Tuesday, January 31, 2023

January Statistics

Where the Black Flowers Bloom

Smith, Ronald L. Where the Black Flowers Bloom
January 31, 2023 by Clarion Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Asha lives on the continent of Alkebulan (the ancient name for Africa), where everyone gets an identifying mark when they come of age. She lives with a group of performing travelers including griots, fortune-tellers, and illusionists, since Suna took her in as a foundling. When her symbol ends up being somewhat unusual, Suna writes to a friend, Rima, to inquire about the sacred baobab tree now present on Asha's skin. Before she gets an answer, however, the community is attacked by minions of the Shrike. The results are devastating, and leave Asha and Obo, a former warrior from Enkolia, as the only survivors. They set off to locate the Underground Kingdom "where the black flowers bloom" that Suna has advised Asha to seek. They are accompanied by Sprix, who is running away from his father and has some magical secrets of his own, as well as Rima, who comes to find them after she hears about Suna's fate. Along the way, they meet various fellow creatures, like the talking Gazella who let them travel along their protected path, violent dragonflies, and more of the Shrike's forces. They finally arrive and meet the Aziza people of the Baobab circle, from whom Asha is descended. Their leader, Pulligan, greets Asha as their queen, and shares with her her heritage. The Shrike is indeed after her for complicated reasons I don't want to spoil. Will Asha be able to embrace her new role with the Aziza, and solve some of the mysteries of her past. 
Strengths: This was a fast-paced, classically constructed middle grade fantasy, complete with foundling main character who ends up being the chosen one, a journey across a difficult magical landscape with a supportive crew of friends with various powers, and a fight against the forces of evil. Asha is a sympathetic and compelling character who reluctantly embraces her fate; this reminded me rather strongly of Taran's journey in Alexander's 1964 The Book of Three. It's tough to get the pacing just right on these fantasy quests, but Smith does a good job of moving the story along while also richly describing the environment and characters. There have been a lot of excellent magical academy books with Black characters lately, but we needed a good hero's quest. Asha's fits the bill nicely. 
Weaknesses: In his author's notes, Smith mentions that he was a big fan of classic fantasy like Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, but that he wanted something more reflective of his own culture than he was finding in those Anglo-Celtic myths. I would have liked a few notes on the myths and legends; it's something I wish more fantasy books in general would include. This did have a few inclusions of faeries and seelies that seemed a bit at odds with the predominately African setting; the red fox on the cover is Sprix in shapeshifting mode. Young readers won't overthink the connections the way I do, but will just enjoy the story. 
What I really think: This seems like it could be a stand alone, and I'd love to see more culturally connected fantasies that aren't in long series. My students aren't huge fantasy readers, and while they might pick up one book, like Traoré's Children of the Quicksands, I haven't been able to get them to read series, like the very well written and interesting Rick Riordan Presents books. It's great to see fantasy reflecting more cultures, and so I do stock up on the books while they are available. I just wish more students read fantasy.
 Ms. Yingling

Monday, January 30, 2023

MMGM- Border Crossings and A Starless Clan: Sky

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Collard III, Sneed B. Border Crossings
January 24, 2023 by Charlesbridge Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

Two endangered, rare ocelots set off to find mates. One travels from the US and tries to get into Mexico, but is stopped by a manmade wall. Another, traveling towards the US through the Sonoran desert, manages to get across an area where there is no fence. Using the experiences of these animals, the area around the US Mexico border is beautifully described and pictured, and the flora and fauna are listed. The problems that the border causes for animals and for native plants is discussed in the book, and further information about the environmental impact is given in an end note. I was unaware of the plight of the ocelots, and was unfamiliar with this region of the world. While I knew that the border wall was problematic, and that immigration in this area was problematic, I hadn't thought about the environmental impact. This book certainly provides a lot of food for thought, and Collard always does a great job in bringing a solid science back ground to his topics. 

This is more like Collard's picture books Beaver and Otter Get Along... Sort Of  or Waiting for a Warbler than his slightly longer and more informative Woodpeckers: Drilling Holes and Bagging Bugs or my favorite, Hopping Ahead of Climate Change. It was be a great book to use in classes during the study of biomes, and would be a great read alound for older students studying immigration through the lens of current events. 

