Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Amari and the Great Game

Alston, B.B. Amari and the Great Game (Supernatural Investigations #2) 
August 30th 2022 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Amari saved the world in Amari and the Night Brothers, even though her own brother, Quinton, is still in a magical coma. She's survived the school year, and looking forward to another summer at the Bureau camp when there is a very odd time freeze. Amari isn't frozen along with everyone else, but when the freeze stops, she wants to figure out who is behind it, especially since the entire Supernatural World Congress, including the president, Merlin, is still frozen. In his place, Bane is presiding, and Amari is worried that he will do something evil. Amari still has an uneasy relationship with the Bureau; she's uninvited from summer camp, reinvited, and gets a lot of mixed messages from the staff. Luckily, her friend Elise (who is a weredragon), is with her for camp, although she is going to attend Oxford University in the fall on a scholarship to a special program. Dylan, whom Amari fought in the first book and is a born magician along with Amari, has been imprisoned in the Sightless Depths, so couldn't be behind the freeze, but when he gets out, Amari is worried, especially since he seems to be behind Quinton's curse. The League of Magicians asks Amari to lead them, but she declines, not feeling ready to hold such a position of authority. When Cozmo then offers the position to Dylan, this necessitates a Game. There are elaborate rules for this, and rings which summon the children to a battle ground, and Amari is concerned that she won't win. She's also dealing with a lot at the Bureau's camp, and is partnered with Dylan's sister Laura Van Helsing. She is determined to figure out what happened with the time freeze, learn skills at summer school, and also gets some magical lessons from Maria, all the while hoping that Quinton's curse will be lifted. It's a lot. Will Amari be able to use her powers to save the world THIS summer as well?

N.B. It is important to understand my difficult relationship with fantasy books. Everyone loves this one, but then, everyone loved Harry Potter back in 2000. I was never a Harry Potter fan. So yes, this series is great for fantasy fans, but man, did I struggle to get through this!

Strengths: Amari's magical world is well developed, with all sorts of magical creatures and supernatural beings who all play various roles in keeping the supernatural world hidden from everyone else. There are lots of fun places, classes, and powers. Amari is well known in the supernatural world, and revelling in her newfound powers. She hopes she can learn more, develop her powers, and save her brother. She has difficulties with the Bureau, but also struggles with her place in the League; this vacillating identity will speak to middle grade readers who are interested in what their own place in the world is. I liked the fact that Amari knows she has to fight Dylan because he has been doing evil things, but she also remembers the good times that they spent together. 
Weaknesses: Even as I write this, I can feel the details slipping out of my mind. There were so many things going on, and so many different types of beings, magic, and allegiances, that I just really can't quite solidify them in my mind. This says to me that die hard fantasy fans will absolutely adore this, but readers who don't read a lot of fantasy might want to work their way up to this. There are a lot of magical creatures from lots of different backgrounds, which added to my confusion. 
What I really think: We're seeing a new round of magical academy books like Dumas' Wildseed Witch, Oneyka and the Academy of the Sun, and Clayton's The Marvellers, so if you have readers who need Harry Potter methadone, this is a great book to offer them. 

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

A Taste Of Magic (Park Row Magic Academy #1)

Elle, J. A Taste Of Magic (Park Row Magic Academy #1)
Published August 30th 2022 by Bloomsbury
ARC provided by the publisher

Kyana lives in the Park Row neighborhood of Rockford, and goes to Thomspson Middle School with her best friend, Nae. It's an area that struggles a bit, but is progressive; Key is able to take a class on African American History and Diaspora studies. Her mother works long hours on her feet, but has the support of her mother, Meemaw. When Kyana sees sparks flying from her fingers and starts to notice similar light around various businesses in the neighborhood, she wonders what is going on, but her mother tells her that it is her magical powers coming to the surface a little early. There are a lot of rules surrounding dealing with magic, and one is that Kyana must attend a magical school for six months to learn how to use her powers. If she doesn't, she will have to be "sanitized" and have all of her magic removed. Even though it means missing Nae's birthday party, Kyana reports to Ms. Moesha's Park Row Magic Academy in the back of Ms. Moesha's beauty salon. There are about 30 other students, including the popular Russ, who goes to Kyana's school. She makes friends with Ashley, and hopes to get chosen for the Charms specialty, since that is a path that leads to good job prospects. There are only two people chosen for that, and only one chosen for Potions. Most students end up in the general magic path. Kyana struggles with math in her regular school, and struggles with many different aspects of her magical training as well. It is intersting to learn about the magical community, which has come to the US from Winzhobble, and is having some difficulties that aren't apparent to the outside world. She also has to deal with lying to Nae, which puts a strain on her relationship. Her grandmother is starting to slip further and further into dementia, which increases the burden on Kyana's mother. When funding runs out for the Park Row Academy, the students are all in danger of having their magic stripped from them. They are given the opportunity to go to other magical schools, but the cost, as well as the matter of transportation, is not something that Kyana and her family can bear. Hoping to save her school, Kyana uses her skills as a baker to enter a competition, but things don't go all that smoothly. Will Kyana be able to reverse her spells that have gone wrong, learn to control her magic, and save her neighborhood school?
Strengths: Kyana is a character with whom many readers will identify: she wants to do well, but gets distracted when she really needs to be putting in the work. Nae was a good foil for her, reminding her to spend ten minutes reviewing her math every day! It was fun to see a local, neighborhood magical school instead of the far flung magical boarding academies we usually see, and contrasting it with a posh local school points out the inequities of the US educational system. There are many, many details about magic, magical outfits,  magical creatures, and magical food that will absolutely delight readers of series like Black and Clare's Magisterium. I appreciated the fact that there really wasn't a central, horrible magical villain that Kyana had to fight. That alone makes this fresher than many similar books! 
Weaknesses: I often wonder why so many books about magic focus on the problems with it. Not only is the school in danger of closing, by Kyana has a lot of trouble mastering the spells, and there are a lot of rules and regulations. Younger readers may enjoy the wealth of details more than I did; subplots like the one involving Russ and the breeding and selling of Groits gave this book a lot of different facets to keep straight.
What I really think: This is another great choice for readers who liked Mbalia's Amari and the Night Brothers, Okogwu's Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun, Dumas' Wildseed Witch and Clayton's The Marvellers

Monday, August 29, 2022

MMGM- The Prince of Steel Pier and How Was That Built?

