Monday, March 08, 2021

MMGM- The Serpent's Nest and Waiting for a Warbler

It's
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
 at 
and #IMWAYR day 
at 
and 



Henderson, Jason. The Serpent's Nest (Young Captain Nemo #3)
March 9th 2021 by Feiwel & Friends
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

It's Thanksgiving, and Peter and Misty REALLY want to spend time with their families for the holiday, especially after their adventures in Young Captain Nemo and Quest for the NautilusGabriel, however, wants to take the Kekada (since the Obscure was damaged) and look for clues to activities he thinks might be tied to Maelstrom. The group is hanging out on the coast of Wales, at Cardiff Bay, preparing for the holiday, when they hear a distress call from the Tamerlaine, which is under attack from giant sea serpents! Luckily, another vessel comes out of the water, and Gabriel sees a girl on board who says that she will take care of it, The Tamerlaine is damaged, but the Kekada leaves it in good enough shape for the Coast Guard to handle. The girl turns out to be Cora Land, from Dinas Nautilus. This is a steampunkish, underwater community that the Nemos have long suspected existed. Cora's parents were killed, but she is being taken care of by Captain Ramoray, Nils and Minerva, who lead the population in the moveable, underwater city. Gabriel, Peter, and Misty are allowed to visit, and find out that the people of the city are raising the snakes, as well as Lodgers, in order to clean up the pollution in the ocean. Cora is enthralled by people on land, since she is never allowed to go there, and Gabriel finds the Nemo-inspired city interesting but unsettling. While Dinas Nautilus has every right to be concerned about the pollution in their environment, are the methods they are using working only to their own benefit? It's up to Gabriel and his friends to figure this out... and to get back to their families in time to have a great Thanksgiving meal. 
Strengths: Well, give me some pincher torpedoes and some killer serpents attacking a ship! What a great adventure, and Gabriel, Peter, and Misty work well as a team. There's plenty of action, but also some well developed intrigue, and a great environmental message as well. The world building of Dinas Nautilus is solid, with it's Victorian brass and ruffled collars. The villains emerge slowly, and have reasons why they think they are right, which is always the best way to develop complex villains. Cora and Gabriel get along well, since both have had very unique experiences growing up in the shadow of all thing Nemo. 
Weaknesses: I was a little surprised that Gabriel's mother and the school weren't mentioned much, although it was good to see his sister Nerissa. It also took me a while to realize that Dinas Nautilus was the piece of his family mystery for which Gabriel was searching-- I kept expecting them to head off somewhere besides the coast of Cardiff. 
What I really think: This, as well as Henderson's Alex van Helsing series, is hugely popular in my library. This is stated to be the last book in the series, although the ending does seem a bit more open. While I would like to know a little more about Cora, a three book series is perfect for middle grade, especially since it means that Mr. Henderson will have to find another topic with which to delight my readers!

Collard, Sneed B. III and Brooks, Thomas (illus.). Waiting for a Warbler
February 2nd 2021 by Tilbury House Publishers
Copy provided by the publisher 

Mr. Collard, a prolific writer whose books often have a scientific bent, is also an avid birder. He and his son have a blog, Father Son Birding, and the book Warblers and Woodpeckers is based on their adventures. 

In this book, illustrated in soft, nature tinted watercolors, we meet Owen and Nora, who are looking forward to seeing a cerulean warbler in their yard in the spring. They have made their yard an inviting place for the birds to visit, planting native trees and plants so that the birds will have enough insects to eat and places to stay. We also see the migration of the birds from the tropical forests to the US. When a storm threatens the Gulf of Mexico, the children worry that this might cause harm to many of the birds during their travels. Luckily, the cerulean warbler and other birds make it through, and Owen and Nora are able to observe them and take notes in their nature journals. End notes include information on birding, ways to help protect birds, and resource lists that include books and websites. 

Like his other excellent titles, Hopping Ahead of Climate Change: Snowshoe Hares, Science and SurvivalInsects: The Most Fun Bug Book Ever, and Fire Birds, Mr. Collard uses his talents to combine fiction with lots of information about environmental issues. This picture book is for younger readers than most of his books, but still presents information in a way that is easy to grasp. I'm a big proponent of teaching children about nature from a very young age; I have a bee garden in my library and have worked with the local parks department to donate native trees to the park behind my house. It's good to see a picture book that espouses environmental responsibility in such an engaging way. 

Anderson, Jodi Lynn. The Memory Thief (Thirteen Witches #1)
March 2nd 2021 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edleweiss Plus

Rosie has always taken care of herself and her mother in their house overlooking the coast of Maine. Her mother is very detached and doesn't always recognize her daughter, although she is able to keep up with her data entry job and bring in enough money that Rosie can order groceries and supplies for them online. Rosie has coped with the stress of this by writing stories, and also by hanging out with her supportive friend, Germ. Germ, however, is starting to develop older interests, and tells Rosie that her stories are childish. Rosie burns her stories, which leads to her, as well as Germ, developing the ability to see the ghosts that live in her house. One of these spirits seems especially threatening, but some are supportive. Ebb, the ghost of a young boy, has always watched out for Rosie. He takes her to meet Homer, who tells Rosie some information about her and her family that might account for the new threats. Rosie's mother was the last witch hunter, and the Memory Thief, a witch, has stolen her memory to try to stop her from hunting any more witches. Rosie now has these powers, but must find out on her own what she needs to do. The ghosts help, as does a book her mother had hidden. Rosie must create a magical item she can use as a weapon, delve into the mysterious past of her family, and find a way to save her mother as well as many of the ghosts who surround her. Even after all that, Rosie has angered another witch, the Time Witch, and will have to face off against her, with Germ by her side. 
Strengths: This reminded me a bit of Harrison's 13 Treasures, in that it had magic that turned out to be a bit darker than I was expecting. This is also a great friend story, and Rosie's desire to get back a mother she never really knew added another layer of interest. I did appreciate that Rosie soldiered on so bravely and never really complained. There are lots of fantasy books out there, but a lot of those have something indefinable about them that causes them to gather dust on my shelves. A lot of that is due to bad covers, and this cover is very appealing. There aren't as many books about witches as you would suspect, and the world is introduced in a way that make sense, and also makes sense of the bad situation in which Rosie has been living. I'll be very curious to read the next two books in the series.
Weaknesses: Germ was a great, outspoken character and a fantastic friend, so I felt especially bad that she was saddled with the nickname "Germ". This was also a bit on the long side, and had a very intricately drawn magical world that will be perfect for fantasy fans but made my head spin a bit. 
What I really think: Normally, I would pop this happily on my order list and not think twice about it. Faced with trying to replace books lost in the pandemic (some 400 titles, most likely), and knowing that fantasy is a harder and harder sell in my library, I may wait a bit to buy this title. It's more of an investment purchase (13 Treasures is ten years old but still fits a need), so worth buying. Would definitely buy for a public library or one where fantasy is super popular. I did enjoy it.