Hunter, Erin. Warriors: A Starless Clan: Sky (#2)
November 1st 2022 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

While the Warrior Cats books are my least favorite type of fiction to read (talking animals, vole eating), I fully understand the passion of the fans of the series and have dutifully bought and read every book, including graphic novels, Super Editions and Guides. That said, I have retained very little about the stories, other than that cats change their names at different stages of their lives, they're a bit snobby about "kittypets", and they are always fighting and getting injured. I loved Anne of Green Gables in middle school but never expect my students to want to read it. There need to be lots of different books for many different readers. So bear with me as I navigate the eight pages of characters and four pages of maps that start out Sky, the second book in the 8th series, each of which have six books. There are also 15 Super Editions.

The cats are preparing for leaf-bare, gathering food and checking stores of medicine. Riverclan is in crisis because they have no leader, and they're not really sure who should approach SkyClan (best described as ghosts of deceased cats who sometimes appear to living cats to give advice) to get a recommendation for a new leader. Frostpaw, whose mother Curlfeather has died, is training to be the Riverclan medicine cat, and is expected to receive this advice. It's not going well, and she panics and picks Owlnose, who seems to be the least likely leader. In fact, his reign has several catastrophes, and he eventually decides he just won't do it.

Sunbeam, in Shadowclan, is still upset that Blazefire doesn't want to be her mate, and has indeed decided to be with her ex-best friend! She is also trying to assume the role of medicine cat, but struggling with learning the ropes. There seems to be a lack of older cats due to the traumas and fighting in previous books.

Nightheart is a bit of a wild card, thought of as incompetent by the other clan members, and derided for changing his name from Flameheart, thereby dishonoring his father. He wants to be a warrior, but is struggling with acceptance in his own clan. When several cats have whitecough, and one young kit is very sick with greencough, a general lack of catmint is discovered. This panics the cats, since it is leaf-fall, and soon there will be no herbs to gather. The clans band together to search as far as the Twolegplace to find the crucial herb. Sunbeam ends up working with Nightheart, and the two get along well. Thunderclan and Shadowclan are hard hit with sickness, and the other clans are angry about cats mixing with others, spreading sickness. Since Riverclan can't come to a decision about their leader, it looks like Tigerstar might "take over". He claims it is for the clan's own good, but it is seen as an attack by the other cats. The SkyClan seems particularly unhelpful, and there are many matters not resolved at the end of the book. Shadow, book three, comes out in April of 2023 and will address the warrior code that allows cats to change clans.

I had forgotten the romantic element of the books, but it was interesting to see how invested Sunbeam was in Blazefire, and how quickly she connected with Nightheart. This makes sense; there are constantly cats dying, and kittens being born, but this is young middle grade romance! There is a lot of discussion about cats changing clans that I don't remember from other books, although I do recall some issues with "kittypets" wanting to join clans.

The appeal of these does seem to lie with the battles between the clans, the hunting of prey, and the foraging for medicinal plants. The writers who work as Erin Hunter do a great job of showing how violent and unpredictable nature can be without going into too many gruesome details. These books are popular with avid readers starting in about third grade, and I can see many, many hours of fun "playing" Warrior Cats on the playground with like minded friends. They are definitely an escapist pleasure for middle school students as well, and many of my students reread them repeatedly.

Tui Sutherland (of Wings of Fire fame) and Inbali Iserles both have written similar series, and there are other animal books, such as Lasky's Horses of the Dawn that have a similar feel, but true Warriors fans are usually only placated by the next book in the series!

This had more nods to current political and social issues in the real world than I remember other books having, but I'm not entirely sure that young readers will pick up on this.

For a complete list of Warriors Read Alikes, check out this slide show!


