Monday, February 28, 2022

MMGM-Confessions of a Class Clown and Little Killers

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Costner, Ariana. Confessions of a Class Clown
March 2nd 2022 by Random House Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Jack Reynolds is the sort of kid that teachers put in the back of the classroom-- surrounded by all of the good kids, as a buffer. He's always trying to make people laugh with him so that they don't laugh at him. He's even posted videos on MyTube, including one of him "T. Rex-ing" at the JoAnn Fabric store. (A location chosen because he didn't care if he got banned from the store. Which he did.) Lately, he's been palling around with Zane, a football player who is pretty popular. They've had some fun, but recently Zane hasn't seemed amused by Jack's antics. When he realizes that Zane is not going to participate in an epic talent show prank, he needs to find someone else to help him. Enter the Speed Friendshipping Club, run after school by the well meaning guidance counselor, Mr. Busby. Jack knows it is lame, but there ARE powdered sugar jelly doughnuts. He's a little surprised at some of the people who are there, including Mario, who is a whiz at hacky sack, Tasha, who has a shaved head and always wears funky crocheted hats, and Brielle, who is pretty and popular, and has a make up tutorial on MyTube that gets a lot of likes. Jack connects with each of them for different reasons, although making videos for MyTube always features largely. Mario's mother is very strict about his internet usage, so when he and Jack post a food fight style video that gets a lot of likes, not only does Jack have to take the video down, but his parents ground him from his smart phone until he can get his grade up in math. Tasha is good at math, and the two get along well as she helps him study for his next test, which he needs to ace in order to get a C for a final grade. Jack finds out that Tasha's older brother died of cancer, that her parents are divorcing, and that her mother is renovating their house because she wants to flip it. They get along, but Jack accidentally spills a red Slurpee all over a dress she wants to enter into a competition. Brielle isn't as confident as Jack orginally thinks, and he approaches her to help with videos when his phone is taken away, since she makes them as well. The two have a lot of fun at the mall, but when he tries to get back into Zane's good graces, he makes fun of her in a really mean way. Will Jack be able to enter the talent show with a decent act that doesn't involve squirting ketchup on anyone, and will he finally understand a bit more about what it means to be a good friend?

Like this author's My Life as a Potato, Confessions of a Class Clown has an strong cast of appealing, nuanced characters. In between chapters, which are from Jack's perspective, we get glimpses into the feelings of Mario, Tasha, and Brielle. This slowed down the story a little, but the characters were so interesting that I sort of wanted a whole book about each of them. The most fascinating part of the characters was that each had a public persona, but a private one that often didn't match at all. I think that is very common in middle school students, but is not something I have seen portrayed often in books. 

The middle school experience centers on two things: self-identity and friendships. Like Peirce's Big Nate, Jack is a lot more important in his own head. He's a slacker, doesn't do well in school, and isn't all that nice to people. He's not mean; he's just trying to figure out who he is, just like most middle school students. He's kindhearted, and means well, and when he stops his marshmallow throwing and video posting obsession long enough to listen to his classmates, he makes some friends and end up enjoying himself in the process. 

It's easy to write tragedy. Humor is harder. Humor, when it also encompasses essential middle grade concerns and delivers important life lessons while throwing in lines about having to groom gerbils, is a very difficult feat. Costner accomplishes this with finesse, and clearly understands the way that tween minds work. From having the right socks to convincing a teacher he's serious about her class, Jack's painful middle school journey will get a lot of likes from readers who enjoy Richardson's Stu Truly, Greenwald's Charlie Joe Jackson, and Uhrig's Double the Danger and Zero Zucchini

Collard, Sneed. Little Killers: The Ferocious Lives of Puny Predators
Published March 1st 2022 by Millbrook Press
Copy provided by the publisher

Tell eleven year olds that you have a book about "killers around us", and you'll have them hook. That's the first chapter of Collard's newest title about the most successful predators on Earth, some of which can't be seen with the naked eye. (Although, if you're talking to eleven year olds, it's best not to say "naked"!)

After a brief introduction about "puny predators", we meet several different kinds, from meat eaters to fatal flatforms to ant assassins. Each type of creature gets a full treatment, with a physical description, discussion of its reproductive habits, information about its destructive capabilities, and the impact that they have on their environments. There are fantastic photographs that are well captioned, sidebars with additional information, and definitions of some unfamiliar words. (I don't think polyphyletic will be one my students know!)

My favorite chapter was the one about ladybugs. Who knew how treacherous those cute little bugs were? I think swarms of ladybugs so large that they show up on weather radar might be my newest irrational fear!

There is a great author's note, complete glossary, a selection of resources for further study, and an index. I was a little surprised that Mr. Collard didn't take all of the photographs, since he did such great work with Hopping Ahead of Climate Change: Snowshoe Hares, Science and Survival  and Fire Birds: Valuing Natural Wildfires and Burned Forests, but microscopic critters are a bit trickier to photograph than Birds of Every Color

Because even these tiny predators are suffering from the effects of human impact on the planet, the last chapter covers things that young readers can do to help save the habitats of these creatures. Protecting native environment, stopping the spread of invasive species, and dealing with climate change are all topics that need more emphasis in books for children. 

If you have young readers who enjoyed Marrin's Little Mosters or Brownlee's Cute, Furry and Deadly: Diseases You Can Catch From Your Pets, or who liked the disease portions of Jarrow's Blood and Germs, this is a well done and helpful books to have on hand, and a great nonfiction accompaniment to Patton's Battle Bugs series, which has proven very popular with some of my reluctant readers. 

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Dear Student

Schwartz, Elly. Dear Student
February 15th 2022 by Delacorte
E ARC provided by

Autumn is having a tough go of it. Her father has decided to pursue his dreams and join the Peace Corps, so he is in Guatemala. Her best friend, Prisha has moved away from Cape Cod. Since the family doesn't have the income from her father's accounting job, the mother has moved Autumn and her sister Pickle to an apartment over her veterinary practice, Hillview Vet. It doesn't help that while walking to school on the first day, Autumn sees a boy run over an iguana in the street with his bike. The two take the animal to her mother, who says it will probably be okay, but the boy says he has to leave. Autumn figures he is a summer tourist, and is a bit sad, because he was not as diffictult to talk to as other people. When Autumn finally makes it to school, she finds that the boy, Cooper, is actually in her class. She is also approached by the bubbly new student, Logan, who is dogged in her determination to befriend Autumn, even inviting her to her house after Logan takes her ball python to Hillview Vet. Autumn is glad to have a friend, but uncomfortable with many of Logan's ideas. Logan has also befriended a popular crowd, and wants Autumn to eat lunch with them, but Autumn ends up eating in a science classroom with Cooper, whose father is also not in the picture. When her teacher announces that he will be picking a 6th grade to be the new voice of the secret "Dear Student" column, Autumn wants to apply... but so does Logan. Autumn doesn't quite believe it when she is picked, but starts to write the columns with a good attitude, happy that she can report to her father that she did something brave and joined one thing, as he asked. Of course, Logan also wants to go to dances, wear matching shirts, and picket a new local business that tests cosmetics on animals. As "Dear Student", Autumn encourages a protest, and finds herself dragged into the planning of this, which angers Cooper, whose mother works at the company and is dependent on the job. Logan doesn't care for Cooper, and Autumn is torn between the two friends. Her anxieties prove valid as she struggles to deal with all of these issues while trying to step up to take care of Pickle. 
Strengths: Today's students have a lot to deal with, and it's good to see depictions of families who are struggling with income, housing, and parenting arrangements. Many of my students care for younger siblings. The world has not been all suburban ranches with fathers who go to the office and mothers who are at home for a very long time. Being right above the veterinary practice, and in a community with a changing seasonal population was an interesting setting. Logan was a particularly fascinating character-- a new kid who ISN'T struggling to make friends and who is dealing with a powerful mother who works long hours. The friendship dynamic was absolutely tru to life-- Autumn really wants a friend, even though she doesn't always agree with Logan's plans! The social activism was also pretty typical-- Logan doesn't really investigate the company, but it's good that the students can affect positive change and still have Cooper's mother keep her job! Autumn's struggles with the newspaper column also highlight a typical middle grade mindset; things can be great in theory, but a lot harder in real life. 
Weaknesses: I've never been at a middle school that had a newspaper, but this is certainly a popular topic for fiction. Even Beany Malone wanted to be a reporter! I was also personally VERY angry at the father. Children are at home for such a brief percentage of your life (if you're lucky and live a long time), so the fact that he is willing to sacrifice some of those years seemed odd. I could definitely understand why Autumn was upset. This is also an example of a book where the main character could have been in 8th grade, which would have extended the readership audience a bit. 
What I really think: This is a title that will be popular with readers of Scrivan's Nat Enough, Libenson's Invisible Emmie, Keller's The Science of Breakable Things, and Gerber's Taking Up Space. It was very similar to Bryant's very recent Abby, Ready or Not, to the point where I kept thinking that Autumn had a younger brother rather than Pickle!
 Ms. Yingling

