Friday, September 30, 2022

Guy Friday- War and Baseball

Magoon, Kekla. The Flag Never Touched The Ground: America's Brave Black Regiment in Battle (True Adventures) 
September 6th 2022 by Pushkin Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

William Harvey Carney's father had managed to escape slavery and had made his way to New Bedford, Massachusetts, promising to send for his family. In October of 1859, William arrived in that town after a long journey from the South. He managed to start his new life, adn eventually worked on whaling boats. When the Civil War started, he and his best friend, Chester, signed up for the 54th Regiment, the Massachusetts Volunteers of African Descent even though his father thought he was too soft to go to war. They were promised $100 bounty as well as pay of $13 a month, and started their brief training right away. While their white commander was from an abolitionist family and treated them fairly, there was a lot of racist treatment. For example, they were given less pay than they had been promised, but luckily mounted a successful protest. Also, if Black soldiers were captured in the South, they could be returned to slavery, and their commanders would be killed rather than taken prisoner. Conditions during the Civil War were never good, and when the regiment was part of the attack on Fort Wagner in the South, the battle was brutal. Even though he was injured and thought he saw Chester killed, Carney refused to let the flag fall and helped many of the other soldiers get through the fighting. 
Strengths: This was on the shorter side and even included some good illustrations. While most of my readers who want to read books about war are strong readers, it's good to have a variety of levels of books, and there hasn't been many new Civil War books lately. There are lots of good details about equipment, training, and conditions in battle that are just perfect, and there has been very little about Black soliders during this conflict. There are several other books in this series that I will have to investigate. 
Weaknesses: This is being published in paperback, and the prebind will set you back about $20. 
What I really think: This reminded me a little of Avi's Revolutionary War title, The Fighting Ground, and will definitely be popular with my readers. 

Edeleman, Claudia Romo. Hispanic Star: Roberto Clemente
September 6th 2022 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Born in 1934 to parents who were in their teens when the Spanish left Puerto Rico and the US took control, Roberto had an early interest in baseball. As a Black Puerto Rican, he had experienced some racism, even though at the time, many Puerto Ricans liked to pretend that people from all backgrounds were treated the same. His older brother Matino played in a top amateur league. Roberto was a teenager when Jackie Robinson was the first Black baseball player in the major leagues, which gave him hope that he, too, would be able to play ball. He played in winter league teams while he was still in high school, and tried out other sports as well, and signed with the Cangrejeros. While playing there, he was scouted by the Brooklyn Dodges in 1952 and was signed to their minor league team. He did well, although he often struggled with his health because of injuries he recieved in a car accident, and eventually came to play with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and also enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserve, where he spent six years while still playing baseball.  Conscious of the poverty in which he grew up, Roberto worked on many charitable initiatives. Nicaragua was having many problems, and it was on a flight to deliver supplies to that country in 1972 that his plane crashed and he was killed. He was fast tracked into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and in the fifty years since his death has often been remembered as a ground breaking ball player, philanthropist, and Hispanic cultural icon. 
Strengths: This short (112 pages) biography has some illustrations, and als includes historical information about Puerto Rico, the different people who live there, and the state of racial discrimination in both Puerto Rico and in the mainland US. This is very helpful in understanding Clemente's career. There are several sidebars such as "A brief history of slaevry in Puerto Rico" that are very helpful. There is plenty of baseball descriptions, and also a good overview of Clemente's life and legacy. 
Weaknesses: After the description of his death, there is a chapter that goes back to 1955 and then followed Clemente's baseball career. This was a bit jarring, and I wish the information in that chapter had been inserted into the earlier chapters. I did like the chapter on Clemente's legacy. I wouldn't have minded a few more photographs. 
What I really think: While I'm glad to see this line of Hispanic Star books, I wish we would see historical figures who haven't already had middle grade biographies written about them. How about Lou Castro? Still, if your Clemente biography needs replacing, this is a great updated choice that includes information about Puerto Rico and racial issues that I've not seen included in earlier books. 

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, September 29, 2022

The Secret Letters: Mysteries of Trash and Treasure (#1)

Haddix, Margaret Peterson. Mysteries of Trash and Treasure: The Secret Letters
September 20th 2022 by Katherine Tegen Books 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Colin's Creedmont's mother Felicia runs an organizing business in the small town of Groveview, Ohio, and he is helping her during the summer because the camp he wants to attend it too expensive. When cleaning out one house, he finds a box of letters. Even though his mother is a minamalist, he feels oddly drawn to the letters and keeps them. Nevaeh Greevey's father runs the Junk King enterprise in the same town, which has been in the family in one form or another for years. He is more interested in selling other people's "trash" that he can see is "treasure". When he wins permission to clean out the fabled Mangold storage unit supposedly full of priceless antiques when Nevaeh first starts working with the business (her much older siblings already do), he is disappointed when there is empty except for a letter. He suspects that, somehow, Colin's mother is behind the disappearance, since she worked for him years ago and the two have a rivalry. When Colin reads some of the letters, one of which says there is another box in another house, he runs into Nevaeh, who knows Mrs. Torres in the house, gets permission to go into the attic, and helps Colin find the box. The two have to hide what they are doing from their families, and arrange to watch Mrs. Torres' twins once a week. They also meet at the library and start researching Toby and Rosemary, who were children in Groveview in the late 1970s. Their friendship ended poorly, and both families moved away. Colin and Nevaeh find that they share similar interests, and get along well, and they are drawn to this mystery for many reasons. They eventually locate Toby, who is a professor at Ohio State University and stops by Groveview to talk to them, but have trouble locating Rosemary. When the mystery behind the Mangold storage unit seems to be tied to Rosemary, the families have to unite to figure out what happened. Will Colin and Nevaeh be able to remain friends, or will they suffer the same fate as Toby and Rosemary?
Strengths: Wow. Let's make a note that this book made me tear up. We've got a great setting, where Colin and Nevaeh are able to bike around a small town, learn its history, and talk to neighbors while observing safety protocols for interacting with strangers. Very much appreciated that, especially when Nevaeh uses Colin's phone to text Toby. Colin and Nevaeh's family dynamics are both fascinating, and seeing them work in the family business was fantastic. They have very different families, but are kindred spirits, and both feel slightly at odds with the way their families operate. Toby and Rosemary's story was interesting when they were young, but this took a spectacular turn and just blew me away when the Mangold storage unit got tied in with the penpals. This is such a good exploration of the historic treatment of women, and is pitch perfect with modern times as well. An absolute tour de force from Haddix, and I can't wait to read more about Colin and Nevaeh's investigations. 
Weaknesses: The cover isn't great. I would have loved to see a photograph or drawing of older homes on a shady Ohio small town street. 
What I really think: I...I need to preorder a copy for myself from my local independent bookseller. This hit me the same way that John F. Carson's The Mystery of the Tarnished Trophy (1967) hit me when I read it in 1974, and I've never been able to get rid of the copy that was weeded from my father's elementary school library! The combination of my own personal childhood era, women's history, the Ohio setting, the estate sales (it seems like most of my friends have had to clean out their parents' houses recently, and two older residents of my street also passed away), and Colin and Nevaeh's charming, equal friendship made me love this one so much. Aside from my personal feelings, I think this will appeal to young readers who want to know what life was like in a different era, and I appreciated Haddix' glossary of terms and television shows. 

