Tuesday, August 31, 2021

The Midnight Brigade

Borba, Adam. The Midnight Brigade
September 7th 2021 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Carl Chesterfield's family has long designed and repaired Pittsburgh's many bridges, but when his father feels stifled in his professional life, he buys a broken down food truck and a piece of waste land by the river and sets up a truck serving average food. Carl's mother, a nurse, has her concerns about this, but supports his efforts. Carl is concerned because he has seen the bridges move at night, and there has been a lot of odd, scraping damage done to the bridges that no one can explain. When he meets Frank, a giant troll, things are a little clearer. Frank has spent years guarding the bridges, and isn't supposed to be seen by humans, but is now living in a rock pile by the food truck. Bee, whose mother is a food critic for the local paper, befriends Carl even though she and her mother get food poisoning while reviewing the food at Chesterfield's. When Carl meets Teddy, who believes the city is beset by monsters and has a Midnight Brigade to watch for them at night, he's glad to have a friend but uneasy about sharing Frank's existence. Soon, though, the three children are working together to keep the bridges of Pittsburgh safe and also try to improve the chances of the food truck's survival. Average food won't bring in the customers, and the Chesterfields are in danger of losing not only the truck, but their home. Can Carl find a way to turn everything around?
Strengths: I love books that are firmly set in one particular area and have lots of local details. Even thought I grew up an hour from Pittsburgh, I didn't know there were so many bridges, although I ate plenty of Isaly's chipped chopped ham! Monsters are a bit tricky in middle grade literature, and Frank's appearance is worked seamlessly into an otherwise realistic fiction book about a family struggling with changes during economically tough times, which made this quite fun. Carl, while depicted as small and shy with few friends, quickly warms to Bee and Teddy, which was also good to see. It's safe to say that any time I have to travel through Pittsburgh and go over a bridge, I will be thinking about Frank!
Weaknesses: Only one troll? I kept expecting Frank to have some friends. I'm debating whether the condiment made of troll belly button lint moves this one to the elementary side of the Pilkey Line.
What I really think: This is a must purchase title if Rylander's The Legend of Greg is popular in your library, or if you are within 3 hours of Pittsburgh. There's a little bit of a Little's Worse Than Weird vibe with the food truck, and reminds me a lot of Dairman's All Four Stars, but with a giant troll. 
Liz Claibourne polyester dress that wads up well in the back pack, and Rafaella jacket that is more polyester than anything else, so it also survives the trek pretty well. Given the font on the jacket label, it may date from the early 1990s. Vintage!

Monday, August 30, 2021

MMGM- History is Delicious and One Kid's Trash

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 
Lurie, Josh. History is Delicious
August 10th 2021 by Honest History
E ARC provided by Netgalley

In this vibrantly colored nonfiction book, we are introduced to foods around the world. This starts with a nice introduction to how food develops over time, and is arranged by continents, but also includes information on things like "Table Settings Around the World". A selection of major countries is represented; for example,The Americas includes food from Mexico, Brazil, and Peru, with a listing of indigenous ingredients like chocolate, corn, and tomatoes! Different dishes are described for each country, and at the end of the chapter, there is a recipe for corn tortillas by restaurateur. The "Dining Do's and Don'ts" is very helpful. Celebrity chefs are included in the Europe section, with the history of pizza being discussed in the Italy one. Who knew that carbonara only goes back to the 1950s? There's lots more information, as well as a very complicated recipe for Picky Reader's all-time favorite-- hummus!
Strengths: With bright colors, mouth-watering illustrations, and bite-sized bits of information, this will be a great book for students who don't feel much like reading, but need something to pass the time in study hall. I like to hand students this kind of book instead of Guinness World Record books, since there is a lot of great historical information. I've always found reading about food fascinating, even if I don't like to cook. This book is a great help if one is inclined to visit a variety of ethnic restaurants!
Weaknesses: There are some ingredients in some of the descriptions that I had to look up online. Since this ended very abruptly with the recipe for hummus, perhaps there is a glossary and index in the finished book. 
What I really think: I was thrilled to see this available in hardcover from Follett, and will hand this to readers who gobble of Zachman's There's No Ham in Hamburger or other food related books. 

Sumner, Jamie. One Kid's Trash
August 31st 2021 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Hugo's parents have moved him from Denver to a smaller town where his aunt and uncle live, and where his father has taken a job as a ski instructor. It's nice to be near his cousin, Vijay, and middle school wasn't all that great in the city. Still, Hugo is on the small side, having been born prematurely, and he is often picked on, so wary of his new school. It's easier having his cousin around, but he still runs afoul of the much larger Chance. On the bright side, he gets involved with the new school newsletter, which Em is very excited about. Things are a bit rough at home, with his parents doing a lot of late night "whisper arguing" and his father spending long hours working at the ski resort. His mother decides to start her therapy practice back up, and decides to work from their house, which is a bit of an adjustment. At school, Vijay discovers that Hugo has a unique talent-- he can tell a lot about a person from their garbage, using information his mother has imparted to him, and can use his "garbology" skills to help people navigate situations. This earns him some prestige, and he starts to feel at home in his school. There are still problems, such as the newsletter not doing well and Em struggling with some personal challenges, run ins with Chance (including one in an epic dodge ball game), and the continued tense atmosphere at home. Still, he feels more at home and more empowered than he did at school. When several incidents put his new life in jeopardy, will he be able to use his new sense of agency to continue the kind of life he wants to have?
Strengths: This was a fun, humorous novel that included a few serious topics without slowing down the pace. I thought that the ways the parents' jobs impacted Hugo's life was very nicely done, and including a cousin (whose mother is Indian, although most of the rest of the cast presents as white) brought in some interesting moments. The garbology was a clever gimmick, and Hugo really uses it to his advantage. It reminded me a bit of Boelts' 2011 The P.S. Brothers, where a lot of the book centered on pooper scooping! The teachers and administration all seem very supportive and understanding even though Hugo occasionally gets in trouble, which is nice to see in a middle grade book. The school newsletter is handled in a very realistic way. 
Weaknesses: Chance was a bit stereotypical; I'm really waiting for a book where the bully is someone more like Hugo. Small, smart kids can be wily, and would make excellent emotional bullies because teachers would be less likely to believe it of them. 
What I really think: I thought that this was going to be about recycling in a school, so I started at a disadvantage, and Hugo began the book as a challenging character. I wasn't quite convinced about the garbology, but this was a solid, humorous middle grade novel that I think many readers of Richards' Stu Truly, Uhrig's Double the Danger and Zero Zucchini, and Costner's My Life as a Potato will like. 

