Friday, July 31, 2020

Dan Unmasked

Negron, Chris. Dan Unmasked
July 28th 2020 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Dan and Nate are the best of friends. They are on the Mira Giants baseball team together, and have a group of friends who regularly gather in Nate's basement when the newest George Sanderson Captain Nexus comic books are released. Nate is a great guy, always sticking up for his younger brother, Ollie, who is a bit geekier. Sometimes it seems like Nate is TOO nice to Ollie, like when Ollie brings Courtney to the basement to read the newest comic. Not only does Courtney not follow the clearly posted rules, but she doesn't keep the comics in mint condition. That's a small quibble, however, when Nate is beaned by a baseball during a game and suffers a traumatic brain injury. He ends up in the hospital in a medically induced coma. Dan feels that it is his fault, and is desperate to make things right. He even teams up with Courtney to help her finish a comic book, a take off on Captain Nexus, that she and Ollie had started and wanted to give to Nate on his upcoming birthday. Dan feels that if they can complete the comic and use it win the Tall Ship Captain Nexus Fan Art competition, that will help wake Nate up. He also hopes to inspire the Giants to win their tournament in order to wake Nate up, even though they are having a lot of trouble keeping men on the field. When the entry wins, and George Sanderson himself shows up to tell Ollie about it, Dan is flabbergasted to meet the artist himself. Not only has he loved the comic books, but he and his father, who is a very busy architect, had started a bike trail inspired by Nexus' universe in the woods near their house. Sanderson is not a young man, and his past holds some very painful secrets. As Dan, Courtney, and Ollie work to help their friend wake up, they also help Sanderson come to terms with his own backstory, which closely mirrors Captain Nexus'. In the process, Dan becomes closer to his father, and learns that friendship is a powerful force, even when it's hard to believe that it is.
Strengths: I am not really a fan of baseball OR of superheroes, but my students ARE, and this was the perfect amalgamation of both. Alternating those two interests helped the story moving along. The wishful thinking exhibited by Dan is so typical of middle school students, and his dedication to helping his friend, even though there was really nothing he could do, was touching. I adored the food inspector mother and all of her warnings about different restaurants, and the subplot with the father's work keeping him busy was surprisingly touching. George Sanderson's story added an intriguing and darker layer to this as well. This was a somewhat unusual story, and the writing was strong. I'll be very interested to see future books from this author, especially if they can combine football or basketball with deeper issues!
Weaknesses: A lot of other friends were mentioned at the beginning and not really developed. I kept trying to keep them straight and couldn't, so was a little relieved when we didn't hear about them as much.
What I really think: This might be my Cybils Award nomination for 2020. There's sports and comic books, which kids will love, but also a very deep and moving portrayal of a difficult and emotional epoch in a young man's life. Combined with the cover (a baseball mitt AND superheroes!), this will be a great choice for readers who want a fast-paced, interesting book that also sneaks in some emotional depth. Hand this to fans of either baseball or comics, or readers who enjoyed  Graff's Lost in the Sun and Northrop's Plunked.

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Project Gutenberg

I know that we all need things to read right now, but if you are finding full text versions of very new books on web sites that don't require a library card, you may be in violation of copyright law! To be on the safe side, and make sure authors get compensated for their intellectual property, make sure you have a public library card to use. 

Another fun option is Project Gutenberg. This is a website that has digitized copies of books for which U.S. copyright has expired, which is generally about 100 years after publication. Of course, many of these books are less than interesting to modern readers, and almost all of them will have moments where they reflect the dominant culture of their times in inappropriate and sometimes offensive ways. However, they can be really fascinating to read. 

Even though my blog focuses on the newest books, I could easily have spent the entire summer reading vintage titles. I need to pick up Alcott's

Here are the links to my top five titles mentioned in the video below:
Stevenson, Robert Louis. Treasure Island. 1879
Alcott, Louisa May. Eight Cousins. 1874
Baum, L. Frank. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. 1900
Penrose, Margaret. The Motor Girls (1910)
Hayes, Clair W. The Boy Allies at Liege; or, Through Lines of Steel. (1915)

Bonus fun! Watch me trying to hit the "stop record" button with my bifocals!

I got really interested in the order of the 23 Boy Allies books and finally found someone who had figured that out. I have e mailed and hope to have permission to post those lists soon. 

Ms. Yingling

The Great Pet Heist

Ecton, Emily and Mottram, David (illus.). The Great Pet Heist
May 12th 2020 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

When Butterbean the dog throws up on the floor and his owner, Mrs. Food, slips in it, the squad comes to take her away. Butterbean, along with Walt the cat (who uses the pronouns she/her) and pet rats Marco and Polo are understandably considered, even after Bob, who works in the apartment building, lines up a young neighbor girl, Madison, to feed them and take them outside. When it becomes clear that Mrs. Food might not come back home, and that the pets might be separated and have to go to a shelter, they start thinking up a survival plan. It involves having a source of income, so with the help of Oscar the myna bird (whose voice is helpful) and a neighboring Octopus, Chad, they plan a heist. There is a mean, shifty looking man who smells like coins who gives them a hard time in the elevator, so they do some snooping and find out he does have some money. They manage to sneak into the apartment, drug his accomplice with a half a sleeping pill, and get the gold coins. However, Madison (whose living situation worries the animals) is blamed for the theft and is kidnapped by the men. The pets realize that Madison's well being is the top priority, and go to great lengths to rescue her. There are some secrets about her existence that come to light, but luckily when Mrs. Food comes home to say goodbye to the pets, a plan that benefits everyone is worked out, and it's not necessary for the animals to plan another heist.
Strengths: I was thinking that this would be another middle grade novel about pets being kidnapped, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the pets were plotting the heist! Each pet brings some special skill to the operation, and they are all very concerned about Madison. Chad the octopus is the real star, and his reluctance to participate ("what's in it for me?" turns out to be cans of sardines), and well as his ninja skills, will resonate with young readers. This moved quickly, had delightful occasional illustrations, and reminded me of several favorites-- Ellen Potter's Pish Posh (the apartment building?), Selden's A Cricket in Times Square, and Woodrow's classroom animal tales.
Weaknesses: As careful as the animals were to deliver the sleeping tablet to the accomplice, it seemed like a bad thing to do. Also, the storyline with Madison's living arrangements was unrealistic, even if it was fun. Those are both things that bother me that young readers won't notice.
What I really think: I would definitely purchase this for an elementary school, but am debating for middle school. My readers who want mysteries want something edgier with murder like Tharp's Mojo, Giles' Fake ID or Sorrells' First Shot.

