Monday, September 30, 2019

MMGM- Born to Fly and Survivor Girl

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.

Sheinkin, Steve. Born to Fly: The First Women's Air Race Across America 
September 24th 2019 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

In 1929, pretty much anything that could be made a contest became a contest, and the bigger, better, and more dangerous, the better. Flying was still fairly new, and air shows attracted big crowds. There weren't a lot of pilots, and there were fewer pilots who were women, since women were deemed weaker and less mentally able to handle the rigors of flight. This, of course, was ridiculous, and the women who entered the first Air Derby were all different examples of this. The most familiar name to modern tweens was Amelia Earhart, but others, like Pancho Barnes, and Elinor Smith may ring bells as well. Starting with the childhoods of these women, Sheinkin shows us how they all defied current conventions to embrace air travel, from jumping off roofs as children to fearlessly taking lessons and even, in the case of Marvel Crosson, building their own planes! Once we understand all of the women involved (and some others, like Bessie Coleman, who didn't fly in it but contributed to women's aviation), we get to experience the race! Starting in California, weaving through Texas, and ending up in Cleveland, Ohio, the course was not easy to navigate, and perils were rife. The women's planes were sabotaged in many ways that weren't fully investigated and were never proven, even though they most likely lead to the death of one of the flyers. There were also accidents, sudden landings, and midair mishaps. The weather was hot, comforts were few, and the evenings of "rest" were filled with banquets and too many chicken dinners, but the women were determined and fearless. The rave hinged on not only the flying skill of the pilots, but the eccentricities of their planes, as well as sheer dumb luck. Several women had to stop out because of plane issues, and one woman flew past Columbus (the next to the last stop) and went straight to Cleveland, thereby disqualifying herself. In the end, Louise Thaden won. With the Great Depression starting just a few months after the Derby, aviation took a lot of blows, but many of the women continued to be involved in aviation and certainly set the stage for women to be active in the field.
Strengths: This will put some new names before many readers; I especially was intrigued by Pancho Barnes and Marvel Crosson and might have to see if there are any books about them! The details of the race are very exciting, and there is a good mix of what is going on and what the women felt abou tit. The research is remarkable-- luckily, there are memoirs by the flyers and lots of newspaper articles detailing every move! This reminded me a lot of Speno's The Great American Foot Race:Ballyhoo for the Bunion Derby!  which is set during this era. Great nonfiction choice for readers who want an exciting tale!
Weaknesses: There are some photographs, but there are also a lot of illustrations. I find that my students prefer photos if any exist. I know it is probably more expensive to include them, but the drawings never seem to be a draw for my readers. This was also a bit confusing at the beginning, since there were so many people who needed to be introduced.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and can see this getting a lot of use.

Teagan, Erin. Survivor Girl
July 16th 2019 by Clarion Books
Public library copy

Since Ali's dad is frequently on the set of his latest Survivor Guy adventure, it's easy for her to pretend that her parents are not getting a divorce. When her dad forgets that her mother has to attend a conference, Ali ends up going on a shoot with him. Her old brother Jake warns her that it won't be what she expects, but Ali thinks she has it figured out. Sure, she's never actually been camping, but she's watched her dad's show and figures she'll be able to help out. She is surprised that it's not just "one man, one camera"; there is a whole production crew, including a chef who makes homemade toaster pastries! There's an intern about her age, Adam, as well as the five year old daughter of one of the staff, Isabel there as well. Her father wants her to be part of the show, and she's written into the script doing all manner of stunts, few of which go well. She's shocked at how staged everything is, but grateful for her stunt double after a few things go wrong. She starts to realize that her dad is never going to come back and live with her and her mom again. When there is a fire in the swamps where they are filming, the group is evacuated. Isabel has run off, and when Ali goes to find her, she misses the plane. Adam is there as well, and the three have to survive in the swamps without all of the back up crew. They are eventually saved, and Ali makes peace with the new structure of her family.
Strengths: That Ali was a fan of her father's show without really knowing how it was filmed, and that she had developed a persona at school of "Survivor Girl" without ever having gone camping is  great premise!Dealing with the divorce by pretending it wasn't happening is also pure middle grade emotion! Her disillusion at the reality of the lack of hardship in filming is a great lead in for her to actually survive. She could have come off as snotty, but is actually a very likable character. The supporting characters are also fun, and the survivor reality show was an interesting setting.
Weaknesses:I wonder how many times in real life children run away in a snit and get involved in a natural disaster? It happens a lot in middle grade books.
What I really think: Glad to see this book, along with Behrens' Disaster Days and Philbrick's Wildfire. I was needing some fresh survival books for my collection.

