Saturday, February 29, 2020

A Guard Dog Named Honey, King and Kayla #4

Orenstein, Denise Gosliner. A Guard Dog Named Honey
March 3rd 2020 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Bean lives in a small Wast Coast town that has a lot of wealthy tourists. Her mother works at a convenience store, the father is long gone, and her brother Willis, who is very bright, is arrested three times for various offenses. His last offense is driving a stolen car while drunk, and this lands him in jail. After her mother can't put up the $1,000 bail, Bean is determined to find a way to make money, especially since her mother refuses to let her visit her brother, saying that "it is what it is" in a very resigned, depressed fashioin. She goes to the houses of the wealthy, offering to paint and do odd jobs, but has no luck. She does meet Phoebe, who is several years younger, and is staying in the house with her nanny, Edwin. The two have a mastiff named Honey who is supposed to be a guard dog while the parents are on a protracted vacation. Bean starts to hang out with Phoebe during the summer, and hatches a plan to convince Phoebe to sell the dog and get a smaller, cuter dog instead. At first, Phoebe thinks this is a great idea, but is a little more reluctant when Honey starts to foster three small kittens. Bean goes as far as contacting someone and arranging to meet, only to discover that the man to whom she has agreed to sell the dog, Sam, runs an illegal fight ring. In the meantime, the local sheriff works very hard to get Willis a placement in a special school for bright students with records, but Bean only wants her brother to come back home and doesn't think he should have to do community service before being allowed back into the local high school. She and Phoebe plan to meet Sam but turn him in to the police. Will they be able to bring the man to justice and to keep Honey?
Strengths: There used to be more realistic fiction where children took matters (like bringing down dog thieves) into their own hands, and this certainly is an empowering story in that regard. I also liked the struggling family, and the brother who is in trouble. I have students in similar situations, and there are very few books depicting older siblings who are in trouble with the law. Phoebe's absentee parents provide another sort of difficulty, but she at least has Edwin. There is a nice interaction with an older neighbor whom Bean and Phoebe try to help.
Weaknesses: Bean makes so many poor choices that are quite dangerous. They affect not only her, but Phoebe and Honey as well. Her attitude about the brother's behavior is worrisome; it would have been nice if the mother and Bean had gotten some counseling or help; I'm sure the sheriff would have helped them with this, since she went out of her way to get a good situation for Willis.
What I really think: Debating. I am uncomfortable with the danger into which Bean puts herself and her friend.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, February 28, 2020

Things You Can't Say and Poetry Friday

Bishop, Jenn. Things You Can't Say
March 3rd 2020 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Drew lives with his librarian mother and younger brother in Rhode Island. The family is struggling with losing the dentist father to suicide three years previously. Drew has a good friend, Felippe, but spends most of his time working in the children's department of the library, reading his zombie versions of children's books to the younger patrons and generally helping out. He's irritated when summer starts and the offspring of another librarian starts to work in the children's department as well. Audrey doesn't even like children, although she has excellent skills with computers. She just makes Drew feel awkward, especially when he is caught off guard and tells her that his father "doesn't live with them anymore". It's also awkward when a friend of his mother's from high school, Phil, shows up at the house to visit. His plans had changed suddenly, and the mother wasn't able to prepare Drew, but Drew is just angry, even though he's been okay with his mother dating. He gets the feeling that Phil's not in that category, but is still uncomfortable. He takes his confusion out on Felippe, although he starts to get along better with Audrey. He even introduces her to local attractions, and she starts to work better with the children. All through the book, Drew has tiny moments of missing his father, wondering what he could have done to help his father, and worrying that he will be just like his father. This (along with partially overheard conversations) leads him to wonder if perhaps Phil is his real father. That would solve many things, and also give him back a father. He and Audrey investigate this possibility through the internet and an old yearbook. In the end, he has to finally talk more to the people in his life who matter in order to make sure that there are no misunderstandings in what everyone feels.
Strengths: I enjoyed the fact that Drew was volunteering in the library; many of my students do that, but other than A Kind of Paradise, I can't think of another middle grade novel where this happens. Not sure zombified versions of kids' stories would fly in my community, but the originality and creativity are good to see, as well as Drew's fearlessness at speaking in public. The friend drama with Felippe is spot on. I enjoyed the progression of his relationship with Audrey as well... does he like her? Is she just a friend? If she is, why is he so concerned that his mother not embarrass him in front of her? Thinking that your parents are not your own is a very common feeling in middle school, and Drew has even stronger reasons that other children to investigate this possibility. The portrayal of a grieving family, three years from the event, is accurate. This is never soggy or wallowing in grief, which I appreciated. It just hits Drew sometimes, and he thinks about it, then moves on. It's also good that therapy was mentioned.
Weaknesses: This was a bit on the long side, but I would have liked to have seen more about Felippe. The cover isn't tremendously appealing, but it DOES have basketball on it, which is an automatic selling point.
What I really think: Bishop has a note at the back that she has never experienced this sort of death, but she had some sensitivity readers. Everyone is different, but she definitely has a credible version of "right". I need a lot more funny books than angsty ones, but this had a good enough mix that I will buy it.

Bulion, Leslie and Meganck, Robert. Amphibian Acrobats
March 1st 2020 by Peachtree Publishing Company
ARC provided by the publisher

This was quite an interesting book. It has a variety of different amphibians, and for each one, there is a poem, and then some explanation about the animal. The poems are quite well done, and let me tell you-- I am SUPER picky about poetry. My only reservation is that when my students need poetry books for a seventh grade project, I'm not entirely sure they will pick this one up, especially since the requirement is usually that their poetry collection have at least 40 poems and this has 20. I did really like that there is a section at the back about the poetic form for each offering, and that might be enough for me to justify purchasing this.

