Thursday, May 13, 2021

++Cartoon Saturday- The Ghoul Next Door

Bunn, Cullen and Farris, Cat (illus.). The Ghoul Next Door 
July 13th 2021 by HarperAlley 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Grey has done a really great history project on the local cemetery in his East Coast town of Ander's Landing, and when he is carrying it to school with his best friend Marshall, two things happen: he finds a penny on the sidewalk from 1919, and picks it up even though Marshall doesn't want him to, and he decides to take a shortcut through the cemetery. Marshall won't go with him, and things don't go so well for Grey-- he trips, and his project falls into an open hole. When he peers in to investigate, he sees a shadowy, creepy hand take his project! He's normally a good student, and claims that he just left it at home, since his story seems unlikely. He's given another day to bring the project in, and spends the evening recreating it, only to find it smashed the next morning. However, there is a completed project on the porch that he takes to school. His teacher finds strange things inside the project (a bone and hank of hair), and advises Grey's parents to keep him away from the cemetery! Grey eventually meets the ghoul who is leaving him disconcerting presents. Lavinia is not supposed to be talking to humans, but she's tired of living in the graveyard and having to be a ghoul. She enjoys hanging out with Grey, and he warms to her a bit, feeling somewhat sorry for the huge group of ghouls in the cemetery, and grateful that Lavinia saved him from a rat attack. When Marshall is taken by the ghouls, Grey goes in search of his friend in Lavina's dangerous and scary world. Will he be able to save both his old, surface dwelling friend as well as his new ghoul friend?
Strengths: This booked sucked me right into Grey's world and I believed right away that, sure, a slightly flirtatious ghoul is following him home and getting him in trouble with his parents and teachers. I was glad that Grey was able to tell Marshall what had happened, and whether or not Marshall believed him, he told Grey to keep the truth to himself. Marshall then getting involved with the ghouls and getting taken made for a great reason to have a quest. The illustrations are done in an interesting way-- I think the black lines around the characters are not quite as pronounced, which I liked. This could be a stand alone, although the ending hints at the possibility of a sequel. 
Weaknesses: I wish there had been a little more explanation of why Lavinia wanted to befriend Grey. Maybe a family connection, or a connection through the house he lived in. She was taking a lot of risks to show herself to him, and I wasn't getting her motivation. 
What I really think: This was more along the line of Tapalansky's Cast No Shadow than Steinkeller's The Okay Witch; creepier, with disturbing ghouls and other menacing creatures. The rat attack and other scenes make this a bit gorier, which is exactly what my students want. I need to start thinking of my graphic novel section as a smaller version of my regular collection and try to get different genres, cultures, and themes represented, so I should buy this one, even though I am not personally a fan of rat attacks. 

The Adventure is Now and Bear Bottom

Redman, Jess. The Adventure is Now
May 4th 2021 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus
Milton P. Green is having a tough time of it. His parents are in the middle of a divorce, and the Bird Brain incident at school has cost him all of his friends. His only solace is the video game Isle of Wild, where he pretends to be the main character, Sea Hawk Ferox, a naturalist and explorer who has amazing adventures. When his parents want him to spend the summer with his Uncle Evan, who is a naturalist on a remote island. He's studying the work of Dr. Ada Paradis, who uncovered flora and fauna such as the Truth-Will Out Vine, Symphonic Cicadas, and the Menu-You Bush. The uncle, who is working on the island with a couple of other scientists, has only found only found the vine and the cicadas, and the island might be sold to developers, since Dr. Paradis died intestate and a corporation is very interested in the area. When Milton arrives to visit, he is alarmed that there is no electricity to charge his game, so he can't take refuge in Isle of Wild. He does meet Fig, who lives on the island with her scientist mother, as well as Gabe and Rafi. Milton at first claims to be a very young scientist named Sea Hawk, and is bound and determined to make his own discoveries, but when he finds a box left by Dr. Paradis, he and Fig try to find her elusive creatures in order to save the island from development. Will the island let them uncover its secrets in time?
Strengths: Middle grade readers will sympathize with Milton's plight of having difficulties at school caused by difficulties at home, and with his dislike of being sent away from both home and video games. Lone Island is an interesting setting with lots of mystery and adventure, and Fig, Gabe and Rafi are appealing secondary characters. Dr. Paradis' discoveries are mysterious and magical, and young readers will be enthralled with the interesting and quirky wildlife like the Menu-You Bush. Redman's works are very popular with fans of Natalie Lloyd and Ingrid Law.
Weaknesses: After the Bird Brain incident, the parents should have smashed the video game and made sure that Milton went to counseling instead of lapsing into Literary Ineffectual MiddleGrade Parenting Syndrome. (LIMPS)
What I really think: My students like outdoor adventure survival books, but tend toward more militaristic ones with dire circumstances, like the work of Will Hobbs, Seiple's Death on the River of Doubt, or Mikaelsen's Jungle of Bones. Recently, Rebecca Behrens Disaster Days and Alone in the Woods have done very well. This read a bit like a quirky, elementary version of Boy X

Gibbs, Stuart. Bear Bottom (FunJungle #7)
May 11th 2021 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Teddy and his family, along with Summer and her family, head off to Yellowstone Park. J.J.McCracken is interested in buying a bison ranch owned by some friends, hoping to set it up like a prairie safari park. The owners approach Teddy to ask him to find out who is stealing the bison-- not an easy task! When Summer's mother arrives wearing a very expensive necklace, J.J. is not happy. When a local bear, named Sasquatch, breaks into the house overnight and terrorizes the occupants, Teddy is faced with another mystery-- who stole the necklace? J.J. is sure that it is the bear, and starts to try to locate the bear before he poops out the necklace. Teddy is not so sure. There are plenty of exciting (but not necessarily good!) things happening on the ranch, so Teddy has more than enough clues to consider. Will he be able to figure out who would be taking bison, and what happened to the necklace?
Strengths: I'm with Gibbs-- branching out from FunJungle is an excellent way to keep the series fresh, and Yellowstone is a great location. The descriptions of the "tourons" (tourist morons) would be funny if they weren't unfortunately true, but I love that there is a positive message about how to treat the planet and its fauna along with the mystery and humor. 
Weaknesses: We see more of Summer's parents relationship than we do of Teddy and Summer's. I'd like to see them become even better friends, romance aside. There are plenty of other things going on in the book, but it would have been nice to see a little more character development, since we've spent seven books with the characters. 
What I really think: This will be in great demand in my library-- I already have die-hard Gibbs fans wanting to put it on hold, even though I won't have a copy until August! Definitely another fun romp!

