Thursday, December 31, 2020

Flashbacklist- Devil's Footsteps

Richards, E. E. The Devil's Footsteps
August 9th 2005 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Library copy

Bryan's family has fallen apart ever since his brother Adam disappeared five years ago. Bryan was with him in the woods, and his brother dared him to say the local rhyme that summons the Dark Man, but Bryan chickened out. Adam didn't. There have been many children go missing in the area over the years, but no one seems to be able to find out why. When he meets Stephen, who thinks he's seen the dark man while retrieving his younger sister Nina from swimming lessons, the two boys start to investigate the legend of the Dark Man. They have one horrifying experience, and decide it is true that whatever power there is can feed on the fears of its prey. They meet Jake at the library, and he is studying the phenomenon because a good friend of his, Lucy, has also disappeared. The three teens investigate different areas of town where the vibes are especially strong, and uncover some interesting history. The Dark Man has targeted them, but will Bryan be able to put aside his strongest desire to get rid of the force of evil once and for all. 
Strengths: This is a nice blend of psychological horror and rivers of blood gushing down stairs in a creepy house and almost drowning our protagonists. The philosophical musings about Bryan's parents not being there for their son, and Bryan's own struggles in dealing with Adam's disappearance don't overwhelm the story, which cuts quickly enough to horrific scenes to keep most middle school students interested. I have four copies of this, and all of them are in tatters. 
Weaknesses: Readers who only want slasher film type scenes piled on top of each other might find this slow going. 
What I really think: This is a well done, tightly wound horror story, and I am really sad that E. E. Richards didn't have more books out in the US, and seems to have dropped off the face of the earth!

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Flashbacklist- The Book of Three

Alexander, Lloyd. The Book of Three
March 12th 1964, Holt, Rinehart & Winston
Library copy 

Taran is the assistant to Pig Keeper Coll at the Welsh farm of Dallben, a magician who is 379 years old in a vaguely Medieval period. Hen Wen is  not just any pig, but an oracular one, so when she runs away, Taran must find her. While out looking, he comes across Lord Gwydion and his horse Melyngar, who is looking for advice from the pig. Along with Gurgi, a strange, slovenly creature with annoying speech patterns, the two look for Hen Wen, but are unfortunately captured by Cauldron-Born soldiers of Achren and thrown into the dungeon at the Spiral Castle. Achren is one of the supporters of the Horned King who is terrorizes the countryside. While imprisoned, Taran makes friends with Eilonwy who has been raised by Achren but isn't a fan. She arranges to get Gwydion out of the dungeon, retrieve his horse from the stables, and then come back for Taran so they can all flee together. Unfortunately, she frees Fflewddur Fflam, a traveling minstrel, who isn't very useful. When the Spiral Castle is destroyed, Taran despairs of Gwydion surviving, and reluctantly continues on the journey to find Hen Wen and save the kingdom from the forces of evil. Along the way, the group is helped by Doli, a disappointed dwarf, who wants to be able to turn invisible but can't. Among other adventures (including the requisite underground cave one), the group finds a young gwythaint (a killer bird sort of thing usually associated with the Horned King) and tries to heal it and bring it along with them. Taran eventually makes it back to Caer Dallben, which doesn't seem so boring now, especially since Taran's adventures are just beginning. 
Strengths: I've long thought of this series as "Tolkien Lite". It has many of the same elements: magicians, bands of travelers, forces of evil, and a band of travelers, but the book is much more quickly paced, has fewer characters, and is just easier to read. I won't go as far as to say that The Book of Three is the first modern, middle grade Medieval fantasy series, but... if you don't include The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, what other contenders would there be? I've recommended this for years, and it's always been popular. I can definitely see why. I used to think that the first three chapters got off to a slow start, but really, it's just the first chapter. 
Weaknesses: Having read hundreds of other fantasy books over the years, this seems a little simplistic, but it's a great introduction to the genre for new readers. 
What I really think: I have multiple copies of this and don't feel bad about that at all. My favorite copies are the 1999 Henry Holt editions, which were printed on acid free paper that has held up really well. I am sad that my own children didn't read them; the hardcover set that I bought for them has gotten much more use in the library!

This should never be published with anything but the amazing 1964 cover! The colors, the weird art style-- so perfect. Again, this 1999 reissue was brilliant. I wish I had the whole set in these bindings. 

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

City of the Plague God

Chadda, Sarwat. City of the Plague God
January 5th 2021 by Rick Riordan Presents
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sik's family runs a deli in New York City, and he spends many hours there working for his family, especially since his older brother, Mo, was also fond of the business, but died in a car accident. His brother's friend, Daoud, also helps out a lot, and lives with the family since his acting/modeling career isn't going as well as he would like. When weird things start to happen, Sik's mother and father become ill and the deli is destroyed by rot and decay. It turns out that there are large creatures working for Nergal, the plague god, and hunting down Sik because it is thought his brother entrusted him with some secrets. Sik finds help from an unlikely source: Belet, a girl who is always in trouble at his school. Since his parents are in the hospital and he can't even visit because the authorities want to quarantine him, Belet and her mother take him in. They live in a very posh apartment, and Sik realizes that Belet's mother is the goddess Ishtar. Because she is the goddess of both love and war, she takes in children who have lost their entire families in miltary disputes. Sik brushes up on his fighting skills and learns a bit more about Nergal and his methods, but have trouble figuring out exactly what it is that Nergal wants from him. The plague continues to spread throughout the city, and things are looking grim. Without Ishtar to help them, will Belet and Sik be able to figure out Nergal's evil plans? The answer lies in Mo's love of flowers and gardening, an ancient but retired deity, and a flower in Central Park, but first there is plenty of fighting, pustulant rats, and maggots!
Strengths: This had a lot of nonstop action and plenty of gross details about Nergal's work; after the deli was destroyed, even the wood had rotted! There are creatures who talk in rhyme and spread mayhem, swords that talk, and some really fun details about Belet and Ishtar's life. Sik's backstory is woven into this well, and his connection with his brother, and his brother's connection to the story of Gilgamesh and Mesopotamian legends sets the stage for a lot of emotional motivation. Sik's family is from Iraq, and Mo had spent time there doing humanitarian work, which was a nice touch. This concludes in a satisfying enough way that this could be a stand alone, which would be great-- I'd love to have more single book fantasies with cultural connection for my readers who don't want to commit to four or more 400 page books. 
Weaknesses: I was 200 pages into the nonstop action before I realized that there was relatively little that had happened to move the plot forward, and I kept expecting more character development from Sik. That could be because a 7th grader and I have been having daily conversations about various books in the Rick Riordan series about how hard it is for me to keep plot and characters straight, but this somehow made it harder for me to get invested in the story. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and glad to see Gilgamesh and Mesopotamian mythology involved in an action packed new story!

