Wednesday, September 30, 2020

World Wednesday- You Can Change the World

Bell, Lucy. You Can Change the World: The Kids' Guide to a Better Planet
October 6th 2020 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

When 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth (January 1st 1990 by Andrews McMeel Publishing) came out, I was in charge of the school Ecological Club at Seven Hills Middle School in Cincinnati, where I taught 6-8th grade Latin. We consulted the book for ideas; we got recycle bins for paper for each classroom, sold cloth lunch bags, and lobbied the school cafeteria for can and bottle recycling. 

This was 1989. Many of those students probably have middle schoolers of their own.

Enter Australian author Lucy Bell's You Can Change the World. Unlike the stripped down paperback I remember, this new book is beautifully illustrated with color illustrations, and the hardcover I have has "Paper from responsible sources". When it comes to content, the book is arranged somewhat similarly to 50 Simple Things, but has a wealth of other material as well. 

Topics such as plastic, clothing, food, gardening, energy, and animals are all covered, with an added chapter on kindness that makes this feel truly New Millenial. (Remember, in 1990 we were still dealing with Yuppies, the Gulf War was brewing, and there were a lot of power shoulder pads. Kindness was not in the forefront of everyone's mind the way it is today.) 

Each chapter has an overview of the topic with basic information on why it is critical to the well being of the planet, and then offers several activities, biographies of people trying to make a difference in that area, and tangential subjects. For example, the chapter on food covers the slow food movement, bees, and butterflies. There is a lot of information; I now know everything I need to know about growing microgreens.

It makes me sad that we are still trying to figure out so many very basic things we could all be doing; the 1990 date was significant for the publication of 50 Simple Things; there was a renewed interest in the environment because of the twentieth anniversary of Earth Day. That's when I got my first cloth grocery bag and started saving all of my plastic bottles and driving them to a recycling facility out in the country a couple of times a year. Sadly, it's still not easy to recycle many things.

Anything that motivates young people to pay attention to the environment is great, and the stories of young activists add another dimension to this how-to guide. 

This book seemed somehow fancier to me; it discusses things like organic cotton t shirts and buying reusable straws. I can't see ever spending $34 for a t shirt; buying clothes from the thrift store seems like a much more realistic and helpful way to go, and I can just drink from a cup or can. Also, does anyone ever have enough leftover strawberries that making jam seems like a good option? I would have instead talked about canned or frozen food, which is a good way to preserve items so they don't spoil, and cans are easily recyclable. (And yes, I repurpose plastic containers for freezing produce. There is hardly ever whipped topping in a whipped topping container at my house!)

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, September 29, 2020


Marshall, Kate Alice. Thirteens
August 18th 2020 by Viking Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Eleanor ("Elle") moves to the town of Eden Eld to live with her aunt and uncle after a terrifying incident when her mother set fire to their house and Eleanor almost died. Her pregnant aunt is very kind, but doesn't want to discuss her mother, and doesn't notice some of the odd things that Eleanor does, like a huge grandfather clock that appears outside of her room, but runs backwards. When Eleanor goes back to school, she is sent to a private school where she meets the friendly Otto and Pip, the daughter of the principal. These two are very helpful when Eleanor shares with them that she is seeing odd things like the clock, shadowy dogs, and menacing birds. Otto and Pip are helpful; they point out that the January Society, which Pip's mother is in, generally means them harm, Eleanor's house was owned by the Ashford Family, who had nefarious dealings, and the Thirteen Tales of the Gray book that had belonged to Eleanor's mother and mysteriously appears in her room seems to reveal some of the secrets about the "wrong things" that the three keep seeing. They also manage to uncover the fact that all three of them have birthdays on Halloween and palindromic names, making it likely that they are the ones marked from the alarming town tradition of sacrificing three young people in order to maintain the town's prosperity. Can the three find a way to circumvent this before it is too late?
Strengths: The details about the January Society and the Ashford family and their involvement in all of this are laid out with a lot of clever twists and turns; I've skimmed over those so as not to ruin some of the creepy surprises. The ensemble cast is great, and I enjoyed how they supported Eleanor even though they had problems of their own. The house is a great, creepy setting, and Pip's mother is a solid villain.
Weaknesses: While many of the "wrong things" were creepy, they weren't as scary as my students would prefer. I never felt like the children were in any real danger.
What I really think: This seemed similar to Roberts' Witches of Willow Cove, Funaro's Watch Hollow, White's Shadow School: Archimancy, and Nobel's The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane (Black Hollow Lane #1) and even West's The Shadows. Creepy, mystery filled, clue oriented, and well written, none of these are hugely popular in my library the way that much creepier books like Bell's Frozen Charlotte or Schwab's City of Ghosts are.   

Cousteau, Philippe and Aslan, Austin. The Endangereds
September 29th 2020 by HarperCollins 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

It's no secret that I have trouble with talking animal books, but since my students love some of them (like Warriors), I continue to read them. This one was particularly interesting because I really liked Aslan's The Islands at the End of the World, and was intrigued by the involvement of a Cousteau in a book about conservancy. 

I'm still debating this one, however. There were a lot of characters, the book was on the longer side (352 pages), and books like Rocha's Bearhaven (which has the sentient animals) and Nye's Jack and the Geniuses (which has the adventure, traveling, and environmental themes) don't circulate well in my library. The cover could appeal to some readers who want adventure, but I got stuck on the talking "Poo-bot". I'll be very curious to see what other librarians and teachers think about this. I want to buy it, but think it might not do well in my particular library.

From Goodreads:
Innocent animals are in trouble: temperatures are climbing, tides are rising, and nature is suffering. Someone needs to step in to rescue animals from extinction. Someone needs to turn this mess around, before it’s too late.

And that someone is . . . the Endangereds, the unlikeliest heroes you’ll ever meet—a superstrong polar bear, a pangolin with a genius for engineering, an extremely sarcastic narwhal, and an orangutan with a big dream.

Together, these four daredevils are determined to save endangered species across the globe, no matter what the risk. Rappelling into an underground cavern to save the day? No problem. Looping video footage to sneak through buildings unnoticed? Got it covered. Opening a doorknob? Okay, pretty hard without thumbs. But don’t worry. No matter what it takes, the Endangereds will get the job done.

But when two of their friends get kidnapped by a villain with a dastardly agenda, the team finds themselves up to their snouts in trouble. Can the Endangereds save the day? Or will this villain put humans and animals alike on the extinction list? 

The A-Team meets the animal kingdom in the first book in the thrilling new adventure series from the host of Xploration Awesome Planet Philippe Cousteau and award-winning author Austin Aslan.

