Thursday, March 31, 2022

The Sea of Always (Thirteen Witches #2)

Anderson, Jodi Lynn. The Sea of Always (Thirteen Witches #2)
April 5th 2022 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Rosie and her friend Germ managed to survive in the previous book, and find themselves traveling the Sea of Always in a time whale to California in 1855, where Rosie's brother is supposedly sequestered by the Time Witch. It's very luxurious inside the whale, and anything they could want is provided, but it's also very boring. When the whale drops them suddenly on a coast, they are surprised that it isn't at their destination, but at a remote and dangerous looking location. Luckily, they are met by Aria, who welcomes them to the witch ruled world and grudgingly helps them. Her sister, Clara, has abandoned her, and Aria doesn't have a lot of hope. She agrees to help Rosie, and explains a lot of things to her. The Time Witch is still hunting Rosie, so the group tries their best to hide, but also catch the attention of the Nothing King, who is gard worse. They figure out, with the help of Ebb, a ghost from Rosie's home, that they need to steal the hearts of all of the witches and destroy them in order to further their goals and get closer to Rosie's brother. This involves a lot of traveling through space and time, and they don't have a lot of time to accomplish this mission. It's a game to the Time Witch, and finding the last witch, Convenia, is difficult. Will they be able to complete their mission, deal with the time witch, and save Rosie's brother and mother?
Strengths: Rosie is still intrepid in her endeavors to better life for her mother, and is determined to find her long lost brother. If it means stealing the hearts of a bunch of witches, she's not going to flinch. Aria was an interestingly mysterious character, and Germ remains stalwart. We find out more about the witches and their motivations, and I would imagine the next book will highlight the Nothing King. Ebb's story had a particularly satisfying conclusion. 
Weaknesses: Traveling in the Time Whale was interesting, but went on for far too long. In a world where there is magic, I don't have a lot of patience for travel taking an overly long time. (It's the one thing I remember about Armstrong's 2013 Loki's Wolves!) Sure, you can run into difficulties, but it shouldn't be the fictional equivalent of getting stuck overnight in Chicago O'Hare.
What I really think: I liked this one, but not quite as much as the first, which has circulated well. I'm curious to see if the third book will be the last, and to see what direction it takes. 
 Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Chasing Jaguars (Wild Survival #3)

Melissa Cristina Márquez. Chasing Jaguars (Wild Survival #3)
April 5th 2022 by Scholastic Paperbacks
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

The Villalobos family is back for another adventure after Crocodile Rescue and Swimming with Sharks. Adrianna and her brother Feye are still worried about the poachers they've seen in both stories, and the involvement of their producer, Mr. Savage, with these people. They are excited to head to Mexico on their latest adventure since they have their father's family there (their mother is from Puerto Rico). They are trying to locate an injured and endangered jaguar and help it, but when they arrive, they find that local farmers are not happy with the jaguar population, because their livestock are targets of the predatory animals. They get help from Daniela Corrales Gutiérrez , a local scientist, and her children, Mónica and Leo.  Gutiérrez is tagging and tracking jaguars with satellite collars in order to protect the population, and also uses cameras to check on the animals in the wild. The group also goes to visit Gutiérrez' husband, Manolo, who studies endangered porpoises, the vaquita. While there, Adrianna gets stung by a poisonous scorpion, and when the crew's first aid kit is out of anti-venom, has a scary experience with her arm going numb. Luckily, despite some lingering pain, the injury is not too severe. Will she and her family be able to find the injured jaguar, or will the poachers reappear and get to it first?
Strengths: Márquez does a great job of describing locations which seem exotic to me while outlining the environmental challenges faced by the wildlife there. She also manages to insert exciting scenes, like Adriann's injuries or the struggles with the poachers. There are not as many books about environmental issues as there should be, especially since young readers are very interested in animals and helping to save them. If this series shows up in your Scholastic book fair, make sure you request extras. This could be the last book in the series, although there could possibly be another one. 
Weaknesses: There is a lovely glossary of Spanish language terms at the end of the book, but I wish it had been in alphabetical order. I imagine that it was in the order that the words appeared in the text, but since I was reading an e book, I couldn't easily flip back and forth. The words are easy to understand through context, but it would be easier to find a term if the list were organized. 
What I really think: I am looking forward to some slightly longer stand alones from Márquez that are also set in interesting locations and have environmental themes. Her books are well-written, the characters are engaging, and she deserves to be in hard cover!
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Red Scare: A Graphic Novel

Walsh, Liam Francis. Red Scare: A Graphic Novel
April 5th 2022 by Graphix
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Peggy's family is struggling in 1953. Her father has come back from the Korean conflict badly injured, and their mother is cleaning rooms in a hotel. Peggy is recovering from polio, but the exercises are hard, and she is not doing them as much as she should. When she is helping her mother at work (actually, hiding out and reading a library book), she gets caught in a room when a guest enters. The man, whom we have seen earlier eluding the authorities with a mysterious briefcase, sees her briefly, but is later found dead. Peggy is questioned, and even though she and her mother don't know anything, the taint of having been near a "Commie" sticks to her, and bullies at school give her a hard time. Her twin brother Chip is also targeted. When Peggy is trying to escape from some of these bullies, her new neighbor arrives on her bike to rescue her, but the two try crossing the railroad tracks just as a train is approaching. It looks like they were hit, and their bike is found crushed, but the two are nowhere to be seen. This is because they have flown skyward. Peggy finds that the man at the motel has put a glowing red bar of some mysterious material in the tubing of her crutches, and this allows her to fly and also to walk unaided. She is grilled and followed by government agents, and at one point thinks she will turn the substance in to the FBI. Her new neighbor's family is accused of being Communists, and a group approaches their home to harm them. Peggy's father stands up to them. Will Peggy be able to solve the mystery of the substance and keep her family and friends safe?
Strengths: The 1950s are such an interesting period of history, yet there are so few books about it. Baby Boomers have really fallen down on the job writing about their childhoods'! It's helpful to read Walsh's notes at the back before diving into this science fiction graphic novel. He does a good job capturing the spirit of the comics at the time, and bringing in a film noir and 1950s sci fi vibe. This also had the most exciting scene I've ever scene in a graphic novel, and a lot of action and adventure, which can be hard to find in this format. Peggy's struggles with the aftermath of polio are well portrayed, and I would love to see an entire novel about a tween going through that experience. (Weber's Rosellen Kern has similar struggles, but eventually succumbs to the effects of the disease in the heart wrenching A Bright Star Falls, but that was written in 1959.) 
Weaknesses: I was distracted by the fact that both Peggy and Chip looked like Tin Tin, and there were a couple of things that seemed historically inaccurate. Young readers will not have these problems. 
What I really think: I was expecting this to be historical, so it took me a bit to get my mind around it.  This was an interesting title, but definitely science fiction. I will probably buy this, but there was something about it that didn't sit quite right. Maybe the neighbor girl wearing jeans to school? Perhaps the fact that everyone I've talked to in Ohio did not have any experience with the Cold War affecting everyday life in Ohio. No one was turning in neighbors as Communists or having FBI agents descend on their neighborhoods. Maybe this was an East or West Coast thing?

