Saturday, July 24, 2021

Saturday Morning Cartoons- Bad Sister and Vampires Don't Wear Polka Dots

Harper, Charise Mericle. Bad Sister
July 13th 2021 by First Second
E ARC provided by Netgalley

This graphic memoir, which seems to be set in the 1970s, given the fashions, level of supervision for children, and other clues, deals with Charise, who spends a lot of time with her younger brother, Daniel. While the two generally play well together, neither child is great about thinking through their activities, and Daniel often ends up injured. There is also some tension between the siblings caused by the parents, who often take the side of the younger child in instances such as Charise not letting her brother use her art supplies. While the activities the children engage in would shock and horrify parents today, they were pretty standard back in the day-- playing with a giant truck inner tube and rolling it down the hill or throwing it with a child inside, climbing trees, riding bikes, dumpster diving, and running and jumping in the house with couch cushions as "safety features"-- were all quite common. On top of this, however, is a lot of deep seated anger on Charise's part that makes her feel that she is "bad" and that she means Daniel harm. Sometimes she does. One of the causes of this anger might be her undiagnosed prosopagnosia; she thinks that Daniel's ability to recognize people is a superpower, but this is not really fully investigated. When her actions (as well as Daniel's willingness to go along with them) result in graver injury, her guilt intensifies and she tries to be a better older sister. 
Strengths: As someone who would put on a plastic space helmet and try to jump a culvert at the bottom of a hill on a big wheel with my brother hanging on behind me, I can attest to the fact that this is an accurate portrayal of childhood activities in the 1970s! My brother and I also had a game in the care that involved balancing on our foreheads on the back of the seat and see who could stay up the longest. What sets this apart is Charise's guilt about how she treats her brother, and her exploration of their relationship and how she can improve it.                                
Weaknesses: I would have liked to see more about the prosopagnosia, but I'm sure that parents in the 70s would have assumed a child who claimed this was lying. Just the way it was! 
What I really think: This will be popular with readers who like a bit of family tension with their graphic novels, like Telgemeier's Sisters, Knisely's Stepping Stones, or Jamieson's All's Faire

Dadey, Debbie, Jones, Marcia, and Low, Pearl (illus.)
Vampires Don't Wear Polka Dots: A Graphix Chapters Book (The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids #1)
August 3rd 2021 by Graphix

The 1990s creepadelic series is back in a new graphic novel version. Eddie, Melody, Howie, Liza, Carey and Ben are back at Bailey school. Eddie and the class's bad behavior has scared off their previous teacher, so when Ms. Jeeper's arrives, they feel that they can take care of her quickly. However, there are things about the new teacher that give them pause. She is from Romania, has bought the local haunted house that seems to have coffins in the basement, and has an eerily glowing green pendant and a talent for subverting any bad behavior very quickly. The kids don't let this stop them, and sprinkle garlic in the classroom in order to try to get rid of the teacher. All of their efforts fail, and they come to terms with their unusual new educator. 
Strengths: Like Applegate's Animorphs, Roy's A to Z Mysteries, and Osbourne's Magic Tree House books, the Bailey School Kids books were something I was always on the lookout for at garage sales and the thrift store, and there are probably still most of the original 51 books in my attic! The graphic novels will appeal to a new generation of readers, for whom the original 80 page books are just too long, and too black and white. The characters are updated to include more vague diversity; the original characters were never identified as being of any specific cultural background, but the graphic novel shows more children of color. Low's illustrations have a good creepy edge to them, and the story seems to be fairly true to the original. 
Weaknesses: The 1980s were not a pleasant time, and I forget that the 1990s were perilously close to that time. Eddie's poor behavior seems particularly unpleasant and out of place in a post Wonder world, and I wasn't amused by the classes attempts to get their teacher to leave. (See The War Against Grandpa for comparative 1980s kidlit.)
What I really think: Because my middle school readers want a lot more murder in their creepy tales, I probably won't buy this series unless the purported Netflix series becomes very popular and students ask for this, but this is a MUST purchase at elementary schools, where it offers just the right amount of creepy thrills for younger readers. (Unless you are my younger daughter, who was super creeped out by these and wouldn't even allow the books in her room!)

Friday, July 23, 2021

Guy Friday- The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh

Rutter, Helen. The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh
August 3rd 2021 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Billy Plimpton is very concerned about starting middle school at Bannerdale, since most of his friends are going to Hillside. While Billy doesn't mind having to wear a jacket with his uniform instead of a sweater (this is a British book!), he is concerned that since he won't know many people, they will make fun of his stutter. Billy spends a lot of time thinking about his stutter, especially since his dream is to be a stand up comic, but he doesn't feel comfortable performing for anyone but his Granny Bread. He does attend speech therapy, and is always trying to find ways to "cure" his stutter, such as special tea, classes, or relaxation techniques. For the first few days of school, he manages to hide his stutter, but when there is a class show and tell assignment, he desperately wants out of it. Unfortunately, his teacher is concerned that he hasn't been talking, and calls his mother, who always thinks that Billy should just try harder and not care what people think. Billy comes up with a clever way to address Show and Tell, and most of his classmates, like Shyla, who attended primary school with him, are supportive. Some, like William Blakemore, are not, and tease him mercilessly. The teacher has some good ideas, and invites Billy to a music group, where he learns to play the drums. He flirts with the idea of doing his stand up routine in the talent show, especially since he promised his grandmother she would get to see him perform, but when Granny Bread becomes ill, he decides to participate with his band instead. His band consists of some of his new friends, so when he is approached to drum for a high school group and accepts, this causes some rifts. Skyla is a good ally, but has problems in her own life. With so much going on around him, will Billy finally decide to work around his stutter instead of letting it get in his way?
Strengths: I can't think of any middle grade books that address speech problems, so it's great to hear what Billy's difficulties are and how he addresses them. The dynamic in the classroom, and the steps that his teacher takes to help him are interesting, as is his work with the therapist. His family is close and supportive, but also (in true middle grade way) a little annoying, except for his grandmother. Their close relationship was wonderful to see. There's plenty going on, and the general attitude is fairly upbeat, with occasional lapses into dramatic tween histrionics. Reader's who like Patterson's I Funny will appreciate Billy's love of stand up. 
Weaknesses: This read like an older title in some respects; Billy's reaction to Show and Tell is akin to Blume's Deenie's fit about wearing her back brace, and his attempt at running away made me realize that's not something tweens try lightly anymore. It's also rather British, and it would have helped to somehow indicate the specific setting so that readers aren't confused by the school uniforms.
What I really think: This had the upbeat feel of Pichon's Tom Gates and Berger's Lyttle Lies, and was not too dissimilar from the work of Jacqueline Wilson, who blurbed this. I'm an absolute pushover for books set in England so will purchase this. It would be good to see more lower middle grade books with characters involved in speech therapy. 