Sunday, March 07, 2021

For Younger Readers

Evans, Christine and Corrigan, Patrick (Illustrations) 
Snow Day in May (The Wish Library #1) 
March 1st 2021 by Albert Whitman & Company 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus 

 Raven is having a difficult time in school. Her best friend, Belle, moved away suddenly, leaving her to present their history day biography project on Nellie Bly all by herself. She finds a coin and a well in the woods, and in a moment of panic, she wishes that she wouldn’t have to present. She finds herself in the Wish Library facing the Librarian and her pet lizard. She explains about making wishes, and gives Raven a lengthy contract to sign in order to check out a wish, making very sure to outline how critical it is that Raven gets the wish back in time. The next morning, Raven and her sister wake up to a lot of snow! It’s localized to just her town, but school is closed and she doesn’t have to present. Of course, it also causes her airline pilot mother not to be able to get to work. Raven wants to return the wish and stop the snow, and when she returns to the well, she runs into her friend Luca, but is unable to stop him making another wish. What complications will arise in the next book? 
Strengths: This was a fun early chapter book with great illustrations! Raven’s unease at presenting in front of class will speak to many young readers. I loved the supportive, intact family, and her good relationship with her younger sister. Her friendship with Luca is also interesting. The Wish Library is well explained, and the pictures of it made me want to travel there, even if I had to face the Librarian! 
Weaknesses: I completely understand why wishes are always portrayed as being problematic and difficult; we don’t want children to think that they can just wish and have problems solved. But since wishes AREN’T real, why can’t we have a little more fun with them? The Librarian was a bit scary. 
What I really think: A bit young for my middle school students (even Raven’s clothes indicate a much younger perspective), but an excellent choice for elementary readers who like books like Ruth Chew’s Everday Magic books, The Magic Treehouse series or the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle adventures.


Jennings, Terry Catasús . and Anaya, Fatima (illustrations). 
Knight of the Cape  (Definitely Dominguita)
March 2nd 2021 by Aladdin 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Dominguita is sad because her abuela has had to move away from her to live with her sister because her memory is failing. She has some books that her abuela loved, including Don Quixote, and these comfort her. She's worried that her abuela will forget her, so convinces her older brother Rafi to help her make a book of her exploits as a knight errant in her Mundytown neighborhood. When school bully Ernie Bublassi (whose older brother is a nemesis of Rafi's) challenges Dominguita's assertion that she can be a knight, her quest goes into overdrive. She gets a helmet (a bucket), a lance, a squire (timid Pancho), and a steed (a stray dog, Roco), and a damsel-who-can-save-herself-thanks, Steph. Together, they travel the neighborhood, righting wrongs, and having adventures that Dominguita can share with her abuela. When she discovers a story about pirates, we can see where her next adventure might take us. 
Strengths: This was a cute adventure story that younger elementary school students will like. Dominguita's neighborhood has lots of fun cultural connections, and long suffering business people willing to provide a knight errant with lunch and provisions, and even let her stand a vigil over her armor and to knight her in the store before it closes. Her best friend has moved, and she has struggles to make friends, so it is good to see her making friends with Pancho and Steph. Her concern for her grandmother is sweet, and her parents and brother are supportive. 
Weaknesses: While it's cute that she takes in a stray, there are some safety issues that should have been considered. 
What I really think: This is a little too young for my students; I should know that anything with a child dressed this quirkily on the cover is going to be for younger students. The illustrations are a good addition to this early chapter book. 

Saturday, March 06, 2021

Cartoon Saturday- Allergic: A Graphic Novel

Lloyd, Megan Wagner and Nutter, Michelle Mee (Illustrations). 
Allergic: A Graphic Novel 
March 2nd 2021 by Graphix
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Maggie has always wanted a dog. Her younger brothers Liam and Noah have each other, and her parents are expecting another baby, so she wants something that is just hers. The family goes to an animal shelter to adopt, and even finds a dog that is just perfect, but Maggie has such a bad allergic reaction that she breaks out in hives and her eyes close shut. She visits the doctor, and has to go for allergy testing, but the dog adoption is put on hold. Maggie ends up being very allergic to anything with feathers or fur, which is devastating to someone who wanted to become a vet! She investigates other animals, but none of them workout well. Luckily, there is a girls who moves in next door. Maggie's family hasn't lived in town long, and she and Claire hit it off right away even though Claire is a year older and in 6th grade. They spend lots of time together, usually at Claire's house, since she is an only child and her father is fairly indulgent with activities, such as making cupcakes or pillow forts, activities that would be too chaotic in Maggie's already busy house. When Claire gets a dog, however, Maggie is angry and refuses to speak to Claire. She ends up being befriended by a boy at school who has food allergies, which helps Maggie deal with her own allergies. The girls make up, and Claire helps Maggie sneak a mouse into her room. Maggie is allergic even to the tiny mouse, and when it has babies, that makes matters even worse. She has asked for a lock for her door, and so goes undetected for a while, but eventually her brothers rat her out. Her parents, already stressed by the rapidly approaching due date for their baby, take the mouse back to the pet shop. Will Maggie be able to make her peace with her new sister and find a new interest in life?
Strengths: This was very well done and will be hugely popular with fans of Raina Telgemeier's similarly anxious graphic novels. 5th grade is definitely a year when many students pine for pets (my daughter was in 6th grade when we adopted Sylvie), and readers will sympathize with Maggie's disappointment. There are a few students every year who end up with baby siblings, so that was good to see as well. Friend drama is always popular, and Claire and Maggie's relationship was well drawn. There was an especially touching scene with Maggie and one of her young brothers. Definitely purchasing one, if not two, copies!
Weaknesses: Maggie's grandmother, with her gray bun, dresses, round figure, and shawl like collars, looked a lot like MY own grandmother-- who would be 127 if she were alive today. I liked the fact that Maggie was darker skinned than her father, but would have been glad to have a more concrete ethnic heritage cited.
What I really think: There are not a lot of middle grade books dealing with allergies, and I would love to see more. I love that there is a depiction of an EpiPen. This is definitely something we see a lot in the student population, and including an asthma diagnosis would not go amiss! (I've had cross country runners violently allergic to contact with grass. That was interesting!) Looking forward to anything that these two artists do in the future. 

