Monday, August 31, 2020

MMGM- Tune it Out and Millionaires for a Month

Sumner, Jamie. Tune It Out
September 1st 2020 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Louise and her mother are living in Nevada, but things aren't great. Hermother has a job as a waitress, which is good, but money is tight, so they are living in their vehicle, which isn't. Lou's mom thinks that the two will be able to havea better life is Lou is discovered by a talent agent, so has her perform at talent shows and coffee houses. Lou's singing is great, but she hates to perform. She is very sensitive to sounds, and is uncomfortable in front of people, but her mother will not listen. When Lou is driving to pick her mother up at work on a snowy night, she has a crash with a deer, and the police and children's services get involved. Soon, Lou is being taken by plane to Nashville to stay with her mother's sister, Ginger, and her Uncle Dan. Maria, the social worker, picks up right away that Lou struggles with the noise of the plane, and buys her an iPod so she can listen to music. Things are not bad at her aunt's house; her aunt is a lawyer, and Dan teaches at a private school that Lou will be attending. Louise settles in to her new school with the help of Wells, who is on Dan's tennis team. Well's thinks Lou's voice is great, and she should be involved with the theater group, even though singing in public is not her idea of a good time. After a few incidents in school, Lou meets with a counselor who has her do a sensory survey-- nor surprisingly, it turns out that Lou has several issues. Since her mother had never wanted her to be identified, since it would make her look week, and her mother never wanted to take help from anyone, Lou had internalized that opinion at is at first reluctant to look into coping strategies. Eventually, though, she realizes that letting things go on as they are isn't helpful. Everyone in her new life is supportive, but when her mother comes for a visit, it is a bit upsetting. Still, she loves her mother. Is there a situation where Lou and her mother can both get the support they need?
Strengths: Of all of the "sad" books, the only one my students really, really like are the ones where parents are less than effective. This certainly has that, since Lou's mother is so involved in her own issues that she is not attuned to Lou's. At first, Lou does not have the language or understanding to understand or describe her own neurodiverse difficulties, but she eventually begins to understand them; this allows the reader to also slowly grasp what is going on. Wells is a fun character with his own issues, but it's nice to see him be enthusiastic about welcoming a new student. Ginger and Dan do their best to help in an unexpected situation, and Lou's mother's motivations eventually make sense, even if their results aren't great. This is an engaging, quickly moving story that fans of this author's Roll With It will be eager to pick up.
Weaknesses: There are a lot of details about the play and about Lou's singing; even though I have an increasing number of students involved in theater, books involving theater or performing are still a hard sell in my library. This might take a little hand selling, but Lou's other issues will be a big draw.
What I really think: Sumner isn't an #ownvoices author, but she does have connections with the special needs community, and her research seems solid. Lou's sensitivity issues are very reflective of how I see students with similar issues react all the time, and her emotional responses also seem realistic. Until we start seeing more #ownvoices narratives, I am fine with well researched and sensitive portrayals. I will definitely be purchasing.

McAnulty, Stacy. Millionaires for the Month
E ARC provided by Netgalley
September 1st 2020 by Random House Bfyr

Benji and Felix are classmates, but very different people. Felix is all about following the rules, and Benji just wants to have fun. When they are on a field trip to New York City, the boys find a wallet in Central Park. When it turns out it belongs to millionaire Laura Friendly, Benji is okay with "borrowing" $20 so the boys can eat lunch. They do turn the wallet in, and Ms. Friendly is glad they did. She's also a bit put off by the fact that Benji doesn't feel too bad about borrowing the money, and she issues the boys a challenge: the boys need to spend over $5 million in a month. If they do, she will give them each ten million dollars that they can keep. Of course, there are lots of rules about what they can and can't buy, but the biggest rule is that they are not allowed to tell their parents! Mr. Trulz is in charge of their debit cards, and has to approve purchases. It's a lot of money to spend, especially since they can't give any to charity of buy gifts. Some purchases are easy enough to get away with, like delivering doughnuts to school, but many, like taking a hotel room, renting cars, and employing a driver, prove to be more difficult.  The boys find a dog, whom they name Freebie, and have their driver, a college student named Reggie, help to take care of him. Their school work suffers as they try to find ways to spend the  money that won't get them in trouble with their parents. This is hard, especially when Felix wants to do things like help his sister Georgie pay for her wedding to Michelle. Felix's single mother, as well as his sister, are struggling with day-to-day expenses, so they don't approve of all of the expensive meals and tennis shoes that the boys are buying. While Benji's family is a little better off, they also feel there are more intelligent ways to spend the money, and eventually go to court to get the boys to stop spending money! This puts a crimp in their plan, and they try to find a way around it. When a tragedy occurs that necessitates spending money, the boys skirt the rules a little. Will Ms. Friendly let them get away with it? Or is she determined to teach them a lesson?
Strengths: This is pure tween wish fulfillment! Spend $5 million dollars in a month! Buy doughnuts for everyone, live it up with meals out, fund princess parades for teachers' kids! Great stuff. There is also a subplot involving the boys trying out for the school basketball team that is well done, and is a great selling point for a lot of readers. The boys are different enough that it is fun to watch them work together; they hadn't been friends, but don't mind each other, and work well together in their enviable predicament. The family angst is realistic; I really enjoyed the wedding scheme, and Felix's stress when his mother quits her job brings an air of seriousness to this. There are pictures of the banking app and the amount of purchases made that keeps the story moving along. This is a great doughnut of fun with an icing of more serious issues and a few sprinkles of moral lessons for good measure. Tasty!
Weaknesses: While I really like McAnulty's fresh plots and generally upbeat tone, I wish her books were just a tiny bit shorter. 200 pages remains the Gold Standard for middle grade literature, and it's sometimes hard to convince my students to check out longer tomes.
What I really think: It was a little hard for me to believe that Ms. Friendly would want to keep parents in the dark, and that the boys were able to do this, but that's just my adult perspective talking. Ms. Friendly eventually doubts her methods, and what tween hasn't tried to hide things from a parent? Definitely purchasing, and the cover and title will make this a popular pick.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

No Vacancy

What better to read when it's Back to School time (which is the Tuesday after Labor Day, no matter WHEN school actually starts!) than to read about summer vacation?

