Monday, May 31, 2021

MMGM- Everywhere Blue and The Kate In Between

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 
1 June 2021 by Holiday House
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Maddie (aka Madrigal) lives in a musical family; her mother is a voice coach, and her father is a piano tuner and composer. Older sister Aria is in high school, and older brother Strum is away at college, which is why Maddie takes care of Strum's dog, Gizmo. She also takes oboe lessons, and is a whiz at math, going over to the high school for classes there. It's been a stressful few years for the family; Grandma Lovato died of cancer three years previously, and two years ago, Maman's parents died in a plane crash on their way back to France. In high school, Strum dedicated himself to all sort of social and environmental causes that put him at odds with their father. As a result, Maddie second guesses herself and finds herself being awkward with her friends, including Emma. When Strum walks away from his college dorm, the whole family, especially the mother, is rocked by the disappearance. As months pass, the tensions grow. Aria starts to stay out without permission, and doesn't talk as much to Maddie. The parents argue, and sometimes take less than optimal care of the girls. Maddie thinks she has figured out when Strum has gone, and makes plans to get a bus to a small town in Mexico to find him. She is found out, and she and Aria are left to fend for themselves while their parents go to retrieve him. Will the family be able to work through their differences and find a way forward?
Strengths: I can't think of any missing sibling books except for Pfeffer's 1987 The Year Without Michael, so it's good to see a fresh take on the topic. Thankfully, this didn't end the way that I suspected it would, so wasn't as sad as it could have been. The family dynamics are well delineated, and the pressures of dealing with Strum's disappearance manifest themselves differently for each family member. Aria, and her friend Nico, are nicely supportive of Maddie at a time when her parents aren't. Music is woven throughout the book, and since I played oboe through high school, it was good to see that represented! Holiday House covers have been improving over the last several years. Fritz is a long time, active member of the KidLit community and a loyal participant in Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.
Weaknesses: I found it hard to connect with Maddie or Strum, and was sort of rooting for Aria to get away from her family. Guess I just identified with the parents too much! 
What I really think: This is an lyrical novel in verse about working through family problems and anxiety that readers will find to be a "heartprint" book. Hand to fans of Haydu's One Jar of Magic, King's The Year We Fell From SpaceGennari's Muffled and Mackler's Not if I Can Help It.

Swinarski, Claire. The Kate In Between 
May 18th 2021 by Quill Tree Books
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Kate's life isn't easy, but her family is hanging in there. Her parents were still in high school when she was born, so are much younger than her classmates' parents. They divorced when she was young, and she has lived with her mother, who is currently involved in selling True U cosmetics, an Amway or Lularoe type business which requires her to buy her own product and recruit others to sell as well.  She has just moved to be closer to the corporate headquarters so that she can make Diamond level, leaving Kate to live with her father, a police officer, is his cramped apartment, where she is sleeping on a pull out couch in his office. She's been friends with Haddie for years, but recently Haddie has begun to annoy her. She's loud, she wears weird clothes, and she doesn't care what anyone thinks of her. Kate has become friends with the popular Taylor, which she enjoys because she knows that if Taylor is talking TO her, she's not talking ABOUT her, since Taylor is often mean. When Kate is hanging out with Taylor and her friends and they give Haddie a hard time about a hat she is wearing, tossing it about and keeping it away from her, Kate reflexively steps in, grabs the hat, and takes it out of play... by tossing it out onto the ice. When Haddie goes to retrieve it, she falls through the ice and is saved by Kate. Taylor takes a video of it and shares it with the news media, who hail Kate as a hero. Kate's mom fans the flames of this, and Kate finds herself the center of much unwanted attention. She knows what she did and feels awful about it, but the situation is allowing her to reconnect with Haddie while she is still friends with Taylor, which seems like the best of both worlds. She and Haddie end up going to California to be interviewed by a popular celebrity, and for a while, Kate thinks that things will be okay. Of course, they aren't. Taylor gets angry and retaliates by showing the REST of the video, which clearly shows Kate throwing the hat on the ice. The backlash from Haddie and the community is hard to deal with, especially when Kate also finds out that her mother's business is failing, and she is back in town but hasn't told Kate about it. Will Kate, with the help of her loving and sensible father, be able to weather this storm and find a way forward?
Strengths: There are so many small things that make this book a stand out. I've had many students over the years with very young parents (You can have a 12 year old and be 28. It happens.), but I haven't really seen this reflected in the literature. Like Claire in Walker's Why Can't I Be You, Kate is a bit ashamed of her home, and feels bad that she can't have "nice" clothes. Her father drops her off at school in his police car, which is embarrassing, and her mother tries to recruit other mothers to sell Tru U, and causes Kate to move from apartment to apartment. Because of the instability in her home life, Kate is glad to have Taylor's positive attention, and is ready to sacrifice her relationship with Haddie to get it. Still, she likes Haddie, enjoys being with her, and feels bad about how she is treating her. Still, survival is key in middle school, and Kate feels that the only way to survive is to leave Haddie behind. The addition of a bout with celebrity will definitely appeal to tween readers as well. The emotions in this one are raw and real, and so much more common than students grieving the death of a parent/sibling/friend. While this author's What Happens Next, was interesting in a quiet way, The Kate in Between is a fresh and riveting slice of middle school life. 
Weaknesses: Not really a weakness, but a thought. This also put me in mind of Walker's Let's Pretend We Never Met, and made me think about Haddie's position. At the end of 7th grade, my friend Jenny completely ghosted me, but I sort of understood. I definitely marched to the beat of my own marimba in middle school, and I knew she was embarrassed by me. I would love to see a book from the point of view of a middle schooler who is left behind like Haddie, and Swinarski could do a great job with a book like that. I could have used a book like that to help me rein in my exuberant... differences.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing a copy, and the friend drama will make this immediately popular with my students. Love the cover as well! The paper ARC got passed around a lot in the past few weeks of school, and the readers loved it. 

