Friday, April 30, 2021

Dragon Guides

Mull, Brandon and Dorman, Brandon (illus.)
Legend of the Dragon Slayer: The Origin Story of Dragonwatch
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In the kingdom of Selona (hand maps at front of book), there are lots of problems. When a gorgon is keeping land from being drained and used, the king asks for volunteers to kill her and allow development to happen. There are few takers, but eventually Konrad comes forward. The cobbler's son is not the most likely hero, but he manages to dispatch the creature and earn his reward from the king. When a yeti threatens another part of the kingdom, he takes care of that as well. When a vampire and phoenix become problematic, Konrad is now the go to to slay the creatures, whom we see in beautiful, full-color illustrations. He is celebrated in songs and stories, and wins the hand of the princess in marriage. When a dragon threatens the kingdom, he hesitates, and confesses why. Will he be able to conquer the dragon and continue will his idyllic life in the kingdom?
Strengths: Fans of Fablehaven (2006) and Dragonwatch (2017) will be thrilled with this back story in a volume that is similar to The Caretakers Guide to Fablehaven (2015) in formatting.  This reads very much like a classic fairy tale, with the medieval setting, hero's journey, and creatures from a number of different mythologies. There's a clever twist that I saw coming that younger, less world-weary readers won't. The end of the book gives profiles of famous dragon slayers who formed a group that eventually became Dragonwatch. 
Weaknesses: While this was a fun story on its own, I struggled to see how it connected to the Dragonwatch series until the very end. Since my students who read these books have memorized the minutiae, it will not trouble them at all. 
What I really think: This would be a great gift for readers who are very avid fans of the series. I want to see how large the book is before deciding to purchase it. It's absolutely beautiful, but if it is a larger size (which the $19.99 purchase price seems to indicate), the plentiful color illustrations might not hold up well in a library setting. Both series are still popular in my library, but most readers tend to be more interested in the novels than in the guides.  

Sutherland, Tui. Forge Your Dragon World: A Wings of Fire Creative Guide 
May 4th 2021 by Graphix; Workbook edition
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This is an overview of how to go about crafting a story similar to the Wings of Fire books. It's part graphic novel, and part workbook, with spaces to write down ideas. There are lots of good ideas for putting together ones own story, including illustrating it. I have a rabid fan base for this series, but given the workbook nature of the book, I don't think I will purchase. 

From the publisher:
Write your legend, draw your destiny, and take flight!

The legend starts with you!

Do you love to draw or write? Do you have your very own dragon stories to tell? In this official Wings of Fire journal, you'll design awesome characters, imagine new adventures, and forge YOUR fantasy world!

With examples from Wings of Fire graphic artist Mike Holmes, Tui T. Sutherland guides you through the #1 New York Times bestselling Wings of Fire series in a more interactive and exciting way than ever before.

Spread your wings with your very own graphic story creation!

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Best Nerds Forever

Patterson, James and Grabenstein, Chris. Best Nerds Forever
May 3rd 2021 by Jimmy Patterson
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Finn is biking home when a sinister, dark van starts to follow him on a treacherous road, and when he dives into bushes at the side of the road to escape it, he ends up going over a steep embankment and dying on the rocks below. He comes back as a ghost and gets to see his family and friends grieving and having his funeral, and meets his grandfather, who is not exactly helpful in solving the mystery of why Finn is a ghost. He suspects that the older brother of a boy who has bullied him might have been driving, and decides that in order to move on, he needs to solve the mystery. While hanging out at his school, he meets Isabella, the ghost of a teen girl who had gone missing and was never found. She doesn't remember as much about the human realm after so much time has elapsed, so Finn helps her as well. He sees his father being very angry with Finn, and blaming video games on his son's demise. Will Finn be able to put both his and Isabella's lives to right so that they can move on. 
Strengths: Patterson's "jimmy"  books are always popular, even when they are titles that I'm not very fond of, such as Pottymouth and Stoopid. (Which I did buy, and which kids do read. Sigh.) Finn is a pleasant enough character, and he has good intentions for helping his own family and Isabella. The two work together to solve the mysteries. There's some fun scenes of Finn capitalizing on his ghostly qualities. He realizes that his untimely demise was caused not by someone evil, but by his own fear. This is similar to Fry's recent Ghosted
Weaknesses: This was very sad, and the scenes with Finn's father destroying his gaming station were heart wrenching. This did take a bit of a twist at the ended that made it not quite as sad.
What I really think: Like this team's I Funny books, this is not really all that funny.  Maybe it's just me, and others are not as bothered by children dying and coming back as ghosts. When it is children who died in the past and come back as murderous ghosts, I'm totally fine with that, but somehow modern children dying strikes me the wrong way. Doesn't matter what I think: this will be a popular title among readers who like this imprint. Available in paper over board format that will last ten years, tops. 
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Finding Junie Kim

Oh, Ellen. Finding Junie Kim
May 4th 2021 by HarperCollins 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