I normally wear a lot of preppy styles-- polos, oxfords, pleated skirts. Love the lace sleeves and chiffon hem on this, even though it's not what I usually wear! Still hot in Ohio.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Elvis and the World As It Stands

Riddiough , Lisa Frenke and Mueller, Olivia Chin Mueller (Illustrations) 
Elvis and the World as it Stands
August 24th 2021 by Amulet Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Elvis is a kitten who has ended up in a shelter with his sister, Etta. He is glad to be going to a forever home, but devastated that he and Etta are separated. He ends up in a home in San Franciso with Georgina, a girl whose parents are divorced and who also has Mo, a guinea pig, Laverne, a fish, and Clementine, an older cat who isn't very glad to see him. Georgina is sad about her parents being apart, and is very interested in architecture. She (and sometimes the animals) works on Lego models of famous buildings, and is very interested in the Twin Towers. She wants to visit New York City with both of her parents, but her mother in particular is less than thrilled. She splits time between her parents' apartments, but is not allowed to have pets at her father's. 
Strengths: It is always good to see children with particular interests, and Georgina's love of building with Legos is one that many children share. She doesn't uses kits for her buildings, but has an architecture book she uses to guide her. She is a little on the shy side, but takes a lot of comfort in the animals. Her parents, and their somewhat complicate shared parenting schedule, and good to see portrayed. This is a good way to introduce the topic of 9/11 to young readers. Mueller's occasional illustrations are completely charming and add a lot to the book. Reader who love Florence's Jasmine Toguchi books or Miles' Puppy Place series will enjoy this one a lot. 
Weaknesses: This is told from the animals' points of view, and at first I thought that the animals were talking to humans and the humans could understand them. This is not the case. 
What I really think: This is a charming book, but too young for my students. Whenever parents are referred to as Mommy and Daddy, it makes the book seem very young. I would definitely buy this for an elementary library, and love the depictions of the shared custody.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Bedhead Ted and Squirrel Do Bad

SanGiacomo, Scott. Bedhead Ted. 
August 24th 2021 by Quill Tree Books 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ted is dreading the first day of school, even though he has his good friend Stacy to stand by him. Sure enough, other students make fun of him for his exuberant hairstyle on the bus, but Stacy reminds Ted that what other people say shouldn't matter. Ted has plenty to fear: Gary, the school's biggest bully, won't leave Ted alone, and slightly older student Jayla is feared because of the rumors that she is fiercely protective of her younger sister June. Ted is not surprised when Stacy puts together a club house that serves as headquarters for research into the Brookside Beast, a giant, raccoon-like creature that has been sighted around town because his friend has long been interested in the Beast, but he is surprised when Gary's friends Tommy and Saanvi join Stacy in his investigations. This makes him worry that Stacy won't be HIS friend anymore. Jayla ends up babysitting for Ted, and isn't as scary as she first seemed. The Beast sightings start to focus on a garage deep in the woods and on a former animal control worker. While this is going on, Ted finds out some secrets about his more-than-unruly hair both from his grandmother and from some of the amazing things it occasionally does. Will he be able to harness this new superpower to uncover the truth about the Beast... and to salvage his friendship with Stacy?
Strengths: The illustrations in this were great, with a vague retro feel I can't quite place but really enjoyed. I loved the beginning, when the mother kept telling Ted that things would be alright, and Ted CLEARLY did not believe her! The grandmother, who uses a walker, was delightful as well, and she was a good person to tell Ted about his family background. Stacy was also a powerful character, since he was not bothered by what other people said and was very brave in many ways. The mystery of the Beast is fairly mild, but has a satisfying conclusion. The best thing was how Ted felt about Stacy being friends with Tommy and Saanvi. At first, he is very jealous, but is able to think things through and realize that he wasn't being rationale or fair to Stacy. 
Weaknesses: It took a bit of a leap of faith to believe in the super powers of Ted's hair. Other than the fact it is somehow hereditary, there's not a whole lot of explanation. Young readers won't care. 
What I really think: Ted is in 4th grade, and this does have a younger vibe for it. I would definitely purchase this for an elementary library, bit am not sure that this will appeal to 7th and 8th graders. The blurb says that this is great for fans of the Lunch Lady or Hilo books, and that seems accurate.

Pastis, Stefan. Squirrel Do Bad
August 31st 2021 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Wendy the Wanderer doesn't actually get to wander from her town of Trubble very much, since her father has become very overprotective of her after her mother's death. When he has to travel for business, however, she is left with a babysitter who is supposed to be very strict but who actually is just glued to her phone the entire time. Wendy would like to travel abroad, but when she sneaks out, starts small. She gets a mooshie (hot cocoa with 40 marshmallows) to drink in the park, and ends up sharing it with Squirrel, since she has no nuts. The sugar and caffeine first brighten Squirrels outlook, but then cause him to run amok, and the mayor's office is blown up. The mayor is uninjured, since he prefers to spend his days sitting in a tree. Squirrel is imprisoned, and set to stand trial, although the sheriff , Sean O'Shifty, hates squirrels. Through a technicality, Squirrel is set free, which disappoints many in town, especially the Moles of Trubble Hoping Everything's Reformed. (Or, MOTHER.) These moles have tried to make the town better, but have failed. At one point, all of the mooshie shops are blown up, and suspicion once again falls on Squirrel. Wendy feels that all of the bad things that have happened are her fault, so she tries to investigate and find out what is going on in Trubble. Answer: a whole lot of weirdness. Will she be able to find out who is actually bombing things in the town and save her new friend?
Strengths: If you need a graphic novel that is a non sequitur filled goof fest in full color, this is the book for you. There are plenty of goofy characters and situations. If you are familiar with either the Timmy Failure books (starting in 2012, seven volumes) or the Pearls Before Swine comic strip, much of the book will seem familiar. There is even a cameo with an alligator as a lawyer. There's a slight plot, and Wendy's desire to explore her world and eventually help out her friend is character development. 
Weaknesses: While some goofy non sequiturs can be fun, this quickly got old, and the drawing style, which is similar to the one Pastis uses when his PBS characters draw strips of their own, is not all that pleasing. Wendy's teeth, in particular were disturbing.
What I really think: If I could buy every book in the world, I might buy this. Ten years ago, when there were fewer graphic novel choices, I might have bought this. Now, there are a lot more choices of quality graphic novels. Will kids read this? Yes. Did I like it? Not really.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Guy Friday- We Are Family and Tremendous Things

