2019 by Abrams Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

June 28th marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village, New York City, so it's great to have a new middle grade title that does such a fantastic job of explaining the events of that week along with background information of the social constructs that lead to the riots.

While there have always been LGBTQ+ individuals, society has dealt harshly with that population. There are still problems with how US society particularly deals with any number of different groups, but today's young readers probably do not realize how truly harsh the treatment has been in the past. A clear overview of this is presented, with an emphasis on how the 1950s saw an increase in the number of groups that formed to deal with the challenged the LGBTQ+ community faced.

This was the first surprise for me. While my high school history classes ended with the Cold War, I am fairly well versed in history. Still, I had no clue that groups like the Mattachine Society (Gay men who wanted to work for their inclusion in mainstream society by adhering to very conservative rules regarding dress and behavior) and the Daughters of Bilitis (a Lesbian group dedicated to helping women find friends and promoting self-acceptance. Because society was so unaccepting, it was important for the LGBTQ+ community to help each other deal with society and also their own feelings of self worth. These were the only major groups that formed until the late 1960s.

San Francisco was a rare place in the US that had laws that were more accepting of this culture, and Gay bars and clubs could operate legally there. This did not mean they weren't harassed by law enforcement, however. The general practice for raids on these clubs was to arrest people who did not have political connections and publish their names and addresses in the newspaper! This lead to the practice of not providing one's real name when joining organizations or having memberships; this becomes important later on.

Pitman does a good job of not only describing historic events, but the cultural bias at the time and explaining how the convergence of these things led to the riots. Since the 1960s culture became increasingly more accepting of differences, the LGBTQ+ community felt frustrated at always being forced into the closet in order to be safe from harassment, and this frustration escalated into the events at the Stonewall Inn.

Here's where it got REALLY interesting to me. While mainstream news media covered this event, even the Village Voice was very insensitive about the wording it used, and there didn't seem to be the video coverage we're so used to today. People were not interviewed immediately after, and Pitman points out that we are still not entirely sure what exactly happened during this time. Imagine! An event of this importance, during my lifetime, and we can't really prove a timeline of events or a roster of those involved! Once people started to discuss this event more openly, in the 1980s and 1990s, many of the participants known to be there had passed away. If for no other reason, the importance of recording historical events makes this book worth reading.

Any LGBTQ+ issues are seen by some people to be inappropriate for middle grade, and this is such a hurtful stance. The Stonewall Riots is an important book covering previously ignored history, and is crucial in understanding the growing intersectionality of movements that we see in the news every day. Middle school and high school libraries have a responsibility to include it in their collections. There are only two things that might be of concern; at one point, the term sodomy is defined as "having sex with another man". In my experience, all middle schoolers have heard the phrase "have sex". Some of them know what it means; others have no clue. As long as the phrase is used and not explained, this should offend no one. The only other matter of concern would be the transcript of Sylvia Rivera's speech at the 1973 Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade, which mentions rape (but again, offers no description) and has many words bleeped out. This was not essential to understanding the Stonewall Riots, and would not have been the way that I would have ended the narrative, but again, is not offensive or instructional and should not keep this book from being included in middle school collections. Still, it is important to know what is included in books in case parents or teachers have questions.

My students have a great interest in LGBTQ+ issues, and it is important to have a variety of books that discuss current as well as past issues that face this community. If students are not able to find books like these, it sends a message that these are issues that cannot be discussed openly, which would take us right back fifty years. Our students deserve better.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Time Sight

Jonell, Lynne. Time Sight
May 14th 2019 by Henry Holt & Company
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Will and his young brother Jamie are unceremoniously packed off to visit an aunt in Scotland when their mother, who is in a war-torn country helping out, is in danger and their father must go rescue her. Not much explanation is given, and soon the two are on a plane and then staying with their aunt and cousin Nan. The Scottish country side is interesting, and Will hopes to be able to explore. When he does, Jamie's Magic Eye book has mysterious consequences. When trying to squint at the pictures and bring them in to focus, Will opens a portal to other times in the castle's history. At one point, Jamie is sucked in, and ends up being fostered by the local lord. When Nan and Will finally get back to him, a year has passed in the past, and Jamie doesn't quite remember them. Traveling back and forth through time, Nan and Will learn a lot about the past and try to fix what they can about the history of Scotland and of their family in order to get Jamie back.
Strengths: This had a LOT of good Scottish history with which I was not familiar, and I loved the notes in the back that helped back up events mentioned in the book. The setting was interesting, and Nan was a great cousin. Jamie was a bit of a brat, but he and Will are in a difficult situation. The time travel portal is well done, although those Magic Eye books are kind of evil! (I've never seen a picture in one!) There are lots of time travel books set in castles, but this really had some fresh twists to it. With its occasional illustrations, it reminded me a bit of Snyder's Any Which Wall.
Weaknesses: My students are not nearly as fond of time travel as I am.
What I really think: As much as I like this sort of book, my library already has Kent's The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle, Ephron's Castle in the Mist, Fox's The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, Bruchac's Dragon Castle, Eager's Knight's Castle, Crossley-Holland's Arthur At The Crossing Places, Davies' Longbow Girl, Winthrop's The Castle in the Attic and Whitman's Wildwing.  None of them circulate much, so I'm going to have to pass on this title.
Ms. Yingling