**Some Spoilers**

Junie has an older brother, supportive but busy parents, and concerned grandparents, but school has been difficult. She and her friends don't always see eye to eye, and in addition to constant racist bullying on the school bus, there is racist graffiti that appears at school. It all seems like too much, and when Junie becomes really despondent and contemplates taking an overdose of pills, her parents immediately get her help. She goes to a psychiatrist who recommends medication and a therapist. When the first therapist makes Junie fell even worse, her parents let her visit another one. Rachel is a good fit, and talking to her does make Junie feel better. School is still rough, but her friends approach a teacher about forming a Diverse Voices group to help with anti-racism initiatives in their school. Junie offers to help put together a video, and also has an assignment to talk to members of older generations and hear their stories. She starts spending more time with her grandfather, and hearing about his childhood in South Korea. His family had a difficult time, but his father was a well-respected doctor, and compared to other people, they were lucky. For the first time, Junie hears about his experiences during the war, and about immigrating to the US after marrying her grandmother. Her grandmother, who is still an active real estate agent, doesn't want to talk about the past. After a tragedy occurs, her grandmother is more willing to talk, and we hear about her experiences as well. She was not as lucky, and she and her three siblings ended up walking to other cities to try to find their parents. After hearing her grandparents' stories, Junie is more willing and able to stand up to the bullies and start awareness of the treatment of people of color in her school. 
Strengths: This is a fascinating historical account of children's experiences during the Korean War, and would be great read with Lee's Brother's Keeper, which recounts a North Korean experience. Based on the author's own family stories, this is a brutal and eye-opening look at an era of history about which little has been written. The interviews with the grandparents are a great way to get in many details about the historical setting that young readers might not know. I was also very appreciative of the way that Junie's parents handled her depression, making sure that she got medical treatment, helping her as much as they could, and doing all of the things that should be done in a crisis situation. The arc of the story with the grandparents takes a realistic turn, which is also handled well. This is not an easy book to read, but I can see it winning many awards. 
Weaknesses: While this is an important story, I would be reluctant to hand it to elementary school readers unless they had someone with whom they could process the difficult topics addressed. In addition to Junie's suicidal ideation, there are several graphic deaths during the war. Sensitive middle school readers should also just be made aware of what the book contains. 
What I really think: I'm glad that we have books like this, as well as Bajaj's Count Me In, Kelkar's American as Paneer Pie, Khan's Amina's Voice, and McManis and Sorrell's Indian No More, but I would challenge publishers to publish one happy book with a character with a cultural connection for every book where the cultural connection leads to trauma. Both types of stories have a place, but I don't want my students who have cultural connections to think that their lives should include only trauma. This doesn't mean this isn't an important story, but I also want all of my students to see themselves in happier books as well, or in books like this author's wonderfully spooky Spirit Hunters

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Trouble in the Stars

Prineas, Sarah. Trouble in the Stars
April 27th 2021 by Philomel
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

Trouble is fleeing something, although what is unknown. Changing into the shape of a cute puppy seems like a good way to escape detection, but General Smag thinks even the puppy is suspicious and has it caged, in order to be inspected later. Trouble reverts to goo, oozes out of the cage, and frees all of the other animals that Smag has captured, thinking that they might be the escaped weapon for which he is looking. In the kerfuffle, Trouble manages to sneak aboard the Hindsight, and take on the form of a human boy. Captain Astra isn't thrilled to find him, but since the ship won't dock anywhere to let him off, she puts him to work cleaning the galley and serving meals. The Hindsight has a diverse crew, and they all warm to Trouble and his ways. When the ship is being followed by a Dart from the StarLeague, Captain Astra's suspicions deepen. Trouble oozes onto the Dart in his blob shape and disables it, and the ship saves the very young pilot, Electra. She is wary of everyone, especially Trouble, but eventually the two become friends. The StarLeague is definitely after Trouble. What is his true form, and what will this mean to his future on the Hindsight, where he has come to think of the crew as his family?
Strengths: If I were a shapeshifter, I would definitely be a puppy most of the time, but the story wouldn't be as good as Trouble's. I love the incessant appetite, the turning into a rat in order to investigate things, and the friendship with Electra. Electra is a fun, prickly character herself, and the StarLeague's methods of keeping the peace in the world are a bit cautionary! Captain Astra's approach to them was one I admired, and her handling of the crew and Trouble was sweet in her brusque way.
Weaknesses: I feel like I didn't get all of the pronouns correct-- in blob form, Trouble uses "they", but he is usually in the body of a human boy. Read this on a snow day, so while I enjoyed it, I didn't take notes as well as I should have!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. I love a good space adventure, and they are hard to find. This is a great book for readers who liked Holm's new Lion of Mars, Chen's Ultraball books, and Landers' Blastaway. I love Prineas' more medievalish fantasies, like The Magic Thief (2008- my library copy is in tatters!), Winterling (2012), The Scroll of Kings (2018), and Dragonfell (2019), but I can see a definite future for her in science fiction as well. I love it when the books are stand alones of this length-- a lot of my readers are intimidated by speculative fiction, and books like this are a great way to introduce them to the genre. 

Monday, April 26, 2021

MMGM-- Some NonFiction

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Swan, Russ. Bots and Bods: How Robots and Humans Work, from the Inside Out
March 2nd 2021 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

Interesting comparison between how robots and the human anatomy works, with lots of interesting facets of robots and how they are used. 

From the publisher:
What do humans and robots have in common? Find out in this intriguing illustrated nonfiction book that encourages kids to discover their inner robot.

Bots and Bods is an illustrated guide for kids looking to explore anatomy and technology and how they're related. How do we both move or sense the world? How does robot intelligence compare to our own? Middle-grade readers will find these answers and more among the four sections:
Body structures
Muscle and movement
Senses and sensors
Thinking and feeling
An accessible guide with exciting illustrations, fun facts, and special feature spreads about robots in the real world explains why “bots” can sometimes do a better job than “bods” and vice versa.