Ms. Yingling

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Paper , Hazel Bly and the Deep Blue Sea

Patrick, Cat. Paper Heart
May 11th 2021 by G. P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

After the events in Tornado Brain, Tess is struggling. It's only been two and a half months since her friend Colette died in a terrible accident, and she can either stay home with her family for the summer or travel with an aunt and uncle to the family cabin. Since she doesn't want to have to deal with her twin Frankie, who is demanding at the best of times and newly irritating because she seems to have forgotten Colette, Tess decides to go with her aunt, uncle, older cousin Kennedy and young cousin Kane. She also gets to attend an art camp. Normally, this would be great, since she loves to draw, but even that feels impossible after losing Colette. The art class is a good diversion, and she finds an understanding friend in Izzy, a local boy who listens to her concerns without judging and eventually becomes a light romantic interest. Tess starts to imagine early on that Colette is haunting her, feeling this is evident in such things as a creepy feeling going over bridges, an old man in a yellow scarf who seems to be following her around town, and strangest of all, messages appearing in the steam of bathroom mirrors. Even though Tess doesn't believe the adults in her life who keep telling her "things will get better", the pain of losing Colette becomes less raw, dealing with Frankie becomes easier, and life does go on. 
Strengths: I liked the idea of a "paper heart"-- when you crumple one, you can smooth it out, but the lines are still there. It's used in the book as an example of how harsh words affect people, and I'd just never heard that. My favorite part of the book was Frankie's way of dealing with grief and bad thoughts: she schedules one minute a day to allow herself to think about such things, and schedules that minute for 1:00 a.m., when she is asleep! Kennedy was a fun character, with her affected, Goth-style wardrobe and attitude, and Kane (who is about four) was very sweet. The adults are all supportive in appropriate ways. The summer art class was a good touch. I think there are a lot of middle graders who spend their summers at day camps of some sort, and there aren't a lot of books that deal with that setting. The exploration of how Tess deals with her twin's autism spectrum quirks will resonate with many readers. 
Weaknesses: While Tess has a therapist, and the mother and aunt are very concerned about Tess, she doesn't seem to be getting enough counseling early in the book. Since she feels guilty about Colette's death, this is an added concern. She is shown at the end to be on medication and to be getting more help.
What I really think: This is perfect for fans of Benjamin's The Thing About Jellyfish, Stokes' Fadeaway, Connor's The Ethan I Was Before or for readers who want to know more about the characters in Tornado Brain.

Blake, Ashley Herring. Hazel Bly and the Deep Blue Sea
May 25th 2021 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Hazel's mother, reeling from the death of her wife, has moved Hazel and her sister Peach to various rentals, but finally comes back to the East Coast town where she grew up. There, she reconnects with her childhood best friend, who is dealing with the death of her daughter Lemon's twin. Hazel and Lemon spend the summer hanging out with friends in the seaside town, investigating the local legend of a girl who became a mermaid. Hazel and Jules, who is nonbinary, develop a nascent romantic relationship. When the mother's become involved, Hazel worries that this will prevent her family from returning home. Fans of this authors other works will enjoy this summer at the seaside, working through grief and looking for a way forward.

I loved the LGBTQIA+ representation, but would love to see books that have this without being so sad. 

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Summer of Stolen Secrets

Sternberg, Julie. Summer of Stolen Secrets
May 18th 2021 by Viking
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Catarina, or Cat, is more than happy to spend the summer at home in Manhattan, but after her two good friends Ruthie and Amelia treat her badly at the end of seventh grade, she is fine with spending the summer in Baton Rouge with her aunt, uncle and older cousin Lexie whom she has visited with from tiem to time in New York. Also in the mix is her estranged grandmother, who has not spoken to her father because he married a Gentile woman. The grandmother, Safta, runs a posh department store, Gerta's, and Cat is interested in getting to now her grandmother and the store. Still stinging from the rejection of her best friends, Cat is in contact with another friend from school, Max, over the summer, but throws herself into trying to get to know her difficult grandmother. At one point, Cat finds a storage room she is not supposed to be in, and finds out secrets relating to Safta's past during World War II, as a German refugee searching for lost relatives. She makes an uneasy peace with her exacting grandmother, but both her grandmother's story and the book's story have a bittersweet, sad ending. 
Strengths: Books about estranged grandparents are always interesting, and this had a tiny bit of a Bauer's  Rules of the Road feel. The details about the department store are fascinating. Spending the summer away from family is another great premise for a middle grade novel, and it doesn't hurt to throw in an older cousin who isn't a great example. Friend drama is always a plus in a middle grade novel, and Max was a good, if new, friend. Cat's research into her grandmother's past is done with some sensitivity, and the ending is theatrically sad in a way that will appeal to readers who like a dramatic story. 
Weaknesses: Cat addresses her grandmother as "you" through the entire book as though talking to her while relating the story, which gave the book a strange, disconnected feel that I did not enjoy. 
What I really think: The seemed somewhat similar to Kacer and Walter's Broken Strings or Carelli's Skylark and Wallcreeper. It has a little bit about the Holocaust, but not as much as I would have liked. 

Jones, Kelly and Murphy, Kelly (Illus.) Happily for Now
May 4th 2021 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Fiona's mother has struggled with addiction on and off for quite some time, and has decided to go into rehab again. In order for her to do this, Fiona must go live with relatives. Luckily, she has Ms. Davis to support her. Fiona would like to be like Ms. Davis, and have her "fairy godmother" type powers, so she asks her mentor to give her tips on how to help her relatives. They are a sad lot, running a failing bakery in the town of Cold Hope. Aunt Becky makes a dispirited array of lackluster cookies and muffins that her mother, Alta, demands. Uncle Timothy really wants to draw and create art, but has been similarly shot down. Fiona starts helping at the bakery immediately, and encouraging Becky to make her favorites brings in new business. She also suggests that he aunt make up with her former best friend, who runs a bakery across town. In the library, Kevin the librarian is helpful, and Fiona meets Julia, who is the friend of her helpful contact person in Cold Hope, Mr. Rivera. The two become fast friends, and work to help Aunt Becky and her friend Annie by getting involved in a town festival where there will be a baking competition. Fiona finds that helping others can be complicated, and needing help from other people can be the most complicated thing of all. 
Strengths: Especially here in Ohio, we are seeing more and more children affected by various types of addiction. Fiona's adjustment to a new family is realistically portrayed, and her positive attitude is somewhat unusual to see. It makes sense that she would feel more in control if she can help others. It is good to see that she has a strong support network, and there is a lot of discussion on coping techniques that will be useful to young readers. Books involving baking are always in demand, and the description of the coconut lime cupcake made my mouth water. There aren't a lot of books where a tween gets to see friendships of adults run into difficulties, so this was a nice twist. I wouldn't have known that there were references to Gibbon's 1936 Cold Comfort Farm if the preface hadn't warned me. I picked that up to read before hand (thanks to the Ohio Digital Library), and was pleased that I knew enough about 1930s British literature to understand the original AND that I could then pick out references in Happily for Now! Kelly Murphy's black and white illustrations are delightful.
This is the slightest bit young for my readers because of the talk of becoming a fairy godmother, but this makes it even more appealing to the elementary school crowd. 
What I really think: This is an interesting look at a young tween who is trying to help her family through hard times. Fans of Lambert's Family Game Night, Roske's Kat Greene Comes Clean , Lenz' Stepmom Shake Up, and Swartz's Smart Cookie will appreciate this upbeat approach to working through problems. 