Wednesday, May 12, 2021


Faruqi, Reem. Unsettled
May 11th 2021 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this novel in verse, Nurah's father has gotten a job in the US, and moves the family to Georgia for better opportunities in education and employment than they have in Pakistan. They leave behind a grandmother who is suffering from dementia, friends, and a home that they love. The US is different, and starting in an extended stay hotel while they look for a house is not ideal. Nurah's brother, Owais, joins the local swim team with her, but isn't his usual self. Another girl at the pool, Stahr (who lived very near Nurah's new house), also wears long sleeves when she swims, but it's because her father is abusive. Nurah's mother has a miscarriage and is very depressed about it, and Stahr's mother visits. This connection helps both of them, and Stahr is a good friend to Nurah, who struggles with some other students who make mean comments and are generally unwelcome. Nurah doesn't feel as confident speaking up in the US as she did back in Pakistan, but when she sees repeated injustices, she starts to rebuild her confidence and starts to speak up for herself and others. 
Strengths: There have been a lot of books lately about immigrants who have little choice but to leave their home countries because of war or other reasons, so it is interesting to see Nurah's perspective when her parents want to come to the US but she would rather stay. It was great that she was involved in the swim team. The reaction of the other students is unfortunate, but hopefull books such as this one can help young readers understand what it is like to move to a completely new environment. The page decorations are attractive, and  comparisons to both Other Words for Home and Front Desk are apt. Teachers who like a lot of lyrical descriptions and figurative, poetic language will love this one. 
Weaknesses: It would have been nice to see more of Nurah's life in Pakistan, so the contrast to life in the US was more vivid. There's a lot going on, with the grandmother, the mother's miscarriage, and Stahr's bad family situation. Since the book is fairly short, it would have been nice to see more of Nurah and her family's adjustment to school, foods, her home, and friendships.
What I really think: While I would like to see stories about immigrant children that don't have so many sad things happening, that is often the reality. Most of my students with roots in other countries came to the US when they were very, very young, so don't have an experience like Nurah's. It's important to have lots of different stories, and I hope in time we get more like Khan's Zayd Saleem or Pancholy's The Best at It that have stories centered around middle grade activities with students with a variety of cultural background. (I'd love to see more children from Somali, Ghana, Nepal, Iran or Eritrea, because that's the background many of my students have.)

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Last Gate of the Emperor and The Last Fallen Star

Mbalia, Kwame and Makonnen, Prince Joel. Last Gate of the Emperor
May 4th 2021 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Yared Heywat has lived with his Uncle Moti since the death of his parents. They have moved around in very mysterious ways, often living in abandoned buildings that they fortify heavily. Yared has learned many skills from his uncle, along with a lot of mythological tales about Addis Prime and Akum, and his uncle has helped him build a robotic cat companion named Besa. When he sneaks out of school to play the popular augmented reality game, The Hunt for Kaleb's Obelisk, things go badly wrong. Even though Yared is a top player, the game (which isn't quite legal) was reset, and all of the players have to start from the beginning, he has to register with his own name instead of an alias as his uncle has recommended, and he has to have a partner. He is paired with a girl called the Ibis, and is rather annoyed by her, mainly because she is probably a better player than he is! They head to the Gebeya, an outdoor shopping area in an airborne woreda. When the game starts to go badly wrong, and real threats emerge, Yared learns a lot of information about what really happened to his family, and who Uncle Moti really is. Even Besa turns out to be more than just Yared's robotic best friend. While the Meshenitai, the sworn protectors of the Emperor and Empress of Axum are ready to defend the rulers, there is a huge threat from the Werari and their monster, the Bulgu. Will Yared and the Ibis be able to work with the protectors to save Addis Prime and Axum?
Strengths: This had a lot of good action and adventure, along with cool technology like the robotic Besa. There are lots of details about Ethiopian culture as well, and it's very cool to have an actual prince's perspective! Any book involving video or role playing games is automatically intriguing to my students, and of course, Yared's skill in this game is part of the hope of saving the world. 
Weaknesses: Remember, I personally sometimes find fantasy VERY difficult to understand. Like this author's Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, this book has a lot going on. Because this is creating an Afrofuturist world while incorporating lots of cultural details that might not be known to my students, it would have been helpful to have more deliberate world building. An introductory chapter (perhaps a flashback, after a chapter in medias res, with plenty of things blowing up) explaining how Yared and Uncle Moti lived, and some of the history of the areas difficulties with the Werari, would make this more accessible to readers who have not read a lot of fantasy. It helped that I read an E ARC of this book on a tablet and was able to look up any unfamiliar terms. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and also adding to my list of books that include video games. This reminded me a little bit of Riazi's The Gauntlet (2017) with the market and the family secrets. 

Kim, Graci. The Last Fallen Star
May 4th 2021 by Rick Riordan Presents
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Riley and her sister Hattie work in their family's Korean alternative medicine practice in Los Angeles, but while Hattie is soon going to be initiated as a healer, Riley is "saram" and lacks magic. She was adopted, and while she loves her family, she is sad that she can't be part of their Gom world of healers. There are six gifted witch clans, each with a protective goddess, although one clan, the scholarly Horangi, has been banished after confrontations that led to the death of Riley's birth parents as well as her friend Emmet's mother. When Hattie expresses a desire to share her magic with her sister, the two investigate the possibility, and find that their family does have such a spell. They liberate the book in which it is written, obtain the ingredients, and plan to cast it at Hattie's initiation. All goes well until they are stopped by the elders, who tell them that the spell could possibly kill them both. Looking for other methods to share the magic, they decide to contact Mago Halmi, the mother of all creation, and plead for Riley to have powers. Instead, Hattie collapses and they end up summoning Gom's Cave Bear Goddess, who does have a plan. In exchange for a relic called the last fallen star, this goddess will not only give Riley powers, but she will restore Hatties life. Finding the last fallen star, when she has no idea where it could be, seems daunting, but with her sister's shrunken heart in a glass vial around her neck, there really isn't much choice but to get help from Emmett and other friends to find the relic. This quest takes them around Los Angeles as well as the magical realm, puts them in contact with a variety of magical creatures (I did enjoy the tiny talking horse, although others were scarier!), uncovers family and clan secrets, and teaches Riley a lot about herself. 
Strengths: Riley is an appealing character who very much embodies a typical middle school students; it doesn't matter what they CAN do, they want to do the things they are told they CAN'T. It's nice to see a good sisterly relationship, and this reminded me a bit of Levine's The Two Princesses of Bamarre, one of my daughters' favorites. The secondary characters of Noah and Jennie are used well, as are the various adults. The magical creatures on the quest are exceptionally good, and this is nice and twisty-- I don't want to ruin any of the family secrets. The Korean culture, from Saturday school to food, to mythical creatures, is covered nicely. I am often confused by fantasy books, but Kim's writing kept me on track with a minimum of notes, which is quite an accomplishment. Looking forward to more by this author. 
Weaknesses: This almost needed a list of characters and their respective clans at the beginning. The fact that there were six clans but five elements caused me some confusion. Wasn't keen on the theme that love is important, since loving people just means that eventually, they will disappoint you, but the target demographic doesn't know this yet.
What I really think: This is probably one of my favorite of the Rick Riordan Presents titles, and I'll purchase it, but the title and cover are very similar to other fantasy books, making this a bit harder to remember. It would be great if this is just a three book series. My students used to be able to stretch to five, but few are willing to make this kind of time investment these days. Also, can we have more books with cultural connections that aren't fantasy? I could use a lot more realistic fiction (AND SPORTS BOOKS) like that.