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Nockowitz, Stacy. The Prince of Steel Pier
September 1st 2022 by Kar-Ben Publishing (R)
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Joey loves spending his summers at his Bubbe and Zeyde's St. Bonaventure hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The hotel has been around for fifty years, since the 1920s, so is a bit worn out, but is a bustling destination for Jewish tourists to the area. Joey and his parents and three brothers, Reuben, Simon, and younger Ben, stay with their grandparents so they can work at the hotel in the summer. They usually live in Philadelphia, and their father goes back home to work during the week. Joey works as a waiter, although he doesn't get paid, and gets a fair amount of freedome to wander the area. During one of these outings, he puts down his tote bag with some winnings in it, and local tough Ralphie takes it. They have a bit of a scuffle over it, and Joey runs into Ralphie again when he goes to play some Skee-Ball on the Boardwalk. He does really well, and soon people are placing bets on his playing. This brings him to the attention of Artie, who offers Joey a job; for thirty dollars a week, which is huge money for the 1970s, Joey will entertain his daughter from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and "keep her out of trouble". Joey has been saving up for a camera, so reluctantly agrees, even though he feels a need to lie to his family about his connection to Artie, who seems shady at best. Artie's daughter, Melanie, turns out to be 15. Joey is apprehensive about spending time with her, but money is money. The two go to some of the attractions on the Boardwalk, spend her father's money on food (some of which Joey can't eat because it isn't kosher), and come to an uneasy agreement that Joey isn't the worst "babysitter" that Melanie could have. Joey is worried about the future of the hotel, since gambling has been legalized and properties are being bought up to build new casinos. He's also worried about Artie's position as the "king of Steel Pier", since he knows his family wouldn't want him associating with people who had possible ties to organized crime. When Artie asks him to keep a package safe in his grandparents' storage room, Joey knows that he is in too deep, but isn't sure what to do. Luckily, older brother Reuben, who has been seeing Melanie in the evenings, is able to help him out. It's an interesting summer of new experiences in an area that is down on its luck and about to change entirely, but Joey is able to make the best of his opportunities. 
Strengths: Ah, summer. I feel bad for today's children, who spend most of their summer shut up in the air conditioning playing video games and probably not talking to many people. I love books that showcase tourist areas from the point of view of local children, and since I've never been to the Steel Pier, this was absolutely fascinating. The descriptions were so vivid that I could practically smell the popcorn with hints of tar and rotting fish! There are plenty of good 1970s details that tell me that Ms. Nockowitz, who is a librarian here in Columbus, is about my age-- kids today don't get the joy that was St. Joseph's orange flavored chewable aspirin! The hotel is vividly described as well, and based on a similar hotel run by the author's grandparents. The feeling of living in a moment when the writing is on the wall that things will not go on the way they are is palpably sad, even though the way things are isn't perfect. Joey's family is close knit and supportive, and their Jewish cultural identity is woven into daily life. 
Weaknesses: I was hoping for a little more Skee-Ball, having recently read Jon Chad's Pinball: A Graphic History of the Silver Ball. Also, there could have been more descriptions of clothing (Tank tops on boys! Tube socks with stripes! Tube tops and blue eyeshadow for Melanie!), food, music, and other mid 1970s cultural touch points. Will my students want this? No, this would be to help me relive my youth!
What I really think: There should be more historical fiction written by people who lived through various eras, so I would love to see more books like this, featuring the 1950s-1980s. The Prince of Steel Pier reminded me a bit of Collard's Double Eagle, and is a great choice to hand to readers who like Grabenstein's Welcome to Wonderland series. Definitely purchasing, and can't wait to hand to students!

Agrawal, Roma and Hickey, Katie (illus.)
How Was That Built?: The Stories Behind Awesome Structures 
August 16, 2022 by Bloomsbury Children's Books
Copy provided by the publisher

Structural engineer Agrawal discusses some of the  most fascinating and architecturally challenging buildings in the world in this middle grade illustrated nonfiction book. Looking at the buildings through the lens of the design challenges they pose, such as building a structure to be tall, stable, watertight, strong, etc., we travel around the world to learn about the solutions that were applied to various problems with constructing in certain circumstances. From shoring up the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City that is slowly sinking to the very tall Shard in London (on which Agrawal worked) to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, each edifice is described, it's history detailed, and its construction technique parsed and connected to other similar buildings. The architects involved are given brief biographies as well. There are some very interesting spreads describing different types of architecture and their histories; I particularly liked the explanations of various kinds of bridges. Hickey's drawings are pleasant to look at but also include a lot of details. I was especially fond of the little 1960s-ish cars that appear in some pictures! Included in the book are two things that might not occur to people as "architecture"; the London sewage system and the Thames Tunnel; I love that this is included, and that the Halley VI research station is the example given for building on ice. There's a ton of information on each page, and at the end of the book there is a brief discussion about the future of building! There is a glossary of terms used at the end of the book, along with an Engineers' Gallery with brief biographies of engineers not mentioned in the body of the book. 
Strengths: I find buildings to be absolutely fascinating, and this gave me a really good look at what goes into the structure of them, and not just the facade. (One of my superpowers is being able to pretty accurately date most 20th century structures!) While I personally don't want to ever go into the Shard or the Burj Khalifa, it is fascinating to look at how they were made, and how the difficulties in constructing them were addressed. The drawings are great, and the color palette has a lot of blue and brown, which was soothing and appropriate to the topic. This is a great book to hand to a student who is involved in Future Cities or loves the STEM design challanges with straws, and I can see them enjoying many happy hours poring over the book and looking up more about the buildings. 
Weaknesses: The size of the book, combined with the illustrated cover, means that this might take some handselling to readers interested in engineering and architecture, because it looks like a picture book and not like the comprehensive look at engineering that it is. 
What I really think: It would be nice to have included some photographs of the buildings, but readers today are more apt to look things up on their phones than I am. I don't have a lot of books on architectures, but this one will be a good addition to the collection along with Theule's Concrete: From the Ground Up. This catapulted me into quite the rabbit hole about the Barbican Centre in London; most younger readers are going to enjoy reading about the extreme sorts of architecture described in this book, but I like things more on a human scale, and am fascinated by the 1970s Brutalist masterpiece that is the Barbican. 

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Three Strike Summer

Schrempp, Skylar. Three Strike Summer
August 30th 2022 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