It's "spirit week". Today is Hawaiian shirt day. I play along when I can, but I'm afraid the effect is sort of ruined by my beige cardigan, especially since there was a toner mishap and there are some odd black smudges on my sleeve. Do what you have to do some days!
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Harvey Comes Home

Nelson, Colleen. Harvey Comes Home
September 19th 2019 by Pajama Press
E ARC from Netgalley

Harvey is a Westie whose owner, Maggie and her family go on vacation. The young woman watching him doesn't check that the gate is locked, and Harvey takes off after a squirrel, getting further and further from home. We also meet Austin, who volunteers at Bayside, a retirement facility where his grandfather works. He cleans, helps his grandfather, and visits with the elderly residents. One resident, Mr. Pickering, is very grumpy. When Harvey shows up at Bayside, Austin takes him in and volunteers to keep him until his owners show up. Of course, he lies to his grandfather, saying that the shelter is full and that he is supposed to keep the dog until the owners show up. Mr. Pickering takes a liking to the dog, since he reminds him of General, the dog he had growing up. As Austin and Harvey visit more and more, Mr. Pickering tells of his hardscrabble childhood during the Great Depression, and about his friend, Bertie, whose living circumstances were even more dire. When Maggie gets back from vacation, she searches for Harvey and puts up more signs, one of which Austin finds. Austin knows he must give up the dog, but feels a need to hear more of Mr. Pickering's story.
Strengths: This is an interesting story of the Great Depression, and a good description of how dire the situation was. Bertie's story reminded me of Irene Hunt's 1970 No Promises in the Wind, in that children were viewed as sort of dispensable. If parents couldn't feed them, the children could just fend for themselves! The involvement of the dog is a nice touch, and Bayside is an interesting place. I was glad that Maggie eventually got Harvey back, and that she understood that Austin would miss him, too.
Weaknesses: There are several rather graphic scenes; General gets his foot caught in a trap and has to have it taken off, General is attacked by wild dogs and dies, Bertie's father is found dead in the cabin, and Mr. Pickering dies.
What I really think: This starts with a chapter from Harvey's perspective, and the cover makes this look like a happy book. Most of it is, but because my readers who are apt to pick up dog books like this one tend to be a little less mature, I might have to pass on this one because of the graphic scenes. That's just my library, though. I'm sure there are plenty of readers who will enjoy the history part of this story and won't be traumatized by the troublesome parts.
Ms. Yingling

Vanishing Fleece

I have been knitting since I was four years old. When I was in high school, a friend of mine knit an entire sweater, and I thought "If she can do it, I can do it!" I knit a brown sweater, then a variegated pink sweater, then thought it was a good idea to knit one for my friend Karen, who has since gotten a fair number of garments that ended up being a little too big for me! I bought wool yarn when I lived in Greece, but generally used Red Heart; that's just what I was taught. In my twenties, I did a ton of Fair Isle sweaters, Aran cable sweaters, and a lot of plain pullovers. All very boring, solid items that are never quite in or out of style. I still wear many of them.

My daughter, on the other hand, is more of a craft knitter who buys the type of locally sourced, hand dyed wool that Parkes talks about in her books. She follows other knitters on Instagram and can make SOCKS. For her birthday (which is October 3), we are going to the Rhinebeck Wool festival in Pennsylvania, which is apparently a big deal.

I am more of a quilter, although I've never thought about posh materials or the social aspect of it. I've read a couple of Parkes' books, and what strikes me most is that she makes me interested in things that I don't really care about. Wool? Expensive. Has to be dry cleaned. But following Parkes as she deals with her Great White Bale? Fascinating. Sort of like the M.F.K. Fisher of knitting. I don't want to go to France, don't care that much about food, but Fisher's work is always fun to read.

Parkes, Clara. Vanishing Fleece: Adventures in American Wool
October 1st 2019 by Abrams Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Parkes has been writing about yarn and knitting for a while, and felt a need for a new challenge. When she is offered a bale of wool from Saxon Merino sheep by a wool grower in upstate New York, she is both excited and apprehensive about the challenge of getting it made into usable yarn. Luckily, her years in the industry have given her many connections, and she is able to crowd fund her project by offering yarn to people who want to subscribe to her adventure. In exquisite detail, we learn about unbaling and shipping wool, and follow the multitude of steps it takes to make it into yarn. Parkes decides to try four different routes for the wool so that she can learn about a variety of processes. Traveling to different wool processing facilities not only gives us a view into how wool is spun, but a view into the people who perform this work and a foray into the history of wool processing as well. Foreign competition has greatly decreased the amount of US wool being produced, but the growing  interest in all things locally sourced and artisanal is helping to keep the industry alive.
Strengths: There are a few writers who make me interested in things in which I have little interest, like Steve Almond and his Against Football: One Fan's Reluctant Manifesto. Parkes has a conversational tone that carries her extreme enthusiasm for her topic perfectly. Can't say I ever want to spin wool into yarn and dye it indigo, but I was more than happy to go along with Parkes on her journey. A fascinating look into a struggling US industry that probably mirrors many others. A must for any knitter interested in wool.
Weaknesses: Few middle grade readers will have any interest in this, but occasionally I like to break out and read adult books!
What I really think: Buying a copy for my daughter for her birthday, and plan to treat myself to reading some other Parkes' titles over winter break and the summer!
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Sunny Rolls the Dice

Holm, Jennifer L. and Matthew. Sunny Rolls the Dice (#3)
October 1st 2019 by Graphix
Copy provided by the publisher