Monday, June 24, 2019

MMGM- Cover Reveal and War in the Ring

I absolutely ADORED Jason Henderson's Young Captain Nemo (March 12th 2019 by Feiwel & Friends), so was super excited to be asked to host the cover reveal for book two! Here is the cover, in all its glory!

Florio, John and Shapiro, Ouisie. War in the Ring: Joe Louis, Max Schmeling, and the Fight between America and Hitler
June 25th 2019 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC from Edelweiss

Boxing during the first half of the twentieth century was an odd mix of glamour and seediness. It was a way for hard working, impoverished young men to earn phenomenal money and gain prestige, but it was also a tough life. Joe Louis was born in Alabama, and his family moved to Detroit for a better life. He was able to use his natural abilities, get trained in boxing, and improve his situation. Max Schmeling, born in Germany, also used boxing as a way to provide a better income for himself, but because of Hitler's horrible hold over Germany, was cast into the role of a villain. Their competition took on mythic proportions in the US, as Louis was seen as the embodiment of the American spirit, and Schmeling as the embodiment of Hitler's evil plans for Germany.

This offers a good picture of the background of both men, as well as the general state of boxing at the time. It's interesting that there is a WORLD title for boxing, and that everyone seemed to care about it. Boxing seems to have gone out of favor, and for good reason. I looked at the list of Heavyweight Boxing Champions, and had to go back to 1987 to see a familiar name; Mike Tyson. This book does a great job of putting the sport into historical perspective and tying it into the conflicts of World War II.

I also appreciated that Schmeling is portrayed as a generally good guy; even though he was seen as the embodiment of Nazi ideals, he always denied any connection to the party. He even helped two young men escape the Nazis. I had friends who grew up as Hitler was rising to power, and while they didn't agree with anything he had to say, there were not many opportunities for them to actively resist what was being done to their country without endangering themselves and their families. This is a tough part of understanding Germany during WWII; while there are plenty of people like Sophie School and Dietrich Bonhoeffer who stood up against Hitler, there were scores of other Germans who did not.

This is a great length, moves quickly, and fully covers an interesting moment in history. I think my favorite part of the book might have been the notes at the end; the authors do a great job at not only citing their sources but in telling how they used those sources. What a great example for young readers! Definitely buying a copy!

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.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Digging Deep (Hoops #4)

Delle Donne, Elena. Digging Deep (Hoops #4)
June 25th 2019 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Elle is glad that she doesn't have to deal with the drama of the girls on the basketball team, even though she still loves the sport. When one of her friends asks her to pitch in on the volleyball team, since one of the members was injured, she gladly agrees, thinking it will be an easy thing to pick up. It's harder than she thinks it will be, but there aren't as many practices, and both the coach and the team members are much more laid back. She has more time, so she's able to get her homework done, hang out with her sister and her dog, and spend more time with Amanda. There's a small subplot with an antibullying group in school that helps with Elle's reconciliation with Bianca and the team, some dog training for Zobe, and lots of good details about volleyball.
Strengths: There is a decided lack of books about volleyball, so this was great to see!
Weaknesses: There was a decided lack of development in Elle's relationship with Amanda, and that was disappointing.
What I really think: The series has circulated well, so I'm glad to see more installments.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Captain Aquatica's Awesome Ocean

Cramp, Jess. Captain Aquatica's Awesome Ocean
with Grace Hill and Joe Leavit
June 11th 2019 by National Geographic Society
Copy provided by the publisher

Don't be fooled by the cartoon cover on this Science Superheroes volume about the ocean-- this book is jam packed with tons of information! Each chapter does start out with a brief graphic novel style adventure for Captain Aquatica and Finn, her hammerhead shark, but then continues with a thorough explanation of the topic, well-illustrated with National Geographic's usual fantastic photographs. The chapters cover information about waves and weather, underneath the surface, ocean engineers, animals, and sharks. I especially liked the chapters about underwater technology and saving the ocean. The page layout is exactly what I look for when investigating nonfiction for my students-- there are bold paragraph headings, pictures with information, sidebars, insets with addition information, maps, and timelines. There is also a glossary, very complete index, and list of resources. The text is interesting and supported by these items.
Strengths: For some reason, my students are VERY interested in oceans, maybe because we are land locked? Many of them talk about becoming marine biologists, and this is a perfect resource for them. The full color format makes other nonfiction seem dull, and the depth of information is amazing. The graphic novel chapter beginnings will pull readers in.
Weaknesses: The text is on the small side (10 point font). This will turn some readers away.
What I really think: This is a great book for readers who want a lot of information about all manner of aspects of oceanography!
Ms. Yingling

