Thursday, June 30, 2022

The Dollhouse and The Clackity

I have WAY too many conversations with my students about the exact flavor of mystery and horror books they want. My students specifications have remained fairly similar over the years, so I look for books that reflect the sorts of things they want to see. There are plenty of great books that I don't buy because they would just sit on my shelves. Your students are probably vastly different, so take a look at these two horror titles and see how they would work in your library collection. 

Cotter, Charis. The Dollhouse
August 31st 2021 by Tundra Books (NY)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

When Alice's father has to cancel plans for a family vacation in 1997 to attend to business matters yet again, her mother says that she has had enough and is leaving him. She takes a job nursing Mrs. Bishop some distance from their home, and is allowed to bring Alice with her. The two take a long train ride to get there, and there is an accident close to their destination that leaves Alice with a concussion. Blackwood House is posh and beautifully restored, but somehow creepy. There's a housekeeper, Mary, and her daughter, Lily, who is 16 but developmentally delayed. Lily tells Alice that the house is haunted, and Alice wakes up thinking that a red headed girl is beside her in the bed. Alice is given to flights of fancy, and her mother is very upset at this outburst that woke Mrs. Bishop. As Alice and Lily explore the house, being careful not to break any of the valuable ornaments, they find a dollhouse that is a replica of Blackwood house and which has a number of dolls, including one that looks like the girl that Alice thought was in her bed. Soon, Alice is going back and forth between her reality and the reality of Fizz and Bubble, girls who lived in the house in the 1920s. There are some family tensions in the past, and tensions in Alice's family with her father. As secrets are revealed, will Alice be able to figure out the identity of the ghosts... or is she a ghost herself?
Strengths: Blackwood House was a great setting, and the story got off to a quick start, which is always good. It made sense that the mother took a nursing job away from home. This was set in 1997 mainly so that the timeline with Mrs. Bishop being a girl in the 1920s and a news correspondent during World War II would work. The fantasy element of Alice being able to go into her dreams was well done, and her head injury makes it possible that she is just hallucinating everything. Mrs. Bishop is ornery, but also has an interesting past, which we get to see lste in the book. 
Weaknesses: I was a bit unsure where this was set. Mrs. Bishop came from England, where there would be more trains. Maybe Canada? Lily's situation felt like it neede more of an explanation for her developmental delay.
What I really think: I seem to have a disproportionate number of creepy doll books, which are not as popular with my students as other kinds of creepy books. While I enjoyed this, I may pass on purchase. 

Senf, Lora. The Clackity
June 28th 2022 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Evie Von Rathe lives in Blight Harbor Lives with her aunt Desdemona after her parents' disappearance following a traumatic house fire when she was young. Blight Harbor is the most haunted place in the US, and has an interesting collection of witches and others who deal with darker magic. When Aunt Des investigates a local abbatoir (slaughterhouse) where a famous serial killer, John Jeffrey Pope, dispatched his victims, removing many of their fingers and toes, Evie has a horrible feeling and begs her aunt to leave. Of course, her aunt goes back and is spirited away by something evil. Evie is able to stay with the local librarian and friend of her aunt's Lily Littleknit, but has to deal with The Clackity, a desconcertingly strange force of evil that sends her on a mission through ghostly houses in order to retrieve her aunt. Will she  be able to save her?
Strengths: This book has captured the attention of many trusted reviewers like Kirkus and has gotten a lot of love. Certainly, there are lots of gruesome elements, like the haunted slaughterhouse, historical serial killer, and headstrong heroine who must face her own fears that will speak to readers who like scary books and the setting reminded me a bit of Perez's 2008 series Dead is the New Black, which was popular for a while in my library. The illustrations are stunningly creepy, and including illustrations in books is something I would like to see more. The Clackity is chillingly odd, and the quest takes Evie through a weird fantasy world. This reminded me slightly of the new Every Bird a Prince
Weaknesses: There was an odd veneer of twee on this, with the Blight Harbor setting, the names, and even The Clackity itself. I'm trying to decide if this makes it feel more or less scary. There was also a scene in the library where Lily is reading the latest best seller at her desk during work. Are there any librarians out there who ever have time to read on the job?  
What I really think: Fans of quirky horror with a fairy tale feel superimposed over some gore, like Scary Stories for Young Foxes will enjoy this one. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The Kaya Girl and High Score