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

New books in the library... eventually

The titles listed in the video are reviewed here:
Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (plus some blather)

Fighting Words

Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker. Fighting Words
August 11th 2020 by Dial
ARC provided by Follett First Look

Trigger warnings: sexual abuse, suicide attempts.
**Spoilers due to content.**

Della and her older sister Suki have just been removed from the home of Clifton, a former boyfriend of their mother's, who had been raising them. Clifton had made Della the target of sexual abuse, but Suki managed to show up and catch the incident on film before the situation became even more dire. Their mother had been put in jail six years ago after cooking meth in a hotel and setting a room on fire. Clifton did not take good care of the girls, but told them if they reported him, they would be split up. Della is interviewed on film for the court, but Suki doesn't want to say anything about the abuse she endured. Their foster mother is Francine, who is gruff but kind, and willing to help the girls in many small ways. Suki gets a job at a grocery store so that she can save up to get custody of Della when she turns 18 in a few months. Della struggles in school, and while her teacher doesn't understand, the principal seems much more sympathetic, especially when she has frequent run ins with Trevor. The girls struggle with their placement, although things are going well, and Francine asks repeatedly that they both get counseling to deal with the trauma of their abuse, but her pleas are ignored. Eventually, the stress of maintaining a strong facade gets to Suki, and she ends up in the hospital after a suicide attempt. This makes Della realize that her sister had a lot more trauma from being with Clifton than she herself had. With the help of her new friend, Nehvaeh, old friend, Teena, and supportive adults in her life including a therapist, Della gains the strength to not only speak up against the way that Trevor is treating her and the girls in her class, but also to volunteer to attend Clifton's trial in person and witness against him.
Strengths: While this is an important topic, it's also a hard one to deliver to middle school students in a developmentally appropriate fashion. I can't say enough good about how well the information is delivered. This story was told with the utmost discretion; readers will know what has happened, but the details will be filled in only by their own background knowledge. Even the suicide attempt is perfectly portrayed (Highlight for spoiler: Suki slits her wrist, but is found right after she does it, gets immediate care, and survives.) What is especially interesting, and definitely valuable to younger readers (Fourth grade and up) is Della's reaction to all of the trauma in her life. She acts out in school because she has no reason to believe that things will ever go in her favor. She's had friends who were told not to talk to her after they find out her mother is incarcerated. Her teachers in the past were not supportive. Her interactions with her therapist, and the details about how she comes to terms with the events in her life, are constructive and helpful. Francine is a positive but not perfect influence, and I appreciated that she tells Della that she herself had trauma in her life, but she doesn't go into details. I had my reservations about whether this would  be a book I could personally hand to students, and I was glad to see that it was one that I would recommend without reservations to students who like to read problems novels.
Weaknesses: While I really liked the fact that all of Della's profanity was expressed by the words "snow" or "snowman", it did give an odd quality to some of her sentences.
What I really think: I will definitely purchase this for readers who enjoyed Dee's Maybe He Just Likes You or books about child abuse. My own daughter was a big fan of this type of literature, because she said it made her own life seem better! While Abbott's The Summer of Owen Todd was very similar to this book, it had just a little more information than I am comfortable handing to students.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020


Redman, Jess. Quintessence
July 28th 2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Alma and her family have moved to Four Points for her parents' work as real estate lawyers. She has always struggled to make friends and feel comfortable at school, but the moved has upended her so much that she has started to have increasingly common panic attacks. After the first one, she has hidden them from her parents, who are always trying to be helpful and encourage her to get out and try new things. When she gets a mysterious note, she discovers a Astronomy Club at school attended by only Shirin and Hugo, and also gets a "quintescope" from the oddly mystical Five Points Shop and the Shopkeeper, who gives her the mission "Find the Elements. Grow the Light. Save the Starling." Shirin and Hugo help her figure out how to go about doing this, and help her a little in dealing with school. Dustin, a dysfunctional but somewhat misunderstood bully, doesn't at first but is somewhat useful in the end. Will Alma be able to get the elements gathered in time to save the Starling, and will she also beableto handle middle school and manage her anxiety?
Strengths: This was on trend in the treatment of a tween with an anxiety disorder. The parents are fairly, although not entirely, aware of this, and both supportive. Near the end, they do suggest a therapist. Shirin and Hugo are good friends to Alma and help her with her quest, even though it is one that is hard to believe. The quest is well developed and aided by the magical ShopKeeper.
Weaknesses: This type of magical realism is a hard sell with my readers, who like their problem novels, but prefer their magic to be more fun.
What I really think: I revisited this because so many people enjoyed it, and I can see it being popular with an appreciative audience. Alma's story has an Ingrid Law, Wendy Mass, and Natalie Lloyd vibe as does this author's The Miraculous. This is also somewhat similarto Haydu's Eventown or Staniszewski's The Wonder of Wildflowers.
Ms. Yingling

Monday, July 27, 2020

MMGM- Second Dad Summer

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Klas, Benjamin. Second Dad Summer
4 August 2020 by Red Chair/One Elm
Copy provided by the publisher upon request

