Friday, December 31, 2021

Guy Friday- A Man Called Horse

Turner, Glennette Tilley. Man Called Horse: John Horse and the Black Seminole Underground Railroad 
Harry N. Abrams (September 21, 2021)
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Born in Florida in 1812, John Horse's father was most likely a Seminole tribesman, and his mother an enslaved Black woman. This was a difficult time in history, especially in this part of the world, when troubles arose between Seminoles, free Blacks, the Spanish, and Florida planters. In 1835, the Second Seminole War began. Young John had language skills that let him travel between the several different communities, affording him opportunities but also occasionally getting him into trouble. Black Seminoles faced unique challenges, but by 1844, Horse was part of a delegation to Washington that tried to get better rights for Black Seminoles. He continued in his role as a statesman, fighting on several fronts for rights, and was instrumental in helping his people work towards freedom. 

 This is a well formatted and researched biography about a previously unheralded person. Just the right length for pleasure reading, but with enough information for research, it is well illustrated with drawings and photographs that add a layer of understanding to the text. The additional maps, timelines, and notes help provide a framework for understanding Horse and his times.

It is difficult to find biographies that accurately portray Native Americans; until twenty years ago, almost all of the books were written by non-Native people and were not accurate in the portrayals of the actions of the US government. This smaller format book (5.5 x 8 inches) is extremely attractive, with colorful page decorations, good sized text, and more illustrations than I would have thought would be available. The notes at the end about the Horse's legacy will be helpful to students doing research for National History Day, as will the bibliography at the end. I'm hoping that we will see a lot more biographies about a variety of unsung historical figures, and this is a great format for titles covering them.

Tate, Don. Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of Football-Playing Artist Ernie Barnes
August 17th 2021 by Harry N. Abrams
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

In this picture book biography, we learn of Ernie Barnes, who was born in 1938 and raised in North Carolina. He was fond of drawing and painting, and preferred these inside pursuits to the rough and tumble of sports. When he got a bit older, he tired of being picked on for being somewhat overweight, and tried out for the football team. A teacher suggested that he start body building, which helped him to become a better football player. Although he continued with his artistic pursuits, he was offered a number of college scholarships for football, so traveled down that road for quite some time. After playing in college, he was recruited for the Colts, but cut at the end of the training period. He ended up playing five seasons in the NFL with the New York Titans, San Diego Chargers, and Denver Broncos. When he retired because of an injury, he approached a team about becoming their full time artist, and began to find acclaim from his work. His paintings appeared on the television show Good Times, and he made several guest appearances on the show as well. He passed away in 2009 after a long career in art.

Tate has a good note in the back that his own art work is not meant to represent the style of Barnes, and the bright colors and clean lines tell Barnes' story with a lot of interest. There is a lot of texture in the illustrations, and the treatment of fabric is especially nice. 

This is well researched, and there are footnotes at the end, as well as a timeline and brief bibliography. Tate, who is also Black, discusses in an end note how inspirational he found Barnes' work once he discovered him. 

Barnes' unique mix of football an art has been covered in Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery by Sandra Neil Wallace and Bryan Collier, but this is a different enough book to warrant attention. Hand this to fans of Tavares's Growing Up Pedro, Reid and Freeman's Althea Gibson: The Story of Tennis' Fleet of Foot Girl and Kelly's Miracle Mud: Lena Blackburne and the Secret Mud that Changed Baseball.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Time Heist: Cat Ninja #8

Cody, Matt and Thomas, Chad. Time Heist: Cat Ninja #8
October 12th 2021 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the Publisher

Cat Ninja, and his sidekick Master Hamster, are back in another adventure. Their humans, Leon and Marcie, know all about their exploits. When Leon brings home an egg from school, the two are left to babysit it, even though Cat Ninja is plenty busy figuring out why OctoPunch has turned evil and is wreaking havoc on the community, and Master Hamster is even busier crafting flying food bowls so that he doesn't have to move from the couch in order to get a snack. It turns out that the owlet that hatches, whom they name Hoot, is the daughter of Chronowl, who has sent her through time to keep her safe. While Leon and Marcie have to deal with their parents' divorce and moving between two households, Cat Ninja needs to worry about a variety of super villains, Elan Mollusk, and threats from Cuckoo, which all seem to be tied into Hoot's fate. Will he be able to keep everyone safe, given that Master Hamster is a somewhat less than helpful sidekick?
Strengths: Cat Ninja and his humans have a charming relationship, and I found Leon and Marcie's activities with their mom rather interesting. They also want to keep Hoot, but their mother thinks he should be turned into a wildlife rescue, which added an interesting twist. Most young readers will be more interested in Cat Ninja and his highjinks with a variety of villains. The time travel component of this was a nice addition. These books are the closest thing I have seen to the comic books that I remember in the 1970s. When we were on vacation, my parents would let my brother and me get a comic or two at a gas station in Breezewood, PA, and we looked at our small collection for years. The chapters are episodic in the same way that I remember the ones in our Richie Rich comics being. A lot of fun for young readers.
Weaknesses: The paper and ink on these always gives me a headache. I should go sniff some of my older titles to see if this dissipates over time. 
What I really think: If I ran an elementary library, I would purchase this entire series. Prices range from $8.99 for a paperback to $16.89 for a prebind. Since the paper over board hardcover is $12.51, I'm not sure what the best format to purchase would be. My middle school students would certainly read these, but I don't have enough space to invest in too many series like this. Epic! has a number of good choices for these graphic novels. 
 Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

If you don't understand Cat Kid, you don't grok Pilkey

Pilkey, Dav. Cat Kid Comic Club
December 1st 2020 by Graphix
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Li'l Petey (aka Cat Kid) has decided to run a drawing club for the tadpoles, offspring of the somewhat overly concerned Flippy. After the students opine that they don't have any ideas, can't draw, etc., their first assignment,is to write the stupidest comic ever and "fail" at writing. Of course, they come up with gems like graphic novels about "monster" cheese, a toothbrush who is a lawyer for dinosaurs, and other sketchily drawn, humorous stories. When they find that their classmates "failed at failing", a lot of creativity emerges. There are photo illustrated comic books of haiku, clay characters, felt collages, and lots of destruction, murder, and poop. Flippy isn't having it. He tells the group that they are inappropriate, and are no longer allowed to write about violent occurrences or use potty humor. Cat Kid, however, comes to their rescue and points out that Shakespeare uses all of those things, plus plenty of fart jokes, and many other adult writers do as well. Why can't kids' books have them? Flippy is still not pleased with ideas like Frankenfart vs. the Bionic Barf Bunnies from Diarrhea Land, and demands that the students produce work that is wholesome and uplifting. After a conversations with Nurse Lady, however, he tries to remain chill and let the students be creative without too many strictures. It's hard, but the group comes up with many clever and amusing ideas, not all of which involve poop. They learn that it's okay to learn by tracing drawings, that there are no set rules for the way books have to be, and that sometimes the best way to learn is to fail. 