Cohen, Tziporah. No Vacancy
September 1st 2020 by Groundwood Books
E ARC provided by

Miriam Brockman is not thrilled when her family moves from New York City to a small town in upstate New York to run the Jewell Motor Inn. Since her father lost his job, the family thinks it is a good idea. There are some things that are interesting about the experience, like living in two adjoining motel rooms and having her Uncle Mordy spend the summer with them fixing the place up, but Miriam misses her friends. There are also so few Jewish people in town that the family would have to travel twenty minutes away for a congregation. Miriam manages to make friends with Kate, whose grandmother runs the diner next door, and even helps peel the grapes for the famous pie at the diner. She also enjoys helping out the one maid, Maria, who is worried that if business doesn't improve, she may be out of a job. Even though the Brockmans are making huge strides in fixing up the outdated business, there are still very few customers. When she and Kate are fooling around at the local abandoned drive in, they talk about how some communities had a lot of tourism when a picture of the Virgin Mary appeared-- it's not that hard to take a couple of swift knife strokes to the screen to get a reasonable apparition of their own. And it works... soon, the hotel is booked solid, the diner is doing well, and the Brockmans might be able to survive after all. Miriam feels somewhat guilty when she meets a boy her age, Anton, whose mother has brought him some distance to perhaps be cured. Anton is fairly comfortable with his disability, and doubts that the apparition will have any effect, but Miriam is bothered by the fact that many people do have faith in the fake image. There is also an incident where they hotel sign that Miriam has just repainted has a slur against Jews painted on it. Will Miriam and Kate come clean, and if they do, will the motel and diner survive?
Strengths: Summer vacation, kids working, a new residence that isn't haunted-- I love all of these things! The best part is that although Miriam isn't the biggest fan of moving and leaving her friends, she doesn't complain. She rolls up her sleeves and helps out with making beds, cleaning, and doing things to help her family and not add to her parents' burden. I also liked the bits of Jewish culture, including Uncle Mordy, who keeps kosher and won't eat in the diner, and also won't pursue a relationship with Maria because she is Catholic. The fact that the girls manufactured the picture of the Virgin Mary and let the ruse go on longer than it should have was interesting; on the one hand, it benefits their families and doesn't really hurt anyone, but on the other, it's lying. Since I file all religions under fiction, I was okay with this--  the girls have just added one more fictional story to a canon of fictional stories.
Weaknesses: This isn't currently available from Follett, which is disappointing! Also, I would have like the sign damage to have been followed up more completely.
What I really think: There have been a number of books with families running motels and hotels recently, including Swinarski's What Happens Next, Hurwitz's Hello from Renn Lake, Grabenstein's Welcome to Wonderland series, and I will buy this if I can get a copy.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Ember (Rescue Dogs #1) and Game Changers

Mason, Jane B. and Stephens, Sarah Hines. Ember (Rescue Dogs #1)
January 7th 2020 by Scholastic Inc.
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

When a house fire endangers a litter of yellow lab puppies and their mother, they are saved from their hiding spot under the house. One of the firefighters, Marcus, takes a shine to one of the puppies, Ember, but doesn't feel that he can adopt another dog, since he currently has an older one at home. Ember gets put up for adoption and struggles through three placements that don't work out due to her energy. When she returns to the shelter, the worker contacts a Search and Rescue dog facility, the Sterling Center, to ask if they would be interested. Roxanne and Martin, who run the center with their family, agrees to try Ember out. Children Forrest and Morgan are very excited to be part of her training; Forrest already works a lot with the dogs, and younger Morgan has read up on them extensively. Juniper is more interested in her cat, Twig. Ember is a great dog, and grateful to be with a family who does not yell at her, but training for SAR is very particular, and Ember struggles with certain aspects of it, such as being distracted. Still, the family continues training, even when challenges arise, such as Twig going missing. Will Ember be able to pass her tests, and will she be able to work with the firefighter from her past if she is assigned to him?

Dog stories, especially ones that feature working dogs in action-packed story lines, have been more popular in recent years, and this is a great addition to books of this genre. The training is well described, and the path to becoming a Search and Rescue dog isn't always smooth. Ember's experiences with other families before coming to the Sterling Center highlights the fact that it's important to match high energy dogs with families who understand their need for purpose and exercise!

The Sterlings are an interesting family, and watching them work together on the ranch is enlightening. The day-to-day challenges of feeding and cleaning up after animals is addressed, and my favorite scene was where Morgan, desperate to help out, takes over some of her brother's more onerous chores in a bid to be assigned more work! Doing the grunt work isn't always pleasant, but it can certainly be more rewarding, and I love stories that show this to young readers.

This centers mainly on Ember's training, but does have some Search and Rescue scenes that add some excitement, and Twig's disappearance adds an air of mystery as well.

Readers who like books with lots of adventure like Sutter's Air Raid Search and Rescue and Shotz's Firefighter, Hero, and other titles, will find that this is a good backstory about the training that occurs before disasters happen, and reader who avidly read Miles' Puppy Place series and Klimo's Dog Diaries will look forward to the next installment of the Sterling's adventures.