Grine, Chris. Secrets of Camp Whatever
March 2nd 2021 by Oni Press 
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Willow and her family are moving back to her father's hometown of Nowhere to live in the family home, that the locals say is haunted. She doesn't get to help renovate, however, because she is off to Camp...Whatever. To get there, campers have to get on a creepy boat manned by new director Mr. Tooter. Willow, who wears hearing aids and who knows sign language but usually can hear well with her devices, doesn't care for Mr. Tooter, who yells at her whenever he speaks. She meets Violet and Emma, who are in her cabin, and they join forces when odd things start happening around the camp. Mrs. Nim, the nurse, has hidden depth, as does Mr. Elric, and he introduces the group to some of the odder inhabitants of the area. Mr. Tooter becomes a problem, but is eventually subdued and improved by Mr. Elric, and Willow is ready to go back to her new town armed with the hidden information about the inhabitants. 
Strengths: There are a growing number of creepy fantasy graphic novels, and this is a good addition to ones like Escabasse's Witches of Brooklyn, Siegel's The Sand Warrior, Costa and Parks' Rickety Stitch, Stevenson's Lumberjanes, Steinkeller's The Okay Witch, and Blas and Aguirre's Hotel Dare. This also really reminded me of another graphic novel set in a community nears cliffs where there was a mysterious fog, the title of which I cannot for the life of me remember. (Also had three children on the cover.) Willow's hearing is addressed really well, and I wish there were more characters in middle grade literature shown with realistically depicted hearing loss. I had a cousin who wore a hearing aid much like Cece Bell's in El Deafo when I was growing up.
Weaknesses: My students aren't as fond of the creepy graphic novels as they are of the realistic fiction ones. 
What I really think: Just put in my last order of the year, and will keep this one in mind if there is money in the budget for it. 

Friday, March 05, 2021

Guy Friday- Hunter's Choice and Singled Out

Reedy, Trent. Hunter's Choice
March 2nd 2021 by Norton Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

**Spoiler Alert**
This is more exciting if you don't know what is going to happen, but I suspect that many teachers and librarians are not going to read the whole book, which gives lots of hunting play-by-plays and has some gory moments. If you intend to read this book and don't want to ruin the suspense, don't read this review!

Hunter's family is very involved in hunting in the wilds of Idaho. His great-grandfather built a hunting lodge that the family still uses. Hunter is finally twelve, and has completed a hunting safety course and is fully licensed for his first hunt. His marksmanship is excellent, so his dad is sure that he can take down a deer, although Hunter is less sure of his own emotional capacity to kill a living creature. When the time arrives to go to the lodge, he is disappointed that his cousin Yumi and her friend Annette are also coming along. Hunter likes his cousin; she's one of his good friends, and he has a tiny crush on Annette. Hunting has always been a bastion of male bonding for him, and he is afraid of embarrassing himself in front of his Uncle Rick, grandfather, dad, and now the girls. Annette is not allowed to touch guns, but is writing notes for an article for the school paper. Yumi is angry with her dad, a vet who has done tours in Afghanistan, and who has been struggling with some issues even though he has been back for quite a while. When Hunter has an impressive buck in his sites, he is unable to shoot it, although Yumi brings the animal down. The deer needs to be tracked, since it is fatally injured but still moving, and when his uncle twists his ankle, he and Annette are the ones to find the animal. The group starts to field dress the deer, and are almost attacked by a wolf. Hunter's quick thinking allows him to shoot the wolf not once, but twice, and he makes sure the animal is dead before lowering his rifle. He doesn't have a license to hunt a wolf, but Annette has taken video with her phone, so his uncle is able to provide proof to the local game warden that the wolf was shot in self-defense. Hunter still feels a little conflicted that he didn't shoot the buck, but Annette's article in the school paper about him saving the family from the attack lets him fend off the comments of jerky classmates with ease. 
Strengths: So, here's my level of general squeamishness-- I don't eat much meat because I don't even like slicing it! This was a fantastic book even for someone like me, and for students who hunt, this is the equivalent of a Green or Lupica title for football players. There are so many wonderful details about what to wear when hunting, descriptions of equipment, and procedures and processes for safety. Even small things like getting up early and walking to where the hunting will take place is very thoroughly covered. Hunter's ambivalence is very realistic, and his fear that people will think he is a coward is interesting. Even better is his uncle's counsel that Hunter's reluctance was NOT in any way fear, but was motivated from an appreciation of the wild animal he was contemplating killing. I was a bit leery of the appearance of the girls in the story, but that ends up being rather inspired. Yumi's difficulties with her father are serious and addressed well, but don't interfere with the story. Annette is very invested in the experience and is a fantastic female character who holds her own in a totally foreign environment. This is a very fast-paced story which will hook readers right from the start. An excellent, excellent title. 
Weaknesses: The pages in the E ARC turned soooo slowly, which was especially tortuous since the end of the chapters (where the book would freeze) were almost always cliffhangers! Paper versions will not have this problem, and this was such a tight, well constructed story that I can't really list any other weaknesses! 
What I really think: This is definitely a must purchase for middle school libraries, especially where deer hunting is prevalent and Gebhart's There Will Be Bears (2014) is popular. Reedy writes such interesting books, and the details about hunting in Hunter's Choice will appeal to readers who hunt or who are interested in the sport, while discussing the philosophical aspects of it in a way that teachers and librarians will appreciate. 

Maraniss, Andrew. Singled Out: The True Story of Glenn Burke
March 2nd 2021 by Philomel Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Maraniss, whose Strong Inside covered Black basketball player Perry Wallace, turns his incredible research skills the the story of Glenn Burke. While it is fascinating and noteworthy that Burke is documented as having delivered the first high five as we know it today, his story is important for a variety of other reasons. Drawing on an impressive array of books and articles, interviews, and Burke's own autobiography, written with Eric Sherman, Out at Home, Maraniss paints a vivid portrait not only of the first openly gay major league baseball player, but the times in which he lived. 

Starting with Burke's childhood in the Bay Area, we see how Burke's life was a constant mixture of success (being on television and a record album) and challenges (his father was abusive and then absent). He discovered athletics early on, and played throughout his school years. College was more challenging, since academics weren't all that interesting to him, and college sports participation rely on success in academics. Burke's ball skills, however, were so phenomenal that the Los Angeles Dodgers recruited him for their farm team when he was just very young. He was an enthusiastic player, and well liked by his teammates, and was soon moved to the main team. We see the ups and downs of being involved in a professional ball team, and there is plenty of baseball described that I didn't completely understand. 

What this book does particularly well is to describe what was going on in Burke's life against the background of what was occurring in the world at large. While Burke was just one of many Black ballplayers in the 1970s, there was still a lot of racial prejudices with which he had to deal. While there were other players who were helpful, like Dusty Baker, there were still a lot of issues. It's not surprising, since we're still seeing issues with racism in sports today. 

