Thursday, October 31, 2019

The 1,000 Year Old Boy

Welford, Ross. The 1,000 Year Old Boy
October 8th 2019 by Schwartz & Wade Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Alfie (or Alve) was born in the North... back when the VIkings were invading. He and his mother and cat were all made immortal by a substance is a glass ball (livperler) that his father had taken from someone in battle. They can still be killed, which is how he lost his father in battle, and his mother in a fire that burned down the house in England where they had lived for the better part of 200 years. It is always a problem to be perpetually eleven, and Alfie has found it hard to make friends. When he loses his mother, he is forced to rely on children his age, Aidan and Roxy, to help him. Aidan's family has fallen on some hard times, and he is being picked on by some of the boys with whom he used to be friends. Roxy has just moved into the neighborhood, and her mother is in a wheelchair following a bout with cancer. The two have seen Alfie in the woods, and have their suspicions about his true identity and past. They are glad to help him, and believe his story. Alfie has had a lot of interesting life experiences, such as meeting Charles Dickens, who signed a number of books for him. One of these books was stolen by a friend, Jack, who eventually abandoned Alfie, and whose son, John, bullied him. The only way for Alfie to reverse the immortality is to find the last livperler and rub the substance into his skin again, but the livperler were hidden by him and his mother on an island that is not easy to access. When Alfie eventually ends up in care and must attend school, he finds out that the island is going to be excavated by archaeologists, and he asks his new friends to help him. Will they be able to find the livperler before another Neverdead, Aidan's Uncle Jasper, is able to get to them?
Strengths: This is definitely a fresh premise; I can only think of two other books with immortal characters; Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life and Ferney. (I've owned several copies of this and keep lending it out and not getting it back. Sigh.) The circumstances under which Alfie meets and seeks help from Aidan and Roxy seem completely realistic, and it's nice to see them all work together. There is a German archaeologist who helps the children who is completely delightful! It was easy to follow the plot, and Alfie's glimpses into times past were amusing. Really enjoy Welford's work.
Weaknesses: Meeting up with Jack's descendants and with Jasper seemed a bit too coincidental, but perhaps people don't move around England the way they do around the US.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. These won't be constantly checked out, but will see steady use for a number of years. I am very impressed by the originality and readability of Welford's writing.

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Follow Chester and The Crossover

The world has not always been the way it is now. I was talking to parents at school who are 10-15 years younger than I am. Something came up about child care, and I mentioned that my mother was asked to leave her teaching job when she was pregnant with me. The women were shocked, and one even said "That's funny; my mother left teaching when she had me, but she never mentioned why she stopped working."

Picture books are a quick way to show students snapshots in history, and since this is football themed, I think I will purchase a copy, even though picture books don't circulate terribly well.

Respress-Churchwell, Gloria and Freeman, Laura (Illustrations)
Follow Chester!: A College Football Team Fights Racism and Makes History
September 17th 2019 by Charlesbridge Publishing
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

From Goodreads:
A little known civil rights hero and college football MVP finally gets a voice in this fictional account detailing Chester Pierce's game-changing play as he became the first black college football player to compete south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

In 1947, no African American player can play at a southern school; in return, the opposing team benches a player of "equal talent." This historical fiction picture book frames a turbulent time in the civil rights era with the clever use of a football play to show race relations and teamwork. Inspired by a true story, capturing a historic defense against the Jim Crow laws of the South.

Alexander, Kwame. Anyabwile, Dawud (Illustrations).The Crossover (Graphic Novel)
September 24th 2019 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

The Crossover was great, and it was a Newbery well deserved in 2015. I have several copies, it circulates really well, but it's already so short that I am a little confused as to why there is even a graphic novel version.

I didn't take the time to compare the text in the two versions. I will definitely buy a copy, and it will be constantly checked out, but I just don't care for pictures. Just not my cup of tea. (And I usually love all sports books.)

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Heart of the Moors GIVEAWAY!

Disney Book Group sent me a copy to check out and is partnering with me for a giveaway!

Comment below with your favorite book villain to enter to win the prize package shown.

Black, Holly. Heart of the Moors
October 8th 2019 by Disney Press
Copy provided by the publisher

Aurora is struggling with the fact that she must have such a large roll not only in her kingdom, but also as the ruler of the fey-dominated moors. Having been awakened from her sleep in Sleeping Beauty by Maleficent rather than Prince Philip (Maleficent feels motherly towards her), Aurora is conflicted about her feelings for Philip, although Maleficent sees him as an interloper and wants him gone. The alternative suitor, Prince Alain, doesn't seem any better, but has definite designs on marrying Aurora and taking over the kingdom.   Since the fairies Knotgrass, Thistlewit, and Flittle raised her, she feels a deep connection to the Fair Folk. Lord Ortolan is trying his best to get Aurora to separate from both Maleficent and Philip so that he can control her via Alain. A young stablehand has gone missing, and Aurora's court seems concerned that beings from the Moors have taken them, but Aurora is unconvinced and attempts to join her two worlds by having a festival. This doesn't go particularly well, since distrust on both sides goes deep. When Maleficent is captured and Philip injured, Aurora must come to their rescue, and when she finds the culprits, she takes matters into her own hands to deal with them.
Strengths: This was an imaginative fairy tale re imagining, and Aurora is an intriguing character. Readers who find the idea of evil interesting will appreciate how Maleficent is cast as a more sympathetic character, ala the witch in Rapunzel in Napoli's Zel (1996).  Ortolan and Alain are clearly evil, in sort of a bumbling, inept way that you know they can't prevail. The relationship with Philip is complex, so adds an air of Young Adult, angsty romance to the book. Readers who identify their Hogwarts house as Slytherin will enjoy this.
Weaknesses: I was a bit confused by this, since I did not know the changes in the canonical story made in the live action movie (Maleficent, 2014). This story takes place between that movie and the new one that is being released.
What I really think: Perfect for fans of Black's work, the movies (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, 2019), or retellings of classic tales where the traditional villain becomes the hero. Black is a good choice of author for this tale, since it has many of the elements that are found in her original work.
Ms. Yingling

Monday, October 28, 2019

MMGM- Revenge of the Red Club

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.

When you're young, you assume that some things will Always Be This Way. Black socks will ALWAYS look dorky with shorts. Shorts will never be as long as men's knees. Your knees will always bend easily. It will never be a better idea to order something online than it is to go to the store. And leggings will never, never be appropriate outside of the privacy of one's own home.

Lately, this has not been the case. Every day, something happens that I think is Deeply Wrong, and yet, everyone else thinks it's okay. I have become that old lady, standing on my lawn in my black, high necked , ankle length dress, waving my cane and telling people to get off my lawn.