Feinstein, John. Game Changers (Benchwarmers #2)
August 25th 2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Jeff and Andi had a hard soccer season in Benchwarmers, and they are hoping that the basketball season will be better. Jeff wasn't a great soccerplayer, but his basketball game is much better, and Andi will be glad not to have all of the drama that being a girl on a boys' team caused. Their hopes are short lived, however. Ron Arlow is back being his ornery and bullying self, and Andi finds that her coach is very angry about "all the publicity" that she thinks Andi is bringing to herself. Coach Josephson doesn't play Andi, makes her do unnecessary drills, and is generally very unkind, but thebigger problem is that she makes racist remarks to the team, and doesn't even apologize when these are pointed out to her. The supportive assistant coach, quits, and although the new one isbetter and occasionally stands up to Josephson, the team is badly fragmented and not playing well. It doesn't help the team that Andi really is one of the best players, but she hardly ever leaves the bench. After trying to talk to other coaches to find a way to work out the problems, Andi eventually puts together a carefully worded petition to get Josephson removed, and has it signed by the entire team. After that, the coach quits, and the principal (who dealt poorly with the publicity surrounding Andi's tenure on the soccer team) says that the girls won't have a coach and won't play. Luckily, coaching legend Fran Dunphy agrees to coach, and the girls finish off the year with a good season. Ron and Jeff's team muddles along with low levels of frustration, but make a little progress.
Strengths: I do like the friendship and budding romance between Jeff and Andi, since they are really equals, and while Jeff "like likes" her, he doesn't want to ruin their friendship. The parents in the book are all portrayed and reasonable and supportive. The dynamics among the players are realistic, and there are lots of great descriptions of plays. It's good to address issues of racial discrimination, and this was also done realistically. The thing I appreciate most about this series is that it does a great job at appealing to all readers.
Weaknesses: The way the coaches are dealt with seemed odd and unrealistic. I don't think that adults would tell Andi that Josephson was going through a divorce, and I didn't like the couple of times that the coaches said they "needed" an alcoholic drink. Also, hiring Coach Dunphy would not have broken any union contracts; supplemental contracts are often given to coaches who are not teachers.
What I really think: I will purchase this, because I always need more sports books, but a lot of the dealings with the adults seemed unrealistic, and reading the book made me feel very, very anxious! Poor Andi! As a former coach, I cannot believe that any of this would happen. In nine years, there was only one time where we had to talk to a captain about not treating other teammates well, and it was certainly handled completely differently.

Ms. Yingling

Friday, August 28, 2020

Roosevelt Banks and Mya Tibbs

Calkhoven, Laurie. Roosevelt Banks: Good-Kid-in-Training
Paperback September 1, 2020.
(Originally published January 1st 2020 by One ELM Books)
Copy provided by the publisher

Roosevelt is super excited to hang out with his friends, Josh and Tommy, especially since they are planning a really cool bike trip with their fathers to the state park where they will roast marshmallows and have a great time. They are both building up their endurance by biking all the time. The problem? Roosevelt has wrecked his own bike by sending it down a hill with two melons wearing bike helmets strapped to it, as part of his science fair experiment. While his parents are pleased that he was so dedicated to his project, they are displeased with his general bad behavior in school and refuse to get him a new bicycle. They say that they may consider it if his behavior improves, but Roosevelt's impetuus nature makes this difficult. It doesn't help that he is having trouble with his friend Eddie, and Josh and Tommy are spending more time together without him. Will Roosevelt be able to keep his friends, earn a new bike, and go on the much anticipated camping trip?
Strengths: This was a great beginning chapter book with much the same feel as Carolyn Haywood's Little Eddie (1947) or Cleary's Henry Huggins (1950). Roosevelt is a well meaning child who wants to get along with his friends, but gets involved in interesting scrapes. The accompanying pictures add a lot of charm to this, and also shows some diversity that older books don't show. (Josh is Asian American and Tommy is African American.) My favorite part was when Roosevelt's parents take him around to garage sales for his new bike. Definitely a good solution.
Weaknesses: Tommy lies for Roosevelt so that he doesn't get in trouble with the principal, which is endearing but not my favorite thing. I'm a fan of the more moralistic tales of earlier kid lit!
What I really think: This is a bit young for middle school but an excellent addition to elementary collections where characters like Stink Moody are popular.

Allen, Crystal. Mya in the Middle (The Magnificent Mya Tibbs #3)
October 16th 2018 by Balzer + Bray
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Mya's exploits at school continue when her fourth grade class participates in an economics unit. The children get $25 from their parents, and their teacher gives them $10,000 in play money to use to start their own business. Some of the children want to do party planning, sell items, or have service businesses, but Mya doesn't know what to do, even after consulting with her older brother, Nugget, who did the project in the past. Eventually, she and her friend Connie decide to write a newspaper, the Texas Taradiddle (after the tall tales Mya enjoys telling). To earn money, they sell advertising in the paper, but when Connie tells her classmates that they will get a paper for free the very next day, Mya panics. She consults her family, and is eventually allowed to use the home computer, printer, and paper, but must pay her father most of the start up cash. The paper is a hit at school, and the girls decide they can charge 25 cents per copy to help with future expenses, but there are other problems in Mya's life. Her mother is overwhelmed by Mya's new baby sister, Macey, and her father, who runs the local feed store, is very worried about the price of corn and how it will affect his business. Mya is irritated that her mother doesn't pay attention to her, that her father calls Macey by HER nickname, and that Nugget is asked to help with the business and she is not. She is devastated that her parents don't even read her newspaper. There are problems at school, as well; the fair for the businesses has to be cancelled because the school exterminator is coming, and this affects the birthday party that Naomi is supposed to throw for twins Skye and Starr. Mya even goes to the principal to see if the events can somehow continue, and manages to get permission, but things must happen on a tight deadline. Can Mya make her family understand how distressing it is to be ignored "in the middle" and make things right at school as well?

Mya's concerns are valid ones for her age group; much younger siblings can put a stress on family relationships for young readers. Family financial problems can also cause distress, and it's hard for children to understand what is going on. Nugget is a great character; since he is older, he is more understanding about the family circumstances and willing to help out, and it shows a lot of maturity to also help Mya understand as well. I would love to see  more depictions of supportive sibling relationships.