Younger readers will find all of the fart jokes amusing, and definitely take away the message that it's okay to struggle with creativity. The thing I admired the most was Pilkey's determination to directly challenge teachers, librarians, and parents who have deemed HIS work inappropriate because of the violence and potty humor. If you aren't familiar with Pilkey's work, as well as with the challenges that it has faced, you might not understand the strong message. I'm not sure that younger students will quite understand, but middle grade readers will know enough about how adults feel about their reading materials that they will cheer on Cat Kid (and Pilkey's) message about creative freedom.

Aside from that, it was great fun to see the creative process of making a graphic novel explained and to see a variety of formats and storylines. I know that my students frequently have trouble coming up with ideas when they are assigned creative writing, and I loved Cat Kid's idea about writing down things that writers feel passionate about, and then making a story about a combination of those. The different formats are shown in a purposefully elementary style which was a fun change from Pilkey's normal style, and harks back to Harold and George's comics in Captain Underpants. I have to say that I did appreciate that the spelling was more uniformly standard in this book.

Pilkey has a loyal following even among 8th graders, so this book will need no recommendation from adult for kids to read it. If you have a young artist who wants some inspiration for their own work, you can't get an instructor any better than Cat Kid... and Dav Pilkey.
 Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

When You Adopt a Pugicorn or Why I Probably Can't Be Trusted to Review Picture Books

Rose, Matilda and Budgen, Tim. When You Adopt a Pugicorn
September 7th 2021 by Harry N. Abrams
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

In Fairyland, it is standard practice for young princes and princesses to adopt unicorns from the Haven for Magical Pets, but there are supply chain issues. While some of the royalty manage to get the pet of their dreams, there are no unicorns remaining for Princess Ava. Instead, she must settle for a pugicorn. While he is adorable, he does not fit Ava's preconceived ideas for a pet, since he lacks the shining mane and swishing tale she has her heart set on. Ava encourages her new companion to "Think unicorn!", but this proves to be a less successful strategy as Pugicorn tries and fails to keep up with actual unicorns during various royal endeavors. In a snit, Ava declares that Pugicorn is the worst unicorn ever, and refuses to take him to the Unicorn Picnic. Pugicorn is devastated, and Ava has a decent time at the picnic until it is time to go home. Failing to plan ahead, she and the other royalty are caught in the woods after dark. The unicorns cower in fear and are no help at all, but the group is saved by the efforts of Pugicorn, who comes to the rescue with his shining horn and intrepid demeanor. Now that her pet has saved the day, Ava decides that she shouldn't have tried to change him, and pugicorns become the hot new pet in Fairyland.

This is a charming book for preschool children, who will be delighted with the cuteness of Pugicorn, and revel in the royal escapades. They will also not be deterred by the somewhat twee names like Twinkleton-Under-Beanstalk and Flutter Toes. I'm not sure that this will dissuade them from liking unicorns, and I personally feel that unicorns get a bad rap in this book. Why do their horns not shine? Why are they not good in a crisis? Explanations are needed.

I also feel like Pugicorn's story could have taken an interesting dark turn, where he abandons Ava and her cronies in the forest and instead moves to a neighboring kingdom and works to amplify the voices of underappreciated pugicorns everywhere, but then I usually read middle grade books. Preschoolers will learn that they should appreciate fellow beings for their own innate qualities and not expect them to be something that they are not. They will understand Ava's snit but still rally behind Pugicorn, and be super excited to find that Matilda Rose has other titles such as Pandarina, Starwhal, and Kitticorn, and that Shannon Hale and Leuyen Pham have Itty-Bitty Kittycorn. Pair this with Moore's very amusing Stuff Unicorns Love for extra special crunchy fun!

Monday, December 27, 2021

MMGM-- Jadie in Five Dimensions

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Salerni, Dianne K. Jadie in Five Dimensions
October 5th 2021 by Holiday House
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Jadie is part of a group of people who do the bidding of the mysterious Seers. She and her family, who are part of a small enclave of four families who live in a cul de sac, travel to different parts of the world and do seemingly meaningless tasks that they are assured change the course of the world for better. The parents in the group were all approached in college by Miss Rose, and when the children are old enough, they go on missions as well. Jadie was adopted after her parents abandoned her... or at least that's what she has always been told. When her friend Alia asks Jadie to do a mission for her, Jadie finds herself in an apartment (where she is supposed to spill water on a computer) where there is a portrait of herself as a baby, along with another family. Intrigued, she enlists Ty's help in traveling back to find out more. We also see the story from the point of view of Sam, Jadie's brother in the other reality. His family has struggled ever since Jadie was taken in a carjacking. His mother has mental health issues, and his father has found it hard to get work. Sam does some computer programming for video games, and counts on the income that provides, so he is not happy when his computer is threatened several times. Eventually, Ty and Jadie's brother Marius steal Sam's computer, and his work, along with the information Jadie has uncovered, leads them all to doubt the intentions of the Seers and of Miss Rose. When Sam's father is abducted by "resisters" to the Seers, will they be able to use their knowledge and travel through five dimensions to bring him back and save the world?

Did you ever wonder what happened to Meg Murray's father when he disappeared in A Wrinkle in Time? This is a likely scenario. While I personally had a lot of trouble following all of the multidimensional information about tesseracts and directions that don't appear in our dimension, this didn't lessen my enjoyment at all. It was interesting to see a frustrated scientist given the opportunity to solve questions he's been working on, and being thwarted for, especially when the results had such far reaching consequences. 

Of course, younger readers will be intrigued by the Face on the Milk Carton quality of Jadie's experience. Did her first mother and father abandon her? Why didn't they fight for her? What allegiance does she owe to Miss Rose for her loving family? Should she question the Seers more? Just what is reality? These questions are all compelling even with my limited working knowledge of the science involved, and Jadie's experience will resonate with middle grade readers who love stories that involve issues of personal identity. 

Die hard science fiction addicts will love the scientific explanations of the fourth and fifth dimension, complete with reasons why slide rules have to be used in some of them, and how gravity works in the various levels! There were also some great villains and creatures in the book, and a very interesting commentary on what is considered beautiful. 

Readers who enjoyed this author's The Eighth Day (which is another twist on worlds we can't see) or Eleanor, Alice, and the Roosevelt Ghosts will find Jadie in Five Dimensions to be a physics laced romp with travel to rival Durst's Odd and Even, Lerangis' Throwback, Scarrows' Time Riders, or Welford's Time Traveling with a Hamster. If it encourages young readers to investigate L'Engle's classic A Wrinkle in Time, all the better!