Hajek, Olaf. Veggie Power
May 2021 by Prestel Junior
Copy provided by the publisher

This very oversized book (10.56 x 0.45 x 14.13 inches) has trippy illustrations and lots of information about lots of vegetables. My daughter, who works for an organic farming organization, was enthralled. 

From the publisher:
This illustrated garden of vegetable delights will make children interested in learning about what's on their plates.

As more and more families focus on local and organic eating, this delightful introduction to common vegetables offers a delectable serving of uncommonly beautiful illustrations and fascinating information. As in his previous book, Flower Power, Olaf Hajek's wondrously imaginative and detailed illustrations of vegetables are paired with engaging and eye-opening texts. Organized by season, the book tells how each vegetable is grown, how it can be enjoyed on our plates, its health benefits, historical tidbits, and botanical fun facts. From the first spring onion to pumpkins harvested just before the frost, this inviting journey through the growing seasons celebrates the artistic, historical, and culinary bounty that awaits us in the garden and at the table.

van der Veken, Jan. Planes: From the Wright Brothers to Supersonic Jets
October 13th 2020 by Prestel Junior
Copy provided by the publisher

A very complete overview of the history of planes, with beautiful illustrations and lots of facts about how planes operate and are used. 

From the publisher:
Budding aviation fans will pore over every page of this fascinating encyclopedic guide to the history and mechanics of flight, from the Wright Brothers to the Concorde.

How does a plane move through the air? What is turbulence? What do those lines on the runways mean? All these questions and many more are answered in this gorgeously illustrated history of planes and flight. The book opens with a basic introduction to plane anatomy and shows how aircrafts have developed over the ages. Readers will then learn about aerodynamics, the mechanics of wing shape and lift, and how ailerons, propellers, and flaps work. There's even a section on communications systems, runway design, and GPS. Profiles of famous historic planes illustrate basic principles throughout the book. Readers will find out about record-breaking flights across continents and oceans; how "flying wings" evolved into the B-2 bomber; and where the world's most treacherous runways are located. A section on experimental aircraft looks at zeppelins, flying cars, and the fate of the Concorde jet. Jan Van Der Veken's lushly colored, retro drawings detail everything from plane design to the physics of flight and provide the perfect companion to his engaging text. Budding aviators will linger over every detail of this information-packed book that serves both to demystify and celebrate the miracle of flight.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed the Way We Live

Fun fact: when I was getting my degree in Latin (with a minor in Ancient Greek), I considered picking up a minor in home economics. Before that, I was accepted into a journalism program at Bowling Green. My ability to pick  moribund career choices was epic. 

The first chapter of this posits that everything the reader knows about home ec is wrong. This book just broke my heart because I knew this history already. What I really should have studied was women's history, but that wasn't a field when I was in college. 

Home economics could save the world. It won't, because no matter how hard women use the field for good, men always wreck it. I wish that we still had home ec. This is a brilliant work of women's history. 

Dreilinger, Danielle. The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed the Way We Live
May 4th 2021 by W. W. Norton Company
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Even before Seneca Falls in 1848, there was Catharine Beecher's A Treatise on Domestic Economy. In 1841, this was the start of a long road to industrialize and professionalize the art of homemaking. Women were just starting to be allowed to go to colleges, although this was almost always a struggle. Graduating from high school in 1862, Ellen Swallow wanted more education, and got into the newly created Vassar college, where she studied under astronomer Maria Mitchell. Later, she went to MIT and became the first female instructor there. Born at the time Swallow graduated from high school, Margaret Murray, a Black women from the south, went to Fisk College and got a job at Tuskegee, where she met, and later married, Booker T. Washington. 

This was just a start to the home economics movement. It gained a lot of momentum at the Lake Placid Conference in 1899, where Anna Dewey (wife of the disgraced Melvil of library fame) and Ellen Richards gathered leaders in the field and started making plans for the modern study of home economics, where science would improve home life, and therefore society. 

This exquisitely well-researched book covers the field of home economics from its beginnings, through its floruit in the early 1900s, its degradation at the hands of men after WWII when women were forced out of the work force, and into the present day. It discusses the Nation at Risk Report of April, 1983 (tragically, right before I graduated from high school!), that said that the US was behind and needed to stop teaching silly things like phys ed and home ec, which lead right into the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act that is responsible for the US educational systems insistence on testing. 

Within these different eras of the science of home ec, Dreilinger introduces us to a wide range of pioneering women who changed the way work was done in the home. From the team of Flora Rose and Martha Van Rensselaer studying food science at Cornell to the omnipresent Black scientist and activist Flemmie Pansy Kittrell to the famous Lillian Moller Gilbreth, we see these women highlighted against the times in which they lived. These women come from diverse backgrounds; one of the women of whom I had never heard was Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert, who started as an extension agent in New Mexico in the Latine community and went on to be an influential writer and activist. The book addresses, through these women, the troubled history of the treatment of women of color by women who were trying to further the cause of women in general. Given how difficult it is to find information on some of these groups, this inclusion is even more impressive. 