I can see this being a great book to have for a science class studying amphibians, or an elementary class wanting some fun poetry to read. The illustrations are delightful, and there is quite a lot of detail about the habits of each creature.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, February 27, 2020

The Twin

Preston, Natasha. The Twin
March 3rd 2020 by Delacorte Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ivy has lived with her father ever since her parents divorced, but her twin sister Iris has lived with their mother. When their mother dies while running (she falls on a slippery bridge), Iris must come lives with Ivy. Both are grieving, although Iris is dry eyed. She also has to start a new high school, so things are awkward and tense. Ivy has a boyfriend, and is doing well, but things start to fall apart when Iris arrives. A dead mouse ends up in Ivy's swim locker, and it doesn't make her happy when Iris also decides to join the swim team. Iris is oddly threatening at home as well, always making the comments so the father doesn't hear them. For a long time, it's just the creepy feeling that Iris isn't quite right, but after Ivy contacts Iris' friends at her old school, she starts to worry that perhaps Iris killed their mother. Will Iris continue to gaslight Ivy until she is able to have their father all to herself?
Strengths: I was impressed by the writing on this one. Each chapter ended in a sort of disconcertingly creepy way, even though Iris doesn't actually DO a whole lot. I even wondered if it was Ivy creating everything in her own mind, and if Iris was actually okay, so this was rather brilliant. I have a few students who appreciate psychological horror, and this had an April Henry sort of feel to it. A fast, compelling read, with swimming as well. (I have two students who are devouring the few swimming books I have, and this is ideal for one of them.)
Weaknesses: This is definitely YA in its pacing (a bit slow), and there is one scene where Iris tries to convince their father that Ivy was going to have sex. Other than the phrase "have sex", there's nothing  problematic for middle schoolers.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. The cover may make this one I have to hand sell, but it is perfect for fans of Corrigan's The Accomplice or Creep or Ventrella's Black Flowers, White Lies.

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

King and Kayla and the Case of the Unhappy Neighbor. (#4)

Butler, Dori Hillestad and Meyers, Nancy. King and Kayla and the Case of the Unhappy Neighbor. (#4)
March 1st 2020 by Peachtree Publishing Company
ARC provided by the publisher

King's friend Thor is in big trouble. His owner, Jillian, got a call from the grumpy Mr. Gary that Thor was in his yard and had upended garbage cans, dug through the garden, and caused all kind of havoc! Jillian's mom is helping to clean things up, and Jillian doesn't know what to do with her exuberant puppy. Of course, being a great detective, King finds out that Thor didn't create the mess. King enlists the help of other neighborhood dogs, who say there is a "new guy" around who might be responsible. The dogs and children go to the scene to investigate, and find some scat that does not belong to Thor amongst the wreckage. Thanks to a helpful neighbor and his cell phone, the humans finally realize that there is another creature responsible for the mess, and Thor is off the hook.
Strengths: This series is a tiny bit harder than I Can Read books but not as long or difficult as Magic Tree House books. The stories are easy to follow, with enough mysterious build up to encourage readers to try to puzzle out what has happened by themselves. The illustrations are bright and cheerful, and the expressions on the dogs' faces are hysterical! It's nice to see neighbors out in their yards interacting with each other. This is a great series for readers who enjoy Faruqi's Meet Yasmin!, McDonald's Judy Moody, or Calandrelli's Ada Lace books.
Weaknesses: My "quick picks" section hasn't seen a lot of use this year, which is a good thing as far as student progress goes. If I have another wave of readers who are at the lower end of the spectrum, I might pick up more in this series.
What I really think: This is a must have for elementary libraries, and the series has done well with some of my struggling middle school readers.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Wonder of Wildflowers

Staniszewski, Anna. The Wonder of Wildflowers
February 25th 2020 by Simon Schuster Books for Young
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Mira and her family have been in Amber for five years, because Mira's mother is a scientist recruited from outside the country to work on finding a replacement for Amber, a magical substance that gives the people of the country good health and mild powers. It can also cure injuries and chronic illnesses quickly. The substance has been drying up, but the town in which Mira lives has strict rations to preserve the supply. Most people think that the borders of the country should be closed, and only citizens should get the remaining supplies. Mira is best friends with Krysta, the daughter of the mayor, and is largely immune from the hatred for foreigners, but Daniel, who is in her class, is not. He is small, weak, and wears glasses, and the children all avoid him. When Mira is assigned to work with him on a class wildflower project, she at first is mean to him, so that the other students don't think she is friends with him. When she finds out more about his life, and finds that there are similarities with her own, she is more supportive. Mira's mother is granted citizenship, and the family is supplied with Amber just before all rations are cut in half. Mira's father, who was a doctor back home but now does odd jobs and doesn't speak the language well, refuses to take it. Mira is at first excited, and is glad that it makes her strong, but it seems to impair her creative writing process. The community panics about the rationing, and there are several bad things that happen, but Mira and Daniel manage to find a way for the community to make peace and get along.
Strengths: This had a strong social justice component, and made me think of Applegate's Wishtree. There is an author's note where Staniszewski explains that she came to the US from Poland at the age of five, but never thought her story was very interesting. It's good to see both Mira's and Daniel's points of view, and to see how each of them process microaggressions. I can see this being used to good effect in an elementary classroom.
Weaknesses: The world building could have been more complete. I would have liked to know more about what exactly Amber does, and from where Mira and her family have come. Difficult circumstances are mentioned, but not fully explained.  I especially wanted to know more about how the Amber would cure Daniel's ill brother.
What I really think: My students are very interested in social justice topics, but middle school students might be better served by more realistic stories. Debating.

Smith, Alex T. The Fortress of Secrets (Mr. Penguin #2)
October 1st 2019 by Peachtree Publishing Company
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Mr. Penguins and his friends Colin the spider and Edith are trying to keep a rock safe from dastardly types after a snafu in Cityville. They take to the air and run into trouble, crash landing on a snowy mountain but parachuting to safety with giant knickers. Luckily, they are found immediately by twins Dieter and Lisle and taken to their home in Schneedorf-on-the-Peak.Coincidentally, Dieter had written to Mr. Penguin to come and investigate why rodents in the town, including Dieter's own hamster, Mr. Tuftybum, have gone missing. In between fish finger sandwiches and cups of cocoa, Mr. Penguin helps to unravel the mystery centering around the International Rodent Games and an evil, shadowy figure who seems to be stalking the group who seems to have ties to a super villain intent on hypnotizing the world from an abandoned mountain top castle.

Like Marciano's Klawde, Woodrow's The Curse of the Werepenguin or Taylor's Malamander, this series features a goofy but well-meaning anthropomorphized cast engaged in derring-do. There are motorcycle chases, plane crashes, and dangerous machinery, and Colin, the kung fu spider helps Mr. Penguin out when things are dire. Dieter and Lisle are helpful, too, of course, and provide our hero with the background about their town, as well as snacks and a place to stay. The story is told with the utter confidence that Mr. Penguin's antics are perfectly normal, and that penguins solve mysteries all of the time!

The real brilliance of this series is the format of the book, which is similar to Smith's other series, Claude in the City. The words are large and well spaced on the page, illustrations abound, and the orange and black color scheme provides added interest. The illustrations are as goofy as the characters they portray; Professor Stout-Girdle, Gordon the pigeon, and the evil Mesmero, whose identity is a bit of a surprise!