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The Bluest Sky

Gonzales, Christina Diaz. The Bluest Sky
September 6th 2022 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Eleven-year-old Héctor lives in Cuba and his mother and older brother Rodrigo in 1980. His father is in the US after having been imprisoned for his outspoken political views. Héctor is much more concerned with qualifying for a math competition and fishing with his best friend Theo and his twin sister Isabel than he is with politics, even though his abuela (his mother's mother) is a delegate to the National Assembly and a staunch supporter of Castro's Communist government. The government has opened up some avenues for people to leave the country, but they are difficult: people are allowed to leave from Mariel, but have to have passage on a boat and get permission. As more and more people in Héctor's world leave, and his older brother approaches draft age, Héctor's mother makes plans for the family to join the father in the US. His abuela is not happy and wants the boys to stay with her, expressing the opinion that the father was always no good. When crowds attack Héctor's house because word has gotten out that they are leaving, a tragedy occurs. Luckily, the family is still able to leave, and are ready to go when the government officers come to take possession of their home. There is a long and unpleasant wait to get permission from the authorities, and when they finally are next in line, things do not go easily. Will the three be able to start a new life in the US with the father?
Strengths: The most effective part of this book is Héctor's friendship with Theo and Isabel and their every day lives in Cuba. Like the descriptions in Senzai's Escape From Aleppo or Warga's Other Words for Home, these details make it easier for young readers to understand that people forced out of their countries are just like them, and have everyday concerns about school and friends, and would prefer to stay in their country if it were safe to do so. Héctor's love of math and his success at the competition, along with his teacher's support, offered an insight into his character, and the fact that he called his father hoping to stay in Cuba so he could compete is absolutely typical of how tweens can sometimes have a narrow outlook centered on their own concerns. The fact that the grandmother was in a political position to make things easier for the family showed how powerful the government could be, and also how families can be split in their political views. The friendship with Theo and Isabel was both heart warming and heart breaking. This is a fantastic book for building empathy for others, like Dassu's Boy, Everywhere or Athaide's Orange for the Sunsets, and made me realize that I really need to read a heavy duty history of Cuba in the twentieth century to remedy my lack of knowledge about this country. 
Weaknesses: While I love the boats on the cover, this book begs for a photographic cover of Cuban coastline, and the blue sky of the title. 
What I really think: The details about what Héctor went through were gut wrenching, especially in light of so many similar situations in the world today where children are forced to leave beloved countries. There have been a number of books about Cuba set in the 1950s and 60s, so it's interesting to know more about the events of the 1980s. I hope that the day will come when there are happier stories coming out of this country. 

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The Vanquishers

Bayon, Kalynn. The Vanquishers
September 20th 2022 by Bloomsbury Children's Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Malika "Boog" lives with  her parents in San Antonio, Texas at the end of a cul de sac near good friends Cedric (who lives with his scientist dads) and Jules (who lives with their grandmother, 'Lita). It's been twenty years since vampires have gone extinct, so most people no longer believe in them or follow the protective protocols that Boog's parents follow; cleaning the house with garlic and silver water, not going out at night, warding the yard, and always being aware. When the group befriends Aaron, who has moved onto the street with his mother, Boog impulsively invites him to a barbecue-- and her parents freak out. Her mother even drops a cooler when the new neighbors come to the door, proving that they are not vampires when they come across the threshhold without being asked. Since 'Lita was a Vanquisher (vampire hunter) who helped with the Reaping (when all the vampires were killed), the kids know this isn't a joke, but since it's been so long, they think the parents are overreacting. So do some people at school, like new guidance counselor Mr. Rupert. When Aaron goes missing at a skating party, the parents' preparations go over the top, with consecrated graveyard dirt being added to the backyards and more garlic water deep cleaning occurring. When Boog sees Aaron in the yard and he asks her to meet him in the park after dark, the kids know that something is really, really wrong, but try to figure out how to fix the problem on their own. Will this lead to more tragedy, or do they have the Vanquishing skills they need. 
Strengths: This did NOT help my irrational fear that I will be attacked by a vampire while blow drying my hair. (Wouldn't hear one or see it in the mirror. Argh!) This was a phenomenally well paced book with a vividly described world that sucked me in right away. I loved how the parents were an integral part of the kids' lives, but they were also perfectly in the background. We see the shared glances, and Boog knows something is up, but like many middle grade students, she is more concerned with helping her friend despite her parents' warnings. 'Lita, as a former Vanquisher but also a grandparent, was perfect. The school employees are great, too, and I appreciated that even though Ms. Mason wore skirt suits and kitten heels, she wasn't evil. Don't want to spoil the trajectory of the story by saying too much more. 
Weaknesses: This would benefit from an older looking, more serious cover. This looks like Giles' The Last Last-Day-of-Summer, which I enjoyed but which does not circulate as well as I had hoped. Vampire books require a tricky balance to appeal to my readers fifteen years post-Twilight, and while the story is fantastic, it might need to be hand sold. 
What I really think: I've read a lot of vampire books, and know that it takes a good hook and a solid mythology to really sell the story, and The Vanquishers manages to do this well. Of course, now I have even more reasons to never go to Texas, but I think this book will do well with my horror fans. 

Ms. Yingling

Monday, September 26, 2022

MMGM- Inaugual Ballers and Victory. Stand!

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

I am ALWAYS a fan of sports books for middle grade readers, since so many children are involved in athletics. While boys' football and basketball books are my most popular, it's always great to see other sports, especially girls' sports. If you are not a fan of either playing sports or reading about them, remember that your students ARE. I'm always glad to answer e mails and point people to lists of great sports books. The two today are excellent. 

Maraniss, Andrew. Inagural Ballers: The True Story of the First U.S. Women's Olympic Basketball Team
September 13th 2022 by Viking Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

If you have read any of Maraniss' work like Strong Inside or Singled Out, you know that his books are submersive experiences where we get to know so many historical figures in a swirl of well explained current events. I felt almost as if I were a young basketball player myself, preparing along with Nancy Lieberman and Gail Marquis to go to the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics, the first where there was a competition for women's basketball. Since the women were all just a few years older than I am, I know well the social conditions that existed at the time, and Maraniss explains those well for younger readers who will be surprised at how few girls and women played sports, and at how little funding and support girls' sports had. Even though my mother played basketball in high school (half court, of course), she never told me back int he 1970s that playing sports was a feminist act. If she had, I would have taken a lot more interest in my 5th grade softball team!

One of the more interesting parts of the lead up to the women's Olympic team is Maraniss' sensitive exploration of how women in sports were percieved in the 1960s and before. "The casual sexism of the day was relentless in its ubiquity." I was definitely in the demographic that was told we could never beat a boy at a game, and that our purpose (as defined by none other than writer Paul Gallico in 1936) was to "look beautiful"! In the same way that my students are shocked that I wore skirts to school every day, they will be shocked that the members of the team had to work so hard just to be able to play basketball at all. 