Titles that address more realistic aspects of the homefront of the Cold War include Elliott's Suspect Red (2017), Avi's Catch You Later, Traitor (2015), Averbeck's A Hitch at the Fairmont (2015)Kidd's Year of the Bomb (2009) and Holbrook's The Enemy (2017), and the nonfiction titles Marrin's A Time of Fear (2021) and Brimner's Blacklisted (2018).

Monday, March 28, 2022

MMGM- The Epic Mentor Guide and Turn the Tide

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Raia, Illana. The Epic Mentor Guide: Insider Advice for Girls Eyeing the Workforce from 180 Boss Women Who Know
March 15th 2022 by Forefront Books
Copy provided by Young Adult Books CentralCopy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Ilana Raia, The founder of the website, a mentorship platform, found that young girls often have questions for women who have succeeded in business. How did women who have been successful break into their fields? What training did they need? How do they utilize social media? In order to collect all of their fantastic advice in one place, she put together The Epic Mentor Guide. There is a huge variety of women represented in the book, from best selling authors to entrepreneurs to political insiders. Each woman answers a question (posed by a young girl) on a one or two page spread. Questions range from the very practical (how to write a good thank you note) to more philosophical ("What should we do if our career feels like it's zigzagging into of moving in a straight line?"), and information about social media is given next to a description of the woman who has answered the question, so that young readers can further engage.

The pages have subtle peach colored designs on them, and center the questions and answers on the page. This is one of those books like Favilli's Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Immigrant Women Who Changed the World, Schatz, Stahl, and Klein. Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History . . . and Our Future!, or Megdal and Lossing's 50 Trailblazers of the 50 States: Celebrate the lives of inspiring people who paved the way from every state in America! that you might want to purchase twice so you have one to read, and one to cut up, laminate, and make into bulletin boards!

There are a lot of women of whom I had never heard, and they represent jobs that I never even knew existed. When I was preparing for college, it was exciting to think that my classmates weren't limited to being teachers, nurses, or secretaries, but could go into law, medicine, or business. How great is it that in 2022 there are so many accomplished women to inspire and motive young readers to explore the limitless career opportunities the world has to offer. I'm definitely making sure that the leader of our Girls Rox! program gets a copy of this.

That said, this is not broken down into any categories or topics, but has all of the questions and quotes arranged alphabetically by the repliers' first names. The table of contents does give some insight as to the question answered and the woman answering it, but this arrangement makes it hard to use to dip into to get a good quote, or to find the answer to a question a reader might have. This makes it more suited to skimming.

Dimopoulos, Elaine. Turn the Tide
March 8th 2022 by Clarion Books
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Mimi (Demetra) and her family move from Massachusetts to a small coastal island because it's less expensive to run their Trident restaurant and they have family on Wilford Island, Florida. She is sad that she has to leave her best friend and fellow piano enthusiast, Lee, behind, but the two are able to talk frequently. The school is small, but Mimi makes a friend in super popular Carman. When their enthusiastic science teacher, Ms. Miller, teaches them about Melati and Isabel Wijsen and their Bye Bye Plastic Bags movement,, Mimi is enthralled and wants to start banning plastic bags from their island right away. She has a somewhat unlikely ally in Carman, whose father owns the local grocery store, and Anne and Henry Lowell, who run the local bookstore, Dusty Pages. Getting signatures on the petition, being interviewed by classmate Ethan for his Scaled Fish podcast, and worrying about her parents' restaurant opening makes it hard for Mimi to concentrate on her piano lessons with her new teacher Kyle and cut into her practice time. Carman seems super supportive when they are handing out free reusable bags at her father's store, or brainstorming flyers at home, but seems aloof at school. When Mimi doesn't invite her to the Trident's grand opening, Carman is hurt. Mimi worries that she won't be able to make much headway without her, and the Lowells have a health scare. Not only that, but Lee visits, and her piano playing has improved much more than Mimi's has. How will Mimi learn to balance her activism, piano, family and friends in her new community?
Strengths: This was a great depiction of a small island community, and I loved that Mimi's family was Greek and had a restaurant! It made me immediately hungry for a good, authentic horiatiki! There is a great balance between parental involvement and Mimi's own activities, and it's good to see that the parents have their own interests (but balance things a bit better than the parents in Pizza My Heart!). There are not a lot of books involving young people who play piano, so Mimi's interest in a future of competing is interesting. Of course, the best part is Mimi's determination to ban plastic bags from the island. Dimopoulos' has done a lot of research to outline what local governments can and can't do about this scourge, and gives great examples of places where bans have been effective. This is a topic dear to my heart, and with as many young environmental activists as there are in the world, you'd think we would hvae more middle grade books about topics of conservation. Anne and Henry are good examples of older people who have been and continue to be positively involved in their community, and the fact that the beach clean up crew is predominately older citizens is so true to life. All of the elements in this story were well balanced and entertaining to read. The notes and lists of resources at the end of the book will help readers who want to get involved. This is an essential purchase for middle school libraries, and I've already requested that my public library buy it!
Weaknesses: There are certainly some poetic lines, and Mimi's love of music and books gives a decent excuse for this format. Like most novels in verse, there isn't much in the way of meter, and it reads more like prose. 
What I really think: I would LOVE to see a whole sub genre of realistic fiction books where middle school students take up worthy environmental causes and set about trying to change the world. I'm always a fan of Kids Doing Things, and when the book also includes some very realistic and constructive friend drama like Mimi has with Carman, this makes for a compelling story I can't wait to get into readers' hands. 

More about my difficult relationship with novels in verse, for transparency: I actually had the first two students EVER who told me they LIKED novels in verse yesterday. I've bought a number over the years, but theydon't circulate (yes, even Red, White and Whole), and kids will wrinkle their noses at the format when I try to hand sell them. No matter how much I like books, if I can't get students to read them because of topic (dead parents, all the sadness) or format (verse novels), they are frustrating to purchase. Of course, the reason the girls liked novels in verse is right in line with the surge in popularity of graphic novels-- they are shorter. Many people like novels in verse, but it's a format with which I usually struggle, not only because I have rather exacting standards for poetry (I love you, Helen Frost!), but also because they have been hard to place with readers. File under: A me thing, not a book thing.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence

Thomas, Sonia. Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence
March 22nd 2022 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Mira is all set to have a great summer in Florida with her best friend Thomas, going to camp and doing science experiements (like microwaving grapes; this doesn't end well), but when his family suddenly relocates to Washington, D.C. Their fathers both were engineers at a company that laid off many workers, and her father (who is Black) is struggling to find a job. Her mother (who is white) has gone back to work, leaving the family at the mercy of the father's less than spectacular cooking skills. When Mira breaks her mother's old phone, there is no chance she will get it replaced, so she has to rely on the landline to talk to Thomas. When her cat, Sir Fig Newton, seems lethargic, she is worried about him. Research leads her to believe he might have diabetes, but she is sent to spend time with her grandmother before she can tell her parents. Her father's  mother is active in her church, very proper, and loves cats as well. Mira finds it somewhat difficult to connect to herr, because she lives an hour away and the two don't spend much time together, but finds that her grandmother is supportive. Armed with a magazine article about feline diabetes, Mira tells her parents about her cat when she gets home, and they take Sir Fig Newton to the vet right away. Mira's diagnosis is correct, but the treatment is expensive. On top of some other emergencies, the family doesn't have the money, and the parents feel that the best option is to give the cat up for adoption. Mira, still reeling from Thomas' departure, begs for time to raise funds. When her nemesis, Tamika, moves into Thomas' house, she finds an unlikely ally. She tries a number of ways to make money, like babysitting, dog walking, and running a lemonade stand. Mira is also deep into an experiment to try to improve her father's mood with music. Will Mira, along with her new friend, Tamkia, be able to save Sir Fig Newton?
Strengths: Having a parent in an unstable job situation is definitely becoming more common in reality, so it's good to see this in fiction. That said, I was also glad to see that the mother had steady employment, and that the father eventually found work. The impact of this on Mira's life is portrayed in a very pragmatic way, and she understands her parents' motivations, even if she doesn't agree with them. Dealing with the sickness of a pet is something many young readers will understand as well. I liked the relationship with Tamkia; a lot of tweens have preconcieved notions about fellow classmates that change when they get to know the other person. I'd love to see more of this in middle grade literature. Throwin in a grandparent or two never hurts. 
Weaknesses: This is a bit on the long side at over 350 pages; it almost could have been two books. The cover makes this look a bit younger than it is. 
What I really think: Add this to the list of friendship stories that also include science, like Rosenberg's One Small HopDoleski's Mary Underwater and Pérez's Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Miss Quinces and Oh My Gods II

Fajardo, Kat. Miss Quinces
April 5th 2022 by Graphix
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

**Spoiler alert**

Sue (Suyapa) is involved in a graphic novel club that she has told her mother is a study group, and she's devastated that she won't be able to join them at camp. Her overprotective mother won't allow it, and the family is going to visit family in Honduras for a month. Since Sue needs to have a produce a graphic novel that is a travelogue for her club, she feels that this trip is far too boring to provide good material, although her sister points out that maybe the trip is boring because Sue holes up inside and reads manga the entire time. When the family arrives at the grandmother's house, they find that she is ill and very weak. Sue also finds out that her mother is planning a quinces celebration for her, which she does NOT want. She objects to the pink dress, high heels, public dancing, and many other aspects of the celebration, and agrees only when her grandmother wants her to have it AND her mother agrees to her demand that she be allowed to go to camp with her friends. Her mother, because of everything that is going on, forgets to sign Sue up, and she is very angry. Preparations are made anway, but the celebration is canceled when the grandmother passes away. Because her grandmother wanted her to have the celebration, Sue decides to go forward with it, but demands that it be on her terms. The aunts help design a new dress in her favorite color, Sue designs her own favors, and the ceremonies go forward. Sue even has a decent time dancing, and improves her relationship with her sister. The family returns to the US, and Sue goes back to school with her graphic novel group, pleased with the project she was able to do. 
Strengths: The illustrations reminded me strongly of Katy Farina's entires in the Babysitters' Club graphic novel series, so this would be immediately popular. The color palette, despite Sue's love of black, is bright and cheery. I liked the Latine (the author's term) representation, and the discussion of the quinces celebration. Books where teens go to another country to visit family are always interesting to me, and since I have a friend from Honduras, I found this doubly interesting. The family interactions are realistic, and the grandmother's death is treated in a life affirming way. T
Weaknesses: The moral of this story seemed to be that if you complain to your parents enough, they will do what you want. Sue is unkind to her parents, demanding, and not willing to compromise much, even though her mother is dealing with the loss of her mother. As a reward, she gets her way about almost everything concerning the celebration; her father even buys her combat boots instead of heels. This may be a generational difference, but I was deeply disturbed by this, since I see this sort of behavior in my students all too often. Young readers will not mind this, but as a parent, I would have definitely handled Sue in a completely different way, which made this book hard for me to enjoy personally. 
What I really think: I will probably buy this, because I would like to have graphic novels with difference cultural representations, but it will be hard for me to recommend. 

Cooke, Stephanie, Fitzpatrick, Insha and Moon, Juliana Moon (Illustrations).
Oh My Gods! The Forgotten Maze (OMGs #2)
April 5th 2022 by Etch/Clarion Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Karen and her friends at Mt. Olympus Junior High are back, and are super excited to start a newspaper. Karen is still settling in with her father, Zeus, and often likes to play an online game with her friends back home. She thinks she could write a column about gaming, and introduces her new friends to the one she likes. There is an odd player who crashes their game and doesn't play fairly, but they aren't able to block him. When they investigate, the IP address is at their school, in the basement. Years ago, the basement was used for training but now is somewhere students never go. When the group investigates, they get involved in a real life game. Herms brother Jeff is missing, but the teachers don't do anything, so Karen and her friends are looking for him while trying to make their own way out of the basement so that they can get their newspaper out. Will they manage to survive and solve the mysteries?
Strengths: I am a huge fan of any book that can cleverly incorporate Greek and Roman mythology, and this does a good job of giving young gods distinct and updated personalities. Zeus is such a great character, and he talks to Karen the same way I talk to students; I wish we had seen more of him! The school newspaper process is not overly detailed-- we see the planning and then the final product. The main focus of this book is the video game type adventure. Given the popularity of the Tor Minecraft novels, I can see this being a big hit. 
Weaknesses: You can tell that the students at my school have relaxed the dress code too far; after months of seeing them in nothing but hoodies and pajama pants, the characters in this book all looked like they were dressed like teachers... twenty years ago! Few females have bangs anymore, but most of the characters did. Don't know that this will matter to young readers, but there's always something about graphic novels that distracts me. At least this time it wasn't their noses. 
What I really think: I am debating purchase, since the first volume hasn't circulated well. Will my video game fans read the first book, even if it doesn't have anything to do with video games? That said, video game fans will love the gaming details, which are similar to Hansan's A Video Game Ate My Homework

