Saturday, April 30, 2022

Cartoon Saturday- The Real Riley Mayes and Apple Crush

Elliott, Rachel. The Real Riley Mayes
May 3rd 2022 by Balzer & Bray/Harperteen
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Riley is in fifth grade and is having trouble making friends, now that the people she used to hang out with are gone. She is frequently in trouble in class for wearing her hat, talking loudly, or doodling instead of doing her work, and finds it somewhat difficult to connect with others. There is a new boy, Aaron, whose dads own the local comic book store, and Cate, who has interests other than just talking about crushes. Riley is also very interested in comic Jo Powers, but few of the other children know who this is. When Riley's class is assigned to write a letter to someone they find inspiring, she choses Jo Powers, but struggles with what to say. Cate offers to help, and the two start to hang out together. Cate is also friends with the other girls in the class, but they are quite mean to Riley. They call her "lesbo" and make fun of her, especially after she cuts her own hair very short. They don't want to invite her to the sleepover for all of the girls in the grade because they claim that having her there would be like having a boy there. (Riley also affects a traditionally more masculine mode of attire.) After meeting Aaron's dads, and realizing that she has a crush on Jo Powers, Riley starts to wonder if she is gay. She wants to talk to Aaron's dads, but he doesn't want anyone in their class to know about them quite yet. When she accidentally tells the class about them, Aaron is angry with her. Because her parents have promised that she can take an art class if she can stay out of trouble and keep her grades up, Riley has tried to do better at school, but when the kids in class give her a hard time, she gets into another fight. Her parents are fairly understanding (as is an older brother), and getting a letter from Powers helps her spirits as well. 
Strengths: Even though Riley is having problems, she still is fairly upbeat, and the color palette reflects that with sunny yellows and blues. Her parents don't quite understand her, but try to work with her rather than punish her for things like cutting her own hair. (They offer to help trim it a bit, and put forward the opinion that it's a bit drastic, but are otherwise okay with it.) While a good number of the children in her class are mean, she does at least have support from Aaron, who gets her sense of humor, and Cate, who sticks up for her with the mean girls. Riley's questioning, and wanting to seek help from Aaron's dads, seems realistic, and the treatment she recieves at school is also, sadly, probably true to form. 
Weaknesses: This is a weakness for my own collection, but a plus for elementary ones. The structure of the classes, lunch, and recess, as well as the interactions with classmates, all seems more appropriate to elementary school. Middle school students have their time structured differently, and interact in sneakier and more sneaky, hurtful ways. 
What I really think: This is a bit young for my students, but a good choice for elementary schools that want to add to their collection of LGBTQIA+ titles. This is a good choice for young readers who have moved beyond picture books but aren't quite ready for more middle school titles.
Knisley, Lucy. Apple Crush (Peadpod Farm #2)
May 3rd 2022 by Random House Graphic
Preview provided by Netgalley

Jen and Andi spend weekends working at a neighboring farm that has a pumpkin patch and haunted hayride. I will be ordering this sequel to Stepping Stones, but probably won't get the copy until this summer. I wanted to mention it because it was a very successful choice for one of my students who is a struggling reader and who has been dealing with some similar step parent issues this school year. She loved it so much, and it's been a popular title with my students. 

Friday, April 29, 2022

The Final Cut

Markell, Denis. The Final Cut
April 26th 2022 by Delacorte Press
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Alex is looking forward to a new school year at St. Anselm's school in Brooklyn, and hopes to start off his 7th grade year with a cool new persona. The coolest kid in his summer skateboarding camp called him "Xan", but this doesn't catch on with good friends Lexie and Brandon. When he finds out that he didn't get into the year long Game Theory: Video Game History and Design course that he signed up for but instead was assigned to pottery, he's not happy. It's even worse when he finds out he could have gotten into the poetry course if his hand writing hadn't been so bad! The principal does manage to get him into another course, Film Studies, with Pablo Rosenstein. St. Anselm's is the kind of progressive private school where students call teachers by their first names, and many of the students are from very well-to-do families. Alex feels better about Film Studies as he learns more about the process of making a film, and also when Priti Sharma ends up on a team with him, since she is brilliant and Alex hasn't had a chance to talk with her before this class. Theo, who is a bit odd, is also on the team, and Lexie gets involved with the process as well. There's quite a competition going on between Pablo's class and Mr. Beaverton's, and when Alex and his friends find out that Mr. Beaverton's students are the only ones who win the Golden Reel competition, they are determined to do a good job. The group decides to make a film called "Alice in Anselm", and recruit the best actress in their class to be the lead. There are other issues afoot in their neighborhood; a builder wants to take down Court Street Towers and build a "soulless" new apartment building, which is leading to the displacement of local residents and businesses. Since Alex's father is a deputy commisioner in the Department of Buildings and some of his classmates are very invested in stopping the project, Alex finds himself caught in the middle. When the transfer of film from one computer to another results in computer software that compromises his home computer network, Alex has to figure out how to deal with a wide range of people with evil intentions as well as getting his film done in time for the competition!
Strengths: This included a lot of humor, and I appreciated that Alex and his family were shown in a positive light, with close connections, occasional activities, and a real interest in each other's lives. That is a very hard thing to find these days. The elective course idea is a very cool one that will make a lot of readers jealous; at my school, we are lucky to still have art, gym, and music! Markell is a master at bringing a real sense of place to his stories, like The Ghost in Apartment 2R, and this helped me to feel invested in the building projects. I loved that Priti was so good at everything, and Theo was a mysterious and concerning character who added an additional level of mystery. The details about film making aren't quite as detailed as Marcus Makes a Movie, but are nonetheless helpful. 
Weaknesses: Alex is a bit judgey about a variety of people in a way that felt oddly uncomfortable. I taught at a private school with some rather well-to-do families, and it wasn't a very positive experience, so maybe I am bringing my own baggage to this. 
What I really think: There's a lot going on in the world right now, and sometimes readers need a story that is a little lighter and funnier. This is a great one that will be popular with fans of Greenwald's Pete Milano's Guide to Being a Movie Star, Giles' Take Back the Block, and Gino's recent Alice Austen Lived Here. 