Monday, May 10, 2021

MMGM- The Best Worst Summer

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Eulberg, Elizabeth. The Best Worst Summer
May 4th 2021 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
ARC provided by the publisher

Peyton is having the WORST summer. Her family has moved from Minneapolis to the small town of Lake Springs, where her mother has gotten a university job. Her father is working from home but always busy, her brother is absorbed in video games, and she has plenty of time on her hands to miss her best friend, Lily. When she reluctantly does some gardening chores for her father, she finds a time capsule in the garden from 1989. In alternating chapters, we then get to see the story of Melissa and Jessica and the BEST summer that they had in 1989. The two friends, one whose professional parents adopted her from China, and one whose more working class parents are struggling, especially with their marriage, plan on eating lunches at the local cafe, hanging out at the bookstore, and generally having a good time. To memorialize their time, they are planning on a time capsule with pictures of their favorite pop stars, a mix tape, and other memorabilia. Peyton's summer improves when she meets Lucas at the library. His friends are at camp, and his over protective mother (he's in a wheelchair) prefers he wander the town with someone. Peyton's dad eventually relents as they get to know the town, so the two are able to follow Melissa and Jessica's path, talk to people, and try to figure out who they were. As Melissa's home life starts to deteriorate, it is harder and harder for her to get along with Jess. The two have to part suddenly, and the time capsule is Jessica's way of trying to apologize, but of course, it is never received. Can Peyton and Lucas use their 21st century skills and technology to get the two friends back together?
Strengths: So, I started teaching in...1989. My first batch of students now have... middle school students. Excuse me while I fix my dentures and adjust my support hose and girdle. Oh, my. The details of 1989 are spot on. I think I still have the exact cassette tape described-- a mix tape of Weird Al that one of my students gave me! I also enjoyed the geometric page decorations on the chapters from that era. Both stories hold up on their own, but intertwine well. Eulberg, who writes YA titles like Past Perfect Life, Better off Friends, and Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality, nails the middle grade voice perfectly. The small town setting was fun, and the contrast to summers for children now and in the past was interesting to see. 
Weaknesses: Melissa's family situation was key to so much of the book, yet the father's character seemed very flat. Younger readers won't care as much about his motivations, but I somehow wanted to know more. The ending was a bit predictable for an older reader, as well, but again-- younger readers will love the resolution.
What I really think: This will make 44 year olds feel ancient, but be intriguing to younger readers. If it gives them insight into what their parents' lives were like, all the better. A fun read, and easy to recommend to students who have seen The Baby-Sitters Club television show on Netflix. Since I have an actual paper ARC, I know just the student to whom to hand this today!

Here's a book that Melissa and Jessica (or Peyton and Lucas) could have used!

Fieri, Jenny and Seabrook, Alexis (illus.). The Girl's Guide to Building a Fort
May 4th 2021 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

Judging from Grandin's The Outdoor Scientist, children today need help occupying themselves. Certainly, my students seem to spend a disproportionate amount of time on their phones, which my own personal children never did. This STEM-focused guide to "Indoor and Outdoor Adventures for Hands-On Girls" has plenty of suggestions for things to do!

Divided into the broad categories of "Let's Be..." scientists, trailblazers, atheltes, artists, builders, and chefs, each has about a dozen different activities. These ranges from detailed instructions for science labs or recipes, to information about a topic to checklists for exploring the woods or going to the library. As with the Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion, I would have been obsessed with this book and driven my mother up the wall trying to do every single activity in the book! 

Most of the activities have reasonable supplies that I would have had around the house-- chalk, string or rope, paints and coloring materials. I sort of want to go and buy a quart of chalkboard paint right now and paint some rocks. The recipes are also doable, and I love that different herbs and vegetables are discussed. Would two pounds of eye of round ever have been allowed to be turned into beef jerky in my house? Absolutely not! But I do kind of want to do that as well. 

My only objections to the book are that it shouldn't be labeled just for girl, and the assumption of middle class resources. Why construct something to sell to only girls? There is nothing to be gained from that, even from a publishing perspective of making money. These activities would work best with adult supervision or guidance, and some of the supplies will not be readily available to all readers. 

This is a very helpful book that will be well-used in the right hands. The activities are really nicely  described and thought out, and the instructions are so complete that beleaguered grown ups are not going to have to spend too much time helping. I like that there are more activity books listed at the back-- when visiting the library, why not pick them up?