Ms. Yingling

Monday, December 28, 2020

MMGM- Root Magic and Legacy

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Royce, Eden. Root Magic
January 5th 2021 by Walden Pond Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Twins Jezebel and Jay are twins living in South Carolina in the early 1960s. Their grandmother has just passed away, and they are being raised by their mother, since their father left the family when they were younger. Their Uncle Doc lives very close, and offers to teach them root magic, so that they can help protect the family since their grandmother is gone. Jez is a bit apprehensive about it at first, although she was interested in learning magic. She and her brother start by doing what seem like mundane chores, painting the house haint blue and helping out their uncle. When they are playing in the creek and Jez hears a voice and feels like something has grabbed her legs and won't let her move, she reevaluates the possibility of magic when a paint stick with the haint blue paint seems to free her. There are other things, like her cloth doll her grandmother made who starts to talk to her, that make her feel that the magic is real. There are other issues in her life; the local police have a new leader who seems to be more sympathetic than the old one, but in the past, the police often threatened Jez's family, searching their property without warning and generally making them feel unsafe. The kids at school make fun of Jez, although she does make one new friend. 
Strengths: Jez is an appealing character who is missing her grandmother but trying to make her own way in the world. She is intrigued by the magic even if she doesn't quite trust it. The details about racial problems in the South during this time period are mentioned, and are quite serious, but it was good that they weren't the entire focus of the book. While I don't believe in any kind of magic at all, some families have strong ties to this, and I even saw the graveyard dirt with brick dust for sale of several web sites! The fact that the magic was used in this book for the protection of the family was intriguing. There were some nice twists in this that I don't want to ruin. 
Weaknesses: This was a bit slower paced, and I would have liked more details about the 1960s. Also, I think that another title for this, mentioned on Goodreads, Tying the Devil's Shoestrings, would have been a great title.
What I really think: This will be a big hit with fans of Baptiste's The Jumbies, Smith's Hoodoo, and Van Otterloo's Cattywampus with its depiction of family magic as something that is real and helpful to communities that struggle. 

Because one of Jez's teacher reads a poem by Gwendolyn Brooks, this is a great pairing.

Grimes, Niki. Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance
January 5th 2021 by Bloomsbury Children's Books
E ARC provided by Netgalley

I'm super picky about poetry; really, the only modern poet I really like is Timothy Steele, who uses formulaic verse brilliantly. Naomi Shahib Nye is another one whose work I like (Amaze Me was fantastic), and I'm going to have to add Grimes' Legacy to this list.

This is an interesting concept in poetry. Not only does Grimes collect poems from women writers who flourished during the Harlem Renaissance, she then takes the poems and writes her own in the "Golden Shovel" format created by Terrance Hayes (  Since one of my favorite older poets is Edna St. Vincent Millay, it's interesting to see work by poets such as Alice Dunbar-Nelson and Angelina Weld Grimké who would have been her contemporaries. Definitely looking forward to having this for our yearly 7th grade language arts poetry project. (And yes, this is the book that I didn't buy in my first order of the year-- there's always at least one book that makes me wish I had waited a day or two to put in an order!)

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Flashbacklist- 13 Little Blue Envelopes

Johnson, Maureen. 13 Little Blue Envelopes
August 23rd 2005 by HarperTeen
Personal Copy

Ginny's artistic, beloved aunt Peg moved away from the US suddenly, and passed away unexpectedly. When Ginny receives a packet from London, she is surprised to find a letter from her aunt, thirteen blue envelopes, and directions to do certain things, and then open a succession of envelopes. First, she heads to London with just a backpack, no electronics, and the address of a stranger. This turns out to be the home of Richard, who works at Harrods Department Store. His relationship with Peg is unclear, but Peg lived in his apartment. Ginny is instructed to give away $500 to an artist, and decides on Keith, who is performing an odd play. She buys multiple tickets, then realizes that no one will see him perform, and has to try to give away the tickets. She and Keith fall into an odd friendship, and when Ginny has to travel to Scotland to visit an artist mentor of her aunt's, he goes with her. Soon, though, Ginny has to resume her travels, going to Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and eventually Greece. There, she runs into some problems that lead her to contact Richard to help her get back to London. There, one mystery about her aunt's art and legacy remains. Ginny learns not only about her aunt, but about herself. 
Strengths: I read this just after I returned from a trip to London in 2005, and the details about traveling around Europe are so exquisite that I bought a copy for myself, which I rarely do. This is definitely a fantastic book for armchair traveling. I loved the path on which her aunt sent her, and the variety of tasks and visits she had to do. Surprisingly, the level of technology Ginny has access to holds up really well-- since she isn't allowed to carry it with her, she has to rely on internet cafes, which is the way many people still travel fifteen years later. Richard is a sad but wonderful character, and there are some funny things, like the family in Copenhagen Ginny travels around with, and Keith's friends and plays. The absolute best part of this is Ginny and her emotions-- she misses her aunt and wants to know more about her, she's brave enough to travel by herself but also a bit apprehensive, and she is able to realize that while her aunt was a complicated person with her own agenda, she really loved Ginny. There is an event in Greece (which I don't want to spoil) which was upsetting, but which still makes sense. It also makes sense that Johnson picked up the story again in The Last Little Blue Envelope (2011), which I will probably have to reread as well. My library has FIVE copies of this that are all more glue and tape than original book. This story was instrumental in making my daughters the kind of fearless traveler that I am NOT; Picky Reader traveled to Ireland to study by herself, and took trips to both Greece and Rome, partly motivated by her memories of this book. 
Weaknesses: The partial romance with Keith has never connected with me, somehow. It was certainly realistically done, but I wanted something more like the movie Before Sunrise.
What I really think: This is still available in hardcover from Follett, and I think it wise if I buy at least two more copies. It was a nice surprise to have a book I loved so much hold up so well. 