Friday, May 28, 2021

Guy Friday- Various Guys

Gutman, Dan. Wait! What? Muhammad Ali was a Chicken?
May 4th 2021 by Norton Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

I can't say enough good things about Dan Gutman's efforts to promote books in the last year. I was a fan before, and loved his Baseball Card Adventures and other titles, but man, he has really stepped it up. From reading from his books on Facebook Live to posting fun pictures from around New York City to making it onto the local news with his quest for bran flakes, he has been a ray of much needed light during the last year of darkness. How he has done all of this AND come out with fun new titles like Houdini and Me, I don't know. 

The only thing that makes me sad is that his books are a little young for my readers. His sweet spot is really elementary school; I would have been enthralled with his work in about third grade, as my own daughter certainly was. 

Definitely take a look at this new Wait! What? series. (The first book is about Albert Einstein.) The books are a great choice for readers who can't get enough of Penguin Randomhouse's Who Was?  or She Persistedo biographies or Meltzer's Ordinary People Changed the World.

I find myself being oddly conflicted about how many biographies there are about Ali, and this article is a good example of why. Most books address this a little, in an age appropriate way, but I still have a hard time getting my head around the idea of Ali as a philanthropist and cultural icon. 

Greenwald, Tommy. Duckscares: The Nightmare Formula 
May 4th 2021 by Amulet Books
Copy NOT provided by the publisher

Yep. Sometimes I'm not able to get ahold of a book. So I am all kinds of confused about why this book even exists, but IT'S BY TOMMY GREENWALD. Therefore, I would normally read it and review it, even though it looks a bit young for my students. My public library is open now, so I'll try to find a copy. Greenwald certainly did a great job at mysteries with his Crimebiters series

Introducing an all-new series of spooky middle-grade mysteries starring Disney’s world-famous troublemaking triplets Huey, Dewey, and Louie

Huey, Dewey, and Louie—the world-famous nephews of Donald Duck—are off on a globetrotting adventure! When the boys are suddenly (and confusingly) selected for a prestigious exchange program, they head off to Germany, where they learn about soccer, the local culture . . . and a spooky plot plaguing their new friends. What’s all this about a haunting? Written by acclaimed author Tommy Greenwald and featuring two-color illustrations throughout, this series starter is perfect for young mystery fans.

Dougherty, Brandi and Pooler, Paige (illus.) Scouting for Clues (Bark Park #2) April 20th 2021 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

What a great book for emerging readers! The illustrations are adorable. Of course, now that we've read it, Pongo wants to go to a dog park!

At Bark Park, Scout’s a little dog with a big appetite for solving mysteries! In Book 2 of the series, join Scout and her friends as they hunt for new clues!

Everyone's favorite canine sleuth is back with three new mysteries! Follow along with Scout and her friends as they search for clues to track down missing blueberries, explain why there’s a puppy on a leash in Bark Park, and figure out what Sprinkles is wearing!

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Lily's Promise

Erskine, Kathryn. Lily's Promise
May 18th 2021 by Quill Tree Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Lily has always been home schooled by her dad, but after his death, her mother is not able to keep up with educating her. Lily is painfully shy, and very apprehensive about attending public school. Her fears are well founded; the children are loud, and Ryan and his buddy Brady bully many of the students, included the bow tie wearing Hobart (whom he calls Ho-fart), who is extremely welcoming to Lily. He has a hard time in school as well, but with the help of cafeteria monitor Mr. Hammer, has a good attitude and throws himself enthusiastically into school. Her father had encouraged her to "Strive for Five": speak up, make herself heard, step out of her comfort zone at least five times, so that this becomes second nature. She tries to do this, but it's hard. It is also worthwhile; she makes friends with other students who are struggling to fit in. Javier is from El Salvador, Dunya was in a refugee camp and speaks three languages, and Skylar and his family have fallen on hard times. The students start a campaign to leave positive notes for other students, until the bullies ruin it, but are successful in working toward a culture of acceptance and positivity in their class and the school. Will Lily be able to make the goals her father set for her?
Strengths: It's easy to forget that public school is a microcosm of the larger world, and that it takes a set of skills to be successful with a wide variety of people. While Lily's father made sure that she socialized with other children, middle school, with its crowded hallways and occasional behavioral problems, can be a tough situation if one isn't used to it. Lily's transition is eased by Hobart, who is fairly oblivious to the difficulties of school, and she does make friends, even though this isn't easy. She is also helped by kind teachers, the awesome Mr. Hammer (and there are often characters like Mr. Hammer in middle school roles), and a pleasing array of well known middle grade novels! I liked that fact that she wore dresses because they were comfortable-- I feel the same way! Her mother is also reeling from the death of the father and isn't always meeting Lily's needs, but she is going forward in a positive manner and encourages Lily to step outside her comfort zone as well, which is a much more helpful and realistic way to approach a parent working through grief. 
Weaknesses: I wasn't personally a fan of the chapters written from the book's ("Libro") perspective: these chapters just interpreted what had gone on in the story already and slowed me down from finding out what the characters were doing next, which I very much wanted to know. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for fans of books like Buyea's Because of Mr. Terupt that take place in the classroom. There aren't a lot of books about homeschoolers reintegrating into public schools, and since it can be a rocky experience, it's good to see how Lily navigates the change. 

Wednesday, May 26, 2021


Bajpai, Nandini. Sister of the Bollywood Bride
June 1st 2021 by Poppy 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Mini's mother died years ago of cancer, but her family has made it through. Older sister Vinnie is doing her residency and will be a doctor soon, and has just gotten engaged to Manish. He's Tamil, which concerns their father, and also in medical school. Vinnie isn't all that excited about the wedding, since she's so busy, and their father is working on starting a new company. Mini feels oddly compelled to plan things, especially once she finds the wedding gold jewelry that her mother set aside in a safety deposit box, and takes it upon herself to do this. Her grandparents and mother's sister (who is a famous designer) are all in India, but she does get a little help from other aunties in her East Coast community. Never mind that she needs to be working on studying for the SAT and writing college applications, soon she is looking for flowers, catering, venues, and music that fit within her father's $35,000 budget. She appeals to her aunt for a dress, and her aunt sends her one for Vinnie that is exquisite, but the dress for Mini herself is the wrong size. Since she wants to major in fashion design and does alterations at a local resale shop, Mini is able to fix the dress herself, and even makes a new one from the leftover fabric. Mini has been slightly angry with her aunt ever since her mother's death, especially since she didn't come for the funeral, nor did she bring Mini to India as promised. On top of all of the planning, Mini meets the very cute Vir, who offers to DJ, fixes her easel, and generally offers a nice distraction. Her sister is grateful, and when Mini and Vir make the gossip columns, her aunt decides to come to the wedding. Things definitely don't go smoothly, and with a major storm quickly approaching, Mini has a lot of work to do to keep the wedding from being a disaster. Will she, her family, and her relationship with Vir weather the storm?
Strengths: There are lots and lots of good details about all of the work involved in planning an elaborate wedding. Readers who enjoyed Richardson's The Meet-Cute Project will enjoy this one. The suburban Boston setting was interesting, and the relationship with Vir was very sweet. I loved how helpful he was. The dash of celebrity will go over well with readers, and all of the fashions were great. The problems with the aunt were well resolved. 
Weaknesses: I found it hard to believe that Mini would have ended up in charge of the wedding. That's a lot of responsibility. If weddings were that important to her family, wouldn't the grandmother have come over from India earlier? The description of the storm changing the plans went on a bit too long for my taste, but certainly added more suspense to the plot.
What I really think: This is a great YA romance that is perfectly at home in a middle school library. I have one girl who is very interested in weddings, so I will definitely purchase. I was hoping for a couple of call outs to Cleary's 1963 Sister of the Bride, but that was too much to hope for!