Sunny is still struggling with middle school in the 1970s. She reads all of the teen magazines with her best friend Deb and attempts to be "groovy", but feels she falls short in all areas, and doesn't understand why Deb is so interested in boys. When she meets a group of boys from the neighborhood who invite the two to play Dungeons and Dragons, Sunny really gets into the game, even though it is confusing at first. However, the more interested in the game Sunny gets, the less interested Deb gets, and soon the girls drop out. They are involved in carnation delivery to classrooms, "liking" different boys, and preparing for school dances. Deb really wants to save up for a pair of Gloria Vanderbilt jeans and get her ears pierced, but Sunny realizes that she would rather spend her money on a D&D character figurine. Eventually, Sunny returns to the game, but is able to stay friends with Deb as well.
Strengths: The Sunny graphic novels are my absolute favorite; they have the perfect mix of pictures and decently large text, they cover serious issues with a light touch, and have great characters. I have a group of students who are absolutely sure I can teach them to play D&D (Picky Reader did pick up this skill in college), but my essential fandom in middle school was Little House on the Prairie. This will be a popular choice with everyone!
Weaknesses: I could have used more of the grandfather in this story-- he's my favorite!
What I really think: I am pretty sure that Ms. Holm would have been my friend in middle school; I, too, read the magazines but was never successful at replicating the outfits. I love that the 1970s details are all over this story, but it is still an absolutely timeless tale of fitting in and standing out in middle school. Five disco balls!

Plus a set of hot rollers. I had a set just like these in about 1978 (I think my mom bought them to use instead of her metal rollers but never got the hang of them, so I ended up with them) and got rid of them about, um, 2010. Never used them successfully either, but to this day can smell the setting lotion in my mind's nose!

Friday, September 27, 2019

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky

Have you ever heard the Irish saying "Dance as if no one were watching, sing as if no one were listening, and live every day as if it were your last?"

It's my only good explanation for my rendition of Queen's Another One Bites the Dust, entitled "Another Book Overdue".

That, I have my own SnoBall microphone, and the 6th graders were WAY too impressed with my rendition of the THE Ohio State fight song that started "Read, read, oh read a book/ read a new book every day".

Also, while students can't check out a book if they have something overdue, no student EVER leaves my library without a book of some kind!

Mbalia, Kwame. Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky
October 15th 2019 by Rick Riordan Presents
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Tristan's parents send him from his home in Chicago to stay with his grandparents in Alabama for the summer so that he can try to find a new way forward after the death of his best friend Eddie in a bus accident. He feels inadequate for several reasons; he failed to save his friend, he doesn't box as well as his father, and his Granddad thinks he is soft and doesn't work hard enough. His Nana, who tells him lots of stories, is the only one who seems to understand. He has his best friend's journal, and only he can see it glowing green, with an unusual symbol on the front. One night, Tristan hears odd sounds in his room, and the Gum Baby appears to him. Talking continuously in the third person, Gum Baby demands the journal, which of course Tristan does not to part with. The resultant fighting causes Tristan to get sucked into another world, ripping the titular "hole in the sky" in the process. Once in this other world, he meets a host of characters who are from traditional African-American stories: Brer Fox and Rabbit, John Henry, Nyame, two flying women named Rose and Sarah, Thandiwe, High John,  and a girl his age named Ayanna and a man named Uncle C. The journal keeps getting misplaced, so finding it is an important quest, but Tristan also finds himself fending off the fetterlings and traveling into the Golden Crescent on a mission to find a Story Box. He has found that he is an Anansesem and has a keen ability to tell stories in a riveting fashion, which he does frequently. The force that the group is fighting is called Maafa, and he wants to power of the stories within the journal and Story Box. Tristan is able to gain insights into his own grief by understanding Maafa's motivation, and finds a way to silence his threat. Unfortunately, there are other adversaries who are not so easily subdued. Will Tristan be able to retrieve Eddie's journals and return to his own world?
Strengths: I really enjoyed the parts set in the real world, and I loved Granddad's philosophy that more work solves everything! This very cleverly uses a lot of African and African American folk tales to good effect. The characters work well together, and there is LOTS of action and adventure. It is great to see speculative fiction by #ownvoices writers that represent cultures that are NOT Anglo-Saxon-Celtic.
Weaknesses: There were a lot of characters and places, as well as some allegory, and I spent most of my time trying to figure out one thing, thereby missing something else. It is telling that when I looked up other reviews, most did not include a plot synopsis that would have clarified some of these points for me. I think I am not the only who was confused. It might have helped to have an index with some of the references.
What I really think: I will purchase, but I wish it were a bit shorter (the E ARC was 498 pages!) and less confusing. I fear that only my most avid fantasy fans (i.e. the students who adore Eragon) will be able to get through this.

In 1950s teen literature, there were an inordinate number of great aunts and elderly neighbor women who lived in decrepit mansions and wore the styles of the 1910s- high necked dresses, usually black, with jet beading and long skirts.

I have become that person, but, man, the 1990s had some comfortable, professional dresses with long sleeves and fantastic shoulder pads!

