Friday, April 16, 2021

Hockey Night in Kenya and The Comeback

Mutinda, Danson and Walters, Eric. Hockey Night in Kenya
Published October 13th 2020 by Orca Book Publishers
Library Copy

Friends Kitoo and Nigosi have had difficult lives in Kenya, but are now living at an orphanage where they are able to attend school regularly. Even though the food is usually githeri (corn and beans) rather than their favorite pilau, both boys are hopeful. Kitoo is a big reader, and Mrs. Kyatha at the school library gives him some damaged books for his own. One of these is about hockey. While Kenya doesn't have a lot of ice, there is some ball hockey that is played. When the two boys travel to the city with Jackson to get supplies, they see some hockey being played, and Kitoo even finds damaged roller blades that he is allowed to take home, and the team even gives him some chipped wheels to help. Kitoo starts to practice hockey, and when he gets a chance to travel to Nairobi, he gets to give ice hockey a try. This is based on an event at Mr. Mutinda's orphange when Canadian hockey players visited. 
Strengths: The more I find out about Mr. Walters, the more impressed I am! He and Mr. Mutinda work together as Creation of Hope to help orphans in Kenya, and this book is based on their experiences there. The fact that Kitoo and Nigusi are able to remain optimistic and work to make their dreams reality is definitely inspiring. I am learning more and more about hockey, thanks to all of the Canadian books out there, and I do have a fair number of students who play ice hockey. 
Weaknesses: I would love to see a longer book for older readers about sports loving students in Kenya!
What I really think: This is a great title for emerging middle school readers as well as elementary ones. I love books set in other countries; it's great for my students to realize that people in other parts of the world don't live exactly as they do. 


O'Brien, Alex. The Comeback
August 1st 2020 by Lorimer Children & Teens
Library copy

Chris played hockey, but after an injury kept him away from sports altogether, he's struggled with serious depression. His parents have made sure that he is in therapy and getting help. He talks to his best friend, Keiko, about getting back to playing sports, and she suggests he look into her brother Reo's soccer team. One of the teammates, Trent, is really nasty, and Chris talks to his coach about explaining to his teammates his struggles with depression. Most of the team is supportive, especially Farid, who has recently come to Canada to Syria. He lived in refugee camps for a while, and had seen many upsetting things on his journey out of his country, so understands how serious depression can be. Chris struggles to get back in shape, and sometimes doubts himself on the field. Trent doesn't help, but the coach is very supportive, and even tells Chris that he struggled with anger management issues for a while. Soccer seems to help Chris' outlook on life, but how will he handle it when things on the field don't go his way. 
Strengths: This is a great high interest, low level book for readers who might be struggling with longer books but want something with a lot of sports descriptions as well as serious issues. It's balance fairly well between friend drama, soccer descriptions, and information about Chris' depression. 
Weaknesses: I wish we had seen more of Keiko in the book. While it is good that there is a lot of information about Chris' condition, the discussions occasionally slow the book down. 
What I really think: This is on trend as far as mental health issues go. I have a lot of readers who like soccer books, and the Lorimer titles are short, include diverse casts of characters, and have lots of good soccer details. 
 Ms. Yingling

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Sugar and Spite

Villanueva, Gail D. Sugar and Spite
April 20th 2021 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Jolina and her family have moved from Manila to the small island of Isla Pag-Ibig. After the death of her Lola Toyang and a stroke suffered  by Lolo Sebyo, her father has taken over the family Bagayan Food Haus, and her mother is a receptionist trainee at a fancy resort in the area. This resort is run by the mother of a girl in Jolina's Bible study class, Claudine. Claudine is very snooty and mean, and Jolina would rather avoid her. When she can't, she decides to try to concoct a potion like her Lolo does. He's a faith healer, and has a vast library and workshop full of spells and supplies. She attempts a love potion that results in yema balls, a type of candy made out of egg yolks and condensed milk. These actually work, and Claudine suddenly wants to be her friend. Soon, Jolina, as well as her Jack Russell terrier, Kidlat, are hanging out at Claudine's fancy house, and being asked to her birthday party, where there is a buffett, magician, and petting zoo! As she begins to enjoy Claudine's company, Jolina feels bad about the spell and asks her grandfather about it. When a typhoon hits the area and everyone must evacuate, Jolina and Claudine have a falling out that has disastrous consequences. Will the two remain friends when the magic no longer holds?
Strengths: I loved the details about life on Jolina's island! The sari sari store, the difference in what outdoors is like, and the array of foods I've only read about were all great details. Add to this her difficulties with mean girl Claudine, and sprinkle with a little possible magic, and this was a great combination. Even the cover is appealing, and having a cute cat and dog in the plot doesn't hurt. I especially loved the details about school, and how Jolina has to share a desk with two other students! I would love to see a lot more books written by people who are living in other countries. 
Weaknesses: Okay, I know it illustrates the Filipino concept of sagip, but I thought the death was unnecessary. It's redeemed a bit, but wasn't my favorite part of the book. 
What I really think: I liked this a lot more than this author's My Fate According to the Butterfly which was a much sadder book. This showed some of the struggles of living in the Philippines while incorporating friend drama and a good dollop of magic, making this a good choice for readers of Meriano's Love, Sugar, Magic or Harrison's  A Pinch of Magic. I have several students with Filipino backgrounds, and I'm glad to have something happier than Cruz's Everlasting Nora or Erin Entrada Kelly's work to hand them when they want "mirror" books. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Cece Rios and the Dessert of Souls

Rivera, Kaela. Cece Rios and the Dessert of Souls
April 13th 2021 by HarperCollins Children's Books 
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Cece lives in the small town of Tierra del Sol with her parents and older sister Juana. When she is young, she wanders off into the desert when she is watching a sunset with other children, and is approached by a criatura. Luckily, it is Tzitzimitl, who is a protector of human children, but she curses Cece, who is considered a bit suspicious by her family, who worry that she will become a bruja like her aunt. When her sister Juana dances in the Amenazante celebration, she is stolen away by el Sombreron, the Bride Stealer. Cece is unable to save her sister, but tries to figure out a way that she can get her back. She is aided by a criatura she saved from starving, Coyote, who agrees to work with her so that she can join the battle of the brujas and be able to go through the Devil's Alley and win her sister back. Cece doesn't want to be a bruja-- they are considered evil because they capture the souls of criaturas and keep them in their power. Cece has the ancestry, as well as the ability, to do well against the other brujas, but she doesn't want to join them. Luckily, her kindness wins her help from other criaturas, including Little Lion and Ocelot, and she manages to keep up the quest for her sister without her family knowing that she is running with creatures they consider evil. Will she be able to build her powers, get her sister back, and keep the peace with the family she loves?
Strengths: This was a great action adventure novel with deep underlying philosophical themes of love, family, and personal identity. Cece's secret mission to save her sister with skills that were present in other family members in the past is a great way to show agency in a tween without killing the parents. (Although there is a grandmother who has passed away.) The southwest setting is one that hasn't been used quite as much in fantasy novels, and is much more interesting than yet another Anglo-Germanic medieval fantasy! This appears to be Ms. Rivera's debut novel, and is a great start. 
Weaknesses: While the glossary is really helpful, I could have used a few more notes on the cultural and folklore details so that I could understand more about brujas, cueranderos, and the criaturas. I looked up a lot of information, which was fine. A lot of authors don't want to marginalize their own cultures by italicizing words in languages other than English, and I understand the philosophy behind that. Still, if I am a bit confused, my students may be as well. Scaffolding some of the background information would be very helpful. 
What I really think: This is a good addition to fantasy books with a cultural basis in MesoAmerican culture, like Mejia's Paola Santiago and the River of Tears, Salazar's Land of the Cranes and The Moon Within, Cuevas' The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez, Barron's Maya and the Rising Dark, and Meriano's Love, Sugar Magic series. 