James, LeBron and Williams, Andrea. We Are Family
August 31st 2021 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Things are tough in Lorain, Ohio, and Carter Middle School is not free from the problems affecting the area. When Coach Beck, who has been running the Hoop Group for years, has to step down because he has Parkinson's, the members are devastated, since they all have come to the group for different kinds of support. Jayden hopes that basketball will be his ticket to the better high school, Willow Brook, especially after his mother loses her job at a legal firm. The coach's daughter, Tamika, has had to stop attending Austinberg Prep, and hopes that the group will make her father see that girls should have a chance to be ballers as well. Chris is the nephew of NBA player Kendrick King, and hopes to replicate his uncle's success, even though his father Chris is more interested in his own involvement with basketball than Chris'. Anthony has been attending the group as a useful punishment for some anger issues that manifested themselves at school, and is also a way to get away from his abusive father. Dexter, who is on the small side, is glad that he will have a change to play, and somewhere to hang out after school while his mother is working. When the coach quits, Tamika takes it upon herself to enlist the help of the only teacher available, Principal Kim, but she then struggles to find enough kids to play. She really wants the group to do well at a big competition in order to impress her dad, and even manages to arrange a scrimmage with her former team, but it's hard to get kids on the court when they are dealing with problems at home. Jayden wants to play, but is cleaning up at a local pizza parlor, but eventually reluctantly agrees to join. Will this small but scrappy group be able to prove themselves outside of their school?
Strengths: James is still hugely popular with my students, and I am impressed with the philanthropic work that he has done in Akron. Like Derek Jeter, he had a difficult time growing up, and is determined to give back to his community in a really admirable way. This story definitely shows some of those difficulties, but did not fall into the stereotypes that older books embraced about inner city life. Yes, things are tough, but it's not all abusive fathers. Jayden's mom had been going to law school, and his grandmother is a retired high school English teacher. Dex's mother is struggling to balance work and school. Pizza parlor owner Roddy chose to stay in the area with his daughter instead of pursuing college. There are some opportunities, but life doesn't always work out the way we want, and that's a good message we don't see much. There are enough details about basketball that this will attract young readers, and enough about real life struggles that adults will appreciate. 
Weaknesses: The kids all struggled with so many issues, but we were told about them, and not shown, which really weakened the impact. Williams (Baseball's Leading Lady: Effa Manley and the Rise and Fall of the Negro Leagues) is a fantastic writer, so perhaps this will improve in the next books in the series. 
What I really think: I'll definitely buy this, and would love to see other popular sports people emulate James in both his social projects and his fictional ones. 

Nielsen, Susin. Tremendous Things
May 25th 2021 by Penguin Teen
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Wilbur lives a comfortable, if somewhat lonely, life in Toronto with his two mothers. He was home schooled for a while, and his introduction to middle school was so rocky that he still feels the reverberations at 14, especially from his nemesis, Tyler. Luckily, he has a good friend in Alex, although now that Alex has found a boyfriend, Fabrizio, the two don't hang out as much. Sal, his elderly next door neighbor, might be his best friend, and imparts a lot of wisdom about life, and there's his very loyal chihuahua-dachshund mix dog, Templeton. (Wilbur is a big fan of the book Charlotte's Web.) To complicate matters, his mothers are both having troubles with employment, and worry about meeting their bills. Wilbur works at a fast food job, where he doesn't get a lot of pay but keeps getting "promotions", and plans to use the money from that to pay for a class trip to Paris, where the students will stay with host families. The trip seems like it might be too expensive, but when Wilbur hosts his French student, Charlie, the trip seems imperative. Charlie ends up being a girl, and an exuberant one at that. She loves Wilbur's mothers, and finds Wilbur to be quite amusing. She doesn't even mind Templeton. Wilbur has quite a crush on her, so is devastated when he sees her kissing Tyler right before she goes back to France. Determined to be a changed man by the time he visits her country, Wilbur takes up running with Alex, takes fashion tips from Fabrizio, and listens to Sal's wisdom. He even gets up enough courage to ask for a raise and to fire a troublesome coworker, although he ends up getting fired instead. The trip to France goes well, although perhaps not in ways that Wilbur suspects, but his return to Canada is greeted with sad news. Will Wilbur be able to maintain his confidence and keep muddling through high school with a little more success?

It is very difficult to find humorous, realistic fiction for high school boys, and this has the same mix of laughs and heart that Sonnenblick's Notes from the Midnight Driver has. (Of course, their the older friend is named Sol!) While this had a few too much information about Wilbur and his Speedo for my taste, I'm sure that the target demographic will find these inclusions to be hilarious!

Even though there isn't a lot that happens, this book is a quick read that pulled me in right away. Wilbur hasn't had an easy life at school, and struggles socially, but still maintains a positive attitude. He has realistic struggles maintaining his friendship with Alex once Fabrizio enters the picture, and feels that he won't have a chance with Charlie but makes an attempt anyway. I especially appreciated that he had listened to all of his mothers' lectures about asking before kissing a girl and getting "enthusiastic consent"!

While Wilbur's attempts to lose weight and shed his gray sweatshirt and saggy beige pants isn't really on trend, it is something that many high school students think about. He didn't have the healthiest lifestyle, so it's good to see him embracing some physical exercise and better food choices. I loved that Sal had Mad Men era clothing tucked away that Wilbur and his friends managed to style into a modern look. 

Nielsen does a great job with older middle grade or younger Young Adult characters, which is evident in We Are All Made of Molecules or No Fixed Address. This is a great title for not only fans of Sonnenblick, but teen readers who want an engaging story that doesn't necessarily include sports, dragons, or space aliens!

Occasionally, we get staff directives to wear certain things-- today it was college t shirts. I don't have anything from the University of Cincinnati, even though my younger daughter went there, but I do have a t shirt from my older daughter, who went to Kent, where I got my MLS. It doesn't look this good. Pairing it with a denim skirt and navy Keds  jeans and running shoes because it's been a week.

My father got his PhD from Kent in 1971, and my grandmother got her teaching certificate from Kent in 1914!

Thursday, August 26, 2021

The Smashed Man of Dread End and other spooky books

Ocker, J.W. The Smashed Man of Dread End
August 17th 2021 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Noe (short for Noelle) is okay with her family moving. It's within the same town, but after a sleep walking incident that estranged her from her best friend, she's glad to get a fresh start. Her new neighborhood is situated in a dead end on a wooded ravine, but close to her new school. While unpacking with her parents and younger sister Nore (Lenore), she meets three girls from the neighborhood. Radiah, Crystal, and young Ruthy warn her not to go into the house's basement after dark-- so of course she does. There, she sees a shadowy figure trying to escape from a crack in the cement. She's scared, but also a bit confused about whether or not this is just part of the night terrors she has fought for years. She's also concerned because Nore seems to have started sleep walking as well. Noe hunts down the girls, and finds out that they are not only scared, but angry that Noe is in the house where Erica had lived. Erica had a run in with the figure, whom they call the Smashed Man, and is now in a coma, her family having moved to Texas. The adults won't believe that anything is wrong, and their eyes glow violet and the seem hypnotized when the Smashed Man is around. Radiah has taken to spending most of her time in the attic of her house, Crystal is home schooled in her basement, so lives in fear, and Ruthy is young enough that she isn't quite sure about what is going on, but Radiah is trying to protect her. The group decide to try to figure out what is going on and to dispatch the Smashed Man, and start by investigating a veiled house in the neighborhood, where they meet Fern. She's visiting from Alabama as part of a group called the Neighbors, who are working against the forces of evil. From her, they learn a lot about different realities and "places in between", but also gain some helpful knowledge about painting sigils on their houses with darkwash, and about tactics that might work to rid themselves of this scary menace. As the neighborhood bonfire approaches, it becomes more important to deal with this creature before he gains even more power, but will the girls be able to pool their resources to do this?
Strengths: Remember the "killer clowns" that were on the loose a few years ago? A lot of my students were actually concerned and afraid. The Smashed Man has that sort of feel. Unlikely, absolutely, but Erica is in a coma still, so it's nothing to fool around with. Working in persistent sleepwalking and night terrors is a brilliant move,and having the younger sister be vulnerable adds some touching (and frightening!) moments. Sure, there's a #MGLit trope about moving and having your house be haunted, but this kicks it up a notch. Definitely purchasing.
Weaknesses: The cover could be a lot scarier (the Smashed Man coming out of a basement crack), and I'm not sure how effective Fern's presence was. I either wanted more of her or less of her.
What I really think: It is so great to finally see more horror books for middle grade readers. Currie's Scritch Scratch, Joel Sutherland, Lindsay Duga, and K.R. Alexander titles (as well as others) have really helped me expand offerings to students who want just the right amount of terror in their reading.