Home economics hasn't, at least in the last fifty years, been given its due. Reading this book almost a year into the Covid-19 pandemic, I felt that given a chance, home economics could save the world. Helping families make the most of their resources, both human and financial, is what home economics is about. If university departments still existed in this field, even if they survived under the aegis of "family and consumer sciences", wouldn't there be scientists who could figure out how to provide child care, early education, and conscious consumerism alongside nutritious meals that would also save the environment? 

Sadly, men got involved. The post-war climate persuaded women to go back to the home, and while more women majored in the field, fewer graduated in it, and jobs went unfilled. Because it was largely a women's field, budgets were cut. Home ec became something that was seen as just "sewing and stirring", and not as a field that taught crucial techniques for managing family life. 

This is an excellent book on women's history, and one that should be in every high school and middle school library. It's a bit dense, and I was saddened that there weren't pictures of these long uncelebrated figures, but this is a book that could launch a thousand National History Day projects. I want a middle grade biography on Flemmie Kittrell, for starters! As society starts to appreciate historical figures of color and other marginalized people, I hope that we see more books celebrating women who changed the way people live their daily lives.

I loved that this book ended with a solid plan for bringing home ec back into schools. It is an excellent idea, and it would help our society to teach all students crucial skills and make them realize that taking care of a home is a worthy accomplishment for everyone, and encompasses, even though it includes, much more than being able to thread a needle, wash the floors, and put a nutritious meal on the table. 

Saturday, April 24, 2021

The Chance to Fly

Stroker, Ali and Davidowitz, Stacy. The Chance to Fly
April 13th 2021 by Amulet Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Nat Beacon moves from California to New Jersey because her mother has a new job as an actuary (so boring!)and her father is the athletic director of the nearby high school. Nat's not thrilled, because their home in California was more accessible to her wheelchair, everyone knew about the car accident that caused her to require it, and she was on a wheelchair racing team. When she and her father go to check out the local racing team, she sees a sign for an audition for Wicked. Nat is musical obsessed, but her parents think that someone "with her circumstances" won't be able to be on stage. Without her parents permission, she tries out, and gets cast in the chorus. She's thrilled to make friends, who are very helpful and friendly (especially the cute Malik!), and to finally get to perform. Her parents aren't happy she disobeyed them, but let her work with the group. There are some hiccups-- at first, the director tells her she doesn't need to be on stage for all of the dances, her father drives her to the camp the group has and gets lost, and the theater the group was using suffers a bad fire. Nat and her friends look around to find another theater. Will the performance be able to go on, and will Nat finally get her chance on stage?
Strengths: This had all of the things that make up a good middle grade theater novel-- new friends, production details, a little insecurity, and a really big show. (Okay, if you said that in a certain voice, you've dated yourself!) Nat is a sympathetic character who wants more independence from her parents, who wants to pursue her own dreams, and who is glad to be involved in an activity about which she is passionate. There are lots of musicals referenced (Does anyone do Oklahoma anymore? Well, they do The Music Man, which also seems dated), and Nat clearly loves her stuff. Having her contact her best friend from back home a lot at first, but then decreasing the frequency was a good addition. 
Weaknesses: I would feel better if more middle grade books books focused on practical careers that society actually needs. That "boring" actuary job? There are lots of jobs available because it's something society needs. 
What I really think: This is an #ownvoices novel; Stroker is an actress who does Broadway and television. There is not a lot of representation of people who use wheelchairs (Sumner's Roll With It, Johns' Mascot and Super Max  and Ostler's, and Vaught's Bouncing Back are some of the few I've read in recent years.) 

Friday, April 23, 2021

Summer Camp

Rhuday-Perkovich, Olugbemisola. It Doesn't Take a Genius
April 13th 2021 by Six Foot Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This has the same characters as the movie Boy Genius ( and starts after the events in that movie. 

 Emmett is disappointed that his older brother Luke won't be able to spend time with him during the summer in their rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. Even though Luke has gotten a scholarship to go to a fancy art prep school in the fall, he is planning to spend the entire summer away from home at Camp DuBois, a camp for Black children that has an amazing array of programs, from history to baking to dance. Emmett will miss his brother, and his mother is in med school, so very busy. The family doesn't talk about his father, who died when Emmett was five. While Luke keeps talking up the camp, Emmett puts in an online application without his mother's permission, and gets accepted with a scholarship! His mother is a bit angry at first, but relents when she realizes what a great opportunity the camp is for Emmett. The brothers travel to the camp, but Luke quickly abandons his brother because he has to work. Emmett has a helpful, if somewhat odd, roommate, Charles, and the two quickly navigate the ins and outs of camp. There are a lot of options for classes to take. Everyone takes Black to the Future and Superhero Secrets, and Emmett tries to decide what interests he has. Is he preppy, artsy, a skater, or a Blerd? Given his love of debate, he decides he must be a Blerd, but he also tries out for the Street Style dance class and makes it. The teacher is very exacting, and challenges Emmett to study different dancers. Emmett also takes an interest in film, and asks some of the girls in the class to work with him on a promotional video for the camp. He does struggle with swimming, wants to spend more time with Luke (who instead is spending more time with Derek, who gives Emmett a hard time), and wishes that his mother and Luke would share more about his father. Camp is not only educational, but gives Emmett lots of time to think about how his background informs the way he views his future. 
Strengths: Like Watson's Some Places More Than Others, this had a lot of great information about Black cultural icons. From Blaxplotation films to Soul Train to hip hop and music stars, Emmett investigates not only a lot of Black artists, but Black scientists, thinkers, and historical figures. Even though the camp is "bougie", he enjoys being around a lot of academically gifted Black kids, and learns to really embrace his identity. I also enjoyed the information about his relationship with his brother and mother, his worries about his mother in school and possibly dating, and his concerns about growing apart from his brother when his brother goes away to school. This is a middle grade concern that I don't see in a lot of books. The camp, while a LOT fancier than any camp I ever went to, was fascinating, and sounds like a lot of fun. Even with his struggles, Emmett enjoys himself. This is a great book to add to lists of titles that showcase Black joy!
Weaknesses: Just a little confusion on my part: Early covers seemed to indicate that this book was related to the movie Boy Genius, but the plots seem completely different. I found it hard to believe that Emmett could have faked his mother's information on the camp application and gotten in so quickly with a scholarship, but that's the sort of plot device that middle grade readers love. 
What I really think: Summer camp books are always popular, and I loved all of the information about Black culture and history. There are a few serious issues, but this is primarily a humorous, fun book. 

