Sunday, January 31, 2021

A Taste for Love

Yen, Jennifer. A Taste for Love
February 2nd 2021 by Razorbill 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Liza is a senior in high school, and would really like to go to culinary school to pursue her love of baking, but her traditional parents (who run a Taiwanese restaurant and bakery) want her to go to a local Texas university and get a degree in accounting. Her older sister, Jeannie, is a model in New York City. Both girls are being encouraged to find a good Asian boy and get married as well. Liza prefers to date boys at her school, many of whom are white, and doesn't really want her mother and aunties setting her up. When she and her friend Grace keep running into Ben and James, who are cousins, Grace is very interested in Ben, but Liza thinks that "a dumpster full of rotten eggs would be more appealing than James". Still, she keeps running into him, even though he has graduated and is working. She visits her sister in New York, graduates, and is somewhat interested in her mother's yearly baking competition for younger cooks until she realizes that her mother has picked contestants who are all eligible bachelors-- including James. There is a lot of drama with her sister as well. Will Liza be able to be true to her rebellious self, pursue her love of baking, and find a guy who is right for her without her mother meddling?
Strengths: This was a fun teen romance that didn't have so much information that would disconcert gentle souls. I love the close knit family, the restaurant and bakery, and Liza's long suffering friends and sister. Teens pondering their college decisions is something that I wish I had been able to read about when I was in high school. I always enjoy a book that brings in particular cultures, and now I really want to go have some bubble tea! (Love the cover!)
Weaknesses: While I realize that some parents might tell their daughters "You act too smart. Boys don't like girls who are smarter than them" or "You need to stop eating all that rice, Liza", I wish that the mother had been called out on these statements. However, majoring in accounting is an absolutely solid choice is you want to some day own a bakery. 
What I really think: This was a bit long for middle school, and had a lot of high school specific worries. Also,  I don't know that I want middle school girls to normalize wanting to date boys whom they think are jerks. I will pass on purchasing for my middle school, but would probably buy it for a high school library. 

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Saturday Morning Cartoons- Sylvie

Kantorovitz, Sylvie. Sylvie
February 9th 2021 by Walker Books US
E ARC provided by

N.B. In the E ARC, the main character was named Lisette. In the finished edition, the editor has assured me that this has been corrected. 

Young Lisette has come from Morocco to France with her father, who is a school principal, her mother, who is a teacher, and her younger brother Alibert. The family lives in an apartment at the school where her father is principal, and there are a couple of other families of staff members who are also in the building. This gives Lisette plenty to do, and she and her brother enjoy the freedom that they have. The parents fight a lot, and have high expectations of the children. After two younger children are born, the fights increase. Alibert is frequently in trouble, so is sent away to a boarding school, and Lisette moves herself into a small attic room at the school, where she enjoys the quiet. She is very interested in art, but her parents aren't keen for her to pursue that as a career option. Her father had been interested in art, but gave it up in order to pursue a career in education. The family is ethnically Jewish but nonobservant, although in the 1960s and 70s, the French children are not particularly kind. There are many anecdotes about Lisette's life, and we see her react to many events and interactions before she decides to go to art school and become a teacher. 
Strengths: This peek into French culture in the 1960s and 1970s was very interesting, and the fact that the family lived at a school was fascinating! Ms. Kantorovitz is an illustrator of children's books, so readers who enjoy her work might like to find out  more about her. 
Weaknesses: I was very confused by the fact that the main character in the book was called Lisette or Liseron when this was clearly a memoir. 
What I really think: While I found this to be a very interesting snap shot of life in France, it was a bit slow paced and not quite the kind of graphic novel my students prefer. 

Ms. Yingling

Friday, January 29, 2021

Take Back the Block

Giles, Chrystal D. Take Back the Block
January 26th 2021 by Random House Children’s Book
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Wes is more concerned about starting middle school than he is about the causes for which his parents force him to attend protest marches. He'd rather get together with his friends and play video games, or start planning his outfits. Things are changing around him very quickly: his best friend, Brent, is drifting away, Mya has moved to a posh neighborhood, Takari's family is living in a hotel after losing their home, and he has a small crush on his friend Alyssa. When his Kensington Oaks neighborhood is approached by a developer hoping to turn the prime real estate near the city center into condos and coffee shops. While Wes' parents have a neighborhood meeting about the deal, they are resigned to losing the neighborhood and the home whose ownership was such an accomplishment for earlier generations. Wes, however, becomes very invested in efforts to save the area. His teacher, Mr. Baker, has a friend in the Save Our City organization, Ms. Greene, and she helps Wes and his friends formulate a plan. They plan a nostalgic block party, and think they have convinced their neighbors not to sell. Unfortunately, while Wes and Takari are cleaning up, they are approached by a police man they have never seen in the neighborhood who accuses them of trespassing. He asks them where they live, and when Takari tells the officer he lives in another neighborhood, he is forced into a police car and taken to that precinct. Because his mother is working, Wes' parents come and retrieve him. The parents talk to the boys about the incident, and suggest that there might be a case against the officer should they wish to pursue it. Takari eventually declines, since his mother thinks it will make issues worse. Both boys are shaken, and Takari's family goes to like with his grandmother two hours away. Wes keeps researching Kensington Oaks, and is using it as a topic for a presentation in Mr. Baker's class. When he comes across the fact that the neighborhood was started by a Black owner of a lumber mill, Frederic Pippin, he brings this information to Ms. Greene, who files for designating the area as a historic place. In the meanwhile, neighbors are offered even more money for their properties, and even Brent's family sells up. Will Wes be able to save his neighborhood and survive middle school?
Strengths: Wes is a realistically drawn 6th grader, who chafes at the restrictions his parents impose, struggles to keep up with the evolution of his friends, and wants desperately to keep his world from changing. His friends' lives are also well described, so we can understand why their interactions with Wes are changing. I loved that Wes' parents had high expectations and were really involved in his life; so many middle grade books have parents as unengaged, absent, or dead. The inclusion of a scene where Wes and Takari are accosted by the police was timely and important, especially since this was not the entire focus of the story. Mr. Baker is a great teacher, and the Save Our City organization (represented by Ms. Greene) was an interesting one. I loved that Wes dug deep into print resources to find information about his neighborhood, and it was easy to cheer him on as he tried to save Kensington Oaks. 
Weaknesses: I wasn't entirely convinced that Wes could go so quickly from being a self-involved tween to championing his neighborhood so effectively. I also brought personal family baggage to the fighting of developers; it's not that easy to win. I had ancestors whose farm was cut in two by the Pennsylvania turnpike, family who had their streets cut in two by freeways, and plenty of relatives who were priced out of their own neighborhoods; none of them won their fights. Younger readers will have more hope that they can win this sort of battle, and gentrification has become more of a racial issue in the last fifty years. 
What I really think: This has a very appealing cover and is a solid, quickly moving middle grade novel that touches on many current social issues. Give this to readers who enjoy a good evil developer story like Watson's This Side of Home, Cartaya's The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora, Krone's Small Mercies. Dilloway's Five Thing About Ava Andrews, Tarpley's  The Harlem Charade or King's Me and Marvin Gardens