Lawrence, Lorien. The Collectors (Fright Watch #2)
August 31st 2021 by Amulet Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Quinn and Mike took care of the trouble on Goodie Street in The Stitchers, and are glad that they can go back to running and hanging out without pretending to be dating to cover their tracks fighting their undead neighbors. Things are a bit fraught on the team-- Quinn is a co-captain with Jessica, who is sabotaging her and not being at all captainly, but she ans Mike continue to run. As the new school year starts, there are new neighbors, all women in their twenties who work in a design firm and always wear white. Lex is captivated by their look and work, and thrilled when she is offered an internship with them. Perhaps Quinn is overly sensitive, but she and Mike both are worried about the women, especially when Quinn hands one a glass at their open house, and it goes straight through her hand and drops on the floor! Since the woman who runs the design business, Abigail, seems to have designs on her Uncle Jack, Quinn plunges into an investigation and turns up some frightening information about just who Abigail is, and what horrible historical tragedy is driving a round of new ones that may consume Lex if they aren't careful. Grandma Jane is still helpful with advice, a selection of herbs, and the occasionaly dinner, Billy the dog is slowing down but remains safe, and Quinn still grieves for her father, but this doesn't stop her from halting the forces of evil from taking over her neighborhood. 
Strengths: Neighbors. There should be more about them in #MGLit. They are people who live close to you, and yet, what do you really know about them? I have the phone number for everyone on my circle, but how do I know that Mr. Harris wasn't secretly a spy? He had the WWII experience. This could cross genres (Your babysitter's house is a portal to a fantasy world! That nice old man pruning his shrubs... was a spy!) but works especially well in mystery. I liked how Lawrence weaves in some history, and has Quinn trying to make the ghost's existence better while also making sure she doesn't do further harm. The way the grief over her father's death comes up occasionally is very realistic and not soppy. I LOVE Grandma Jane. We can have a lot more #MGLit grandparents who are still kicking as well. The sports team details give us a much needed break from the creepiness, and Lex's involvement heightens the stakes. A strong sequel that left me wanting more. 
Weaknesses: This must be a difference in sports seasons in different areas of the country. In the fall, in Ohio, Quinn would be running cross country and not track. While I understand that we needed motivation for Abigail to become a vengeful ghost, I wish it were something other than becoming unhinged because of parental grief. My views on that trope are clear-- it's insulting. This isn't quite as bad as some books, and I get why it's done, but it wasn't my favorite part. 
What I really think: I'm curious to find out more about the neighborhood and why creepy people keep moving in. There are also some feelings that Quinn and Mike might have more than a friendship. I'd love to see Jessica being the one at the center of the next creepy installment, so we could see her dynamic with Quinn evolve. Looking forward to a third book. 

Marshall, Kate Alice. Brackenbeast (Thirteens #2)
August 31st 2021 by Viking Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

Writing book reviews is hard, and if I don't focus, sometimes I read a book and find myself unable to do it justice with a review. I'm blaming the heat, trying to read 6 books on my birthday (which lead to interruptions when people kept calling me), and a weekend where I had to do Life Things before I got around to writing the review. Also, the cat-of-ashes, graveyard dog, and rattlebird gave me a bit of a pause, since I always struggle with talking animals. Thirteens circulates, well, so I'll definitely buy this one. 

From the publisher:
On the night of their thirteenth birthday, Eleanor, Pip, and Otto bested the mysterious Mr. January before he could make them disappear. . . forever.

Eleanor and her two best friends have narrowly escaped the clutches of the January Society and their nefarious leader, but life in the too-quiet Eden Eld isn't safe just yet. Not when there's giant mud monsters snatching up their neighbors and classmates. This time, Mr. January's devilishly stylish sister, Mrs. Prosper, is behind the chaos. Though unsuspecting adults can't see past her irresistable line of make up and skincare products under the name SixSeed.

Inside their book of twisted fairytales, Thirteen Tales of the Gray, Eleanor, Pip, and Otto might find the secret to warding off the brackenbeasts and thwart Mrs. Prosper. That is, if they accept the help of a mysterious figure seemingly plucked from its pages, who looks disquietingly familiar to Eleanor. They quickly learn that the power of the stories they've turned to for help have a stronger hold on them--and their futures--than they realized.

Hippy vibes today, with a nice Liz Claiborne tunic over a Lands End t shirt dress. Hang Ten necklace that nobody understands.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Fast Pitch

Stone, Nic. Fast Pitch
August 31st 2021 by Crown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Shenice "Lightning" Lockwood is a catcher and team captain for the Dixie Youth Softball Association fastpitch softball team, the Fulton Firebirds. They are the first all-Black team in the league, which is a big deal since they live in Georgia. Shenice's father played ball but was sidelined with an injury, her grandfather played ball, and even her great grandfather played. "Jumpin'" JonJon Lockwood was kicked out of the Atlanta Black Crackers team in the Negro Southern League in the 1940s for reasons that Shenice's family doesn't quite know. The one person who does know is great uncle Jack, JonJon's brother, who is in a nursing facility and very ill. Shenice visits, and gets a lot of information from him after her father finally lets her see some of JonJon's artifacts after her team does very well in a competition. Tired of dealing with the ingrained racism in her sport and hostility on the field, Shenice is very interested in finding out what happened to her great grandfather. Investigating sometimes gets her in trouble, as when she is injured while investigating a run down house where she thinks Jack hid some things, and she still has her ball season to worry about. 
Strengths: It's always good to see girls in sports, and the dynamics of a team sport are even more interesting. Add some historical information about baseball, and this is a book that will be very popular. This is also on trend with dealing with a number of racial issues, and again, bringing in issues from the past helps to highlight how far our society has NOT come. This is a good length with a fantastic cover and will be hugely popular with my students. 
Weaknesses: Just one ridiculously picky historical thought: A package, hidden in 1946, is covered in the kind of plastic wrap used to cover leftovers. This wouldn't have been available at that time, although perhaps the box was covered later. The plastic is depicted later as having hardened; the roll of plastic wrap someone foolishly gave me for my first apartment didn't harden-- but after 15 years got all slimy and stuck to itself. Middle grade readers are never going to pick this up, but I would have preferred that the box have not been covered, or had been wrapped in paper. 
What I really think: Fans of Johnson's The Parker Inheritance will enjoy this mixture of sports and history, and it's a great starting point for students who might get interested in researching more about the Negro Leagues. 