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Gallant and Why Is Everybody Yelling?

Schwab, V.E. Gallant
March 1st 2022 by Greenwillow Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Olivia Prior is being raised in the Merilance School for Independent Girls, a stereotypical orphange perhaps in the 1920s. (There are cars, but otherwise the setting is very Victorian.) Her parents are gone, and she has lost the ability to speak, so is made to go around with a small chalkboard around her neck so that she can communicate. It's a grim existence, so when word arrives that her uncle wants her to come to the family home, she is conflicted. She needs a place to belong, but her mother had warned her to stay away. No matter; the orphanage wants to get rid of her, so deliver her to Gallant, the family mansion. She is given a lukewarm welcome by caretakers Hannah and Edgar, but her cousin Matthew tells her to go away. Her uncle died a year ago and she is not wanted. Still, the elderly couple get her settled and try to make her welcome, despite Matthew's insistance that Gallant is cursed. Indeed, Olivia can tell this, since she starts to see ghosts and ghouls at every turn. There is a force of evil at work at Gallant, but Olivia seems to have some powers to fight it. When she finds out that Matthew had a brother who disappeared into the evil world of the house, she also finds that she may have a way to save him. What forces of evil are at play, and does Olivia actually have the power to put the evil to rest?
Strengths: This had a great, creepy vibe to it, sort of like Bell's Frozen Charlotte crossed with Alender's The Companion, with just a dash of The Secret Garden thrown in. Definitely a Gothic tour de force with a spooky mansion, kindly caretakers, cantankerous relatives, and a heroine fighting against the odds. It felt vaguely British, although there were few cups of tea. The forces of evil, who get their own say in ickily eerie short chapters, are quite frightening. Definitely made me want to sleep with the covers pulled up around my ears!
Weaknesses: The language was beautifully lush and the descriptions very rich, but this slows down the plot and makes it a bit of a challenge for the average middle grade reader. Certainly some will love this, but it's not a fast paced, easy to digest thriller like K.R. Alexander's or Lindsay Duga's books. 
What I really think: I would definitely buy this for a high school, but will pass for middle school. I'm definitely looking forward to another Cassidy Blake book by this author, though, and can see why her Young Adult books are so popular. 

Russo, Mirasabina. Why Is Everybody Yelling? Growing Up in My Immigrant Family
October 26th 2021 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Public library copy

This graphic novel memoir, by the author of House of Sports (2002), tells the fascinating story of growing up in the 1950s and 60s with a mother and extended family who were greatly affected by the Holocaust during WWII. Ms. Russo's mother managed to survive with her two young sons by being hidden by nuns in Italy, but her husband did not survive. Since she converted to Catholicism, her daughter is being sent to a Catholic school, where she has completely bought in to the ritual of the Catholic church and wants to be a nun. This is alarming to her mother, who eventually sends her to public school. A host of aunts and other relatives are decidedly Jewish, so it's an interesting mix of cultures. Russo's older brothers are struggling a bit, especially Piero, who drops out of Harvard to pursue a career in the arts, with mixed success, since he struggles with mental health issues. Russo's father is in Europe and rarely has any contact with her, although she and her mother do travel to visit. Her mother remarries, which is a difficult transition, and while her life seems, on the surface, to be a typical teen one during that time period, it is really a fragile veneer layered over her troubled family past. There are flashbacks to experiences different family members had during the war; if I had reviewed this when it came out, I might have drawn parallels to the now beleagured Maus (Russo is three years younger than Spiegleman), but now I wouldn't want anyone to think I was putting this forward as a "happier rendition of the Holocaust". 
Strengths: There was something very evocative about the art style, and the changes in colors between the brightly colored 1950s and 60s and the beige and gray of the war years was very effective. This was a fascinating look at what life could be like for children of Holocaust survivors, and there aren't a lot of books that cover this topic. Russo has a good eye for what interests young readers, and the story gives enough historical background to get readers who aren't as familiar with mid century history up to speed. While this covers Russo's life up to college, she does give us a bittersweet overview of what happened to the relatives mentioned in the memoir. Very interesting and moving. 
Weaknesses: The format feels more like an adult graphic novel, with smaller print and pictures, which may deter some readers who can't move beyond Raina Telgemeier's style. (And they are out there, unfortunately. Even picking up Copeland's fantastic Cub is a struggle for some of my readers.)
What I really think: I feel like I need to reread House of Sports, which I've always loved for some reason. I was fascinated by Russo's interest in becoming a nun, and the story had so many intriguing components, including the information about her brother Piero. I will purchase a copy. 

Friday, February 25, 2022


Kupperberg, Paul. Supertown
February 28th 2022 by Heliosphere Books
ARC provided by the publisher

Wally lives in the town of Crumbly-by-the-Sea, which is very small and has very limited internet and phone connectivity. He and his mother get by after the death of his father in a superhero showdown, and Wally is obsessed by the superheroes, even donning a costume himself and pretending to be WhizKid. His friends, including the daughter of the sherriff who is a bit perturbed by his constant calls, put up with him. When Charlie Harris moves into a long abandoned house, Wally suspects that he might be connected, especially when another man shows up to help him with renovations on the house... and who bears a resemblance to a supervillain who is on the loose! Charlie is, in fact, a retired superhero, but he is also a freelance writer who submits articles to the National Mask. He has hoped to remain anonymous in Crumbly, but this is not to be. Wally's not the only one to suspect that something is up in his town, and when the Justice Brigade arrives in town in their aircraft, the Screaming Eagle, a showdown between the superheroes and the League of Villains begins. When Charlie, fighting as Knave, is injured, Wally takes his accoutrements and is determined to join the fight. Will this wannabe hero be able to save the day?
Strengths: Avid superhero fans will be thrilled with the details about both the heroes and the villains, and there's plenty of action as well. Wally is a bit goofy, but serves as a good foil for the seriousness of the other characters. My favorite part of the book was the fact that the Justice Brigade carries insurance, so when Wally's house is destroyed, they have help available! 
Weaknesses: While superhero fans will be able to follow all of the different characters, I had trouble, since I am not used to this genre, and had a vague feeling that these characters were aligned with other superhero universes, although I don't think they are. (Isn't there a Justice League?) Also, philosophical thought: Do villains really think they ARE villains? Or do they think they are also fighting for justice? Those are all problems with me as a reader, not with the book!
What I really think: This is a solid superhero novel to add to the (rather aging) list of middle grade superhero tomes such as McCullough's School for Sidekicks(2015), Moore's V is for Villain (2014), Anderson's Sidekicked (2013), Bacon's Joshua Dread (2012), Kratz's Cloak Society (2012),  Jung's Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities (2012), Cody's Powerless (2009) and Carroll's The Awakening (2007).