Friday, June 21, 2019

The Iliad by Gareth Hinds

Hinds, Gareth. The Iliad
March 12th 2019 by Candlewick Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Long ago in Ancient Greece, a prince of Troy, Paris, steals the most beautiful woman in the world from another prince, Menelaus of Sparta. Unfortunately, when Menelaus won Helen as his bride, he made all the other Greek leaders swear allegiance to him. Paris' action puts the Greek war machine into motion, and soon Troy is besieged. This goes on for a very long time, and there is a lot of drama over whether men want to be there (Odysseus famously tries to get out of fighting), how the fighting should go, and whether after almost ten years they should all give up. Lot of people die, in very gruesome ways, and a fair number of women are enslaved and treated horribly by all sides. There are heroes and villains on both sides, and the war is finally ended when the Trojans infiltrate the city inside a giant wooden horse, open the gates for the other forces, and finally take the Trojan stronghold.

This classic epic tale, whether written by Homer or another Greek man by the same name in about the 8th century B.C. is a tale with which everyone should have a passing familiarity. Readers who like to read about war will find this especially appealing, as Homer describes everything in the most florid manner. Hinds sticks closely to the original text, cutting out a great deal because of the graphic novel format, but still preserving the arc of the plot, description, and the type of language found in most of the English language translations. ("Like reapers who start from either end of a rich man's field and with sharp scythes bring barley tumbling down in armfuls till their swaths unite, so the armies closed to cut each other down." page 105)

The twist, of course, is the format. Full color illustrations capture the action, including some beheadings, with a yellow palette that reflects the sandy Greek landscape. The costumes and appearance of the characters is true to the descriptions in the original, and the style somewhere between classic book illustrations and cartoons. There is a lot of text, and the language is very descriptive, making this a good choice for high school students who want a more visual approach to this story but don't want to sacrifice details.

Hinds' specialty is graphic adaptations of classics (Romeo and Juliet, Beowulf, King Lear), and this hefty tome would make the Greeks proud, since they valued retellings of stories. Hinds' research is documented in notes in the back, and the translations he consulted are discussed. Hand this one to high school students struggling to comprehend this for class, or for middle school students who want to look really smart!

What I Really Think: This is a LOT of text for a graphic novel-- I don't see my middle schoolers checking this out at all. Homer's prose is rather deathly dull considering how full of action the story is, and had I written this, I would have pruned it quite a bit. The snobby former Latin teacher (my minor in college was Ancient Greek!) in me wants to complain that the story was based off of translations and not the original, but that's a pretty silly quibble! This is Hinds' style, and he has a point in wanting to preserve the original language-- I prefer stories to be updated with modern language that students can understand. I was probably scarred by the Good News Bible popular in my youth.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, June 20, 2019

This Book Is Cute: The Soft and Squishy Science and Culture of Aww

Flynn, Sarah Wassner. This Book Is Cute: The Soft and Squishy Science and Culture of Aww
March 19th 2019 by National Geographic Society
Copy provided by the publisher

Thanks to this book, I know that scented, Hello Kitty print toilet paper exists! This charmingly photographed book (so much cuteness in full color!) has a lot of solid science behind it, presented in a very logical way. It starts with why babies are so cute (although I would beg to differ!) and describes why this is essential to baby's survival. There are also chapters about animals and cuteness in other parts of the world. Japan's Kawaii culture is given a lot of attention, including information about Hello Kitty! The chapter on cute food was so interesting, and helped me understand why Teddy Grahams taste way better than regular old rectangular graham crackers! I feel almost compelled to invest in a Bento box! This, of course, feeds right into the chapter on the business aspect of cute, including how cute goes viral.

For additional information, there is a section on cute jobs, as well as how to photograph and draw cute! There is a great index (which I always like to see) as well as complete credits, so readers know that yes, you must state where you got your pictures! I would have liked to see a bibliography so that interested readers could investigate this topic more, but I imagine the books the author consulted are fairly academic.

If you need a book that will keep a young reader's interest on a long car ride, this is a fantastic choice. This would spark lots of conversation, and would also be helpful when those readers are asleep and their adults need something to read!