I do need help on terminology. Would this be considered Latinx literature? There are some similarities in these titles, but I have a strong suspicion they are different enough to need their own categories. Any thoughts? There is some Spanish language in many of these, so would Hispanic be the term to use?

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Hello, Cruel Heart

Johnson, Maureen. Hello, Cruel Heart
April 6th 2021 by Disney Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

It's 1967, and London is swinging. Teen aged Estella can see all of the fun and fashion around her, but she's intent on pick pocketing and stealing what she needs from the stores, including Harrods and Liberty of London. Her sketchy past includes an uneasy childhood full of difficulties at school, self-esteem issues caused by her unusual black and white hair, and a mother who died mysteriously when Estella was 12. Luckily, Jasper and Horace, who were also on the streets, took her under their wing, and the trio lives in part of a bombed out building. Estella loves to sew, something she learned from her mother, and a chance meeting with rich twins Magda and Richard gives her a chance to do that. The twins frequent boutiques like Granny Takes a Trip, hang with other young socialites, and are friends with the members of an up-and-coming band, the Electric Teacup. Impressing Magda with her Heinz bean tin plastic dress (ala Andy Warhol), Estella soon becomes part of her inner circle, helping her with outfits, making things for Magda's friends, and fashioning statement pieces for the band's television premier. She feels a connection with Peter, the lyricist and guitar player for the band, and when he visits at the flat she shares with Jasper and Horace, her friends are angry that she has given away their location, and Estella moves in with Magda. Things go well for a while, and the band's premier is a success. Everyone loves Estella's fashions, and she slowly starts to get over her troubled past, a time during which she frequently relied on her alter ego, Cruella, to survive. After Magda finds out more information about Estella's former way of life, and the two get caught in an awkward situation at Harrods, Magda and Richard decide to travel to Morocco. Estella is not invited. Having interpreted comments of Peter's about traveling to the US on a band tour, Estella thinks she can go with him when she is kicked out of the twins' house. When she is disappointed in this, and reunites with Jasper and Horace, she comes up with a plan to get her revenge and start her life of crime.
Strengths: On, my goodness! This was absolutely not what I was expecting, but was fantastic! I knew that Johnson had an interest in London, after her descriptions in Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes, and there's a brief dip into the 1960s culture in The Shadow Cabinet (Shades of London #3), but... wow. The bombed out buildings in post war London, the description of fashions, the forays into the shops and streets at the time, the name dropping of celebrity neighbors like Mick and Marianne, the dilettante lifestyle; Johnson really, really needs to write a historical novel centering on a teen besotted by the Beatles! Even Estella's fall from grace is perfectly done, and I completely bought the end where we see her turning into the woman who becomes Cruella. Masterful. For fans of Disney, even better. 
Weaknesses: Estella's backstory with her mother and schooling are brief, so I didn't get a good feel for the emotional damage that apparently caused, but I didn't really care. I wish the cover were much more psychedelic and showed the fashions of the times more.
What I really think: I don't particularly care about the Cruella deVil connection of this one; the details of Carnaby Street era London are absolutely enthralling, and the story would stand alone even without that Disney background! The details are so good, in fact, that this would work for the 7th grade Decades Project-- did I know that the BBC had a fee for television usage and send detection teams around to see if people were watching television without a license? Wow. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

MMGM- Modern Soda Shoppe

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

Thanks to Ms. Zachman, who had a Twitter giveaway of this fantastic book! I won, and am super excited to get it out to kids this year instead of having to wait for my August order.

Tweens and teens no longer hang out at the local soda shoppe-- their socializing is all on line, and sometimes has disastrous consequences. I have to admit that all I want to do today is curl up with Anne Emery's Senior Year, or maybe Cleary's The Luckiest Girl! Oh, to be able to hang out in a poodle skirt and saddle schools with my Orlon sweater set at the local malt shop!

Zachman, Kim and Donnelly, Peter (illustrations)
There's No Ham in Hamburgers: Facts and Folklore About Our Favorite Foods
April 6th 2021 by Running Press Kids 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

I'm a sucker for popular culture, especially regarding food. So a brief overview of hamburgers, french fries, pizza, ice cream, chicken fingers, peanut butter, cereal, cookies, and chocolate! Yes, please. And you don't even need an antacid tablet! 

Breaking down popular, kid oriented food into these major categories allows room for a wealth of tangential information about things like ketchup, Mr. Potato Head, and Birdseye Frozen Foods! I even learned that the the phrase "I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream" came from a song recorded by Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians and written by Howard Johnson! I enjoyed the format of this book, and especially liked the vague 1950s feel to the font and framing of the illustrations. Even the colors were a nice mix of the 2020 ubiquitous light teal with a more 1960s lime green, complete with the sparkly starbursts. I do want to take a look at the illustrations in the print book; the E ARC ones came out a bit wonky.

While I was familiar with most of the information in the book, due to apparently  all too frequent deep dives into tomes likes Sussman's Just Heat It 'n' Eat It!: Convenience Foods of the '40s-'60s (2006), Wyman's Spam (1999) and Better Than Homemade, Kimmerle's Candy: The Sweet History (2003), Gitlin's The Great American Cereal Book (2011) as well as everything Jane and Michael Stern ever wrote (especially Road Food (2006) and Square Meals (1984), younger readers will not be. This is an absolute powerhouse of an overview. I'm amazed at how complete the coverage is, and the amount of information that was still new to me. This shed light on why chicken nuggets always seemed like something new: they weren't widely available until I was in high school, at which point the last thing I was interested in was eating processed, deep friend chicken.
Clearly, I have a huge interest in food history, and since middle grade readers have eaten up books like Power Kids Press 
What's In Your Fast Food series, this is a definite purchase for elementary and middle school libraries. I would even buy it for a high school library, since it has such a wealth of information and is well-indexed, with an extensive bibliography. 