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Racing Storm Mountain and Beyond Possible

Reedy, Trent. Racing Storm Mountain
February 15th 2022 by Norton Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this sequel to Hunter's Choice, we meet Kelton, who goes to the same school as Hunter. He thinks that Hunter is a rich, spoiled "Richie SuperPop" because his family owns a hunting lodge, and Hunter is friends with Swann Siddiq, whose parents are ultrarich movie stars who have built a mansion in McCall, Idaho. Kelton's mother struggles to make ends meet, and he can't even afford to adopt a mistreated dog, Scruffy, whom he feeds on his way to school. When the town Winter Carnival approaches, the Siddiqs offer prize money and a limited edition snowmobile to the winner of the annual race. Kelton, whose single mother works in a hair salon and has had a series of boyfriends, works on repairing the "sled" left by a previous boyfriend so that he can enter. He despairs of winning against competitors like Hunter or Swann, with their superior equipment, but he has a secret weapon. He knows a better route that is more dangerous but quicker, and will take him past an abandoned mine. Swann, who is his lab partner at school, sees his map, and tells Hunter about it. When the race starts, she and Hunter are close on Kelton's heels. He's understandably angry, especially when things start to go wrong. Not only is there an avalanche, but there are multiple problems with the snowmobiles. As a storm and nightfall approach, the ill-prepared children head for the abandoned mine for shelter. Back in McCall, Hunter's uncle and cousin, Yumi, are working on a rescue plan when the chidlren fail to make the check in point. With conditions worsening, will the three be able to survive?
Strengths: There need to be more outdoor survival books set in the snow swept landscapes, and Reedy pens a great adventure in the mountains of Idaho. While getting on a snowmobile is about the last thing I ever want to do, it's interesting to read about a race across dangerous terrain from the warmth of my easy chair! Kelton has something to prove, and hopes that he can win the prize money to better his home situation. Hunter is a bit embarassed by the publicity he has gotten for his hunting trip, and Swann wants to prove to her parents that she is worth their attention. The dynamic between the three children changes dramatically when they need to rely on each other for survival, especially since none of them were all that prepared! 
Weaknesses: It was somewhat jarring to have Hunter depicted as an unpleasant guy after reading Hunter's Choice, although I could see how Kelton might feel that way about him. I wished that this had started in to the competition more quickly instead of spending time on Kelton's home situation, since some of my readers are unwilling to wait for action in a book. 
What I really think: Hunter's Choice has been very popular in my library, so I will definitely purchase this. It could also be read as a stand alone by readers who like winter survival books like Johnson's  Ice Dogs, Carter's Not if I Save You First, Pyron's Dogs of Winter and Garretson's Wolf Storm

Purja, Nimsdai. Beyond Possible: One Man, 14 Peaks, and the Mountaineering Achievement of a Lifetime. 
January 4th 2022 by National Geographic Kids 
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Born in Nepal in 1983, Purja's earliest goal was to serve in the British Army with the Brigade of Gurkhas like his father. His father's salary in the service caused the family to struggle a bit, but with the help of his older brothers, he attended a boarding school, and was able to join the Gurkhas in 2003. Eventually, he joined the elite Special Boat Service, which no Gurkha had ever joined. It was tough work, and he was not always treated well by his fellow soliders because of his ethnicity. He was able to take advantage of specialized training, and took a number of climbing courses. This lead to a strong desire to climb Everest, but there were challenges along the way. Even though his first climb had some problems, he was very interested in pursuing this activity, and eventually got on a G200E team trying the climb in 2017. After resigning from the military, he started investigating how he could manage to climb more impressive mountains. This isn't a cheap endeavor, but he undertook efforts to fund Project Possible, as he named his plans. He took money out of equity in his house, and slowly his expeditions gained more attention. He used his adventures to bring attention to climate change, and has so far climbed fourteen of the highest mountains in the world. 

Future adventurers who have read  Olson's nonfiction title Into the Clouds: The Race to Climb the World's Most Dangerous Mountain or the fictional Peak (Smith) or Everest (Korman) series, Beyond Possible offers a fascinating look at what it takes to climb these imposing peaks right now. For me, reading about these climbs is a much better way to experience them than to plan a trip myself, but young readers hungry for adventure will look at Purja's experiences and envision themselves in his hiking boots. His story is inspirational and harrowing all at once. 

My area is home to a fair number of Nepalese immigrants, and I've struggled to find books to represent them. There is some information about his time in Nepal, and what life was like there, and I would have gladly had a few more chapters about that. It will be great to have this book to hand to readers who can see that someone from a similar background can go on to achieve great things. 

The book has lots of action and adventure, and all of the horrifying details about the many, many things that can go wrong on a high peak. I appreciated that there was a discussion of how expensive these operations are, and how many sacrifices Purja and his family made in order for him to have these experiences. If any young readers ever do try similar expeditions, hopefully they will proceed with great caution and preparation. 

There are some greatcolor pictures in the center of the book, a "Lessons from the Death Zone" discussion of life philosophy Purja has taken away from his climbs, and a page of Purja's world records. This is a shorter book (just over 150 pages) that I can see being popular with readers who like nonfiction tales about war or adventures. It reminded me a bit of Banner in the Sky, which was written in 1954 but set in 1856, and just goes to show that reading about harrowing experiences has a long (and chilly!) tradition. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Golden Girl

Faruqi, Reem. Golden Girl
February 22nd 2022 by HarperCollins 
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Aafiyah (AH-fee-YAH) has a comfortable life in an Atlanta suburb. Her father works in the aviation industry, so the family, which includes her mother and toddler brother, have gone on many trips, always flying first class. Aafiyah's best friend, Zaina, lives just down the street, and since they are both of Pakistani descent, spend a lot of time together at family events. Zaina has matured more quickly, and has older sisters who teach her about makeup and how to dress, and Aafiyah is a bit jealous. Aafiyah has two secrets; she is hard of hearing in one ear, and she has a compulsion to "borrow" items from people, especially Zaina. It could be something small, like a lip gloss, or something more important, like a prism from a teacher's desk. She hasn't been caught, and myriad emotions attend her stealing. When the family travels to Pakistan to bring back her grandfather so that he can get chemotherapy in Atlanta, Aafiyah enjoys being in touch with her extended family. However, when they go home, the father is detained on charges of embezzlement. Right before the family left, he had to fire some employees, who are now wrongfully accusing him. Aafiyah, her mother, brother, and grandfather make it back to Atlanta and try to settle in to a routine, getting the grandfather's chemotherapy. Aafiyah plays tennis, but it can be hard to concentrate with everything going on. Her mother starts working and pawns some jewelry, her father's court case gets delayed, and the bills pile up. Aafiyah's urge to steal things now has even more urgency, and when Zaina's sister gets married and Aafiyah sees how much gold jewelry she has, she hatches an ill-considered plan to help out her family and get her father back home. 