For readers who revel in Roald Dahl's unlikely British tales accompanied by Quentin Blake's exuberant line drawings, Mr. Penguin is a great fit. In a world where spiders write notes to communicate and pigeons are able to fly their friends around, there's no doubt that a motivated (if not very bright) penguin can save the world for certain destruction.

This seemed too young for my students, although the I Can Read sized font would appeal to some reluctant ones. I'll be sending my copy on to an elementary school.

Monday, February 24, 2020


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.

Noel, Kaela. Coo
March 3rd 2020 by Greenwillow Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Coo was abandoned by her mother as a newborn, and a flock of pigeons concerned for her safety flew her off to their abandoned dovecote on the roof of a building and cared for her. They fed her doughnuts and found plastic bags and newspapers to keep her clothed and warm. She can talk to the pigeons, and is especially fond of Burr. When Burr is injured, she goes down from the roof to seek out Tully, a retired postal worker who frequents the area, feeding the pigeons and occasionally taking them to be healed. At first, Coo hides from Tully, and the police are not all that interested in locating a feral child. Tully eventually finds Coo and brings her home, first feeding her to gain her trust, and helping her to get clean and be clothes. Coo does not speak English, and her interactions with Tully are realistic. Slowly, Coo learns that food doesn't always come out of a dumpster, she doesn't have to be cold, and there are marvels like television and the subway to be investigated. She also meets a neighbor of Tully's and becomes friends with the girl, learning to draw and to dance. Tully is understandably concerned about getting Coo a medical exam, but she is reluctant to alert the authorities, fearing that Coo will become an oddity, a "bird girl", and not have a regulated existence. With the help of a friend who was a social worker, Tully starts the process of alerting the authorities while protecting her legal rights. At the same time, Coo's flock is in danger; the mayor wants to clean up the city, starting with the pigeons. Rogue city workers are taking it upon themselves to poison the pigeons, and when Coo's flock is targeted, Tully's friend manages to save the birds. Coo is concerned about the future, however, and when the flock recuperates, she talks them into a grand plan-- fly to a forest in the north, carrying her, and living without humans. But can pigeons, and Coo, survive without humans?
Strengths: I have to admit-- I was prepared to hate this, if only because of the pigeons talking in a Yoda-like dialect. However, I was soon sucked in, and Noel managed to address most of the concerns very realistically. The appearance of Tully sold me completely, and her care of not only Coo but the pigeons made this very charming. Once Coo and I were comfortable with a new life off of the roof, the addition of an environmental mystery carried this to a strong ending. The cover is very attractive, and I enjoyed this tremendously.
Weaknesses: One thing that was not addressed about Coo's care-- when she was an infant, how did the pigeons deal with the diaper issue? I'm imaging a lot of newspaper!
What I really think: Bird books of any manner or description do not circulate well in my library-- no idea why. Still, I was so charmed by this that I will definitely purchase a copy, even if it requires hand selling!
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, February 23, 2020

That's What Friends Do

Barnhart, Cathleen. That's What Friends Do
March 3rd 2020 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sammie and David have been good friends ever since the girls in her class started avoiding Sammie because she didn't share their growing interest in clothes and makeup. Sammie has even gone so far as to play baseball instead of softball, mainly because her father doesn't think that softball is a "real" sport. When Luke moves to town, David's mother makes him hang out with the new boy. David is intrigued by Luke's ease with girls, especially since David is starting to feel as if he likes Sammie more romantically than as a friend. As David spends more time with Luke, Sammie is at loose ends. Her parents are super busy, and her older sisters are interested in high school things, so she starts to talk to the girl softball players a bit and finds they aren't so bad. Luke seems to have an interest in Sammie, but it's more predatory than friendly. He eggs David and other boys on to try to kiss or touch Sammie, which  mortifies her. The other girls rally around her, and talk to her about how it isn't right for her to have to put up with this kind of behavior. Her sisters help with her father and the softball team. When a terrifying incident occurs, Sammie has to confront both Luke and David and find a way to make them understand, but also a way to be friends with them again.
Strengths: This is very timely, and has well developed characters who are all confused about a variety of things. I liked that Sammie was very sure of who she was and the things she enjoyed, David had to work at his father's business, and that Luke, for all his idiocy, has his sympathetic side. The family dynamics are very welcome; most middle grade readers have families they have to deal with, and just ordinary, everyday interactions can be fraught. I also liked that David and Sammie had different interests that started to pull them apart. The inclusion of a little bit of Jewis culture was also a nice touch.
Weaknesses: The alternating viewpoints made this very confusing, and the characters all had their moments of being unlikable.
What I really think: Debating. I really liked Dee's Maybe He Just Likes You, and certainly it's good to have books that help students process this sort of thing, but unlike Dee's book, I didn't feel that I had a good understanding of all three characters at the end of the book.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen!

Kapit, Sarah. Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen!
February 25th 2020 by Dial Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Vivy really wants to play baseball like V.J. Capello, whom she once met and who taught her how to throw a knuckleball. Her mother, however, is apprehensive. She doesn't think that baseball is safe for girls, and is concerned about how Vivy will do on the field, since she is on the Autism spectrum and occasionally struggles with talking to others and dealing with unaccustomed stimuli. Her social skills teacher has her write letters in order to help her learn to communicate with others, and she decides to write to Capello. The two eventually exchange letters and even start to correspond through e mail, after checking with her parents about it. She does fairly well on the team, although the coach's son Kyle is very mean to her. Alex, the catcher, befriends her and helps her out. When she is hit by a baseball and suffers a concussion, her mother is against her playing, and Vivy talks to Capello about her problems. Her older brother Nate is more distant than usual, and Vivy finds out it is because he is dating a boy on his baseball but is afraid of what their parents will say. Vivy is eventually cleared to play, convinces her mother that she will be okay, gets help dealing with Kyle, and continues to write to Capello after clearing up a misunderstanding.
Strengths: I liked that even though Vivy's mother was against her playing baseball, the coach and the father didn't think it odd at all, and some recent girls who played baseball are mentioned. Alex is a kind teammate who does all he can to support Vivy. The sub plot with the brother was interesting and showed a positive family interaction. It is good to see an #ownvoices narrative!
Weaknesses: It seemed odd that Kyle was so mean when his father was so supportive, and that he was able to get away with it. I've coached a number of runners on the autism spectrum, and the teams were always understanding of their differences. Vivy's behavior on the field is not that unusual, and nothing like some of the meltdowns that I have seen during meets! My school has an Autism unit, so perhaps our students are more aware.
What I really think: This is not as much as a baseball story as I was hoping; more of it deals with Vivy's difficulties. I also found that the letter writing stretched my credulity. Since epistolatory novels don't do well in my library, I'm debating.