Faris, Stephanie. The Popularity Code
Published April 28th 2020 by Aladdin
Library Copy

Faith is hanging on in middle school, thanks to her association with the fairly popular Janelle and Adria. She used to be friends with  Tierra, but the two had a falling out. Faith is very interested in coding, which her friends aren't, and is working on some apps. She's part of a coding club, and has a mentor, Ms. Wang, whom she can consult. When a new web site called SlamBook appears in her middle school, Faith has questions. She's not really interested in hearing comments about other people, but she is interested in the site. For one, it's not an app, it's a web site, and it seems to be run by a company that will create sites for different schools. The registration questions are long and involved, but users are identified by numbers. Posts are fairly anonymous. However, users can create pages for members of their school, and comment on those pages. At first, the comments aren't bad, and Faith doesn't even have a page. Janelle and Adria want her to put positive comments on their pages, and Faith starts to get sucked into the whole process. She makes a negative comment about a boy who is very full of himself, and feels it is justified. When Faith has a page created for her, and sees negative comments, she starts not only to look into the source code and try to figure out how the site works, but also to make negative, mean comments on other people's pages by way of retribution. When someone on the site makes comments that lead Faith and her friends (which now tentatively include Tierra again) to believe that the person might harm themselves, Faith and her friends finally let the school and parents know what is going on. 
Strengths: Teachers and librarians who are very invested in topics such as bullying and mental health issues (which is pretty much all adults BUT me!) need this book, yet this doesn't seem to be on everyone's radar. My public library didn't buy this, and I bought a copy before reading it-- this is how much I trust this author. There are so many things to like about this book. First, Faith's interest in coding is fantastic to see. I love that she really knows her stuff, and so much information about coding is included, and it's not a book ABOUT her coding. This makes her interest much more realistic, and is such a great example for students. The fact that this interest ties into a social media platform that sweeps her school and causes such damage is just inspired. Her friendship with Janelle and Adria is one I would like to see a lot more in middle grade books; like Walker's Let's Pretend We Never Met, I think there are a lot of times in middle school where students have friends of convenience who might be people they don't really like. Even the parts of the book that made me uncomfortable as an adult are completely realistic. I can't stress enough how much middle school libraries need this book. Not only does it have an important message, but it will be wildly popular with students. The fact that the website is completely made up will keep this relevant for quite a while. 
Weaknesses: The M!X books should all have the striped spine, Aladdin! My students are trained to look for that on the shelves, and this one doesn't have that. I wish that the students had contacted adults earlier in the situation, but that would not have made for as exciting a book. At one point, the student who might harm themselves is left unattended, and I was quite worried that things would work out badly. Again, good for the plot, but I could have used more warnings about what students should do if they see incidents like this occur.
What I really think: Faris' work should be better appreciated. She covers important topics like gossip and popularity in really relatable ways. Her 30 Days of No Gossip and 25 Roses are super popular in my library! The Popularity Code is a must purchase for middle school libraries, where massive doses of school drama are always needed!

Sunday, April 11, 2021

The War and Millie McGonigle

Cushman, Karen. War and Millie McGonigle
April 6th 2021 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Millie lives with her parents, her sister Lily, and her brother Pete in San Diego in the 1940s. Her grandmother Tillie has passed away, and her father is finding it difficult to find work, so food and comforts are rare. The family takes in a cousin, Edna, who has some cognitive problems that lead to many bad choices, so supervision is helpful. Lily, who has lung problems, gets to keep her own bed, and Lily isn't happy about the extra person in the house. Millie has a journal her grandmother gave her, and has chosen to use it to record and draw the dead things that she finds on the beach. (There are a lot of these.) She has a confrontational relationahip with neighbor Dicky (Icky) Fribble, but is glad when his cousin and her mother move in. Rosie is older, and interested in boys and makeup, but the two get along quite well. After Pearl Harbor is bombed, Millie's father gets a job, but there is rationing, worries about the the war and spies, and drives for metal and rubber to use for the war effort. Since Millie is in California, she even gets a glimpse of the mistreatment of Japanese Americans when Mrs. Fribble tries to talk her mother in to going to a Japanese neighborhood to buy the displaced families' possession for cheap. As the US enters deeper in to war, Millie starts to make peace with her life after her grandmother. 
Strengths: California would have been a very interesting part of the world to be in at this time period, and there are great details about living near a beach. Millie has a lot on her plate, and her family situation is a bit precarious. The treatment of chronically ill children was much different in the 1940s. Food rationing, collecting scrap, and watching for planes were all things that children were involved in to further the war effort. My grandmother was of the mind that rationing wasn't necessary, but was implemented to make everyone feel like they had a part in sacrificing for the war effort, and she might not be far off. My mother and father would have been very close to Millie's age, and the story sounds very familiar! I did enjoy the children's literature of the time that Millie reads, and the fact that she asks the librarian for books about death and horrible things happening to people in order to make her own life seem better. 
Weaknesses: There was not as much of a plot as I would like, and I think Millie deals with the death of her grandmother in a particularly modern way. 
What I really think: I would love to see reissues of some World War II homefront books by authors who actually lived through this time period-- Lowry's Autumn Street, Peck's Wings of Heroes and Blume's Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself come to mind, and I'm surprised there is not an Ellen Conford title. 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Croissants and Doughnuts

Jouhanneau, Anne-Sophie. Kisses and Croissants
April 6th 2021 by Delacorte Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Mia is very excited to be traveling to Paris to take part in a prestigious six week summer ballet program, even when her rival in dance, Audrey is there as well. Of course, the two end up as roommates, but the other dancers are quick to befriend Mia. She is very serious about pursuing ballet as a career, and hopes that her success during the summer will translate into an offer from the American Ballet Theater in New York. Her mother, however, isn't thrilled with any part of her dance journey and lets her know. Mia's grandmother has long believed the family legend that an ancestor of Mia's was a ballerina in Paris at the time of Degas, and was painted by him, although there is no proof. There is an elderly relative in the outskirts of the city whom the grandmother would like Mia to contact. The dance lessons are strenuous, but M. Dabrowski thinks that Mia is advanced enough that he moves her into the fifth level with Audrey. While Audrey is technically perfect, she lacks emotion. Mia has that, but needs to focus more on her form and procedures. What doesn't help this focus is her romance with Louis, who happens to be the son of M. Dabrowski. The two take to each other quickly, and Louis embraces Mia's quest to find out if her ancestor was painted by Degas. This takes them, on his Vespa, to visit the relative, and two several art galleries, museums, and other places. It's an idyllic relationship against the glorious background of Paris, but the late nights and emotional connection do cause Mia problems with her dancing. She has been given the role of Odile, the Black Swan, in the school's production of Swan Lake. Audrey, of course, is the White Swan. She is irritated that Mia is enjoying Paris and not focusing solely on dance. When M. Dabrowski takes Mia to task, she has to reevaluate her relationship with Louis. Mia needs to decide what to do with her future when the summer program and her time in Paris is over. Will Louis be a part of that?
Strengths: Sigh. This is about as perfect as a Young Adult romance can be. Mia is 16, off on her own, but with the support and supervision of a school. Louis is somewhat of a known quality and not just a stranger from the streets of Paris. He admires her work, supports her interests, and understands that the ballet takes a lot of her time. Their adventures are all sweetly romantic, and never get hot and heavy, so this is also great for middle school readers. The back drop of Paris, a city I've never had any interest in visiting, is so appealing that I am half tempted to make travel plans myself. The mystery with the ancestor who might have been painted by Degas gives just enough additional structure to the narrative to make this feel a bit more serious. The brilliant part of the book, of course, is the ballet. I have many students who dance, and so many dance books are desperately sad-- think Porter's Dance of Sisters or Padian's Jersey Tomatoes are the Best. There's some rivalry, but mostly hard work and love of dance. It was particularly interesting that Mia and the other dancers are frequently portrayed eating heartily; so many ballet books deal with eating disorders and body image problems.  
Weaknesses: The whole point of having a youthful romance in another country is that you can always think wistfully of what "might have been" with that person. I would have written a different ending. Younger readers will think Mia's life is just perfect. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and this will never get back to the shelf. The cover is so attractive, the story swoon worthy with a bit more depth. Kisses and Croissants is really a croissant of a book. Done right, it's a butter filled, delicious treat that also has enough nutrition to take you through your morning, especially if there's a healthy dollop of Nutella. 

