Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Not if I Can Help It

Mackler, Carolyn. Not if I Can Help It
July 30th 2019 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Willa has struggled with a sensory processing disorder her whole life, but with supportive parents and some occupational therapy, she deals with it well enough that she doesn't even tell her best friend, Ruby, about it. She fits in well enough at The Children's School in New York City, where her classmates are all abuzz waiting to hear what their middle school placements will be. Willa and Ruby (who loves soccer and is herself a bit anxious, especially since she seems to have a smaller bladder than everyone else!) are worried that they won't be at the same school. Willa lives with her father and younger brother, and have a babysitter whom they really like. Her mother lives two hours away, where she took a professorship after the parents divorced. She is since remarried, and has approached Willa with the idea of living with her for middle school. All of this anxiety makes it harder for Willa to control her body, and she does get some coping strategies from her therapist, and her teachers know how to redirect her as well. When she finds out that her father and Ruby's mother have been dating for a while, and worse, are in love with each other and thinking about getting married, she is even more stressed. She likes her best friend, but she hates change, and doesn't want Ruby to know about her sensory processing disorder and all of the ways she copes with it. It doesn't help that Avery, a mean girl she's known since preschool, gives her a hard time about it. With the help of the adults in her life, Willa manages to navigate her way through her difficulties and end fifth grade on a high note.
Strengths: This was oddly compelling. I was absolutely sucked into Willa's world, and the details about how she dealt with her issues were enthralling (her dad prewears her socks; I can relate-- Picky Reader prefers it if I break in her tennis shoes!). There's even a buzzing feeling of anxiety conveyed in the text that I can't quite explain. While the 1970s saw a lot of middle grade books about divorce, it's still a common occurrence, and many of my students have to deal with blended families, visiting parents on weekends, and thinking about alternate living arrangements. I have not seen this topic addressed in the literature as much, and this is one of the few books about sensory processing disorders out there.Pla's Stanley Will Probably Be Fine is the only other one that comes to mind.
Weaknesses: It was somewhat difficult to like Willa, and it's hard to wrap my mind around the East Coast educational system. You have to apply to middle school? It will seem exotic to my students.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and this would circulate well based on the cover alone. More candy related covers so I can make a display!
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Shifting Shadows

Hunter, Erin. Shifting Shadows (Bravelands #4)
May 7th 2019 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Ever since the death of Stinger, things have gotten worse in the Bravelands. Thorn is under constant pressure to become the leader of his tribe, even though he doesn't feel ready. Sky no longer has the Great Spirit within her, but something calls her to not travel with her group, and she finds the two young cheetah cubs of Rush, who was killed. She wants to be with Rock, but the male elephants are supposed to band together. The lions are also unsettled, and the fact that animals keep showing up dead, with just their hearts ripped out, means that something evil is preying on all of the animals. Thorn continues to struggle with his leadership role, and when he is attacked and taken away to recuperate, Berry runs for election and is chosen Crownleaf. A tribeless baboon named Spider appears on the scene; he is very unsettled, and does not help the circumstances for the baboons. Sky runs into Rock, and he professes his love for her, and they commit to each other. Unfortunately, bitter news from his tribe makes Sky leave him, and she and the cheetah cubs fend for themselves. Eventually, we find out a little about the growing threat to all the animals, and it will take at least one more book to get everyone settled!

This was an extremely blood thirsty book, with a lot of animal deaths. I know that Warriors book involve a lot of battles, and not everyone survives, but this had a bit of a feel of a serial murderer stalking the Bravelands. Fans might enjoy this, but I read this with a look of terror on my face!

The world building is exquisite as always, and the personalities of dozens and dozens of animals are all well drawn. Thorn's angst gets to be a bit repetitive, but he really wants to do what is best for his tribe and for Bravelands; that's a big responsibility, so it deserves adequate exploration. Sky also has a lot on her plate, and it's interesting to see that the cubs' aunt wouldn't take care of them, but Sky was very accepting of falling into the caretaker role.

Readers who like books about animals who have well established tribes and territorial wars frequently only want to read similar books, and Bravelands is an interesting series because it involves a variety of animals, making it a little easier to tell the characters apart (unlike Warriors, where all the characters are cats with similar names!). I can't think of too many books set on the African plains, making Bravelands an intriguing choice for children who couldn't get enough of The Lion King and want to transfer their love of that film to literature.

Ms. Yingling

Monday, July 29, 2019

MMGM- On Thin Ice

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.

Northrop, Michael. On Thin Ice
July 30th 2019 by Scholastic
E ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Ked Eakins lives in the small town of Norton, where the major manufacturing plants are seeing hard times. His father only works part time, and his mother has left the family because of the father's gambling. To make matters worse, there is no longer his mother's health insurance to help Ked deal with his worsening kyphosis that is progressively ruining his posture. He deals with it by wearing baggy shirts, but the pain is a constant issue, and the kids in middle school are cruel about it. To make matters really bad, his friends have abandoned him one by one, so he has no one with whom to sit in the cafeteria. When Ked finds out that his father is not only behind on the rent, but has gambled the money away on a bet concerning the town's Thin Ice festival, Ked feels he must act. He takes $200 and buys a battered Road Rokkit motorcycle. He hopes to fix it up and sell it for $600 so the rent can be paid. His father, however, has sold his tools, so Ked takes the engine in to the school MakerSpace to work on it. His former friend, Nephi, is there working on a project for the Norton festival, as is Goth Girl Esme and school bullying, Landrover. When space is limited, the teacher who watches the MakerSpace during his planning period, Mr. Feig, lets Ked, Esme and Nephi stay after school to work on their projects while he grades papers. Landrover is angry, and sabotages Ked's efforts, damaging the bike. After struggling with the bike, school, and dealing with his father, Ked is pushed to his limits and thinks he will try to win the Thin Ice festival bet by cracking the ice and collapsing the tower himself-- but when he gets there, he finds Landrover there trying to do the same thing. Not surprisingly, this doesn't go well, but the experience makes Landrover a bit kinder towards Ked. The two work together, Ked gets out of his predicament for the time being, and things look a bit brighter after a heart-to-heart with his misguided but well-meaning father.
Strengths: Ked is an amazing character whose plight will speak to many middle grade readers. Why more books don't delve into the intricacies of lunch room dynamics, I will never know. Ked's physical challenges are lightly handled-- his back certainly bothers him physically and emotionally, but he moves on the best he can. The idea to fix up and sell a motorcycle isn't the best idea, but it is certainly something that I can see occurring to a middle school student as a great way to make money. I normally don't like books about bullying because they are not realistic (swirlies, wedgies, etc.), but what Ked experiences is spot on. Whispered words, quiet digs, friends abandoning him. Told in first person, something about Ked's voice appealed to me and made me want to find out what would happen and how he would deal with it. Combined with the intriguing cover, this story will capture the imagination of a variety of readers.
Weaknesses: The MakerSpace is a sore spot with me. I was forced to have one, and it was impossible to monitor. Even our public library decided against having one. It's a fantastic idea for all the reasons we see in this book; it gives kids a different sort of outlet. But if I'm getting books to students, instructing language arts classes and having classes in to do research, it is, as Mr. Feig knows, hard to supervise.
What I really think: Wow. This has a lot of emotional impact AND is an interesting read. This is a fantastic book that spans that difficult MG/YA gap and is a great choice for 8th grade boys who have moved beyond books with simple characters and plots. Hand this to readers who liked this author's Rotten, Key's Fourmile, and Vrabel's Bringing Me Back.
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, July 28, 2019

