Sunday, October 17, 2021

Fifty-Four Things Wrong with Gwendolyn Rogers

Carter, Caela. Fifty-Four Things Wrong with Gwendolyn Rogers
ARC provided by Follett First Look
October 19th 2021 by Quill Tree Books

Gwen is always going to do better, so that she doesn't get in trouble and her teachers don't have to call her hard working single mother, but... it's hard. Even though she really wants to go to horse camp, she can't remember to moderate her behavior, and soon she is in trouble again. She's been evaluated for an IEP (individualized education plan), but there was nothing wrong with her that could be decisively identified, so Gwen has made a list of the 54 things that are "wrong" with her, from being loud, immature, and whiny to having poor impulse control. She wishes that she could have a diagnosis, like her half brother and best friend Tyler. He's been diagnosed with ADHD, and takes medication that seems to "cure" him. He's not in trouble nearly as much, and frequently helps Gwen with things like rebraiding her French braid so it is tighter, which calms her down. The two have the same father, who did not stay with either of their mothers, who now live in the same town but have significantly different lifestyles and haven't really been friends themselves. Gwen has trouble with keeping friends, as well, and is in danger of being kicked out of the after school PowerKids program, which would have a raft of bad consequences. Not only wouldn't she see Tyler and be eligible for horse camp, but her mother would struggle to find alternative care for her. When working with a doctor who knows Tyler's mother, Gwen does try a couple of different medications, but they don't quite do everything she needs. One helps her focus, but also makes her sad. The other helps a littler, but causes a lot of outbursts. Gwen does revisit some of her friendships, and eventually Hettie and Matty understand her differences a bit more and are able to stick by her. Matty is glad to be reconnected, because she is nonbinary (but still using she/her pronouns for the time being) and thought that Gwen was ignoring her because of that. With the help of a doctor who realizes that both Gwen and her mother need help, Gwen's differences are understood a bit better, and plans are put in place to help her succeed.
Strengths: This was written in a style that shed a lot of light on Gwen's state of mind-- things are always happening, and emotions swirl on every page. It's helpful to get insight into what Gwen wants to do versus what she is capable of doing, and how this disconnect makes her feel. It's also helpful to see how Gwen's behavior affects her mother and her friends. The subplot with Tyler and their shared father is one we should see more in middle grade books, because many of my students have similar life circumstances. The mother's involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous is also instructive. The dynamics with Hettie and Matty might help children who are neuroatypical see a way to navigate friendships and to share their challenges with others. The positive portrayal of the doctor, and the realistically problematic teacher experiences and inconclusive evaluations are helpful in understanding how tricky diagnoses can be. This is a great read for teachers who want to understand their students better and remember why being patient is so important.
Weaknesses: Gwen's challenges are so overwhelming that there's not room for much of a subplot. If that's harder to read, imagine how much harder it is to LIVE. There certainly is enough going on with Gwen to support an entire book. 
What I really think: This might be more popular with teachers than students, but is a great read for fans of Hunt's Fish in a Tree, Gerber's Focused, Pla's The Someday Birds. It's helpful to know that Gwen's challenges are based on the author's own experiences, and I'm glad she shared that with us. 

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Cartoon Saturday- ¡¡Manu!!

Fernández, Kelly. ¡¡Manu!!
October 19th 2021 by Graphix
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Manu has lived at a magical school for girls that is staffed by nuns since they found her as an abandoned infant and took her in. There has always something different about her, but most of the nuns put up with her irrepressible behavior since she has very advanced magical skills, which are considered a gift from the saints. When the new school year starts, Manu is back in her usual form, creating a mango that grows and then explodes allover the school. Her best friend, Josephina, is angry that Manu has caused a mess, and wishes that the saints would take her friend's powers away. Eventually, Manu realizes that she is having problems with her powers blinking out, all because of Josephina's curse. The sisters can't help her,  although they do find a work order-- a potion she needs to rub behind her ears that smells horrible! Her classmates make fun of her, so when the sisters must travel to the city to provide magical healing to ayoung boy, she begs to go. When the sisters exorcise a demon from the boy, the demon asks Manu if she is "one of them". This, combined with a book on black magic that she finds in the library, encourages Manu to try to rid herself of the curse. Of course, this rarely ends well, but aided by Mother Dolores' amulet, Manu and Josephina try to make things right, and learn a lot about Manu's background while doing so. 

"Academy" books are a subgenre of magical realism that has great appeal for young readers, who imagine themselves in magical schools like Hogwarts, the Magisterium, Carthak University, Bloor's Academy or Wizard's Hall. While the lessons and classes aren't described in detail, we do get a good feel for some of the kinds of magic the girls are taught. Santa Dominga Academy is the first that I can remember being described in a graphic novel. This adds a lot of visual detail to the school, so we can seethe uniforms, the lush grounds, and the nuns in their stark habits. We also get some good interpretations of goat like demons, not to mention exploding mangoes. 

Even though Manu is a challenging friend to have, Josephina stands by her side, apologizing early on for cursing her friend, and doing everything that she can to help her. The sisters are very involved in the students' lives, and care a lot for Manu. When we finally see the whole history of how Manu came to be at Santa Dominga, this makes a littler more sense. I am curious to see, if there is a second book, how Manu and Josephina's relationship progresses. 

The colors in the few pages that had them in the ARC were primarily greens, yellows, and browns, which gave a nice connection of nature, especially when it came to the setting of the school and also some of the creatures that weave in and out of the story. I'd love to see the owls in full color. Readers who want more magic in their graphic novels will enjoy this one, which is similar to Layne's Beetle and the Hollow Bones, Aldridge's Estranged, Steinkellner's The Okay Witch or Ostertag's Witch Boy or The Girl From the Sea.

I don't know that I will buy this one. There have been a lot of graphic novels coming out, and this one was just okay. I liked the style of illustrations and the inclusion of Spanish phrases, but the characters and story were fairly conventional. 

Ms. Yingling

Friday, October 15, 2021

How to Train Your Dad

Paulsen, Gary. How to Train Your Dad
October 5th 2021 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Carl and his father live in a dilapidated trailer outside of town. While his father revels in getting food from the dumpster, clothes from garage sales, and bartering for everything else, Carl is less thrilled, especially when the overalls his father obtains are hot pink! Most of the time, Carl is okay with their off the grid lifestyle, and even admires his father for his efforts, but when he gets further into middle school and wants to draw positive attention from girls (and one girl in particular), he is increasingly embarrassed by his father. His friend, Pooder, on the other hand, thinks that bartering and making do are really cool; mainly because he doesn't have to live that way himself! When he is emptying dog food for their pit bull Carol into a secure garbage can, he finds a puppy training manual, and decides to use positive reinforcement to slowly change his father's behavior. He goes to great lengths to distract his father, spending weekends at nature preserves and doing other activities so that the two don't end up at more garage sales. This doesn't stop his father from making a spectacularly ugly recumbent bike for him, but his father does catch on eventually and makes attempts at having a more stable, socially acceptable life style. 
Strengths: I am continually surprised by Paulsen's ability to write humorous books, but his Liar, Liar series, Masters of Disaster, and This Side of Wild are all excellent examples of how well Paulsen does with this genre. As someone who can scrounge with the best of them and whose furniture was largely gotten from curbs, I can both understand what the father is trying to do to survive and also understand whey Carl might be embarrassed by this. While Carl does want some "nicer" things, like clothes that are new and fit, or a better bicycle, he's not at all bratty about this. When his father does buy him new clothes, he appreciates them, and tries very hard to keep them nice, even when he has an accident and is bleeding. He willingly dumpster dives while wearing pink overalls, and is philosophical when he makes the news while doing so. While it isn't explicitly state, there was a strong undercurrent of worry about economic insecurity that I could see Carl experiencing, and I think that is what pushed him to "train" his father. This was pure fun at many points, and even had an excellent scene where Pooder is treating women in a sexist way, and Carl has this thought (From the E ARC): There are times when you correct your friend for being an archaic, sexist pig like CB and then there are times when you sit back and wait for karma to drop-kick his disrespectful butt into gentlemanly manners... who a I to depreice some budding feminist of the chance to put Pooder in his place?" Excellent point!
Weaknesses: The use of dog training methods to change human behavior was done better in Margolis' Boys Are Dogs (2009!) and Stewart's Fetching (2011). The training works, but more because his father finds out what he is trying to do than because the training is effective.
What I really think: Mr. Paulsen is 82 years old. I will enjoy every book he writes for the great turns of phrase and ingenious plots, and be okay with any roughness in execution. 

