Sunday, May 31, 2020

Center of Gravity and Trowbridge Road

Grimes, Shaunta. Center of Gravity
March 24th 2020 by Feiwel & Friends
E ARC provided by Netgalley

In 1985, Tessa is still dealing with her mother's death from cancer within the last year. Her mother had been a nurse in Vietnam, and her father, a history teacher, has been staying at work later and later since the mother's death. Tessa has taken to saving the pictures of missing children from milk cartons, and has a file of them that bring her comfort but also embarrasses her because she has a compulsion to go through all of the milk cartons at school until she finds one with a child she has not seen before. When it suddenly turns out that her father has been at school late because he has been seeing a literacy volunteer, Lila, Tessa is even more upset. But that's not all! Lila is pregnant, the two are getting married, and the family is going to be moving to a beach house in California that Lila's parents are giving her. Her father, who is afraid he could love his job in Denver because of Lila, is going to look for a new job. Tess actually settles in to the new place fairly well, making friends with the neighbor boys and going to the rec center to play foosball. The boys have a team and very much want to enter a contest with a large monetary prize to help out two of their group who are struggling with an abusive mother. Tessa is still collecting the milk cartons, and her new friends think it's a bit quirky but go along with it. Tessa tries to help the group make money by having a Kool-Aid stand and trying to take a babysitting job, but when Lila goes into labor while her father is out of town, many of her plans fall through. The boys are able to play foosball without her and manage to help the boys, and Tessa becomes less anxious about the missing children while she becomes more invested with her new family.
Strengths: I like the fact that Tessa was dealing with her mother's death, but the more pressing issue was dealing with a sudden move, a step mother, and a new sibling. There are far more students who has to deal with blended families than with death, and relatively few books on the topic. The milk cartons with the missing children were worked in in a very clever way, and in the 1980s, the father would not have sought help for this behavior. The neighborhood kids and their drama added an extra level of interest. I enjoyed this one.
Weaknesses: I wanted to know more about Lila's hoarding behavior. Also, there was a LOT of concern about cleaning the milk cartons so they didn't smell like sour milk, but as someone who used milk cartons for a ton of craft projects (I stapled a bunch of quart cartons together to keep letters from my pen pals in), I know they were super easy to get clean and never smelled sour.
What I really think: Debating. This moved along quickly and was interesting to me, but I'm not sure if the time period will appeal to my students.

Pixley, Marcella. Trowbridge Road. 
May 12th 2020 by Candlewick Press
E ARC provided by Netgalley

June Bug Jordan's life is complicated. It's 1983, and her musician father has recently passed away from complications of AIDS. Her mother, who mental health has always been fragile, has retreated to her upstairs bedroom because she is afraid of germs coming into the house. Her Uncle Toby stops by the house with groceries and supplies, but not often enough, and June Bug is hungry. Her mother is just not eating. When her uncle visits, they have to spend from two hours to the entire day disinfecting the house. When June Bug goes outside, her mother will occasionally feel that she is infected, and will make her take a scalding hot bath with bleach and a scrub brush, which causes painful skin damage. When Ziggy moves in next door to live with his Nana Jean because his mother Jenny is unstable, June Bug hopes that he will be her friend. She doesn't care that he has long hair and that the neighbor boys call him a fairy. The two start to hang out and support each other. As her mother's condition worsens, June start to carry a back pack with necessities like a vegetable peeler she uses to scrape infection from her hands and rubbing alcohol to pour over them. Even this is not enough, and luckily she has the support of Nana Jean and her uncle when everything comes crashing down.
Strengths: There are very few depictions of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, and it was certainly a very significant historical occurrence that has impact today. The current literary climate is showcasing more and more books with depictions of mental health struggles, and this has several; the mother, Jenny (who has relationship problems and feelings of self doubt), and Ziggy (who is gender nonconforming, but is not given a label). The father is show to be gay in a very short scene that describes him coming home from a gig with a man and kissing him, which will be fine for middle school audiences It's good to see that Nana Jean and Uncle Toby are supportive and helpful. This is an #ownvoices story; the author has written a good piece about the for Middle Grade Book Village.
Weaknesses: This is very, very sad. Sensitive readers might be upset by the depiction of "sanitizing"herself that June Bug does.
What I really think: I wish this had had more details about daily life in 1983, or more details about the AIDS virus and the discussions that arose at the time.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Random Acts of Kittens and Donut Dreams

Méndez, Yamile Saied. Random Acts of Kittens: A Wish Novel 
December 26th 2019 by Scholastic Inc.
Library copy

Natalia finds a very young cat who has just had kittens in her family's garage. It's winter break, and very cold outside, so she brings them in, knowing that her mother, visiting grandmother, and older sister won't be thrilled. She even calls a cat rescue, which is unfortunately filled up, and takes the cats to the local vet, using her own money. With her sister's help, her mother agrees to foster them until they are old enough to be placed in other homes. Natalia has gotten in trouble in school and had a falling out with her best friend Meera, and she is hoping that the kittens will help her get to a better place in her life. When she and her friend Reuben set up a social media account for the kittens, complete with an adoption form, she finds that picking new owners is a lot more complicated than she expected it to be.
Strengths: This is another great depiction of having a parent deployed; Natalia has a fair number of interactions with her father, clearly misses him, but is also a little bitter that he is gone. I also loved that Natalia's abuela was visiting from Puerto Rico and enjoyed being with her family, but really wanted to go back home where it was warm! The best part about this were all of the details about taking care of tiny, tiny kittens. My students will enjoy the friend and school drama, which is always a popular topic. The Wish Novels are a huge hit at my school!
Weaknesses: Natalia was not very nice. I never really warmed up to her.
What I really think: Definitely glad I purchased this one!

Simon, Coco. Hole in the Middle (Donut Dreams #1)
December 10th 2019 by Simon Spotlight
Library copy

Lindsay lives in a small town where her grandparents run the Park View diner and her father runs Donut Dreams. Everyone knows everyone else in the town (the lady at the bank doesn't even need to ask her address when she opens an account), and Lindsay has plenty of family around. What she doesn't have is a mother-- she died a few years back. When Lindsay starts middle school and the inevitable (boring!) rota of events starts, she finds herself the object of much attention as the Fall Fling dance starts. Her mother's mother, Mimi, comes to visit from Chicago, bearing TEN dresses for Lindsay to try on, and friends and aunts are also invited. Her cousin Kelsey, who also has started working with her at the donut shop, tells her that all of the attention is because of her mother. It's hard enough to be going to the school where her mother taught art, but Lindsay is uncomfortable with all of the attention, even though she knows it is well meaning, and just wishes that she could leave her small town.
Strengths: Lindsay's close family and small town will appeal to readers who might not have this kind of life. The donut shop is the big draw here, and the grandfather was an excellent task master. This reminded me a bit of duJardin's Pam and Penny series-- the small town, perhaps? Or the family business and the single parent household. I love duJardin.
Weaknesses: There was a bit too much about the dance and the dress, and more donuts would have been my preference. I wanted some details about how they were made!
What I really think: I'm willing to buy the first ten books in this series, because the other Coco Simon titles do really well, especially with girls who have some reading struggles and want books about friend and family drama but are intimidated by longer books. This one was just sadder than I expected. Will see if So Jelly! featuring Kelsey is more upbeat.