Still think I could be a poster child for Lands End, but they probably wouldn't be happy that I buy all of their stuff secondhand. Love it when I find pieces that coordinate. Bicentennial necklace.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Hush-a-Bye and The Hiddenseek

Mott, Jody Lee. Hush-a-Bye
August 24th 2021 by Viking Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Lucy and her mother and younger sister Antonia have been struggling. They've left her abusive father and settled in a trailer in Oneega Valley, New York, where the mother works long hours at a diner. As the summer draws to a close, the girls find an old doll's head in the creek near their home, and Antonia (who is found of picking up "treasures") insists on keeping it, and seems to develop a weirdly close relationship with the doll, whom she calls Hush-a-Bye. When school starts, Lucy must deal with cruel schoolmates like the brutish Gus and the pretty mean girl Madison make life difficult for Lucy, calling her "trash licker" and saying that she smells. When Antonia starts middle school, Lucy is concerned that she will also be the target of her insults, and when she is forced to have lunch with her sister, this fear turns out to be well founded. Antonia tells the lunch lady, loudly, that the two receive free lunch. School isn't all bad, and her kind art teacher, Mr. Capp, provides her with a safe space and trusts her to help a new student, May. She is concerned about Antonia's insistence in caring for the doll, and when someone runs afoul of her, Antonia asks Hush-a-Bye for help... which is eerily delivered. Lucy is so tired of the kids at school being mean to her that she also asks the doll for help, with even more devastating consequences than the first time. This worries her, especially since she's had dreams about the doll, and connected her to the old Hunter's Moon Lodge on an island not far from their home, and to tragedy that occurred there. Lucy tries to hide the doll from her sister, but since the doll calls to the girls, it's impossible to extricate themselves from her evil influence. Of course, the more they ask the doll for favors, the more they realize that hurting other people gives the doll power. Will they be able to neutralize Hush-a-Bye's powers before it is too late?
Strengths: This was a bit like Benefits of Being an Octopus meets Bad Girls Don't Die, so will have LOTS of appeal. It's very evident that Mr. Mott has experience with actual middle grade students, because the kind of emotional bullying that Lucy experiences, delivered under the breath, is exactly right. It's also interesting how Madison is woven into the story, and how Lucy is able to make some peace with her. The backstory with the father, and the details about the family's struggles with economic insecurity add some interest. A number of my family members have lived in trailer parks, and they are definitely underrepresented in middle grade literature. I very much enjoyed that the story wasn't ABOUT the trailer park and how awful it was, but was a solid, creepy doll story. Antonia and Lucy have a great, if complicated, sisterly arrangement. I'm looking forward to see what Mr. Mott writes next!
Weaknesses: The cover is a perfect level of elementary school creepiness, but I wish it were a little darker for middle school. Also, the origin of Hush-a-Bye and the scenes with Hunter's Moon Lodge reminded me very much of Little's Time of the Fireflies (2014), but younger readers won't notice that.
What I really think: If a book has a creepy doll, it should be a creepy, murderous doll, and Hush-a-Bye is right up there with Cohen's The Doll's Eye, Alexander's The Collector, Hahn's Took, and  Black's Doll Bones, although not as horrible creepy as Bell's Frozen Charlotte. Which is good. Those tiny doll teeth creeped me out a bit TOO much!

Cernosek, Nick. The Hiddenseek
August 24th 2021 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Holly and Hector are playing a game of hide and seek with some neighbor children when Hector turns on Holly and leaves her alone. She is approached by a creepy man named Oliver who claims that she needs to go with him. He follows her home, warning that no one will remember her. Sure enough, her father doesn't even notice her tugging on his arm, and her mother, who has been off kilter and depressed for some time, doesn't either. Holly knows better than to go with strangers, but when she realizes that he has Hector as well, she ends up in the strange and cruel world of the Hiddenseek. There, she meets Petunia, Marco, and Max, who are trying to survive in a cave, hiding from It, a scary creature who can turn children to stone. They, too, were playing games of hide and seek that went badly wrong. Hector is making his own way in this world, but has an ally in Edmond. Edmond just wants to play; Petunia's group says that he left them alone because they weren't as much fun. Edmond promises that he will help Hector find his sister. When the cave floods, Holly and her new companions have to leave, and have a horrific experience falling into a river. They find a very old, abandoned church inhabited by George and Javier, who have been in the Hiddenseek a few months. They stay close to the church, eating apples from a nearby orchard and venturing out rarely. They show Holly a Bible, which dates for the 1700s, and a letter that seems to hold some clues. When Edmond and Hector arrive, they endanger everyone. Both Javier and Max have been touched by It and turned to stone, but Edmond says the key to getting back to the real world lies at the manor house. They realize that the whole area is an older version of their town, Covenant, and that terrible things happened to create the Hiddenseek. Holly and Hector find that this hidden world has already impacted their own lives. Will they be able to figure out the rest of the mystery, defeat the forces of evil, and make it home?
Strengths: The worst part of any horror book or movie? Things chasing you! In this, you not only get sucked into a creepy world full of a LOT of rain and mud, but you've got to contend with the creepy Oliver following you in a threatening manor, It hunting you down to turn you to stone, and the ultimate in creepiness-- Edmond befriending you but then turning out to be evil. Argh! I liked that the Hiddenseek was an older version of their town, and the brief historical notes added to the mystery. My favorite scene was when the group was in the millinery shop, wrapping themselves in fabric and getting some rest-- it was such a relief after they had to wander around wet and scared for so long! I liked the mystery with Edmond, and the backstory with Max and Marco was so intriguing that I don't want to say very much and spoil it. This resolves in a satisfying way. 
Weaknesses: While it's great to see more middle grade horror, some of the covers aren't quite as creepy as they could be. Ghostly killers are always a better bet than the scared children. Also, like Ansari's The Missing Piece of Charlie O'Reilly, we have a mother who is grief stricken over children she can't quite remember, and that's just never a great inclusion for me personally. 
What I really think: Start planning that Halloween display now, with Brown's The Forgotten Girl, Hermon's Hide and Seeker, and Hahn's The Girl in the Locked Room. Of course, in my library, this type of book is in such high demand that it only takes two classes to completely decimate such a display!

The Ann Taylor blouse makes me feel very fancy, especially with a new pin from a friend's collection. Chico's skirt, for which I did NOT pay $119. I'd never heard of the brand, and it must fly beneath the thrift store radar, too, because I paid $1 for it! Super comfy, squishy outfit that travels well in my back pack. 

Cheap, scrunchable, and professional. I expect a lot from my clothes!