Sunday, May 09, 2021

Home Sweet Forever Home, Summer Lifeguards

Alpine, Rachele and Sonda, Addy Rivera (illus.). Home Sweet Forever Home
May 4th 2021 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Lauren loves dogs, but her stepfather is allergic to them, so she can't one of her own. Luckily, her friends Ruby (who wants to be a reporter), Emelyn (the fashionable one) and Myka (who has a large family and likes sports) all agree to volunteer at a local rescue facility. Mr. Turner, who is in charge, is glad to have them read to the dogs to help socialize them and get the adjusted to being with people, but he also has the girls wash bowls, clean cages, and do other less glamorous jobs. Lauren notices that the dog to whom she reads, Rhett, is not getting adopted because he is older, and she comes up with an idea to help. After her step brother tells her that she is too young to really help the world (the girls are in the third grade), she decides to put together an event at her Uncle Patrick's cupcake shop to have people meet the dogs, eat cupcakes, and hopefully adopt a pet. Nothing goes smoothly, and the friends end up having an all day baking session at Lauren's home, but in the end, many of the pets do get adopted, and the shelter also has more people volunteer to help. At the end of the book, there are a quantity of two page biographies of a wide range of "invincible girls" who have done work with animals. 
Strengths: Lauren is a very energetic character who does not let other people get in the way of getting things done! She and her friends take their task seriously, even trying to get their teacher to adopt a pet (in a really charming scene where the teacher thinks they are trying to set her up with a boyfriend!). I love the energy, and the fact that they don't shy away from working hard. Lauren's family, with her stepfather and stepbrother, seemed nicely realistic. Her uncle who owns the cupcake shop is gay, and the friends have diverse backgrounds. I really liked the short biographies, and am looking forward to the next book of the four book series, which  brings in art. Fans of Coco Simon's different series will like the Invincible Girls and their club.
Weaknesses: Having just adopted an older dog, I love the message, but think that the shelter probably would have a much more stringent application process, and there might be health concerns about home baked cupcakes. Being an adult really takes the fun out of things, doesn't it?
What I really think: I will pass on purchase for middle school, but would definitely purchase for elementary school libraries. This would have been one of my favorites had I read it in early elementary school. 

Doyle, Elizabeth Carey. Summer Lifeguards (Summer Lifeguards #1)
May 4th 2021 by Sourcebooks Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Jenna is completely devoted to doing well on the swim team, since she sees it as her ticket to either the Olympics or the US Naval Academy. Her family farms. Selena wants to be an actress, so wants to try out for the school play, and does a lot on social media to further her brand. Her Ecuadorean parents are the caretakers of a large estate on Cape Cod. Ziggy's family is very into living off the grid, and Piper lives with her mom and grandmother, and helps run the family horse farm. All four are friends, and are very concerned when a huge storm is supposed to hit the Cape. While Ziggy's mom thinks all of the warnings are a fake government conspiracy, the other families take it seriously. Jenna is distraught that her parents won't let her go to a swim meet that has not been canceled because of the storm, even though her arch rival, Franny, is going to be there. Once the storm ramps up, and people are evacuated to the local middle school, there is plenty to occupy the girls. Piper's family has a lot to do because of the livestock, and because the daughter of a rich couple who have a nearby summer home has run away from her boarding school, and they are trying to keep her safe. The girls help out at the school, and are inspired by seeing the local student lifeguards who are helping, and make plans of their own! While their town is hit hard by the storm, the fact that people banded together kept the problems to a minimum.
Strengths: This is a great description of what it is like to have to endure a hurricane along the sea coast! All of the details about preparations and evacuation are great. The characters seem representative of the diversity of the population in Cape Cod, and they all have their own interests and family situations. I especially liked Piper's family farm, and the descriptions of the fancy summer homes. These would be fantastic books to read by a boring suburban Midwest pool in the summer!
Weaknesses: As with any book with multiple characters (Frederick's Mother-Daughter Book Club, Buyea's Because of Mr. Terupt), I had trouble keeping everyone straight at the beginning, but the subsequent volumes should concentrate more on one character. 
What I really think: There should be more books about surviving natural disasters, like My Life as a Meme's great depiction of California fires or Bishop's 14 Hollow Road's coverage of a tornado. Definitely buying the entire series! It's a great escapist read to the beach along the East Coast, which in Ohio is impossibly exotic. I love that the girls will be working as life guards and look forward to all of the adventures and drama!


Saturday, May 08, 2021

Dogs Named Hugo

Smith, Renée Felice, Gabriel, Chris and Hanson, Sydney (Illustrations)
Hugo and the Impossible Thing
March 30th 2021 by Flamingo Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Haven't we all been doing things that seem impossible lately? Hugo, a small bulldog, has always been told that no one knows what is on the other side of The Impossible Thing, because no one can get there. No one even tries because, well, it's impossible. Not even the huge Mr. Bear, the slippery Miss Otter, the sly Little Fox or Mr. Goat, who is so good at climbing. Hugo decides he will get to the other side, tells his friends, and when he starts his journey the next day, they all offer to go with him. They all have skills that prove useful, and before you know it they have overcome the obstacle and gotten to "the most perfect place in all the forest". Because Hugo took a chance, he made life better for all of his friends. 
Strengths: This had a very good story about pursuing dreams even though they might seem difficult, and it was nice to see that Hugo's friends came to his aid instead of just waiting to see if he would be successful. The illustrations are very attractive, and the use of greens is impressive. Little Fox is absolutely adorable, and I may have developed a fondness for illustrated foxes to rival my love of illustrated mice! Hugo is delightful, and his "dogged" pursuit of his dreams will charm many readers. 
Weaknesses: I would have enjoyed this a little more had it been the huge MS. Bear; there is a gender line in children's literature where all the cats are female and all the dogs are male that could be shaken up a bit.
What I really think: I have a weakness for picture books involving dogs like Please Take Me For a Walk, A Family for Louie, War Dogs, or Kate McMullan's wonderful As Warm as the Sun. I used to check them out to read to Sylvie. This one would be good for small humans, too. 

Sidorov, David, Wenitsky, Rachel, and Freeman, Tor (Illustrator) 
Good Dogs on a Bad Day
March 16th 2021 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Hugo's family is very busy, with three children and frenetic parents. He is afraid that no that he is no longer a cute puppy, they no longer care about him. The older boy forgets to walk him, the youngest child wants a puppy, and the family will leave him alone in the house with a robotic vacuum cleaner, which is horrific! Luckly, he sometimes goes to day care with Erin at Good Dogs. He is joined by Erin's own dog, King, and sometimes Cleo, although she does a lot of agility training. Also in day care is Lulu, who is an Instagram star whose owner is an aspiring actress who gets a role. The three are out with Erin in the park, being good dogs, when they encounter Napoleon, who proceeds to do all of the things that our three good dogs would never consider. When they see how much fun Napoleon is having, they do join in, shedding their collars, chasing a squirrel with whom they have an agreement, and getting pastries out of a dumpster. They are beset with anxiety about how their owners will react (especially Hugo, who has help destroying the vacuum), but their humans are just glad to have them back. 