Moon, Sarah. Middletown
April 6th 2021 by Levine Querido
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Eli is in middle school, which is generally terrible but made bearable by her friend Meena, on whom she has a crush, and Javi, whose mother is the school principal. Her older sister Anna sticks with Eli as they try to survive despite their mother's alcoholism, which is bad enough that they are sometimes called to bars to pick her up, or visited by the local police officer who tells them she is in the drunk tank. When their mother is picked up twice for drunk driving, she ends up in rehab. Knowing that their position is tentative, Anna shows up at the hearing dressed as "Aunt Lisa" and convinces the judge that she will take care of the two. Luckily, Eli (short for Eliza) has been skimming money from her mother's paycheck for years, and has accumulated $900 that the girls are able to use to buy food. Things go along fairly well, but when the soccer coach who has given Anna trouble in the past finds out what the girls are up to, Eli gets in trouble at school, and Anna skips a week so that she can be with her boyfriend, social services shows up at their door. They take off, first to find Anna's dad, then to find Sam, Eli's dad, and then to visit their real life Aunt Lisa. There are some surprises along the way, and when they get to their aunt's, she helps connect them to AA and Alateen and lets them stay until their mother is released from rehab. She even helps get their mother settled back at home, and checks on the family more so that they have some support. 
Strengths: Anna and Eli are great characters who try their best to survive, but struggle because they are young and haven't had the best example. Anna's flirtation with alcohol herself is very telling, and it was very helpful to see the girls attend Alateen meetings, and see their aunt attend AA ones. I had an aunt who was alcoholic and have always been very conscious of the fact that this can run in families. It's a message we don't see nearly enough in tween literature. I believed that they were able to stay by themselves for as long as they did, and once they left, it was encouraging to see that they had some support. Eli's sexuality is a secondary plot, and was dealt with in a way that felt very natural to the plot. The story moved quickly, was interesting, and had a satisfactory ending.  
Weaknesses: This is an #ownvoices author, so I will trust her use of Anna calling Eli "homo" in a joking manner, but it felt odd to me. I am not in a good position to judge this kind of use. There are also several instances of the f-word being used. 
What I really think: This had a lot of elements that my students enjoy in problem novels, but the language and situations are slightly gritty. It seemed more like a high school book, due to things like the kids attending a showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and just the general tone. Read this to determine if it is right for your collection, and add it to titles with problematic parents like Galante's Strays Like UsWilliams's Genesis Begins Again, and Sheinmel's All The Things You Are.

 Ms. Yingling

Friday, April 09, 2021

Guy Friday- The King of Jam Sandwiches and Notes from a Young Black Chef

Walters, Eric. The King of Jam Sandwiches
September 22nd 2020 by Orca Book Publishers
Library Copy

Robbie's mother died when he was young, and his father's moods are erratic. Sometimes things are fine, but other times he father lapses into deep depression, and sometimes leaves Robbie home by himself. There's plenty of food in the basement, since the father is concerned about preparing for the worst, and by eighth grade, Robbie is able to do his own laundry, cook, sign paper's with his "father's" signature, and generally take care of himself. Part of his coping strategy is just lying low and staying off of everyone's radar. He has some friends, but they don't really kno much about his life. When he is assigned to show a new girl around school, they get off to a rocky start, with Harmony punching him in the face. He's so surprised that he doesn't tell on her, which intrigues her. Harmony is in foster care because her mother struggles with drug and alcohol addiction. She's been in several placements, but her mother cleans up her act, gets custody of Harmony again, and then gets sucked back into her addiction, repeating the cycle. Robbie shares his sandwiches with her, but finds out that her current placement is treating her fairly well, at which point she starts to share her lunch with him. When Harmony's mother leaves rehab, she's determined to go and find her, and Robbie reluctantly goes with her. They locate her mother at a bar, and a man whose own mother struggled with addiction helps them get her back to rehab and get home. Robbie's father still pays little attention to him, and when he leaves again, Robbie thinks that it may be time to call his aunt and uncle to see if they can help him. Harmony and Robbie understand each other's situation, and help each other navigate the difficult waters of adolescence in a way that their other friends would never understand. 
Strengths: Robbie and Harmony both face their difficulties with a constructive outlook, and work to better their own circumstances even though they are certainly suffering through them. Robbie's a good kid, because that way, fewer people pay attention to him. He does well in school, and his teachers encourage him. Harmony is a good foil for this; her experiences have been more difficult, and she is much angrier. They are an unlikely pair, which makes their connection even more interesting. There was a lot of good information about how foster care works, and it was good to see Harmony with a family who took good care of her and were understanding about her acting out. I'm not usually a fan of epilogues, but I was glad to have a brief one describing what the two did after making it through high school. 
Weaknesses: This is available in a prebind from Follett, but does not seem to have been published in a hardcover format. It's such a good story that I would love to have a jacketed hardcover. 
What I really think: I purchased this one without reading it, since my public library didn't have it. Walters is such a good author that I knew this would be a book my students will love. While my students aren't a huge fan of sad books, there is a certain Boxcar Children vibe that they do like-- Robbie and Harmony must make their own way in the world with minimal help from adults, in the same way that the Boxcar Children do. It's sad that this is based on Walters' own life, but certainly makes for an effective story.

Onwuachi, Kwame and Stein, Joshua David. Notes from a Young Black Chef: A Memoir 
April 9th 2019 by Knopf Publishing Group
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Starting from the eve of his opening the Shaw Bijou restaurant in D.C. when he was catering an event at the National Museum of African American History and Culture and flashing back to his childhood, Onwuachi offers an unflinching look at how his varied upbringing and the racism he faced shaped his career path. Born NYC in 1989 to a Nigerian American father and a mother with a Southern food background, young Kwame had difficulties. His father was demanding, and his parents often fought. He struggled to get along in school, and at the age of ten was sent to Nigeria for two years to live with his grandfather and his two wives. Back in the US two years later, his mother started a catering business and struggled to keep him in a private Catholic school. After he was kicked out of school his senior year because of pranks, he fell in with a gang and dealt some drugs. After getting accepted to the University of Bridgeport, he found that selling alcohol and drugs was still a good side hustle, but eventually decided to focus on a career in cooking, given his rich family background in cooking. With a lot of hard work, as well as some lucky breaks, Onwuachi was able to overcome difficulties and racism to become a national culinary star with media appearances and several restaurants.
Strengths: There is definitely a need for more #OwnVoices narratives that address the difficulties that affect the BIPOC community, and Onwuachi's story is an interesting one. The food descriptions are fantastic, and made me want to investigate a lot of the food mentioned in the book. The story moves along quickly, and the fact that Onwuachi is raised in the US and then spends time in Nigeria will speak to a lot of my students, who sometimes go back and forth between countries. The cover will make this one that will intrigue readers who have an interest in cooking. 
Weaknesses: As a parent and educator, it was a little worrisome to see a young person engaged in dangerous, illegal behavior without spectacularly bad consequences, but Onwuachi has certainly done well for himself. 
What I really think: I have Marcus Samuelsson's Make It Messy(2015), that I've struggled to get checked out. He's one of Onwuachi's inspirations. I'll see if there is an interest in that book before getting this new one. I don't buy very many autobiographies or memoirs; I usually wait until a person has passed away before buying biographies. That way they don't become dated and need to be replaced. 