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Indian No More

McManis, Charlene Willing and Sorell, Traci.
Indian No More
September 24th 2019 by Tu Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In 1957, Regina, who is Umpqua, lives on the Grand Ronde reservation in Oregon. Life isn't perfect, but her father gets enough work to keep the family afloat, and Regina enjoys being in a close knit community where she can be close to nature. When the Indian Relocation act goes into effect, everyone in her family loses their tribal identification number, and are encouraged to move off the reservation. "Encouraged" means that the government no longer wants to help the people and wants their land, which means that very few Umpqua can afford to buy their land from the government. Regina's father, who has some experience with California after being in the military during World War II, decides to move the family to Los Angeles. The government gives them a tiny bit of help, finding a run down house and helping the father get into a training program, but the new home is not nearly as nice as their one on the reservation, and Regina's mother is upset. Regina herself tries to make new friends, which is hard since the children in the city only know "movie Indians" from the inaccurate depiction in films and television programs. She tries to explain to Keith, a neighbor who is African-American, that this is the same as people thinking he lives in the jungle, and he understands a bit. The family also runs into various forms of racism, such as being thrown out of a restaurant just because they are people of color. Regina struggles with trying to fit in to her new neighborhood while missing her previous way of life. She is comforted by her grandmother (whom she calls Chich), who is more secure about her identity and shows Regina ways to incorporate her Umpqua heritage into her daily life.
Strengths: The details of Regina's daily life both on the reservation and in Los Angeles are well done, and the Indian Relocation program is explained. I can't think of a single other book on this topic, and I didn't know about it myself. Regina's struggles with people's preconceptions about her and her family are brilliantly done, no doubt because this is an #ownvoices narrative. Sadly, Ms. McManis passes away before the book was completed, which is why Ms. Sorrell is also credited as author. Ms. Sorrell is a registered member of the Cherokee Nation, and has been careful to make sure the book stays true to McManis' Umpqua background. This is one of the few books about Native Americans that has gotten approval from American Indians in Children's Literature (AICL).
Weaknesses: It would have been helpful to have a little more detail on Regina's new neighborhood and about racial issues in general; some young readers don't know a lot about racism and civil rights at this time. The book is fine without a deeper discussion and does include some details, but a few more would have made this even better.
What I really think: This would be a good choice for two language arts units for which I always need books; the 1930s to 1970s historical fiction  unit in 7th grade, and the oppressed peoples assignment in the 8th. I love that my teachers make such broad categories so that students can make their own choices, and since I need about 250 books for each assignment, it makes me happy when I can find titles like this one that are also interesting as a general read.

In my mind, this matches. The sweater was my mother's. Considering that one day a few years ago I had my own impromptu Bay City Roller/Roller Disco Day and wore a bright green turtleneck with a magenta t shirt over it, a blue and red plaid skirt and an orange and gray plaid jacket and NO ONE said anything to me (although one student asked a teacher if I had gotten dressed in the dark), I think I'm good.

Moral of the story: No one is looking at YOU.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Long Ride

Budhos, Marina. The Long Ride
September 24th 2019 by Wendy Lamb Books
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Jamila, Francesca and Josie all live in the Cedar Gardens neighborhood of Queens, New York in 1971. For the coming school year, their neighborhood, which is largely white, will be bused to a school which is largely people of color. Since the girls are all racially mixed and somewhat unusual in their neighborhood, Jamila is interested in going to a school where she doesn't stand out for a change, even if her father is concerned about sending his daughter to a "bad" neighborhood. Before school starts, Francesca announces that she will be attending a private school, and this is yet another change. Jamila has a fairly good experience at her new school, although some teachers and other students are mean, and she is very concerned that the much quieter Josie is no longer in the accelerated classes because of her test scores. She starts hanging out with John, who is Black, and this causes some of the other girls to tell her she should stay with her "own" race. Jamila wants to hang out with John outside of school, but her family doesn't want her to be in his neighborhood. When he and his friend, Darren (who is interested in Josie) visit Jamila's neighborhood, they run into trouble. It's a difficult situation to navigate, and at the end of the school year, the busing is discontinued.
Strengths: Finally! I've been waiting and waiting for a book on busing. Interestingly, this is similar to Sharon Robinson's story in her new Child of the Dream, in that the two girls being sent to another neighborhood were not white, which is an interesting twist. There is plenty of middle school drama with the girls, with Francesca being a little more daring and Josie being a lot less daring, and Jamila just trying to figure out how to get along at school, at home, and with her friends. I always enjoy this author's work, so was thrilled to see this one.
Weaknesses: There could have been a little more discussion about busing and civil rights during this period of history. There was something about the first few chapters that I found a little confusing, and I know that my students don't have much background knowledge about this time period. I personally would have liked more period details (think Hood's Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.)
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, but I wish the cover showed actual 1970s fashions. Pretty sure no one under the age of 70 wore skirts that long, and I know in Ohio, girls could only wear slacks to school in the winter!

There are reasons I don't normally wear narrow skirts-- it's a good thing I had leggings under this when I biked to work! Also, the weather has decided to finally become fall like, so I added a red jacket.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, September 24, 2019


Taylor, Thomas. Malamander
September 10th 2019 by Walker Books US
ARC provided by the publisher

Herbie Lemon has worked at the Grand Nautilus Hotel ever since he washed up in a crate of lemons five years ago and Mrs. Kraken, the owner, took him in. He works in the Lost-and-Foundery and is paid in items that have been left for 100 years or more. He gets along fairly well with Mr. Mollusc, the manager, but things start to become odd when a girl shows up looking for him. Violet Parma lost both of her parents when she was young, and since they were staying at the hotel when they disappeared, she has returned in order to try to find out more about them. Herbie doesn't know anything, but takes her to Jenny Hanniver's book dispensary where a mechanical mermonkey picks out books for customers, and the payment depends on what the monkey deems fit. Violet is given a book, Malamander, and the mystery of her parents becomes intertwined with the legend of this local monster. There are lots of quirky denizens of Eerie-by-the-Sea in the off season (the "Ch" has fallen off, giving a clue to the nature of the town), including Mrs. Fossil, Amber Griss, Dr. Thalassi, Seegol of Seegol's Diner, and the deeply creepy Sebastian Eels. Not only do Herbie and Violet find a Malander egg, but they see the monster itself, and find out more about Violet's parents in their search for answers about this mysterious creature.
Strengths: Readers who like quirky mysteries like Secrets of Eastcliff-by-the-Sea or Snicket's Who Could it Be at This Hour or Woodrow's new Curse of the Were-Penguin will enjoy Herbie and Violet's investigation into her past. I'm curious as to whether another book might address Herbie's past.
Weaknesses: I was not a fan of Lemony Snicket and the funny names used in books of this sort, but I am a fan of seaside towns.
What I really think: Monsters seem to be a trending topic in middle grade literature. I do get students who ask for such books, so I'll have to see what my patrons are wanting this year.