The bigger issue, of course, is that fact that Burke was gay. The book portrays him as not quite knowing what to do with this information himself at first, which seems very accurate. The perception about and treatment of gay people in the 1970s, which somewhat better than it was in the 1950s, was still very problematic. I can remember a teacher in my high school being fired in the early 1980s just under the suspicion of being gay, and it's easy to forget how near in time the early 80s were to the Stonewall Riots. Maraniss does a great job of detailing incidents which occurred in Burke's life and showing how they were colored by the events going on in the world at the time. I had forgotten how wide spread Anita Bryant's vitriol was. 

Despite his athletic prowess, Burke's struggles in dealing with how being Black and gay affected him caused him to have problems in his life. The Dodgers offered him a bonus if he would get married to a woman so that he could escape the suspicion of being gay, and he had odd relationships with Tommy Lasorda, whose own son was gay, something the older Lasorda denied, as well as Billy Martin. I know so little about baseball that I started this book thinking the Dodgers were based in Brooklyn (they moved in 1958), but even I remember that Billy Martin was kind of a jerk. All of these factors played into Burke eventually leaving baseball, and then finding it hard to make a living. 

A lot of the book discusses the San Francisco gay scene in the Castro district in the early 80s, and the advent of the AIDS virus. What a devastating thing for that community, and what unfortunate timing for Burke to have finally found a community where he felt at home. Even though I was a teenager at the time, I had forgotten how badly people with AIDS were treated, and the fear in which they were held. I found this portion of the book every bit as illuminative as the descriptions of Burke's ball career. 

This was an incredibly all inclusive coverage of Burke's life, and it was heartbreaking. Maraniss does a good job at being circumspect about incidents, so this would be okay for upper middle grade readers, but the length of the book, as well as the emotionally devastating contents, might make it more suited for high school ones. Sex is  mentioned, although not in detail, and there is also drug and alcohol use portrayed. 

The chapter notes, list of resources, and gay rights timeline are all very useful, and the number of interviews the author did is impressive. While I normally like to see books about the Black experience or gay issues written by #OwnVoices authors, the author is very thorough in documenting occurrences, sincere in wanting to shed light on how people were mistreated, and seems to have had the manuscript checked by several readers, so I hope that the portrayals are acceptable. Singled Out is certainly an important book on topics that are timely and much needed. 


Thursday, March 04, 2021

Ghost in the Headlights, Winterborne Home for Mayhem and Mystery

Duga, Lindsey. Ghost in the Headlights
March 2nd 2021 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Brianna has to move in with her uncle Shane at his dilapidated farmhouse while her mother spends two months in Nevada learning some new technology to help her with her job. Brianna's father died when she was small, so she spent her early years in Drury Gables, Pennsylvania, but moved away and hasn't seen her uncle since. She starts back to school right away, and is assigned Jacob, the mayor's son, to help her acclimate to the school. She's a bit standoffish with him because she is so unhappy with her situation, even though she always puts on a brave face when her mother calls, excited about her new opportunities. When Brianna thinks she is being followed when she gets off the school bus and heads up Shadowrun Road to the farm house, she shares this with Jacob, but is warned against talking about it. People are really upset when she discusses this at school, and for a while, her uncle has to drive her home. Before long, though, Brianna realizes that she is being chased by a ghost, and learns more and more about the girl in the orange satin dress who is chasing her. It is Elisa, who disappeared in October of 1994, and all that was ever found of her was one foot! Brianna finds some pictures, and using details from dreams she has and sightings of Elisa, she figures out what might have happened. Can she and Jacob bring peace to the ghost before it causes them harm?
Strengths: Yes! This has just the right amount of town and family history, serious ghost hauntings, and creepy blood and gore. Ravens in the bedroom with red eyes! Blood on the asphalt because the ghost is missing a foot! A prominent adult guilty of a horrendous crime! Even the cover has echoes of another great master of the horror/suspense novel, Dan Poblocki. (Check out the cover of Nightmarys. And, no, I didn't start both of these reviews with a "Yes!" on purpose. Total coincidence!)
Weaknesses: There's a school librarian eating a hot lunch in the library before she helps students for the last half of recess, and a town librarian sitting and knitting! While I can almost believe some librarians don't just try to snarf down granola bars or apples that way, I can't imagine a librarian anywhere knitting at work! But I did appreciate the town collection on microfilm.
What I really think: How I missed this author's The Haunting, I don't know, but I put it on order right away. Supremely bummed that these are in paperback (prebinds ARE available), but adding them to a growing collection of great new horror by K.R. Alexander, Joel Sutherland, Lindsay Currie, and Daka Harmon. I wonder just how much Mary Downing Hahn and Betty Ren Wright Ms. Duga read when she was in middle school!

Carter, Ally. Winterborne Home for Mayhem and Mystery
March 2nd 2021 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

April is back after the events of The Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor, with her friends Sadie, Violet, Tim, and Colin. They are now being cared for by Gabriel Winterborne, since his reappearance, and since Izzy has left and Mr. Smithers is conveniently on vacation. Gabriel is very sad that Izzy is gone, and not taking very good care of the children. They are very self sufficient, but this becomes a problem after Gabriel speaks at the museum and April ends up falling onto the stage from the balcony, as she is wont to do. This brings the group to the attention of Gladys Pitts, from Child Protective Services. Every time she stops by, the house is in chaos, whether it be a burnt cake and trashed kitchen, or Gabriel not coming home. This has April, who has spent a lot of time in foster care, very concerned. She is especially concerned when Gabriel no longer even cares if she orders groceries or buys clothes for Violet-- she knows that a guardian not caring at all is a bad sign. She is also concerned that Gabriel is going to be injured when he is on a mission fulfilling his family destiny acting as The Sentinel. To follow up one of these reports, the group visits Reggie Dupree, who seems to be fairly helpful. When April finds out that her mother, Georgia is alive, she must act quickly to locate her, since she fears that Gabriel might be dead. This takes her to Winterborne Island with the other children, including a very well prepared Colin (who brings extra hats, food, emergency flares and even a pool noodle-- Rebecca Behrens would be very proud of him!) While the group finds Gabriel, he is badly injured, and when Ms. Pitts visits again, she separates the children and sends them to new foster homes. Will April be able to figure out what's going on in time to stay together with her friends, who are now her family?
Strengths: There is plenty of action, adventure and mystery in this installment of the Winterborn series. We learn lots more details about the family, as well as April's past. This includes some surprising connections that I didn't quite see coming. We get more of a feel for the talents of each of the children, and they work together well as an ensemble cast. I'd like to see more of the quiet but talented Tim, although smooth Colin is fun as well. I worry that Sadie DOES needs more supervision! This is an excellent choice for strong elementary readers who want a fast-paced, multi-faceted read, as well as for middle grade readers who like mysteries. 
Weaknesses: I didn't see the appeal of Gabriel, and his pining for Izzy and his neglect of the children didn't sit well with me. I missed Smithers, who is a man after my own heart. We all need boxes of EMERGENCY TEA. Younger readers won't care as much about this and will enjoy the fact that the children are taking care of themselves 
What I really think: This definitely felt like a bridge to the next book, but I love Carter's work and definitely need the whole series. Thinking this will be three books, but don't have any information. This is a great introduction to Carter's work for elementary school students who might not be as interested in the Gallagher Girls. 