And look! Harpercollins is reissuing this in a new paperback!
 Ms. Yingling

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Gone to the Woods

Paulsen, Gary. Gone to the Woods
January 12th 2021 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Told in the third person ("the boy") but clearly drawing from Paulsen's own life, Gone to the Woods is  akin to Pelzer's A Child Called "It" in its depiction of poor parenting. Born in 1939, Paulsen had to deal with a father who had gone to war and a mother who brought him to bars to sing, get bought drinks and snacks by men who wanted to get close to his mother, and a childhood full of neglect. At one point, he did go live with an aunt and uncle who were quietly and stoically caring, and he learned a love of the outdoors and also of learning things for himself from them. Sadly, he was taken from them and sent to be with his parents in the Philippines, where he saw the underbelly of life in Manila, and also witnessed atrocities of war. After the war, he lived in an apartment with his parents, who were usually drunk, fighting, and not caring for his needs at all. He lived primarily in the basement, doing odd jobs at bars and bowling alleys, and selling some game. He took refuge in the woods as well as the public library, where a kind librarian saw potential in him. She signed him up for a card and recommended books to him. He quickly took to loving reading, and this helped him make it through high school despite the work it took just to survive. Before his senior year, he got into trouble, but was given the option of vocational training. He trained to be a television repair man, and this put him in a good place when he joined the army. Basic training was difficult, but set him on a path out of the crushing poverty and abuse he had experienced. 
Strengths: Paulsen is an excellent writer, and his descriptions of food and the outdoors are especially vivid and poignant. I definitely rooted for "the boy" and was glad when he was with his aunt and uncle and experienced some love. The fact that young children were left to their own devices and had to care for themselves during the first half of the twentieth century will be novel to modern readers, and this is definitely a book that will make the readers' lives seem much easier. This read a bit like a middle grade version of Hemingway in its forthright manner and constant movement. Just replace the ubiquitous alcoholic beverages in Hemingway with greasy food. Only Paulsen can make salted lard sound tasty. 
Weaknesses: I wish that there had been more information on Paulsen's life-- this ended rather abruptly after his experiences in the army. Children in similar circumstances would benefit from more "it gets better" information. If there hadn't been a brief description of the fact that Paulsen is 80 and has done many things with his life, I would suspect a volume two in the works. I also wish that there had been a brief description of his life with his grandmother, although that has an entire book devoted to it, The Cookcamp (1991).
What I really think: We do a unit on Paulsen in the 7th grade, so I will probably buy this, even though it was a crushingly depressing read. I am sorry that Paulsen, and many other children, must live this way because their parents can't take care of them, but glad he was able to overcome his childhood. 

Ms. Yingling

Friday, December 25, 2020

Merry Christmas: All I Want for Christmas and Manga Claus

Loggia, Wendy. All I Want for Christmas
November 3rd 2020 by Underlined (PenguinRandomhouse)
Ohio Digital Library copy

Bailey (named after George Bailey) LOVES Christmas, and loves working at a small, thriving book store in town. She also volunteers there with her high school classmates, wrapping gifts and donating the money to charity. When Jacob Marley comes in to buy books, she helps him pick some out, but he has forgotten his wallet, and says he'll come back. Bailey also meets the dreamy Charlie, who is cute and British, but is vague about his background and lives an hour away. All Bailey wants is for a romantic holiday, and she finds herself involved with both guys. She thinks Jacob is a bit of a jerk, but he surprises her. Charlie is charming, but somewhat disappointing. She babysits, has a neighborhood cookie party, and sees both guys on a variety of dates, but can't make up her mind in between making spritz cookies and frolicking with her adorable Westie, Dickens. When Jacob reveals hidden depths, and Charlie tells her a surprising secret, Bailey's choice is made for her. 
Strengths: This is exactly what many of my students are looking for. A romance with high school characters who don't drink or engage in any hanky panky other than kissing. It references Hallmark movies, and seems similar to them. (I've never actually seen one, just read about them!) Bailey has a supportive, intact family, good friends, an active social life, and no discernable trauma. When I was a teen, I would have loved this as well. 
Weaknesses: Had I read this 20 years ago, I wouldn't have blinked. Today, it seemed... dated? Irrelevant? This is DEFINITELY more a function of literature today and my interactions with it than the book. It showcases a very white, very privileged world. This is fine. (See my review of The Never Evers.) If we are reflecting different realities, this is certainly a reality we can see reflected. It's just not the kind of book I read too much anymore. 
What I really think: It's good that teachers and librarians are thinking about diversity in books, but most of my students aren't. For some odd reason, the students who ask specifically for Christmas romances are often my girls of Somalian descent, many of whom wear the hijab. I have not asked them about this, but just try to find books that they enjoy. The old Simon Pulse Romantic Comedies are very popular with this demographic. Have a prebind of this title on my list to purchase. 

Flashback: This is the FIRST graphic novel I ever bought! I have vague memories of seeing this in a catalog with the graphic novel of Stormbreaker, and putting in a special purchase order for just these two items, since Follett didn't carry them. 

Marunas, Nathaniel and Craddock, Erik. Manga Claus
September 14th 2006 by Razorbill
Library copy

Trigger Warning: Violence to teddy bears. 

Fritz is an elf at the North Pole who is disgruntled about working in the laundry instead of having a more glamorous position. He tries to negotiate with Santa, but his boss is not happy with his performance but promises to renegotiate if the busy holidays go well. Not happy with this, Fritz uses a little magic to try to create a small emergency that he can then help with, making him look good. Sadly, things go very wrong, and soon a gang of ninja teddy bears is on the loose, terrorizing the elves and making their way to a power center, which would end very badly. Luckily, Santa has received swords from a samurai in Japan years ago, and these allow him to channel the power necessary to literally knock the stuffing out of the threat. Christmas is able to continue, and Fritz is put in charge of the special effects of Santa's yearly ride, including making the reindeer look like pink smoke is trailing from their rears. 
Strengths: I do appreciate that Fritz recaps the entire plot for us in one box; "I just wanted... to mess things up a little so I could come to the rescue, but there are so many of these ninjas and they're out of control". Yep. You messed up, Fritz. Plan on spending the rest of your career in the laundry and just be glad you're not working in the stables. But, no. Santa's a nicer guy, and I can only imagine that he was glad to break up the monotony and stress of Christmas Eve with the adrenaline rush of evil, enchanted ninja teddies. The art is fun, there are lots of Batman-like sound effects (Shuk! Skree! Urr!), and the cover alone makes me smile. 
Weaknesses: Really? Fritz nearly causes the destruction of Santa's entire North Pole facility, and he gets a promotion? Disturbing. Also, I can't find much else that Marunas has done, after this illustrious start.
What I really think: Obviously, money well spent. Definitely a bit goofy, but the pictures of Santa hulking out and saving the day are worth it. The copy has held up surprisingly well, considering the book is older than all of my students!