Ms. Yingling

Sunday, December 26, 2021


Paulsen, Gary. Northwind
January 11th 2022 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In an undetermined time somewhere along the Norwegian coast, there is a cholera epidemic on a fishing ship that kills most of the men aboard. Thanks to Old Carl, Little Carl and young Leif are put on a boat and told to go North to escape the disease. They don't get far before Little Carl dies in a very gruesome way, but Leif survives. It's not easy to survive in the wilderness with very few supplies, but he manages. He manages to make tools to catch and dry salmon, builds simple shelters, lights fires to dry out his boat, and deals with bears, eagles, crows, and orcas who don't have his best interests at heart. After years of being sold from ship to ship and being beaten and forced to work at unsavory, difficult jobs however, Leif enjoys the solitude and ability to just BE.
Strengths: This hits most of the survival book tropes that we are used to seeing from Paulsen, and also has a bit of a Julie of the Wolves vibe to it. The encounters in the wilderness with various wildlife, and the survival skills that Leif must employ are all solid, and his journey to inner peace through the wilderness experience will resonate with some readers. Leif's backstory of hard work and abuse echoes Paulsen's own experiences that we saw in Gone to the Wild. A touching afterword indicates that this book was inspired by tales Paulsen's grandmother told him when he lived with her at the cook camp as a small child, and that he has been working on this book most of his life. 
Weaknesses: The beginning is a bit confusing, and very gory. It also seemed odd that Leif didn't run into any people. If he's going along the coast, wouldn't there be a lot of fishing villages?
What I really think: This might well be the last Gary Paulsen book, but I may have to pass on this one. 

A little concerned that everyone is just going to buy this without reading it. It's written in an odd style, sort of James Joyce meets Ernest Hemmingway, and is very, very descriptive about the effects of a plague on some sailors and two young boys. This is from the e ARC, about 26 pages in. 

"Jammed in paralyzed rigor into the bow was the deceased body of the small boy—Little Carl—covered in released stomach and anal gore. While farther back, pushed equally hard into the stern, Leif huddled and, though he was panting shallowly, breathing with great effort in short, soft gasps—he was lying on his face, unconscious, and appeared to be equally dead. As in the bow, the stern’s horror-mess around Leif was made up of what had been in his stomach, faint streaks of blood, bile, and bits of smoked fish."

Read and decide for yourself. 

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Merry Christmas!

Utnik-StrugaƂa, Monika. Christmas Is Coming: Traditions from Around the World 
Published September 14th 2021 by NorthSouth Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This Polish import has a lot of interesting information on different aspects of Christmas, from trees, to ornaments, to depictions of Santa Claus. There was, not surprisingly, a lot more on Polish Christmas than I have previously read. I was enlightened by the brief information about Christmas in Japan; in 2007, we had a Japanese exchange teacher stay with us for three weeks, and it was interesting to hear what a big holiday it was, although to celebrate, the Japanese eat Kentucky Fried Chicken and sometimes get engaged!

A lot of my 6th grade girls are very interested in fiction books set in December, and it's often my Muslim students with family connections in other countries that are particularly enthralled. I have been looking for books with overviews of various facets of the Christmas season for these readers, but haven't found quite the right book yet. If you want a lot of serious information in a well illustrated volume, this is the one for you, but it wasn't quite what I wanted. 

Growing up, my parents would often sign up for Time-Life or World Book series, the kind where you could sign up but "cancel at any time", which was always after the first book! My knowledge is a little skewed because of this; I know about the 1920s, the Revolutionary War, and Christmas in Germany because those were the volumes we had! Some of this book was familiar, but there was also a lot of information I didn't know. 

Katz, Alan. Trouble in Toyland: Elf Academy
September 21st 2021 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Andy lives at the North Pole with his parents and older brother Andy and younger sister Susu. He attends Elf Academy, where the students spend the mornings on academic topics and the afternoons making toys for Santa. Andy, who is in second grade, tries to spice things up by doing things like seeing how many helmets he can wear at one time, but he frequently gets in trouble for his antics. He's tired of building the same toys over and over, and longs for a creative outlet. When the principal announces a design contest for the children to design a bird toy, Andy should be elated, but instead struggles to come up with an idea. Craig tells him to trust his instincts, and the he is a winner any time he is creating, but it is still a struggle to come up with a concept and to build it. When he finally comes up with an idea, it is a bit outside of the gift box. Will Andy's innovative toy help him feel creative, and maybe even win the contest?
Strengths: I'm a huge fan of shorter books with large print for emerging readers. This is a perfect blend of text and pictures, and perfect for first or second graders who can zip through a 32 page I Can Read book with no problems. Christmas stories are always fun, and there is so much more that could be done with the whole Elf Mythos. Andy is an exuberant character with which many young readers will sympathize. School projects start to become interesting at this age, so seeing a child work through the creative process is informative. I'm curious to see what other highjinks Andy embraces. 
Weaknesses: I could tell that this was more of an elementary title when I found myself being outraged that Santa was exploiting the elves and having seven year olds make his toys. 
What I really think: I won't be purchasing this for my school library, but would definitely have gotten this for my own personal children when they were in early elementary school. Alan Katz has a lot of really fun looking titles for younger readers. I love all of the Simon Kids series-- this is Quix, but there's also a M!X and MAX! imprints that are hugely popular with my students. This would be a great book for fans of Jacobson's Twig and Turtle or Higgins' Good Dog books. 

Rowling, J.K. The Christmas Pig
October 12th 2021 by Scholastic Inc.
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central 

Jack is dealing with divorce and his parents. His father is very distant, and it isn't long before his mother is dating someone who has a daughter, Holly. Jack's okay with this, and even knows Holly from school, but she is struggling with the change in relationships and is mean to Jack. Jack's comfort through all of this is a very dilapidated lovey, a stuffed pig called Dur Pig. When Holly throws him out of the car in a fit of pique, Jack is devastated. His mother tries to remedy the situation by getting him a new stuffed pig, but it's not the same. Soon, however, Jack finds out that his new stuffed animal is magic, and the Christmas Pig takes him into the Land of the Lost, filled with new adventures and is peopled by strange characters like talking diamond earrings. Will Jack be able to evade the Loss Adjusters and go undetected long enough to make it to the Island of the Beloved to find Dur Pig?

This is a bit longer than many US books for readers young enough to be emotionally invested in stuffed animals, but would be excellent for a read aloud during the Christmas season. The beginning is very much like a Jacqueline Wilson novel (Candyfloss, The Suitcase Kid, The Lottie Project), rife with suspect British parenting, mean family members, and a child who just wants to be loved and cared for properly. We are then sucked into a fantasy world a bit like Bell's Crooked Sixpence or Hannibal's The Lost Property Office, and get to proceed on an exciting quest. US readers who haven't read too many British books will find the story innovative.

Jim Field's occasional illustrations are pleasant, but there could have been many more of them. I wish that chapter heading decorations would make a much bigger comeback so that the talents of illustrators could be better showcased! 

Fans of Harry Potter, especially ones who now have children of their own, will definitely want to investigate this new title as an extension of Rowling's magical imagination. Part Velveteen Rabbit, part Polar Express, The Christmas Pig will resonate with anyone who has ever felt a deep and unexplainable love for a stuffed bit of fake fur. Merry Christmas, Teddy. 