Thursday, April 28, 2022

The Friendship Feature (The Jessie Files #1)

Deutsch, Stacia. The Friendship Feature (The Jessie Files #1)
April 26th 2022 by Albert Whitman & Company
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this new series related to The Boxcar Children, we concentrate on Jessie, who has decided that she needs time by herself in the boxcar, and also that she has given up investigating things. Of course, the first time she and her friend Charla hang out, a new boy, Daniel, in school (whom Charla likes) shows up to ask for help. His family runs an art gallery and supply store in town, and just when they were getting settled, they had a big order for five paintings. Daniel delivered the paintings, but left them at an abandoned looking diner, and picked up the check, which seemed odd, since most people use apps for money transfers. Of course, the check bounced. Since there was also a horrible storm that came through town and damaged the art store, he is very concerned for the family business and wants Jessie's help in trying to find the person who ordered the art. The whole town is doing fundraisers to help local businesses, and when Jessie decides to join the school newspaper, she thinks about doing an article about one group in school that is working on this as well. Lucinda has started a Girls with Goals club, and is very vocal about the group's efforts as well as her own success in selling a lot of chocolate bars, but something isn't quite right. Using Charla's computer skills, Jessie and Daniel work with her to try to figure out who is cheating local businesses out of money, and Jessie uses this information to write her article for the Greenfield Gabber.
Strengths: Like the new versions of Carolyn Keene's Nancy Drew franchise, this continuation of The Boxcar Children has a strong sense of nostalgia while also picking up topics that are of interest to a new generation of readers. Like the girls in Deutsch's Cinnamon Bun Besties or The Friendship Code, Jessie and Charla have a lot of interests and are very dedicated and serious about pursuing them. I liked that the whole town was invested in preserving the local businesses, and willing to put money towards helping them succeed. Jessie's grandfather shows up, but of course was young during the 1960s and not the 1890s! I loved that he had a former girlfriend who showed up as part of the story. We don't see a lot of Jessie's siblings, except for Benny, who is as annoying as always, but I have a feeling that we will see  more of them in future books. 
Weaknesses: I found it hard to believe that Daniel's family would have trusted him to deliver paintings that weren't paid for, and as a veteran of many, many fundraisers, that Lucinda would have also dropped off so many chocolate bars without payment. 
What I really think: This is a great length for young mystery readers, and more engaging than the 1990s Boxcar Children books I remember my children reading in elementary school. Definitely a good choice for readers who like clue oriented mysteries like Bowen's Soccer Trophy Mystery, Beil's Red Blazer Girls, or Margolis's Maggie Brooklyn Mysteries

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Behind the Mountains

Danticat, Edwidge. Behind the Mountains
April 5th 2022 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this paperback reissue of Danticat's 2002 title (which is available in prebind from Follett), we meet Celiane, who lives in a small village in the mountains of Haiti with her mother and older brother Moy in the 1990s. Her father has moved to New York City to work in a restaurant so that he can send money home, since the family farm was not very prosperous. To supplement the income, the mother sells candy at a local market, and Moy works on farms while attending school to become a tailor. Their father's sister, Rose, lives in Port-au-Prince and works as a nurse. They communicate with the father by sending cassette tapes back and forth, since their house lacks modern amenities. When their father becomes a citizen of the US, he wants to send for the rest of the family. They visit the aunt to work on the arrangements, but because of political unrest in the city, become involved in a vehicle bombing. The mother injures her leg badly, and Celiane has a concussion. They stay with their aunt longer than anticipated, but eventually make it back to their home. The mother is motivated to get them to New York, and they eventually make it, landing in the city in December. They are unused to the bitterly cold temperatures, and being in a big city is a challenge. Celiane attends a school with a lot of other Haitian immigrants, but Moy, who is now 19, is frequently at odds with his parents. He has long loved drawing, and is quite good at it, but his parents feel this is not a remunerative career. He moves out so that he can paint, and so that he doesn't have to sleep in the front room. The mother works at the same restaurant where the father is employed, and things are settling down for the family. Celian misses home, but it's not easy to live in a new country. 
Strengths: This can now be considered historical fiction, since it portrays a very specific time in Haitian history. I liked the author's notes about her own experience coming to the US in the 1980s.The details about daily life were interesting, and I liked the fact taht Celiane kept a diary and was considered a very good student. Like Ravi is Weeks and Varadarajan's Save Me a Seat, Celiane struggles when she comes to the US, even though she has a very strong academic background. There's just enough information about the others in her family to give some depth to her story, and the bus bombing in Port-au-Prince gives the family one more reason to leave their beloved country. Like many families, they leave grandparents behind. Their New York neighborhood is well described, as are experiences like getting lost in such a large place. 
Weaknesses: Diary formats can be tricky, and tend to not be as exciting as other forms of prose. This is a gentler story of daily life that feels slightly old fashioned, perhaps in part because of the format. 
What I really think: This was somewhat similar to Freeman's One Good Thing About America, but had a lot of details about living in another country. While I wanted a storyline in addition to the immigration one, this is just enough information for younger readers who want to learn what it is like to have to transition from one way of life to a completely different one. This will be a good title to have along with Behar's Lucky Broken Girl, Hitchcock and Senzai's Flying over Water, Warga's Other Words for Home, and Yang's Front Desk

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

The Pear Affair

Eagle, Judith. The Pear Affair
April 26th 2022 by Walker Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

It's 1969, Nell has the worst parents ever. Melinda and Gerald Magnificent have forgotten to pick her up from her boarding school, and the head tells her she must leave. Even after she makes her way back to the family's mansion, her parents are irritated that they have to deal with her. It's no wonder that she pines for her nanny, Perrine, who has gone back to Paris. When Nell finds out that her parents are traveling to that city to take care of business interests, she begs to go with them, promising to stay out of their way. They stay at a fancy hotel, and Nell has done her research on how to find Pear, from whom she has not had a letter in far too long. She knows the couture house at which Pear was working as an embroiderer, but when she goes there, she is tossed out as an embarassment. With the help of a bus boy, Xavier, Nell is able to survive when her parents try to leave without her. Because she doesn't want to leave until she finds Pear, she takes her mother's favorite purse, thinking that it will prevent them from leaving, and give her extra supplies and money if she needs them. Things get weird when two ladies start following Nell, looking for her parents. Xavier has a network of children who hang out in the tunnels beneath Paris, but these are being shut down by the mayor. There is also a mold "Thing" that is infecting all of the bakeries in the city. How is Pear connected to these things? Will Nell be able to find her? And why are Nell's parents so utterly terrible to her?
Strengths: Like this author's The Secret Starling, The Pear Affair is a well developed mystery set in a very specific place and time. There's a decided Roald Dahl feel to Nell's situation, and Pear has a lot in common with Matilda's Miss Honey. Nell herself pays homage to Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy with her jeans and sweatshirt, so the 1960s vibe is quite strong. The group of children hanging out in the tunnels, the brush with celebrity, and the weirdness of the mold infecting the bakeries all come together in a rather delightful vintage romp. 
Weaknesses: At one point, the father is described as juggling three calculators while out and about; if there were personal calculators in 1969, they would have had to be plugged in, so this seems possible but not probable.
What I really think: I enjoyed this one very much but am not sure what the appeal will be for my students. This was very similar to the work of David Walliams, so a good choice where British style of adventure and humor is popular. 

