Tuesday, November 30, 2021

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy

Ursu, Anne. The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy
October 12th 2021 by Walden Pond Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Marya Lupu lives with her family in a vaguely Medieval, Eastern European area called  Illyria that is beset by The Dread, which can be subdued by sorcerers. Her older brother Luka is to be interviewed for selection for the school where sorcerers are trained, and this could mean financial security and social betterment for the entire family. Marya is a bit hoydenish (given the setting, this seems like a good adjective, but one that has hopefully gone the way of "tomboy"), and her mother is constantly appalled at her "unladylike" behavior. Marya and Luka are often at odds, and he puts her beautiful new dress for the occasion in the hen house, where it is ruined. When the official arrives, the family goat comes into the house through a door that Marya left open, and chaos ensues. Not only does her brother NOT get into the school (although he does not seemed surprised by this), but the family gets a letter that Marya is to report to a school for "troubled" girls, Dragomir Academy. At Rose Hall, Marya and the other girls are forbidden to talk about their pasts, and everything about the school is very suspicious. After having a few epiphanies about the founder of the school and other students, Marya finds herself in the "sanitarium", and is told she has "mountain madness". She claims that she doesn't, but the teachers try to gaslight her into believing that something is wrong with her. Will she be able to determine the link between the girls and the magic of the realm, and how it might affect the approaching Dread?
Strengths: Fans of Ursu's Breadcrumbs and The Lost Girl will enjoy this boarding school story set in a more historical time period. Marya is a spunky character who is ill treated by her family, although it is nice to see that her brother regrets how he treated her. I also enjoyed her neighbor, Madame Bandu, who was a master weaver and saw how Marya's family treated her, and offered to have her babysit her two young sons so Marya could get out of the house. Madame Bandu also is looking into having Marya as an apprentice, and when she is sent to Dragomir, writes her letters. The fact that Marya knows secret weavers' symbols helps her find out more about her school. 
Weaknesses: This is similar to books like Levine's The Two Princesses of Bamarre, Hale's The Princess Academy, and Pierce's Tortall books, but with less action. It does seem like there will be more books in the series, so perhaps those will take a more interesting direction. 
What I really think: Not sure if the Illyrian setting is a shout out to Lloyd Alexander's Vesper Holly books, the first of which is The Illyrian Adventure (set in 1872). This is getting a lot of love for the girl power themes, but there was surprisingly little that the girls were able to accomplish-- it was a lot of setting the scene with society limiting the girls' chances, and not as much of them being able to show their own power. I may wait until the second book to see how the story progresses, especially since I have a lot of books similar in setting and topic. 

Six-Word Memoirs. A Terrible, Horrible, No Good Year: Hundreds of Stories on the Pandemic 
October 15th 2021 by Six-Word Memoirs
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In a recent language arts department meeting (which I attend because there is no better department meeting for me to attend), we all wrote our own six word memoirs, so I investigated this to see if it would be of any help to the teachers. This was fine-- lots of different people from various places and walks of life are included, and the memoirs also cover lots of different topics. I can see having some of these books (there are ten so far) in the classroom if this is an assignment. It might also be interesting as a historical document about the pandemic. 

Any reservations about this title are based on my own preferences and are not reflective on the quality of the book. I'm not necessarily a huge fan of the format (my own memoir is only five words: Read books. Annoyed people. Died.), and I also don't feel that the pandemic was really that unusual a circumstance. My feeling about life is that it is one long succession of various horrible things happening that we all must survive. Or not. The pandemic just spread more horrible things around to more people than usual. I'll purchase if teachers want me to. 

Monday, November 29, 2021

MMGM- Pigture Perfect

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Goebel, Jenny. Pigture Perfect
December 7th 2021 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Grace has lived with just her mother since her father left when she was young, but she's okay with her mother marrying Mr. Pine. He's nice enough, and since she and her mother have moved into his house with a yard, she hopes that she will finally be able to get an adorable puppy. When she sees a sticky note that Mr. Pine has left lying about that mentions a vet appointment, she hopes that the puppy will appear under the Christmas tree. Instead, she finds a 75 pound rescue pig! Teacup pigs are not common, and most pet pigs weigh at least that much! She tries to make the best of it, but when Mr. Pine's daughter Emma also moves home, it's hard to keep her new pet (whom she names Bernard) under control. He roots up the yard, destroys food on the table, and gets into Emma's room. When she has him out for a walk, Grace runs into classmate Liam, whom her best friend Sydney thinks is odd. He's hanging out near the local retirement community with an older gentelman, Francis, who seems to know a lot about pigs. He recommends training the pig, and Grace looks into certifying her pet (to whom she has become attached) as a therapy animal. The catch? She needs an adult to go with her to training, and her mother and Mr. Pine are very busy. Emma is not quite old enough, although is frequently called upon to drive Grace places, adding to her irritation. Grace comes up with a plan, but she needs help from Jana and Alejandra, who spend more time with Sydney than Grace has been. Will she be able to convince her mother and new stepfather that Bernard IS working out, and that she doesn't want to trade him in for a dog?
Strengths: Grace is having a little bit of a rocky adjustment to her new living arrangement, but she WANTS Mr. Pine to like her, and tries really hard not to give him a hard time, even feeling bad about the tone she uses with him at one point. This is fantastic, and really true to life for middle school age children who are trying to do the right thing. The interactions with Emma, whose mother suddenly decides to move away, are realistic as well. The details of training a pig and of the problems they can get into if not trained are very good. Grace was such a well meaning character, and I liked her a lot. There haven't been a whole lot of characters lately whom I have enjoyed as much! 
Weaknesses: Grace gives her full name with Pine as her last name, but there is no mention that I caught of Mr. Pine adopting her. That's a pretty big move, but this was in the ARC, so maybe it will change. 
What I really think: Goebel tried her hand with fantasy with Grave Images and Fortune Falls, but she absolutely rocks at realistic fiction! Alpaca My Bags was exquisite, and Pigture Perfect doesn't disappoint. I liked this even more than Kendall's The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City (2017) because of the inclusion of the friend and family relationships, as well as the friendship with Liam. Also, I am a sucker for books where children befriend older people. Of course, I am more on the end of the spectrum where I am the older person!
 Ms. Yingling