Henry, Will. Snug Harbor Stories
September 24th 2019 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

This sequel to Wallace the Brave is just the thing for readers who can't put down the Big Nate comics they've read a thousand times! Wallace is as irrepressible as Nate, but also prone to Calvin and Hobbes type flights of fantasy. His friends Spud and Amelia balance his misguided efforts nicely.

Would not mind if the Columbus Dispatch picked up this strip!


This picture does not do justice to the awesome shoulder pads in this 1990s
vintage dress. It's green, to match Malamander. 

The big secret that young teachers don't seem to know is that dresses are very comfortable and easy to wear. Also, inexpensive at the thrift store. Why wear jeans and a t shirt to work when you could look like another gatekeeper at the Emerald City? All I need is the fuzzy hat and mittens!

Monday, September 23, 2019

MMGM- It's the End of the World as I Know It

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.

Landis, Matthew.  It's the End of the World as I Know It
September 24th 2019 by Dial Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Derrick is convinced that there will be massive destruction in September, and he keeps a close eye on the upcoming apocalypse and his preparations for it. He has a reinforced shed full of MREs, water, and gas masks; now, he just needs his father to believe him. His sister Claudia is more concerned with her high school classes and cooking and cleaning around the house, and Derrick's father doesn't seem to care about anything but meeting women through on line dating. This makes Derrick angry, since he is having a lot of trouble coming to terms with his military mother's death. Instead, he channels his energy into working on his shelter, even ignoring his friend Tommy's requests to come to his soccer games with their friend Brock. He starts to spend time with a neighbor girl, Misty, who helps him with the shelter and is recovering from an unknown medical trauma during the past year. She seems to think that she and Derrick used to hang out together, but he doesn't remember. As Derrick's obsession with doomsday grows worse, Misty is the one to humor him when he feels a need to buy an expensive composting toilet or install a rolling steel door. Eventually, his sister Claudia steps in and makes him confront his feelings and come to terms with his father and the new reality his family faces.

Sorry if that's vague; I don't want to spoil the slow reveal of things, even if the official blurb does!

Strengths: Landis is a great writer who clearly understands middle school students and how their minds work. Tommy and his overprotective mother were a hoot! Misty's medical issues were interesting as well, and her bucket list because of them fascinating. This story moved along quickly even though a lot of different things were going on. The doomsday preparation is an interesting topic, and this is the second book I've read about a child using prepping as a distraction from anxiety! (McAnulty's The World Ends in April was the other.)
Weaknesses: I am never a fan of showing grieving people as losing it. I thought the father's way of dealing with things wasn't so bad (he should have spent more time with the children, but not dating doesn't make his wife any less deas); if Claudia wanted to discuss her mother, she could have found someone besides Derrick. If he wanted to not mention her, he should be allowed to deal with his grief that way.
What I really think: Kids will love Derrick's exploits in building his shelter, his relationship with Misty, and the funny things that Tommy and Brock do; teachers will love the deep exploration of grief, so there is something for everyone.

Susan Romberg, Laura Dershewitz, Meghann Rader (Illustrations) The House That Cleaned Itself: The True Story of Frances Gabe's (Mostly) Marvelous Invention 
September 24th 2019 by Innovation Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this wonderfully illustrated picture book, we learn the story of Frances Gabe, who so detested cleaning that she worked for over thirty years to design and engineer a house that cleaned itself. From a shower like kitchen that could be washed with a sprinkler and drain through the floor to a "clothes freshener" that would wash and dry clothing while it was hanging, Gabe worked through every problem, including putting waterproof covers on books. She never became a household name, more's the pity, but Erma Bombeck thought that she should have a place on Mount Rushmore!

Gabe is certainly a fun inventor to learn about, and this is an attractive book with enough information to send young inventors off on a mission.

Personally, I don't like the idea of that much water. I worry about mold. But I do think that Gabe's story is an interesting one, and I love her reason why cleaning a house takes so much time: basically, men designed them!