Sidorov, David, Wenitsky, Rachel, and Freeman, Tor (Illustrator) 
Good Dogs with Bad Haircuts
March 16th 2021 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

The dogs families get even busier. Lulu's owner has a role on a show and gets offered an opportunity to have Lulu appear on film to discuss her internet fame. Erin and her boyfriend Jin decide to get married very quickly, when his mother is coming to visit, and Jin works from home planning the wedding while Erin takes Cleo to agility training. Hugo's family offers to help with the wedding party, and Waffles, the puppy they found after Hugo's romp in Good Dogs on a Bad Day, needs some training. When Jasmine takes Lulu for a very bad haircut, she worries that her career is over, and when King pees on Jin's iPad, the dogs are concerned about their continued place in their families. Napoleon's family understands his need for socialization with other dogs, so he joins the group at day care and does spice things up a bit. Another romp around town ensues, involving the local friendly squirrel as well as a cat of questionable moral values. Will the dogs make it home yet again?

Strengths: Hugo, Lulu, and King all get their own chapters, in distinctive font styles, so it was fun to see their personalities emerge. They all have their personal foibles and concerns, and their underlying belief that they were GOOD DOGS who needed to behave in responsible ways made all of their actions even more enjoyable. I loved their detente with Nuts, the squirrel! Napoleon is an auxiliary character, but he does experience some growth. Seeing the humans engaged in their daily lives, in projects like putting the wedding together, while not really think much about the dogs was kind of fun and highlights my own basic fear that my own dog was super sad while I was at work. It's interesting to see what the secret "inner" lives of dogs might be! Fans of Ahn's Pug Pals or Surovec's My Pet Human will find this a great next step. 
Weaknesses: I did worry for the dogs safety on numerous occasions, but they did mention, as they shed their collars, that they were microchipped, and their humans were very caring despite the lax security that enabled the dogs to escape. 
What I really think: This is a fun series, but they didn't speak to my soul the way that Stick Dog or Two Dogs in a Trench Coat did. They are great choices for humorous books for both elementary and middle school students, and the mix of pictures and text doesn't quite make these Notebook Novels, but goes a bit beyond just page decorations. 

Friday, May 07, 2021

Guy Friday- The Fifth Quarter

It is fashionable now to get on Twitter and opine that there are no "boy books" and no "girl books". All books are for all readers! 

This just makes me wonder if these people, as well meaning as they are, have actually talked to a middle school boy or girl recently. 

It's been five years since I discussed this at length, but little has changed. Boys still come in wanting sports, war, and humor books. Girls still come in and want romance, problem novels, and mysteries. Boys still physically recoil from Hamster Princess. Girls still don't worry about who the main character is as much. 

Do boys read books with girls as the main characters? All the time. Will they enjoy The Fifth Quarter more than, say, Nat Enough? Absolutely. 

The only thing that has changed in five years is that EVERYBODY wears sweat clothes to school every day. So yeah, Twitter people might have a point about the whole "boy clothes vs. girl clothes" thing.

Dawson, Mike. The Fifth Quarter
May 11th 2021 by First Second
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Lori Block plays on a basketball team, but she and her friend Sophia only get to play in the fifth quarter, when points aren't being scored. They struggle with some issues, like double dribbling or a weak defense, but love basketball. Lori would like to do better, and maybe get on a travel team, so her parents enroll her in basketball lessons. Fourth grade is a time of a lot of tears, and Lori is easily upset by things like Sophia not wanting to play basketball at lunch, and her mother running for town council. She's worried that her groups of friends don't like her, especially since one friend's father is running for the same position her mother is. When a friend shows up at her basketball lessons, Lori isn't very kind, and her friends call her out on her lack of support, although Lori continues to make hurtful remarks. She enjoys playing basketball with one fifth grader, Jordan, and occasionally plays with Jordan and her friends at recess. She goes to a summer camp, and calls her father to come and get her at night. He is able to persuade her to stay. Lori's game starts to improve, her mother's campaign finishes up, and she is able to concentrate on school and basketball once again. 
Strengths: Lori's family is realistically busy and dysfunctional. Her mother works a lot, and her father lets her younger twin siblings spend much more time on devices than is good for them, and both parents struggle to control the children in public. I haven't really seen this reflected in middle grade literature, although I have certainly seen this in action in the aisles of Target. They do manage to get to her games, talk to her about her problems, and give her the support she needs. The friend drama is also realistic. How many elementary school friendships realign over playing basketball versus playing "unicorns". Lori manages to grow up a little over the course of the book, and is a bit more in control of how she treats her friends. 
Weaknesses: As an adult, the poor parenting really bothered me, and there was one picture at a basketball game with half the spectators glued to their phones! I am also easily distracted by noses in graphic novels, and sometimes characters' noses or mouths would just not be drawn. Had I just accepted that and not tried to search for meaning, I would have been less distracted. Not understanding basketball all that well, I also found the pictures of the action on the court less informative than text descriptions of games. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, especially since a sequel, Hard Court, is coming out and seems to deal with soccer. 

Thursday, May 06, 2021

The Mystery in Manhattan (Kudo Kids #2)

Shibutani, Maia and Alex , Shusterman, Michelle and Yaoyao Ma Van As (Illus.)
The Mystery in Manhattan (Kudo Kids #2) 
May 4th 2021 by Razorbill
E Arc provided by Edelweiss Plus

After their adventure in Tokyo in The Mystery of the Masked Medalist (which I managed to miss), Andy and Mika are traveling from their home in California to New York City. Their father is a travel writer, and their mother is a sports reporter who is covering the NCAA tournament in Madison Square Garden. Their aunt and cousin live in the city, so they are also glad to visit them. Since their parents are busy, the kids plan on hanging out with cousin Jenny, who is taking a gap year after high school, and helping out her mother, who is a very busy stylist who is starting her own fashion line. Jenny is supposed to deliver the showcase piece of her mother's first show, but has managed to damage it slightly. She gets a friend at the Fashion Institute of Technology to repair it, but the dress goes missing! Even though security camera footage shows no one taking the garment bag out of the room where the friend put it, the dress is GONE. Looking for the dress takes the group all over the city, and the kids use their skills (honed in Tokyo and by reading The Westing Game!) to figure out what happened and get the dress back in time for the show. 
Strengths: I've been to New York City once and never need to go back, but it's amusing to read about. I love that a college age cousin is brought in to take the kids around town, so they can get into a little bit of trouble without parents, but stay safe. The fashion/stylist angle will appeal to a lot of readers. I liked the relationship between the two, especially the investigation of different activities in middle school that is making the siblings feel less close. The mystery has enough twists and turns without being scary. The cover is bright and appealing, and Shusterman should get more attention for her mysteries. (Somebunny to Love, Dead Air.)
Weaknesses: The celebrity authors are apparently figure skaters, so I kept waiting for something other than skating at Rockefeller Center to happen. 
What I really think: This is a solid mystery with lots of travel details that reminded me a bit of David A. Kelly's Ballpark Mysteries. I would definitely buy this for elementary school, but my readers want more bloodthirsty mysteries. Killer ghosts are the request of the day!