Monday, April 25, 2022

MMGM- The Peach Pit and Forensics for Kids

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Downing, Erin Soderberg. The Peach Pit (The Great Peach Experiment #2)
April 5th 2022 by Pixel+Ink
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Fresh from their summer adventures in When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Peach Pie, the Peaches find themselves back in Duluth, having sold their pie truck to Lois Sibberson in Ohio. They're about ready to head back to school, with Lucy in 7th grade, Freddy in 5th, and Herb in 3rd, and their dad's Aunt Lucinda makes them a deal-- the family can have her house if they fix it up. She moves into a senior facility, and the Peaches rent their home to college students. The house is in need of a lot of repairs, and cousin David thinks she should sell, but she gives the Peaches until Thanksgiving to open a bed and breakfast. Their father cuts back his hours at the university a bit, and the family throw themselves into renovations and preparations with the same verve they did when operating the peach pie truck, but with a bit more success. There are plenty of problems-- plumbing, bees in the walls, and structural faults-- but there are interesting and fun things as well. Lucy has an attic above her room, where she finds a replica of the house. She gives this to Herb, who uses it to house his collections. Freddy has a large room, so he can spread out his many art projects. Herb starts to visit Lucinda at her facility quite a bit, and makes friends with some of the other ladies there, even doing "work" for them when he comes. Herb also finds a cellar, where he makes friends with some mice. When Lucy finds a map that looks like it may lead to treasure, she hopes that she might be able to find some money to help with renovations. Since the father has given away most of the money received from the mother's invention, and the house has so many problems, it is likely that they won't be able to keep it or run the B&B. Herb helps with the treasure hunt, and all three children investigate the cellar. Will what they find be enough to dissuade their cousin David from selling the house? 
Strengths: This was an upbeat, fun story even though the children are still dealing with the death of their mother, and the family is facing challenges. I loved the positive attitude, and the agency that the children are given. Herb is even allowed to ride his bike to the retirement home several blocks away. All three children have some challenges at school, and have to learn how to balance their school work, personal interests, and time spent working on the house. There should be a lot more middle grade books (like Delle Donne's Elle of the Ball) that show children dealing with time management. Aunt Lucinda is great, and the smaller characters, like the carpenters and Lucinda's friends, are well developed. Weaknesses: For my own purposes, I would have liked to see the story told all from the point of view of 7th grader Lucy, but it's interesting to see how Freddy and Herb perceive the situation as well. There also could have been a little bit more of the Dad's presence as well. 
What I really think: This was somehow reminiscent of The Penderwicks (which one of the children is reading), The Melendy Family stories, or The Vanderbeekers, but felt more realistic in the problems the family faced and the solutions that were implemented. There was never any moment where this felt twee or forced, as is the case in so many of these "modern classic" family stories, and I am looking forward to the third book in the series.

Ross, Melissa. Forensics for Kids: The Science and History of Crime Solving, With 21 Activities (For Kids series)
Chicago Review Press (April 26, 2022)
ARC provided by the publisher

Like other titles in the For Kids series, this is a deep dive into the history of forensic science, and is packed with mini biographies, side bars on specific historical events, and, of course, a range of activities. Forensics is a topic of great interest to middle grade readers, which suprises many people. I'm not quite sure why, but when my school had career day, the county coroner's sessions were always full, and our new elective of investigative science is very popular! 

This book starts with a history of forensic science, talking a little about the prevalance of poison and how hard it was to detect, and about how there was not a lot done until the 1800s with forensic investigation because of the slow development of medical science. I loved the short biography of Frances Glessner Lee and her doll house crime scenes! There's a great chapter on identification of bodies, and the many different traits that can be used for identification, and also a chapter of identifying tools, shoes, and car tires. Forensics now involves cybercrime and forgeries, and both of those get a good treatment here. Young readers will be fascinated with the science behind determining the causes of fires and explosions. The most practical chapter is the one on how to assemble one own's forensics kit! 

The activities range from ones that address mysteries, and how to set up and solve a mystery robbery, to fun experiments like the one with different powders or hair analysis. I was a huge fan of activity books when I was young, but my mother had limited patience for putting string and salt on an ice cube! These require a very limited amount of parental involvement for tweens, so should be fun and easy to do. 

There's a great timeline at the front of the book, a glossary, web resources, and bibliography for readers who love forensics so much that they want to continue their research. This is a great nonfiction companion to the murder mysteries that young readers love so much, like Souder's Coop Knows the Scoop, Bunce's historical Premeditated Mrytle or the excellent and somewhat underappreciated Club CSI series. 

Sunday, April 24, 2022

In the Key of Us

Lockington, Mariama. In the Key of Us
April 26th 2022 by Farrar, Straus Children's
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Andi doesn't really want to go to summer music camp. She used to love to play the trumpet, but that was before her mother died in a car accident and she had to go live with her uptight aunt and white uncle who never really approved of her mother's artistic lifestyle. To make matters worse, she is going to become a cousin, and feels that her aunt and uncle just want to get her out of the way for the summer. The camp seems uptight as well, and Andi, who prefers to dress in all black, is not keen on the uniform, especially the knee socks. Zora, too, has her reservations about camp. Her parents are also strict, and her mother wants her to excel at playing the flute, especially after Zora had an unfortunate experience with dance. Her mother tells her that dance is not kind to girls "like you", meaning Black and curvy. Andi and Zora are bunk mates, and Zora is supposed to teach Andi the ropes, since Zora has been attending the camp for years, but the two have an unfortunate encounter that strains their relationship. Andi instead makes friends with Christopher, who has a very boisterous personality, loves arts and crafts, and tells Andi in confidence that he young adult sister is raising him after his parents were deported back to the Philippines. Andi struggles with the strictures of the elite camp, and Zora finds that she really does prefer dance after taking a master class with a black dance instructor who has a troupe in Detroit, not too terribly far from Zora's home in Ann Arbor. Both girls know that they are not interestedin boys the way other girls are, and find that they are attracted to each other, but are still a bit unsure how to proceed with a "more than friends" relationship. While Zora's friend Kendall (with whom she exchanges the occasional letter) is cool with her queer identification, as are the girls at camp, she and Andi still have a series of misunderstandings before they are able to admit their feelings. When parents' weekend arrives, both have problems with their families, but are able to work them out and find a way forward where they can embrace their new interests with the support of their families. 
Strengths: A change that has arisen in the last two years is that when students ask for romance books, I have to be careful to give them options that move beyond the traditional boy-girl crushes. This is a great book for readers who want a girl-girl romance. There is a lot of information about the musical process of the camp, and chair auditions are brutal when one is in middle school; it was good to see that portrayed. Both girls struggle with the expectations at home, which are very narrow and don't take their opinions into account as much as they should, which many readers will understand. The budding romance between Andi and Zora is the real draw for young readers here. Andi's grief and guilt over her mother's death are realistically portrayed, and it was good to see that she was in therapy and had some coping mechanisms. The cover is very appealing. 
Weaknesses: While I understand why we see the plot unfold from the dual perspectives, I was so engrossed in Andi's story that it was a bit jarring when a new chapter started from Zora's perspective. There were also a lot of flashbacks that sometimes took me out of the present story as well. It was important to know the backstory for both Andi and Zora, but I almost wish we had seen more of their separate lives before they got to camp so that the present day narrative didn't need to be interrupted.  Summer camp stories and books about band are difficult to place in my library. I loved Grosso's I am Drums, but it rarely leaves the shelves.
What I really think: This would be good for readers who enjoyed Rhuday-Perkovich's It Doesn't Take a Genius and Chase's Turning Point, and was very similar to Bigelow's Drum Roll, Please

Having been to an elite and very Christian music camp in the early 1980s, I would venture to say that the problems with elite music camps don't only affect Black attendees. I had a miserable experience,  and Andi was not alone with struggling with the expectations and narrow mind set. On a personal note, I'm never a fan of negative portrayals of Karens, and Kendall's father is engaged to a yoga teacher who shares my appellation and is described as "white and basic just like her name" (quote from the uncorrected E ARC). I understand why this happens, and know I shouldn't feel hurt, but it's still not a great thing to see negative stereotypes of any kind in middle grade literature. 