The Friendship Lie

Donnelly, Rebecca. The Friendship Lie
Publication: August 1st 2019 by Capstone
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Cora and Kyle live in San Francisco with their father, who is an environmental scientist who studies where trash goes after it is discarded. Their mother is a similar scientist, and when the parents divorced, the mother took a year long assignment in Belgium. In addition to missing her mother, Cora is dealing with a misunderstanding between her and her best friend, Sybella. A new girl, Marnie, has started at the girls' school, and wants to be best friends with both of them, but Cora feels like Sybella is abandoning her. This is especially wrenching since the twins and Sybella shared an imaginery world called Aquafaba, and now Cora doesn't want to have much to do with it. When a poem written in a moment of weakness finds its way to Sybella's possession, Sybella doesn't know how to approach her friend about being accused of being a "friend abandoner". Since Sybella is working on some projects with Kyle, things are complicated. Marnie doesn't help, and is seemingly glad to have caused a rift between the friends. Will the best friends be able to make their way back to each other, or will they forever bag and bin their relationship?

The San Francisco setting of this book is quite charming, and the lengths to which the father wants to go to stop waste are admirable. From only letting the twins have one phone to limit e waste to not driving a car unless it can be fueled with compost, Dr. Davis' commitment to the environment is admirable. The school the children attends has a trashlympics, a competition for art made from found objects, and is also committed to sustainability. I wish there were more of this in children's literature; the more children are exposed to these themes, the more likely they are to practice recycling on their own.

Friendship drama is a big concern of fifth graders, and they handle it is a distinctly different way than their older middle school counterparts. Cora is devastated both by Sybella's actions and by her own thoughtlessness, and is worried from the start that Marnie might supplant her in Sybella's affections. The fact that an entire childhood imaginary world hangs in the balance makes this even more poignant.

Readers who like books that deal with the complexity of school and friends, like Clement's The Friendship War, Hunt's Fish in a Tree, Buyea's Mr. Terupt series and Russell's Dork Diaries will appreciate this thoughtful look at the dynamics of friends and family, and how the actions even of elementary students have a significant impact on the world at large.

This was a bit young for middle school, so I don't know that I will purchase.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go On a Class Trip

Falatko, Julie. Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go on a Class Trip
May 28th 2019 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Sassy and Waldo are super excited to go to the city museum (even though their boy, Stewart, is tired of going every year. But there be more than two lunches, possibly, so how can this go wrong? Ms. Twohey gives everyone a lot of rules to follow, and says that there will be an ice cream party if people are well behaved, so "Salty" is on his very best behavior, even if he occasionally doesn't understand things because "I am from Liver, Ohio!" The museum tour does get a bit boring, but not after the dogs decide to take off on their own, with a few of the students, and give a tour of their own that includes noshing on moon boots, lounging on tapestries, seeing the Squirreltown exhibit, and eating at the cafeteria. Eventually, their shenanigans are found out, but explained away, and everyone heads back to school, leaving the kerfuzzled guards to clean up the piles of fur.
Strengths: Why do you need to read these immediately and put multiple copies on your book order for the next school year? Here's why (pages 119-120):
"Hi!... This is the beef bowl station. Do you want a beef bowl for lunch?"
"I have never wanted anything more in my entire life," said Waldo, who was drooling slightly.
"What size do you want?" asked the lady.
"The largest possible size," said Waldo...
"Do you want cheese sauce on your beef bowl?"
Waldo had to lean against the sneeze guard to steady himself. It was too much. He was feeling faint.
"Yes, cheese," he said.

Aside from this snort-through-your-nose writing style, there are Colin Jacks fun illustrations showing "Salty" navigating the museum in his trench coat. I love that absolute everyone is completely oblivious that Waldo and Sassy are dogs, especially since they are so obsessed with lunch and squirrels! I'm definitely looking forward to more adventures.

I swear, Ms. Falatko has gotten inside my dog's head and replicates her every thought. So funny! Make sure you read Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go to School and Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Start a Club by AccidentThis is a great series for readers who like Watson's Stick Dog books, Barnett's Mac B.: Spy Kid series, and any humorous notebook style novel.
Weaknesses: I adore Stewart's parents and their odd obsession with office supplies, so was disappointed that they weren't chaperones.
What I really think: I think that people who haven't read these books are missing out on life's greatest joy.

Ms. Yingling

Friday, July 26, 2019

Deadly Aim: The Civil War Story of Michigan's Anishinaabe Sharpshooters

Walker, Sally M. Deadly Aim: The Civil War Story of Michigan's Anishinaabe Sharpshooters
July 30 2019 by Henry Holt & Company

E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

The Civil War (which is covered in out 8th grade social studies curriculum) is a difficult period of history. Unlike WWII, there is not as much interest in it now, and when there was still interest, the types of books being written about it didn't include diverse populations. In some respects, the Civil War has the same black-and-white/right-and-wrong aspects that WWII does, but in others, things are remarkably gray. When it comes to populations such as Native American involvement, it's complicated and messy. Walker does an admirable job at outlining events and explaining why events unfurled in the way they did.

Certainly, this is very clear: Native populations were gravely mistreated at every step of the process. Walker worked with Repatriation Department for the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, the Eyaawing Museum and Cultural Center, and the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture and Lifeways and did enormous amounts of research to get her facts, and presents them with sensitivity. I don't know enough about tribes of the Michigan area to say if she gets all the details correct.

This covers a large span of time and an incredible amount of individuals. We see what life was like before the Civil War, have an understanding of why some Native peoples got involved, and have a harrowing overview of the treatment of veterans after the war. Detailing what happened to individuals is always a good way to put a human face on what otherwise is a lot of bureaucratic statistics.

Deadly Aim is a great addition to middle school and high school libraries for research. Walker has several appendices with important documents, complete source notes, and an extensive bibliography. Readers who want to delve into details about the war will be glad of this for pleasure reading, but I got a bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information!