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Broken Strings

Walters, Eric and Kacer, Kathy. Broken Strings
September 10th 2019 by Puffin Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In the aftermath of 9/11, seventh grader Shirli Berman is living in New Jersey and hoping to get the lead in the school play, since she has taken singing lessons for quite some time. Her older brother, Adam, is in medical school, and her professional parents are very busy, so this is a good distraction for her in the wake of her Bubbie. She also makes sure to check on her Zayde, a retired accountant. When she is checking Zayde's attic for props for the school production of The Fiddler on the Roof, in which she was cast as Golde, to her disappointment, she finds a poster of a family band featuring a young boy she identifies as her grandfather. When she asks him about it, he is angry with her for going through his things, since he had directed her grandmother to get rid of the poster and other items years ago. After a bit, however, he starts to share pieces of his past with her. The boy playing Shirli's stage husband, Ben, comes to talk to Zayde and hears more of his story. Zayde even plays the violin for the two. After years of not speaking about his experiences hiding from the Nazis with his family and playing in a concentration camp orchestra, Zayde starts to process his past while telling Shirli about it. When the play's director is injured in an auto accident, the play is suspended, which makes Ben and the other eighth graders sad. Shirli had hoped that Zayde would come see her in the play, since it was one of Bubbie's favorites, but she is still a bit surprised when he agrees to direct the production. He is able to make the actors draw connections between the current, post 9/11 climate and the pogroms of the early twentieth century and the Holocaust, thereby deepening their performance as well as his connections with his family.
Strengths: This was a very interesting account of a Holocaust survivor coming to terms with his past. In this day and age of "share everything", it's hard for young people to understand that people didn't talk about trauma in the past. Shirli is very loving and kind to her grandfather, and wants to know what happened to him, but also realizes that it is difficult for him. The connection with the grandfather's violin playing and the play works well. The light romance between Ben and Shirli is charming. I think that Walters can write on just about any topic, and I now what to investigate books by Kacer, who has written extensively about the Holocaust.
Weaknesses: I wish there had been more about the grandfather and less about the production of the play. I now feel a little compelled to watch Fiddler on the Roof, though! (My father is sappily fond of Sunrise, Sunset, but I've never seen the movie.)
What I really think: I will purchase, and this is a great choice for readers who have to check out a book about the Holocaust for an 8th grade unit but aren't interested in too many details about the concentration camps. It also might get read by students who really want to read about plays.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Bad Bella

Standish, Ali. Bad Bella
September 24th 2019 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Bella lives with the McBrides, who have several small children and often forget Bella's needs. She gets in trouble for things like trying to water the Christmas tree by peeing in the holder, and for knocking the tree down while trying to get her favorite snack (popcorn) off the tree. With another child on the way, the McBrides can't deal with "bad" Bella, and take her to a shelter. There, Bella is disabused of her notion that the McBrides are her parents and she is their child by another dog who informs her that she has owners who care mainly for their own convenience. When she is adopted by a young couple, the Roses, Bella finally gets the attention she deserves, but is always wary. When the couple is expecting a baby, Bella misunderstands some of their remarks and thinks she is going to be abandoned again, so she runs away. Eventually, she is able to make it home and learn that her forever family is not going to abandon her.
Strenghths: It's sweet that Standish based this book on her own dog, and I enjoyed that she tries to make readers understand that "bad" behavior often has very good reasons if you understand the roots of it. This can be extrapolated to the behavior of people as well! I also like that the Roses modeled proper pet owning behavior and give Bella such a good life! I will say that Sylvie (my dog) now wants to know why she doesn't get ice cream every night! (Answer-- she has arthritis in her hip and must keep her weight down!)
Weaknesses: There's nothing new or especially innovative about this, but my readers who like this sort of story thrive on repetition, so it will work.
What I really think: I will purchase this, because dog books are something readers do ask for a lot, and this was a sweet story. I know just the reader who needs it, in fact! A must purchase for elementary libraries, and a good choice for middle school libraries with readers who enjoy dog stories like Ellen Miles' Puppy Place series.

Ms. Yingling

Friday, September 20, 2019

Guy Friday- The World Series Kids and Frankly in Love

Kelly, David A. The World Series Kids (Super Special#4)
September 10th 2019 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Public Library Copy

Mike and Kate are glad that Colin and the Cooperstown team have made it to the Little League World Series, and they are happy to be there with Kate's mother, a reporter. When the team's bus has its tires slashed, the duo are suspicious, but when their equipment bags are missing, they start their investigation into the sabotage in earnest. Apparently, there is a teen in a neon shirt who is responsible, and they use their detective skills to hunt him down. They also come across two Little League pins that they use to barter for information. When they line up the clues, however, they find that the threat has come from a surprising place.
Strengths: Kelly writes a great early chapter book, with a good mix of sports, mystery, and friendship. I love how he works in facts about different locations, teams, and sports practices. (Never knew about the pin trading!) Kate and Mike work well together, and the mysteries are interesting. My own children were obsessed with the Ron Roy A to Z Mysteries (1997-2005), and would have loved these as well.
Weaknesses: Who was the person who gave them the Founders pin? Did I miss this? I was greatly distracted by that mystery!
What I really think: These are great, but I don't have a lot of readers on this level. I generally have the first two or three in series like these, so my struggling readers can see what they are like, and we then get the rest from the public library. I would definitely have all of these for an elementary library, and would buy copies for a young baseball fan.

Yoon, David. Frankly in Love
September 10th 2019 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young
E ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

N.B. This is NOT a middle grade book. Too much swearing and discussion of college and PSATs. But I love this author's work, and I am missing one of my student helpers who always requested books with Korean-American characters.