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Eighth Grade vs. the Machine

Before the day began!
Slice of Life: 
Yesterday I had all 250 7th graders in the library for classes and books, and over 300 books got checked out! My displays looked like plagues of locusts had swarmed over them, so of course twenty minutes before the end of the day my principal phoned to say there would be a district meeting in my space! still need to refill front facing books before I have all of the 8th graders visit today.

I always think that since I get to work a bit early, I'll get reviews written. Instead, I've spent an hour shifting Chrome books around, getting together work for a volunteer, cleaning things. And wait! What about finishing up the stuff for my state evaluation, making signs about the Neighborhood Bridges toiletries and supplies available in the library. and printing a list of students with very overdue books who might not have anything to read so I can hunt them down and chat?

Being busy is good. I'm hoping to get some weeding done from 4-8 p.m. when conferences are going on and we have to be in the building.

Levy, Joshua. Eighth Grade vs. the Machine
October 5th 2021 by Carolrhoda Books 
E ARC provided by Netgalley

After their adventures in Seventh Grade vs. the Galaxy, classmates Ari, Becka and Jack are back with Principal Lochner to try to find their families after humanity has gone missing. They are trying to fix their ship, PSS 118, and the teachers are making a half hearted attempt to get them to do school work, including keeping journals that we get to see in the text. When they finally get going, they face a host of problems, including an invasion of priate speaking robots and meeting up with Hunter, who has gone to the dark side of the Minister, along with Bale Kontra, an old Elvidian. The group wants to make it to the library on Wyzardia, where they eventually find that another ship has survived the Quarantine. This leads them to locate the Poplar, where they meet another kid, Starlee. When they all end up in the hands of the Minister, will they be able to negotiate for what they want? Another adventure is all but guaranteed when a main character goes missing, and Principal Lochner takes the school on their next mission without that person.
Strengths: I bought two copies of the first book, since it is a great space adventure complete with low gravity dodgeball, and the book has been very popular with my students. The sequel will be appreciately recieved. I like the way the kids work together and have lots of adventures, even though personally my favorite part is how the teachers try to hold everything together! The trials with the robots, the Minister, and trying to get to Wyzardia help the group towards finding out what has happened, and the real draw is all of the adventures, as well as the pirate speaking robots.
Weaknesses: There was a LOT going on, and since Jack didn't appear until about 50 pages into the story, I got a bit confused. This is not so much a fault of the book as it is my own Fantasy Amnesia. If I didn't have to write a review, this wouldn't be a problem!
What I really think: One of my favorite middle grade literature lines has got to be "And still, Principal Lochner defines the line between civilization and chaos as 'collared shirts.' " Well, yes! No reason to let standards slip! Jack, Ari, and Beckah's further adventures will be a big hit, and I will be curious to see how the third book unfolds. I have a line of students waiting for this latest installment!

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Across the Desert

Bowling, Dusti. Across the Desert
October 12th 2021 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Jolene lives in Phoenix with her mother, who is suffering with a pain pill addiction after the two were involved in a car accident and the mother was badly injured. She doesn't have a lot of friends, but watches one girl who flies an ultralight aircraft, "Addie Earhart" on a streaming service and has been in contact with her. Addie's father has passed away, and her mother doesn't want her to fly, which is why she only live streams her adventures and doesn't record them. One day, when Jolene is on the computer in the library researching solutions for her mother's problems, she catches one of Addie's flights... but Addie crashes in the desert. Jolene tries to get help at the local fire station and tries to call on the phone, but no one takes her seriously. Absolutely certain that her online friend is in serious trouble, she gets on a bus and takes off late in the evening for the closet town to Addie. On the bus, she is befriended by Marty, who is a little older and suspects that Jolene is making bad choices. She definitely is-- she's planning on walking 80 miles through the desert at night with some water, crackers, and a can of sardines. Marty convinces Jolene to stay the night at Marty's grandfather's, but Jolene sneaks out in the night, "borrows" a motorbike, crashes, and falls asleep in front of an abandoned building. Luckily, Marty finds her the next day, and the two trek through the desert to find Addie. They eventually do, and struggle to get the badly injured girl back to civilization. She's broken both legs and has other injuries. Marty's mother is very helpful to Jolene; because of a family circumstance similar to what Jolene's mother is experiencing, Marty and her mother are very interested in getting both Jolene and her mother the help they need. Addie and Jolene continue to be in contact, so more good than bad has come from their ill-considered adventure.
Strengths: There are a growing number of middle grade books that cover family members who have opioid addictions, such as Hopkins' What About Will, Bishop's Where the Buffalo Roam, Campbell's Rule of Threes, and Messner's The Seventh Wish, but this gives an added level of interest by sending Jolene on an adventure to rescue someone else. Bowling has a helpful note at the end of the book about her own family's experience with addiction, which will be helpful to students who might be in a similar situation. Marty is a great character, and her youthful maturity is a great foil for Jolene's wreckless, single minded sense of mission. There are not a lot of books set in the US Southwest, and Bowling does a great job at working the landscape inso her stories. This will appeal to a variety of readers who want books about adventure, family drama, or children much like themselves who are struggling.
Weaknesses: While I admire Bowling's decision to keep this book short and to the point, I felt that a bit more back story would have helped to make Jolene's series of really awful decisions more understandable. While we get glimpses in flash back of how bad things have been at school and at home, when we meet Jolene at the library and she decides to take off, things don't seem bad enough to warrant her behavior. Of course, children will think her actions are fine. I did appreciate that Marty had sense enough to be alarmed that Jolene was meeting an online "friend".
What I really think: I liked this one more than The Canyon's Edge, and since Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus has been popular, I will buy this one for fans of Behren's Alone in the Woods and Disaster Days. 
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Fantasy Tuesday- Black Was the Ink