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Bounce Back

Misako Rocks! Bounce Back
November 16th 2021 by Feiwel Friends
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Misako plays basketball with her good friends, but when her family moves from Japan to New York City, she misses being on the team. Her parents are excited to go to a new city, but they are soon busy with their own adjustments. At her private school, Misako runs afoul of the captain of the basketball team, Emma, and doesn't want to stand up to her and get on the team. She does manage to make two friends, Nala and Henry. Nala is interested in Japanese culture, especially Harajuku fashion-- she has a huge collection of wigs and a lot of kawaii clothing. Emma is mean to her as well. When Emma thaws a bit towards her and may let her on the team, Misako distances herself from Nala and even goes shopping with the basketball girls on Nala's birthday. Nicco, Misako's cat, starts to talk to her, saying that he is her spirit guide, and tries to guide her through these difficulties at school. Misako also befriends the captain of the boys' basketball team (whose name I can't remember and couldn't find in the E ARC), and the two start a tentative romance. Once Misako gets on the team, she has to juggle working towards the championship with her new romance and her friendship with Nala. 
Stengths: I appreciated the fact that while Misako wasn't thrilled about moving, but was open to trying to enjoy her new life. There's plenty of friend drama, boy drama, and cat drama for young readers who enjoy that sort of thing more than those of us who are old and wizened. The illustrations are bright and colorful and very anime like. I'm not buying any manga series, but will get this in a prebind. 
Weaknesses: So. Much. Drama. It went on a bit too much for my liking, and there were lots of tears and rehashing of wrongs done. Young readers will love this, but it made the book seem very long to me. 
What I really think: This wasn't my favorite (the sparkling eyes, the emotional extremes, the constant changing of Nala's wigs, the talking cat), but my students will love this. For some reason, manga and very strange fashions became the in thing over the summer, so this will never make it back to the shelves before getting checked out again. 

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Cartoon Saturday- Clifford the Big Red Dog: The Movie (Graphic Novel)

Ball, Georgia. Clifford the Big Red Dog: The Movie (Graphic Novel)
Clifford the Big Red Dog: The Movie
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Emily Elizabeth and her paralegal mother live in Harlem, New York City. Emily is starting at a new, elite private school, but the other students call her "food stamp" because she is there on scholarship. When her mother is called out of town to work on Emily's birthday, she's disappointed. Her father is supposed to see her, and her uncle will be staying with her, but it's still lonely. On the way to school, she and her uncle stop at a tent of adoptable pets, run by Mr. Bridwell. Emily see a tiny, adorable puppy, but isn't allowed to adopt him. After a hard day at school, she finds the puppy in her backpack when she gets home, and begs to keep him for just one day. Her uncle agrees, and the next morning, the puppy (whom she has named Clifford) is taller than Emily! This causes lots of problems, and when photos of Clifford and Emily appear on social media, the president of LyfeGrow, Inc., who has had disappointing results of his somewhat vague produuct, decides to kidnap the giant dog and pass him off as the result of his product. Emily's new friend, Owen, comes through with help when everyone is trying to keep Clifford safe, and soon the dog is heading off to Shanghai on a boat to stay at Owen's father's house on a large property. Of course, LyfeGrow goons intercept him, and it's up to Emily to find him. Can Mr. Bridwell help Emily keep her new friend safe?
Strengths: While this has obvious appeal to elementary students who might have recently finished the roughly four thousand Clifford books, this is a solidly middle grade adventure with nice themes of frienship and family. The illustrations are fun, and a nice update. There are some mean girls, but also a lot of people wanting to help Emily. I'm vaguely curious about the movie. Apparently, there was also a television show in the 1990s that I managed to miss. Bonus points for naming the magical Mr. Bridwell after Norman Bridwell, the author of the original books.
Weaknesses: Seems a bit odd that Emily and her mother are living in Harlem; weren't the original books solidly surburban? Not as much fun to have a giant dog in all that space, I suppose. Emily still wears skirts at school. Her uncle living in a truck parked on the streets of New York and not wanting to Emily's mother to know also begged an explanation. We don't really know why Clifford is so large, other than some new agey mention of being big and strong to keep Emily safe, and her love making him grow.
What I really think: I have SO. MANY. QUESTIONS. And yet, I also found this rather fun. I shouldn't buy it, but may if I have money left. It's better than some titles (Rickety Stitch and the Galatinous Goo) but not as good as others. 

Ms. Yingling

Friday, November 26, 2021

Who Was the Voice of the People: Cesar Chavez

Blas, Terry. Who Was the Voice of the People: Cesar Chavez
December 7th 2021 by Penguin Workshop
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

The boycott of grapes in 1966, and the social activism at the time, is very interesting to see covered, and the Who Was books are something that my students ask for a lot because they've read them in elementary school. This graphic novel not only tells about Chavez's life, but about this time period. It concentrates especially on the march from Delano, California to the capitol. Chavez was injured the first day, and the group struggled along the route, sleeping outside at farms on their way. There are some explanations in straight text, which was helpful, and a good conclusion as well as a timeline at the end. A short bibliography is included. 
Strengths: I liked the illustration style, and the feel of the 1960s was captured well. The palette was tans and browns, with some dusky greens, which gave an agricultural feel to the book. I also loved the grape border on some of the text. 
Weaknesses: As with any graphic novel coverage, there's a lot of missing details. 
What I really think: I'd rather have seen a graphic novel about Dolores Huerta than Cesar Chavez, but it's good to see this topic covered. 
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, November 25, 2021

I Know Your Secret

Benedis-Grab, Daphne. I Know Your Secret
December 7th 2021 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Four students get a mysterious text one night, saying just "I know your secret". They are each given very specific instructions to follow in order to escape being revealed. For Gemma, it's the fact that she hangs out with a high school boy, but the other secrets are more involved and have more consequences should they be found out. Ally, who was adopted but lost both of her parents in an accident, works with her grandparents at their animal sanctuary. Todd's mother works at a local grocery store and the two struggle to keep afloat, especially after the COVID shutdowns. Todd has anger management issues and has gotten in trouble for hitting others. The four meet up in a custodians' closet at school and realize they are all getting the texts. It is Explorer's Day at school, and there are all sorts of mini courses going on, and the afternoon will showcase the results of these, so it's easier for the kids to sneak around because regular classes are not going on.  They are instructed to get a bag of clothes from a dumpster, put them in a locker, phone the office about it, go into the principal's office to download a file onto a flash drive, and on and on. While doing this, they try to figure out who is blackmailing them, and also learn a bit about the others and their secrets. Will the four be able to complete their tasks and keep their secrets, or find out who is behind the plot and deal with the problem that way?
Strengths: This read a bit like a suspense movie, and there was a lot of good tension surrounding the texts, the tasks, and the mystery of who was behind this. The secrets that the students had were realistic and sufficiently serious for middle school without being too horrible. The kids worked together nicely, and were able to reason out a lot of key plot points. The cover is great, and it is more realistic that students would have the freedom to sneak around during a special event day. 
Weaknesses: The thought of not knowing where students are in school, even during Explorer's Day, makes me very worried, and I have trouble with any book where students conduct a lot of business out of custodial closets! I'm also not a huge fan of the evil adult trope, so this was just not a personal favorite of mine, even though it was well written and has a great premise. I was also a bit concerned about Gemma's relationship with the older boy, but nothing really came of that.
What I really think: YA titles where someone deals in secrets are popular, and this is an interesting middle grade twist on suspense books like Barnes' The Fixer or Elston's The Rules for Disappearing with a dash of Erlbaum's Let Me Fix That For You and even Rylander's The Fourth Stall. Definitely think that students will enjoy this one quite a lot, but I had purely adult problems getting past some of the logistics. I'll definitely purchase this one, and it will get read a lot.  