Wolo, Mamle. The Kaya Girl
June 28th 2022 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Because Abena's mother has gone to London to give birth and her father is very busy as a doctor in a medical clinic in Ghana, Abena is sent to spend the summer with her Auntie Lydia, who runs a fabric store in the busy Makola Market. This is a big change from Abena's wealthy, privileged life at an expensive, private American school and servants at home. She and her friends are more apt to hang out at the air conditioned mall than the crowded market. Auntie's house is very different as well, and Abena does have her own tiny room, unlike Gifty, who is the daughter of one of Auntie's husband's poor relative. Gifty gets a mattress on the livin groom floor and works in the fabric store every day and helps with household chores like cooking. Abena finds the market interesting, and is intrigued by an errand girl she meets named Faiza. Faiza, a Muslim, has come from the North to work as a kaya girl, who runs errands and carries packages balances in a large bowl on her head. Faiza doesn't speak the same languages that Abena does, but they both speak some Twi and manage to communicate. Abena quickly learns that her life is very different from Faiza's in my favorite scene, Abena whines about how much she hates school because it's a drag to have to go every day. For Faiza, going to school has never been an option. As the two talk, Faiza tells the story of how she came to leave her village and come to the big city, which revolves around a dear friend who was being forced to become the fourth wife of a wealthy man in town. She and Faiza decided to run away right before the wedding, but the two lost contact. Abena continues to help her aunt with the computer in the shop and learns how to fold gele, a traditional head wrap, from a neighboring businesswoman. Abena really wants to be a journalist, and writes a story about Faiza to submit to a writing contest. A misunderstanding in the shop causes Faiza to stop seeing Abena, and the two lose touch for fifteen years, when they reconnect in an unexpected way. 
Strengths: This book was originally published in Ghana in 2012, and is a fascinating look at several different facets of Ghanaian. Abena is from the wealthy upper class, her aunt from a hardworking, middle class background, and Fazia represents the impoverished lower class that struggles just to hold on. The depiction of Faiza and the other Kaya girls renting a place to sleep on a shop floor is heart wrenching, and her desire for an education contrasts nicely with Abena's entitled, casual dismissal of school as something vaguely annoying. Her aunt is a bit leery of Faiza, but Abena's father is glad that the two have become friends and can learn from each other. It was absolutely fascinating to read about the practice of giving children to other relatives to raise lest they become too soft! Since this book is now ten years old, I wonder if this has changed at all. I'm always looking for books written by authors from other places in the world, and this is a great story that I enjoyed a lot. 
Weaknesses: I'm never a huge fan of epilogues, since I would rather come up with my own visioin of what happens to the characters when the book is over. I understand why we see so much of Abena and Faiza's story fifteen years after the summer Abena visits her aunt; it's interesting to see the path both women take. Younger readers will enjoy this, but I prefer ambiguous endings.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and this will be a great book to hand to students who enjoyed Baitie's Crossing the Stream. I've had a sizeable number of students with Ghanaian heritage over the years, and I think they will enjoy this look at every day life in that country. 

Howell, Destiny. High Score
June 28th 2022 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

DJ has transferred to Ella Fitzgerald Middle School to escape his dodgy past running scams at his previous school. He keeps his head down, is known only for his ability to get projects done, and has few friends, although he does have a crush on Audrey in his class. When Conor also transferes, the only piece of advice DJ can give his former partner in crime is to not run afoul of Lucky. The student economy at "Fitz" is based on tickets from the nearby Starcade arcade, and Lucky runs several cons, including a lottery for these tickets. If anyone crosses him, he submits a "Rocket Booster" morning announcements that sounds like a compliment but in reality is a jab that will sink a student's social life at Fitz. Of course, Conor crosses Lucky. In order to escape the "Rocket Booster", Conor gives up DJ's past. Lucky and his henchman, Mariposa (whose aunt is the school secretary) call DJ to the library and offer him a deal; get a huge number of tickets, or Conor goes down. DJ doesn't want to comply, but soon acquiesces to save his friend. At first, they find a work around; the Starcade throws out old tickets, some partially shredded, and they don't feel its stealing since tickets are in the trash. They are doing well on collecting the points, but find out that the machines are being upgraded, and their ticket stream will soon dry up. There is a mega Starcade 45 minutes across town, and the boys decide that their best bet for getting there is to be invited to a birthday party. DJ enlists Audrey to help him manipulate Haily into having a party there so she can invite her crush, Tyler, and soon the group is on their way to getting Lucky what he wants. Will DJ be able to pull this final scam before convincing Conor to retire?
Strengths: This was written in a fast paced, engaging style, and I really liked DJ. He was a little bit of a man of mystery, and his personality was unfolded slowly in an intriguing way. I liked how his relationship with Audrey developed, and it was fun to watch her get pulled into his schemes. It is true that middle school students are prone to embracing odd fads, like fidget spinners and silly bandz, so I can see tickets being coveted. (Although I can see enterprising youngsters buying rolls of them online and counterfeiting them!) The adult characters were very shadowy, which worked well for all of the escapades. The cover is absolutely fantastic.
Weaknesses: This was one of those books that was so unrealistic that I had trouble enjoying it personally. Do game arcades even exist anymore? Lucky hangs out in the library and summons people from class? There's a peer "therapist" with an office? The principal allows students to submit the "Rocket Booster" announcements that take down students' social lives? Lucky runs businesses? It's all very clever, and if I think of this as a fantasy book, it makes more sense. This is a "me issue" more than a book issue, but I do appreciate it when authors understand how actual middle schools work. 
What I really think: This is a book that I will purchase even though I had problems with it. Students will be drawn to the cover and the goofy shenanigans of DJ and his friends. Hand to readers who enjoyed Rylander's The Fourth Stall, Ferraiolo's The Big Splash, Johnson's The Great Greene Heist, and Calabreese's Wild Ride
 Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The Lonely Ghost