The War With Grandpa- Movie Tie In Edition

Smith, Robert Kimmel. The War With Grandpa
Yearling; Media Tie In Edition (September 29, 2020)
First published March 1st 1984 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

Peter has a comfortable, middle class life with his parents and sister. When his grandmother in Florida dies, his grandfather decides to move in with the family. Since he has arthritis in his leg, due in part to a construction injury from his working life, the parents decide to give the grandfather Peter's room on the second floor and move Peter to the attic. Not happy with this, Peter writes a story for his teacher about what occurs. With the urging of his friends, Peter decides to "wage war" on his grandfather. He is ten, so this means just being generally belligerent and planning small inconveniences, like setting his grandfather's alarm for the middle of the night, stealing his slippers and watch, and generally being recalcitrant and short with his grandfather. Except when he is not. He genuinely loves his grandfather, seems to understand how sad the man is that the grandmother has died, sees how difficult it is for him to move around, and likes spending time with his fishing and talking. Still, Peter is so obsessed with having his own room exactly the way he likes it that he keeps on with this annoying fight. The grandfather, instead of rightly slapping him, claims that his life in Florida was dull and boring, and that Peter's attempts at a fight amuse him. Grandpa gives better than he gets; there is one scene where the grandfather has painstakingly hidden everything that Peter needs to get ready for the day and sent him on an elaborate hunt around the house for everything down to his shoelaces, making him late for school. In the end, the two work out a plan involving the grandfather, who had worked in construction, renovating the dank family basement that held the father's home office (complete with typewriter and landline!), sending the father to the attic, and returning Peter to his beloved room, proving that acting like a brat will, in fact, get you what you want. 

Strengths: The Richard Lauter illustrations are retained, and I sort of want to frame the one of the family at the beginning of the book, if only for the fashions! Grandpa frequently wears a suit, and Peter has flannel shirts tucked into jeans. Robert Kimmel Smith, who passed away at the age of 89 in April of 2020, was a charming writer. This book was quick and pleasant to read, and easy to remember, harkening back to my own middle school reading of Smith's contemporaries Ellen Conford, Paula Danziger, and Betty Miles. Children will find Peter's actions amusing, and perhaps long to have their own grandfather closer at hand. It is easy to understand why this won awards back in the day and is a frequent favorite for class study. The release of the movie makes it perfect for compare and contrast essays. 
Weaknesses: Even though I enjoyed the style of this book, and like Kimmel Smith's work in general, I didn't realize how angry Peter's attitude made me until I wrote this review. This, dear readers, is exactly what the 1980s were like. All characters were white and middle class, problems were small and child-centered, and meanness was funny. 
What I really think: This is a better purchase for elementary schools than middle schools. If I had a copy in the library, I would keep it for its historical value, but I won't buy a copy of such an old title when there are new books more attuned to current student experiences. I sort of want to see the movie, just to see how it is adapted, and if more modern attitudes are taken. 

Ms. Yingling

Monday, September 28, 2020

MMGM- Double the Danger and Zero Zucchini and Becoming Muhammad Ali

Uhrig, Betsy. Double the Danger and Zero Zucchini
September 22nd 2020 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
E ARC provided by Netgalley

When Alex Harmon's aunt Caroline asks him to read her book, Gerald Visits Grandpa, he isn't thrilled about reading a book about two frogs, but pleased that his aunt asks for input. He has a red pen to annotate the boring parts... but most of the book is boring! The big excitement is a prize winning zucchini. Alex, along with his friend Javier and his cousin Marta, take their assignment to improve the book seriously, and are soon doing a lot of test stunts to up the excitement in the book. Some of these include climbing out of a window and down a trellis, simulating flying with a harness and a leaf blower, and sneaking into a creepy house. To be fair, the Old Weintraub Place isn't that creepy, and Alex doesn't even have to break in; his mother had a key so she could check on the former occupant. However, when the kids are visiting one time, there is a cup of fresh and warm coffee left on the counter, and they wonder if there is a ghost. If there is, this ghost is well read and has some great ideas for the story, some gleaned from boxes of speculative fiction books in the basement. Even though Alex isn't a fan of books and would rather run, he puts in a lot of effort to improve the story, which soon involves the grandfather having magical powers, alternate realities, and eventually, a massive battle against goblins! Even Alex's annoying younger brother Alvin gets involved. Because he doesn't have grandparents of his own, Alex goes to the local senior center to get input from the older people there, picking up on their speech patterns, and also enjoying some chocolate chip cookies. His aunt wants to get the book done before her wife has their baby, and has gotten a lot of positive feedback about Alex's changes from her agent, but she still has some doubts about just how exciting the book should be. Alex and his friends go to a lot of trouble to work out an important plot point and sell their ending to his aunt, and get help from an unlikely source.
Strengths: Middle grade readers are often not empowered. Everyone tells them what to do, and they don't get to call the shots. Normally, novel writers try to compensate for this by killing the parents and requiring the children to save the world. This is much more realistic-- Alex is given agency to inform his aunt's writing, and she actually listens to him. I'd love to see more books about tweens who are given control over some small aspect of their world. The characters are all engaging and well drawn; Alvin is especially interesting. I thought he would be obnoxious, but he isn't. Marta and her love of stunts is fun, and I did appreciate that the kids weren't reckless with what the attempted to do. The discussion of whether or not to call 911 was brilliant, and also was crucial when something more serious occurred. I loved all of the thought that went into creating the aunt's book. I'd love to see more authors actually run their books by actual children!
Weaknesses: While this read quickly and I enjoyed it, the story rather neglected its own guidelines and there are not as many explosions as there could have been. There are enough students (safely done) to keep readers interested, though, and I did like the twist about the identity of the ghost!
What I really think: This went really quickly, was funny, and is an interesting observation about the writing process. Definitely purchasing, and the cover is brilliant. It's going to have a very visceral pull to any tween who has ever read a Dr. Seuss book! This probably should be the default font on all middle grade books! An amazing debut.
Ms. Yingling

Alexander, Kwame, Patterson, James, and Anyabwile, Dawud  (Illustrations).
Becoming Muhammad Ali: A Novel
October 5th 2020 by jimmy patterson
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Born in 1942, young Cassius Clay grew up with a supportive family in Louisville, Kentucky but had to deal with the racism and prejudice of the South during this time. This book unfolds with prose narration from the point of view of his best friend, Lucky, and then has first person commentary in Alexander's verse. There are also illustrations between chapters, which will appeal to readers who like graphic novels. In a style vaguely reminiscent of the Childhood of Famous Americans books, we learn what it was like to grow up during this time, hang out with friends, not be allowed to go to the local amusement park, and long for a flashy bicycle. The details about every day life as seen through the eyes of someone who became famous is always fascinating. This goes a bit further in time; we see Clay get his start in boxing, and have descriptions of his matches as well as the effect they had on his public persona. There is even information about what happened when Ali refused to go into the army, and lost the eligibility to box. The insights from Lucky are helpful in understanding the world at large and Ali's reactions to fame. I hadn't realized that Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's in the early 1980s, and that it cut short his career. There is some coverage of his life after this, and (to the delight of children researching for National History Day) discussion of his legacy. There is also a nice bibliography.
Strengths: The mix of traditional prose, illustrations, and Alexander's verse makes this book move along quickly. The poetry in The Crossover made sense because of the rapping that the characters did and the bouncy quality of basketball, and in this book, if riffs off Ali's tendency to spout rhymes of his own. The illustrations are great, and reminded me just a tiny bit of Mort Drucker's work in Mad Magazine (just around the mouths and noses), which was a great touch for this time period. Lucky's insights give us some background, and the dramatizations of Ali's life will appeal to readers who like sports. This will also work for the decades project that our seventh graders do.
Weaknesses: This sanitizes Ali's career a bit, which is understandable given the demographic, and reflects how history has treated Ali. When I was growing up, my general perception was that he was kind of a jerk, but he seems to have turned his image around after his Parkinson's diagnosis.
What I really think: Will purchase this, even though I don't need another biography of Ali, or even another fictionalized account of his life. I have multiple versions of both. What I really need are books about Black historical sports figures who have NOT been covered already. Jack Johnson, Alice Coachman, John Baxter Taylor, Mamie Johnson, Larry Doby, Toni Stone, Earl Lloyd and many more who lack books! I'd even love a novel length version of Garret Morgan's life. Talk about a fascinating guy!