If you have an Instagram account, you MUST follow @purrfosters! They named a little of puppies after Ellen Miles' Puppy Place books! This is about the cutest thing I have even seen! 

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Missing Piece of Charlie O'Reilly

Ansari, Rebecca K.S. The Missing Piece of Charlie O'Reilly
March 5th 2019 by Walden Pond Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

For the last year, Charlie has maintained that he used to have a younger brother named Liam, but he disappeared one night and no one in his family ever remembered him. All of his things were just gone. Charlie's best friend Ana supports him, even if she doesn't completely believe him, and Charlie needs this support because for the last year his mother has been so depressed that she doesn't even care for him properly. As the anniversary of the disappearance approaches, Charlie is determined to find out what happened, and gets a tip to check with Jonathon, a teen coach for his baseball team. Jonathon confirms that Charlie could be right-- he himself was once gone, but chose to return. The problem is that Liam has wished that he was never born, and his wish was granted. Johnathon was in a similar position (he injured his brother badly, but one he disappeared, so did the brother's injuries), and not just creeps on his family, since they no longer recognize him. He knows a way that Charlie can get Liam back, but it will be difficult. Charlie is also having vivid dreams about an Irish immigrant family who came to the US to escape the Irish Potato Famine. When Ana, Jonathon and Charlie go to an old, burnt out asylum where Liam is purportedly being held, these elements coalesce, many secrets are revealed, and Charlie has to find a way to make his family whole again.
Strengths: This had some creepy moments-- one character in the asylum in particular is quite scary, but I don't want to ruin the surprise. There are a lot of interesting threads that are woven together nicely, and even though some are a bit predictable, the results are often surprising and coalesce in a way middle grade readers can understand. Loads of heartfelt descriptions of parental and sibling love, unconditional forgiveness, and other emotions that most people think are great. I can see this being a class read aloud, with lots of good discussion.
Weaknesses: Not a great cover, and the themes of love and forgiveness overshadow the creepy aspects. I need more creepy books, but I'm just not sure about this one.
What I really think:  I see this being checked out and then returned for not being creepy soon enough. The first few pages are everything for middle grade readers, and the haunted house on the cover but the first chapter of parental depression feels like a bait-and-switch.

Personal note: It's bad enough that middle grade parents in novels frequently become so grief stricken over a death of a child that they become incompetent-- now we have a parent who doesn't even remember the loss of a child and can't go on. This is beyond insulting. Maybe authors are trying to give students the message that they need to be careful with their lives so they don't destroy their parents and I should be grateful, but it's just hard to feel that way. At the very least, if we have depressed parents, can we get them some therapy?

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Curse of Greg (An Epic Series of Failures #2)

Rylander, Chris. The Curse of Greg (An Epic Series of Failures #2)
June 18th 2019 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Greg and his new friends are on another Monster Pacification Mission after The Legend of Greg, this time in Evanston. A gargoyle has gotten down off the roof of a building and is terrorizing passers by (shown on the cover). Things don't go smoothly; Greg's pants do indeed catch on fire. However, the group is able to subdue the monster, and Glam smashes it to bits just in case. The instances of monsters wreaking havoc are growing, but humans haven't yet noticed. Along with these threats, Greg notices that his father's behavior is becoming increasingly odd, and he suspects an elven poison, no thanks to his former friend, Edwin.  The group is sent on another MPM to the Wisconsin Dells, to investigate a Rock Troll. Eagan can't go, because he is elected to the council, but the rest go, promising Dunmor that they will resort to violence only as a last resort. This is a good thing because Stony, the rock troll, has been hugging the animals and sending "gifts" to tourists, and doesn't mean to be destructive. They plan to take Stony back to Chicago, and Greg promises that the dwarves won't imprison him the way the elves had. Of course, the adults think differently, and Greg has to do a lot of work to insure that Stony can be free. Then, the group is off to New Orleans to try to find the antidote to the poison ingested by Greg's father, and they are also interested in the Faranglegt Amulet of Sahar, which the fairies hid, and which is the key to dealing with the problem of magic on earth. Eventually, Greg is captured by Edwin and taken to the west coast, where he is held in a fairly comfortable prison, taken on walks by the charming elf, Lixi, and gets to play chess with Edwin. Edwin has decided that all magic should be abolished in order to promote harmony on earth, but he and a few of his trusted friends should be able to do magic in order to keep everyone else in line. Greg knows this isn't a good idea, and his sword keeps telling him that he should be the one in charge, but he and Edwin at least make a little bit of peace with each other. Once Greg is free to return to Chicago, he considers more seriously finding the Faranglegt Amulet, and I suspect that will be the mission in the next book. 
Strengths: This starts with lots of action and incorporates it nicely into the story. There's some background information that is necessary, but it's always bracketed by things being smashed. This is perfect for my students who abhor "nothing happening". It's goofy, too, but not in a way that is too young. The chapter headings are very reminiscent of The Lighting Thief, which is a good way to sell this to those readers. I love Greg-- he is a bit haphazard, but so well meaning. He misses Edwin but understands why their rift occurred, he is very concerned about his father, and he really wants to do the right thing when it comes to the use of magic in the world and the problems with monsters showing up-- but he doesn't quite know what that is. There's a lot of character development and philosophy, brilliantly surrounded by GLAMSMASHING!
Weaknesses: If young readers are easily confused or struggle with text, this is not a book for them. It is wildly frenetic, there are lots of characters, and there are enough dwarven and elvish words that they might get lost. This is okay-- the target demographic of fantasy readers will love all of these details.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, as the first one in the series has been wildly popular with the fans of this author and of mythologically based adventure books like Rick Riordan's. 