The author's note at the end of the book explains why there are so many things going on in Aafiyah's world: they are all reflective of things that have happened to her. There are relatively few books with children playing tennis, and since Ms. Faruqi played when she was young, this is a great addition. The moderate hearing loss is also interesting. Having grandparents who have health issues is always a timely inclusion in a middle grade book, and the father's arrest took me by surprise. Since I had a friend in middle school whose father actually did embezzle money and I saw the effects on her family, this was quite the interesting sub plot, and many young readers will understand the change in financial circumstances. The number one reason to pick up this book, however, is Aafiyah's kleptomania. 

Aside from Eyerly's 1984 Angel Baker, Thief and Swartz's 2019 Give and Take, I can't think of other books that address stealing quite this well. The underlying reasons and the emotional connections make Aafiyah'sactions understandable, even if they aren't right. 

The verse format moves quickly, and is beautifully written, but does leave out many details that would be helpful in understanding the many issues in play. 

Readers who enjoy problem novels with a more constructive and upbeat feel, like Galante's Strays Like Us, Hitchcock and Senzai's Flying Over Water, Medina's Merci Suárez Changes Gears or Bauer's Almost Home will feel invested in Aafiyah's problems and enjoy the cultural connections that emerge from this story of personal growth amidst family problems. 

Blog Tour for Speak Up, Speak Out!

If you missed my review of Tonya Bolden's newest book, you can read it here

Welcome to the Speak Up, Speak Out! by Tonya Bolden Blog Tour!

To celebrate Black History Month and the release of Speak Up, Speak Out!: The Extraordinary Life of Fighting Shirley Chisholm by Tonya Bolden (January 4th), 5 blogs across the web are featuring posts from the book and author, as well as 5 chances to win!

A Day in the Writing Life of Tonya Bolden
by Tonya Bolden

My process is rather messy, haphazard. 

I start with research, hopscotching around primary and secondary sources until I have that Aha! moment—the moment I know where the book needs to begin. I research that moment in depth and then begin to write.

I know some writers can’t move on from chapter one to chapter two until chapter oneis perfect or near-perfect. Not me. I just push on through and then circle back.

I never know what a workday will be like. I’ve never been able to set goals as in, “I will write ten pages per day.” Sometimes at the start of a day I may feel certain that I’ll soon be keyboarding away, only to find that it’s not happening. So I don’t force it. I switch to some research I know I need to do (or to some housework that needs doing). 

Visuals help me immensely to put myself in a subject’s shoes. With Speak Up, Speak Out! I surfed the net a lot for photographs of Bed-Stuy Brooklyn in Shirley’s day. 

When working on her time in Albany as a member of the New York State Assembly I spent time gazing at images of the capitol building. Here’s how one writer described this building: “At first glance, it looks like it could be a Victorian estate, a humongous hotel with plenty of sleeping quarters, or a stunning Gothic castle with a gazillion windows and stairways one might find in another country.”

As I looked at exterior and interior images of this colossal building I imagined pint-sized Shirley Chisholm entering it, walking its corridors, addressing her colleagues on the floor of the Assembly Chamber. I also looked at old photographs of the DeWitt Clinton Hotel (now the Renaissance Albany Hotel) across the street from the capitol. That’s where Shirley bunked on the days that she was in Albany.  

I looked at a lot of images of Shirley, images of her when young, images of her as a grown woman, images of her alone, with constituents, with friends and colleagues, with herfirst and second husbands.

And, of course, there’s lots of revising, revising, revising. The toughest part: cutting passages I’ve labored over and love because they really are TMI!

The best part:  polishing the prose. Uppermost in my mind is something Toni Morrisonsaid: “The language must be careful and must appear effortless. It must not sweat. It must suggest and be provocative at the same time.” Morrison also said: “I only have 26 letters in the alphabet; I don’t have color or music. I must use my craft to make the reader see the colors and hear the sounds.”

My writing doesn’t always live up to this, but I try!

Buy | Add on Goodreads

"The strength of Bolden’s skill as a researcher is evident; chapter by chapter, she provides succinct but critical context around the motivations and movements of Chisholm’s political career. An insightful and focused profile of a political trailblazer." 
– Kirkus Reviews

"This lively, detailed look at Chisholm’s personal and political life shines in its portrayal of a strong woman who never backed down..." 
– Booklist

"Tonya Bolden brings Shirley Chisholm’s vibrant spirit to life…an engaging and readable style." 
– School Library Connection

From award-winning author Tonya Bolden comes a biography of the first Black woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and the first Black woman to run for president witha major political party: Shirley Chisholm.

Click here for  Rafflecopter giveaway!

Buy | Add on Goodreads

"The strength of Bolden’s skill as a researcher is evident; chapter by chapter, she provides succinct but critical context around the motivations and movements of Chisholm’s political career. An insightful and focused profile of a political trailblazer." 
– Kirkus Reviews

"This lively, detailed look at Chisholm’s personal and political life shines in its portrayal of a strong woman who never backed down..." 
– Booklist

"Tonya Bolden brings Shirley Chisholm’s vibrant spirit to life…an engaging and readable style." 
– School Library Connection

From award-winning author Tonya Bolden comes a biography of the first Black woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and the first Black woman to run for president witha major political party: Shirley Chisholm.

Before there was Barack Obama, before there was Kamala Harris, there was Fighting Shirley Chisholm. A daughter of Barbadian immigrants, Chisholm developed her political chops in Brooklyn in the 1950s and went on to become the first Black woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. This “pepper pot,” as she was known, was not afraid to speakup for what she thought was right. While fighting for a better life for her constituents in New York’s 12th Congressional District, Chisholm routinely fought against sexism and racism in her own life and defied the norms of the time. As the first Black woman in the House and the first Black woman to seek the presidential nomination from a major political party, Shirley Chisholm laid the groundwork for those who would come after her.

Extensively researched and reviewed by experts, this inspiring biography traces Chisholm’s journey from her childhood in a small flat in Brooklyn where she read books with her sisters to Brooklyn College where she got her first taste of politics. Readers will cheer Chisholm on to victory from the campaign trail to the hallowed halls of the U.S. Capitol, where she fought for fair wages, equal rights, and an end to the Vietnam War. And while the presidential campaign trail in 1972 did not end in victory, Shirley Chisholm shows us how you can change a country when you speak up and speak out.


Tonya Bolden has authored, edited and co-authored more than 40 books. Her work has garnered numerous awards, including the Coretta Scott King Honor, the James Madison Book Award, the NCSS Carter G. Woodson Honor, the Children’s Book Guild of Washington, D.C.’s Nonfiction Award, the NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children, the Virginia Library Association Jefferson Cup Award and the Cleveland Public Library Sugarman Award.  Lauded for her skilled storytelling, impeccable research and lively text, Tonya lives New York City. 