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Huda F. Are You?

Fahmy, Huda. Huda F. Are You?
November 23rd 2021 by Dial Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Huda and her family move from a town where there are few Muslims to Dearborn, Michigan. Before, her identity was tied strongly to the fact that she was the only hijabi girl, but in Dearborn there are so many others that this doesn't set her apart at all. She settles into school and attending halaqa on Friday nights (religion class similar to Confirmation Class or the mysterious Catholic CCD that none of my friends could ever explain), but doesn't feel that she can pin down her own identity. She does find a new friend in Nabz, so she has a confidant, which is important when she has a crush on a nonMuslim boy who seems interested in her but who is more interested in her religion. Huda struggles with all of the "rules" of being Muslim, trying to figure out which ones to follow just to make her parents happy, and which ones make her happy because they align with her religious views. She struggles with learning more about her culture, dealing with teachers who can't pronounce her name, and coming to terms with the treatment of Muslims in the US. Will Huda be able to carve out a place for herself in her family, her school, and the community at large?
Strengths: Graphic novel publication has increased to the point where it is necessary (and possible) to diversify the collection by genre and representation. Aside from the very emotionally fraught Piece by Piece: The Story of Nisrin's Hijab, I don't know that there is another middle grade novel with a hijabi main character. Personal identity is such a huge concern to middle school students, so I am always interested in stories where characters are trying to figure out who they are and where their interests lie. As someone who spent an inordinate amount of time in church and church groups in middle school, I think there should be a few more representations of children in religious settings, even though (or perhaps especially because) my middle school church experience fueled the fires of my disbelief. The illustration style is fresh and colorful. This book will never make it back to the shelves. 
Weaknesses: I, like Ms. Fahmy's mother, am not a huge fan of the title, even though it is very clever.
What I really think: I will definitely purchase this, although I would love to see some more literature about Muslims from other parts of the world. The Pakistani diaspora is well represented, but I have more students with Somalian background, and struggle to find books that represent their culture.

It's always fun when I hear an author who writes for young people on NPR! Here's a nice interview with Ms. Fahmy

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Rules for Vampires

Foulkes, Alexandra. Rules for Vampires
November 23rd 2021 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Leo is a 111-year-old vampire who was taken by her parents and raised by Lady Sieglinde and her husband along with older sister Emmeline who is unfortunately stuck forever in the body of a two year old. When her Birthnight approaches and she fails miserably at making her first kill in order to drink blood, she is afraid to tell her parents. Her plan had been to be invited in to the local orphanage, St. Frieda's Home for Unfortunate Children and take one of the children, but this ends poorly with a spectacular fire that results in the death of one of the residents, Minna, along with the terrible and cruel Orphanmaster. Minna becomes a ghost, and the two have only seven nights to dispatch the Orphanmaster before he gains power and is able to terrorize the area. Putting together a potion to release his ghost is difficult, and Leo relies partially on family retainer Marged for help, as well as a sentient spider, Rodrigo, who often accompanies Leo. Vampires and ghosts aren't supposed to hang out together, but Leo is glad to finally have a friend. Will the two be able to take care of the Orphanmaster and not get in trouble with Leo's parents?
Strengths: Leo's world is a rather dark, grim one which the cover captures perfectly. Being a vampire seems to have very few perks, and Leo is struggling with many common tween issues, like wanting friends and dealing with difficult siblings on top of everything else. She must also save her world from the dread Orphanmaster. The best part of this is the well-developed vampire lore, with the traditional rules of no garlic or silver, being invited in, avoiding the sun, etc., being expanded upon. The plot is well paced and moves quickly, and Minna and Leo work well together. A great Halloween read  A great Halloween read with a decent ook/ick factor!
Weaknesses: I've had a lot more students asking for vampire books, but they are usually looking for Twilight because their mothers read it. Need to investigate and see if this is the flavor that they want. This might be more of an elementary title. 
What I really think: Readers who enjoyed Brewer's Vladimir Tod series, Ursula Vernon's Castle Hangnail, Emerson's Oliver Nocturne, or the graphic novel Ham Helsing will enjoy this fresh look at a Halloween worthy young vampire. 

Ms. Yingling

Monday, November 22, 2021

MMGM- Stay Alive

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Philbrick, Rodman. Stay Alive: The Journal of Douglas Allen Deeds, The Donner Party Expedition, 1846 
December 7th 2021 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In Missouri, young teenager Douglas Deeds has lost his father and mother, and all he has left in the world in some money and his horse. He decides to join a group of people heading to California, where life promises to be easier. The Breen family, who have a son Edward about Douglas' age, let Douglas accompany the family and share their supplies. The leader of the party, George Donner, has asked Douglas to keep a journal of the trip. The group heads out with lots of enthusiasm and well equipped wagons; the Reeds have one with a door, bed, and even bookshelves. Someone else has brought a piano. Since the rations needed for the months long trip include 150 pounds of flour per person and 75 pounds of meat, there are many animals pulling the wagons, and they need food as well. Things go fairly well, and the group crosses the South Platte river. As the journey continues, tempers begin to fray, bad decisions are made, and crises occur. The Great Salt Lake is long and arduous to cross, but it is the mountains that prove the group's undoing. Winter closes in early in the mountains, and after the group abandons their wagons and supplies to get through a pass, things deteriotate further. Will Douglas be one of the survivors lucky enough to reach California? 

One of the books I can remember reading in fourth grade (almost fifty years ago!) was Mary Jane Carr's 1934 Children of the Covered Wagon. Certainly, the view of Westward Expansion and pioneers has changed significantly in the intervening years, but the adventure and excitement is still part of US history and interesting to read about. There are several mentions of the Native Americans that are met during the journey. While there are some missed opportunities to insert modern sentiment about how wrong it was to encroach upon them, the exchanges are at least not problematically negative, and at least once there is an explanation that the warring behavior is a response to the atrocities visited upon the population by the settlers. To capture the experience of the Donner party, this is about the only reasonable way to go to tell the story, although some critics will still feel this is not enough. 

