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

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