When Gloria's family loses their farm in Balko, Oklahoma, she doesn't take it well. It's not fair that the crops failed; it's the weather's fault, and on top of that, doesn't the man from the bank know that they just lost her baby brother two months ago? Her sister Jessamyn tries to keep her from speaking her mind, but Gloria yells at the man and later throws a rock and breaks his car windshield. Luckily for the family, the man doesn't believe that Gloria, who is an excellent baseball player with a strong pitching arm, could throw that far and doesn't believe she is responsible. Soon, the family on their way to California to find work, with everything they own in their car. They end up at a peach farm, where they are forced to pay for a shack and electricity even though they would rather sleep in their car, since the man running the hiring process claims it is for sanitation purposes and obviously thinks that Okies are "dirty". Settling in, Gloria meets Quentin, who plays baseball and has organized some covert teams who practice when they should be working. He is okay with Gloria playing, but faces opposition from the other boys. The boys have a system to avoid detection, and a secret location, but run into problems with being found out. Gloria helps them, and they grudgingly let her play, especially since they have an upcoming game against a nearby apricot farm. The family struggles with having to buy food from the orchard store, which is more expensive than the one in town, but the orchard's curfew makes it impossible for them to get there are back in time after their long day of work. The father isn't happy with the working conditions, but tries to keep his head down and out of trouble, since the management has violently attacked organizers before and forced them to leave. When Gloria escapes injury when she lets a boy go ahead of her to do a job, her father decides it is time to act. What will this mean for her struggling family?
Strengths: The details of every day life during this difficult period of history are well told, in lyrical and descriptive language. Gloria's family's experiences echoed that of so many families at the time. Sadly, losing a child was much more common as well. The details of living conditions at the peach farm will shed light on how people had to live, and will appall modern readers. Including baseball gives Glori's tale even more appeal. I love the 1930s color pallette and illustration style of the cover. 
Weaknesses: Gloria's prickliness and outspoken actions seemed at odds with the way children would have acted during this time, although it is always interesting to see how more modern feeling actions would have been received. 
What I really think: Van Draanen's The Peach Rebellion has some similar themes, although set after the Depression. I have a large number of books about this era, which I find fascinating, that don't circulate well. I  may stick to Sanchez's The Wind Called My NameDaley's If the Fire Comes, Meltzer's Tough Times, Dallas' Someplace to Call Home, and the 32 other titles (oops!) I have on this fascinating period of time, including a fresher copy of Gates'  1940 phenomenal, almost primary source, Blue Willow

. Ms. Yingling

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Cartoon Saturday- Big Nate: Destined for Awesomeness

Peirce, Lincoln (creator). Big Nate: Destined for Awesomeness
Based on three television programs written by Mitch Watson, Elliot Owen, and Sarah Allen
August 30th 2022 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

Like Rusu's The Xtreme Xploits of the Xplosive Xmas (The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants TV), or Ball's Clifford the Big Red Dog: The Movie (Graphic Novel) this is a graphic novel based on the television adaptation of characters from print sources. Think that one through so we can go on. 

It is very exciting that Peirce's Big Nate has been adapted for an animated series through Paramount Plus and Nickelodeon. It's been a long time coming, and well deserved. The comic strip premiered in 1991, and the first novel, Big Nate: In a Class by Himself, came out in 2010. Nate is an exuberant and well-meaning tween who constantly finds himself in trouble, but he is a far more enjoyable character than other Notebook Novel heroes. 

Destined for Awesomeness presents three episodes of the television program, which are all illustrated with stills from the program, although there are also some some pages that look like they came straight out of one of Peirce's Notebook Novels, which is a nice touch. The program looks to be animated using CGI, so has that very round, somewhat misty feel to the style. Standard cartoon balloons are superimposed on the stills.

In the first vignette, Nate is on his fourth detention, and it's only a Tuesday. His friends bring up a school legend of Brad Gunter, a student who set records for the number of detentions; when he hit five in a singel week, he disappeared and was never seen again. Of course, Mrs. Godfrey is on the lookout for any misbehaving on Nate's part. When a new student, with whom Principal Nichols seems especially enamored, needs a guide, Nate volunteers to show Bentley around. Bentley's family is rich, and the principal hopes the family will donate a drone to the school if Bentley is happy. However, the new kid ends up being adept at pranks, and tries to lure Nate in even though he is trying to be on his best behavior. Will Nate be able to stay out of trouble and avoid being "gunted"?

Nate's birthday is coming up, and coincides with the preparations his sister Ellen is making for being the "Husky Queen" for the local Ididnotarod dog race. (There were copyright issues with the Iditarod.) He has a birthday party, but the gifts are not all that exciting; he gets a book DeeDee wants to read, a savings bond from Francis, and a stamp collection from an elderly aunt. His dad sees his disappointment and offers his credit card for use on anything "up to $50". Nate, of course, pushes this. He and his friends have a $49 sundae, spend the same amount on a go cart session, adopt a number of dogs from a shelter, each of which is under $50 but together cause the card to be denied and run up $6,000 in charges. DeeDee has the bright idea to crowdsource funding by giving a concert, but somehow the concert costs almost as much to produce as they gather. Luckily, one of Nate's gifts is more valuable than it first appeared and gets him out of trouble.

In the final episode, Ellen has a fear of enclosed spaces and is helped by her father to overcome this; she learns why her father always has to go back into the house right before they leave to go anywhere. Nate ends up working on a project with Jenny but learns that she has a cat; he has been raised to think that cats suck out little boys' souls. I am not going to argue with the logic on this one. 

The dialog is a bit over the top and doesn't seem as much like the comic strips or novels; Bentley is discovered to be a "criminally insane tween", the crowd sourcing raises a ridiculous amount of money, and we find that Nate's father has a fear of strange bathrooms-- after Ellen puts a camera in the bathroom and spies on him via computer. Otherwise, these are solid stories that fit neatly into the Big Nate canon, and I'm sure that my students will enjoy the program. They'll know how to find it; I don't even know where to start, since the only streaming service I have is Amazon Prime. I have to say that the book itself reminded me of the 1990s R. L. Stine TV episode books of Goosebumps!

Friday, August 26, 2022

The Polter-Ghost Problem

Uhrig, Betsy. The Polter-Ghost Problem
August 30th 2022 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Aldo, Pen, and Jasper live in Frog Lake, and find themselves faced with a summer journal project for their next year's teacher, Ms. Pilcrow. While they have a lot of freedom to wander, Jasper is dealing with a wrist injury, and the boys aren't quite sure how to spend their time in a way that will make for interesting reading. This changes when they are on a nearby soccer field and see a boy dressed in old fashioned clothing. They try to talk to him, but he goes into an abandoned house. The house is everything you would expect a haunted house to be, and when the boys enter it, they find themselves in conversation with Theo, as well as another ghost, Franny. The ghosts try to talk the boys into "playing with matches" and burning down the house. Being good kids, the boys decline. It turns out that there are a number of ghosts of children in the house, which had been the Grauche Orphanage at one point. The odd thing is that the children haven't always been ghosts, and didn't even die when they were children; most lived long lives, and have only been haunting the orphanage for about a month. Using great research skills, Aldo, Pen, and Jasper go to the public library and try to uncover information about the orphanage and its owners that might help them send the ghosts on their way. They discover unpleasant things about the owners, who apparently hated children and even died 100 years ago on a Titanic-like ship, where they were giving lectures about how awful children were. The orphans were all renamed, with last names ending in -ump, and were never treated very well. Now, stuck in the house, they are thwarted from leaving by spirits that "throw tantrums" whenever any of them try to leave. One ghost, Greta, gives them a good starting point to uncover the mystery of why the children were called back, and they are able to connect this child to someone in their present day community. Will they be able to appease Greta's spirit and release the others?
Strengths: One of my favorite parts of the book was the involved and concerned parents; at one point, all three boys need to visit the emergency room to be patched up and claim they were playing football. The parents seem more appalled at the idea of football than they probably would have been by the idea of a haunted house! The boys reflect their upbringing by wearing helmets and knee pads in a further visit to the house, and are depicted as wearing their socks over their pants to avoid poison ivy. Those small details made this a really fun read and will resonate with readers who want to have adventures but don't want to take any more risks than they have to. The history of the orphanage and the nasty people who ran it is well developed, and is a gret spin on the middle grade trope of orphan characters. The way the history intertwines with the present day works well, and I loved that the boys went to the library and did research in order to solve their problem. Aldo's brother Nick gives them some realistic trouble. 
Weaknesses: I never got a particularly good feel for Aldo, Pen, and Jasper as individuals, even though Aldo has to struggle with a slightly obnoxious older brother. Also, even though this involves ghosts, it's more humorous than scary. Not that this is bad; it just means a different audience will pick it up. 
What I really think: I loved this author's Double the Danger and Zero Zucchini, and even though this book involves ghosts, it has a similar vibe. I've been trying to think of another book where the tweens have conversations with friendly ghosts and work together with them to solve a mystery, and am coming up blank with comparisons. It's hard to write something original, but Uhrig has done a great job with this humorous story of kids going about their summer and just happening to hang out with ghosts!