This reminded me quite a bit of Swaby's Mighty Moe in the way it followed not only the players, but also the coaches, through their childhoods and up to the tryouts for the team and the Olympics themselves, from which the US very nearly pulled out due to issues with China and Taiwan. There are a number of pictures, and I found myself making bookmark after bookmark about different people (like Bunny Sandler, who worked on Title IX, or the absolutely incomparable Billie Jean King) and events. One excellent reason to buy  this book is that it is such a great starting point for history research. Why isn't there a biography of Luisa Harris, the only woman ever drafted in the NBA? Or one about Coach Mildred Barnes, who jogged in the 1940s? I have a long list of people whom I can only hope have written memoirs, since I want to know so much more about their stories. 

Maraniss does an exceptional job at describing the sports aspect of this, but also delivers the information about the feminist perspective in an up-to-the-minute way, clearly understanding the divisions between the different generations of feminism, and briefly mentioning some of the problems with different stages of the movement. 

This book is the perfect choice for young women players who don't know how good they have it, for young men who probably wouldn't care quite so much if a girl was on their team, and for those of us who remember just how far away the summer of 1976 is. I loved everything about this book, from the Harlem Globetrotters-esque cover (the television cartoon show version, not the exhibition team, although thinking about either one has me humming "Sweet Georgia Brown" to myself for days) to the nail biting Olympic competition to the back stories of the players. There's even an excellent afterword that talks about the effects of that team, and how the woman who played on it have viewed the progress women have made in sports since. 

We need to remember the past, because we live during a time when we can't take for granted that we will keep the rights that our forebearers fought so hard to gain. 

Smith, Tommie, Barnes, Derrick and Anyabwile, Dawud (illus.)
Victory. Stand!: Raising My Fist or Justice
September 27th 2022 by Norton Young Readers
ARC provided by TvS Media Group 

If you've read John Lewis' March trilogy, you know that graphic novels can be a great way to introduce tough historical events to young readers. The visuals are especially striking when showing conditions that young readers have never seen; the dirt floors of the Smith's house, the fields in which they worked, and the clothes that they wore are all easily understandable when seen in pictures. This seems like a small thing, but my students have trouble understanding that the world wasn't always the way it is right now. Since the resurgence of Civil Rights issues we've seen in the last few years, it's important for young readers to really understand how severe the mistreatment of Blacks was in the 1960s so that they can see there has been some progress made. Otherwise, it's all too easy to give up hope. 

Smith's story is ordinary and remarkable at the same time. Born in 1944, he came from a large family who sharecropped, which meant that even at a young age, he was expected to be in the fields working, and may only have gone to school a few months out of the year. When he was still fairly young, his parents decided to move from Texas to California in hopes of bettering their lives. A truant officers told his parents that the law in California required children to go to school, so Smith was able to hvae this advantage. There was constant, casual racism, and not as many Black students at the schools, but he was still able to not only get an education but to get involved in the sports program. Because he had forward thinking, understanding coaches, he was able to develop into an outstanding all around athlete. 

When he went to college, it was a culture shock. The illustration of his wearing overalls to San Jose University might seem laughable to today's readers, but the difference between city life and country life, even forty years ago, was quite striking. Smith knew that the way he was treated when his family was working on farms wasn't right, but when he got to college, he met other Black people who helped him understand this treatment and develop ways to work against it, which lead to his eventual heroic gesture at the 1968 Olympics.

This was a whole generation after Jackie Robinson's entry into sports in the 1940s, but things had not changed much. Black athletes still had to deal with discrimination, but things were changing. The "Freedom Summer" of 1964 changed the attitude of many, and Dr. Martin Luther King's marches showed the world that treatment of Black people needed to change. Smith was aware of all of these events, and worked as hard on his schoolwork as he did on his athletics so that he would have the tools he needed to get ahead in a world determined to hold him back. 

Readers may be familiar with the iconic picture of Smith and John Carlos on the winners' stand in 1968, but will be riveted by the story of what lead the men to mount their protest in the way that they did, and also by the ramifications of their actions, and how those affected their lives. I hadn't known that Smith had to deal with death threats, or that he taught at Oberlin College, so there was a lot that I learned from this book. 

Barnes' illustrations are perfect for the era; they have a feel of Stan Lee's work, which always stood for equality, and a little bit of a Mad Magazine vibe, which was always on the cutting edge of social commentary in this era. The ARC is in black and white, white seems to fit thematically with the content. The words aren't crowded on the page, as is the case in some graphic nonfiction titles, and Barnes does a great job showing the motion of athletics on the page. 

Readers who loved the graphic novel version of Kwame Alexander's The Crossover and Booked will be enticed to pick this book up, and those interested in Black history will be enthralled. Victory. Stand! is a great book to use to introduce history to reluctant readers, who will no doubt find themselves going down quite a rabbit hole to research the characters and events that they find as they read about Smith's life. 

Sunday, September 25, 2022

The First Rule of Climate Club and Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet

Firestone, Carrie. The First Rule of Climate Club
July 1st 2022 by G. P. Putnam's Sons
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Returning to the same community in which Dress Coded was set, we follow Mary Kate, who is a year younger than Molly, who took on the school principal and defied the unfair dress code. Molly has been accepted into a special class at school addressing climate change, run by Mr. Lu. Each student had to write an essay to be accepted, and these essays are included in the book. Mary Kate, whose parents are much older, is struggling because her best friend, Lucy, is very ill but doctors cannot determine what is wrong with her. Mary Kate is also dealing with the fact that her older sister has had a baby, whom she calls Sweet Pea. Letters to her neice are also included. The climate class has projects, and Mary Kate gets paired with Shawn Hill, who is from nearby Hartford and open enrolled in the Holly Hill district, which is primarily white. They are investigating composting options for their lunch room, and apply for a town grant. Because Shawn is not a resident, their application is denied, a move which most people think is racist. The town mayor is heard making questionable comments, and the grant goes to a project on the golf course. Mary Kate is determined to get Lucy the help she needs, work for composting in her school, and is also incensed about the social injustices that she sees. Will she be able to make a difference with letters, podcasts, and protests?
Strengths: This is on trend with many different social issues, and it's good to see Mary Kate wanting to make a difference. She also cares deeply about her best friend, and stands by her even when Lucy won't talk to her. I've not seen a middle grade book center on PANS/PANDAS syndrome, which is brought on by tick bites, so this was interesting to see. The issue of older parents was also something unusual and intriguing. I liked that the characters from the previous book appear in this. 
Weaknesses: As in Dress Coded, the evil adults were almost cartoonish in their evil, which diluted the effect of the injustices. It also seemed unlikely that librarian Mr. Beam would have allowed Mary Kate to hang out in the library. How did he have so much time to spend on his phone on Facebook, and why on earth would he let Mary Kate know information about the other teachers? 
What I really think: This will be a popular choice with teachers and librarians who want to promote social justice issues, and there are a lot packed into this. I wish that there had been a more streamlined plot arc, focusing more on the climate club itself. 

