Sunday, July 31, 2022

Inspiring Women and Girls

Vernick, Shirley Reva. The Sky We Shared
June 7th 2022 by Cinco Puntos Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

During World War II, we meet Tamiko, who lives in rural Japan in 1944 and dreams of one day sewing costumes for the theater. Her parents are dead, and she lives with an aunt. Her brother Kyo, has worked with her in the rice fields, but food is so scarce that he decides to join the army. Tamiko is not happy, but there is little she can do but send a daruma doll with him for luck. She and her friend Suki are told that they will be going to a nearby city to work on a project, and Tamiko hopes she can use her skills. When the group has to walk, she is told that she will not be going because she is somewhat lame, having had polio. She sneaks into the group and is soon working on giant paper balloons that are washi paper with potato glue. There are twelve hour shifts, only two rice balls a day, plus some amphetamine tablets, and the girls must sleep on the cold floor. Everyone works hard, hoping to aid the soldiers who are fighting for the Emperor Hirohito in his holy war. 

In Oregon, in 1945, we meet Nellie. Her father is stationed in Alaska with the army, and her best friend Joey seems distant since the death of his older brother. Life goes on, and the families must deal with rationing, scrap drives, and propaganda. Joey is angry at the local military recruiter and sets fire on his property, but Nellie covers for him, and the man is actually very understanding. Nellie's best friend, Ruby, has a grandfather who raises pigeons, and the girls go about their days, attending school and church. Since the weather has been warm, Pastor Mitchell and his wife, who is expecting, plan on taking some of the children on a picnic in the woods. 

When the balloons are almost done, the soldiers let Tamiko know that they will be used to bomb the US. Tamiko tells the other workers, who are all glad to help the soldiers and hopefully bring a swift end to the war by attacking the US. Suki has been sent home because she is coughing blood, a sure sign of tuberculosis. Hiroshima is bombed, and Suki feels that attacking the US is not the best idea, but Tamiko is still so worried about her brother that she falls out with her friend over this. Conditions continue to worsen as the Japanese food supply is cut off, and even the local trader has nothing to give Tamiko for a picture frame, or even to eat herself. When Kyo comes home, but is injured, Tamiko continues her attempt to fold 1,000 origami cranes and hope that the war will soon be over. 

On the church picnic, Nellie is worried about Joey, who is still struggling with his brother's death. When Mrs. Mitchell takes some of the children into the woods to look for another, Nellie is just about to head after them when there is a huge explosion. One of the balloon bombs made in Japan had landed on Gearheart Mountain but not exploded, but detonated when it was perhaps kicked. Five children, along with Mrs. Mitchell, were killed. Joey and Nellie both worried it was their fault, for various reasons, and their small town of Bly is rocked by the deaths. They don't quite understand why the Navy had to be called in to investigate, but they later find that these bombs have landed around the US, but had not killed anyone. There had been a gag on the press reporting the bombs, which was lifted for public safety, albeit too late for Bly's residents. When a family of Japanese citizens goes through town shortly after the funerals, since internment camps were being closed, the residents attempt to stone them. Nellie, however, goes out with a pitcher of water and yells at her neighbors to leave them alone. She's all too aware that her father is still out there, and that more hate is not the answer. 

Just when I thought there were no more WWII stories for me to discover, here is one that is entirely new. This is based on the only civilians who were killed by enemy weapons on mainland soil, Vernick does a masterful job of weaving together both sides of the balloon bombs in a sympathetic way. Young readers might be surprised by Nellie's derogatory use of the term "Japs", but this book does manage to capture the sentiment of characters from both Japan and the US. 

In addition to delving into the complicated emotions that war engenders, which were well researched and had several sensitivity readers for Tamiko's story, there are a delightful plethora of historical details about daily life. Lee and Low, now the parent company of Cinco Puntos Press, always produces books that handle cultural topics sensitively. I'm a huge fan of working the smallest details into a story, such as the teacher being (gasp!) barelegged but drawing a hosiery line up her leg, visiting the Best Novelties store to look at toys, or describing some of the meals caused by rationing. Vernick doesn't collect these details just for life in the US, but does a great job of mentioning details of clothing and food in Japan. The one inclusion that I found fascinating and wanted more elaboration for was the pills that the girls working on the balloon received with their rice balls; I knew that the Germans gave their soldiers cocaine and methamphetamine so that they could fight longer, but the stimulants for the girls was only mentioned in passing! 

This was a sad but utterly riveting book detailing two sides of a devastating conflict that should have been a warning against all future wars. While Burkinshaw's The Last Cherry Blossom or Napoli's In a Flash offer rare glimpses of life in Japan during WWII, there aren't many books that cover this topic, so this is a great addition. Other than Seiple's Ghosts in the Fog or Giff's Island War, there is little about attacks on US territories during WWII. The combination of historical detail, unusual history, and exploration of the emotions of two similar girls on opposite sides of a conflict made for riveting reading. If you read just one WWII book this year, make it The Sky We Shared

Chambers, Veronica and Baker, Rachel. Shirley Chisolm is a Verb
July 28th 2020 by Dial Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central 

For readers who are too young for Bolden's Speak Up, Speak Out! The Extraordinary Life of "Fighting Shirley Chisholm (2022) or as an excellent classroom read aloud, Chambers and Baker's Shirley Chisholm is a Verb introduces Chisholm and her career in politics through lively illustrations and innovative prose.

Moving forward from the thought that "Verbs are words that move the world forward", we see Chisholm's childhood in Barbados, her move to New York City, and her path through college and her early career. She started in education, working in early Head Start programs, and using every opportunity to better the world around her for others. She ran for a seat on the New York State assembly and won that, then continued on to serve as a congresswoman and eventually run for president. This was not an easy course to follow, since both women and Blacks faced a lot of opposition, but she was dedicated to changing the world and never gave up.

The use of boldfaced verbs, and pages revolving around how Chisholm "campaigned", "represented" and "created" gives an interesting focus and rhythm to the information presented. This drives the story forward in a compelling way that a standard text might not. This has a lot of information for a read aloud, but the format of the prose keeps the story from seeming lengthy.

Baker's illustrations are bold and bright, and capture some well known photographs of Chisholm. Some of her 1960s and 1970s polyster suits are captured with bright colors; there were so many astonishing outfits that I wish a few more bright colors had been used in the clothing. I love that she didn't default to the black and navy ensembles that so many current women politicians wear!

Chisholm's legacy is well addressed, with information about Ferraro, Obama, Clinton, and the host of new female representatives that have been elected in recent races. The personal note from Chambers, with her recollections of seeing posters for Chisholm as a child, end the book on a personal note.

There are a growing number of picture book biographies, like Bryant's Fall Down Seven Times, Stand Up Eight: Patsy Takemoto Mink and the Fight for Title IX, Levy's I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, and Sotomayor's Turning Pages: My Life Story, that cover pioneering women in the political arena. These make me hopeful that soon there will be so many women in office that it will no longer be noteworthy. Young readers of all cultural backgrounds will soon be able to picture themselves in the highest offices in the land.

Tarnowska, Wafa' and Mintzi, Vali. Nour's Secret Library
March 29th 2022 by Barefoot Books
Copy Provided by Young Adult Books Central

Nour lives in Damascus, a city she loves and which lives up to the meaning of its name, which is often described as "fragrant". She and her cousin Amir love rambling around the city, and wish to have a secret club that would meet in the storeroom of Nour's father's bakery. When the war comes to their neighborhood, they hide in a nearby basement. The fighting wears on, and they spend many nights hiding in the basement, although there is some time during the day when people can go out for more supplies. Buildings are destroyed, and things are very difficult. Nour notices that books help people pass the time, and starts to pick up books that she sees spilling out of abandoned buildings or lying on the street. Soon, her family's home is filled with them, and her parents want to know her plan. She and Amir put together a secret library in the basement of a damaged building that still has some people living in the upper floors. The word spreads about this precious resource, and soon they have a large number of people using their collection for all kinds of reasons; finding medical information, teaching children, or reading to forget the horrors of war. Books, after all, "don't fight with each other like people do".