Battle, Craig. Away Games (Camp Average #3)
April 15th 2021 by Owl Kids
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This summer at Camp Avalon, Camp Hortonia members are living in the lodge because of the damage done to their camp. Mack and Andre have made a deal where they go to the fancy Camp Killington, which excels at baseball and requires dinner jackets for their fancy gourmet dinners! Miles and Pat are stuck at Camp Avalon, trying to deal with their new realities. They are stuck with Garth, who is assigned to their cabin, making it difficult for them to do their pranks. There's a lot of poison ivy being strewn around the cabin, which irritates their counselor, Laker. Mack and Andre are finding it difficult to deal with Deets, who wanted them to come to his camp, but not to play sports, as they thought. He just wants to mess with them. This takes them out onto the croquet pitch in the middle of the night, where they are forced to trim the grass with scissors. They would love to find a way to go back to Avalon, and Miles, along with Nicole, Makayla, and Cassie, are trying to get them there. When Mack is suddenly kicked out of Killington, it's even more important to get Andre out. When a bet to remove Garth from the cabin turns into a massive ball hockey battle, the campers are glad to have Mack back, and throw themselves into trying to beat the Hortonians. Will the Camp Average campers realize that their strengths don't lie in any particular sport, but in being scrappy underdogs who can find a way to win in any situation?
Strengths: Summer camp books for boys are fairly rare (Ooh! Chris Lynch's Slot Machine (1995) which I loved before both of my copies fell apart), and ones that are funny and involve sports are even better. Camp is a great way to get children away from parents without killing the parents. I love that the girls are treated as very equal, and even described as being good at any sport they try. Bonus points for including croquet. Also, ball hockey is a real thing. There are US associations and everything. I did not know this, and since I am as close to a middle grade literature sports expert as there is, I think it is important to let people know this! It appears to be like ice hockey, but played on a floor instead of ice. Knowing that this is a Canadian publication helps this to make sense. 
Weaknesses: There are a lot of characters to keep track of, and the story takes some confusing turns. Also, where are the adults this time? I found it hard to believe that so much of the situation was controlled by the campers. 
What I really think: I enjoy Battle's writing,  and would love to see him write stand alone, humorous sports novels. I need a lot of those, but my sports readers like plots that are a little less convoluted and involve a lot more sports. Definitely glad to have this series, but I'm looking forward to Battle writing some other sports books in the way that I keep hoping against hope that Rob Buyea will write a wrestling novel. 

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Six Feet Below

Jones, Ena. Six Feel Below Zero
April 13th 2021 by Holiday House
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Rosie and Baker have lived with their Great-Grammy ever since the death of their parents. Their grandmother, a lawyer they call Grim Hesper, took out loans in her parents names and is determined to sell the old house that the children and her mother are living in. When Great-Grammy starts to feel unwell, she makes some unusual plans, but passes away before she can tell Rosie about them. Baker knows that the reason there is a brand new chest freezer in the basement is because they are to store Great-Grammy's body there and pretend she is still alive until their Aunt Tilly can be retrieved to take care of them and keep them out of their grandmother's clutches. So they do. It's a bit odd, having Great-Grammy in one freezer while getting their meals out of one nearby, but Rosie and Baker keep their wits about them. They tell everyone that she is just unwell, but after a disastrous text to all of Great-Grammy's contacts, Grim Hesper shows up and ensconces herself in the house. She starts to auction off furniture and preparing the property for sale, as well as to investigate far flung boarding schools for the children to attend. Will their aunt be able to make it home before their secret is discovered? 
Strengths: Great-Grammy is a fantastic character, and I loved all of the thought that she put into her own demise. Rosie and Baker keep level heads, and do a good job of holding every thing together. Grim Hesper is over-the-top evil. There are lots of friends and neighbors who are supportive, and who bring lots of casseroles, so it's good to see that community supporting Rosie and Baker, because they have been through a lot. Holiday House covers are improving a bit. 
Weaknesses: I would have liked to know more about why Grim Hesper was so evil. The very idea of children keeping dead bodies around for any reason doesn't sit well with me, and might upset sensitive readers. Also-- I would have gotten a freezer that locked. 
What I really think: If you or your students enjoyed Pennypacker's Summer of the Gypsy Moths (2012) or have a nostalgic longing for Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events, this might fit the bill. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Ways to Grow Love