Davies, Valentine. Miracle on 34th Street
September 14th 2021 by Clarion Books (first published 1947)
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Kris Kringle is about to be turned out of the Maplewood Home for the Aged in New York City and transferred to Mount Hope Sanitorium because the Board of Directors will only allow people to stay at Maplewood if they are of sound mind. Since he believes he is THE Santa Claus, he is considered unstable. Instead of being sent to the sanitorium, he takes himself off to stay with a friend who is a zookeeper for the reindeer at the zoo and somehow earn a living. In a fortuitous turn of events, he is at the staging area of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade when the man playing the role of Santa is found to be inebriated. given his jovial, bewhiskered appearance, the parade director, Doris Walker, hires him on the spot to fill in. He also takes over in the department store, and takes the innovative approach of telling parents where they can find their children's objects of desire for cheaper prices, even if it isn't at Macy's! This boosts goodwill as well as business. Doris is a very driven professional, who is raising her daughter Susan alone after a divorce. She is a pragmatic woman, and raised Susan to forego the frivolities of youth such as believing in Santa. Luckily, neighbor Fred indulges her a bit more. He also is interested in Doris as a romantic interest. When it turned out that Kris is considered to be unstable, Doris wants to fire him, but gets caught up in a trial to judge his competence. Susan starts to belive a bit in the mythology of Christmas, but will Santa be able to grant her fondest wish?

This 1947 title bears some hints of its age, but holds up fairly well. It's good to see an independent woman at this particular juncture of history, and I think Doris' approach to raising Susan is sound. The dated aspects include quite different treatment of the elderly (especially since Kris is described as being around 75!), and different terminology for mental health conditions; "lunacy"is no longer a politically correct term. I wasn't a huge fan of Fred's pursuit of Doris, but he was generally a fine fellow, even though the dream of a house in the suburb and married life seemed very tied to post war feelings. 

The cinematic orgins of the story also bleed through occasionally, and the sentimentality is typical of holiday fare from this era. Considering this was a movie before it was a book, it's not a surprise. The writing is still strong, and the slim volume is a quick read. 

I've never compiled a list of classic Christmas stories, but this would be a good addition to a holiday collection along with Dicken's Cricket on the Hearth, Henry's Gift of the Magi and Shepherd's A Christmas Story.

Friday, December 24, 2021

More Old Guys-- Bingo Brown

Byars, Betsy. The Burning Questions of Bingo Brown
January 1st 1988 by Viking Juvenile 
Library copy

Bingo (nee Harrison) Brown is a typical middle school student. He is minding his own business in English class when the students are given an assignment; you are at the top of your field, so give advice to others. When three girls in his class give answers he finds intriguing, he suddenly finds himself irresistably drawn to them. His own answer isn't that inspired, but he loves the notebook that his teacher, Mr. Markham, gives him, and proceeds to record his antics in it. This includes his parents' plans for their college class reunion (his father was a cheerleader and his mother played trumpet, and both are excited to return to the field), his sudden romantic urges, and most importantly, a schoolwide protest against a ban of t shirts with letters on them, which he is running along with school bully, Billy, who is also moving next door to Bingo. Add to this the fragile emotional state of their young teacher, Mr. Markham, who gives writing assignments persuading his girlfriend to stay with him, and also a troubling assignment to persuade someone not to commit suicide, and Bingo's burning questions are certainly justified. 
Strengths: For a book that is almost 34 years old (meaning that Bingo would now be 46!), this remained incredibly readable. I'm going to have some actual 12 year old boys try it to see if it is also relatable. Certainly, the romantic interests (which were very modern, and I loved that Bingo cared more about what the girls thought than how they looked), the dealings with goofy parents, and the protests against authority all ring true. The teacher's mental health struggles reminded me a bit of the teacher's health problems in Because of Mr. Terupt, but lacked an instructional quality that we would see today. 
Weaknesses: It seemed odd that Bingo didn't have a best friend, but was also a bit refreshing. It's so common for boys in books to have a best friend or group of friends that this felt jarring!
What I really think: I'm not quite sure how I feel about this one. Right up until the teacher's possible suicide attempt (he is involved in a motorcyle accident, but did he skid off the road into a tree or have the accident on purpose?), I was all in. After that, I wanted more information. School counselors are called in, but there isn't any concrete resolution, and we don't know if the teacher is really getting the help he needs. I think I will read more of the series, and also test this book with some trusted, mature 8th graders. 

Byars, Betsy. Bingo Brown and the Language of Love
May 1st 1989 by Viking Juvenile
Library copy

Poor Bingo. His crush, Melissa, has moved to Bixby, Oklahoma, and he misses her whenever he smells gingersnaps. He has, unfortunately, run up $54 in long distance calls to her, and his parents have banned him from using the phone. He writes her letters, which she is glad to get. Melissa even sends her friend, Cici, over to take Bingo's picture so that she can have one of him. When Cici comes over, Bingo is a little scared of her, but Billy (his new next door neighbor and former bully) falls in love. There's some back and forth with letters, and Cici does have a bit of a crush on Bingo, but he's still pining for Melissa. In the meantime, Bingo's mother, who finally has a job she enjoys after years of underemployment, seemed extra stressed. Bingo takes on cooking for the family to make up for his phone bill, but even the tuna lasagna doesn't seem to help. After his mother goes to spend time at his grandmother's house, Bingo finds out that his parents are expecting a baby, after years of not having any luck. While this isn't the best news for Bingo, he is very sympathetic to his parents, and tries to make life better for his mother.
Strengths: Bingo's interest in girls is realistically and sensitively handled. I did appreciate that he really likes Melissa and her personality, and is willing to write her letters! It was also interesting to see his reaction to CiCi; I can't really think of many books that deal with a character not wanting to reciprocate a crush. Cici is a little daunting, but she isn't an undesirable acquaintance, which added a nice layer of complexity. It would be all too easy to play her for laughs, but Byars didn't. The situation with the parents is great; they are open and honest with each other and with Bingo, and able to work through some challenging times. I loved that Bingo paid off his debt by cooking dinner! 
Weaknesses: There wasn't very much about school in this one, which was a bit of a surprise after the first book in the series, which was set a lot in the classroom. 
What I really think: I still enjoyed this, but still have to get a student to read the first one. I thought that Bingo's family dynamics were pretty healthy, and that his feelings about Melissa and Cici were pretty modern for being over 30 years old. I will definitely keep this series for now; if nothing else, it is an interesting snapshot of the past. 

Byars, Betsy. Bingo Brown, Gypsy Lover (Bingo Brown #3)
June 30th 1990 by Viking Juvenile
Library Copy

Oh, Bingo, I do love you. It's not you, it's me. Well, actually, it IS you. You're not really 12, you're 44, and my middle school readers can tell the difference. Don't get me wrong; you were a fantastic 12 year old for 1988. You cooked, you took good care of your pregnant mother, and you liked girls because of how smart they were, not just because you thought they were cute. You wrote letters. But a very kind student read the books and told me that he was sorry, but they really no longer felt relevant. Given that people in polite society no longer use the term "Gypsy", I'm going to have to agree and send you to a better place.