Ms. Yingling

Friday, May 29, 2020

Dragon Hoops

Yang, Gene Luen. Dragon Hoops
March 17th 2020 by First Second
E ARC provided by Netgalley

This is best described as a graphic novel memoir of Mr. Yang's writing life combined with a history of the Bishop O'Dowd school basketball team. Unsure of what to write about next, Yang draws inspiration from the school where he teachers. While he didn't participate in basketball himself, he is drawn to the team, which does very well but has struggled to bring home a championship. The coach, Lou Richie, was a student at the school, so has deep ties to the community and the basketball program. He agrees to let Yang tag along with the team to get information for his new book. At the same time, Yang struggles with his work life balance, since teaching and working on his graphic novels are time consuming, giving him less time with his family. The book covers not only the Bishop O'Dowd Dragons' season in 2015 and the players involved in that, but also former players and games, Yang's growing understanding of what sports can mean to students, and basketball history from Naismith to current players. Interviews with people involved show that sometimes taking the first step (a theme repeated throughout the book) is the only way to accomplish great things.
Strengths: This is certainly a masterful piece of work that shows how sports teams have a deeper impact on participants than people who don't like sports can imagine. Yang, like many teachers and librarians, doesn't really care about sports himself, but through his work with the team (and some diligent research) finally understands the dramatic impact that sports can have. I particularly liked the stories of the characters (along with lots of history; I didn't know about Gandhi's treatment of the Sikhs!) who came from other cultures but ended up at a Catholic high school for the basketball. There is plenty of sports information for readers who like action on the court. Yang's illustration style is very pleasing and effective, and the cover is fabulous.
Weaknesses: I'm not sure how much students will care about Yang's writing journey, although this will draw in teachers and librarians who don't read a lot about sports.
What I really think: I'll definitely buy a copy, but will look for a prebind. A graphic novel of this length will have some issues with structural integrity

44442956. sx318 Blabey, Aaron. The Baddest Day Yet (Bad Guys #10)
December 26th 2019 by Scholastic Paperbacks
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Snake is dead, and the Bad Guys, as well as the League of Heroes, are gathered for the funeral. Faced with the evil Prince Marmalade, who is determined to take over the universe, the two groups decide to band together, becoming the much cooler named Shadow Squad G. They need to find a way to defeat their conqueror, even though the don't have super powers! Luckily, Legs is stowed away on board Marmalade's ship, as is Rhonda, and the two proceed to voosh! scuttle! and b-donk! the alien before summoning help from their two groups, who in turn have a velociraptor to help them! They also have a space shuttle, Mr. Pirahna's father and his crew, and a secret weapon that is a surprise even to the bad Guys. Will it be enough to save Earth for imminent destruction?

In true Bad Guys' fashion, this mission is fraught with threats, rife with teamwork, and punctuated by bopping alien booty! There are even some inklings of romance as the heroes from different teams get to know each other in between running for their lives. The black and white illustrations alone are enough to inspire giggles, and the goofy aliens, fleets of pirahnas, and sharks in tutus don't make the tone any more serious!

Had this to insatiable readers of Eaton's Flying Beaver Brothers, Winnick's Hilo, Benton's CatWad, Barnett's Spy Kid, and other goofy tales of brave creatures facing overwhelming (and often hysterically funny) odds.

Personally, I preferred the series when the characters were not fighting aliens. The first book is absolutely hysterical, but I have not found the last seven or so to be quite as enjoyable. I'm also not 6-12 years old, and I can't deny the appeal to the target demographic, which is impressively large.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Santiago's Road Home

Diaz, Alexandra. Santiago's Road Home
May 5th 2020 by Simon Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Santiago has lived with his grandmother, who is abusive, and a variety of relatives since his mother's death. Most recently, he took care of his young cousins. Things are difficult for many people in Mexico, and when he is told to go to yet another relatives house, he decides instead to try to make it to the US. While he is trying to decide how to do this, he helps out a woman named María Dolores and her young daughter, Alegría. María is escaping untold problems of her own, and while she doesn't have a lot of money, she decides to help Santiago out. He comes with them, helps them to find someone trustworthy to get them across the border, and starts on the dangerous trip to the US with them. The man transporting them gets involved in a crash, and the three take off from the wrecked car to try to get to the nearest town. It's more difficult to get across the desert than they imagined, but they are lucky when someone finds them after María becomes ill. Unfortunately, she is taken to the hospital, and Santiago and Alegría are separated at the detention center. Circumstances there are dire and Santiago tries to survive while attempting to get information about the people he now considers family. Will he be able to locate them and start a new life in the US?
Strengths: This will appeal to readers for many different reasons. It addresses a current concern about the treatment of immigrants, it is a survival story, and it shows a child trying to create his own family when the one he started with does not meet his needs. My students have a very specific type of struggle that appeals to them, and Santiago's trials all fit that category. He flees an abusive situation, he has a dangerous road trip, and has to deal with the trauma of being in an institution that is not looking out for his best interest. Fast paced, interesting, and very, very timely story.
Weaknesses: After all the problems with American Dirt, I was cautious about this one. I don't know enough about the challenges faced by Mexican immigrants to know if  Diaz, who is the daughter of Cuban refugees, could accurately portray the struggle of Mexican immigrants. Since this author won a Pura del Pre nomination for The Only Road, and include a bibliography and seems to have researched the topic well, I think it is sensitively done.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing as a timely title similar to Efren Divided.

Newman, Catherine. How to be a Person: 65 Hugely Useful, Super-Important Skills to Learn Before You're Grown Up
May 26th 2020 by Storey Publishing, LLC

E ARC provided by Netgalley

Sometimes, when I read a book, I think about how my 7th grade self would have reacted to it. For this book, I would have written out a list of all 65 skills, posted it on the bulletin board in my room, and driven my mother up a tree trying to work my way through all of the skills! Some of the items mentioned are things that every 12 year old knew in 1977-- writing letters, sewing on a button, vacuuming a room. Heck, I was in charge of ironing all of my father's handkerchiefs when I was three! (Not joking. I had my own little ironing board and electric iron. Pink, of course.) But my students today can't even thread a needle or make a knot in the thread. They are sorely in need of these instructions.