Jeremiah enjoys spending his summers with his dad, Al, in urban Minneapolis, even though he misses his mom. This summer, though, his dad is living with Michael. Jeremiah doesn't care that his dad is bisexual-- sometimes he dates women, sometimes he dates men-- but Michael isa bit too much for him to take. He's vain about his appearance, wears very short shorts, and is always reminding Jeremiah to wear sunscreen and be careful in the neighborhood. His worst transgression is his bicycle (seen on the cover), which has glitter and a unicorn head mounted on it. Jeremiah does make friends with Sage, who lives in the building with her two moms, and is glad to be given a little more freedom to roam with another kid. There is an older tenant in the building, Mr. Keeler, who is very gruff. He smokes a lot, complains about the garden, and calls Michael a "pansy". Even so, Michael sometimes brings the man groceries and worries about this health. This makes a little more sense to Jeremiah when he sees Mr. Keeler at a gay pride festival, and learns that the man was involved in early protest movements. Jeremiah and Sage decide to work on the apartment house garden to make Mr. Keeler happier, but the man's health takes a bad turn. Jeremiah's father wants to ask Michael to marry him, but tells Jeremiah it's very important to Michael that Jeremiah like him. It's a busy summer, with a lot going on, and Jeremiah learns who and what are important to him.
Strengths: This includes a lot of practical information about the LGBTQIA+ community in a very age appropriate and straight-forward manner. While Jeremiah loves his dad and understands his dad's lifestyle in the abstract, it's interesting to see how he processes the reality of moving from his mom's to his dad's. The inclusion of some history, via Mr. Keeler, adds some depth to the story. There's plenty of fun activities for Sage and Jeremiah to investigate, which keep the story from becoming too didactic. The end of this reminded me a little of Constance Greene's A Girl Called Al (1969), which I cannot force myself to weed! Along with Gennari's 2012 My Mixed-Up, Berry Blue Summer, this is a great addition to elementary libraries everywhere. It's also great to see  that there has been some headway in the acceptance of the LGBTQIA+ community, even in the last eight years.
Weaknesses: There's a bit of a disconnect between the age of the character and the format of the book. Jeremiah seems like he is in middles school, but the illustrations and size of the text make this more appealing to elementary students. I was just hoping this would be more suitable for my middle school students. Also, Mr. Keeler's use of the term "pansy" worried me. It's not treated as acceptable, but I wished that he hadn't used it at all.
What I really think: My students are very interested in LGBTQIA+ books, but are not as interested in the experience of the parents. Still, I will probably put it in my collection because the large font will appeal to my reluctant readers.

Nonfiction Monday- Gridiron and Interview with Fred Bowen

Mr. Bowen is a sports writer whom my students adore, and he and I go waaaay back-- in the fall of 2009, I entered a contest for naming a coach in one of his books, and Mr. McMillan, history teacher at my school and the head cross country coach with whom I worked, was the winner. When I found out that he had a nonfiction book on the history of football coming out, I knew I need to highlight this fantastic book and prolific author.

Interview with Fred Bowen about Gridiron: Stories from 100 Years of Football

Ms. Yingling- Your fictional books usually work in an event from history, and your newest book, Gridiron: Stories from 100 Years of the National Football League, is a great overview of this popular sport. What got you interested in the history of sports?

Mr. Bowen- I’ve always been interested in history, especially American history.  History was my favorite subject in high school and I majored in history when I was at the University of Pennsylvania (PENN).

My interest in sports history was a natural outgrowth of that interest.  I was always fascinated how sports changed and evolved through the years.  For example, before around 1920, only three or four baseballs would be used during a nine-inning major league game.  The fans would toss foul balls back or ushers would retrieve them.

In the early days of basketball, there was a center jump after every basket!  The early basketball courts were surrounded by cages made of rope or chicken wire.  That’s why basketball players in the 1920s and 30s were called cagers.

There are a million examples to show how the games were different than the games we see today.  At its core that is what history teaches: the world was not always as you see it now.  But if you know and understand the history of the games (or of your country) you will better understand why the games (or the issues facing your country) are the way they are now.

Ms. Yingling- One hundred years is a long time! What is the biggest change that has occurred in the sport during that time? What has stayed the same?

Mr. Bowen- Professional football in 1920 was very different from the National Football League (NFL) of 2020.  First, the teams in 1920 were in smaller cities such as Akron, Ohio, Decatur, Illinois and Rochester, New York.  The teams did not play the same number of games and some teams played teams outside the league.  The games were hardly ever mentioned in the newspapers.  In other words, the early NFL was not the big-time, billion-dollar enterprise we see today.

The game was also different in those early years.  There was very little passing and the games were generally low scoring.  One of the reasons there was so little passing was the ball was different.  It was rounder and therefore harder to grip and throw.

And, as James Ransome’s wonderful illustrations demonstrate throughout the book but especially at the beginning of each quarter of Gridiron, the equipment was completely different.  In the early days, players wore leather helmets with no face masks and had little in the way of padding.  Now, of course, players wear so much space age equipment that they look as if they stepped out of a video game.

Ms. Yingling- I learned so much from your book, such as the fact that the NFL was started in Canton, Ohio! What was the most amusing fact you discovered when researching? 

Mr. Bowen- I guess my favorite fact was the story behind the first NFL championship game.  The game was played between the Portsmouth Spartans and the Chicago Bears in December 1932.  So for the first twelve years of the NFL they didn’t even play a championship game.  The teams selected a champion.

The most amazing thing about the 1932 championship game was that it was played in a Chicago ice rink because a blizzard had made the Bears field unplayable.  But what was even more incredible was that a circus had been at the ice rink in the days before the game.  Contemporary accounts of the championship commented on the smell in the arena because of what the circus animals had left behind on the floor of the arena!

Ms. Yingling- Looking forward into the next century of football, what do you see being the biggest concerns in the sport?

Mr. Bowen- Of course, I am answering this question during the novel coronavirus crisis and so I would say one of the immediate challenges is how the NFL is going to play a contact sport such as football in this medical environment.

However, assuming we come through this medical emergency, perhaps the greatest challenge facing the NFL and the game of football is chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE.  That is the brain disease that can occur from repeated blows to the head.  The researchers at Boston University who are studying CTE have found the condition in the brains of more than one hundred former NFL players as well as other athletes.

More study needs to be done, but if it is found that football can cause CTE this may affect the number of young men who are willing to play the game.  That is why I included a chapter on CTE and the story of Mike Webster, the Pittsburgh Steeler center and the first NFL player diagnosed with CTE, in the book. 