The school project is an interesting one, and mirrors the JA Biz Town that my daughter did. It would not be an easy project, but as we saw in The Wall of Fame Game, Mya's school is very demanding! School and class relationships are very important in elementary school, and I loved that Mya's teacher and principal listened to her and even took her input.

Readers who like to see characters who accomplish things will enjoy Mya's attempts to control her world. Mya could easily be friends with Joahannes' Beatrice Zinker, Frazier's Cleo Edison Oliver, Simon's Cupcake Diaries crew, Torres' Griselda, or Conford's Jenny Archer.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Cross Country Books

Did I know that I would miss standing in a field every Saturday, tying shoes, handing out bandages, and holding people's hair back when they threw up?

Yes. I have reached the point in my life where I know that everything I love will end, probably sooner than I would like. 

I helped coach the middle school cross country team for nine years, so have avidly collected as many books on the subject as I could. If you know of any I missed, please comment!

Bell, C.D.
 Weregirl (2016)

Beverly, Jonathan. Run Strong, Stay Hungry: 9 Keys to Staying in the Race (2017)

Carroll, David. Ultra (2013)

Cerra, Kerry O’Malley. Just a Drop of Water (Just a Drop of Water (2014)

Cotler, Steve. Cheesie Mack is Running Like Crazy! (2013) 

Currinder, Michael. Running Full Tilt. (2017)

Durrant, S.E. Running on Empty (2019)

Fry, Erin. Losing It (2012)

Hart, Melissa. Daisy Woodworm Changes the World (2022)

Heldring, Thatcher. The Football Girl. (2017)


Knight, Phil. Shoe Dog: Young Readers' Edition (2017)

Knudsen, R.R. Zan Hagan's Marathon (1984)

Leonard, Dion. Finding Gobi: Young Reader's Edition: The True Story of One Little Dog's Big Journey (2017)


McClinton, Leon. Cross-Country Runner (1974)


Messner, Kate. The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. (2010)


Odhiambo Eucabeth A. Auma's Long Run (2017)

Singh, Simrat Jeet and Kaur, Baljinder. Fauja Singh Keeps Going: The True Story of the Oldest Person to Ever Run a Marathon  (2020)


Speno, Andrew P. The Great American Foot Race:Ballyhoo for the Bunion Derby! 2017


Swaby, Rachel and Fox, Kit. Mighty Moe: The True Story of a Thirteen-Year-Old Women's Running Revolutionary (2019)

Toor, Rachel. On the Road to Find Out (2014)


Van Draanen, Wendelin. The Running Dream (2011)

Vickers, Elaine. Half Moon Summer (2023)

Midnight at the Barclay Hotel

Bradley, Fleur. Midnight at the Barclay Hotel
August 25th 2020 by Viking Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

The Barclay Hotel, a supposedly haunted site in Colorado usually closed to the public, opens by invitation to just five individuals. There's librarian Chelsea Griffin, actress and spiritualist Fiona Fleming, cowboy and rancher Buck, retired detective Frank Walker, who plans to attend with his bookworm granddaughter Penny, and CEO of restaurant chain PB&JJ whose son, JJ, uses his "you owe me" to get her to bring him to the hotel to practice his ghost hunting. Emma, who lives at the hotel, is pleased that there will be children in attendance whom she can befriend. When the group checks in and finally assembles, the butler, Mr. Clark, tells them that they were invited to the hotel because someone killed the owner, Mr. Barclay, and four of the guests had disagreements with him right before he died. Mr. Walker is there to help investigate, but all of the guests are asked to look into the identity of the murderer. Penny, JJ, and Emma also get involved, interviewing guests and trying to establish motives and opportunities. They also look a bit farther afield, checking on the chef, as well as Mr. Clark himself. They look into the board game that Mr. Barclay invented (which didn't sell well, so there are lots of copies around!), and uncover the secrets that each of the guests have. Using JJ's ghost hunting equipment, they also prove that the hotel is, in fact, haunted. Against the amusing setting of a hotel with a cupcake bar, an enormous library, a bowling alley, and a carousel, Penny and JJ sift through all of the clues to finally solve the crime.
Strengths: The Barclay Hotel was a fabulous setting; lots of cool features, ghosts, and a snowstorm that prevents everyone from leaving. The characters are all well defined and easy to keep straight. Penny loves books but JJ does not, so their different investigative styles complement each other. There are several twists and turns that I didn't see coming and don't want to ruin. There's just enough of an Agatha Christie vibe to the setting and characters that I found it amusing, but readers who aren't familiar with mysteries like hers will still be able to invest in the book. Another winner from Bradley.
Weaknesses: I loved this author's Double Vision series, which is really action-packed; this was more of a clue oriented mystery. That's great, just not what I was expecting. Also, the hot tub is not up to par and the cupcakes could be poison!
What I really think: This is a perfect volume to hand to readers who enjoyed Bertman's The Book Scavenger, Grabenstein's Mr. Lemoncello's Library or Guterson's Winterhouse.

Chapman, Dr. James. Sounds All Around: A Guide to Onomatopoeias Around the World
August 25th 2020 by Andrews McMeel Publishing  
Copy graciously provided by the publisher

This book discusses how different countries express onomatopoeias differently. Sounds are categorized (Farm animals, wild animals, loud noises, sounds of the human body, etc.), and the each two page spread will give lots of examples of the same sound in different languages (so a page for pigs, rain, driving, etc.) The illustrations are colorful and attractive, and the scholarship solid. Words in languages that have different alphabets are written in the Latin alphabet. My only concern is that when the words are labeled (in all caps, with punctuation), the language of origin underneath is in all lower case letters. 

I would have had so much fun with this with my children, and I can see this being used in classrooms for a variety of reasons. 

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Waiver Day, August 2020

Before the start of school, my district has a professional development day, and I usually present 100 Great New Books. You miss my dazzling presentation, but at least you get a list. 