Sunday, January 29, 2023

The Infinite Questions of Dottie Bing

Burnham, Molly B. The Infinite Questions of Dottie Bing
January 17, 2023 by Dial Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus
Ten-year-old Dottie lives with her mother, father, and four-year-old sister Jazzy. Her grandmother, Ima, has passed away, and one day her Grandpa Walter shows up at the family door ready to move in. He takes Dottie's room, uses the bathroom when she needs to get in to get ready for school, and carries around a Chock full o'Nuts can with Ima's ashes in it that he converses with. Dottie struggles with emotions surrounding this change, and frequently compares them to animals. Her best friend is Sam, and the two have a plan to build a tree house. At first, they don't want to tell any adults and want to build it themselves, but they eventually have to ask for some help. They also get help from Miles Huckatony, a neighbor who has previously been quite unhelpful. Grandpa Walter continues to stay with the family, and even asks to paint Dottie's room green because Ima likes the color. Dottie eventually hatches a plan to hide the coffee can from her grandfather, hoping that this will help him move on. Will this be an effective strategy?
Strengths: It's fairly common for children Dottie's age to lose a grandparent; my grandmother died when I was 11, after spending the summer with my family. There are not too many books that address this. Dottie's interest in building the tree house, partly because Ima always wanted one, gives a little more framework to the story of processing grief. Her friendship with Sam is good to see, and her growing understanding of the challenges that Miles faces is a good example of understanding others. I especially appreciated that while Dottie was somewhat put out by losing her room, she was generally fairly understanding about her grandfather's presence, and didn't complain all that much. 
Weaknesses: I couldn't help worrying that Grandpa Walter was descending into dementia and really should be assessed by a medical professional. At the very least, he should have gotten some grief counseling. The parents should not have let him talk to the coffee can with young children in the house. 
What I really think: I can see this being a successful book in an elementary school, but Dottie seemed very young for ten. Between the description of her emotions as animals, her belief that zombies lived in a house in the neighborhood, and the fact that she and Sam thought that they could build a tree house with no help and without anyone knowing, I think that older readers will struggle to connect with her. 

Maybe this hit a little close to home. I'm not sure why people in the generation right before the Baby Boomers don't seem to understand that people die. My father, who was also Walter, was shocked when my mother died, even though she had Parkinson's and had become completely bed ridden. Had he carried around her ashes, there would definitely have been some intervention. When my father died in September, it was a little unexpected, but since he was 88, I pretty much expected every day to be his last. Then, one day, it was. 

Glaser, Karina Yan. The Vanderbeekers on the Road (Vanderbeekers #6)
January 4th 2023 by HarperCollins US
Public library copy

Having found a letter from their father's father written years ago, and outlining a trip across the US in a van that was never completed because of the grandfather's unexpected death, the Vanderbeekers, along with Mr. B. and his young ward Orlando, decide to take the grandfather's van, which they have borrowed from the friend who owns it, and pick up their father so that they can celebrate his 40th birthday. He's stuck in the midwest after travel plans hit snags, so they want to pick him up and then continue to their aunt's house in California. The van is very crowded, since they also have some animals with them, and pick up more along the way. I did not know that chicken diapers existed! The big concern for the youngest members of the family are that the two older children are hoping to sneak off to an interview for a college program in California. This would mean that the siblings would not stay in Harlem, so the younger kids actively sabotage the plans. The cruel college people have no patience when they are late, but there is one appointment that they can keep, so Jessie lets Oliver take it. There is a surprise romantic gesture, and after almost a month on the road, the Vanderbeekers head home, more tired, wiser, and glad to be in their familiar stomping grounds after their grand adventure. 
Strengths: This is lighthearted and upbeat. No one dies! The children have their squabbles, but they get along surprisingly well in a cramped van for so long. They truly seem to enjoy being in each other's company, which might be why this series is so popular with teachers and librarians. It reminds us of The Brady Bunch, and gives us the family that we didn't really have. (Or maybe did; I just have one brother.) It's similar to The Penderwicks or Enright's The Melendeys, and is populated with intriguing characters who interact with the family. 
Weaknesses: As an adult, I have questions about the Vanderbeeker's timelines; everything seems to happen more quickly than would be realistic, and there's a lot of coincidence and luck that lets them get away with poor planning and lack of thought. Mr. B. quits his academic job because he's a little annoyed? Does he know how lucky he is? And he just thinks he'll get another one? Things like this, that irritate me a LOT will not be noticed by the target demographic, in the same way that I never questioned Cuffy's presence in the Melendy household. My rant on this is almost 12 years old. 
What I really think: Frequent readers know that I love a children's classic, and also that my students do not. I hadn't bought the first book in this series until it ended up on the Battle of the Books list, and then I purchased the series, figuring that once kids read the first, they would want the rest. They did not. I feel bad, since Yan Glaser is such a lovely person, and her writing is really well done and fun to read, but the characters and situations are just not resonating with my students. There's been more interest in her A Duet for Home. This might see more circulation in an elementary library, or middle school libraries in New York City or where the librarian is super excited about these books. 

I do absolutely adore the covers. 