I liked that the information was presented as basic things all people need to know to get by. Some things are purposefully vague-- how to take care of pets, for example. Others include more details, such as directions on how to clean a bathroom or some of the simple recipes. My 86 year old father would actually benefit a great deal from this book! My favorite instructions, however, are for folding a fitted sheet: just kidding, wad it up like everybody does!

The two color graphics are engaging, the print nice and big, and the instructions simple enough for even young readers to grasp. I will definitely be purchasing a copy for my library, and it will be great for handing to children who are "bored" and don't feel like reading a novel. If I had all the money in the world, I would buy each of my students their own. They need it!

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

A Place at the Table

Faruqi, Saadia and Shovan, Laura. A Place at the Table   
May 12th 2020 by Clarion Books/HMH
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Sara's mother is running a cooking club at her school, and she is forced to go along. She used to attend Iqra Islamic School with her best friend Rabia, but has recently moved to the public middle school. Elizabeth Shainmark is also attending the class with her friend Maddy, who has been spending more and more time with Stephanie. The students in the class are not very nice to Mrs. Hameed, making comments about the spiciness of the food and pretending they can't understand her accented English, and the home Family and Consumer science teacher Mrs. Kluckowski is openly hostile as well. Elizabeth, whose British born mother is working on her citizenship test, tries to connect with Sara, who is reluctant to engage with anyone in her new school. Elizabeth's mother is depressed after the death of her own mother in England, rarely cooks, and hasn't gone back to work. Things are tough at Sara's house as well; her mother started a catering business from their kitchen, but hasn't made enough money to pay back the loan, which is why Sara has had to move to public school. She is also studying to become a US citizen. As Sara and Elizabeth become closer, they introduce their mothers, hoping that the two will help each other out. Elizabeth is worried that her mother will return to England and never return to the US, but is helped somewhat when her father's mother, Bubbe, comes to visit the family. Elizabeth enjoys her family's Jewish traditions and can understand why Sara is often uncomfortable and scared because of racial prejudice. They both experience friendship troubles. The two work together on a recipe for a school contest and come up with Earl Grey ice cream with halwa bits in it, but run into trouble with Mrs. Kluckowski when making a test batch. Will the girls be able to help their mothers with gaining their citizenship and keeping their families afloat while navigating the unsteady waters of middle school?
Strengths: First of all, all middle grade books should include lots of food and sports! I loved that Elizabeth and Sara were reluctant friends, brought together by circumstances, but eventually warmed to each other and made a difference in each other's lives. I also enjoyed that they both had strong, supportive, intact families who were going through some difficulties. Family difficulties do impact children, and it was interesting to watch the two girls try to help out. Sara's transition to a public school was described in a way that made her bitterness understandable. Maddy's family was responsible for her behavior (her father calls Mrs. Hameed "that Arab woman" and talks about "people like us"), but she eventually rises above it. Stephanie was a character with hidden depths. It is good to see a book where parents are working on becoming citizens; I can't think of any others, and I certainly have a lot of students in this situation.
Weaknesses: It was hard for me to believe that Mrs. Kluckowski could be so mean; it would NOT fly at my school. Also, she should have just been grateful she still had a job as a home ec teacher, no matter who was using "her" classroom! I also had my standard grievance with a parent experiencing loss and neglecting her family as a result; I have decided to blame our culture and its expectations involving death rather than particular books. It's just always hard for me personally to read these depictions.
What I really think: This is a great addition to books with cultural connections by two #ownvoices authors working together, like Weeks and Varadarajan's Save Me a Seat and Rosenberg and Shang's This is Just a Test.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Secret of White Stone Gate and novel tie-ins

Nobel, Julia. The Secret of White Stone Gate
March 3rd 2020 by Sourcebooks Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Emmy is back at Wellsworth after her harrowing time in The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane. Her author mother wants her to check in with a cousin, Lucy, who ends up being a London social climber who is NOT thrilled that Emmy got in trouble at her school. Now that she is not involved in the Latin Society (and she has wisely secured the medallions in her own safety deposit box in a bank), Emmy gets involved in other school activities with her friends Lola and Jack. When the money from a fundraiser goes missing, Emmy suspects that Brynn is behind it, and when the money is found in Lola's room, she knows that her friend has been framed. Mr. Barlowe suggests that something bigger is going on after Lola gets expelled, and sure enough, Jonas starts threatening Emmy. He wants Emmy's father location, which she doesn't know, and starts to terrorize the people around her. The Order has clearly not been silenced, and Emmy must work to keep them at bay as well as try to get her friend reinstated in the school.
Strengths: I have at least two students who adore what they call "academy" books; books set in schools. There are also a lot of students who want murder mysteries, and this comes close enough. This moved quickly, had children saving the day, and was quite enjoyable.
Weaknesses: Of all things, I didn't really care about the history of the Order. I'll have to ask my students what they think, but the details of British boarding school life and the mystery were enough for me, although it WAS the order threatening people.
What I really think: This isn't a huge circulator, but the combination of details of British boarding schools and some fairly evil characters attempting to murder Emmy's friends makes this one that I am more than happy to purchase.

Riordan, Rick. Camp Jupiter Classified (#4)
Published May 5th 2020 by Disney-Hyperion
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Claudia, a legacy of Mercury, is looking forward to being in the fourth cohort at California's Camp Jupiter. She struggles a little with roommates, is awed by the Via Praetoria, and is ready to uphold the memory of her great-grandfather. There are a lot of unpleasant chores that need to be done, like cleaning out the aqueducts and pooper scooping for the elephants, unicorns, and giant eagles, but even the worst jobs have unexpected surprises, like getting to ride on an eagle! She makes a few friends, like Blaise and Janice, and is worried when she gets several mysterious notes that seem to align with dreams she is having. When odd things start to happen at the camp, the counselors suspect that she has something to do with them, and watch her even more carefully. Could the vagrant centaur, Elon, have anything to do with these occurrences? Who is leaving her  notes? And how will an ancient set of shields figure in the mystery that Claudia must solve?

For readers who are eagerly awaiting the next book in Riordan's Trial of Apollo series, The Tower of Nero (9/29/20), this is a fun trip to the world of those stories. While there is plenty of mystery and action, the pace is slower and the scene limited to the camp Jupiter grounds. While reading Claudia's journal, I  found it was much easier to pretend I was a camper, and was able to revel in the details about cabins, chores, shops around camp, and the mythology behind Claudia's family. There was a helpful glossary of terms and Latin words at the end of the book.

Claudia was trained in Wolf House and has solid engineering skills, although Janice does have to give her some hints when building an arch. It's great to see girls represented in this field, and Riordan's work treats all genders equally, which is good to see.