Details of traveling distances through a landscape with no modern amenities will be eye opening to young readers who can't get through the day without a drink of water or a wall outlet to charge their phone. Cooking over open fire, walking twenty miles a day, and suffering through extremes of weather will all be novel experiences for most readers. I did appreciate that the book just skimmed the surface of the most notable Donner party feature; the cannibalism. Deeds refuses to partake of his expedition mates, and the epilogue and notes at the end tell us more about what happened without getting into grisly details. 

I just had a student ask for books about "the wild west", and I had to tell him there wasn't much. Aside from a few bookslike Gemeinhart's Some Kind of Courage (2015) Rose's Jasper and the Riddle of Riley's Mine (2017) and Taylor's Billy the Kid (2005), I've gotten rid of most of the books about settling the west because of the problematic depictions of Native characters. Stay Alive is a much needed, exciting title covering an important, though difficult, period of US history. I'd love to see more books like this. 

Hopkinson, Deborah. The Deadliest Diseases Then and Now 
October 5th 2021 by Scholastic Focus
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This is the first book in "The Deadlist" series. In a nicely formatted and illustrated book (available in hardcover and paperback, which will probably show up at book fairs), we see the evolving history of epidemics, starting with extensive coverage of the Great Mortality in the 1300s, with an overview of a few earlier incidents. It was interesting to hear that this was what the epidemic was referred to at the time; we tend to call it the Black Plague. I learned more about this event than I thought it possible to know, and the book continues with further information about other diseases and the people involved in dealing with them, like Dr. Wu Lien-teh, a Chinese doctor at the beginning of the 20th century whose work influenced how we dealt with Covid-19. The 1918 flu also gets good coverage, and there's an overview of other diseases like smallpox, polio, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. this is well-formatted for easy reading, and conversational in tone. Scholastic Focus has come out with some interesting nonfiction titles lately which I very much enjoyed.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Candidly Cline

Ormsbee, Kathryn. Candidly Cline
November 9th 2021 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Cline lives near Lexington, Kentucky with her mother and grandmother, since her father died when she was very young. The family is struggling a bit. Cline's mother is a waitress who works long hours at a close knit diner, and her grandmother is struggling with Alzheimer's. Cline's passion is music, and she really wants to be a singer songwriter even though her mother tells her that there is no money in it, and that's why the mother gave up her idea of a music career. When Delia, another waitress, mentions a workshop for young singer songwriters being held at the University of Kentucky, Cline knows that this will make all of the difference in her life, and she needs to pursue attending even when it means lying to her mother. Her grandmother supports her and even gives her $100 towards the $300 needed to attend, and that's enough for Delia to agree to drive Cline to class when she also has a class at UK. Conveniently, the workshop meets on a day that Cline's mother works late. Cline also gets a job babysitting at the nursery where her best friend, Hollie, goes to church, and earns $15 a week. She manages to apply, get accepted, and show up to the workshop without the full payment, but the organizers agree to take payment by the end of the classes. Learning more about music is perfect, and Cline also enjoys working with Sylvie, who is a bit prickly at first because she was suffering from a migraine, but quickly warms to Cline and to the idea of a collaborative song. Meanwhile, her grandmother steadily declines, and Cline struggles with telling the world that she's not interested in boys the way all of her friends are. An incident with Hollie estranges the two and causes Cline to worry that it's not safe to tell others about her emerging sexuality, even as she realizes that she has a crush on Sylvie.Will she be able to continue her musical ruse long enough to compete in a talent show with her new collaborator and crush?
Strengths: Cline is definitely an intriguing character, who has strong opinions about what she wants out of life. I did enjoy the fact that she knows throughout the book that she's not interested in boys, but this isn't quite a coming out story, either. Her community is filled with supportive and helpful characters, like the abetting Delia, and Mrs. Yune, who runs the church nursery but doesn't agree with all of the church's views. The class is interesting, and the collaborative relationship with the rock-centric Sylvie is a nice foil for Cline's classic country music background. The mother is realistically busy and struggling to adjust and pay for the grandmother's medication; there's even a mention of splitting pills in order to be able to afford them, as well as negotiating with a local pharmacy. The progression of the relationship with Sylvie is realistic and nicely paced. 
Weaknesses: I was not a fan of lying about taking the class, and this is emerging as a trend, with similar themes of deception in taking classes in Kim's Stand Up, Yumi Chung and Joseph's Sydney A. Frankel's Summer Mix-Up. This is especially concerning because Cline was supposed to be watching her grandmother. Also, as someone who pursued her passion of teaching Latin even though it was a superbly bad idea, I agreed wholeheartedly with the mother that Cline should be more concerned with remunerative career choices.
What I really think: My students will read anything with an LGBTQIA+ theme, but never pick up books about girls who want to be singers (sadly, the somewhat similar Tune It Out circulates infrequently). Debating.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Double Clique

Staniszewski, Anna. Double Clique (#2)
December 7th 2021 by Scholastic Paperbacks
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus 

After her disastrous start at her new school in Clique Here, LB (a compromise between Lily and Blake, the two names she had used) is doing a bit better, and looking forward to getting back to school after winter break. SHe's still hanging out with her long time best friend, Kat, and they continue to attend art events for Kat and science related ones for LB. Parker, another science nerd on whom LB has a crush is still in the picture. Her mother is struggling to keep up with her new job, but her dad and older sister Maisie step up to get things done at home. Kat banned LB from hanging out with the science club, but Owen and Priya ask for LB's help with an ernergy initiative they need to turn in to the principal. Ashleigh is still around, but when she has a family friend attend the school, L.B. is dismayed-- it's Courtenay, the mean girl who made her life so miserable at her old school. Courtenay's father stole money from the school, so she had to leave, and now her parents are getting divorced. She seems a little nicer, but LB is not trusting her, especially since she seems to have her eyes on Parker! LB feels that she and Kat are drifting apart, so is willing to go to a roller derby class with her, and even joins the school play (The Wizard of Oz) as a set designer. This works well, especially since she and Parker get to work on special effects together. Will LB be able to deal with Courtenay, sustain her friendship with Kat, and deal with all of the other curves that life throws her?
Strengths: WISH novels (especially the ones by Suzanne Nelson) are hugely popular in my library, and my readers enjoy the mix of family and friend drama with a little light romance that is employed here. LB is a sympathetic character even though she often acts without thinking about the consequences. I liked seeing the glimpses of her home life-- dad being willing to take Maisie shopping for a strapless bra, Maisie trying her hand at making dinner, the mother coming home late but still wanting to touch base with LB. Priya and Owen are a realistically annoying couple, but it was good to see them relinquish power in the science club so that others could speak up. The relationship with Parker is nicely done as well. I would have definitely spent some babysitting money to order this one from the Scholastic Book Club!
Weaknesses: There are several references to LB's "unruly hair", which is not supported on the cover. Also feel like I missed the reason for the roller skates. Also, the name Courtenay was somehow painful to read, and LB changes her name again at the end of the book. I would have thought she would have learned her lesson! 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, just endlessly sad that Scholastic publishes so many great titles only in paperback. I guess I should be grateful to get so many titles in hard back; this is not the case with many UK titles. 