$35,000 is a budget wedding? If my children get married, there is no way I am investing that kind of money in something so silly. Money for a house, sure. For flowers and catering and weird dresses? No way!

Kelkar, Supriya. That Thing About Bollywood
May 18th 2021 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sonali misses her grandfather, who ran a video rental store that specialized in Bollywood films, so she enjoys the family movie night that her parents and younger brother Ronak have. These are harder, however, since her parents' fighting has escalated. They constantly bicker, and have ever since Sonali was young. When they decide to separate and "nest" with the kids, taking an apartment and switching weeks at the house, Sonali is somewhat relieved. She doesn't want anyone to know what is going on with her family, which makes it hard to talk to her best friend, Zara, especially since Zara has become friends with Air. Air's parents are film stars, and Zara's goal is to get into movies. Sonali tells her family that she's doing okay, but when she is on a school trip, she suddenly bursts into a Bollywood style song and dance number, with her classmates acting as back up dancers. When Zara tells her that everyone hears a soundtrack and occasionally needs to "solo", Sonali knows something is wrong. Is this magical new world where her whole life has a musical accompaniment caused by her parents' separation? Time and again, Sonali experiences this, sometimes getting in to trouble. (It's okay to break into dance on your way to work or talking to the neighbors; it's not okay to do it in the middle of class.) Zara presses her friend to talk to her, but Sonali wants to keep everything to herself, alienating Zara. Sonali's father wants to keep the separation a secret, the way that an aunt's cancer was kept from the family. It's tough not seeing both of her parents every day, and her mother is concerned that she won't be able to do everything herself, especially since she works long hours as a doctor. As Bollywood causes more and more problems in her life, will Sonali be able to figure out why she is thrust in to this fantasy world, and find a way to make it stop?
Strengths: Statistically, there should be more books about parents who divorce than parents who die. This book does a good job at showing the tension that bickering parents can cause a family. The details of how a family deals with separation and divorce are rarely depicted in literature. This has an added layer of interest with the magical realism of Sonali's new Bollywood reality. I enjoyed the bits of backstory we got about her grandfather, and the interactions with her extended family. The friend drama is always popular. I love the cover!
Weaknesses: This was VERY message heavy. Sonali is told again and again that she shouldn't keep things bottled up. 
What I really think: An interesting twist with Bollywood for readers who liked Dhami's Bindi Babes
Bajaj's Abby Spencer Goes to BollywoodKrishnaswami's The Grand Plan to Fix Everything, and fans of magical realism fraught with problems, like Corey Ann Haydu's work. Love this author's Strong as Fire, Fierce as Flame, American as Paneer Pie, and Ahimsa. It would be nice to have a middle grade novel with Indian or Indian America characters that didn't involve as much trauma. 

Personally, I would side with Sonali's father. There's a passage where Sonali says that her father never explained why he didn't tell anyone things, and here's why: the less people know about your life, the less power they have over you. Sonali is told over and over that she doesn't have to struggle through things alone, but should ask for help. The help that's forthcoming is going to be be far less than the damage inflicted by people knowing things about you that they can use to hurt you. I'm surprised her father didn't have her in therapy (the responsible parent thing to do in cases of death, divorce, or other trauma) so that she could discuss her issues there but not with other people. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

When the World Was Ours and the Boy from Buchenwald

Kessler, Liz. When the World Was Ours
May 18th 2021 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus 

It's a great 10th birthday for Leo Grunberg in 1936 when his photographer father takes him and his friends Max and Elsa to Vienna's Riesenrad Ferris wheel. A chance encounter with an English couple, the Stewarts, leads the father to invite them back to the family's apartment for Leo's birthday sachertorte. The three friends cherish this day, and a picture the father took of them, as the world around them heads slowly and inexorably into Hitler's evil grasp. Elsa's family can see that things are bad, and head to Prague in 1938. Max's father, an ill-tempered man who is frequently out of work, gets a position with the SS. He has never been in favor of Max having Jewish friends, but starts to push Max further into participation with the Hitler Youth. Leo's family hangs on for a bit, but when the father is attacked in the town square, they make plans to leave. When the father is imprisoned, it is up to Leo and his mother to contact the Stewarts, whose address they have thanks to a note they sent, and to see if the family will sponsor them to come to England. They manage to get a visa and settle in to life with the Stewarts. At the same time, Prague is overtaken by the Germans, and Elsa's family is forced out of their apartment into the Ghetto, and eventually put on trains to the camps. Eventually ending up at Auschwitz, Elsa sees Mr. Grunberg, who tells her to claim to be 17. She survives, but a chance turn of events puts her back in contact with Max and ends in tragedy. Will Leo ever find out the fate of his father or his friends? This story is loosely based on events in the lives of Kessler's ancestors. 
Strengths: Starting this book with a happy day of celebration really made me feel even more invested in the three main characters, and the very different paths each had to travel was fascinating, given their common starting point. Each made perfect sense, and echoed the experiences of many at that time. Elsa's family thought they would be safe, but ended up experiencing the worst of the camps. Max's family managed to stay on Hitler's good side, which they thought would keep them safe. Leo's family were lucky enough, as was Kessler's, to know someone who could sponsor them and get them to relative safety in England. The lengths to which they each went to hold on to the picture of that day, and the memories, was especially touching. This might be one of my favorite Holocaust novels, right after Moskin's 1972 I Am Rosemarie
Weaknesses: I almost wish that Max's father hadn't been quite so evil. It was good to see Max, who meant well, get sucked into the Nazi philosophies. 
What I really think: This reminded me a bit of the PBS series World on Fire, which was hard to watch. Despite a warning about violence at the beginning of this, it wasn't any more detailed than most middle grade books about the Holocuast. Definitely purchasing for our WWII/ Holocaust unit. I loved that this showed what life was like before Hitler's rise to power, and ended up after the war. I've read many, many Holocaust books, but this one made me cry. 