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Katie the Catsitter, King and Kayla

Venable, Colleen A.F. and Yue, Stephanie (illus.) Katie the Catsitter
January 5th 2021 by Random House
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Katie lives in an apartment building with her mother, who frequently has to work. In order to earn money to join her friend at an expensive summer camp, Katie puts up a flyer advertising her services for many kinds of jobs-- babysitting, plant sitting, carrying groceries, etc. She doesn't have much luck with the jobs, some of which end more disastrously than others. When Ms. Lang sees her interacting with the store cat at a convenience store Katie frequents, she hires Katie to cat sit in the evening until midnight. The catch-- there are over 200 cats. They are all super interested in a variety of things but wreak havoc every night, managing to repair all of the damage to the apartment before Ms. Lang returns home at the stroke of midnight, even if it involves repeatedly stealing couches belonging to the building busy body. The New York City in which Katie lives has a variety of super heroes, including the confusing Owl Guy, but also Mousetress, who is a supervillain. As she spends more time with the cats in Ms. Lang's apartment, Katie starts to suspect that her employer is, in fact, Mousetress. When Mousetress is imprisoned, can Katie find out the real reason behind her arrest, and save the day with the help of the cats?
Strengths: While fantasy graphic novels don't always do well in my library, this book has two things that make it very appealing: colorful illustrations of the Telgemeier/Jamieson school, and CATS. I am always a fan of books that involve tweens trying to make money or follow interests, so I enjoyed watching Katie try her hand at some money making endeavors. I loved that she watched the cats in the evening; I had a babysitting job in the 6th grade that went from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. because the mother was a nurse. The super hero story is very appealing as well, and the mystery about who was good and who was evil will appeal to tweens. Including friend drama always works well in middle grade books. 
Weaknesses: Because there are a lot of DC and Marvel comic book characters and I am not too well versed in these, I'm never sure if books are based on these characters or if they are just completely new stories. Primer was a good example of a book I wasn't sure about, although Squirrel Girl, against all odds, is a Marvel character. 
What I really think: I will purchase this one, and it looks to be a series. 

Butler, Dori Hillestad and Meyers, Nancy (illustrations)
King & Kayla and the Case of the Gold Ring (King & Kayla #7) 
February 1st 2021 by Peachtree Publishing Company
ARC provided by the publisher

It's winter, and Kayla and her friends Mason and Asia are having lots of fun playing in the snow in the yard. King is enjoying it as well, since snow is his FAVORITE thing. Before long, the children get cold and retreat inside for cocoa and videos, which is okay with King, because marshmallows are his favorite food. When Asia realizes that a ring her grandmother has given her has gone missing, Kayla and her friends start their methodical investigation into what might have happened to the ring. They make a list of places to search, and King is glad to help out. It is just too bad that Kayla doesn't always understand his barks, because he is the one who finds the ring and has to bring it to everyone's attention!

Books involving antics in the snow are always popular with young readers, who will laugh at King's enthusiasm for just about everything. This also shows good investigative methods, even if King's insistence that a crow might have the ring derails sensible options a bit. Meyer's illustrations are brightly colored and given plenty of white space on the page, with large, clear text. This makes the books a lot easier and faster paced for young readers who are eager to turn pages. 

Readers who enjoyed beginning reader books like Rissi's Anna Banana books, Draper's Sassy series, Faruqi's Meet Yasmin!, McDonald's Judy Moody, or Ahn's Pug Pals will be glad to investigate yet another every day mystery with Kayla and her adorable dog. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2021


Wallace, Matt. Bump
January 26th 2021 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

MJ is having a hard time of it. Her father is no longer with the family, and because of this, she and her mother have moved to a smaller apartment. At school, members of the gymnastics team are nasty to her, and since she isn't participating any more, she's finding it hard to find friends to sit with at lunch. When she realizes that there is a wrestling ring in her neighbor's yar, she goes to investigate, only to have Mr. Arrelano yell at her. He later comes to apologize, and MJ, who has watched lucha libre wrestling avidly for a long time, is thrilled that he runs a wrestling school called Victory Academy. Even though she is young and small, she convinces "Papi" (Mr. Arrelano) to let her train. Her mother isn't thrilled, but lets her do it. The training is everything that MJ wants, and even the sore muscles from "bumping" (falling onto the floor in order to avoid injury). Eventually, she enters a fight because someone is unable to make it, and her use of gymnastics causes the video of the event to go viral. This causes a lot of mixed emotions-- some other wrestlers are jealous, Papi is worried about her safety, and MJ herself is afraid to let her mother know how much she is wrestling. Mr. Corto, who has been fining the gym for numerous minor infractions and trying to close it down, decides that MJ is being endangered after she almost catches someone releasing rats at the gym, and tries to close down Victory Academy. Can MJ make peace with her father's absence, the mean girls at school, and her participation in wrestling while trying to solve the mystery behind the threats to the gym. 
Strengths: MJ was a really well balanced, out spoken character who knew what she wanted and tried everything she could to make it happen. I love characters like that. She has some issues with loss and grief to deal with, but does so (eventually) in a constructive way. There are tons of details about wrestling-- practice, techniques, competitions-- that clearly show Mr. Wallace's experience with the sport. The mystery of the gym being sabotaged adds a nice extra layer. I loved MJ's mom, and thought she was realistically portrayed. 
Weaknesses: Mr. Corto was a bit over-the-top evil for me, but the target demographic is much fonder of clear cut villains than I am. 
What I really think: I really enjoyed this, but I don't know that my students will have any idea what luche libre wrestling is. Because of the title, I kept thinking this was about volleyball. THAT'S a topic that is much in demand but for which there are hardly any books. 