I wanted to dislike Revenge of the Red Club, because I have never been a fan of discussing ANY bodily function in anything but hushed whispers with one's closet friends. I don't want to hear about your digestion, that weird popping thing in your back, or your pregnancy, other than there will be a baby I will soon need to avoid.

But then, I started to hear a plethora of ads for ED and certain medication on the radio. Every day. And I read that Viagra actually cures something else. Cramps. Which affect 90% of women at some point. And yet no one is discussing this. This is a real problem that affects the production levels of the US work force. It has economic repercussions, whereas ED is a complete and total economic nonissue. Also, no one is talking about what work time is lost to hot flashes.

So, you know what? Have at it. All of it. Everything my grandmother ever told me was rude and inappropriate. I will continue to wear pleated skirts and blouses with jackets, (And nylons! And a slip, if we're saying intimate things loud and proud.) and everyone else can run around naked, because that's what the world is coming to. I will be judging everyone SILENTLY.

As long as there are ads on the radio for ED, EVERY MIDDLE SCHOOL LIBRARY IN THE WORLD should be encouraged to buy this book.

If you've ever wondered why old people are crabby, now you know.

Harrington, Kim. Revenge of the Red Club
October 22nd 2019 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Riley is an investigative reporter for her very realistic and small school newspaper. She loves to write and wants to make the world a better place by shining light on misinformation and injustice. She is also, along with her friend Cee, instrumental in keeping the Red Club going at her school. A group of girls who have reached puberty meet once a week in the library, and have an emergency locker with sweatpants and sanitary supplies that anyone who needs them can use. The girls ask each other questions and support each other, as well as any girl who might need help. Riley's mother and grandmother are much more traditional, so she doesn't get the information or support she needs at home. When Riley's mother comes home from a school committee meeting and tells her that there will be some changes at school, Riley is still surprised at the changes. The school dress code is now enforced, and leggings are no longer involved. The newspaper advisor, Ms. Bhatt, is replaced by Principal Pickford, all future issues are put on hold. Not only that, but the Red Club is forbidden to meet. Riley thinks her mother, or possibly the mother of a new girl, might be behind it, and she knows that Brody Scruggs' mother has complained that he can' concentrate because of the way the girls dress. Angered by these changes, Riley gathers her friends to effect some changes. They decide to shed light on the issues facing girls, and plan several protests. Girls carry tampons openly in the hallways on one day, talk openly about menstruation on another, and everyone is supposed to wear leggings on another day. Cole, another newspaper reporter, is very supportive of Riley and her endeavors, and offers to carry a tampon and even wears leggings, along with several other boys. There is also a large "art" installation of various pads that the girls put up in the gym, and even though it is taken down quickly, people hear about it. In the end, the girls' open insistence that their needs are heard and met gets a positive response, and the culture of the school slowly changes.
Strengths: Riley's actions were all realistic, reasonable, and well though out. Harrington clearly investigated how schools work in order to write this book. While my school no longer feels we can address any clothing choices, I know that many schools do have stringent requirements about short length, strap width, etc., and they are almost exclusively aimed at what girls wear. The characters are especially well-drawn; they are multidimensional and well meaning, even if Riley disagrees with them, and there are some fun twists with Principal Pickford and the formal, white haired Miss Nancy. Riley's relationship with Cole was especially charming, and I loved that she was willing to pass on hanging out with him at the dance in order to support a girl who was dress coded at the dance... wearing the same dress Riley was wearing, but "filling it out" differently. It was good that Riley had Ms. Bhatt and Cee's mother to support her in ways her own mother didn't. This moves along quite briskly and doesn't let the political message slow down the story.
Weaknesses: Miss Nancy should have been referred to by her last name, and I was a bit appalled at the waste of all the pads in the gym.
What I really think: I found this a little uncomfortable, and would have been mortified by it as a middle school student, but it was ultimately compelling. If students can read it, perhaps they will live differently and be better able to support others than I am. I will definitely purchase.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Words on Fire and Allies

Nielsen, Jennifer A. Words on Fire
October 1st 2019 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Audra lives with her mother and father in a small Lithuanian village in 1893. Her father is a magician and travels a great deal in order to entertain. She would like to go with him, but her mother claims it is too dangerous, making her wonder what else her father is doing. She finds out that both parents are book smugglers, but too late... the Cossacks attack, arrest her parents, and burn down the home. Audra escapes with her father's knapsack and instructions to deliver a package to Milda in another town. With the help of Lukas, a boy she meets, she manages to evade the Cossacks and get to Milda. She stays for a while, and learns how important books written in Lithuanian are to her people, and why the Russians have banned them. Officer Rusakov is bound and determined to find Audra wherever she tries to go. She eventually is sent over the border to Prussia by Ben, who has been smuggling books for many years. She is supposed to stay, but she finds out from Lukas that Lithuanian books are being printed there and he needs help getting them back into Lithuania. There are many harrowing experiences involved in smuggling the books, but Audra realized how important the books are after she learns to read. There are some secrets about both her family and Lukas' revealed that make her situation more interesting... and dangerous. 
Strengths: There are enough books about WWII; let's have more about the troubles in the Baltic region! Nielsen writes a solid historical novel and has clearly done her research, and the focus on books and their importance is definitely a different story than is usually told. Audra's reactions to her plight are all reasonable, and it's interesting to watch her views change. Lukas' past is riveting, and Ben and Milda's commitment to the cause admirable. Even Officer Rusakov has some moments of growth.
Weaknesses: I love most of Nielsen's work (Resistance was awesome and very popular in my library), but I couldn't quite get into this one, which is odd. I have been looking for more books on the Baltic states, and this involves saving books, but like A Night Divided, this just didn't pull me in.
What I really think: I will probably purchase, but it will circulate about as much as Preuss' Heart of a Samurai, since it is a little known period and place in the world, and I am still struggling to get students to read historical fiction. 

Gratz. Alan. Allies
October 15th 2019 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

I love Gratz's work; Prisoner B-3087 was brilliant, Code of Honor was riveting, and Grenade blew me away. I guess I just reached saturation point with WWII, and there's been a few things done about D-Day. This has three points of view, including a French Algerian girl, and that's interesting but also a little confusing. Like Refugee, the minute I got invested in one story, the book picked up the thread of another. I will definitely purchase this, but it will probably appeal to the really hard core WWII readers rather than the casual ones.