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Dark Waters (Small Spaces #3)

Arden, Katherine. Dark Waters (Small Spaces #3)
August 3rd 2021 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Even though Ollie, Brian, and Coco are no longer besieged by scarecrows of Small Spaces, and have fought off the Smiling Man in Dead Voices, they are still wary of things that go bump, especially in the day time. After spending some rainy days at Brian's family's inn, the group is looking forward to a brief boat outing while Coco Zintner's mother is interviewing Dane Dimmonds, who runs a tour boat on Lake Champlain that specializes in local history, especially about the mythical serpent, Champ. The kids, along with Ollie's dad, Mr. Adler, and Ms. Zintner, pack their bags and set off on their adventure. When they meet Mr. Dimmonds, they are surprised to find Phil, a school mate, there. Phil is Dimmond's nephew, and helps out on the boat. He was also involved in the terrifying bus trip, and claims not to remember the scarecrows, although he does admit to having horrible nightmares about them. He has also been less than kind to the other kids, especially Ollie, and admits to Brian that he has met someone who matches the description of the Smiling Man in town. Since there was a strange, blackened circle with mysterious words on it left at Brian's inn, the children are already on edge. The boat trip starts out okay, but when Phil is fishing, he catches a small sea serpent, and the voyage takes a disastrous turn. Mr. Adler prevents Phil from getting bitten, but sustains a wound himself. Mysteriously, the engine on the boat goes missing, and the boat starts to fill with water. The kids and Ms. Zintner manage to save Mr. Adler, but Mr. Dimmond is carried off by the water. The group ends up on an island that hadn't appeared on any of the maps, and must try to survive the cold temperatures and lack of radio contact while dealing with Mr. Adler's wounds. There are plenty of creepy things on the island: a forest of hanging fishhooks, abandoned snake skins, and a creepy cabin with the skull of "Tommy" that a crazed, axe-carrying man seems to think is still alive. Could these two be connected with the early 1800s ship, the Goblin, that disappeared in mysterious circumstances? Ollie's biggest concern is saving her father, and since all of the bad things that happen to the group seem to be connected to the Smiling Man, will he somehow be involved with the group's plight?
Strengths: For whatever reason, my students LOVE murderous ghosts, scarecrows, or other paranormal creatures. I'm sure they will be onboard with murderous sea serpents and ghosts of sailors! I love the way Arden takes perfectly benign, pleasant scenarios and gets us all cozy around the fire before making everything slide sideways into terror! It's like plunging into a cold pool on a really hot day-- all the more shocking! Mr. Adler is a great character, and his injury is used to great psychological effect as well; Ollie has already lost her mother, so she doesn't want to lose her father, who has stepped up so well to try to fill in the emptiness in Ollie's life. Phil's appearance, and his experience of being involved with the scarecrows, adds another layer of interest. I enjoyed the fact that lots of Vermont-specific background is included; Robert Frost's poetry, Lake Champlain, and (of course) Champ!
Weaknesses: We didn't see as much of the Smiling Man in this one, and I would have preferred seeing the group deal with his oily evil rather than the spirit of ancient mariners. This ended a bit abruptly, so I'm sure that this character will play a larger role in the next book. 
What I really think: My students will be waiting in line for this new installation, and I can't wait to see how the story wraps up in the summer installment. What a great way to structure a series around the seasons, and four books is just the right length. Perfect for fans of the new crop of middle grade horror like the work of K.R. Alexander and Joel Sutherland, and Hermon's Hide and Seeker, Currie's Scritch Scratch, Lawrence's The Stitchers, Brown's The Forgotten Girl, and Ireland's Ophie's Ghosts

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Escape from Hurricane Katrina

Dodson, Judy Allen. Escape from Hurricane Katrina
July 6th 2021 by little bee books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sophie is worried that her mother won't get to her swim meet because she's not feeling very well after treatment for her cancer, but soon bigger issues arrive. It's August, 2005, and Hurricane Katrina is rapidly approaching New Orleans. Sophie lives with her parents and twin brother JoJo is a house in the Ninth Ward that has been in the family for generations. Her father starts to fortify the house and lay in supplies, but with the threat of power being out, her mother contacts a sister to see if they can get a ride away from the storm, since the family's car is being fixed. There's only room for the mother, so the children and their father plan to ride out the storm. They move things to the attic and hope for the best, but eventually feel they need to leave. They have a small raft ready to go, but when they leave, elderly neighbors have difficulties and the father stays with them. The children are told to head to the Superdome, where the father will try to find them. Along the way, they help rescue a family with small children, and Sophie uses her swimming skills to save a baby. When they finally make it to the center, they do find a family friend and feel safer being with adults they know, but are soon separated. Sophie becomes ill because of the water she swallowed while recusing the baby, and the Superdome has limited medical help. The children leave a clue with their whereabouts painted on the field, and have help from another girl also separated from her family, but will they be able to make it in the crowded stadium, be reunited with their parents, and be able to remake their lives after the storm?
Strengths: The best part of this book was the insets with information about what really happened during the storm. Factual information is given to answer questions like "Did people really stay?" and "Did people get sick from being in the water?" Sophie and JoJo are good characters who work well together, and exhibit some normal tween responses to a terrible situation-- JoJo brings their pet turtle with him! The family has made plans, but they don't always go smoothly, which is a great way to show how people deal with disasters. The illustrations are done in an interesting style and give a great feel for the setting and situation. This is a good choice for younger middle grade readers who love Tarshis' I Survived books and can't get enough about natural disasters. 
Weaknesses: The other books in this series are Escape from the Titanic and Escape from Pompeii. There are already SO many books on these topics, and I don't really need any more. I'd love to see fictional titles about about the Halifax explosion (Blizzard of Glass), the Peshtigo fire, or any disasters that haven't been covered quite as much. My favorite horrible historical event is the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and there could be a book that addressed this for younger readers; there are plenty of YA versions.
What I really think: Since I already have the Tarshis and Messner books on this topic, along with Smith's Another Kind of Hurricane and Rhode's Ninth Ward, Herlong's Buddy and Brown's Drowned City, I will pass on purchase, but this is a great updated version if your library is low on books about this event. This one does get bonus points for having a pet cat instead of a dog!

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

STEM Tuesday- The Curie Society

Harvey, Janet, Einhorn, Heather and Liao, Sonia (illustrations).
The Curie Society
April 27th 2021 by MIT Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Three roommates at Edmonds University all face different challenges in settling into college life. Biologist Simone is very young to be away from home, and feels that people don't take her area of scientific interest as seriously. Math oriented Maya is used to the support that boarding schools offer, and is pushed very hard by her ambitious parents. Tech and gaming fan Taj has a side gig providing tech for concerts, and finds her roommates to be annoying. When all three are approached by the secretive Curie Society to be members, they are surprised. The leaders of the group on their campus are Dr. Burkhart, who was in the military and sustained injuries that led to her using a prosthetic arm, Dr. Warsame, the head of the engineering school, and Emma, their orientation guide. While the three don't do well at their initial initiation, failing to work well under pressure, they are soon sent on a super secret field trip to study animals and their adaptive qualities, and find themselves enmeshed in a global conspiracy by evil scientists to run the world. Will the three be able to get along, and use their skills to take down the bad guys?

This read very much like a comic book, with capital lettering that emphasizes a wide variety of words in bold print, and with lots of action and adventure, although not as many written sound effects as something like Batman! The illustrations include a lot of dark colors, which makes sense since a fair amount of scenes are either at night or in underground or enclosed spaces. The print is very small, and rather dense, which combined with some of the themes makes this perfect for older readers. 

There's plenty of science and technology in this; pyrotechnics, drones, surveillance equipment, animal regeneration, artificial intelligence, and much, much more. The tie in with Marie Curie is good to see, and the book ends with a quantity of thumbnail biographies of real women scientists. 

In addition to the science, there is plenty of drama; Simone struggles with being away from home and with people treating her like a child, Maya is unhappy with her career trajectory and is wooed by the rogue scientists, and Taj has a scene in which a fraternity party ends with predatory behavior exhibited by the male students... whom she quickly subdues with some quality ninja moves. Dr. Burkhart's flashbacks also provided some examples of bravery and drama in her own background. 

There aren't a whole lot of science fiction graphic novels, especially for older middle grade and high school readers, but this is a great addition to books like Sanity and Tallulah, Pepper Page Saves the Universe, Cosmoknights, and Space Battle Lunchtime.