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

While I Was Away

Brown, Waka. While I Was Away
January 26th 2021 by Quill Tree Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this memoir, Waka's family has moved to the US from Japan, and although she was born in the US, her father is always saying that they will move back in three years. She has visited several times, since relatives still live there, but she is very much a 1980s American kid. Her parents, however, feel that her Japanese isn't as good as it should be, so they arrange for her to spend five months living with her grandmother and going to school in Japan. She's been to school there before, briefly, so had made a few friends, but had attended an American school. Now, she will be going to a local one, so she will have to improve her Japanese. She's disappointed that she won't get to spend the summer with her friends, although they promise to write. When she first arrives, she stays with her aunt, uncle, and cousins, and very much enjoys being with them in their bustling household. When she moves in with her grandmother, who is 80, she has to deal with her grandmother's silence and strict rules. The grandmother's life has not been easy; her husband died, and she had to raise nine children during the war on a seamstress' salary. Waka spends little time at home anyway, and is quickly drawn into the drama of middle school. The girls are nice to her, giving her small charms for her backpack because she doesn't have any, but the boys called her "baka" (stupid) because she doesn't read well, and "gaijin" (foreigner). Her teacher is very understanding, protecting her from the students and giving her a lot of help and encouragement. The girls start to demand that Waka pick a "guruupu". She can't just play with everyone at recess or walk home with a friend from another class; she needs to pick a group of girls and hang out exclusively with them. The girls give her some time to decide, and help her navigate the sometimes difficult waters of Japanese social customs, such as attaching -san or -chan to someone's name. (But never to your own!) Used to being considered "a brain" in the US, Waka is determined to figure out writing with kanji, reading, and improving her conversational skills. She bonds slowly with her grandmother, hearing bits about the past and learning to sew. When her time in Japan is over, she is sad to leave, but feels that she learned a lot about her culture, her family's past, and her grandmother. 
Strengths: This was a brilliant combination of the familiar and the unusual. Waka has to struggle with drama similar to that which she would face in the US, but with added layers of cultural differences unique to Japan. She has to deal with academic work that is harder than it has been in the past while being considered a foreigner. Living away from home is always difficult, and her grandmother is different from the grandmothers she has experienced in the US. I love that letters are included, and that the process of sending and getting them is described. This was an integral part of being out of the country in the 1980s, and readers today will not understand the importance of a 30 cent aerogram or a care package of Twix! I was not surprised to read that the author based this book on some journals and letters she had from her trip. This has lots of good details, and some very true middle grade emotions!
Weaknesses: The cover should have included some 1980s pop culture or that the very least, some bright colors of geometric designs. Maybe a back pack with those charms! Hello Kitty was a HUGE thing in the 1980s. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and looking forward to recommending this to students who want to learn more about living in a different country. Chapman's All the Ways Home has been a steady circulator, so I am very excited about this memoir!
Ms. Yingling

Monday, January 25, 2021

MMGM- Opening the Road and The Good War

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Keila V. Dawson and Alleanna Harris (Illustrator)
Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book
January 26th 2021 by Beaming Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This picture book gives a great overview of the social conditions for Black Americans starting in 1936, and discusses the reasons why the Green Book was necessary. It follows Green's process in putting together this document while he was working as a mail carrier, and shows  how people used it when they traveled. Picture books can be a great way to introduce topics about which students aren't really aware, and this was particularly well done. The illustrations definitely add to the period flavor and make the stark realities that Black travelers faced even clearer. I didn't know that there had been a similar guide for Jewish travelers, not did I know that there are some current attempts to construct updated, online guides for the Black community, highlighting Black owned businesses. There needs to be a poster of the timeline in the back of the book; it was really visually appealing and informative. I don't buy a lot of picture books, but this is an excellent addition to a middle school library both for sparking an interest in further research, or for teachers who want to cover historical topics with class read alouds. Of course, this book makes me want to spend hours looking at the digitized collection of Green Guides posted by the New York Public Library

Strasser, Todd. The Good War
January 26th 2021 by Delacorte Press
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Caleb is glad he was able to help his school get eight  new computers with a grant so that an eSports club could be started, and the school would have access to come new technology, since the computers are more powerful and can run 3D modeling programs. The teacher who worked with him, Mrs. B., wants Caleb to invite Zach to join the group. Zach is a student who struggles a lot and is picked on by the obnoxious Crosby and Gavin, who no longer have a football team to subsume their energy, since it was disabanded due to budget cuts. Emma, who has a crush on Caleb, is also interested in the group, but she is not happy when Mackenzie and her minion Isabella show up at the meeting.  The eSports group decides to play the game The Good War, which is really popular, and divide into two groups. Caleb, Zach, Emma, and new student Nathan play the Allied side of the game, and Gavin, Crosby, Mackenzie, Isabella and Tyler are on the Axis side. Nathan is a bit leery of hanging out with his teammates, since he is trying to align himself with the popular kids, and Caleb especially is looked down upon as "Extra Credit Caleb", and a bit of a suck up. The games get going, and the Axis players start exhibiting worrisome signs. They wear t shirts with lightning bolts (a Nazi symbol), and when those are banned, wear gray with German army medals. Crosby is leading these efforts, having had conversations online with a guy in his twenties who keeps talking about white supremacy. Wanting to impress him, Crosby starts internalizing some of these ideas. While Caleb starts to become better friends with Zach and Emma, the tensions start to escalate at school. When the computers are a target of malware when the competition starts to get heated, the eSports club is in danger of being shut down. Racial tensions outside of school pose a danger to members of the club as well. Will The Good War end up being a bad idea?
Strengths: There are a lot of good, realistic moments in this. Anyone who remembers Channel One News will know that struggling schools have long depended on grants and corporate sponsorship to provide much needed technology to students. Mrs. B. is concerned for her students, and reads them well. Encouraging Caleb to approach Zach is something I can see teachers doing. The eSports club was harder for me to get my mind around, but with the popularity of this (along with the very realistic cutting of football teams) means that we will see more and more of this sort of club. I really enjoyed the fact that Emma was into the game, and her interest in Caleb, as a friend, teammate, and crush, was spot on. Like this author's The Wave (1981), this addresses important and timely topics of race relations and troublesome ideologies. 
Weaknesses: When Mrs. B. saw that Crosby's group was internalizing Nazi ideas, she should have immediately broken up and rearranged the groups. I wouldn't have allowed that particular game any longer. Of course, then there wouldn't have been much of a story!
What I really think: This had more of a YA vibe, especially regarding the pacing and character descriptions at the beginning o the book. Still, this is an interesting topic, and the video gaming is a topic for which my students are constantly asking, and which is difficult to find. I will purchase, but would have written parts of this very differently. 