Of course, now I have my reservations about Lowry's Anastasia Krupnik and Naylor's Alice McKinely, who are your contemporaries. I read a LOT of the Alice books in 1992, when my school was involved in a book collection project for a small town public library. Wait. I read all of the books because a larger library was deaccessioning the Alice books. Thirty years ago. Hmmm. 

Thursday, December 23, 2021

The Girl in the Lake

Brown, India Hill. The Girl in the Lake
January 4th 2022 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Celeste has never been comfortable in the water and has just "failed" her last attempt at swimming lessons. This is important because she is going to spend the summer at Grandad Jim and Grandma Judy's summer house on a lake, and she will be expected to spend a lot of time in the water. Her brother Owen, who is afraid of creatures in the woods, will be coming along. Her cousin Daisy, who is younger and dresses and acts like she is a child in the 1950s, is afraid of thunderstorms. Her older cousin Capri is a good track athlete, but is afraid of driving. She's mean to Celeste at first, but this is a reaction to the grandparents expecting her to drive the other children around. Celeste realizes that she looks almost exactly like her great aunt Ellie, but her grandmother won't give her any details about her sister. When the house seems to be haunted, with lights flashing in the attic, whispered voices, and Celeste seeming to be in two places at once, the children want to find out what is going on. At the same time, Celeste starts to take swimming lessons from her grandfather, who was a big proponent of young Blacks learning to swim at a time when this was not encouraged, and Celeste experiences some of the prejudice and discrimination against Black people in public pools in her own community. After some bad experiences with Ellie's ghost, even though their grandmother assures them that Ellie isn't dangerous, the children try out a theory to see if they can bring Ellie, and themselves, to peace. 
Strengths: The best part of this book was the history of the grandparents being involved in the 1960s with racial issues, and the information about the experiences of Blacks and swimming during that time period. It was great to see that the grandparents were able to have a summer place, and summers with grandparents should be a more frequent topic of middle grade books! If family history can be brought in, even better! The children's fears are all real but also possible to overcome. The fact that the grandparents weren't convinced there was a ghost was realistic, and there were a couple of nicely scary scenes where Ellie wreaks some havoc. This was a fast paced and intriguing title. 
Weaknesses: Ellie's hauntings take a really interesting twist, but one which makes her far less threatening as a ghost. 
What I really think: I'm buying this one, since The Forgotten Girl is constantly checked out, and will hope that readers will check it out hoping for the scary story the cover promises, but keep reading because the history and family dynamics are so interesting. This could have been much scarier.

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Pizza My Heart: A Wish Novel

Richardson, Rhiannon. Pizza My Heart: A Wish Novel
January 4th 2022 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Maya loves her life in Brooklyn, and her parents' innovative pizza shop, Soul Slice, is the center of her vibrant neighborhood. When they decide to move in order to set up a second shop in a Philadelphia suburb, she is devastated. It means leaving her best friend Sasha, and starting school in a new place without the same sense of community. Her parents are very busy with the new shop, and demand that Maya help out with deliveries, which means walking or taking her bike around to unfamiliar areas. On her first delivery, she has an unpleasant encounter with Justin, who of course shows up in her class at school. Luckily, she also makes a friend in former artist Devin, whose twin sister Waverly has a crush on Justin. To complicate matters, Justin's father is working with her parents to redesign the new restaurant, and Justin is spending a lot of time there while Maya is. They come to an uneasy truce, but neither trusts the other. Maya's parents are unwavering in their demands that she help them out, even though this means she can't make it to the art club at school. Devin realizes that if the art club orders pizzas and Maya delivers them, she can spend a bit of time with the club before getting back. Maya's art project for a competition is to design a mini version of the restaurant, and Justin encourages her to share her ideas with her parents, but she doesn't want to. When her parents can't make the awards ceremony AND demand that Maya not attend so that she can be at the restaurant opening, Justin and Devin once again help her try to find a way to accomplish both things. When this doesn't work very well, Maya is forced to finally reckon with her parents and to set things right. 
Strengths: While Maya doesn't want to move, I appreciated that she had a decent time of changing schools and communities. She makes new friends, sees the benefits of her parents' new restaurant, and even finds things at school that she enjoys. She is able to keep in touch with Sasha in Brooklyn, adn there aren't a lot of tensions there, although there are a realistic few. Her interest in art is well done, and her fears that her parents will make her take over the restaurant when she grows up are well founded. Justin is cute but irritating, something which young readers must find interesting, since this shows up frequently in middle grade lit. He is NOT , however, that much of a jerk, and his reactions are based on some life changes that have upset him. He tries repeatedly to make things right with Maya, which I did find charming. This is another fantastic WISH novel that my students will love. 
Weaknesses: There was something that didn't quite work about Maya's parents demanding that she work in the restaurant and not understanding how difficult the move was for her. Yes, they were busy, but they seemed understanding about most things, and seem to have a better relationship with Maya than their actions indicated. Can't quite put my finger on it, and younger readers will just assume it's parents being parents (insert eye roll), but the general relationship didn't support their actions.
What I really think: While I don't personally want to eat Chicken and Waffle pizza or barbeque pizza, these sound like great recipes and there should be an actual Soul Slice somewhere! Wish novels are hugely popular in my library, and this is a great addition to the collection. I'd love to see more titles written by authors with cultural connections and dealing with food from other countries. My favorite restaurants to frequent are small, family run ones that feature food with which I am not familiar, and I would love to read more! 
 Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Ash House

Walker, Angharad. The Ash House
February 2nd 2021 by Chicken House
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

A boy is in the hospital with extreme back pain. There's always a vague diagnosis when his foster parents take him to the doctor, but after the last bout, he's taken by car out into the countryside and left at the creepy Ash House. There are no adults around, just Dom, who shows the boy around. He can no longer remember his name, but is named Solitude, Sol for short, after a "Niceness". There are a lot of "nicenesses" that Dom tells him about; things that the Headmaster wants the dozen or so children in residence to keep in mind. They live in a broken down green house, are dressed in rags, and wait for a daily phone call from the Headmaster, who has been gone for three years. After Sol's appearance, the Headmaster does not call, and the group is thrown into confusion. They keep up with their assigned tasks, including feeding ravening creatures named Shucks, go to lessons, and pick up groceries down the road. Sol knows this is all highly unusual, and wants some answers, but none are forthcoming. He does get some relief from his pain when the group go and bathe in the lake that is filled with Ash. The Ash House is a huge myseter; the walls seem to be burning, and the air is filled with ash, but no one knows why or how. The mysteries increase. There are drones and surveillance films of the area that are collected, and a child named Clemency has apparently asked too many questions and died. Again, few answers emerge for Sol. When the phone rings again, it is the Doctor, who comes to help Sol. An operation takes away his pain but leaves him paralyzed, and conditions do not improve. The chidlren decide that they must do something before another of their number is killed by the Doctor. Will they be able to survive?