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, December 24, 2020

The Fear Zone #2

Alexander, K. R. The Fear Zone #2
December 29th 2020 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

Two years after the horrific events in The Fear Zone, Andres, Deshaun, Kyle, Caroline and April think that all of the horror is behind them. They feel secure enough to go to the annual Halloween Cheery Charlie's Carnival, which is held, inexplicably, right next to the creepy cemetery in town. Of course, creepy things start happening, and all of the teens realize that while they may have overcome some of their fears, they have developed others. Andres no longer fears sharks but is bedeviled by spiders, his boyfriend Kyle doesn't worry about snakes but fears losing Andres because he feels that he is turning into his own horrible father, Deshaun worries that ghosts are after him, Caroline's fear of being buried alive morphs into a fear of zombies, and April is still stalked by the creepy clown while she fears being abandoned by her friends. When a boy in their school, Jeremy, goes missing along with his brother and three of his friends, April gets a threatening note that draws the group back into a nightmare scenario reminiscent of their previous one. There is a sleepover at Caroline's house during which the television explodes and the clown takes Deshaun. Kyle is busy battling his own demons, but the group has to deal with the townspeople all being turned into more creepy clowns. Will they be able to rely on their friendship yet again to defeat the forces of evil?
Strengths: Alexander takes his work seriously, and it shows. It is hugely helpful that the characters are in high school, and that even though one of the main fears is coulrophobia, it is not done in a cheesy way. The writing is intense, short, and has just enough creepy detail. Working in more serious topics like Kyle's father makes this a series that even high school readers might enjoy. I always look forward to more titles by this author. 
Weaknesses: Come on, Scholastic! This is published in paperback without even its own title? The Fear Zone 2? Lame. Super, super lame. All of Alexander's books need to be in jacketed hardcovers, since every middle school library in the country needs to stock up on multiple copies of these. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and have been repurchasing all of the Alexander titles that weren't returned last year. If I have multiple copies, that's okay. In twenty years, they will be nothing but piles of moldering paper, just like the R.L. Stine Fear Street books!

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Flashbacklist- The Basket Counts

Christopher, Matt. The Basket Counts
Published September 3rd 1991 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Originally published in 1968

Mel Jensen and his family have just moved to Trexton, where only one other Black family lives. Mel's father, a dentist, is sure that the neighbors will warm to them once they get to know the family. Mel's friend, Darryl, is also Black, and it is noted that his father is an electronics engineer. Both Mel and Darryl play basketball, and enjoy being on the Hillcrest Titans team for the most part. The part they don't enjoy is the poor sportsmanship exhibited by Caskie, a neighbor, and Stoney. While Caskie occasionally yells racial epithets on the court (he calls another player a "spic" and is reprimanded by the coach and pulled out of the game), he generally concentrates on ignoring both Mel and Darryl. Mel is angry, but tries to be the best teammate he can be. He hopes that Caskie will come around after Mel rescue's Caskie's family's kitten, but the two remain on frosty terms. This tension starts to affect Mel's game, but eventually Mel and Darryl help save Stoney from drowning when he goes through the ice, and Caskie and Mel have an uneasy peace.
Strengths: Christopher, who died in 1997, wrote great sports books with lots of on court sports action, with enough of a serious plot and character development to make for a well rounded book. The books are a good length, and move quickly. So many are still available, and this one was updated just a bit. (There's another title from the 1960s where a character is lame because of polio, and that is also updated.) If you have these books in your library collection, dust them off and get them out there. 
Weaknesses: Matt Christopher was not Black, and this was written in 1968. For the time, it was very progressive, and the race issue probably plays out much like this today. Of course, there are some dated moments, like the two Black families being identified by their profession (my father, who is 86, identifies EVERYONE this way, and usually ads some physical description as well, so it might be generational). 
What I really think: Not sure that this would be published today, but thought it held up well and I will be keeping it. The book is still available in multiple formats from Follett.

Christopher, Matt. No Arm in Left Field
April 28th 1987 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (first published 1974)
Library copy

Terry and his family have moved to a predominantly white suburb, and things are going pretty well. He makes a good friend, Mick, and joins the local baseball team. Problems arise when he is given a hard time by Tony, who picks on Terry because he is Black and because his throw is weak. This causes tensions on the team that threaten to ruin their season. Can Terry improve his skills and lead the team to victory despite Tony's idiocy?
Strengths: The success of Christopher's work hinges on copious amounts of sports play-by-plays interspersed by Serious Issues. The books are short, with large font, and are perfect for students who aren't huge fans of reading and need a book for a project or test. Most are still in print, although this title is only available in an E book format. They are very progressive for their time, and hold up well today. My favorite interchange was between Terry and Tony's brother, Harry. Harry says "That kid brother of mine was brainwashed by out parents a long time ago, and it's going to take some doing to change him. I'd like Tony to realize that the color of a person't skin has nothing to do with what he believes in and how he lives." There's also a nice scene where Mick asks Terry about Tony's behavior. Terry says he's okay with it; he's been treated that way before. Mick clearly thinks that the behavior is still NOT okay. 
Weaknesses: In Matt Christopher's world (remember, he died in 1997, and the vast majority of his writing was done before 1975), being Black means that there are always some people who will give you a hard time. On second thought, this might be what makes the book still relevant today. 
What I really think: Would I buy these books again? Maybe not. Will I weed them as overly dated? No. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Trouble with Good Ideas