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Saturday Morning Cartoons

Andelfinger, Nicole (Adapter) and Aguirre, Claudia (illustrator). 
Sweet Valley Twins: Best Friends  (Graphic Novel)
November 1, 2022 by Random House Graphic
Based on the series started by Francine Pascal in 1986

Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield live with their parents and older brother in Sweet Valley. They've always dressed alike and shared the same interests, but as they enter middle school, Jess is more interested in boys and clothing and joining the Unicorn Club, and Elizabeth wants to hang out with people who are actually nice to her, and starts a sixth grade newspaper. They fight a lot, especially since Jessica is underhanded and does some cruel things in order to pledge the Unicorns. They start to take ballet lessons, but the experience is somewhat frustrating, and they both find themselves very busy. Since they are sharing a cell phone, that is an article of contention as well. Jessica manages to get Elizabeth into the Unicorns by doing the pledge dare while pretending to be Elizabeth, and since this is something very mean, there are more fights and Elizabeth doesn't want to be in the group. Will the sisters be able to find common ground even after they have grown apart?
Strengths: The colors are very appealing, and the idea of being a twin has an evergreen appeal. Friend drama is always a popular topic, and this is full of sibling rivalry, mean girls, and nastiness. Apparently, the creators of the television adaptation of Gossip Girls are rebooting this franchise as a program for the CW network, which might explain this new book. Since the original series had over 150 titles, there has to be something to recommend it. I was just a little too old to have read these, so I'm not quite understanding them. 
Weaknesses: Even with the more modern adaptation, this feels very dated. In the 1980s, girls might have heard their mothers talk about secret societies or sororities in school, but today's readers might be very confused about the Unicorns and their mean pledge challenges. I only knew about such clubs due to my weird interest in 1950s teen literature.
What I really think: I'm struggling to figure out why this is being rebooted as a graphic novel. The popularity of the Baby-Sitters Club adaptations? Nostalgia for mothers who read the books as tweens? I'm sure these would be very popular with young readers who like graphic novels, but this was not my favorite. I'd rather invest in more current graphic novels like Lloyd's Allergic. 

Simon, Coco. Mia in the Mix (Cupcake Diaries #2)
November 15th 2022 by Simon Spotlight
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Mia has moved out from Manhattan with her divorced mother and has to deal with a new school as well as a new almost step-father and brother. Mia's mother worked for Flair fashion magazine and is now a consultant, so unlike some other members of the Cupcake Club, Mia cares what she wears. This makes is easy for her to talk to the Popular Girls Club members, but she feels very akward eating lunch with them when she knows how Katie feels about one PGC member, Callie. The girls get several cupcake baking jobs (one for a teacher and one for Mia's mother's fashion show) and have to learn how to budget, especially when they have some spectacular baking disasters (how much lemon juice SHOULD go into a cupcake?) that eat into their profits. Will Mia be able to remain friends with the PGC members and still work with Katie making cupcakes?

I'm a big fan of books with Kids Doing Things, and I love that there is a balance between the fun of making cupcakes and the serious matter of doing this as a business. Even though I read the regular novel of this over a decade ago, I still remember the plot point about the sugar flowers-- at 75 cents each, they really cut into the profit when the girls were only charging their teacher $1 per cupcake! Tweens often come up with good ideas that require a lot more thought before they are implemented, so it's good to see Mia and her friends run into small troubles that make them think more concretely about how their business should be run. 

This series of books has been out for over ten years and has 34 books altogther, so I wasn't too surprised to see a graphic novel adaptation of some of the books in the series. Since Mia, Katie, Alexis and Emma are a bit hard for me to keep apart, the graphic format was actually a big help! It's fun to see Mia's fashions , and the bright colors and attractive illustrations will make this immediately popular with readers who want fun stories with lots of friend drama! Hand this to readers who have been enjoying the graphic novel reboots of popular older series like Martin's The Baby-sitter's Club or Pascal's Sweet Valley Twins, as well as those who enjoy the original graphic novels of Telgemeier, Jamieson, or Knisley. 