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Lupe Wong Won't Dance

Higuera, Donna Barba.  Lupe Wong Won't Dance.
September 8th 2020 by Levine Querido
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Lupe has very strong opinions about many things that go on at school, so when she finds out that there will be a square dancing unit in gym class, she is not shy about letting her gym teacher, principal, and mother know that this is not acceptable. She researches the song they are learning "Cotton-Eyed Joe", and presents Principal Singh and Coach with her evidence linking the song to topics that will corrupt young minds. The class starts again, using "Turkey in the Straw" instead. Lupe is not happy; she has made a deal with her uncle that if she can get all A's in her classes, he will introduce her to Fu Li, a baseball player who is "Mexinese" or "Chinacan", just like Lupe. Baseball is one way Lupe stays connected to her father, who passes away a few years ago, and she also identifies strongly as an athlete. No matter what problem Lupe finds with square dancing, Coach and Principal Singh find a way to accommodate her. It's archaic and sexist for the girls to be asked to dance? Next year, the course will be gender neutral, and there are other changes made. Lupe's friends are used to her impassioned pleas for change, but she does manage to irritate her best friend, Andi. She is also worried that her other best friend, Niles (who is described as being on the autism spectrum), might be becoming friends with the annoying Gordon, as the two bond over their love of science fiction films and graphic novels. Lupe's mother is a kindergarten teacher in her district, so is alerted every time Lupe makes her displeasure known at school. Finally realizing that she is going to have to dance, Lupe asks her brother Paolo for help... and ends up being chosen for the dancing show case at the school festival. Her attempts to get that changed result in the school adopting a multicultural platform for the program, so there are other cultures represented, but Lupe still has to dance. Will Lupe be able to make amends with her friends and get the grades she needs to meet Fu Li?
Strengths: There are a couple of other books that deal with square dancing in middle school phys ed class, but this is the only one where the plot is centered on it! In schools that still have phys ed, it can be a huge concern for students, so this was good to see. I really liked the characters in this one; Lupe's mother and her weird Crockpot dinners, Paolo, who alternately aggrieves and supports his sister, the grandparents, who try to outdo each other with food, Coach, who has a fleeting, wistful moment about what her own school phys ed experience might have been like if she didn't have to dance with only boys, and Miles and Gordon, who are both exuberantly themselves. It was also good to see that Lupe's concerns were taken seriously, even when she was completely off the mark.
Weaknesses: Lupe was not a pleasant character, and I worried that she was acting out because she was having trouble dealing with her father's death. I definitely side with the grandmother, who says "It's better to try and forget", but children don't necessarily have the tools to do this. There are some things that seem unrealistically exaggerated; Lupe raises $12,000 on Students won't be at all bothered by this, but I wondered how patient the principal would have really been with Lupe's repeated visits to her office.
What I really think: I should have suspected that square dancing was a tool for white supremacy; I can't think it's really taught that much anymore. It's certainly not at my school. I have to admit that I rather enjoyed square dancing and even looked into joining a group 30 odd years ago, only to find that everyone in the group was over 60 years old. This book was a fun title addressing interesting topics.

I try to post about books very close to the release date, but these have moved around a bit. I feel like Lupe really wants to hang out with Effa. 

Williams, Andrea. Baseball's Leading Lady : Effa Manley and the Rise and Fall of the Negro Leagues 
5 January 2021 Roaring Brook Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

I was expecting a biography of Effa Manley, but this turned out to be one of the better discussions about the Negro Leagues and Black baseball players that I've seen. SO MUCH information on so many different topics, but also beautifully arranged with Manley's life as a framework. There were a decent number of black and white illustrations (since this deals with the 1850s to the 1950s, there was little else available), and the wide range of information makes this a great starting point for students who are looking for different people or events for history day projects. Jackie Robinson is a fantastic historical figure for so many reasons, but there are also hundreds of books about him. I would love to see some of the other Black players highlighted, especially those from the 1800s. I'm also a little fascinated (and yet repulsed) by Branch Rickey and would love to see more about him. Definitely purchasing, and still hoping that the #WNDB movement and the current sociopolitical climate will finally start to get more biographies about previously unheralded Black figures. 

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The Exceptional Maggie Chowder

Lute, Renee Beauregard and Valentine, Luna  (Illustrations).
The Exceptional Maggie Chowder 
October 1st 2020 by Albert Whitman & Company
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Maggie has an uneventful life until her father loses his job. The family decides to downsize to an apartment near the grocery store where her mother has been hired as a manager, and her father starts to investigate a new career as an actor while also caring for Maggie's four year old brother, Aaron, who is on the Autism Spectrum. This is a lot of change for one summer, especially since her best friend LaTanya is also experiencing change, but in a different way. LaTanya's father has been hired as a coach for the Seattle Seahawks football team, so her family buys a bigger house which she finds lonely, since her parents are always working. Maggie is very interested in a comic series, The Amazing Eagirl, which has inspired her to become a forest ranger. When her Grandmother Barrel comes to visit for a month, Maggie thinks that life has gotten even worse. Her grandmother is very judgmental, disagreeing with things Maggie's parents allow, like coffee drinking and comic book reading. She is surprised when her grandmother not only offers to take her to comic con to meet the author of Eagirl, but also makes a costume for Maggie and has Maggie make a costume for her of Eagirl's sidekick, Possum Sauce. Over the summer, her father's acting career takes off with a web series of Lyle, Lyle Crocodile (he's the crocodile!), Aaron starts therapy to help him develop coping strategies, and Maggie realizes that there are good and bad things about her new situation, but the good seem to be winning.
Strengths: This was fun to read, and had a good balance of small problems and ordinary life. It's rare to see an interest in comics portrayed in middle grade lit, especially with girl characters, so that was lots of fun. There are pages of Eagirl comics at the end of every chapter. Aaron's behaviors are realistically portrayed, and Maggie tries hard to help him out, even though she is occasionally annoyed with him. I liked that the parents were really involved, and even the grandmother ends up being a positive character. I think that we need a lot more books about children in straightened financial situations, since that is going to be a reality for many students.
Weaknesses: Maggie seems a bit young, but that might be because there are so many interactions with her family portrayed. After the stay-at-home orders, even older readers might identify with spending a lot of time with family!
What I really think: I will probably purchase this; I enjoyed it so much, and it will work for the 7th grade unit on relationships and challenges. It might be a challenge to get 8th graders to pick it up. This would be an excellent choice for elementary schools as well.