Waisman, Robbie and McClelland, Susan. Boy from Buchenwald
May 11th 2021 by Bloomsbury Children's Books
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Romek Wajsman lived in Poland with his family before WWII, but his parents, brothers, and sisters were split up when the Nazis started rounding up Jews. Romek worked at a munitions factory stamping artillery shells when he was just 11. Eventually, he ended up in Buchenwald with many other boys. When the camps were freed, the boys were put under the protection of the French, and brought to the Ecouis complex in 1945, where they got much needed care. Not only were many of the boys gravely ill and malnourished, but the staff understood that there were traumatized by their experiences. At first, it was though that they shouldn't talk about what happened, but eventually the wisdom of processing their grief and trauma prevailed. Romek was determined to make it back to his home in Poland, since that thought carried him through the war. He had friends from the camp who went separate ways, and eventually Romek is told that his home is no longer there, and that Jews who have tried to return have been occasionally killed. Eventually, his sister is found, and he finds a variety of mentors, including Jean and Jane, who want to adopt him and send him to high school and college. He declined, deciding to train as an electrical engineer and eventually immigrate to Canada. For years, he did not talk about his experiences, but started to work with organizations in the 1980s to educate people about the Holocaust. Now in his 90s, Romek, now Robbie, decided to work with a coauthor to tell his story.

This is a little told but much needed follow up to Holocaust experiences. Few books follow what happened to survivors after the war; Moskin's I am Rosemarie touches on it briefly, and Matas' After the War and Skrypuch's Stolen girl both address different aspects, but this is much more information than I have read about the aftermath. There is plenty of information about Waisman's experiences during the war, told in flashbacks. My only complaint is that a linear recounting would have been a bit easier to follow, but I can see why the flashbacks were used. 

Since the author was the age of many young readers when he was in the camps, this is a particularly interesting account. There can't be too many more Holocaust survivors who remember enough to tell compelling stories; even Waisman says that for many years, he suppressed details of his experiences. It's understandable why there aren't as many accounts of what happened after survivors got out of the camps, and it's good to see this description of how one boy was able to overcome the trauma of the war with the help of the extended Jewish and French community. 

Monday, May 24, 2021

MMGM- An Occasionally Happy Family and Taking Up Space

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Burke, Cliff. An Occasionally Happy Family
May 18th 2021 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Theo is glad that it is summer vacation, but while he friends are either going to robotics camp or dedicating themselves to playing video games, he finds himself roped in to a family camping trip to Big Bend National Park with his dad and older sister Laura. While this is a little better than the family's usual vacation of visiting their grandmother, it's still a lot of hikes in the woods with bugs and high temperatures. Theo's dad, a high school science teacher(who "looks and acts like one"), loves nature but is still a bit too gung ho for the outing. He has also not planned all that well; luckily, Laura excels at planning and has brought better snacks, found more amusing activities, and has even upgraded their overnight stays. She's taken on the role of family organizer since their mother's death from cancer a couple of years previously. The trip goes like most family vacations, but both kids are leery when their father has a "surprise" for them. It turns out that he has been dating Lucrecia, a life coach and very earnest believer in sharing emotions and hugs. While she's not much more annoying than their father, the whole idea of their family changing once again is somewhat difficult for both Laura and Theo. Will Lucrecia's presence move the family forward?
Strengths: In the summer of 1977, my parents (both educators) packed our Chevy Impala station wagon and took off for a month out west. We saw several Laura Ingalls Wilder sites, stayed with friends in Colorado, and traveled as far as Salt Lake City. Gas was 59 cents a gallon. It's all a bit of a blur, but I remember the feeling that this book captures perfectly: I was glad to be with my family at the very same time I was completely irked with them. There were cool moments (getting my first pair of pierced earrings in Jackson Hole, Wyoming) and not so cool ones (roaches in the motel in Kalispell, Montana). Even though the scenery was different, and Theo's family had different circumstances, the emotions portrayed in this book are absolutely true to life. Theo and Laura annoy each other but are also glad to have each other around when dealing with their father. Lucrecia is trying really hard to have the kids like her, and the father is a bit goofy in her presence. There are plenty of funny scenes as well-- there's an ornithologist and his son who lead the family a bit astray, and Lucrecia's general demeanor is a bit out there. I especially enjoyed that while Theo initially wanted to make fun of her, he benefitted from some of her advice. Plus, massages! 
Weaknesses: This sucked me in right away, but slowed a bit after the initial car journey. It picked up again, but could have been a bit more smoothly plotted.
What I really think: This is a good, realistic, funny book about a family in transition. While I wished the mother was not around due to divorce rather than death, there are plenty of funny moments, and the scenes with Lucrecia hit just the right note. Definitely purchasing, and this will be a popular titles, since road trip books and humorous stories are always a hit!

Gerber, Alyson. Taking Up Space
May 18th 2021 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sarah loves basketball and hanging out with her friends Emilia and Ryan. Things get a little complicated when Emilia and Sarah both like the same boy, Benny, and he asks Sarah to work on a school project with him, preparing for a cooking competition. Sarah feels that Emilia is much better suited to him, and feels bad about hanging out with him, even though she really enjoys it. Sarah usually does well at basketball, but has felt off lately. Her body doesn't do what she wants, her clothes are tight, and she doesn't have the energy on the court she once did. Part of this is because her mother, a college literature professor, has a difficult relationship with food. She keeps plenty of candy hidden around the house, but serves the same bland protein and vegetables for dinner every night, and limits Sarah's food with a lot of rules, commenting negatively when Sarah asks for something more or different. After a health class discussion about nutritious food, Sarah starts to think that maybe her mother is right-- things would go better on the court if she ate the right things. She starts to limit herself, and for a while, she does feel better. When she practices cooking with Benny, however, she sees how good food can also be tasty, and learns that Benny's sister is in treatment for anorexia. When she feels faint while playing basketball, her mother still doesn't get the hint, but with her friends' and coach's help, she is connected to a counselor at school who helps her understand that her mother's relationship with food isn't healthy, and the whole family gets the help they need to deal with Sarah's orthorexia. 
Strengths: This has so many things going for it-- friend drama, light romance, food issues, and basketball! While it seems like a lot, all of the elements come together well. Sarah's feelings of discomfort are something that so many middle school girls feel, and I know that when I coached cross country, there were a lot of girls who had difficulty going from 7th to 8th grade because they hit puberty and their bodies changed. Sarah's parents are busy but invested in her well being, even if her mother's approach is faulty. The response by the school and the coach are absolutely spot on. Gerber is very good about showing the nitty gritty of medical conditions with frankness and veracity, and her writing is engaging.
Weaknesses: This was hard for me to read on a personal level. Everyone has issues with food, and this hit a bit too close to home for me. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. Not only is the eating disorder information valuable, but I am always looking for books about girls playing sports! The basketball details are excellent! 