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Those Kids from Fawn Creek and The Prisoner of Shiverstone

Kelly, Erin Entrada. Those Kids from Fawn Creek
March 8th 2022 by Greenwillow Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Fawn Creek, Louisiana is a twon of so few people that there are only 12 children in the 7th grade... until Orchid Mason shows up. The other students know their roles; Dorothy is the shy, quiet girl who only talks to her friend Greyson, who is also sensitive and doesn't live up to his father's expectations of a son who likes to hunt. Cousins Janie and Abby are from families who are wealthier and run the local restaurant, and who fashion themselves as the popular girls, even after their friend Rennie moves to a nearby, larger town, Saintlodge. They often hang out with Barn and Slowly, who has the nickname because he struggles in school. Daelyn is very active in her church, and Max (whom Janie likes) is sort of popular as well. Orchid, who is pretty, kind, and well traveled, makes quite a splash in the classroom. Greyson and Dorothy want to befriend her, but are afraid that she will gravitate toward Janie and Abby. Orchid is pleased to hang out with them, however, and even encourages them to eat outside, which isn't against the rules, but isn't something people do, either. Greyson struggles at home, and is very interested in his mother's sewing projects, but is definitely not encouraged to engage in such "unmanly" activities, especially since his older brother is quite mean to him about things like that. As a community dance in Saintlodge approaches, there is a lot of drama about who is asking whom, and about Orchid's past, which isn't as glamorous as she would have people believe. Will the dance go off without any major hitches, or will it redefine many of the classmates' relationships to each other?
Strengths: There are certainly a lot of small towns like Fawn Creek in the US; a good friend of mine from Iowa had 43 people in his graduating class, and the school districts in that area are all consolidating, but most middle grade fiction is set in larger urban or suburban schools. I can't imagine having so few classmates, or what the interactions must be like. Certainly, children who feel different or somehow uncomfortable with themselves, like Greyson and Dorothy, must find such an environment difficult. Orchid is a fascinating character, and her back story about being in New York City and Paris is a cover for a much less exciting reality. This was a lyrical character study set against a vibrant, small town background. 
Weaknesses: Books set in the South (and in New York City) are somewhat of a tough sell with my students, and it was tough to read about Greyson's brother being such a jerk. I was glad that his mother and father were more understanding. 
What I really think: This was a bit like Shovan's The Last Fifth Grade of Emerrson Elementary, Standiford's The Only Girl in School or Buyea's Because of Mr. Terupt in the way it investigated the personalities and motivations of individuals and showed how these all worked together. It was definitely a bit older than both of those books, so the added intrigue of possible romances made this more upper middle grade. I liked Kelly's note at the beginning about her own tall tales about being a princess-- don't all middle school students have a secret back story that gets them through the day? 

Moore, Linette. The Prisoner of Shiverstone
April 5th 2022 by Harry N. Abrams
Copy provided by the Publisher

In this graphic novel, Helga Sharp wakes up in a hospital bed on and island, and is told she was found in a boat, her parents missing, even though she isn't shown previously in a boat. Utley, where many "mad scientists" have been sent from the Mainland, is where her grandfather, Erasmus Lope, who has been held captive in a large block of shiverstone. It's an odd community, built in a crater, and populated by people who have invented all manner of things that got them in trouble on the Mainland. Helga is able to communicate with him via radio, and needs to figure out how she can split the shiverstone and release him. There are a number of adults who are taking care of her, from the Alethea, the head of security, and her significant other, Frank; the suspicious Captain Ostridge and his helpful sister Miss Lucinda; and Lucida's helpful robot butler, Headly, whom Helga is able to persuade to help her free her grandfather. Helga thinks that a crystal worn by a rival scientist, Dr. Helguni, might be the key to inventing something to split the crystal, and endures a painful party in an itchy dress in order to steal the crystal-- which Dr. Helguni gives to her when she asks! Time is of the essence, as people are still searching for Helga's parents, and when a supply ship comes in a few days with the General, Helga will be returning to the Mainland with him. She makes good progress, but just as she thinks she will manage to free her grandfather, robotic spiders attack and throw things into confusion. Will she be able to free her grandfather and somehow be spared from having to go back to the Mainland with it's anti-science bias?
Strengths: It's good that in the absence of her parents, Helga has the company of her disembodied grandfather, and the support of the scientists on the island. Her scientific bent is encouraged, especially by Headley the robot, and she gets access to interesting library collections, and gets to work straightening up a lot of things for the scientists. Children in books should get more chances to organize things; I'm trying to think of other examples of this kind of activity that don't involve grandparents who are hoarders, but I'm coming up blank. There are lots of fun inventions in the illustrations, which are a bit mysterious since they aren't really explained. The drawings had a slight 1960s vibe to them, and a predominately red and teal blue color palette. The story had just enough detail for a graphic novel and wasn't too hard to follow. 
Weaknesses: The beginning was a bit confusing, and I never did quite understand how Helga had gotten to the island. Also, dresses are not necessarily itchy. Surely, an island of scientists could provide Helga with dresses that aren't itchy. I'm not entirely sure that the term "mad scientist" is one that is currently acceptable.
What I really think: There aren't as many fantasy middle grade graphic novels as there are realistic ones, and even fewer ones with STEM connections. This felt somewhat similar to Gerrity's The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor, and should be popular with readers who enjoyed Hatke's Zita the Spacegirl, Brooks' Sanity and Tallulah, or Sedita's Pathfinders series. 
Ms. Yingling

Friday, April 22, 2022

Consider the Octopus

Baskin, Nora Raleigh and Polisner, Gae. Consider the Octopus
April 5th 2022 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

JB Barnes is forced to spend the summer before seventh grade on his mother's research ship, the Oceania II, where she is trying to arrange a conference with environmental activists and draw attention to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The ship is also hosting a student program, SEAmester Kids. JB is checking in the summer campers before the ship sets sail, and previously had been in charge of e mailing a list of scientists and inviting them to his mother's last minute Emergency Global Summit. When Sidney Miller shows up, she wants to try to sneak aboard as a SEAmester member, but has an invitation as a scientist, since JB sent her an e mail by mistake. Sidney wants to do some activity during the summer that will get her away from her overinvolved parents, and her grandmother helps her perpetrate this ruse. She manages to get by JB by pretending to be Alex Mylanakos, but when Alex turns out to be a boy, Sidney isn't sure where she should room. The other campers are in high school, and since she's JB's age, she does look a little suspicious. Luckily, Diamond and Katie take pity on her, offer to let her share their room, and help JB hide her. Sidney is sure that she is meant to be on the ship, due to a number of odd coincidences that she decides are "sychronicity". A number of scientists do show up, and the ship makes its way to the Garbage Patch, but it's still important to alert the world about what is going on. Can the young people reach out through social media to big wigs like Damian Jacks to raise awareness about this ecological disaster?
Strengths: I have a disproportionate number of students who are interested in marine biology, considering that we live in the middle of Ohio! There aren't a lot of books involving children sailing, and this reminded me a tiny bit of Maureen Johnson's 2007 Girl at Sea. JB and Sidney are innovative, concerned kids who hold their own with adults and high school students to effect change, and I'm always a fan of Kids Doing Things. This was a great adventure for the summer, and I loved the environmental message. 
Weaknesses: I had a lot of trouble believing that Sidney's grandmother would help her sneak on board the ship and lie to her parents, and also couldn't quite believe that a number of scientists would turn up on short notice for a conference to which they were invited by e mail. Younger readers will not have any trouble with this. 
What I really think: Readers of other environmentally focused books like Dimopoulos' Turn the Tide, Lorentz's Wayward Creatures, Henderson's Young Captain Nemo, or Davis' Partly Cloudly will enjoy this seafaring tale that sheds light on a horrible environmental mess that needs the attention of young, energetic people to hopefully turn it around. 
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Jennifer Chan is Not Alone