I'm excited that SlideShare will be reopening, and will try to embed the presentation when I can. For now, here's the link!

Letters From Cuba, Everything Sad is Untrue

Behar, Ruth. Letters From Cuba
August 25th 2020 by Nancy Paulsen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Esther's father has emigrated from Poland to Cuba to try to earn enough to bring his family out of a country where there are increasing problems for Jewish residents. In 1938, Esther manages to convince her father that she should join him rather than her older brother, Moshe. She travels alone by ship, manages to survive the voyage and meets her father in Havana. The two travel to Agramonte, where it is cheaper to live, and her father ekes out a living by peddling merchandise he gets in Havana. He rents his house cheaply from a local doctor and his wife, Senora Graciela, who lost their own young daughter to leukemia. When Esther goes peddling with her father, she is pleased to meet local residents, such as Manuela and her grandmother, who are Afro-Cuban, and the Changs, who have come from China and own a local store, but is distressed at how poorly her father sells things. After selling her father's stock of religious statues, she convinces him to sells sandals, and also buys some fabric from Rifka Rubenstein, another Jewish emigre who has a fabric store in Havana. The heavy wool dresses and stockings from Poland are not suited to Cuba's weather, and Esther makes a dress not only for herself but for some of her new friends. When she offers some for sale in the fabric store, they sell very well, and Rubenstein takes more orders for her. After Senora Graciela gives Esther a sewing machine, she and her father give up peddling and are devoting most of their time to making dresses. They come to the attention of a dress buyer in El Encanto, a Havana department store. She buys Esther's designs, so that Esther doesn't have to sew every dress, although she does still make some for Rubenstein's store. While most of the people she meets are nice, there are a few, like the doctor's brother, who are trying to start a Nazi party in Cuba in order to get rid of the Jewish residents. Things look increasingly bad in Europe, so it is a relief when there is enough money to bring the rest of the family from Poland, and Rubenstein decides to move to New York and asks Esther and her father to take over running the fabric store, which has an apartment in which they can live. When the political situation drives up the price of tickets, they almost fall short, but are helped by one of the father's suppliers to make up the difference. Most of her family makes it to Cuba, but it is still difficult for them to settle in their new country.
Strengths: The letter format of this book is important; it vividly shows how this would have been the only way that Esther could have communicated with her sister Malka at this point in history. There's a nice balance between giving enough information, but remembering to adhere to the letter format, which is a hard task! The details about daily life, and about the culturally diverse neighborhood, were very informative and taught me a lot about an area of the world I haven't studied closely. For me, Esther's sewing was the real drawing point; I was making my own clothes at the same age, and seeing Esther's abilities be the driving force in bringing her family to Cuba was a great story of empowerment. Strength in the face of adversity always makes for a compelling story. I loved this one.
Weaknesses: While the subplot with the doctor's brother was important, it pulled me away from Esther's story a little bit. At the same time, I feel like I needed a little more information about him and his factory, and about why he was so evil.
What I really think: Like Park's Prairie Lotus, this is the kind of historical fiction that I would have read as a child and love to hand to my students. It moves much more quickly than Lucky Broken Girl, and will be a great addition to the books I can offer students about World War II and the Holocaust. It would be great to see more books about the post WWII Jewish diaspora that are set in countries other than the US.

Nayeri, Daniel. Everything Sad is Untrue
Published August 25th 2020 by Levine Querido
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This autobiographical novel gives the readers the impressions of the world that Khosrou, who goes by Daniel in the US, has about his experiences leaving Iran as a small child and eventually settling in Oklahoma. It's not an easy transition for a lot of reasons, and there are stories of living in Iran, family history, and Iranian legends, intermingled with Daniel's modern day problems in middle school. It was fascinating to see every day life in Iran-- visits to grandparents, the parents careers as a dentist and a doctor, favorite foods-- in contrast to the problems that Daniel faces with his new classmates, who make fun of him because he is different. The family history if painful and filled with many challenges, from a great grandmother who was married very young, to marital problems, to the mother's conversion to Christianity at a wedding in England that eventually caused her to leave Iran, since it was illegal to participate in that religion.  There are other problems in the US; the family struggles financially, and the mother has a difficult relationship with Ray, who is abusive but also helpful to the family monetarily. Daniel talks to his father, who has stayed behind in Iran, and is somewhat wistful for him, and is glad when his father finally comes to Oklahoma to visit.
Strengths: I have had a handful of students from Iran, and aside from Dumas's 2016 and It Ain't So Awful, Falafel , Rosenblatt's 2017 The Lost Boys and Homayoonfar's 2019 Taking Cover: One Girl's Story of Growing Up During the Iranian Revolution , there aren't many middle grade books with Iranian characters. This has a little bit of everything; mentions of Scheherazade and the 1,001 Nights, Iranian history, daily life, food, and the difficulties Daniel faces in Oklahoma. Many of my students don't understand how difficult it can be to move to a new country, and books can be a great way for them to understand the challenges newcomers can face. The swirling cover is certainly representative of the way the stories and language flow poetically throughout this book.
Weaknesses: There's a fine line between authors telling the story they need to tell and telling a story that readers need to read. This book lacked a central plot and linear progression of events, and young readers may struggle to understand what is going on. Other reviewers have mentioned that there is a lot of talk about poop and blood, and that this might be appealing to younger readers, but the mentions are not usually done in a funny way. This is almost more of a Young Adult Book, given the free flowing style and the range of difficult family dynamics presented.
What I really think: Certainly an interesting book, and I'm debating. I was hoping that this would be a bit more like Varadarajan and Week's Save Me a Seat or Yang's Front Desk.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Me vs. the Multiverse and Star Wars: Stories of Light and Dark