Ford, Mike. The Lonley Ghost
June 28th 2022 by Scholastic Paperbacks
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Twins Ava and Cassie move with their parents into Blackthorn House, that their parents are renovating in order to open a bed and breakfast. In the frenzy of moving, Ava is distressed to learn that her father forgot to turn in the forms to play soccer. Since an activity is required in seventh grade, she ends up joining the drama club with Cassie, who is organized and sent in her own forms. The house is rumored to be haunted, and had been last occupied by Lily, a woman born in the early 1900s, who was reclusive and had an interest in the supernatural. There are a few odd things in the house, like weird drawings of a screaming girl scribbled under some wall paper, but mostly it is just in need of deep cleaning and many repairs. It's not a horrible move; the girls are befriended right away on the bus by Aisha and Gwen, who are somewhat intrigued by the history of the house, but also share a love of the same types of books that Cassie reads, and who are very welcoming. Ava gets paired with peer mentor Beth-Ann, a stereotypical "mean girl", who is less friendly but doesn't bother the girls too much. When Cassie starts to retreat into herself, Ava notices the change right away and is very worried when her sister gets a good role in the school production of The Wizard of Oz, but starts to hide in her room, talk to herself, and sometimes even to harness weird powers. Ava finds a journal written by Lily in 1916, and learns that she also had a twin, Violet, who was exhibiting the same troublesom behaviors. Since Violet died, Ava and her new friends investigate what might be going on, using books by an author who is set to visit to get some background. After talking to the author, they think they know how to free Cassie from the evil spirit that is posessing her. Will they be able to put their plan into action in time? 
Strengths: Ava and Cassie were well depicted twins; they had different interests but were similar enough to enjoy the same friends, and were open to investigating each other's interests even when they weren't very good at the same things. I loved that they made friends right away; I think in many schools, new children are seen as a welcome distraction and do find friend groups fairly quickly. The back story of Lily as the owner of the house works, and we do meet neighbors who had known her for a long time. Neighborhood history is always interesting, and I wish we would see more interactions with neighbors in middle grade books. The friend drama with Beth-Ann takes a nice turn, and it's good to see a novel where the characters are all nice to each other despite problems. The ghosts end up being quite interesting once they make their appearance, and there's some good ghost dispatching work that goes on. The house is also interesting, for readers who love a good historical structure.
Weaknesses: The timeline is carefully constructed with Lily's age and events going on in the world, but I found it a little hard to believe that a journal that was over 100 years old would be just lying on a bed in an abandoned summer house . 
What I really think: Hand this to readers who want a slow reveal of horror that isn't very scary mixed with some school drama. Read alikes would include the work of India Hill Brown, Ellen Oh's Spirit Hunters, and Anderson's Riley's Ghost. I was hoping for something a bit scarier, since the cover was reminiscent of Lindsay Duga's Ghost in the Headlights

Ms. Yingling

Monday, June 27, 2022

Blog Roll WIP

A Kids Book A Day
A Library Mama
A Novel Mind
All Who Wander
Always in the Middle
Awfully Big Blog Adventure
Beagles and Books
Bit ABout Books
Bluestock Thinking
Charlotte's Library
Children's Book Heal
Cocoa With Books
Cracking the Cover
Eliza Kindle
From the Mixed Up Files
Gathering Books
Jean Little Library
Jen Robinson's Book Page
Kid Lit 411
Kiss the Book
Literary Rambles
Log Cabin Library
Maria's Mélange
Mary R. Lanni
MG Book Village
Middle Grade Carousel
More Books Please
Mrs. Book Dragon
Mrs. ReaderPants
Ms. Yingling Reads
Nerdy Book Club
Of Maria Antonia
Pop Goes the Reader
Provo Library Children's Blog
Rapunzel Reads
Reading Middle Grade
Rich in Color
Rosi Hollinbeck
Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers
Say What?
Smack Dab in the Middle
Story Mamas
Story Spectator
Story Time Secrets
Teach Mentor Texts
Teachers Who Read
The Bookwyrms Den
The Brown Bookshelf
The Children's War
The Contented Reader
The Story Sanctuary
Unleashing Readers
Valinora Troy
Writers' Rumpus
YA Book Nerd
Youth Services Book Review
Books on the Back Porch

MMGM- The Wonders We Seek and The Fort

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Faruqi, Saadia, Mumtaz, Aneese, and Khan, Saffa (illus.).
The Wonders We Seek: Thirty Incredible Muslims Who Helped Shape the World
June 7th 2022 by Quill Tree Books
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Arranged in order of year of birth and accompanied by beautiful illustrations, this collective biography is painstakingly researched and gives brief overviews of a wide range of Muslim pioneers from all over the globe. Farqui starts the book with information about how hard it is to find biographies about Muslims, even though this community has a long history of innovation and interest in the science and arts. This has been largely ignored in Western civilization, and it can be difficult to find any personal information on some of this groundbreaking people. Since she wanted to include people whose influence stretched beyond their own country, some people who might be controversial are included.