Coles, Michelle. Black Was the Ink
September 21st 2021 by Lee & Low Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In 2015, Malcolm Williams is being raised in Washington, D.C. after the violent death of his father when he was a baby. After he is involved in a racially charged incident with the police himself, his mother sends him to spend the summer with family in Missippi. His grandmother has passed, but he is able to help his elderly great aunt and uncle with the farm, although farm work does NOT appeal to him, and the lack of WiFi doesn't make him happy, either. He is intrigued when his Uncle Corey is released from jail after serving a sixteen year sentence for marijuana possession, since his uncle is his only connection with his father. When his aunt tells the family at a reunion that they are going to lose the rest of the farm to more highway construction (they had lost much of it in the 1960s), Malcolm isn't too concerned at first, and doesn't think there is much he can do. He meets a neighbor girl, Jasmine, and goes to a fair with her, where he gets in trouble after local white hoodlums push HIM around. Luckily, Jasmine's father is a lawyer who is well versed in the treatment that Black men recieve from the police and get him released. When Malcolm finds the diary of an ancestor, Cedric Johnson, from the 1870s, he becomes more interested in Civil Rights-- especially when Cedric himself appears and sends him back in time! Malcolm finds himself walking in Cedrics shoes as a congressional aide to Pastor Hiram Revels, the first Black congressman who served during Reconstruction. Malcolm keeps traveling back in time, moving a few years into the future with each trip, and meets an amazing array of Black historical figures. As he is witnessing the mostly hidden history of the 1800s, he is dealing with racial issues in the present, especially the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting in Charleston. This, along with all of the things that Cedric witnesses, spurs him to try to save the family farm by declaring it a historical site, which the journal helps him to do. The book includes brief biographies of many of the figures mentioned, and an excellent timeline.
Strengths: Wow. For as much information as was in this book, I was able to write most of the review without looking at my notes, which means that the story was easy to follow and well put together. Malcolm is an engaging character whose life has been difficult even though his family is very supportive. I'm always glad to see characters who spend summers with family in the south, because it is interesting to see them compare the treatment of Blacks there to their own experiences. The inclusion of family history was fascinating, and adding a little romance didn't hurt. The time travel is done convincingly, with Malcolm struggling a bit to adjust to being Cedric, but doing a great job. There is a devastating twist with Cedric's life that propels Malcolm to work harder on saving the family farm. Seeing the uncle struggle with adjusting to life outside prison adds an interesting layer. The biographies and time line will be helpful to students who are really interested in history and are looking for people to investigate further. I'd love to see a nonfiction book about this time period! Definitely purchasing!
Weaknesses: This is a Young Adult book, but still accessible to middle grade readers. Since it is more YA, it is a bit long, and for middle grade, I would have shortened it up a bit to make it more appealing to readers who struggle, but that's not a problem with the book, just my wish to get it into the hands of more readers! I loved both stories so much that I hated to leave one to go to the other. 
What I really think: I am going to buy this because it was so well done and covers a period of history about which I am sure few of my students know. There are lots of books where Black children travel back to the time of slavery, and it was such a joy to read one where the time travel lead to a discovery of a time when Black people where making a lot of sociopolitical progress. This strikes me as the kind of book that the characters in Rhuday-Perkovich's It Doesn't Take a Genius summer camp would be reading! Very interesting. 

King, Bart. Time Travel Inn.
October 1st 2021 by Chooseco
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

I still have students who ask for Choose Your Own Adventure books, but the ones that were here twenty years ago have fallen apart, and I haven't replaced them. This might be the first one I've ever bought, because I struggle with reading Choose Your Own Adventure books. I feel like I need to try to follow every possible combination of plots, which just isn't possible.

King does great work, and this ended up being a great mix of fun characters, intriguing plot points, and lots of giant insects. The time travel has a reasonable mechanism and is believable. The writing is clever, and there are lots of funny turns of phrase. Definitely one of the better Choose Your Own Adventure books I've read, and including a motel always makes for a lot of unusual adventures.

This is written in the second person, so a bit jarring because there are not that many books from that perspective, and I did just read the pages in order. The illustrations are a nice touch, and will help appeal to readers who like notebook novels as well.

Moses, Rucker and Gangi, Theo. Kingston and Echoes of Magic
(Kingston #2)
October 12th 2021 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Kingston and his friends are back after Kingston and the Magician's Lost and Found, trying to retrieve his father. 

Unfortunately, I read this on a day after I had ten classes, so I remember very little. Definitely purchasing a copy, since I ended up with two of the first books and they've circulated very well. 

From Goodreads:
"Kingston might have saved Echo City but the victory is bittersweet without his pops by his side. The holidays are approaching and if Kingston could have one wish, it would be to have his father, who is trapped in the Realm, come home. But as new problems arise and blackouts blanket the city, Kingston begins to have a persistent feeling of deja vu, as if he's lived this same day before--and he has. Echo City living up to its name, is caught in a repeating time loop.

Maestro, his father's old rival, has found a way to overwrite reality with an alternate timeline where he rules over all. It will be up to Kingston, Too Tall, and V to find a way to enter the Realm and travel back through time to stop Maestro and save Brooklyn before it's erased for good."

Monday, October 11, 2021

MMGM- Mighty Inside

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

In planning my reading over the weekend, I was struck by the lack of titles coming out in December. I try to post books close to their date of publication, but I have no posts for the last half of November and most of December, even though my reading list is starting to include January titles. Is this what is actually happening, or am I missing something?

Thought about posting reviews of older titles I am weeding or keeping (on which side will Miss Hickory land?), but there's no point to that. Instead, the plan is to read everything in order of publication, and just fill in the empty slots, even though the title might not come out for another month. I apologize in advance for any confusion this might create, but it's the only that makes sense. 

This has not been the least stressful of school years, and my brain needs something that makes sense right now! 

Frazier, Sundee. Mighty Inside
October 12th 2021 by Levine Querido
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Melvin lives with his family in Spokane, Washington in 1955. He has an older brother and sister (Chuck and Marian), as well as a younger sister, Maisy, who wants to be a newspaper reporter. His grandmother and other relatives live nearby, and the family has a small community of Black friends who get together, since most of their school and community are white. Melvin has a pronounced stutter, plays the accordion, and would rather just keep to himself, all things that his brother says mark him as a "square" and will run him into trouble when he starts high school. His parents are fairly support, but also push him to do more things than he is really comfortable with. Starting at Grover Cleveland High School is stressful, especially when there are bullies like Gary and Troy who call him "Skip" and are also very prejudiced against Blacks. Even though he doesn't realize it at first, Melvin is lucky to meet the talkative Lenny Carini, who lives with his mother above the Harlem Club. His father, who was Jewish, was killed in the war, and the two are struggling, although Lenny plays saxophone and is hoping to play on the local talent show, Starlit Stairway, and is enthralled with the band at the club. Having a friend makes a difference, and Lenny encourages Melvin to be braver. He actually talks to Millie Takazawa, on whom he has a big crush, and learns more about her life, including the fact that her family was in a Japanese American internment camp during the war, when she was very small. Lenny and Melvin work on their act, and do get a chance to play on the local program. Melvin's sister, who is very popular, is in the running for homecoming queen, and Melvin has to take a family friend instead of Millie. Things don't go well at the dance, and Melvin and the group want to leave the dance early and go to the Harlem Club to see Lenny play. The problem is that the club, which is run by a Black man, is whites-only every day but Sunday and Monday, and the dance is on Saturday. Lenny's mother manages to get them in, but things go badly wrong. Lenny and his mother need a place to stay, and when they show up at Melvin's house, a long lost connection between the two families is discovered. 
Strengths: There were so many things going on in the 1950s, and yet, there is very little written about that time period. Fallout (as well as progress) after the war, racial tensions, and very different treatment of people with disabilities, not to mention huge cultural shifts in entertainment, clothing, and styles of living, make this a fascinating decade. Add to this Melvin's rather unique experience (based on the author's own family history) of being a Black student in an area where there are so few Blacks, and his struggles with his stutter, and this makes for a riveting story. I don't want to ruin the twist at the end, but it involves real life laws about restrictive real estate covenants that recently made the news here in Ohio. Including Millie's family experiences with internment is perfect. The characters are all really appealing, from the unstoppable Lenny to Grandma Robinson, who worked at the Spokane Club, to 1950s jock older brother Chuck. There are plentiful details about daily life (Starched shirts! Mailing away for things from Popular Science! And sadly, people who name their dogs inappropriate racial slurs.) as well. I loved Frazier's The Other Half of My Heart (2010), Brendan Buckley (2008), and Cleo Edison Oliver, but think that her real talent might well lie with historical fiction writing! I'd love to see her take on busing in the 1970s.
Weaknesses: At one point, a teacher talks to Melvin about his stutter, and offers his wife's services as a speech therapist to work with him. There's so much else going on that this doesn't get followed up, but it would have been fascinating to see what techniques were used in the 1950s to try to help. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and I love that this is upper middle grade, with a high school freshman character. I would love to see Maisy's story given attention in her own book, and as always, look forward to whatever Ms. Frazier writes next. 