Wilson, S.G. Me vs. the Multiverse: Pleased to Meet Me
August 4th 2020 by Random House
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Meade has enough worries in his life: his parents often fight by just not speaking to each other, and they try to micromanage his school work by making him wear a MeMinder that reports things like "Science Fair Project 1% complete"! Not only is his science fair project not going to be done, but he has nothing else ready for the school Student Showcase, AND classmate Nash is giving him a hard time. When he gets mysterious notes from "Future Me" that accurately reports secrets no one else can possibly know and are accompanied by intricate origami that only Meade can make, he decides to accept the invitation they offer and meet this mysterious note sender at the abandoned Janus Hotel South. Once there, Meade is confronted with a frenetic and confusing reality where there are countless versions of himself from different worlds. Working on the same premise as Lawrence's A Crack in the Line, Meade finds out that reality can splinter whenever there is any choice made, hence versions of himself that include Motor Me, who is overweight and in a mobility cart because his dad died, Disco Me, and Resist Me. These versions all know about each other and even have a Me Con with different panels about aspects of Meade's lives. Most worrisome is Meticulous Me, who not only arranged the Con but also is working on elevator that will allow people to travel through the multiverse without causing problems. But is that the real reason that Meticulous Me wants to facilitate this travel, or does he have a more nefarious reason? It's up to Meade, the Average Me, to make sense of the multiverse and make sure that everyone and everything stays safe.
Strengths: Wow! This was one clever, pell-mell romp, complete with hysterically funny lines like "chocolate chip spaghetti with prunces" and "Chihuahuas did skateboard tricks on the curb, nearly bumping into a real-life centaur cantering past them as he sipped from a bottle of homemade kombucha" (from the E ARC: haven't gotten a chance to see a print copy yet). I'm an absolute sucker for unexpected word combinations that make me snort tea out of my nose! The story, despite the number of characters, holds together, the plot goes forward, and there is even some character development. The cover is fantastic, and the inclusion of origami is quite original. The whole multiverse concept, as discovered by Meade's mother, made me wonder if his mother was actually Meg Murray of A Wrinkle in Time!
Weaknesses: There were a LOT of versions of Meade. For someone who has trouble with books like The Warriors series because of the number of different cats on each page, this was challenging. I also wasn't a huge fan of Motor Me.
What I really think:This reminded me a bit of Castle's  Popular Clone series, which I thought was brilliant but doesn't circulate well. It is also somewhat reminiscent of some of Patterson's Jimmy books, with a smattering of illustrations in a very popular style. I'm torn. If I have enough money, I will buy this; having enough money will depend on how many of the 1,400 books that were still checked out at the end of the school year get returned. Welcome to the Covid19 world!

Anders, Lou, et. al. Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Stories of Light and Dark
August 25th 2020 by Disney Lucasfilm Press\
E ARC provided by Netgalley

This was an awesome testament to the love that all of these well established middle grade authors have for Star Wars.

I didn't really understand any of it.

 There are a lot of Star Wars books out there, some by the authors included in this anthology of what is essentially very, very good fan fiction. I can't comment on how the stories fit in with the Star Wars canon, but I'm sure my students who love the franchise will be more than happy to tell me in great detail. Some of the books (especially the series by the Davids and by Jude Watson) are easy enough for people unfamiliar with the movies to understand, but this had so many details and characters that I was lost.

This means that it is perfect for readers who DO know the characters, but for me, it was sort of like reading the Silmarillion. I understood each word, but struggled with following exactly what was going on.

Will I buy a copy? Yes. Will it circulate well? Indeed. Was it my cup of soup that Baby Yoda drinks?

Clearly, I am culturally illiterate when it comes to this fandom.

Monday, August 24, 2020

MMGM- The Nerviest Girl in the World

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Wiley, Melissa. The Nerviest Girl in the World
August 18th 2020 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Pearl lives on an ostrich farm near the small town of Lemon Springs, California, in the early 1900s with her family, including three older brothers who are working as stunt men in films. Mr. Corrigan, who is producing silent pictures, relies on their horsemanship to add excitement to his story lines. The pay isn't unwelcome, and it's fun for Pearl to watch her siblings in action, as long as she doesn't forget that it's acting and disrupts filming by shouting out! When she is watching from the back of her horse one day, unexpected gunshots spook the animal and send the two racing across a field. Of course, the astute cameraman captures this, and Mr. Corrigan works the scene into the story line... since Pearl isn't hurt, of course! Soon, Pearl is working part time for the films in a variety of roles. Her parents are okay with this, and even have a phone line put in so that they can speak to Mr. Corrigan. Pearl still has to do her chores with the ostriches, and she puts in extra hours at home preparing for some of the stunts, such as the one where she accidentally goes up in a hot air balloon and has to shimmy down a rope to escape. The one problem she has is Mary, another girl her age who is an actress and seems to dislike Pearl for no particularly good reason.
Strengths: After reading book after book with sad things going on, this was a HUGE relief. Aside from the slight problem with Mary (which is nicely resolved), this is just a refreshing depiction of life in the early 1900s. Farming, cantankerous ostriches, the fledgling cinema world, and Pearl's fun and forthright interactions with all of these things. I loved that she was in a film but had never seen one! The grandmother is a great character, cooking with ostrich eggs and telling Pearl that she's growing too fast, so she can wear her brother's old pants, and generally injecting even more fun into a blissfully angst-free tale. For some reason (maybe the occasional page illustrations), this reminded me a bit of Cleary's Emily's Runaway Imagination!
Weaknesses: I wish this were a longer book, and I don't say that often. I really wanted to know more about Pearl's career, and her life in California.
What I really think: Like Nesbet's Daring Darleen: Queen of the Screen, this covers a somewhat obscure but really fascinating time period. It's a quick, fascinating read that I can't wait to put into my students' hands.