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Dawn Raid

Smith, Pauline Vaeluaga. Dawn Raid (My New Zealand series)
March 2nd 2021 by Levine Querido 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sophia lives in New Zealand in 1976 with her family that includes her father, an autoworker born in Samoa, her mother, a night cleaner who is Pākehā (a white or non-Māori New Zealander), an older brother and sister, and two accident prone younger brothers. Her dearest desire is to own a pair of Go Go boots, and she has been given a diary for her 13th birthday in which she chronicles her life. Events range from the exciting (a McDonald's opening in her town of Porirua) to the mundane (going to school). When she has to write an autobiography and deliver it to her class, she finds that she has a knack for public speaking, even though it makes her nervous. Her older brother Lenny does as well, and he is using his talents to work with his friend Rawiri to fight for Māori rights. He has been involved in a march, and although the family isn't too happy about it, they are aware that Samoans have also been dealing with problems with the government. There was a large influx of workers from the Pacific Islands after World War II, but now politicians are saying that these people are taking jobs away from New Zealanders. There have been a number of Dawn Raids, as well as street sweeps, aimed at finding people from other countries who have overstayed their visas, and the Polynesian Panthers (who are influenced by the US Black Panthers) are trying to fight against these kinds of operations. When Sophia and her family travel to an uncle's for a large family party, several of the family are taken to the police station during one of these raids. Sophia uses this experience as the subject for her speech for a competition. In addition to the political causes of the time, we get a lot of information about popular culture and music, as well as the fantastic fashions of the mid 1970s, which she manages to fund through her job delivering milk in the afternoons. Will Sophia continue to fight for civil rights as the decade continues?
Strengths: It's interesting and informative for young readers to be able to see books published in other countries. All too often, those of us living in the US know little about what has gone on in other countries. I can't say that I had really ever thought about the Pacific Islanders; in the US, they are listed on forms along with Asians, and I don't know that I have had any students who have said that is their ethnic background. Learning about the treatment of indigenous peoples in other countries helps to understand the treatment of indigenous people in the US, and that has certainly been problematic. As much as I learned about the racial issues in New Zealand in the 1970s (including the fact that Hanna-Barbera made a political commercial for a candidate!), I was completely captivated by the details about daily life. Hearing that a second television channel had just been started, seeing Sophia's interest in the View-Master, and watching her obsession with putting items on lay-away were so much fun. There were glimpses of school as well, including a cultural food festival, that are somewhat similar to things we do in the US, but completely different! I do hope that we see more of this kind of title being published in the US in the future!
Weaknesses: I would recommend reading the end notes and glossary before reading the book. Since this is a book written and published in New Zealand for that audience, there were a lot of things that I had to look up while reading it. (Pikelets are just small pancakes!) This means that I learned a lot, but younger readers might need some guidance so that they understand everything about Sophia's life. 
What I really think: I am definitely purchasing this title and hope that Levine Querido looks into publishing similar books from many countries around the world! This was a fascinating look at Civil Rights in another country, and I learned a lot. This was somewhat similar to Atheaide's Orange for the Sunsets in that regard, although this definitely had more of a tween voice. Plus, I got to look up the video of Donny and Marie singing Deep Purple

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

The Thieving Collectors of Fine Children's Books, Golden Gate

Perry, Adam. The Thieving Collectors of Fine Children's Books
March 2nd 2021 by Yellow Jacket
E ARC provided by the author

Oliver Nelson and his father live in somewhat straightened circumstances after the death of his mother, and he takes a lot of solace in reading in the Garden Grove library. Ms. Fringlemeier, the librarian, always has a smile and a book for him, and he immerses himself in books like the Swordflinger Saga. When the Pribbles, who are very wealthy because of their technology business that produces the wildly popular Pribble Entertainment Goggles, realize that the library has a book they want for their collection, they buy the entire library and shut it down. Unbeknownst even to the librarian, Oliver has been stealing books from the library. He has a strict code of what he will take (it has to be in poor condition and seem unread), but one book in his possession, The Timekeeper's Children, is one that the Pribbles want. This book is a particular favorite of Oliver's, even though the last chapter is missing. He no longer has the book, but the Pribbles invite him to their home because he is the last person to have checked out the book. While there, he finds that the Pribbles have a device called a Cortexia that can harvest the book from Oliver's mind. Wearing the Entertainment Goggles, the three are thrust into the story of The Timekeeper's Children. 

Written in the 1980s and having sold few copies, this tale of adventure is one of Mr. Pribble's favorites, and he wants to program the tale into the goggles. As Oliver advances through the tale, he meets Jack and Cora, the children of the timekeeper, who are on a quest to steal the crown of the King of Dulum and deliver it to a villain called Sigil. They hope to use their father's clock to turn back time and save their mother. In order to do so, they must work with the narrator, a creature named the Nasty Rodent Eater, and work their way through the story with the Pribbles hot on their trail. They also are shadowed by a mysterious figure whom they find out is the author of the story! They must face bats, eels, the Gang of Impervious Children, and figure out a riddle in order to get to the end of the book. But what is the end? Since Oliver doesn't remember, he needs to figure out what the best ending is for Jack and Cora. 

This reminded me, in the best way, of Townley's The Great Good Thing, while being a fresh, adventure filled tale. Like Claire, who had the only remaining copy of The Great Good Thing and who had a close relationship with the author, Oliver is determined to save The Timekeeper's Children. I loved this comment that he makes (in the uncorrected proof): "This is my book, too. I created it along the way, making it different and better than the author could ever dream." Claire and Oliver both get to live in the story, make changes, and put important characters in so that they continue to live. It doesn't hurt that the title of Oliver's book is very close to a book my daughter checked out of the public library so many times that I had to buy her a copy. The cover of the 1989 The Children of Time  by Deborah Moulton is what I saw in my mind's eye as I was going through this book. 

I sometimes find fantasy hard going, and the intricate, interwoven plots were sometimes hard for me to follow, but these will enthrall fantasy readers who would dearly love to read The Swordflinger Saga if they were a real books. Oliver's love of literature is great to see, and his story is one that young readers can imagine themselves into. The Pribbles are delightful villains who are just quirky enough to be interesting and dangerous rather than annoying. The technology of the Entertainment Goggles is fascinating, and also makes a great point about imagination, and how the lure of constantly being connected to a phone or electronic device is damaging the ability of many children to enjoy books and use their imagination. 