This timely tale also includes information about Syria and Aleppo at the end of the book, as well as information about famous libraries through history. There is an author's note that informs us that this book is based on the real life library that children put together in Syria.

The illustrations are rendered in beautiful shades of teals, browns, and reds, and the illustrator does an interesting job of playing with the saturation of these tones to indicate whether the moods and settings are dark or light. The prewar pictures have a lot of white space on the page, with light colors of teal, and the basement features very dark colors of it. This was very striking. There is an impressionist feel to the pictures, and the roughly done lines give a feeling of motion to the pictures.

It's good to see Nour and Amir's life before the war, and with what is currently going on in Syria and now Ukraine, this is an excellent book to introduce what children go through during times of war to young readers, but also shows the resiliciency and hope of the young.

There are a lot of picture books about libraries and reading, but not as many that show libraries set up during wartime situations. Stamaky's Alia's Mission gives a graphic novel treatment to a similar setting in Iraq. This is a great book to pair with Tokuda-Hall's Love in the Library, which covers a library that was created in a Japanese internment camp, and has a similar feeling of hope. Tate's William Still and His Freedom Stories also would be a good companion for this one, and talks about the power of words during the time of the Underground Railroad in the US.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Dog Picture Books

Sorosiak, Carlie and Holzwarth, Devon. Everywhere With You
May 17th 2022 by Walker Books
Copy provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this vividly illustrated picture book, we meet a dog who is not well cared for. Outside at all hours, the dog, the dog howls inconsolably, digs holes in the year, and is left to his own devices in an overgrown yard. When a girl appears on the other side of the fence with food, the two bond. While the dog can't get through the fence, the girl reads and talks to him, pets him, and brings him food. The stories he hears give him hope, and the brief glimpses of the girl and her family in their home make him long for the warm and supportive family he has never had. He howls, and the girl comes to comfort him, but he has to stay in his own yard until a storm damages the fence and he is able to escape. He rushes to the girl's house, where he is taken in for the night. Luckily, the neighbors agree to let the family keep the dog. After a good bath, the dog snuggles up with his little girl, whom he would follow anywhere.

This is a bit larger format than many picture books (10.5" x 12"), which gives Holzworth plenty of space for vibrantly colored illustrations full of movement and detail. The color palette has a lot of peach but also black, representing the dog's loneliness at night. There is an abundance of foliage depicted, and the girl's stories are represented with backgrounds of all the characters she voices from her books

The dog isn't shown as being abused, so younger readers will just understand that the dog is lonely, and at least he is not chained up. Clearly, however, he is neglected, which makes this tale even sadder for adult readers. Like Papp's Madeline Finn and the Shelter Dog, this points out the power of reading out loud, even if it is to a dog. Since my dog is the only one to whom I read out loud, I can say that he enjoyed this story. Or the belly rub that went with it. Hard to tell!

Sorosiak is known to me for her great middle grade books like I, Cosmo and and My Life as a Cat, as well as the upcoming Always, Clementine(September 2022), but she also writes a riveting picture book. Pair this with Jones' Perdu, Thompson's A Family for Louie, Guojing's Stormy, or Cummings' Can I Be Your Dog for a wooftastic read about dogs connecting with people who love them.

Sayegh, Rob. Love Tails. 
March 9th 2021 by Harry N. Abrams

This short picture book announces that "every dog has a tail!" and show us a variety of dogs romping outside and getting to know each through sniffing. The book is arranged so that the dogs appear to be in a long line; we see one dog's bottom, and when we turn the page, we see his head. There are a variety of dogs, little and big, that frolic across the pages. The final message is that a dog's wiggling and waggling tale always proclaims "I love you". 

There must be a trend for children's book illustrations in the last five years to increasingly embrace a 1960s aesthetic. This has the sponge painting texture to the background, exuberantly colored flowers, and an angular feel to the dogs that makes me think of some of the books I had as a child. This made me think of Brown's The Color Kittens, a bit. The dogs have heart shaped noses and often have goofy expressions on their faces which are rather delightful. 

The text is very simple and would bear up to multiple rereadings; something about it just begs for the reader to go back to the beginning and start all over again. Yound readers will giggle at the pictures of dogs sniffing each other's behinds, but that is, in fact, how dogs greet each other! 

I love dogs, and read dog books to my own dog! There are never enough books about our furry friends. Include this in an ever growing stack of books about adorable dogs that includes Boyer's So Cute! Puppies, Green's Silly Fluffy Barking Jumping Wet-Nosed Dog Book, Ward's Dog Love: A Picture Book for Dog Lovers, and my favorite, Whaite's 100 Dogs: Playful Pups to Count.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Guy Friday- Trip to the Sea

Parr, Maria. Lena, Me, and the Sea
August 3rd 2021 by Candlewick Press (first published 2017)
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Trille and his best friend Lena are back after their Adventures with Waffles. Lena has just come back from vacation on Crete, and the two are making plans for the rest of their summer. Of course, there is a lot of sailing, sometimes with Trille's grandfather, who is a fisherman. There's also dreaded piano lessons, which neither of them enjoy, but which Trille is trying to pay attention to because he thinks his piano skills might impress fellow student Birgit, who is from the Netherlands. Trille and Lena also played soccer together in the past, but a new coach has made the experience less fun for Trille, and he drops out. He spends a lot of time hanging out with Birgit, hiking the hills around their coastal town of Mathildewick Cove. Trille's mother has been cranky and gaining weight, and Lena (who is very forthright in everything she does) informs him that his mother is going through menopause. Concerned, Trille talks to his mother and encourages her to go to the doctor. When she does, she finds out that she is pregnant with her fifth child! Trille wants to make his mother happy, but also wants to stay friends with Lena, who is always involved in some questionable stunt like stringing Trille's younger sister Krolla up in a tree (ala Lindgren's Emil and the Great Escape) or going Christmas caroling in the middle of a storm. Luckily, the community is supportive, and helps out when Lena gets her friends in a jam.

This was an interesting look at daily life in a Norwegian fishing community, and the scenes and goings on are described in such a way that I could see Trille's adventures in my mind's eye... although they appeared as they would have should Maj Lindman (of the Swedish Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka books) have illustrated them. Trille's family runs a farm, and while their life is hectic, it is also very stable. Lena, who is a force of nature akin to Pippi Longstocking, has a very young mother and a very new stepfather who is a doctor.

The really interesting part of this book was Trille and Lena's evolving friendship. Friendships are so key to middle grade readers, and it's interesting to see the two as they investigate their own separate identities. Lena isn't a fan of music, but Trille feels more drawn to the piano. He also doesn't feel the same way about soccer as avid player Lena does. They still have plenty in common, but they are apart enough that Trille starts to worry about their friendship. The way that Lena is the most central character, but is seen through Trille's eyes, reminded me a bit of the way we see Spinelli's Stargirl through the eyes of Leo.
I haven't seen a lot of titles translated from Nordic languages, but I'm always interested in seeing how people live in different parts of the world. This is somewhat similar to Rose Lagercrantz's My Happy Life
(which is set in Sweden) series, and would definitely be a great book to hand to a reader who has met and adores Astrid Lindgren's classic works.
I'll be sending this off to one of the elementary schools that already has Adventures with Waffles.

Giuliani, Emma. At the Sea
April 12th 2022 by Princeton Architectural Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Siblings Robin and Plum have a pleasant day at the beach planned. They head there with a kite and a pail, and along the way notice all of the flora and fauna they pass, from bunny tail grass to invasive ice plants. Once they get to the beach, and see shells, pebbles, and small creatures like clams and star fish that have been uncovered by the tide. When they go further to the port, they sea ships, sail boats, and seagulls. The two then board a boat, and the captain takes them to the Island of a Thousand Birds. He also teaches them about maritime safety and traditions like captain's logs and signal flags. From the boat, they can see many sea inhabitants like jellyfish, rays, and triggerfish. Once on the island, which is a protective sanctucary for birds, they get to travel to the top of a light house and see puffins, gannets, and seals sunning themselves on the rocks. Having been able to witness all of this beautiful, natural world, they think abou tthe ways in which people can protect these resources by studying the link between oceans and the climate, analyzing plastic pollution, observing plankton, and keeping track of the numbers of threatened animals.