Simon, Coco. Sugar, Spice, and Sprinkles (Sprinkle Sundays Book 9)
February 4th 2020 by Simon Spotlight
Library copy

Sierra is tired of always being considered "sweet", even though she does like to help out her friends. When she is on a Spirit Week committee and some of the members get mean about the school that Allie now attends, Sierra manages to finally stand up for herself. There is also, of course, a lot of ice cream.

This is a super fun series, but I hope it doesn't go as long as the Cupcake Diaries. I think I stopped at #22 with those, and only because I got the last eight on clearance from Reading Warehouse. Will probably stop with #10 on this Sprinkle Sundays series. Had my public or school library had these when I was ten, I would have read one every single day!
Ms. Yingling

Friday, February 21, 2020

A High Five For Glenn Burke

Bildner, Phil. A High Five For Glenn Burke
February 25th 2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)
E ARC provided by Edleweiss Plus

Silas Wade is eager to do his school report on Glenn Burke, who started the High Five handshake that is now omnipresent in our culture. He is nervous, but does a great job on his presentation, impressing his teacher. There's something about Burke, however, that he is afraid to mention; Burke was the first openly gay major league player, and Silas identifies with Burke. Silas does tell his best friend Zoey, who is very supportive, and it helps that the coaches on his baseball team have always put a quick stop to behavior and comments they think are inappropriate. For instance, they have said that no one on the Renegades can make any comments about monkeys in their chatter, because those have often been used as racists barbs against African-Americans, and they also put a stop to comments about something being "gay". This relieves Silas, but also irritates another coach, who claims this is a manifestation of politics, which have no place in coaching. The other coaches disagree, saying that they are teaching the players to be decent human beings, and the irritated coach quits. Silas wonders if it's a good idea to tell more people about his identity, given how charged so many issues still are. This is reinforced when parents start pulling kids off the team, including Silas' stretching partner, Malik. When Silas finds that even Zoey has struggled with how to treat him, Silas knows that the road ahead will be rough, but that he has a strong support network that will help him get through.
Strengths: I love books where I learn something! Who knew that the birth of the high five was so recent? Aside from that, there are a lot of good details about baseball, baseball teams and teammates, as well as school and family drama. A very well-rounded middle school story from the author of the excellent Rip and Red series. I'd love to see Mr. Bildner write more sports novels for grades 6-8.
Weaknesses: There are fewer middle grade books about boys discovering their sexuality than there are about girls for some reason, but I wish that this had not been a coming out tale, but had just introduced Silas as a baseball player who happened to be gay. It makes perfect sense that most middle grade LGBTQIA+ books are coming out stories, just because of developmental phases, though.
What I really think: Will purchase. Baseball, and the fascinating history of the high five and Glenn Burke alone would make this worth while, and having another LGBTQIA+ title is a bonus.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Lost Scroll of the Physician

Sevigny, Alisha. The Lost Scroll of the Physician
January 25th 2020 by Dundurn
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sesha and Ky have been living on the streets in ancient Egypt for a month after the tragic death of their parents in a suspicious fire. The father had been a doctor for the Pharaoh, and Sesha thinks that her father's translation of a scroll has put him in danger, which is bad because he felt the scroll had the cure for her brother's fluid on the brain. After they almost get in trouble, they are returned to the palace, where Ky returns to being friends with the Pharaoh's son, and Sesha is enrolled in the difficult physicians' program, where she is the only girl. She finds out that the government is interested in the scroll because they feel it has information that will help them heal soldiers more effectively in case of a war... and war is imminent. With the help of the princess, whom she is teaching to read, Sesha must try to locate the scroll and save not only her brother, but the entire kingdom.
Strengths: Ancient Egypt is part of the 6th grade social studies curriculum, but there are very few fictional books with that setting. This was a great length, had a bit of a mystery, and moved quickly. There were vaguely evil adults, good friends, and enough details about daily life to make this interesting.
Weaknesses: I wanted more details and (shockingly!) a more complex plot. It seemed a little simplistic, but that is actually great for my students when it comes to historical fiction, so it must just have been me.
What I really think: I'll purchase this, to add to McCaughrean's Casting the Gods Adrift, Rubalcaba's The Wadget Eye and A Place in the Sun, and Napoli's Lights on the Nile.

Got the last order of the year from Follett yesterday, so need to read a few titles! Back before 2012, I posted reviews on my blog every morning for the titles I read the night before-- not sure how I did that. Have a couple in this pile that I need to review, but am giving myself a break from reviewing them all.

Yesterday was very busy. Some days I feel like I don't really accomplish anything, but am rushed off my feet with fixing tech and helping students. They were high energy; they were all squirrels and I was covered in peanut butter! On days like this, there always seems to be one student who won't leave the library even when told that "I can't miss you until you leave". When someone is looking for a book before I have a class, and I give them three, and they are still there when the class is gone, somehow behind the circ desk (stamping their hands with the date due stamp) even though they've never been a helper... argh. I try not to be mean, but I say "Sweetheart, you are irritating me, and study hall will wonder where you are. Go back, get work done, and be a productive member of society!"

I wonder what it is like to work with adults? Probably the same. Except you probably can't be as blunt with most grownups.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Blossom and the Firefly

Smith, Sherri L. The Blossom and the Firefly
February 18th 2020 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young
ARC provided by Follett First Look