On a personal level, there was some discussion about how soldiers in the Wehrmacht were not very different from the Nazis (Crosby and his friends were saying that they were just being like those ordinary soldiers, and a teacher rejects the idea that they were innocent). I had a very dear friend thirty years ago in Cincinnati who was in the Wehrmacht. He didn't want to be, but there was little choice. He was barely 20, his family home had been taken over by Nazi soldiers, and he couldn't find a way to get out of being in the army. His unit was on almost every major front of the war, but he survived. He ended up in Russia, waiting for the Allies to come so that he didn't have to fight for the Germans any more. Both he and his wife wished they had been able to do more, but honestly did not know the extent of what was being done to the Jewish people during the war. I'm sure there is a range of experiences, but just because someone wasn't able to help the Jewish people doesn't mean that they were evil. 

Sunday, January 24, 2021


Taylor, Diane C. Singing For Equality: Musicians of the Civil Rights Era
January 12th 2021 by Nomad Press (VT) 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This short, colorful, and well-illustrated corporate biography not only covers the lives of Bob Dylan, Mavis Staples and the Staple Singers, Nina Simone, Sam Cooke, and James Brown, but also discusses the state of Civil Rights in the 1950s and 60s and how these musicians used their musical platforms to effect social change.There are lots of timelines, insets, and QR codes linking to illustrative songs. I was a little surprised by the list of people; this covers a period of time just before my consciousness, so while I was familiar with the music of these performers, I didn't know as much about their intersection with history. The evolution of music in the latter half of the twentieth century is explored alongside the changes in Civil Rights, and connections are made to the current social climate, even referencing George Floyd. The pages were well-designed and appealing, and there was plenty of information to make readers stop and think about how music influences society. One weakness was that certain historical figures were mentioned with "no dates given" for birth and death; perhaps the final copy will include these. I will purchase this, especially since enough information for other singers, such as Arlo Guthrie or Joan Baez, is given so that students might be intrigued enough to look for further books. 

Kennedy, Nancy B. and Dockrill, Katy. (Illus.)
Women Win the Vote!: 19 for the 19th Amendment
Copy provided by the publisher

This corporate biography highlights 19 women (and a small handful of others) who were at one point in history involved in the passage of teh 19th amendment. From the well known (like Alice Paul) to the lesser known (Mary Church Terrell and Isabella Beecher Hooker), each woman gets a four page spread of information, including one page of pictures and illustrations. Abundant background information is worked in, sometimes in sidebars, and there is just enough information to whet the appetite of a reader looking to explore longer biographies. It's nice to see a wider range of cultural diversity included. Additional information includes a timeline, photographs, places to visit (my school teacher parents would have LOVED that!), and an extensive bibliography, end notes, and index. 

This is a great, well researched resource not only for starting National History Day projects, but also for reading snippets aloud during Women's History Month. 

My only complaint about this book is that some of the sidebars include 8 point text in white ink on a pale yellow background. This was not a great combinations for readability. 

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Saturday Morning Cartoons-- Yasmina and the Potato Panic

Mannaert, Wauter. Chef Yasmina and the Potato Panic
January 26th 2021 by First Second
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Yasmina and her father live in an unnamed European city. He's a cook at a french fry fast food restaurant, and she goes reluctantly to school while dreaming up her next cooking project. Since money is tight, she gets vegetables from two friends at the allotment, older men who constantly bicker back and forth, debating the virtues of growing things organically or with chemicals. She occasionally goes to the roof of her apartment building and steals vegetables from the woman who gardens there. When the allotment is cleared by a shady corporation who plants fast growing potatoes, Yasmina figures that something is up. The product is selling right and left, supplanting other products, and making the consumers act very strangely. Without the vegetables from her friends, her father goes hungry and starts to eat the products of his own restaurant, which have an ill effect on him. In one of her forays to the rooftop garden, Yasmina spies a logo in a news clipping that looks like the one the potato farm has, and finds out a secret about her neighbor. Will she and her friends be able to find an antidote, stop the evil corporate farm, and restore good food to Yasmina's world?
Strengths: The illustration style reminded me a bit of a picture book I had as a child, a hand me down from neighbors who had been stationed in Germany. (Katy and her Baby Buggy? The title escapes me.) The style is quite different from that of many middle grade graphic novels, with more delicate lines and more details in the background. Mannaert talks about his choice of color palettes at the back of the book, and I think he made a good call NOT using red and blue! Yasmina's interest in cooking and in locally grown produce (she also picks wild plants from the surrounding neighborhood, consulting a book) are admirable, especially since she is also helping her family economically. Her friendship with the two gentlemen on the allotment is nice to see. The evil corporation sends this book in a science fiction direction that was quite fun. 
Weaknesses: This was a bit on the goofy side, and my students aren't terribly interested in gardening, based on the lack of success of titles involving those topics. Since this is a graphic novel, we don't get much of Yasmina's back story about why she cooks, why her family is struggling, etc. 
What I really think: I thought this was more clever and enjoyable than many of the graphic novels I've read lately, but I'm not sure my students will feel the same way. I may see how they do with the Brina series first, before investing in this book. I would definitely purchase this for a public library. 

Ahrens, Niki. Hack Your Kitchen: Discover a World of Food Fun with Science Buddies 
February 2nd 2021 by Lerner Publications (Tm)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

This was not what I was expecting-- I didn't see the subtitle and thought it was cooking tricks and tips. 

This is more of a science experiment book, with lemon volcanoes, edible paper and a recipe for baked Alaska. I like how the "science takeaway" is listed after each activity.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Guy Friday- Humorous Guy Voices

You want humorous books for boys, I've got 'em. I even did a post on Boys Through the Decades and have a firm background knowledge in Homer Price (1942), Henry Reed (1958), and The Burning Questions of Bingo Brown (1988).

It's one thing to read adult reviews of funny books, but do the books test well with, you know, actual middle grade boys? These have all done well with my students. 