Friday, September 25, 2020

American Dogs

48946802Shotz, Jennifer Li. Chestnut (American Dog #3)

October 6th 2020 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Meg lives with her family, including two older siblings, on a Christmas tree farm. The family business is barely keeping the family afloat financially, so when Meg gets a new coat for her birthday, it's a big deal. What she would really like is a dog, but her parents have said "absolutely not". When she finds an injured puppy on the farm, she and her friend Colton (who has several dogs) tend to the dog's paw and keep him in an unused barn while he heals. Meg wants to tell her parents, but first tries to figure out a way to soften them up, trying to find ways to earn money for his upkeep. She names the dog Chestnut, and Colton informs her that he is a Plott hound, a breed that is often used for tracking and hunting. Chestnut is very anxious, especially about being separated from Meg. Meg does manage to make a little bit of money selling Christmas tree ornaments when she is running the register at the tree farm, and also tries to be really helpful to her parents. Eventually, however, they find out about the dog and make Meg turn Chestnut over to the local shelter. When a large number of trees are stolen from the farm, Meg thinks that this is the chance for her and Chestnut to prove that having a dog would be helpful for the farm. Will the two be able to find the thieves?
Strengths: There are certainly more children in economically fragile situations than children who have had a parent die, and relatively few books. Running a tree farm would certainly be precarious, and the family situation is well represented. I appreciated that the father actually liked dogs and didn't want another dog because he loved a previous one so much! Colton's experience with dogs is helpful, and I always like the information about the breeds at the end of these books.
Weaknesses: Meg makes a LOT of really dangerous choices that made me highly uncomfortable. Her logic is absolutely true to how middle schoolers think and what they might do, but since her actions put both her and Chestnut at risk, they were hard to read about.
What I really think: I will still buy the entire set of these, but this wasn't my favorite because of Meg's poor choices. Students won't really think about this, nor are they likely to repeat the actions.

Shotz, Jennifer Li. Star (American Dog #4)
October 6th 2020 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Julian struggles in school; even though he was diagnosed with dyslexia and is given accommodations, he feels that he is impossibly behind. Other kids in the class make fun of him, and he would rather draw than make the effort to read. It doesn't help that his older brother is a really good student. When Julian gets a Saturday detention again, he finds himself spending it with the principal. The principal notices that Julian is struggling with his reading and not making much progress, so calls Julian's mother with a proposition-- can Julian go to the local animals shelter and spend his detention helping out? Julian has always wanted a dog, so he's even okay with working with Bryan, who goes to school with him and seems to be good at everything. There is a dog, Star, who has come to the shelter from a house on Julian's street. Star's owner died, and the dog is afraid of everyone and everything. The two boys start to work with Star, who takes a special shine to Julian. Julian also finds out that Bryan also has dyslexia, and the two start to do some of their homework together, and this helps Julian out a lot. When the shelter runs into financial trouble, Julian is afraid that his parents won't let him adopt Star. He has long collected treasure maps in the area, and he and Bryan decide that they will try to find the treasure to help out the shelter. This turns out not to be a great decision, and some unfortunate things happen. Julian's parents are surprisingly supportive, even though they do ground him from some activities. Will there be something that can save the shelter?
Strengths: I love that Julian is shown to struggle with dyslexia; there are a lot of students who do, and not much in the literature about them. It helps that Shotz's books are all fairly shot, with large type, so my emerging readers really like them. The principal is great, and it's good to see children involved in community service and in making new friends. The details about training a deaf dog are fantastic, and there's breed information at the back of the book.
Weaknesses: The scene where Bryan and Julian go out to look for treasure seems out of character for them, but is similar to the "children go out and get lost in storm" scenes in many middle grade books. This familiarity is something young readers really like, though.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing this whole series. All of this author's books are hugely popular in my library, and the covers are fantastic!
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Fright Night

Stoffels, Maren. Fright Night
September 1st 2020 by Underlined
E ARC provided by Netgalley

**Spoiler Alert** Bit of a spoiler in the "Strengths" section.

Friends Quin and Dylan are planning to go to a haunted house that is really intense; you have a to sign a paper to participate, tickets aren't cheap, and there is even a safe word, "ketchup", if things get to scary. Of course, once the safe word is used, the haunted house is over for the entire group. Dylan is living with Quin's family; he tells everyone that his mother has cancer, and that he injured his leg in a bicycle accident. There are dark secrets in his past that he doesn't want to share. There is a new girl in school, Sofia, who has connected with Dylan. For his birthday, she wants to make him a photo album, but comes across even more inconsistencies in his stories about his past. Friends Kelly and Sandy are in care, and find that working at the haunted house is a good way to make money. As the night progresses, connections between the people at the haunted house are uncovered, and secrets are revealed. Some of these will push people to the edge and end in tragedy.
Strengths: I found Dylan's story to be very intriguing; I was able to connect his illnesses with his mother's behavior right away, and found it interesting that he was based on a real person whom the author knew who suffered the same kind of abuse he does. The cover is fantastic and would lead readers who want scary stories to pick it up right away. Definitely has an R.L. Stine Fear Street feel to it. Haunted houses are always a good subject.
Weaknesses: There's a bit of a cultural disconnect; the author is from Amsterdam and this book is a translation. The teens are shown smoking in the book, and there's an interchange where Sandy says "Did you see the (insert somewhat rude word for parts of anatomy) on her?" This might be okay for high school, but the story wasn't scary enough to justify these odd things.
What I really think: I think I will stick to the new Joel Sutherland Fright Night books or the K. R. Alexander stories that are coming out from Scholastic.
Ms. Yingling

The Great Good Thing

Townley, Roderick. The Great Good Thing
May 1st 2001 by Atheneum Books
Personal copy, purchased 2003  