Taro is born to a middle class family in Japan, and takes to the violin at a very early age. Hana is the daughter of tailors who live in Chiran, on Kyushu. Her father goes off to fight in the war, and her mother is left to carry on with the business. Taro ends up in flight training, like most young men his age in the early 1940s, and eventually ends up at an air base near Hana, destined to be a kamikaze, or tokko, pilot. Hana's school stops teaching, and after working in the sweet potato fields for a long time and having a close call with a bomb, she is works as a maid at the base. She tries to be as emotionally detached as she can be, knowing that the young men she serves will all fly to their deaths. Life is very hard, and she feels that the bombing in the field is a critical point in her life, and she doesn't allow herself to feel anything about all of the deprivations in her life, including missing her father and his music. Taro is also somewhat detached, preferring his music to the company of the other aviators. He knows that he should tell his family what his fate is destined to be, but finds himself unable to, especially after his mother presents him with a sennibari, a thousand stitch belt his mother managed to get made to protect him in the war.  Taro and Hana eventually have a small moment of recognition as fellow musicians, and when he is supposed to have his last mission, he gives her his violin for safekeeping. When he and another pilot are unable to complete their mission, he returns to the base. Hana and her mother have him to dinner, and the connection between the two of them grows. Eventually, Taro does fly out, and Hana does not find out about the result of his mission, but assumes he is dead. Unbelievably, he crashes but is rescued, and returns home at the end of the war filled with guilt and shame. His mother is glad he survived, but his father does not seem to be. Hana's village changes after the war, and many US soldiers remain in the area. Will Taro and Hana ever find out if the other survived the war?
Strengths: This was a tremendously sad and moving picture of life in Japan during WWII. Like Burkinshaw's The Last Cherry Blossom, this shows how difficult circumstances were. Not only was food scarce and the death toll high, but there are moments of unbelievable loss, like the Battle of Saipan and the suicide of 1,000 civilians in its wake. I've never read anything about the Japanese aviators or the young women who served them, so this was fascinating, and the research is well done. This is certainly a book that makes one feel the complete and utter uselessness of war.
Weaknesses: While I enjoyed the depiction of every day life, this is a bit slow paced for my avid WWII fans who like action and adventure.
What I really think: This is such an unusual portrait of a wartime experience that I will have to buy it for our 8th grade unit, but it will take a mature reader who really likes history to fully appreciate it.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The Alchemist's Shadow and What is the Story of Doctor Who?

Funaro, Gregory. The Alchemist's Shadow (Watch Hollow #2)
February 18th 2020 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by the author

Lucy and Oliver Tinker and their father Charles are getting settled into Watch Hollow after their harrowing introduction to it when Agatha and Algernon Kojima arrive at the house with their nanny, Bedelia Graves, claiming that the house belongs to the children. Their great uncle, Oliver Snockett, is somehow related to Edgar Blackford, and even though the Tinkers are the caretakers and have the deeds to the property, the group is set to move in, especially since the Kojima children lost their parents in an accident and Algernon is now not speaking.The father reluctantly agrees; after all, it's the annual Watch Hollow celebration, and the house has an unusual history. Soon, though, Ms. Graves is sucked into he clock of the house, and the animals come out in the day time. Of course, the father is in town when this happens! Not only that, but there is a Minotaur on the loose, and it is trying to drag everything back into the labyrinth with it! There is a lot of fighting and running while Lucy and Agatha and Oliver and Algernon try to figure out what is going on. The clock animals try to help, but there is still a greater evil hovering over Watch Hollow. When an evil character from the Kojima's past shows up, some things are explained, but the book ends with an old man from the town parade demanding the ruby amulet that was given to the group and was wanted by the Minotaur, so there should be at least one more book in the series!
Strengths: This was rather brilliantly paced, with lots of exciting scenes interspersed with brief moments of explanation and investigation, so the story never bogged down-- it just gave me a little time to catch my breath before heading off into danger again! The number one complaint students have about books is that "nothing happens", and they can't say that about this book! It was interesting to add another family into the mix, so that Lucy and Oliver had some other children to help them with the house, and there's just the right level of evil in the bad characters. Watch Hollow has been popular in my library, so my students will be looking forward to this one.
Weaknesses: Did they ever figure out who was the proper heir to the house? I even took notes on this book, but forget! Maybe they do that in the next book.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and this would do well in an elementary library as well.

Cooper, Gabriel P. What is the Story of Doctor Who?
October 15th 2019 by Penguin Workshop
School library copy

Confession: I've never seen a single episode of Doctor Who, even though I have students who have made their own sonic screwdrivers who have asked me to watch it. I've always felt that I should go back to the very first 1963 series to do it justice, but that is hard to do! Having read this book, I feel that I know enough background to start with the more easily available episodes that start in 2005!

From its beginnings as an educational program for children to its position as a popular, glitzy sci fi program today, I'm impressed by several things. For one, incorporating changes of bodies into the very fiber of the character is brilliant and makes the series one that stays fresh over a long period of time. This book does a great job of describing the evolution of the show and telling about the different doctors, as well as how the show was received by the public during its history.

These books are short, quick reads, but very informative! I feel like I should pick up the volume on Princess Leia (I also have only ever seen the Star Wars movie with the teddy bears on mopeds *hangs head in shame*) and Scooby Doo, and maybe even the Area 51 book. My only quibble with these is that drawings are used instead of pictures. They are high quality drawings, and using photos would no doubt be cost prohibitive. I feel conversant about Doctor Who now!

Monday, February 17, 2020

MMGM- Parked

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.

Svetcov, Danielle. Parked
February 4th 2020 by Dial Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Jeanne Ann and her mother have struggled in Chicago, with the mother working in a restaurant and Jeanne Ann spending a lot of time at her local library branch. They've always thought about going to San Francisco, but Jeanne Ann is a little concerned when they pack up in a decrepit van to drive out there to live with a former co worker of her mother's. They end up parked on the street when the van's tire goes flat, and the mother is looking for work. Cal is very artistic, but struggles with social skills after losing his friend group, and gets in trouble for an art installation at his private school. His mother, who works in the restaurant she owns, very busy but feels Cal needs "a change of scenery" and has him working at the restaurant. Their home is right across from where Jeanne Ann's van is parked. The two eventually meet up, and Cal is very concerned, because he has watched the vans for a while and knows they are occasionally towed, especially in the first one in line, which is where Jeanne Ann's is parked. The two have a tentative friendship during the summer. The mother's job searching is not going well, and she will not fill out forms or take certain jobs, which makes Jeanne Ann worry about her motives and planning. The friend ends up not being in town. Living in the van is difficult, and when Jeanne Ann finds out how much rent is in San Francisco, she starts to panic. She sells all of her carefully collected books, and saves the money that appears under the van's wipers with notices to vacate the area. There is a citizens' group trying to oust the vans, led by Cal's neighbors. Another van sweller, Sandy, has a complicated relationship with this group. Cal and his mother try to help the family, but there are no easy answers.
Strengths: This was an interesting book with many levels. The juxtaposition of Cal and Jeanne Ann's lives was particularly interesting since they lived on the same street. The details of why the family ends up living in a van, and how they manage various activities is important in helping young readers understand how others may face difficulties they may not. Cal's presence makes the neighborhood initiative to remove the vans more interesting, and the fact that Jeanne Ann loves reading will immediately endear this to librarians and language arts teachers. The San Francisco setting and the different restaurants adds to the appeal of this.
Weaknesses: I wish this had been tightened up a bit-- Cal's problems at school didn't add to the story for me, and I'm still reeling from the fact that Jeanne Ann left Chicago with over $500 in library books. The notes from her librarian there were sweet, but again, could have been cut.
What I really think: This is similar to Nielsen's No Fixed Address in that the mother is having some problems, but they are not as defined or addressed as they are in that book. I may purchase, since I have been looking for books on housing insecurity, but this was rather long (400 pages) for middle school. Trust me, I wish this were not the case, but I know that when I hand this to a lot of my readers, they will balk!