These short books can be read out of order, since they focus so specifically on one character, and would make a great gift for young readers are smaller occasions, if they are getting the main books for birthdays and major holidays. Really, any occasion is a good one for adding more Riordan books to a collection of die hard fans.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Some end of school blather

I guess school is over for the year, whatever that means in these weird, weird times.

There are still 550 library books checked out. Most years, I have fewer than five books outstanding at the end of the year. This is somewhat stressful, but everyone is dealing with losses of one kind and another. Mine are very mild in comparison. Once things get moving again, we'll figure it out.

When school was in session, I got up every day, put on "hard pants" (frequent readers know I'm a big fans of professional dress, or, in this case, 100% cotton Lands End jeans! Not a fan of stretchy or soft clothes), and worked on book related things every day from 7:30- 3:00. I did take a break at lunch time to walk the dog around the block or go for a walk, and truth be told, I took my three bereavement days after my mother's death in bits and pieces. I'm sure we've all had times when 1:00 rolled around and it was impossible to be productive. I also included tweeting time as "work" because I was promoting books; I normally do not tweet during school hours.

Summer plans: Keep reading and continue to hang out with Sylvie, whose age is catching up with her. I won't feel so bad about going for walks or runs during the day, and won't feel a need to make up time if I go to the grocery on Thursday morning.

I'll be sewing, too, once my sewing machine gets fixed. Of course, it quit on Sunday morning. Sigh.

This week, I will be in the building checking in textbooks. The library is as tidied away as it is going to be. I hope that everyone is staying safe and keeping as much on an emotional even keel as possible.

At least we don't live in Panem!

Collins, Suzanne. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (Prequel)
May 19th 2020 by Scholastic Press
Personal copy

Just some thoughts: I don't want to take any chances of putting spoilers out there.

First of all, I read The Hunger Games about 12 years ago, before many of my students were even born. That's about 9,500 books ago. It was okay, but I really dislike Mockingjay. Other than that, I have little memory of anything that happened in the books.

This is about Coriolanus Snow, and is set 60 odd years before the Hunger Games. The war is still fresh in peoples' minds, and the games are new and evolving. Coriolanus is involved because students at his school are assigned as mentors to tributes. He gets a young girl from District 12, Lucy Gray, who is a popular contestant, having wowed the audience with her personality and musical ability.

Lots and lots of bad things happen, both to the tributes but also to the mentors. The adults running the games are clearly disturbed. There is a LOT of very graphic, human-on-human violence. I'm not super comfortable with The Hunger Games and middle school students, but there was more philosophy in that book. I kept expecting it in this book and never felt like there were great lessons being learned.

I did like the depiction of Coriolanus and his family as rubbing elbows with the rich but being down on their luck. Sejanus was an interesting character, as was Lucy Gray. The strategy of the game was probably my favorite part, especially how Coriolanus bent the rules. My least favorite part was after the games, which seemed anticlimactic.

I have a copy and will put it in the library. The copy will wear out quickly because we have a 7th grade class that studies The Hunger Games as a unit novel. Is it my favorite? No. Does this matter to my students? Not in the least!

Ms. Yingling

MMGM- Hello from Renn Lake

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Hurwitz, Michele Weber. Hello from Renn Lake
May 26th 2020 by Random House/Lamb
E ARC provided by Netgalley, thanks to the author!

Annalise feels a deep connection with Renn Lake in her Wisconsin town. She was abandoned at a gift shop close to it, she feels that the lake can communicate with her, and her adoptive parents, the Olivers, run a resort on its shores. Her birthday and "found day" come at the beginning of the summer and are celebrated with fanfare and cupcakes, but she always feels a bit odd about the time, and her younger sister Jess (surprisingly conceived after Annalise's birth) always finds some to throw to turn the attention to herself. This year is especially hard, because the woman who found her, Mrs. Alden, has passed away, and Annalise had never been able to bring herself to visit and thank her. Jess's highjinks this year consist of wanting to travel into Madison to audition for a movie; she has delusions of being an actress and expects that her family will support her, no matter how sketchy the audition seems. Annalise, however, has bigger worries; there is a weird scum appearing on the lake, and the lake seems feverish and quiet. Zach, who is staying in one of the cabins, has also been investigating, and fears that it is an algal bloom of cyanobacteria. The authorities are brought in, and the bloom is confirmed, but the state doesn't have the resources to mitigate it. The resort and the town of Renn Lake will suffer, but Annalise's real concern is for the lake itself. She and Zach, along with her best friend Maya who is babysitting two high energy boys, look into ways to help. They come up with the idea (helped by the lake) of floating plant islands, which soak up excess nutrients and algae. The kids pool their money, but this effort is harmed when Jess takes Annalise's share and goes with a friend to the movie audition. Getting creative, Annalise approaches Mr. Alden, whose shop deals in plants, and asks for his help. She also asks about when she was found, and is able to make a little peace with that. With Mr. Alden's help, the kids manage to install seven floating islands. When the authorities find out, they decide to help anchor the plants instead of ripping them out, and praise the children't initiative. It will take some time, but Annalise's concern for the lake should help it recover, and her efforts at educating the town will hopefully prevent future occurrences.
Strengths: Books where children have very clear passions that they use to make a positive impact in their world are always my favorite. Add to the story Annalise's conflicted feelings about being adopted, Jess's bratty sister actions, Maya's humorous adventures in babysitting, and a nice friendship with Zach (who does mention having had bad breakup with a boyfriend), and this was a compelling story with lots to discuss. The parents are very involved and supportive, but also very concerned about their business. I also liked that Annalise helped with cleaning the rooms and with other parts of the business. I'm a sucker for a good summer story, as well as any story involving a hotel, and Hello from Renn Lake is a great book to read at the start of the summer!
Weaknesses: I'm not a fan of fantasy elements, like Annalise communicating with the lake, in novels that are otherwise very realistic. (Think Messner's The Seventh Wish and the talking goldfish.) This won't effect most readers' enjoyment, but wasn't my favorite part.
What I really think: I am so glad to see this book, since algae blooms have been a problem in Ohio as well. Science teachers are always asking for fiction books they can use to create interest in their curriculum, and this is the perfect one. The notes at the end about some of the science concepts discussed are a great addition as well. Definitely purchasing, and I will display this one with the cover facing out a LOT, because I love the colors and the vintage postcard vibe!