Monday, August 23, 2021

MMGM- Eyes of the Forest

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

You know what my readers like best in books? Feeling that they are reading something for OLDER kids. This seems to end somewhere in college, although I enjoyed Osman's Thursday Murder Club, which had characters in a retirement facility, and I've decided I'm "pre-elderly". Henry's books are fantastic in this regard-- characters are older, situations more dire, but there's no language that would get students expelled should they use it, and nothing surprisingly instructional. When I started being a librarian in 2002, there were a lot more books like this, but middle grade seems to be skewing younger while YA has increasingly included more mature material. 

What are some "older" books that you recommend to 10-14 year olds?

Henry, April. Eyes of the Forest
August 24th 2021 by Henry Holt & Company
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Bridget is a superfan of R.M. (Bob) Haldon's Swords and Shadows fantasy series. Even though they are long and for older readers, she was introduced to them by her mother, and read them to her mother as she fought a long battle with cancer. Now, she finds comfort in the fictional world. She also has an encyclopedic knowledge of the world and the details of the book. After pointing out an error at one of Haldon's book readings, she was approached by the troublesome and reclusive author to be his continuity expert. After meeting with her father to make sure he isn't inappropriate, Haldon has been e mailing Bridget questions, and she has constructed a cross referenced database with information about characters, weapons, and plot lines. This is the best part of her life, since high school is just generally unpleasant and socially difficult. Haldon, on the other hand, is struggling with his made up world and suffering from tremendous writer's block. The last book in the series is overdue, and he is not having any luck with his writing. After a random comment from Derrick, the son of his housekeeper, Joanne, he has an idea. He arranges to have Derrick kidnap him and take him to a remote cabin to work. Things don't go quite as planned, with Derrick whacking Bob a bit too hard on the head, and provided much healthier food than the author is used to eating, but the things that Bob needs to write are all in place-- a typewriter, a treadmill desk, quiet, and the threat to his safety if he doesn't produce that Derrick provides. Bridget has gotten in trouble for listening to an audiobook in class, and Ajay, who sits by her, asks about this. The two have lunch, share Ajay's amazing Indian food, and start a tentative friendship. Bridget reads the books aloud to Ajay and his suggestion, and he shares his cooking. Bridget is concerned, however, about strange messages that she gets from Bob. Unable to write, Bob wants to be free, but Derrick has his own plans. Since he recorded the conversation he had with the author about kidnapping him, he feels he has free reign to exploit the captivity. He arranges to sell chapters of the book on the dark web, and also starts to publish some of the web cam surveillance videos he takes to keep an eye on his captive. Bridget shares her concerns with Ajay, and the two try to get to Bob's house, only to be met by Joanne, who tells the police that they are rabid fans, and that Bob is traveling. Bridget works on the clues, but Ajay is reluctant to believe her, even though the two move closer to a romance. Bob writes pages for Derrick by day but gets to work on the actual novel at night, hiding the typewritten pages. When Joanne thinks that there isn't enough money, she starts making Bob do silly things for the camera, and posts those to get more money. Even after Bridget breaks a coded message, the police don't believe her. Will she be able to save the author as well as his much anticipated new novel?
Strengths: Wow. There's a lot going on here, but it's all intricately constructed and so fast paced that I stopped taking notes about halfway through the book. (Although I did remember what went on; I really wanted to describe more of the ending because it's so clever, but didn't want to ruin the suspense!) Bridget and Bob's separate lives are described really well, and it helps to make their relationship seem feasible. The details are interesting-- Bridget's father works for a plastic manufacturer, and is not happy when she tells him about Ajay's reusuable lunch packaging, and Bob has an unhealthy lifestyle that is run on junk food, but slowly gets in shape in captivity. The whole subculture surrounding Swords and Shadows is fascinating, and Derrick's involvement with LARPing based on the books gave an unsettling edge to his actions. This definitely felt almost like an adult mystery novel, and I could just see it being made into a Movie of the Week in the 1980s with Nancy McKeon as Bridget!
Weaknesses: The cover should have had more cabin and less face. Perhaps a typewriter. It's fine, just not that appealing to my students. 
What I really think: Definitely looking forward to having this one to hand to my students! The tie to a fantasy world might help hard core fantasy readers branch out into mystery, and it's also one that my teachers might enjoy reading. 

Dress from about 1999, from the thrift store. I always wore to schedule pick up when my children were in school, but this week looks hot and humid. 

I may try to replicate this dress (without the massive shoulder pads) in a bold floral. I've become obsessed with @marcialoisriddington on Instagram and want to wear nothing but jumpers and "frocks" made out of old curtains and tablecloths. 

Or maybe I just need more sleep!

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Carry Me Home and Elfie Unperfect

Fox, Janet. Carry Me Home
August 24th 2021 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Lulu and her sister Serena have struggled since their mother's death, but their father has struggled even more. When they were home in Texas, their father left them for a month with an aunt, who threatened to send them to foster care. When he returned, he packed up their Suburban and drove west in search of work. The trio landed in Montana, in a small town where the father has found work as a builder. In order to save money, they are living in their car, but have a system worked out. They wash and eat every morning before going to school, and Serena goes to after school care, and Lulu frequently picks her up. On the weekends, they go to the food pantry and library, and pay their $20 rent at the campground weekly. There are some students, like Deanna, who are mean and make snide comments about Lulu wearing the same clothes or smelly bad, but there are also nice kids like Jack, who sits with her at lunch, gives her food he doesn't want, and encourages her singing. When her father is not in the car one morning, Lulu is able to get her and Serena to school, and when he doesn't return, she figures he will be back soon. She continues to feed Serena, pay their rent, and go through their weekly routines, but it isn't easy. Especially hard is picking Serena up after school. The children are supposed to be picked up by a parent, so Lulu asks Jack to write a note and sign her father's name. As the days pass, Lulu struggles to keep things together, but doesn't waver in her devotion to her sister. The two get coats at the local Lutheran church, and manage to ward off adult interest. When Lulu is late picking up Serena, however, things fall apart. Serena ends up in a foster home, the car gets towed, and Serena ends up sleeping in the local library. Will she be able to find out what has happened to her father, and be reunited with her sister? 
Strengths: It's important to show a wide variety of economic circumstances in middle grade literature, and this is a very effective look at how one familiy ends up homeless. There are two other books I can think of where the family lives in a vehicle (Svetcov's Parked and Nielsen's  No Fixed Address), but Lulu's experience with her father being gone are somewhat unique. I loved her resourcefulness and how she tried to hide her fear from her younger sister. It was also heartwarming to see how much help was offered when her situation was finally revealed. This was an interesting and heart-warming story from the author of The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle.
Weaknesses: There are some instances when Lulu seems much younger than middle school. She is certainly very responsible, but there were just some small turns of phrase, and an episode where Deanna mentions dolls she collects. The obsession with making 1,000 cranes ala Sadako showed a much younger level of magical thinking than I would have expected. These instances are not too widespread, but did give me a little pause.
What I really think: I will probable end up purchasing because of the Boxcar Children vibe, but will have to hand sell this one due to the 1980s vibe of the cover. This would be perfect for elementary school, but my students like their books with family problems to be a bit grittier. 