50159794. sx318 sy475 Grove, Tim. Star-Spangled: The Story of a Flag, a Battle, and the American Anthem
May 26th 2020 by Abrams Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

The War of 1812 isn't one that really captures the imagination of young readers like the Revolutionary or Civil War does, but is nonetheless an important chapter of US history. There is a brief introduction to this conflict, complete with a map and list of key figures, but we then see some of the side stories that are going on. An explanation of Mary Pickersgill sewing business is brought in, and we then return to the war as it affected Baltimore. Francis Scott Key's involvement is highlighted, and we return to some of the battle details before getting a British perspective through the eyes of Sir Alexander Cochrane, the highest ranking British officer. As the battles rage on, we see Key's inspiration, the penning of the famous song, and are left with details about the fates of various key players.

George Santayana supposedly authored the phrase “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This is an important thing to remember during these times of national turmoil when people are, rightly, questioning many of the traditions in the US that have questionable origins. While it was common two hundred years ago to take great pride in one's ability to subdue other nations, this is not a current opinion. I've never been a huge fan of the Star-Spangled Banner, favoring America the Beautiful as easier to sing and less polemic, but the anthem is part of US history, and as such, is important to study in order to understand US history.

This is a good length for a middle grade nonfiction book, coming in at just about 150 pages, plus notes and appendices. I enjoyed the fact that it did not concentrate on just the fighting, but highlighted key figures and other events occurring at the time. Fans of books about war will find enough descriptions of battle to make them happy!

This nicely paced recounting of events leading up to our nation's national anthem is delivered in a beautifully formatted book. Heavy, glossy paper does justice to the plentiful illustrations, period paintings, and facsimile documents supporting the text. The use of red, blue, and cream made me think of the US Bicentennial when I was a child-- this book would have fit right in! There are Places to Visit, a glossary, a timeline, and a nice bibliography as well.

Nonfiction books about a variety of history topics are always interesting to read. This author has several others including Milestones of Flight: From Hot-Air Balloons to SpaceShipOne and
First Flight Around the World: The Adventures of the American Fliers Who Won the Race. Star-Spangled might be enjoyed by young readers who gravitate towards historical nonfiction titles like
Brinkley's American Moonshot Young Readers' Edition: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race, Bowen's Gridiron: Stories from 100 Years of the National Football League or Olson's Into the Clouds: The Race to Climb the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

American Girl Guides and My Eyes are Up Here

Seymour, Melissa and Lewis, Stevie (Illustrator).
Making a Difference: Using Your Talents and Passions to Change the World
August 24th 2020 by American Girl Publishing Inc
Copy provided by Weber Shandwick PR Agency

Tweens have a lot of energy, and are also very curious about the world around them. Even though I haven't seen my students in person for a while, I know that many of them have been going to protests, making masks for hospital workers, and will be looking for other ways to help out during this difficult year. Making a Difference is a great resource to help get started.

The plentiful illustrations are charming and perfect for this age; a little bit like their favorite graphic novels, bright and colorful, and showing a wide range of cultural diversity, including differently abled girls. The text is a bit on the smaller side, but this allows the book to be a handy size for carrying around when making plans with friends.

This has several quizzes and checklists, which are always fun, and a great way to start thinking about projects. The book advocates starting with something near and dear to one's heart, which is always good advice, but also addresses the issue of thinking about others and the wider world. I especially liked the suggested activities for combinations of what interests readers and what kind of activists they might want to be. Many students have no idea where to start, and this gives very specific and concrete ways to proceed, as well as help in finding opportunities. The only other thing I might have included would have been National Organizations or web links at the end, although those are always a difficult inclusion, since things change rapidly.

I found it especially interesting that there is a chapter about "Easing Your Worries". While young readers really want to make a difference, it's all too easy for them to get overwhelmed with the sheer number of problems that need to be solved.

Social activism was not something that was encouraged when I was growing up, but if I had had a book like this, I'm sure I would have used it to start a recycling club at school and fund raise for new books for the school library, and would have been able to get a lot of work done without bothering my parents with a thousand questions. Definitely a great resource for the young activist or would-be activist in your life.

Holyoke, Nancy and Chavarri, Elisa.
A Smart Girl's Guide: Crushes: Dating, Rejection, and Other Stuff 
August 24th 2020 by American Girl Publishing Inc
Copy provided by Weber Shandwick PR Agency

If you need any reason to make sure that books like this are updated, here's a sentence that you will NOT find in this new American Girl book: "Girls, on their part, like the broad square shoulders of boys, they heavy, back brushed hair, their strong, capable hands, their masterful manner." (Frances Burton Strain, Teen Days, 1946) So much has changed in even the last five years, that giving an older book to a tween will not be helpful.

This freshly updated title has colorful illustrations that reflect current fashions as well as cultural diversity of depictions. The biggest difference for me is seeing the drawings reflect a more realistic range of sizes in students, instead of everyone being super thin. With the recent popularity of graphic novels, tweens are well attuned to attractive, quality illustrations, and will be pleased with these.

Navigating the world of romantic feelings is difficult, and something not everyone wants to discuss with adults or even friends, so having honest language that talks about what a crush is, what fears might attend that, and how to positively interact with others in that manner is very important. This update is good about sometimes being vague about the gender of crushes, but does address some concerns about girls talking to boys and suggesting ways to feel comfortable being friends with them or talking to them. There is not much discussion of nonbinary students, but I imagine the next update will probably include that information.

Issues tangential to dating, such as popularity, harassment, and self image are also covered in ways that tweens can understand them. There are quizzes and check lists, so girls who do discuss these things with friends will have a good time using these as a springboard to conversations. I particularly liked the section about "problem partners" and instructions on how to break up; one of my most awkward moments in 9th grade was when a friend asked me if I "liked" a boy, I said "Of course", and found myself dating him for 24 hours. Tweens are not the most tactful people, so instructions on how to considerately break up with people could save a lot of hurt feelings.

The American Girl company also has books on topics such as Money, Cooking, and Middle School, and these are great resources for tweens who need extra reassurance and a helpful road map to have at hand when driving along the winding and bumpy road of adolescent relationships.