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Mystery Thursday- Remedy

Corrigan, Eireann. Remedy
April 6th 2021 by Scholastic Press 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Cara and her mother have always been a team, which has been important since Cara has always been extremely sickly. She is always in pain, has trouble sleeping, and is a cancer survivor. Her diagnosis is unidentified autoimmune disorder, and she misses a lot of school. This brings her to the attention of the vice principal, Mr. Briggs, who tells her that she is in danger of not passing because she is absent so much. Because she and her mother have moved around so much, the school isn't happy with the medical records she has provided and wants a bit more information. Cara's mother is more than happy to share tons of information-- but with subscribers to her podcast, Wellness Warriors. She also gets food and help from local churches. When she starts working with Dr. Eric, a somewhat shady character who deals with alternative medicine and doesn't take insurance, Cara starts to wonder about what's really wrong with her. She's also tired of having no friends and not being able to do any activities. She starts to sneak out to the library, where she meets Science Kid, who goes to her school and later befriends her. Xavier (his real name) has Sickle Cell Anemia, so he knows about health struggles, but also sees a lot of things about Cara's treatments that ring alarm bells for him. Cara also occasionally sneaks out to a coffee shop where she can ignore her mother's ever changing diet restrictions, and enjoys going to the Mud Matters pottery shop to work with clay. After trying very hard to improve her school attendance, Cara passes out while taking an exam, and the school has her taken to the hospital. There, she meets Dr. Abidi, who is very concerned about her health and wants to run tests, but Cara's mother is infuriated that the school overstepped their boundaries. When her mother starts a GoFundMe page for "Care for Cara", the money starts rolling in, and her mother starts recording more and more intrusive footage for her "subscribers". When Cara finds a letter from her grandparents, who are in the Cleveland area not far from her, she tries to visit them but freaks out and comes home. While her mother is taking a "much needed" vacation for the weekend, Cara does some snooping, collects a lot of her records, and starts to realize how suspicious everything about her life is. Will Cara be able to get someone to listen to her?
Strengths: Adult readers will know exactly what is going on with Cara, but I don't want to spoil this for others. From the outside, Cara's mom is perfect, and the language that she uses when talking to Cara, the school, and the doctors is chillingly on trend and perfect. She makes everything she does for Cara seem perfectly reasonable, and Cara is so tired and ill that she can barely think beyond getting out of bed. Xavier is a great character who helps her not only with her school work, but with rejoining society, and with questioning why she is ill, and what role her mother might have in that. I loved that the book ticked along with Cara's mom being in charge of everything and Cara managing to sneak out just a little, and then all snowballed very quickly once the mother made the decidedly odd choice of leaving Cara alone for the weekend. 
Weaknesses: I didn't quite feel that the connection that Cara had with Manuela at Mud Matters was all that strong, so was a bit surprised at how that shook out.
What I really think: This was so creepily good that I might buy two copies, just in case someone loses one. Both would be always checked out. There's something about the mystery combined with the treatment by the mother that was deliciously creepy. Loved this author's Creep and Accomplice and think that a very strong argument could be made for calling Corrigan "the Lois Duncan of the new millenium".

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

The Outdoor Scientist

Grandin, Temple. The Outdoor Scientist: Observing the Natural World
April 6th 2021 by Philomel Books by Temple Grandin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Part anecdotal collective biography, part activity guide, The Outdoor Scientist is an idea book for modern children who haven't been given free rein to play outside for hours at a time. Concentrating on several popular outdoor interests such as rocks, the beach, the woods, birds, and the night sky, each chapter is packed with information. Grandin shares anecdotes from her own childhood, and describes things she liked to do, including how some situations and environments were hard for her because of how her autism caused her to interact with them. There are also lots of stories of scientists who got their start in their fields, being interested as children in various outdoor pursuits. Mary Anning, Roger Ballard, and Enrico Fermi are just a very few of the scientists highlighted. There are also a variety of activities, such as making fake fossils, sheet tents, model rockets, and wreaths out of various materials. I especially enjoyed the mention of a woman who runs an electronics detox camp for children in the woods, and the ending is perfect-- a description of Greta Thuberg's work as an explanation of how even children can help change happen, and a call to action concerning climate change. 
Strengths: As someone who spent hours making rock villages in an empty lot, and whose children were frequently sent to play in the creek (with walkie talkies, for security!) and came home smothered in mud and blackberry juice, I whole heartedly support outdoor activities. Really, were you even a child if you never had a pet worm? In one respect, this is a sad book, because it has to teach children how to play outside, but it's also a good one in that it offers a lot of ideas for outdoor play, not only in the activities, but in the anecdotes as well. Not everyone will have a beach or even a wooded area at their disposal, but at least young readers will get a good idea of what is out there in the world, and how understanding the natural world is much better for society. 
Weaknesses: There is a lot of narrative information here, and this format might make this less accessible to readers who are mainly interested in the activities. 
What I really think: A great addition to a collection where books about environmental concern, such as Raatma's Green Living: No Action Too Small or National Geographic Kids Kids Vs. Plastic are popular. It would also make a great gift for an environmentally aware child who isn't quite sure what to do outside. 

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Go the Distance

Calonita, Jen. Go the Distance (A Twisted Tale, #11)
April 6th 2021 by Disney-Hyperion
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus
 