Friday, March 25, 2022


Roe, Monica. Air
March 15th 2022 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Emmie was born with spina bifida, which means that she is only able to walk a tiny bit, and has always relied on a wheelchair as her primary means of transportation. Her parents have always pushed her to do all manner of activities, and she's especially fond of skateboarding ramps, which she used to jump with her father. Since her mother's death in a car accident two years ago, her father has become more cautious, and also doesn't have as much time to spend with her since he is going to school. Things are tough economically in her small town in South Carolina, but the family has the help of her mother's parents, who live nearby. Her best friend Ale, who keeps bees, and the two have online shops where they sell wreaths made of local foliage, fat wood bundles, and wheelchair bags that Emmie makes on her mother's sewing machine and embroiders with custom designs. Emmie is saving her money for a better wheelchair that would allow her to pursue more athletic activities. Emmie's school is older, so doesn't have ramps or automatic doors, and the new principal is overly concerned about her progress. When she has an accident on a ramp (that isn't even her fault), the principal has a meeting about her 504 plan, and the school and her father decide that she should have a full time aid. Emmie isn't happy, because she likes being independent, but she is soon assigned Dawn. It's Dawn's first time as an aide, and she doesn't quite understand what it is like for Emmie in her wheelchair. At first, Emmie and Ale find a lot of silly errands to send Dawn on, but when Emmie talks to Dawn in the local dollar store about sewing notions, Emmie feels bad about how she has treated someone who needs a job and is trying her best. Emmie is interested in Devontae, who competes in a lot of local rodeos, but the two have a slight misunderstanding when he invites her to watch him at a competition. She turns him down, but not because she doesn't like him; the venue where he is competing is notoriously bad for accessible bathroom facilities! Emmie embroiders a sassy sentimented bag for a woman in Alaska, and starts to question some aspects of being in a wheelchair, which is made worse when the principal decides to have a fund raiser to help Emmie get her wheelchair. She starts to understand that while it's great that she can get some financial help, she is being exploited to make the school look better. When she learns about the 504 sit-ins, she decides to use the school's assembly where they plan to present a check to her and turn it to her own advantage. 
Strengths: This was a great portrayal of someone who has different abilities, but has other interests and concerns. Emmie isn't given as much of a chance to pursue athletics as she would like, due to financial circumstances, but it was good to see that the gym teacher would occasionally play basketball with her. Skateboarding isn't usually a school sport, but it's one that interests Emmie. I love that she and Ale had their own Etsy-type store in order to earn some income. I would have liked to know more about Ale and her beekeeping, but one of the subplots is about Emmie  not caring quite as much about her friend's pursuits even though Ale helps Emmie on the skateboarding ramps. The father's concerns about Emmie are valid, and his struggles to raise her while going to school and working are realistically portrayed. While the school fund raiser is a bit cringey, it is also realistic. I loved that Emmie was able to make a statement of her own in spite of it. 
Weaknesses: The plot would have worked just as well if the mother had been alive. 
What I really think: This was a fascinating book, and the author says in a note that she has worked with children in situations similar to Emmie's. In twenty five years of teaching, I've only ever had two students in wheelchairs, but there needs to be more positive representation of all manner of different abilities. Definitely purchasing, and this would be a great fiction book to pair with Heumann's Rolling Warrior: My Story of Fighting to Belong.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Louisa June and the Nazis in the Waves

Elliott, L.M. Louisa June and the Nazis in the Waves
March 22nd 2022 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Louisa lives in Tidewater Virginia with her father, who is a tugboat captain, mother, who runs the family's seventy acre farm, older sister Katie, who goes to Red Cross dances to socialize with soldiers and wants to go to welding school, Will, who joins up when the war effort needs men to work on ships, and Butler, who is in high school. The Depression has been hard on the family, especially on her mother, who suffers from melancholy. Despite the hardships they face, the family is very literary, and frequently quote lines from their favorite books by the likes of Alcott (hence, Louisa's name). The East Coast has been plagued by Nazi submarines, which are attacking all manner of sea going vessels. Despite this, Louisa's father has continued his work, even engaging Butler to help when Will joins up. When a tragedy occurs, Louisa's mother doesn't handle it well, but a caring relative, Cousin Belle, steps in to help Louisa deal with the situation. When Bell and Louisa are in town on an errand near Fort Monroe, they see two ships that are hit, and see that many men are in distress. They hurray back to the house and round up everyone to take their boat to the scene, where they manage to say a young British man from the water. Will this experience help the family to deal with their tragedy?
Strengths: The details of ordinary life are so well done in this, from the family growing tulips, to the Red Cross dances, to information about scarcity of certain food products. There's even a radio chat from Eleanor Roosevelt outlining household economies that families could implement. This also covers yet another topic from this era that hasn't gotten a lot of coverage in middle grade literature-- attacks on the US. I'm sure this is more common knowledge along the East Coast, but I'd never heard or read about U Boats attacking commercial vessels. The different activities of the family members, and their relationship to each other, is also nicely done. What a difficult time. 
Weaknesses: I can understand why Elliott included the mother's mental health challenges, but wonder how widespread this sort of melancholy was during World War II. 
What I really think: This reminded me a bit of Tunis' Silence Over Dunkerque (1962) in regards to the sea going rescue or Larson's Code Word Courage (2018) when it came to the homefront setting from the point of view of a young girl. I'm a huge fan of Elliott's work, but most of my readers who want WWII stories want ones set in Europe or the Pacific theater. If books like Cushman's War and Millie McGonigle or Bunting's Spying on Miss Mueller (1995) circulate well in your library, definitely look at this one. I'm also curious as to whether the cover design was made to deliberately echo the cover of Barton's Dazzle Ships (2017), although that was about World War I. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2022


Cho, John. Troublemaker
March 22nd 2022 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

It's 1992, and Jordan has had some trouble in school recently. Having come from Korea, he and his family run a convenience store, and his older sister Sarah excels at school. His Umma, Appa, and Harabeoji (mother, father and grandfather), have high expectations for him as well, but he keeps messing up. He's just been suspended from school for cheating on a Spanish quiz (after a long line of similar instances), he is friends with some kids who are often in trouble, and he's had a nasty fight with his father, who is now avoiding him. When he comes home from school and finds Umma at home, he's worried. There are riots in LA because of the Rodney King verdict, and the family store is far too close to where this is happening. Umma says not to worry, but Jordan is afraid for his father, especially since he doesn't have a gun. The recent shooting of a young girl, Latasha Harlins, by a Korean store owner has caused his father to lock up the weapon at home and tell Jordan not to touch it. Jordan decides that the way to mend things with Appa is to take the gun to the store for him. He doesn't tell Umma, but gets a ride from a friend. It's not a great time to be out, at night, with riots happening nearby, and Jordan and his friends don't make the best choices. Will he be able to get to his father before something terrible happens?

A close knit, supportive family like Jordan's is always good to see, and his relationship with his sister is especially charming. Even though he makes bad choices, he doesn't want to disappoint anyone, but doesn't understand how worried about him Sarah is. She feels it is her responsiblity to keep him safe, something her parents have inculcated in her from a young age. Jordan's fight with his father, and the lingering silence and resentment, along with bad feelings, is something many middle grade readers will relate to. 

The history of almost thirty years ago is especially poignant set against the continuing racial problems the US is facing. The Rodney King beating and its ramifications has come up in the news over the past two years after George Floyd's death, so young readers might have some passing knowledge of it and appreciate seeing how circumstances were different in 1992... and how they have regretfully stayed the same. 