Andrus, Aubrea. Life Hacks: Genius Ways to Simplify Your World April 20th 2021 by National Geographic Kids 
Copy provided by the publisher

Okay. Have to start with my number one Life Hack: Plug your Chrome book in before you go to bed, and put your back pack and shoes right by it so you don't forget to bring it to school. I have said that approximately five million times during the pandemic!

We all enjoy things that make our lives easier. This collection is filled with all sorts of ideas, from ways to fall asleep more quickly to organizational hacks like putting a pop top tab on a hanger and attaching another hanger to double your closet space. There are study tips, kitchen tricks, and interesting things I've never heard of, such as starting a fire with potato chips! Combined with these helpful ideas are short biographies of hackers and a lot of information about kids vs. plastic. I really appreciated that part, since many of the hacks involve reusing discarded plastic products. 

Another fun book for car trips or rainy days, Life Hacks will amuse and inform young readers who don't know they can eat bananas from the "wrong" end or cut cakes with dental floss! There are lots of bright, colorful photographs to illustrate the hacks, and a full index at the back, as well as a roundup of all of the hacks listed. The only thing missing is instructions for how to fold a fitted sheet!

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Who She is and Alice Fleck's Recipe for Disaster

Byington, Diane. Who She Is 
March 20th 2018 by Red Adept Publishing, LLC
Loaned to me by Mikayla H.

Faye's family has always moved around a lot, and the latest stop is Florida, where her father works in an orange grove. They've got a nice house, and Faye even makes a friend at school, even though she usually tries to avoid making any attachments. Francie is one of the few girls in the school who is out on the track running-- it's 1967, and everyone knows that girls can't run, lest grave physical repercussions occur. Fortunately, this has just been disproven-- Kathrine Switzer finished the Boston Marathon earlier in the year, and Francie, whose mother is rather progressive and a teacher at the local high school the girls attend, is determined to register and run the race as well. Francie is slow, but Faye seems to have some talent. The problem is that Faye has suffered from epilepsy for years, and her parents are really reluctant to let her run. She defies them, bringing her to the attention of the local news when she joins the cross country team as the only girl. At first, the coach is okay with her running, but the atmosphere is not conducive to equal opportunity sports quite yet, and Faye experiences a number of set backs. Not only that, but she has horrible nightmares about car crashes that bring up memories that make her wonder about her parents and her epilespy. When Francie and Faye decide to travel to Boston to run the marathon, things don't go smoothly, but Faye does find out more about her family's past secrets, and new opportunities open for her. 
Strengths: This is a great combination of history, mystery, and sports! The writing reminded me a tiny bit of Cooney's Before She Was Helen, but is definitely middle grade appropriate. Faye is an intriguing character whose life has not been easy. Not only is her family struggling economically, their frequent moves are caused by the father's indiscretions and general bad behavior. While Faye would really like to go to college, the expectation is that she will finish school and go to work in the fields with the parents. Francie and her mother provide a glimpse of another life, and are instrumental in helping Faye make it to Boston. The historical details about what life was like at this period of great social change will surprise many young readers. I really appreciated the happy ending! 
Weaknesses: Don't want to spoil the mystery, but we never find out why Faye has epileptic-type symptoms, although the medication she has been taking and the reason she has been told she had epilepsy are explained. 
What I really think: I would definitely purchase this for the library if it were available in a prebind, and I'm half tempted to buy the paperback myself and donate it. There are SO MANY stories of girls and women wanting to participate in sports in the 1960s and 70s that could be written. 

Reading about this time period always makes me a bit sad. I started running in about 1977, but every time I went out, my mother would be very dismissive about it. "Why would you do that?" It's easy to forget how different the world was when I was in middle school. 

Delaney, Rachelle. Alice Fleck's Recipe for Disaster
May 11th 2021 by Puffin Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Alice and her father have a cozy life in their town home near campus, where he is a professor of culinary history. The two often cook together from vintage recipes, and Alice doesn't really miss her archaeologist mother who was not up to the task of raising her. She's not thrilled that her father is dating Hana, another historian, even though Hana is a lot of fun. When Hana submits a tape of Alice and her father to a cooking competition, Culinary Chronicles, and they are accepted to a competition being held during a Victorian celebration at Gladstone Manor, Alice doesn't really want to be on camera, but agrees in order to make her father happy. Soon the three are off to the country to cook up a storm and enjoy the celebration. When they arrive, however, they find that Alice's favorite host won't be there and will be replaced by the polemic Tom Truffleman, who renames the show Culinary Combat and regularly insults competitors, especially Alice, since he doesn't think that children can cook. Alice and her father have solid cooking skills, but there is clear sabotage going on. With the help of other children who are there with their families, Alice manages to not only survive the competition but also help to solve the mystery of the sabotage. She also learns to make some peace with enlarging her family to include Hana. 
Strengths: This was a very fun book that included all manner of interesting information about Victorian cooking and life, set in an elaborate country house. It felt a little bit like the Agatha Raisin books for adults by M.C. Beaton. The fact that Hana was behind the whole event made it a great time for Alice to reevaluate how she felt about her father moving on with his life, and I appreciated that Hana was a very fun character. The other children made this more fun for Alice, and the mystery was a bit of a welcome surprise. 
Weaknesses: I was absolutely sure there was going to be a murder, so was little disappointed that the only mystery was the sabotage. The situation with Alice's mother didn't seem very realistic.
What I really think: I was glad to see that this Canadian title is available through Follett Library and will definitely be purchasing for my readers who love cooking oriented books! Also, I really wish I could have been a culinary historian! I don't like to cook, but I love reading vintage cook books.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Truly Tyler (Emmy and Friends #5)