Monday, July 19, 2021

MMGM- Linked and A Shot in the Arm

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Korman, Gordon. Linked.
July 20th 2021 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Chokecherry, Colorado is a smallish town where most of the students have been together for years. There are paleontologists who have come to work on a dig that has uncovered some dinosaur remains as well as fossilized dinosaur poop, and their children are navigating middle school. When serial prankster Link, whose father is a local real estate agent who hopes to turn Chokecherry into an Orlando-like dinosaur tourist destination, gets caught putting peat moss in the dig offices, his father bans him from playing sports. Since that's the root of his popularity, he's angry, but soon there are other things to occupy his thoughts-- a swastika is painted on a school wall. Dana, whose parents work on the dig, is the only Jewish student in the school, so she is greatly affected. Told from various points of view, from seventh grade president Caroline, who wants to see more school spirit, to art club president Michael, who has a great grasp of logistics, we see how this affects the school. It's not just one swastika; there are others, from a tar one on a baseball banner to paint on the ice cream freezer. The students learn about Chokecherry's past, which includes the Night of a Thousand Flames back in the 1970s, when the Ku Klux Klan was still active. Link finds out from his mother than his grandmother is Jewish, but was given to French nuns as a very small child to keep her safe. Her entire family perished, and she only learned about her past a few years ago. Link reacts strongly to this news, and after Dana brushes off his request for assistance "on being Jewish" by telling him he should think about a bar mitzvah, he contacts a rabbi in the nearest synagogue and starts fast-tracked preparation for the coming of age ritual! After lots of class time spent learning about the Holocaust (which the students claim to get tired of, which is sadly very true to life), students feel like they need to DO something, and the idea of a paper chain, inspired by a real life school that tried to collect six million paperclips to commemorate the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, takes hold. Soon, the town is in the sights of ReelTok, a TikTok star, who comes to town to make inflammatory posts and generally stir things up. Undaunted by problems with paper supply and chain storage, the project continues, and Link works tirelessly to prepare for his bar mitzvah. When the truth comes out about who painted the swastikas, how will the various characters be affected?
Strengths: There are several really brilliant things about this book. First, there are many, many places in the US that don't have diverse populations. There are towns like Chokecherry all over the US, and I imagine the populations feel that racism isn't going to really affect them... until it does. The other inspired topic, which Korman addressed in 2017's Restart, is the idea of personal identity in the teen and tween years, and how hard it can be to change once people have an opinion of what kind of person you are. Like his War Stories, Linked treats World War II in a manner that relates it more intimately to today's children. Including a TikTok star who tries to stir things up showcases how social media can have positive aspects (getting donations of paper for the chains), but also extremely negative ones. The variety of characters was interesting, and I did not see the identity of the swastika painter coming. This would make a fascinating novel for class discussions; there are not enough middle grade novels that address changing oneself and redemption. Even though the book addresses serious, timely concerns, Korman manages to work in his trademark humor. The cover and title are great. 
Weaknesses: The dig was fascinating, and I sort of wanted to know more, but there wasn't quite room in the book to investigate that topic further. Where had Dana and her family been before? Where were they going next? I know it wasn't really her story, but I wanted to know more about Dana. 
What I really think: Korman has really come into his own in the last couple of years. He's always been a fun, engaging author, but he's really kicked it up a notch by including more serious themes. I am just in awe of his forty year career!

Brown, Don. A Shot in the Arm (Big Ideas that Changed the World)
April 20th 2021 by Amulet Books
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Disease isn't new. Pandemics aren't new. Even vaccinations aren't new. But when you're in grade school, everything is new! (Well, except for your teachers and parents!) While COVID-19 has been such a devastating occurrence, it would be great if it lead young readers to investigate more about it, as well as the history of viruses and how they have affected society. 

Brown introduces us to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who lived in England in the late 1600s. Her society was dealing with smallpox, and we are given a good history of that disease and the treatments it inspired. When smallpox threatened her own family, she investigated an innoculation where smallpox scabs were inserted under the skin, and this seemed to be fairly effective in lessening the effects of the disease, and Montagu is credited with popularizing this defense against a devastating disease. 

We then cross the pond and deal with smallpox in the Colonies, and see how Cotton Mather ran into difficulties when he tried to help the Boston smallpox epidemic of 1721 with the treatment. The alternate approach, to inoculate with cow pox, is fully explained, and there is discussion of other vaccinations (as they are called after those experiments) as well as the push back against them. Other scientists, like Koch and Pasteur, are introduced, and protection against diseases like anthrax in farm populations is discussed. Polio gets full coverage, which is quite interesting, because I had never heard of some of the deaths related to some of the vaccines, and how people were a bit leery-- I assumed that everyone was completely behind either the shot or the oral vaccine for polio! The faulty link to autism is debunked. 

Of course, COVID-19 ends the book, so is a nice way to frame all of the previous information into something that young readers have experienced themselves. The politics surrounding the creation and distribution of the vaccine are omitted, and that's probably just as well. This current pandemic receives just an overview, which will be perfect when we are out of the throes of it. The additional timeline of virus research and brief biography of Montagu, bibliography and author's notes round out this useful graphic nonfiction book. 

In addition to being a timely resource, this is an excellent addition to readable narrative nonfiction about diseases. Jurmain's Yellow Death, Murphy's An American Plague, Davis; More Deadly Than War, Jarrow's Fatal Fever, and Murphy's Invincible Microbe are all books that are oddly enthralling, and appealing to readers with a scientific bent. 

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Margie Kelley Breaks the Dress Code

Farr, Bridget. Margie Kelley Breaks the Dress Code
July 13th 2021 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Margie goes shopping with her father (her mother died when she was a baby) and gets the perfect skirt for the first day of 6th grade, but when she wears it, her teacher measures the distance from the hem to her knees and sends Margie to the office on a dress code violation. She has to wear an old pair of gym shorts instead, getting her negative attention. She and her best friend Daniela are interested in being on the Quiz Bowl team, but Margie finds sexism there as well. Most of the team are boys, and there is only one girl of color on the team. Margie starts taking notes about how girls are treated in class as well, and finds that they aren't called on as often. She is so angry that she wears her skirt again, gets dress coded, and has to spend the day in In School Suspension. There, she finds that girls of color have an even harder time with the administration and are dress coded more often. Boys who wear shorts that aren't long enough are completely ignored. Irritated, she decides to stage a protest that just gets her in more trouble with the administration. There are some teachers who are more progressive than others, but Margie and her friends still feel that the culture of their school needs to change. Will they be able to make their voices heard?
Strengths: This book is completely on trend with all manner of current social concerns. Body positivity, fourth wave feminism, intersectionality, gender issues, racial issues, and how to effectively run a protest are all covered in modern, politically correct ways. Margie is shy at first, but becomes emboldened when the situation motivates her. I enjoyed all of the details about Quiz Bowl teams and competitions. The principal and teachers are not depicted as being completely close minded, which is refreshing to see. Readers who enjoyed Mathieu's Moxie (2017), Pola's Leggings Revolt (2016), Schroeder's Don't Judge Me (2020),  or Firestones Dress Coded (2020) will want to add this to their reading list. 
Weaknesses: This ended a bit abruptly, and I wasn't wild about the depiction of the grandmother. While certainly all of my grandparents had dentures, Margie's grandmother, even if she was raised in Ireland, seemed unlikely to have them. (This article is from 11 years ago!) Margie is critical of her grandmother and her hidebound ways, but also is judgmental about what her grandmother wears and how she looks! Even though the first chapter starts with a protest sign reading "Clothing does NOT define us", Margie herself describes a teacher who addresses intersectionality and other current sociopolitical ideas this way: "She's definitely the most fashionable. Today she's wearing a floral tunic over black leggings and a thick neon yellow chain necklace." What we wear matters a LOT, and Margie herself delivers a mixed message.
What I really think: Since my students have been wearing pajama pants, athletic slides, ball caps, hoodies, midriff tops, blankets around their shoulders, and shorts so short that their butt cheeks practically hang out and no one has said anything this year , I don't think they will relate to this title. When we did have a dress code, it was equally enforced, and girls were never called out for "being a distraction". Perhaps this is the way things are in Texas, but here is Ohio we moved on from measuring shorts, checking how low necklines are, and prohibiting leggings so long ago that we had a teacher wearing running tights and a flannel shirt the other day. 
 Ms. Yingling