Thursday, July 25, 2019

On the Run

Holman, Marilyn Anne. On the Run
August 1st 2019 by Lorimer
E ARC from

Ryan can't get a break, mainly from himself. In and out of juvenile detention from the age of thirteen, he goes before the court yet again. The judge decides to give him one more change to turn things around before he turns 18 and is subject to adult court. For a while, Ryan keeps his curfew, but when he finally gets antsy and ventures out, he accidentally gets in the way of a breaking and entering in progress. When he goes home, he has to deal with his drunken and abusive father, who kicks him out of the house. Ryan decides to hitchhike far away from his town, and gets picked up by a trucker, Pete. Luckily, Pete had a similar background and knows that Ryan needs someone on his side, even after Ryan sneaks out of the hotel where the two are staying and gets involved with yet another bad set of guys. Leaving that trouble behind, the two make their way across Canada, only to get caught in the snow and a bad accident. Ryan is caught, but the policeman is glad to report that Ryan's actions saved Pete's life. Back in juvenile detention, Ryan has to deal with several bad guys from various parts of his past, but keeps reflecting on lessons he learned from Ryan, as well as some of the helpful staff at the center. Will it be enough for Ryan to get his GED and turn his life around?
Strengths: I certainly have readers who will want to read about Ryan's flirtings with the law; this has a very Buford High feel to it. We see Ryan make a number of typically bad decisions, but he is not without redemption. Running away and being on the truck with Pete was the best part for me, but some of my students might find the juvenile detention scenes more interesting.
Weaknesses: Ryan has F***U tattoed on his knuckles, and this is mentioned. Also, there are a lot of Canadian references and terms; my students don't seem to be too bothered by this in other Lorimer titles, but some readers might be confused.
What I really think: If this becomes available in a prebind, I will probably purchase.
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Let Me Fix That For You

Erlbaum, Janice. Let Me Fix That For You
July 23rd 2019 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Glad (short for Gladys, thanks to her mother) has trouble making friends in school, and is glad of her younger sister Agnes and her older sister, Mabey. Her mother has moved out, leaving her father with a tough career in tax law as well as all of the household management. Perhaps because of this, Glad spends most of her time at school "fixing" people's problems for them. She eats lunch with "Homework" Harry, a ten year old who skipped grades and keeps from being bullied by selling homework to other students. Glad has a steady stream of people who want help with excuses and other problems. She's even caught the eye of the principal and been reprimanded, although since she is not really breaking any rules or taking any money, she can't really be punished. She sends fake texts from an imaginary boyfriend to Madison, delivers presents to Taye's crush, lets tomboyish Izzy change out of her grandmother's super girly gift outfits at her house before school, and tries to help Sophie deal with the fact that Sophie misappropriated money from the dance account. In the meantime, she has to help out at home and watch over Agnes when Mabey can't. Their father frequently forgets to grocery shop or do laundry, so there is a lot of slack to pick up. When Mabey says that there mother has promised to visit, Glad hope to "fix" her father so her mother will stay. This includes a shopping trip with Sophie consulting on clothing for her father for money. When her father seems to be enjoying his new look and is even singing at breakfast, Glad is concerned, especially since he seems like he might be about to date other women. Eventually, though, Glad has to deal with all of her problems and figure out better ways of dealing with her life.
Strengths: I love the depiction of parents who are there for their children as much as they are able to be, but still can't quite pull it together. I think this is much more realistic than parents who just give up. That chores fall to children is also realistic, and something with which many of my students have to deal. The friend drama is fantastic, and there are a number of different types of problems, such as stealing, older boyfriends, and overbearing grandparents who don't understand children! Glad has a fairly upbeat outlook considering how difficult her life is.
Weaknesses: It's a bit of a stretch that so many students rely on Glad for help, but it makes for an interesting book.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing for readers who like lots of middle school drama.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Fantasy Series

Fantasy amnesia. It's a real condition, with no known treatment. There seem to be more fantasy books than realistic fiction written for middle grade, and I don't have quite as many readers for it. Sure, those students will often ONLY read fantasy. There's some fantasy I really like, but even then, I have to take notes! So, here are some books in series that I read and am unable to remember enough details to write reviews!

 Paolini, Christopher. The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm: Tales from Alagaesia.
December 31st 2018 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Library copy

From the publisher:
"Welcome back to the world of Alagaësia. It’s been a year since Eragon departed Alagaësia in search of the perfect home to train a new generation of Dragon Riders. Now he is struggling with an endless sea of tasks: constructing a vast dragonhold, wrangling with suppliers, guarding dragon eggs, and dealing with belligerent Urgals and haughty elves. Then a vision from the Eldunarí, unexpected visitors, and an exciting Urgal legend offer a much-needed distraction and a new perspective. This volume features three original stories set in Alagaësia, interspersed with scenes from Eragon’s own unfolding adventure. Included is an excerpt from the memoir of the unforgettable witch and fortune-teller Angela the herbalist . . . penned by Angela Paolini, the inspiration for the character, herself! Relish the incomparable imagination of Christopher Paolini in this thrilling new collection of stories based in the world of the Inheritance Cycle."

So painful. So very, very painful.

MacHale, D.J. Oracle of Doom (The Library #3)
October 9th 2018 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Library copy

From the Publisher
"Marcus is an agent of the Library, a place filled with tales that don't have an ending. Puzzles that won't be solved until Marcus and his friends step in to finish them. This time it's their own stories at stake.

Theo just visited the Oracle Baz, an old amusement-park machine that spits out fortunes for the cost of a quarter. Fun, right? The only problem is, the oracle's cheap predictions have been coming true . . . and Theo's fortune says that life as he knows it will end on his fourteenth birthday! Plus, Lu's cousin, who also went to the oracle, is missing.

Marcus knows where to find help for his friends--the Library. It turns out that the Oracle Baz was a real man who died in a fire long ago. Can a glimpse into the fortune-teller's past change all their futures?"

Got about 100 pages in, and things started to seem familiar. Sure enough, I read this back in February. Again, amnesia.

Bell, Jennifer. The Shadows of Doom (Uncommoners #2)
February 5th 2019 by Crown Books for Young Readers
Library copy

From the publisher:
"Ivy and her older brother, Seb, are back in Lundinor--the underground city where enchanted objects can do incredible things, if they're uncommon. But not everyone is thrilled at their arrival. Namely, Selena Grimes, the wicked ghoul who will stop at nothing to return her guild, the Dirge, to their former glory. When Ivy and Seb learn that Selena is after the Jar of Shadows, one of the five most powerful uncommon objects, they know it's up to them to find it first.

But there's more than just Selena to worry about this trading season. Jack-in-the-Green, an escaped shape-shifting convict, haunts the city; Grivens, a troubling game where players often end up horribly injured--or worse--is on the rise; and foes disguised as friends lurk in the shadows. Ivy will have to figure out who they can trust--before they meet their uncommon ends."