Sandler, Martin W. Picturing a Nation:The Great Depression's Finest Photographers Introduce America to Itself 
October 12th 2021 by Candlewick Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This overview of the Farm Security Administration's photography project to capture daily life during the Great Depression includes 140 period photographs by photographers such as Dorothea Lange and Gordon Parks, and discusses the artistic and social impact of this endeavor. It covers the efforts of Roy Stryker to not only hire excellent photographers and send them to impoverished regions of the US, but his determination to have these photographs widely disseminated in magazines and books, and later preserved in the Library of Congress. They have since been digitized and can be seen online today. (

I have always been interested in this era, and the photographs point out the extreme poverty of this time that people today can't quite begin to understand. People were barely clothed, lived in tents and shacks, and even if they had homes, would insulate and decorate them with newspapers. Food was often lacking, this shows clearly in the gaunt figures. Still, the photographers tried to capture everyday joyous moments, and always treated their subjects with respect. The most fascinating thing I learned was that the dictate for this project was specifically to capture details of this moment in history that Stryker knew would soon be gone. He wanted photographers to capture household equipment, the clothing people wore, signs of products that were in daily use, and the landscape devasted by the Dust Bowl. At the time, these pictures were used to help get federal assistance, which is why they were allowed to be used by magazines (the primary way to deliver them at the time) for free. Kodachrome film had recently been developed, so there are color pictures that are almost 100 years old. 

Dorothea Lange is the photographer most familiar to me, because of Elizabeth Partridge's great biography of her aunt, Restless Spirit (1998), but I was captivated by the stories of the other photographers, especially Gordon Parks, a groundbreaking Black photographer. I would love to see a biography of him, as well as Mariojn Post Wolcott. 

This was a quick read, and I am definitely purchasing. I loved Sandler's Race Through the Skies, and 1919: The Year That Changed America, and need to more thoroughly investigate his more than 70 books, right after I finish getting lost in the FSA photographs. 

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Alley & Rex

Ross, Joel N. Alley & Rex
September 28th 2021 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Alley is constantly in trouble at Blueberry Hill school, because he has poor impulse control and is always doing something like using cafeteria trays to toboggan down the stairs, which younger students then copy. The principal of his school is more understanding than many would be, and feels that Alley has a kind heart. This doesn't stop her from frequently contacting Alley's parents, who are so tired of this that they threaten to send him to live with his Grannie Blatt, who worked at Steggles Academy. She can use her influence to get him enrolled, and he will benefit from the much stricter discipline. After an incident involving younger children bouncing a burrito into a ceiling fan, incited by Alley, the principal and his parents make him a deal-- get an A on his science test, and he can stay at Blueberry Hill. If not, it's off to Grannie Blatt with her horrible toe nails and calf's foot jelly. To help him, the principal assigns him to work with Rex (part of the HOST program-- Helping Other Students Thrive), who is younger, brighter, and wears a rabbit suit to school every day. Rex thinks that Alley should do a presentation instead, but Alley gets distracted when he hears teachers talking about the rumored "Golden Keys". These are apparently folders with the answers to all of the tests. Instead of having to learn things to get his A, Alley will just steal the binders. This, of course, is more work than actually studying, and leads to all manner of high jinks in the school. In the end, Rex manages to save the day, Alley gets to stay at his school, and we also learn that he was helping Rex by being a friend to him.
Strengths: You know when you see a James Patterson "jimmy" book that looks like it will be funny, but ends up being tremendously sad or somehow horrible? I, Funny and Pottymouth and Stoopid, I'm looking at you. Well, this is the book that you were thinking you would be reading. It's funny, with lots of good turns of phrases, zany characters, and improbable school situations. It also has a bit of heart, with a very dear Bubbie to offset the stereotypical horrible Grannie Blatt. Tweens who struggle with impulse control will have more sympathy for Alley than I did, and the lengths to which he goes to get the Golden Keys instead of studying seemed like something that would make sense to children faced with difficult school assignments. The supporting characters have their own little quirks, and Rex wields an impressive vocabulary. I can see this being a very popular book with students. When Alley's teacher asks him what he wants in a book, we get this interchange (from the E ARC) "Mr. Kapow: 'What do you like in a book? Me: Rocket Launchers! Barfing! Mutant Frogs!'" While Alley & Rex doesn't quite deliver those things, it does deliver plenty of hiding under teachers' lounge tables, devious plans involving overflowing water fountains, and unexpected confetti. 
Weaknesses: While children will certainly love this, it was one of those books that strained my credulity. Do principals really make bargains like this with students? Do grandparents (who are now about MY age) really make calf's foot jelly? How did Alley and Rex wander the hallways so much? And sure, Rex saves the day, but did Alley really LEARN the water cycle? I prefer humorous books that are also realistic; pretty sure my patrons don't hold books to this standard as much as I do. 
What I really think: While this wasn't my personal favorite, it didn't bug me the way some books do. It was funny and well written, and light on the super quirky. My mind is completely blown that this author wrote the speculative fiction The Fog Diver and The Lost Compass, as well as Beast and Crown, but I think I will buy this for some of my readers who struggle a bit. It's short, but a bit longer and harder than Stink Moody books, and Alley's personality is much more like Big Nate's than Greg Heffley's.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, October 09, 2021

The Girl Who Ruined Christmas

Callaghan, Cindy. The Girl Who Ruined Christmas
October 12th 2021 by Spark Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Brady and her parents, who live in California, visit Harper Hollows Falls, a small East Coast town with a really strong Christmas tradition. Unfortunately, they are there so that the father can buy the local Christmas tree farm and develop it. At a town ceremony to see a tree from this farm off to the White House, something which the town hopes will change its fortunes, Brady takes a selfie to post on social media, but her flash spooks the Clydesdales and precipitates a string of events that ends with the tree going up in flames. Everyone blames her for this devastating event, and she is actually arrested, charged, and must appear in court before a judge for the damage. Her parents can't believe that Brady is being held responsible for a freak accident, but the judge sentences her to a month of community service at the tree farm. The locals who work there aren't thrilled, but Brady tries her best to make amends, constructing gingerbread houses with her "host" mother, and generally trying to find a way for the tree farm to be saved. She finds some allies, learns to trust herself, and manages to save the day. 

I have to admit that I skimmed this a bit- I love Callaghan's work but wasn't sure this would be a good purchase for middle school. It's being released in paperback, so would make a great stocking stuffer, but the prebind costs a whopping $18.79 through Follett's Titlewave.

Strengths: Callaghan's Lost in... books are hugely popular in my library, and Christmas books are a big hit with many of my students, especially with my students with Somalian backgrounds. This is billed as a "novella", but at 149 pages, is just the right size for a middle school quick read. Brady is a great character who has made some mistakes but throws herself whole heartedly into saving the town and getting to know the local tweens. Ever since Cleary's The Luckiest Girl, books where kids are forced to go live with other families for whatever reason are a realistic fantasy for readers who want to get away from their parents' gaze for a while. Lots of good Christmas connections and activities. 
Weaknesses: As an adult, I had a very hard time believing that Brady was allowed to stay in Harper Hollows Falls with the Crispins, even though Callaghan does a great job of addressing remote schooling and making the Crispins seem like a perfect place to abandon one's offspring! 
What I really think: I would purchase this if it weren't so expensive. Perhaps the cost of a prebind will come down after the publication date. 