Libenson, Terri. Truly Tyler (Emmy and Friends #5)
May 4th 2021 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Tyler is on the basketball team and has good friends there, but is also very interested in art. His friends don't quite understand this, nor does his father, who lives far away with his new wife and only seems to ask Tyler about basketball when they talk on the phone. When art class has a comic book project, Emmie is over the moon that she gets to work with her crush, Tyler, but she second guesses every remark he makes, and can't stand the things that his friends say to her. The more into the project Tyler gets, the more he steps away from basketball, and the more trouble his friends give both him and Emmie. His ex girlfriend, Celie, is especially mean. Emmie also is very nervous about her new friend Sarah, and the things that other's say about Sarah's fashion sense. She starts to distance herself so that people don't make fun of her for hanging out with Sarah. Emmie is also consumed with doubts about her relationship with Tyler-- she likes being with him, and they have fun sharing their interest in art, but she can't stand when others refer to her as "Tyler's downgrade". Eventually, both Tyler and Emmie make peace with their own feelings and are able to enjoy being friends. 
Strengths: Friend drama is one of the most popular topic students request, and personal identity is a topic they like but don't even know to ask for, and this combines both nicely. The art style is bright and clean, with plenty of white space on the pages-- a hugely important design feature to which not enough attention is paid. The realistic topics of projects and friend groups will resonate with readers. 
Weaknesses: If Emmie has this much anxiety, perhaps she should be in counseling, and it should be mentioned more, especially since she is SO anxious all the time. I also didn't understand Tyler's problems with his mother's cooking being mostly frozen food. He mentions that she does a great job holding things together as a single mom, but can't let the home cooked but frozen meals slide?
What I really think: Not my favorite, but the students like these books. There is more text than most graphic novels, but has enough pictures to appeal to students who don't want to read anything else.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Enduring Freedom

Arash, Jawad and Reedy, Trent. Enduring Freedom
May 18th 2021 by Algonquin Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

9/11 was a historical event with many ramifications all around the world. In Iowa, it affects Joe Killian, who has recently enlisted in the army reserves. When he hears the news of the Twin Towers attack in his senior year journalism class, he goes to the office to check to see if he has orders to report for duty. He doesn't, but these come later, when he is just starting college. For Baheer, who lives in Kabul, the effect is more immediate and dire. Afghanistan has had years of war, dealing with the Russians, and then with the increasing strictures of the Taliban. These struggles have sent Baheer and his family to Pakistan for a wile, but after 9/11, his grandfather decides to move the extended family to a farm in the remote village of Farah, and to try to run the family rug making business from there. Told in alternating chapters, we see Joe struggle with basic training and with his deployment. He's somewhat disappointed that his unit is going to be working on projects with the Provincial Reconstruction Teams instead of fighting with the infantry. He had wanted to utilize his journalism background to write about intense situations, but thinks that he won't see enough action. Baheer's family, on the other hand, sees all too much. When Joe's unit is sent to Farah, the local people aren't quite sure about having Americans around. Still, when they ask the Americans to move because their generators make too much noise at night, the Americans are amenable. They also hire local men to transport items by truck, and pay generously. Baheer, who has studied English, talks to Joe, and the two form a tentative friendship over time. Baheer's family buys a truck to help support the family, since the farm and business aren't doing well. Baheer has decided to work on the farm rather than go to school, but over time decides that schooling has its benefits. He also see a girl who goes to school frequently, and even though it is forbidden, writes her a note, and gets one in return. He hopes to get his sister Maryam the chance to attend school. When the Taliban highjacks a truck filled with weapons, Baheer finds out about it, but does nothing. When this results in tragedy, both Joe and Baheer need to find their way forward. 
Strengths: This is a well balanced look at both life in the military and life in a besieged country, and the fact that it is written by authors who have those backgrounds and who met in Afghanistan is wonderful. There are so many good details about every day life and pivotal events that would not be as clearly evocative without that personal experience. I especially liked Joe's surprise that the fighting wouldn't be like a WWII movie, and that he would be engaged in peace keeping and reconstruction. The shout out to Ernie Pyle was one that I appreciated, and might encourage readers to look up this journalist. In the same way, Baheer's disenchantment with education under the cruel teachers of the Taliban, and his growing desire to learn when exposed to information on his own was heartwarming and teaches  an important lesson: educated people are a threat to totalitarian regimes. Of course, my readers will be very pleased with the details about basic training and the few scenes of fighting, which are brutally well done. Reedy also has the excellent Hunter's Choice out recently; he is writing up a storm! (Insert Desert Storm joke here; it's too early for my brain to engage!)
Weaknesses: This could have been tightened up a tiny bit, and sometimes it felt like one point of view went on too long and it was hard to shift to the other narrator. Dual perspective narratives are tricky this way. 
What I really think: This is a must purchase for any middle school and high school library. While there are still dozens of books published every year about WWII, there are relatively few about Operation Enduring Freedom (Spradlin's biography, Ryan Pitts : Afghanistan, Patterson's Operation Oleander, McKay's Thunder over Kandahar, Reedy's Words in the Dust and Massey's Torn are the only ones that come to mind.) 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Long Lost

West, Jacqueline. Long Lost
11 May 2021, Greenwillow Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

When Fiona's family moves to Lost Lake, she's not thrilled. Her preants have decided it makes more sense to be near her older sister Arden's skating training facility instead of spending so many hours driving back and forth, and both parents were able to get jobs nearby. Never mind that Fiona has to leave all of her friends and live in a semi-creepy house; everything is always about Arden. Instead of spending four hours on a summer day watching her sister skate, Fiona asks to be dropped off at the local public library, which is in an older mansion donated by the Chisholm family. There, she finds an old book in the mystery section entitled The Lost One. She starts to read, but has to leave before finishing. Her mother drags her feet on getting Fiona a library card, and when she is finally able to check the book out, it isn't there. She sees the librarian, Ms. Miranda, with the book in a staff room, and takes it home. The story, about two sisters named Pearl and Hazel, is a riveting one, but the book disappears! Is The Searcher that the book talks about real? And what did happen to Evelyn Chisholm? Fiona starts to investigate the history of Lost Lake, and is helped by Charlie Hobbs, whose grandfather knew the Chisholm family and who is also interested in the book. Things get stranger and stranger, and on the third floor of the library, Fiona runs into a strange, stern woman and a small dog named Pixie. Once she talks to Ms. Miranda, she finds out that there's no one at the library who matches that description, and Charlie lets her know that the third floor is in fact haunted. Fiona gets in trouble for sneaking away from home, and isn't very nice to Arden, but eventually realizes that Arden's life isn't easy either, and that her sister misses her as much as she misses her sister. As Fiona gets further into the mystery and closer to the truth of what happened to Evelyn, things become dangerous. 
Strengths: This was a brilliant blend of enthralling, cozy library and MURDEROUS GHOSTS. My students don't just want ghosts that scare people, they want ghosts like those in Lindsey Duga mysteries who want to kill the people who come across them. I don't want to spoil the mystery, but this not only had ghosts that are more than threatening enough, but also wove in some history, and some very touching and realistic sister drama. One of my favorite parts was something small-- the town of Lost Lake doesn't take to newcomers kindly, and Ms. Miranda mentions that she has taken to wearing something spectacular in her bun every day to give them something positive to talk about. Didn't hurt that the mother, a pediatrician, also had fun jewelry. The library, of course, is brilliant, and one that anyone who loves books would want to investigate. This was short, fast-paced, and really intriguing, with plenty of twists and turns. My daughter was an enormous fan of this author's The Shadows, and I may have to buy her a copy even though she's 22!
Weaknesses: The first couple of chapters of interior novel, The Lost One went on a bit too long for my taste; I got in to the story soon enough, but I was so invested in Fiona's struggles in her new home that I skimmed the story of Pearl and Hazel and had to go back and reread. Just good to know in case I have readers who struggle with the story-within-a-story concept.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing and glad to add to a growing collection of killer ghost books like Brown's The Forgotten Girl, Currie's Scritch Scratch, Poblocki's Ghost Hunter's Daughter , and Schwab's Cassidy Blake books. 