This extremely large format (11.5"x 16") book has strikingly simple illustrations in bold colors, and a wealth of information about the beach environment. There is a big spread on the left hand side of the page giving an overview of the area where the children are underneath the few sentences describing the story of their day out. On the facing page are around six smaller boxes, delineated by color and lines, that highlight specific information about plants, animals, or the environment. Some of these have flaps that can be lifted, and more information is located on or underneath the flap.

The language is simple and direct, and gives good examples of the environmental importance of the topic being discussed. Robin and Plum interact with this information in a natural way, and their trip to the beach and then to the island is a pleasant framework for the multitude of important facts about the coastal climate and its impact on the world at large.

Readers who can't get enough about the sea and have read Fleming's A Tide Pool Waits, Nat Geo Kids At the Beach, Stahl's Save the Ocean, Lee's The Atlas of Migrating Planst and Animals, and Mihaly's Water: A Deep Dive of Discovery will enjoy this introduction to marine climates, and readers who would like a virtual visit to the shore will find this a good way to travel virtually.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Team Chu and the Battle of Blackwood Arena

Dao, Julie C. Team Chu and the Battle of Blackwood Arena
July 26th 2022 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux 
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus
Sadie and Clarence "Clip" Chu LOVE to play laser tag and get very competitive when they and their friends play games at the local Lase-Zone. Clip is a bit older and a little better at the game that Sadie is, and he loves to rub it in her face when she loses. Sadie excels at school and Clip doesn't, so he's jealous and a little miffed that she is trying to best him at the one area where he feels successful. Sadie often bristles at the way her Vietnamese grandparents fawn over Clip just because he's a boy, so there is a very realistic undercurrent of sibling rivalry that impacts their laser tag games. When a new gaming center is built in their town, the kids are very excited. The night before the opening, the go to the site to have a look and meet the owner, Mardella Blackwood. She is kind enough to show them around, and even gives them a few tickets. The most exciting thing about Blackwood Arena is the Virtual Reality aspect of the laser tag courts, and the fact that the winners on the leader boards for the complex will have the opportunity to participate in a reality survival type show run by Blackwood's parent company, JCD Universal, a multimedia conglomerate that produces many of the games Clip loves. This intensifies the rivalry, and as summer vacation begins, Clip decides to sneak off and play a few rounds to help rack up points. Unfortunately, he runs into Tom, a boy whom both he and Sadie have seen before in the game. Tom claims that he is stuck in the video game and needs help to get out. When Clip goes missing, Sadie is able to pinpoint the last place he was seen as Blackwood. Will she and her friends be able to rescue clip and manage to free Tom from his captivity as well? This is one of those books where I don't want to give too many details and spoil some of the plot twists!
Strengths: I guess that technically, laser tag is not a computer/video game, but this certainly going to have huge appeal for young readers who love technological games! There are plenty of details about what the children are doing, and, like with football books, I figure if I don't quite understand everything in the play-by-plays, it will go over well with the target demographic who WILL understand everything. My favorite part was the supportive but busy parents, and the grandparents who step in to take care of the children. The grandmother being called on the carpet by Sadie for how she treated Clip preferentially was fantastic, and I loved that the grandmother understood what she did and took steps to treat her grandchildren more equally. There is even some nasty anti-Asian bullying against Clip that Sadie stands up to, and it's good to see that other kids who are around stick up for the Chus as well. The Blackwood Arena setting is pure wish fulfillment, as is its ties with JCD Universal. Clip and Sadie could definitely have another book where they compete in the reality show.
Weaknesses: While the whole reason Tom is trapped in the game, and the sadness this causes, is well developed, Blackwood Arena was so cool that I didn't get as invested in that part of the story as I should have. I appreciated that the issue of how expensive it would be to play all the time is addressed briefly, but it would probably be more of a road block to actual tweens than it is in the book, but that's just a guess, since I haven't been to a similar venue in years. 
What I really think: This will be hugely popular with readers who like Anderson's Insert Coin to Continue, Zhao's Last Gamer Standing, Mancusi's Dragon Ops, and Hansen's My Video Game Ate My Homework. I'm going to buy two copies of this, since I think it will be every bit as popular as Game Over, Pete Watson, and I've never regretted buying two copies of that. I predict that this will be a number one choice for book projects!

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Children of the Quicksands

Traoré, Efua. Children of the Quicksands
July 26th 2022 by Chicken House
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Simi's parents are recently divorced, so when her pharmacist mother is too busy with work to watch her in Lagos, Nigeria over the summer, she decides to send Simi to spend two months with the grandmother she has never met. Iyanla (who doesn't like to be called "grandmother" because it makes her feel like she's "back at the white man's school), lives in Ajao, a small village in the jungle that does not have all of the amenities that Simi is used to back home. Her grandmother is a healer, and spends her days helping others in her community with various issues. One of Simi's first tasks is to do a short distance from Iyanla's house to pick a few ube, but she is enthralled by a bird that she sees, and follows it into the jungle, despite Iyanla's warnings that this is very dangerous. She gets sucked into quicksand, which pulls her through into another world! She sees children there, but they don't see her, and she manages to get back to Ajao. She doesn't tell her grandmother about this adventure. She meet Jide, the son of the chief, who works often with Iyanla. Jide, who goes by Jay, makes fun of her for being soft and citified, even though he spends most of his time at boarding school in Lagos himself. The chief is concerned that a girl has gone missing, and takes this matter up with Iyanla, who is a priestess of Oshun. Simi is skeptical at first, but the more she learns about Oshun and the lake dedicated to the goddess, the more the story rings true. Every ten years, a child is taken by the goddess, which upsets the community. After her experiences with the quicksand, Simi has reason to doubt this. This is also part of the reason that Simi's mother hasn't spoken to Iyanla; there is sad family history related to this event. When a village girl Simi has befriended, Bubu, goes into a trance, the village decides to fill the lake with sand so that Oshun can't claim any more children. Iyanla doesn't think this is the answer, but Simi and Jay are sent back to Lagos because of the threat. Simi is bored staying at her father's apartment, and isn't too fond of his new girlfriend. She meets up with Jay, and they decide they must travel back to Ajao to save the lake. Will they be able to help Iyanla defend her goddess?
Strengths: Simi is a great character; she doesn't really know any other way of life than that in her city apartment with an overprotective mother, but she embraces her grandmother's way of life without too much complaint, and is quick to try and help out. So many stories about children who have to spend time somewhere else involve so much whining, and while Simi isn't all that thrilled to be in Ajao, she really makes an effort to appreciate a different lifestyle. There are lots of good details about every day life with Iyanla, and Jay is a good guide for her, since he has spent much more time in Ajao but understands Simi's perspective. The magic is part of every day life, and Iyanla has a lot of rules concerning it that Simi doesn't quite understand, which leads to a few critical adventures, like her trip into the quicksand world. 
Weaknesses: I always have a little trouble believing when children are sent off to stay with grandparents they have never met. It seemed more logical that Simi would have stayed with her father, but then there wouldn't have been a story!
What I really think: It's great to finally see fantasy books that aren't all based in Celtic and Welsh mythology. There are at least three other fantasy books just with Nigerian cultural connections, and many others from different countries in Africa. This is great, since I have a fair number of students with Nigerian backgrounds who have enjoyed Okorafor's Ikenga, Davies' Minecraft: The Haven Trials, and Perry's  Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022