Here are the books on homelessness or housing insecurity that I have found. Notice that there have been a lot more since #WeNeedDiverseBooks started in 2014.

Armstrong's Roam (2019), Cameron's Maybe a Mermaid (2019), Knowle's Where the Heart Is, (2019), Stevenson's Lizzie Flying Solo (2019), Pyron's Stay (2019),Sarno's Just Under The Clouds (2018), Nielsen's No Fixed Address (2018), Messner's Exact Location of Home (2017), Strasser's No Place (2014),  Nelson's The Prince of Venice Beach (2014), Bauer's Almost Home (2012), Watson's Living Rough (2011), Moses' Joseph (2008), and Cooley's Shelter (2006).

Reid, Megan and Freeman, Laura. Althea Gibson: The Story of Tennis' Fleet of Foot Girl
January 21st 2020 by Balzer + Bray
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Born in 1927, Althea Gibson experienced the racial and gender disparities that were prevalent at the time, but were in the process of being changed. For example, the all Black Women's Tennis Association was formed in 1916. Growing up in Harlem, Althea had opportunities to play many sports casually, in streets that were blocked off during the summer for children to use. When her talent for tennis was noticed, she was fortunate enough to be near the Cosmopolitan Tennis Club, where she was allowed to take lessons in exchange for helping around the club. Once she was able to best everyone at that club, she traveled with with ATA, but even that had limited opportunities. With a lot of hard work, and the support of some other tennis players, she was eventually allowed to play at Wimbledon. In 1956, she was as part of a doubles team, and in 1957 she won the women's singles title. This lead to her having a ticket tape parade in New York City, and also to her being named Women Athlete of the Year by the  Associated Press. After her retirement from tennis, she wrote and also played golf professionally, and has been cited by Venus Williams as being a great inspiration.

While Gibson's road was not easy, she came along at a time where opportunities were opening up for black and for women athletes. She had to work much harder to get as far as she did, and this picture book is a great representation of how much things have (and haven't) changed in the world of sports.

The picture book format is used well, with colorful page spreads showing Gibson in action. I wondered if women tennis players would have worn shorts in the late 1940s and early 1950s, but an online search did turn up lots of picture of Gibson in shorts. I'm always a big fan of photographs (when they exist) in biographies, but younger readers will just pull out there phones and search for them if they want!

There's an afterword providing additional information, as well as a timeline which is very helpful. A short bibliography is included as well. This book is an excellent introduction to lots of different topics for young readers.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

A Home for Goddesses and Dogs

Connor, Leslie. A Home for Goddesses and Dogs
February 25th 2020 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Lydia Bratches-Kemp's father walked out when she was young, and her mother struggled for years with a heart condition before dying. She is fortunate enough to have Aunt Brat and her wife, Eileen take her in, although it means moving from Rochester to Connecticut, and entering 8th grade after being home schooled so she could spend more time with her mother. The two women live with ninety year old Elloroy in his farmhouse in exchange for cooking and helping out, and the group gets along well. They decide to adopt a dog and decide upon a large yellow dog who is not easy to house train, and whom they eventually name Guffer. Lydia has to process her mother's death, and hangs a lot of of her mother's artwork (the titular goddesses) behind the walls of her bedroom, in a crawl space. She makes friends with the girls at school, but is at odds with a neighbor who tries to scare Guffer. She is also conflicted about contacting her estranged father. There are some other occurrences, such as mutilated baby goats turning up at Eileen's work place and being fostered by neighbors. As winter turns to spring, Lydia starts to get her balance in her new normal, and neither the dog nor Elloroy die.
Strengths: Connor is an excellent writer with the ability to pull me into a story and make me care about her characters. She gives a believable backstory for Lydia and also imbues her with a sense of realism and hope. The farm setting, and especially Elloroy, is fresh and interesting. The animals add another layer of interest. It's also nice to see students welcome a new member in a small school.
Weaknesses: This was on the long side, and there were too many details about certain things (house breaking, the goats, the artwork, the renovation of the upstairs) for my taste. It got repetitive and slowed the story down.
What I really think: This is the type of cover that doesn't do well in my library, so I am weighing the decision to buy this one. While I love Connor's work, the only title of hers that circulates well is Waiting for Normal, and occasionally Crunch. The Truth as Told By Mason Buttle only checked out twice last year.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Hamstersaurus Rex vs. The Cutepocalypse

O'Donnell, Tom and Miller, Tim. Hamstersaurus Rex vs. The Cutepocalypse
Published October 2nd 2018 by HarperCollins
School library copy

Now that SmileCorps is no longer a threat, Sam is trying to relax a bit. When he has to buy a birthday present, however, he ends up running into a Snuzzle who wrecks the toy store and causes him lots of trouble. The Snuzzles are super cute... but also bent on destroying everything they see. Along with his friend Dylan, Hammie, and the Chameleonkey, Sam tries to earn money to pay back the toy store while also saving the world from the threat of an evil Snuzzle army.
Strengths: These books are a goofy, fast-paced romp with a good mix of attractive line drawings and comfortably sized texts. They meet the need I have for funny books AND no one ever complains that "nothing happens" in them. There is something crazy happening all the time! If you haven't read these, think "Big Nate meets Radioactive Pocket Pets".
Weaknesses: These fall apart from overuse too quickly.
What I really think: I'm glad I have these, but also glad that the series is wrapped up. A four book series in paper-over-board format seems to wear out all at the same time. With a seven book series like Timmy Failure, the first book falls apart and has to be replaced before the last book comes out!

Don't miss Hamstersaurus Rex (October 4th 2016), Hamstersaurus Rex vs. Squirrel Kong (June 27th 2017) or  Hamstersaurus Rex Gets Crushed (January 2nd 2018) for the complete hamsterrific experience! Plus, check out this interview that my student Michael did with Tom O'Donnell for a language arts project!

Author Chat with Tom O'Donnell
Ms. Yingling

Friday, February 14, 2020

Birdie and Me

Happy Valentine's Day! That means that the CYBILS AWARDS are going to be announced. Head right over to to see the winners!

I'll be out of the loop until Tuesday morning, so won't be tweeting, etc. about it.