The Princess Sylvie is the main character in a book titled The Great Good Thing. It's been years since the characters have had a Reader, and when the book is finally opened, they all rush to their places and act out the story, which centers around Sylvie not wanting to marry Prince Riggloff but to instead have adventures and do a "great good thing". The biggest rule of being in a book is to never look at the Reader, much less let the Reader see you. When the book is opened and shut quickly, and the story is in disarray and several funny things happen. The Reader, whose name is Claire, laughs, and tries to find the pages that were so amusing, but of course they are not there. Eventually, Sylvie manages to wander out of the book and into Claire's dreams. Claire is dreaming about her grandmother, who is ill, and the two girls learn a little about each other's worlds. Claire's brother, Ricky, is upset, but is also angry at the perceived favoritism of the grandmother, and burns the book in retribution. With the help of a girl with dark blue eyes, who has appeared in many of Claire's dreams, most of the cast escapes, and ends up living in Claire's mind. They are frequently called upon to appear in Claire's dreams, but as she gets older, this happens less frequently, and they eventually decide to move further into her mind to recreate their kingdom. They find other characters from Claire's life, including Norbert Fangl, who was her beloved geometry teacher. Once, when Sylvie is called off to bein one of Claire's dreams, the court jester stages a coup. When the girl with the blue eyes tells Claire that they are all in danger of perishing, the group once again relocates, this time to the mind of Lily, Claire's daughter, who heard the story as a child. Eventually, with Sylvie's help, she writes the story of The Great Good Thing again, with some slight changes, such as incorporating Norbert Fangl, so he won't be forgotten. Strengths: This is just one of those books that has ended up being enormously influential in my life. The names of the characters struck me the first time I read it: My daughter is Claire, we almost named my other daughter Emmeline (the queen), my father is Walter (King Walther), and there's even a strange Norbert connection. Because of this, my daughters named our dog Sylvie in 2006 because she was "a great good thing". I read this book out loud to Sylvie as she lay dying; I have never cried so much in my entire life. I had forgotten that Claire reads The Great Good Thing to her own grandmother as she is declining. The ideas of memory, dreams, and the stories that survive us are very powerful. There are more exciting scenes than I remember, and there is a nice twist with the girl with the dark blue eyes. Maybe not the best book ever written, but definitely one of my favorites. Weaknesses: Be prepared with tissues. What I really think: I might need to get another copy for each of the girls to have.

The first line of the book: "Sylvie lived an amazing life."

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

True Definition of Neva Beane

Kendall, Christine. The True Definition of Neva Beane
September 15th 2020 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Neva and her brother Clayton are spending the summer with their grandparents in Philadelphia. Their parents, who are musicians, have recently lost the family home but are hopeful that a European tour will bring them to prominence or at least some financial security. Neva has made one good friend in the neighborhood, and that helps with some of her adjustment. She and Jamila, whose father is from Ghana, frequent the neighborhood pool and hang out in Neva's yard. When Neva becomes more interested in spending time with Michelle, who is a year older and hangs out with Clayton, Jamila's feelings are a bit hurt. Neva is fascinated by the older girl, especially since she seems more comfortable with having a more mature body, and Neva is struggling with the changes she is undergoing, especially since her strict grandparents are treating her differently because of them. When Clayton becomes active in social activism, gathering donations for the less fortunate and planning marches, the grandparents are not happy because they worry about keeping the children safe. Neva wants her parents to come home, but they are not really in a position to do that. Eventually, Neva gets her grandparents to understand that the social issues they fought for in their youth still need to be addressed, and they reluctantly agree that Neva and Clayton can take part in them.
Strengths: I would love to see more books where children are being raised by grandparents, since many of my students are in this situation. The neighborhood is an interesting setting, and I love the pool and Mrs. Giles. Clayton is an exemplary brother, even if he doesn't do exactly what his grandparents want. It was very interesting that both the grandfather and a neighbor volunteered at the hospital holding babies! The grandmother was well drawn, too; she wants to go to the demonstration, but can't stand too long in the sun. Michelle, whom the grandparents think is "fast", has surprising depths. Once we find that Clayton is involved in social activism, this is a really interesting book.
Weaknesses: The beginning of this was very slow. Middle grade books are much more successful if it's easy to tell the direction a book is heading right away, and this took a long time to come around to that.
What I really think: This is such a great cover (Neva loves the dictionary-- look at the words in her hair!) and I will have a lot of students asking for books about social activism in the fall, so I will purchase this. I just wish that this started with the activism instead of with Neva's obsession with the changes in her body.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Mutant Mushroom Takeover

51862409. sx318 sy475 Short, Rachel Summer. The Mutant Mushroom Takeover
September 22nd 2020 by Simon & Schuster for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Maggie and her brother Ezra are living with their grandmother in her trailer after their father has lost his job as a lab assistant at the Vitaccino corporation in town. He's taken a job as a park ranger at Yellowstone, and Maggie misses him. Her mother left at some indeterminate point in the past and is not much missed. Maggie wants to take a great picture and submit it to the Junior Naturalist Merit Award being offered by the corporation; she wants to win, and use this leverage to get her father his job back. She enlists her friend Nate to help. After seeing an odd moth and missing a picture, she hears that there are weird "ghost lights" out by Old Man Bell's house, so she and Nate sneak out one evening to look. Ezra runs into them, and he and a friend also go to see what's up. Instead of ghost lights, they find bioluminescent mushrooms that seem particularly suspicious, and they also have a run in with Old Man Bell. Unfortunately, the man collapses after finding them and threatening them with his dogs. Ezra calls for an ambulance and tries to help the man, who coughs weirdly glowing spores all over him. The squad comes, but it is too late. Maggie and her family go to the funeral, where Maggie finds out that the dogs all had to be put down because of weird growths that wouldn't heal. She's happy when she gets the award from the Vitaccino corporation, and the head of it, Lydia, hopes that she will present some of her findings to the board. Ezra's health is failing, and when he gets a job working out at Old Man Bell's, Maggie and Nate find that the other teens who are working there all seem to be weirdly infected with the same fungus--Ophiocordyceps, which is the fungus that can turn ants into zombies! Things get heated very quickly, especially since the local police don't believe Maggie because they are infected. Maggie contacts her father for help, since she has exhausted all other options, and the only information he can give her is that she might be able to fight the fungus with a bacteria. Luckily, she and Nate are indefatigable, have good research skills, and can stomach strong smells, but will they be able to save the day?
Strengths: This had whatever element that is present in Scooby-Doo that makes the franchise eternally popular; things look a little bad, but then end up being absolutely horrible, and of course, only the kids can save the day. I really appreciated that Nate and Maggie were perfectly ready to go to the authorities, even call the state CDC, and no one will believe them! At first, I thought "Oh, cool, bioluminscent fungus. Nice science tie-in," but then this took a turn towards Zindel's Rats where it just gets down and dirty! There's also some nice bits with Maggie's family situation; more #MGLit characters could be shown living with a grandparent, and there will be a lot of students dealing with economic instability over the next ten years, but none of this slows down the plot. Excellent, excellent job!
Weaknesses: The cover isn't great, and this might be one of those books that's a bit hard to describe, but once I got past the first chapter, this really sucked me in, and it just got better and better. Might take a bit of hand selling.
What I really think: While the fungus gets a bit fantastical, this would be a fabulous book for science teachers to use to tie in to studying fungus. It reminded me a bit of Martin's Hoax for Hire in that it was so exciting and surprising, and moved along so quickly. Perfect blend of action, grossness, and kid power. Who knew that bat guano (and super soakers) could save the day?