Friday, November 19, 2021

Wings of Fire Stuff!

This from Scholastic/Graphix for all of the Wings of Fire Fans out there:

On Friday 11/19, we are kicking off our FanWing Readalong with discussions on Home Base and sharing fan content from GraphixBooks on Instagram and our Scholastic social platforms.


Ms. Yingling

Guy Friday- Batpig

Harrell, Rob. Batpig: When Pigs Fly (Batpig #1)
November 9th 2021 by Dial Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Gary is an ordinary pig, who hangs out with his friends Carl (who is a fish) and Brooklyn (who is a bat). They hang out in their city neighborhood, eat sandwiches, play video games, and read Crimson Swine comics. When he is accidentally bitten (I thought by Brooklyn, but the sysnopsis says by a radioactive bat, and I don't remember Brooklyn being radioactive.), he develops super powers. He and Brooklyn work on honing these together, and don't tell Carl because he doesn't keep secrets well. This leads to sadness and anger on Carl's part that the other two acknowledge but don't quite know how to handle. Still, they work on costumes, catch phrases, and ring tones suitable for a super hero, and Batpig starts to save the day on small occasions. Carl's Lizard has a junk food combo dripped on him that turns him into the villain on the cover, and as Batpig makes the news, it's harder and harder to hide things from Carl. When they finally let their friend in on the secret, he does a decent job of keeping it. Batpig also battle The Butcher, whose real identity is clear to the reader but not to Batpig, and narrowly manages to save his friends and the city from destruction. 
Strengths: This is based on a character from Ross' comics in Wink, and hits the middle school sweet spot for goofy while cleverly working in issues of personal identity. The city setting is interesting, and Gary's parents are both alive! I also enjoyed how characters from Gary's regular life are the ones who become the villains he must fight. The illustration style is fresh, and I enjoyed the muted orange and purple-toned color palette, which was a nice change for a super hero story and gives it an air of gravitas. (I would have expected bright primary colors.) A great follow up to Wink
Weaknessses: Not sure if this is good or bad; It took me about half the book to realize that Brooklyn was female, because the convention of longer eyelashes on cartoon girls was not observed. The character's gender doesn't matter, but I'm old and was briefly confused. Also, still have questions about why his little cousin Mervyn wears a shirt and pants, but Gary only wears pants.
What I really think: I have limited space for graphic novels, so only buy a small percentage of the ones that are published, but will purchase this for the good balance of super heroes with friendship issues as well as the larger font and fun illustrations. Plus, you know, BATPIG. 

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Only if You Dare

Coleman, Allen. Only if You Dare
August 31st 2021 by Holiday House 
Public library copy

The only short story collections that circulate well in my library (other than the Guys Read collections, which take a lot of hand selling) are the scary stories ones. Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (which I don't think are very good), San Souci's Short and Shivery or Dare to Be Scared, and Scholastic's Midnight Library books all do very well. Let's not forget Lubar's Lawn Weenies books, which look like they will be goofy but are rather chilling.

Like Lubar's work, these stories generally tick along with a somewhat creepy vibe, and then take a surprise twist, like the weird The Substitute. It's hard to say too much about the stories without ruining them. My favorite was Hi, Jenny, about a cell phone that made a few too many demands on its young owner. 

I'm definitely putting this one, as well as Out to get you : 13 Tales of Weirdness and Woe on my order list, since I cannot keep enough scary books around to make my students happy!

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

The Art of Running Away

Kleckner, Sabrina. The Art of Running Away
November 16th 2021 by Jolly Fish Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus
Maisie's family run Glenna's, an art studio that specializes in portraits which Maisie hopes to take over when she grows up. Her father does most of the art, while her organized, no nonsense mother takes care of the business aspects. Her older brother, Calum, ran away from home six years previously, and no one ever talks about him. Maisie's best friend, Alicia, is working with her on a poetry and art book, but seems to be pulling away now that she is dating Rowan and spending a lot of time with them. (Rowan is nonbinary.) When her parents suddenly tell her that she is spending the summer in Scotland with her aunt, Maisie is angry that her summer plans are ruined and that she doesn't have a say in the matter. Her Aunt Lisa is nice enough, and the ice cream shop she runs in Edinburgh is interesting, but just as she is set to settle in, Calum shows up in the middle of the night. He lives in London now, and has a hectic business career, but he wants to reconnect with Maisie. She wants to hear his story, especially when she finds out that Glenna's is losing their main funding, and the company for which her brother works is the one pulling out. She concocts a plan to run away and spend the summer in London with Calum, trying to save Glenna's. Her brother goes along with the plan, and soon she is ensconced in his small London flat with roommates, Benji and Rose. Because Calum is so busy at his work, he has Maisie tag along to Rose's college classes. When it turns out that Benji is dating Calum, and that the reason Calum left home had to do largely with their parents' treatment of his because he was gay, Maisie struggles with being an ally to her brother. Will she be able to save her family business, and the family itself?
Strengths: There's a lot of good LGBTQIA+ representation; in addition to Rowan and Calum, Alicia has two mothers. Maisie herself isn't sure where her attractions lie, and the discussion with Rose about how to be an effective ally is an important one. I'm a fan of any book that involves traveling to other countries, and Maisie does manage to enjoy her time away from home. The struggling art business, as well as Maisie's artistic aspirations, will appeal to many readers. 
Weaknesses: As an adult, I didn't like the fact that not only does Maisie run away, but she frequently ignores her parents' texts and acts in an unsafe manner. She never really has any consequences for this. 
What I really think: This looked like an upbeat story, but ended up being exceedingly fraught with many issues. It is available in prebind from Follett. 
 Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

The Ice House

Sherwood, Monica. The Ice House
November 16th 2021 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