Keller, Tae. Jennifer Chan is Not Alone
April 26th 2022 by Random House
E ARC provided by

The first thing we find out about Jennifer Chan is that she is missing, presumably because she has run away. Mallory and her friends are worried that an interaction they had with her might be the cause of her flight, and are concerned that they might get in trouble. We then go back to the start of it all: there is someone moving into Mallory's Southern Florida neighborhood, and her friends at school are all abuzz-- Jennifer Chan is coming from Chicago, and rumor has it that she killed someone. Or hurt someone, rumors vary. Mallory's mother, who is half Korean, is eager to meet the Chans, who are Chinese American, since there are few other Asians in their area. Mallory isn't thrilled to find out that Jennifer will be attending Gibbons Academy, where she has gone since she was younger, since she can tell that her friends Tess and  Reagan will think the new girl is a little "weird". Jennifer is dealing not only with the move, but the death of her father, with whom she shared an interest in space. Specifically, Jennifer is intersted in space aliens, and thinks that if she finds the right frequency, she will be able to communicate with them. Even while Mallory knows that her friends won't understand, she is oddly draw to both Jennifer and her theories, and helps her investigate. This brings her back in contact with science club members Kath and Ingrid, whom Reagan definitely classifies as "weird". They are reluctant to talk to Mallory since she hangs out with the popular girls, but are also intrigued by Jennifer's ideas. When Jennifer draws the girls further into her alien speculations, she runs afoul of Reagan and the girls have a nasty interchange. Will Mallory be able to figure out where Jennifer is before any harm comes to her? And what's the right thing to do when your friends are being mean to someone else?
Strengths: This has plenty of friend drama, and has some similaries to Walker's Let's Pretend We Never Met; one of the hardest things about middle school is balancing being a kind person and fitting in with others. Students like Jennifer, who are quirky, different, and proud of it, are tough to befriend, because in middle school, "weird" definitely rubs off. This is a great, nuanced discussion of that fine line that needs to be walked, and is based on a pivotal experience from Keller's own tweendom. Mallory likes Jennifer, even though she knows her friends will not approve, and ultimately does the right thing, even though it is a struggle. This is very realistic, and not easy to find in today's middle grade literature. Bullying isn't as simple as it is sometimes portrayed, and this book addresses that very well. I especially appreciated that both girls' Asian American backgrounds come in to play, but are not the entire focus of the story. 
Weaknesses: Jennifer's interests in space aliens went a bit beyond quirky, and as an adult, I worried that she needed some help in the wake of her father's death that she wasn't getting. 
What I really think: This had a bit of the same feel as King's The Year We Fell From Space, with touches of Summy's The Disappearance of Emily H. It's a mystery, but the social interactions are at the forefront of the novel. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2022


Broaddus, Maurice. Unfadeable
April 19th 2022 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Bella Fades lives in inner city Indianapolis, and since her single mother is no longer able to take care of her, is spending her summer squatting in an abandoned house that used to belong to a local artist. She spends a lot of time painting graffiti in the area, and her tag is "Unfadeable". She is occasionally caught by the police, who let her go with warnings and occasionally confiscate her paint. She has an ally in Ms. Campbell, who is on the neighborhood association and runs a local pantry/after school snack program. When Bella decides to approach the association about getting money for a children's art initiative in the area (which she calls "the Land", but which has the official designation of the United Northwest Area), she runs afoul of Mattea Larrimore, an elderly lady who is in charge of the association. There is a large quantity of money that the association has in the budget from taxes, and they have decided to allocate a lot of it to a local park. Others in the association have plans as well. Bella investigates that park, and finds that it looks half done. She is also concerned that a charter school is being planned when her own public school is in dire need of funding. She comes in contact with Menelik Paschall, the brother of Pass, who is involved in minor local crime, but who offers to help her. He is caring for Aaries, who helps M out with daily chores since M has limited vision, and has a dog named Thmei. M isn't a fan of Mattea, so uses his connections to get Bella access to meetings and records that address how the neighborhood association is spending money. When efforts to tear down local business and dramatically change the neighborhood come to light, Bella intensifies her search for information, even though a couple of local bullies are on her case. Mattea manages to have children's services remove Bella from the abandoned house, but they have her best interest at heart, and she is placed with Ms. Campbell. Will Bella be able to document the wrongdoing in the area and make the adults in charge listen to the story of corruption that she encounters?
Strengths: Like the characters in this author's The Usual Suspects, Bella is a well meaning young person who has many challenges. While her mother was supportive and taught her a lot of neighborhood history, she also struggled with mental health issues which were not properly addressed. Bella is engaged in illegal tagging, and is also working outside the system and living on her own. She sees things that are going wrong in her neighborhood, though, and works through the system to address injustices, even when the adults work against her. I love the community that she creates for herself. The cover is wonderfully eye catching. I appreciate the sympathetic portrait of children's services. 
Weaknesses: There was a lot of information about politics and community organizing that I had to really think through, so I wonder if young readers unfamiliar with these situations might struggle with this a bit. Also, isn't tagging illegal? It seems like Bella's exploits are being encouraged, which I found confusing. I can't imagine graffiti being tolerated in my neighborhood. 
What I really think: I love reading about different neighborhoods, and wish that more areas of the US incorporated housing with shops, schools, parks, and community services. Books like Chari's Karthik Delivers, Giles' Take Back the Block, Watson's This Side of Home, and Cartaya's The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora all describe these neighborhoods and the impact that they have on their communities. Readers unfamiliar with the urban landscape will find Unfadeable to be an interesting look at an unfamiliar environment, and those from similar neighborhoods will be glad to see a similar environment that they can compare to their own. 
 Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Coming of Age: 13 B'Nai Mitzvah Stories

Rosen, Jonathan, editor. Coming of Age: 13 B'Nai Mitzvah Stories
April 19th 2022 by Albert Whitman & Company ISBN
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

It makes sense that the vast majority of books with middle grade Jewish characters involve b'nai mitzvahs, since most 13 year olds are in about 8th grade. (These include Libenson's Becoming BriannaFreedman's My Basmati Bat Mitzvah, Weissman's A Length of String, Rosenberg and Shang's This is Just a Test, Korman's Linked, Perl's All Three Stooges, and Ben Izzy's Dreidel's on the Brain. ) Even in my community, where there are very few Jewish families, one of my children was invited to a party, so this is an important rite for middle grade readers to know about. As a note explains at the beginning of the book, there has been a rise in anti-Semitism in the last few years, and there is a disproportionate amount of violence aimed at this community. Coming of Age is a great way to introduce readers to Jewish culture and hopefully increase awareness of Jewish culture and empathy among young readers. 