There have been a growing number of excellent books by authors of Asian descent about different facets of the Asian American experience likeYang's Front Desk, but it's good to see more books specifically about the Korean American experience, such as Kim's Stand Up, Yumi Chung, Yun's Pippa Park Raises Her Game, Park's Prarie Lotus, and Ahn's Krista Kim-Bap. Readers who enjoy recent historical books or have an interest in racial justice will find Troublemaker an intriguing title. 

I would have liked to see more decade specific details, and more information about the historical event of the Rodney King beating and its fallout would help young readers who didn't live through this time period. Jordan's misbehavior didn't seem to have much of a reason behind it, and his motivation to take the gun to his father didn't quite click. This was a perfectly serviceable novel, but I had higher hopes for the setting and topic.

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Alien Summer

Murray, James S. and Smith, Carsen. Alien Summer
March 15th 2022 by Penguin Workshop
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

It's the first day of summer vacation, and the last thing Viv Harlow wants to do is to go to her mother's office for Take Your Child to Work Day. She'd rather be at the beach with friends Charlotte and Ray, and especially Elijah. When she goes to her mother's lab, she is surprised to learn a lot about what goes on there, and also that her friends are there as well, since their parents also work at the lab. Things go badly awry when the aliens from planet ZR-18 escape. Charlotte's mother manages to help her escape, but Charlotte is not willing to just abandon her mother. With the help of her friends and Ray's father, Mr. Mond, they help a newborn alien life form, MeeKee, and try to negotiate with Medgar, the head of the aliens. The aliens want to go home, and want to take "the progeny" with them; everyone figures they mean MeeKee. The negotiations don't go well, and there is a lot of adventure as the children try to evade Medgar and his fellow aliens. Ray accidentally shrinks himself, Charlotte has dozens of clones, and the kids get to hold off others using a fart gun. When Viv finds out about the real reason the aliens have been kept in captivity and want to escape, and what her relationship is to them, she has to decide if she will travel with them back to space in order to save her mother and the others. 
Strengths: This was a non-stop thrill ride of action and adventure right from the first page, which starts in medias res when Viv and her mother are escaping. The characters are all well-defined, and add their own special charm to the alien fighting adventure. Medgar and his fellow aliens are portrayed as old fashioned, 1950s sorts of humans, with definitely nonhuman forms when they drop that facade! Viv's relationship to the whole project is interesting, and I liked that she was willing to sacrifice herself for the good of the world. This seems like it could be a series, even though this book wrapped up fairly  nicely. Area 51 still is interesting to students, and this was a fresh take on the subject. 
Weaknesses: While young readers will love the amount of action in this, there could have been a tiny bit more character development. I know, I know, hard to grow as a character when aliens are attacking you. 
What I really think: This is a tiny bit goofier than I would like for an action/adventure book. I would definitely buy it for an elementary school, and will definitely consider it for middle school, since my students' reading habits are skewing younger and younger. For some reason, it reminded me a bit of Walker's Crash Course series or the Voyagers books (various authors). 
Ms. Yingling

Monday, March 21, 2022

MMGM- Close-up on War, Over and Out

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Farrell, Mary Cronk. Close-Up on War: The Story of Pioneering Photojournalist Catherine Leroy in Vietnam
March 22nd 2022 by Amulet Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

At the age of 21, Leroy set out with just a camera, limited English language skills, and a desire to document the Vietnam Conflict. As a free lance photographer not affiliated with a major publication, she only got paid for photographs that she was able to sell. After photographing a USO tour with the entertained Ann-Margret, she managed to get permission to join the 101st Airborne Division on patrol of South Vietnam. She managed to get attached to the First Calvary, since she was interested in documenting the battlefields. This was difficult, since she was very tiny, and had to carry all of her equipment and manage to survive. Conditions in Vietnam were brutal, and she would often be in the field for over a month, with no chance to even change clothing. She managed to get her photographs into Life magazine, and was constantly looking for other outlets for her work. She even managed to be allowed to jump from a plane, and was one of the few journalists ever allowed to do this. Once her photographs started to gain interest, she even wrote a few articles for publications like the London Times. At every turn, she had to fight discrimination that she faced just for being a woman, but she didn't give up. She was injured badly when she was attached to Golf Company, and spent time in the hospital with a fractured jaw and other wounds from shrapnel. In 1968, she won the George Polk Award for news photography, but after three years in Vietnam was suffering from shell shock. She continued to work in the field of photojournalism, and was offered a contract by Time magazine in 1977. She covered an array of world events, such as the 1979 Iranian revolution and the civil was in Lebanon. In 2006, she was diagnosed with cancer and passed away very shortly after. 
Strengths: There are not as many books about Vietnam as my students want to read, and this is a different view of this historical place and time. While there is plenty of military action, there's also a good story of female empowerment, and an interesting look at freelance journalism. The world was certainly not ready for Leroy to head off to war; she had to have a uniform tailored to fit her 5' frame, and had to wear boots that were too big, but she never gave up. This is a great message for young readers, and I always love to see biographies of people unknown to me. 
Weaknesses: While it's interesting that Farrell was inspired to write this biography because of Leroys' letters, which are excerpted here, it was strange how quotidianal they were. Some of them sounded like she was in Saigon for a semester abroad, with requests for items of clothing and supplies. On the one hand, it did add a humanizing aspect to the book, but excerpts more related to the war might have made more sense, if they even existed. 
What I really think: Farrell does such a great job of highlighting little known historical facets involving women with books such as Standing Up Against Hate, Fannie Never Flinched, and Pure Grit. This is a great addition to books about Vietnam like Partridge's Boots on the Ground, Townley's Captured, and Freedman's Vietnam. 