Mahoney, Kristin and Santant, Dan (illus.) Elfie Unperfect
August 10th 2021 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Elfie is a very particular child who has struggled through Cottonwood Elementary School, finding it hard to make friends, even with her cousin, Jenna. She's thrilled that she's gotten into Hampshire Academy, where she has to wear a uniform, and where she hopes the students are as interested in academic matters as she is. Other things are changing as well; her long time babysitter, Rhoda, is now in nursing school, so doesn't have as much time to spend with Elfie. Things are rocky on her first day of school, although she does connect with another girl, Sierra, with whom she is working on a project. The third member of the group, Cole, brings out his phone to look up something, even though the students have been told they are not allowed to use tools to help them. Worried about breaking the rules, Elfie takes Cole's phone and puts it in her back pack. When an all school assembly is called, she tries to get the phone back to him, but can't locate him. After the headmaster makes an announcement that the phone is missing and it is tracked down to her back pack, Elfie is suspended, with her case going before a review board. Since that may take months, she enrolls back in Cottonwood, where Jenna is in her class with Ms. Rambutan. Elfie has a rocky day here, too, since she shows off her information about the rambutan fruit that the teacher brings in, and she feels that other students are irritated with her. She asks to go to the restroom, and when Jenna follows her to help, the two argue. Ms. Rambutan is concerned about Elfie and works with her in constructive ways, pairing her with Will and Jenna for an Egg Baby project, thinking that they will be easier to work with. Jenna is having some problems with her parents' relationship of which Elfie is unaware, and Rhoda is diagnosed with cancer, which worries Elfie quite a bit. Elfie's parents reach out to Sierra's to see if their daughter has any information that might help Elfie get back into Hampshire Academy, and the two girls get along quite well. Elfie even has a play date with Sierra, although she ignores something she is supposed to do with Jenna, further alienating her cousin. Will Elfie be able to carve out a niche for herself at whatever school she finally attends? And will she find coping mechanisms to help her get through life?
Strengths: When I started teaching 30 odd years ago, I never thought that they way students would change would be to get more anxious, but here we are. Elfie is an absolutely typical student, with her difficulties in connecting with other people. She seems like she might be on the Autism spectrum, but this is never specifically stated. This reminded me a bit of Lopez's Lucky Luna when it came to having a cousin in the same school, and feeling some jealousy there. The parents are super supportive, and it was interesting to see a long time babysitter included. Ms. Rambutan's class seemed like a lot of fun, and the Filippino representation is good to see. This reminded me a bit of Keller's The Science of Breakable Things as well. 
Weaknesses: The inclusion of Rhoda's cancer was interesting, but I could have used either more details or fewer details. Can't quite put my finger on it, but it would have been nice to see it developed as something more than an occurrence that was upsetting Elfie, since so many other things were upsetting her. It's a hard balance to strike, and it did end up being crucial to a plot point.
What I really think: This was on the young side for middle school. My students really enjoy this author's The 47 People You'll Meet in Middle School, as well as Annie's Life in Lists, but this had many solidly elementary themes. I would definitely purchase it for an elementary school but will wait to see what the budget looks like before picking this one up. 
 Ms. Yingling

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Fred and Marjorie: A Doctor, a Dog, and the Discovery of Insulin

Kerbel, Deborah and Poon, Angela (illus.) 
Fred and Marjorie: A Doctor, a Dog, and the Discovery of Insulin
August 15th 2021 by Owlkids
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In the early 20th century, Fred Banting trained to be a doctor, and did an internship at a children's hospital, where he saw how devastating a diagnosis of juvenile diabetes could be. When he was finished, he tried to set up his own practice, but had little luck attracting patients. When he had an idea about how to treat diabetes, and how that might be studied, he went back to the hospital to ask if he could do some studies. He was not an expert in the field, but he was given a small space and an assistant, Charles Best. The study involved taking stray dogs, removing their pancreases to make them diabetic, and then treating them with shots of what came to be called insulin. This worked fairly well, but many of the dogs died. Fred took this very hard. The two continued to work on refining the drug, eventually synthesizing it from cow pancreases as well. The titular Marjorie was a dog of whom Banting was particularly fond, who survived much longer on the insulin than the other dogs, and is credited with helping with the development of the treatment for the disease. 

I read this in digital form, which makes it very difficult to go back and get details!

Strengths: Set in the early 1920s, this book looks the part with the soft illustrations that give a good glimpse into what the world looked like at the time. While the science is key to this book, the problems of using dogs for experiments is not treated lightly, and Banting is shown being very conflicted about this. Like many scientists of the time, he even injected insulin into himself, but needed the animals to help make sure the treatment was safe for humans. It was interesting to see how primitive the research conditions were 100 years ago; now, we think of sterile labs provided by megabucks pharmaceutical companies, not struggling doctors working in cramped offices! I hadn't realized that insulin treatments for diabetes had only been around for 100 years. This book is a great way to bring attention to this historic development. 
Weaknesses: Every year, I have some sensitive readers who ONLY want to read about dogs. This would NOT be a good book to hand to them, because they would be devastated. 
What I really think: Diabetes is certainly something that affects more of my students than other conditions, and there are not a lot of graphic novels about science, so I may buy this one, even though information about the dogs was so sad, and the pictures just made it sadder. 
 Ms. Yingling

Friday, August 20, 2021

Playing a Dangerous Game

Ochieng, Patrick. Playing a Dangerous Game
August 17th 2021 by Norton Young Readers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Lumush (which is short for Lumumba) lives in Nairobi, Kenya in about 1975 with his sister Awino, brother Deno, mother, and father. His father has recently been promoted to manager, so while the family continues to rent a house in the Railway Estates, there is now enough money for him to go from St. Joseph's Primary and attend the much nicer Hill School. His mother gets him his uniform and supplies, and soon he is enjoying the nicer facilities but having to put up with the teachers and students who look down on him. He still hangs out with his neighborhood friends, Odush, Dado, and Mose. They frequently hang out in an old, abandoned car, and are enthralled by a local "ghost house" where a woman and her daughter were said to have died, and where the father is said to have killed himself. During one of their sorties into the house, Lumush breaks his arm and has to have it in a plaster cast, which does not make his mother happy! There are lots of interesting details about Lumush's life, like the appearance of a film corporation truck that shows outdoor movies in the housing estate, the monthly spraying of toxic chemicals to control mosquitoes, the fact that Idi Amin was removing the Indian immigrant population from nearby Uganda, and the circumcision of one of the friends. Also mentioned is the spike in coffee prices due to weather damaging much of the Brazilian crop. This becomes entwined with the boys' investigation of the ghost house, as they uncover a devious plot to smuggle coffee and have to deal with Tumbo, a local police chief. When a local boy is killed in an odd traffic accident, are Lumush and his friends in a dangerous situation?
Strengths: For me, books are the best way to travel the globe and learn the details about how people live, and I'm so glad that we're starting to see titles like Baitie's Crossing the Stream (June 8th 2021 by Norton Young Readers), especially since recently I've had a number of students who have lived in African countries before coming to my school, and they are so thrilled to see books that remind them of home. (One girl who was from Nigeria even introduced me to Nollywood films!) Not only that, but this was a fast-paced book about boys roaming around the neighborhood and getting into low levels of mischief, and that is always a popular sort of book. There's just enough history to encourage students to learn more about this time period. The cover is great, and the illustrations remind me of some of the reading textbooks I had in the 1970s-- those colors! 
Weaknesses: Other cultures have different norms when discussing or describing things. Many characters are described as "fat", or with words that US culture would deem judgmental. This is not a weakness, but a warning that there is some discussion of male circumcision, with female circumcision hinted at, as well as some depictions of drinking parlors, grave robbing, and violent deaths that might make this a difficult read for elementary school students. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and I hope that Norton Young Readers continue to find titles written about a variety of different countries by people who have lived in them! I hope that Mr. Ochieng is planning on writing more as well. 