From Goodreads:
Alan Gratz, bestselling author of Refugee, weaves a stunning array of voices and stories into an epic tale of teamwork in the face of tyranny -- and how just one day can change the world.
June 6, 1944: The Nazis are terrorizing Europe, on their evil quest to conquer the world. The only way to stop them? The biggest, most top-secret operation ever, with the Allied nations coming together to storm German-occupied France.

Welcome to D-Day.

Dee, a young U.S. soldier, is on a boat racing toward the French coast. And Dee -- along with his brothers-in-arms -- is terrified. He feels the weight of World War II on his shoulders.

But Dee is not alone. Behind enemy lines in France, a girl named Samira works as a spy, trying to sabotage the German army. Meanwhile, paratrooper James leaps from his plane to join a daring midnight raid. And in the thick of battle, Henry, a medic, searches for lives to save.

In a breathtaking race against time, they all must fight to complete their high-stakes missions. But with betrayals and deadly risks at every turn, can the Allies do what it takes to win?

Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Year We Fell From Space

King, Amy Sarig. The Year We Fell From Space
October 15th 2019 by Arthur A. Levine Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Liberty's parents are both interested in hiking, camping and out door pursuits; her mother writes about these things, and her father introduced her to astronomy. Liberty likes to draw star maps and create her own, modern constellations. Her father struggles with depression, and when the parents separate and he moves out, he doesn't follow through on visitations, and it's a long time until the girls see him. In the meantime, Liberty finds what she thinks is a meteorite that has crashed in the forest near the family's home, and finds comfort in discussing her situation with the rock. She has trouble getting along with others, and her former best friend has "excommunicated" her from the 6th grade because Liberty thinks dating and the fake weddings at recess are silly. Liberty thinks that she may have some of the same mental health issues that her father has, and she certainly has a lot of anger. Luckily, her mother does have her seeing a therapist, and the frequency of these appointments increases after Liberty gets angry and throws a toaster. Eventually, the girls get to spend time with their father again, but he has a new girlfriend and doesn't handle telling the girls very well. Liberty has an issue at school that she has to resolve, and she and her family have to work on finding a way forward with their new reality.
Strengths: This was a very realistic depiction of divorce and of dealing with a parent with depression issues. I liked that Liberty was able to be able to deal with neighbor boys who were mean to her in a kind way when their parents also got divorced. It was good to see a year of slow progress made by the family on their way to a new normal. I don't know that there are very many books about parents dating after divorce, but I would imagine this is a huge concern for tweens. I also appreciated that everyone was getting help, and that there are resources in the back of the book.
Weaknesses: This was a slow and introspective story, and it was a bit odd that Liberty talked to the rock and that it answered.
What I really think: There are so many books dealing with serious issues right now, and I can't buy them all. I think I will pass on this one because the story is slow moving, and this author's Me and Marvin Gardens doesn't circulate even though I rather enjoyed it.

Ms. Yingling

Friday, October 25, 2019

Ember and the Ice Dragons

Fawcett, Heather. Ember and the Ice Dragons
August 6th 2019 by Imprint
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ember was rescued by a Stormancer, Lionel St. George, after her dragon parents were slaughtered, and in order to keep her safe, he turned her into a human girl with a glamor that keeps her wings from showing and raises her as his own. Ember occasionally bursts into flames if she is in too much sunlight, and the latest combustion has caused great damage to her father's rooms at the college. He decides to send her to Antarctica to visit her Aunt Myra, who is a research scientist studying ice dragons. Once she arrives, Ember is sent to study with a governess along with two unpleasant twins as well as Nisha. Nisha is quite nice to her, and when Ember saves her friend Moss from a bully, the three become good friends. Ember has a magic door knob that lets her visit her father and open portals in various locations. When Ember finds out that Prince Cronus (the fifth child of Queen Victoria) and his son Gideon are staging another Winterglass hunt, she is appalled and knows she has to do everything she can to sabotage it. She manages to be allowed to go on the hunt and bring Nisha and Moss as her helpers. Once aboard the ship taking them to the dragon grounds, Ember is able to pull off some things that do slow down the hunt, but she is not able to stop it. There are a lot of other political maneuverings going on, and when Gideon is captured by the dragons, Ember feels a need to go after him even though he isn't the most pleasant boy. She and her two friends head to the City of Spires to negotiate with the dragon king to bring Gideon back. Will Ember be able to save the prince and save the dragons, or will the evil prince and his henchman Lord Norfell triumph in their attempt to exterminate the dragons?
Strengths: This was a well-paced fantasy with plenty of dragons, adventure, political intrigue, and aggressive penguins! I was able to follow the story and keep track of the characters despite my chronic fantasy amnesia, which means it is well constructed story. The Antarctic setting is fun, and there's just enough magic (like the transporting doorknob) to support the existence of dragons. Moss' backstory is fun as well.
Weaknesses: I was really confused as to when this took place. Once I suspected the Victorian Era, I was thrown off by Nisha wearing lipstick and rouge. This has some alternate history in it, such as a mention of British America and the extra son of Victoria, but the main focus is the Antarctic setting and the dragons.
What I really think: Rather than buy five copies of every Tui Sutherland Wings of Fire book, I'm adding a number of dragon books to my collection. It's something that the occasional student will obsess over, so it's good to have a core collection of dragon books on hand, and 2019 has had a number of good titles. Will purchase.

Mull, Brandon. Master of the Phantom Isle (Dragonwatch #3)
October 1st 2019 by Shadow Mountain
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

I love the Fablehaven series, and this continuation gets deliciously dark, which is perfect for middle school students who read the first series in 6th grade and then are in 8th grade when they get to this book. So good, but I forgot to take notes so can't remember the details to write a good review. But trust me, your fantasy readers NEED more Mull!

Seriously, I have a student who went on to high school who came back to visit just so he could get his hands on the second book!

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Red Dove: Listen to the Wind

Antaki, Sonia. Red Dove: Listen to the Wind
October 15th 2019 by One ELM Press
E ARC from

In the 1870s, Red Dove lives among the Lakota people. Her mother is Native, but her father was White, and she is often called Gray Eyes because she looks a little different. She also wants to hunt and behave in ways that aren't expected of girls during this time period. Her grandfather doesn't care about her background and is very supportive. He also gives her a pouch that he says will help her communicate with him when she is away. This proves important when one of the interpreters who often facilitates trades for the Lakota, Old Tom, shows up with a woman, Jerusha, they tell Red Dove's mother that both she and her brothers, Walks Alone, need to go to a school to learn White ways. Since food is very scarce, the two very reluctantly go. The nuns at the school, especially Sister Agatha, are very unforgiving, although some, like Sister Mary Rose, let Red Dove keep as much of her culture as they can and even share some of their own with her. Eventually, relations between the US and the Lakotas go badly wrong, and Red Dove leaves the school to find out the truth about her father.