Watson, Renee. Ways to Grow Love (Ryan Hart #2)
April 27th 2021 by Bloomsbury Children's Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ryan is looking forward to her summer vacation, but her mother's pregnancy is causing lots of changes. Ryan has to go to the library with her grandmother, and has to rush through picking out books. She doesn't get to go to the market, since her mother is on bed rest, and has a friend selling things at the market for her. That's a good thing, since the family is still struggling financially. Her mother isn't feeling well, and even her father's attempts at bringing home gifts for the mother from a coworker don't make things better, especially when Ryan and Ray try to get several jars of pickles out of the house by eating them all! There is some fun, hanging out in the neighborhood with friends and her older brother Ray, but the changes in her life make Ryan uncomfortable and sad. She's looking forward to going to church camp, but when her friend Amanda invites Red to come to camp as well, Ryan doesn't think this will end well. Red was mean to her at Amanda's house, but at least at camp, she is a bit more subdued, and camp goes fairly well. Back home, Ryan finishes the library summer reading program, and keeps up with cooking, donating no bake muffins to the homeless. Ryan is worried about the arrival of her new sibling, but reflects on her summer of activities and begins to realize that there is room in her life for lots of different kinds of love. 
Strengths: I would have loved these books when I was in elementary school. The Portland, Oregon setting would have seemed so exotic, and I would have loved the illustrations. This had a decided Heywood's B is for Betsy ring to it. I loved that Ryan had friends who enjoyed the same kinds of activities that she did, and having her go to a church summer camp was great. I certainly spent a lot of my childhood in Vacation Bible School and similar activities. Of course, my favorite part was her involvement in the summer reading program. Readers who enjoy Claudia Mills' books for this age group, or series like Ivy and Bean or Draper's Sassy will love joining Ryan in her world. 
Weaknesses: This was a bit young for my  middle school readers. Watson's new Love is a Revolution is a better fit for my library. 
What I really think: I would definitely buy this for an elementary library, and the series would make a great gift for a reader in that age range, but I'll probably pass for my school library. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Switch and The Clockwork Dragon

Hale, Bruce. Switched 
April 6th 2021 by Scholastic Press 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus 

Parker's busy parents don't seem to pay much attention to him. He's always cleaning up the house, especially since his grandmother died, and keeps his head down in school, even while dealing with bully Deke and crush Gabi. When his older sister goes away for a study abroad program, he gets stuck with taking care of Boof, his sister's golden doodle. This is the same dog who completely wrecked her party by destroying the carefully decorated table, eating the cake, and slurping down the Thai food that was ordered for dinner! Parker is even less inclined to deal with the messy, stinky dog when Boof knocks over a shelf of knick knacks and chews on a wooden statue of the trickster, Eshu, that was his last present from his grandmother. Parker wishes that Boof would have to deal with a misbehaving dog, and the next morning, the two have switched places! Parker is NOT happy about having to eat kibble, pee in the yard, and being able to smell everything very intensely, but Boof is VERY excited about having thumbs and access to the big white food box. Of course, the busy parents hardly notice when Boof, in Parker's body, goes off to school. There, the dog bites the bully, arranges a video game play date with Gabi, and generally has a lot more fun. Parker tries to clean up the house, which is hard for a dog to do, and eventually is persuaded by neighbor dog Ruby to go out and have some fun. Boof and Parker try to figure out how to get back to their own bodies, even consulting a new age candle shop. When the dog catchers come around, will they be stuck in the other's bodies? 
Strengths: I love that Hale consulted Alexandra Horowitz's work on how dogs perceive the world, so that Parker is alarmed at seeing things in shades of gray but has super keen smell. The reasons for the switch made sense, and giving Parker a touch of OCD (never stated, but there is a note at the back) makes it more interesting for him to be a dog. Supporting characters help the story along, and it's interesting to see how Boof gets along with the bully and Parker's crush. The cover is what will really sell this, and readers who love books from a dog's perspective will find that Switched delivers some nice twists. 
Weaknesses: I'm fine with Parker being described as biracial (his father is Black), but this is not an #OwnVoices title. 
 What I really think: Freaky Friday was always one of my favorites, and this is a fun reimagining for fans of Horowitz's Switch, Bedford's Flip, Shull's Bounce, or Margolis' If I Were You. It would be especially amusing choice for fourth and fifth grade students who want to read about middle school.

Hannibal, James R. The Clockwork Dragon (Section 13, #3)
February 5th 2019 by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