Ms. Yingling- Teachers and librarians usually encourage their students to investigate historical events, but don’t usually emphasize sports. Students love sports. Why do you think this disconnect exists? 

Mr. Bowen- I think most people and most teachers think of sports as simply entertainment instead of seeing sports as part, an important part, of the culture.  

I often tell kids and their parents that people have been interested in athletic events for thousands of years.  The Olympics started with the ancient Greeks.  The Colosseum in Rome is really just a ballpark.  People have been interested in sports for as long as they have been interested in art or music or the theater.  

In addition, many of the important issues – race relations, economic fairness, gender equity – that you find in the general culture are reflected in our athletic contests and leagues.  Sports and sports history are certainly worthy subjects of study. 

For example, lots of students watch the Super Bowl every year.  It is always the biggest television event of the year.  Teachers should ask their students to explore the history of the game and how it became such a cultural phenomenon.  Gridiron has a chapter on the first Super Bowl (although it was not called the Super Bowl that first year).

Ms. Yingling- Why do you think sports are so appealing to tweens and teens? 

Mr. Bowen- Sports have drama, excitement and a host of fascinating characters.  Why wouldn’t young people or anyone else be interested in sports?

For example, in Gridiron I have chapters on some of the most exciting moments in NFL history, the 1958 championship game, the Immaculate Reception, and Super Bowl XLII (42).  But there are also chapters on some of the most interesting characters in the history of the league.  Red Grange, Benny Friedman, Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh, the list goes on.

Playing sports, following sports, rooting for a favorite team, going to the games are all so much fun I feel sorry for the people who say they are not interested in sports.

Ms. Yingling- Which of your fiction books would you recommend to read along with Gridiron?

Mr. Bowen- I have four football books in my Fred Bowen SportStory series: Touchdown Trouble, Quarterback Season, Double Reverse and the latest book in the series, Speed Demon.  As with all my series books, these books combine sports fiction, sports history and there is always a chapter of sports history at the back.  I think anyone who likes Gridiron will enjoy those books too.

Ms. Yingling- What upcoming projects do you have that your fans need to know about? 

Mr. Bowen- The next book in my Fred Bowen SportStory series – tentatively titled Soccer Trophy Mystery - will be published in 2021.

James Ransome and I are teaming up for another sports history book that is scheduled to be published in 2022.  

I am hoping to write my Fred Bowen SportStory series and sports history books for as long as kids want to read them.  They seem to like the books and I have fun writing them.

Bowen, Fred and Ransome, James E.
Gridiron: Stories from 100 Years of the National Football League
July 28th 2020 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Fred Bowen's fictional sports books are usually tied to an event in sports history, so it makes perfect sense that he would eventually turn his hand to an anecdotal history of football. Starting with the early days of the sport, and dividing it into four "quarters", Bowen explores and explains the development of this beloved but controversial American pastime by using short but illustrative stories. From the beginning of the NFL in a car dealership in Canton to the diagnosis of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in player Mike Webster, Bowen deftly choses specific instances that mirror the evolution of the sport as a whole. This manages to cover a wide array of topics both on the field and off. We learn about the development of gear, strategies, plays, and positions but also how football was shaped by the culture of its times. There are well known stories, such as the 1967 Ice Bowl, but also lesser known ones that could use whole books of their own, such as early African American players Fritz Pollard and Bobby Marshall who played in 1916!

Each story is brief bu powerful; I don't know if high school speech teams have a Prose and Poetry division any more, but there were a couple of stories that made me want to work them into a speech for competition, since they made me tear up a little bit! The accompanying illustrations will appeal to young readers, since Ransome's colorful style has a sense of urgency and movement to it.

I was impressed by the variety of stories, and it's odd to think that football has been played for over 100 years. Bowen reaches into the past to tell stories that help understand why this sport has appealed to both players and spectators, and has worked its way into popular culture: I had no idea what kind of player Deacon Jones was, but I remembered his name because he appeared as himself on an episode of The Brady Bunch.

While there are huge numbers of nonfiction football books about football teams and players, they are often formulaic and a bit lacking in literary quality and emotion. Readers who have enjoyed more specific football history books like Sheinkin's Undefeated : Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team, or McClafferty's Fourth Down and Inches, or other overviews like Shenolikar's Football Then to Wow! will find that Gridiron delivers exciting and evocative stories that entertain but also beg to be investigated more thoroughly. This is a must purchase for elementary and middle school libraries, especially where Bowen's fictional titles circulate well.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Summer and July

Mosier, Paul. Summer and July
June 9th 2020 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

*Warning* Spoiler at the end.
Juillet's life has been upended. Her father has left the family for a younger model and is off in Europe. Her best friend, Fern, is not allowed to hang out with her because of a lie Juillet told. Her mother, an emergency room doctor, has taken a summer position in Ocean Park, California and has dragged her along, and wants to make sure that Juillet doesn't spend her entire summer inside, being angry and anxious. Fortunately, she meets local girl Summer, who is bound and determined to make a new friend for the summer. Summer's parents are both busy with work, and she has a family secret, but she is also bound and determined to enjoy her summer at the beach. Juillet has been affecting Goth style clothes and makeup (heavily black and depressing), and Summer is a typical California girl. The two walk around the town, spend time on the beach, and investigate local  businesses and restaurants. Summer eventually lets her new friend in on her family secret, and Juillet learns to surf, realizes she needs to make amends with Fern, and comes to an understanding about her parents. The two girls become a little more than friends, and hope to reconnect the following summer as well.
Strengths: There are not many books that involve surfing in California, and this had great descriptions of surfing and surf culture. Summer was a great character who was dealing with some hard things in her life but was determined to be positive and upbeat about it. I loved that the mother had an app on her phone that told her when Juillet went outside the boundaries she had prescribed! Summer books are always popular, especially when they show characters in exotic and fun locations.
Weaknesses: Juillet was not a pleasant character at all in the beginning of the book, but at least she improved. It's hard for me to get into a book if I dislike the main character.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. The cover alone will appeal to readers, and the relationships are so typically middle school. Now I want to read more surfing books!