I included Gordon Korman, even though everything he writes is gold, and including him in this list is sort of like including The Beatles in a list of "Pop Bands You Might Like". 

Please let me know about other titles that I should include!

Anderson, John David. Insert Coin to Continue (2016)
Burt, Jake. The Right Hook of Devin Velma (2018)
Cartaya, Pablo. The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora (2017)
Coster, Arianne. My Life as a Potato (2020), Confessions of a Class Clown (forthcoming)
Giles, Lamar. The Last Last-Day-of-Summer (2019)
Greenwald, Tommy. Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading (2011) Series
Hansen, Dustin. My Video Game Ate My Homework (2020)
Harrell, Rob. Wink (2020)
Johnson, Varian. The Great Green Heist (2014)
Korman, Gordon. Notorious (2020) and anything else!
Lerner, Jarrett. Enginerds (2017)
Markell, Denis. The Game Masters of Garden Place (2018)
Mitchell, Tom. How to Rob a Bank (2019)
O'Donnell, Tom. Homerooms and Hall Passes (2018)
Pancholy, Maulik. The Best At It (2019)
Peirce, Lincoln. Big Nate: In a Class by Himself (2010) Series
Pichon, Liz. Tom Gates (2014) Series
Richards, Dan. Stu Truly (2018) Two Books
Rylander, Chris. The Fourth Stall (2011), Code Name Zero
Sonnenblick, Jordan. Curveball (2012) upcoming The Boy Who Failed Show and Tell
Tashjian, Janet. My Life as a Book (2010), My Life as a Tik Tok Star (upcoming)
Tatulli, Mark. Short and Skinny (2018)
Vance, Alexander. The Heartbreak Messenger (2013)
Van Eekhout, Greg. Voyage of the Dogs (2018)
Watson, Tom. Stick Dog (2012) Series
Ms. Yingling

Poetry Friday: Hard-Boiled Bugs for Breakfast: And Other Tasty Poems

Prelutsky, Jack. Hard-Boiled Bugs for Breakfast: And Other Tasty Poems
January 19th 2021 by Greenwillow Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Prelutsky does a great job with poetic form, rhythm, and rhyme. He is equally good with short verses as well as longer ones, and generally has a level of cleverness that is hard to beat. ("The Leaves are Drifting" was especially good, and the pun... very good.) The other thing at which he excels is portmanteau words; in this case, he constructs many poems about "shipping" two animals or an animal and another thing; Kangarooster, Orioleander, Fantelopes, Shrimpala, Slothrush.

Prelutsky strikes me as far more proficient and interesting at poetry than Shel Silverstein, but my students seem to have more exposure to his work. I'd love to see elementary schools stock up on Prelutsky's many titles, such as My Dog May Be a Genius and The Pizza the Size of the Sun

These poems definitely are on the goofy side. I sort of wish that Prelutsky would do some collections of somewhat more serious but still amusing, child centered poems. He's technically terrific, and I do NOT say that about many poets. I'm just not as big a fan personally of the funny poems which he does so particularly well. 

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Noah McNichol and the Backstage Ghost

Freeman, Martha. Noah McNichol and the Backstage Ghost
January 26th 2021 by Simon Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Noah and his college professors live in a small, mostly white college town on the east coast, having moved from New York City when Noah was a baby. This is a shame, because Noah is very interested in the theater. His only exposure is the 6th grade annual production of a Shakespeare play, and he is very excited to try out. Unfortunately, the long time director, Miss Magnus, has broken her leg, and "had so many sick days saved up that she didn't have to come back until fall, so she didn't. Instead, she sat at home with her legged propped up and read poetry to her elderly Chihuahua." (*Snerk*) Mrs. Winklebottom, who has bankrolled the play for years, finds the only person who will oversee the play, Coach Newton, who is very busy with his sideline as a wedding planner. He gives the children free rein to run try outs, and while the kids are rather organized, they are glad when an older man, Mike, offers to direct and help out. Noah does mention that all volunteers need to have background checks, but soon the mysterious man is helping out. It quickly becomes apparent to Noah and his best friend Clive (whose father is Black), that Mike is a ghost. When asked directly, Mike even manifests some power, but since the play's the thing, everyone is soon back running lines and working on the set. Fuli, who was born in Nepal and whose family runs a local restaurant, is glad that Mike casts students into roles at which they are good and does not let their ethnicity restrict them. Mike has switched out Mrs. Winklebottom's bowdlerized scripts with the real version, and the students are excited about the play. When Noah's dad has to step in to help, Noah finds out more about his dad's background, and is able to solve the mystery of why they have a ghost interested in their school production. 
Strengths: I really enjoyed this, and find Freeman to be an interesting author. (Zap was fantastic.) The writing in this was especially clever, and the line about Miss Magnus and her Chihuahua was one of many that had me guffawing. It's hard to get books about plays being staged checked out in my library, but there was enough going on that this kept me interested. Noah and his friends are pleasant and hard working, but there is enough drama to move the story along. I appreciated that Freeman acknowledged that the two was predominately white, and that she identified the characters who weren't without fuss or comparing their skin to colors of food. There are several realistic interactions with Clive and Fuli talking about their experiences briefly. The mystery with Mike was mild but amusing, and Noah's interactions with the ghost seemed very true to life. This had the feel of a slightly older title, in a good way. I would definitely buy this for an elementary school library. 
Weaknesses: I could have done without some of the cutesy names (pretty sure Coach Newton's first name was Fig), since they also put this on the young end of middle grade.
What I really think: This reminded me a lot of Markell's The Ghost in Apartment 2R, which I also enjoyed. Smoothly well-written, this story included a lot of details about Shakespeare for those who are interested, as well as a family mystery and plenty of highjinks. Sadly, my students have a profound preference for murderous ghosts, so I may not purchase this, even though I really want to!