Each entry starts with a few sentences about the person's general contribution, then includes any information about the person's family and childhood, career arc, problems faced, and lasting legacy. These range from Al-Ma'mun, who was born in 786, to Malala. People from a variety of backgrounds, careers, and areas of the world are covered. There are some people who will be more well known to Western readers who were converts to Islam, such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, and Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), but I found entries about people like poet Nana Asma'u, born in Nigeria in 1793, to be more interesting. The most fascinating person to me was Abdul Rahman Ibrahim, born in Guinea in 1762 to a powerful West African ruler and enslaved and brought to the US. It amazes me that he is not covered in US history classes.

It's hard to adequately describe collective biographies, but this is a great addition to school and public libraries, and one of a growing number of books covering previously unheralded innovators with significant impact on the world like Baptiste and Wilson's new African Icons: Ten People Who Shaped History and Mir and Jaleel's Muslim Girls Rise (2019, Salaam Reads). My only complaint is that the illustrations, which are gorgeous, don't list the people's name, dates, locations, and blurbs about their contributions. If they did, it would be a good idea to buy two copies so that one could be cut up for bulletin boards. I can't be the only one who reads collective biographies and thinks this way!

It's encouraging that I had two books in one night (the other being Zhao's Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor) that mention people with Uighur heritage. Rebiya Kadeer, known as the Grandmother of Steel and born in 1946, is included in this book.

Korman, Gordon. The Fort
June 28th 2022 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Evan and his brother Luke are being raised by their grandparents since their mother and father's struggles with addiction caused them to walk away from the boys. Evan's grandmother makes him hang out with the son of a coworker, Ricky, and he has to take the boy with him when he meets up with Mitchell (whose single mother has just lost her job, which led her to cancel his therapy sessions for his OCD), C.J.(whose stepfather Marcus buys him all the coolest stuff, but at a cost), and Jason (whose parents are in the middle of a divorce and using him as a bargaining chip). In the woods, they find that the fort they had constructed out of old shower curtains has been destroyed, but Ricky finds a large metal panel. Digging around that, the boys find that it is the door to a cold war era bomb shelter, most likely stocked in the mid 1980s. It has electricity, a composting toilet, a recond player and a VCR with movies like Jaws. There's also a vast quantity of canned food like ravioli that the boys find surprisingly edible. They make a pact to keep it secret, and Jason is told that he can't even tell his girlfriend, Janelle, whose father is a local policeman. The boys are glad to have the new fort as respite from the various things complicating their lives. Evan has to deal with Luke's friend, Jaeger, who tries to get him to steal money from a local restaurant, and who breaks things of the boys' grandmother's when he doesn't get his way. Jason has to deal with his parents' divorce proceedings, and the tug of war they are having with him (and a cactus that blooms once a year) in the middle. Ricky has come from a magnet school in another town, and is studying for the entrance exam to one in Canaan, but has to deal with a baby sister with colic. C.J. has to deal with Marcus' erratic behavior, and when it becomes too much, starts to live in the bomb shelter. The boys pawn some of the silverware they find in the shelter, which belonged to the long dead owner of a local auto parts factory, and using the money to fix a phone and buy a few things brings them onto Jaeger's radar, and they worry that he will find their fort. When Janelle mentions that the police are concerned about the silverware turning up, Jason allows her to come into the fort, and the others aren't happy even though she insists that they do a little bit of cleaning so the place doesn't smell! C.J.'s mother claims that she will leave Marcus, but needs to have a plan. Will the boys be able to keep the fort a secret long enough for C.J. and his mother to get help?
Strengths: This 100th book by middle grade master Korman will definitely be a hit with students. Forty year old ravioli and a fully electrified hiding place in the woods? It's every middle grade reader's dream. Of course, there are plenty of serious issues that would lend themselves well to being a class novel or a read aloud. I appreciated that the boys all had different types of families that better represent the reality we are seeing today, and that Mitchell was neurodivergent. This is told from different perspectives, which can be tricky to pull off, but which went suprisingly smoothly. Korman continues to understand the details about middle grade life; phones with GPS tracking, the vagaries of friendships, a light romance, school involvement, and even tween transportation. Of course, there's also the fact that  most 12 year old boys would definitely try out ancient canned goods. This had moments of humor with an underlying serious concern, and the fact that the friends all rallied around C.J. and helped him out was touching. This was a book that needed a happy ending that was very much appreciated when it arrived. 
Weaknesses: Five characters is a lot, but I'm not sure which one could have been dropped. It all worked out, and younger readers seem to do better with multiple perspectives than I do, maybe because they've been raised on Wonder and Because of Mr. Terupt
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and the author's note outlining his career will entice readers to check out his other work. 