Friday, January 27, 2023

Simon Sort of Says

Bow, Erin. Simon Sort of Says
January 31, 2023 by Disney-Hyperion
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

**Some spoilers, but most are mentioned in the book description.**

Simon and his parents move from Omaha, Nebraska to Grin and Bear It, a very small town that is a electronic quiet zone because of radio telescopes. His mother has bought a funeral home that is having trouble finding someone to run it, and his father is the deacon and program director for a Catholic church. The family wanted to move after the father lost his job, but also because of a traumatic event in which Simon was involved that made him very interesting to news people. He still struggles with the trauma, and just doesn't want anyone to know about it. Grin and Bear It, and the lack of internet, works for him because he doesn't want his classmates to be able to Google him. He makes friends with Agate, who is on the autism spectrum and lives on a farm with her large family, and Kevin Matapang, whose mother works with the radio telescope and whoe father runs a restaurant. Agate has very specific interests, including helping to raise guide dogs and communicating with space aliens. She sets Simon up with a puppy to be trained, Hercules, and after dealing with lack of sleep involved in raising a puppy, he warms to the dog, and it helps him process some of his trauma. He's had all of the support that he needs, and his parents are very much aware that he is still processing what happened. When the news gets out in the new community, it causes problems, but this doesn't stop Simon from helping Agate with her plan to simulate space communication. Kevin helps by providing a microwave, and the trio manage to carry off their elaborate plan. Simon's parents both run into newsworthy challenges in their own jobs, which cause the media to once again be interested in the family. Will Simon be able to deal with the new pressure and find a way to go forward with his new life in Grin and Bear It while managing the trauma of his past?
Strengths: I was familiar with Bow's work from Stand on the Sky, which was a more serious adventure book, and was pleasantly surprised at how funny much of the writing was. Given the heavy topic, it had a rather Sonnenblickian feel to it. I highlighted lots of masterful, clever lines like (from the E ARC) "That squirrel is now thirty percent Jesus by volume. It's our new god", after a squirrel has eaten communion hosts. The look into a small town funeral home was fascinating, and the townspeople, though quirky, were generally nice. Readers who like serious topics will enjoy the information about Simon dealing with his trauma, and fans of Keller's Jennifer Chan is not alone will enjoy Agate's quest to stage an alien communication event. Hercules is an adorable working dog, and notes at the end indicate that Bow had sensitivity readers for many of the facets of her book. 
Weaknesses: There were so many things going on in this book that it alsmost felt like it could have been divided into two different stories. 
What I really think: This would be a good companion to Holt's This is Not a Drill or Isler's Aftermath, and for some reason put me in mid of Haydu's One Jar of Magic, although Simon Sort of Says is very much a realistic fiction book. 

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, January 26, 2023


Lapuente, Sofía and Shusterman, Jarrod. Retro
January 24, 2023 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Before high school starts, Luna and her friends Mimi and Samantha spend the day at the mall where Luna's mother runs the local movie theater. When Samantha shoplifts a lot of electronics equipment, she has Luna literally hold the bag, and take the blame for the theft. Samantha's lawyer mother comes and pays a $3,000 fine, but since Samantha won't tell her the truth, her mother expects Luna to pay her back. Luna's father is dead, and her mother's immigration status is still in process, so there's no way she can pay back that much money. Not only that, but she feels betrayed. The most popular social media outlet at El Dorado high school is Limbo, and when Luna realizes she has an incriminating video of Samantha, she sends it to a couple of friends... who eventually post it on Limbo, where it goes viral. Samantha is upset, and when she does something drastic, Luna  regrets her actions. Because Limbo is linked to all of the drama at the high school, officials arrive from the company with a way to help repair the culture. They institute a Retro Challenge, where teens have to promise to use only technology available before the first smart phone, in about 2000. Because the prize in the competition is a college scholarship and money is tight, Luna enthusiastically takes it on. Teens are also encouraged to wear vintage clothes and listen to old music on Walkmans, but there aren't a lot of teens who can separate from their phones. There are a bunch of noncompetitors who start to enjoy the lifestyle, called Retromaniacs, who start to hang out at the mall. The movie theater starts doing much better, which is good because there are developers who want to tear down the failing structure to build apartments. There is a dark side to the Retro challenge, however, and when girls (including Mimi) go missing, Luna starts to question Limbo and everything connected to the challenge. Can any of what's happening at her school end well?

I picked this up because I thought the story would use retro fashion and lack of technology in a fun and whimsical way; be warned that this gets pretty dark. The story starts with the scene of Luna being held hostage, and we see horrifying snippets of this throughout the book. I should have known that Lapuente and Shusterman, partners who have worked on other young adult titles like the Scythe series and Roxy, would have a more serious and frightening twist on the effects of social media. 

There's a lot of cautionary social media information, and Samantha's experience is a sobering one. There is a lot of high school relationship drama, and Luna gets involved with Axel, whom she has been warned is not all he seems to be. The fight to save the mall is a hard one, especially with the Retro Challenge going on. It was a little surprising that the school let Limbo address students and didn't really keep tabs on them; is it really a spoiler to uncover that a social media platform does NOT have the best interest of its users at heart?