I adored The Crooked Sixpence, but really struggled to get into this. Never quite did. Perhaps I am just that sad that the cover changed from the gorgeous British version? Glad I bought it, since it does well with Harry Potter fans, but felt surprisingly "meh" about this sequel.

Cestari, Crystal. The Fairest Kind of Love (Windy City Magic #3)
March 5th 2019 by Disney-Hyperion
Library Copy

From the publisher:
"Amber Sand has spent half her life solidifying other people's happily-ever-afters. As a matchmaker, she has the ability to look into anyone's eyes and see their perfect match. But lately, her powers have been on the fritz, and not only is she totally unsure whether her matches are true, she can't see anyone in the eyes of her boyfriend Charlie Blitzman. With Amber and her friends graduating high school and about to take off for various colleges, Amber is hoping to have one last carefree summer-but she's also dying to find a way to fix her powers, and learn, for better or worse, if she and Charlie are truly meant to be. So when an online matchmaker named Madame Lamour comes to Chicago, Amber sets out to talk to her and find out who her match is once and for all. Of course, when it comes to the magical community, nothing's ever that easy, and Amber soon finds herself caught up in a breathless showdown that involves a fairy family feud and a magical-creature auction--and requires teaming up with a certain siren nemesis. Can Amber and her friends save the day one more time before setting off for their new lives? And will Amber ever learn whether Charlie is her one true love?"

I don't have a lot of readers who like romance fantasy books (like Plum's Die for Me, or the Twilight books), but there are a few. Most of them are hard core public library users, but it's good to have a few series to meet immediate demands. This is a good one, and enjoyable enough.

Monday, July 22, 2019

MMGM- Scouts

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.

Greenland, Shannon. Scouts.
July 23rd 2019 by Jimmy Patterson
ARC provided by the publisher upon request

Annie loves to hang out with her friends in 1985. They have camp outs, go on adventures, and occasionally get in trouble for doing things like climbing silos. Her mother thinks that as she approaches middle school, she should be more lady like, but Annie disagrees. So do her friends Beans, Fynn, and Rocky. When Fynn's cousin Scarlet is visiting when the Scouts are prepared to watch a meteor shower, they have to bring her along. The meteor shower is great, but the kids think they see a meteor go down. The calculations indicate it's fifteen miles away, so why not go in search of it. Leaving a series of notes that insure that it will be well into the next day before any adults can locate them, they pack supplies and head off on foot. Annie isn't happy that Scarlet is along, especially since the boys act differently around a girl-- she's just Annie. Not only are there skeletons in caves, teens with three legged dogs, a suspiciously criminal family and mysterious silver dust from the meteor, but the kids have their own problems. Fynn's divorced mother and Rocky's widowed father are dating, and Bean's family is in danger of losing their home. Annie is worried that her group of friends will fall apart, but the trip reinforces rather than breaks their bond.
Strengths: You can talk until you're blue in the face about the fact that there shouldn't be "girl books" and "boy books", but in order for this to work in practicality, a lot of social programming needs to be undone for most students. This is a great book because while it does have a girl as the main character, there is nothing about the cover or the story to make boys physically recoil from this the way they do from, say Hamster Princess. Annie's brief thoughts about her friends being boys might actually make some readers stop and say "Huh. It shouldn't be that way.", which is helpful. On top of that, this is just a great story. Out all night camping, crossing dangerous rivers despite fears, wandering around the countryside without enough supplies because they keep being lost in scrapes-- fun stuff, with a side helping of seriousness. The tag line on this is "Stranger Things meets Goonies"-- I personally don't understand either of these, but my students seem to like Stranger Things.
Weaknesses: The "hillbilly" family with Mary Jo and Otis wasn't my favorite part, but they were involved in a nice twist at the end. I also could have used a little more explanation for what the meteors actually were, but it wasn't that essential to the adventure story.
What I really think: I will definitely purchase a copy and hope it increases circulation of this author's The Specialists series, which my daughter loved in middle school and which I haven't weeded because of that. (Weeding is definitely partly emotional in my world!)

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Christmas in July

Garland, Taylor. Home for the Holidays
October 9th 2018 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Library copy

Alyssa has moved from the Northeast to Florida with her mother and brother because her mother has gotten a better job. She's not thrilled with having to go to the new school, but glad for her mother's opportunity. She makes a couple of friends; Becca is interested in her knitting, and Rachel and Elle are really kind and ask her to sit with them at lunch. The problem? The three used to be friends, but now Becca doesn't talk to the other two, and vice versa. Alyssa tries to get the three back together during sleepovers, but they just won't spend time together. Alyssa is also interested in the cats that live in a park near her, and she has also been working with the humane society to find a cat for her family. Becca brings over yarn and asks if Alyssa can knit fifteen scarves in a short amount of time for her aunt's shop-- Becca wants to help her new friend, but finds this to be a lot on top of her homework, household chores, and hanging out with friends. Eventually, she gets the friends back together, is closer to getting a cat of her own, and solves the mystery of why Becca can knit so quickly.
Strengths: This book had pitch perfect friend drama, children involved in positive activities, and cute pets! It's a great length, and the sort of upbeat, fast paced series book that I am going to pitch hard to my new 6th graders next year, since so many of them have trouble finishing books. I loved that Alyssa had such a positive attitude about everything, even her family's move, but she wasn't a goodie-goodie. The problems with the girls are dealt with in a realistic but helpful way. The other books in this series (which doesn't need to be read in order, but includes Twelve Pets of Christmas and Secret Snowflake) have been popular in my library; I had a couple of readers who ONLY wanted to read Christmas stories!
Weaknesses: I feel conflicted having Christmas stories in the library. I would love to see books like this featuring holidays from other cultures, and I suspect a Ramadan title (all I have is Sharif's Bestest.Ramadan.Ever, which is a bit older (2011)) would do well. On the flip side, Christmas is arguably a very secular, US holiday as well, so students who don't celebrate it might find books where it is a central topic informative.
What I really think: Already purchased, and looking forward to having Let It Snow come in with the August order.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, July 20, 2019