Spoiler (Highlight to reveal): Juillet and Summer share a kiss that is romantic, and are both glad about it. LGBTQIA+ books are hugely popular in my library, so I will definitely have to purchase this one. 

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Shirley and Jamila Save Their Summer

Goerz, Gillian. Shirley and Jamila Save Their Summer
July 14th 2020 by Dial Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this full color graphic novel, Jamila Waheed has moved to a new neighborhood with her family, including two older, and very busy brothers. Her mother is working from home and not content to have Jamila lounge around the house all summer, but she also doesn't want her to walk alone to the basketball court five blocks away, so she wants to sign her up for a science camp. When Jamila is at a garage sale, she meets the quirky Shirley Bones, who has an uncanny, Sherlock Holmes-style knack for knowing things about those around her. Shirley is trying to avoid going to ballet camp, and manages to get the mothers together to agree that the girls can stay home, and go to each other's houses and the basketball court if they follow the rules and check in. This freedom encourages the girls to get along even though they don't have a lot in common. When Shirley is approached by Oliver and Vee, who have relied on Shirley's detecting skills before. They want her to help find a backpack that they took to the pool with their gecko in it that has been stolen. Even though the pool is out of the boundary the girls are allowed, they try to solve the mystery. At first, they think a girl named Kumi might have taken it, but she leads them to someone else. There is a shadowy figure in the neighborhood who is stealing things, but how can Shirley use her knowledge to help this person, retrieve the stolen goods, and perhaps make some more friends?
Strengths: The illustration style is quite nice, and a bit different from the usual graphic novel. I especially loved the background setting of the diverse Toronto neighborhood. The depiction of Shirley was well handled-- she's quirky, which causes her problems, but helps her in the end. The explanation of her mother's view of her social skills was perceptive and yet productive. Jamila's relationship with her older brother, plus he love of basketball, was a great addition. Tweens want so badly to be allowed freedom, and there aren't a lot of middle grade books that address the finer points of becoming independent. The mystery of the backpack is more sophisticated than the average "neighborhood dogs are missing" case, and Shirley's empathy with the thief was refreshing. One of the better graphic novels I have read lately.
Weaknesses: Shirley wears a cotton dress with a collar, knee socks, and brown leather"school" shoes, looking like she just stepped out of a Henry Reed novel. Several of the other characters wear dresses as well. This just seemed unrealistic to me. I don't even know if you could buy a dress like Shirley's for a tween girl.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing for fans of graphic novels like Brosgol's Be Prepared and Bard's recent Trespassers (May 5th 2020 by Graphix).

Tessier, Greg and Amandine. Chloe #5: A Love for Carnival 
Published 21 July 2020 by Papercutz
E ARC provided by Netgalley

I wasn't a huge fan of this French series, but the fifth book is a little better. Chloe spends more time with her family and involved in community activities than worrying about her clothes and boys. There is even an interesting chapter where a group of English students come to Chloe's school for a week, and Chloe struggles to communicate with the girl staying with her family.

These, as predicted, have been hugely popular with my students, especially my English language learners.

Friday, July 24, 2020

The Bull Shark (Dragged From Under #1)

Monninger, Joseph. The Bull Shark (Dragged From Under #1)
Expected publication: July 21st 2020 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Barn Whimbril has moved to Florida with his mother after the death of his father in the military, so that they can be near her sister. He is very interested in sharks, and has read extensively on the topic. He also gets alerts on his phone when there are shark attacks. Unfortunately, there is an attack in a nearby canal that results in the death of a teenager. Barn and his friends Finn and Margaret start to investigate why sharks might be attracted to that particular stretch of the canal, and befriend a resident, Grandpa Lemon, who lives nearby. The neighbors in the area are in favor of using dynamite or possibly electric shock to take care of the sharks, even if it is illegal, so Barn wants to make sure that the sharks are not harmed. He has an ally in Jessup Sabine, a scientist who is looking into the matter as well. Sabine is impressed with Barn's hypotheses, and the two do some investigating. Barn's biggest break through is finding out that a local restaurant has employees that dump food scraps into the canal for fun, and the fact that there are solar panels nearby also attract the sharks. Will Barn be able to prove that this is the reason that sharks are entering the canal before another tragedy befalls the area?
Strengths: I'm always a fan of children with particular interests, and judging from the popularity of the nonfiction books in my library, sharks are a winner. Barn's methods of investigating and using his knowledge are good to see, and sharing this interest with his friends is even better. Jessup was an interesting character, and his brief flirtation with Barn's mother was a nice touch. One of my favorite parts of this book was that the characters biked back and forth short distances to the location; it's good to see middle grade characters being given some freedom, even in a dangerous place like Florida. This will probably be a big seller in Scholastic book fairs.
Weaknesses: Barn Whimbril is perhaps the least attractive name I have ever seen in middle grade literature. Also, Florida does not sound like a good place to live, especially if you've read any Watt Key or thought at all about the logistics of the Florida Keys.
What I really think: This is available in prebind from Follett, so I will purchase this and look forward to the sequels.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, July 23, 2020

The Witches of Willow Cove

Roberts, Josh. The Witches of Willow Cove
May 26th 2020 by Owl Hollow Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Abby, Robby, and Zeus used to always hang around together, but middle school is hard on relationships. Zeus is busy with football, and Abby is tired of fielding questions from her mom about whether or not she LIKES Robby, especially since Robby is interested in the new girl, Becca. Things get weird when Ms. Winters moves into the long abandoned insane asylum on Whispering Hill, and luckily Abby meets Amethyst, who is able to give her some pointers about her new magic powers. At the same time, Robby's step mother disappears, in the very same way that his mother did year ago. It turns out that Willow Cove was once part of Salem, and there were six girls who were executed for being witches. Their descendants (at least the girls) seem to develop their own magic powers in middle school. Ms. Vickory, one of Abby's teachers, seems to know a bit about this, but she also disappears. While Abby is learning about her background from Ms. Winters (and not trusting her completely), Robby and Becca delve into the history of the town and its dealings with witchcraft. Will the two friends be able to figure out what Ms. Winters' evil plan is before more tragedy befalls the town?
Strengths: Witchcraft and magic are very appealing to middle grade readers; I remember repeatedly checking a book of spells out of the public library and being very disappointed they didn't actually work. Abby and the other girls are able to levitate, ride brooms, and do other typically witchy things. The tie to the history of the area is interesting, and the research that the children do is fairly thorough. The inclusion of an evil plan always makes things better, and it's great to also have some middle grade friend and romantic drama.
Weaknesses: There were a lot of characters to keep straight, and the magic powers could have been more fun.
What I really think: I'm not sure if I will purchase. It's not available from Follett, which the only source I use for books at this point.
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Highland Falcon Thief