Strengths: We certainly need more books about the Native experience all through US history, and this takes the side of the Native American, which is very rare. Lots of good details about the school and the way of life at this time.

Weaknesses: I was uncomfortable with the "magic" in this. I know that Deebie Reese often criticizes the use of mysticism when writing about Native cultures. Ms. Antaki saw my review on Goodreads, and very kindly contacted me about this aspect of the book.

She says: "I asked one of my trusted friends, Linda Six Feathers (Oglala Lakota Sioux, who wrote the introduction) for her thoughts. Here’s what she asked me to post: “As a traditional Native Lakota Sioux, I don’t consider my spiritual beliefs ‘magic’ or ‘mysticism’. There are over 500 federally recognized tribes in the lower 48 states and with all due respect, Debbie Reese is NambĂ© Pueblo, a Southern tribe and Red Dove is a girl from a Northern tribe. While there are similarities between the tribes, there are many, many differences. Only an active participating member of one’s particular tribal community can possibly know the practices. Additionally, Red Dove, Listen to the Wind is a book geared toward young people and while it has historical references, it is still a work of fiction.” The reality is that Native cultures are as multi-faceted and varied as those of Europeans. There is no single Indian, Indigenous or Native American culture, and no one person can legitimately speak for them all. My Goddaughter is Lakota, my friends are Lakota, and I tried to make "Red Dove" as specifically and authentically Lakota as I possibly could.

Since I did not have the cultural background to assess this book, I very much appreciate Ms. Antaki taking the time to inform me.

What I really think:A good purchase for collections that need historical fiction set during this time period.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Hazel's Theory of Evolution

Bigelow, Lisa Jenn. Hazel's Theory of Evolution
October 8th 2019 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Hazel lives on a farm with her two mothers and her older brother Rowan. They have a heard of goats that her Mom milks for her business of making soaps and other products, and Mimi is a lawyer in town. Because of a change in the local train schedule that affects the bus, Hazel has to go to another middle school, leaving her friend Becca behind for 8th grade. Since a girl at her old school, Kristen, was always very mean, calling Hazel "goat girl" and making fun of her for crying, Hazel wants to make sure she flew under everyone's radar. This is rather lonely, but she eventually finds a table in the cafeteria where she can sit with Yosh, an outspoken boy with a colorful Mohawk who is in a wheelchair, and Carina. Carina went to Hazel's old school, but presented as a boy then. Hazel gets along well with her, and the two slowly become friends. When a school family tree project is assigned, Hazel struggles. She wants to include Lena and Miles, babies that Mimi had who both died before they were born, but doesn't want people to make fun of her. This is an especially sensitive topic because Mimi is pregnant again, and Hazel is beside herself with fear.  Even Rowan, who just graduated from high school, took a gap year before going to college because he was concerned about his family coping. When there is a Health and Human Development project to carry around a bag of flour and treat it as if it were an infant, Hazel's concern deepens. It doesn't help that Becca has become a cheerleader, hangs out with Kristen, and doesn't often contact Hazel. When Mimi goes into premature labor, she must reach out to Becca's family for help, and she realizes that she has more support from all of her friends than she realized.
Strengths: It was interesting to see a character working on a small farm-- there is not much of that in literature. I also enjoyed Rowan as a supportive older brother. The friend drama with Becca was very true to life, and Hazel's general anxiety is on trend. It's nice to see Carina as a supporting character whose role is to be Hazel's friend and whose gender is not all that relevant. We need literature that shows all manner of characters, and Bigelow does a good job at this.
Weaknesses: I'm still not convinced that middle grade readers are overly concerned with babies. This was also my complaint about Lowry's Son. I'm old enough that miscarriages are NOT something that one talked about; it seems odd to me that Lena and Miles has names and Hazel even knew what was going on. When I was the age to be having children, this would have been something very much kept quiet. Will students share Hazel's concern?
What I really think: I think it is hard to understand but important to realize that LGBTQIA+ people sometimes congregate. There was an interview with Lisa Bunker that pointed this out, which was good for me to read because my feeling about her books was that there were a LOT of characters my students may never have met, and it might be confusing to them to have so many. This interview made me understand books with characters who might feel more comfortable with others like themselves. Is Hazel more accepting of Carina given her family background? Perhaps.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Bookwanderers

James, Anna. The Bookwanderers (Pages & Co. #1)
September 24th 2019 by Philomel Books
ARC provided by Follett First Look

Matilda (Tilly) is being raised by her grandmother and grandfather, who run a book shop in London, after the death of her father and disappearance of her mother when she was an infant. She is happy in the bookstore, and a big reader, so when a class project about a book is assigned, she happily tries to decide which book she should use, Anne of Green Gables and Alice in Wonderland being two contenders. Since it is midterm break and there is not much to do, she starts to hang out which Oskar, whose mother runs a bakery near the bookstore. After she finds a box of her mother's favorite books from childhood, odd things start to happen. She swears she sees Alice and Anne in the bookstore, and when she finally talks to Anne, she is whisked away to Avonlea with Oskar. Once her grandparents find out about this, they take her to the Underlibrary at the British Library, to talk to Amelia, the librarian. Both Tilly and Oskar are registered as Bookwanderers, and given some instruction and practice to keep them safe. They also meet with Mr. Chalke, who has been snooping around them, and who always seems displeased with everything. Tilly finds out some secrets about her parentage that lead her to search for her mother in the pages of her favorite book, The Little Princess. What else might she find as she investigates the enthralling life of a Bookwanderer?
Strengths: Ah. Cups of tea and cocoa, an on site pastry chef trying to recreate delicacies from books, and the ability to be sucked into stories-- avid readers will love this one. Tilly is pragmatic about her mother's disappearance and just wants to know more information, especially when she finds out the secret about her father (which I don't want to spoil). Oskar is a nice companion for her, and there is enough creepy tension with Mr. Chalke to make things interesting.
Weaknesses: I could have used a few more details about the mechanics of book wandering. Some are given, but I wasn't completely convinced somehow.
What I really think: While I enjoyed this, I think it would meet the same fate as Lois Lowry's The Willoughbys-- to sit unloved on the shelves. None of my students are too keen on Anne of Green Gables or Alice in Wonderland, vastly preferring new books to old. And remember, when you were born in 2006, even Spinelli's Star Girl (2000) is impossibly OLD! Since I would have about one student every five years who would like this one, I will stick to Prineas' The Scroll of Kings,  Shulman's The Grimm Legacy and Wexler's The Forbidden Library for my bookworms who long for magical book repositories. Avid readers over the age of forty seem more likely to enjoy this one.