Ms. Yingling

Friday, October 08, 2021

Playing the Cards You're Dealt

Johnson, Varian. Playing the Cards You're Dealt
October 5th 2021 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Anthony "Ant" Joplin is in his last year of elementary school (where his aunt is principal-- not at all awkward!), and enjoys hanging out in his small town with his best friend, Jamal. The two are very into the card game, Spades, so sneak a deck of cards into school so they can practice for the upcoming town tournament, since "trash talking" at school has gotten the game banned. His older brother Aaron, also an avid player, is away at a boarding high school. His mother works in the medical profession, and his father runs an accounting firm that seems to be in trouble. When Ant and Jamal play cards at recess, it doesn't end well, and Jamal ends up being suspended for several days and is banned from the tournament. Ant is disciplined as well, but he does find out that the new girl, Shirley, is a good Spades player, as well as the daughter of one of his mother's friends from her school days. Ant also finds her attractive, and has trouble dealing with his feelings, since he also wants to be friends and have her be his Spades partner, so their interactions are a bit awkward at first. Eventually, they find a way to connect and hang out, but Ant's life is in upheaval. His father had been in rehab for problems with alcohol when Ant was very small, and now seems to be gambling heavily, and Ant suspects he is drinking. He tells Aaron, and when their mother finds out, she has the father move out of the house. The problems with drinking and gambling go much deeper than Ant expects, but he is too embarrassed to tell his friends, even though Jamal's mother has left the family due to her struggles with drug addiction. He is even afraid to tell Shirley, and arranged to practice at her house. He hopes that his father will be able to overcome his addiction, and even tells his father that he and Aaron will be partnering for the Spades competition, since the man who organizes it says that this will be the last one. Shirley is understanding, and is willing to listen to Ant's problems as well. When the tournament rolls around, will Ant's father show his family that he has changed, or is there still work to do?

This is a character driven novel filled with an appealing array of friends and family. Ant (who reads a bit older than ten) has realistic struggles in school. He works hard on his assignments but is easily distracted by Spades, and there are issues with other students and the way they act toward him. He enjoys being with Shirley, but wishes the other boys didn't make fun of him for hanging out with her. Aaron is a concerned older brother, his mother a little too supportive, especially with her less than optimal cooking, and his father's problems are shown most in how they affect Ant. I enjoyed the variety of supporting characters, from the teachers and principal at school, to local shop owners and Shirley's parents. It was reassuring to know that Ant had a support network even if he didn't wish to use it often. 

There is quite a lot of information about Spades, a game about which I know nothing! Johnson gives a nice overview of how the game is played, and there are several games depicted, complete with the trash talk. It was also good to see that Shirley didn't care much for that part of the game, and that Ant realized that his friends' acceptance of trash talk in general wasn't healthy.

The one thing that confused me a little was that the book was narrated by Ant's deceased grandfather, but not in a consistent way. Since Spades is a family interest, and there is so much about the dynamics between Ant and his father, this could have been really interesting if we had more information about the grandfather. I wonder if some parts of his involvement were edited out. 
It's always good to see books with characters who have a passion about something, and Ant's passion for Spades is central to this book. To see how he pursues this passion while also having to deal with significant problems in his personal life will appeal to readers of titles like Feinstein's The Prodigy, Sumner's Tune It Out, and Jones' Jayla Jumps In, where children must deal with their families and how they impact their pursuits. 

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, October 07, 2021

Throwback Thursday: Credit-Card Carole

Klass, Sheila Solomon. Credit-Card Carole
1987, Scribner Book Company
School Library Copy

Carole is in high school, and has a typical upper middle class, East Coast life for 1987. Her father is a dentist, her mother is a housewife, and her older brother is in college at an Ivy League School. She has a best friend, Monique, whose mother is divorced and dating a succession of men. Carole runs cross country, but her real sport is hanging out at the mall, eating pizza with friends, and doing a lot of schopping. When her father decides that being a dentist isn't making him happy, and he is going to try his hand at being a Broadway actor instead, there are changes that need to be made. The credit cards are cut up, the mother goes back to work at a real estate agency as an executive assistant, and Carole even gets a job for $5 an hour, dusting knick knacks for her sort-of boyfriend's older and asthmatic mother. Her father doesn't have a lot of luck getting roles, but is upbeat about it, and eventually manages to break into the theatre. Carole realizes that living a life of ordinary privilege instead of extreme privilege isn't so bad, even if she can't have one of the rad new cotton Shaker style sweaters in peach and teal. 
Strengths: For a Young Adult book, this was really short. Not even 150 pages. I'd love to see books about characters in high school facing problems in middle grade appropriate ways today, but YA now tends to be much, much grittier. This was fairly forward thinking for the 1980s-- Carole has a friend on the track team who is Black, and when other kids make fun of her hair ("Why can't it be normal?"), Carole speaks up and says that the friend's hair is natural, and it is normal for her. There are four Black students in the school. Her boyfriend balks at his parents' wealth, and gets involved in raising money for victims of Apartheid. While the mother enjoys being a homemaker, Monique's mother is a business woman, and the mother enjoys going back to work. The details about life in the 1980s are very, very rich, and I'm glad that I kept this as a historical record. 
Weaknesses: This was a great reminder that most of the literature and media in the 1980s was about white privilege and covered a lot of first world problems. There is also a mention of "Asiatics" instead of Asians, which seemed odd. When I was growing up, the very offensive term "Orientals" was often used, so at least that wasn't used here. 
What I really think:Things have changed since the 1980s. Maybe not a lot, but they have changed. I enjoyed this so much that I broke down and bought a copy of Klass's The Bennington Stitch (1986). Sadly, Ms. Klass passed away in 2014 at the age of 86. Young Adult author David Klass is her son. 
 Ms. Yingling

Long Road to the Circus

Bird, Betsy and Small, David (illus.). Long Road to the Circus
October 5th 2021 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Suzy lives in a big family in the small town of Burr Oak, Michigan in 1920, and even though her family roots there are deep, she has a secret dream to travel the world. When her uncle and his family move back to the family farm, he mysteriously doesn't appear in the morning for chores, which is a serious business. Suzy follows him far out of town, and is surprised when he turns out to be working for the elusive town legend, Madame Marantette, working with her flock of ostriches. Intrigued not only by the woman who managed to make it out of Burr Oak and make a name for herself, but by the birds, Suzy decides that she will learn to ride Guacho, Madame's favorite ostrich, and train him to pull a surrey alongside a horse in order to help Madame make a world record. This is not an easy job, and her family is not thrilled with this. In order to be given permission to work with her uncle, she has to agree to do twice the chores around the family farm, which leaves her little time for her best friend. Madame takes an interest in her, giving her comportment lessons once a week, and commanding her to ride the ostrich side saddle, which she feels will be more of an "event". When her uncle is unable to go to work one day, she decides that she will try to ride Guacho, but takes a bad fall and dislocates her shoulder. Her parents are angry and forbid her to go back, but with the help of her brother, manages to sneak out to the fair where Madame is planning to participate in the parade with her surrey and unusual team. Suzy has to get up the gumption to take a chance that might allow her to escape Burr Oak. Will she e able to carry through with her plans?
Strengths: I feel that in order to fully appreciate the brilliance of this novel, you need to know the entire history of middle grade literature in the twentieth century and have read a great deal of it... and Bird definitely has impeccable credentials in both of these areas. Even the illustrations are perfect and have that lovely Joe and Beth Krush with a touch of Quentin Blake feel to them. I'd love to know Small's inspiration. The farm setting, the imposing Madame in her black gown, and Suzy's desire to see more of the world reminded me of some of my favorite books, like Langton's The Majesty of Grace. The supporting characters are all pitch perfect and wonderfully nuanced, even seen through Suzy's eyes. The fact that this is based on Bird's family's involvement with the real  Madame Marantette and the fact that Small lived in her house... wow. I can see this being a great read aloud in elementary school, and would be a great way to include the study of ostriches in the classroom! 
Weaknesses: This had a very solid 1920s setting, so when Suzy would occasionally come through with a more modern sentiment, it was a bit jarring. Younger readers won't recognize this, and it's something that is very hard to avoid. 
What I really think: This reminded me a good deal of Fitzgerald's The Great Brain and Cleary's Emily's Runaway Imagination, and was a tremendously well researched and constructed middle grade novel. I would be perfectly happy if this won the Newbery award, since it combines key elements of classic novels while bringing a fresh energy to them. This might take a bit of handselling with my own students, since the cover is a bit different, but I will purchase this. 