Rose, Caroline Starr. Miraculous
July 26th 2022 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Cora lives in the town of Oakdale, Ohio in the late 1800s. It's a small, close knit town with its share of strange traditions and secrets. When Dr. Kingsbury and his young assistant Jack arrive in town to hawk their patent medicine during October of a year of terrible drought, things get interesting. Another boy who worked with the doctor, Isaac, had a falling out with his employer and left suddenly. This leaves a lot of responsibility that falls on Jack. Jack, who is from Kentucky, is working with the doctor because his "Miraculous Tonic" saved his baby sister Lucy from dying after a fever and illness. He sends his wages home, but misses his family and is starting to have suspicions about Dr. Kingsbury. His methods of increasing business start to seem shady the more Jack gets involved in mustering crowds and addressing them with the benefits of this miracle drug. There are many in town who seek him out, especially after a demonstration "cures" a local man of his deafness. Mr. Ogburn, the school teacher, has a bad tremor. Miss Moore, the milliner, has debilitating headaches, but also thinks she recognizes the brash and singular doctor from her home in Indiana. Cora herself is dealing with her grandmother's failing memory. We also see flashback from Silas, who worked on a farm that had a horrible when he was a boy and who has come back to buy the farm and reconnect with his past. When Jack finds out some secrets about Dr. Kingsbury and sees him play with the emotions of the townspeople, promising that the tonic will end the drought in order to boost sales, he realizes that he must speak up against the fraudulent doctor, even if this puts him in danger. Will he be able to alert Oakdale before tragedy occurs?
Strengths: Aside from Fowler's Snakes and Stones (Sky Pony Press 2016), I can't think of another book that addresses patent medicine sales, or traveling salesmen at all. These would have been a large part of rural communities from the 1880s well into the 1940s. My mother spoke nostalgically about "the dish man" who would visit their farm, sharpening knives and selling a variety of kitchen equipment. Oakdale is a fairly typical community, and we see a wide selection of residents and how they interact. There is a lot of good description of what the Miraculous tonic is, how it is made, and how Dr. Kingsbury markets it to people; it clears up everything from skin blemishes to crippled legs, and much of its power comes from believing it will work. The author's informative note at the back would be good for young readers unfamiliar with the concept of patent medicine or of daily life in the late 1800s to read first. One thing I particularly thought was interesting was how slowly news moved at the time; Miss Moore has to write a letter to her mother asking about Dr. Kingsbury, and it's only because some recent news about a case concerning him has come to light again that her mother has some information for her! A very interesting and well done book about an underrepresented facet of US history. 
Weaknesses: I've been hanging out with blood thirsty tweens too much. This felt like it could have taken a really dark turn, and that Dr. Kingsbury could have had a trail of dead teen boys who crossed him throughout the midwest. This didn't happen in any kind of gruesome way; I was just as glad, but my readers would have been more likely to pick this up if it had!
What I really think: This was a great historical novel in the vein of Parry's Last of the Name, Hilmo's Cinnamon Moonor MacColl's Rory's Promise. Those seem a bit random; I think Jack, and the fact that he left his family at such a young age and had to work because of economic hardship is the thread that these stories together. 

Monday, July 25, 2022

MMGM- The Code Breaker

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Isaacson, Walter and Durand, Sarah (Adapted by)
The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna and the Race to Understand Our Genetic Code -- Young Readers Edition
April 26th 2022 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers ISBN

Jennifer Doudna was born in Hawaii in 1964 (a year before I was!) and was always interested in science. One of her favorite books was Watson's 1968 The Double Helix, which told about his and Crick's discovery of DNA, and she was especially interested in Rosalind Franklin's unheralded contributions to this major scientific finding, and well as the treatment she received. Luckily, her parents supported her in this, even though her school guidance couselor told her that science fields weren't for girls. She didn't listen, and majored in chemisty at Pomona College. She struggled and considered changing her major to French, but decided to stick with it and eventually ended up going to graduate school at Harvard. She then embarked on work with cells that eventually put her in the forefront of CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) technology, the science that can edit DNA so that the body can heal itself from genetic diseases like sickle cell anemia and the like. 

Along the way, there were personal and professional challenges, and Isaacson has tirelessly interviewed and researched these occurences for the book. We see personal items like Doudna's marriage, which lead to her and her husband leaving the East Coast so they could work at universities closer to each other; historical information about science in the 1990s through to the present day; and lots of details about how CRISPR works and how it ws used in experiments to help people. Some of these, like the attempts to cure Victoria Gray's sickle cell disease, worked well, although not all trials were successful for all conditions. 

Doudna worked with a wide range of scientists, and also investigated different avenues she might pursue, like scientific companies. We get to read about companies like Genetech, and their contributions to the field. Eventually, she worked with Emmanuelle Charpentier, with whom she won the Nobel Prize in 2020. The final chapter of the book discovers the impact that CRISPR technology had on the process of dealing with COVD-19 and the work on vaccinations for this disease.

While I haven't read the adult version of this, the young readers edition by Sarah Durand is compelling and easy to read, even if the science isn't always easy for a lay person to understand. There's a nice balance between Doudna's life, her times, and scientific details. The glossary of scientific terms at the back helps as well. It would have been nice to have some photographs in the book; I still think that Tam O'Shaughnessy's Sally Ride: A Photobiography of America's Pioneering Woman in Space is the future of biographies covering people born after 1950!

There are a number of biographies about groundbreaking women in science, but most are written years after the scientist's floruit. It's fascinating to see a biography covering the seminal work of a scientist when we don't know what the ultimate trajectory of her work will be! 

While this is a lot of information for the casual middle school reader, and might be a better purchase for high school libraries or schools with strong STEM programs, it's a great choice for readers who enjoyed Acevedo's Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist, Moss's The Woman Who Split the Atom: The Life of Lise Meitner, Dreilinger's The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed the Way We Live or Silvey's Unforgotten: The Wild Life of Dian Fossey and Her Relentless Quest to Save the Mountain Gorillas.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Awkward Stuff (Girl Stuff #3)

Harrison, Lisi. Awkward Stuff (Girl Stuff #3)
July 26th 2022 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

After Girl Stuff and Crush Stuff, the "nesties" (next door neighbor besties) are back. Fonda is excited because her mother is finally going to leave the girls at home without a babysitter, putting her almost 17-year-old sister in charge. She, of course, decides to have a party. She is vaguely interested in Henry as the object of her first kiss, since she feels behind developmentally, not having gotten her period. Ruthie is pleased to at least have a boyfriend, Owen, who is in the Talented and Gifted Program with her. The two get along really well as friends. Drew has her sites set on Will, and the three girls determine that they will all have their first kisses at the beach party. (They live in Poplar Creek, California.) Owen and Ruthie get paired to take care of an animatronic baby for health class, Fonda doubts her feelings for Henry, especially when she finds out that Ava also likes him, and Drew is confused by the signals that Will is sending. Will the plans the girls are working on bring the romantic results they expect?
Strengths: While most middle grade novels love to revel in all manner of Serious Problems, most of my students are more concerned with finding a place to sit in the cafeteria, doing well in school, and, yes, finding a love interest. The "nesties" are certainly buying into the idea of transactionalized romance, and go all in to find a boyfriend and then finagle him into kissing. There are just enough details about the kissing bit that younger readers will be enthralled, as well as worries about Will's "bumpy tongue". My daughter was an enormous fan of all of the drama in Harrison's Clique series, and I was very glad that sixth graders rediscovered those books and were checking them out like mad this year! Those books are older than tmy students are but must hold up well. The Girl Stuff books are nice and short, with tons of drama and details about things like getting periods, talking to boys, and hanging out at the mall. Wait. There are still malls?
Weaknesses: Are there still schools that have health classes that teach information about puberty? I hated those classes when I was in school, so wasn't at all sad when our district cut them in the early 2000s, but understand that there is a need for that information among young students. We have a health class now, but it's more about nutrition and exercise. Found it especially hard to think anyone teaches a parenting component to sex ed, but there must be some places that do. And Fonda and her sisters have never been left at home alone? I was allowed to stay home sick by myself when I was ten!
What I really think: This was sooooo super cringey, and as an adult I just wanted to tell the girls to get a life; boys are not that interesting or important. Of course, when I was in middle school and bedeviling a poor, innocent trumpet player named Jon with similar machinations, I would have totally loved this. Will purchase, along with the second book, which I need to read. 
 Ms. Yingling

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Home for Meow

I love books that come in at about 125 pages, have some illustrations, and are quick reads. This is the sort of thing I absolutely gobbled up when I was in third grade; that was the first year I really got into reading more than one chapter book a day (I blame Mrs. Johnson at the Stadium Drive elementary school for introducing me to The Childhood of Famous Americans book!). A lot of sixth graders seem to think they need to read 300 page plus books, when they've never really mastered shorter books. They are often so relieved when I give them something like Mill's Izzy Barr, Running Star, English's Carver Chronicles, or Jenny Meyerhoff's The Friendship Garden series. When reading seems like less of a chore, they do more reading, and when they do more reading, they get better at it. This is a super cute series that I would definitely snag for my favorite beginning reader at a book fair!