Monday, October 21, 2019

MMGM- The Best at 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.

Pancholy, Maulik. The Best at It
October 8th 2019 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Rahul lives in Indiana with his parents, younger brother Arun, and grandfather, whom he calls Bhai. He has a best friend, Chelsea, and is trying to navigate middle school. He's not quite sure what his interests are, so tries out for the football team, partly to show his nemesis, Brent, that he's not afraid to, and partly so that he can be near Justin, whom he thinks is nice. He's not particularly good at sports, and his try out ends disastrously. He also goes on an audition for a bank commercial which also doesn't go well, especially since the director tells him he's not right for the part because the parents in the commercial have already been cast and are not Indian. He finally gets on the Mathletes team, partly at Chelsea's urging because a boy she likes is on the team, and finds that he does very well. The competitions are fun, and Rahul always does well. One of the other members, Jenny, asks him to the school dance, and his parents and aunts (there is a strong community of his parents' friends who often come to the house) are pleased, even though Rahul isn't thrilled with the idea. He's wondered himself if he is gay, and has even heard his parents discussing this matter. His grandfather also has hinted at it and invited discussion, but Rahul is still figuring things out. The big even t of the school year is a multicultural festival, and Rahul's mother is very involved in the setting up of it. Rahul isn't too pleased that it will be held at his school; another Indian American boy, Jai, even thinks that Rahul isn't "very Indian", and parents (especially his father, who is in an Air Supply cum Bollywood cover band) can be so embarassing. Eventually, Rahul figures out more of his own identity and starts to feel more comfortable in middle school.
Strengths: This was a very well constructed middle grade novel. The characters were well developed and varied (I especially liked all the Mathletes!), the search for identity framed by a variety of activities (Loved that he tried out for football even though he had no clue about it. See: Me trying out for cheerleading in 6th grade because everyone else was!), and the plot progressed nicely while supporting the character development. Great length, good cover, and pleasantly humorous. Having supportive parents in the picture as well as a grandfather (who is in a wheelchair because of arthritis) and family friends just added another layer of interest. Nicely done romances and friendships. This #ownvoices story is a great one to hand to just about any student-- some will use it as a mirror, some as a window, and all of them will be more understanding because of it.
Weaknesses: The television audition went on a bit longer than necessary; I didn't know the author was an actor until after I finished the book, so maybe this was a real life experience.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing and can't wait to put into the hands of students!
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Give and Take

Swartz, Elly. Give and Take
October 15th 2019 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Maggie has a strong, supportive family. Her father coaches her all girl trap shooting team, her older brother, Dillon, is generally supportive and not mean, and her younger brother Charlie is a trove of odd facts that make Maggie smile. But Maggie is struggling. Her grandmother passes away from complications due to Alzheimers, and Maggie was traumatized when her beloved grandmother didn't recognize her. Her father changes the members of the team, adding a boy and sending one girl to another team to balance the strengths. In addition, Maggie's family takes on a foster infant, Izzie, for just a little while, until her adoption is completed. This takes longer than it should, since a hurricane in the South affects the adoptive parents. Even though she is told from the beginning that the baby will not be with them long, Maggie doesn't want to let her go. Maggie has been dealing with all of her losses by compulsively saving small objects, like gum wrappers, Izzie's binky, and even milk cartons from school. When her mother finds one of her seven boxes (with ants in it!), she yells at her mother. Luckily, her mother realizes this is a problem, and schedules an appointment with a psychologist. Maggie doesn't want to go, but eventually finds that it helps to talk about her fears of forgetting people, and the tactics the doctor suggests to cut down on the hoarding seem to help. Unfortunately, her pet turtle, Bert, accidentally escapes when her brothers bring it to her grandfather's, and this does not help Maggie's anxiety. Eventually, Maggie learns to deal with her feelings and forgive her brothers so that she can engage in her life without so much fear.
Strengths: I really appreciated Maggie's strong family, as well as the fact that her mother got her into therapy immediately when it was clear she had a problem. I can't think of any other books involving trap shooting, so that was interesting. This is on trend with books like We Are Party People and Not if I Can Help It which depict children with similar issues.
Weaknesses: I am not convinced that tweens feel as strongly about babies as books portray; I remember being Maggie's age and living in fear that my parents would have another baby. It seemed like SUCH a bad idea, but a friend's mother was pregnant. My friend was also not very pleased.
What I really think: Interesting story with valid social concerns that are well addressed.Will purchase, if only so I can display this title with Sovern's The Meaning of Maggie (2014) and confuse everyone!

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Cartoon Saturday- Junior High Drama

Simonson, Louise and Mason, Jane B. Junior High Drama
February 1st 2019 by Stone Arch Books
Public Library Copy

Memorial Middle School is fraught with drama. In this collection of four separate titles, we meet a variety of characters who are all struggling. Kamilla loves to sing but doesn't want to try out for the school play because that would mean that people would look at her, and she is extremely insecure about her weight and appearance despite hearing positive messages from the adults in her life. She consults a doctor, who wants her to exercise more so that she is healthy, and she accepts the role of understudy in the play. She sees the boy on whom she has a crush also running at the school track, and the two strike up a friendship. When the two main leads have a conflict with performing in the play because of a cheer leading competition, Kamilla reluctantly steps in to save the day. In another story, Lilly gets drawn into a group of popular girls because one of them is interested in Lilly's older brother, and Lilly tries to dress like them, act like them, and treat others the way they do, which causes her problems with her friends. Of course, in the end, the mean girls turn on her, but Lilly is able to stand up for herself. Allie is a track runner who finds herself struggling, and the cause turns out to be diabetes, which takes a while for her to manage properly, especially since she is hiding it from her friends. In the last story, Lucia gets invited to a party and is reluctant to go, but when a boy she likes is also attending, she decides to go, despite the drama.

This is a large format graphic novel, and in paperback is a decent price ($14.95 from Titlewave). It is also available in separate hard cover editions for $20 each.