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Miosotis Flores Never Forgets

Burgos, Hilda Eunice. Miosotis Flores Never Forgets
October 5th 2021 by Lee & Low
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Miosotis lives with her abuela, college professor father and older siblings, Jacinto and Amarilis, who are both academic stars. Jacinto is in high school, and Amarilis is living at college, but isn't very far away. Miosotis (whose mother died shortly after she was born) isn't as keen on school; she would rather spend time helping her neighbors Gina and Mabel with their foster dogs. She really wants a dog of her own, and her father says she can... if she can get all A's. This isn't a reality for Miosotis, and Amarilis helps her negotiate more realistic terms with her father. She needs to get TWO A's, and no C's, which will be challenging enough. When Amarilis brings home a serious boyfriend, Rich, and says that they are getting married, Miosotis is sad that her sister won't be able to spend as much time with her. She not only enjoys hanging out with her sister,  but often gets help on her schoolwork from her. When Amarilis stops coming home, and often avoids her calls, Miosotis expects that something is up, but doesn't know quite what. Her sister's friend, Callie, also has concerns. Mabel and Gina have a dog that is very skittish, but Miosotis bonds with Freckles and hopes to adopt him. She spends a lot of time researching how to help abused dogs, and even thinks about doing her science project on the topic. When things go badly wrong with Amarilis, their father decides that it is not the time for the family to get a dog, especially after it turns out that Abuela is very allergic to Freckles. Will Miosotis be able to keep up with her school work in order to get a dog, and will she be able to help her sister as well?
Strengths: Some middle grade readers are really enthralled by the idea of weddings, and would enjoy hearing about Amarilis' planning. The desire for a dog is definitely strong in middle school, and many readers are right where Miosotis is at in their attempts to be allowed to adopt a pet. I liked the fact that the grandmother lived with the family, and her cultural prejudices toward different complexions and types of hair are handled fairly well. My favorite part was Gina and Mabel's different rescues that they are fostering-- that's my plan for retirement! The father is solidly supportive, and eventually comes around to understand his youngest child a bit more. It was interesting to see how the family handled anniversaries concerning the mother, and how Miosotis really didn't miss the mother she had never met. This moved quickly, progressed in an easy to understand way, and had a bit of suspense to it that kept me turning the pages. 
Weaknesses: I wish that this had a little bit of an older feel to it (cover, Miosotis' age), because I think my 8th grader readers would enjoy it. Might take some hand selling. 
What I really think: This was the best book I have read in quite some time; it is solidly appealing to middle grade readers who like books about dogs, struggling in school, and (oddly enough, I know) abusive boyfriends. There are a lot of kinds of sadness that are hard to sell to my students, but the abusive boyfriends are always intriguing. This was very much like Cleary's Sister of the Bride, if Rosemary's fiance beat her and Barbara had managed to stop thinking about herself long enough to save her sister! 

 Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Battle Dragons- City of Thieves

London, Alex. City of Thieves (Battle Dragons #1)
September 21st 2021 by Scholastic
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Alec lives in the futuristic city of Drakopolis, which has some dystopian problems but is a thriving city. Alec's family struggles a bit: his father has scaly lung, his mother works in a dragon food plant, and his sister Lina is working at a cafe to help the family with money. His brother Silas is doing okay, and has been accepted into the Dragon Riders, which serves as a police/military entity to protect the citizens, but always seems a bit questionable. Alec failed his entrance exam to the Dragon Rider Academy, which was a bit of a relief. While he and his best friend Roa (who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns) like reading comics about the daring exploits of Dr. Drago, dealing with ACTUAL dragons sounds dangerous. When Alec finds out that his sister has a secret life of crime and is herself riding dragons, he's leery of being asked for help, but follows her directions. He uncovers Karak, a dragon his sister has stolen, and with the help of a teacher at his school, Ally, as well as Roa, he learns how to take care of a dragon and starts to ride Karak, who bonds with him. Drakopolis is run by kins, which are like gangs, and it turns out that Lina is aligned with the Sky Knights, which have a revolutionary, Robin Hood vibe to them, but Roa is surprisingly aligned with the Thunder Wings, as is Ally. There is also a Red Talon kin, and they are threatening Alec's family because of Lina's activity. The kins have what amount to "rumbles"; battles that are "equal parts race, heist, and duel". These battles determine who has control of different neighborhoods and their resources, like dragons. Because Alec has a dragon, he is the center of a lot of activity to win his dragon over for a kin. He's not sure which one he should align himself with, and when a big battle is planned, he has to decide. Will he side with his sister, his best friend, or his brother, or forge his own path?
Strengths: Action and Adventure is the easiest way to draw in middle grade readers, and has a lot right at the start, and reminded me a bit of the first scene in the 1980s television show Voyagers! Watching the dragons setting fire to trash on the skyline and then having your sister pop into your bedroom window? Perfect! Academy settings, where students have science fiction, spy, or fantasy curricula are always in demand, and this is a mixture of all three. Roa is a good friend, with hidden depths of knowledge and connections. The sibling bonds add another interesting level. Of course, any book with epic dragon battles is going to be a popular title, and the cover is very appealing. This one will never return to the shelf! 
Weaknesses: I was never quite sure why society centered around the dragons and kept waiting for a lull in the action for an info dump about this. Adults LOVE info dumps, but students are more likely to just immerse themselves in the world without too many questions. It could have been clearer who the good guys were; I really couldn't tell, but that just could have been my own personal brain fog, which also would explain why every time the "Wind Breaker" kin was mentioned, all I could envision was my father's red, white and blue windbreaker with the hood that zipped into the collar! Perhaps we will get more explanation in future volumes. 
What I really think: This will be a hugely popular book with many different readers. Certainly my dragon contingent, who love Tui Sutherland and Sarah Beth Durst, will love the fact that Alec has bonded with Karak and has to learn how to take care of him. This will also appeal to fans of the new wave of fantasy dystopian novels like The Wild Huntsboys, because of all of the fighting and the way that society is not working. This had a decided video game feel to it, and a bit of a comic connection, and finally, readers who like London's books about war with like all of the fighting. I can probably even sell this to my sports enthusiasts, since it is an amazing amalgam of everything my readers like best.

Mbalia, Kwame. Tristan Strong Keeps Punching (Tristan Strong #3) 
October 5th 2021 by Rick Riordan Presents
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Also out today, the conclusion to the Tristan Strong  trilogy. Lots of different mythologies and folk lore, 400 pages, and rather challenging. I preferred The Last Gate of the Emperor, but this did have a lot of  interesting stories woven into it.  

From Goodreads:
"After reuniting with Ayanna, who is now in his world, Tristan travels up the Mississippi in pursuit of his archenemy, King Cotton. Along the way they encounter new haints who are dead set on preventing their progress north to Tristan's hometown of Chicago. It's going to take many Alkean friends, including the gods themselves, the black flames of the afokena gloves, and all of Tristan's inner strength to deliver justice once and for all."

Coming out August 9, 20221. I think the graphic novel will be much more accessible for my students who aren't huge fantasy fans. 