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Truth According to Blue

Yohalem, Eve. The Truth According to Blue
May 12th 2020 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Blue Broen lives in a coastal town with her hard working parents and her diabetic alert German Shepherd, Otis. She's struggled with diabetes since she was young, but Otis can alert her to highs and lows so she can try to manage her condition with as little input from her parents as possible, since they worry. She's tired of being the girl with diabetes, so has big plans for the summer-- she's finally going to find the treasure her family is rumored to have brought to the US, but which supposedly went down in a ship not far from her home. She plans on taking out the family boat and looking for the treasure during her vacation, telling her parents she needs to work on a "school project", but runs in to two complications-- she's forced to hang out every day with Jules, the daughter of a visiting movie star, and she is dismayed to find another group investigating the same waters. She and Jules take a while to warm up to each other, but take lots of risks in their search. Blue also must prepare for a diabetes fund raiser that Jules' father is helping with, as well as deal with high and low blue sugar. When the other group gets a restraining order against Blue, her parents find out and put a kibosh on the whole thing, but relent just a bit. Is it enough time for Blue and Jules to solve the centuries old mystery and provide more money for Blue's family?
Strengths: There are a lot of details about living with Type 1 diabetes that will be interesting to students who don't know anything about this condition. Every year, I have one or two students who live with diabetes, so this is helpful. In the last few years, there have been more Continuous Glucose Monitors worn by students, so I found it interesting to hear about Blue's testing and struggles that lead her to decide to get one. Assistant dogs are always interesting, and Otis is a charming helper. Also, he DOES NOT DIE, although Blue is worried that he is getting older. Jules was an interesting character who became more likable during the book. The treasure mystery wasn't too far fetched. I liked the active and almost overly involved parents, and I think they are very representative of parents of a child with diabetes. Yes, a CGM can send reports to a parent's phone!
Weaknesses: This took a while to get into, and it didn't help that Blue and Jules did a lot of very dangerous and ill conceived things during their search for the treasure.
What I really think: Debating. I really enjoyed the details of living with diabetes, and the only other book that has these that I can think of is Another D for Deedee. The sunken treasure mystery reminded me of something else I'd read, and might be hard to get students to pick up, but I will most likely buy this one.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Act (Click #3)

Miller, Kayla. Act (Click #3)
May 5th 2020 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Olive is excited to go tot he city on a field trip to see a play and go back stage, but when she finds out that some students didn't go because they couldn't afford the $30, she wants to find a way to help. There is a student council election coming up, and her good friends Trent and Sawyer are running for office. Olive tries several ways to make a change at her school; she consults a trusted teacher, starts a petition that she hands in the the principal, and even tries a peacful protest with a sit in on the school lawn. None of these are successful, however, so she decides that she will also run for student council. She doesn't want to make her friends mad, but feels that the issues she wants to address are more important that the food in the cafeteria.
Strengths: This had attractive illustrations and colors, and Olive is a sympathetic character who is trying to make a difference in her community. This was an interesting twist on the classic school election story.
Weaknesses: This ended so abruptly that I wondered if the E ARC was not complete. Also, the solution to not excluding students from field trips because they can't afford them will most likely be the one my school arrived at-- no field trips. Schools can't afford them, either. There's no good answer, since field trips require someone to pay for them.
What I really think: I will definitely purchase this graphic novel because it will be hugely popular with my students, even if it's not my cup of tea.

Olive's aunt rocks the NEW librarian stereotype, with her colored hair and social activism. I rock the older stereotype with the cardigans.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, May 22, 2020

The Turnover

Lupica, Mike. The Turnover
May 12th 2020 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Lucas' father passed away when he was young, so all he has ever known is his college professor mother and his grandfather, Gramps. Gramps is there for dinner almost every night, although he has his own apartment, and he coaches Lucas' basketball team. They get along great, and Lucas not only loves his grandfather, but admires him very much. When he has a writing assignment to talk about an influential adult in his life, he picks Gramps. Gramps, however, is reluctant to talk about the past. Lucas' friend and teammate, Ryan, isn't a great writer, so asks Lucas to help him. Lucas asks Ryan questions and helps him take notes, but lets his friend know repeatedly that he will have to write up the paper in his own words. Lucas does some sleuthing about his grandfather, but doesn't find anything but a picture in one of his father's old text books. After some digging, he uncovers an unpleasant truth about an incident in college where his grandfather did some regrettable things. This causes a rift between the two. At the same time, the papers are turned in (Lucas, who loves to write, chooses another topic), and Ryan and Lucas are called in by their teacher because their papers sound the same. Ryan admits that he didn't change things, so Lucas essentially wrote the paper. Given what he found out about his grandfather, Lucas is horrified, and refuses to help Ryan anymore, causes a rift between the friends as well. When the situation with his grandfather's past turns up in the national news because of the teammate behind the scandal, his grandfather's coaching position is in jeopardy. Will Lucas be able to reconcile his grandfather's behavior, maintain his friendship with Ryan, and do well on the court?
Strengths: Lupica's books always include the most essential element of sports writing-- play by plays on the court. I never understand any of them, which makes them just right for my readers who want to read about basketball! Lupica also includes good female characters-- Ryan's mother is a great basketball player who steps in to coach and whose college videos make one boy say "I want to play like a girl". The highs and lows of a close relationship with a grandparent made me love this one, and the Important Life Lesson will make this palatable to adults who don't really want to read sports books.
Weaknesses: The relationship between the grandfather and grandson is great, but a bit belabored at the beginning of the book. Also, I am doubtful that adults like to read books with quite the dose of Good Citizenship that nearly every middle grade book seems to include these days.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. Love the cover. Should probably buy two. This would make a great gift for a young basketball fan.

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Sara and the Search for Normal

King, Wesley. Sara and the Search for Normal
May 5th 2020 by Simon Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sara, a character from OCDaniel, struggles with daily life. She just wants to be "normal", but has panic attacks, often chooses not to speak, and despite medication and therapy, doesn't feel at all what she imagines normal to be. She is in a special class and has an aide who helps her. When she goes to group therapy, she meets Erin, who has struggles of her own, pulling out her hair and eyebrows among them. She is also very talkative and respectful of Sara's difficulties, even though she is a bit pushy when it comes to being friends. This turns out to be something that works for quiet, withdrawn Sara, who is glad to be able to do "normal" friend things. Sara has other worries as well; her parents are constantly bickering, often over Sara's behavior and treatment, and Sara is also worried about the bruises that constantly appear on her new friend. Eventually, she suspects that Erin's father is harming her, and uncovers the truth with some spy methods. Will Sara be able to help her friend without losing her and deal with her parents problems as well as her own?
Strengths: It's good to see an #ownvoices writer address issues of mental health, and this is certainly on trend in that respect. Sara's difficulties are palpable; the writing really puts us inside her head. I love that she has a friend for the first time, and Erin's difficulties are also well portrayed. The fact that Sara tries to help Erin is heart warming.
Weaknesses: I couldn't remember how Sara fit into OCDaniel, but it's not necessary to read these books together. This did have a similar YA feel to the pacing, which is understandable given the topic.
What I really think: OCDaniel has circulated better than I expected, so I will probably purchase this. It struck me as sort of a Lisa, Bright and Dark for the New Millenium.
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez

Cuevas, Adrianna. The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez
May 12th 2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Nestor and his mother move to Texas to live with his father's mother while his father is deployed. He's not happy, because this is his tenth first day of school in a new place, and it wasn't a necessary move. He refuses to unpack, because he knows the chances are good that he will have to move again. He does enjoy being with his abuela, who is a great cook, and he does make some friends at his school, including Maria Carmen and Talib. Nestor can hear animals talking, which leads to some interesting experiences, especially since Talib's dog, George, has disappeared and Maria Carmen's family has lost some goats. Abuela has been seen heading into the woods with a knife, leading to speculation in the neighborhood that she has something to do with the pets' disappearances, but Nestor does not think this is the case. He has more concerns about his science teacher, Ms. Humala, who seems to have something to do with a massive snake hanging around the place. The animals, including an injured coyote, tell Nestor that there is an evil tule vieja (witch) in the area, and Nestor and his friends (including a bully who turns out to be friendly and helpful) try to keep everyone safe.
Strengths: I am always looking for books about children with parents in the military, but they are difficult to find. This had a nice amount of details about Nestor missing his father, but also concentrated on what Nestor was going through. I also loved that the grandmother was from Cuba, and it seemed like she might have been sent over with Operation Pedro Pan (she was put on a plane by her parents and spent time in foster care, so seems possible). There are lots of phrases and folklore that add to this cultural connection. His friends are helpful and understanding of his special abilities, and Ms. Humala is a complicated character.
Weaknesses: I wanted to know a LOT more about why Nestor could talk to animals. We get a little more information at the end, but I could have used more details about that as well as the tule vieja.
What I really think: I wish this had a better cover. This style of cover, with the dark background, don't circulate well in my library. I like so many of the details, and enjoyed the story very much, but it will take a lot of handselling to get my students to pick this up.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Egyptian Mirror and Minecraft: The Voyage

Bedard, Michael. The Egyptian Mirror
May 20th 2020 by Pajama Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Simon's neighbor, Mr. Hawkins, has broken his leg. Since he is all alone in a large house, Simon and his mother are taking meals over and checking on the gentleman. Mr. Hawkins had been an archaeologist, and collected a vast number of historic mirrors, and turns out to be rather fascinating. Simon enjoys visiting with him, reading his books, and learning a bit of history. There is one mirror with quite a back story, and when Mr. Hawkin's passes away, it seems integral to the mystery that develops. Simon and his friend Abbey find the mirror and bring it into the house, and Lucy, a niece of Mr. Hawkin's wife's, appears as the heir to the estate. She is a bit creepy, and has an unhealthy hold over the neighborhood. Simon's health takes a serious downtown; he is fatigued and feverish, and has bouts of vertigo so severe that he misses most of the school year. He and Abbey try to solve the mystery of why Lucy wants the mirror, and find out some magical but evil things about her and her connection to the mirror.
Strengths: This was a shivery sort of mystery; not a lot happened, but it was all very intriguing and sucked me right in. Simon and Abbey were both great characters, and I especially love their interactions with their younger siblings. The mirror collection, and Mr. Hawkin's house, will appeal to readers who like classic fantasy mysteries with old English manor houses. I love anything with an Egyptian component; Curry's The Egyptian Box (2002), LaFever's Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos (2007) and Hoover's Tut (2014), Northrop's Tombquest series (2015), and Egypt is still part of our 6th grade social studies curriculum.
Weaknesses: The cover could have been better, and Simon does spend a lot of time under the weather.
What I really think: I may buy this because I enjoyed it so much, but fear it will not circulate well. It's a bit reminiscent of The Alarming Career of Sir Richard Blackstone, which has not gone out very much.

Fry, Jason. Minecraft: The Voyage (Minecraft #5)
May 5th 2020 by Del Rey Books
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Stax Stonecutter lives a quiet and uneventful life in his family's home (in the world of Minecraft), and runs the stone mining business that his grandmother started. When he is visited by the rude Fougue Tempro, he is persuaded to give the man a tour, but is rather shocked when the man shows up the following week with raiders who not only strip the mine and house, but take Stax hostage and sail off with him. Tempro's ship has some difficulties, including zombies (creepers) in the waters, and Stax manages to escape and lands on an island with a tower, which he repairs. He eventually decides to leave, and sails off, lands, and decides to build a cabin and eat kelp. He meets several people, including Ramoa, who shows up several other times during the book, and Hejira Tenbooks, who encourages him to hunt down the Champion to help him find Tempro and bring him to justice. The Champion, however, decides not to help. Stax continues on his journey, which includes time spent in another mine and some riding with Ramoa's caravan. Eventually, he comes across Tempro, manages to subdue him and put him in a prison that is built just for him. Stax then goes home, thanks the people who helped to run the family business in his absence, and opens up his home for people to visit, after he renovates the property.
Strengths: I admire Dey Rey Books for capitalizing on a science fiction/fantasy gaming trend and assembling a very impressive array of middle grade authors to put their own spins on books to appeal to players of Minecraft. Mr. Fry is clearly very invested in this game, and his attention to details will be appreciated by those who play it. The story has a plot, character development, and a variety of different well-described settings, as well as decent supporting characters, making it a huge improvement on books (from a literary perspective) like Wimpy Kid.
Weaknesses: For someone whose only experience with Minecraft is starting a game and being unable to move the swimming pigs out of the quarry-style pool, this was a tough, tough go. The play-by-play style that must follow a video game is weird and unsettling. A lot of eating kelp and building things. And getting a lot of gold and jewels? Just not my thing.
What I really think: I will probably purchase it, and it's good to have read these so that I can recommend the different books in the series, which are not alike at all. The whole time I was reading this, however, I felt like I was missing a huge back story.
Ms. Yingling

Monday, May 18, 2020

MMGM- A Daring Rescue and The Next Great Jane

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 
Unleashing Readers.

Hapka, Catherine. A Daring Rescue (Dolphin Island #1)
May 5th 2020 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Abby Feingold has moved to a small island in the Florida Keys with her father and his new wife, Rachael, to open a resort on family property. They've renovated the buildings and grounds, and are expecting their first guests. Along with a newlywed couple, there is a girl just Abby's age named Bella who has come with her parents, aunt and uncle. The girls get along right away, and soon find a hidden cove on the property where a dolphin pod visits frequently. Abby is glad, because she and Bella will be in the same grade at the same school in Key West in the fall. The girls kayak and hang out on the beach, and eventually swim with the dolphins. Bella doesn't want to tell anyone about them, but Abby is afraid that her the resort isn't doing well, since she has heard the adults talking about the business. She thinks that if people knew there were dolphins, they might be more inclined to visit. When she tells her dad, Bella gets angry with her, but the girls make up after a dangerous incident with the dolphins occurs.
Strengths: This is exactly the sort of book I would have utterly adored in about third grade. A girl just like me, living in an exotic location, doing exciting things, and making a new friend. The illustrations are great, because they help readers envision what the resort and the cove look like. Abby likes her step-mother, is concerned about the challenges her new family is facing, and wants to help. Things with Bella don't always go well, but end on a positive note. There are even good safety protocols in place, and Abby breaks them is a responsible way when she has to. I can see this being available at Scholastic book fairs; recommend them whole heartedly! I'm looking forward to the series.
Weaknesses: This is a little bit young for my students, and is only available in paperback or prebind, but I would definitely buy this for an elementary school.
What I really think: I'd love to see Hapka write some older middle grade books about dolphins. Her writing is solid and engaging. Her Ponies of Chincoteague series was a lot of fun as well.