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Coming Up Short, Golden Ticket

Morrison, Laurie. Coming Up Short
June 21st 2022 by Amulet Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

**Spoilers in "strengths and weaknesses".**

Bea has two very supportive parents who are glad to have her, since both suffered the loss of spouses before they reconnected after knowing each other while in high school on Gray Island. Her father is the head of the school parent organization and works with Bea a lot to perfect her softball skills, and goes to every game. It seems odd, then, that he is not there to take her and her mother home one night. Bea finds out that her father, who has just set up his own law business, made an error and spent some client money on company expenses when the account was low. He realized the mistake, admitted to it, and immediately made it right, but when another lawyer involved in the case spots his picture on Instagram at the ball game, he makes a big fuss about it and the entire community finds out. In a horrible twist, the other lawyer is the father of Bea's crush, Xander, with whom she is finally starting to connect. While most people are supportive of the family, the impact of this revelation (which is going to cause financial problems for the family as well) sends Bea into a spiral of self-doubt, and this is reflected in her performance on the field. She decides to change the softball summer camp that she is going to attend, and manages to make calls and put the process in motion to get her  parents a refund and attend a camp on Gray Island with her softball idol. She will stay with her Aunt Mary, who doesn't seem to get along too well with her mother. Bea meets several of her  mother's old friends, and is surprised to find Aunt Mary easy to get along with. She understands that coming back to the island is hard for her mother, since that's where she lived with her first husband, and where he supposedly died of cancer. Or did he? She is in close contact with her parents, and can see that her father is struggling. She wants to make things better, so engineers an ice cream social after the last game so that her parents will have to visit the island. Camp goes okay, and Bea learns a lot about getting out of her head. She also gets attention from the coach, who suggests that she might want to try for a scholarship to the fancy private school on the island. Unfortunately Hannah, the daughter of her mother's best friend, is depending on the scholarship, since she is dealing with her father living far away and her mother's business having problems. For a while, she and Bea are friendly, but the two fall out right before the social. Will Bea figure out how she should go forward with her new reality, and will she be able to find a balance in her life that supports her mental well being?
Strengths: I am always looking for more realistic fiction with girls playing sports, and softball is always popular. It was fun that we returned to the Gray Island setting up Up For Air, and the brief information about the business situation involving The Creamery was oddly compelling. The softball summer camp was a lot of fun, and there were even some tips for players. Aunt Mary was a supportive character who is a teacher in the local high school, so she was well versed on all the current ways of talking to young people when they have problems, so she helped Bea more than her parents were able to. The father's business downfall was realistically portrayed; when I was in middle school, one of my friend's fathers actually spent time in jail for business fraud, so white collar crime does happen, and does have effects on families. Bea's desire to help her parents cope, and to make them proud, is not unusual. The friend drama with Hannah will make this appealing to readers, and Morrison does a top rate middle school romance, although we don't see nearly enough of Xander!

**Stop reading if you don't want the spoiler.**
Weaknesses: I am diametrically opposed to the way that Bea treated her mother, so I will try to be measured in this opposition. Her mother's past life is none of Bea's business. If the only way her mother can cope with the suicide of her first husband is to tell Bea he died of cancer and to never return to Gray Island, everyone should let her do it. I don't understand the current trend to further traumatize people who have lost a loved one to suicide by making them talk about it, or, better yet, making them listen to ways one can "prevent suicide". Should Bea get counseling to deal with her parents' reversal of fortune? Of course. That's what good parents do. Does Bea's mother need counseling? No. She sounds like she is doing fairly well, and people should just leave her alone. 
What I really think: While I would like to see more softball books that have characters who are having a little more fun, this had enough softball to make it worth purchasing. Morrison has a style similar to Jenn Bishop's (Things You Can't Say, The Distance to Home), and is a great choice for upper middle grade readers. I can appreciate that the Gen Z and Millenials have a different approach to mental health than my Gen X view of "suck it up and tough it out and be the best you can" (John Mellencamp, Minutes to Memories) one, but I'm not sure that they are any happier or able to cope than my generation. 

Egan, Kate. Golden Ticket.
June 21st 2022 by Feiwel Friends 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Aisling “Ash” McNulty, whose parents are from Ireland and work hard at the restaurant they own, has been in the Gifted and Talented program at her elementary school since she was in first grade. Now that she is in fifth grade, she is struggling with assignments, like the essay she had to do on Orwell's Animal Farm. She's hiding her grade card from her parents, and planning to win the Quiz Bowl the way she did in 4th grade. She feels that this will help keep her in the gifted program, even though she doesn't feel she should still be there. New girl Tilly isn't a fan of the program, and doesn't understand why some students get more resources just because they excel academically. When Ash resorts to underhanded tactics to win the Quiz Bowl, Tillie catches her, and due to this as well as other circumstances, Ash is "demoted" to the regular class where she struggles to make sense of who she is if she is no longer "gifted". 
Strengths: As someone whose children attended a gifted magnet school, I can relate to much of the social commentary in this book. I always felt that my "gifted" children would do fine no matter where they were placed, and that maybe the extra resources should be used to bring other children up to grade level. Ash's anxiety over her situation in on trend, and this is a great fifth grade school novel to read along with Shovan's The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, Buyea's Because of Mr. Terupt, Finnegan's Susie B. Won't Back Down, or McGovern's Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen
Weaknesses: A bit too young for my students. The gifted and talented program works much differently at my school.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Cartoon Saturday- The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza, Batpig