Megara had a hard life before she ever met Hercules. Her mother, Thea, had to raise her alone after her father abruptly left, and a woman alone in Ancient Greece had to face many obstacles. She did instill the love of music in her daughter, and Megara actually met her boyfriend, Aegeus, while playing the flute. When he was in danger, she traded her soul to Hades in exchange for his life, and that is her situation when she meets Hercules. When this story starts, Hercules has completed his labors and has returned to Mt. Olympus, so will be leaving Megara behind. When Meg complains, Hera offers her a bargain-- if she can complete a quest, she can join Hercules. The first part of this is to retrieve Athena's aulos (flute), which involves riding Pegasus to Koufonisa and fighting the vampire-like empousas! After that, you'd think it would get easier, but Athena then wants her to go to the Underworld and retrieve a recently lost soul. It's not just any lost soul, but the one belonging to Aegeus' wife, Katerina. Meg decides that it would be helpful to get assistance from the satyr, Phil, and soon the two travel to Athens to try to get more information about Katerina from Aegeus. Meg is especially bitter, since Hades shows Aegeus meeting and marrying Katerina in a week after Meg left, but this was not the case. Aegeus admits that he spent two years searching for Meg before giving up. He and Katerina have a baby daughter, Cassia, whom Phil babysits, and soon Meg is off to the Underworld. At the beginning of her quest, Hercules gave Meg an orchid she could use three times to get help from him, but she eventually gets angry and refuses to use it when she feels that Hercules doubts her ability to succeed on her own. Despite having to battle the Stymphalian birds, deal with Charon and Cerberus, and deal with ghosts from her own past, will Meg be able to locate Katerina, bring her back to Aegeus, and ascend to be with Hercules on Mt. Olympus?
Strengths: This is a solid quest tale that weaves in details about Greek mythology while channeling my favorite Disney movie. There's just enough of the romance with Hercules to make us understand why she is willing to go on the quest, and just enough productive angst as she works through what happened with Aegeus to make her grow a little bit and (it's not a spoiler if the cover TELLS us she becomes a god!) learn some of the compassion she needs to become the goddess of vulnerability. There's plenty of action and adventure-- I do not every want to meet up with the Stymphalian birds OR any empousas! The subplot with Hades and Persephone makes a lot of readers happy, and was quite well done, but that relationship ship always struck me as a little creepy and Daddy-Long-Legs-ish, so isn't my favorite. I have somehow missed this Twisted Tales series. They seem to have some darker, more young adult takes, centering the villains of some of the Disney movies, so definitely something to investigate if you are a big Disney fan!
Weaknesses: N.B. I was a Latin teacher. I get super picky about details, so when Thea was struggling to buy milk for the young Megara, I thought "Only barbarians drank milk!" I did have a very fun flashback to grading the Roman restaurant menus I assigned in 1990, where one student had cornbread with butter on the menu. Uh, no! Super easy mistake to make; in our culture, all young children need milk, but that is not the case around the world or throughout time. Plus, it gives me a chance to once again tell the world that I Was A Latin Teacher.
What I really think: Megara somehow lacks a little of the sass of the movie version, but this was a fun continuation of the story. We do see it show up in her interactions with Hercules, so maybe being away from him makes a difference. The other characters certainly captured the Disney incarnation quite well. I could practically hear James Woods and Danny Devito's voices whenever there was dialog from Hades or Phil! I liked the hint that Phil might need to train Cassia! Greek and Roman myths are really popular in my library, and this is a fun spin on those tales that middle school students should enjoy. 

Am I the only one who has always been bothered by the Disney interpretation of Hera as Hercules' mother. Argh. Alcmene. Alcemene is Hercules' mother. It doesn't make any sense for Hera to be. This is not the fault of Calonita, who is just starting from the Disney perspective. 

Simpson, Dana. Unicorn Famous (Phoebe and her Unicorn #13)
April 6th 2021 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

Happy book birthday to the newest adventures of Phoebe Heavenly Nostrils! Always a fun time, this current volume addresses the fact that unicorns have become trendy among humans-- will humans become trendy among unicorns? Well, we aren't as cool, so that will take some doing. Another amusing romp.

From the publisher:
"When your best friend is a unicorn, every day is a stroll down the red carpet. Phoebe Howell’s unicorn BFF, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, is happy to provide the celebrity treatment—teaching Phoebe fancy new spells, giving her a ride to school so she doesn’t have to ride the bus, and even negotiating with the tooth fairy on her behalf.

But when Phoebe starts noticing that unicorns have become a trendy fashion statement, she doesn’t feel quite so unique. Fortunately, she’s distracted by adventures including a visit to the unicorn community and a trip to the woods to see her friend Dakota receive an unusual honor at the goblin award ceremony. Unicorn Famous is filled with amusing examples of the extraordinary lengths friends will go to make each other feel special."

 

Ms. Yingling

Monday, April 05, 2021

MMGM- Rescue at Wild Lake and No Way, They Were Gay?

It's
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
 at 
and #IMWAYR day 
at 
and 
Johnson, Terry Lynn. Rescue at Wild Lake 
April 27th 2021 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Madi and her friends Aaron and Jack live in Willow Grove, a small town where they are able to go out on the local lake in a boat, and drive the ATV in the woods between each others' houses. When they find two adult beavers dead near the lake, the are very concerned that there might be babies left in the lodge. Madi manages to swim under the water and retrieve two young beavers, whom she names Phrag and Cooler. Since her grandmother, who passed away a few years previously, was an "animal whisperer" and wildlife rehabilitator, Madi knows how to take care of wild animals, but she also knows it can be dangerous and challenging. Her parents, who are very busy with work, have told her absolutely no more wild animals to foster, so Madi and her friends ensconce the kits in their clubhouse, secure in the belief that her older sister Marley won't come in, since it smells like "a barn inside a boys' locker room next to a monkey factory"! Madi is set to go to a lecture by famous primatologist Jane Goodall, and she knows that if her parents find out, she won't get to go. She doesn't feel that there are any other places that can take care of the beavers, and she fears for their safety because of the deaths of the beavers, which she thinks is tied to dams messing up drainage culverts around the town. Aaron and Jack are a little more forthcoming with questions, all but accusing some townspeople they meet during their investigations. Not only are the children worried about the beavers, but the little devils are kind of cute. Less than cute is their instinct to smear their food and mud on the walls of the clubhouse as if it were a dam! Madi and her sister have an agreement-- Marley won't say anything about the animals if Madi won't say anything about Marley having her high school friends over for parties. Eventually, Madi is sure to be found out, but will she be able to figure out the mystery, as well as what to do with Phrag, Cooler, and another small beaver, Xena?
Strengths: There were lots and lots of good details about taking care of young beavers, but it is also clear that this is not something that should be tried at home! Madi very carefully takes her own notes, and follows those left by her grandmother, and does her best to take good care of the animals. It is very clever how she teaches them to build in certain places, thus helping the town's problem. Her parents are both well and concerned about their daughters, but busy enough that they don't pay a lot of attention, which is a brilliant way to structure a middle grade novel. Madi misses her grandmother, but is channeling her grief in constructive ways. Johnson always writes a good story, and this is a great SUMMER addition to her works. 
Weaknesses: Aaron and Jack were not well developed characters, and the ending seemed a bit abrupt. 
What I really think: This is a must purchase for elementary schools, and a good addition for middle schools where books about animals or outdoor adventures are popular. 

Here's a nice video of Johnson describing her book: 


Wind, Lee. No Way, They Were Gay?: Hidden Lives and Secret Loves
April 6th 2021 by Zest Books
ARC graciously provided by the author

If you've already read Wind's great novel, Queer as a Five Dollar Bill (2018), you know that there is solid evidence indicating that Abraham Lincoln was gay. Given the history of the treatment of the LGBTQIA+ community, it's not a surprise that a lot of the history of this community has been suppressed, especially when it comes to the biographies of individuals.  This new collective biography examines the lives of men who loved men, women who loved women, and people who lived outside gender boundaries, and puts these individuals, their times, and their evolving histories into context. There is a concerted effort to include all facets of the LGBTQIA+ community, and there's some cultural diversity as well. 