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Luck of the Titanic

Lee, Stacey. Luck of the Titanic
May 4th 2021 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Valora Luck's alcoholic father has finally passed away after years of wasting the family's money and keeping them down on their luck. Her twin brother, with whom she often did an acrobatic routine in order to have some income, has run off and is shoveling coal on ocean liners. When she manages to get two tickets on the Titanic so that she can accompany a wealthy woman to America, she thinks that she will be able to locate her brother Jamie and settle with him in a new country. When Valora tries to get on the ship, however, she is turned away because of the US Chinese Exclusion Act. Since her trunk has been loaded, she uses her acrobatic skill to climb aboard the ship to stow away. She is abetted by April Hart, a brash young woman who is trying to start her own fashion design business, House of July. She enlists Valora in wearing her creations about the ship and being mysterious about them. Valora is very busy-- she's located her brother, who is not pleased to be found, and tries to talk him into performing on the ship so that the owner of the Ringling circus, who is on board, might try to sign them and get them into the country. There's a lot of deals that need to be made, but of course, everything is undone when the Titanic hits the fatal iceberg and survival becomes the only goal. Will Valora and Jamie manage to survive and start a new life in the US?
Strengths: Valora is a very engaging character who has managed to round up an impressive amount of resources, and is using them effectively to try to make a better life for herself. I knew a little about the Chinese Exclusion Act, but my younger readers will be captivated by this new-to-them history. The pomp and wealth on the upper decks of the ship is nicely contrasted with Jamie and his companions at work. The inclusion of some fashion design is quite fun and reminded me a bit of the television series House of Eliot. There are plenty of details about surviving the disaster as well, but Valora is really the draw in this one. She's a great character whose perseverance makes us root for her! This is perfect for readers who liked Ying S. Lee's A Spy in the House (2010).
Weaknesses: Most of the book is about Valora's machinations to get to the US, as well as her dealings with her brother. There's a fair amount of discussion of acrobatics, and a lot of hanging out below decks. The ship doesn't start to sink until about 2/3 of the way into the book. My readers who want books about the Titanic are looking for more romance (if they've seen the movie), or for details about survival. 
What I really think: I will probably pass on purchase, but this would be a great choice for high school. It read more like an adult novel, so I really enjoyed it, but know that my students are looking for something a bit different when it comes to books about the Titanic.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

The Last Shadow Warrior and Thrive

Subity, Sam. The Last Shadow Warrior
May 4th 2021 by Scholastic Press 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Abby Beckett has been training her whole life. She knows that her mom who passed away four years ago was a warrior who battled Grendels, but she's still surprised when her home in Charlotte, NC is attacked. She and her father, an English teacher, take off hastily and escape to Minnesota, where she will be attending the Vale school, and her father will be teaching there, thanks to the Grey Council. Things don't go smoothly, however; on their way in, there is another attack, and her father ends up in a coma in the hospital. Abby is encouraged to start school anyway, and meets Jacob Grimsby and Gwinn, who are friendly, and Chase Lodbrok, who is a jerk. The headmaster tells Abby that Grendels are extinct, and there's no reason to have the Aesir warriors like her mother anymore, but her aunt, who is one of the last Aesirs, is missing and Abby is worried. When the doctors determine that her father was badly scratched by  multiple sleepthorns, and will die if an antidote is not found, Abby and her new friends start an investigation. This takes them under the school, which is a portal to Asgaard, and Abby's training to fight Grendels comes in very handy (as do Gwinn's Valkyrie qualities) as the trio faces all manner of evil Norse characters. Will they be able to find the cure in time to save Abby's father?
Strengths: Grab Napoli's beautifully illustrated Treasury of Norse Mythology and hold onto your Svadilfari!  Abby is a fearless fighter who misses her mother but is intent on preserving her legacy and saving her father. While she's worried about the rise of the Grendel and the fact that her father is in a coma, she's also excited to finally get to use her training and be introduced to the world of which her mother was such an important part. It's good to see that she has good friends and fighting allies in Grimsby and Gwinn, and their exploits are filled with lots of action, as well as a few great middle grade gross moments! There were plenty of fun moments, too, like a book crucial to the mystery being reserved for Abby before she was even a student at Vale, and a bingo game with a dark Valykrie. The ending leaves this open for a possible sequel, but would also stand alone well. 
Weaknesses: This gave me a few "Wait. What?" moments that younger readers might not have. Abby is wearing her mother's flannel shirts, but her cottage was consumed by an inferno? She and her father flee the Grendel but pack boxes? Grimsby doesn't know that the Gwinn is a Valkyrie? I find that I have to pay really close attention to fantasy or I can't remember enough to write a review, so perhaps that worked against me in this instance. 
What I really think: This is a fine addition to other action adventure fantasies based on Norse mythology, like Harris's Runemarks, Jennewin and Thomas' Runewarriors, Armstrong's Blackwell Pages series, Riordan's Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgaard,   O'Hearn's Valkyrie series, Holub and Williams' Thunder Girls, or Richards's Secrets of Valhalla.

Oppel, Kevin. Thrive (The Overthrow #3)
May 4th 2021 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Netgalley

*Spoiler Alert: If you haven't read Bloom or Hatch, there will be some spoilers.*