Leonard, M.G. and Sedgman, Sam.
The Highland Falcon Thief (Adventures on Trains #1) 
July 28th 2020 by Feiwel & Friends 
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Hal Beck is lucky enough to accompany his uncle, a travel writer, on the last journey of the fabled train, the Highland Falcon. The train has a rich history, royal connections, and his uncle has traveled on it before and written about it. Hal isn't quite prepared for how fancy the train is, and ends up borrowing a suit that used to belong to a prince. He is the only child on the train, or so he thinks until he meets Lenny Singh, the daughter of the engine driver, who has stowed aboard, in part because the beans on jacket potatoes her dad makes for tea are so awesome. There are problems aboard the train, however; there is a rash of jewel thefts, hitting everyone from Lady Lansbury, who is on the train with her pack of Samoyeds, to the princess herself. Luckily, Lenny knows the train, and Hal has a great eye and sketching ability. Suspicion for being the "Magpie" who steals the jewels falls on many of the travelers. Will Hal and Lenny be able to solve the crime before the end of the journey?
Strengths: While this is set in the modern day, it reminded me a bit of Beil's Lantern Sam and the Blue Streak Bandit, which I loved, and had a very strong feel of a classic 1920s mystery like those of Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, or Patricia Wentworth. (I'm a huge fan of British mysteries!) There are some nice modern twists, and a fast-paced, interesting mystery.
Weaknesses: I did wonder at the beginning if this were set in the past, but younger readers will just assume a present day setting.
What I really think: Sadly, my students are not as excited about British mysteries as I am, but this is definitely worth a look if Steven's Wells and Wong mysteries are popular in your library.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Part of Your Nightmare (Disney Chills, Book One)

Strange, Vera. Part of Your Nightmare (Disney Chills, Book One)
July 7th 2020 by Disney-Hyperion
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Shelley has had to move to a new school after the divorce of her parents, who still run the Tritan Cove Aquarium together. It was hard to make friends, but she connected with popular Kendall, whose father is the mayor of their small town, and her posse, Alana and Attina. Shelley is very interested in sea life and ecology, but her friends are not. After a field trip to the aquarium, her friends dare her to throw her coffee cup in the ocean, she feels bad, especially since she knows cute fellow nerd Enrique, who helps his brother at the aquarium, would not approve. After finding a shell, Shelley is sucked into the under sea kingdom of Ursula (from the Disney movie The Little Mermaid) and is offered this proposition: Ursula will grant her a wish in exchange for an unspecified favor done at a late time. Shelley, wisely, asks for some time to think about it. Since she is on the swim team with Kendall, Shelley hopes to do well and retain some popularity that way, but when she does poorly in a race and her life generally feels off, she agrees to Ursula's contract. Right away, her swimming times improve, but she also notices some odd changes like gills, webbed fingers and toes, and some scales! Not only that, but having a faster swim time than Kendall makes her friend angry at her! Realizing that this is not how she wanted her wish to go, Shelley asks Ursula to reverse the wish, and the sea witch agrees as long as Shelley does the favor. The rusty, tacky trident in the aquarium display is actually Ursula's key to unlimited power, and she demands that Shelley get it for her, or she won't halt her transformation into a fish. Shelley finally asks Enrique for help in dealing with Ursula, but will the two be able to keep Ursula from gaining power, even with the help of Alana and Attina?
Strengths: The town of Triton Cove, and the parents owning an aquarium was very interesting, and rather on trend with a lot of nautical inspired literature that I've seen lately. The friend drama with Kendall (with her designer, pastel yoga pants) will appeal to students who are themselves often dealing with it. I did appreciate Enrique and Kendall's friends being portrayed as much nicer than Kendall. The Disney inspired villain will appeal to readers who are fans of the movies.
Weaknesses: Kendall was especially mean, to an unrealistic extent, and the entire premise of making the deal with Ursula didn't appeal to me, but I'm not the target demographic.
What I really think: This will be a popular choice among young readers who like Goosebumps or the P.J. Night Creepover series. The second book, Fiends on the Other Side (which my daughter informs me is based off The Princess and the Frog)and Second Star to the Fright (Disney Chills, Book Three) are both due out in October 2020. I can see these being wildly popular at Scholastic book fairs, but even though they are available in a prebind from Follett, I will probably pass on purchase. I will brush off the many Creepover books I have and push those instead.

Honestly, I read this book mainly because my girls were enthralled by Goldberg's Disney Mix and Match Villains (1997) when they were young. I didn't let them watch the movies (they didn't watch television much), but they were allowed to read books about the movies so they would be culturally literate!