Nuanez, J.M.M. Birdie and Me
February 18th 2020 by Kathy Dawson Books/Penguin Young
E ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Jack and her younger brother Birdie have not had an easy time lately. Their mother was killed in a car accident, and their neighbor, Mrs. Spater, watched them until their uncle arrived, but was too old to take care of them. They have to move several hours away, and their uncle Carl has some problems taking care of them. Birdie, who has a fondness for gender nonconforming clothing, has run into trouble with his classmates, both children have missed a lot of school, and Carl feeds them mainly fast food and convenience store snacks. They end up having to go live with their Uncle Patrick, who is not as understanding of their needs. He feeds them healthier food, they have their own rooms, and he tries to check in with them frequently when he has to work, but he also makes Birdie wear clothes that are much more sober in color and design. Early on, Jack and Birdie decide they will return to their former home, and get part way there on a bus. They get off at a break and miss the bus, but luckily Patrick shows up to take them home. Jack's friend Janet is supportive of both of them, but her mother's boyfriend is the father of one of Birdie's chief tormentors. Carl has a girlfriend who runs a local food truck, and the children encourage her to ask her to marry him, but this does not go smoothly after a disaster with her truck. Patrick isn't quite sure how to best help the children, but tries hard. Will Jack and Birdie be able to find a way to make a life for themselves under their new circumstances?
Strengths: The characters in the book are very interesting. Janet is worldly-wise, Jack is sad but supportive, the uncles try their best, and Birdie has no guidance for how to process his feelings of being different. Janet is the most helpful with his concerns, since the uncles don't seem to have a good handle on their own lives. The small town, tight-knit setting is interesting, as is the food truck.
Weaknesses: The teachers at the school seem very unhelpful, which is sad.
What I really think: The cover is not very appealing, and the book is long, so it would take a bit of convincing to get my students to read it. It's also the sort of book that, while interesting, doesn't have a whole let that happens. Debating.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, February 13, 2020

The Body Under the Piano (Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen #1)

Jocelyn, Marthe. The Body Under the Piano (Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen #1)
February 4th 2020 by Tundra Books (NY)
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Aggie lives in the small seaside town of Torquay in 1902. Since her father's recent passing has left the family with fewer funds, she and her mother live with her grandmother. Aggie takes dance at the Mermaid Dance Room, and the girls are preparing for a recital that will gather clothing and supplies for recent immigrants. When the difficult mother of one of the students is found under the piano the next day by Aggie, she starts an investigation with a boy< Hector Porot, who has recently come to town from Belgium and is being fostered by the minister and his wife. Aggie's governess has a crush on the local constable, and Aggie and Hector seem to have unprecedented access to many people in town, allowing them to figure out the mystery more easily than the local police.
Strengths: This was actually a rather gruesome murder mystery, with plenty of details about the poisoning as well as a a protracted scene with a dead animal's brains leaking out in the garden-- my students often ask for this sort of mystery, so perhaps this is a good way to get them to read historical fiction. Christie used to be read in the 8th grade, but isn't an author with whom many of my students will be familiar, so this is a clever way to introduce her mysteries.
Weaknesses: The style and vocabulary of this book make it one better suited to strong readers.
What I really think: I may purchase this for fans of Stevenson's Wells and Wong Mysteries. It won't see a lot of circulation, but will be a hit with the right reader. It's sort of a more accessible version of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce, #1)(2009).

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Itch /The Boy at the Back of the Class

Farquhar, Polly. Itch.
February 4th 2020 by Holiday House
Public library copy

Isaac is not native to rural central Ohio, but he and his family have managed to settle in. His best friend, Sydney, has severe food allergies, but Isaac (who is called Itch by some of his classmates) is very protective of her. Isaac's nickname comes from a skin condition he has that results in a horrific itch, often causing him to scratch his skin raw. Sixth grade gets off to a rocky start when a tornado destroys part of the school, but classes start on time, and Itch is thrown into all of the middle grade drama. There is a new boy, whom they call Homer, who is even more unaware of the local worship of the Ohio State Buckeyes football team, and who carries an Epi-Pen for his own food allergies. Itch works at a pheasant farm, and is dealing with the fact that his mother is working in China and won't be home for months. When students share food in the school cafeteria (which is against the rules for good reason), Sydney ends up in the hospital with an allergic reaction, and Itch thinks it is his fault. So does Nate, who bullies Isaac, giving him a black eye, relentlessly bothering him, and even asking for a pheasant. Isaac feels guilty and doesn't visit Sydney, but tries desperately to get a bird to Nate, thinking that this would make things okay. Itch does get put on some new medication in hopes that it will help his condition. He manages to steal a bird, but will it make Nate happy? Will he be able to repair his relationship with Sydney? And how will it affect his job?
Strengths: I loved the rural Ohio setting, and the details about Buckeye worship will make my students really happy. It is also great to see #ownvoices representation of Isaac's skin condition and severe food allergies. (I'm willing to count the parent of children with allergies as #ownvoices!) This was a great length, moved along quickly, and had some good classroom drama.
Weaknesses: I wished this had been a bit more like Alyson Gerber's Braced and Focused, and given us more information on exactly what Isaac's condition was. I was also curious how the school dealt with the tornado damage, and about Mr. Epple's hearing problems. As an adult, I had trouble connecting to Itch's idea to steal a pheasant because it was such a bad idea. My students will not agree with me.
What I really think: I will purchase for the portrayal of children with health issues and the central Ohio connection.

Rauf, Onjali Q. The Boy at the Back of the Class
August 6th 2019 by Delacorte Press
Public library copy

When a new boy comes to a British primary school, he is kept away from the other students for a while. Wanting to be kind, they wonder what is going on, and try to smile at him and even give him small gifts of food. They eventually learn that he is from Syria and has fled devastating conditions, but speaks no English. He eventually gets an interpreter, Ms. Hemsi, and is able to take more of a role in Ms. Khan's class. Our main character and his friends try to welcome Ahmet and be kind to him, although there are a few people who do not. The children also hear negative things about refugees from adults. After an incident with the school bully and some current events, the main character (whose name is hard to find, if it is ever stated) writes to the queen. When he doesn't hear back, he tries to get a letter to her at the palace, but instead sparks a newsworthy misunderstanding. Eventually, Ahmet settles in, and light is brought to the immigration issue by students who are nine and three quarters years old.
Strengths: This was an exceptionally kind book that should hopefully improve understanding of immigration issues for young children and it was a quick and well written read.
This had a very British feel to it, not just in the details of the setting, but in the general tone. The main characters life is hard (father is dead, mother works a lot and is rarely home), and school figures largely in his life-- this had a younger, Tom Gates sort of ring to it. Like John Boyne's books, the main character is somewhat precocious, but oddly clueless at the same time.
What I really think: I wish this had been from Ahmet's point of view. It would have made this worth buying even though the students are so young.