Frank Li is struggling through his senior year in high school. He has a great best friend, Q (aka Will) Lee, who is African-American and in many of the same AP classes that Frank is in. He works on Sundays at his father's store, and goes with his parents to "gatherings", get-togethers that his parents' friends host. He misses his sister, who made it through college, got a job that made his parents happy, and then was disowned when she started dating (and then married) an African-American man. Frank's parents came to the US with very little, and have struggled to give Frank and his sister every opportunity, but also have high expectations for Frank's academic and social life. When Frank starts dating a white girl, Brit, who is in his AP classes, he does NOT want his parents to find out. He and Joy, a girl from the gatherings who is dating Wu, a Chinese guy, decide that they will pretend to date each other to get their parents off their backs. This works for a while, but since Frank doesn't tell Brit that he is hiding her from his parents, it causes some tension. The more he hangs out with Joy, the more he enjoys her company. Even though he never thought that dating another Korean-American, he connects with Joy on a lot of different levels, and starts to wonder if there is a future with her rather than with Brit.
Strengths: This definitely lines up with the sort of things my student described about his  home life, and would definitely be something he would enjoy. This author does a great, funny, romance book for older boys. There is such a great sense of place and community. Very fun to read.
Weaknesses: So many f-bombs, used indiscriminately. I just can't hand that sort of language to middle school students, not when I occasionally get mortified children who bring back books with more pedestrian profanity in them. The sex isn't instructional, just mentioned, so this would be fine for a high school library.
What I really think: Is it creepy if I hunt down former students and recommend books to them? It's not, is it? There is a new librarian at his high school, or I would suggest that the school buy this just for him.

Early Release schedule today and no language arts classes means I can clean and work on books orders and sit back and eat bonbons, right? Hahahaha.

Students seem needier than they have been in years past. They don't just come in and grab a book to read. They need to talk to me for 5-10 minutes, tell me about their dog and why their math homework is too hard, and stand really, really close to me. I spent a lot of time saying "personal bubble!" this week and singing "So long, fair well, Wiedersehen, goodbye!" when students lingered after I told them to go back to study hall when I was working with another student, but when I looked up, they were still there.

When I say I see 250 students a day, while some of this is just checking out a Chrome Book, a LOT of it is much more time consuming! Not complaining at all, but it is a change, and probably why students are doing a Social and Emotional Learning lesson for an hour at the end of the day. Either that, or they all think I am like the best grandma ever and they just want to bask in my presence.

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, September 19, 2019


Haddix, Margaret Peterson. Remarkables
September 24th 2019 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Marin and her family move from Indiana to Pennsylvania for her mother's new job as a professor of nursing. Her father, a physical education teacher, is still looking for work, so he is the at home parent for Marin and her baby brother Owen. Marin had two good friends in Indiana, Ashlyn and Kenner, but had fallen out with them because of typical friend drama. She is concerned that she won't be able to find new friends in the new town, so is intrigued when she sees high school age students at a house in the woods... until they disappear! She meets her neighbor's grandson, Charley, who has also seen these people, whom he calls "remarkables". Charley and his two brothers are living with their grandmother because his parents are struggling with drug addiction. The father's problems are tied to an incident twenty years in the past that claimed the life of his friend. At a party, the father was cooking and took the batteries out of a smoke detector when it when off; later, a fire caused his friend's death. Marin starts to understand that the "remarkables" are Charley's dad and his friends before the accident occurs, and she tries to figure out how the two of them can change the past. As she navigates her summer in her new town, she starts to understand that changing the past could change good things as well.
Strengths: Haddix certainly has a firm grasp of the magical realism/creepy supernatural niche, and crafts an interesting story about changing the past. My favorite part, however, was the strong family unit. They are shown dealing with ordinary problems like a sleepless infant, death of a friend, and job insecurity with strength and good humor. Just the topic of a tween having a baby sibling is a great, and underserved, one. I also liked the inclusion of going to church and Vacation Bible School. Although I figured out early on that church wasn't a good fit for me, I spent a LOT of time in middle school and high school attending church functions, and this also is underrepresented in middle grade literature. This seems like it will be a stand alone.
Weaknesses: This would have been more effective as a realistic fiction story without the "remarkables". Their appearance is never well explained, and didn't make much sense.
What I really think: I will purchase because Haddix is a local author and circulates well, but this wasn't my favorite. Part of that might be because I started reading thinking this was the sequel to The Strangers (Greystone Secrets #1), and it clearly wasn't!

What I read last night, because a Follett order came in. They were okay; liked Mac B. and Scout best, and found The Baby-Sitters Club and Dog Man disturbing for a variety of reasons that no one else will worry about:

Didn't buy these two; checked them out from public library, but they weren't what I wanted.

Slacks for the first time this year, with my Head Mistress of Private School jacket and a black shell I bought in 1991. It has shoulder pads. I love it, and it's one of the few articles of professional clothing I have that predates my children!