This was a strange and unsettling book, and the closet thing to which I can compare it is Gemeinhart's Scar Island. Children alone, in an eerie location, dealing with forces they don't understand, trying to make sense of it all sort of defies description. The cover makes this look like a horror story, and in some ways it is, but it is also devoid of a lot of typical horror elements. The Shucks would be the one foray into dangerous beasts. This definitely falls on the side of psychological horror titles like Alender's The Companion and Ventresca's Black Flowers, White Lies.

The characters drive a lot of this, put are interestingly underdeveloped. Sol doesn't really know who he is, and doesn't remember the past trauma that might be causing his pain. Even his pain is an unquantifiable thing-- he suffers from it, then he doesn't, then the removal of it causes him to suffer more, but then there are pages where it's not a part of his experience at all, because there are other pressing questions. Dom wants to help, but he is also frightened of the new arrival. Children move around in the background like shadows, and we're never quite sure who or what is real. 

There is a lot that is unknown in this book, which is a source of horror for young readers. Where does the food come from? Where are the adults? Did Clemency really die? Does the Doctor have any medical knowledge? And how does this end, exactly? All of these elements add up to a very atmospheric loo at survival and friendship. Hand this to readers who are intrigued by Ransom Riggs' work but want a stand alone with an uneasy, creepy story.

That said, I don't think I would have bought this book. Now that I have a copy, I'll put it in my collection, but I'm not sure who will read it. My fear is that kids will pick it up because of the super creepy cover, then find it a bit slow and return it. We'll see. 

Monday, December 20, 2021

The Unforgettable Logan Foster

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Peters, Shawn. The Unforgettable Logan Foster
January 4th 2022 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

**Apologies for posting this so far in advance of the publication date. With all of the book supply chain issues, there were very few December titles, but a lot of January ones, so I've just posted the books in the order in which they were read.**

Logan has spent most of his life in the El Segundo Transitional Orphanage, after he was abandoned as an infant. He apparently had a brother, and some of the book is addressed to this sibling he has never met. Logan lives with a variety of challenges, including Developmental Coordination Disorder and eiditic memory, and is on the Austism Spectrum. This combination has made it diffictult to place him in foster care, but he is hopeful when Gil and Margie want to provide him with a home and family. They seem new at this, but mean well, and Logan starts to settle in, even meeting neighbor Elana, who goes to the high school he will attend. Things go well at first, although his new foster parents seem a bit odd and quirky, but when they are at a comic book store in Los Angeles, things get weird. Logan is a fan of comic books and comic book superheroes, but is unprepared to find out that his foster parents are really Quicksilver Siren and Ultra-Quantum, and that they worked with MASC. (Multinational Authority for Superhuman Control) MASC is also a bit surprised to learn that Gil and Margie have taken in a child; they plan to wipe his memory and return him to the foster care system. With the help of Dr. Chrysler, Logan learns the history of MASC and all about why comic books and super heroes made it into the mainstream media after World War II, and is surprised to find out that some of what he has read about has a basis in reality, although some of the comic books are pure fabrication. When Necros, an archenemy who has been causing many problems, appears to be on the rise, Logan gets drawn into the battle that his parents are facing. Will he be able to help save the day... and his new family?
Strengths: This was a fast paced book with lots of action and adventure that also dealt with the issue of families and dealing with challenges. Logan, despite his difficult past, is positive and tries to make the best of a number of unusual situations that come his way. There aren't a lot of books that deal with eidetic memory (other than de los Santos and Teague's Connect the Stars and Duble's Madame Tussaud's Apprentice: An Untold Story of Love in the French Revolution), and I liked the idea that Logan had his own "super power", just like his foster parents. The backstory about superheroes and comic books was VERY clever, and I enjoyed that quite a bit. Superhero books always have a small but strong fan base, so it's good to be able to add some to my collection every once in a while. 
Weaknesses: I feel like the story with the brother might be addressed in a sequel, but wasn't addressed in this book as much as I would have expected. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for middle grade readers who want a twist on super hero tales and who enjoyed Hannigan's The League of Super Heroes, and Borba's The Midnight Brigade. If you want to give this as a gift, be sure to include King and Paprocki's The Big Book of Superheroes. You can wrap them both in a cape!
 Ms. Yingling

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Operation Sisterhood

Rhuday-Perkovich, Olugbemisola. Operation Sisterhood 
January 4th 2022 by Crown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Bo and her mother have always made a great team, and while Bo doesn't mind her mother's boyfriend, Bill, it's still a big change to move to Harlem to live with Bill and his daughter, Sunday.  It's an even bigger adjustment because the two live in a shared house where there are lots of pets and two other girls, twins Lili and Lee. It's also a different neighborhood, and she misses some people from her old stomping grounds. Bo is a drummer, and Sunday plays the keyboard, so along with the twins, they put together a band. They have a lot of big plans, but have trouble getting along, and finding the right songs to play. Bo, whose mother is from Nigeria, embraces her cultural heritage and tries to recreate some family recipes, and is also looking forward to visiting Lagos. Bill, who is in a wheelchair, runs a bookshop that is struggling, and the girls try to use their skills to help his business. Bill, as well as the people in the house, are trying to better their neighborhood in a variety of ways, including reopening a garden and keeping the area clean. With so much going on, will Bo be able to settle in to her new life with her mother?
Strengths: There was a note at the beginning that the author was a big family of Elizabeth Enright and Sydney Taylor, and their books about big, bustling families in different locations. This updates that type of story, setting it in New York City and utilizing a nicely diverse cast. Bo has her own interests, but also has typical tween issues with friends and family. I love the cover!
Weaknesses: There were a lot of characters, and a lot of activities going on in a variety of locations, so keeping everything straight was a bit of a challenge. 
What I really think: This was on the younger end of middle grade, but definitely captured Enright's Melendy Family vibe. Hand this one to fans of Glaser's The Vanderbeekers series

Saturday, December 18, 2021

The Smartest Kid in the Universe Book 2: Genius Camp

Grabenstein, Chris. The Smartest Kid in the Universe Book 2: Genius Camp
November 30th 2021 by Random House Books for Young
E ARC provided by Netgalley