Ms. Yingling


Gray, Liam. Slimed
December 29th 2020 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Billy and Sam are polar opposites who must work together as partners on their entry for America's Got Science. Billy is only doing it for extra credit; school takes too much effort for him to get excited about doing yet another project. Sam, on the other hand LOVES science. Her mother is the school principal, and Sam has her own lab coat. She desperately wants to meet the host of America's Got Science, Professor Quandry. When the two are investigating Billy's attic, looking for equipment and ideas for their project, they come across a trunk owned by Billy's grandmother, who studied science before taking up extreme sports. Her notebook is labeled "dangerous" and "do not touch", but all good notebooks are, right? A chapter on slime interests both of them, and they decide to make the world's most powerful slime. It requires some quirky ingredients like pickle juice, sunflower petal paste, and shaving cream, but they manage to concoct the slime perfectly. It transforms in Billy's hands, turning different glowing colors, and the two think they have a winning project. When Billy wants to pack it up for school the next day, he finds out it is missing, and his parents are acting strangely. They seem like zombies, and have a hankering for disgusting spinach and honey soup! Even Sam is alarmed, and the two hope to hunt down Professor Quandry to ask him about it, since they discovered a picture of the professor and Billy's grandmother working together. The "slimebies" are multiplying, and it's up to Billy and Sam to find a way to reverse the slime and bring back the adults. Will they be able to do that and impress Professor Quandry enough to win the science competition?
Strengths: This was a fun, goofy romp with plenty of positive aspects of science. I loved when Sam pointed out to Billy that he was making hypotheses, observations, and conclusions based on data. Adults turning into zombies is always fun. The gross details about the soup and slime add to the interest, and I liked the secrets about Billy's grandmother's past. The ending seems to leave this open for a sequel. 
Weaknesses:Billy and Sam are in 4th grade. I wish they had been in seventh. That would have made more sense for the science fair, and it's easier to get children to read about older characters. There's no real reason they have to be so young. 4th graders wouldn't be allowed to walk a mile alone to the science center or go to the grocery store unaccompanied, but 7th graders would be. 
What I really think: This was great fun, and is a great title to pick up at a book fair for a reader who likes humorous books, or for a teacher's classroom library. I probably won't purchase a prebind of it, since this is very similar to Castle's The Clone Chronicles or Barry's Science Fair. If it becomes available in hardcover, I will probably purchase. It was one of the few things I've read recently that I enjoyed!

Monday, September 21, 2020

MMGM- Hide and Seeker and Ghosts Unveiled!

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

45298537. sy475Hermon, Daka. Hide and Seeker
September 15th 2020 by Scholastic
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Justin has had a tough year. Right after his best friend, Zee, went missing, his mother passed away from complications of cancer. Zee did return home, but something happened to him while he was gone that has left him traumatized. His single mother hopes to get him back to "normal", so invites his friends to a birthday celebration. Lyric, whose father is in prison, and Nia are part of the "fantastic four", so it makes sense that they are invited. Carla, who is sort of mean, and her brother Quincy are from the neighborhood. The kids enjoy ice cream from a Sweet Dreams cart, and are encouraged by reading the product wrappers to go play hide and seek. Shae, also from the neighborhood but a little too snooty to normally hang out with the group, shows up and ruins the game. Zee is very agitated, so everyone returns home. The next day, it is on the news that Shae has disappeared from a dance camp she attended. How can this be? Justin and Lyric are worried about this progression of events, especially when Carla also goes missing. They hunt down Zee's roommate at the camp from which he disappeared, and gather so more information. Hyde, a super creepy guy who runs the ice cream truck, has some alarming information for them. Kids are disappearing because the Seeker is taking them to Nowhere to feed off the power of their fears. He lures children into playing hide and seek, and when they break the rules, he is able to capture them. Zee and Hyde were able to get out, but Hyde is only out because he now helps the Seeker get chidlren. All of the children at the birthday party broke the rules and start disappearing one by one. Nia realizes that they might be able to take back packs into Nowhere in order to fight the Seeker, but Lyric and Justin are the only two who have time to prepare. Nowhere is horrible, and when they finally arrive there, the boys aren't quite sure what to do but know they don't have a lot of time: when the Seeker gets 400 children, it will be able to travel into the real world and wreak its havoc there. Justin is number 399. Will he be able to find a way to defeat this force of evil?
Strengths: Talk about taking a common experience and making it terrifying! The kids in my  neighborhood used to have a hide and seek game in the evenings, and I imagine that most kids have played, making this hit very close to home. And of COURSE the ice cream truck is the peddler of doom; some people are afraid of clowns, but that's how I feel about ice cream trucks! The children in this come from different backgrounds but most are African-American, and this cover is great. The fears that the children have are all realistic; rat/snakes would be terrifying, but the more realistic fears such as Justin dealing with his mother's death and Lyric's fear of losing his friends are also chilling. There's plenty of running around and fighting, some clever maneuvers on the part of Justin and Lyric, and group of children working together to save the world from encroaching evil.
Weaknesses: I would have liked a little more action in the middle of the book, even though discussing strategies and dealing with fears were necessary plot elements.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and I can see this being HUGELY popular at Scholastic book fairs, so make sure you order more if you are having one. Definitely looking forward to more by this author. It's great that more horror is being published!

51075495Hollihan, Kerrie Logan Hollihan. Ghosts Unveiled! (Creepy and True #2)  
September 29th 2020 by Abrams Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by the publisher through Netgalley

Ghosts are something that middle school students still think might be real; we have a lot of conversations about this when I declare that speculative fiction involves "things that are unlikely to happen in your backyard", and sometimes students try to prove that ghosts are real by citing the fact that books about ghosts, like this one, are in the nonfiction section!

The stories are all very short, and arranged in themed chapters. We are delighted with creepy tales of ghost dogs and cats and ghosts at schools, and go further afield to ghosts in famous places like the White House, ghosts at war, and ghosts on trains and ships. There are even summer tales and holiday tales, and a story from the author's own experiences.

This book has a wide range of ghost stories from around the world. It was great to see this diversity, which ranges from a Missing Hitchhiker Tale from Somalia to a the haunted Music Hall in Cincinnati near the author's (and my) home! The discussion of La Llorona was especially interesting, since she figures largely in Mejia's Paola Santiago and the River of Tears.

This was similar to Williams's recent True Hauntings: Deadly Disasters, but the stories were much shorter. I liked this length; the stories packed a creepy punch, and Hollihan gives plenty of tales to up the creep factor! There are even a few illustrations and photographs to add to the feeling that these things really happened! This would be perfect for starting a language arts class, since most of the stories are under two pages long, and would make a great resource for sleepovers or camp outs. Remember to hold that flashlight under your chin for increased spookiness!

One really neat thing about the notes in the E ARC was that they included links to the article that could be clicked on, taking you right to the source information! There's also a nice selected bibliography with books as well as online articles.