Dee, Barbara. Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet
Published September 27th 2022 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Haven lives in a small town with her brother Carter, who is a high school freshman, her mother, who runs a preschool, and her father, who has just gone back to work at Gemba, a new glass factory, after being out of work for over two years. Haven struggles with anxiety, especially when her science teacher shows the class videos about climate change and how it is affecting Antartica. Haven has already stopped eating meat, and wants to do something to help change the world around her but isn't quite sure where to start. It doesn't help that Carter makes fun of her, her parents seem stressed and tired, and her friends Riley and Em think that she should be concentrating more on not chewing her fingernails and not being "weird". There is a new boy in class, Kenji, on whom Riley has a bit of a crush, and Haven is struggling with the fact that her long time friend, Archer, would rather hang out with other boys who are rather Jerky. When Haven't science class does their yearly science unit studying the local river, they find that there are few animals and insects in the water, which has become much more acidic. Wanting to do something, Haven organizes a river festival. It's successful in that people come and help clean up the river, but Haven is upset that a reporter interviews herr in an unflattering light and makes it sound like she is blaming Gemba. But is her father's company to blame? Kenji, whose father is in a supervisory position, doesn't want to irritate his father, but knows that something must be done. Armed with information from a local scientist, Haven and her class make a presentation to the town council. Will they be able to find a fix for at least one environmental problem?
Strengths: There need to be more people like Haven who recognize the planet and do something about it. Unfortunately, this often leads to more anxiety; it was good that Haven's parents suggest therapy and Haven's experiences with this are shown in a positive light. I liked how she looked up to some younger environmental activists and was inspired by them to try to do something about the local river. Her relationship with her brother was very realistic-- how many of us fought constantly with our siblings when we were completely capable of getting along if needed? The friend drama is always a good addition.  
Weaknesses: While I really like the way that Haven't friendship with Archer was handled, there were so many other things going on in the story that it didn't get quite the coverage that it could have had. 
What I really think: I'll definitely purchase this; my students love Dee's titles. I have been working on environmental issues for years and have always tried to share strategies with students. It's good to see that Haven is shown worrying, but also doing things that are concrete. Walking to work, being vegetarian, not buying new clothes, and conserving energy are things that everyone can work on!

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Postcards from Summer

Platt, Cynthia. Postcards from Summer
Published May 31st 2022 by Simon & Schuster
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Lexi's mother died suddenly when she was five, so it was always her and her dad until he married Abby and the family included her and five year old Connor and older step sister Chloe. Her father has never talked much about her mother, and while life with her family is fine, she has always yearned to know more about her mother as a teenager. When Lexi gets a package in the mail from a nursing home in Michigan, it contains a homemade mosaic box and just enough information to lead Lexi to want to visit Mackinac Island and the grand Palais du Lac hotel. She feels that if she can be in a place her mother was, she can discover more about her. With the help of Chloe, she formulates a plan to tell her father she is visiting colleges, but go to Michigan. It works, and while she is going to owe her father big time for the bills she is running up, is about to find some information. In alternating chapters, we see her mother's experiences in about 2003 on the island. Emma's family stays at the hotel, and she's going back and forth between dating JR, whom she likes, and Ryan, whom her family prefers, and for whom she has a growing affection. Lexi visits the local library and doesn't find much, but does connect with a hotel employee her age, Caleb. He's irritated with her interruptions at first, but introduces her to a 97-year-old movie star, Ms. VanHill, who has spent many years at the hotel. Slowly, secrets are revealed about the past. As Lexi finds out more about who her mother was, will this impact her perception of what her own identity is?

I've wanted to go to Mackinac Island, and stay at the Grand Hotel after watching Somewhere in Time, so this virtual trip to a fictionalized resort was great fun! Lexi's longing to connect with the mother her father won't discuss makes her journey seem reasonable, and the mysteries she uncovers are quite surprising. While Lexi doesn't have a romance or an idyllic vacation, we get to see all of that in Emma's story. 

Emma was artistic and at odds with her family. She had good friends, like Linda, and got to explore the island and hang out at the hotel. The highlight of this book is definitely the romances with JR and Ryan, as well as the machinations of Emma's family to get her interested in Ryan. There's a lot of drama with JR, as well as some very poor choices all around. Unraveling the trail of names Emma went by leads Lexi to discover some truths about her own past that end up being completely different. I don't want to spoil the story, but there are some very interesting twists and turns. 

I really enjoyed the characters in Lexi's world, from the harried Caleb who resents the well-to-do patrons of the hotel who order him around, to supportive step-sister Chloe, to the fascinating Ms. VanHill, who was a pioneering Black actress who had to hide her relationships with other actresses. Lexi's family and friends are interesting as well, and there are some historical details about the early 2000s. 

Readers of Kacie West and books like Vivian's Stay Sweet will enjoy this summer read about family, friends, and hidden secrets. 

There's nothing that is too Young Adult in this one, but it comes in at 576 pages, with tiny print. I was going to send it on to the high school library, but put it in my collection because the cover is so pretty, and a couple of readers have checked it out this year. 

Friday, September 23, 2022

Serwa Boateng's Guide to Vampire Hunting

Brown, Roseanne A. Serwa Boateng's Guide to Vampire Hunting
September 6th 2022 by Rick Riordan Presents
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Serwa wants nothing more than to take her initiation test to be a full fledged hunter of the adze, vampiric creatures from Ghanian folklore that really threaten our world. Her father was younger than she is now, but her parents try to protect her. When their home, despite its adinkra wards, is attacked by the adze, they discover that an evil witch, Boahinmaa, wants the Midnight Drum, and her parents are the keepers of it. They won't tell her anything about it, and shuttle her off to stay with her aunt Latricia and cousin Roxy in Rocky Gorge, Maryland while they take off to find Boahinmaa and prevent her from freeing Nana Bekoe, who is a obayifo (witch) who was prominent during the most recent magical war. Serwa has been homeschooled, so going to middle school wtih Roxie is difficult, especially with teachers like Mrs. Dean, an older white woman who calls her Sarah and is constantly performing microagressions that Serwa has to deal with. She's almost as bad as the fact that an adze that Serwa fears are at her new school. After a bad incident in home ec when she thinks there is an adze in another student's back pack and accidentally causes a food fight over it, Serwa sees one of the nicer teachers, Mr. Riley, act as though he HAS been attacked by one. He's overseeing an after school detention that sees Serwa, Roxie, and three other students, Eunju, Gavin, and Mateo, doing community service around the school as punishment for their involvement in the food fight. Serwa realizes that she needs their help, and also realizes that they are all fighting their own personal battles. Roxie's father has been deported to Ghana and is trying to return to the family, Eunju's parents are generous with money, but very uncaring, Mateo has a stutter, and Gavin was abused as a child but is happily living with two foster dads. They believe her, reluctantly, about the adze, and she teaches them to fight, using magic to bring Barbies to life as sparring partners at the abandoned Sweetieville Amusement Park. Serwa calls on the goddess Asaase Yaa for help, but she's busy being a "social influencer" and offers to help only if they can retrieve her sword that was stolen by Anansi in Asamando, the land of the dead. They manage to finish this perilous quest, but that isn't the end of their fighting. Back at school, they need to figure out who the adze in the building is, but even after they manage to take care of that matter, there are even bigger problems that they discover that include relevatory information about Serwa's heritage. Will Serwa be able to keep Rocky Gorge safe without the help of her parents?
Strengths: It was good to see a title that put a new spin on these vampires. There's lots of folklore and Ghananian culture included in Serwa's quest, which I enjoyed. I am an absolute sucker for Fairy Tale Forest type amusement parks, so Sweetieville was fantastic. The characters are all very distinct, which is hard to do when there is also a lot of action and adventure. There are a lot of funny lines ("Rocky Gorge looks like what would happen if Disneyland and a Hallmark greeting card had the world's most autumn-y baby."), and situations, like the iHop being a liminal space between worlds. This was an engaging fantasy book that fans of Chokshi's Aur Shah and Cervantes' Storm Runner series will love. 
Weaknesses: Since my students have a renewed interest in vampires,  I would have liked to have seen more information about and interactions with the vampires rather than the interactions with Ashley and Mrs. Dean, but I can certainly see why those were included. 
What I really think: I've had several students with the last name of Boateng over the years, since my school has had a decent sized population of students of Ghananian descent, so I'll have to buy this book! I do wish that there were some shorter fantasy novels from the Rick Riordan Presents series; many of my students are not fans of this genre, and are unlikely to pick up a 400 page book. If there were some culturally connected fantasy novels that came in at 200 pages, I think they would really enjoy getting into some new types of books. 