For six months, there has been a worldwide freeze, covering even the warmest places with ice and snow. It's so bad where Louisa is that she and her younger brother Will have to do remote schooling. Their grandmother has died, and their mother is not dealing well with her death, especially with the ongoing isolation. She's given up her glass blowing studio, hasn't created any art at all, and is even selling all of her pieces. Luke, with whom she used to be better friends, lives in her apartment building. When his father is gravely injured when an ice laden tree falls on him, the two end up spending a lot more time together. His father recovers, but does not regain most of his memory. This is hard on Louisa and her family as well, since the fathers were high school friends and were in a band together, and Luke's father has lost his interest in music. Louisa is involved in a Maker group at her school, which has had to meet remotely, and her two best friends, who were in the group because of her, no longer seem to be interested. When there is a Maker challenge to solve a problem created by the Freeze, Louisa and Luke take up a building challenge and construct a house out of ice and snow in their backyard. When school resumes in person, Louisa has to deal with seeing her friends again, and is angry when they tease her about Luke being her boyfriend. He's her friend, and they've taken comfort from each other during a difficult time. Once the Freeze seems to be abating, will there really be any getting back to "normal"?
Strengths: What a very interesting novel about the pandemic that has nothing whatsoever to do with the pandemic! A world covered in ice is a chilling proposition (sorry!), and the descriptions of isolation, remote schooling, and realigned friendships is very accurate. The father's injury and long recuperation is a great reimagining of a fight with COVID. Will and Louisa have some skirmishes that I am sure will seem very familiar to young readers who spent way too much time at home with siblings! I enjoyed seeing Louisa and Luke working on the ice house. This is an interesting treatment of the complications of the COVID pandemic, reframing the circumstances of being isolated by creating the Freeze, but keeping the emotions. Pair this with Burt's prescient Cleo Porter and the Body Electric!
Weaknesses: There's some magical realism in the ice house, where Louisa and Luke see visions of the future on the ceiling. I wasn't quite sure what caused this or where the story was going with it; Louisa's mother doesn't see these visions.
What I really think: The blurb likens this to When You Reach Me, The Thing About Jellyfish, and Bridge to Terabithia, and I'm not understanding those links at all, other than the fact that all of those titles are a bit slower paced and introspective.  Purchasing this for historical purposes, and will be able to get children to read this as a dystopian novel, although it might take a tiny bit of handselling because it's hard to explain and the cover, while lovely, doesn't shed a lot of light on the story. 

Monday, November 15, 2021

MMGM- Out of My Heart

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Draper, Sharon. Out of My Heart
November 9th 2021 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Melody (from Out of My Mind) is enjoying the summer away from school, hanging out with her young sister Penny with the neighbor Miss V., but when she finds out about a summer camp for children with physical challenges two hours from her home, she begs to go. Even though it's a last minute application and she is on the wait list, she gets accepted. Once in, she has to deal with her mother obsessively packing and writing notes, and is a bit apprehensive herself about being away from home. Once she gets to the camp, she finds out that she will have a conselour, Trinity, who helps her with all of her personal care needs, which are extensive because of her very involved cerebral palsey. There are lots of camp activities like going on a pontoon boat, swimming, zip lining, and horse riding, new friends with whom to bond, and even a few adventures. Even though there are a lot of new experiences, Melody enjoys her chance to be at camp, and wants to go back the next year. 
Strengths: The many readers who followed Melody's story with interest will be glad to see her back and experiencing the same joys and fears of summer camp that they might. Even though the activities are the same, there is careful attention paid to how these have to be modified, and this will hopefully give young readers some empathy and reinforce the fact that people with challenges are first and foremost people. Melody even has a very slight, nascent romance, and makes lots of new friends.  I am glad that the same cover style was preserved, since remains clean, attractive, and modern looking.
Anyone else super confused by the Italian (?) cover below?

: Eleven years ago, no one blinked at having a character with CP written by a writer who did not live with that condition. Now, it does give me a little pause, but this book was clearly well researched and I'm sure Draper had sensitivity readers. She also spent a lot of time working with people with this and other conditions. 
What I really think: Out of My Mind is a perennial favorite, mainly because so many elementary teachers use it as a read aloud, and it's been on the Battle of the Books several times, so even though it is over ten years old, it circulates frequently. I imagine that many readers do want to know what happened to Melody and will be glad to read about her week at summer camp. There is always a danger in waiting too long for a sequel, though. (Think So Be It and Soof, Zachary Beaver Came to Town and The Ambassador of Nowhere, Texas, and The Two Princesses of Bamarre and The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre.)

Hulick, Kathryn and Wolski, Marcin (illus.) Welcome to the Future: Robot Friends, Fusion Energy, Pet Dinosaurs, and More! 
October 26th 2020 by Frances Lincoln Children's Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This well researched vision of what could happen in the future covers topics from robots to living on other planets to dinosaurs as pets. Clean energy, teleportation, food, and living forever are also discussed. I liked the way that past visions of the future are explored, current realities are explained, and realistic progress is detailed. This makes it VERY different from the books about the future that I read in the 1970s (that were mainly from the 1960s and 1950s). Gone is the brilliant, innovative future that will just certainly HAPPEN, replaced by a well reasoned treatise on why we are never, ever going to teleport. 

The layout of this was fun, with a 1980s computer font for subject headings, and fun futuristic drawings. This is definitely one to purchase and keep forever, so that students in 2070 can dust it off and laugh and laugh. 

But it depressed me a bit. I liked the idea of a Jetsons' style future, even if no one really though it would come to pass. I don't want to know that robot hands don't work that well, and I already know that living on other planets is something that I never want to do. But can't I keep dreaming that one day I will have a jet pack, and it won't caues third degree burns on my legs?

We are able to send pictures to people living hours away on our phone, and even have video calls, so the future is now. I just wish, for younger people's sake, that the rest of the future weren't so bleak. 

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Sydney A. Frankel's Summer Mix-Up

Joseph, Danielle. Sydney A. Frankel's Summer Mix-Up
November 1st 2021 by Kar-Ben Publishing (R)
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Sydney is not thrilled to find that she is expected to take a summer class at the South Miami Community Center before she starts 6th grade. She would rather stay at home and read, but her mother, who is expecting, wants to see her get more activity and get out of her shell. The promise of a cell phone for 6th grade is being held over her head as well. Sydney doesn't like to do presentations because they make her anxious, so her mother is thinking that perhaps a public speaking class would be good. When she finds out that her best friend Maggie's folks want her to take a reading class, the two hatch a plan to switch places. Maggie gets to take dance, and Sydney gets to take a reading class, albeit a remedial one. Of course, there are complications, especially when Sydney makes some friendships in her class but is supposed to be pretending to be Maggie. When the dance class is expected to perform at the end of the summer, will the girls be able to find a way to hide their deception?
Strengths: This included a lot of information about growing up in a Jewish family but did not involve a bar or bat mitzvah, which is a bit unusual and very welcome! Sydney does get some questions about her cultural background, and is able to clear up some misconceptions and stand up for herself, which I especially liked. Friend drama is always a topic my students request, and this has a tiny bit of middle school nascent romance as well. This is exactly the kind of book I enjoyed reading when I was in middle school, so I enjoyed it very much. 
Weaknesses: Are adults really this clueless at summer programs? Stand Up, Yumi Chung and Caleb and Kit also have plots where children lie about their participation and the adults don't catch on. I'm not all that wild about the cover although I love the Florida pastel colors. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for realistic fiction with some cultural connection, and reminded me a bit of Saint Ivy.  
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, November 13, 2021