Eschman, Reese. The Purrfect Show (Home for Meow #1)
July 19th 2022 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Kira's family has a cat cafe called The Purrfect Cup, where they serve baked goods and beverages, and have cats from a local shelter roaming about, available for adoption. They live in an apartment above the store, and have a cat of their own, Pepper. Kira's younger brother, Ryan, prefers dogs, and her friend Alex Patel can't have a cat because her mother is allergic. When Kira finds out that there is a King County Dog Show being held, she decides that the best way to bring customers to the cafe and increase adoptions is to have her cats enter the dog show. She manages to get permission, and with the help of her friends trains some cats. Is this really a good idea?
Strengths: Kira is really exuberant, and not always misguided, although not all of her ideas work out. I like that she doesn't fight too much with Ryan, despite their differences, and she even gives Ryan credit for an idea other are attributing to her. It's great to see involved, alive parents, and the idea of a cat cafe is really appealing. 
Weaknesses: I would love to see a similar WISH novel that's a little longer and deals with slightly older children and their concerns. 
What I Really Think: I really enjoyed this, but I need to assess what books of this length I have to determine if I really need to buy it. It only takes a couple of months of reading these shorter books before readers are usually able to move on to standard middle grade fare. 

Eschman, Reese. Show and Tell (Home for Meow #2)
July 19th 2022 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Bubbles is about to burst! One of the cats that The Purrfect Cup is fostering is heavily pregnant, and Kira can't wait to see the kittens! She's so distracted when Bubbles seems to be in labor on the first day of school that she accidentally wears her cat pajamas to school! She meets Sara, a new girl who has just moved to town, and the two become friends. Sara is adopted, but still in contact with her birth mother. This give Kira a great idea when Bubbles has six kittens! She will find six of her classmates who want to adopt a cat. Her brother has another way to deal with the eventual loss of the kittens-- he names them all after his least favorite foods so he won't miss Meatloaf, Brocolli, and Peas all that much. 
Strengths: It was good to see the interplay between school and home life. So many books concentrate on one rather than the other. Ideally, we would all live in communities where people could live above their stores and classmates would drop in with parents for a cookie. I really can see Richardson's Twig and Turtle living in their tiny home just down the street. Kira is very kind hearted and concerned about the kittens. It's good to see children with interests that extend beyond themselves and their cell phones. The illustrations are delightful, and how can you go wrong when there are SIX kittens?
Weaknesses: A third grader reading any edition of The Iliad? Doubtful. I understand what this is supposed to say about Sara's character, but even my own children waited until 6th grade! I'm also thinking that very few schools let students bring pets for show and tell!
What I Really Think: Another fun book with an engaging main character, I do sort of wish that there had been a very brief, age appropriate message on why it is important to make sure that animals are neutered so they don't have litters that end up in shelters. There are a lot more books about children and dogs, so it's good to see a series aimed at fans of felines!

Friday, July 22, 2022

Whiz Kid (Miles Lewis #2)

Lyons, Kelly Starling. Whiz Kid (Miles Lewis  #2)
July 19th 2022 by Penguin Workshop
E ARC provided  by Edelweiss Plus

Miles really wants to do well at the  upcoming science fair, and is really excited about it. Working with friends Jada Jones and RJ, he comes up with an idea that he thinks will work, and even gets help from slightly older cousin Cam with ideas. He's worried the project won't be exciting enough, and he is also jealous of Cam's ideas, and the fact that he gets along with Miles' friends. He thinks that everyone else is being successful with everything, and that he is constantly messing up. His father, a professor of Black history, listens to his concerns and is supportive, but also wants Miles to make his own decisions about how to proceed with the science fair work and his dealings with his friends and cousin. 
Strengths: This is a short book, 96 pages, and is essential for elementary libraries. It's also a great choice for reluctant middle school readers who have to have a book for a project and are not happy with longer choices. The text is large, there are some illustrations, and the story progresses well with character development and all of the other things that students have to locate in fiction books. I really liked Miles, and his anxiety and jealousy will ring true with young readers. 
Weaknesses: The time line for science fair seemed a bit abbreviated, but real life science fair preparation drags on and on and wouldn't make for fascinating reading!
What I really think: All three books Including King of the Ice (#1) and Matchmaker (#3) come out in July and are available for just over $14 in a Follett Bound Sewn edition, and I will be putting all three on my list to purchase in August. A great choice for readers who liked Dillard's J.D. and the Great Barber Battle, Mills' Franklin School Friends, or English's Carver Chronicles.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Nura and the Immortal Palace

Khan, M. T. Nura and the Immortal Palace
July 5th 2022 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARc provided by Edelweiss Plus

Nura works in the mica mines in India, where she spends long days picking up the glittering substance that is used in paint and cosmetics. Her income is needed to support her family after the death of her father. Along with her friend, Faisal, she tries to do her best work. When her mother says that she will be going to school, Nura takes a chance on her last day, trying to find the fabled treasure of the Demon's Tongue, and digs too deep, causing problems in  the mine. Faisal is one of the children that doesn't make it out, so nshe goes back to look for him. In doing so, she gets sucked into an alternate world where she meets her qareen, Dura, adn is taken to the luxurious Sijj Palace. There, she finds Faisal and is given a tantalizing look at what life would be like with lots of money. She just wants to go home, but Faisal talks her in to staying a bit. The two win an eating contest, and start to enjoy the luxuries being offered. When Nura accidentally cuts off one of the horns of the Painted Boy, however, there is a price to pay. The Painted Boy, Mirza, is the son of the hotel's owner, and the hotel rules sentence Nura and Faisal to endless labor. There are some loopholes, but qareens are tricksters, and it's hard to get the best of them. Nura befriends the Craftsman, who takes care of the many children who work at the hotel because they are bound to it. Gathering as much information as she can, Nura decides she needs to find the Demiurge to find a way to break loose of the hotel's grasp. Help comes from an unexpected source, and Nura and Faisal realize that the only way that they can be free is to destroy the hotel. It's not an easy task, but if they don't manage this destruction in three days, they will be unable to return home, and their memories of their other life will quickly fade. Will they be able to figure out a way to destroy the evil, magical place?
Strengths: There aren't a lot of books that address the issue of child labor in other parts of the world; Sullivan's Treasure of the World does, but this fantasy twist is very interesting. This is an interesting mix of real life details of what it is like to live in an economically disadvantaged neighborhood and work in a mine and fantasy elements that draw on India folklore. It felt a bit like Durst's Even and Odd in that respect; the fantasy world mirrored the real world in the same way. Nura is a good daughter and a good friend, and works hard even though she has no hope that her life will ever improve. The fantasy world is well developed and fresh; this is a quest story, but the quest is fairly localized. I liked that Nura got a glimpse of what kind of life money could buy, but realized that there were more important things than new clothes and all the food she wanted. The story moved quickly and made sense; if I can understand a fantasy book and write a review without taking notes, I know that it is something my students will be able to navigate without problems. 
Weaknesses: I wish that there had been more information about where Nura and Faisal lived and about what tradition qareens and the other characters come from. I felt like I was missing something. I did enjoy the notes at the end about child labor, but my readers especially might need more scaffolding in order to understand the setting. 
What I really think: Readers who enjoyed Doshi's Rea and the Blood of the Nectar, Cordova's The Way to Rio Luna, or Barron's Maya and the Rising Dark will enjoy this.