Monday, October 04, 2021

MMGM- Welcome to Dweeb Club

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Uhrig, Betsy. Welcome to Dweeb Club
September 28th 2021 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Jason Sloan is starting seventh grade, and wants to choose to be in one of the many clubs offered at his Flounder Bay school. Using the exquisite reasoning of a tween, he decides to join the mysterious H.A.I.R. club because he and  his friend Glamorous Steve are the first two to sign up, so they figure they can be officers. There aren't a lot of other kids who join, but there are a few. The well coordinated Sonia, tall Andrew, organized Hoppy (whose family owns the second biggest business in town), Vincent (whose sister has dared him to join EVERY club, including crochet club), Laura (on whom Jason has a bit of a crush), and Nikhil. The club turns out to be the brain child of Prescient Technologies, a mysterious company that has donated surveillance equipment to the school as long as it is monitored by a select group of students. The faculty advisor show the group how to use it, and there are lots of caveats (and a few threats!) about revealing personal information about other students. The strange thing is that there are segments of the tape that show our intrepid group members, but they look very different. Jason has gone from scrawny to overfed, Nikhil has a mustache, Sonia has taken to wearing mismatched clothes with an ever present boyfriend. This is a picture of the group during their senior year-- but how is this being taped? The group decides to check out the school at midnight, especially since the one security breach seems to be croutons missing from the cafeteria. They don't find their future selves, but they do find the crouton culprit-- a skunk! This incident lands Jason in the news. He asks his aunt, who works at the biggest company in town, Woozle (basically, a web site for hypochondriacs) and his uncle, who works in tech, to help him figure out some of the equipment. Of course, their investigations lead to a lot of madcap mayhem, at one point involving a golf cart on the posh Woozle campus! Will the H.A.I.R. group be able to figure out why they are seeing into the future, and will they be able to manipulate the present in order to change it?
Strengths: Uhrig's writing in very funny, and many of her turns are Sonnenblickian. Nikhil's mustache is described (in the E ARC) as "something that barely survived a harsh winter and collapsed on his upper lip". There are multiple funny scenes that had me snickering out loud. There's some angsty middle school romance at the center of all of the futuristic visions that I enjoyed. I love that not only are the parents around and supportive, but there is an obnoxious younger sister whom Jason indulges, AND a cool aunt and uncle. This is a great book to hand to readers who normally like realistic, humorous fiction like Uhrig's Double the Danger and Zero Zucchini or Richards' Stu Truly, but who need to read a speculative fiction book for class. 
Weaknesses: There were a LOT Of characters to keep straight. Given that the plot involved not only a club, but different versions of the future, and we see changes reflected in the different characters, it made sense to have that many, but I had trouble keeping them straight and have clearly missed one of the characters entirely! 
What I really think: I'm definitely purchasing this, since I love Uhrig's writing, but I'm curious to see what my readers think of some of Prescient Technologies quirky acronyms. My students are always looking for more humorous books, and the incident with the skunk alone will sell many readers on this funny title. 

Hopkinson, Deborah. The Deadlist Diseases Then and Now
October 5th 2021 by Scholastic Focus
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This is the first book in "The Deadlist" series. In a nicely formatted and illustrated book (available in hardcover and paperback, which will probably show up at book fairs), we see the evolving history of epidemics, starting with extensive coverage of the Great Mortality in the 1300s, with an overview of a few earlier incidents. It was interesting to hear that this was what the epidemic was referred to at the time; we tend to call it the Black Plague. I learned more about this event than I thought it possible to know, and the book continues with further information about other diseases and the people involved in dealing with them, like Dr. Wu Lien-teh, a Chinese doctor at the beginning of the 20th century whose work influenced how we dealt with Covid-19. The 1918 flu also gets good coverage, and there's an overview of other diseases like smallpox, polio, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. this is well-formatted for easy reading, and conversational in tone. Scholastic Focus has come out with some interesting nonfiction titles lately which I very much enjoyed. 

Sunday, October 03, 2021

Room to Dream (Front Desk #3)

Yang, Kelly. Room to Dream (Front Desk #3)
September 21st 2021 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Mia Tang and her family are finally doing well enough with their Calivista motel that they are able to travel to China to visit family. Hank also decides to come along. It's been five years, and Mia is glad that her teachers are okay with her taking a month off school, as long as she keeps up with her work. Lupe and her family will be running the motel, and there is some tension with her best friend, who is taking high school classes and is too busy to run the front desk with Mia. There is also tension with Jason, who wants to be a little more than friends. These things are simmering in her mind as Mia reconnects with her cousin Shen, grandparents, and even her old school crossing guard! Things have changed a lot in the neighborhood, and her Aunt Juli wants to move her grandparents from their old fashioned neighborhood where they are comfortable and have a lot of friends, to a new luxury apartment like the one that they live in. Mia does have some struggles with going back; she has trouble with the outdoor toilet, isn't as good as the language as she was, and sometimes feels that she doesn't fit in with people in China any better than she fits in with people in the US. There are plenty of adventures to be had in six weeks, though, and she helps Hank run a hamburger stand to help out a local vendor, is approached to write a column for a children's newspaper because her grandfather shows her work to the publisher, and is allowed to wander around the neighborhood with her cousin. It's good to be with family and sad to leave, but there's plenty going on back in Anaheim. Two competing hotels have been bought by a large corporation, and the Calivista is once again in trouble. Other things are changing in her neighborhood, and favorite restaurants and shops are also going out of business. Lupe is still struggling to keep up with school demands, and things are awkward with Jason, who is being pressured by his parents to give up his Asian fusion style of cooking and stick with traditional French cuisine. Mia has found the power of the press, so turns her attention to the new hotel conglomerate. Will she be able to unearth something that could save the family business?
Strengths: Mia is an engaging character and it has been interesting to watch her work and grow. Many of my students whose parents have immigrated to the US go back to visit family, so this is interesting not only for the details of what daily life is like (Shen has a very demanding school, there are local food vendors who sell from their bicycles), but what emotions are involved in going "home" and visiting family. A good portion of this book also takes place in Anaheim, advocating for the hotel, dealing with school, and navigating friendships. It's good to see that Lupe and Jason are still around, even if their roles in Mia's life change. I feel that there is at least one more book about Mia's life that we need!
Weaknesses: It was a little hard to believe that Mia got so much coverage in the news, but younger readers won't think twice about this. Also, Mia's literary career is based off Ms. Yang's actual one, which is phenomenal!
What I really think: This series is popular in my library (Front Desk is a Battle of the Books title), and I will definitely have students waiting for this one when it arrives!

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, October 02, 2021

Cartoon Saturday- The Awakening Storm and Bright Family

Yogis, Jamal and Truoung, Vivan (illus.) The Awakening Storm
September 21st 2021 by Graphix
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Grace had a very happy life with her mother and her father, who had been in the military and had Chinese ancestry, unlike her mother. He always told her stories about Chinese myths and legends, especially about a race of lizard men who were considered "half blooded" like Grace, but who were granted special powers because of their ancestry. After her father's death from cancer, her mother remarries. Hank is a good guy, and he has a good job with a biomedical company that takes them to Hong Kong. He enrolls Grace in the best internationals school, and gives her one of the newest fitness trackers that his company makes. She is lucky that she makes good friends right away: Ramesh, James, and Jing. On a school field trip, she and Ramesh sneak off to a local market, and Grace meets an older woman who gives her a glass egg. She is very surprised when it hatches, and she finds a tiny water dragon in her toilet! She manages to hide the dragon, whom she names Nate after her father, from her folks, but when she and her friends are followed by shady men in black stocking caps, they know they need to find out more. They track down a fisherman who knew the older woman, who is able to give them tips for how to take care of Nate, and tells them a little about why Grace may have the dragon, but isn't able to tell them much. Ramesh manages to find out who is tracking them, and uncovers some secrets. Will this knowledge be enough to keep them safe? And will Grace find out more about her father, her heritage, and her emerging magical powers?
Strengths: This was a fun fantasy romp with dragons, which my students adore. I enjoyed the fact that Grace, while she missed her father, was okay with her step father and with the move to Hong Kong, and she managed to make friends right away. There was a lot of adventure (flying on the back of a dragon!), and some decently evil villains for the kids to fight. There was a bit of science with the father's position, and the integration of the folklore into Grace's life made sense. The pictures were in full color, and were very appealing. 
Weaknesses: Tweens finding they have powers and saving the world. Sigh. 
What I really think: I have to keep telling myself that most middle grade readers have not read the 5,000 fantasy books about tweens saving the world that I have, so this will seem fresh to them. As I was writing this review, I got a call from one of our language arts teachers who was telling me about The Umbrella Academy television show, which sounded just like every other fantasy book that I've read. In fact, when she told me it was based on a book, I could think of about five books that matched her description. (It isn't based on any of them.) Are there as many graphic novels about Tweens Saving the World? No. So I'll probably buy this one. 