The Thieving Collectors of Fine Children's Books is a great choice for readers who have a good background in high fantasy books like McMann's The Unwanteds or Anderson's The Dungeoneers, but also for those who enjoy a story-within-a-story novel, such as O'Donnell's Homerooms and Hall Passes, or McKay's The Last Dragon Charmer series. There are several mentions of one of my favorite books as well: Mary Norton's The Borrowers (1952). Perhaps readers will be encouraged to pick up that series when they are finished, but I hope they check it out of the library instead of stealing it!

Ponti, James. Golden Gate (City Spies #2)
March 9th 2021 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

After a mission aboard a ship that ends with Sydney blowing things up and Brooklyn saving the daughters of a British MP and a far-down-the-list heir to the throne, the City Spies regroup at the Farm, and Mother finally shares the secret that he and Brooklyn have been investigating. His wife, Clementine, supposedly was a double agent in league with the evil group Umbra, and has taken their two children with her. On the last mission, she gave Brooklyn a flash drive that had a picture of the children on it, but Mother could not even start to crack the mystery. Luckily, when Rio finds out, she is able to figure out enough to get the group started on an investigation, which they do without MI6's knowledge. A key figure is bird watcher and spy Parker Rutledge, and when Brooklyn has to testify about the hostage situation on the ship, the City Spies head to London. They explore different avenues of investigation, including going to Oxford with Monty and breaking into the Bodleian library with the help of a don who is also a mystery writer and has come up with SEVERAL different ways to do this! Once they manage to get Rutledge's birding notebooks, the group works to figure out what he was investigating. They head to San Francisco to purse leads there, while Mother heads to Australia to try to find his children. Will there be satisfactory outcomes to both missions?
Strengths: Mrs. Pollifax in Middle School. That's the phrase that comes to mind when I think about this series. Of course, the venerable lady spy wouldn't have been on her own if she were 12; she would need friends and teachers, and that's what City Spies provides brilliantly. It's a tricky move to have so many main characters, but I was very impressed with the way these are handled. Brooklyn and Sydney have a more major role, but Kat, Rio, and Paris all have decent supporting roles. Monty and Mother are excellent characters as well. The way that all of these characters interact is realistic and well done, and underpins all of the adventure and derring-do nicely. The travel, especially right now, was fantastic. Rural Scotland. The high seas. London. Oxford. San Francisco. Redwood forests. The details of all of these places are woven in seamlessly, and is such fun. Breaking into the Bodleian library after reciting their iconic oath? Wow. The mysteries are also well-developed, and I loved that the two main ones (Mother's children's location and the death of the former spy, Rutledge) are connected.         

Strengths: Seamless is really the best description of this book. Anything you could want in a mystery is present, and all elements are intricately arranged so everything just falls together. This felt not only like Gilman's work, but was very reminiscent of Anthony Horowitz's The Word is Murder and The Magpie Murders. I have to say that I am looking forward to another book in the series, but that deep down, I really want Ponti to come up with a middle grade spy or sleuth and write books in the vein of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot-- books that are technically in a series but can be read independently.                                                                    
Weaknesses: This is blurbed as being a great choice for reluctant readers. I would disagree with that. It is absolutely fantastic and fun, but it's also very complex and LONG. I'm not saying that reluctant readers won't like it; I'm just saying it wouldn't be my first choice to hand them. This series could definitely entice readers who have trouble finding a good book, but avid readers are going to be the core fans of this.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and can't wait to see what the next adventure will be!

Monday, March 01, 2021

MMGM- Escape at 10,000 Feet

It's
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
 at 
and #IMWAYR day 
at 
and 
Say hello to Pongo, a ten year old Shih Tzu Poodle mix who came to live with me last week. His owner died in January, and I adopted him through Ohio Fuzzy Pawz. He is a chill gentleman who is happy as long as he can be with a human! He likes long walks, and is figuring out the joys of a warm rice bag. It's a fun coincidence that one of my recent reads was Maureen Johnson's April release from Disney books, Hello, Cruel Heart, which is the backstory of Cruella deVil from 101 Dalmations. I'm all for literary dog names!

Sullivan, Tom. Escape at 10,000 Ft. (Unsolved Case Files #1)
March 2nd 2021 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this graphic novel, we are taken back to 1971, when a mysterious man by the name of Dan Cooper booked a flight on Northwest Orient Airlines and proceeded to make a number of demands. He was well dressed and polite, although he did threaten to blow up the plane if authorities didn't follow his wishes. He wanted $200,000 in "small, unmarked bills" and four parachutes, then wanted the plane to set off with the back staircase extended. This proved impossible, but the man still managed to jump out of the plane with the money. He had forgotten to specify the denomination of the bills, so ended up with twenties instead of $100 dollar bills, which make the package much heavier. I loved finding out that banks kept wodges of "emergency" money for things like kidnappings, and photographed and cataloged the serial numbers but made the bundles look like they had been assembled in haste! No one ever spent the money, although some of it was uncovered at a river bank in 1980, in a state of decay. While there were some guess about who the perpetrator  might have been, the case has still never been solved!
Strengths: I seem to remember Cooper making his way into popular culture when I was young (there was a 1981 movie with Treat Williams), but younger readers will not have heard of this. It's a fascinating case, especially given the amount of money that was taken, and the fact that the case was never solved. This book lays out all of the details with fantastic illustrations, and was just really fun to read! This is perfect for readers who enjoyed books like Denson's Agent Kathy Puckett and the Case of the Unabomber but want something a bit shorter, with more pictures!
Weaknesses: This was well paced, visually appealing, and had just ONE historical misstep. See illustrations below!
What I really think: I lost so many graphic novels in the March pandemic rush that I should concentrate on replacing lost books in graphic novel series, but this was such a fantastic read that I'm definitely going to have to order it! I loved the illustration style of this, and unsolved crimes are always appealing to my readers. Can't wait to see the next one!

 

Well, the picture about is from just about one of the coolest websites EVER: http://www.uniformfreak.com/1northwest.html.

I wonder if Mr. Sullivan consulted it when researching the pictures of the flight attendant's uniforms. My one objection is that the skirts in the pictures are WAY too long. Anyone who was alive in 1971 would know this was not right. Admittedly, I was surprised at how long the uniforms were, but no one under the age of 80 wore skirts below the knee in 1971. If you were 6, like I was, they barely covered one's undergarments! We'll forgive this, since something about the colors and angles of the illustrations did a good job of harking back to illustration styles at the time. 