Thursday, September 22, 2022


Josephson, Kalyn. Ravenfall
August 30th 2022 by Delacorte Press
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Anna's mother (Nora) and father run the Ravenfall hotel, which caters to people with supernatural powers. Their big event every year is Samhain, which is quickly approaching, making for lots of work. Anna is a bit sad that her own powers are limited to seeing other people's experiences with a death if she touches them. It's not really very helpful, unlike her twin sisters Kara and Rose, who have special insights into reading people. At a party one night, someone brushes against her, and she immediately has a picture of a man and woman who have been killed, but she can't find the person. Later, when Colin shows up at the hotel, as instructed by his brother Liam in the even that the two of them were separated, she sees the same vision. Colin and Liam's parents were killed, and Liam has gone missing. Colin has his car, and it turns out that Nora was friends with Colin's parents. He's welcome to stay, they say, but his recent trauma isn't helped by learning that his parents were part of the same magical community, but left suddenly when he and Liam were very young. It definitely doesn't help when he is attacked by Kaden, a man who has been following him. It's even worse when it turns out that Kaden is a wraith. Colin needs to learn about his own magical powers quickly, and learn to use the ancient knives that have been handed down by his family. Anna is helpful in getting Colin up to speed with most of the magical world (the cat is really a Jabberwock, the house is alive, her family is filled with psychics), but struggles to keep him safe and help him fight. Kaden has assembled other wraith friends to hunt Colin down, Liam's whereabouts are still unknown, and Samhain is quickly approaching. Will Anna be able to keep Colin and Ravenfall safe? Thanks to Mr. Buxton, I know that the sequel, Hollowthorn, is due out in 2023. 
Strengths: Like Plum's Die for Me, Harrington's Clarity, or Baguchinski's Spookygirl, Ravenfall invites us into a fairly dark and exciting world of magic and throws in a double murder to keep things moving along. I love that we see Anna's world with all of it's intricacies and eccentricities, but that it isn't over explained. It's a magical house. They have a variety of guests with different powers. Colin showing up out of the blue is not all that surprising, and when he's attacked (which reminded me of Brennan's The Demon's Lexicon!), no one is really surprised. There's some interesting Irish traditions and magic, and a lot of supportive family. There's even a great scene where Anna and Colin have a moment to take a breather and sit in a cozy room drinking wish cider that made my heart happy! There was a lot of action and scary stuff, so seeing them in a less frantic moment was especially nice. 
Weaknesses: The cover looks too young; this is much more like Perez's 2008 Dead is the New Black and other Young Adult books from fifteen years ago that were deliciously paranormal and bridged the gap between middle school and high school readers. After all, we do have Colin's parents brutally murdered, which I was not expecting with this cover. This is just going to make it a bit more difficult to get this book into the right hands. 
What I really think: My students will love this book, and I hope it will rekindle an interest in some of the other paranormal murder mysteries that I have. I've sort of forgotten about some of them, but I've had a lot of Twilight fans (whose mothers read the books when they were younger) who will probably enjoy those books as well as Ravenfall and its sequel!

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Sweet and Sour

Florence, Debbi Michiko. Sweet and Sour
September 6th 2022 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Mai's family lives in California, but are able to spend six weeks every summer with her mother's best friend. The Koyamas have a house near Mystic, Connecticut, twins who are six, and a son a year older than Mai, Zach. Mai and Zach have been best friends forever, but right before the Koyamas moved to Japan for two years, Zach didn't stand up for Mai when two of his friends said racist things about her. Since she hasn't seen him for two years, her resentment has festered, and she arrives in Connecticut working on a plan to get back at him. Her friend Lila, who is back in California playing in a rock band (the two are HUGE BTS fans), video chats with her frequently, and is going to come to visit later in the summer. It's hard to ignore Zach, who has come back from Japan with small, thoughtful gifts for her and who spent time modeling when he was gone. His friends from school spend a lot of time at the house, and Mai enjoys being able to talk to Celeste, the girlfriend of Zach's friend. She's fun and positive, which also makes it hard for Mai to hold onto her grudge. The summer is bookended by the two's birthdays; Zach's at the beginnings, and Mai's at the end, and there is all kind of fun in between; getting ice cream in town, playing with the twins, and hanging out on the beach. It's not as much fun for Mai, however, who tries to think of ways she can hurt Zach. Lila is all for this plan until she visits and sees that Zach really is well meaning and doesn't seem to know he has angered Mai. Tween relationship, however, can turn quickly, and Mai manages to run afoul of both Lila and Celeste during Lila's visit, but manages to straighten things out. After Zach kisses her, she has very mixed emotions, and stops talking to him because she is so conflicted. Will Mai be able to finally discuss matters with her long time best friend honestly so that she can move past her anger?
Strengths: Summers in a resort community. Life long friends you only see once a year. Friends who are boys who become ridiculously attractive. Ice cream on the beach. Sigh. So many appealing things happen in this book, but they are overshadowed by overwhelming, life changing tween angst. Perfect. As someone who still has grudges against people I went to high school with, I can completely understand Mai's feelings about Zach, and it's good to observe that she really suffers through all of the emotions associated with the perceived slight, and that the resolution isn't easy. The Mystic, Connecticut setting is great fun, and the supporting characters like Celeste add another layer of interest. I loved that Mai wears dresses! Add to this some Japanese culture, misunderstandings between people that are worked out in exemplary fashion, and the thrill of romance, and Sweet and Sour is quite an appealing read. 
Weaknesses: As an adult, the teen angst seemed a bit much, but my readers will love this. They will also understand the appeal of BTS and boys wearing eyeliner. I didn't care for it in the 80s, and don't see the appeal now, so I am REALLY old! Also, the dancing current bands do is more about speed and precision than grace and fluidity, so it looks like they are having seizures. I'm going to go rock on the porch now and wave my cane at passersby.
What I really think: Florence's Keep it Together, Keiko Carter and Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai are very popular in my library with readers of the Scholastic WISH  novels, and I think this summer of romance and revenge will be frequently recommended among my students. Now, if it could just encourage the girls to realize that wearing dresses are not evil, that would be great! 