Griffin, Paul. Skyjacked
July 30th 2019 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Six students from an elite private school are returning home after a camping trip on the private plane belonging to Cassie's father's business. The regular pilot is ill, so there is a substitute, and not long into the journey, the teens realize the plane is heading west instead of east. They have a security person, Reeva, with them, and she is not overly concerned. At the same time, we see Michelle Okolo at work as an intern at the National Air Traffic Investigation Center. She took the job because her father was killed when a storm popped up and his plane wasn't alerted, so the job is personal to her. Things start to go badly very quickly on the plane-- Cassie suffers a bad allergic reaction, and it's soon clear that she has been poisoned. Was it the replacement pilot? Reeva? One of her friends? When the plane goes offline, NATIC is brought in, and Michelle starts investigating the social media feeds and background of the people on board, trying to figure out who is responsible. Things go from bad to worse, there are more deaths on board, and it looks like no one will survive. Will Michelle be able to make a difference this time?
Strengths: Aside from Moss' Girl on a Plane, I can't think of too many books that deal with highjackings. It's one of those topics, like murder, that enthralls middle grade readers. The suspense, the mystery, the life-and-death feel of the entire adventure are all good things.
Weaknesses: Something made it hard to connect with this story. It has sort of a 1970s, Harry Mazer feel to it. Maybe there were too many characters, and the suspense was broken when the chapters switched over to Michelle? Can't quite put my finger on why this wasn't a slam dunk.
What I really think: I should have liked this more and just... didn't.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, July 19, 2019

Guy Friday- The Wild Lands

Greci, Paul. The Wild Lands
January 29th 2019 by Imprint
Library copy

Travis and his family stayed in their home in Alaska after the government evacuated everyone, but this was a mistake. Not only is the government not sustaining infrastructure anymore, but they are also actively discouraging people from living there, since there is no more oil to be taken. When Travis' family starts to run out of food since there are no more fish to be caught, they try to make there way to the south. Because supplies are so scarce, people have become barbaric. The family meets up with a group of people, but the parents end up dead. Travis and his sister, ten-year-old Jess, must try to survive on their own. It's hard to trust anyone, but they do end up with some teen boys, as well as a group of girls from a badly run foster facility. Despite their best efforts, many end up dead, either because of natural disasters or horrible humans. Travis and Jess manage to survive, and do meet a few nicer people. They, along with Tam, end up in a community that one of the boys, Dylan, had mentioned, but it turns out to be a very controlling group of men who arrange marriages for the women of child bearing age. Travis knows he needs to get Jess out of there, but without resources, it's very difficult. Even if they survive, what are their chances in this post-apocalyptic world?
Strengths: Well, I'm surprised I have any fingernails left, and let me tell you, there will be no salmon for dinner for a long time! This book had a chilling immediacy that had me turning the pages very quickly. Greci does a great survival book, (Surviving Bear Island) and there are tons of details about all the ways one can perish in the Alaskan wilderness. This also reminded me a little of Z for Zachariah (1974)  by Robert C. O'Brien, which was an unchacteristically dark book for me to read in middle school, but one that definitely stuck with me. This will be a steady circulator.
Weaknesses: This is more of a Young Adult book, with tiny print, a high body count, and an f-bomb deep in the book. Still, this is absolutely perfect for readers who liked Eric Walters' The Rule of Three. In fact, I have a rising 9th grader I desperately need to hand this to, but I'll never see him again. Is it weird if I e mail his mother about it?
What I really think: Glad I purchased. The mix of survival with dystopia is an appealing mix with a solid core of devotees.

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, July 18, 2019

#ThrowbackThursday- Grace Harlowe's Sophomore Year in High School

Flower, Jessie Graham. Grace Harlowe's Sophomore Year in High School
May 15th 2019 by Laboratory Books (originally published in 1911)
Library copy

Grace and her friends are back at school, and they are concerned about the basketball team. Grace has been elected captain, but Miriam wanted the position badly and isn't happy. The junior team, captained by Julia, is being very mean to the underclassmen, and Grace is kerflummoxed as to why they are acting so reprehensibly. Julia even goes behind Grace's back and gets permission from the principal to use the gym when the sophomores have already been granted it by a teacher. Since this is 1911, however, Julia is called on the carpet in front of a lot of the girls, humiliated, and made to apologize. And her parents don't try to sue the school! There are other things going on in Grace's world, and she and her teammates hang out with the boys Reddy, Hippy and David (who is Miriam's brother!), and even when she injures her ankle and must stay on the couch for a week, classmates come over for cocoa and plates of fudge! When the junior girls beat the sophomores and are suspected of having the sophomores' secret signals, everyone blames Anne, since her father is an actor and her family is poor. Grace refuses to believe the rumors and sticks by her friend, even though this causes her to almost lose her captaincy. In the end, Anne is not guilty, and the girls try to move on despite the negativity of the junior girls. I can only imagine the social savagery that will occur in Grace Harlowe's Junior Year in High School, since sororities are involved.
Strengths: Admittedly, these are books that I buy more because I love them. How fun is it that they were published when my grandmother was in high school? And the original cover appears under the dust jacket? There is a particularly helpful preface that talks about the state of women's rights at the time, and has fantastic pictures of girls' basketball teams from this time period. There is also discussion about changing social mores-- at the time, poor people were though to be not as acceptable, and anyone with a disability or different ethnic background was likely made fun of. I wish that this sort of preface could be written for things like Little House on the Prairie! I was surprised at how well the story line holds up-- mean girls are always with us, I guess. Sure, the language is stilted, but the sentiments are the same. Some of the chapter illustrations are kept in, and the Gibson Girl quality of the outfits is amazing. Fantastic choice for girls who are in to the history of sports or historical fiction.
Weaknesses: The language is the biggest stopping point here, and the plot is a bit hokey at points.
What I really think: I probably won't buy any more, since the whole sorority-in-high-school thing confused ME when I encountered it in 1950s teen literature, but the first two were a justifiable purchase.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

For Black Girls Like Me

Lockington, Mariama J. For Black Girls Like Me
July 30th 2019 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Makeda is adopted, and her musician parents and older sister, Eva, are white. This has always been a problem on many levels. People don't know what to think when they see a black girl with a white mother, and make rude comments about it. Also, her mother, despite all of her talk about understanding Keda's cultural background, doesn't know enough to do Keda's hair properly or get her the right sort of lotion for her dry skin. This might be because her mother is struggling with issues of her own. When the family moves for the father's job (he plays with an orchestra), it is a hard transition for everyone. Her mother doesn't have a position of her own, and refuses to practice or to take on students, even though she occasionally throws herself into projects with enthusiasm. After a bad experience in their new school, the girls are pulled out by their mother and homeschooled. Keda does enjoy the homeschool community they join for additional lessons, activities, and socialization, but is increasingly worried about her mother's erratic behavior. When their father must travel out of the country for work, their mother takes them on a trip to Colorado where her behavior worsens and leads to a very intense situation. Luckily, their aunt steps in, and the family is finally able to struggle through getting the help they need.
Strengths: This is an interesting discussion of transracial adoption, and is an #ownvoices book. Keda's struggles are related in a detailed way, and her sadness is palpable. Her mother's increasing mental illness is also well described, and it's good that help finally comes. The depiction of microagressions (as well as larger ones) that Keda has to deal with because of her family is also sad but realistic.
Weaknesses: So many of my students come from families with mixed races that I wish this had included a few instances of more positive racial relations. I know that this is a difficult balance to strike.