After finding out the secrets about his family in The Lost Property Office and having more adventures in The Fourth Ruby, Jack Buckles is now on trial. He and his younger sister Sadie have been working with the Ministry of Trackers, but their very existence is illegal. Also, they may have stolen and wrecked some stuff while fighting the evil Ignatius Gall. They meet Will, a clerk for the court, who introduces them to the world of Fulcrum, rife with Merlinians and Arthurians, and soon they are off on new adventures to prove their innocence and keep the world from ending. Their father is recuperating, but babbling a lot of nonsense that sounds like it might contain clues, but is almost impossible to follow. Will sends Jack, Gwen, and Ash to Salzburg on the trail of  Jack's grandfather, and this trail leads them to a secret lab in the Alps... that of course is destroyed in an avalanche. They realize that the Mind of Parcelus, which they've been trying to find, is the zed, and it belongs on a sword that is located in an Ice Chapel. They've also been introduced to Liu Fai, who is having troubles of his own in China, but chose not to go there to help, at least until the group realizes that the troubles in china might tie directly with their own. After a brief stop at the Greenwich Observatory, which uncovers more secrets, the group are off on another adventure. When Gall takes Gwen, Jack and Liu Fai need to work together to save her and everything else. Will they be able to do that, and clear their father's name... if he survives?
Strengths: Jack is a very sympathetic character, and his family's backstory is certainly interesting. He's the 13th Jack Buckles, and his family has always been involved in keeping the world safe. Jack can "spar"memories from objects when necessary, and gets a lot of help from the Ministry. The details of the various magical places are very intriguing, and the challenges that Liu Fai has with a mother who is in the British Ministry of Dragons and a father who is in the Chinese Ministry are nicely complex. There's also plenty of action and LOTS of travel adventure. A great conclusion to a thrilling middle grade fantasy adventure series. 
Weaknesses: Even taking notes, this was a lot of fantasy for ME, but my readers who enjoy it can rattle off Harry Potter trivia and all of the differences between The Lightning Thief book and the movie, so they will be fine with all the details that were challenging for me. 
What I really think: My students have enjoyed the first two books and have been eagerly waiting for this third and final volume. I was glad to see that the trim size was the same for all of them. This is a really well constructed, action packed fantasy with appealing characters that I'm definitely glad to have on hand in my library. 

Monday, April 19, 2021

MMGM- Freaky Monday

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Sorosiak, Carlie. Leonard: My Life as a Cat
April 13th 2021 by Walker Books US 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Leonard is not really a cat-- he is just really a noncorporeal, 300-year-old space alien who is given a chance to experience life on Earth. After much research and reflection, he has decided to use his month in human form to be a park ranger in Yellowstone, but things go badly awry. Instead, he materializes in South Carolina during a flood, and is saved by Olive. Olive is spending the summer with her grandmother, Norma, because her mother has taken up with a new boyfriend who isn't that nice to Olive, and chances are good that Olive will have to move to California at the end of the summer. Olive takes good care of Leonard, but there is a big problem. Since Leonard only has a month on Earth, and he's quite a distance from where he is supposed to be picked up by the other members of his race, he's not sure how is going to get there in time. Of course, while he's on Earth, there are things he wants to do, and once Olive realizes who he truly is, the two start working through Leonard's bucket list. They manage to get into a movie theater and play board games, and the two spend plenty of time at a local aquarium in the company of Q, Norma's friend who works there. Being a cat, and being Olive's cat, has its advantages, but as the time approaches to leave, Leonard knows that they are going to need a lot more help to get to Yellowstone. Q realizes that something is different about Leonard's cat self, and is willing to help. An epic road trip is planned, Norma is brought in unaware, and the group sets off. It's a tight schedule, but will they make it to Yellowstone in time to make contact?
Strengths: This author's I, Cosmo was a fantastic title that has done very well in my library, and it's interesting to see a title with a cat as the main character. Look at middle grade lit-- plenty of dog books, few cat books other than Hunter's Warriors series. There are plenty of details about how Leonard deals with details about being a cat, and there's a great description of him grooming his fur that made me think about this process in ways that I never have. The experiences of a space alien on Earth are really well done, and there's just enough about the alien background to make this believable. The North Carolina setting is charming, and bringing in the aquarium and sea turtle conservation adds an extra layer of interest. Sorosiak is a strong writer, and one to watch. 
Weaknesses: I don't want to ruin the ending, but I'm not a big fan on love driving decisions. Always seems like such a bad plan to me, but I am definitely in the minority on this one. 
What I really think: This was a well-written very intriguing title that I enjoyed reading, but it's also rather quirky. I'm purchasing a copy because I think that readers who are cat people will like this. My reservations about this book center mainly on the fact that I believe that cats are evil and want to kill us all. If Leonard was a dog, I'd have no reservations at all! 

Debbink, Andrea. The Wild World Handbook: How Adventurers, Artists, Scientists-- and You--Can Protect Earth's Habitats
April 20th 2021 by Quirk
ARC provided by the publisher

This is a fun, paperback book of information and activities that is great for an environmentally inclined reader who want to get out and experience the world. My own children would have had a lot of fun with this one! Despite the colorful cover, the interior is all black and white, but this makes the book more environmentally friendly as well as lighter to carry on treks.

From the publisher:
Packed with real-life tales of adventure, breathtaking illustrations, and practical tools, this handbook is an inspiring guide for the next generation of climate activists, conservationists, and nature lovers.

The wonder of the natural world surrounds us—from the Amazon rainforest to the snowy peaks of Mount Everest to the green spaces in big cities. And as the threat of climate change grows, it’s more important than ever to show appreciation for our planet by taking action.

The first book in a middle grade series for young environmental activists and nature lovers, The Wild World Handbook offers a roadmap for change and an invitation to explore the outdoors, alongside surprising facts and hands-on activities. Featuring nine habitats from around the globe, each section includes diverse biographies of outdoor adventurers, scientists, and artists who used their passion and skills to become bold allies for Earth’s natural diversity and resiliency.

It’s up to us to protect this beautiful, awe-inspiring planet we call home!