Friday, July 16, 2021

Temple Alley Summer

Kashiwaba, Sachiko, Satake, Miho(Illus.), Udagawa, Avery (Trans.)
Temple Alley Summer 
July 6th 2021 by Restless Books 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Kazu is very interested when he sees his neighborhood on an antique map, and intrigued that it is labled "Temple Alley", especially when the name of the temple is Kimyo, which can be translated "back from the dead". When a new girl, Akari, appears in his school, the mystery deepens. He sees her come out of his house, and while he doesn't remember her, everyone else seems to. Not only that, but her mother seems to be invisible! He decides to do his summer project on the temple, instead of having his mother help him grow tomatoes, and is soon asking around the neighborhood to see if anyone around his recently deceased grandfather's age might know anything. Ms. Minakami is very helpful at first, but when Kazu asks his uncle about their home's relationship to the temple, he finds out that Ms. Minakami might have stolen a family heirloom. Ms. Ando is also helpful, and it seems likely that Akari is her daughter, who was ill for a long time and died 40 years ago. Akari acknowledges that she has come back from the dead, but doesn't remember much of her past, except for a story in a girls' magazine called Daisy. After trying to locate the magazine for his new friend, Kazu asks Ms. Ando if she has the magazines. She does, and Kazu is enthralled by the same story, The Moon on the Left. This story is printed in the book. It ends abruptly, and Kazu tries to find the rest of it. This leads him to some unexpected places. Will Kazu's investigations lead to his family's ties to the temple being used to resurrect more people? Or will it effectively end the existence of those who have already come back?
Strengths: This is a very gentle ghost story that brings in snippets of Japanese religion and culture, daily life, and an interesting connection to a story. Kazu is just an ordinary boy who finds himself in an odd circumstance, and he does his best to investigate and understand it. I loved the little funny things, like his mother being so irritated that the men from the neighborhood association visit and that she has to make lunch for Kazu during the summer. (And that ramen is the quick, go-to lunch, instead of a peanut butter sandwich!) There are some good friend connections, especially with Akari. I especially loved the depiction of Daisy magazine and the young writer whom Kazu manages to track down. I have to admit to trying to see a similar neighborhood on Google Earth, because I wanted to see where Kazu lived! The illustrations reminded me, somewhat oddly, of Meindert de Jong. 
Weaknesses: Early on, the translation seems a bit rocky, but it improves. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to translate an entire book. The ending seems a bit abrupt.
What I really think: It's great that we are starting to see a number of books being published in the US that are written by writers from other countries. Kashiwaba is a well known Japanese children's author, and recently we've seen Kuzki's Soul Lanterns, Brown's While I Was AwayKadono's Kiki's Delivery Service, Kamata's Pop Flies, Robo-Pets, and Other Disasters that are written by Japanese authors or US authors who have lived in Japan. 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

The Halloween Moon

Fink, Joseph. The Halloween Moon
July 20th 2021 by Quill Tree Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Esther Gold loves Halloween so much that even her bat mitzvah was Halloween themed, and now that she is thirteen, her parents have informed her that she is too old to go out trick-or-treating. She is crushed; she isn't wild about the candy but loves the costumes and the traditions of the holiday. To circumvent her parents unreasonable dictum, she tells them that she and her friend Agustín are going to a movie, and they tell her not to wake them up when she comes in! There are all manner of strange things going on in the town, and when the adults all seem to be falling asleep, including their parents, Esther and Agustín, along with classmate Sasha, seek the help of Mr. Gabler, who seems to be unaffected. He always gives out toothpaste because of his occupation, but proves again and again that he "wasn't always a dentist" by using un-dentistlike skills! There's also the creepy Dan Appel, the strange robbery at an illegal art collection, and a terrifying plunge into the "Halloween dream". Will Esther and Agustín  be able to wake up everyone in their town?
Strengths: There are not as many Halloween books for middle grade as there could be, especially since 8th grade is usually the last time kids get to go out trick or treating. Banning a tween from going out is quite the punishment, and readers will sympathize with Esther plight. Agustín is a good friend, and Sasha starts off as someone with whom Esther doesn't get along, but the two eventually warm to each other and mend misunderstandings. Mr. Gabler was definitely my favorite character, and it was interesting why he didn't fall asleep. The Halloween queen is not someone I would want to meet late at night under a full moon!
Weaknesses: It took me a while to figure out why the writing style wasn't working for me, but I think it was the detached tone and the fact that there was more description and conversation than action. It also was a bit annoying that the main character was usually referred to as her entire name. 
What I really think: This wasn't quite as scary as my students seem to want, and the writing style was a bit odd, so I think I will pass on purchase. 

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Maya and the Robot

Ewing, Eve L. and Almeda, Christine (illus.) Maya and the Robot
July 13th 2021 by Kokila
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Maya lives in an apartment in the city with her mother and baby brother Amir, and visits with her dad on the weekends. She is really interested in science and technology and looking forward to 5th grade, until she realizes that her two best friends, MJ and Jada, have the cool science teacher while she is stuck with Ms. Rodriguez, who has the desks arranged in rows. Maya goes by her middle name instead of her first name, Patricia, but is too afraid to correct her teacher. Zoe, the most popular girl in the grade, gives her a hard time about this. Maya helps out Mr. McMillan, who runs a local variety store, after school, and when she is cleaning out a storage closet, she finds a robot (Ralph) that Mr. Mac's son, Christopher, had developed when he was younger. Knowing Maya is interested in working on such things, Mr. Mac helps Maya get it back to her home, where she starts to work on it. With some help and a little luck, she gets Ralph to work and starts to program him to do all sorts of interesting things, like greet people in other languages, grocery shop, and clean up things around the house. As the school science fair approaches, Maya decides to bring the robot, and finds out information about Mr. Mac's son as well as some of her classmates. 
Strengths: This started with quite a bang! The most common complaint I hear about books is that they don't have "anything happen", but this was funny and engaging from the very beginning, in the way that Dairman's All Four Stars was. I loved Maya's science interests, and her feelings of insecurity when she has to be in class away from her friends will resonate with readers. Her family and community are also supportive, and I want a shop like Mr. Mac's down the street from ME! Ralph the robot is awesome, even if his skills require a bit of suspension of disbelief. Even the backstory about Christopher is handled in a sensitive way. I love the bright cover! 
Weaknesses: This is just a bit young for my library. The inclusion of recess, and of one teacher for all classes, makes this hard to sell to my older readers. 6th graders would pick it up, especially because of the great illustrations, but I don't see 7th or 8th graders being interested.  
What I really think: This was a very fun book, and it was great to see so much science and technology represented. I would definitely buy this for an elementary library, and it would make a great gift for a tech obsessed child. 