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Twelve

Lin, Cindy. The Twelve
July 2nd 2019 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Usagi lives in a world where some children are born with extraordinary powers, either ones that are animal like qualities or work with the elements. She lives with her younger sister Uma and friend Toma, since her parents were killed when the Dragonlord took over and outlawed anyone with powers. Times are very hard, and the children survive by stealing food and trading it for necessities through Aunt Bobo. When they bring her some rice to trade, they watch a performance by musicians, and Aunt Bobo's yougn son Jago floats up into the air. The soliders capture him, and eventually get Toma and Uma as well. Usagi needs to get her sister and friend back, and when she comes across bandits Saru and Nezu, she joins forces with them. They are descendants of The Twelve, Warrior Heirs, and live on Mount Jade where they are trained by the Tigress and are attempting to gather the Twelve Treasures and keep them safe from the Dragonlord. Usagi has to undergo some trials before she can even be allowed onto Mount Jade, and must then go through extensive training before she and the Warrior Heirs can infiltrate the training site where her sister is held. Getting to the city is difficult, and when the group finally makes it into the training facility, Usagi finds that her sister and friend are enjoying living there and are angry at Usagi for abandoning them. Will Usagi and the other Warrior Heirs be able to rescue the children being trained from being sacrificed instead, and will the Dragonlord be allowed to continue his reign of terror?
Strengths: Even with the refreshing number of fantasy books that are not clones of Lord of the Rings, it's still hard to find ones that stand out. This one does. It incorporates elements traditional to fantasy book, but puts a nice spin on them. The details of a world where the Chinese zodiac influences some children's powers related to the animals is described in a way that made me believe it right away. I was very glad to see that Uma liked the training facility-- that's a good twist! There's a voyage similar to classic medieval quests, training similar to Jeff Stone's Five Ancestors books, and enough food that Flanagan's Will and the Rangers wouldn't go hungry!(Although they might need to bring their own coffee!) The plot moved along quickly, and I didn't get too confused, which is always a plus when it comes to fantasy. I'm sure this will be a series, and that's okay!
Weaknesses: It would have added an extra layer of interest to have more details about life in China, and maybe an idea of a time frame for the setting. (You can tell I'm more interested in historical fiction than in fantasy!)
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and already have several students in mind to whom I want to hand this right away!

Ms. Yingling

Monday, July 15, 2019

Storm Blown

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.

Courage, Nick. Storm Blown
July 16th 2019 by Delacorte Press
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Emily lives in New Orleans with her mother and older brother, Elliot, who has been very sick. Her father works on offshore oil rigs. Emily is not happy that the most exciting thing about her summer is going to be reading My Side of the Mountain, because her mother is being overprotective of her brother and doesn't want Emily to have any fun! Alejo lives in Puerto Rico, where he helps his padrino (godfather) do yardwork at a fancy hotel. His mother lives in New York City but hasn't been able to send for him yet. Both children make poor choices when Megastorm Valerie starts to head toward both of their homes. Emily is concerned with some of the wild life in Audubon Park, and at some point even brings a turtle home with her. She misses hanging out with her brother and is angry at her mother, so when her mother is worried that Emily has a cold that could compromise Elliot's health, she's happy that her mother sends her off to stay with a friend... who has just left town. She hangs out in the park, sleeping in trees, and doesn't answer her mother's phone calls. Alejo is working at the hotel, and when the staff is told to evacuate, he stays behind, since he doesn't know where his padrino is. He even goes back to their apartment as the storm comes closer, and ignores the neighborhood women who are evacuating. Luckily, a reporter whose van he stole comes to his rescue in a helicopter. Alejo ends up in New Orleans, near where Emily is staying. Her father has driven through the storm, having been evacuated from the oil rig, and her mother is frantic that she can't find Emily, and that Elliot is also missing, having gone to look for his sister. A weather service crew is in the process of evacuating, and tries to reunite Emily and her parents, but it's touch and go. Eventually, everyone makes it to safety, but it is a harrowing trip to get there!
Strengths: There have not been a lot of storm survival books lately; after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, there were a few, mostly involving dogs, but those are now all historical fiction! This was more interesting, because there were lots of weather details about the storm mixed in with lots of action and survival. While survival books aren't wildly popular in my library, there is always a need for new ones. The storm depicted is a fictional one, but the details are reflective of weather events students see in the news all the time.
Weaknesses: I did not like either Emily or Alejo, since their foolish, selfish actions put so many people in danger! I also could have done without the chapters from the birds' point of view, but those are both purely personal preferences.
What I really think: I will definitely purchase this title to hand this to readers of Smith's Storm Runners or Messner's Eye of the Storm. The cover is fantastic, and the this has a timeless feel that will give it a long shelf life.
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Startup Squad

Weisfeld, Brian and Kear, Nicole C. The Startup Squad
May 7th 2019 by Imprint
Public library copy

Resa is super excited about the upcoming class trip to Adventure Central, and she definitely wants to win the money making competition to get the grand prize-- premium passes that will let her bypass the lines. Their teacher has assigned everyone in the class groups, and the groups must all sell lemonade at appointed times and locations. Resa is glad that her best friend, Didi, is in her group, and Harriet is amusing enough, but the new girl, Amelia, keeps shooting down all of Resa's best plans. TO make matters worse, there is a group of class overachievers who seem to undercut Resa's group at every available moment. They are certainly off to a poor start; they have trouble getting organized, making the lemonade, and even getting the supplies. Eventually, they figure out a way to make their product unique. Even though they run into some trouble even with that, they still manage to make a fair amount of profit. Will the competing group make more?
Strengths: I like books that show students doing and learning things, and this has some excellent notes on business practices at the back, and well as good tips during the story. The friend drama is very true to middle grade, and it's interesting to watch the girls learn how to get organized. This is a good length, and series books are always popular. The cover is very attractive.
Weaknesses: There is the typical multicultural group (Resa is Latinx, Didi in East Asian, Harriet is Vietnamese, and Amelia is the token blonde/redhead), but not many details that set the characters apart from the white default. While it's great to have a variety of characters on the cover and in the story, it would be nice to see more details.
What I really think: The whole premise of assigning children to sell a particular product out in public in order to raise money for a noneducational trip did not ring true to me. While I love books where girls are involved in business efforts (Santopolo's Sparkle Spa, Simon's Cupcake Diaries and Sprinkle Sundays, Schaeder's Teashop Girls), I think I will pass on this series unless the next book has the characters start a business that is less stereotypically  girl oriented. (Lawn mowing would be great!)
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Searching for Lottie