Strengths: This is on trend with social issues and involves a cast with various ethnicities, interests, and body types. The stories are fairly standard, but each is followed up by an "interview" the main character does with an adult about the issue faced, and resources are listed. This would be a great read alike for Raina Telgemeier or Victoria Jamieson-- graphic novels with deeper issues. I especially liked Allie's story concerning diabetes, even if it had a Deenie-with-Scoliosis approach to the issue.
Weaknesses: I am always reluctant to stock books like Frazzled that portray middle school as a roiling, anxious pool of mean-- wouldn't reading this make students MORE anxious? Current theory wants to model various negative experiences for students so they don't feel that they are the only ones going through them, and woe befall anyone who disagrees with this method.
What I really think: Will purchase this as part of my graphic novel refresh, but feel I need to have a follow up conversation with anyone who reads it to see if their anxiety has spiked.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Michigan vs. The Boys

Allen, Carrie S. Michigan vs. The Boys
October 1st 2019 by Kids Can Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Michigan loves playing on her high school girls' hockey team, but budget cuts dissolve not only her team, but the school's boys' swim team. There aren't a lot of other options for her to play in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Her friend Brie has wealthy parents to send her to a boarding school in Chicago, and a couple of friends drive an hour to play on another town's team. A couple decide to join the girls' swim team instead. At first, Michigan decides she will just help coach her brother Trent's middle school team, but she is inspired by the only girl on that team, Morgan, to try out for the high school boys' team.  She's an excellent player, and makes the team, which doesn't make the coach or the other players happy. The coach (who is Morgan's step father) tells the team that they are not allowed to socialize with Michigan, and she has to change in the ice rink's broom closet. Those are the least of her problems. Boys spill coffee down her neck in the school cafeteria, vandalize her possessions, and eventually beat her up. Michigan doesn't want to tell anyone and jeopardize her place on the team, so she stoically puts up with all of the macro and micro aggressions. One teammate, Avery, is supportive and helpful, but he is also concerned that the team will turn on him if he supports her. One bright spot is Jack, a swimmer who is not only hot but also evolved. He encourages Michigan to try out for the team and is supportive of her efforts. Eventually, the abuse reaches a point where it crosses a line into illegality, and even then, Michigan finds herself negotiating with the main perpetrator to keep things quiet. Eventually, however, things go public and Michigan has to have help from her parents to start legal proceedings against the boys. There is some misunderstanding with Jack, but this is quickly cleared up, and it turns out that the boys giving Michigan a hard time were also terrorizing others on the team. With the state tournament coming up, how will the team be able to go forward with no coach and several key players out of the game?
Strengths: Like Mathieu's Moxie, this takes on toxic masculinity and showcases the difficulty that women in sports can still face. Michigan just wants to play hockey; why should this be difficult? The treatment of Michigan by the coach and the boys on the team points out something I have long said: there is a real need for education when it comes to how kids treat and view each other. Many of them, like Dylan, have been carefully taught, and we have finally reached a point in time where this behavior is NOT going to fly. Still, I love that Allen was able to make Michigan determined but also somehow accepting of the behavior, in that she put up with mistreatment instead of immediately calling it out. I also adored Jack-- can we just make a law requiring all teenaged boys to be this evolved? They should be. He likes that Michigan is just as focused on hockey as he is on swimming, and this is what draws him to her. I also appreciated that eventually, Michigan knew she had to make the hard choice and make matters public. The delineation of everything that happens is very informative. Strong characters, strong writing, and a strong message.
Weaknesses: There is a plethora of f-bombs. Add that to the drinking and drugging, and I am going to pass for middle school even though it was a riveting read.
What I really think: I would definitely buy this for a high school and think it is an important story, but it's a bit much for middle school. I'll make sure the public library looks into purchasing a copy; if I have students get the book from the public library, I never have to get involved in meetings challenging my purchases. Just how life works.

COTA day, which is a teacher work day. Overdue slips, gluing books back together, weeding-- all sorts of glamor here!

Heading to the Rhinebeck Wool Festival after work today with my daughter, so will be wearing this sweater I knit in 1986 with wool I bought in Athens, Greece!

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Beast (Darkdeep #2)

Condie, Ally and Reichs, Brendan. The Beast
September 24th 2019 by Bloomsbury Children's Books
ARC provided by the publisher

Timbers is safe because of the efforts of Nico, Opal, Tyler, Emma, and Logan in The Darkdeep, and now the friends just want to get back to normal. That's not easy to do when creatures keep appearing even when the kids are not going into the pool at Still Cove. As Torchbearers, they all know they need to keep the various creatures at bay, because no one else in town seems to understand how serious the threat is. This is apparent when Colton Bridger of the Freakshow shows up in town with his crew, intent of capturing the Beast for the show. The town has gone into Beast Fever, with t shirts, hamburgers and other tourist items for sale, and Emma wants so desperately to keep the producer away from Still Cove that she signs up to be an unpaid worker. There are some further clues about Torchbearers unearthed in town, and the green blob in a jar talks not only to Opal, but starts giving information to the others. More and more creatures make their way into our dimension, and the Torchbearers are told they need to "Repair the Seal" in the Rift. But how? During Halloween, there are an impressive number of creatures on the loose, but no one except our heroes realizes that they are a danger. Luckily, Tyler is able to save the day and keep the Beast from harming anyone. The Rift is still open, the blob seems more and more evil, and the Torchbearers are barely able to conceal the supernatural happenings. How long will they be able to keep Timbers safe?
Strengths: I'm late to the trend of Stranger Things (I don't have a television, and I'm not about to PAY for programs.), but it must be a Big Deal because I've read several books that compare themselves to the program. Unexplained evil on the loose, children saving the day-- that's a whole lot of middle grade stories, but the fresh twist in The Darkdeep and The Beast is fighting monsters. I do have students ask for books about this topic, and there haven't been a whole lot. The monsters are well done (always good to delve into people's darkest fears), the small town setting adds another level of angst and politics, and the inclusion of a paranormal show trying to cover an event that they suspect is fake but is actually real is a fun twist.
Weaknesses: I don't find monster books scary at all. Of all of the things that could happen in the world, this is about the least likely. I also don't believe in ghosts or space aliens, but even those seem more believable. Since my students get worried about things like killer clowns on the loose, however, this shouldn't be an issue with them.
What I really think: I always need more scary books, so I'll definitely purchase.

Bwahahaha! $3 at the thrift store. This dress makes me so happy!