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Guy Friday- The Language of Seabirds

Taylor, Will. The Language of Seabirds
July 19th 2022 by Scholastic
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Twelve-year-old Jeremy lives in Oregon but doesn't remember ever having visited the coast. Sadly, he is able to go when his parents finally get divorced after years of bickering. He and his father spend two weeks in an uncle's rental house while his mother cleans out and moves to another town for a better job. At some point, Jeremy will have to decide which parent he will live with, but for now he is stuck with his busy, college professor father who keeps springing new, unusual rules on Jeremy, and his bro-tastic uncle. Jeremy is uncomfortable with the way the two men treat him, especially when they talk about how he must be interested in girls; Jeremy is pretty sure his romantic interest are with guys, but he doesn't want to tell his parents. His father wouldn't understand, and his overportective mother would make his sexual identity into a project. When Jeremy sees an attractive boy running on the beach and later meets him in town at his grandmother's tourist shop, he doesn't know wuite what to make of Evan. The two arrange to go on a run, even though Jeremy has never run a mile in his life. He does, however, take money his mother gave him, get on a bus to go to Target, and buy running gear, and makes a good effort to keep up with cross country athlete Evan, even though his lack of experience is revealed when he throws up! The two boys become friends, and share an interest in the local seabirds. They have copies of the same bird identification book, and are soon connecting different birds to different experiences or emotions. Jeremy has to struggle with his father's spiraling despair and drinking, and when Jeremy and Evan go on a run before a big Fourth of July party but get caught by the tide on a ledge, they finally discuss their feelings for each other. They are also both grounded. Evan has told his grandmother that he is gay, but Jeremy continues to hide this from his father, since so much else is going on. When his father's erratic behavior culminates in an embarassing display while he is taking the boys out to a local restaurant, Will has to decide how he will go forward in his relationship with both
 his father and with Evan. 
Strengths: This is getting a lot of love as a tender, lyrical LGBTQIA romance, but what really sold this book to me was the interactions Jeremy had with his parents! Mother goes off to live her own life but texts Jeremy and tries to micromanage his sunscreen useage. Father is blindsided by the divorce and takes it out on Jeremy in weird ways while spending a brief amount of time pickling himself. Families being generally supportive of news that the boys are gay. The father's melt down in the diner, and the fact that he was able to apologize and to turn himself around seemed especially important. Parents play a far larger role in tweens lives than middle grade literature tends to acknowledge. It's easier to kill them off and send tweens on adventures, but in reality, parents are a huge influence in middle grade readers' lives. Sometimes they are embarassing. Sometimes they are unreasonable. I also loved Jeremy's reactions. He was mature enough to sort of understand that his father was going through a hard time, and didn't talk back when asked to do sometimes unreasonable chores, and even took it upon himself to do chores that he thought would make his dad easier to live with. I've had conversations with students about similar issues; this happens more than we might acknowledge. Of course, the romance was sweet and stumbling, like most middle school romances are, and Jeremy's struggle with coming out seemed more... nuanaced and current than many other depictions I've seen. Society evolves, and its' great to see literature evolving with it. 
Weaknesses: The inclusion of the seabirds and the coded language the boys create with the bird names seemed a bit forced and younger than the characters. I could see the purpose of it, but it didn't quite work for me. Lends itself to an interesting title and cover, though!
What I really think: This is definitely a book that centers romance, and meets all the criteria for a good middle school romance-- no drinking (by the tweens; the father drinks a lot), not too much YA drama, and sweet romantic gestures like holding hands and standing on the beach at sunset rather than the more YA play-by-play of physical activity. Readers of Barakiva's One Man Guy will enjoy this, and it definitely has more romance and less activism than the new Small Town Pride or The Civil War of Amos Abernathy. I still think this is a great book to recommend based on the drama of the parents' divorce more than anything else. Also, this is exactly the right kind of illustrated cover for middle grade readers. It looks slightly older; less cartoonish.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

The Royal Trials (Last Gate of the Emperor #2)

Mbalia, Kwame and Makonnen, Joel. The Royal Trials (Last Gate of the Emperor #2)
July 19 2022 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Yared has finally solved the mysteries of his past in The Last Gate of the Emperor AND protected his country against the Werari, but now he's a little concerned about giving a speech at the opening ceremony for the Royal Trials. He's not quite used to having parents and so many royal advisors around to tell him what to do, since it was his Uncle Moti and bionic lioness Besa for so long. He's not used to being hidden and protected, even though being fitted with Radials, a digital protection system, is pretty cool. Things are heating up again, and when he and his parents head to the headquarters of the Intergalactic Union, Yared meets up with his cousin Balamba Ras, who is concerned about growing trouble on Old Earth. Before long, Yared and his friends Ibis and Fatima are heading to Amba fortress that guarded Axum's brain. When they find out there's been a pirate attack, Uncle Moti and Mesfina want to keep Yared safe, but he of course wants to strike out on his own. With the help of Jemal Ammanuel, whose mother works at the Amba station, will Yared be able to stay safe, save his country again, and give his speech without embarassing himself?
Strengths: There are so many excellent details about Yared's royal family, the history of the country, and the massive amounts of cool technology! There's a decided video game feel, with surveillance, different creatures, and exo suits, as well as nonstop action. We do see some of Yared's difficulties in trying to get to know his parents and feeling like he is no longer able to do whatever he wants, as he was able to do when it was just him and Uncle Moti. This would make a great summer blockbuster film with tons of special effects-- it would be the kind of movie you would watch, and then be completely disoriented when you left the theater and got out into the sun because you had become so immersed in the world. 
Weaknesses: This is the kind of science fiction fantasy that is perfect for readers who adore the genre and want extremely complicated world building and technology. I, on the other hand, suffer from Fantasy Amnesia, so struggled a bit with all of the details. 
What I really think: The first book has been hugely popular in my library and never makes it back to the shelves, so I will definitely be purchasing a copy for school. 

Monday, July 18, 2022

MMGM- Thirst

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Bajaj, Varsha. Thirst 
July 19th 2022 by Nancy Paulsen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Minni lives with her father, who runs a tea stand, her mother, who cleans house for a well-to-do family, and her older brother Sanjay, who at fifteen has graduated from tenth grade and taken a job doing food prep in a restaurant. Their neighborhood is poor, and the dwellings close together. They don't have running water, but have to haul it from a central location every day. When the children are out one night with a relative who has a new car, Sanjay and his friend Amit get out of the car and see men stealing water from tanks brought in to help alleviate the shortages in communities like theirs. Unfortunately, they are seen by Ravi, and there is concern that Ravi will turn the boys over to his boss and get them into trouble. To avoid this water mafia, the boys are sent to the country to help grandparents on a farm. Minni's mother is ill; she has been ill before, and the doctors said it was from not consistently boiling the water. She has blood tests, and it is decided that she needs to go back to her village, where she can stay with relatives and really get some rest. Minni, who goes to school because Anita Ma'am, the woman for whom her mother works, has generously paid her tuition, is going to take over her mother's job, cleaning and making rotis for Anita and her daughter, Pinky. Pinky is very interested in Minni and wants to be friends, but her grandmother is always finding fault with Minni's work, and it's not worth angering her and losing her job. It's hard to pick up the extra work that her mother is not at home to do, work a job, and keep up with school, even with the help of her best friend, Faiza. There are other helpful people in the community, like Shanti, who lost her own child and helps out with children in the neighborhood, and Priya Didi, an American who is teaching a computer class at a community center that Minni is able to attend because her mother entered her into a lottery. Things don't always go smoothly; Minni is late to school, and gets in trouble when the principal finds out her teacher, Ms. Shah, is covering for her, she has trouble doing the work at Anita Ma'am's, and she is worried about her mother and brother. This makes it hard to study for her tests, which she knows are important for her future. When she has a realization as to the identity of one of the water thieves, she knows she needs to act, but also knows she needs to be careful about how she proceeds. Will Minni be able to get through this rough patch and work to reunite her family?
Strengths: I personally adore books dealing with every day life in other countries. Even if I ever get to travel again, that doesn't necessarily provide a good understanding of what it is like to like in a different society. Minni's family is not quite comfortable, but are very close to acchieving this, and it's great that Minni is able to continue to go to school. The computer classes were quite interesting. Seeing Pinky's much more comfortable life was interesting as well, and it's good to less US readers know that life in other countries can be very much like their own lives in the US. The sub plot with the water thieves is presented in a way that readers who have no concept of people struggling to get water will be able to understand. Minni's friendship with Faiza, and the cast of interesting and supportive characters, gives this an even more hopeful feel. I enjoyed this one very much. 
Weaknesses: For some reason, I thought this was going to be a futuristic dystopian novel (maybe because of the cover?), like Hughes' A Crack in the Sky, so it took me a minute to understand what was going on. We are apparently living in a time of all manner of actual dystopian situations; there are far too many places in the world where running water is still a luxury.
What I really think: This is a fantastic book that gives a good look at different levels of society in Mumbai, and is so hopeful. I want to hand this to all of my students who complain about silly things like not being given a phone! Readers who enjoyed LaValley's The Vine Basket, Venkatraman's The Bridge Home, Saeed's Amal Unbound, and Faruqi's A Thousand Questions will enjoy this tale of grit and resilience. 