I think I know where the Faranglegt Amulet is. Just sayin'. Also have to say that I was absolutely not in the mood to read this. I love Rylander's work and thoroughly enjoyed the first book... in the summer, when I was not six books behind schedule and in the middle of testing at school. This is an important reminder that sometimes middle school students are not in the mood for their usual fare, and why I occasionally hand 8th graders Stick Dog... and it makes them happy. 

Whitesides, Tyler. The Wishbreaker (Wishmakers #2)
January 8th 2019 by HarperCollins
Public library copy

Again, the week before school is out for the summer is NOT the time for me to read goofy fantasy. I loved the first one, and this author's Janitors series remains popular, so I will definitely purchase. 

Publisher's description
Being a Wishmaker may be more trouble than it’s worth. Sure, you get a genie who can grant an unlimited number of wishes, but for each one you make you have to accept an awful consequence in return. Not to mention that you’re also given an impossible quest and only seven days to fulfill it!
Despite all that, Ace and his genie, Ridge, managed to complete their last mission—but they couldn’t save their friend Tina from being abducted by a rogue genie who’s bent on using his limitless power to rule the world. To rescue her, Ace must reunite with Ridge to become a Wishmaker once more, and they’ll need to team up with the unlikeliest of new allies. It’s not every day you get a second chance to save the world, so Ace is determined to learn from his past mistakes and wish for the best, literally.
Perfect for fans of Max Brailler, Adam Gidwitz, and Dan Gutman, this middle grade series is a wonderful mix of unpredictable magic, zany humor, and daring adventure. “An ingenious premise” raved Kirkus in a starred review!"

Monday, June 17, 2019

MMGM- Silver Batal and the Water Dragon Races (Water Dragon Races #1)

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.

Halbrook, K.D. Silver Batal and the Water Dragon Races (Water Dragon Races #1)
June 4th 2019 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Silver comes from a family of jewelers in the desert community of Jaspaton, and is expected to follow the family trade, but she really wants to be a water dragon racers like her idol, Saggitaria Wonder. Her cousin and best friend, Brajon, is supportive of her, but realizes it will be very difficult for her to pursue this path. When Wonder is due to visit her town, Silver hopes to impress her by making a flying suit, which she does with the help of a mysterious older woman, Nebbeker, who has a past different from most of the people in Silver's community. However, when Silver meets the famous racer, the woman is not only rude, but ends up kidnapping a rare Aquinder, Kirja, (a type of dragon) with whom Nebbeker shares a bond. Silver discovers that she herself has a bond with Kirja's offspring, whom she names Hiyyan. Her only hope to regain Kirja lies in legalities, and if she can enter and race Hiyyan in the competition, she can claim Hiyyan and also ask the queen to restore Kirja to Nebbeker. This is, of course, a vast undertaking, but with the help of Brajon as well as a Calidian servant girl, she manages to hold her own in the competition.
Strengths: This has a lot of action and adventure, with not only the dragon racing but also a journey through caverns, battling the evil Wonder, and surviving in the big city. Brajon and Silver get along nicely, and Nebbeker is an interesting character as well. Plus, of course, being bonded with a dragon!
Weaknesses: The world building on this was weak for me. Not only was it not a well defined place (even though there were some details that lead me to believe there should be one), but the background seemed lacking. Maybe we will get more details as the series continues. On a purely personal level, I'm never a fan of the "follow your dream no matter how misguided it may be" plot line. I was a Latin teacher, after all. And I'm not now. I should have known that was a bad idea!
What I really think: I will purchase this to keep up with the newly arisen demand for dragon books like Tui Sutherland's Wings of Fire series.
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Planet Earth is Blue