Harrell, Rob. Batpig: Too Pig To Fail (Batpig #2)
June 28th 2022 by Dial Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Having saved the world (or at least his neighborhood) in Batpig: When Pigs Fly (Batpig #1), Gary and his friends Brooklyn and Carl are back. This time, they are stuck in a math class about fractions that never ends. It turns out that the clock tower of the school building was hit by lightning, and the mild mannered custodian (who has helped Gary find his retainer a whole bunch of times) has turned into Time Guy, and is slowing down time in order to punish students for not being appreciative enough. Gary realizes that the process could be reversed if everyone is having fun, so laboriously brings in  everyone's favorite activities. The idea works, and everyone as a new appreciation for the custodian. There are additional stories centering around two space aliens who unleash a rain of stinky socks on the world, and after reading Carl's worst fears, send a bumblebee kitten to terrorize the neighborhood. This happens when Gary  and his friends are watching their favorite superhero film a movie, and when Gary needs to save the day, he must borrow his idol's costume. When the bumblekitten threatens the pet shop where Carl has a new acquarium on layaway with Ms. Fishbol, he overcomes his fear to try to save one of his favorite people. As always, Gary and his friends do their  best to fight evil, no matter how strange it is.
Strengths: Gary and his friends are such a fun group. They support each other (Gary and Brooklyn are contributing secretly to Carl's aquarium), but also give each other a hard time (they make fun of his attitude toward being Batpig and wearing his uniform all the time). There are lots of fun details about school that ring absolutely true, and I loved that the kids in class all supported and thanked the hard working custodian. The aliens are goofy, but set up the scene for Batpig to save the day nicely. The illustrations are colorful and fun. This graphic novel is the closest thing I've seen to old style comic books like Richie Rich. Quite delightful
Weaknesses: Batpig's powers could be used for better things, but then, so could Dog Man's. It's enough for him just to save his neighborhood.
What I Really Think: Definitely purchasing, and my students will be glad to see the continuation of Gary's story. (If this sounds lukewarm, it's because I'm typing the review with one hand after installation of my RoboGrip on the first day of summer vacation, and it's harder than I thought it would be!)

Barnett, Mac and Harris, Shawn. The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza
May 10th 2022 by Katherine Tegen Books
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Scientists discover that rats are eating the moon, and unveil their secret weapon to stop it; a cat enhanced with microchips and a space suit with cybernetic biotechnology! The cat is sent to the moon on a space ship where there is a stowaway, Loz 400, who was created by scientists to trim toenails but seeks more purpose. The ship's computer is jealous, but Cat and Loz develop a plan to save the moon. They meet the Queen of the Moon who has a key to the Dark Side, where the rats are. It's a treacherous journey across the moon, and they seek the help of the Man in the Moon so that they can travel under the surface. He feels that Cat is destined to sit in the moon chair and save the day, so allows them safe passage. There journey is filled with all manner of quirky characters, such as a whale who falls in love with Loz's singing, meeting the pirate Captain Babybeard in the Sea of Tranquility, monsters in the shape of hands who steal the Moon Queen's key, and other characters who for some reason want to thwart the Cat as he tries to save the moon from the rats. Will he succeed? And will he ever get a decent slice of pizza?

Barnett does a great job with middle grade humor in The Terrible Two and Mac B.: Spy Kid, and The First Cat in Space has a lot of goofy moments. My favorite was when Cat and his crew found out that Babybeard was a pirate, and they wanted no part of his evil exploits, especially when he prepares to attach a boat full of wide-eyed bunnies who are "just on our way to snuggle with lonely grandmas"! Readers who are familiar with books that embrace the traditional fantasy hero's journey will chuckle at how Cat's journey mirrors those tropes while also being tremendously ridiculous. 

Harris' rough drawings, heavy on penciled or charcoaled outlines, lend a feeling of otherworldliness and also humor. Cat looks rather inscrutable, and the Moon Queen looks a bit like a doll. Loz and the ship's computer both get bigger roles than one would imagine. The rats look properly evil, for creatures who are determined to eat the moon. 

Despite the longer format of this book, I think that readers who enjoy Blabey's Bad Guys or Eaton's Flying Beaver Brothers will enjoy this one, and it is also closer to Pilkey's work than a lot of graphic novels I have seen; both have moments of being the James Joyce of the kidlit world in their use of stream of consciousness. Brockington's Catstronauts: Mission Moon is another good read alike for kids who can't get enough of goofy graphic novels.

I did have some questions. Why couldn't Cat have landed on the correct side of the moon? Wouldn't his space ship have come with a rover that would have expedited travel?

Definitely thought of this meme, that author Ryan Gebhart (There Will Be Bears) posted on Twitter. This pretty much sums up my feelings about LOTR. Fine, but takes waaay too long when they keep going up the hill. JUST GET THERE. So, yes, felt a little of that.