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

The Verdigris Pawn

Wishingrad, Alyssa. The Verdigris Pawn
July 13th 2021 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Beau is the heir to the throne of The Land, and his father, known as Himself, has kept him very sheltered. When Beau's tutor dies and Himself's forces are suffering from illness, it is suspected that there is a charmer loose in the palace who is causing these problems. Beau has been playing a forbidden game, Fist, that is based on overthrowing the king. Fledge, who works in the stables, has been teaching him the game, and Beau considers him his only friend. When Beau runs afoul of Barger, the man takes one of thepieces of the game, a verdigris pawn, to use against the boy. Beau runs away, and comes across Cressi, who heals him when he has an accident. This reveals her as a healer like Beau's mother, who came from another class of people in the kingdom, and who met an untimely end. Cressi fills him in on all of the evil things that his father's rule has done, and Beau starts to feel like he should help the people in the kingdom, but Cressi is taken by Barger. Beau runs off again and runs into Nate, who gets the impression that Beau is an apprentice cordwainer. The two decide to go to the Bottom, where the kingdom's disadvantaged have gathered, and try to find Doone, who is a sort of folk hero who is fighting against Himself's rule. While Cressi is with Barger, she meets other women who are healers, and learns to make potions. Barger wants to use her skills, but she increases her skills in order to help overthrow his powers. In the meantime, Beau finds out that Doone isn't what he is said to be, although he has a hard time convincing Nate of this. He's determined to find Cressi and figure out a way to change the way that the kingdom operates so that children are not sent to the Mastery House to be taught how to do menial jobs and exploited by the well-to-do, and so that Doone is not able to terrorize people into giving his henchmen all of their assets. Will he be able to find his new friend Cressi, and convince his father to turn the kingdom around for the good of the people?
Strengths: Beau is a typically sheltered royal child who doesn't have a firm grip on the reality of his past, but comes in to his own as he attempts to right the wrongs to which he is introduced. Taking the standard fantasy trope of a tween saving the kingdom and working in social justice themes is kind of a brilliant twist. Cressi is a great character, and I can see readers getting into a lot of trouble in the kitchen, trying to make brews using the kitchen spice rack. While some of the adults are evil, it's good to see that there are some who are looking out for Beau and Cressi. The slowly revealed back story of Beau's mother and her relationship to the magic that Cressi has will keep readers guessing, and I liked the way that everything was resolved. (But don't want to spoil the ending!)
Weaknesses: I didn't quite feel the chemistry between Cressi and Beau, so found it harder to believe that they had such a strong connection. 
What I really think: This will be a big hit with readers who can't get enough vaguely medieval fantasy quests. It seemed like there were shout outs to a lot of classics like Alexander's The Book of Three  (pig keepers are mentioned!), and some of the traveling reminded me a bit of The Door in the Wall. I was glad that Beau isn't injured quite as often as Jaron in Nielsen's The False Prince! Hand this to fans of Prineas and Durst. This could be a stand alone, but the ending does leave room for a sequel. 
 Ms. Yingling

Monday, July 12, 2021

MMGM- Ten Thousand Tries and Larger Than Life

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 
Makechnie, Amy. Ten Thousand Tries
July 13th 2021 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Golden Maroni is a HUGE soccer fan, and aspires to be like his hero, Lionel Messi. His father, a high school teacher and soccer coach, also loves the game, but his ALS diagnosis is slowing him down considerably. Golden and his sisters, younger Roma and Whitney, and older Jaimes, can see that their father's condition is worsening, and have been told that ALS has no cure. Their biologist mother is coping the best she can, and is on top of treatment and accommodations as the father's condition worsens. His friend and neighbor Lucy has been away for the summer, and he has cared for her cat, Curtis Meowfield. Golden is determined to be made captain of his team along with his friend Benny Ho, and have a great 8th grade year. He even approaches his doctor at his yearly physical about growth hormones, since he is the smallest in his class, but is told this isn't the time. Luckily, being small and fast is an advantage in soccer, and Golden is very invested in playing for the team his mother is coaching. He's very concerned about Lucy. Her mother is dating George, whom they call "the Dark Lord", and it seems likely that he has a job in Maine and the family will move there. Golden does a few things to sabotage the real estate agent's attempts to sell the house, but George catches onto him. The Maroni's family life is very busy, and as the father steadily declines, more and more work falls on the children. Golden isn't thrilled about combing his sisters' hair, doing his own laundry, and having to go grocery shopping, but after a talk with his father, tries to help out more and make the days more pleasant. As summer turns into fall, Golden's soccer season is a success, but his father's condition rapidly worsens, and Golden struggles with how he will continue when both his father and Lucy are gone. 
Strengths: I'm not a fan of sad books, but this one has a brilliant balance between soccer and every day life, and dealing with the devastating progression of ALS. There's just enough details of the father's condition, and it's contrasted with Golden's misguided belief that his father can overcome the disease. The organizational problems of a family adjusting to having one less parent to help out is also brilliantly described-- I don't know that I have ever seen morning chaos depicted quite so brilliantly in a middle grade novel. While this is sad, the family's approach is pragmatic. The mother cries occasionally, the children are told that their father is going to die, and there are difficult emotions, such as when Golden accuses his mother of wanting the father to die because she's not trying to make him "better". Golden is so wrapped up in his own problems that he doesn't notice that his friend Benny's grandmother is descending into dementia, and the two have some difficulties over soccer as well. Golden at one point says "I wish we could rewind. Before...everything. When life was perfect and I didn't even know it." (Italics mine; quote from the ARC) This is quite possibly the most poignant line in all of middle grade literature. But overall, there is a feeling of life, and living, and making the most of each day no matter what happens. I loved that Golden is determined to put in the 10,000 hours needed to make him an expert at soccer. This novel zips along like a soccer ball heading toward the goal, taking unpredictable zigs and zags along the way. 
Weaknesses: I could have done without the character of Gag Me, Mrs. Gagne, the bus driver and lunch lady, who was described as a "terrifying curmudgeon". Granted, that's the look I'm going for personally, but it seemed mean and out of character for Golden. It also seemed odd to start each chapter with a quote from a character in that chapter. 
What I really think: Note to all middle grade authors: if you have to write a sad book, include a LOT of sports details in it. I have one Messi fan who will swallow this book whole because of the soccer even though it's hard to get him to read realistic fiction. Well done, and I still tear up when I think about that line. It's so true. 

Quirk, Anne. Larger Than Life: Lyndon B. Johnson and the Right to Vote
July 13th 2021 by Norton Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

I have to admit that my biography section does not have that many books about presidents. With the exception of Freedman's Lincoln, they aren't that interesting, and my students seem to want only living ex-presidents. What they do want to read are books about presidents that put them into a larger historical context and have an interesting premise, such as Balis and Levy's fascinating and funny Bringing Down a President (Nixon), or Seiple's Death on the River of Doubt (Teddy Roosevelt). Larger Than Life fills the bill and offers a lot of surprises about a seemingly unlikely champion of civil rights. 

Johnson was president when I was born. If you had asked me what my general impression of the man was before I read this book, I would have said he was kind of a jerk. He stood too close to people in order to intimidate them, ran into problems with the Vietnam war, and most importantly, not only named his beagle "Him", but once lifted him up by his ears. Such issues are not whitewashed, but we do see more of Johnson's background and motivation. We also see the wide array of social issues that Johnson put forward as part of his "Great Society" initiative, such as social security, Medicare and Medicaid, Head Start, Voting Rights Act, urban renewal, and support for the arts and the environment. Considering how much backlash President Biden is getting currently for similar initiatives, it's impressive to see the variety of issues Johnson's administration was trying to address. 

The information is well presented and the moves along quickly. The type size and position on the page, along with the number and variety of photographs all make this a book that students will want to pick up-- while it's irritating, it's also true that my students don't want dense text. Of course, the photographs are black and white, and today's readers might need a reminder that color photography wasn't widely used! My only complaint is that the narrative doesn't proceed linearly, but goes back and forth in time. This makes sense considering the issues the author is trying to explain, but is still a bit jarring. 

Larger Than Life is a timely book about a lesser known president who made a surprising impact on society during his sometimes troubled stay in office, and is a great addition to a middle school biography collection. Not only that, but his cowboy hat and suit make him an easy choice for a wax museum subject!