The Holiday Switch

Marcelo, Tif. The Holiday Switch
October 5th 2021 by Underlined
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Lila Castro enjoys working at the Bookworm Inn in her small town of Holly, New York. It was part of the setting of a beloved holiday movie, Holiday on the Lake, which was filmed in the town, and which sees tons of tourists every year. Lila prefers stocking her Little Free Library at the back of the gift shop, and keeps a secret blog of holiday romance books. When her boss's nephew, Teddy, arrives to help out with the gift shop at the inn, Lila is fairly annoyed with him. He's a bit pompous, doesn't work very hard, and is a constant thorn in her side. Lila is a fan of the movie (since it's a genre she prefers) and Teddy has never read the book or even see the movie. Since the Filipino-American star, Remy Castillo, will soon be visiting the town, Lila and her best friend set out to complete a bucket list of all of the activities from the film, even though some of them cost a bit more than Lila can afford on her gift shop salary. She's hoping to get into the college of her choice, and her parents want her to become a doctor. She's not too sure. As her path crosses Teddy's more and more, and they accidentally switch phones and read some telling texts to the other person, Lila becomes more irritated with Teddy, but also comes to find him rather attractive and not that hard to spend time with. Will Lila's Christmas plans be able to include a real life romance along with the hot cocoa and candy canes? 
Strengths: This definitely reads much like what I expect the Hallmark channel Christmas movies are like ( I watched Mistletoe & Menorahs (2019) and wasn't impressed, although if there were some of these filmed in the 1980s, I would totally watch them ALL for the fashions alone), BUT has some culturally diverse characters front and center, which is good to see. Lila's close knit family was a lot of fun, and her desire to make them happy by studying medicine in college even though she really wanted to be a writer was true to life. Holly is an interesting town, and it's fun to see all of the different businesses that are dependent on the movie. The romance is fine, and the phone switch adds a bit of a twist. A lot of my readers ask for Christmas stories, and they are especially in demand by some of my Somali students. I think that Christmas in the US is a fairly secular holiday. 
Weaknesses: A teenager with a blog? Was this set in 2010? Given the number of book review blogs that I've seen go belly up in the last fifteen years, this seemed highly improbable. I have also never been a fan of the romantic trope where they two characters don't get along at first. 
What I really think: While I was a huge fan of this sort of book when I was in middle school, I worry that I shouldn't hand these to young, impressionable girls. "Romance is BAD! Don't waste your time," the bitter, old me says, but then the readers just turn around and recommend all of the Angela Darling books to their friends. I'll purchase this one, because it will get checked out frequently, especially when I can't keep enough holiday books around!

Ms. Yingling

Friday, November 12, 2021

I Survived the Shark Attacks of 1916- Graphic Novel

Lauren Tarshis, Haus Studio, Georgia Ball (Adapted by)
I Survived the Shark Attacks of 1916 (I Survived Graphic Novels #2) 
Published June 2nd 2020 by Graphix
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Chet's parents travel all over for work opportunities in 1916, so he is staying with his Uncle Jerry for the summer, helping out in his diner. It's beena lonely life, with few friends, so Chet is happy when some of the boys in the small New Jersey town of Elm Hills ask him to go swimming. There have been shark attacks neraby, and the boys play a prank on him. Chet isn't happy, but Uncle Jerry tells him this means the boys have accepted him, and that he needs to play a prank in return. He does, but this angers the boys because Chet goes a bit over the top with his shark attack prank. When he goes back to the swimming hole to make amends, he notices a shark in the water and tries to warn the boys. They, of course, don't believe him, and Chet tries mightily to save them. He is gravely injured, but the result of the episode is that the boys are now his friends and his parents are coming to visit... and Uncle Jerry thinks he can get Chet's father to stay and work at the diner with him. 

I Survived books have only gotten more popular over the ten years that they have been published. They have a great combination of history, adventure, and suspense, carried along on an easy to understand plot. The graphic novels go one step further, picturing in detail the historic era and place for readers who have always looked up everything online and don't have a well developed imagination. The graphic novels take about as long to read as the novels, but the full color illustrations definitely appeal to young readers. 

The story of Chet's moving and feeling lonely will also find fans, although in 1916, this would have been a more common occurence, and I'm not sure that Chet would have thought about it quite so much. 

The illustrations have a wonderful yellow and green summer palette, which contrasts nicely with the gray and red of the ominous shark's maw that terrorizes the community. The clothing is accurate for the time period, down to the fact that the boys wear undershorts swimming, although the town must be fairly well off if the boys are wearing shoes down to the swimming hole! 

The historical notes, common in the novel versions, also get a graphic treatment, and the information presented about the real shark attacks adds a lot to the book. As graphic novel selections increase, we are seeing difference genres represented. Aside from graphic memoirs such as Tatulli's Short and Skinny and Copeland's Cub, I can't think of any historical graphic novels other than Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales. 

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Cold-Blooded Myrtle

Bunce, Elizabeth C. Cold-Blooded Myrtle (Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery #3)
October 5th 2021 by Algonquin Young Readers
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Myrtle's small English village is like many who seem to suffer from far too many murders, especially for the late 1890s! The latest unfortunate demise is that of local shop keeper and former professor Mr. Leighton, who is found deceased right before the unveiling of his shop window's Christmas display. While it seems that the poor man might well have had a stroke, Myrtle makes sure that the local constabulary doesn't entirely discount murder, and she's right. The tableau in the window has some alarming references, and there is something suspicious about the death. It seems to be involved in the long ago disappearance of a student named Olive Blackwell, who was a friend of Myrtle's mother, who died of cancer when Myrtle was younger. Along with her tutor, Miss Judson, Myrtle starts to investigate the incident at the university in which her mother and several others were involved. A secret society initiation went wrong, and Olive was assumed to have fallen from a bell tower, but her body was never found. Myrtle talks to Leah, the new carillonist who is planning a concert for the first time since the event, people at the museum who have a display of an artifact that Professor Leighton had donated to them, and even some newspaper reporters who seem overly interested in the story. English villages have many secrets, and this is the first time that Myrtle has a personal connection to one. Will she be able to figure out Olive's whereabouts, and learn more about her own mother's past?