I'll have to go back and pick up Mummies Exposed!: Creepy and True (2019), especially since Ancient Egypt is in our 6th grade curriculum, (Although this apparently discusses other instances of mummification!) and make sure that I have this great volume on hand for Halloween.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Red Fox Road

Greenslade, Frances. Red Fox Road
September 15th 2020 by Puffin Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Francie and her mother and father are taking a road trip for spring break and traveling from British Columbia to the Grand Canyon. A wrong turn puts them on a logging road that gets rougher and rougher. Eventually, their vehicle stops, and the damage it has sustained is such that it won't start up at all. They have some idea of directions, and the father thinks he can hike to a main road and get help. Francie and her mother stay in the car for a while, trying to stay warm, and existing on mints and granola bars. As the time drags on, Francie is concerned about her mother, who occasionally smokes "special tobacco" to help with her problems' dealing with the death a few years back of Francie's twin sister. Francie doesn't know all the details, and seems oddly disconnected from the death of her twin, other than seeing how it has derailed her guidance counselor mother. When her mother takes off to get help and leaves Francie alone, she must rely on her knowledge of being outdoors (derived from a book on the subject) to gather rainwater from leaves, know which plants are edible, and construct shelter. She adheres to the rule of staying where you are when you are lost for quite some time, but eventually decides to venture out in search of civilization. Will she be able to make it?
Strengths: I love that we are starting to see riveting, detail-rich survival stories with girls as the main character. This is a genre that is consistently popular, so many of my older titles like Carter's Rock and a Hard Place (1995), Klavan's If We Survive (2012, and Johnson's Ice Dogs (2014) and are badly worn. The details of survival are fantastic, and Francie's knowledge of techniques is well explained. The interludes thinking about the past work well. 
Weaknesses: Most middle grade readers will know that marijuana smoke has a "skunky" smell even if they haven't smelled it. It seemed very odd that Francie wasn't told exactly why her twin died; the blame and guilt were realistic, but the level of grief seemed off. As for the mother, a school counselor, neglecting Francie and self medicating with drugs-- I always feel that this is an insulting way to portray grieving parents. Just do. Always will. 
What I really think: I am torn on this one. On the one hand, it's an excellent survival tale, but my personal feelings about the way the mother was portrayed left me not liking the book. This goes well with other survival books out recently, like Behren's Alone in the Woods  and Disaster Days, Bowling's The Canyon's Edge, Diaz's Santiago's Road Home, Lambert's Distress Signal, Esplin's 96 Miles, Olson's Into the Clouds, Van Draanen's Wild Bird, Bledsoe's Running Wild, and Freeman's Alone.

Ms. Yingling

Wrong Way Summer

51136035. sx318 sy475 Lang, Heidi. Wrong Way Summer
April 21st 2020 by Amulet Books
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Claire's father has always been evasive when it comes to answering questions about her mother, who left the family when Claire was young; he would launch into elaborate stories about her being kidnapped by trolls or other fantastical explanations. When she was younger, like her brother Patrick, she believed her father, but as she approaches twelve, she becomes increasing annoyed at his games. When he decides to sell the house, buy a van, and spend the summer living in it, traveling around the country, Claire is very angry. She doesn't want to leave her home or her best friend, Ronnie, especially since Ronnie's older brother Mike seems interested in her. She's not given a choice, however, and soon the family is traveling from Michigan, through Ohio, and to Maine. They visit old friends of their father's along the way, but travel without much of a plan, much like the stories her father tells of supposed ancestor, Wrong Way Edgar Jacobus and his love interest, Evangeline Rose. When they head toward the west coast to visit her father's sister, Jan, Claire wonders if they might stop to see her mother as well. There's something not quite right about her father's plan, and once they land with her aunt, Claire finds out the truth about her family's travels.

While it is fairly obvious that something is not quite right with the family's situation, the father hides the pertinent details about why they are leaving the house and undertaking the trip. The fanciful tales are his way of conveying some of the information about his painful past, and Claire understands a lot more about her situation at the end of the book.

There seems to be a minitrend in middle grade literature involving living in a van or camper; Svetcov's Parked and Nielsen's No Fixed Address have families living in vans because they are homeless, Gemeinhart's Coyote Sunrise has a similar plot about driving away from one's problems, and Nelson's upcoming (September 2020) Alpaca My Bags also has a family living in a camper. The details about finding a place to park, sleeping in hammocks, and using rest stop restroom facilities will appeal to readers who want some travel and adventure.

Road trip books are always interesting, and Claire's father drives VanHelsing through some interesting places; although they don't go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they pass it, and almost go to an amusement park along Lake Erie, probably Cedar Point. They meet a lot of other people who are camping, including a boy Claire's age who turns out not to be very nice.

Families splinter for all sorts of reasons; it's not always because a parent has passed away. Children often are not told about economic difficulties that families are facing, but are aware of them nonetheless. Books like Wrong Way Summer help build empathy for classmates who might be in difficult circumstances while also providing vicarious travel experiences.

I'm not a fan of the story-within-a-story, so I would have edited out the Wrong Way Jacobus tales, but that might just be me.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Cartoon Saturday- Jo

Gros, Kathleen. Jo
September 22nd 2020 by Quill Tree Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this modern reimaging of the classic Little Women, we see the March family struggling with their father's deployment. There mother is a nurse who works long hours, and the girls follow the basic trajectory of the original novel. Meg is kind of boring, interested in a young man and a mature high school student. Amy is immature and bratty (sorry, never been an Amy fan), and Beth is in remission from leukemia and does not die. Laurie is still a neighbor, although not as ridiculously well-to-do (Has it ever bothered anyone that neighbors would be so wildly divergent economically? Not that it couldn't happen;it just always seemed odd.), and enjoys being with the family. The grandfather is portrayed much as the original. The real star, always, is Jo. In this book, she is a high schooler looking to find her place. She attends a newspaper meeting and finds that she enjoys working there, honing her writing with the help of the editor, Freddie (a girl). This book takes the family through a school year, and many of the experiences mirror ones in the Alcott book.
Strengths: This remains mostly true to the original, but with an updated time period, which makes it go down better than my readers, who are not always fans of historical fiction. The characters are well developed, and the modernization of the mother and father especially good to see. Including a variety of current social issues is a plus. The illustrations are charming and will definitely appeal to fans of graphic novels.
Weaknesses: I'm always glad to see books with LGBTQIA+ characters, but I'm also a little confused as to why so many reimaginings see Jo as gay. That's fine, but what about her romance with Professor Bhaer? I was never a Laurie fan, and although I was surprised that Jo married at all, I was okay with Bhaer. I did not realize that there was such a schism in Alcott fandom about him. ( Anyway, not a weakness so much as something that confuses me.
What I really think: Terciero and Indigo's Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Graphic Novel: A Modern Retelling of Little Women circulates well, although no one ever goes on to pick up the original. I guess I'm a purist; read the original or don't bother with the story, but this is not everyone's view, so it's good to see these reimaginings. I've read the Aeneid in Latin and the Odyssey in Greek, so maybe I take this opinion a bit too far. At least I haven't read The Inferno in Italian!
Ms. Yingling

Friday, September 18, 2020

Three Keys

Yang, Kelly. Three Keys
September 15th 2020 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