Panitch, Amanda. The Trouble with Good Ideas
January 5th 2021 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Leah Nevins and her family have just moved from their home back to live near her great-grandfather, Zaide, who is 93 years old. She had to leave her Jewish school and feels awkward and unable to make friends in her new school. The one thing she does love is getting together with her extended family on Saturday afternoons at Zaide's quirky home, which is an old telephone office. She plays chess with her great-grandfather and hangs out with her cousins. When her grandfather starts to have memory issues, she overhears her parents discussing sending him to a nursing home. Leah is not about to support that idea, so casts her net wide to find a solution. She latches onto a story that Zaide told her about making a golem back home in Poland, and when she comes across a bag of dirt with a piece of paper with a word written on it, she takes the ingredients, follows the instructions, and creates a golem of her own. It's name is Elsa, and it looks like a regular girl Leah's age. Leah is relieved that she can leave Elsa with her grandfather to make sure that he doesn't get into trouble. She is given pause when Leah shows up at her school during lunch and claims it is boring when Zaide is napping. Elsa seems to have more success making friends than Leah does. When Elsa becomes more and more unreliable, Leah learns a bit more about golems from Zaide and has to come to terms with the reality of his condition. 
Strengths: I liked the close family connections, the religious practices, and was amazed at the fact that Zaide was still around; when my daughters were Leah's age, my grandmother would have been about 110! Hanging out with cousins, exploring the generations of things in Zaide's house, and dealing with friend drama at school all blend well together in this fast-paced, nicely plotted novel. Elsa is appropriately conniving and understatedly evil, and the twist at the end (which wouldn't be a twist if I were up on my golem lore!) was great. Even though a golem was involved, the rest of the details were very realistic. I enjoyed this one. 
Weaknesses: With one exception: Leah was rather bratty. Yes, it's great that she loves her great-grandfather, but her parents are right-- it's adult business, and it doesn't help to have her stamping her feet and slamming doors. Sometimes the elderly need to be in safer environments, and Zaide could have bene moved BEFORE he broke his hip. In real life, this would most likely lead to his hastened death. Remember, my mother died of Parkinson's dementia in an assisted living facility five months ago, so I might be overly sensitive. 
What I really think: The cover is great, it's a fast-paced book, and I don't have that many books where Jewish culture and religion is worked into a story that's about something else. This is similar to Respicio's Any Day With You. Still amazed by having GREAT grandparents around, though!
Ms. Yingling

Monday, December 21, 2020

Hidden Heroes #1: Lewis Latimer: Inventors Innovators

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Patrick, Denise Lewis and Duncan, Daniel (illus.) Hidden Heroes #1: Lewis Latimer: Inventors Innovators
January 7th 2020 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

I was so happy to see this biography series! Latimer is the subject of several shorter biographies, and even is mentioned in Abdul-Jabbar's What Color Is My World?: The Lost History of African-American Inventors, but to have detailed coverage of his life and times in a biography that's over 100 pages long (for some reason, frequently a requirement for biography projects!) is fantastic. The cover will help appeal to readers who adored the "Who Was" series but want something for somewhat older readers. The second book in this series focuses on Mae Jemison.

Latimer was born in 1848. His parents had been enslaved in Virginia but had made their way to freedom in Boston before Latimer's birth. His father eventually bought his own freedom, but left the family, perhaps fearing that they were in danger of being taken back into slavery. He joined the navy during the Civil War, and took a job at a patent office. He eventually taught himself mechanical drawing and drafting, and eventually was able to do those jobs. A keen observer, he developed several inventions himself. He worked with Alexander Graham Bell, rushing to get his patent application in, and later worked on incandescent lighting with Hiram Maxim as well as Thomas Edison. His knowledge of engineering in so many fields made him a valuable employee, and his willingness to learn new things (like French, when he was sent to Canada to work) helped as well. He died in 1928.

The illustrations in this help bring the era in which Latimer lived to life for readers, especially since there are not many photographs. This was just the right amount of information, and I appreciated that the challenges that Latimer faced due to his race were treated seriously, but his accomplishments were not overshadowed by that. I've always thought that there are many stories of women and people of color that need to be told, and I'm hoping that this series highlights more lesser known but highly accomplished people. 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Meow or Never

Taylor, Jazz. Meow or Never
January 5th 2021 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Avery and her father and older brother Andrew have finally moved out of an apartment into a house. Her mother left when she was very young. While Avery is glad that her father has a better job, he is busier, and it's been difficult for her to make friends because of her crippling social anxiety. She really likes Nic, who is very friendly, but is embarrassed by interactions in the past where she couldn't say anything. When a classmate, Harper, writes a play and wins a contest with it, the school starts practicing for a production of it. Nic overhears Avery singing and presses her to audition for a role, although this causes Avery to have a panic attack. The school nurse helps Avery calm down, but has to call her father. She gets the lead role of Juliet, and works with Nic to learn lines and also deal with her anxiety. She finds an abandoned kitten behind the school and makes it a cozy home, taking great comfort in the animal. When Harper realizes Avery is taking care of a cat, the two try to locate the owner. Harper seems to be having trouble at home; she often does not have lunch and is afraid to go home to her mother sometimes. As the play progresses, Nic and Harper start to hang out with Avery more, but she's still worried that they think she is odd. It doesn't help that Avery "like likes" Nic; she has only told her uncle that she likes girls, but her brother Andrew figures this out and tries to support her. Harper also can tell that Avery likes Nic, and tells Avery not to be shy; she might be surprised to learn how Nic feels. The play, the cat, her feelings for Nic-- this is all a lot. How will Avery be able to handle everything?
Strengths: Friend drama is always a popular topic for my students, and this is on trend for including topics of anxiety, challenging home situations, and emerging sexuality in a middle grade focused way. The play is worked into the plot in an engaging way. Nic is a very understanding friend, and I enjoyed that her family was very different from Avery's. Andrew, Avery's brother, is a great and supportive character as well. The details about the calming effects of animals are great, and the cover is super adorable. 
Weaknesses: I wish that Avery's father already had her in therapy. It's not something you ask your child to do. If that child has to work with the nurse to deal with panic attacks, you tell them to do it, and if costs are a problem, you work with the school counselor to figure something out. This is especially important if the child also might have lingering concerns about the mother leaving. I also had concerns for the cat's welfare. That said, my own daughter once kept a cat in her closet for two days before I realized it, so this is VERY true to life!
What I really think: The WISH novels are super popular in my library, and it's good to see one with an LGBTQIA+ focus. Will definitely purchase.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Just Like That