Cody, Matthew and Brooks, Derick. Bright Family
Andrews McMeel Publishing (September 7, 2021)
Copy provided by the publisher

Nia and Jayden are intelligent children, but are struggling with the fact that their adoptive scientist parents seem more interested in their work than in Nia's robotic competitioin or Jayden's failure to turn in homework. They get plenty of attention when they make the news for causes havoc with a super powered skateboard device, but still don't get the attention they want. When the kids accidentally travel through their dad's teleporter, they have to survive in many different times and environments in order to find and rescue their parents. Will they be able to return to the present in one piece?
Strengths: The Epic! graphic novels, while they smell awful to me, are well formatted and have a well developed plot, style of illustration and size of font that appeal to my readers, and I feel like these actually get read, whereas some of the graphic novels with tiny print get looked at. 
Weaknesses: I'm a little unclear why the Brights adopted children and then proceeded to ignore them. This would have worked just as well without the mention of adoption. 
What I really think: While this is available in hardcover for $12.51 from Follett, I spend the $16.61 for the prebind, because this will see a lot of use. 
 Ms. Yingling

Friday, October 01, 2021

Guy Friday- The Insiders

Oshiro, Mark. The Insiders
September 21st 2021 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Héctor Muñoz and his family move from San Francisco to Orangevale, California so his mother can take a high powered teaching job and the family can be closer to Abuela Sonia. He misses his good friends, and has a rocky start to the school year, where the teachers are more concerned about "proper" behavior than in making sure students are kind to each other. Ms. Heath goes as far as telling Héctor that he is NOT being bullied by Mike, because Mike is a good student. Mike, as well as his minions, are absolutely bullying Héctor in the worst kind of ways-- calling him "gay" as an insult even though he has made it clear that he IS gay, causing physical harm, and hunting him down every single day on his way into the building. Desperate for relief, Héctor ducks into a janitors closet for a moment of peace. To his surprise, the closet seems to have magical properties, and serves as a portal to other students who are struggling in other parts of the country. Juliana is in Charleston, South Carolina, and her Dad is Chinese and her mother is black. She's struggling because her school is demolishing the library. Sal, whose dad is Filipino and whose mom is white, struggles to get fellow students in their school in Phoenix understand that they are nonbinary. The janitor's closet has different appearances at their school, but serves as a Harry Potter-esque room of requirement, complete with beds and bean bag chairs, food, and other supplies. Best of all, when the kids go into the room, no time passes in the real world, so they aren't late for classes after catching a nap, getting a snack, and generally taking a break from the problems that they face. Eventually, they are able to travel into each other's worlds to help with problems, and having friends, even if they are far away, helps them all deal with middle school. 
Strengths: This was a nice twist on some classic fantasy features, like portals to other worlds or magical rooms. Héctor's family is very supportive of him, and this is not a coming out story, although Héctor's life is certainly impacted by his identity. It's good that he finds a group of friends at his real school, even if they aren't exactly the friends he wants, and it's very realistic that the school wouldn't have a theater program. The fantasy world is well developed, although the room is so cool that I wouldn't have minded a lot more details. 
Weaknesses: There were some aspects of how schools work that seemed unlikely-- all of the closets at my school are locked, and I am not sure that putting a library into an abandoned classroom would work, and I can't see parts of the building being torn down. Younger readers won't mind, but this did make me wonder if schools where Mx. Oshiro are operate in very different ways. 
What I really think: This is one of the few books I've seen with LGBTQIA+ characters involved in a fantasy story line. I'm sure we'll be seeing more.

Thursday, September 30, 2021


I invested in a quantity of horror titles by Joel Sutherland, K.R. Alexander, and Lindsay Duga, and they are ALWAYS checked out, along with this author's Red Rover. Now, if we could just get some of these in hardcover rather than prebind, that would be great. 

Anybody else having a challenging year? I keep forgetting that we are still in the middle of a world wide pandemic. The students' behavior needs a lot of work. I am certified 7-12, so having to stand in the hallway between classes and say "Walking feet, please" is making me very cranky and snarky. Sometimes the library is too quiet and not busy enough for my liking, but sometimes I am replacing the toner cartridge in the printer and reimaging a student Chromebook while I am teaching a lesson on media literacy. Just that kind of year. 

Krovatin, Christopher. Darkness
September 21st 2021 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Warning: This is a really hard title to review without spoiling, so I will try!

Alec is not happy that since his parents' divorce, he has had to leave "their clean white San Francisco apartment for this barnacle-covered sinkhole of a town" (from the E ARC, but sounds SO much like a middle schooler!), which is his perception of Founders Island. He has managed to make a friend in Hannah, and does sort of enjoy wandering around exploring, but it's still not "home". It doesn't help that there are very few people of color on the island, and Derek and his evil sidekick Checkmate give him a hard time about being Chinese. There are bigger problems, however, when the entire island is repeatedly plunged into a weird and creepy darkness. It's a darkness so dark that you can't see your hand in front of your face, electronics are on but not visible, and alarmingly strange, noisy, and mucus filled creatures roam. The times are somewhat regular, and apparently this has happened in the past; Hannah's 105 year old Big Gran remembers it from when she was very small, but there is no solution written in any histories. Alec starts to investigate, and finds out that Derek's family holds part of the secret as well, so he has to work with his nemesis, finding things out about both him and Checkmate in the process. The group does figure out most of what's going on, and it is connected to the history of the founding of the island, the original inhabitants, and to the very foundation of the island's existence. Will they be able to figure out how to avert the forces of evil before horrible things happen to the current residents... and before it's tourist season?
Strengths: Over the last twenty years, I have probably read close to 10,000 middle grade books, so it's hard to impress me with something new. This was innovative. Sure, it was based on the trope that if you're in middle school and you move, chances are good that you will both be bullied AND haunted, but Darkness really took this and ran with it. Also, it included one of my favorite lines of my summer reading (again, for the E ARC): "We need to come up with a better option than 'jack the baby up on soda pop' ". This was an exquisitely well constructed, complex, and scary title that my students will really like. 
Weaknesses: The cover looks like a rejected Lindsay Duga cover and really doesn't represent anything in the book itself. I'm starting to think that Scholastic secretly hates me, since all of the really good, creepy books are published in paperback only. There have been a lot recently, which is great, but in ten years I will have a bunch of yellowing, smelly prebinds that kids love and I won't be able to replace. Grrr. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, especially since this author's Red Rover was so deeply creepy that I bought three copies of it. Every year, there is a student who possesses an enormous Barnes and Noble compendium of Lovecraft's work (which comes in at 1,112 pages), and I'm never really convinced that the book actually gets read. Perhaps this would be a great choice to hand to those students who think that they are above my pedestrian, middle grade scary books, since Mr. Krovatin is also involved in some projects in adult publishing. 
Ms. Yingling