Panteleakos, Nicole. Planet Earth is Blue
May 14th 2019 by Wendy Lamb Books
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Nova is severely autistic and verbally unintelligible, although she can manage simple things like "yes", "no", and some names. She and her older sister Bridget have been in the foster care system for a number of years because their mother was mentally ill and could not care for them. Bridget understood Nova, and told everyone that her sister was "a thinker, not a talker". The two were very interested in the upcoming Challenger space launch in 1986, and although they are currently separated (Bridget is almost 18), Nova is sure that her sister will return. Nova's current foster family is very understanding and supportive, and Nova is starting to feel at home there. Her foster mother and father don't believe the former school records that indicate that Nova is severely retarded (the term used at the time) and basically unteachable, and are looking forward to her testing results in her new school. Nova does understand the world around her, and writes letters to her sister that tell the reader much about what she is thinking, even though another student looks at the letter and indicates that while some words are recognizable, it looks largely like  scribble. Nova does well in her new school and makes some friends, and her home life is definitely an improvement, since the family (including a college aged daughter) understand that her "odd noises" are sometimes laughter, that her favorite bear has a name, and that she can understand requests to modify her behavior and comply with them. When her class at school watches the Challenger lift off and are faced with the horrible disaster, Nova is understandably upset, and also comes to terms with the real reason that Bridget has not returned for the launch.
Strengths: While this is not a true #ownvoices book, the author experienced sensory processing disorders as a child, which added a layer of verisimilitude to the things like tags in clothing and noises that irritated Nova. It's written with a nice balance of Nova's own thoughts, and her experiences through the lenses of others. The historical setting of the Challenger disaster is something for which I have been looking for some time. While there are many sad things about this book, it is generally upbeat, and the portrayal of a successful foster care family is something that is more and more needed in middle grade literature.
Weaknesses: The extra level of sad at the end, concerning Bridget, was unnecessary and unexpected, but not in a good way.
What I really think: I will probably purchase this because it involves a character on the autism spectrum, foster care, and an interesting historical setting, but it strikes me as the sort of book that teachers recommend to students rather than the sort they request from me. This is an ongoing dichotomy that I just don't understand, but which probably exists because tweens are not the ones who purchase books, their parents, teachers, and librarians do. If we asked tweens what they wanted and published accordingly, all that would hit the market would be humorous sports-oriented graphic novel murder mysteries. Surely, there is a happier medium!

Aldrin, Buzz and Dyson, Marianne. Bruce Foster (Illustrations)
To the Moon and Back: My Apollo 11 Adventure 
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Astronaut and prolific author (Welcome to Mars: Making a Home on the Red Planet, 2015) Buzz Aldrin brings his experiences to a younger audience with the clever and fascinating pop up book. With the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 expedition, there have been lots of books available, and this is not only a complete explanation of the adventure, but a fun one as well!

Mr. Aldrin details his early career and selection for the mission and adds details about other astronauts, rocket details, and brief outlines of the events that occurred. While this book is fairly short, there is a lot of information of which I was unaware. The print is rather tiny, which is great for fitting everything in, but a bit difficult if this is to be used as a read aloud. I would love to have all of this information, plus some more details, in a more middle grade format, since it is absolutely fascinating. I loved knowing that the astronauts had freeze dried shrimp cocktail in space, and that the astronauts had such a good sense of humor!

The accompanying photographs add necessary visual explanation to the story, and Foster's paper engineering is brilliant. There are five very complete pop ups, as well as pull out information, lift-a-flaps and other incidentals. While these are difficult for libraries to have, given the wear and tear, they are brilliant for encouraging interest in topics at home. I have to admit that I opened the page with the rocket launch several times, and it was very effective.

Young scientists who are interested in space travel will find this a compelling look at a space mission that cemented the US position in history and captured the imagination of generations of people. As we get nearer and nearer to the July 2019 anniversary, I'll be on the lookout for more nonfiction books on the topic. This would be a great resource to have for readers who are enjoying I Love You, Michael Collins (2017) by Lauren Baratz-Logsted.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Magic on the Map

Sheinmel, Courtney and Turetsky, Bianca. Let's Mooove!
May 7th 2019 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

Finn and Molly Parker's father brings home a travel camper for which he has traded his car. Their mother is not happy, and requests that the camper be returned. While the twins are not really happy about the thought of traveling, they are curious about the camper, and sneak into it at night. They find that the camper talks to them, and befreo they know it, they are on a dude ranch in Colorado! The camper (aka PET- Planet Earth Transport) tells them that they can return once they are done with their mission. This turns out to be saving a cow, Snowflake, who has extra tasty milk, from the clutches of the EZ Cheez villains. Mission accomplished, the twins return home to get ready for further adventures in...