Monday, July 20, 2020

MMGM-- War Stories

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Korman, Gordon. War Stories
July 21st 2020 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Trevor is fascinated by World War II-- reading books about it, playing videos games based on it, and talking to his 93-year-old great-grandfather Jacob, who joined the army at 17, fought at Omaha Beach, and helped liberate a French town from the Nazis. When the town of Sainte-Regine prepares to celebrate the 75th anniversary of this event, they invite Jacob,since he is the only surviving American soldier who was there. Trevor's father convinces Trevor's mother that the three of them should go, and Jacob wants to start at Fort Benning, where he was trained, and follow his path through Europe to the French town. When they start on their journey, the chapters alternate between the modern journey and Jacob's experiences. Trevor is surprised by how unglamorous and difficult his grandfather's experiences were; for example, in his video games, tanks can go right over hedgerows, but Jacob assures him this is not true in real life. As they continue across France, Trevor notices a blonde girl following them, and odd things happen. A dead bird appears on their windshield, and a rock is thrown through their hotel room window. The girl is Juliette, and she is responsible for the Facebook group condemning and even threatening Jacob, claiming she knows that he did horrible things during the war and should not be lauded as a hero. Still, the trio continue to cross France as Jacob reconnects with pivotal experiences from his past, some of which he had suppressed. When the anniversary celebration takes place, will Jacob be able to take part or will Juliette's efforts to admit his past dissuade him?
Strengths: I am always surprised that even after twenty years of being a middle school librarian, World War II is still utterly beguiling to select readers. Korman does an amazing job at describing Jacob's reasons for wanting to join and have the "adventure" of fighting but also the way his view of the experience has changed over the years. Trevor's fascination with war is also brilliantly explained. The father is an interesting voice as well-- he's NOT that interested in the war but wants to support the man who raised him. I'm not usually a fan of going back and forth in time, but contrasting the modern day countryside with Jacob's memories of it during the war is fascinating. The family connection is well done, and I appreciate that Korman did his math and made Jacob Trevor's GREAT grandfather! Most of my students have grandfathers who served in Korea or Vietnam. My favorite part was the twists at the end, so I don't want to spoil those.
Weaknesses: I almost would have preferred it if Jacob hadn't met Juliette, and we just heard her side of the story without his involvement. This would have added a bit more suspense to the modern day story line, but we also wouldn't have seen Trevor's empathy for Juliette's family situation develop, so I can see why Korman made this choice.
What I really think: All of the parents who are concerned that their children are too interested in WWII (and believe me, I've gotten a LOT of e mails about this!) should read this book. It's an excellent explanation of why war is intriguing, but also informative about how devastating and destructive war. While Lynch's military based books about WWII and Vietnam addresses this, I've never seen a book that really talked about a modern day young person obsessed with a war, except for Landis' The Not-So-Boring Letters of Captain Nobody. Hand this to readers who enjoyed other tales of the French Resistance, such as Hughes Hero on a Bicycle, Preus' Village of Scoundrels,  
McDonough's The Bicycle Spy.

53066513. sx318 sy475 Kimmel, Allison Crotzer and Stone, Joanie (Illustrator)
Unbeatable Betty: Betty Robinson, the First Female Olympic Track & Field Gold Medalist 
June 9th 2020 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Girls and women have run for a long time; even the author Louisa May Alcott made distance running part of her every day life. It wasn't until the 1920s, however, that woman athletes started to be able to compete on a wider scale. Young Betty Robinson was approached  in 1928 by her high school track coach to run with the boys' team, since there were no teams for girls, and she was soon on the 1928 women's Olympic team! This was the first year that women were allowed to run, and Betty managed to edge out the favored runner, Fanny Rosenfeld, by .1 of a second in the 100 yard dash, making her the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal for running. She was all set to run in the 1932 Olympics as well, but was involved in a plane crash that shattered her leg. Told by the doctors to forget ever running again, she instead was only in a wheel chair for four months, although it took her two years to be able to run. Undeterred, she wanted to compete in the 1936 Olympics, but was limited by her injury. She switched to running relays, since the pin in her leg would not let her crouch down. Facing stiff competition from the German team, Betty was determined to win, and propelled her relay team to another gold medal.

After reading Macy's Breaking Through: How Female Athletes Shattered Stereotypes in the Roaring Twenties, I was amazed at the number of unheralded female athletes from the first half of the 1900s there were! Robinson would have been a contemporary of the great Babe Didrickson Zaharias, who also went to the 1932 Olympics but only ran hurdles.

Robinson's story of overcoming adversity is one that just begs for a longer treatment, but for now, this picture book biography will have to do. Stone does a great job at recreating the styles and fashions of the time, although I would have liked to see more photographs.  Some of these can be found at The after note and sources help give a bigger picture of women track athletes for whom Robinson paved the way.

Use this book, along with Poletti and Yee's The Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, The First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon and  Chaffee's Her Fearless Run (about Kathryn Switzer), to inspire the young runners in your life to sign up for a one miler or try a program like Girls on the Run.

Now I really have to track down this Joe Gergen book! Doesn't Betty look modern?

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Finders Creepers (Half Past Peculiar, Book 1)

Fridolfs, Derek  and Nguyen, Dustin (Illustrations)
Finders Creepers (Half Past Peculiar, Book 1)
July 7th 2020 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

The Fetch Twins, Esmerelda and Atticus, have a thriving business finding pets all over the town of Thorns Hollow, an interest developed after their own dog, Dunnsworth went missing. Their parents are on a mission and leave the children to their own devices. When the two find a flyer in their basement for a missing dog, Maxwell, that they do not remember, they go to the house listed. There, they see Professor Hadrick Mordred and his wife Persephone, who are rushing out of the house on a mission. The twins do see Maxwell, and while checking on him, just sucked into an alternate universe where there are a variety of magical creatures. On one of their ventures into the alternative world, they meet the Mordred's daughter, and learn a bit more about the magical world that is threatening their own. Can they save both?
Strengths: This was a hybrid book; part text, part graphic novel. This is quite a popular format with my students. The mystery of the pets is secondary to the mystery of the magical land, which is accessed through a creepy house.
Weaknesses: The parents just leave the children to their own devices, like in a Ruth Chew novel? Bonus points for not killing the parents, but it still seemed odd.
What I really think: I suspect that I am missing some key plot elements here, since the E ARC had a lot of "illustrations to come" panels. I'll have to take a look at the finished copy, but these authors' Study Hall of Justice series is very popular.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Elvin Link, Please Report to the Principal's Office