Haven't been doing the outfit of the day, but I have on my patchwork jumper over a navy skirt and t shirt with puffed sleeves and a big gold bow pin at the neckline. Caught a glimpse of myself in the showcase window and it struck me why I like this so much-- it looks like something from the 1976 JC Penney catalog. Patchwork, red and blue, jumper effect-- perfect. If I had my druthers, it'd be cottage core or toddler grandma style evey day!

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, September 20, 2022


I am not personally a horror fan. Nope. Don't like being scared. However, my students are HUGE fans, so I've been actively hunting down titles for years. K.R. Alexander (A.R. Kahler) has come out with so m any titles lately, and they have all been impressive. Dark[room] is the best middle grade horror book I've read. If you haven't stocked up on titles like The Collector, The Undrowned, Escape, and Vacancy, you need to get your hands on Darkroom IMMEDIATELY

Alexander, K.R. Darkroom
September 20th 2022 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Bea and her friend Rochelle have a plan; they are going to make a career of streaming themselves playing vidoe games, especially horror ones. Bea has even saved up for filming equipment and has a good setup for creating content, but the two are not getting the followers and income that they would like. Bea's parents say that gaming is NOT a career, and her job is to pay attention and do well in high school. But high school isn't pleasant, and Bea is tired of people ignoring or being mean to her. Rochelle seems to be popular, but Bea just wants to find some way of being famous so that people aren't mean to her. The two have played a lot of Zombie games, but need something new. When Bea finds an ominous game called Dark[room] that has lots of dire warnings on chat boards, she decides that it's probably just a gimmick, but one that she can use to her advantage. She applies for permission to play, and of course herr mother takes away her phone and all of her electronics ("Ugh, you kids have more devices than a picnic has ants..." is my favorite line from the E ARC!)) so she can't play. She sneaks into the library where the devices are being held and starts to play. The game has seven ghosts, the players have seven days to take their pictures and "capture" them... and the app never shuts off. It plays all the time. After the first stream goes live, Rochelle is irritated that she wasn't part of it, but the girls get new subscribers and a donation. Bea goes back and has to confront as array of ghosts, including the Tooth Fairy, who attacks her father and pulls out his tooth, sending him to the emergency room. Time after time, Bea thinks about quitting, but Rochelle wants the viewership and money, and Bea wants to make classmates like Claire stop bugging her. When Claire goes missing, and another girl is almost drowned in the pool, Bea knows she's going to have to play the game to the end. Jacob, Rochelle's brother (on whom Bea has a crush), takes Bea more seriously, and when Rochelle gets sucked into the game, Bea can use his help. With the clock ticking, will she be able to save her friends and finish the game? And is the game ever really finished?
Strengths: Okay. So what makes this the best middle grade horror book ever? Sure, the ghosts are all terrifying, and the story is delivered in a breathless, almost frenetic way, but the thing that makes this truly horrifying is Rochelle's confession at the end of the book after she almost dies: "But for the record, I'm willing to take the risk of being haunted by a ghost if that means fame and money." (from the E ARC) That's terrifying. I loved that Bea doesn't really want to play the game, but is so desperate for people to like her that she is willing to do something dangerous, and Alexander does a great job of bringing that desperation to the page and making everything believable. Bea even addresses the typical horror tropes, and goes against her own advice to continue to play the game. Alexander's writing gets better with each book, and the way he intertwines real life fears with imaginary ghostly ones is brilliant. 
Weaknesses: I wanted to know a little more about Bea and Jacob's relationship, and was amused at Rochelle's complete lack of fear, and would have liked to see both issues addressed more, but there's not exactly time for that when Bea is trying to stay alive. 
What I really think: As an old person, I really don't care for electronics, but my students feel bereft if they are away from theirs. I'm also not willing to do very much to be "famous"; I'm occasionally irritated that newcomers get so many followers on Twitter when I clearly know so much more, but I'm just not willing to do the work I would need to do because... I don't care that much. Murderous ghosts and a timely dive into the tween zeitgeist... that's a powerful combination. I could buy ten copies and they would all be constantly checked out!
Ms. Yingling

Monday, September 19, 2022

MMGM- Shot Clock and Dinged

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Butler, Caron and reynolds, justin a. Shot Clock
September 6th 2022 by Katherine Tegen Books
ARC provided by Follett First Look