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Mazie

Crowder, Melanie. Mazie
February 23rd 2021 by Philomel Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

It's 1959, and Mazie Butterfield lives on a farm in Nebraska. She has been singing for years, and gets solos when the car hops perform every hour at the drive in where she works, and is sure that she can make it on Broadway. Her boyfriend, Jesse, doesn't want to squash her dreams, but can't leave the family farm, even though he does very well in school. Her parents just expect that she will graduate from high school, get married, and settle down. Her grandmother is the one person who believes in her, and when she passes away unexpectedly, she leaves train tickets to New York and enough money to last Mazie six weeks in New York. After senior exams, Mazie decides to go to the big city and try to make it before she gets sucked into life in Nebraska. She finds a boarding house for aspiring actresses, packs a bag, and takes off. The city is daunting, but one of her roommates shows her the ropes and gets her started with auditioning. Even though she has taken voice and dancing lessons and worked hard at her craft, Mazie finds that many people snicker at her name, her freckles, and the fact that she is sturdily built rather than sylph like. Luckily, this works to her advantage at an audition. She's not right for that part, but the director sends her to a friend who is doing an industrial musical about tractors. Mazie gets hired as an understudy for all of the parts, which is a thankless task, but one which she attempts wholeheartedly. She deals with handsy men, meets gay actors, and embraces her differences even as her industry tells her to lose twenty pounds. Will she be able to be successful in an acting career? And what will the future hold for her and Jesse?
Strengths: Occasionally, an author who does perfect fine novels will just blow me out of the water with something completely different. Three Pennies was beautifully written, but Mazie... wow. Everything I want in a historical novel. Great period details, acknowledgement of social norms and mores, and a fast paced story that will appeal to a variety of readers. I loved the realistic details, like all fo the work that Mazie has done to prepare for her career, and the fact that she is hired for industrial performances. I had never heard of those, and Crowder has some great notes about them. Really enjoyed this. 
Weaknesses:Introducing Mazie to gay characters made perfect sense, but when she meets up with someone from her hometown while visiting friends from her tour, it seemed like an awfully big coincidence. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. It will be fantastic for our Decades unit, for anyone who thinks the stage is a good career move, and for readers who want a book about an older character setting out on her own. This reminded me a bit of Weil's I'm Glad I Did

Gonzalez, Mandy. Fearless
April 6th 2021 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Here's another one about a girl from California getting a shot at singing on Broadway. She's in a production with three other children, they have a tutor, and things keep happening to sabotage the play. Is the Ethel Merman theater cursed? Or are evil developers plotting to get their hands on the building. Theater books don't circulate well at all in my library, but if they do in yours, definitely take a look. There are lots of good details about Broadway superstitions, history, and traditions provided by the author, who is herself a Broadway star. This looks to be the start of a series. 

From the Publisher: 
Better Nate than Ever meets Love Sugar Magic in this spooky middle grade novel from Hamilton and Broadway star Mandy Gonzalez about a group of young thespians who must face the ghost haunting their theater.

The Ethel Merman Theater is cursed. No one is sure how or why, but the evidence speaks for itself. Show after show has flopped and the theater is about to close. Enter twelve-year-old Monica Garcia, who has been cast to star in a Broadway musical revival of The Goonies, the theater’s last chance to produce a hit before it shutters its doors for good.

The kids in the cast each have their own reasons for wanting to make the show a success, and all eyes in the theater world are on them. Will this show finally break the curse of the Ethel? The kids aren’t quite sure if the curse is even real, but when their first performance doesn’t quite go as planned, it certainly feels that way.

Then they realize the ghost light—the light that is always kept on at every theater in order to appease the ghosts—wasn’t lit! When the kids rush to flick the switch back on, they find themselves locked in the theater—but that’s the least of their problems when the ghost of the Ethel makes her debut appearance!

Can the cast overcome their fears and reverse the ghost’s curse before opening night so they can save the show—and their dreams?

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Cartoon Saturday-- Ozy and Millie, Diary of an 8-Bit Warrior

Simpson, Dana. Ozy and Millie: Perfectly Normal
March 2nd 2021 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the author

In this second collection of Ozy and Millie strips from Phoebe and Her Unicorn author Dana Simpson, we see the two friends engaged in highjinks ranging from building snow forts (and quoting Shelley's Ozymandias!)to dying Millie's hair purple, to speaking in haiku. (As someone who submits tech tickets in haiku frequently, this has my support!) I never saw this strip in the paper when it ran from 1998-2008, I'm glad to see these collections. Now, I just need to find out why Ozy's father is a dragon...

From the publisher:
Millie is one unusual fox, and she knows it. She comes up with highly unusual thoughts, invents ingenious excuses to get out of her homework, and her classmates are not always sure quite what to make of her. But thankfully she has Ozy, one of the most loyal friends anyone could ask for. Together the two of them, their friends, Millie's mom, and Ozy's dad, Llewellyn (who happens to be a red dragon) enjoy various misadventures, whimsical conversations, elaborate schemes, and delightful bouts of mischief in this collection of comics.

Sourcil, Pirate. Diary of an 8-Bit Warrior Graphic Novel: An OP Alliance 
March 2nd 2021 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

Someday, I will play enough Minecraft that I will finally understand books like The Crash, The Voyage, The Shipwreck, and the Cube Kid books. 

No. That will never happen. 

So a Minecraft graphic novel? Sort of right up there with books about philosophical talking animals who have Southern accents. Not my cup of tea.

Will readers who like graphic novels and Minecraft absolutely love this? Yes. For $14.33, you can get a prebind from Follett so that this holds up to steady circulation. 

From the publisher:
This new graphic novel series is an adaptation of the best-selling Diary of an 8-Bit Warrior series. Readers will reconnect once again with their favorite characters in a familiar Minecraft world and embark on new, heart-pounding adventures.
 
Runt is not a village boy like all the others. Growing carrots doesn’t really interest him and selling them interests him even less. All he wants is to be a warrior! One day, he gathers up all his courage and decides to head off on a journey. He meets a zombie who dreams of being a human, and together, they set off on an extraordinary journey. Follow these two unlikely friends as they trek across the Minecraft universe in search of excitement and a little bit of danger—now in graphic novel format.
 