Going, K.L. The Next Great Jane
May 19th 2020 by Kathy Dawson Books
ARC provided by Follett First Look

Jane lives with her father in Whickett Harbor, a very small fishing community. Her father is a scientist who studies plankton, and her mother left years ago to become a Hollywood actress and director, and hasn't been as involved in her life as Jane might like. Instead, much of her care is in the hands of Ana, who lives nearby, and Granny V, who is raising Jane's best friend Kitty. When a famous author comes to the local library, Jane (who wants to be an author) wants to go, but is not allowed because the event is adults only. Instead, she breaks into the attic of the library, where she meets snooty Devon, whose mother is the famous writer J.E. Fairfax. The two have quite an adventure in a storm, but all ends well. When Jane's mother and her fiance come to visit, Jane and Kitty are concerned that her mother will try to get custody. They think it would be helpful for her father's custody status if he had a girlfriend. Who better than J.E. Fairfax, who seems interested in him?! Of course, Jane and Devon had a rocky start, but his siblings, Matthew and Caroline are nice, and soon the two families are doing a lot together. There is a school project on environmental matters, and Devon and Jane are working on plankton. Kitty has enlisted Matthew to help with a Butterfly Ball that will be held at the Fairfax's large estate (which they renovated before moving in). There is an ill-fated boat ride, local trips with her mom and Erik, and the Butterfly ball, all of which help shape Jane's ideas about her parents are her life with them, and which also reveal some surprising relationships.
Strengths: This had a lot of good details about what it is like to live in a small, coastal community, and I appreciated that the fact that there isn't much cultural diversity in some of these communities was addresses. The descriptions of the school were interesting; I can't imagine having the same teacher for three years, or so few students. Jane's family situation was interesting, even though the stress was palpable. There aren't many middle grade books that address the issues of custody, and there should be! The Fairfax family was delightful, and the book didn't dwell on Jane's interest in writing, which was good because I don't think many of my students even know who Jane Austen is!
Weaknesses: I've read so many books with children getting caught out in storms lately, but Going gets points for starting with this rather than making it the climax of the book!
What I really think: I didn't think I would like this one because of the connection with Jane Austen and Jane's writing (there are so many books with students who want to write!), but both of these things were minimal, and the focus of this book was on the family dynamics and the big school projects, which was fun. Will definitely purchase.

Ms. Yingling

Sunday, May 17, 2020

The Last Tree Town

Turley, Beth. The Last Tree Town
May 5th 2020 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Cassi loves hanging out with her cousin Jac, friend Ben, and her sister, Daniella. As her sister starts high school, however, she distances herself from the group and seems more upset about the fact that their Buelo is in a nursing home suffering from dementia than Cassi seems to be. Cassi is glad to be involved in the Mathletes, and enjoys working with Mr. Gordon, who encourages her. She also makes friends with Aaron, who is new to the school, and who has been traveling around with his father to live in different towns named after trees. The two talk a lot, and both have some issues to work out. Cassi is also upset about her Buelo, whom the family visits often, and she's also upset that she doesn't "look" Puerto Rican like her mother. It irritates her when people are surprised that she can speak Spanish, and she resents her frizzy hair and pale skin. Cassi becomes increasingly concerned about her sister, and asks her parents to help, but her mother is sure that it is just a stage that Daniella will snap out of. Cassi knows better, since she is reading her sister's diary, and when a fellow student takes a video of Daniella snapping in class, Cassi comes to her sister's aid even though it is not an opportune moment. She also learns more about Aaron's situation and tries to help him out.
Strengths: The portrayal of a sibling struggling with mental health issues doesn't get a lot of coverage in middle grade literature; usually, it's parents who are struggling. It was great to see a girl interested in math-- both of my daughters went into finance and loved algebra especially. The closeness of the cousins, and the support of Ben's family were nice as well. Daniella's mental health issues were described and treated in a realistic fashion, and it was a relief to see her finally get help and get incrementally better.
Weaknesses: I wish there had been more emphasis on the mathletic competition and less talk about Cassi's struggles with not seeming Puerto Rican enough. While that is a really interesting thing to explore, there really wasn't a whole lot of development. Perhaps if Cassi had tried to connect more with her Buela and explored her roots instead of just feeling bad, it would have added another layer of interest.
What I really think: This is just right on the line of being too character driven with not enough happening, so I'm debating. The family dynamics are really interesting, but the story is on the slow side.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Saturday Morning Cartoons- Trespassers

Bard, Breena. Trespassers
May 5th 2020 by Graphix
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Gabby and Simon's family has a cottage in the woods for generations that they visit during the summer. Older sister Morgan is looking into colleges, so the family enjoys spending time together. The bad news is that this might be their last summer there; the father runs a paper mill in Wisconsin that might close, and the family might have to move to Atlanta, which would make keeping the cottage open difficult. When new kids Paige and Bryan show up, they don't enjoy the backwoods as much as they should. Used to the big city, Paige has a lot of ideas (like shoplifting) that anger her parents, who are frequently busy checking in about work. Gabby is fond of an elderly neighbor who has recently lost his wife, loves to write stories, and has always been interested in an abandoned house. When she starts to imagine a murder mystery involving the occupants, an architect and his model wife from Chicago, Paige goads her into breaking into the house at night. Many of the original furnishings and books are still in place, and Gabby finds a photo album that includes a picture of her neighbor with the owners. She speculates a romantic triangle that leads to murder and includes that in her story. She and Paige return several times, but after trying to break into her neighbor's house for clues, Gabby learns the truth about the history of the house and its occupants.
Strengths: I can't think of many graphic novels that are also mysteries, so this is a good combination. The artwork is similar to but different enough from works of Telgemeier, Holm and Jamieson that students will be immediately drawn to this. The pictures of the forests are gorgeous, and the family connections really charming. I've never known anyone who had a family cabin and spent summers there, but it sounds lovely.
Weaknesses: It is a bit disturbing that Gabby and the other children break into the house and never get in trouble for it. It also seemed a bit odd that Gabby's murder mystery jumped right to an affair.
What I really think: This book will probably irritate adults and be beloved by children. Abandoned houses, especially fancy ones, beg to be broken into when one is a child, and even 6th graders ask me for murder mysteries all the time. There's a bit of a disconnect between what we want children to read and what THEY want to read, and graphic novels, with their colorful illustrations, seem like they should be more like picture books. I will definitely purchase this, but will feel a little bad that the children don't get in trouble for trespassing.