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Blog Tour Schedule:
February 21st - Pragmatic Mom
February 22nd - The Nonfiction Detectives
February 23rd - Ms. Yingling Reads
February 24th - Daddy Mojo
February 25th - Mom Read It

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

The Ice Cream Machine

Rubin, Adam, with illustrations by Daniel Salmieri; Santoso, Charles; Liniers;  Hughes, Emily; Miles, Nicole; and Miller, Seaerra.
The Ice Cream Machine: Six Wildly Different Stories with the Same Name!
February 1st 2022 by G. P. Putnam's Sons
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

After an introduction about how magical writing is when it comes to imagination and emotions, Mr. Rubin gives us six short stories that all involve an ice cream machine. These are almost long enough to be novellas. The stories are all very different and have brief descriptions about the story, e.g. "the one with the five-armed robot". This story involves Shiro, whose mother created a robot for him named Kelly. The two are well-known for their adventures, so when they are interested in ice cream, they travel all over the world trying different kinds, and even enter the jungle on their search. In "the one with the ice cream eating contest", Penelope, who lives in a town filled with anthropomorphic animals, finds that she doesn't get brain freeze when eating ice cream, and coerces the administrator of a local ice cream contest to let her enter. Rhonda, in, "the one with the genius inventor", lives on a farm with her father. Her mother has been in a coma since she was born, but is still alive and cared for. Rhonda tries to make all kind of time saving devices. The goofiest story involves Cromulous, who has an ice cream truck, but who must battle with a group of children to see who can deliver ice cream in the best way. Martin, an apprentice to a sorcerer, runs afoul of a spell and creates mountains of strawberry ice cream all over the town for a harvest festval, which was not exactly what he set out to do, and doesn't end particularly well until the sorceror returns with another assistant to fic things. In the final story, we see the hapless Phil, who is abducted by space aliens and questioned, but also finds a food producing box that keeps him fed with a lot of ice cream. The end of the book gives ideas for writing ones own story, and even has Mr. Rubin's address so that students can show him what they have been inspired to write.

When I started in my library twenty years ago, there was a whole book case full of Story Collection books (SC), but the books did not check out at all, so I moved them all into fiction. I did buy the Scary Stories books, as well as San Souci's Short and Shivery series and the Guys Read short story books, but even those doen't circulate all that well. Of course, this year I had several teachers ASK for short story collections, which is a first. I had bought several of the collections with cultural connections, so was able to get books like Once Upon an Eid and Ancestor Approved to teachers who requested them.

This would be a good book to have to motivate students to write. Much of it is super goofy, with odd combinations of words and concepts. Students will be able to work their way through them even though the stories might get off task a bit. 

Monday, February 21, 2022

MMGM- A Song Called Home

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Zarr, Sara. A Song Called Home
February 22nd 2022 by Balzer & Bray/Harperteen
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Louisa is not happy that her mother is marrying Steve, and moving her and her sister Casey from San Francisco to Pacifica. At least they get to stay at their schools, although this involve a lengthy car rides each day. It doesn't help that their mother doesn't want to give their father the address of Steve's house, since he is an alcoholic who occasionally shows up and causes commotion. Louisa misses being able to walk to her friend Beth Tsai's house, and struggles to find the bright spots about the new place. She has her own room, and Steve is a nice guy, but being nice to him seems to irritate Casey, who is in high school and taking the move very badly. Lou's father doesn't call for her birthday, although a guitar shows up at the new house for her, but he does show up to the wedding the next day in an inebriated state. After that, the girls have trouble even getting ahold of him on the phone. There are nice neighbors, Marcus and Shannon Merritt-Mendoza, who have small children, and Lou trades guitar lessons for helping out Casey with some babysitting. Their house is a comforting place for Casey, but it's hard for Lou to watch Marcus be such a good father, and she's also angry that her mother and Steve gave her bunkbed to the family without asking her. Lou starts to find good things about Steve's house, which he had shared with his mother for years, but when the school finds out that the family has moved, she and Casey have to change schools. Lou reinvents herself as Lu, has her mother cut her hair, and adopts a sort of punk rock look to go along with her new interest in guitar. She makes friends with Kyra, and the two bond over the fact that Kyra's father left when she was young and her mother is a recovering alcoholic. Steve has an annual street picnic that he and his mother always hosted, and there is also a talent show at school that Lu signs up to be in. Will life in Pacifica ever feel "normal"?
Strengths: Wow. Zarr (Sweethearts, 2008) enters the middle grade arena with a powerful tale of blended families reminiscent of Betty Miles' Looking On (1978) or The Trouble with Thirteen (1979), books I loved so much as a tween that I bought them and kept them well into adulthood. The depiction of the troubled father, and his absence from Casey and Lou's lives, was sone in such a way that his absence was palpable throughout, even with all of the other changes. Lou's interest in the guitar, and her interaction with the neighbors, was a subplot that added such a wonderful layer to the book. There is also some description of Lou stealing small objects from Beth and from Steve when she felt particularly stressed, and her confrontation with Beth about this was unique to middle grade literature. Steve was such a great character, and I loved that Casey's warning about "the REAL Steve" is echoed at the end of the book, but that Steve's true colors are even more brilliant than expected. This had some similarities to Goeble's Pigture Perfect. I would love to see more books about different variations of parents, and children dealing with rearrangement of their living situations. This is one of those rare books that I wanted to reread right after finishing it. 
Weaknesses: Louisa has a rather large number of nicknames that were a bit hard to keep straight. It also took me a while to figure out where exactly the book was set. Not sure why I needed to know this; something about the intricacies of travel made me want to know specific locations. 
What I really think: I loved that this had a happy ending. I think we all need books with happy endings right now, since real life is rather lacking in them. 

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Just Harriet and Messy Roots

Middle grade is tricky, and middle school is even trickier. I read a lot of books that are great titles, but just not a good match for my students. Here we have one that is a bit too young, and one that is a bit too old.

Arnold, Elana K. Just Harriet
February 1st 2022 by Walden Pond Press
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Harriet is a rising fourth grader who is dealing with a life changing event at the end of third grade; her mother is pregnant and has been put on bed rest. Harriet (who was named after the titular character in Fitzhugh's 1964 book) is not happy about the baby, and keeps reminding her parents that they said that nothing would change. Of course, things do. Since her mother is not able to take care of her, she is sent to spend the summer on an island off the coast. Nanu runs a bed and breakfast, and is looking forward to having Harriet "help" her. Harriet is even allowed to bring her pet cat, Matzo Ball, even though Nanu is not sure how her older, grumpy dog, Moneypenny, will react. Harriet's father takes her over on the ferry, tries to sweeten the deal with a doughnut, and promises her that there are adventures to be had, and perhaps even treasure in the Gingerbread House, which he doesn't explain. Harriet, who describes herself at the very beginning of the book as someone who occasionally lies and has other less than perfect qualities, let's everyone know of her displeasure. While Nanu is sympathetic, she is also busy, and expects Harriet to deal with her grief and get on with things. When cleaning out a shed behind the B&B, Harriet finds an old fashioned key, and hopes that this is what her father meant when he talked about a treasure. She investigates all of the locks that she can find in between helping out at the B&B, walking Moneypenny, and feeling sorry for herself during down moments. Will she be able to solve the mystery of the key?