Sheinmel, Courtney and Turetsky, Bianca. The Show Must Go On!
May 7th 2019 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

This time, When Finn and Molly get in the camper, they are whisked off to New York City and garbed in the finest local clothing. ( A baseball jersey and "I Love NY" shirt.)Hallie Hampton, star of the television program Awesome Sauce, stops in her limousine and asks the kids to jump in. She thinks they live in New York and can help her win a POP Magazine scavenger hunt, the prize to which is being photographed by famed portrait artist Billie Fischer. Hallie has to get to a rehearsal for a play, so she deputizes the Parkers to follow the clues, racing against her nemesis, Cleo. Cleo is dastardly and tries to win using mean ways, but the Parkers are good kids, so people want to help them out with helicopters! They lose the contest on a technicality, but their mission turns out to be supportive of Hallie during her play. 

Strengths: The Parkers are from Ohio! Since this series will most likely have the children traveling all over the US, this made me happy. Ohio is rather centrally located when it comes to highways, even if they are traveling magically. There are fun facts about the states at the end of the book, and enough about the local residents to make this interesting.
Weaknesses: There will be a review somewhere that mentions that this book has a "white default". It does. But it would be a little odd if ALL of the books published were #WNDB. I would argue that these are so short that there isn't really time to work a particular ethnicity into the book. I was more bothered by the noses in the (otherwise fantastic!) illustrations. (They are much darker than the characters' faces, making them look like Pinocchio somehow. I am very picky about noses, apparently.)
What I really think: I won't be purchasing for my library, but these reminded me a lot of Osborne's Magic Treehouse books, but without a central quest. I would have been scouring the thrift stores for this series twenty years ago! (My budget, sadly, did not extend to new books, which is why my girls have fond memories of books that people ten years older than they are read!) A definite purchase for elementary schools or parents of voracious first to third grade readers.

Ms. Yingling

Friday, June 14, 2019

Guy Friday- Pie in the Sky

Lai, Remy. Pie in the Sky
May 14th 2019 by Henry Holt and Co.
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Jingwen, his annoying little brother Yanghao, and his mother all leave their home and grandparents to move to Australia. This had been the plan for a while, but it changed a bit after the father died in a car accident right before Jingwen's birthday. Now, the mother is working in a bakery (since the grandparents run a no-nonsense, serviceable bakery back home) and is very busy. There is no chance that the family will be able to open the bakery the father envisioned and called Pie in the Sky. He wanted to make beautiful, expensive cakes, and he and Jingwen would practice baking them. With his mother gone all the time and pressure at school building up, Jingwen starts to bake cakes at home even though his mother has forbidden it. He takes his savings to buy the ingredients, and he and Yanghao have to eat all of the cake, or give some to their neighbor, pretending it's from the bakery where their mother works. At school, Jingwen struggles with English, and therefore can't do much of the work. He also finds it hard to make friends, especially when he hears Ben, a boy whom he thinks is nice and who might be his friend, laughing with another boy that Jingwen is "slow". Ben also seems to like to bake, and brings Jingwen cake, but Jingwen suspects it is a joke, and throws the cake away. The mother almost catches on several times that cakes are being made, and takes the cookbooks to work, but the boys go to the library to get recipe books and continue on their quest. When Yanghao finally makes Jingwen really mad and then runs away, the boys' secrets come to light. The mother steps in to help more, and Jingwen finally talks to Ben to set things right, and the boys bond over their cake baking, since Ben's mother owns the bakery where Jingwen's works.
Strengths: This is an illustrated novel, and those always do well. The pictures are a great way for Jingwen to show how out of place he feels; when he doesn't understand the language around him, he portrays others as space aliens with incomprehensible symbols coming from their mouths. There are not a lot of books that talk about the process of assimilating into a new school culture, with Weeks and Varadarajan 's Save Me a Seat and Freeman's One Good Thing About America being notable exceptions, and this is an excellent portrayal of the feelings of trying to fit in while missing home. It's fairly upbeat and funny, but with the underlying grief about the father and missing the grandparents. 
The brother was beyond annoying, so I didn't find him as funny as some readers did. Also, this comes very close to be sodden with grief about the father. Not quite, but the father could just have easily had to stay with the grandparents instead of being killed. I also was surprised that the Australian school system seemed to lack support for English Language Learners. I hope that our recent immigrant children are not just thrown into the deep end like Jingwen was!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and I can see this being a good mirror and window book for my younger readers. While 8th graders should read this, the cartoon cover might turn them away.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Fangs for Everything (Crimebiters #4)