It's 1994, and Mia Tang and her family have bought the Calivista Hotel from the horrible Mr. Yao. She thinks that she and Lupe are going to have a great year in school. Jason Yao is in another class, but the girls have Mrs. Welch, who is a supporter of Proposition 187, which aimed to keep undocumented immigrants from being able to use a variety of state run support services, including the public schools! Since Mia and her family are very interested in issues surrounding immigration, the girls take this to heart. It hits even closer to home when Lupe's mother must return to Mexico for a funeral. In the meantime, the Calivista offers classes to its residents, and Hank, who is hired as the Marketing Manager, puts a sign on the front of the hotel that says "immigrants welcome". This is generally well received, but there are some people who do not agree with this, including some of the hotel investors. Jason wants to be friends with Mia, even though his father continues to be awful, and Mia is able to encourage him to take his cooking seriously. She is concerned that her parents are working too hard, and wonders if they will be able to get certified in the US to return to their more professional jobs, When Lupe's father is detained by immigration, the political environment becomes even more concerning. The Tangs take care of Lupe and manage to find a lawyer to help her family, and Mia encourages her school to try to fight against Proposition 187 and create unity in the school instead.
Strengths: There are so many timely issues that are covered in this, although it's sad that 26 years later they are still problematic. Hank deals with prejudice against Black citizens, there's some tension between recent immigrants from China (the Tangs) and more established families (the Yaos as well as some women Mia's mother meets at the mall), and the plight of immigrants from Mexico is well covered. Mrs. Welch is a fascinating character-- it would have been easy to make her one dimensional, but she learns and grows, and ends up being an ally to Mia and the other immigrant students.
Weaknesses: I forgot at the beginning that this was set in 1994; with the discussion of Proposition 187 being so central to the book, this is important to remember.
What I really think: The thing I liked best about Front Desk was learning about Mia's struggles with being new to the US; this was more concerned with the larger world, which was fine but not as personal. Definitely purchasing, however, since the first book was a huge hit in my library, and am looking forward to seeing what the future holds for Mia and her friends.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Atty at Law

Lockette, Tim. Atty at Law
September 22nd 2020 by Triangle Square
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Atticus Peale lives in Alabama with her father (who, not surprisingly, is a lawyer), her stepmother, Taleesa, and her stepbrother, Martinez. Taleesa, who is Black, is a writer, and one day when Atty and Martinez are tagging along with her to an animal shelter, they meet Easy. Easy seems like a great dog, but a man shows up and wants to the dog put down, claiming it bit him and that he is the owner. He won't give his name or offer proof, but the dog can't be adopted and the shelter director, Megg, says he may even need to be put down. Atty talks to her father, who lets her know she can go to court on behalf of the dog and argue that the law holds the owner responsible, and the dog should not have to die. The judge, who is a little annoyed with Atty for "playing lawyer", agrees-- as long as the dog remains locked up. Megg agrees to do this, and Atty has won her first case. Her father is working on a murder case; a man they know from the neighborhood has been accused of killing the pawn shop owner, and the evidence doesn't look good, although Atty finds some holes in the case, including the fact that the man in question couldn't read. In the meantime, Atty has to start middle school, which she would rather not do. She has some run ins with snotty girls who make fun of the press she has received, but does make friends with Reagan, who also marches to the beat of her own tambourine. It turns out that the two have something in common- both of their mothers had committed suicide. Atty gets involved in another animal rights case, this time involving an alligator, but this one does not end as well. She gets very mean texts from someone she assumes attends her school, but continues her legal pursuits. When her father's case overlaps with Easy's fate, Atty finds herself in some real danger.
Strengths: There are few books with children involved in the law; Grisham's Theodore Boone being the most well known. The fact that Atty works with animal rights is very interesting. There are lots of good things in this; the blended, biracial family, body positivity, Atty holding her own with the mean girls, the family getting involved in Civil Rights, Reagan's very religious family, a good sibling relationship. The mystery involved with the father's case is unraveled nicely, and the legal machinations informative.
Weaknesses: While the author (who is a former editor at Teaching Tolerance Magazine and is a news reporter) tries very hard to get every detail correct according to the current climate and seems extremely well intentioned, he is white. Reading this during the aftermath of the Black Live Matter riots in June, this made me question the publishing industry. The industry has not been fair to Black writers, but Lockette really did try to make this timely and relevant.
What I really think: My library has as good a collection of #ownvoices writers as I have been able to amass. They circulate well. Dog stories also circulate well, and I think that my students would enjoy reading this, so I will probably purchase a copy. If I didn't have #ownvoices books, I would use my limited funds to buy those first.
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Turning Point

Chase, Paula. Turning Point
September 15th 2020 by Greenwillow Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This is not listed as So Done #3, but since the plot involves characters from So Done and Dough Boys, this feels like it is.

It's summer, and Monique (Mo) is conflicted about going to a prestigious summer ballet program for three weeks with fellow dancer Mila. She wants to dance, but feels that the primarily white environment isn't a good fit for her.  Rasheeda (Sheeda), on the other hand, is stuck at home for that time without her best friend, and is tired of always being dragged to church with her aunt, and would be glad of the opportunity to spend some time away from the Cove. Mo has to deal with her roommates (Katie and Brenna), with whom she doesn't always get along, intensive training where she doesn't get enough feedback, and the food at the cafeteria, which just isn't as good as it is at home. Sheeda is trying to become better friends with the other girls from church, but doesn't feel connected to them. She is exploring her relationship with Lennie, Sheeda's brother, with whom she texts frequently.
Strengths: My students are constantly asking for ballet books, so this is a great one to have on hand. I'm a big fan of books that involve some church attendance; I certainly spent a lot of time at Vacation Bible School and youth group back in the day, and very few books address this. Mo and Sheeda are both trying to figure out the middle grade balance between fitting in and standing out, to navigate friendships, and to figure out what they want, as opposed to what their families want. Throw in a little romance and some timely social themes, and this is a great book to hand to readers who want a fast paced, interesting story.
Weaknesses: I wish the cover were similar in style to the other two; my readers might not realize this book continues the story of the Cove.
What I really think: This offered some very interesting perspective on racial relations and perspectives, which are so important, especially right now. I did find Sheeda's feelings about the feedback she received from her teacher especially interesting. She was disappointed in not hearing more "good jobs" from her teacher, and did not care for the critiquing from her teacher. I do think this is a cultural difference, and I will try to be more aware of that when interacting with my students.

With the passing of my mother, I had the epiphany that if someone tells me "good job", I feel that they don't care. Even if I have done a good job, I expect to hear what wasn't successful about my endeavor. My mother was always very critical of what I did; her last understandable conversation with me was about a pie crust I made that she thought "wasn't very good". (She was right, by the way!) My mother was never unkind; she was critical because she wanted to help me get better. Anyone can tell you you "look nice", only my mother would tell me that my shoes weren't quite right or a blouse pulled a bit under the arms. I certainly tell my own daughters that they have done a good job a lot more than my parents told me, so this might be generational as well. The timing of this was interesting for me personally!

Ms. Yingling