It's fun to watch the progression of books that cover the various aspects of technology in young people's lives; these started in the 1970s with computer books like Levitin's The Mark of Conte (1976) and continued with virtual reality (Goldman's The Night Room, 1995), blogs (Quigley's TMI, 2006), cell phones (Gimme a Call, 2010),  Facebook (The Future of Us, 2011), virtual reality (Dashner's Eye of Minds, 2013), and many, many more. Now that technology is everywhere, it makes sense to have modern teens step back, whether or not this is even possible! Retro is a darkly funny adventure through the sordid underbelly of high school and all its attendant drama surrounding, well, everything!
This is definitely more of a young adult title; there's some dark room shenanigans, although nothing tremendously educational. While this is rather long, and there are plenty of details about some things, the challenge and its requirements are rather glossed over, so I was never very clear what Luna needed to do in order to win. The problems with the movie theater and the mall also seemed promising but never really had a satisfactory resolution. Definitely one to try, but I think I'll pass on purchasing for my middle school library. 

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, January 25, 2023


Maldonado, Torrey. Hands
January 24, 2023 by Nancy Paulsen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Trev's father died when he was younger, and his mother remarried a man who had a daughter, Nikki, who was just a little older than his sister Jess. He's always looked up to his stepfather, especially the way he could hit, but when this ends up being problematic, Trev isn't quite sure how he feels about using his hands to fight. He does like to use his hands to draw, but has fallen out of the habit. While his family and community are supportive, he feels responsible for his sisters, and part of him feels like he should learn to box so he can defend them. The community around him is very emphatic about showing him this is not the case. There are some "uncles" in his neighborhood who are not related but are very much like family. There's Uncle Larry, a librarian in the project's library, Uncle Puff, who does box, and Uncle Frankie, who runs a garage and does NOT want Trev to get into fighting. He also has a supportive teacher, Ms. Clark, who notices that he's tired in class but doesn't pry into his business, although she does offer support. Trev's best friend, P, also tries to be supportive, but is also lured into thinking that perhaps fighting is a good way to solve problems. Trev has a lot to worry about, but is helped by people like Uncle Larry, who treats him to a movie marathon in order to take his mind off his concerns. Luckily, Trev is able to reassess his life and realize that the best way to live up to his promise is to use his hands for positive things like drawing. I love the way that this dichotomy is masterfully depicted on the cover!
Strengths: Trev's neighborhood will be interesting to my suburban students who don't necessarily live in areas where they can walk to places like Uncle Frankie's garage or Uncle Larry's library or apartment. It was good to see that Trev had an extensive network of trusted adults, and it was heartwarming to see that he took Cole under his own wing and was very protective of him. His worry about his family and his stress over protecting them are situations that will resonate with many middle school students, but which is often not reflected in middle grade literature. It's also good to see that he gets along with his sisters, and that he has a good friend in P, even though he has kept some information secret from his friend. The juxtaposition of boxing and fighting with drawing is a great literary device, and the theme of "promise" is one I would like to see in more books. Even though it has some heavy topics, this is a positive book with a character who is trying to do the right thing, and is seeking support from his community.
Weaknesses: I can appreciate why Maldonado made this a bit more contemplative than his other titles, but I also know that the "train surfing" in Tight was a big draw for my readers! I wish that we would have seen more of the mother in the story, since Trev is clearly very fond of her, and her experience with the stepfather drives so many of Trev's actions.
What I really think: Maldonado's Tight and What Lane are popular titles in my library (as was Secret Saturdays (2012) until the third or fourth copy was lost. I need to replace it again!), so I will definitely be purchasing because I definitely have the readers for it. The cover is very appealing. I can also see this being a good book to use as a class read aloud, since it has some interesting themes of identity and community.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