Anaya, Petra, ,and Seth are deep into the invasion of the alien life forms that have created the hybrid children, sent plants and animals down to Earth, and are preparing to invade and take over the planet for themselves. The rebels, aliens who don't necessarily want to suck out all the humans' brains, are working with the children and their adult scientist mentors to formulate a plan to keep the invasion at bay. Anaya is telepathically communicating and working with a swimmer (who uses gender neutral pronouns), and Petra with a runner named Terra. Seth is distraught that Esta is being held with the other hybrids and might be charged with murder, in which he feels complicit. The ship that the alien rebels arrived on was badly damaged, so everyone is trying to find other downed ships that could be stripped for parts in order to make repairs. The best way to defeat the aliens seems to be to introduce a mutation into their bodies that turns the sounds they make against them, and combining this with a virus in rain to lower the aliens' immune system response will make it work faster. Things, of course, do not go smoothly. Seth runs into many problems when he is trying to save Esta, and the method of wiping out the flyers hits a lot of snags. The hybrid children also have to deal with the fact that their bodies have changed, and it's not easy living with a tail with a poisonous tip, feathered arms, or a body newly covered in fur. Will the hybrids, rebel aliens, and scientists be able to save the world from eminent takeover?
Strengths: For most of the book, I did NOT think it would be possible to save the world! We don't see a lot of the alien strategy in this book, but they had a solid start with sending the evil grass and ground worms to colonize the planet and sow destruction. The fact that the hybrids are teens saving the world, and they have the help of rebel aliens is a great device. There's plenty of action: flying, fighting, running, and generally surviving in a world gone mad. Having a three book set is perfect, the covers are fantastic, and the dystopian world and its inhabitants are beautifully developed. 
Weaknesses: It always seemed like such a long shot that Earth would prevail, so the ending felt a tiny bit deus ex machina. I wish that some of the environmental message in the final chapters had been seeded more throughout the books. 
What I really think: This might be one of my favorite new series. The books all came out in about a year (no small feat, I understand, but when a sequel comes out 12 years after the first book... the kids interested originally are all gone and the books are worn out!), is a genre that has a small but loyal following, and is structurally sound in plot, characters, and message. Feel like I need to buy two sets just in case, but probably won't.

Monday, May 03, 2021

MMGM- Uncomfortable Conversations and Across the Tracks

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Acho, Emmanuel. Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Boy
May 4th 2021 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this young readers' edition of Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, Mr. Acho uses his perspective as a second generation Nigerian American who grew up in predominately white schools to explore issues of race, racism, implicit bias and other topics in an instructional way. I especially liked how introduced a topic and had consistent chapter elements like "Let's Get Uncomfortable", "Let's Rewind" (talking about the history of a topic), and "Talk It, Walk It". I think that's a helpful format for younger readers trying to unpack these weighty concepts. One particularly important topic was the debate about whether the term African American or Black (which is not capitalized in this book, but which current convention usually capitalizes) should be used. While Black seems to be the most commonly accepted term, Mr. Acho opines that the final determination of use should be up to the individual. The We Need Diverse Books Movement is mentioned (this started in 2014, but has been taken more seriously after the summer of 2020. Finally.), and Mr. Acho has a good blend of current news stories, personal anecdotes, and history to illustrate his points. There is an excellent bibliography at the back. In general, this book is a good overview of topics from these other books presented in a way that is a bit more linear than Kendi and Reynold's Stamped. Certainly, both books are essential in middle school library collections. I haven't read the adult version, so I don't know if that would be more appropriate for high schools. This could certainly be used in elementary classrooms, but I don't deal with younger students enough to know how younger readers would process this on their own. 

My only hesitation about this book is something I have questioned for a while: while I certainly cannot complain about the use of the term "Karen", since my own privilege shields me from it causing any real harm to me (disclaimer: my given name is, in fact, Karen), I do wonder if using stereotypes like Karen is a bad practice because it normalizes the use of stereotypes, and children might pick this up and go on to use harmful ones against BIPOC or other people. At the beginning of the school year, another teacher and I called out our principal and assistant principal (a Black man and a white man, respectively) on the fact that they joked with our school resource officer (a white man) about policemen eating doughnuts. It didn't bother the officer, but what message does it send? There are other concerns; this Australian Buzzfeed article includes this thought: "But, by making light of the term, we overlook the damaging impact the real "Karens" have had and will continue to have on people of colour.(sic)"

My voice is not the one that needs to be heard about such topics, but I would certainly be glad to have an uncomfortable conversation of this if it keeps young readers from engaging in using stereotypes. 

Alverne Ball, Stacey Robinson (Illustrations), Reynaldo Anderson (Contributor), Collette Yellowrobe (Contributor)
Across the Tracks: Remembering Greenwood, Black Wall Street, and the Tulsa Race Massacre May 4th 2021 by Abrams ComicArts - Megascope 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This graphic history tells the story of the thriving community of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After the forced removal of Native Americans, many Blacks moved from the South into the area. Booker T. Washington encouraged residents to encourage Black ownership, and the area was incorporated in 1901. There were a full complement of businesses and service providers, all Black, which kept the money in the community and helped create a thriving area known as "the Black Wall Street". The planned lynching of a young Black man caused the citizens to band together; unfortunately, the resistance they met was brutal, and the area was badly damaged. There is a great time line of events, and an essay that provides additional information. 
Strengths: Graphic novels are a great way to get middle school readers to pick up historical information, and this does a nice job of showing the type of clothing people wore, what the area looked like, and offering a really vivid depiction of this vibrant community. I haven't read any account of the Tulsa Race Massacre, and am glad that there is information on it, especially since the summer one hundred years after 1921 showed so little progress in the treatment of people of color. The illustrations are well done, and the text offers enough information to explain what occurred to encourage readers to do further research. 
Weaknesses: While it is important to learn about traumatic events in Black history, I would also like to see more books that highlight accomplishments and triumphs of the Black experience. Also, I would REALLY like to see a historical novel set in Greenwoods that doesn't necessarily center on the destruction. It would be sort of like a Black Little Town on the Prairie, and I have a lot of readers who would LOVE that. 
What I really think: This is an excellent addition to any middle school or high school history collection, and I am going to look for a somewhat more detailed title as well. Since 2021 is the centenary of these events, I hope to see several other good titles. 

Sunday, May 02, 2021

I Speak Boy

Brody, Jessica. I Speak Boy
May 4th 2021 by Delacorte Press
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Emerie Woods think she has her best friend Harper all figured out. In her capacity as "Love Coordinator", she has come up with an elaborate plan to fix up Harper with her crush, Elliot at the school dance. When she puts the plan in place, however, it backfires in a spectacular way, and she ends up in a decorative pool. Her fancy phone goes dark, and she panics, since she promised her mother that she would make the phone last five years. The next morning, the rice in which she placed the phone has miraculously restored it, and there is an odd app. Emerie had been using an app called "iSpeak" to help her talk to a French pen pal, but now there is one labeled "iSpeak Boy". Sure enough, it magically translates the thoughts of all of the boys around her. It's amazing how concerned they are about their hair, their height, what others think of them, and bras! While this is fascinating, Emerie has a problem. Harper is mad at her because of what happened with Elliot. Emerie tries to make amends, but keeps getting distracted by other things in her life. Her computer teacher, Mr. Weston, seems to think her MOM is cute, her twin brothers are still using weird twin speech that drives her and her mother up a wall, all of the other girls want to know what boys are thinking about them, and her former friend and boy-next-door Grant is the only boy whose thoughts are not translated by her phone. Emerie is still trying to use her love coordinator talents to make things right with Harper, but is that really what the problem is? As she starts to realize that knowing what boys really think isn't all that helpful, will Emerie realize that she has some work to do on herself?
Strengths: Brody has a growing body of really solid works of magical realism. Better You Than Me,(2018), Addie Bell's Shortcut to Growing Up (2017) and In Some Other Life (2017) are all fun, changing places romps. This has a great use of technology, not quite akin to Mlynowski's 2010 Gimme a Call (best use of phone EVER!), but definitely fun. Who hasn't wanted to know what people are really thinking? Emerie's experiences at home, at school, and with her friends are filled with a delicious blend of drama and self-realization. This is one of those restful, fun books that I would have saved up my dimes to buy from the school book fair and reread with alarming frequency.
Weaknesses: Is the boy-next-door trope over used, or am I just bitter that there were no other teens in my neighborhood growing up, so my dreams were just dashed?
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and this will be hugely popular with fans of Nelson's Wish Novels. 
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, May 01, 2021