After accidentally giving himself super intelligence by eating scientist Farooqi's jelly beans of Ingestible Knowledge in The Smartest Kid in the Universe, Jake and his friends Grace and Kojo are back. Jake has just won a competition against Zane Zinkle's super computer, and is donating the $20,000 to charity. Zinkle, who has a tech empire that includes the Z Phone, was previously the smartest kid, but at 29, has been eclipsed by Jake in intelligence, and also in maturity. He's determined to get back at Jake and his friends. He sends the intrepid three to a tech summer camp (after Jake helps out the FBI with a thorny case), and says that he will adopt Jake's school. The first day of camp is interesting, and there are children from around the world who are also attending. After just one day, however, Jake realizes that something is wrong. The others are glued to their phones, and an app called Tweedle, and also seem addicted to the chocolate covered marshmallows that are readily available. Jake and his friends aren't all that interested in either, and notice how impaired the others are becoming. Thanks to Grace's extreme wealth (after finding a family treasure in the first book), Jake is able to travel back to his home and school and check on people, and is alarmed at what he finds. He is in contact with Farooqi, who is trying to recreate the jelly beans, having taken insufficient notes. Zinkle is not happy that Jake is messing up his plans, and kidnaps Farooqi. Will Jake be able to keep his extreme intelligence and save the day once again?
Strengths: Jake is Everykid: he was kind a of slacker, with a C average in school and not thebest basketbal game. The newfound smarts are exciting, but he really wants to use them for good. His precocious sister still makes fun of him, and his event planner mother is not immune to Zinkle's chocolate covered marshmallows, with amusing consequences. It's nice to see a character who is having adventures but also worrying about keeping his friends, family, and school safe. His worry that the effects of the jelly beans will wear off is realistic, and adds a realistic layer to what is generally a wish fulfilment fantasy. Zinkle is a ScoobyDoo type villain, but still a threat. This was a fun romp, and even brings in some shout outs to Mr. Lemoncello's Library
Weaknesses: It seemed odd that the summer camp would let Jake go home, even if the counselors were under the effects of jelly beans. Also, the FBI mystery seemed unfinished, and a little odd to have as just a side note.
What I really think: A bit more fantastical than Wonderland Motel series, but with plenty of humor, Genius Camp is a fun romp that reads quickly. It walks the fine line of goofy, so wasn't irritating to me, but is goofy enough that young readers will laugh a lot. The two book series would make a great holiday gift, and I wouldn't be surprised if more books are in the works. 
Ms. Yingling

Friday, December 17, 2021

Guy Friday- Old Guys

Danziger, Paula. Everyone Else's Parents Said Yes (Matthew Martin #1)
Published May 18th 1998 by Putnam & Grosset Group
Library copy

Matthew is ten, and planning the most EPIC 11th birthday party. He's going to have all of his friends, lots of junk food, and sleep out in the yard. He's working really hard to use desktop publishing software to create an awesome invitation, even though his friends know who's invited. He runs into some problems with his sister Amanda, who is older and routinely says things to him like "Doofus. You should use hair conditioner on that mess". To be fair, Matthew sleeps in her room and reads her notebooks, finding things like a sheet of paper with her doodles of "Mrs. Amanda Martin-Cohen", etc. He also manages to make the girls in his school so angry that they form a club named GET HIM, standing for Girls Eager To Halt Immature Matthew. Their founding manifesto is rendered in dot matrix printing in the book, as is Matthew's letter to his parents when they threaten to cancel his party. Will they? Will Matthew continue to be a pain? Will today's young readers care?
Strengths: I must have liked this well enough to buy this book 17 years ago. At one point, I even had a couple of the Naylor Boys vs. Girls War books. It's amusing enough, and Matthew isn't exactly mean spirited, and younger readers will find his antics amusing. 
Weaknesses: There are so many unhealthy relationships in this book. Matthews a brat, his sister is mean (even though that might be justified), and the parents don't follow through. What's going on at school? I just can't. 
What I really think: This series has got to go. It smells bad, and the forth book is all about Matthew babysitting, because a boy couldn't possibly do that, right? Today, we would think that an 11 year old is perhaps not the person to stay with an infant. 

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, December 16, 2021

The World's Most Famous Horror Writers

Gigliotti, Jim. Dark Hearts: The World's Most Famous Horror Writers
December 28th 2021 by Penguin Workshop 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this short (144 pages, trim size 5" x 7.25") paper-over-board book, we get concise biographies of famous horror writers, arranged according to year of birth. Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe, Bram Stoker, H.P. Lovecraft, Daphne du Maurier, Shirley Jackson, Robert Bloch (Psycho), Thomas Harris (Hannibal Lecter), Anne Rice, R.L. Stine, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, and Joe Hill. We are given a brief look at their lives, an overview of their writing, and some idea of the impact of their work on the world. There are plentiful page decorations, and illustrations of each author. 

This was very readable, even though I don't have much of an interest in horror books. While some of the authors were slam dunks, others seemed a bit of a stretch-- Daphne duMaurier? The list is not very diverse, but then, the people who have been published in the past have not been very diverse, either. At least there were some women included. Still, since R.L. Stine and Neil Gaiman made the list, I might have included Lois Duncan (I Know What You Did Last Summer is being made into a yet another movie) or Alvin Schwartz, with his Scary Stories books. A list of up and coming authors would have been good as well, but of course I can only think of middle grade ones like Daka Hermon and India Hill Brown.

Mr. Gigliotti has written a large number of Who Was bibliographies, so has a good feel for what information is critical to an appealing biography. I'm definitely purchasing a copy of this; it won't last terribly long with the paper-over-board binding, but will get checked out frequently while it does. This will give young horror readers some authors to look up at the public library, since I don't carry many of them. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

Sure, there were lots of books lost during the pandemic, but most of them were newer titles that weren't hard to replace. Still, I haven't done a lot of weeding, feeling that loss. When a Follett order arrived in October, I knew things were going to get dire if I didn't pull some books. Also, I try to keep the average age of the collection the same age as the students, so the average year of publication of my collection was 2008 when I ran a Destiny analysis. 

I've been in my position 20 years, so if there are books that I didn't buy... they're at least twenty years old. A ton have been weeded, but I secretly want to run an archive of children's literature, so it's hard. 

This is where we are-- if no one has read the book, and I don't actually feel like HANDING the book to a child, it needs to go. Doesn't matter if the book was here when the library opened. Doesn't matter that the replacement cover has a pretty design on it. No one is ever going to read Wind in the Willows or a random 1960s James Blish title. It's taking up space and getting in the way. Some of them even have problematic content. 

Will I keep Bel Kaufman's Up the Down Staircase? My two copies of Zan Hagen's Marathon? Absolutely. 

For now, while they still give me joy. I'm not an archive.

Duncan, Lois. Stranger with My Face 
February 1981 by Hamilton
Library copy

Laurie lives a privileged life on an island on the east coast, with her father who is an author and mother who is an artist, along with two much younger siblings. She has a boyfriend, and does well in high school. When people start seeing her around the island in places where she hasn't been, Laurie starts to worry. She talks to new student Helen, whose parents had been teachers on a Navajo reservation in the Southwest, and suspects that perhaps someone is appearing through astral projection as her. When she finds out that her parents adopted her as an infant, and that she is part Navajo AND that she had a twin that they didn't adopt, things take a strange turn. Laurie is angry at her parents for keeping this secret, but intrigued by Lia, her twin. Things get weirder from there. 

Clearly, the depiction of "Indians" is many kinds of wrong. This would have been Yound Adult back in the day, but now seems a bit immature but also sort of like the writing of  John Irving. I loved Duncan in middle school and kept this mainly because of that... and because of the cover. I had that outfit.

It is with great sadness that I send this battered copy on its way.