Friday, June 24, 2022

The Hurricanes of Weakerville

Rylander, Chris. The Hurricanes of Weakerville
June 21st 2022 by Walden Pond Press 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Alex Weakerman loves his hometown in Iowa, and has deep family roots there. Not only did his family found the town, but his elderly grandfather "owns half of it", including the baseball team that is part of an independent league. He also owns Mustard Park, where they train. Even into his 80s, Ira has been taking care of the team along with a coach, but when his cancer advances and he passes away, Alex and his parents are dismayed to find out that the team has been losing money for years and his grandfather has gone into debt supporting the team. Not only that, but the team is now owned by his brother-in-law, Tex, who makes Alex the manager and says that he might be able to save the team if they can make the championships. Looking to his friend, Slips, for help, and recruiting Aliyah, the best baseball player in town who is also a rather cute classmate, Alex sets out to bring more people to the games, increase revenue, and win games. Alex loves baseball, and is great with statistics, even though he doesn't play well himself. Alex is overweight and unsure of himself, and experiences daily, small catastrophes of social interaction caused by what he calls "Flumpo". Grieving his grandfather in his own way and not wanting to lose Mustard Park (which Tex plans to sell) and his way of life in Weakerville, Alex battles to keep players, recruit new ones, and help the team get better at the game. There are plenty of obstacles in his way, including the problems a phenomenal player, Carla, has with her family's past, which may include local colorful personality, Gloves. Using his grandfather's notes, and trying to coach the team bring Alex closer to his grandfather. Will he be able to make his biggest fan proud of him?
Stregnths: I loved the Iowa setting, since I have family in towns about the size of Weakerville (Hello, Denison, Iowa!), and the depiction was spot on with chain stores taking local business and economic downturns affecting the population. While it was a bit of a stretch to put Alex in charge, it was done realistically, and he does have support, and Tex oversees things a bit. His friend Slips, who is from Poland, doesn't much care for baseball but does an excellent job supporting his friend, and it's good to see Aliyah bringing her skills to help as well. There's lots of baseball for those who want play-by-plays, and just enough history to add depth to the story. Alex's father's love of barbecue is a running joke, and it's interesting that he wasn't as interested in baseball. Ira's death is handled in a middle grade appropriate way, and Alex's handling of it seemed realistic. Slips is worried that Alex is bottling things up, but he's really just channeling his grief into the Hurricanes. This was a humorous and innovative baseball story. 
Weaknesses: There were a lot of things going on, many of which had to do with facets of baseball that I didn't understand. Are there independent leagues? What does this even mean? Had some of the tangential baseball information been replaced by some more inclusion of the more humorous elements, like Alex's father's love of barbecue, this would have wider appeal. I really thought the team and the town would be saved by the family recipe for mustard. That was a missed opportunity.
What I really think: This reminded me, oddly, of Paolo Bacigalupi's 2013 Zombie Baseball Beatdown or Will Weaver's 1995 Billy Baggs series, maybe because of the small town Iowa setting. Rylander is very popular in my library, so I will go ahead and purchase this. My question is always "To which students will I hand this book?" If I can't think of any current students, why am I purchasing the book? I can think of at least a dozen who would enjoy this, including one I wish I could hand it to right now! 

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Secret of the Shadow Beasts

Magras, Diana. Secret of the Shadow Beasts
June 14th 2022 by Dial Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Nora and her mother live on a farm in Brannland, and narrowly survive an attack by Umbrae in spider forms, the likes of which had previously killed her father. Even though Nora is immune to the venom of these shadow beasts and could have been sent off to train as a knight who would fight them, her father wanted her to have a normal childhood. Since only children have immunity to the Umbrae venom, Nora is motivated by the attack to contact the government and volunteer to leave her mother and fight the beasts as a knight in the MacAskill order, even though it means leaving home and her best friend Wilfred. The government does provide help for her mother, and whisks Nora off to a castle to be trained and to join a group that will go on two week missions to fight the Umbrae that are devastating the countryside. The Umbrae haven't always been a problem, but humans disturbing their habitats have caused them to prey on humans, especially adults, although they pause slightly before attacking children. Even though she has had no formal training, Nora's skills are formidable, and she impresses the administration enough to be put on a team with Amar, Cyril, Tove, and Eve, who is very bitter about the death of a teammate and close friend. Most of the team is friendly and impressed with Nora's skill, including Murdo, who is older and leads the team on their first mission. Interestingly, the other teams who also fight Umbra keep to themselves, and Nora is chided for her friendly overtures to them. Two weeks of fighting Umbrae all night isn't easy, and since right before leaving, a woman named Nadia Bakari had mentioned to Nora that she knew Nora's father, Nora is a little distracted. Even though Nora fights well, it's clear that she needs some training. Not only does Nora reveal some secrets, but there are bigger secrets involving decades old abatement methods for the Umbrae that may have made the problem worse. Will Nora and her team be able to put this history of the knights into perspective, as well as survive the fights with the horrible creatures?
Strengths: Nora was an engaging character who was torn between making her parents happy, and doing the best for her community. It seems realistic that she would be motivated to join the knights, and her involvement with video games that she plays with Wilfred might explain her well developed fighting skills. There's a little bit of a Harry Potter feel to the castle where the group trains, which will appeal to fantasy readers who like "academy" tales. The cast is somewhat diverse, and the secrets add an interesting layer to the story, which has plenty of action and adventure. It was good to see that the adults in the story are all fairly supportive. This seems like it could have a sequel. 
Weaknesses: While there was a little of the genesis of the Umbra and the history of Brannland, I still felt a bit unsure of the location and time period of the setting. There was technology, but also castles and bothys. Perhaps there will be more explanation in a subsequent adventure. Nora's extremely good fighting skills made it feel like she must have been trained when she was young, but this doesn't seem to have been the case.
What I really think: This is a good title for fans of this author's The Mad Wolf's Daughter , and its sequel, The Hunt for the Mad Wolf's Daughter, George's The Rose Legacy series (which this reminded me strongly of), Short's The Mutant Mushroom TakeoverMartin's The Monster Missionsand other fantasy adventure titles where only tweens can save the day. 