It's casual Friday. Fun fact: when it's hot, I pack all of my clothes in my back pack and wear sweats to and from school. This is another reason why buying things at the thrift store is good-- if it makes it to the thrift store AND home with me and doesn't need to be ironed, I'm good to go. 

Blouse from Kohl's with that seductive Kohl's cash, and a skirt that a fellow teacher gave me last year because she thought I could wear it on my bike. Both are super comfy poly knit fabrics that wash really well. 

And yes, there will be a necklace. Just forgot to put it in the picture. Costume jewelry is really for old people, isn't it?

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Ghost Girl

Malinenko, Ally. Ghost Girl
August 10th 2021 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Zee Puckett lives with her older sister Abby, since her mother died when she was born and her father has gone to a different town looking for work. She loves ghost stories (she lives near the site of the fabled Headless Horseman), so when flooding causes a day off school, she grabs her best friend Elijah and heads to the local cemetery to see if any coffins have come to the surface. They haven't, but Zee gets a fright when she sees seriously spooky wolves. Elijah's family life is difficult as well; his mother is mysteriously ill and won't get out of bed although his father says she is fine, and his football playing father doesn't appreciate Elijah's scientific bent and encourages him to get more exercise. The town is cleaning up from the flooding, and the school is okay with one exception: both the principal and a kindergarten teacher are missing. The school hires a new principal with amazing alacrity, and soon Principal Scratch is going out of his way to "help" everyone with their worst fears. Abby, for example, starts getting phone calls from their incommunicado father... but no one is on the line. Elijah's mother is up and about... but Zee still spies her lying in bed. With help from former nemesis, Nellie, whose dog was missing, Zee and Elijah try to figure out the mysterious happenings in town, especially when they realize that the missing kindergarten teacher has most likely been killed. When they uncover information about Principal Scratch's true identity, will they be able to save their town from his influence?
Strengths: There are a lot of middle grade books with evil principals, but how many of them are quite THIS evil? I imagine that most adults will guess his identity, like I did, but younger readers won't be familiar with this name. There are lots of spooky elements to this: the cemetery, the dogs, and the unusual way that people are acting. There are some serious issues, as well, such as Elijah's mother's illness and Zee's guilt over her mother's death. My favorite part of the book was probably the change in relationship with Nellie, which was done in a very realistic way. Setting this in an area rich in creepy folklore was also a good call. 
Weaknesses: As an adult, I was not thrilled with Zee's attitude about keeping herself safe, especially since Abby was trying so hard to take care of her. Adults are the number one reason kids don't have adventures, so the target demographic will not mind this at all.
What I really think: This is a good spooky title similar to Lang and Bartkowski's Whispering Pines, Marshall's Thirteens, or Roberts' The Witches of Willow Cove.

It's curriculum night! This means I will bike home at 3:00 to get dinner for staff-- I live close to school, so I can have casseroles in crock pots and a lasagna in the oven. Teachers can get dinner, kick back a bit, pet Pongo, and then go back for the rest of the evening.

This navy dress from 1999 is washable and looks professional when paired with yet another Petite Sophisticate blazer from 2005. Subdued Liz Claibourne necklace and an apple pin that was my mother's. 

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

A Mystery at Lili Villa

Menon, Arathi. A Mystery at Lili Villa
July 31st 2021 by Yali Books
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Tam is spending the summer in Elathor, Kerala, India with her aunt and uncle. Damodar Ammavan and Sheila Ammayi are very busy physicians who have a driver to take them back and forth from the hospital. Tam and her cousins, Arj and Mira, are looked after by some of the household staff, including Pitamma, a cook who makes delicious snacks for them. When the house is broken into and Ammayi's gold jewelry is stolen, the children decide to style themselves as investigators and solve the mystery. There are all manner of suspects, including the driver, a fisherwoman who is mean to their cat, the woman who takes care of the cows at the villa, Dumdumchecchi, a young man they call Well-Cleaner Mani, Fan-Fixer Faekkku, and the homeless Pottan. The local police, headed by Thombu, don't seem to be taking the case seriously, but the children are determined to figure out the crime. While doing so, they get to meet a variety of people in the area and learn more about them. This is the start of a series, with the next book being The Mystery at the Mumbai Turf Club.
Strengths: I am always looking for books set in other parts of the world, written by people who live there, because the details of daily life are always so much better. Tam usually lives in the city with her single mother, so Lili Villa is a different way of life even for her. It's good to see interactions between cousins, and the people whom the trio meet are not like anyone my students would have come in contact with! This had a sort of Penderwick vibe, with children being allowed a lot of freedom to go around and explore, and that will be tremendously appealing to US children who might spend most of their summers under direct supervision in summer camps. The mystery is fairly mild, but is resolved in a good way.
Weaknesses: There are some cultural conventions in US writing that are not observed, so there are characters who are described somewhat negatively by their weight, and the homeless man, Pottan, is also described in a somewhat negative way. While this doesn't bother me (although it does make the book read like some I read as a child), as it's important to see how other cultures perceive things, I mention it in case anyone is very sensitive to those topics. 
What I really think: This seemed a bit young for my students, who prefer their mysteries to involve murders or murderous ghosts, but would be a fun addition to an elementary library where The Boxcar Children mysteries are popular. I found it a refreshing change from books about children in Indian who are experiencing trauma, which is the vast majority of the ones I've read. 

Leslie Fay apparently still makes women's dresses, but not like this 1997 beauty with shoulder pads fit for football! I had several of these back in the day, but this is the only one remaining. I love the pleated skirts, but several of them had unfortunately placed pockets and have been weeded out. Should have kept the floral one with the lace collar. Sigh. 

Fell down a bit of a rabbit hole looking up school dress codes over the weekend, and this is my favorite thing: “If you are so comfortable you don’t need to change when you get home from work, you are too comfortable for work.” (https://www.weareteachers.com/dress-code-rules-for-teachers/)

As a pre-elderly person, I have to say I agree with this sentiment, but I know that I am in the minority here.