Danziger, Paula. The Pistachio Prescription
January 25th 1999 by Puffin (first published 1978)
Library copy

If you really want to understand my personality, you have to read Danziger. I must have marinated in her writing in middle school. My own horribly titled I'm Going Crazy, Want to Come is rife with her influence. Her work is also a snapshot of 1970s zeitgeist. The snarky tone was considered refreshing, the humor that seems weird and forced today, and the bad parenting that Gen X survived are all on display. Cassie is in high school and is rather anxious, and copes by eating red pistachios even though her mother forbids them, due to their red dye. I'm sure at some point her mother berates her for her weight, because that's what mothers did back then. I couldn't read this too carefully. It was just painful. Not only that, but the twenty year odl prebind is yellowed, crumbly, and smells bad. 

I should not be so emotionally attached to these titles. 

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Escape from Atlantis

O'Hearn, Kate. Escape from Atlantis
December 14th 2021 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Riley's father is a marine biologist studying cetaceans, so when his sister Mary wants to take a vacation with her son Alfie, who is having a hard time in the wake of his parents' divorce, the four end up on a five week voyage around the Bahamas on the Event Horizon. Alfie is horrible to Riley, and she misses her mother and older brother. When a storm pops up out of nowhere and a giant sea creature attacks the boat, all four are washed overboard, luckily with supply packs and life jackets. Riley and Alfie manage to survive and wash up on the shore of a deserted beach, where they are met by a boy in old fashioned clothing, Bastian. He takes them to the people who run the Community, but no one seems overly interested in searching for the children's parents, although they are all smiling and helpful. Riley is understandably upset, and once the leaders tell them their parents have died and show them the graves, she and her cousin settle down. It's a weird place. Many people, mostly adults, live in an old ocean liner, and there are strict boundaries about where everyone is allowed to go. There is a Red Cloak district that is forbidden, and when the children stray there, they are attacked by Mada. There are Blue Cloaks, like Pea, who appears to be a koala, and Yellow Cloaks, like Maggie, who helps Riley learn to sew so that she can take her part in the community work. The Red Cloaks have unicorns, gargoyles protect the area, and there are any number of strange, paranormal happenings. This is in part because the strange place, which is sometimes called Atlantis, is in the Bermud triangle. When Riley hears her aunt's voice crying out, she and Alfie dig up the graves and find there are no bodies there. They intensify their attempts to find out more about the fate of the Event Horizon and to escape from Atlantis, even though no one, for a variety of reasons, is allowed to leave. Will they be able to make it back to their families?
Strengths: Even though this weighs in at 488 pages, it is a quick read, with somewhat larger text and plenty of white space. The plot also is developed nicely and is easy to follow. This makes Riley's adventures a great choice for strong readers who are a bit younger. There is a lot of intricate world building, although there are enough questions remaining that a sequel could be in order. This is a great example of an imaginative fantasy that young readers can imagine that they are a part of. It reminds me, oddly, of Messenger's Keepers of Lost Cities, and of Baldacci's The Finisher a book about a girl in a forest written by an adult author, the name of which eludes me and will bug me until I figure it out! I don't want to spoil some of the details about the fantasy world. 
Weaknesses: Riley and Alfie are a bit too quick to settle into life in Atlantis. They're trying to find a way out, and they are in the middle of the ocean, but it still seemed a bit fast. They also took more of a liking to Pea and Maggie than seemed likely. The adventure is still good, though, and younger readers won't care as much about the characters' development. 
What I really think: O'Hearn's Pegasus (The Flame of Olympus, 2011) series was popular for a while, but readership has fallen off. I have van Eekhout's Kid Vs. Squid (2010), Lerangis The Colossus Rises series (2013) and Henderson's  fantastic Young Captain Nemo series (2019), so may pass on adding another Atlantis themed series. I have a large contingent of Rick Riordan's fans as well, so may instead add his new Daughter of the Deep.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Segregated Skies: David Harris's Trailblazing Journey to Rise Above Racial Barriers

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Cottman, Michael H. Segregated Skies: David Harris's Trailblazing Journey to Rise Above Racial Barriers 
December 21st 2021 by National Geographic Kids
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Born in 1934 in Columbus, Ohio, David Harris had a good start in life despite the racism of the times, and graduated from Ohio State University. His was in the ROTC program, and began basic training in the air force in 1958. He was well aware that reporting to duty in the South could be problematic, having experienced some horrible discrimation in public settings while traveling with his ROTC peers. Being lighter complected, with green eyes, Harris was often mistaken for white. His first roommate assumed that he was, and made many negative comments about Black people. It eventaully became known that Harris was Black, and was determined to work hard and succeed despite obstacles put in his way. He married and started a family, but stayed with the military, movign around quite a bit. He wanted to transition to civilian life, but loved to fly. At the time, there were no Black pilots flying for any of the commercial airlines. He applied for many jobs, always stating very clearly that he was Black, and had little success until he got an interview with American Airlines. This was shortly after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, and Harris was hired. He moved his family to Boston, and embarked on a career as a commercial pilot. Things were not always easy, and it took until 1984 for him to assemble an entire cockpit crew that was Black, and Harris thrived. Now retired, he lives in South Carolina.
Strengths: I'm always intrigued by ordinary people who quietly and steadfastly work toward what they want no matter what obstacles confront them, and it's also good for my students to understand that there have been successful Black professionals for quite a long time. Harris experiences in dealing with racial issues were probably very similar to the ones that many Black people in Ohio had, but are not the kind of experiences that get much press. My father was also born in Ohio in 1934, so some of Harris' experiences seemed very familiar, and this short biography was an interesting way to contrast the Black midcentury experience with the white ones I know about. I'd love to see more biographies like this one, starting with home economists Flemmie Pansy Kittrell and Margaret Murray Washington.
Weaknesses: It would have been nice to see some photographs supporting some of the general history, although it was good to see a few personal photos of Harris at the end of the book.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, especially since there is a local connection. While Harris' groundbreaking aviation career will draw student readers in, I thought this was also interesting as a glimpse at one midcentury, middle class Black experience. 

Here is a nice, short interview with Mr. Harris
We have one more week until winter break, and it's been a bit wearying this year. I was raised to believe that someone else always had it worse than me, so I shouldn't complain. Let's just say that break will not be unwelcome. 

On the bright side, I challenged one of my big readers to write a sonnet over the weekend instead of playing video games the whole time (which was his stated plan). He shared one with me this morning that was actually pretty good. I am super picky about poetry, so this is saying a lot. Part of the challenge was that I write a sonnet as well. Since I spend very class change standing in the hall trying to kindly encourage students to walk rather than run, slam each other into walls and pull each other hoodies, this is what emerged. 

Running in the Halls

10 December 2021

The rapid, racing, rushing steeplechase

that scamperingly scurries straight across

our ever scrambling days at breakneck pace

propels us more precociously towards loss.

Believing that the race is to the swift,

believing that the fight is to the strong, 

denies that being present is a gift

and argues that our weaknesses are wrong.

Our time is short. Why rush? Instead, just stop.

Breath in. Be kind. Allow someone to rise.

Be mindful that when you have reached the top

the only forward road runs down. The wise

design a pace that makes the journey last.

We can’t go back because we’ve gone too fast.

Ms. Yingling