Tony lives in Oasis Springs, a housing complex in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where many of the residents are Black and economically disadvantaged. His father works two jobs, and his mother is often indisposed, suffering from a condition that sounds like bipolar disorder. Tony loves to play basketball, and his best friend, Dante, is an outstanding player and well as a fantastic student and community member. When Dante is shot and killed by a police officer, Tony's world falls apart. He and Dante's brother, Terry, were going to try out for the travel team Dante was on, the Sabres, but both boys are struggling in the wake of Dante's murder. For Tony, it means finding it hard to focus, but for Terry, it means episodes of rage and the feeling that nothing matters, and he might as well join a local gang. Coach James, who grew up in Oasis Springs, is a committed coach who wants to show his players that there is more to the world than their Milwaukee neighborhood. Terry makes the team, but Tony does not. Coach James offers him a position as a statistician, so that he can be part of the team and use his math skills to help the players. Tony doesn't like the idea at first, but eventually sees the merit, and enjoys working with Kiara, the coach's smart daughter. The whole team is affected by Dante's death, but some deal with it better than others. KO refuses to listen to Tony's strategies based on statistics and isn't a good team player. He eventually leaves to play on a rival team. The Sabres have the opportunity to play at a championship in Orlando if they can do well enough during the season, but it's not easy. Tony's mother ends up going to the hospital, and his father takes him and his sister to stay with Big Mama for a while. Tony loves being away from the city, in a larger, quieter house, but the family's life is centered in Oasis Springs. The community is dealt another blow when the policeman who shot Dante is found not guilty and is returned to his regular beat. There are a lot of protests and community involvement, and Tony and Terry must find a way to balance their love for their community with their need to find a way out of it through basketball. As the coach says, they can always come back after they get an education. 
Strengths: Like Buford's Kneel, this book deftly combines lots of sports descriptions (including Bowen style score boards on the pages during some of the games) with an underlying theme of social justice and community. Unlike Kneel, it is geared to an upper middle grade audience in respect to language and the way the social justice elements are presented. Dante's shooting happens off page, and the book is more concerned about the effect that this occurence has on the character's ability to go forward. And they do go forward. Coach James and his team are an excellent system of support for both Tony and Terry, even though Terry gets sucked into the seamy side of Oasis Springs for a while. Tony's family is very supportive, even though they have their share of challenges. Butler and reynolds' preface gives a very detailed view of the book they envisioned; they wanted young Black men to see their lived experiences in the pages, but also to see a hopeful outcome. My favorite part was that Tony's basketball skills are not enough to get him a college scholarship, his math abilities might be enough to get him involved in sports through another avenue. It was also very clear that there is a LOT of work involved in being successful in sports, a message many of my students could use. This would be an excellent book for an 8th grade core novel unit. 
Weaknesses: reynold's It's the End of the World and I'm in My Bathing Suit had a more Young Adult pacing, and he is still adjusting to writing middle grade. The story wasn't as focused as it could have been, and younger readers would find it helpful to know more about what exactly happened with Dante. I've noticed a huge difference in what my students like to read since the pandemic, and concentration isn't what it used to be. At almost 300 pages, this is a bit on the long side. Think of this as Deuker level of sports writing, not Bowen level.
What I really think: I'm definitely purchasing this one, because there is a LOT of basketball, as well as social justice issues. It will be a fantastic choice for my stronger 8th grade readers, and would be an excellent choice in high school as well. I really appreciated that while the setting was in the inner city, the language was never "gritty"; there are even a few episodes where "bump" is used as a euphemism for the f-word. There was definitely a lot of effort put in to balancing the various aspects of this story, and in the end, the authors successfully pulled off the book they describe wanting to write in the preface. Nice mix of things. There should be more collaborative efforts between athletes and writers.  
Greenwald, Tommy. Dinged.
September 6th 2022 by Amulet Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Back in the world of Walthorne football originally visited in Game Changer (2018) and Rivals, which covered basketball) we meet Caleb Springer, a freshman whose skills are good enough that he's on the varsity team. Some of the older players, like Ron, resent him a little bit, but he's a good team player, recognizing things like "the sag" that can cause a team to lose, and bolstering his teammates when he sees this happen. His father, "Dinger" Springer is a local celebrity who runs a car dealership, and trades heavily on his NFL career. He has some friends at local colleges who are interested in Caleb. Caleb understands how important his football career is to his dad, as well as to his entire school,  but has some doubts about the safety of the game. He's taken a couple of blows that have left his ears ringing and his head pounding, and is torn between wanting to shrug these off and taking them seriously. The balance tips a bit when he starts to notice that his father is becoming forgetful and is often easily angered. Caleb's girlfriend, Nina, who is very supportive but has her own interests in her rock band, Fluffy Pillow, is concerned about both Caleb and his father, when he confides in her. Caleb isn't quite ready to acknowledge that his father's memory is failing, and both he and his mother are willing to make excuses, even when they are called by the police to come to the dealership and retrieve Dinger, who has decided to sleep on top of one of the cars. Caleb knows that he could probably have a good high school career, enjoys being the subject of adulation, and knows that getting a football scholarship to college would help out his family. What is increasingly unsure is whether the perks of continuing to play football are worth occasionally suffering hits to the head. As his father's conditions continues to deteriorate, Caleb knows he has a choice to make. Along with the narrative of Caleb's story, we have interviews from school journalist Alfie, text messages between Caleb and Nina, and even some of Nina's original rock lyrics. 
Strengths: As with any football book, there are the things that I enjoyed, and the things that my students want to read. This is a great mix of both. I liked the structure of the chapters, broken down into "Clouds", "Storms", and "Sun", and the flow of the storyline went very smoothly. Nina was a fantastic character, and her relationship with Caleb rivaled that of Tessa and Caleb in Heldring's The Football Girl, which is my favorite sports book of all time. They were both supportive of each other even though they had very different interests, and they really talked to each other in a meaningful way. Caleb's family dynamic is also good, with both parents being involved in his games and team life while also having concerns of their own. What my readers will enjoy is the details of Caleb's games (I haven't seen a football game since about 1976, so I'm not the best judge of this facet), the interplay between teammates, and Caleb's glimpse at college football. Not only that, but the cover is really appealing. Hopefully, young readers will think long and hard about how and why they play football after reading Caleb's story, although I doubt very much that they will tear up the way I did at the final scene! 
Weaknesses: None with the book, but a lot with society's view of football, as Greenwald discusses in an afterword. Gordon Korman's Pop came out in 2009, Klass's Second Impact and McClafferty's Fourth Down and Inches in 2013, Steve Almond's adult nonfiction, The Case Against Football in 2014, Lupica's  Lone Stars in 2017, and Herbach's YA Cracking the Bell in 2019. Why are young people still playing football? I hope that the updated helmet technology helps, and I did have one student who played football in middle school because he loved it so much, but switched to cross country in high school, but I still worry about the impact of Traumatic Brain Injury on these young people. 
What I really think: Basketball and football are definitely the most popular sports with my students, and I am always thrilled when I get a well written sports book that not only entertains, but also causes readers to think. I've long been a fan of Greenwald's Charlie Joe Jackson series, and have been very impressed by the 25 books he's written in eleven years. I have to say, though, that his sports books are particularly well crafted, and this third entry into the realm of upper middle grade sports literature makes me think that he has really found his calling in this genre. Purchasing two copies right away, and well probably add a third if I have money in the spring. 

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Moose and the Smelly Sneakers

Velasquez, Crystal. Moose and the Smelly Sneakers (Life in the Doghouse #2)
February 22nd 2022 by Aladdin
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Rosa's mother Lisette has agreed to let the family adopt a dog as long as Rosa takes care of the pet and doesn't let her science grades suffer. Older brother Raymond helps a little, but he has other interests. After picking out Moose from Danny and Ron's Rescue, Rosa begins to realize that training a dog is a lot more work than she expected. When she needs to pick a topic for her science class, she decides that she can use different tactics for training Moose, see which works best, and report her findings for the project. She uses some positive reinforcement to get him to come to her, which works well, but when she uses negative reinforcement to get him to sit on command, Raymond points out that while Moose learned the skill, he seemed stress by the procedure. Rosa must give him extra tummy rubs to make up for this! She documents Moose's mastery of a few other commands as well, and works all of her data into a well rounded project. When she forgets her visual at home and leaves the front door open in her rush to retrieve it, will Moose's training work to keep him safe when he rushes out the door

Like the first book in this series, Elmer and the Talent Show (which can be read independently, since these books focus on completely different dogs), Moose and the Smelly Sneakers models good dog ownership techniques in an engaging and interesting way. My favorite part was actually Rosa's work on her science project. School work is a huge part of the lives of middle grade readers, and it can be a struggle to balance school, activities, and personal time. Seeing examples of children who struggle with this balance but who come up with good coping strategies shows that it is possible to organize oneself and get everything done that needs to be accomplished!

Rosa and Raymond have occasional sibling squabbles but are generally supportive of each other, which is good to see. Their mother is firm about her rules, but also understanding when Moose has the inevitable accident in the house or gets into a back pack to eat peanut butter cheese crackers. Most of the story occurs at home, so there are few other characters of note.