Greenwald, Tommy. Fangs for Everything (Crimebiters #4)
January 29th 2019 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Jimmy and his friends are back for this fourth and final installment, which starts with a bit of a shocker... Daisy has become a cheerleader! Jimmy is surprised, but Daisy maintains that it's a difficult sport, and wants Jimmy to be supportive of her. Jimmy has other things on his mind-- he's starting to wonder if Abby perhaps isn't really a vampire, not matter what her super powers seem to be. To start his investigation, he writes to the author of the the Jonah Forrester vampire novels he loves, Elroy Evans. To his surprise, Mr. Evans not only writes back, but invites Jimmy to a COM-MIX convention as his guest! Jimmy, along with Irwin and Baxter, have trouble believing that Daisy is a cheerleader, and their antics regarding this lead to a very nice cafeteria lady, Clarice, having lasagna dumped on her head. This gets Jimmy in trouble, but he has a lot of difficulty trying to explain himself to the nice assistant principal. Jimmy is having a lot of trouble dealing with people, it seems, and when he and his friends finally get to COM-MIX, they are turned away by guards who claim that only Jimmy can get in, and certainly not his dog. Mr. Evans makes sure that the entire group gets in, and takes a lot of time to talk to them. However, Mr. Evans son is less than happy with the way his father is treating Jimmy, and there is some hectic misunderstanding. In the end, Jimmy realizes that Abby can be a fabulous dog even if she really isn't a vampire.

While most readers will know that Abby isn't really a vampire, they will still enjoy this playful romp with the Crimebiters. The best part of the book is the way that the friends work together. Daisy may be popular, Irwin may be a bit of a nerd, and Baxter's checkered past as a bully still crops up from time to time, but the children all genuinely like each other and work well together. There are some very realistic dynamics portrayed-- the boys are surprised when Daisy becomes a cheerleader, and neither Irwin nor Jimmy are happy when she seems interested in a boy who is not either of them. Daisy takes over the presidency of the Crimebiters, and wants to move the meetings to a better location, which Jimmy doesn't like until he realizes it involves homemade ice cream sandwiches. My favorite part was when Irwin decided to be a cheerleader, and when he gets flak about him, he gets support not only from his friends but from an unlikely source as well.

Working a comics convention into a book is always fun, and the author is especially nice to Jimmy. Evans' sons actions are a bit over the top, but ultimately understandable, and the resolution is satisfactory. As always, Jimmy's parents are supportive of his actions and accompany him on this trip, even though they are a bit disappointed about the incident with the cafeteria lady.

Stower's illustrations are a nice touch, and their inclusion makes it easy to hand this book to readers who have read all of the notebook novels available and are able to move onto books with slightly more text. Hand this series to fans of clue oriented mysteries like the Hardy Boys or Ron Roy's various beginning chapter books, and make sure they've read the first three books in this series.

My Dog is Better Than Your Dog
It's a Doggy Dog World
Dog Day Afterschool

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Village by the Sea

Desai, Anita. The Village by the Sea
April 16th 2019 by NYRB Kids (first published 1982)
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Lila and Hari live in a small village in India. Their mother is very ill and never gets out of bed, and their father has had to sell his boat. He now uses the little money they bring in to get drunk on toddy every night. Lila takes care of the house, and Hari tries to earn a little money doing odd jobs. They do manage to send their two younger sisters to school. When a factory is set to be built in their area, Hari at first thinks that it will be a good thing, and provide him with a job, but then starts to wonder. Rich people from Bombat, the deSilvas, often come to stay at their house near the beach and hire Lila and Hari to do small jobs; Mr. deSilva tells Hari that if he is ever in Bombay, he will hire him to be a caretaker. When a group protesting the factory decides to go to Bombay, Hari goes as well. At about this time, the mother has a very high fever, and Lila asks the deSilvas to take her to the hospital. They do, and even kindly offer to pay for the medicine. The mother is severely anemic and generally run down, so an extended stay in the hospital is indicated. The father stays as well, and stops drinking. Hari finds the deSilvas aren't in Bombay, and decides to go home after working in very bad conditions at a restaurant, although he does meet very nice people. Although it looks like the factory will destroy the environment around the town, Hari and Lila try to appreciate their somewhat improved lives and hope for the best for the future.
Strengths: The details of daily life in rural India, and some of the problems faced by people in small villages, are all very well described. The writing is very rich with details, and shows a clear love of the environment, despite its sadness. I love books set in other countries, especially India, and wish there were more to share with my students.
Weaknesses: This was crushingly sad, and when something happened to the children's dog, I just about stopped reading! Because this was first published 37 years ago, I felt there needed to be a note of explanation with it. Is life still like this in India? Have things changed? In towns where factories were built, is life better or worse? Since I don't know the answers to these questions, I can't tell my students whether this should be considered historical fiction, or whether it is still an accurate depiction of life in rural India.
What I really think: This is available only in a paperback version, so I think I'll pass and recommend Padma Venkatraman's The Bridge Home or Saeed's Amal Unbound instead.

Ms. Yingling