Ross, Susan L. Searching for Lottie
February 26th 2019 by Holiday House
Public library copy

Charlie has a school project to tell a family story, and she choses her namesake-- another girl named Charlotte who also played the violin. Her grandmother's since, known as Lottie, was getting impressive feedback for her playing but was caught up in WWII. She relocated to Hungary, but was never heard from after the war. Considering how many people in her family Charlie's Grandma Rose lost, it never surprised her that Lottie was also gone. As Charlie begins her project, however, she starts to get indications that Lottie might have survived the Holocaust. With the help from a friend's grandmother who can read the old fashioned German script in Lottie's diary, Charlie manages to hunt down a cousin who settled in the states. He has some information, and an unlikely translator helps Charlie with some essential information. Even in 2010, when the book is set, the war was a long time ago. Grandma Rose doesn't get to see her sister, but she does get more information about her fate.
Strengths: I really like this author's style of writing, and her Kiki and Jacques does very well in my library. The fact that the story is based on her own family's history makes this even more interesting. The connection between the generations (the violin playing) will resonate with readers who want to know more about their own families or are interested in music. There are just enough coincidences to make this fun and not make us suspend disbelief.
Weaknesses: More of the book is spent in the modern day, and I could have used more details about Lottie's experiences during the war.
What I really think: This is an excellent introduction to the Holocaust and the treatment of Jews during that time, and younger readers will be inspired to learn more after reading this. However, I need books that are much more descriptive of the events of the Holocaust for my 8th graders who do an in depth unit on it in Language Arts classes.

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Drone Pursuit (Tom Swift: Inventors' Academy #1)

Appleton, Victor. The Drone Pursuit (Tom Swift: Inventors' Academy #1)
Published July 2nd 2019 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Tom Swift is a students at the academy started by his father (who must be the great grandson of Tom Swift and the grandson of Tom Swift, Jr.). The students are all technologically savvy, and the curriculum allows a lot of exploration. Tom and his friend Noah have a drone that they use to spy on others in the hallway, which isn't common, but isn't punished, either. When the school servers go down, a substitute shows them a video of famous hackers, and the boys become convinced that the school custodian s actually a much wanted hacker, Shadow Hawk. When their drone uncovers some interesting things in the school basement and the custodian starts to act suspiciously, they up their investigation, finding computers with code streaming on them and a more widespread conspiracy than they imagined when it comes to the school computers. Can the boys, along with classmates Sam and Amy, figure out why there is no information anywhere online about the custodian and who is compromising the school computers?
Strengths: Tom is a well meaning, good kid who doesn't take advantage of his family's position. He supports his friends, and is willing to take the blame when they get in trouble. Cyber crime is a real threat, and there are not enough books that depict it. Kids saving the day is always a good thing, and there's a little bit of a twist with the actual culprit (although I did see it coming). It's good to have an inventors' academy and children interested in science.
Weaknesses: This just didn't have the cheesy goodness of international terrorists stealing uranium and Tom busting them by using fantastical inventions. I can buy a drone at Best Buy, but I don't think they have Megascope Space Probers!  While there is an attempt at a diverse cast, to quote from the Kirkus review "Tom and Sam present white; Noah presents black, and Amy presents Asian." Other than names and physical descriptions, there is nothing to otherwise indicate diversity. 
What I really think: Like the Club CSI books, this is a series (upcoming) that has a light mystery, some action, and is told with humor. I can see it being very popular with reluctant 6th grade readers. I was just a bit disappointed that it wasn't more like the fun, pot boiler originals. #MGLit could use more pot boilers!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Nikki Tesla and the Ferret-Proof Death Ray

Keating, Jess. Nikki Tesla and the Ferret-Proof Death Ray
July 9th 2019 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Nikki loves to experiment, but often does so with unfortunate consequences. After her latest "death ray" ("It's just a laser, Mom!) blasts a hole in her floor and makes the neighbors pay attention again, her mother gives up. Since the incarceration of her father for similar activities, Nikki and her mom have had to move several times, and her mother finally feels that going to a special school will challenge Nikki more and make her less destructive. Once Nikki realizes that if she doesn't go to the Academy, her mother will be imprisoned, she reluctantly goes, and is glad she can take her ferret with her. Once there, she learns that the curriculum is science based and interesting, but also very spy skill oriented. The other students are all related to other geniuses, like Einstein. Before Nikki can get really settled, however, a mission takes the group off to Italy to catch a thief.
Strengths: I love Keating's writing (How to Outswim a Shark without a Snorkel), and I love that she includes strong female characters with a love of science. Books set in secret schools are fairly popular in my library: this would be perfect for a reader I have who always wants an "academy" book. Science, international travel, and espionage, combined with ferrets, make this an appealing title.
Weaknesses: I didn't like Nikki as much as I had wanted. Maybe it was the ferret!
What I really think: I will probably purchase this, but it seemed like something I had read before.
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Girl of the Southern Sea

Kadarusman, Michelle. Girl of the Southern Sea
May 23rd 2019 by Pajama Press
Public library copy

Nia lives in Jakarta, Indonesia with her father, who runs a fried banana cart, and her brother, Rudi, whose birth led to their mother's death. Her father drinks excessively, often taking the money needed for rent on their shack or for food. Nia no longer goes to school, since the family does not have the fees. She works around the home and helps her father with the banana cart. When she is taking the rent to the landlord, she is involved in a bad bus accident and is the only one who escapes unharmed. A local merchant, Oskar, helps her home, and then spends a lot of time around the cart telling everyone about her miracle of survival. Nia charges more for the bananas and life seems to be looking up, since she has also decided not to let her father have any money at all, lest he spend it on alcohol. However, the people who willingly buy her good luck fritters eventually turn on her for her higher prices, her father leaves and is apparently in another city with another family, and Oskar breaks into the house claiming he is only looking for the dowry Nia's father promised him. Nia is not ready to go down so easily. She confronts Oskar and his mother, and even hunts down her father. She even gets a job as a literacy tutor at her old school, and is able to make a better life for her and Rudi.
Strengths: I love books like Cruz's Everlasting Nora, Saeed's Amal Unbound, or Venkatraman's A Bridge Home; and I don't know that I've ever read anything set in Indonesia! The details of housing, clothing and daily life are all good, and Nia's fight to improve her life is admirable. This is an #ownvoices book, but since the author doesn't currently live in Indonesia, she had a sensitivity writer. I love that attention to detail.
Weaknesses: Not a weakness with this book, but I would like to see books set in other countries where the children are not horribly treated. I don't want my students thinking that everywhere else in the world is a horrible place. They need to know that sometimes it is, but there should be some balance.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. Canadian writers seem to be putting out books on more cultures than US ones? There have been a lot of great books coming out of Canada, and I'm glad that we get them. (Unlike Carrol's Ultra, Scholastic! I'm still bitter!)
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Blastaway and Rocket Man