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Better With Butter

Piontek,Victoria. Better With Butter
July 20th 2021 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Marvel has a lot of anxiety. Her parents have her in therapy, and the school knows about her issues, but she still has to complete certain tasks. When a public Wax Museum goes badly wrong for her, she is sure that she can never go to school again and plans to convince her mother to let her be homeschooled. On her way home, she sees several boys tormenting a small goat, who faints whenever they scare it. The goat is filthy and has been eating garbage, but has a name tag on that says "Butter". She takes the goat home, hoping to convince her landscape designer mother to let her keep it, Her father is in the navy, and is often away on assignment. Her older brother, Reef, thinks she's misguided, and when Butter eats things in the yard, he's proven right. Her mother is ready to take the goat to the humane society, but her father comes home and says that they can foster the goat until the owner is found. Marvel makes very little effort in that direction, but manages to get a note from her school counselor that she should have an Emotional Support Animal, and she takes that and runs with it. She registers Butter, makes him a vest, and takes him to school. It's her teacher's first year, and she believes the paperwork, but eventually, Marvel is called to the office. The principal says she can bring Butter on a trial basis, and before long, Marvel has a role in the school production of Heidi with Butter by her side, and is visiting the lower school to help other students with anxiety. Marvel makes friends with some of her classmates who are intrigued by her unusual pet, and is far less anxious with the goat by her side. This is great, but what will happen if Butter's owner claims her?
Strengths: While I can't imagine any student being allowed to bring a goat into my school, Piontek very carefully addresses any issues that might arise and makes me believe that Marvel is not only allowed to keep the goat at home, but also is allowed to bring it to school. The family dynamic with her father returning home makes sense, and her efforts to register the animal (which doesn't need to be done) and bring the paperwork to school shows initiative. I was glad that the help she is receiving for her anxiety is outlined, but it is also realistic that the school requires her to do the same work other children are doing. The interactions with her classmates ring true, and it's good to see that while some classmates make fun of her, others are empathetic and try to befriend her. 
Weaknesses: This story was solidly written, fast-paced, and engaging. On a personal level, this was hard for me to read. I was an anxious, weepy child who was scared of everything, and the wisdom at the time was to tell the child to buck up. My parents were both educators, and had no patience for any reluctance. There are a LOT of students today who act like Marvel, and I'm not sure that today's methods of dealing with them will make them more successful. There are a lot of librarians and teachers who are open about their own anxiety online, so clearly my opinions are in the minority, and this book is definitely on trend.
What I really think: This was similar to Kadohata's Saucy, but I could believe it a bit more. My students will have more sympathy for the main character than I do, and since this is generally upbeat and believable, I will buy a copy. The cover alone will insure that this is always checked out. 

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Cartoon Saturday- The Okay Witch

Steinkellner, Emma. The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow (The Okay Witch #2) 
July 6th 2021 by Aladdin 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Moth and Charlie have had such a good winter break that they don't want to go back to school, but Moth's mother won't let her stay home even though she's just found out about her magic powers and traveled to her grandmother's realm, Hecate. Pike, who is descended from the founders of their town, is an enormous jerk who blows everything out of proportion and is relentless in his bullying of Moth. The other kids play along, although Moth hears a few girls who seem sympathetic to her. When she travels to Hecate for a celebration, she is glad to see Peter, and finds an amulet called a nyklum. It is supposed to absorb the traits that Moth admires from other people and transfer those things to Moth. She uses it when she goes back to school, and is able to stand up to Pike. Her mother is dating her English teacher, Mr. Gorski-Garcia, and the other students have given her a hard time about this, but wearing the nyklum gives Moth the self confidence she needs to stop hiding. She is nominated for Founderella, a time honored position at a local festival, and wants to keep using the amulet until after the winner is announced, but there is a catch. Will Moth be able to withstand the forces of evil with her limited magic, and find a way to get through middle school? Don't want to spoil the twists in the story by giving away too much of the plot!
Strengths: Graphic novels usually are a bit light on storyline and character development, but this book had a lot of character backstory and development. The secondary characters are fun as well; Mr. Gorski-Garcia is delightfully goofy, and even the cat, Lazlo, has quite a history. There's a fair bit of social commentary as well, with the social hierarchy of the small New England town being called into question, and a significant discussion about the racial discrimination experienced by Moth's grandmother. The Founderella tradition is handled in an interesting fashion as well. On top of all of that, there is some fantastic magic at work. 
Weaknesses: The noses. Why do they always bother me so much?
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and glad to see a graphic novel with a girl of color on the cover. We're seeing more of these, but graphic novels have been less diverse than middle grade books in general. 

Cooke, Stephanie and Costa, Mari. Paranorthern and the Chaos Bunny A-Hop-Calypse.

July 13th 2021 by Etch/HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This was very similar to Witches of Brooklyn as well as The Okay Witch, and a little like Glitch, so I may pass. Fantasy graphic novels don't do as well in my library as realistic ones. The chaos bunnies were interesting, but if you accidentally open a portal, make sure you tell a qualified adult! I really liked this author's Oh My Gods because it was very different from other graphic novels I had read. There's a sequel to that coming out in January 2022. 

From the publisher: 
A witch named Abby and her three friends—a wolf-girl, a ghost, and a pumpkinhead—band together to try and save their supernatural town from an invasion of rabid (but adorable!) chaos bunnies in this enchanting middle-grade graphic novel for fans of Making Friends, The Okay Witch, and Lumberjanes.

It’s fall break in the supernatural town of North Haven, and young witch Abby’s plans include pitching in at her mom’s magical coffee shop, practicing her potion making, and playing board games with her best friends—a pumpkinhead, a wolf-girl, and a ghost. But when Abby finds her younger sister being picked on by some speed demons, she lets out a burst of magic so strong, it opens a portal to a realm of chaos bunnies. And while these bunnies may look cute, they’re about to bring the a-hop-ocalypse (and get Abby in a cauldronful of trouble) unless she figures out a way to reverse the powerful magic she unwittingly released. What’s a witch to do?

In this deliciously humorous, cozy, and bewitching graphic novel, sometimes the most of powerful magic comes from our connections to family and friends (but kicking bunny butt is great, too).

Friday, July 09, 2021

The Last Super Chef

Negron, Chris. The Last Super Chef
July 6th 2021 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Curtis loves watching the television show The Last Super Chef, especially since he has a secret-- his mother told him in second grade that his father is Lucas Taylor, although he's never met the man. When a contest is announced that will lead to five children being on the show, Curtis and his friend Tre decide to send in a video. Curtis' family- his mother and younger sister Paige- struggle financially, especially after his mother loses her job. Curtis is worried that they won't be able to buy ingredients for him to continue practicing, and in order to make his video, he breaks into the house of his landlord, Mr. Pettynose, and uses his cheese to make a souffle. He's almost caught because Mr. Pettynose misses the cheese and realizes the oven is warm, but attributes both of these things to a ghostly visit. Curtis is a bit worried that the kitchen will be recognized on his audition video, because he is one of the five contestants! The film crew show up at his door as he is watching the program, and present him with the invitation. Since he failed to inform his mother he was entering, she is a bit surprised, but before long Curtis is on the set of the program with Kiko from Japan, Pepper from Boston, Bonifacio from Mexico City and Joey from Chicago. All have great skills in the kitchen, and all will stay on the program until the end, at Thanksgiving, and will be awarded points to see who the winner is. There are a lot of competitions involving different techniques and types of food, and Curtis holds his own. He doesn't do too well with his one on one interview dinner with Taylor, because he can't believe the man won't acknowledge their relationship. 
Strengths: Negron's Dan Unmasked was great fun, and this book starts with an ill-conceived bake sale that will draw students right in. Curtis' love of cooking is evident, and is set within the context of his somewhat straightened reality. I really enjoyed the fact that he got along well with his mother and younger sister, and that all of the diverse contestants are shown working together rather than sniping at each other, which seems to be the pull of many reality shows. Middle school students are ALWAYS hungry, and always glad to read about food. There are some great twists I don't want to give away, and an interesting depiction of a character with Parkinson's (something with which Mr. Negron's is dealing) that is handled in a realistic way. (My mother had Parkinson's for over twenty years and did quite well until she was 84, at which point not all of her problems were related to that disease!)
Weaknesses: There's a LOT of information about serious cooking with unusual ingredients, and even though I have a great cookbook collection, few of my students have exhibited any interest in cooking. I was also uncomfortable with Curtis breaking into Mr. Pettynose's house with no repercussions.
What I really think: This is another excellent example of a child involved in a cooking show competition for readers who enjoyed Ganeshram Stir it Up!, (2011)Williams' Pizza, Love and Other Stuff That Made Me Famous (2012), Fiore's Taste Test (2013), Littlewood's A Dash of Magic (2013), Harper's Lights! Cameras! Cook! (2017), Nail's One Hundred Spaghetti Strings (2017), Janowitz's The Doughnut King (The Doughnut Fix #2) (2019), LaRocca's Midsummer's Mayhem (2019) and LaMotte's Measuring Up (2020), and Delaney's Alice Fleck's Recipe for Disaster (2021).