How It Started vs. How It's Going

I was not a fan of having my library redone in 2010. My personal kitchen counter has the facing taped back on, and there's a counter saver over the burn my daughter made with a hot pan. Perfectly fine. But it was probably warranted. Looking back, I did have a LOT more shelf space!

The circulation area is NEVER this clean, except at the end of the year. 

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The Rule of Threes

Campbell, Marcy. Rule of Threes
May 11th 2021 by Chronicle Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Maggie enjoys her calm, steady family life with just her parents. She also has two good friends, Olive and Rachel, who join her in her love of design. Maggie particularly enjoys staging rooms, and has quite a box of thrift and dollar store props, so when the school announces a decorating contest, she is super excited. The girls get to work on the office, and Maggie studies the space, talks to the secretaries, and puts in a lot of work to make improve the space. At the same time, things are not going well at home. Her father has another child-- a son born before he married Maggie's mom. When Tony's mother must go to rehab due to a pain killer addiction, he ends up having to move in with his father's family. Maggie doesn't mind that too much, but her parents do start to argue a bit more. In addition, her grandmother is showing signs of rapidly progressing dementia, and her mother is very occupied trying to find a facility for her, and dealing with her grandmother's negative reaction to the move. Things do get so bad that the grandmother moves in with the family. This causes more tension, but Maggie very nicely offers to give up her own room for Tony, since he has had so much upheaval in his life. His mother is having trouble staying in rehab, and when he gets a call that she has left, he is bound to travel back to their home and make sure she's okay. Maggie agrees to go with him, since she is suspended due to an incident involving the decorating contest, and has the presence of mine to steal Narcan from the school clinic. It's nice to have a calm life, but does upheaval sometimes make life richer?
Strengths: This had an excellent mix of friend drama, family problems, and a tween with a particular interest. I know I talk a lot about the fact that there are more literary parents who die than I have seen in real life, but I have actually had several students find out about siblings they didn't know they had, all of whom were fairly close in age, and it does cause emotional upheaval! Ailing grandparents are also something that comes up quite a bit, and dementia is all too common. Somehow, the cover captures the feel of the book perfectly. 
Weaknesses: Are middle school students interested in interior design? I can't say that it has come up in 20 years of teaching, even when Trading Spaces was popular. That said, I did so love the way that the decorating contest went down. I don't want to spoil it, but it was brilliant. 
What I really think: This was somewhat similar to Hopkins' Closer to Nowhere, but there is a need for depictions of opioid abuse. Ohio has a high rate of cases, and it does impact students. The information about Narcan was highly relevant, as was the depiction of a parent struggling to stay in rehab. In general, this was an upbeat book that tackled problems with some hope. I do wish that books were more positive about assisted living facilities. This might help actual students view it more positively. My mother was in one for six years, and she got much better care than she would have at home, given the severity of her Parkinson's and related dementia.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

STEM Tuesday- One Small Hop

Rosenberg, Madelyn. One Small Hop
May 18th 2021 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In a future world where climate change has accelerated, wiped out many coastal towns, polluted the water, and killed off many species of animals, Ahab (otherwise known as Jonathan) has to hear his father's stories of being able to shower as long as one wanted, eating meat, and being able to bike across the wilderness of Canada with friends. His father also has an SUV in the garage, but he's only allowed to drive it in parades. Ahab is very interested in environmental issues, but is aggrieved that the Environmental Police Force is more corrupt than helpful. When his friend Leo finds a live lobster, Ahab and his friends Davy, and Delphinium rush over to see it before the EPF, headed by the bully Derek's father, can get ahold of the creature. They are too late, but when they press Leo about the location where the animal was found, they find a mission. Traveling in a school project reproduction of a dug out canoe, they end up on a small island where the temperature is lower and they hear an odd sound. Ahab falls in the water, which is toxic, and has to get home to shower, even though that still leaves him prey to thimble jellyfish larva, or sea lice, that leave him with itchy welts. When the group goes back, they find a bullfrog. Knowing that this animal is all but extinct, they try to find information on line, and find a person who goes by the name of Mole Rat who has a female bullfrog and is willing to try to mate the two. Can the children find a way to get to Canada? A harmonic convergence of the father's past trip, technology that allows the parents to check on the kids on the road, and Ahab's older sister Juliette's offer to chaperone allows the group to spend their spring break sneaking over the border to Canada with Alpha, the bullfrog. Once there, they find that Mole Rat is a boy about their age. Simon is very interested in environmental issues, and has raised many kinds of plants and animals. The kids don't want to leave Alpha with him, even for a lot of money. But is it the right thing to do? Ahab has found out a lot about his father's environmental interest as a child, and wonders why his father now has given up even trying to make an impact. The group runs into trouble on the return journey, but this difficulty brings about some surprising results. 
Strengths: One of the most frequent requests I get is books that have a STEM connection, so that science teachers can read them with their classes. This is absolutely perfect, and even better than Hiaasen's Hoot, to which it is compared. I love the slightly futuristic dystopia, which felt like it was set about thirty years in the future, when today's middle school students might have children of their own. The ensemble cast works well, and Juliette is a great addition to the group, since she's somewhat interested but really wanting to escape from high school drama at home. There is a lot of information about plants, animals, and climate change, and the description of indoor "outdoor" areas was chilling. I can see this being a great way to start a conversation about how doing lots of small things to save the environment can add up! The best part? This is a fast-paced, funny book that has plenty of slightly gross humor. Very much enjoyed. 
Weaknesses: I wasn't a fan of the names Ahab or Delphinium, and wasn't entirely convinced that the EPF would be evil, although Rosenberg certainly writes some convincing reasons for why the government wasn't effective in stopping climate change. 
What I really think: This is a must have for every middle school and elementary library, and I am definitely recommending it for my science teachers as well! Need to remember which grade does the virtual frog dissection-- this would be a perfect accompaniment!

Ms. Yingling