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Miracle Season

Hautala, Beth. Miracle Season.
August 23rd 2022 by Viking Children's Books, Penguin Young
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Persephone lives in the small town of Coulter, Wisconsin, and is suffering now that summer vacation has arrived. About a year ago, her older brother Levi graduated from high school but was then involved in a boating accident that has left him in a persistent coma. Persephone blames Levi's best friend, Joseph, for the accident, as well his sister Mya, Persephone's best friend. Her parents are stressed about medical bills, and well meaning townspeople ask too many questions. When Persephone rescues a cat from the town water tower, she runs into classmate Malachi Rathmason, and the two get involved in figuring out where the cat belongs. It turns out that Blue lives with Mrs. McCullacutty, who lives in an enormous house with overgrown gardens. At first she is very mean to the kids, but Persephone, who loves to garden and is good at making plants grow, sees helping the fractious old woman as something she can do to work towards her brother's vision of fixing up Coulter. He had even thought about applying to a television reality show they loved to watch, Small Town Revival, to see if they could win a grant to fix up their town and be on the show. When Persephone finds the application on his computer, she sends it in, but hides this from her parents, since entrants have to be over 18. She and Mal get to know Mrs. McCullacutty more as they work on her garden, and discover that she and Mal's grandfather, Dr. Rathmason, knew each other years ago. 
Strengths: Coulter is a fascinating town with lots of interesting people, and I love that Persephone and Malachi connect and then take advantage of this setting to interact with people. The inclusion of Small Town Revival is very realistically handled. Mrs. McCullacutty seemed like a washed up Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is some respects, but had a lot of fun twists to her story. It was also realistic that her parents didn't want Persephone to talk to her, but she did anyway, but then went out of her way to bring the older woman to her home to meet her parents so they would allow her to work on the garden. The inclusion of Blue's almost mystical help hit just the right note. Levi's condition is heartbreaking, but I've not seen a depiction of a critically injured sibling quite like this. Persephone's life goes on, but there are a lot of ramifications of the accident that need to be addressed. Interesting topics portrayed in a realistic and multifaceted way. 
Weaknesses: While I liked the fact that the ending does not wrap things up neatly, my students might be bothered by that. It's great that there is a message that some times bad things happen, but they can have ripple effects that cause good, but I personally believe that bad things happen all the time for no good reason whatsoever; in fact, I wake up every morning expecting nonsensical tragedy. Eleven year olds are not this jaded. Give them a few years. 
What I really think: This will be popular with readers who love old houses, family problems, and a little bit of magic (although Blue's "messages" are always couched in "the cat seemed to say", so isn't really magical). It's got a nice, small town vibe and can be suggested to readers of Baldwin's Beginner's Welcome, Urban's Almost There and Almost Not, and the Morrises' Willa and the Whale

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, August 24, 2022


PĂ©rez, Celia C . Tumble
August 16th 2022 by Kokila
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Addie Ramirez has a good life with her mother, who is a scientists who works with fossils in a museum in their New Mexican town, and her step father, Alex, who runs a local diner that has been in his family for years. Alex has asked if her could adopt Addie, but her mother has never told her anything about her biological father. Before she agrees to the adoption, Addie wants some questions answered. She and her best friend, Cy, do some snooping and find a Christmas photo with the same tumbleweed Santa Claus in other photos Addie and her mother have taken that features a young man, as well as Addie as a baby. Using their library skills, they go to the town historical society to request school yearbooks and locate Manny Bravo, who is a lucha libre wrestler. Her mother isn't happy; Manny disappointed her in the past, and she doesn't want her daughter to face similar disappointment. When Manny doesn't come and pick her up to take her to visit his parents and extended family in the neighboring town on Esperanza, where her mother grew up, these fears seem somewhat realized. Still, Alex drives her, and Addie gets to meet her primas (cousins) Eva and Maggie, who have continued the wrestling tradition, her grandfather who was a world champion known as El Terremoto (The Earthquake) who is now suffering from dementia, her grandmother, who was also a wrestler, and her uncle Mateo who quit wrestling and now makes costumes, masks, and occasionally performs in drag. She does connect with Manny as well, and is glad to explore this side of her family. Back home, her school is putting on its annual production of The Nutcracker, and Addie is cast as Marie despite her reservations. She also has to navigate her relationship with her mother, who is pregnant, and who still isn't thrilled about her new relationship with her biological father. When Addie talks her friends into including lucha libre wrestling into the reimagined version of The Nutcracker, will she finally be able to connect with Manny on something he understands? And will her mother be able to understand how important being part of the Bravo clan is to Addie?
Strengths: This was a great book about family and navigating changing relationships with people with whom one is close. Alex is right up there for Best Stepfather in Middle Grade Literature, and his diner food made me want to go grab a dead cow with a yellow blanket and some frog sticks! Marlene, a waitress who had been there since 1963, and her diner lingo, was worthy of an entire book! Addie was a hopeful, engaged tween who wanted to know more about her past and managed to find out what she wanted without fighting with her mother, which was good to see. Her use of local resources to locate information was fantastic; at one point, she's asked if she wants to be an archivist! She gets along with her new family even though there are bumps, and the connections she makes are very sweet. Abuela Bravo's past as a woman wrestler, and the fact that she gave up her career to raise her children and support her husband's career, is sadly an accurate portrayal of what life was like for women (and still is, often). It's good to see how her friends at school react, and I liked that she brought her family's culture into a production of the Nutcracker. This moved along quickly and was very enjoyable. 
Weaknesses: This is a bit on the long side, and there were some subplot arcs that could have been shortened or eliminated. At 369 pages, some of my students will not pick this up just because of the length. I also found it a bit hard to believe that Addie's mother, who is my older daughter's age, would have been so reluctant to tell Addie about her father. By 2010, a large number of my students had parents who were not married, and certainly this is the case now as well. The secrecy makes for a good story, however. 
What I really think: This author's The First Rule of Punk and Strange Birds are fun books that include a lot of insight into family dynamics and Latinx culture, and Tumble will appeal to the readers who like those titles, as well as books like Wallace's Bump, which includes lucha libre wrestling, and Lopez's Lucky Luna and Medina's Merci Suarez Changes Gears, which both deal with cousins and extended families. 