Walsh, Jenni. Over and Out
March 1st 2022 by Scholastic Press 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sophie was born on the same day that the Berlin Wall went up-- August 13, 1961. Living in East Berlin with her single mother (who doesn't talk about her father) is all she has ever known. Her mother, who had polio as a child and uses a wheelchair after her conditioned worsened when Sophie was small, has a job in a research lab where she is able to sit down, and their apartment has an elevator she can use most of the time. (Although there is also a paternoster, which looks terrifying, especially with a wheelchair!) Sophie knows that because her mother has a more academic job, she herself will probably have to work in a factory, so the family isn't too "bourgeoisie". She and her friend Katrina are very interested in science and invention, and spend a lot of time scouring the trash for recyclables but also things they can use to create devices. This is a little unusual for 1974, but after the girls find some books hidden in the floorboards that discuss women inventors, they are even firmer in their resolve to continue to study math and science as long as they can. When Sophie's neighbor and babysitter, Monika, is assigned a job in a pharmacy instead of as a teacher, she makes her unhappiness known, which brings her to the attention of the communist party. Herr Becker approaches Sophie and gives her the "opportunity" to help out by spying on her friend. Sophie, of course, doesn't want to do this, but Herr Becker threatens to have her mother fired from her job, which would mean that she would be placed in a nursing home because of her disability. When Sophie and Katrina see a group of students from West Berlin on a tour in their city, they see a girl who looks almost exactly like Sophie. When asked, her mother admits that they have family in the West, and the girl she saw is her cousin Ava. This is the final straw that compels the girls to make actual plans to escape to the West. They had thought about it, but the journey is treacherous, and they didn't know how they would survive as refugees. Knowing there is family on the other side, they try to figure out ways to get across, and come up with a dangerous idea that involves engineering, a zip line, and archery. They want to take their families as well, so make the plans without telling them, to maintain as much safety as they can. In the meantime, Herr Becker is unhappy that Sophie isn't spying as much as he would like, and he also has suspicions about her activity. Will she and Katrina be able to get their families to a new life in the West?
Strengths: This is a particularly interesting point in time to set a book in East Berlin. The wall is a number of years from coming down, but has been up for Sophie's entire lifetime, and her mother was involved with Sophie Scholl's White Rose movement during WWII. The mother's reasons for being in East Berlin are solid, and rather heartbreaking. Sophie and Katrina are great friends, although they have their moments, and I loved that they had an interest in science and technology. One of my favorite parts was Katrina using a boy she liked to teach them how to shoot a bow and arrow! Taking ten people down a zip line and over the border seemed like a bit of a stretch, but an author's note describes other similar daring escapes that were successful. 
Weaknesses: I could have used a few more details about daily life under the Soviets, although there are a few mentions of waiting in lines in stores and descriptions of clothing. 
What I really think: There are not as many books about the Berlin Wall as I would have thought. Degens Freya on the Wall (1997), Kephart's Going Over (2014), Nielsen's  A Night Divided (2015), and Nesbet's Cloud and Wallfish (2016) and the only ones I could find. This one was particularly interesting, if a bit unbelievable at times. Since this author's I Am Defiance does well, I'm definitely purchasing. Of course, the fact that Sophie is only four years older than I am gave me pause! 

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Meant to Be

Knowles, Jo. Meant to Be
March 15th 2022 by Candlewick Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this companion to Where the Heart Is, we pick up with Rachel and Ivy's new life in the Applewood Heights apartment building, focusing on Ivy's experience. While she loved the family's farmhouse as much as Rachel, Ivy is finding more things about living in an apartment that she likes. She has friends in the building, and it's easy to visit them. She loves to watch Bake It to Make It! with Alice and Lucas, and the trio then collects ingredients from other residents to make the week's challenge, and then shares the product with their contributors. Ivy also works with the building superintendent, Donnalyn, fixing things in residents' apartments, and also refurbishing bikes. Ivy has her own family tensions, since her parents' finances aren't good, and they feel that living in Applewood Heights is something people only do when they are down on their luck, but her friends have bigger problems. Ivy wants to help, but Alice is upset about something with her mother, and doesn't even want to see Ivy. Alice's grandmother, with whom she lives, won't tell Ivy exactly what is going on. Lucas' father has a disability and uses a walker, but isn't interested in a wheelchair that Ivy wants to make. When her parents start to look for houses, Ivy is upset at the idea that she will have to move away from her friends. Can she mend her fences with Alice and Lucas after feelings are hurt?
Strengths: I liked that Ivy lived in an apartment building that was NOT in a big city, and that she rather enjoyed some of the features of living in one. Being able to visit Alice and Lucas whenever she wanted seemed like a lot of fun, and I loved how they included their neighbors in their baking exercises. There was just enough parental involvement to be realistic, and we did get glimpses of Rachel. The problems with Alice's mother having a drug problem and losing custody of Alice, as well as Alice's reactions to this, are realistic. With as many children in the US being raised by grandparents, you would think that more middle grade characters would be in this situation. The sense of community was really wonderful. The message about being considerate of friends' needs and asking before helping them was a really good one, and while Ivy's learning curve was a little steep, she does start to understand how to be more considerate. 
Weaknesses: I'm still a little conflicted about the treatment of the family's financial reversals; the discussion about families only living in Applewood Heights until they could afford to move out seemed odd, especially since many of the older residents clearly where there for the long term. Perhaps this is just a function of Ivy's family having a change of circumstances? Not anything that young readers will question.
What I really think: I was hoping to get more information about Rachel, and will probably not buy this because Ivy seems so young. This would be a good stand alone for an elementary school library, and it wouldn't be necessary for readers to pick up Where the Heart Is first. 

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Isla to Island; Paws: Gabby Gets it Together

Castellanos, Alex. Isla to Island
March 15th 2022 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this mostly wordless graphic novel, we meet Isla's parents, who marry in 1945 and are living in Cuba. When Isla comes along, the family is closely knit. They go to parks together and press flowers when they return home, and seem to have a good life. In 1960, after Batista and Castro, their neighborhood becomes dangerous. A window in Isla's room is shattered, and the family is scared. The parents decide to send Isla to New York City with Operation Pedro Pan. Isla arrives to the US alone, but is fostered by a very caring and concerned older couple who do what they can to make her comfortable, but who find it hard to discern exactly what she needs. Isla goes to a Catholic school where many of the children are mean to her, and she struggles with learning, since her command of English isn't good. Her world is portrayed as predominately gray. She eventually discovers books, and through these shares with her foster parents her love of plants and flowers, and color slowly returns to her world. Her foster parents take her to parks and greenhouses, school becomes a bit easier, and she gains enough confidence to make friends. A series of snapshots show her life after her school years when she is able to reunite with her parents and have a family of her own. 
Strengths: This was a very beautifully done graphic novel that managed to convey a huge amount of information with very few words. There are some song lyrics, signs, and labels on pictures. Isla's emotions are deftly conveyed through facial expressions and body language, and the device of having her arrival in the US be portrayed in black and white, with just the red flower in her hair put there by her father was very powerful. The frustration she feels, and the frustration her foster parents feel in not being able to help her more is palpable, and it was a huge relief when she discovered books and was able to feel more comfortable in her new home. This was a fascinating look at one Pedro Pan experience, and done in a particularly effective way. 
Weaknesses: Operation Pedro Pan is such an interesting historical event that readers may find themselves wanting more details. It's amazing the details that are conveyed, and there is a selected reading list and some explanation at the end, but many readers will want to investigate some further resources. 
What I really think: This would be a bold but not unwarranted choice for the 2022 Newbery Award. I will buy a copy, especially for our English Language Learners.  