Harriet, who reminded me a bit of Calhoun's classic Katie John (1960) is right in line with other modern characters who are not afraid to let their opinions be known, like Pennypacker's Clementine, McDonald's Judy Moody, or Parks' Junie B. Jones. She's not mean spirited, but she does like to get her way. She does show more regret than many characters; she refuses to walk Moneypenny at one point, and feels bad that the dog needed to go out, and also that Nanu seems tired while walking the dog. 

There are other interesting characters in the book, such as the proprietors of the local ice cream shop, a resident of the B&B called "the Captain" who is an ornithologist, and a mysterious next door neighbor, the almost 100 year old Mable Marble. Of course, Matzo Ball and Moneypenny figure largely in the story as well. 

There are a fair number of line illustrations accompanying the text, which is always a great addition to books for elementary readers. The Dung Ho pictures are slightly reminiscent of LeUyen Pham's work in Snyder's Any Which Wall or Moore's Freckleface Strawberry. Harriet is adorable, as is Matzo Ball-- the eyes are especially expressive, and it's sweet that Harriet is wearing a pair of her father's childhood overalls. 

I wouldn't be surprised if we see Harriet again, since this author's Bat and Starla Jean each have a couple of books about them. Any books about adventures during the summer, especially ones that involve mystery and treasure on an island, are bound to be popular!

This was too young for my middle school students, but would be a fine addition to an elementary school collection. 

Gao, Laura. Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese-American
February 15th 2022 by Balzer + Bray
ARC provided by Follett First Look

Born Yuyang Gao in Wuhan, China, the author moved to the US at the age of 4 (sometime around the turn of the Millenium, I think) to be with her parents, who had left her in the care of grandparents while they attended graduate school. It was a rocky transition, and she felt out of place. Eventually using the name "Laura" after Laura Bush, she tried to navigate elementary and middle school. She and her younger brother, Jerry, tried to figure out US traditions like Christmas, and she started playing basketball. The family expectation was that she would be good at academics and perhaps become a rich doctor, and the expectation that she would be good at math was also brought up my classmates, who were casually racist. Going into high school, she struggled with accepting the way she looked, dealing with a boyfriend who wanted her to have sex, and figuring out what she should do for college. Moving from Texas to Pennsylvania for college, she finally met more students of Asian descent, but found it difficult to navigate how to "be" Asian-American. She also realized that she was gay, and decided to get involved in art. The books end with her experiences as a young adult working on the West Coast and dealing with COVID and rampant prejudice. 
Strengths: This reminded me a little bit of Bermudez's Big Apple Diaries, or (in a strange way) the first half of Bechdel's The Secret to Superhuman Strength, with Laura's grappling with racial identity being substituted for Bechdel's athletic endeavors. The illustrations are a bit rougher and less comic book style than Raina Telgemeier, and the color pallette (in the first few pages of the ARC) is an interesting yellow and red. She cites Yang's American Born Chinese as a book that interested her, and there are a few similarities. I enjoyed the parts where she traveled back to China to reconnect with family and culture, and the 2020 challenges with COVID are definitely a needed perspective. 
Weaknesses: This is definitely a Young Adult graphic novel; the f-bombs don't start until about half way through the book, and there aren't many inappropiate situations (the boyfriend wanting to have sex being the most vivid), but many of the life path concerns might not resonate with middle grade readers. 
What I really think: I probably won't purchase this book, but will be interested to see if Gao writes abnother book. 

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Elmer and the Talent Show

Robertshaw, D., Danta, R.Velásquez, and Catrinella, L. (Illustrations)
Elmer and the Talent Show (Life in the Doghouse #1)
February 1st 2022 by Aladdin

Benny’s father is a writer, and his mother is in the military, so they move frequently. Benny has had a hard time fitting in with his classmates, and his parents think it would help if he had a dog. They go to Danny and Ron’s rescue, and Benny has his heart set on a German Shepherd puppy, although Elmer, a ten year old dachshund who was badly neglected and whose tongue sticks out because of a broken jaw, has his heart set on this family to adopt him. When the parents come back to get the puppy, they see Elmer and are moved enough by his story that they bring him home. Benny is a bit reluctant, but bonds with the dog. The parents enrol the two in a dog agility class so that Benny can meet other children, and he gets along well with the outgoing and enthusiastic Kitts, whose dog, Coda, helps Elmer with some of the tasks in class. Unfortunately, the boys at school whom Benny would like to befriend make fun of Kitts, and Benny stands by and doesn’t stick up for her. The two manage to make up, and work with Elmer to help him participate in an agility competition.
Strengths: Since I adopted my dog Pongo when he was ten, I am a softie for any story that encourages readers to look at older dogs before they adopt or buy a puppy. Benny’s apprehension is understandable, but I liked how realistically the story unfolded, and how he found many things to like about Elmer. This story is based on a real case, and on a real rescue organization, Danny and Ron’s Rescue. (
Weaknesses: The ending was a bit pat, with the boys who made fun of Kitts not only wanting to be Benny’s friend, but Kitts’ as well.
What I really think: This is too young for my students, but is an excellent choice for fans of Miles’ Puppy Place books, Barkley and Bishop’s Critter Club, or Stier’s A Dog’s Day books.

A shout out to Ohio Fuzzy Pawz, a fantastic organization that fostered Pongo when he ended up in a shelter after the death of his owner. They take a lot of trouble to match the right dog with the right owner, and I'm happy to say that Pongo has been a great companion for almost a year! 

Friday, February 18, 2022

Loyalty; or The Revolutionary War Book You Really Need (Even though you don't think you do.)

Avi. Loyalty. 
February 1st 2022 by Clarion Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Noah and his family live outside of Boston in April, 1774. The father is a preacher and a Loyalist, and when he won't denounce the King, he is tarred and feathered and subsequently dies. With few options, especially with tensions increasing in their town, the mother approaches a local lawyer to try to sell the family house. He takes the house in exchange for his son, Abner, taking the family and their one trunk of possessions to the mother's uncle, William, in Boston. The uncle, who is a bachelor, reluctantly agrees to take the family into his small home, and is well pleased when they clean it up and make life easier for him by cooking. Noah needs a job, and manages to get connected to General Thomas Gage, who was an influential officer in the Birtish army in Boston. He gets Noah a job at the Green Dragon tavern, and has him report back on the activity of the Sons of Liberty. There, he meets a young, free Black man named Jolla who basically runs the tavern. The two get along, and Jolla and Noah's travels around Boston show Noah that not everything the British are doing is all that nice. Press gangs, enslaved Black soldiers, and other unfair practices shift Noah's opinions of where his loyalty should lie. When the Siege of Boston looks imminent, and Noah's older sister is with child and has a husband who is a militia man, Noah manages to get his family out of Boston. He and Jolla manage to survive for months, but in the end, realizes that the Boston he wants to see is at odds with the British vision for it, and that the victory of the colonists isn't as bad as he would have thought. 
Strengths: Quick! Name a book about the Revolutionary War. If you said Johnny Tremain, remember that this was written in 1943. This is an important historical era, yet fictional books on the topic are hard to come by, and ones that understand current thoughts about colonialism and race relations are even harder to find. Anderson's 2008 Chains is a good start, but it's a topic I've been trying to update for a long time in my library. Avi has the historical chops to do this justice, and for an 84 year old, has kept up with current thoughts on many topics. Jolla's inclusion is well done, and it's interesting to see Noah's perspective as a Loyalist and how that changes. The details of every day life are good, and the story moves along quickly. There's enough action and intrigue for the most die hard war obsessed reader, and the length is perfect.
Weaknesses: The diary format seemed a bit forced in this instance, although having the dates was helpful. 
What I really think: Buy a copy of this and weed Johnny Tremain. Really. It's fairly boring, and it was old when I was in school. History does change, or at least perception of events, and it's important to keep on top of these changes as they are reflected in the literature. Also look at Anderson's Chains series,  Hughes' Five Fourths of July, and Calkhoven's Daniel at the Siege of Boston