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Child of the Dream

Robinson, Sharon. Child of the Dream
September 3rd 2019 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this fiction-style memoir, Robinson recounts the personal and world events that occurred when she turned 13 in 1963. Sharon's father, baseball player Jackie Robinson, was hospitalized for a leg injury that became infected and worsened due to his diabetes, her older brother is having difficulties and runs away from home, and has to come to terms with the growing racial tensions in the US and how they affect her. This is especially important when George Wallace declares "Segregation forever!" and her father gets involved in various marches and demonstrations. Sharon starts to examine her own life, which is vastly different from the situations African Americans were facing in the South. Her family lives in a predominately white community, and she may even be bused to a mainly black school as part of local desegregation plans! She does have one African American friend, Candy, and she attends a local Jack and Jill social hour, where she gets more information about Civil Rights movement activities as well. This book also offers a glimpse of the Robinson's family life, with Sharon riding her horse, learning to knit and baking with her grandmother, and dealing with Jackie, Jr.'s behavior. There is a nice selection of family photographs as well. She wants to do more to help, and is inspired by the Children's March in the spring of 1963 and was present at Dr. Martin Luther King 's "I Have a Dream" speech in August of that year.
Strengths: As many times as classes have listened to the "I Have a Dream" speech, students are bound to be fascinated by a first hand account! What it was like to be there, and to be at so many pivotal moments in the Civil Rights movement in "front row seats" because of her father... wow. Like Shabazz's Betty Before X or English's It All Comes Down to This, it's great to have a book that covers first hand details of what it was like to be a teenager at this point in history. It wasn't all just Important Historical Events, either: I loved the details of the horse riding and reading of Marguerite Henry! And of course, the close up view of Jackie Robinson is touching and fascinating-- I didn't know that he became an executive in the Chock Full o' Nuts coffee company! (Which still exists. Who knew?)
Weaknesses: Some of the conversation is oddly stilted, which surprised me. Perhaps it's harder to write based on personal experiences. Slam Dunk and Safe at Home are still books that are popular with my readers, and I don't remember any similar problems in The Hero Two Doors Down. Also, this was an ARC, so maybe things will be tweaked.
What I really think: I love memoirs and biographies and wish that my students would read more of them. This is an excellent one to hand to students who are reluctant to pick up memoirs, since it reads much like a novel. It will also be perfect for the Civil Rights and Decades projects that are frequently assigned by language arts teachers

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus

Bowling, Dusti. Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus
September 17th 2019 by Sterling Children's Books
E ARC provided by Edleweiss Plus

Aven is back after Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, and high school is a frightening prospect. Three thousand students, most of who  won't understand that her lack of arms isn't something they don't need to mention to her. It's even worse that Connor has moved across town to live with his father, but at least she has Zion. Josephine is in a nursing home, and Henry is rapidly failing, but Trilby is still working at her parents' smoothie shop at the wild west theme park, Stagecoach Pass, that Aven's parents run. Aven still plays guitar and is training to ride a horse and jump with it, but high school brings new challenges. One of them is Joshua, who is on the football team with Zion's brother Lando, and seems to be flirting with Aven. This is both exciting and frightening, and Aven is not alone in thinking "why would he be interested in me?" Zion thinks she's imagining things, and an unpleasant incident occurs that proves them both wrong and leaves Aven's self esteem in the gutter. She doesn't want to tell anyone, takes nearly a week off school, begs to be homeschooled like Trilby, but eventually goes back determined to make her mark on high school. It helps that Zion's family is going to Comic Con; Aven enthusiastically gets into it, even if her costume of Armless Tiger Man (who was armless, yes, but also a Nazi) is ill-conceived. Aven starts to investigate punk rock music at Trilby's suggestion, even though the two don't spend a lot of time together, even though Trilby and Zion are a bit interested in each other. As Henry's condition worsens, Aven tries to find out more about this past to see if he has family who can help him.
Strengths: It was great to follow a character from middle school to high school. I wish there were a lot more books where this happened. My students want to read about older students, but they don't really want to read YA. This was perfect. I enjoyed the first book, and it was fun to catch up on all the small things in Aven's life, like her riding, Stagecoach Pass, friendship with Connor and Zion, etc. Of course, the brilliant parts of this book are the depictions-in-passing of Aven answering her phone with her toes and doing other small tasks most of us take for granted. While her lack of arms is certainly something major, this book isn't about that. It's about... life. The other fantastic scene was where Aven goes to Joshua's football coach and rats him out. The growing relationship with Lando is sweet.
Weaknesses: Aven has a blog, and I'm pretty sure that very few high school freshman do that. Instagram, perhaps, a SnapChat streak, definitely, but blogging is a dying format!
What I really think:  The first book has done well in my library, so I will definitely purchase.

Brallier, Max. The Last Kids on Earth and the Midnight Blade #5
September 17th 2019 by Viking Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the Publisher

There will be hot competition for this new title in my library! Have to admit, I'm a little curious to see how this would be adapted into a television series, but I don't have Netflix. Also, this is described as Diary of a Wimpy Kid meets The Walking Dead, which my students love. Neither is really my cup of brains.

From the author's web site:
"Surviving their first winter after the Monster Apocalypse was no easy feat, yet Jack and his buddies waste no time springing to action against some of the nastiest, most evil monsters around. When Jack discovers his Louisville Slicer has new, otherworldly powers, he's thrown into epic training to find out what kind of destruction the blade can wield. But between fighting off zombies, fleeing from strange, glowy Vine-Thingies erupting from the ground, and squeezing in a video game session or two, there's barely time left to figure out what's wrong with their buddy, Dirk, who's been acting weird any time he's around the undead. When an unexpected villain appears, can Jack and his friends save themselves--and the rest of the world--from cosmic domination?"

Funny how little things can unbalance our whole week. I'm dealing with both a new phone and a new e reader, and it's not going well. Being a digital immigrant is usually not a huge problem-- I'm the school tech liaison-- but the smart phone drains the battery on things I don't want, and is harder to text on. The slider dumb phone was everything I wanted, and could be dropped on the ground without shattering, but NO ONE supports them or offers them any more. 

Luckily, clothing does not require a network. If I want to wear something from the 1980s, and I can find it at the thrift store, I can wear it. Maybe this is why I take such comfort in clothing!