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

#WNDB- Bouncing Back and Look Both Ways

Ostler, Scott. Bouncing Back
October 8th 2019 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Carlos Cooper "the Hooper" is in a wheelchair after an accident that claimed the lives of both his parents. He is fortunate that his very supportive Aunt Rosie and Uncle Augie have stepped in to raise him, even if it means moving several hours away from his old friends. Wanting to get Carlos interested in something, his aunt and uncle have him go to the Buccaneers wheel chair basketball practice. It seems like an impossible task, especially since the coach, Trooper, doesn't cut the athletes any slack just because they are in wheelchairs. Luckily, the team is supportive and know from experience how hard it is to start, and James gives him a lot of support, as does Mia. The group plays in a run down building called the "Rat Palace" that was built in the 1950s and has fallen on hard times. That's not as big a problem as is Stomper, a kid at school who menaces other kids, including Carlos. Carlos stands up to him, and when his Aunt Rosie tells him that Roland is having a hard time, Carlos does try to make peace with the bully. The two have a tentative peace, which is tested when the Rat Palace faces demolition, in part at the hands of Roland's father. Carlos helps Roland make the basketball team, and Roland, who is given a hard time by his father, helps the Carlos' team (rechristened the "Rollin' Rats") find a way to save their gym. City government corruption must be outed, and Carlos has help from a law student at a local doughnut shop as well as a cub reporter from the local paper who is very interested in the research Carlos has done into the history of the building. When Carlos' uncle's job at the Parks Department is in jeopardy because of Carlos' actions, he tries to step away from the team effort to save the building. At the same time, the team does very well and is off to a big tournament, where Carlos is able to reconnect with a friend from his own team. How will Carlos deal with these important distractions as well as his new life with his aunt and uncle?
Strengths: The treatment of grief and moving forward in this book is so well done. Yes, Carlos is dealing with horrible, overwhelming loss, but he also knows that he is lucky to have his aunt and uncle. There is talk of being in counseling, and the aunt and uncle are supportive but not enabling. Add to that the fact that Carlos' trauma is not the whole story, and that's what makes this especially good. The kids have to band together to save the gym from evil developers and city govvernment while playing basketball. Yes! It is possible to have serious issues in a book that is hopeful and interesting and not soggily sad.
Weaknesses: The story arc with Stomper/Roland starts out a bit cliched, but redeems itself.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, so that now I will have two wheelchair basketball books; this, and Eric Walter's Rebound(2000).

  Reynolds, Jason. Look Both Ways
October 8th 2019 by Atheneum
E ARC from Netgalley

This collection of loosely connected short stories features characters in an inner city setting who face a variety of problems. Jasmine has sickle cell anemia and has been out of school for a month, and her parents are also divorcing. Another group of children steal pocket change because they each have a parent with cancer and are in the free lunch program. All of the stories are set in school and on the way home.

I find it very difficult to review short story collections-- do I review each story, or just give general impressions of the collection as a whole? Also, my students are generally not fans of short stories-- when I inherited my school collection, there were six shelves of "Story Collections" that never got checked out, with the exception of scary short stories like Alvin Schwartz's. Reynolds is one of the more literary middle grade writers working today, so I'm sure in ten years we will see these stories pop up in literature textbooks, and they might be interesting to use in the classroom. I was just left wanting more-- what was the character's back story? What happened to them afterwards? The only Reynolds' books that do well in my library are the Track books, but will probably purchase.

Why I don't spend time on Twitter: An author retweeted something about how expensive and hard to take care of women's clothing is, and there were a thousand comments on everything from drying things flat to paying more to have things ironed. (Is this a thing? Someone will iron my shirts? How is this even possible?)

So, my outfit today: polyester skirt circa 1980 that even has pockets, a Lands End wrinkle free shirt that was $3 several years ago, and an L.L. Bean cotton sweater that was $1 and ended up being too small for the friend for whom I bought it. I did wash it and dry it flat because occasionally thrift store things smell like... the thrift store.

I have to admit that I never get things dry cleaned, and I wear a LOT Of wool in the winter. When I get home from work, I always air things out, Febreeze if necessary, and sponge cuffs and hems and brush garments before putting them away. I wear plenty of underpinings, so there is always a washable layer between me and the wool.

Just don't buy the clothes that don't meet specifications. There's always Lands End, which isn't as expensive as some things even when the items are new!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019


Lerangis, Peter. Throwback
October 1st 2019 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Corey and his friend Leila live in New York City near Central Park West with their families. Corey's grandfather, Papou, hasn't been around for a while because he has gone to Canada, and Corey misses him. His grandmother was killed in one of the Twin Towers during 9/11. When a picture from Leila's aunt causes Corey to hallucinate that he has traveled back in time, he soon finds out that it is not a hallucination-- Papou is a member of the Knickerbocker club and has the genetic ability to "hop" through time if he has a metal artifact from a particular year. Corey has inherited it. Not only that, but after a trip to 1862, Corey realizes that he is a rare "throwback" who can actually alter the linear flow of time. Papou has tried and tried to save his wife, but has always failed, which give Corey the idea to try himself. Unfortunately, he gets stuck back in 1862 after he is robbed of his cell phone and coins from the present day. He falls in with Quinn, a cowboy from the west, and the two work together to try to find out who robbed him so he can get back. In the present day, Leila is worried, but also finds out some interesting information from her aunt that might help. Will Corey be able to survive and make it back to his own time?
Strengths: My major pet peeve with time travel books is that they usually don't fix things in the past. What's the point in that? I loved Voyagers! for that reason. The workaround that only Corey can change the past is brilliant. Papou is a great character who is present just enough to get Corey started and support his time traveling without being overbearing. The description of the neighborhood, the family history with the church that was founded, and the Greek (Paithi mou! When I lived in Athens, there was a shopkeeper who called me that every morning on my way to class while she was sweeping her sidewalk!)were all such nice connections that made the story really resonate. Quinn was fun, and the reaction Corey had to a secret Quinn held was the best #MGLit moment of the year for me! I'm not a fan of being in NYC, but it's a place that is certainly fascinating to read about.
Weaknesses: Some younger readers might be a little confused by some of the sections set in 1862, and I could have used a bit more explanation about what happened to the aunt.
What I really think: Time travel books are something I absolutely love, but are a hard sell in my library. However, including 9/11 is a brilliant thing, because we have teachers who do a unit on that historical event, and the children become enthralled. All the rationalization I need to buy this book, which was very well done and enormously fun!

We have 35 minute class periods today because of the Democratic debate that is being held today at Otterbein College, which is less than a mile from my school. There was a Republican debate here in 2008, but it was on a Sunday. The traffic patterns in Westerville are NOT supportive of a huge influx in people during the work week.

A better venue, Democratic Party, would be the Fraze Pavilion near Kettering. Lots of parking, out in the middle of the country, amphitheatre for 4,000+ people. Much easier to block roads off for security.

But hey, I get to wear tennis shoes during the work day.

Monday, October 14, 2019

MMGM- The Memory Keeper

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.