Thank you to everyone who joined the #MGReadathon. I went over my 48 hours because I was in the zone, and got 41 books read. It was so nice to be able to just write a couple of sentences for each and not a full review! 

Have an awful book hangover now! Have some errands to run, but since I can sew again (six weeks post wrist surgery) I really should do some projects that have been waiting. I find it really hard to change gears!

This probably also explains why I am already in a mild panic about going back to school even though students don't come back until August 11th. 

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Finish Line- #MGReadathon

Calling it quits with 31 titles and... don't know how many hours. Ran into a few snags with taking care of people yesterday. Feel good about my progess, although there are still a few September titles I need to read. There must have been 100 released for that month!

Gertler, Caroline. Where You've Got To Be
September 13th 2022 by Greenwillow Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Nolie and Jessa have been friends forever, but as they plan to go back to 6th grade at their New York City private school, Jessa feels more like a teen and tries to drag Nolie with her by suggesting she change the way she does her hair, stop eating sweets, and start going by Magnolia. Nolie, who is already irritated that her "perfect" older ballet dancing sister Linden always gets own way, isn't having it. Nolie pulls away from Jessa and her new bestie Calliope, befriends Serena, and picks up a bad new habit to get back at everyone. Loved the supportive grandmother and inclusion of Jewish culture. 

Alexander, Kwame. The Door of No Return
September 27th 2022 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Powerful historical novel in verse, set in Ghana in the 19th century. Young Kofi goes to a school where the teacher is cruelly insistent they use "the Queen's English" instead of Twi. He has an interest in Ama, a girl he knows who is forced to work at her uncle's house because of her family's poverty, and has big dreams for his future. These are shattered when his older brother accidentally kills another boy in a wrestling match during a festival, and when slave traders invade and capture and torture many in the community. An important and long overdue look at problematic history. 

Haddix, Margaret Peterson. The Secret Letters: Mysteries of Trash and Treasure #1
September 20th 2022 by Katherine Tegen Books
Review to come later

Whew. Getting close to the end of the actual 48 hours, but I think I'm going to continue reading. It's a cool, rainy day, Pongo is very snuggly, and aside from putting together a friend's birthday gift and making a pie, I have time. Hope that everyone's #MGReadathon went well!

Saturday, July 16, 2022

#MGReadathon-- Saturday Reads

Made good progress yesterday, so off on more reading adventures today. And yes, I am normally a very early riser, but don't try to keep me up late!

4:00 a.m. Bayne, Bijan and Avelino, Joelle (Illustrations).
Black Trailblazers: 30 Courageous Visionaries Who Broke Boundaries, Made a Difference, and Paved the Way 
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

This had a lot of figures from the entertainment world, and most of the people are ones about whom I already have biographies. The illustrations are great, but there aren't any photographs of more recent figures. On the plus side, there is a bit more information about each person, so if you don't already have a lot of collective biographies, this is a good choice. Ella Baker, Sidney Poitier, Toni Morrison, Dick Gregory, Nina Simone, Quincy Jones, and Diane Nash, are people about whom I have not see a lot mentioned, and they are included here. 
5:00 a.m. Ogle, Rex. Abuela, Don't Forget Me
September 6th 2022 by Norton Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

While Ogle's Free Lunch was middle grade, his Punching Bag and this book are more YA due to language and some content. It is a memoir in verse in honor of his Abuela, who helped raised him because his mother had trouble being an effective parent. This covers Ogle's life from the age of four up through high school, and also discusses his grandmother's current struggle with dementia. 

6:00 a.m. Arguelles, Catherine. Flip Turns
September 13th 2022 by Jolly Fish Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Maddie's parents own the local pool, and she's on the swim team there. After she tells classmate Lucas that she's not interested in him and returns a snow globe he gave her, glass from the globe turns up at the pool, and a series od damaging pranks are played, from poop in the pool to eggs and ketchup smeared around the area. Maddie struggles with anxiety, and her friend Ez is counting on her swim performance to help her get into a private school, so they try to find out who is pulling these pranks. Maddie wonders if it has anything to do with the FitWest people who are coming to town and want to buy the pool. Will she and her friends be able to save the family business? (May be available only in paperback.)

7:00 a.m. Pasternack, Sofiya. Black Bird, Blue Road
September 20th 2022 by Versify

E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

As close as I can figure, this is set sometime from the 8th to 10th century near the Volga river. (Yep. There's a note at the end. Middle of tenth century, in Khazaria.) Ziva's brother Pesah has leprosy (although this isn't mentioned by name for a while). She hopes for a cure, even though she has personally helped to take off his fingers when hey become too diseased. When her father wants to send Pesah away to live with an uncle, she decides instead to take him to Constantinople for a cure. Along the way, they meet the thief (and part demon) Almas, who helps them travel to the city of Luz, where no one ever dies. Will they be able to beat the Angel of Death there? By the author of Anya and the Dragon.

8:00 a.m. Bradford, K. Tempest. Ruby Finley vs. the Interstellar Invasion
September 27th 2022 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus 

Ruby is very interested in bugs, but when federal agents come to her house when she posts a picture of a bug she has found on Instagram because she couldn't identify it, she gets in big trouble. There's some thought that the bug (who ate its way through a screen to get out!) might have ended up at the house of a neighbor the kids call Witchypoo, of whom even the agents seem afraid! This seemed a little young (Ruby calls her father "daddy", and there's some talk of Ruby being spanked for using social media), and had a sort of Gabby Duran vibe to it. Love the inclusion of STEM topics. 

9:00 a.m. Valentino, Serena. Raising the Horseman
September 6th 2022 by Disney-Hyperion
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Kat van Tassel, who is descended from Katrina VanTassel, lives in Sleepy Hollow, where her family still farms and venerates their ancestor who was part of the Headless Horseman story. Kat doesn't take it as seriously as her mother would like, so she gives Kat the first Katrina's journal. We see how Katrina is not interested in the boorish Brom, but attracted to Ichabod Crane, who shared her interest in literature. In the present, Kat meets Isadora Crow and starts to hang out with her, eventually becoming more than friends. Kat's boyfriend, Blake, gives her a hard time. Similar to the Disney Twisted Tales series that includes Go the Distance, which tells Disney stories from a perspective other than the one of the main character. Over 300 pages. 

11:00 a.m. Medina, Meg. Merci Suarez Plays it Cool
September 13th 2022 by Candlewick Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

After Changes Gears and Can't Dance, Merci and her extended family are back. Lolo's health is rapidly declining, and the family is stressed providing for his care; her aunt even asks the twins' father for financial support. Roli is back from college and working hard so he can continue to afford school. When school starts, Merci has to decide on whether she wants to keep hanging out with her friends, or whether she can be part of the "cool kids" when Avery asks her to hang out. She is back to playing soccer, but how will everything be affected when Lolo's health takes a significant downturn?