Dernavich, Drew. Elvin Link, Please Report to the Principal's Office
July 21st 2020 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Elvin is frequently in trouble in school, since he lacks impulse control and is apt to do things like draw all over his desk in order to turn it into a space ship during a science discussion. When his teacher, Mrs. English, is knocked over on the playground and drops her ice cream cone, Elvin's sketching skills are put to use identifying the culprit, which turns out to be his best friend Carlos. Since Carlos is a fairly understanding guy, he doesn't hold it against his friend, and the two are soon investigating another mystery. Field day is coming up, and all of the students at the school will get either a gold or blue Field Day t shirt, but they have gone missing. This is further complicated by the fact that the shirts are donating by the family of the school bully, Peter Zorber, who is wont to give other students wedgies. So far, Elvin has escaped, but he doesn't want to anger the other student. While the investigation continues, Elvin and Carlos volunteer their skills at drawing to customize white t shirts that are being donated as a replacement. Elvin is also very concerned that he not embarrass himself during the Field Day the way he did the previous year, since his classmates didn't let him forget that he fell into Gatorade powder. Will Elvin be able to solve the mystery, make it through Field Day, and behave himself enough that he isn't required to attend summer school?
Strengths: This was a lightly humorous book that covered the end of the school year in an amusing way. Flipdisc sounds like a fascinating game, and I can see it catching on with young readers! Elvin, his older twin sisters, Carlos, the teacher and principal are all amusing characters. This was a good length and was fast paced, so should appeal to reluctant readers.
Weaknesses: I couldn't get a good feel for the accompanying illustrations, since the E ARC did  not include any of them. The inclusion of illustrations always makes books more popular for reluctant readers, and I wish I had been able to see just a couple of examples. Also, the solution to the mystery seemed a bit odd to me.
What I really think: This is a bit too young for my students, but might be a goo fit for an elementary collection where books like Harley's Charlie Bumpers or English's Carver Chronicles are popular.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, July 17, 2020

City of Gold

Hobbs, Will. City of Gold
July 21st 2020 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Owen, Till and their mother have moved to Colorado for a fresh start after the death of the father in the early 1900s. They have the land for a farm near Durango and even have a pair of mules, Hercules and Peaches. When Owen hears something in the middle of the night, he goes to investigate and finds that the animals have been taken by a rustler. Since the family will not be able to go forward with their plans without the mules, he takes off after them. He manages to locate them, but is unwilling and unable to force the thief, Harry Logan (aka Kid Curry) to give them back. The sheriff thinks that the man will alter the brand on the animals and try to sell them to the mine in Telluride, so Owen takes off in pursuit. He is well prepared with food and equipment, but fails to bring the papers for the animals with him. Undaunted, he managed to make it to the mine and even finds Hercules and helps him move a piece of mining equipment, but is unable to retrieve him. He continues on his search, coming across friends of his uncle Frank, the man who gave the family the farm. Along the way, he comes across Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, crooked Marshall Jim Clark, and travels around a lot of interesting locations in Colorado. Will he be able to finally locate the mules and get them back home so that the family farm can prosper?
Strengths: This is an interesting time period little covered in middle grade literature. The historical figures and details were well researched, and the notes at the end were fascinating. It's tough to remember that the west was still not densely settled in the early 1900s, but Larson's Hattie Big Sky (set in 1917) is about the only other book I've read on this topic. Owen's assiduousness in hunting down the thieves is admirable, if dangerous, and the cast of characters he encounters are interesting. There's even an epilogue about what become of him and his brother Till.
Weaknesses: For all the historical detail and adventure, this didn't have the visceral pull of something like this author's Leaving Protection( 2004) or Never Say Die (2013).
What I really think: This author's modern adventures circulate very well in my library, but his historical books like Jason's Gold (2000)  and Ghost Canoe (1997) don't. Will purchase if funds allow.

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, July 16, 2020

The Mysterious Messenger

Ford, Gilbert. The Mysterious Messenger
July 21st 2020 by Macmillan Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Maria is being raised by her mother, sketchy psychic Madame Destine, who does phony seances and readings and then fleeces her customers with the help of Mr. Fox, the apartment superintendent in their city apartment building. Neither adult cares very much for Maria, and she has inadequate food support. She spends most of her days at the public library, where her job is to check the obituaries every day and report back to her mother with elderly widows without families. The librarian, Ms. Madigan, is very concerned about her, especially when Maria needs a permission slip signed to display some of Maria's work, and she (and Officer O'Malley) are unable to reach her mother. When her mother tries to get a ring from Mrs. Fisher, Maria is supposed to intervene and convince the woman to donate it to a phony charity, but Maria gets messages from a ghost names Eddy, and he tells her to help Mrs. Fisher find a treasure in her apartment. With the help of Sebastian, a boy she has met at the library who lives in an apartment in the same building, Maria tries to figure out what this might be. While visiting both Sebastian's family and the very nice Mrs. Fisher, Maria realizes that her life is not very nice, and that she is longing for a supportive family of her own. As she closes in on Mrs. Fisher's treasure, her mother threatens to move away from the city after absconding with the treasure. It's clear that while her mother doesn't care about her, the other people in her life do, including the ghost who has been guiding her.
Strengths: The information about Mrs. Fisher's late husband running an independent publishing house that produced work from Beat poets and other mid-century figures was fascinating, and the treasure connected with that was very interesting. The support that Maria gets from the library staff, as well as Sebastian's family and eventually Mrs. Fisher, is heart warming. The way that the ghost communicates with Maria, especially given her mother's occupation, is well done and ties in with the mystery of the treasure. This moved quickly and was easy to read and remember.
Weaknesses: Maria's mother was so evil that it was hard to believe. Also, I usually like Ford's illustrations, but perhaps the resolution in the E ARC did not showcase the spot illustrations in a flattering manner.
What I really think: I am not a fan of this author's Pseudonymous Bosch's The Name of this Book is Secret (2007), but it still circulates in my library, which is impressive. This is very similar (with the addition of a ghost) to Fitzgerald's Under the Egg (2014), and has shades of Schlitz's A Drowned Maiden's Hair (2010) and The Harlem Charade (2017), as well as Young's A Girl, A Raccoon, and a Midnight Moon (2020).
Ms. Yingling