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Squad Goals

Kendrick, Erika J. Squad Goals
April 6th 2021 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Magic Olive Poindexter attends Valentine Middle School, where not only was her grandmother the first Black cheerleader, but where he older sister was a well regarded member of the squad. Now that she's old enough, Magic wants to pursue her long held dream of becoming a HoneyBee cheerleader. Even though mean girl Gia Carlyle controls the team, Magic talks her best friend and former bad girl child star Capricorn Reese into attending the three week cheer camp that leads up to the tryouts. Coach Cassidy is surprised-- she thinks that Magic is probably interested in "skating or coding". She certainly doesn't dress the part of a cheerleader, even though her father was a Los Angeles Laker and her mother was a Laker Girl. Magic would rather wear old, comfortable clothes than worry about fashion, and despite always wanting to be a cheerleader, she is out of shape, and has never taken any gymnastics, dance, or cheer classes. This puts her at a disadvantage, but Capricorn promises to help with the training, and she gets unexpected support and physical training from Dallas Chase, a ball player referred to as "Boy Wonder" on whom she has a bit of a crush. While struggling with the athletic requirements of cheer, Magic does make several new friends: Brooklyn, a Girl Scout who is into break dancing and whose mother has recently died., and Winnie, who is more interested in acting and piano. Capricorn isn't happy that Magic is asking other people for help, and the two have a bit of a falling out. As the tryouts approach, Magic feels that her training is paying off, and is glad to have vintage pom poms that belonged to her grandmother, who has recently passed away. The mean girls rev up their attacks, name calling, and pranks, and Capricorn even gets sucked into one. Will Magic be able to realize her dream of being a cheerleader and make peace with both her old and her new friends?
Strengths: There are not very many books that center cheerleading as a sport, and that's too bad. Girls sports like basketball, volleyball, and cheer have been horribly underrepresented. There are lots of good details about dances, stunts, and chants, and it's clear that the author, who was an NBA cheerleader, knows her stuff. Friend drama, and fraught interactions with other tweens is always a popular topic for middle grade stories. I appreciated that Magic had a strong and supportive family, and that it was the death of her grandmother (who seems to have been roughly... my age!) she was working through. Her interactions with Brooklyn concerning grief are well done. The budding romance with Dallas is very sweet, and it's good to see that he appreciates Magic as she is, throwing up after a work out and all. 
Weaknesses: I am the complete antithesis of a cheerleader, but when my younger daughter was in kindergarten, she was enthralled by cheerleaders in the local Fourth of July Parade. This led to several years of cheerleading classes for tiny tots and at least one cheerleader Halloween costume. Once she realized how much work it was, she lost interest. It seemed unfathomable to me that Magic lived with two cheerleaders, wanted desperately to be one, never had a tumbling or dance class, and cared more about eating candy than getting in shape. The mean girls were also a little over the top. 
What I really think: While I understand that the author was probably trying to embrace themes of body positivity and self esteem, I would have enjoyed this more if Magic had a better background in cheer and won a place on the team through her abilities and hard work. There need to be a lot more diverse,  updated middle grade books about cheerleading to go along with older titles like Scott's I Was a Non-Blonde Cheerleader (2005), McCoy's The Accidental Cheerleader (2006), Rallison's Revenge of the Cheerleaders (2007) and Rock's Fly Away (2010)
 Ms. Yingling

Saturday, April 17, 2021

A Thousand Minutes Until Sunlight

White, Jen. A Thousand Minutes to Sunlight
April 20th 2021 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Cora experienced difficulties at birth that left her without oxygen for eight minutes, and she attributes her anxiety, and the fact that her "brain" talks to her, to this deficiency. Her parents have her seeing a psychologist, Dr. Rosenthal, who tries to help her with coping strategies. She still has panic attacks frequently, and it hasn't helped that her best friend has moved to Florida and Cora must start 6th grade by herself. She's supposed to consult the school nurse when she feels a panic attack coming on, but after a recent one during which she ran away from school, the principal pairs her with a "forced friend", Patrick. Patrick is nice enough, but Cora has problems at home as well. Her father runs a custom body shop, and her mother runs a boutique with her sister Janet, but late one night Cora thinks she sees them bringing a man into the house who is not in the best shape. This turns out to be her uncle, who has been estranged, but finally wants to go into rehab. There is a lot of family history of mental health challenges, and Cora worries about her own and her family's. She and her father have talked for a long time about finding "the unattainable find", a supposed cache of gold coins that fell into the area after a plane crash of a wealthy socialite. Cora spends time on the beach with her metal detector, and lets Patrick join her in this quest. Cora has a lot of negative self talk, and spirals into self doubt when things happen in her life, like when her young cousin falls and breaks his arm and she is not able to help him. Will Cora be able to go forward and manage her anxiety, and will her family be able to deal with the uncle's challenges as well?
Strengths: There are a growing number of books that talk about family mental health issues, but I can't think of one that really addresses multiple generations at once. I liked the fact that Cora's parents were both alive and supportive, had her in therapy, and talked to her about dealing with her issues. There are good notes at the end about depression and anxiety. This is definitely on trend when it comes to dealing with these issues.
Weaknesses: This moves very slowly, and there is a constant stream of what Cora's "brain" is saying and what this really means. It's a good way to get an insight into Cora's thoughts, but is a bit annoying. 
What I really think: This author's Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave has proven to be popular because of the road trip and the parental abuse. A Thousand Minutes to Sunlight is much slower paced, and reminded me more of Polisner's Seven Clues to Home, Kelly's We Dream of Space or (oddly) King's The Year We Fell From Space

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 Desert of Souls

Rivera, Kaela. Cece Rios and the Desert 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.