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Alliana, Girl of Dragons

Abe, Julie and Jiang Shan (illus.) Alliana, Girl of Dragons
August 2nd 2022 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Alliana once had loving parents who ran a stately inn at the edge of a magic preserve, but her mother passed away, her father remarried a widow with twins Alliana's age, Reizo and Reina, and then her father disappeared in a mountain climbing accident. Since, she has been treated poorly by the stepmother, who is interested only in the money she can extract from the inn, since her skills at running it are less than optimal. The stepmother claims that Alliana owes her money, and every transgression, from broken dishes to being late to work, catapults her deeper into debt with the bitter woman. The one bright light is Reizo and Reina's grandmother Mari, who treats Alliana with kindness. No one else does. Reizo steals from her, and Reina is always demanding something from her mother that requires work on Alliana's part. While Alliana wishes to someday attend the Royal Academy, she realizes there is little hope. There seems to be a little, when the Royal Advisor shows up at the inn, wanting all three children to appear at the Farmlands Ball, where they will be scryed to determine whether or not they can attend the school, but the stepmother forbids Alliana from going, making sure she doesn't have an appropriate dress. Alliana does have a friend, Isao, who works for a baker in the town and hopes to get a better apprentice ship elsewhere. She also meets a young witch, Nela, and some of her friends, who want to help her. Alliana also finds a young nightdragon who connects with her and communicate telepathically. She names him Kabo, and takes care of him as much as she can. When Grandmother Mari dies, the stepmother tries to take anything that belonged to her and sell it. Alliana is left with only the grandmother's sewing kit and a message that she is to take care of Mari's family. As much as she would like to run away, she stays to honor those wishes. Will Alliana ever be able to use her connections to the Royal Advisor, and harness Kabo's powers in order to be able to move on from her stepmother's evil grasp?
Strengths: Like this author's Eva Evergreen: Semi Magical Witch, this book is set in a vaguely older, vaguely Japanese world where some people are magical and others are not. There are some delicious pastries, that thrilling possibility of magic, and best of all, a dragon. It's a spin on the Cinderella story, and readers who like horrible things to happen continually to the protagonist will love seeing Alliana put up with and then overcome her horrible stepmother. Grandmother Mari is a gentle herbalist who is so kind to Alliana, and Reizo and the stepmother are deliciously wicked. Isao and Nela are good friends, and not to spoil too much, but things turn out well at the end, and I think Alliana ends up running into Eva Evergreen at some point. 
Weaknesses: Alliana is treated so horribly that it was a bit hard to believe that she wouldn't try running away at some point. Things couldn't get much worse. Also, I was hoping for a few more details about caring for a dragon. 
What I really think: There is a wide range of flavors of dragon books. Tsangs' Dragon Realm series and  London's Battle Dragons have more action and adventure, Burgis' The Dragon with the Chocolate Heart is a fun twist on dragon lore, and Yogis and Truoung's The Awakening Storm graphic novel and Durst's fantastic Spark deal more with the day to day care and feeding of dragons. My students are HUGE fans of Sutherland's Wings of Fire series, which is more Warriors style fighting and clan wars. With it's anime/manga style page decorations, Alliana will also appeal to fans of all things Japanese. 

I was a bit taken by surprise by how many of my students were into anime and manga when we returned from remote schooling in 2020, and felt very vindicated that I had kept The Anime Companion: What's Japanese in Japanese Animation? by Gilles Poitras (November 1st 1998 by Stone Bridge Press). Of course, just looking at the cover of this book (or at pictures of Alliana and her friends) has me humming the tune to Speed Racer, because I am that old.

Monday, August 22, 2022

MMGM- Daybreak on Raven Island

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Bradley, Fleur. Daybreak on Raven Island
August 23rd 2022 by Viking Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

It should be exciting to be the first people to tour the Raven Island in years, but the 7th graders aren't all that thrilled. Marvin is most interested, since he likes to make films and is somewhat interested in entering a movie competition. His parents run a Korean restaurant, so don't have a lot of time to encourage this pursuit. Noah is new to the school, and still dealing with the death of his mother, which has made him fearful about a lot of things. His therapist has encouraged him to keep a journal as a way to deal with these fears. Tori is angry about everything, mainly because of issues with her brother Danny, and also because she was taken off her soccer team for poor grades and behavior. Her friends who are still on the team are at a tournament. When the teacher and chaperone, Mr. Thompson, has the students "buddy" up, these three end up together. After taking the ferry over to the island, they are given a tour by Mr. Thorne, who is dressed in an old fashioned guard's uniform. The building had been a fort, then a tuberculosis sanitorium, and then had been used for a high security prison. It closed in 1972, and the father of the new owner, Ms. Chavez, was the last warden. He met an untimely end when prisoners tried to escape, and the prison was closed down because there had been so many inmate deaths. There's talk of cursed cells and ghostly prisoners, and the fact that there is a film crew there makes this seem possible. Tori and the two boys sneak off into the nearby woods and go towards a lighthouse, where they see faceless ghosts that Marvin says seem like the dalgyal gwishin that his grandmother talks about-- ghosts who have no one who loved them to remember them. Marvin comes up with a plan to get off the ferry and spend the night on the island to make his film, and Tori and Noah get caught up in it. It doesn't take long before they are discovered by Mr. Thorne, who takes them to Ms. Chavez's mansion. She's not happy with them, but makes sure they call home, have dinner, and are locked in their room for the night until they can get the ferry back in the morning. Of course they climb out the window and start to investigate a number of odd things. They've snagged Warden Chavez' journal from the office and find some interesting things about his career, especially the fact that he was trying desperately to reform the way the prison was run and treat the prisoners more fairly. The kids hang out with the filmmakers for a while, and when one of them is shot and killed, they have even more to investigate. Will they be able to solve the mystery of the 1972 jail break, Bob's death, and weather or not there really are ghosts on the island before the sun rises?
Strengths: A field trip will seem like a really rare and exciting event to middle grade students, and the fact that the trip is to an abandoned prison makes this even more exciting. For a student like Marvin, this is a perfect opportunity! For poor Mr. Thompson, who has to chaperone even though he wasn't expecting to, this is less exciting and causes him to be harried, which gives Noah, Tori, and Marvin a chance to make a break for it. I love that this was handled realistically-- teachers, in general, never lose anyone! I also liked that Ms. Chavez and her staff tried to keep their eye on the students as well. The fact that young people could see ghosts and adults can't is right in line with how middle grade fantasy usually works. The ghost hunters were a good inclusion, since books that feature them, like Poblocki's The Ghost Hunter's Daughter and Schwab's Cassidy Blake series, appeal to my readers very strongly. The history of the island prison, and the connections to Ms. Chavez, make for a really well developed mystery. Throw in an unfortunate murder that must be solved, and an all night adventure with ghosts, and Daybreak on Raven Island has a lot to recommend it to tween (and adult!) readers. 
Weaknesses: This expanded the normal range of ghost activities a bit further than I am usually prepared to believe, but I am hugely skeptical about everything. My students tend to believe in ghosts, so they won't find this unusual at all. 
What I really think: This made me think, of course, of Choldenko's Al Capone books, as well as Sullivan's Escape From Alcatraz, but definitely gives an interesting spin on the idea of a prison on an island with the appearance of ghosts as well as an actual murder to be solved. My students are all about a good murder mystery, so I will definitely be buying this one, especially since Bradley's Double Vision books are strong circulators.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