Also out now:

Kim, Graci. The Last Fallen Moon (Gifted Clans #2) 
June 7th 2022 by Rick Riordan Presents
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

The Last Fallen Star was one that I really enjoyed, and it has circulated fairly well, but I really hope this wraps up after the next book. Three books is about all my readers have patience for, and even really good series, like Chokshi's Aru Shah, tend not to circulate after the third book, even when I recommend them. 

I'll definitely purchase this, but my Fantasy Amnesia acted up when I read this in the middle of three weeks of state testing!

For Riley Oh, life as the Godrealm’s last fallen star is not all it’s cracked up to be. Her new divine heritage doesn’t even come with cool magical powers; half of her friends and family (including her parents) can’t remember her; and to top it all off, the entire Gom clan is mad at her for killing the Cave Bear Goddess and stripping away their healing abilities.

But when their anger boils over and a group of witches curse Riley’s home, she knows it’s up to her to restore magic back to her clan – even if it means sneaking into the Spiritrealm.

Luckily, Riley has some backup. Along with her sister, Hattie, Riley meets Dahl, a heaven-born boy with shockingly white hair and a fondness for toilets who might not be telling the whole truth about who he is. Together they’ll fight vicious monsters, discover dark underwater worlds, and race to save the land of the dead from a fate that no one could have foreseen.

And this time, Riley won’t let anything get in her way. Because she can’t shake the feeling that something terrible is coming their way – and the gifted community is going to need all the powers they can get.

Happy Title IX Day!

On June 23, 1972, Title IX was signed into law. I was going into second grade. The effects of this law cannot be underestimated. Even though my high school didn't have a girls' cross country team until 1981, the women with whom I graduated high school didn't hesitate from pursuing a wide range of career options, because so many more opportunities were available. 

Middle grade readers have no concept of how different life was for girls and women before their lifetimes. They don't understand why I usually wear skirts and dresses; until the 2000s, that was just what we wore! One of my very favorite books to share with young readers is Karen Blumenthals' 2005 Let Me Play. I've probably bought four copies of it, since it tends to get lost or worn out. (Once, a teacher dropped it in the bathtub because she couldn't stop reading it!)

I am very sad that author Karen Blumenthal passed away very suddenly in 2020. She was going into 7th grade when Title IX passed. She was a fantastic author of Middle Grade nonfiction. 

Blumenthal, Karen. Let Me Play: The Story of Title IX: The Law That Changed the Future of Girls in America
August 30th 2022 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This updated edition of the 2005 book is fairly similar; I wasn't able to grab that edition to compare to the E ARC. It still has the story of Donna de Varona at the beginning; this made a big impression on my. To win an Olympic gold medal and be unable to get a college scholarship because there were no women's swim teams? My young readers are appalled. The chapters are titled with a mixture of sports game references, but the deeper implications of what Title IX meant for education is not neglected. My favorite part of the book is the charts that show how the enrollment in athletic and academic programs changed as the years went on after Title IX was enacted. Now, I think, there are MORE women than men who go into law fields! 

The other thing I enjoyed were the short biographies of a wide range of women who fought for the passage of this legislation. Sidebars featuring well known feminist figures like Patsy Mink and Sally Ride are there, along with more obscure figures such as Myra Bradwell, America's first female Lawyer, and Representative Martha Wright Griffiths. There are also side bars with definitions of things like "libbers and bra burners" and explanations of key historic occurences like the Equal Pay Act and female cadets at U.S. military academies. The inclusion of political cartoons and comic strips like Tank McNamara give a humorous look at events of the 1960s and 70s through the lens of primary sources.

New chapters, including "Expanding the Field", which addresses issues of transgender players, "Crossing Boundaries", which delves into Title IX's role in dealing with sexual harassment, and "Extra Innings", which gives powerful examples of the effects of Title IX on women in athletics since the first edition was published all update the first book and show the continuing success of this important legislation. 

If your middle grade and high school libraries don't have this book,  buy two copies if funds allow. It will be well used for history projects, and should be required reading for any girls who are very fond of sports. I do wish that the original photographic cover had been kept. First and Second Wave Feminism often comes underr attack for its lack of intersectionality,  but I love that the faces of girls from the 1970s when they were the same age as the tween readersappear on the cover.