As was evident in Pittman's Stonewall: Coming Out in the Streets, there's a lot of gay history that was not recorded, or was systematically ignored. Wind starts with a really helpful introduction about different ways this history was hidden, as well as "Good Stuff to Know". I really appreciated all of the helpful side bars as well, especially about the language that should be used. There are a lot of differences of opinion, as well as terminology preferences, and the explanations are really well done. I love that there is information about staying safe as well. This intro chapter alone is worth buying the book; it gives shows readers the difficulties that have been faced in the past and are still being faced, and is a great place for starting conversations. 

Wind's note about whom to include was also helpful. There were some people who were already on my radar, but some that were new to me as well. The research is phenomenal, and there are extensive source notes at the back. It was particularly inspired to present the research and then ask readers "What do YOU think?" There is a lot of primary source evidence cited, making this book a fantastic resource for students who are working on National History Day projects. 

From Sappho, to Queen Anne, to Bayard Rustin, each entry gives a brief description of the person's life and works, evidence as to why they were gay, how this identity affected their lives and treatment. The best part about the book is the inclusion of historical context, and the presentation of as many illustrations of photographs as could be found to support the narrative. I also liked that there was a "Putting it in Order" chart at the back; sometimes it's hard to understand the historical order of events across world history, and this really helped. 

The only thing that made me a little sad was wondering what Eleanor Roosevelt would have thought about being included. She was just a little older than my grandmother, who would have been mortified if a secret about her would have been uncovered after her death. Mr. Wind did indicate that her estate did look at the manuscript and gave permission rights for her writing that is included. Of course, Roosevelt was particularly good at moving with the times, so I like to think that she would have become a champion of sharing hidden histories had she lived long enough. 

No Way, They Were Gay? is a well-researched, intriguing book of history that has a place on the shelves of middle school, high school, and public libraries everywhere. 

Sunday, April 04, 2021

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Peach Pie

Downing, Erin Soderburg. When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Peach Pie
April 6th 2021 by Pixel+Ink
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Lucy, Freddy, and Herb Peach have struggled with life in Duluth after the death of their mother four years previously. Their father, a university professor, has thrown himself into his work and left Lucy to deal with a lot of the daily problems in the household, but things change when he impulsively buys a food truck and proposes a summer on the road. It's not easy to run a food truck, but the crew decides that they will use an old family recipe for peach pie and see if they can make the truck profitable as they wander about the Midwest. The father, in addition to sourcing ingredients for their recipes, has managed to book several food truck events and file the pertinent paperwork, and with a goal in mind (as well as some interesting side trip ideas), the group is off. Their plan is to end the summer at a food truck fair in Delaware, Ohio, where they prize is $10,000. Then they'll see if the food truck, which the mother would have loved, is successful enough to continue. Lucy is a bit doubtful, but packs an impressive number of books for summer reading, writes letters back home to her Great Aunt Lucy, and throws herself into working at the food truck. Each member of the family brings something different to their operation, which does have a number of problems. The group is camping, in order to save money, and this has its own challenges! There are ruined batches of pies, tickets for selling pie without the proper permits, and difficulties with the food truck breaking down, but there is some fun, too, which was sadly lacking in their lives. From Minneapolis to the Wisconsin Dells to Michigan, Indianapolis, and even North Carolina, the family meets their challenges together and finds a new way of going forward. When they land in Ohio, will they be able to win the food truck competition? And will it make any difference to their new path?
Strengths: It's hard to go wrong with either books about pie or road trips! It didn't hurt my feelings at all that this book was set in an area of the US which I have been forced to traverse again and again. Of course, the group doesn't go to the Wisconsin Dells right away! You have to see the signs for a number of years before you HAVE to stop. There are lots of good details not only about the scenery, but about running a food truck and living in campgrounds. I especially appreciated that their final stop was very close to me, and that they met a woman there named Lois Sibberson in an obvious shout out to Franki Sibberson of My Reading Year, whom I have followed for a long time! 
Weaknesses: Like talking animals, parents who don't deal well with grief to the detriment of their children will always be something that irks me. At least the father is shown finally trying to improve the relationship with his children. Perhaps when the group gets home to Duluth, they'll use the money from the food truck to get some counseling. 
What I really think: This was a great road trip with a lot of fun elements that should be popular with readers who enjoyed Little's Worse Than Weird (the only other book I can think that deals extensively with food trucks!), Pla's The Someday Birds, Anderson's Finding Orion, Gemeinhart's Coyote Sunrise, Goebel's Alpaca My Bags, Cavanaugh's When I Hit the Road, O'Shaughnessy, Kate. The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane and Acampora's How to Avoid Extinction
 

Saturday, April 03, 2021

All You Knead is Love

Guerrero, Tanya. All You Knead is Love
March 30th 2021 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Alba is sent to live with her Abuela Lola in Barcelona, Spain for the summer. She's angry with her mother for making her leave New York, even though Alba understands that her father is abusive, and her mother is probably sending her away so that she will be safe. Abuela Lola is very understanding, even asking Alba how she identifies, since she has a short hair cut and wears boyish t shirts and jeans. Alba meets the daughter of the couple that run her grandmother's Chinese restaurant, Marie, and the two hit it off. She also meets Toni, a friend of her mother's, who had been a magician but started a bakery to support his family. His son, Joaquim, is a Goth/glam rock wannabe who is trying to find his look and sound for a band he is in. Alba takes to baking readily, and finds that it makes her happy when she is worrying about her mother and things back home. Her grandmother makes sure she gets out to see the sights of Barcelona, and introduces her to many of her friends in El Raval, the Filipino neighborhood. These include Manny and Eduardo, a gay couple who collect many things, including theatrical costumes, which come in handy when Alba helps Joaquim with his look for his band. When her mother arrives in Barcelona, Alba is hesitant to believe that things will be okay. Things do get worse when Alba finds out that Toni is going to have to close the bakery, she hopes that she will be able to come up with a plan to help him save it. Her mother helps her research other bakeries, and Alba is cautiously optimistic that the two will stay in Barcelona rather than returning to the US, where she hasn't felt the same feelings of being at home that she now feels. A trip to the country makes Alba feel that things might work out after all, although she still mourns the loss of Toni's bread store. What will Alba's life be like going forward, and will she and her mother be able to work through their trauma to make a new life?
Strengths: I'm always a big fan of books set in other countries, especially since regular travel is restricted and the only travel anyone gets to do is virtual! Barcelona sounds very interesting, and Abuela Lola is a great character with an interesting group of friends. It's fun that Alba is able to hang out with other children her own age, and Marie and Joaquim show her the city nicely, and prove to be good friends at a time when she needs them. I was glad to see that the mother was able to leave the abusive husband and repair her relationship with her mother and with her friend Toni. The details about baking bread made me almost want to make sure myself!
Weaknesses: As someone who wears very utilitarian, perhaps masculine clothes and has short hair, I found Alba's perceptions rather odd. Both of my daughters wore jeans and hoodies all through school, and no one ever said anything. 
What I really think: It's good to see a book where people are able to move past abusive situations and go forward, but this would have been a much more interesting book if Alba had investigated the city more instead of having to process her trauma. There's so much trauma with my students now, and they just want happy books to take their minds off things. I realize that I am alone in the wish for purely happy books, so I can see this title being hugely popular with teachers and librarians who embrace current trends. I will purchase this because of the interesting scenes of Barcelona, as well as the educational value of learning about different sorts of bread!
Ms. Yingling