Landers, Melissa. Blastaway.
July 9th 2019 by Disney-Hyperion
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Kyler Centaurus have four obnoxious brothers who play soccer or other sports, while Kyler is more interested in science. He would really like to visit the Fasti Sun Festival, but his parents are against it, since Quasar Niatrix is behind it. Niatrix is a businessman who runs a successful corporation and is fabulously wealthy, but Kyler's dad is always protesting against him. Tired of dealing with his brothers and not getting his own way, Kyler decides to take the family ship and go to the festival by himself. He decides this is a bad idea, but falls asleep at the wheel and accidentally steals the vehicle. He gets to Fasti, where he meets Figerella Jammeslot. Fig is a mutant, which means she is the descendant of people who left Earth to live, mutated to better survive in space, and are now not welcome on the planet without a lot of paperwork. Fig's family contracted to destroy things, but her parents were killed and their ship destroyed. She accepts an assignment from two space pirates, Corpse and Cadaver, to blow up a man made star at the festival. Since she needs a new blaster as well as some money, Fig takes the assignment. She also plans to steal Kyler's ship, so she befriends him. He had already had a run in with the pirates, managing to kick them out of his ship. Soon, the two take off back to earth. Before long, there are all kinds of complications, including meeting up with Captain Holyoake, another mutant who knew Fig's family and tries to convince her to stay away from earth. Kyler's parents keep trying to reach him, and after the news that a star was stolen from the festival and is heading to earth, he finally returns their call. It will take all of Fig's skills and Kyler's determination to save the earth, arrive their safely, and not fall prey to giant dust mites or space explosions!
Strengths: I liked Kyler and Fig, for different reasons. Kyler doesn't fit in with his family, and decides not to take the abuse his brothers give out. He knows that taking the family ship is wrong, and really thinks it through. He is understandably naive, but survives well. Fig is reacting to how her people are treated, and does some things that aren't too nice, but has a core of grief that motivates her to do them. Neither character is perfect, but they are likable despite their actions, due to their backgrounds. That's a hard thing to pull off. There's plenty of space action as well, an understandable plot, and some cool science. Also, Quasar is a good evil villain!
Weaknesses: There are a few slow spots; some of the details about the interplanetary politics and Fig's guardianship could have been pared down.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. I always need more space adventure books like Levy's Seventh Grade vs. the Galaxy,  Fry's Jupiter Pirates, McDougall's Mars Evacuees, and Kraatz's Space Runners.

Ashby, Ruth. Rocket Man: The Mercury Adventure of John Glenn
Published February 1st 2019 by Peachtree Publishing Company
(first published October 30th 2004)
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Not only was John Glenn the first person to orbit the Earth, a military veteran, and politician, but he was from all accounts a kind and exemplary human being. While this book focuses more on his Mercury Seven mission, it also includes information about his childhood, military career, and training with NASA.

While there have been a number of other books about Glenn and his mission
including We Seven: By the Astronauts Themselves by Carpenter, et al.,  Wolfe's The Right Stuff,  Burgan's John Glenn: Young Astronaut (Childhood of Famous Americans) and the excellent National Geographic Liftoff: A Photobiography of John Glenn (Photobiographies) by Don Mitchell, this short book is a combination of many of these. Told in a Childhood of Famous Americans with many dramatized conversations, but with more details about the actual mission, the book is highly engaging and readable.

The mix of personal and public events makes this even more intriguing. While I generally like more chronologically arranged biographies, there is a good annotated timeline at the back of the book to help navigate the narrative if necessary. It was fun to see glimpses of Glenn earning money to get a bike for a paper route in order to help his family, and the experiences of his wife and children when he was involved with NASA are something I have not really seen in other biographies. It would have been nice to have more pictures accompanying the text, but there are a number at the back of the book.

Since Glenn passed away in 2016, it is good to have updated biographies of him. With the fiftieth anniversary of the moon walk in 2019, there seems to be a renewed interest in all things NASA. This re-issue is great to hand to readers who have also devoured Olson's Lost in Outer Space: The Incredible Journey of Apollo 13, Aldrin's To the Moon and Back: My Apollo 11 Adventure,  Slade's Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon,  and Mark Kelly's Astrotwins fiction series.

I could have used more information about Glenn's life after the mission. While his death is listed in this, there does not seem to be much revision from the earlier version.

Monday, July 08, 2019

MMGM- Leo Thorsness: Vietnam: Air Attack over Xuan Mai

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.

Spradlin, Michael. Leo Thorsness: Vietnam: Air Attack over Xuan Mai (Medal of Honor #3)
July 9th 2019 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

The Medal of Honor series covers the events that won real people the Medal of Honor. Like  Ryan Pitts Afghanistan and Jack Montgomery: World War II, and the upcoming (January 14, 2020) John Basilone: World War II: Bravery at Guadalcanal, Leo Thorsness is a well-researched, short read (144 pages) that students who enjoy books about wars gulp down! These are nonfiction, but in the vein of the Landmark Books. If you have a middle school or high school library, you MUST take a look at these biographies!

Leo Thorsness was young when World War II was being fought. He grew up on a farm, and times were tough. When he graduated, he followed in his brother's footsteps and joined the Air Force. He had a career well underway and a lot of training under his belt when he was sent to Vietnam to fly missions that destroyed Vietnam strongholds. Pilots had to fly 100 missions before being sent home, and Leo was well into the 90s when an air fight went badly wrong and he went down over enemy territory, along with several pilots from his unit. He was held prisoner in the Hanoi Hilton and endured six years or torture and deprivation before being set free. He won the medal of honor for this mission, although he didn't think he deserved it. Glad to be home after being set free, he threw himself into a life public service and wrote his own book about his experiences, Surviving Hell: A POW's Journey.

These books are brilliantly plotted. I'm usually a fan of linear narrative-- tell me about the main characters childhood, then follow a timeline through the war. However, that leads to dull stretches that young readers don't appreciate. Instead, Spradlin intersperses Thorsness' back history with the more interesting scenes of him in air battles. While I have read a lot about WWII, I must admit that it doesn't really interest me. When there are enough details about particular types of planes, weaponry and battle strategies that I get a little lost, I know that this is just the right amount of details for my readers who can't get enough about WWII.

Tying these "adventures" during war times to real individuals who were recognized for their bravery is a great way to put a face on history. Spradlin shares just enough biographical details to make us want to root for Thorsness without dragging the story down. The short length is fantastic for nonfiction, and I've had lots of students who will polish one of these off in a day! I hope that this series continues for quite some time!
Ms. Yingling