If You Read This

Getten, Kereen. If You Read This
August 16th 2022 by Delacorte Press
E ARC provided by Netgalley
Brie still misses her impulsive, ebullient mother three years after her death from cancer. Her father, Papa, spends too much time at his job as a resort manager near their gated community on their island (which I assume is Jamaica, although this is not stated). This leaves her in the care of her Nana, who is somewhat old fashioned and not as much fun as her mother. When Brie has a huge 12th  birthday celebration, her best friends Femi and Smiley attend, along with lots of family members. She gets lots of great gifts, but is sad that Papa has to work again. Her Nana gives her one final gift... a letter from her mother. Her mother had always done treasure hunts with her, and left a special one for her 12th birthday, The first clue tells Briw to go to "the place summer never ends", and Brie knows this must mean her grandfather's house, Brim's Island.  It is filled with all manner of plants and fun objects, and her mother mentions a secret room that her father had put aside for her. Brie needs to go to the house, find the key, and look for the door to the secret room, but her father has to work and doesn't want to take her. She arranges with an uncle and aunt to take a bus there with Nana and her friends, but since her grandfather is in a care home suffering from dementia, she doesn't know if she will be able to get further clues or the key from him. She manages to get her grandfather to run away and hide on the bus, but has to let her family know when he goes missing once she gets them home. He has the key, and manages to give her enough information for the next clue. Her uncle decides that the grandfather can visit on the weekends when there are people around to keep an eye on him, and he can feel free. Will Brie be able to figure out her mother's puzzles as well as the puzzle that is her Papa?
Strengths: Turning 12 is a big deal, and I can't imagine havin lost my mother before that age. This was an interesting look at how families continue on, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, after the death of a key member. While the father does care for Brie, he finds it hard to spend time with her. The treasure hunt, and the trip to a beloved family home with supportive family was fun to read. There aren't as many details about like in Jamaica, as there are in this author's When Life Gives You Mangoes, but there are a few glimpses of the ocean and a bit of flavor through the grandmother's speech and cooking. 
Weaknesses: This ended a bit suddenly. Also, as someone whose mother was in a care home for a number of years before her death from Parkinson's, I'm never a fan of painting care homes as unpleasant places designed to take away someone's freedom. Sometimes they are far safer for an elderly person than being cared for by loved ones at home.
What I really think:This is a good choice for readers who want gentle, lyrical books that deal with grief by working in some mystery that a young person has to solve, like Guterson The Einsteins of Vista Point , Dilloways' Where the Sky Lives, Arnold's Just Harriet and Urban's Almost There and Almost Not. 

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Cartoon Saturday- Ride On

Hicks, Faith Erin. Ride On
August 16th 2022 by First Second
E ARC provided by Netgalley

When Victoria starts riding at Edgewood Stables, having come from the fancier Waverly, Norrie tries to make her welcome and is irritated when she rebuffs her advances. Victoria just wants to ride, and due to previous experiences with a friend, doesn't want to get into a lot of drama about competitions and friendships. Norrie, who is good friends with Hazel and Sam, one of the few boys who comes to the stables, then decides to "shun" Victoria, who is fine with that. Later, when Victoria gets help with one of the horses from Hazel, she realizes that she might have been too hasty in her treatment of Norrie, and reaches out to her because they have a shared love of a vintage sci fi television program, Beyond the Galaxy. After an 18 year hiatus, the show is back, and the four kids are super excited about the new film. They watch old episodes, talk about costumes, and even go to a local Renaissance Faire when Victoria's sister works to film themselves acting with the Renaissance characters while in their BTG costumes. All of this makes Victoria realize that she has interests outside riding. When she was at Waverly, her best friend was Taylor, who was more able to afford classes and competitions, and even had her own horse. While Victoria enjoys riding, she doesn't want to focus on it to the exclusion of all else. When there is a small competition at Waverly, Norrie, Sam, Hazel and Victoria all have different demons they need to face during the competition. 
Strengths: This was an engaging graphic novel that is the perfect present for a middle grader readers who likes to ride, and also one that will show this world to the uninitiated. The illustrations of the stables, horses, and riding costumes will make these things much clearer to readers who have never been to a farm, much less in the saddle. I liked that Victoria had once been very enamored of the sport, but had backed off. The friend drama with Taylor is an absolutely prime middle grade topic, and the issue of personal identity is also crucial to this age group. My best friend in middle school was a huge fan of the original Star Trek, and I remember the 1979 motion picture being a HUGE deal! Victoria and Sam's family issues get a brief mention, so families of divorce and problems with toxic masculinity are also addressed. There's an easy to follow plot ARC, definable characters, and lots of fun. 
Weaknesses: I don't think that I would have wanted to be friends with Norrie, either! 
What I really think: Horses and horse riding will always have a small group of super fans, so I always try to add a book or two every year to the collection, although I no longer have any of the Jean Slaughter Doty titles that Hicks mentions in her afterword about her own experiences riding. I hope that part of the promotional tour for this book includes Hicks being able to ride a horse once again. I was never interested in riding, but I had a cousin who competed all through high school.
 Ms. Yingling

Friday, August 19, 2022


Stine, R.L. Stinetinglers: All New Stories by the Master of Scary Tales
August 30th 2022 by Feiwel & Friends
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

I'm always amazed by R.L. Stine's writing, and by the fact that he excels at everything from goofy second grade level horror like Goosebumps to firmly Young Adult horror like You May Now Kill the Bride. I not so secretly hope that he will write a straight historical novel, since he includes so many good details, and if there is ever a series of horror board books issued, I'm sure they will be a product of his pen. 