Camiccia, Jennifer. The Memory Keeper
October 15th 2019 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Lulu lives with her parents, younger brother Clay, and grandmother Sue in San Francisco. Family life has been rough since the death of a toddler sister when Lulu was three, but her grandmother's presence has been a stabilizing one, and the grandmother is the only one Lulu has told about her secret. Lulu has Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory, and can remember every detail of her entire life. She has mentioned specific facts about events in the past to people at school, and has gotten a poor reaction, so doesn't want anyone to know. Now, her grandmother is beginning to forget things. Lulu starts to realize how bad things are getting when her grandmother can't find her car in the mall parking lot, and is determined to hide this memory loss from her parents, lest her grandmother move to a senior facility. In order to help her grandmother remember, Lulu liberates a journal her grandmother has promised her. To her surprise, it is in a foreign script that she and her friend Olivia figure out in Cyrillic. Having been told her grandmother was from France, Lulu wants to figure out the mystery of her past. Max, whose father owns the riding stable where the girls take lessons, offers to help with some of the searching on the computer, and he also manages to hack into his uncle's government database, where he finds a file on the grandmother, complete with redacted pages! The grandmother has contacted an old friend, Yakov, and between talking to him and getting more stories from her grandmother, Lulu is able to piece together the real story. She also must find a way to tell her parents about her own memory, and convince her parents to spend more time with her and her brother.
Strengths: The chapters start with a little bit of information about the functions of the brain, which is fascinating. It helps that the snippets are also very short, so they don't stop the flow of the narrative. Even though there is a lot going on, this was well written enough that I was able to remember what happened and keep the characters straight, which isn't always the case! The San Francisco setting is fun, the inclusion of horse riding, as well as girl drama, will draw in readers interested in equestrian matters, and the mystery surrounding the grandmother's past intriguing.
Weaknesses: I'm never a fan of the grieving parent trope, but at least the family was getting better. Making the grandmother's past a little less complicated (the romantic twists and turns got a bit much) would have made this a more manageable length, but it wasn't bad.
What I really think: Definitely buying, since it will appeal to readers who ask for mysteries, problem novels, and books with horses. The cover will ensure steady circulation.

Ms. Yingling

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Other, Better Me

John, Antony. The Other, Better Me
October 1st 2019 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Lola is a well meaning ten-year-old who has two good friends, Kiana and Nick, and does nice things like read with kindergartener Tiffany on the school bus in the mornings, in their own "book club". Her mother has been a bit low energy lately, but luckily their neighbor in the trailer park, Mrs. Archambault, often steps in to watch Lola, even taking her to the studio where she teaches yoga classes to older adults. When her teacher, Ms. Del Rio, assigns the students a project to write about "the other me", Lola gets to thinking about the father she has never met. All she knows is that he was from Australia and met her mother when she was working as a waitress, but has never been in her life. She starts to investigate, without telling her mother. She likes hanging out with her friends; Kiana's parents are both funny and nice, and she gets an idea of what having a father would be like. Nick's family is on the well-to-do side, and Nick has a really nice older sister. Lola is somewhat at odds with another girl in her class, Mallory, but finds out that sometimes children are mean because that is how they are treated at home, and works to be a friend to the girl. Lola's mother is diagnosed with a thyroid disorder and has to undergo radiation therapy, which means that Lola spends some time living with Mrs. Archambaud and finding out more about the woman's life as a model and actress in local commercials for a very long time. As her investigation into her father revs up, she learns some family secrets, and also discovers how she feels about not having a father and what her "other, better me" would be.
Strengths: The characters were particularly likable and well-developed in this book. Mrs. Archambaud in particular was delightful, and her backstory was compelling even though it was a very small part of the story. Lola's interest in her unknown father is  understandable and handled realistically throughout. Even though Nick, Kiana, Mallory and Lola are all different kinds of children with different backgrounds, they work well together. Tiffany and her love of the alien Schmorpel books was a funny subplot which also had a serious message about letting children read what they like. This was an enjoyable read, and I love the cover!
Weaknesses: I could have used a tiny bit more explanation about the mother's thyroid problem and the radiation therapy. Not a lot, but it seemed like the mother was ignored a bit in favor of the father, and the idea of a mother not being allowed near her child because she is radioactive might alarm some young readers; a bit more explanation would allay these fears.
What I really think: I really liked this author's Mascot and enjoyed reading this book, but this felt a bit young for my students. I'm debating. I would definitely buy it for an elementary school library.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Tornado

Burt, Jake. The Tornado.
October 1st 2019 by Feiwel & Friends
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Bell Kirby is an expert at surviving school. His nemesis, Parker Hellickson, not only holds a grudge for a past trangression, but is the principal's son, so has systematically tortured Bell for years without consequence. Bell knows how to avoid Parker, so when a new girl, Daelynn, arrives and throws off his system, he is worried that Parker will start to give him a hard time again. Bell tries to avoid Daelynn, but he is also intrigued by her fearlessness at expressing her true self. Bell, in addition to being bullied by Parker, has many interests that put him in the "geek/nerd"category, and is very conscious of this, as is his supportive mother who has had to face off with the principal about Parker's behavior. When Mr. Randolph launches a Creator Contest that involves recreating one of daVinci's designs using only technology that would have been available during his time, Bell and his friends Timmy and Tam end up with a tank. With the help of his mother, who has welding equipment and a lot of engineering know how, and with encouragement by text from his father who is stationed in Germany, Bell's projects goes pretty well. Parker, however, is still a inescapable force in his life. While Daelynn becomes his new target, and Bell actually gets involved in Parker's float for a parade, it's still a very uneasy truce, and one which Bell is not able to feel good about.
Strengths: I loved the message that "if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem". Bell does not wish Daelynn ill, but he is so desperate to escape Parker's notice that he's willing to let her be the target instead. The fact that he is able to hang out with Parker was interesting as well, and his mother's reluctance was great! The engineering/STEM focus of the Creator Club was very fun as well, and the description of Cincinnati chili took me back to living in that city.
Weaknesses: Purely personal: my father was a principal, and I can't imagine any principal (like Barnett's Principal Barkin from The Terrible Two) letting a child get away with bullying. If anything, a principal's child is less likely to get away with things, but that doesn't make for a good story. Also, I am very wary of books that encourage middle grade readers to be themselves. Daelynn should be able to have colored hair and expressive clothes, but the reality is that other children are not always nice to people who are different. This should not be, but it is.
What I really think: I loved Burt's Right Hook of Devin Velma and Greetings From Witness Protection, but this one struck me as a bit more elementary school oriented, so I am debating.
Ms. Yingling