Schmidt, Gary D. Just Like That
January 5th 2021 by Clarion Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Meryl Lee Kowalski is shattered by the death of Holling Hoodhood, the main character in The Wednesday Wars, in a car accident right before the start of 8th grade. Her parents, concerned for her, decide to send her off to board at St. Elene's Preparatory Academy for Girls. It's a hard transition, because most of the other students are more well-to-do and also have known each other for years. It's a different environment, and it makes dealing with "the Blank", the feeling that descends on her when she is thinking about Holling, both easier and harder. Dr. MacKnockater is the headmistress, who is dealing with a young man, Matt, who has ended up in town, helped out Captain Hurd, and then been found badly injured. Dr. MacKnockater takes him in and acts as his foster mother while trying to get him an education, even enrolling him in her all girls school. Matt has had a life full of trauma, and is on the run from a violent criminal who seems to be able to find him no matter where he goes. He and Meryl Lee take a shine to one another. Meryl doesn't understand the stringent social rules that teacher Mrs. Connolly in particular is insistent on enforcing, and doesn't understand why she can't read John Steinbeck (he's a Communist), talk to the serving girls (they need to know their place), or talk about the Vietnam War (it isn't a suitable topic for conversation). Luckily, Dr. MacKnockater is on Meryl Lee's side, and is able to encourage her. Meryl also finds out that her family situation is changing, and this is another reason she was sent off. She slowlly comes to terms with Holling's death, and the school helps her find new motivations for learning and living. Matt's situation comes to a horrifying head but does get resolved, and Meryl is ready to continue on to high school. 
Strengths: I'm always looking for books set in the 1960s, and boarding schools are always a fascinating setting. There are a few good details about daily like during this time period, with discussions about the war and the relatives that people had off fighting. The tension between Meryl's more progressive views and Mrs. Connolly's traditional ones is interesting. Matt's story is thought provoking, and leads to a very suspenseful end of the book. 
Weaknesses: Holling's death is the single most abrupt and upsetting one I have ever seen in fiction, although Ambrose's death in the television show Ballykissangel comes close; my daughter still hasn't gotten over that.  It's comes as a slap in the face, and rather unprocessed; no wonder Meryl Lee is beside herself. On the one hand, it's very effective writing, but it made me angry for the whole book. Again, effective, but I'm not sure how students will feel about it. Since students rarely look for sequels to books written before they were born, I'm just not sure if this would find many readers in my library. Reading this directly after reading The Wednesday Wars would be excruciating.
What I really think: This is absolutely a well written and interesting book, but I hated the way it made me feel. I almost wish that Matt's story had been told on its own, or that he had been the primary character and Meryl Lee was someone who came into his world. Debating.

Ms. Yingling

Friday, December 18, 2020

Flashbacklist: Regular Guy Friday

Weeks, Sarah. Regular Guy
June 1st 1999 by HarperCollins Children's Books
Library Copy, first edition

Guy has long suspected that his parents are not his own. He is a buttoned down, calm person, and his parents are decidedly quirky. Mom favors lime green stretch pants and is a fan of decoupage, and his father's favorite trick in restaurants is to snort an oyster in through his nose and hork it out through his mouth. His best friend Buzz agrees, and the two conspire to get into the school records to find it there are other children born around the same time. It turns out that the very odd Bob-o was born on the same day in the same hospital, and that the parents knew each other. Guy arranges a "swap" for a "school project" after discussing the possibility of this mix up with Bob-o. He hopes to prove that the Smith's are his real parents, while his parents are really Bob-o's. There are some similarities in the way the Smith's dress (no tie-dyed underwear for them!), but after expressing his concerns to his mother, he realizes the two could not have been switched, and that the Smith's are not as amusing as his own parents, after all. 
Strengths: There are a lot of small, funny things about Guy's parents that irritate him. His mother doesn't match his socks, serves him odd snacks, and tries to decoupage his baseball cards onto a lamp shade. Buzz and Guy also get up to some highjinks. The story moves along quickly, and addresses the quintessential thought of adolescence "Surely THESE people are not related to me!" The reason that this has circulated steadily in my library for over twenty years is the fact that it is short and has an easy-to-read san serif font. This is the first book in a four book series. 
Weaknesses: Bob-o picks his nose and keeps balls of tuna fish in his pants; I'm not sure this level of quirky is used these days. Still, this is within the realm of standards today; Bob-o is not really made fun of 
What I really think: This series should be reissued, with perhaps a few tiny tweaks. I want to read the other four books and remember what else Guy gets up to!
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Night of the Living Dolls (Haunted #3)

Sutherland, Joel A. Night of the Living Dolls (Haunted #3)
1 September 2020, Sourcebooks
Library copy

Zelda has a doll that her friends find creepy, Sadie Sees, but she is fond of the doll because her grandmother gave it to her, and tries to tell her friends that she keeps the doll around because it comforts her younger sister, Lucy. When her grandmother dies suddenly, the family stays in her house to sort things out. While in the attic, Zelda finds a trunk full of assorted dolls, as well as her grandmother's journal from the 1950s. When the grandmother was young, she was a student in a prestigious boarding school, but only because her father was the caretaker. She was not liked by the other girls in the school, and in retribution, snuck in to steal their dolls-- and accidentally caused a fire that killed them, as well as the headmistress. The spirits of the people killed transferred into the dolls, and now that Zelda has freed them, they are bent on the destruction of the grandmother's progeny. Will Zelda and Lucy be able to find information about the past to put the dolls at peace and stop their evil rampage?
Strengths: There were several levels of creepy going on with this; the possessed dolls being in the grandmother's house, Sadie Sees talking to the girls and wanting to possess them, and the grandmother's role in the fire and deaths. My students love stories about haunted schools or institutions like Alender's The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall or Dan Poblocki's The Ghost of Graylock. I enjoyed the extra levels of evil in this, with the dolls being possessed, and the grandmother's possible involvement in the whole ugly scenario. What a thing to find out when your grandmother has just passed away! That's the real horror, to me. 
Weaknesses: The Wisp from Ghosts Never Die did get mentioned in this, but didn't intrigue me as much as it should have. 
What I really think: Purchased two of this series without reading them; that's how much I enjoyed the other two and knew that my students would like them even more than I did!
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Flashbacklist: Kissing Doorknobs

Hesser, Terry Spencer. Kissing Doorknobs.
Published May 11th 1998 by Delacorte Press
Library copy