Ms. Yingling

Friday, May 15, 2020

Guy Friday- WWII

It occurred to me after reading these two books that it will be time for me to retire when there is zero interest in World War II among my readers. Between the 8th grade unit on the Holocaust during which I need about 200 books set during WWII and the handful of readers I have in every grade who ONLY want to read about this period in history, I need a weirdly large number of new titles every year! When I don't, that might be a signal that I've been on the job too long!

Burgan, Michael. Nazi Prison Camp Escape (Great Escapes)
April 28th 2020 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Bill Ash was an American who volunteered for the Canadian Air Force in 1940, and was sent to Europe shortly afterward. In 1942, his plane was shot down over France, and while he was able to parachute down safely, he had to make sure he didn't run into Nazi soldiers on the ground. He got help from a French family, who fed and clothed him and connected him to the Resistance so he could try to get to Switzerland. While he managed to escape for a while, he soon found himself in Stalag Luft III. While there, he found himself often in "the cooler" (solitary confinement) and took part in many escape attempts. One involved tunneling out from an outhouse to the perimeter of the camp, with the stench of the outhouse helping the process! When the Allied troops arrived in France, Ash was finally able to get help from the British army. In all, he had attempted escape thirteen times.
Strengths: The bits of history interspersed throughout the story were perfect. Information about the planes, the POWs, the Resistance helps readers who might not know much about those topics. Ash's story is told in an engaging narrative form, and these brief snippets don't distract from that. The length is perfect, the details about camps and escaping are interesting, and the addition of occasional illustrations will help sell this to reluctant readers. There is another book in the works by Sherri Winston, Journey to Freedom 1838.
Weaknesses: While I need lots of short and simple books about WWII, Ash's story was so interesting that I wouldn't have minded if this had more details.
What I really think: This is a great choice for WWII aficionados, lovers of survival stories, and reluctant readers who want an action packed adventure.

Marino, Andy. Conspiracy (The Plot to Kill Hitler #1)
April 21st 2020 by Scholastic Paperbacks
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

The Hoffman family live in Berlin, and with the air strikes causing damage and injuries, their surgeon father is often asked to help. When a man stumbles into their home with fatal wounds one night, Gerta and Max hear him asking their father to finish off Hitler, and see papers being passed. Soon, the children are dressed up and trotted out to see Frau Becker, and learn that their parents have been active in the resistance to the Nazis. Max isn't really interested in fighting at first; his solid, middle class existence has been shattered, and he would rather just play soccer with his friends. Still, his awareness of what is really happening with the Jews who are being "relocated" makes him want to help defeat Hitler. He and Gerta are assigned to do "dead drops"; they write a coded message on a building that alerts Jewish people where they can pick up fake identity and ration cards. They are almost caught by the block warden one night, and know that their activities could lead to their death, but continue on despite the danger. When Frau Becker's circle has a traitor, the children help by setting up fake drops to see who the traitor is. Once this is discovered, however, the whole operation is put in jeopardy and the Hoffman family must flee Berlin.
Strengths: This is a bit unusual in that it centers on an ordinary, gentile civilian family of Germans during the war. I had good friends who were in similar circumstances, although the man ended up having to join the Wehrmacht even though he didn't want to. I liked that they were portrayed as interested in helping to defeat the Nazis, but didn't necessarily hide Jews in their house. Those books have been written, but this was something new! The Becker Circle (which is based on some real people and events) adds a nice air of mystery and intrigue to the story. All three paperbacks are being released around the same time, and I do hope that Follett will offer them in a prebind.
Weaknesses: I wish this were just one book.
What I really think: I will definitely purchase, but one day in ten years a student WILL lose book two and I will be sad because I won't be able to get a replacement!

Thursday, May 14, 2020

We’re Red, Weird, and Blue! What Can We Do?

Dan Gutman has really impressed me during the pandemic. I've heard that his school visits are phenomenal, so he clearly has a fantastic rapport with young readers. Early on in 2019, he started reading from his books on Facebook live for students who haven't been able to go to school. This can't be easy, and shows an admirable devotion to his fan base. You can check out the details at

Gutman, Dan and Paillot, Jim. We’re Red, Weird, and Blue! What Can We Do?
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central
Published January 7th 2020 by HarperCollins

 It's February, which A.J. considers to be the worst month of all. It's hard to spell, teachers want to celebrate the 100th day of school, and worst of all, it was during February that A.J. embarrassed himself during an oral presentation about the presidents the year before. Hey, if Benjamin Franklin was on currency, he must have been a president, right? Sure enough, his current class is also studying presidents, this time in order to compete with other third graders in a trivia contest. The prizes are good; sausages from Porky's, who sponsors the school often, aren't that great, but going to Dizzyland? Excellent. When the school representatives are chosen Spelling Bee style, A.J., whose presidential trivia is limited, does surprisingly well, especially when aided by the charade-style hints offered by one of his friends. Andrea does very well, since she is bound to go to Harvard, and applies herself to all of her studies. When the questions happen to include some that A.J. happens to know, both he and Andrea are sent to face off against Dirk School. The questions are fast and furious, and Andrea does a great job, even if A.J. can't answer any. When the final question is a trick one, will A.J. be able to consult his limited knowledge in order to allow his class to travel to Dizzyland?

There are almost 80 books in the My Weird School series, and they are ridiculously addictive to beginning readers. Even my daughter, who just graduated from college, was a great fan of these when she was about 8. There are lots of reasons for this; Gutman has a great feel for the right level of goofiness elementary students appreciate, Jim Palliot's illustrations are giggle worthy all by themselves, and the characters are all interesting.

I particularly like how the adults are portrayed; they might be a little goofy, but they are always respected and do their best to educate the students. For example, when the kids go to the library to study, Ms. Roopy, the librarian, greets them dressed as Ronald Reagan, and presents them with the fun fact that Reagan was an actor in Bedtime for Bonzo. Too often, goofy adults are portrayed as clueless or mean, but Gutman raises the bar.

While presidential trivia isn't my jam, there are a lot of students who pride themselves on knowing not only all of the presidents, in order, but having an array of trivia at their fingertips. These readers will really like to trivia challenge, and will test themselves on the list of facts mentioned. My favorite part of the book is Andrea's epilogue, where she guides readers through how to research presidential facts. The book also includes some puzzles and games and, most importantly, pictures of the covers of the entire series.

Ms. Yingling