Thursday, February 17, 2022

A Comb of Wishes

Stringfellow, Lisa. A Comb of Wishes
February 8th 2022 by Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus
Right before Kela's mother, a researcher who delved into Carribean folk tales, died in a car accident, Kela had a fight with her about going to the craft store to get supplies for her sea glass necklaces. This adds another layer of sadness to Kela's life, which continues to go on with her father and grandfather, and revolves around the family dive shop. Her best friend Lissy and Lissy's grandmother try help, but since it is summer, the two girls don't spend as much time together. Kela's father doesn't talk about her mother, and when he even forgets to go diving with her, Kela decides to visit one of their usual haunts. While there, she finds a wooden box with an intriguing comb in it, and she brings it home, even though she knows that items should not be picked up from protected land. She even consults a former coworker of her mother's about this. However, she is visited by Ophidia, a sea person who owned the comb. Sea people don't have spirits; they store them in bone objects, so Ophidia purposes a trade. Kele can make a wish, but unless she returns the comb, Ophidia will find her and drag her to the bottom of the sea. Kele wishes for her mother to come back, but because of a series of incidents, is not able to throw the comb back into the water. The family shop is ransacked, George, the other owner, runs off with the comb (which he considers selling)... and Kele's mother comes back. Kele is so relieved that she can apologize that she doesn't immediately see how difficult the return is for her mother. Ophidia stalks Kele in terrifying ways, and Kele knows she must find the comb. Will she be able to keep her promise, and even if she does, will her wish to have her mother back work out the way that she would like it to?
Strengths: This was a well paced book that set out an interesting fantasy problem, and showed how Kela was as methodical as she could be in dealing with this strange set of circumstances. Her troubles with Lissy are very realistic, which is a good contrast to all of the odd things going on in her world, and I was glad to see that Lissy and her grandmother still came through to help her. The St. Rita's setting and the family dive shop was different and intriguing, and the financial difficulties of the shop lead to George taking some hard-to-guess risks. The mother's return is handled pragmatically, with no one except for Kela knowing that she had died. Ophidia's history, with her own friend drama and a major hurricane, allows the author to share some historical insights on life in St. Rita's at an earlier time. The discussion about archaeological rights was fascinating. 
Weaknesses: As an adult, I was a bit suprised that Kela picked up the box, and made a deal with Ophidia. She is well verse in the stories of the area, so should know that sea people are pretty brutal when it comes to bargains, so she should have turned over the comb without a wish at all! The idea of wishes, though, is SO intriguing to middle grade readers, so they will not have this same feeling. There was also a twist where someone opted for immortality, which sounds like such a bad idea. Ophidia certainly has been less than happy hanging around since 1667!
What I really think: It's good to see horror stories from other cultures, and it's certainly hard to find books set in the Carribean! This is a great choice for readers who want a scary tale with cultural connections and a lot of information about Caribbean history and tale telling. Hand this to tweens who have devoured Baptiste's The Jumbies, Kessler's Emily Windsnap series, Royce's Root Magic, or Strange's Part of Your Nightmare (Disney Chills, Book One, which is probably the closest title to this one. 
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

True History: The Founders Unmasked

Sabin, Jennifer. The Founders Unmasked (True History #1)
February 15th 2022 by Penguin Workshop
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

I feel that there will be a lot of reviews that consider this in terms of its politics rather than its inherent merits. Those on the political right might be upset by its frank discussions of the problematic history of the US, and those on the left might feel that the subject was treated too lightly.

First of all, the cover illustration and paperback format lead me to think that this would be a graphic novel exploration of the Founders, with an emphasis on history that had been ignored. It is not. It is a regular narrative nonfiction book, 144 pages long, with 8 pages of color plates. These seem to be mainly portraits of the presidents, but my e reader kept crashing, so there could be other pictures. There are some side bar explanations, as well as discussion questions at the end of each chapter. Additional readings are listed at the end.

The book itself states (and this is uncorrected text from a E ARC) that "The Founders Unmasked sets out NOT to rewrite history but to collect some of the existing facts and growing body of evidence that paint a more honest picture than US kids are usually taught about the men we call Founding Fathers." The chapters cover a lot of information, but centers on the following figures: Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, Alexander Hamilton, Frederick Douglas, George Washington, and James Madison. Focusing on these historical figures, a wide range of topics are explored.

In the Sally Hemings chapter, there is a lot of discussion about concubines, age of consent during her time period (ten!), the nature of relationships between figures like Jefferson and enslaved women like Hemings, and the widespread rape of young women. While this is done extremely delicately, this deep dive into troubling topics might make this a book more suitable for students in 8th grade and up. While it is valuable information, I am always aware that some students need help processing troubling information, and I am not always able to provide the support that they might need. It is just good to be aware of this information so that you can gauge which students would best be able to handle it. This series is specifically marketed to students aged 10-17, which is a range of ages that covers a varying degree of maturity. Some students will be ready for this book, and some will need some support while reading it.

I feel a need to explain the three star rating on Goodreads very clearly, since (as I previously noted) many reviews might base ratings on the politics of this book rather than the content. While the content of this book is certainly innovative and important (and also derived from many modern historical experts who have not been represented in the textbooks with which young readers are familiar), the format of the book is somewhat lacking. Three stars on Goodreads means "I liked it". This was a fantastic expose of history, but it was presented in a very standard way. It would have been helpful to have more illustrations accompany different sections of the book. Because so many important topics are being discussed, including the impact on current events by how history has been portrayed, the narrative sometimes went from topic to topic and felt a bit unfocused. High school readers will not have trouble with this, but middle school readers would do better with slightly narrower topics and fewer asides.

This is the first book in the True History series ( that also includes books about A New History of Immigration, The Legacy of Jim Crow, and Indigenous America. It was a well researched book with a lot of thought provoking topics that will be welcome by some and not welcome by others.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Timeslip Tuesday- Ripped Away