Thursday, July 08, 2021

The Girl in the Headlines

Jayne, Hannah. The Girl in the Headlines
July 6th 2021 by Sourcebooks Fire
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Andrea lives "in a nice house with hardwood floors and...[eats] Cheerios every morning", but wakes up bloody and alone in a hotel room to find out that her father has been murdered, her mother is in critical condition in the hospital, and her younger brother Josh is missing. She is wanted by the police as a person of interest, but as time passes, she becomes a suspect. She finds an unlikely ally in Nate, the clerk at the hotel desk, whose mother abandoned him. Since he's 18 he's managed to work out a deal with the hotel owner to live on site, but he knows the trauma of uncertainty and neglect growing up. Andrea maintains that her family was loving and stable, but as more and more reports show up on the news, she learns some secrets about her past. She can't turn herself into the police, since they would never believe her innocence, so with Nate's help, starts to investigate on her own. She has other suspects in mind; an angry ex-boyfriend, a friend and neighbor who was loaned money by her father, and maybe even shady characters from her family's past. Will she be able to find Josh before harm comes to him, and prove her own innocence, even though she can't really remember what happened?
Strengths: Wow. This was a fantastic murder mystery. It starts with a stressful, suspenseful premise and builds from there. Nate as an ally makes perfect sense, and he is a steadying presence in the background. The contrast between Andrea's "perfect" family and his own troubled one is great, considering that Andrea is the one in trouble. The brushes with the police are a bit unlikely, but plausible, and add to the suspense. The key to the mystery is a twist I don't want to spoil. With a few tweaks, this would be great for all of my readers who crave murder mysteries. 
Weaknesses: The blinding pain that Andrea experiences a couple of times isn't explained that well, and the cover isn't great. 
What I really think: Too many f-bombs for a middle school library (and they weren't necessary at all), and this is available only in paperback and e book versions, although Follett does have a prebind. The language is a shame, because there's little violence, no sex, and would otherwise be exactly the sort of murder mystery my students want. 
Reminder: Authors are welcome to use any kind of language they want. Since I have a limited budget, it seems unwise to spend taxpayer money on books that contain language that would cause my students to get suspended if they used it in school. 

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Forever This Summer (Love Like Sky #2)

Youngblood, Leslie C. Forever This Summer (Love Like Sky #2)
July 6th 2021 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

After the events of Love Like Sky, Georgie (who still struggles with family members calling her G-Baby) finds herself traveling from her suburban Atlanta home and all of her summer plans to Bogalusa, Louisiana to  help her Great Aunt Vie. Vie runs the local, popular diner, which Georgie's aunt and other friends and relatives have been helping to run since Vie is suffering from Alzheimer's, which is getting worse. Georgie hopes to work in the diner, but instead gets stuck do household chores. When she goes to the diner, she find out that Markie is working there. Markie is a tiny bit old than Georgie, was born with a limb difference, and was in foster care with Vie, but is now with a woman named Roselle. She's not quite sure what happened with her mother, who abandoned her as an infant. When Georgie's best friend Nikki comes to visit, the two want to help Vie, and decide to put on a talent show to raise money for Alzheimer's research. This takes a lot of time, and Georgie is also helping Markie find out about her mother, consulting the library as well as local residents who are familiar with the town and the people in it. When Georgie and Markie's family lives turn out to be connected, will this change Markie's future?
Strengths: It's good to see extended family portrayed in middle grade literature; all too often, books are limited to children and parents, with the occasional grandparent. Georgie's parents' situation is also a good inclusion-- there are not many books depicting parents who have remarried and have other children, although many of my students have family dynamics like that. The small town setting reminded me a bit of Strong's Just South of Home, and Georgie's visit to the mayor's office to ask for a permit for her talent show was fun. Marki's limb difference is handled sensitively, and her reactions to how others treat her seem accurate. I appreciate that she is shown on the cover; I've had several students with limb differences, and can't think of any other middle grade books that portray this. A great sequel to a strong first book. 
Weaknesses: I had a bit of trouble keeping Markie and Nikki straight-- the names are so similar. I would have liked to see more of the family dynamic with the father and stepmother, since that was so interesting in the first book. We do get a little bit, and Peaches makes a brief appearance. 
What I really think: The first book has circulated well, so I'll definitely purchase this second one.

Sheth, Kashmira. Nina Soni: Master of the Garden (Nina Soni #3)
April 1st 2021 by Peachtree Publishing Company
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

We've seen Nina's struggles with friends (Former Best Friend) and with her sister Kavita (Sister Fixer), but now she is turning her attentions to a much more enjoyable project-- planting a garden! Her mother is a professional gardener, so has access to lots of equipment and seeds, and Nina uses what she has learned about planning to come up with a garden that she hopes will produce enough food so that she can sell some of it. Her friend Jay is also interested in gardening, but Nina is worried that he and her sister will not be on board with her ambitious plan. After a lot of work, the garden is finally planted, but there are slugs, rabbits, and other problems that make Nina worry that she won't have a good crop. Nina learns a lot about the process of gardening, and realizes that it is not as easy an undertaking as she thought!

I love this family centered story. Siblings are hugely important to young readers, and there are not as many books that explore these relationships as there should be. Nina loves Kavita, but is often annoyed by her exuberance, her spontaneity, and her younger outlook on life. I also like the fact that Jay seems to have very different interests from Nina, but they are still able to be friends. 

There are so many good details about what goes into making a garden-- this could practically be a textbook! Nina makes many lists and plans, and keeps good track of her successes and failures. 

Nina would be best friends with Carolyn Haywood's Betsy, and I can see her getting into some quality trouble with Harley's Charlie Bumpers. Perhaps she could get some gardening help from Cheng's Anna Wang, or Meyerhoff The Friendship Garden crew!