Tara has always struggled with negative thoughts, but when she overhears someone say the phrase "Step on a crack, break your mother's back", it plunges her OCD into overdrive. Starting from preschool, Tara recounts the difficulties she has had separating from her mother, her fear of germs, her interest in her Catholic faith and her obsession with prayers, and finally, the ritual she develops of kissing doorknobs that finally alarms her parents. Even though she has been evaluated by psychiatrists over the years, the diagnoses were always things like ADHD, insecurities, self-esteem issues, and even borderline anorexia when she becomes obsessed with her food. Her parents are busy, and Tara's quirks annoy them to the point where the mother at one point whispers that she will kill Tara if she doesn't stop her behavior, because it is embarrassing her in front of friends. Tara's friends are rather understanding, but even they have a breaking point, and in 8th grade Tara takes up with Donna, who shoplifts, accidentally has sex when she is high, and encourages Tara to go with her to a drug store and demand to be sold condoms. Eventually, a friend of her father's just happens to be by the house when Tara is exhibiting a lot of symptoms, and tells the parents that he thinks Tara might have OCD like one of his students. (The father rolls his eyes and sighs "ANOTHER diagnosis.") Tara meets Sam, who has OCD but has more understanding parents and a therapist who is working with him to try to modify the behaviors. Tara gets help, her mother starts taking anti-anxiety medication, and life goes on. There are lists of organizations and resources at the end; impressively, some of the links are still active!
Strengths: Tara's mental state is well described; the author notes that while she doesn't have OCD, she had some tendencies as a child and drew from those experiences to write this. There is an explanatory note from a doctor. Pinning down a diagnosis and treatment plan is still difficult with mental health issues. Tara's friends are supportive, but even they weary of her behaviors. The strain that Tara puts on her family is realistic.
Weaknesses: Keesha is Black and her dialog is in a quasi-Ebonic style, which doesn't go over well now. Donna is a "bad girl" and goes to a home for expectant mothers. The parents, even though they have seen Tara's behavior for years, refuse to believe anything is wrong with her. This is dated in so many ways. 
What I really think: Treatment and perception of OCD has changed so much in the last 20 years that I will weed this book. It hasn't been checked out in a while, doesn't smell great, and is a bit more YA than most of my titles now. My readers have been skewing younger for some time now. No idea why. 


Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Dinosaurs Before Dark- Deluxe Edition

Osborne, Mary Pope. Dinosaurs Before Dark (Magic Treehouse #1)
October 6th 2020 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

Jack and Annie live in Frog Creek, Pennsylvania and spend plenty of time outside playing. When they locate a treehouse that they've never seen before, they find that it is full of books. Since Jack loves to read, he delves into the titles, and before they know it, the two have been whisked back to the time of the dinosaurs. They make friends with a Pteranodon, and Jack makes notes about their encounters. They also observe a Triceratops and an Anatosaurus at close range with no ill effects, even feeding them flowers, but when a Tyrannosaurus Rex comes on the scene, they no it is not a soft, friendly dinosaur! Luckily, when Jack needs help, he is saved by Pteranodon and taken safely back to the tree house, where he and Annie are able to read the book about Pennsylvania and travel back home. They realize that no time has passed since they left, and their mother is none the wiser about their adventures. During their time in the past, they find a medallion with an "M" on it that will figure largely in future adventures. 
Strengths: First graders who are strong readers need books just like this-- heavily illustrated, with large text and formulaic plots that are still interesting and engaging. When the stories also include fascinating history, readers will obsessively collect the books to reread. This was certainly true of my own children, and I was always sad that there wasn't a series like this when I was a child. Aside from the Ruth Chew fantasy books, there weren't a lot of easy fantasy chapter books. This series has continued on for so many years because it understands the needs of young readers, and provides them with thrills, mystery, history, and a pair of siblings that get along most of the time! The full color treatment is excellent, although there is a soft spot in my heart for the originals. 
Weaknesses: While Antonio Caparo's illustrations are lovely, publishing a Magic Treehouse book without Sal Murdocca's iconic illustrations is akin to publishing Watty Piper's 1930 The Little Engine that Could without George and Doris Hauman's. Young readers won't care, but anyone who knows the originals will be a bit sad. 
What I really think: I am debating between keeping this copy for any future grandchildren I have or donating it to replace my library copy... which was on the very first order I placed at the Blendon Library back in the summer of 2002! My children were huge fans of this series, and these Deluxe Editions are great presents for any 6-year-old you might know! 

For Grandma Toddler Tuesday, we have a slightly more subdued outfit. I'm rubbish at selfies, so you don't get the houndstooth of the slacks or the paisley in the turtleneck. I think red shoes are essential to this outfit, but the owl print mask doesn't hurt. 

Happy Tuesday in a world where the Founding Fathers would be proud that the democratic system they created to check  the power of an individual WORKED!

 Ms. Yingling

Monday, December 14, 2020

Mighty Justice: The Untold Story of Civil Rights Trailblazer Dovey Johnson Roundtree

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

McCabe, Katie. Mighty Justice (Young Readers' Edition): The Untold Story of Civil Rights Trailblazer Dovey Johnson Roundtree
December 15th 2020 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Born in 1914, Roundtree had a varied and important career made all the more impressive by the difficulties she faced at every turn. Thanks to her grandmother, who had suffered greatly from racism and believed that education was the key to success, she managed to not only go to college at Spelman, but also law school at Howard University, and even studied theology while she was practicing law! Because she had to work to pay her way through most of her schooling, it is amazing that she was able to keep up with the demands of her classes while also being actively involved with the Civil Rights movement. She was handpicked to serve as a reruiter for the WAAC by Mary McLeod Bethune She was very fortunate to have some amazing mentors, from Bethune, to a college professor who supported her and made sure she had funds for school, to several helpful people in the legal profession. During the 1950s and 60s, she was involved in a number of legal battles, many of them concerning transportation. I had no idea that there were so many fights about this, many of them well before Rosa Parks. During the 1970s and 80s, she shifted her focus to the rights of children. She practiced law into her 80s, and passed away in 2018 at the age of 104. 
Strengths: Wow. I've been waiting a long time to see more biographies of women and Black Americans that aren't new editions of people about whom there are already books. (How many George Washington Carver and Harriet Tubman books does one library need?) Roundtree is hugely impressive, yet I had never heard of her. Biographies set in the 1900s often amaze my readers, who find it difficult to comprehend how widespread strictures for Black Americans were not that many years ago. There are a decent number of photographs spread throughout the book. 
Weaknesses: This was a bit of the dry side. This could be because it is a Young Readers Edition, or it could have been that a lot of the book covered legal cases. I was hoping it would be a bit more like Katharine Johnson's Reaching for the Moon and provide more details about every day life.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, since this has just the right amount of information for research projects and is not only a great biography, but can also be used for finding out more about important Civil Rights cases. 

My school is back in person after a remote day on Friday because there weren't enough buses. It was done wisely, if a bit last minute. The elementary students still had school, but middle and high were remote. My district has been about ninth in the state for COVID cases recently (we are a large district) but I know that not having school is very difficult for families. We haven't seen this cohort of students since before Thanksgiving, so I hope that we can make it through the whole week. 