Friday, April 02, 2021

WWII--Rescue and Flight

Nielsen, Jennifer A. Rescue
March 2nd 2021 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Meg lives an area close to the German border, but when the Germans invade France, her family moves in with her grandmother in the Perche, an area in France. Her father leaves, and Meg is angry that he won't be with them. Her mother seems to be involved in something, but hasn't shared anything with Meg, and Meg herself sells food on the black market, which is risky as well. When she finds a downed British officer who claims to know her father, wheels are set into place, and her quiet life comes to an end. Meg and her father traded codes, and she's been trying to spy on a local officer, Herr Becker. When the pilot, Captain Henry Stewart, asks for her mother by name, Meg doesn't give him any details. It turns out that both her father and Stewart are part of the Special Operations Executive, and Stewart has information about her father. In order to rescue him, Meg has to help a family called the Durands get out of France and into Spain. It's felt that the Germans won't suspect a child. Meg has a cryptic note from her father, and decides that he really wants her to go to Switzerland. With Albert, Liesl, and Jakob Durand in tow, and armed with a backpack full of spy tools from Captain Stewart, Meg sets off on a treacherous journey. She hopes to find her father, and then get her mother and grandmother out of France. Of course, nothing goes smoothly, and as Meg is able to figure out more of her father's clues, the more dangerous her journey becomes. Herr Becker is determined to find her, and the journey becomes one that involves hiding on trains, escaping avalanches, and relying on the vast resistance network in France as well as the kindness of strangers.
Strengths: My favorite part of this book was the author's note: "World War II is a perennial favorite for historical novels.. part of the fascination is because it instills in us questions of the choices we would have made had we been thrust into the challenges and horrors of that war." This really is a great explanation for why this remains a hugely popular topic so many years after the war. Nielsen does great research, and there are lots of good details about little known facets of the war. I want to know more about the S.O.E. now! Meg is a brave and driven character, and readers who enjoy codes and ciphers will find this has as many interesting codes as Hopkinson's How I Became a Spy: A Mystery of WWII London. 
Weaknesses: I've read enough WWII books that I was somewhat annoyed by Meg and her insistence on following vague leads. She and her traveling companions made some critical errors that probably would have most likely resulted in their deaths. I read this on a long, cold weekend in January, so it might just be my general annoyance, since I loved this author's Resistance and Words on Fire
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and this is another good portrayal of life in France during World War II. Hand to readers who enjoyed Gratz's Allies, Korman's War Stories, Hartnett's The Silver Donkey, McDonough's The Bicycle Spy and especially Preus's Village of Scoundrels.

Harbour, Vanessa. Flight
Published March 2nd 2021 by Feiwel & Friends
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Jakob has been working with Herr Engle since the capture and suspected death of his parents. They Jewish, and Austria in 1945 is not a kind place. When a particularly nasty Nazi officer, Bauer, comes looking for Jakob, he shoots the boy's beloved horse, Allegra. Knowing that things are only going to get worse, Herr Engle decides to take the remaining horses and try to get to a Spanish Riding School headquarters, which were moved from Vienna to Sankt Martin in Upper Austria. While he is mourning his own horse, Jakob does find a good match in Raluca, and he and Herr Engle are joined by a Roma girl, Kizzy, who is a great help. The journey is a treacherous one, and there are lots of close calls, since Bauer seems to be following them. Near the end of the journey, Herr Engle is badly wounded, and the two children manage to make a sled to drag behind the horses in order to get him to the training center. Jakob is badly injured as well, but once he is recuperated, he works on training Raluca to perform with the other Lipizzaner horses. While most of the stallions were saved, the mares are still stranded in Czechoslovakia. After the Americans arrive in the area and set up in the training school, Jakob has the opportunity to plead the mares' case with none other than General Patton. Will he be able to get enough help to save the other horses?
Strengths: This was a briskly paced adventure story about trying to outrun the Nazis that had the added bonus of horses. The different facets of WWII seem endless, and I'd never read anything about the famous Lipizzaner stallions before. The details about trying to travel cross country through back roads to escape detection are great. Herr Engle was a sympathetic character who really cared about Jakob, and the inclusion of a Roma girl, Kizzy, was interesting as well. Having General Patton appear as a key character was fun and makes this a great book for researching what is real and what is not! 
Weaknesses: I would have liked to see more information about why Herr Engle took in Jakob, and what the circumstances were with his parents. The killing of the horse was especially brutal, and I could have done without that, although the fact that the butcher was called to deal with the corpse showed how dire the need for food was. 
What I really think: This is another good WWII choice for readers who liked Kerr's Winter Horses or who want a story that does not involve Concentration Camps. I will definitely purchase, since I lost so many WWII books back in March of 2020. 

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Upstaged

Asher, Diana Harmon. Upstaged
March 16th 2021 by Amulet Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Shira is a really good singer, but she is nervous about performing in front of others. When her best friend Cassie wants to try out for the middle school production of The Music Man, Shira goes along to support her. Cassie ends up with a part in the chorus, but Shira has a larger role-- as part of the barber shop quartet. After some people make snide comments to her about being chosen for a boy's role, she debates not doing the play, but her younger sister, Cassie, and teacher Mr. Hoover convince her that she would do a good job. Popular mean girl Monica gets the role of Marian the librarian, and enthusiastic, friendly theater geek Paul plays Harold Hill. Monica frequently goes to auditions in the city, and Mr. Hoover thinks there should be an understudy for her part, although the "celebrity director", Ms. Channing, (who is also Monica's acting coach) doesn't think this is necessary. Shira enjoys working on the play, and finds Paul fun to be around. She even gets to spend some time with her crush, Drew, who is decently nice to her. Monica is not very nice to the other cast members, and when her expensive eyeliner is used to write a message on her locker, her costume is ordered in the incorrect size, and her script is mangled in a paper cutter, Monica focuses suspicion falls on Paul, whom she doesn't think is quite up to snuff to play opposite her. Paul is "benched" by the principal for a while. The play goes on, and Shira starts to feel a little more comfortable with performing. On the night of the production, something goes badly wrong. Will Shira be able to overcome her fears to save the day?
Strengths: While Shira is anxious and nervous about performing, she still manages to get up and perform with the support of her family and friends. There is a definite trend for showcasing anxiety, but the books are more interesting when the plot focuses more on the characters accomplishing things despite this. The interactions between the cast members are fun, and Paul in particular is a well-drawn character. There are just enough details about putting on a play, and I love that it is based on the author's own experience of being in the Barbershop quartet when she was in school! My school put on The Music Man last year, so it's definitely a play that is still being done!
Weaknesses: It seems unlikely that Monica and her mother would hold such power over the principal, or that Monica would get away with being so mean. I've been seeing a lot more of this sort of unrealistic situation in books. They do add a lot more excitement to books, and probably bother young readers a lot less than they bother me. 
What I really think: This is another good book about a school play being performed and a good addition to books like Federle's Better Nate Than Ever, Mustaches for Maddie, Freeman's Noah McNicol and the Backstage Ghost, Zadoff's My Life, The Theater, and Other Tragedies, or Young's The Prettiest. (In which The Music Man is also the play being performed!)