Like Stevens' Wells and Wong mysteries, Bunce deftly channels the energy of British detective stories from the early part of the 1900s, although while Stevens' seems more aligned with Agatha Christie's style, Bunce works in feminist issues more frequently found in Dorothy Sayers' Harriet Vane novels. Myrtle is ahead of her time, and aided by Miss Judson, as well as Dr. Munjal and several other sympathetic adults, is able to forge ahead in ways that many girls during her time period would not have. Her father, a lawyer, plays a somewhat larger role in this book, and it's good to see him more involved in his daughter's life. 

Young readers frequently want murder mysteries, and not only are several townspeople dispatched in this story, there is the historical mystery of Olive as well. This causes many people in the town to be suspects, and Myrtle doesn't spare anyone! Since British murder mysteries are popular with adults not only in novels, but also in television shows, this series is a great way to introduce younger readers to this genre. There are plenty of clues to file away and figure out, and the twists and turns end in a very satisfying way!

Readers who enjoyed mysteries like Souders' Coop Knows the Scoop, Gray's The Amelia Six, and the work of Stuart Gibbs will find Myrtle a great introduction to the Victorian era and a keen detective when it comes to figuring out murders!

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Barakah Beats

Siddiqui, Maleeha. Barakah Beats
October 19th 2021 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Nimra is excited but a little apprehensive about going to the public middle school earlier than expected. Her parents had her enrolled in Guided Light Acadamy, a private Islamic School, while she worked on the Hifz program, but now that she has memorized the Qur'an and had her celebration, they feel it's time for her to transition. Her best friend Jenna goes to Farmwell, so she won't be alone. Jenna isn't as supportive as Nimra thought she would be, and visibly balks when she finds that Nimra will be wearing her hijab every day. Nimra's parents are a bit more conservative than her grandparents, and her mother quit her job to stay home to take care of the family, and is now working with Nimra's father on their generic drug business, which takes up a lot of time. Nimra is conscientious about prayers and wearing her hijab in part because that is what her parents want, but she believes strongly in her religion and is proud that she worked hard to become a Hifz. Still, just like her parents and her grandparents, there are some intergenerational problems that she has. Her parents want her to take Spanish because it will be more useful, and don't want her to study art in school, although drawing is her absolute favorite thing to do. When Nimra is praying in the band room at lunch, she is approached by three 8th grade boys who have a Muslim band; Matthew, Bilal, and Waleed. They approach Nimra to sing with them, which sounds like a good idea to impress Jenna, who is ignoring her at school. The problem is that Nimra's parents think that Muslims shouldn't sing or dance in public. Bilal's sister, Khadijah, befriends Nimra and is a great comfort, since she also sets aside time to pray and wears a hijab. Nimra agrees to practice with the band, who are planning on performing at a benefit concert to raise money for refugees. Nimra knows her parents won't want her to perform, even though it is for a good cause, so she hides this from them. It's a delicate path to walk, especially since she has the group over to her house, and her parents know some of the boys' parents. When things go badly wrong with her friendship with Jenna, and at the same time, she feels that she needs to quit the band, how will she be able to stay in public school when all of her friends are mad at her. 
Strengths: Usually, when books show students entering middle school, especially a new one, they have trouble making friends. This has a delightful amount of wish fulfillment-- not only does Nimra transition to the new school well, she is friends with super popular kids a year older! For readers who are interested in music, there's a lot about performance and being in a band. The cover alone will entice readers who want a generally upbeat story with some more serious issues to balance things out. 
Weaknesses: I wish I had felt more of a connection between Jenna and Nimra. Jenna never came across as being a good friend. It's great that there are terms for prayers and different parts of Islamic culture, and I completely understand why there aren't notes at the end explaining them. For my students who aren't familiar with Muslim culture, I do have Ali-Karamali's Growing Up Muslim (2012) that would help, but it would have been a good way to educate people unfamiliar with the culture to include the terms in a glossary. If I had written a book about my 7th grade experience going through confirmation class at the United Methodist Church, I would have included notes about things like what MYF* means. 
What I really think: The blurb says this is like The First Rule of Punk meets Save Me a Seat, but I'd replace the latter title with Zia's The Garden of My Imaan, since it is more about religious issues than about fitting into a new country. This is a great title for readers who are interested in music, art, or friend drama.

*Methodist Youth Fellowship. If you don't know, you can look it up online, but sometimes it is a step people don't want to take. 

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, November 09, 2021


Alexander, K.R. Vacancy
November 2nd 2021 by Scholastic Inc. 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Jasmine has moved from Florida to Gold River after the death of her mother, which is a mountainous and chillier community which is home to ski resorts. There is a very large, abandoned hotel, The Carlisle, that was the site of a horrible disaster-- one night, thirty three years ago, all of the guests but one perished. The attending physician said that they all died of fright. The hotel has been closed since, but every year, teens in town have a dare, and try to stay over night in the hotel. Jasmine is especially interested because the hotel has spoken to her in her dreams. Her friend Rohan is very interested in going, because he thinks it will stop Bradley and the school bullies from picking on them. Mira has also seen the hotel in her dreams and felt it calling to her, but she is more frightened and doesn't want to go. In the end, all three decide to go and to stick together. Once there, the 8th graders are invited to a seance by an older student, and things start to go badly wrong. The Grand Dame, who has appeared in the girls' dreams, is hunting them specifically. In the past, she was a prominent member of the community, but had dealings in the spirit world that didn't end well. Now, she feels that Jasmine will help her complete her task of conquering death. Will the Grand Dame succeed, and at what cost to our protagonists?
Strengths: While I saw one of the twists coming, there was another one that I absolutely did not, so I didn't want to spoil this for anyone. It's a great creepy tale with flying silverware, killer statues, pools filling up with tarlike substance and pulling children in. There's also a bit of traditional school drama, with Bradley being a stereotypical bully who flings food at others in the cafeteria, setting the stage for the dare. The best part, however, is the creepy ending, which was chilling. Alexander's snappy, fast-paced style is a big hit with my students, and this cover is ultra creeptastic.
Weaknesses: When the Grand Dame speaks, her words are in not only cursive, but a fairly decorative form of it. Students have not been taught cursive in my district for about six years, so I will probably be asked to "translate" on more than one occasion! Not that it matters to my students, but I found the characters in this to be a little flat. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. Probably three copies, since these titles are hugely popular. I do wish that Scholastic would publish them in hardcover!