I find it hard to review short story collections, and until recently, it was hard to get students to read them. This year, I've had several teachers wanting them. In addition to Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (which has always circulated well) and Scieszka's Guys Read collections, Ali's Once Upon an Eid, Oh's  Flying Lessons and Other Stories, Reynold's Look Both Ways, and Mbalia's Black Boy Joy all have been useful... but students still aren't checking them out. I'm glad I bought them, though, since they are a great way to get introduce cultural topics with shorter stories, and perhaps introduce some new authors. 

Coming of Age has a variety of b'nai mitzvah (the term used for multiple celebrations when boys or mixed sex groups are being discussed) stories, including two with a fantasy twist. In one, a boy travels back to the passage he is reading about Noah's ark and has to help out, and in the other, we see a celebration on Planet Latke, which was a bit goofy. Baskin has a good turn with a girl and a boy who have grown up as good friends, and she thinks he is interested in another girl at his party, and Green has coverage of a pandemic bat mitzvah, with all of the restrictions. Bottner has story about a girl in what seems to be the 1930s planning a celebration, and Krulik has an interesting contest with boys trying to get thrown out of religious services! Grandparents show up in Rosen's The Pocket Watch and Roske's Grandma Merle's Last Wish. There's a ceremony in Greece for a girl whose family is posted there with the military, and one set during a very hectic family week. Frequent themes arise; prejudice, family ties, and nervousness over having to get up to speak in public. 

This was an interesting compilation of stories, so I will buy it to have on hand. I do try to get students to check out short stories collections by telling them that they are easier to read than an entire novel, and this is sometimes an effective ploy. 

I did have some questions about why so many of the stories dealt with nerves. If many children, even if their families aren't particularly observant, have these ceremonies and have to spend at least six months preparing for them, why do so many stories center on how difficult it is just to get up in front of people? I've been trying to go back fifty years to my own 7th grade religious education in a United Methodist congregation, and I remember it being a lot of fun, hanging out with thirty other kids, doing all manner of activities and retreats. We spent so much time at church, planning Youth Sundays, having bake-a-thons and sleepovers, that church just seemed like home. I discussed this with a friend who grew up Missouri Synod Lutheran, and he had a group question and answer session in front of the whole congregation, but doesn't remember it making him nervous. Of course, these were group events and not the singular ones depicted in Coming of Age. This is why it's interesting to read about other cultures!

Monday, April 18, 2022

MMGM- The Lucky Ones and Susan La Flesche Picote: Pioneering Doctor

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 
Jackson, Linda Williams. The Lucky Ones
April 12th 2022 by Candlewick Press
E ARC provided Young Adult Books Central

Life in rural Mississippi in 1967 is not easy for Ellis Earl Brown and his large family. His mother and three older brothers go out to look for work each day, since the father died in a tractor accident, but often his mother ends up helping another woman clean houses, which doesn't pay very much. His oldest sister, Jeannette, is only fourteen, but has to stay home and take care of the young children, who include a cousin whose mother has died, Oscar, who is a year older than Ellis Earl but doesn't go to school because he is constantly ill, and Carrie Ann, who does go to school. His oldest brother, Junior, is 22 and has four children of his own, with another on the way, so these children are staying in the three room house while their mother is in the hospital. There's barely enough food to go around, but Ellis Earl sometimes gets "leftovers" from his teacher, Mr. Foster, who also drives several of his students home in his station wagon so they don't have to walk long distances. The Brown's house is located in an area that often floods, so when there is a lot of rain, Ellis Earl can't get to school. He's a good student, and frequently brings home books to share with his sibings, since there isn't much for them to do at home. When Mr. Foster asks if Ellis Earl would like to read a verse at church, he is a bit reluctant. The family is Baptist, but doesn't go to church because they don't have anything to wear. Mr. Foster gets a new outfit for Ellis Earl, and his mother grudgingly allows him to attend the American Methodist Episcopal church. There's breakfast, and the speech goes over well, and Mr. Foster offers another opportunity-- Ellis Earl and four other students are invited to travel to the airport to help greet Robert Kenney and Marian Wright, who are undertaking a tour of the South to document the poverty in the area and to try to get information to support the Fair Housing Act and the spread of the food stamp program. The students have been reading news articles about Civil Rights and trying to understand what improvements could be made to their community, and Ellis Earl's best friend, Phillip, and another good student, Cora, are excited for the possibility. While racial tensions are high in the South, and the group is mistreated at a diner, the airport visit goes well. Later, the Browns are surprised when Kennedy and his entourage show up at their house to ask about their experiences. Mr. Foster further helps the family, by helping their small family singing group, the Brown Blues, get exposure, and connecting them with other members of the church who are able to help with housing.

While many families are struggling with many insecurities, especially now, they are not quite as dire as the Depression-era feel of the Brown's poverty. I think it's good for young readers to understand that it is possible to survive with just one spare pair of underwear, and to see the lengths to which Ellis Earl is willing to sacrifice his own comfort to provide for his family. The importance of reading and education is made very clear, and the inclusion of Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Dahl, 1964) is an interesting one. I also appreciated Jackson's note about the problems with the Oompa-Loompas in the early edition were treated!

Mr. Foster is a fantastic character who clearly cares about his students and tries his best to take care of their basic needs so that their learning is uninterrupted.The strong sense of community is made clear in the support that is offered at school and through the church. I was a bit surprised that the Browns weren't already involved in the church, but this is nicely explained.

Including real life Civil Rights figures might lead students to investigate the time period more thoroughly. Jackson is from a similar area in Mississippi and her personal experiences bring a fascinating, rich depth to Ellis Earl's life. I especially enjoyed the fact that while things were brutally hard for the Brown family, there was a strong sense of hope that life would improve.

The depiction of children in poverty in fiction has deep roots, from Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (Hega, 1901) to The Boxcar Chidlren (Warner, 1924) to The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (Sidney, 1936), but it's somewhat unusual to see a contemporary book capture the details so well. Modern books also tend to take a grim view of events, but I loved Ellis Earl's resiliency and perseverance.This was a great historical fiction book that details a specific place and time in a vivid and interesting way. It is extremely interesting to see this depiction in contrast to the reboot of The Wonder Years, which is set in Alabama in 1968 but chronicles a Black, middle class family. Read this along with Wilkinson's 1974 Ludell as well as Jackson's Midnight Without a Moon (2016).  