Ms. Yingling

Friday, February 26, 2021

Guy Friday- Into the Wind

Loizeaux, William. Into the Wind
March 2nd 2021 by One ELM Books 
ARC provided by the publisher

Rusty lives on an island off the New England coast with his father, who works in the local hardware store, his bossy older sister, and his mother, who is currently away at a residential treatment center for depression. This is hard for a ten year old, and if the summer weren't bad enough, Rusty has to go to summer school for math and his best friend is away. He is excited about a small boat that a neighbor has given him to work on, and he is making a project of fixing it and learning to sail. While working on the boat one day, local artist Hazel asks if he will take her out in the boat. The problem? She's elderly and in a wheelchair. Because it is a small town, before long she is asking his father if Rusty will do odd jobs for her, feeding him chicken salad and watermelon for lunch, and helping him with his math before he mows her lawn, dusts her living room, and learns about sailing from her. Hazel is also matter-of-fact about his mother, and allows Rusty to talk a bit more about his feelings than he is encouraged to talk at home. Eventually, his mother comes home, summer winds down, and his connection with Hazel fizzles out. Luckily, their one day of sailing was a memorable one that both enjoyed. 
Strengths: This was well written and definitely painted a vivid picture of life in a small New England town. The information about sailing was understandable and informative, and I liked that Hazel and Rusty were able to bond over a shared interest. I wish that there were more occasions for middle grade readers to meet the elderly, either in books or in person. Hazel is portrayed as engaged in the present and passionate about art and sailing despite her frailty. The issue of Rusty's mother was depicted in a matter-of-fact rather than soppy way, and doesn't highjack the entire story. It's helpful to see students who struggle in school but are able to find some success through help and hard work. 
Weaknesses: This was a gently sad novel of love, learning and loss. The best middle grade novels teach these lessons with a few explosions and embarrassing situations thrown in.
What I really think: The author seems to write primarily literary works for adults; to make this a better middle grade novel, he could have included Rusty's best friend, with whom he could have had more adventures in the boat, and some more highjinks involving working for Hazel. This reminded me strongly of Greene's 1969 A Girl Called Al, a book which brings me to tears and I can't bear to weed. 

Guy Friday-- Jason Henderson Celebrates Guys Read Pink Month

If you're a middle grade librarian and don't know about the following author, start making a list of books you need to order for your students right away! Jason Henderson writes the very exciting Alex Van Helsing series (Vampire Rising, Voice of the Undead, and Triumph of Death), The Young Captain Nemo trilogy, (Young Captain Nemo and Quest for the Nautilus, with the third book, The Serpent's Nest, coming out 9 March!), as well as the adult titles The Book Man  and California Tiki: A History of Polynesian Idols, Pineapple Cocktails and Coconut Palm Trees with Adam Foshko. 

He was gracious enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for our Boys Read Pink celebration. It's always fun to hear what authors have to say about books. Enjoy!


Give us your age in terms of what movies or television series were popular when you were 12. What kind of middle school student were you? Do you think you would have had different interests if you had been a girl? 


o   This is such a fun question! When I was 12 years old the most popular stuff was certainly Star Wars which just then had wrapped up for the time being with episode 6. At this time, the Star Trek movies were incredibly popular as well, plus if I think of that summer, I believe there were even two competing James Bond movies. So it was a really great time for what we would now call genre-- action and comic-book-related stuff and all of that.

o   The truth is I don't think there would have been very much difference as far as any media that I was consuming if I were a girl, because those things that I just listed were incredibly popular across the culture, maybe with Star Trek coming in 3rd. But what was invisible to me was the literary culture that was enjoyed by women and girls and that was more or less ignored by young men. Men and boys didn't generally read things like Judy Blume or the suspense novels of Lois Duncan but I have to tell you that we probably should have. I'm not even getting into the true classics, where women tended to—at least once—read books like Little Women or Pride and Prejudice, and men did not—I didn't read those books until I was well into adulthood.

o   I probably haven’t changed a lot since middle school. I was a little serious and I was already interested in writing. I was editor of my school newspaper. I was fairly lonely but being lonely isn’t the end of the world. My best friend then is still my friend and I talk to him nearly every day, since we work together.



What type of books did you like to read? Can you remember any books with female main characters that you enjoyed? 

o   A loved Meg in A Wrinkle in Time, and how we get to see her take a leadership role in her family, and we also get to see her grow up in those books.

o   Going off the top of my head the first thing that pops to mind is Psycho II by Robert Bloch and Cujo, both of which were new novels and indicate the kind of thing that I was reading at the time. I also really loved short story collections, many of which were at this point almost twenty years old, like especially the Alfred Hitchcock collections and the much newer Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Actually, short stories made up most of my reading, because I remember I also really loved to read Twilight Zone Magazine, which featured new horror fiction every month.

o   I remember even then Stephen King freely employed female main characters, and a little later, writers like Dean Koontz would write their suspense novels and often employ female or male main characters. But spy novels and action novels remained heavily male-centered.

 

 What reasons for reading a book with a girl as the main character would you give to a middle school boy who doesn’t think he should read one?

o   There are so many reasons but now I think the main one is that all that really matters is the story, and how the character relates to the story. For instance in The Silence of the Lambs, Clarice Starling's gender is relevant to the story because she is trying to Excel inside of an educational system that has traditionally promoted mainly men. So it's an interesting conflict to see her navigate.

o   But I was always surrounded by strong and competent women, so to me I'm mainly interested in whether the story appeals to me and you get the protagonist that you get.

 

 In Young Captain Nemo books, Misty holds her own with Peter and Gabriel. Were there reasons you chose to include a girl instead of having a trio of boys? Do you find writing female characters at all difficult? (And remind me of any female characters in Alex van Helsing. It’s been about ten years since I’ve read those!)

o   The gender dynamic in the Young Captain Nemo books is almost identical to the gender dynamic in the Alex Van Helsing books, which is that you have this super competent female member of the trio who also is frankly a little bit more emotionally evolved than they are. But I actually write them simply the way that I would write myself if I had their background and interests. I don’t write Misty as a girl—she’s just a genius and she happens to be a girl. And unlike in the world of The Silence of the Lambs, Misty doesn't have to deal with an organization that is traditionally aligned against her because of gender. So far it has not come into play.

o   The truth is I like books where smart people solve problems under pressure. And I don't care about the genders of the characters so much as I want to be intrigued by how they solve those problems.

 

 Are there any books with girls as the main character that you would recommend to my students?

o   My reading is all over the place. I think Jennifer Ziegler’s Brewster Triplets books are hilarious. Way on the other side of the spectrum, in the adult realm,  Intensity by Dean Koontz is un-put-down-able. And I think a middle-grader could read it. It’s amazing. And you can’t go wrong with The Silence of the Lambs. Coraline by Neil Gaiman has a female lead, of course, and is so, so brilliant.

o   Also, from my own, I have two I can think of—Ronnie Van Helsing is the lead of my graphic novel Sword of Dracula, and I have a female lead Frannie Cohn in my surfing-horror book Night of the Book Man (Written under the name Peyton Douglas), which is very close to YA.

           o   There are so many books!

Many thanks to Mr. Henderson for his great answers, and check here on March 8 for a Marvelous Middle Grade Monday review of The Serpent's Nest!