12:00 Kemp, Laekan Zea. Omega Morales and the Legend of La Lechuza September 27th 2022 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Omega is an empath, and mos of her family have some supernatural abilities. For Omega, this means that she can communicate with trees, posters on her walls, and spirits like Clau, who lives with her family. Her cousin Claudito spends a lot of time with her. When neighborhood cats start to go missing, the two suspect La Lechuza, and investigate the legends surrounding the owl/witch spirit, and find unexpected connection to their family. Omega is at odds at school with former best friend Abby, whose mother died, although Abby's brother Aiden is still kind to Omega. When the issues becomes larger than just the cats, will Omega, with the help of her aunt Soona and her abuela, be able to put things right? This had a feel of Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls (setting, family history of magic), but without as much adventure. 

1:00 p.m. Guillory, Sarah. Nowhere Better Than Here
September 22, 2022 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Very interesting look at how climate change has affected the landscape in the Louisiana bayou. Jillian lives in the small town Boutin, with her Mama and Nonnie; her parents are divorced and her father is unreliable about visiting. When a heavy rain storm damages the area, and especially her school, Jillian is distressed to find that she will have to go to neighboring Carolton Middle School for a while. She does have a good experience there, befriending Nina and learning from a Black, female scientist who comes to present to her class, but is devastated to find that the Boutin schools are going to be shut down permanently. She's been collecting stories from older residents to preserve their French Creole culture, but will she be able to save her community? Vivid descriptions of the problems facing bayou communities and a charismatic main character help this one shine.

2:00 p.m. Knutson, Julie. World War I: The Great War to End All Wars
May 15th 2022 by Nomad Press (VT)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This is a short but very informative book jam packed with information. Starting with timelines and maps, this takes readers through many different facets of the causes, tactics, propaganda, and legacies of the First World War. There are numerous QR codes to take readers to web sites with pictures, eyewitness acounts, and other information. Lots of side bars with additional information will help readers unfamiliar with this conflict, and considering this was a short book, addressed a lot of issues that are sometimes ignored, like the Armenian genocide, and my favorite congresswoman, Jeannette Rankin. I'm curious to see if other military conflicts get a similar coverage. 

3:00 p.m. Wendig, Chuck. Dust and Grim
September 27th 2022 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus 

This was released first in October of 2021 and is being reissued in paperback. The description compares the to Miss Peregrine and The Graveyard book, but I would say it's more like... Fablehaven if written by Lemony Snicket. Molly's father is killed crossing a street while looking at his phone, and she's deabting wearing a cosplay mask to match her t shirt? There are a lot of interesting monsters, and the whole idea of a monster mortuary had it's interesting moments, and the tone was sort of like Gilman's Tales from Lovecraft Middle School.

4:00 p.m. Hahn, Mary Downing. Wait Til Helen Comes (Graphic Novel)
Peterson, Scott (text) and Laxton, Meredith (illustrations)
September 20th 2022 by Clarion Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

I'm going to guess that I read the original Wait Till Helen Comes (1986) in about... 2008, when I was reading through all of the books in the library alphabetically. Mike and Molly live with their mother, an artist, who has recently remarried. Dave is fine, but his daughter Heather is unpleasant to her new family, since she was traumatized when her own mother died in a fire. The family move from Baltimore to a renovated church in Holwell, Maryland. There is a graveyard attached to the property, and a caretaker. Molly is disturbed by the area, but Heather is captivated, especially by one abandoned grave of a child her own age with her initials. There's also a nearby abandoned house, and Molly and Mike do some research at the town library to find out more. Soon it becomes apparent that Heather has summoned a ghost who means everyone harm, and Molly has to try to save her, even though if I were Heather's stepsister, she was so unpleasant that I would have probably let her drown. Great graphic novel adaptation of a classic murderous ghost story. 

5:00 p.m. Jaimes, Olivia. The Chronicles of Deltovia
September 20th 2022 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

June and Ollie are writing a book in a notebook. Misha had previously written one online called Candleabra, which her mother had read, which Misha didn't like. The girls are sure that they will become household names by writing the book. They also labor under the delusion that publishing a book will make them wealthy. While writing their fantasy novel, they also work in information about their middle school experiences. 

6:00 p.m. St. Antoine, Sara. Front Country
September 20th 2022 by Chronicle Books
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ginny is the daughter of two lawyers (named after Ruth Bader Ginsburg) who plays tennis and is on the honor roll in Lexington, Massachusetts. After she becomes obsessed with environmental issues and starts to exhibit extreme anxiety, her parents ship her off to a month long outdoor adventure camp, which thinks is great because she loves nature. However, it turns out to be a "boot camp" type outing with a group of troubled teens. For fans of Van Draanen's Wild Bird or April Henry's Shock Point, but with less drama and more outdoor adventure. This author also wrote the intriguing Three Bird Summer (2014), which also has a wilderness setting. 

7:00 p.m. Oshiro, Mark. You Only Live Once, David Bravo
September 20th 2022 by HarperCollins
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

David is starting middle school and is very anxious about it, although he has a good friend and cross country teammate in Antoine. His anxiety increases when his social studies teacher announces a family folklore project; David was adopted as an infant through a closed adoption and knows nothing about his birth parents. When he gives his presentation, some of his classmates give him a hard time, and he thinks he has screwed it up. This causes him to make a mistake during a cross country run that injures Antoine, whose father wants him to be an elite athlete. Soon afterwards, David meets Fea, a xoloizcuintli who takes him on a time traveling adventure into his past. He tries to repair his mistakes, but ends up meeting another version of himself in the past, and also goes six months into the future. Will David ever be at ease with his adoption and his sense of self, or with the two depth of his relationship with Antoine? Big plot twist at the end. 

8:00 p.m. Comrie, Courtne. Rain Rising
September 27th 2022 by HarperCollins
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this novel in verse, we meet Rain, who lives with her mother and older brother Xander. Her father calls only occasionally, and often fails to visit when he says he will. Xander, or X as she calls him, is an athlete at an elite private school who also excels academically. Rain has a lot of self esteem issues and worries that her hair isn't right, she is too heavy, her skin is too dark, and these worries are reinforced by her best friend, Nara, who isn't very nice or supportive. When X goes on a college visit and is badly beaten at a party, Rain's anxieties intensify. His recuperation is long and painful, and Rain's feelings worsen until she starts cutting herself. Luckily, a concerned teacher gets her into counseling and a support group, and she starts to learn to have more faith in herself.

9:00 p.m. Hill, Jonathan. Tales of a Seventh-Grade Lizard Boy
September 27th 2022 by Walker Books US
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Tommy and his family are really aliens who have come to Earth from Elberon because they are in danger on their planet. While Tommy's sister settles in well, he doesn't like the food, and has a tough time at school. He eventually makes friends with Vietnamese American Dung, who also faces a hard time, and Scarlet, whose dyed hair and piercings also set her apart. The three become close, but when Dung and Scarlet kiss after the three are out trick or treating, Tommy feels threatened. There's a lot to worry about, especially since a popular tv show depicts alien people similar to Tommy as evil. Tommy goes off the rails a bit, but eventually finds a way to let people know about his true identity. The book is an allegorical exploration of the type of problems that the author's Vietnamese uncle had coming to the US in the 1980s. 

10:00 p.m. Johnson, Daisy May. How to Be True
July 7th 2022 by Pushkin Press
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Very, very British and sort of like Judith's Eagle's The Pear Affair. This felt like it was set in an earlier time (14 year old set out to work when her parents move to France) and had a sort of odd tongue in cheek feel to it. I've seen it compared to Robin Stevens' Murder Most Unladylike series, but it was not like anything I can say I've read previously. The foot notes got to be a bit much, especially since the book was narrated by a Good Sister. This would be extremely hard to place with a reader in my library. Is there a resurgence of the Lemony Snicket style of writing that I haven't been told about? It's definitely gone out of favor in my library, yet I keep seeing books with that sort of tone being published, and I'm a bit confused.