Bailey, Diane. Susan La Flesche Picote: Pioneering Doctor 
Published May 4th 2021 by Aladdin
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Born in 1865 in the Great Plains, Susan La Flesche was raised in the Omaha tribe. Her father was a leader, and while proud of his Native American heritgae, believed that his people would be more successful if they learned to adapt to white ways, which didn't always endear him to his people. Susan was sent to a Presbyterian Mission school from the age of three, and continued with her education. She and her sisters were encouraged to speak English. She was eventually sent to school in New Jersey, and after helping an ethnologist who became ill while staying with the Omaha, she ws sent to the Hampton Normal and Agricultural School in Cheseapeake, Virginia. This was originally meant for African Americans, but started to include other peoples as well. Encourage by the doctor at that school, a woman, she applied to the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania and was able to attend after getting scholarships. It was not easy, but she graduated in 1889 as the first Native American to get a medical degree. She took jobs back home, but the very long hours, due to lack of other practicing doctors, negatively impacted her health. She tried to cut back, but was driven to help people in need. She eventually married and had two sons, but went in and out of medicine, always focusing on getting help to people in need. Her continued ill health led to her early death in 1915. 

This short (128 pages) biography is very complete, and has a glossary, notes, and bibliography at the end. There are no photographs, although with the internet, this has become increasingly less important. This would be a great resource for a biography assignment, and the paperback format (and the fact that this series is available at WalMart!) lends itself to inclusion in classroom libraries. 

La Flesche Picotte's story is a difficult one, because while she helped out the Native American community, she went through traditional white channels to become educated. Her father  was a controversial figure, but this should not stop us from learning about her acchievements. Few women were able to get medical degrees in the late 1800s, and the fact that she managed to do this is rather remarkable. While it would have been good to see a Native American author write this, it is very delicately done and due diligence was certainly taken to show the difficulties and prejudices faced by Native Americans during this time period. 

Discovering History's Heroes has a good range of biographies of somewhat lesser known historical figures, including Michael Collins, Dennis Brutus, and Ida B. Wells, and is a great addition to biographies like the Who Was series and the various books NatGeo Kids .

 Ms. Yingling

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Flirting With Fate

Cervantes, J.C. Flirting with Fate
April 19th 2022 by Razorbill
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ava lives with her father, a well-to-do and successful architect and her two older sisters, Carm and Viv. Their grandmother is ailing, and when Ava gets a call from both sisters when she is working overtime at her newspaper internship, she attempts to drive home even though there is a huge storm. Her grandmother's death has seemed eminent for some time, but family legend claims that the women in Ava's family can pass on gifts to their female line when they die. Ava hurries to get home, but is involved in a small fender bender at 8:51 p.m. and doesn't make it. Unfortunately, her grandmother managed to send the blessing out into the universe, but when Nana comes back as a ghost, along with helpful Saint Medardus, the three try to figure out how to get the blessing back. If they can't, the ability to pass on the blessings will be lost, and Nana will wander as a ghost forever, so the stakes are high. They manage to locate the young man she hit, who turns out to be the arrogant Achilles North, who works selling oranges for his grandfather while he is in high school. When Nana and Meda decide that Ava has to befriend him, this is hard. Luckily, he is just the twin of the boy actually involved, the much nicer Orion. It's not hard to befriend Rion, and soon the two are hanging out. Transferring the blessing turns out to be harder than expected, and there is the added mystery of a photograph from the 1950s that Ava finds at work, and a series of clues that lead her to uncover a family mystery. Time is running out to make the transfer, but will the family secrets get in the way of her friendship with Rion, and her ability to reclaim the blessing?
Strengths: Ava's family is very important to her, even her mother who left the girls when Ava was young. The "fairy tales" she told each girl before she left turn out to be important clues. I loved the way the sisters interacted and supported each other, and how they were willing to help Ava no matter how improbabl her requests were. The appearance of Nana reminded me a little bit of Leo's abuela's appearance in Love, Suagar, Magic: A Sprinkle of Spirits. Rion is a great character, and he contrasts nicely with his unpleasant twin brother. The historical mystery is well developed and quite complex. I don't know that I ever doubted that Ava would get the blessing transferred, but there was a nice feeling of suspense developed while she attempted to figure out how to do this. 
Weaknesses: There were a LOT of very convenient coincidences in this one. Younger readers will find this charming, but it strained my jaded credulity a bit. 
What I really think: This is a very charming Young Adult romance that will be very popular with middle grade readers. There's plenty of paranormal phenomenon, a great romance, and a decided lack of more young adult language and health class information. Will definitely purchase for my readers who have been enjoying books like Twilight and Before I Die. 

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Cartoon Saturday-- Yummy: A History of Desserts

When I am not obsessively reading, I am usually sewing obnoxious clothing for myself, quilting, knitting, or doing needlepoint! I love crafts, and very much enjoyed reading Lisa Papademetriou's Heart and Crafts! Here's a short Q & A with this fun middle grade author. 

Latest from Bestselling Author, Lisa Papademetriou

(Confectionately Yours, Middle School: Big, Fat Liar)

Mackenzie Miller loves a project. In addition to making candle holders and friendship bracelets, there's the Mom Project (finding her a boyfriend -- even if she says she's not interested), the Friend Project (win back the BFFs who dumped her and make a new friend), and the Band Project (so what if she's never planned a fundraiser? How hard can it be?).

But life doesn’t come with a set of instructions. The harder Mackenzie works to craft the perfect school year, the more she feels like she's failing. She can do it all…can't she?

This fast, funny novel is the Ted Lasso of kids’ books: full of nice people trying their best and not always living up to their own expectations. Comes with craft directions for making one of Mackenzie’s signature bracelets!

Lisa Papademetriou (Papa-Dim-Meet-Ree-Yoo) is the author of numerous novels for tween and teen readers, including the new series Hearts and Crafts; A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic (a South Asia Book Award Highly Commended Title); the New York Times-bestselling novel Middle School: Big, Fat Liar and Homeroom Diaries (both with James Patterson), and the Confectionately Yours series (almost 1,000,000 books in print). Her books have appeared on many prestigious lists, including Bank Street Best Books of the Year, the NYPL Books for the Teen Age, and the Texas Lone Star Reading List and have been translated into French, German, Spanish, Polish, Italian, Portuguese, Czech, and Japanese. A former editor at Scholastic, Disney Press, and HarperCollins, Lisa is also the founder of, the premier creativity and productivity tool for writers.

What inspired this book? Especially--"interweaving" crafts/making into the story?

The past few years have been really rough ones for me, personally, and for a lot of people I knew. My daughter is in middle school, and I saw how tough it is to manage all of her shifting friendships. I felt like I wanted to write a feel-good book—a story that was full of nice people and funny situations. I felt like we all needed a laugh; I knew I did. I've always loved crafting, and so does my daughter. It's the perfect thing to do when you're feeling anxious or overwhelmed—just make something pretty. So I thought that would be perfect for the character of Mackenzie.

How has your daughter affected your story telling? Or this story?

Watching my daughter grow up is a good reminder of how hard it is to be a tween. Grown-ups often tell kids that they don't have "real" problems. But figuring out how to deal with other people—including friends, parents/caregivers, siblings, and teachers—and your own emotions is tough work. And those problems are very real when you're going through them. Breaking up with a friend as a tween can feel as hard as breaking up with a spouse as an adult. It's intense. It's emotional. In my work, I always try to honor these everyday sorts of problems.