I normally do NOT look forward to breaks, but I think I am ready for this one. Between losing my mother in April and my dog Sylvie in September, both of my daughters being two hours away from home, and my father not allowed to leave his senior facility, this year has been... a lot. I do fully realize that I have been very fortunate compared to many people, but somehow it all hit home this weekend. 

On the upside, I have knocked my reading goal out of the park with 842 books this year!

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Jo & Laurie

Stohl, Margaret and de la Cruz, Melissa. Jo & Laurie
June 2nd 2020 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
ARC provided by Follett First Look

Jo March is less than pleased with her publisher, who has not only made her artificially sweeten her novel, but has saddled it with the diminutive title Little Women. Still, her family desperately needs money, since her father still has not returned from the war, since he is helping with Reconstruction in the South. In real life, Beth has died, although she was allowed to live in the book, and Jo is struggling with reconciling her family's real life with the fictional one that has garnered critical acclaim as well as a healthy fan base. Meg is not engaged, but is interested in Laurie's former tutor, but insists that she will marry a wealthy man in order to secure her family's finances. Amy is young and generally unhelpful. Jo struggles to write, and is glad of Laurie's friendship. When the two travel to New York, it is obvious that Laurie is interested in more of a romance, but Jo is not. Or is she? She tries to set him up with a wealthy socialite, and sets to work on her much anticipated second novel, but has to decide how she really feels about her long time friend. 
Strengths: The authors are clearly fans of Alcott and do a fantastic job of including details from the books as well as making logical projections. It was fun to go back to this world and see more of Jo's experience with being a published author. In general, this made much more sense to me than the modern reimaginings that cast Jo as gay. I have no issue with Jo being gay, and that certainly could have been a life style that she or Alcott could have embraced, given their location and literary friend group. The only thing keeping Jo  (or Alcott) back from a "Boston marriage" would have been her lack of funds. It seems more in line with the canon to have Jo at least investigate a romance with Laurie; I was always more of a fan of Professor Bhaer, but there are a lot of Camp Laurie believers. 
Weaknesses: There seemed to be a lot of travel back and forth to Boston and New York that seemed a little unusual for the March/Alcott family, but is within the realm of possibility. 
What I really think: Since I can't get modern readers to pick up (and keep reading) Little Women, I will pass on purchase. Back in 2012, I did buy Baratz-Logsted's Little Women and Me  and it's been checked out all of 11 times. Love the cover of Jo & Laurie; this would have been my favorite color, had it been prevalent when I was young. Love that minty/blue green!

My goodness. A lot of people were really angry with this one, mainly because of the fact that Jo ended up with Laurie. Even if you don't like that conclusion, it's a well done book. Perhaps read the book before you give it one star? Just a thought.
 Ms. Yingling

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Cartoon Saturday-- Ghosted

Fry, Michael. Ghosted. 
January 19th 2021 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus'

Larry and Grimm have been friends ever since Grimm helped Larry with an explosive pop can situation, and the two have an epic tree house and a bucket list filled with items like "take a bath in spaghetti". When Grimm is struck by lightning while rescuing a cat from a tree, Larry is lost without his more exciting half. When Grimm comes back as a ghost, the two worry that Grimm has unfinished business that is keeping him tethered to earth. They think that by doing the items on the bucket list, Grimm will be able to move on. They try feeding the neighbor's vicious small dog, prank the principal, and get up to various high jinks that are a bit difficult considering that Larry often looks as if he is talking to himself and his mother strongly encourages him to go to counseling. (Which he actually finds helpful, even given his bizarre situation.) When Larry starts to realize that Grimm's humor was sometimes misplaced, and his treatment of a classmate might be what is keeping him from moving on, he tries to get Grimm to see what is keeping him back, even though he knows that once he does, he will have lost his best friend forever. 
Strengths: This is a good reminder that I need to dust off The Naughty List (2015) for the holiday season. Fry's Odd Squad (2013) is a great alternative to Wimpy Kid; there's more of a story, and more of a life lesson. Same is true here. What surprised me most about this is that Larry's grief is actually portrayed in a very realistic, constructive way, even though he also has his friend visiting as a ghost. The fact that his mother is concerned about him and has a therapist all lined up show that she is far more attuned than some parents in more literary novels! This teeters right on the edge of cheesy but never topples into it, which gives it an oddly unexpected poignancy. 
Weaknesses: Since I am still sad about losing my dog, Sylvie, as well as several members of my family, this made me unexpectedly weepy, and made me question if I would help ghosts move on. I regret to say that I don't think I would. The target demographic will not find this book gut wrenching in the same way I did, unless, of course, they too have lost a best friend.
What I really think: I'd love to see more cartoonists stretch into the area of middle grade novels. Still hoping to see one from Jump Start's Robb Armstrong. That's the dream. I will probably purchase this one even thought it made me personally sad. 

Ms. Yingling

Friday, December 11, 2020

Stage Fright (Creepers)

Hyde, Edgar J. Stage Fright (Creepers)
September 1st 2020 by Flowerpot Press
Copy provided by Follett First Look

Jenny, Jo and Melissa are the main actors in a creepy school play about witches that is disturbingly graphic (no one needs to read about getting an ingredient for a potion that involves violence to a puppy). They find out that the play was written by a former student, but never performed because bad things kept happening to the cast. This is true for them as well. The girls have a crush on Jeremy, who gets involved in a race with Danny that ends up with Danny in a coma. The girls investigate further and find that the writer was one Geraldine Somers, who died in 1982. They couldn't get a lot of information about her, so of course visit her grave in the local cemetery. Jenny gets caught in a crypt and sees Melissa and Jo as creepy dismembered ghosts. The witches from the play also appear and give Melissa a hard time. When she finally escapes, the girls locate the grave of Geraldine, who tells them that the way to stop the evil the witches are planning is to change the play when they perform it. Will that be enough to send the witches back? 
Strengths: This is an interesting Scottish series that is trying to make its way into different markets. I did appreciate the fact that the book was fairly short (125 pages) and had nice, large font and plenty of white space on the page. The beginning was certainly engaging, if a little too gory for me, what with the puppy and also a hamster coming under the knife. I am always looking for horror books to keep up with the insatiable demands of my students.
Weaknesses: This struck me as more of an elementary horror book because of the style of writing. Granted, rather disturbed elementary students, but the writing had a much simpler quality than middle school readers tend to appreciate. 
What I really think: This was too cheesy for my students, who have very high standards for their scary books. I'd love to see more horror series, but would like them to be more like K.A. Alexander's creepy books or Joel Sutherland's Haunted books. 

 Ms. Yingling