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Inauguration Day- The White House

Méndez, Yamile Saied. Shaking Up the House  
January 5th 2021 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Winnie and Ingrid Lopez have been living in the White House for eight years, ever since they were very young. Winnie is ready to get out of the spotlight, but Ingrid is a little more sentimental about living in a national treasure. When a new family, President Elect Williams, her husband, and daughters Zora and Skylar are getting ready to move in, there are some complications with renovations, so the two families are going to share living space until the inauguration. Winnie and Ingrid know that previous families played pranks on each other, and decide to start these, even though they got along well with the other girls during the election. Pranks start to escalate, and before long, the girls aren't quite sure how to stop them. 
Strengths: Young readers will enjoy learning some history and interesting facts about the White House, and will be able to imagine what it would be like to live there. Amy Carter is just a little younger than I am, so when I was in middle school, this was certainly an interesting concept! The friendship between the girls is interesting, and I also liked the inclusion of the son of one of the reporters, Javi.  This was a fun, light read. Mendez is on a roll recently, with Random Acts of Kittens, On These Magic Shores, and Blizzard Besties.
Weaknesses: Being an adult hampered my enjoyment of this a bit. The pranks seemed mean spirited, and as a parent... I wanted to put people in time out! Readers in the target demographic will be fine with characters that I find a little unlikeable, and they will also enjoy the ferret more. (Ew. Can't even TYPE "ferret" without wrinkling my nose!)
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and it makes a nice updated, slightly older version of DeVillers Liberty Porter: First Daughter series (2010). Perkins First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover is from 2008, so it's a good time for an update.

Brower, Kate Andersen. Exploring the White House: Inside America's Most Famous Home
September 1st 2020 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

The White House certainly captures the imagination in a way that other buildings in the US don't: not only is it central to our government, but it has seen hundreds of years of families and famous people. Not only that, but it employs a huge staff to make all of the activities happen. I remember being riveted by the 1979 mini-series Backstairs at the White House, mainly because some of the staff had been working for so long. This book is an excellent compilation of information not only about the building itself, but of the people who make it run, and the families of the presidents who live there. 

The best part of this book is the entirety of the history it includes. We find out what the building and staffing was like from the very beginning. Did you know that early on, the presidents had to provide their own staff? This meant that if they were slave owners, they brought their slaves! That was something I didn't know about. The different types of jobs necessary for keeping the White House running are described and explained, and the author (who has written several adult books about the White House) interviewed a good selection of people about what it was like to work there. 

I've seen books that include information about children and pets, as well as ghosts, and this does as well. However, it goes beyond those basics, discussing the Secret Service, first ladies, and how food services work. I don't know about you, but I think that in the interest of saving the country money, there shouldn't be an official pastry chef, and the president should get his baked goods for state dinners from Costco the way everyone else does! I'm also pretty sure that no one needs to fund any more national sets of china-- if the White House needs more dishes, pretty much everyone over the age of 50 has at least one service for 12 that we'd be more than happy to donate! 

The E ARC I read didn't have all of the pictures and maps that will appear in the final version, but there were a few. I loved seeing the vice presidential house, which I had never heard about!

My favorite part of this was actually some of the anecdotes about the families in the White House, and how the Bush girls reached out to the Obama girls, or how first ladies kept in contact with each other. There were also a lot of random fun facts that avid presidential buffs will want to file away. There's not a lot of interest in the White House in my library, but I'm half tempted to get this book to go along with my favorite primary source... A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy by Perry Wolff (1962).

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

365 Days to Alaska

Carr, Cathy. 365 Days to Alaska
January 19th 2021 by Amulet Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Rigel (RYE-gul) lives with her family (dad Bear, mom Lila, older sister Willow, and five year old sister Izzy) in a small cabin in the wilds of Alaska. She's used to bringing water from a nearby stream, doing correspondence courses by mail, and having wilderness right outside her door. After her parents divorce, her mother decides to move the girls to Connecticut so that she can live with her own mother while she tries to get a job in a research lab. While Willow is excited to be able to attend high school and do "normal" things, and Izzy is ready for any new adventures, Rigel is apprehensive. She agrees with Bear that the suburban world is loud and plastic, and she is glad when he tells her she just has to spend a year there before he will get enough money working on the pipeline to have her come back and live with him. Starting 6th grade is tough-- other children laugh at her stories, and sitting in a classroom is confining. Rigel is glad when she makes the acquaintance of Corey, who is also the target of some of the popular kids, and also when she sees an injured crow outside of the school. She starts feeding the crow, and hanging around with Corey and his friends Sylvie and Sam, who have an informal "nature club". Rigel has trouble settling in to school, and her teacher Mrs. Green, who seems to favor the popular girls, doesn't help. Rigel brings a dead animal to school and puts it in her locker to feed to the crow, but Hayden snoops in her locker and reports it. At one point, she brings the crow (which she has named Blueberry) into the building to show to her sympathetic science teacher, and it gets loose, causing a ruckus. Rigel is suspended for two days, and really wants to go back to Alaska. Her father hasn't been very communicative, however, and when she finds out why, she realizes that while Connecticut isn't perfect, it isn't bad, and perhaps she can stay there longer than one year. 
Strengths: This had a really good blend of realistic problems and unusual circumstances. I liked that Rigel wasn't happy about the things going on in her life,  but made a plan to get through them, and ended up doing fairly well. The details about living in a cabin in the Alaskan wilderness were fascinating, and seeing suburban life through Rigel's eyes was illuminating. Older sister Willow was a fun character, and it was good to see her help Rigel out, but also to see her struggle with her own teen problems. The grandmother was delightful, and even the mother was an engaging character. Rigel's friend group was awfully similar to the one I had in middle school; you just need a couple of good friends to help you get through. I loved Corey's refusal to give Hayden any  more ammunition or power over him, and loved that Rigel was able to pick up those skills as well. 
Weaknesses: Mrs. Green and Hayden were rather over the top in their meanness, but I can forgive this because the children were soon banned from eating in the library or in classrooms. In my school, everyone needs to go to the cafeteria so they can all be monitored, and we have classes in the library all day! I didn't even let my own children eat lunch in the library!
What I really think: This is an impressive debut novel, and I will be VERY interested to see what else Ms. Carr writes. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