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Minecraft Official Novels and Love Sugar Magic #3

Baptiste, Tracey. The Crash (Minecraft #2)
July 10th 2018 by Del Rey Books
Library copy

Bianca has been friends with Lonnie for years, even though he is two years older than she is, and that is a lot when you are a freshman in high school. They play a lot of Minecraft together, but Bianca hasn't been good about keeping up with all of the game improvements that Lonnie wants her to make, since she is trying to get more out of her high school experience. She forces Lonnie to go to a Homecoming event, and on the way back from it makes the mistake of putting her phone in front of his face while he is driving, causing their car to crash into another one. Bianca wakes up in the hospital badly injured, and goes in and out of consciousness for quite a while. When she finally has some lucid moments, another patient, A.J., approaches her with virtual reality goggles and suggest she enter the game that patients in the children's ward are allowed to play. Bianca hasn't been cleared by her doctor, and the first time doesn't go well, but since she can't move because of her injuries, she enjoys being in the game. She meets fellow patients Anton and Esme, who are in the hospital fighting cancer, and also comes across Lonnie in the game. He's not himself-- he has the glassy, vacant stare that other villagers have, but he does come along with the group as they fight their adventures. Bianca doesn't know for sure what has happened to Lonnie in the real world, but feels compelled to keep up the Minecraft adventure, thinking that perhaps Lonnie has gotten stuck in the game. Esme and Anton know the truth, and eventually, Bianca is forced to confront it as well.
Strengths: I really enjoyed the fact that this was not like the Cube Kid Minecraft novels that are set in the Minecraft world. As someone unfamiliar with the game, this made the books very hard to follow. Baptiste does a great job briefly setting up characters in the real world who have a passion for the game, and giving a realistic scenario for them to get pulled into the virtual world. I also read the second and third book, and it's also interesting that the books aren't connected. The fact that the characters are in high school will make this a title that even 8th graders will pick up. This reminded me very strongly of Vande Velde's User Unfriendly (1991), Heir Apparent (2004) and Deadly Pink. (2012), or Klavan's MindWar  series (2014). Since video games follow decided trends (RuneScape, anyone?), it's good to have updated titles to offer my students so that they occasionally take a break from playing games, if only to read about them, and I feel better handing these to students knowing that they are written by authors I respect!
Weaknesses: There's a lot unprocessed with the fact that Bianca caused Lonnie's death by her foolish action. This is serious stuff that would take a whole novel to unpack, so I sort of wish that the accident hadn't been Bianca's fault.
What I really think: Not my personal favorite, but a good addition to a middle school collection, along with my favorite, the Minecraft Cookbook! All of these have circulated like mad!


Meriano, Anne. A Mixture of Mischief (Love Sugar Magic #3)
February 4th 2020 by Walden Pond Press
Public library copy

Not sure if this is the last book in the series. It could be, but it could also have a fourth book. I'd like to see just about all series stop at three. This is popular with my students who also love Littlewood's Bliss.

"The third book in the acclaimed, delightful, character-driven middle grade series about a family of Mexican American bakers who also happen to be brujas—witches!
Leo Logroño may have discovered the true nature of her magical abilities, but her education in how to use them in her family’s magical bakery has only just begun. And that isn’t the only bit of trouble in her life: her family’s baking heirlooms have begun to go missing, and a new bakery called Honeybees has opened across the street, threatening to run Amor y Azúcar right out of business.

With two of her sisters on a special spirit-hunting spring-break trip with her tía Paloma, and with Mamá busy guarding the bakery to keep away any more bad luck, Leo must work with her best friend, Caroline, and her sister Isabel to uncover who is stealing from the bakery and find way a way to save the business.

And that’s when a long-lost relative arrives at the door, mischief right behind him. . . .

Anna Meriano’s unforgettable family of brujas returns for one more course of amor, azúcar, and magia"

Monday, February 10, 2020

MMGM- Middle School's a Drag

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.

Howard, Greg. Middle School's a Drag, You Better Werk 
February 11th 2020 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Mike Pruitt is inspired by his ailing grandfather to be an entrepreneur. He has even enlisted the help of his family; he has meetings with his parents to discuss operations, and hires his younger sister as an assistant. He has all manner of ideas for different businesses, and the students at his school seem to know that he is available for hire through his company, Anything, Inc. It's not strange when he approached by Julian, who has a drag act under the name of Coco Caliente, Mistress of Madness and Mayhem. Mike can certainly book gigs, and signs not only Julian but several other classmates as well, and gets them auditions for the school talent show, which has a prize of $100 for the best act. He learns a lot about drag performers (as did I; I had never heard of the dance move "death drop", which is certainly a very difficult move to do!) and also comes to terms with the fact that he is gay. Julian is, but since Mike acts nothing like Julian, he thinks he isn't "being gay" the correct way. This is complicated by the fact that he likes Julian's assistant, Connor. The road to the talent show doesn't go smoothly, but Mike manages to keep his business afloat, support Julian even though his father doesn't approve, and also deals with his grandfather's failing health.
Strengths: The relationships are what really make this book shine. Mike admires his grandfather, feels supported by his parents, and puts up with his sister even though she is really irritating. He has good friends, and he makes new ones once he meets Julian. His tentative romance with Connor is very sweet and spot on for what middle school students want to read! (YA romance is much more unpleasant and angsty.) It's interesting that Mike knows he's gay, but doubts himself, and questions that he isn't doing gay "right". That was kind of brilliant. The talent show is realistically portrayed; even the prize money is explained well. This was a fast paced book, and there are good details about a middle school student who wants to participate in drag performance.
Weaknesses: While it's very realistic that Julian's father doesn't approve, confronting his father about it when he does felt rather overly dramatic. There's a similar scene in a Charlie Joe Jackson book that also didn't feel like something an actual middle school student would do. Handy for the plot, but less likely to happen in real life.
What I really think: The readers in my school are not that interested in books about performing, and many of the books with gay male characters have that as a major plot point. There's the new Martin McLean, Middle School Queen as well as Federle's Better Nate Than Ever (2014). I don't really need three books on similar topics, but I am tempted to buy both because of the recent issues with drag queen story times in Ohio. I wish this had been more like Pancholy's The Best At It, which is a much easier sell to most students because it contains sports.

Ms. Yingling