Fairbairn, Nathan and Assarasakorn, Michele. Paws: Gabby Gets It Together
March 8th 2022 by Razorbill
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this graphic novel, Gabby and her friends Priya Gupta and Mindy Kim LOVE animals, but can't have pets because of family allergies or living arrangements. They decide that watching YouTube videos of animals isn't enough, and they need to try to intereact with real animals. They try searching their neighborhood for animals who need to be rescued, to no avail, are turned away from volunteering at a shelter because they are too young, and decide that volunteering at a vet practice is too sad. When they see a dog peering at them through the windows of a house, they are enthralled, and very glad to make the acquaintance of Pickles' owner, a woman who works long hours at her tattoo parlor. She agrees to pay them $10 a day to walk Pickles, and the girls decide to develop a business. They put up flyers and get a number of dogs to walk, but run into a variety of problems. One of the mothers is allergic to dog fur, which leads to a whole process of changing clothes, and at one point, the girls go to a thrift store to obtain "uniforms" for their dog walking. (I'm with you, Mindy! I get all of my clothes from the thrift store, too!) There are also scheduling problems, and the girls find that they don't get to spend as much time together since the dogs have different needs and can't be walked together. School and sports schedules interfere as well, and there are some difficulties with people feeling underappreciated that lead to some fights. Will the girls be able to figure out their business model and make PAWS succeed?
Strengths: This is set in Vancouver, and has a nice neighborhood feel to it. I liked the brief descriptions of the girls' families and different parenting styles, and the parents show up just enough to offer support in a realistic way. The girls truly love animals and want what is best for them, but struggle to balance this with their own needs. The illustration style will be popular with fans of Jamieson and Holms, and the Canadian setting is great to see, and will delight fans of Goerz' Shirley and Jamila. I did especially enjoy that Priya was a soccer player and cross country star. (And yes, those two are hard to schedule at the same time!)
Weaknesses: Children setting up a dog walking business has gotten a lot of coverage in middle grade literature, but almost always with female entrepreneurs, so the plot was fairly standard. 
What I really think: This is a good graphic novel to go along with Venable's Katie the Catsitter, Lloyd and Nutter's Allergic, Miller's Besties: Work it Out or Lai's Pawcasso.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Wave and Mixed Doubles: A Benchwarmer Novel

Farid, Diana and Goto, Kris (illustrations). Wave 
March 29th 2022 by Cameron Kids
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central and Blue Slip Media

Ava lives in Southern California in the 1980s, and loves to surf and to sing along with pop hits of the day. She's been friends with Phoenix forever, and has recently realized she has a crush on him. Her Iranian born mother is an OB/GYN and is very excited about her job, which takes a lot of her time. Ava's father has never been present in her life, and only occasionally reaches out with late birthday gifts or superficial phone calls. Because her mother works and has been divorced, the Persian community frowns on her a bit, and Ava's fashion sense sets her apart as a young woman who might not be the best candidate for marriage. Ava's mother wants her to consider a career in medicine, so when summer arrives, arranges for her to work at the hospital as a junior volunteer (sort of like a Candy Striper, for those of us who are older!). Ava would much rather hang out at the beach with Phoenix to surf, or with her best friend Naz, who is also Persian. It's not a horrible job, and she does enjoy connecting with some of the patients, but when she falls and breaks her leg on the job, she is even angrier with her mother. Phoenix, whose father also works at the hospital and who lives next door, has battled cancer in the past, but when it reemerges, his prognosis is not good. Ava is sure that, with her help, he can overcome the disease again. She tries to encourage Phoenix to continue with his music and surfing, but as his condition worsens, he has less and less energy. This sends Ava into a panic, but also makes the two realize the depth of their feelings for each other. 

Wave captures the feeling of 1980s beach culture with a story in verse strongly reminiscent of Lurlene McDaniel's tear-jerkers like Six Months to Live (1985). Whereas the McDaniel books were a bit more mellowdramatic and definitely more white, Wave is a great mix of Persian culture, 1980s music references, and Ava's own issues mixed in with Phoenix's medical problems. I loved that not only was there a description of how to make a mix tape from songs on the radio, but there was a list of songs at the end of the book. Young readers will be completely amazed.

Ava has a lot going on, and her struggles with balancing all of the expectations her mother has of her are vividly depicted. She's conflicted about her father, dealing with rampant racial microaggressions, and finding it hard to process her feelings about Phoenix. I found it particularly interesting that she found it easier to pass as Latinx, but this makes sense. The Iranian hostage crisis would have been fresh in the minds of people at this point in history, and this fact is addressed. 

Goto's page decorations add a fun element to the story, and look a bit like designs from adult coloring books, with their fine details. This will definitely appeal to young readers, but part of me wanted them to have a 1980s/Max Headroom/rebooted Art Deco look from that time period.

There aren't a lot of books about Southern California beach culture, and that's too bad. From my midwestern viewpoint, this is an interesting and exotic setting! Forman's Frankie and Bug is the newest book that explores this setting fully. There are also very few books about surfing. Guidroz's Samira Surfs , Colbert's The Only Black Girls in Town, and Mosier's Summer and July being the only recent entries with that representation. This makes Wave an intriguing mix of a lot of interesting factors, with the added element of Ava and Phoenix's star crossed romance. 

I was a bit surprised that the print was SO tiny. There's a lot of concrete poetry, so I guess the small size was necessary to fit everything on each page, but it may dissuade some picky middle grade readers. 

Feinstein, John. Mixed Doubles: A Benchwarmers Novel (The Benchwarmers #3) 
March 8th 2022 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Andi and her friend Jeff are back in the spring after soccer season (Benchwarmers, 2019) and basketball season (Game Changers, 2020). Tennis is a new sport in their  middle school, and the teams are co-ed, with one male and one female coach. It turns out that Andi is an evern better tennis player than she is a soccer or basketball player, which is saying a lot. Jeff is okay, and glad that he can occasionally partner with her in mixed doubles. When Andi's playing brings the attention of agents who are interested in signing her parents, things veer into the realm of investigative journalism. Jeff's father, a sports reporter, thinks it is odd that agents (no matter what they call themselves) are targeting an eleven year old girl, but as more agents approach her, and as other players mention having been approached, the two know there is a story. At the same time, Jeff is demoted to the number two spot on the team, and Gary gets to partner with Andi. It turns out that the one coach, a former tennis player herself, is working provisionally for one of the agents, and puts Gary in to make his father happy and put her in a better position to get hired as a full time agent instead of working as a teacher. Feeling that there is a lot of research that needs to be put into the story, Jeff reaches out to Stevie, a college reporter, and his friend Susan Carol, who was a swimmer in 2012's Go For the Gold. They recommend getting lots of documentation, so Andi (with her parents' permission) meets with three of them to get provisional contracts. Once those are in hand, Jeff's father arranges to have cameras at the championship match so that the agents' tactics can be revealed. 
Strengths: There are not very many tennis books out there, and it's a sport that some middle school students play, if not at school, through a club. Having watched Andi in the other books, it's fun to see that tennis is where she really excels! Jeff's crush on her, and her pragmatic view that she's only eleven and too interested in sports to be interested in boys, strikes a good note. The parents show up only when important, and the use of investigative journalism to uncover an unhealthy fascination with very young sports players is not a topic much covered, although it is a favorite of Feinstein's. (2018's The Prodigy is an exceptionally good example.) I apparently don't understand tennis at all, but there are a lot of details about the game, and other competitors and their styles of play, as well as their parents' insistence on getting an agent! This was a solid continuation of an interesting series. 
Weaknesses: Jeff and Andi ate a distractingly large amount of pizza. Seriously. In almost every chapter, it seemed. And when they weren't eating pizza, they were going out to eat steak with their parents. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, since I enjoyed watching Andi play soccer and basketball. Not quite sure if this is the end of the series, or if the two will pick up baseball over the summer to round off the series!