Are you a maker? (crafty one?) If yes, what are your favorite materials to work with?

I love crafting! My favorite craft is quilting, but it's a bit cumbersome, so I tend to work with yarn more often. I knit a bit and love to crochet. My daughter is terrific with painting and hand-lettering. Calligraphy is one thing I'd love to learn. I also love to make fun, simple crafts. I even have a monthly author newsletter, where I send readers a new, easy craft each month along with a creative writing idea!

Elliott, Victoria Grace.  Yummy: A History of Desserts
November 30th 2021 by Random House Graphic
Public library copy

With the help of a sprite named Peri and her friends Fee and Fada, we get a graphic overview of the history of desserts, from pie to cake to gummy candy. In addition to the history and development of different desserts, including information about the effects of colonization on people and supply chains, we see the science of different baking techniques. I learned a LOT about how eggs were used in cake baking (I am never beating anything for an hour!) as well as the chemistry of baking soda and baking powder, although I already knew how pie crust works. Also covered are ice cream, cookies (including Mrs. Wakefield's contribution), brownies, and doughnuts. There is a ton of history (ancient to modern), "interviews" with famous dessert inventors, and a wealth of information about variations on the themes. The illustrations are colorful and have an ice cream parlor feel to them. 

I bought this one without reading it first, and somehow was surprised that it was in graphic format. There is a huge amount of information in the book, and I almost think it would have worked better with a heavily illustrated traditional nonfiction layout. Having a table of contents and more space for all of the facts would have been helpful. I also might have saved the gummies chapter for another whole book on candy. 

Curious to see how my students react to this one.
 Ms. Yingling

Friday, April 15, 2022

The Einsteins of Vista Point

Guterson, Ben. The Einsteins of Vista Point
April 12th 2022 by Christy Ottaviano Books
ARC Provided by Young Adult Books Central

Zack's family is reeling from the death of his younger sister, Susan, in an unexpected car crash at the fair. His parents decide to move the family from the city to the small town of Vista Point, where they have decided to run a bed and breakfast after the father quits his job as an architect and the mother drops out of teacher training at college. Their new home is out in the country, and Zack and his older sisters Ruth (13) and Miriam (15), as well as older brother Ethan, enjoy exploring. One thing they find is a building they call the Tower, an ornate and mysterious place that has been abandoned for years. While there, Zack meets Ann, who says she lives with her mother, a waitress. Ann is nine, the same age as Susan, and even looks a bit like Zack's sister. The parents are deep in renovations on the house, so the children are able to spend time at a swimming hole, explore abandoned cabins, and tromp through the woods. At one point, someone named Horatio Curvallo shows up in a frenzied state, and tells the family that there are zoning regulations that prohibit businesses on the property, which he claims was stolen from him years previously. The Bigelows, who have been in the area over forty years, are able to shed some light on the man's plight, but assue the family it isn't a problem. The children do research into the area, and find that the Tower was a "comfort station", built in 1895 by Orlando Wetherill. It needs a "charm" to be said to avert bad things in the area, and the children try to crack the code, which is rather cryptically laid out in the building. They make some progress, but Zack has an even bigger mystery when parts of Ann's story don't make sense. Will the family be able to heal from their recent bereavement and construct a new life for themselves?

Vista Point is an intriguing setting, and I loved how the Bigelows and other long time residents were brought into the story to provide the intriguing background information about the house and Tower. There is a fair amount of interesting code and clues that the have to process in order to be able to make the "charm" work. Curvallo's background has a bit of history to it, with the Vietnam war, and his loss echoes the Einstein's. It has a rather surprising resolution that I don't want to spoil. 

The family dynamics are very interesting. The family is close knit, and the parents, despite being busy with the bed and breakfast plans, are involved in the children's lives. They celebrate their Jewish culture every day rituals. They are all dealing with their grief in different ways, but don't talk very much about Susan. Zack, being closest in age, misses her the most, and struggles to get the help he needs in processing his loss. This is a realistic depiction of grief, and it's good to see that his needs are eventually addressed. At one point, he asks to go back to the fair where Susan was killed. Everyone else is appalled, but it makes sense to him to visit the last place he has memories of his sister. 

The clues and mystery makes this a great choice for readers who liked Beil's 2022 The Wreck at Ada's Reef, and the scene at the pond made me think of Enright's The Four-Story Mistake (1942) so strongly that I half expected Cuffy to have lunch waiting when the children returned home! Readers who love summer stories rich with family details, like Glaser's The Vanderbeekers series or Birdsall's The Penderwicks will be glad to make the acquaintance of the Einsteins.              
 I had some trouble believing that running a B&B would provide enough income for a large family with several children approaching college age. It also was odd that the family would give up their entire life because one child died. That doesn't seem like something many people would do. I have opinions on the treatment of grief in middle grade literature, though, especially when it concerns grieving parents.

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Wild Ride

Calabrese, Keith. Wild Ride
April 5th 2022 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Charley Decker loves her older brother Greg, and knows that when he graduates from high school, she will miss him dreadfully. He's been very supportive after the death of their father, even if he has bonded a bit too much with their mom's new boyfriend, Derrick, who has a rare vintage Mustang the two work on together. When their mother and Derrick go on a vacation and leave the two home in Chicago together, Charley hopes that the two can have a movie and snack night with her friends Wade and Oona. When Greg decides to hang out with his girlfriend, Marisa, Charley is disappointed. Oona has "run away" from home yet again, since she tries to rebel against her perfectly nice parents, but the evening is tense because she heard Wade say something mean to another boy at school, and she doesn't want to talk to him. When Greg calls to say that Derrick's Mustang has been towed and he needs Charley to give Marisa some money to retrieve it from the impound lot, Charley sees this as an opportunity to have an adventure. She demands that Marisa bring them along, and things get strange. The impound lot keeps changing the rules, and demand to see the title to the car. Since Oona doesn't want her parents to think she's NOT at Charley's, she leaves her phone at Charley's house, and has to use Charley's phone to "narrate" her life, an annoying habit she has. Add to the mix a local corporation trying to blanket the world with the Pangea Ursula device, a stoway named Mitch, sibling difficulties, and a time deadline, and Charley and her friends are in for a wild ride indeed.
Strengths: Charley is a very fun character, and I loved her positive relationship with her older brother. There are a lot of children who have much older siblings, and it is difficult when they leave home to go to college. This is a great topic to address. The Chicago setting is almost like another character, and gives a great background for the adventure. Pangea's Ursula has a fun role. I'm always glad to see an upbeat adventure book with children being allowed to roam enough to get into a little bit of trouble. Quite fun. 
Weaknesses: Oona was really annoying. Reading about her was like hanging out with a friend who talks about herself in the third person. It also seemed like a better plan to the adult me to confess to having taken the car out and wait for Derrick to sort things out with the parking authority.
What I really think: Like reynold's It's the End of the World and I'm in My Bathing Suit, this pays homage to 1990s teen comic adventure flicks. The cover is great, the book had its moments, but I found it hard to connect with Charley or the adventure. I did like this much more than this author's Drop of Hope or Connect the Dots and will probably end up purchasing. Just read this on a February day when I hated everyone and everything.