There can never be enough books about dogs for some readers, so have this series on hand for readers who have gobbled up Cameron's A Dog's Life books, Miles' Puppy Place series, West's The Underdogs, Lloyd's graphic novel Allergic, or Crimi's Second Hand Dogs. For nonfiction, readers should definitely pair this book with Horowitz's Our Dogs, Our Selves, and they will see that Rosa and Raymond are adept at reading Moose's signals and try to keep him happy!
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Billion Dollar Girl

Shull, Megan. Billion Dollar Girl
September 13th 2022 by Razorbill
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

River has lived her whole life with her single mother, Sunny, who is young and fun, but also very unreliable. Currently, Sunny hasn't been back for days, and River is living alone in a decrepit trailer with little food. Her best friend's mother won't let her hang out with River anymore, and her school principal has informed her that she'll be stopping by at 7:00 in the evening with a social worker, because it's come to her attention that River needs help. Instead of getting this help, River takes all of the money in the trailer and sets off to buy a bus ticket to Great Bear Island. When she gets on the ferry to finish her journey, she meets the exuberant Cricket, who mistakes River for a 17-year-old named Liv whom she is supposed to meet so that the two can work at the lodge. Not knowing quite how to approach her aunt, Jemma, River goes along with the charade and is soon loving life on the island. Her cousin, Till, is fantastic, the girls are staying in a lighthouse, and her mother's journals and clothes that she left behind when she ran away help River feel connected to the mother she loves, even if she is also disappointed in her. Things go fairly well for quite some time, but then Cricket and River make some bad decisions and need to be rescued. When Sunny shows up with a new boyfriend, River goes back to the mainland with her without question. During her initial bus trip, an older woman gave River a note, which she hasn't read. When she finally does, she realizes it contains a lottery ticket... which is a winner of a huge jackpot. Of course, Sunny thinks this is great, and the two, along with her boyfriend, get involved in a life of living large while waiting to claim the winnings. Is this really the life that River wants, or does she really want to go back and live on Great Bear Island?
Strengths: My students really love reading about the kind of horrible situation that River finds herself in at the beginning of the book. My daughter explained this well, saying that reading about children with horrible home lives made her middle school experience seem not so bad. There could have been a whole book about River's experiences with living in the trailer and navigating school while trying not to be discoverer. The trip to the island is also fantastic, and there are great details about all of the wonderful natural resources. Jemma and her family are understanding, and River learns about a whole new way of life. There is also some interest in reading about lottery winners, which are main characters in books like Tashjian's My Life as a Billionaire, West's Lucky in Love, Haworth's A Whole Lot of Lucky, Smith's WindfallMcAnulty's Millionaires for a Month
Weaknesses: This is a very long book for middle grade (416 pages), and the cover is not very appealing. 
What I really think: I liked parts of this one a lot, but it seemed like several different books rolled into one. I may have a couple of interested students check this one out of the public library and see what they think before I buy it. If it were shorter or had a better cover, I would definitely purchase, but this may be a hard sell in my library. 
 Ms. Yingling

Friday, September 16, 2022

Fire on Headless Mountain and Deadliest Fires Then and Now

Lawrence, Iain. Fire on Headless Mountain
August 23rd 2022 by Margaret Ferguson Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Joshua Pepper, 19, is in charge of driving the family's camper to Little Lost Lake, to scatter the ashes of their mother with sister Kaitlyn, 15, and Virgil, 12. Their father has decided it is too much for him to bear to return to the scene of the place where their family was happiest, so he instead goes to a writer's conference in San Francisco. The children take off deep into the woods just as a storm is brewing. Virgil, who was very close to his mother and struggling after her death, knows that she loved storms, and urges his brother to continue driving. The van breaks down and Joshua can't fix it, so he takes off to walk for help. There isn't any food, since Virgil forgot to pack it, and there's not much water, although they manage to process some the way their mother taught them. It's clear that there is a fire in the area, and Virgil and Kaitlyn try to get out, but Kaitlyn manages to fall and hurt her ankle badly. Virgil hopes to repair the van, and has some luck, but eventually he and Kaitlyn get separated. Luckily, she gets picked up by the firefighters that found Joshua. Virgil manages to find a local man who runs a small store, and gets a few supplies before heading off to the lake, which he feels will be a safer place to weather the fire, and he can also scatter his mother's ashes. He has a lot of close calls, but always manages to hold onto the box. With fire raging everywhere, will he be able to survive?
Strengths: This is a good example of Why One Should Be Prepared in the Wilderness and reminded me a bit of Johnson's Falcon Wild. Do not rely on cell phones, do not take decrepit vehicles into the back woods, and for the love of all that is good and holy, BRING SUPPLIES. The Peppers, of course, do not do these things, which leads to their adventure. I think it's important for young readers to see how devastating wild fires are, and see how dangerous they can be. Virgil puts the science information from his mother to good use, and manages to survive his experiences, but this is definitely a pulse-pounding cautionary tale!
Weaknesses: The flashback scenes with the mother instructing Virgil about science really slow the book down, and I can't imagine that his mother would be happy that he risked his life to save her ashes on multiple occasions. This was a great adventure book, but the inclusion of Virgil's intense grieving did not improve the story. Frequent readers know that I am never a fan of books with people unable to move forward after deaths. 
What I really think: From Cooney's 1995 Flash Fire to Henry's 2021 Playing with Fire, there are a lot of interesting books that cover conflagrations. Add this to a list that also includes Paulsen's Escape from Fire Mountain (1995), Garretson's Wildfire Run (2010)Philbrick's Wildfire (2019), Tarshis' I Survived the California Wildfires 2018 (2020), Rhodes' Paradise on Fire (2021),  and Davis' Partly Cloudy (2021), and Lorentz's Wayward Creatures (2022).

That said, my mother's ashes in my closet since April of 2020. They are always right next to my newest pair of shoes, which would make her happy. When her sister Grace died in 1985 and was interred in a mausoleum, my mother commented how nice it was, because she would always be warm. This has made it hard to put the ashes where my brother and I have agreed, because that's outside. But if I risked my life to protect her ashes? My mother would find a way to come back and haunt me!

Hopkinson, Deborah.
September 6th 2022 by Scholastic Focus
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

With a growing concern over wildfires and a plethora of fiction books on the topic, including this author's Into the Firestorm: A Novel of San Francisco 1906 (2006), this is a timely read and a great follow up to the other two books in this seriesDeadliest Diseases and Deadliest Hurricanes.

There are three sections to the book (and a little over 200 pages, just the perfect length). The first covers Great Midwest Fires of 1871, the second Twentieth Century Fires including Chicago, San Francisco, The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, and the third chapters deals with fires of the 21st century. Considering we are only 22 years in, there have been far too many fires. 

The stories are all told in an engaging, fast paced way, and the inclusion of some period drawings, maps, and photographs help spark interest. There are lots of additional information about a variety of topics, such as the Menominee Tribe, the National Fire Protection Association, how earthquakes are measured, and even a note about primary source letters and an encouragement to young readers to write one! There are fun facts, like the Chicago City Council's 1997 goodwill resolution exonerating Mrs. O'Leary and her cow from all blame in the fire of 1871, and bold faced text for words that are listed in the glossary at the end of the book. There are a few internet resources on selected topics as well. 

I especially liked how Hopkinson covered different aspects of the aftermaths of these fires, like how the Chicago and San Francisco Fires disproportionately affected economically disadvantaged communities; I had just learned in Goldstone's Days of Infamy how the Chinese American population had to stand their ground to keep from being moved to inferior land in San Francisco. The Triangle Fire is my favorite Horrible Historical Event, so seeing how it changed labor practices is always interesting.