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Swimming With Sharks (Wild Survival #2) and Minecraft: The Dragon

Márquez, Melissa Cristina. Swimming With Sharks (Wild Survival #2)
July 6th 2021 by Scholastic Paperbacks
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

The Villalobos family is back after their adventures in Crocodile Rescue, and this time they are off to Sri Lanka to investigate a possible rare Pondicherry shark. Their producer, Mr. Savage, is excited that the network has approved more shows that show how dangerous wild animals are, but Adrianna and her family are more interested in fostering an understanding of the science of the animals so that they are no longer endangered. Even though Adrianna was badly bitten by a crocodile, she still wants animals to be understood. In Colombo, they meet Manil, whose son Sev takes Adrianna and her brother around the town and introduces them to his friends Manisha, Punya, and Dilip. There are fascinating things in town, like herds of elephants in the woods nearby, but Adrianna is worried about the fact that sharks are being harvested for their fins. The Pondicherry shark shows up in an aquarium in a restaurant, and the crew has it DNA tested. Adrianna pitches the idea of a Shark Festival to the producer, so that local scientists and residents are involved in educating people about the benefits of sharks, and how the local fisherman need the sharks to keep the oceans healthy. The poachers that appear in the first book are sighted, and Adrianna gets herself into more sticky situations. Can the Villalobos family film a convincing show and change the public perception of sharks as vicious killers?
Strengths: Any book that encourages students to investigate math or science related fields is a plus, but there are far more books about students who want to pursue performing arts or cupcake baking. I loved the snippets of information about different sea life, and the additional bits at the back about marine biology in general. Setting this in a wild life reality show is a great idea, and the Villalobos family gives the kids lots of room to investigate and get into a bit of exotic trouble. I love Adriana's passion! There are good details about the local communities as well, and it's good to see the kids making friends. The mystery with the poachers adds another intriguing element. 
Weaknesses: The ending was a bit abrupt, but I'm sure we'll hear more in book three. I still do not understand why Scholastic publishes some of their best and most interesting titles in paperback only! While Follett lists a hardcover available, it's at $25, while normal trade hardcovers are around $15. I bought the first book in a prebind, so will buy this one in that format as well, but would love this series to be issued in a standard dust jacketed hardcover. 
What I really think: The first book has appealed to a wide range of readers in my library, where for some reason many of my students want to grow up to be marine biologists. The covers are great, and this is a great choice for a quick read. They'd also make a fantastic purchase at a Scholastic book fair!

Drayden, Nikcy. Minecraft: The Dragon (#8)
July 6th 2021 by DelRey Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Even though I have never played Minecraft, I have read valiantly through this series because my students love them so much. I have bought all the books but #7, Brooks' The Mountain. This is the sequel to The Island, which a student checked out last March and hasn't returned, so if I buy it, I might also have to rebuy the first book, but I'm hoping that it will be returned in September. (It actually came back! Wooo!)

Apparently, there are villagers, pillagers, AND illagers in Minecraft, and that's sort of where this lost me. I enjoyed the story of Zetta, who really wants to be a potioner even though her father doesn't want her to. She runs off to apprentice herself to her Aunt Meryl in order to help her town, Sienna Dunes, defend itself against invaders, and ends up taking care of a baby dragon. 

Readers who understand stone swords, traveling with pumpkin pies, and walls made out of terra cotta defending towns from zombie hoards and ravening beasts will love this video game turned into a story, especially since the writing is solid and the plot advances nicely. Those unfamiliar with the video game might get stuck on the plentiful details, like I did. 

I will purchase this one, but it might be the last one that I do. Interest in the game seems to be waning. 

Monday, July 05, 2021

MMGM- Secondhand Dogs

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Crimi, Carolyn. Secondhand Dogs
July 6th 2021 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Gus is the pack leader at Miss Lottie's house, and has kept the peace well with excitable Roo, loyal and protective bulldog Tank, and the newest addition, Moon Pie, whose owner, Gertie, has passed away. Neighbor Quinn, a tween whose father has passed away and whose family relationships are strained, helps take care of the dogs. There is also a very shy cat, Ghost, with whom Gus has arranged an uneasy détente. When Miss Lottie has the pack meet a new dog, shepherd/husky/Doberman mix Decker, Gus is worried. While Decker reminds Lottie of a childhood dog, Decker is a traumatized, controlling personality whose goal is to be the pack leader and slowly remove all of the other dogs! He manages to get into Lottie's bed, and displace Moon Pie, who is sure that he will soon be going home to Gertie's. Gertie, unfortunately, has passed away, and this is being kept from Moon Pie so as not to make him sad. Decker also has a confrontation with Tank during which he bites his own paw, causing Tank to be caged and leashed away from his friends. Roo has always thought Gus' leadership style was too weak, and starts to follow Decker around as though her were the pack leader. At the same time, Decker tells Moon Pie that he is the weakest member of the pack, and that the other dogs are lying to him. Gertie is at her home, Decker says, and Moon Pie should run away to find her. Ghost overhears this exchange, and tries to tell Gus, but finds it too difficult. Miss Lottie is devastated when she finds out about Moon Pie, and the dogs decide to run away to help find him. With a coyote roaming the neighborhood, this is dangerous for all of the dogs. Will they be able to find their friend and restore peace to their household?

Secondhand Dogs has a well developed cast of characters and has the feel of Watership Down in its examination of power structure and group dynamics. Gus is a steady, thoughtful leader who is always motivated by kindness and the best interest of his pack. Tank is a gentle giant who makes sure that his mates feel secure. Roo is the loose cannon-- an excitable hunting dog who doesn't think things through. Moon Pie is sweet and trusting, and just wants to go back to his beloved human, Gertie. Ghost is the odd cat out, who seems to enjoy solitude until there is a chance to be included. Decker is evil on the surface, but improves once the humans understand what his motivations are and intervene. Caring for all of these dogs is Miss Lottie, whose story we don't fully understand until the end, and Quinn, whose work with the dogs helps him process problems in his own life. 

As impressive as the character development is, younger readers will enjoy the plot, which is solid and fast moving. Decker's deviousness causes Moon Pie's departure, which has a ripple effect throughout the household. Encounters with rats and coyotes add to the excitement, and there's a little comic relief when Moon Pie is taken in by a woman who smell of "warm pudding and muffins", calls him "bunny-boo", and feeds him roast beef and mashed potatoes! The resolution is worked out well, with all of the animals and humans getting what they need to be happy and healthy. 

Like Standish's Bad Bella, Cameron's A Dog's Purpose novels, and Ibbotson's One Boy and His Dog, Secondhand Dogs offers a look at the complex, codependent relationship that dogs and humans have. Readers who have had a dogs in their lives will connect to Gus' love of his pack, Miss Lottie's care of them, and Quinn's investment in an alternate family that ultimately helps him love his own. 

I have to say that Moon Pie's love of popcorn and yearning for Gertie had me tearing up frequently; the first time I made popcorn, my new secondhand dog, Pongo, got very excited. His former owners, Bob and Peaches, passed away, and we decided that perhaps he had snuggled with them while enjoying a snack. Now, I make popcorn on the 24th of each month to celebrate my new little guy who, like Moon Pie, just wants to be near me at every moment, and will bark only if I don't give him enough attention the moment I get home from work. 

Jones, Richard. Perdu
April 1st 2021 by Peachtree Publishing Company
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Perdu lives all alone in the countryside, the only hint of hope in his dreary life a red scarf around his neck. Following a floating leaf to see where it belongs leads him closer and closer to the city. Once there, he catches the attention of a small girl who shows up in many of the scenes, but in general, is ill treated. There are too many people and too much hustle and bustle, and when he desperately tries to get food in a cafe by pulling on the tablecloth, he is chased, yelled at, and loses his scarf. In a park, the little girl approaches him with his lost scarf, puts it on him, and takes him home to stay with her. 

The illustrations are executed in a soft, that reminded me of one of my favorite 1960s Whitman Tell-s-Tale books, Fiedler'sMy Very Special Day. The backgrounds are softly colored and impressionistic, so small, brown Perdu, as well as the little girl, stand out. The colors include a lot of muted turquoise, brown, and ochre, with the warmer colors being used when Perdu is in trouble. 

The text is simple and short, which makes this an excellent choice for a book that must be read multiple times. There are some tense bits, with Perdu being scared and barking and snarling, but this is followed immediately by the little girl finding him. 

While not a terribly unusual story, it's always heartwarming to read about someone who finally finds a place in the world. Readers who enjoy heartwarming books about dogs such as Cecil's Lucy, Bauer's Little Dog Lost,  or Colfer's The Dog Who Lost His Bark will enjoy this sweet tale of a small dog alone in a big world.