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, March 17, 2022


Ziegler, Jennifer. Worser.
March 15th 2022 by Margaret Ferguson Books
ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

William Orser was saddled with the nickname "Worser" early on in his school career, and can't shake it even though he bristles at its ungrammatical quality. He has bigger problems in his life than his name. His mother, a professor of rhetoric, has had a very debilitating stroke. Since the two were very close after the death of his father, also a professor, and shared a similar quirky, word obsessed personality, it is hard for him to see his mother suffer. His Aunt Iris has moved in to take care of both of them, but she is a loud, brash, artistic personality who rubs him the wrong with with her insistence that he make friends, dress in clothing other than rags, and do somethign other than work on his Masterwork, which consists of lists of words on odd topics, like "Words comprised of state abbreviations". His aunt insists that he go to dinner at the Khourys, who were colleagues of his mother and have a much more traditional life style. Their daughter, Donya, makes an effort to befriend him, but he has difficulty interacting with other people, including his "best" and only friend, Herbie. When Iris' demands become too much for him, and the library is closed after school because of budget cuts, he seeks refuge in a local used bookstore run by a curmudgeonly proprietor, Mr. Murray, and makes a deal that he will buy books and donate them back to the shop if he is allowed to spend time there. Being quiet is not a problem for him. When he gets involved in the literary club at school with Donya, it looks like he may have found a group he can stand, but they also lack a place to meet. Mr. Murray grudgingly allows them to meet at the shop. When these new relationships are threatened, Worser makes some bad decisions that impact everyone in a negative way. Will he be able to find his place in the world once he finally understands that his life will never go back to the way it was?

Worser is a very singular character with an unusual upbringing. While it is not stated that he is on the Autism Spectrum, he reads as if he  might be. It is too bad that we don't see his mother and her interactions with him before the stroke, because his view of the world might just be a function of being raised by someone who abetted his eccentricities, or who passed on her own. Worser seems to struggle with understanding things that most people have no trouble with; his dinner with the Khourys is full of awkward moments where he seems to not understand standard procedures of interacting with others.  Herbie and Donya are very understanding, and try to help Worser in social situations. 

Aunt Iris is also an interesting character, and while she is doing what she thinks is best for her sister, it is at odds with Worser's ideas of what is best. Aside from Sonnenblick's Falling Over Sideways, I can't think of another middle grade depiction of a parent who has had a stroke, although I had a friend who experienced a slightly less disabling stroke when our children were about Worser's age. This sort of parental disability affects children very profoundly, so it is interesting to see such a situation depicted. 

This is quite a departure from Ziegler's titles like Revenge of the Flower Girls, and has more in common with Baskin's Anything but Typical of K.A. Holt's Rhyme Schemer

I think that this book would struggle to find readers in my library but might do well in a college community or a private school where Worser's style of upbringing might be  more common. 

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Ellen Outside the Lines

Sass, A.J. Ellen Outside the Lines
March 22nd 2022 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ellen attends a small private school, and is excited to be going on a school trip to Barcelona, where the students in the Spanish class hope to improve their skills. Her father, Abba, (who is an artist) is going along as a chaperone because Ellen occasionally struggles with certain aspect of her Autism Spectrum condition. Her mother, who is more observant about certain aspects of Judaism than the father is, stays behind at home, although keeps in touch via video chat. Ellen knows that the trip might be challenging, but has processes in place to deal with the changes the trip will bring. Her best friend, Laurel, is going on the trip as well, but the two are feeling a bit uneasy about their friendship. When they are not assigned to the same group, Laurel asks Ellen to get her father to switch her out, but since Ellen likes the group she is in, she lies to Laurel and tells her that Abba said he couldn't do it. New to the group is Isa, who is nonbinary, but assigned to the girls' rooms. Since Ellen only has crushes on girls, and group member Andy comes out as being gay during the trip, there are many interesting conversations on pronouns, identification, and how to be respecful when dealing with people who might have difference experiences. Ellen's group struggles with the clues for the scavenger hunt around the city that drives the itineraries for the week, especially when Ellen gets overwhelmed by the noise and bustle of an unfamiliar city. Ellen is also a bit confused about how her father can eat food that isn't kosher, when that has always been something that her family has cared about. The father also admits that he may have more in common with Andy and Ellen than they might have thought. There are many challenges on the school trip, but Ellen manages to navigate them without losing any friends or getting into too much trouble. 
Strengths: The best part about this was how Ellen's Jewish identity was woven into the story; it wasn't the main aspect of the book, but was mentioned frequently. I especially liked the fact that the father wasn't super religious but went along with the religious strictures for Ellen and her mother's sakes. The Barcelona setting is interesting, and there is a lot of LGBTQIA+ representation. Isa especially imparts helpful information on how to treat individuals, and Ellen (who struggles with some interpersonal interactions because of her Austism) learns a lot, especially when she outs Andy without thinking. Ellen doesn't think her own sexuality is anything out of the ordinary; she has a small crush on a girl from Barcelona, but that's about all that happens. She feels like Laurel might be made uncomfortable by this, but that turns out not to be the case. This is a solid travel story with surprising amount of LGBTQIA+ inclusion. 
Weaknesses: The students seemed to have a lot of freedoms during the school trip, and that didn't seem realistic to me. Every school trip I've ever been on has activities planned from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. so that students are too tired to get into trouble! Perhaps smaller private schools run trips differently; I had the same concerns about Dee's Everything I Know About You
What I really think: This is a great choice for readers who liked books such as Cervantes' Me, Frida and the Secret of the Peacock Ring, Baskins' Anything But Typical, Gino's Melissa, Gephart's Lily and Dunkin, or Bunker's Zenobia July

Lukoff, Kyle. Different Kinds of Fruit 
April 12th 2022 by Penguin Random House
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Definitely keep an eye out for this title as well. It seemed a bit young for my library, but had lots of good information. 

From the publisher:
In this funny and hugely heartfelt novel from a Stonewall Award winner, an sixth-grader’s life is turned upside down when she learns her dad is trans.

Annabelle Blake fully expects this school year to be the same as every other: same teachers, same classmates, same, same, same. So she’s elated to discover there’s a new kid in town. To Annabelle, Bailey is a breath of fresh air. She loves hearing about their life in Seattle, meeting their loquacious (and kinda corny) parents, and hanging out at their massive house. And it doesn’t hurt that Bailey has a cute smile, nice hands (how can someone even have nice hands?) and smells really good.

Suddenly sixth grade is anything but the same. And when her irascible father shares that he and Bailey have something big–and surprising–in common, Annabelle begins to see herself, and her family, in a whole new light. At the same time she starts to realize that her community, which she always thought of as home, might not be as welcoming as she had thought. Together Annabelle, Bailey, and their families discover how these categories that seem to mean so much—boy, girl, gay, straight, fruit, vegetable—aren’t so clear-cut after all.

Ms. Yingling