Zimmerman, Laura. My Eyes are Up Here
June 23rd 2020 by Dutton Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Greer's mother has a relocation help business, so she is always being dragged off to meet the children of clients. Kids her age generally don't want to talk to her, but when she meets Jackson Oates and his mom at the habitual coffee shop, he's different. Friendly, smart, helpful, funny-- Greer instantly likes him. The problem? Greer is so uncomfortable about her large breasts that she retreats from a lot of social connections, and figures that Jackson will immediately make new friends and ignore her. He does make friends, including her best friend Maggie's brother and a lot of other baseball players, but he still continues to talk to her. Usually more concerned with advanced academics than other activities (which can often involve people looking at her), Greer becomes interested in volleyball and tries out for the team. It's difficult to play with a sports bra squeezed over her regular, but the coach sends her a link to a garment called "the Stabilizer" that works wonders. Greer makes the teams, but another hurdle is getting a uniform to fit her 30H figure. Greer and Jackson' families spend some tiem together, and his problematic younger sister takes to Greer. At the same time, Maggie is involved with the school production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and is being her usual outspoken self when questioning the wisdom of doing such an outdated play. Greer is hopeful about volleyball and Jackson until events complicate matters and she almost disengages, retreating into her XXL sweatshirts instead of confronting her problems. Will she ever be able to make peace with herself?
Strengths: I loved this one SO much. Greer was smart and funny, and I think that so many of us can commiserate with wanting to hide behind clothes. Jackson was absolutely crush worthy, and treated Greer really well even when her actions were confusing. In fact, all of the characters were well drawn; the pushy, uncommunicative mother; the squirrely younger brother; Maggie; the phenomenal home ec teacher-- whew. Smart, smart writing, and such a vivid description of what Greer felt like living in her body. After I finished this, I couldn't pick up any other books because I knew I wouldn't like anything I read half as well. Greer, with all of her humor, insecurity, and misguided attempts to get through high school, reminded me a lot of myself, and of my daughter who probably wore an oversized hoodie to high school 90% of the time.
Weaknesses: Some reviewers have mentioned that this isn't quite in line with "body positivity" and that there would be more resources for Greer for bras, because her size was not unusual. I didn't immediately think about the "body positivity" aspect; as someone who is absolutely average sized and still wants to live in obscuring clothes, I just saw this as how one girl who was a little different than her classmates took that difference to heart in wanting to hide from the world. More "effenheimers" that I like for middle grade readers, and once scene between Jackson and Greer that was delicately done, circumspect, and probably not instructional to younger readers but which about melted my socks off. Also, I think I learned some things about personal hygiene I didn't know.
What I really think: Do we need books about this for middle school readers? Yes. Is this the book they need? I am really debating because I loved Greer and Jackson so much.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Carton Saturday- Fauja Singh and Geeger the Robot

As I'm writing this, it's the beginning of May. Normally, we would be having meetings for students interested in running cross country in the fall, handing out mileage charts, and looking forward to fun runs at Zoombeezi Bay and the Ohio Stadium. Last year, the longtime coach stepped down, and I did, too. Parents took over for the year, but with the pandemic, who knows that will even happen to the fall season. I came late to running, starting when I was 40, but after nine years coaching, I am a firm believer in the value of running. Elementary school is a great time to drum up interest in the sport, and this is a great book to use!

Singh, Simrat Jeet and Kaur, Baljinder. Fauja Singh Keeps Going: The True Story of the Oldest Person to Ever Run a Marathon 
August 25th 2020 by Kokila

After a full life farming in India, Singh moved to England at the age of 81 to live with his family. For someone who loved his country, this was a hard move, but Singh found that running helped him feel better about his new situation. Soon, he was running more and more, and enlisted a coach to help him train for a marathon. He ran many races, has a raft of records he has broken, and still continues to run. The book has great illustrations, as well as a photograph at the end, and lists all of Singh's records. Seeing older people as active and engaged in life, and even trying new things, is a fantastic message. I have quite a collection of running picture books, so will probably purchase this one.

 Singh, along with runner Joy Johnson (who didn't start running until she was 59 and literally died with her racing shoes on) give me strength to believe that "Every step forward is a victory."

Lerner, Jarrett and Seidlitz,Serge (illus.) Geeger the Robot Goes to School
August 25th 2020 by Aladdin (Quix)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this early reader book, Geeger is a robot of undetermined origin whose job is to eat food waste and convert it to energy, aided by the Digest-o-tron 5000, which also can alert him if he has eaten something inappropriate. Even though he has a brain made of wires, he occasionally gets lonely, so he decides to go to school. He is a little nervous about this, but is helped by Tillie, a kind student, and his teacher, Ms. Bork. There are some mishaps where Geeger's desire to eat anything that looks like food gets him into trouble, but Ms. Bork is very understanding and helps Geeger learn.
Strengths: Aladdin has three great series: M!X, MAX, and QUIX. The first two are hugely popular in my middle school library because they actually reflect the sort of fast-paced, amusing books my students request! The QUIX books (which include Quackenbush's Miss Mallard Mysteries) are for younger audiences, but also have that happy, goofy quality. Like Lerner's previous books, EngiNerds, Geeger is a giggle worthy romp that students will pass amongst themselves. I love that this is described as "Amelia Bedelia meets House of Robots", as it definitely has an Amelia Bedelia quality to it that young readers will love. The text-to-picture ratio is great, font large, and level and length perfect either for reading out loud together or for independent reading. I would definitely have bought this for my children when they were young, since they loved anything science or technology related.
Weaknesses: This is too young for my readers, but an absolute necessity for elementary libraries. The only thing that gave me pause was that Geeger had emotions. Coming from a middle grade background, I wanted to know more about these shadowy scientists who made him and sent him to Amblerville!
What I really think:  I won't purchase, but will definitely recommend to elementary librarians.