MMGM- The Million Dollar Race, From Here to There

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Smith, Matthew Ross. The Million Dollar Race
January 19th 2021 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Grant Falloon loves to run, and he's good at it. His best friend, Jay, pushes him to be his best. The two compete in the Penn Relays, and Grant is confident he can win... until he sneaks a look into the grandstands for his family, trips, and falls in a humiliating spectacle that circulates on the internet. Jay is supportive, but Grant's younger, social media obsessed brother Franny tries to milk this for all its worth. Grant's parents are former collective community members whose "parenting isn't about rules. It's about Creating a Worldview That Will Allow Us to Decide Right From Wrong For Ourselves." (Page 32, E ARC). This becomes important when both Grant and Jay get approached by the Babblemoney Sneaker Company to participate in a Million Dollar Race, a publicity stunt for a new running shoe they have in development. The boys train, knowing that they will be racing each other, and come to a hard but helpful agreement that they will both do their best and support each other, no matter who wins. When Grant does win, but his parents can't produce a birth certificate to ensure that he is the USA representative, second place finisher Jay gets a chance to run. Undaunted by this hurdle, Grant and Franny decide to create an internet "country" for Grant, Grantsylvania, and have him participate as Grantsylvania's representative. Ms.Babblemoney, the querulous older woman behind the sneaker company, in her pearls and red track suit, admires Grant's cheekiness and lets him participate, since it's good publicity. When Jay and Grant find out that the sneaker company is using unfair labor practices in their factories in other countries, will they be willing to forego the million dollar prize to make things right?
Strengths: The best part of this book for me was Grant's family. Hands down. They were hysterically funny, but also so supportive. The father had an embarrassing deal at the local grocer to buy the expired yogurt, the family didn't own a car, and while they didn't really understand Grant's love of running or his drive to compete, they took him wherever he needed to be and cheered him on. The high stakes international competition will attract a lot of readers who are normally more concerned with other sports. Supporting characters are well developed as well, and Samoan-American Jay is one of the best best friends in #MGLit. Franny is an annoying but ultimately helpful younger brother. The twist with the Babblemoney Sneaker corporation took the plot in an unexpected direction but ended up inserting another layer of interest into a solid story about athletic competition. Really well done, engaging, and with amusing lines like "I'll lie here till the whole human race dies out and the grass pushed up through the track and the squirrels build a new civilization in the ruins." (Page 2, E ARC.)
Weaknesses: One of my pet peeves is "hippy" parents, and while Smith gives a convincing backstory for the Falloon families beginning in a collective community, it was still hard for me to believe that a child born in 2008 had no birth certificate. Readers actually born that year will be fine with it. Also, I never like quirky names, so Babblemoney made me wince a bit when I read it. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and this fantastic cover will mean that this book never makes it back to the shelf. Also, may have to make a t shirt for myself with dad Dave Falloon's slogan, "Let's just get the cheaper one"!

Kirkfield, Vivian and Ford, Gilbert (illustrations). 
From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves
January 19th 2021 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Starting with the hot air balloon and continuing on to self driving vehicles, this book tells short stories about different modes of transportation. The selected timeline in the front needs to be made into a poster! I especially liked the chapter on Karl van Dreis and the bicycle; I always assumed that this was an innovation that no single person came up with! This reminded me a bit of Wulffson's 1997 The Kid Who Invented the Popsicle, but with longer chapters. 

The E ARC I accessed didn't have any page illustrations, and the sidebars appeared just in different text. I want to see a finished copy of this, because I imagine the pages are actually well illustrated and amusing. This is the kind of short, readable nonfiction that I really like (multiple reviews and synopses compare this to  one of my favorites, Thimmesh and Sweet's 2000 Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women), but my students prefer books with illustrations, so I want to read again before buying. 

Sunday, January 17, 2021

My Name is Layla

Gentin, Reyna Marder. My Name is Layla
January 19th 2021 by TouchPoint Press
ARC provided by the publisher

Layla (called 'munk by her family) is having a hard time of it in middle school. Not only does her family struggle financially because her father left when she was a baby and her mother works long hours as a nurse, but school is difficult for her. Older brother Nick is a big supported, but she rarely sees her harried mother, who is very negative about the absent father, Jeff. Layla has a good friend in Liza, as well as a budding romance with Sammy, who lives across the street with his supportive family. Layla's new English teacher, Mr. McCarthy, is progressive in his methods if not in his choice of reading materials (The Outsiders, The Scarlet Letter, Number the Stars, The Perks of Being a Wallflower), and tries very hard to support Layla's writing. Sammy asks her to the dance, and Layla's father moves back to town, so things seem to be looking up. However, (highlight for spoilers): her grades are not great, and when her mother is scheduled for conferences, it seems like a good idea to try to burn her papers in her locker with a lighter she took from Nick. The fire spreads to other lockers, and causes a lot of damage. Liza is angry, but tries to help Layla figure out what to do. Layla invites Jeff for Thanksgiving dinner, but her mother is still so angry that he doesn't stay, and even moves out of town. Layla comes clean about the fire and has to pay damages, although isn't charged. She eventually gets help, and is able to move forward with a few more tools to help with her dyslexia. 
Strengths: This is a short, focused book that deals with a problem that many young readers might have. Layla's struggles in school are all to prevalent, and it's good to see a teacher identify her problems, arrange for testing, and to see a learning plan put in place. The fact that Sammy is dealing with executive functioning disorder was good as well: that's a diagnosis that we are seeing more and more. The struggles with Liza, with a mother who must work very hard, and with an older brother who has his own issues are all realistic and well portrayed. I also appreciated that the school took into account Layla intent in the fire issue; most schools are reasonable about things like this, although most books portray administration as being simply "zero tolerance". 
Weaknesses: This has a bit of an After School Special vibe to it, but younger readers won't pick up on that. Even the cover seems to hark back to the 1980s. The fact that the father has been completely out of touch for so long seemed odd.
What I really think: We need more titles like Gerber's Focused that discuss some of the learning challenges that children face, and it's also good to see more books with characters struggling with financial hardships. 

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Comeback: A Figure Skating Novel