Of course, scary short stories are a slam dunk from this author, whom I have seen billed as "the Stephen King of children's literature". I am only allowing this because King's first book (Carrie) was published in 1973, and Stine's first horror novel (Welcome to Dead House) didn't come out until 1992. I don't remember how many times I've had to replace his anthologies like Fear and Scream and Scream Again. My students frequently "lose" these. 

There are ten different stories, all prefaced with a brief explanation of what inspired Stine to write the tale. I think that Alex from White's Gravebooks would find this a very helpful collection to jump start his creative process! There's a boy who sneaks a look at gifts, breaks a watch, and gets stuck in time... right before dinner one evening. That's definitely a nightmare for perpetually hungry tweens! There's a babysitter who has to endure "little monsters" that are more monstrous than she envisioned, and a basketball player whose skin is loose. I could have written that one, only it would have involved nightmares about my teeth being loose or having cavities. 

There are cautionary tales about ghosts haunting cars, having a doppleganger, and a particularly... ooky tale about being afraid of bugs! Throw in a library book that writes its own story (with a shout out to Ray Bradbury!), making monsters as a craft, and the story that lends itself to the creepy cover art and includes needle sharp talons, and there's plenty to make the strongest reader's skin crawl. 

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go write a scary story about fighting vampires with my tomato stakes, inspired by the time I read Charlie Higson and Darren Shan books back to back and dreamed that the sump pump in my garden was really zombies. Combine that with the fact that David Lubar's Check Out the Library Weenies taught me that I could fight vampires with tomato stakes, and I think we have a winner! 

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, August 18, 2022

This Appearing House

Malinenko, Ally. This Appearing House
August 16th 2022 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Jacqueline Price-Dupree and her mother have moved from California to New Jersey for a fresh start. Her father has not been in the picture since she was two. Jac (as she would rather be called) was very ill for a long time, and as she is approaching the five year mark of being disease free, her mother still can't stop being overprotective. She has made a friend in the neighborhood, Hazel (whose mother named him after a character in Watership Down), but also has to deal with irritating jerks John and Sam, who like to pick on the smaller and quieter Hazel. When a house appears at the end of her street, Jac isn't sure what's going on. It looks creepy, and when John declares that he'll leave Hazel alone if she goes in, she does. The three boys follow her, and things start to go wrong. The doors lock behind them, every door leads back to the room they were just in, and voices call out to them. John is quickly pulled into a room by unseen forces, and soon Sam is as well. Jac realizes that the house is meant for her; there is a key with her picture on it, and many messages to her as well. The creepiest is a room full of typewriters, all being typed on by no one, churning out messages about Jac's disease and how she is expected to die. She feels that "the only way out is through", and she and Hazel try to explore the house and figure out its mysteries. They meet gruesome characters like Mr. Nobody, the Monster, and the Keeper, who don't have positive messages for her. She needs to know the truth, and hopes the House can help her find it. But is she really ready to face it?
Strengths: Malinenko has been dealing with recurring cancer, and has used her experiences to inform this interesting and creepy ghost story. And creepy it is-- Hazel eats food that one character gives them, which everyone should know you NEVER do, and it turns out to be full of teeth. EWWWW! The page decorations echo the creepy hands on the cover, and there are plenty of things that go bump in the night that Jac must face. It's good that she has a friend with her, and this book also picks up the current philosophy that children should share their problems and "truths" with friends and not always try to be strong. Jac's mother's concern is valid, and the way the two clash is realistic. There aren't as many books as there could be about children facing cancer or other serious diseases, and certainly not as many that have such a fantastical spin. 
Weaknesses: This made me feel like I should take 7th grade language arts again so that I am better at defining literary elements; it's been 45 years since I've had to think about allegory, and found myself thinking that I was missing a lot of literary devices! 
What I really think: This is a great choice for readers who like their horror with a good dose of philosophy and allegory. Its lyrical writing and heart-print message should be popular with fans of this author's Ghost Girl as well books that combine grief with paranormal themse like DeStefano's The Girl with the Ghost Machine, Cohen's The Inn Between, or Arnold's The House That Wasn't There.

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Gravebooks (Nightbooks #2)

White, J.A. Gravebooks (Nightbooks #2)
August 16th 2022 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

**Spoilers if you haven't read Nightbooks.**

In Nightbooks (which is brilliantly recapped in the first chapter), Alex and Yasmin escaped from the evil witch Natacha who was forcing Alex to write stories for her. Both children are dealing with their trauma in different ways, and Yasmin finds it difficult to talk to Alex and also sleep at night, so the two don't see each other much. However, when Alex is visited by Natacha in a dream, and she tells him that he must write a story for her every night or she will visit him, he needs to seek out his former co-captive to figure things out. Natacha is dead, but visiting him in the dream, and needs Alex's stories to grow flowers. Why does she need the flowers? Alex tries to write stories, but is struggling with a lot of blockage. In his dreams, there is a greaveyard filled with the "graves" of his half-finished stories. He does successfully write some of them; the ones that are good enough burst into flames and provide Natacha with flowers. Alex and Yasmin try to figure out how to defeat her, but soon are dealing instead with Simeon, who had been masquerading as Natacha's familiar, but is really a nachpyr, a type of vampire who feeds on energy instead of humans. The flowers caused by the stories provide him with power. Yasmin seeks out the help of a witch to whom Natacha delivered oils, and finds Ms. Goffel in a hard-to-find barber shop, where she is imprisoned and sentenced to cut the hair of the dead. At first, she refuses to help Yasmin, but as the girl visits, brings her coffee and crullers, and adds some color to her otherwise drab existence, Ms. Goffel offers to help. Will Alex and Yasmin be able to collect totems and weave a spell that will do away with Simeon? And will Alex overcome his writers block so that he doesn't have to give into Simeon's offer of becoming a nachpyr so he will have all the time in the world to write?
Strengths: Alex and Yasmin are a good team, even though they haven't been talking to each other. They support each other in whatever way they can, and are very patient with each other, which is nice to see. Alex writes a number of stories, including one about a haunted bicyle, a carnival, and a carnivorous locker, which are rather good and spooky, in the vein of Lubar's Weenies stories. My favorite part was when Yasmin interacted with Ms. Goffel, and when Simeon was pursuing the children a bit more aggressively. Lots of creepy, scary things, and Alex's dreamscape was evocative of Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. 
Weaknesses: I'm not a huge fan of scary books, and have read a lot lately that are the story-within-a-story format. Language arts teachers will ADORE the commentary on the writing process, but I sort of wanted Alex to quit worrying about writing and just write. 
What I really think: Nightbooks has been really popular with my students, some of whom have even seen the television dramatization. I'll definitely be purchasing, since I've had to glue Nightbooks back together because of overuse!