Cartoon Saturday-- Some great books for elementary school readers

Nisson, Sam and Johnson, Darnell (Illustrations). Power Up!
February 23rd 2021 by Etch/HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this graphic novel, we see two boys who go to the same school but don't know each other connecting online as they form an unstoppable team in the game Mecha Melee, a shoot 'em up robot strategy game. Gryphon and Backslash, as they are known, spend a lot of time together, but at school, they are just Miles and Rhys. Rhys has left his former school after an unfortunate incident, and is just trying to keep his head down. Miles has a group of friends and is very gregarious, even if not everyone is thrilled to hear his play-by-plays of his gaming. When Miles' parents tell him he spends too much time gaming, he doesn't agree, but their terms are not negotiable; he needs to find another activity, or he won't get any screen time. A popular boy whom he has known for years does dirt bike racing, so he tries that. This boy is also very mean to others, and particularly picks on Rhys. When a Battle Con comes to town, Miles begs his parents to go. They relent, and soon he is competing in the Every Game Ever event, which has kids playing all manner of old and new video games. He makes it through some rounds, but eventually gets out. The final two gamers end up being a girl who is professional, and Rhys. Rhys is allowed to pick someone to help him, and Miles volunteers from the audience. Will the two work as well together in real life as they do online, and will their gaming friendship extend to school?
Strengths: Middle grade readers will love this one, with its depiction of gaming action, school drama, and disputes with parents over screen time. Really, shouldn't just about every middle grade novel involve a subplot with disputes over screen time? The illustrations are fun, the colors are bright, and there's the wish fulfillment of getting to play in a competition. It was also good to see that Miles and Rhys were able to become friends. 
Weaknesses: For the target demographics, there really aren't any. Readers who like the Cube Kid Minecraft notebook novels, Graley's Glitch, or Hansan's  My Video Game Ate My Homework will find this highly amusing. 
What I really think: I really hate video games. Didn't quite realize how much until I read this. Because my students like them, I do have a number of books like Schrieber's Game Over, Pete Watson, Anderson's Insert Coin to Continue, or Mancusi's Dragon Ops. Heck, I've even read Hansan's history of video games, Game On!, and even declared a literary video game trend. But is this my thing? No. Will I buy? Debating.

Dillard, J. and Roberts, Akeem S. J.D. and the Great Barber Battle .
February 23rd 2021 by Kokila
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

**Spoiler alert**

J.D. is nervous about starting third grade, especially when his mother trims his hair and doesn't do a great job of it. He's afraid he will get teased, since most of the other kids at his school go to the local barber shop in his town of Meridian, Mississippi, or have a more talented family member do their hair, and he's right. Determined to make things better, he gets his hands on his mother's trimmer. He wisely decides to test his skills on his younger brother first, and when that hair cut goes well, he does his own hair. His mother doesn't get angry, and people at school envy his new do. He starts a small business cutting hair for $3, and soon has quite the clientele. J.D. thinks of all of the ways he can spend his new found wealth. He's able to hide this activity from his mother, since she is very busy working on her MBA, and his sister Vanessa is off running track. Henry, Jr., the owner of the barber shop, stops by the house to warn J.D. off, but he doesn't take it seriously until an inspector arrives from the health department and shuts J.D. down. To try to get his business back, J.D. challenges Henry, Jr. to a barber battle. If Henry wins, J.D. will stop cutting hair, but if J.D. wins, Henry will leave him alone. Henry agrees to this, and soon the competition is set, with another local salon owner helping to organize and judge. **Spoiler alert** Not surprisingly, J.D. wins, and starts charging $5 per cut. His business increases so much that Henry's business is affected (even though previously, he had been so busy that the boys had to wait for a long time to get in.). Since one of the reasons the boys favor J.D.'s cuts is that Henry only knows three styles, Henry eventually comes and asks J.D. to come to work for him. J.D. must pay to rent the chair in the barber shop, but does the math to realize that he will still make more money than he would working from home. Things are really looking up for J.D. until he gets home to realize that his sister Vanessa has taken over his room to style hair for HER friends, which could certainly set the stage for an interesting sequel. 
Strengths: This was a fun story about a boy who had a passion for something and worked to make his dreams a reality. The author is a "barberpreneur" who brings a vast array of details about cutting and styling hair to vivid reality on the page (I did NOT know that sometimes shaved designs are highlighted with colored pencils! The pencils I use for quilting designs are the water color type, so if I get really bored...) J.D. is surrounded by a supportive family and good friends, and has realistically difficult interactions with some of the people at school. Young readers always like to see kids best grown ups, and J.D. certainly triumphs over Henry, Jr., and in doing so, gets better barber service for his town. The accompanying illustrations are attractive and make some of the descriptions in the text easier to understand. There's a lot of humor in this book, and a much needed up beat tone. I was very glad to see that this is set to be available at Target, since it is a great choice for an early chapter book and deserves a wide readership. 
Weaknesses: While younger readers won't know or care, the battle and J.D.'s home business as well as his job at the barber shop are very unrealistic. There are concerns about health and safety regulations that can't just be ignored because J.D. wins the battle, and there are child labor laws that would most likely preclude him working for Henry in the barber shop. This won't detract from the story for most readers, but it bothered me. 
What I really think: This is a must purchase for elementary school libraries and might work well for less enthusiastic readers in middle school who are very concerned with hair and fashion. Since I always trimmed my own children's hair on the porch and haven't had a professional cut since October 2019, I didn't quite understand the obsession, but found the book to be an engaging read.