Chen, E.L. The Comeback: A Figure Skating Novel
January 19th 2021 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Maxine Chen lives in Lake Placid, New York, and loves to ice skate. She's fortunate that her school is very near the rink where she trains. Her best friend Victoria doesn't quite understand the commitment it takes to compete in the sport, but the two get along most of the time. While Maxine has lots of Asian American figure skating role models, there are very few people of color in her community, and she is often the recipient of microaggressions. Classmate Alex, on whom Victoria has a crush, takes it even further, whispering or writing out racial slurs. Maxine isn't quite sure what to do about this, but has nightmares about her treatment. She lets this slide because she has more pressing issues with upcoming competitions as well as a new rival-- Hollie, who is homeschooled and is a very formidable foe. Hollie is much better at the dance portion of figure skating; Maxine takes ballet lessons, but dislikes them intensely. As she and Hollie warm up to each other, they become friends and help each other out, even though they still compete against each other. When things come to a breaking point at school with Alex, Maxine realizes that there are times when it is necessary to speak up for herself. 
Strengths: This is on trend with books depicting the experiences of students from different cultural backgrounds and their treatment in school. Maxine sends away from adhesive to try to make double eyelids on herself, thinking she would receive fewer comments about her appearance. She also gets help with her makeup from an older skater who is also Asian. I appreciated that when her teacher finally realized what Alex was doing and saying, punishment was swift, and apologies were made to both Maxine and her family. The details about skating are excellent, and Maxine's relationship with Hollie is realistically tentative. Maxine struggles with some of her school work, and with time management. The story moves quickly, with a good mix of sport and everyday life. 
Weaknesses: I wish there had been a little more interaction between Maxine and the other girls who skated at her rink, so that we could have gotten a glimpse at how other competitive skaters handled their time. 
What I really think: Fans of Kim's Stand Up, Yumi Chung who want the same level of social concerns mixed with skating instead of stand up comedy will enjoy this look into Maxine's world. This was a well done book, since I have Levy's Cold as Ice, Freitas' Gold Medal Winter, Nall's Breaking the Ice, Messner's Sugar and Ice, Papademetriou's Ice Dreams and the more YA books Ockler's Bittersweet and Morrill's Being Sloane Jacobs that all center around ice skating, I may pass on purchase. In thirty years of teaching, I have only had one competitive ice skater, and I don't even know where students would go skating just for fun.

I grew up in a neighborhood where every winter, skates were traded around and after dinner mothers would drive us to Boardman Park, where there was a very shallow rink. There were also some shallow ponds in farms where my friends lived where we could skate. The first time I skated on a surface that had been Zambonied, it did not go well. 


Ms. Yingling

Friday, January 15, 2021

The In-Between

Ansari, Rebecca. The In-Between
January 26th 2021 by Walden Pond Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Cooper is angry that his father has left him, his sister Jess, and his overworked mother in a run down neighborhood in Chicago and is now in California with his new wife and son. The rage spills into other areas of his life-- he has trouble getting along with his friends because their families are intact, and he is especially angry with the quiet, uncommunicative girl, Elena,  in the newly renovated house next door. He managed to be kind to his sister, and to help her manage her diabetes, but he is somewhat relieved when a new boy at school, Gus, befriends him. Gus is having trouble fitting in, having been sent to live with his irascible grandmother while his parents are divorcing. The two boys bond over this, and also over one very odd fact. Cooper, Jess, and Gus can see Elena's house differently than everyone else. To them, it is decrepit and abandoned. When Jess is obsessed with an old train accident, and an unidentified boy who died, Cooper and Jess realize that Elena's school sweater has the same crest on it and start to investigate. what her connection might be. They eventually find that Elena and her sister were killed many years ago, but never died, and seem to travel from tragedy to tragedy, living in "the in-between". Because the three children can see Elena and the true state of her house, they worry that they are next in line for the tragedy they suspect that Elena will precipitate. Will they be able to find out what Elena's true purpose is, and to save themselves?
Strengths: There are lots of twists and turns in this that I don't want to spoil! The real life portions of the story, with Cooper's absent dad, frazzled mother who is ready to move on, and responsibility for his sister's well-being, is solidly well constructed and believable. The constant dinners of various egg dishes was funny but made complete sense! The in-between is built and revealed in an understandable way. Elena and Gus are interesting characters, for various reasons, and there's a lot of hidden depth that we eventually see. Definitely an interesting story, and I love the cover. 
Weaknesses: This started out on the slow side, and a lot of time was spent on Cooper's various feelings of sadness, which also slowed down an otherwise interesting story. If this discussion had been replaced by ghosts haunting Cooper, it would do better with my students, who are always in favor of killer ghosts!
What I really think: This was sort of a mix of Scarrow's Time Riders and Plum's Before I Die if it had been written by Judy Blume or Linda Urban. It was fine, but everyone else seems to be far more excited about it than I am. 

Also, Alysa Wishingrad, who has an upcoming book, The Verdigris Pawn, and I think that Twitter should be used for helping everyone plan dinner. We use the hashtag #kidlitsupperclub. This book spawned shakshuka for dinner!

 Ms. Yingling

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Karma Moon, Ghost Hunter

Savage, Melissa. Karma Moon, Ghost Hunter
January 19th 2021 by Crown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Karma and her father are on their own after her mother runs off with five suitcases to live life on a beach with a new friend. Karma's father makes documentaries with two of his friends, who form Totally Rad Productions. They have made a pitch to Netflix about a ghost hunting show that gets picked up, and before they know it, Karma is staying at a haunted hotel in Colorado with her dad's film crew and her best friend, Mags. The hotel seems safe enough, but Karma has struggled with anxiety since her mother's departure, and the "what ifs" swirl in her brain. She carries a Magic 8 ball with her and believes strongly in what her father calls "woo-woo". On the upside, she has been seeing Dr. Finkleman, who has given her coping techniques to deal with her anxiety. The hotel has a colorful staff, including a boy whom Mags likes, a gift shop proprietor who has been there since 1972, a cleaning person named Ruby Red, and a progression of managers, who all seem to depart in dramatic ways. After the departure of the latest (Mr. Plum, who left in an Uber... while clad only in his underwear!), the film crew, along with a certified ghost expert, try to document the hauntings in order to make the show. Will Karma be able to get through the time while managing her anxiety, dealing with the thoughts about her mother, and hanging out with the interesting Nyx?
Strengths: This is on trend with current depiction of children with anxiety, and I did like that Karma saw Dr. Finkleman frequently, had a range of coping strategies, and her friend Mags not only knew about this, but often reminded Karma to call upon those strategies. Probably also a good idea that Karma shouldn't watch Dateline OR Scooby-Doo! Living in a hotel for ten days would be a lot of fun, and filming a documentary for Netflix only adds to the excitement. This had much the same kind of feel of Bradley's Midnight at the Barclay Hotel, Guterson's Winterhouse, or even Milford's Greenglass House
Weaknesses: I wasn't a huge fan of all the quirky hotel staff. 
What I really think: This was a fun ghost story that wasn't too scary, and would be great for grades 3-6. My own students have proven to be much more interested in truly scary things, so I wished this had been a bit scarier, like Poblocki's The Ghost Hunter's Daughter or even Currie's Scritch Scratch. For the type of hotel book my students like, look no further than Balog's Alone
Ms. Yingling