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

The Black Slide

Ocker, J.W. The Black Slide
August 16th 2022 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Griffin Birch isn't a huge fan of school, and refers to his classroom as the "Torture Chamber", where his fifth grade teacher demands that the children not look out the window at the playground. It's hard not to, especially when a weird black slide appears there. It looks like it is made of leather, and no one knows where it came from. When Griffin is the first one to go down it, he has a very weird experience; he feels like he was falling for a very long time and everyone, including his best friend Laila, blames this on the concussion they say he suffered after being injured in the slide and breaking his arm. When classmates start to go missing, and Griffin sees them approaching the slide, going down it, and never coming out, he has his suspicions. It only seems to affect the fifth graders, so when he sees Laila at the slide, he rushes out to save her. The two go down the slide together and end up in a weird and horrible world. There are weird, metal beings whose voices grate on the senses, and the children seem hypnotized and hopeless. There seems to be no escape, and the children are subject to horrible experiments, so that the area is dubbed the "Painful Place" or "the painground". They suffer at the hands of the Merciless, who have told the children that when the experiments are done, they will go home. To Griffin and Laila, along with classmates Desda and Ozzie, this seems unlikely. There are constant, senseless attacks by creatures of frightening intensity, and nothing makes sense. After running and fighting for ages, they meet Leech, who claims he can help them defeat the Merciless and escape, if they help her get inside the Forge. Can Griffin accomplish this, and even if he can, will it help him and his friends get out? 
Strengths: This was certainly very rich in gruesome imagery and horrible descriptions, from cold air that smelled like "the chemical smell a bathroom has after it's cleaned", to the Merciless, who have "white heads glowing like moons above their shiny black robes". There's constant screaming and torture; the best description I can offer is a middle grade fever dream that starts on a very, very dark playground. The writing felt very cinematic, like someone describing a horror film to me. It's super creepy, and I started to wonder if Griffin and his classmates would ever get out. At first I thought this was going to be a bit like Dr. Fell's Playground of Doom, but the book this really reminded me of was Alexander Gordon Smith's Lockdown (2009) (Escape from Furnace) series, and that was mainly because of the violence and gore. This gets bonus points for novelty of form and content; I went into this thinking it would be like The Smashed Man of Dread End, but if Ocker's first novel is a dark and twisted Monkees' television episode, The Black Slide is the Monkee's Head
Weaknesses: Because of the fever dream feel, the plot is rather secondary to all of the descriptions of torture. There is also a disturbing scene of Griffin's father abusing him and harming his lizard which should be mentioned in case this book is handed to tender hearted elementary school students; we have hints all along that Griffin's father has left the family because he was abusive, but I was a bit surprised at the graphic nature of this abuse. Supernatural monsters ripping people apart is different from human-on-human violence. Somehow. 
What I really think: I am honestly not sure. This felt very experimental, and I feel like my students are either going to love it to pieces or not know what to do with it. I'm going to have to feel out my horror lovers on this one; it's quite effective, but an odd convergence of fifth grade playground and horrific monsters torturing children! Certainly one to read if you are a fan of scary books. 

Monday, August 15, 2022

MMGM- Tales to Keep You Up At Night

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

We've been back at school for a week, and things are promising.
Sustained Silent Reading is now scheduled for 20 minutes after lunch for each grade which means that students flooded into the library looking for books (checked out 350 just on Friday!) AND all the grades have the same bell schedule. Whew. Makes life much easier.

Went to Cover to Cover bookstore in Upper Arlington on Saturday and heard Debbie Rigaud talk about her writing, including the new A Girl's Guide to Love and Magic! Saw Leigh Lewis, a graduate of my school who wrote Pirate Queens there as well. It's good to get back out and meet writers again. 

Looking forward to another great week at school, even though the first month back tends to feel exhausting. In the summer, Pongo does not ask me five questions every minute and I'm not on my feet eight hours a day!

Poblocki, Dan. Tales to Keep You Up at Night
August 16th 2022 by Penguin Workshop
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Amelia and her brother Winter are bored hanging out at their grandmother's house while their moms clean it out and ready it for sale. Amelia loved her grandmother, and she feels that not keeping the house is admitting that her grandmother, who disappeared a year ago, isn't coming back. It's odd that no one talks about the fact that her grandfather had also gone missing under similar circumstances. When Amelia finds an old library book in the attic, she decides to return it. At the nearby public library, she meets Mrs. Bowen, the librarian, who says the book isn't from that library, but invites Amelia to read. Amelia has vague memories of her grandmother with the book, but also remembers a scrawled note at the front telling her not to read the book, but that is gone. When she gets a few stories in, she realizes that one of the families in the book is Bowen, but when she asks the librarian, she finds she was mistaken, and her name is Brown. The tales, starting with Moll's Well, about a woman whose healing powers are considered witchcraft so she is put to death and her accuser takes her property, outline the retribution that Moll's family took on different people who had mistreated them. And they are creepy tales, indeed. A girl who babysits is surprised that the family's grandmother is upstairs, and takes her a drink of water, only to find when the parents return that there is no grandmother. A group of teens summon "Baby Witch". Tarot cards go terribly wrong. The more stories Amelia reads, the more she starts to realize that elements of the stories are coming to life in her world! When Winter comes to the library to be read to, this becomes even more apparent, and I am now never going to grow pumpkins in my garden! Amelia finds out some clues to the past, and tries unsuccessfully to get rid of the book. Is the book her destiny? Is she going to be the one who writes more stories? Most importantly, will there be a sequel that tells us more about her grandmother?
Strengths: The formatting of this book really helps. The chapters detailing Amelia's story start with a charming page decoration, and are in a modern font while the chapters of Tales to Keep You Up at Night have a creepy border, older style font, and a darker paper, so its easy to keep the two separate parts clear. The tales of Moll's descendant's retribution are very skillfully woven into the threads of Amelia's life. The format gives Poblocki a lot of space to explore many different tales and ways of telling them, including one story in second person. It's hard to find examples of that perspective! Winter is a good addition and grounds Amelia in the real world even as the supernatural crowds into her life. This is another winner from Poblocki, and cements his status as an established middle grade horror writer. 
Weaknesses: I personally struggle with the story-within-a-story format; I just wanted to find out what happened to Amelia, so tended to rush through the scary stories, which are not my favorite thing to read, either! My students will not feel this way and will relish the deeply creepy tales. I also wanted more information about what happened to the grandmother and grandfather and sort of hoped they would reappear. 
What I really think: I'm a long time fan of Poblocki's work, but prefer his books that verge on Young Adult, like Liar's RoomThe Ghost Hunter's Daughter, and The Ghost of Graylock. This new title is more like the Shadow House series and would be a great addition to an elementary library as well as middle school ones, especially where story-within-a-story books like Nance's Daemon Hall, Kerr's The Most Frightening Story Ever Told, and West's Long Lost are popular.