Vernick, Shirley Reva. Ripped Away
February 8th 2022 by Fitzroy Books 
(Paperback, Prebind, or E Book)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Abe Pearlman has a huge crush on Mitzy, but she doesn't know he exists. When he is out and about, he seems a new sign for a fortune teller and, intrigued, stops in. The fortune teller, Zinnia, tells him there is something interesting about his aura, and before he knows it, he blacks out. When he wakes up, he is in the Whitechapel neighborhood of Victorian London. He is a young man named Asher, who lives in a tenement with his mother, and works at a Jewish Working Man's Club for Mr. Diemshutz. While a bit discombobulated, he seems to have all of the information he needs lingering in the corners of his mind, including some foreign words and phrases. As he is getting his bearings, he finds that Mitzy has also been to Zinnia and has taken on the personality of Maya, an upstairs neighbor, who is blind. She lives with her mother and uncle, who is a butcher. When a young woman is murdered in one of the infamous "Jack the Ripper" killings, the Jewish community comes under scrutiny. Investigators talk to Mr. Diemshutz, and police go through the neighborhood asking to see residents' knives. Maya's uncle, Duvid Kraskov, is arrested because he won't give the police information about his knives. Feeling that he is stuck in the Victorian time period until he can save someone's life, Abe thinks Duvid might be the one he needs to save. He manages to get information from the man that clears his name, but that he doesn't want Maya and her mother to know. When Abe is still stuck in the past with Mitzy, the two work to try to figure out what else they need to do to return to their own time. 
Strengths: This was a great upper MG/lower YA book that felt very much like the books I read twenty years ago-- in a good way. Abe is in high school and has a lot of skills and agency when sent to the past, and there's even a nice romance with Mitzy. The book is short and quick, and doesn't belabor the mechanism that sends the two to the past. I loved the new perspective on the Jack the Ripper story, and the inclusion of cultural elements. I'm not normally a fan of crime podcasts or gory tales, but have a vague interest in the Jack the Ripper mythos thanks to the 1979 movie Time after Time, which I watched way more times than I should have on cable tv when I was in high school! The historical notes are great as well. Definitely a top notch time travel book with a fascinating cultural perspective.
Weaknesses: The brevity of the text makes parts of the story a bit abrupt. 
What I really think: I really, really liked this, and it is now available in prebind from Follett! I will definitely purchase this, since Stefan Petrucha's Ripper still circulates, and I love that it introduces some Jewish cultural history in a book that readers will pick up because of the Jack the Ripper connection. 

Ms. Yingling

Monday, February 14, 2022

MMGM- Wishing Upon the Same Stars and Fashionopolis

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Feldman, Jacquetta Nammar. Wishing Upon the Same Stars 
February 1st 2022 by HarperCollins 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Yasmeen (pronounced yez-MEEN) Khoury lives in Detroit with her family; a father who is a Christian from Palestine and a mother who is from Lebanon, who met each other as graduate students in Michigan. When her father gets a better job in Texas, the parents are glad to move back to a warmer climate. Younger sister Sara is fine with it, and brother Salim is too young to notice. Yasmeen doesn't want to leave her best friend and her familiar community, but things are even harder once she starts school. She doesn't know anyone, and the secretary doesn't know how to pronounce her name. She has a welcome face in Waverly, whose father works with her father, and whose mother set up their house for them. Unfortunately, Waverly is good friends with resident mean girl Hillary, who makes fun of Yasmeen for her cultural identity, a rarity in their area. Yasmeen's teachers notice that she is good at math and have her become a member of the math team. This is coached by neighbor Mr. Cohen, who is from Jerusalem like her father, but is Jewish. Since the father's mother, Sitti, is forced out of her home, family feelings about Jews in Jerusalem are running very high, and Yasmeen is not supposed to have anything to do with the daughter, Ayelet, who is also on the math team. She lies to her parents, saying a teacher is coaching the team, and that she is with Waverly when she is really with Ayelet. Yasmeen slowly becomes friends with her, as well as Esme, who is from Mexico. Sitti moves in with the family, Yasmeen starts dancing with a group at the family's new church, and the family all struggles with their new life in Texas and finding the balance between being "American" and embracing their own culture. When her parents find out about Mr. Cohen's involvement with the math group, will they be able to put aside their cultural differences and try to become friends with their traditional enemies? 
Strengths: It was interesting to get a look inside Yasmeen's house, with all of their non-US furniture, cooking, and the mother's particular style of dress. I had a friend whose parents were from Greece, and walking into their home felt very similar. I was especially glad that Waverly, while she sometimes made missteps in her treatment of Yasmeen, was very welcoming and friendly. I also enjoyed Yasmeen's love of math and her involvement not only with the math club but with her church dance group. She felt very uncomfortable with just about all aspects of the dancing, but gave it a good try, and ended up enjoying it in the end. This is a great message for young people about trying new things even though they are hard. The inclusion of a strong church family is realistic, although not as prevalent as it once was, and I learned a bit about the Maronite Church. (Which, by the way, has nothing at all to do with the Maronite Center in Youngstown, which has stuck in my mind even though I haven't thought about it in 40 years!) Yasmeen and Ayelet's friendship despite their family's prejudices was certainly something we need to see more of in middle grade fiction. 
 Weaknesses: There were so many different things going on in this book, that Yasmeen's back and forth with Waverly, Hillary, and Ayelet slowed down the middle of the book a bit. 
 What I really think: I'd love to see more from Nammar Feldman, perhaps a book set in the very vibrant immigrant community near Detroit. This is a great book about an immigrant experience that will go well with Kelkar's As American as Paneer Pie, Hirandani's How to Find What You're Not Looking For, Dumas' It Ain't So Awful, Falafel, Yang's Front Desk, Faruqi's Unsettled, Ferruolo's A Galaxy of Sea Stars and Warga's Other Words for Home. There have been so many interesting books about different cultural experiences since the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement started in 2014, and I can't think of too many Arab-Israeli books except Nye's 1999 Habibi. Definitely purchasing. 

Thomas, Dana. Fashionopolis (Young Readers Edition): The Secrets Behind the Clothes We Wear 
15 February 2022, Dial Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

I find fashion fascinating. Frustrating, but fascinating. I’ve never really moved past the Seventeen Magazine August, 1982 edition in the way I dress, which is probably why I had no idea that in the 1990s, the fashion industry changed so drastically, with “fast fashion” taking over. (I’ve never even heard of Zara.) Luckily, that was about the time that I started buying all of my clothes at thrift stores.

In this young readers’ edition of the 2019 adult nonfiction book, we get a good overview of the history of the fashion industry, and descriptions of how it has changed over time. These changes are not usually good for workers and the environment, but there is some light at the end of the turtleneck. A lot of excellent concepts like supply change and mass production are described for readers who might have a very faint idea of what these are.

Considering that in 1980, 70% of the clothing bought in the US was made here, and that figure is now under ten percent, there has been a huge shift in the way clothing is made, transported, and even worn and discarded. Companies like Levi’s, who for many years centered itself on local philanthropy, discarded these practices and moved manufacturing to developing nations where conditions were horrific for workers and wages were low. While this company has tried to return to better practices, many companies have not.

This book deftly mixes historical statistics with interesting interviews with people involved in the fashion industry. From company owners like Natalie Chanin in Alabama who practices local sourcing for everything involved in producing her products to Sarah Bellos, who grows indigo, to fashion designers like Stella McCartney, Thomas uses her contacts in the fashion industry to delve into a large number of topics and show how the fashion industry could be more sustainable and better for workers.

There are so many interesting things in this book that it is hard to list them all. The writing style was quick and engaging, and my only small quibble is that, for younger readers, it would have been nice to have a few more pictures. The tips at the end on how readers can change their habits in order to effect changes are fantastic. Pair this with Klymkiw’s and Haninson’s Fashion Conscious: Change the World with a Change of Clothes, which has a bit more information about mending and creating clothing.

Middle school students, especially now, are not terribly concerned with fashion, and are usually a bit more concerned with the environment. That makes Fashionopolis a great choice for young readers, so that they can understand what goes into the manufacturing of clothing and how this impacts both people and the environment before social media lures them into the culture of consumerism.