The Superteacher Project

Korman, Gordon. The Superteacher Project
January 10, 2023 by Balzer & Bray/Harperteen
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Brightling Middle School is a bustling place with lots going on. Oliver and his friend Nathan are always deeply involved in perpetrating pranks. Principal Candiotti hopes that the girls' field hockey team will someday have the same kind of winning season her own Brightling team did in the 1980s. Rosalie Arnette is on the field hockey team and shares this hope, but also has to deal with her newly divorced mother who is throwing herself into PTA work, and trying to get the students to sell flax-based snack bars for a fundraiser. Add to this mix a new teacher, Mr. Aidact, and his "student teacher", the "Boomer aged" Mr. Perkins, and funny things start to happen. Mr. Aidact seems able to know just when Oliver is going to shoot a spitball (a skill at which he excels) and can identify him as the mastermind behind a remote controlled car prank. The teacher also seems to know everything, and can keep up with students quoting rap song lyrics. He's a little odd, referring to students as "pupils" and showing little emotion, but the other teachers take to him because he does their duties without complaining. He ends up covering after school detention WHILE running clubs, and also is brought in to coach the field hockey team, where he does an excellent job, even though he knew nothing about field hockey. He even catches the eye of Rosalie's mother! Mr. Perkins isn't happy about all of these additional duties, and we eventually discover why. Mr. Aidact's behavior comes under scrutiny as rumors swirl around him and the field hockey team advances. Instead of fighting him, Oliver and Nathan come up with a plan to help Mr. Aidact live his best life, even if it is no longer at Brightling. 
Strengths: This was a fun, relatively problem free romp, and I don't want to spoil the twists and turns, although it's pretty easy to guess what is going on with the teacher. Oliver is more of a Greg Heffley character, who is a little more evil in his pursuit of pranks, while Nathan is a good foil who tries to rein him in a bit, ala Big Nate. This is told from different viewpoints, and Rosalie's perspective is much more focused on Mr. Aidact as a way for her team to be successful. There are good set pieces, like riding Big Wheels in the school hallways mainly because it is against the written rules, and a lot of heart as the boys work to save Mr. Aidact. Again, it's hard to review this without giving too much away!
Weaknesses: The multiple perspective format is never my favorite, and this book in particular would have been more successful for me had I seen everything from Oliver's viewpoint and concentrated on his growth. The limited perspective would have put a completely different spin on the book, so I can see why Korman wanted to include chapters from the principal, Mr. Perkins, and other characters. 
What I really think: There are so many Korman titles, and they all are good, but if I had to put them in order, I would rank this one with Whatshisname and Notorious, with books like Ungifted and Linked ones that I like a little bit more. 

Monday, January 23, 2023

MMGM- Underground Fire

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Walker, Sally M. Underground Fire: Hope, Sacrifice, and Courage in the Cherry Mine Disaster 
October 11, 2022 by Candlewick Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Life was different in 1909, although there were some situations that we still see today. While parents might not send their children into the mines at 14, recent immigrant populations still struggle to find work with safe conditions, and rely on family to help. In Cherry, Illinois at this time, there was a promising new vein of coal, and a town rose up in the area to support the workers who would bring the material to the surface. Mining conditions require close monitoring, and there were teams of engineers, overseers, and others who tried to make sure that the mine was up to code. Still, human error can lead to disasters, and that's what happened here.  A lamp that was low on kerosene started to drip on top of a cart of hay down in the mines, and although people were somewhat aware of it, nothing was done. Before long, the fire was raging under control. This caused several problems; smoke in the shafts that endangered men, panic in the workers both above and below ground, and structural damage to the mine as wooden supports burned and gave way. Mining fires are particularly hard to put out, and the Cherry mine fire was no exception. 

Using the same method of describing the events through the eyes of people who would have been involved that was so successful in her 2011 Blizzard of Glass, Walker describes the background of daily life and the involvement of miners, coal company administrators, doctors, and people in the community as the tragedy unfolded. The inclusion of period photos of ordinary life is helpful in setting the scene and understanding what the miners' day-to-day life was like working in the mines and living in a small town. One of favorite parts of the book was the inclusion of period diagrams and specifications for the mine that had to be filed to prove that the mine was operating safely! I'm sure at the time, the mine was considered to be very modern, and the people running it tried to have all of the latest safety features. 

Walker doesn't shy from the fact that many of the miners were recent immigrants to the US, and shows how difficult their lives were. One family consisted of a mother, father, two children, and five of the parents brothers! Again, period photos show the company housing, families, and occasionally pictures that weren't from Cherry but are useful in showing young readers what is meant by things like coal powered fire places. 

Because the story follows particular people, whom we meet early in the morning as they are getting ready to go to work at the mines, there is an immediacy and urgency to finding out what happens next! While there were some immediate casualties, there were people who managed to get out alive, and well as some workers who were trapped underground for a significant amount of time. Since nearly everyone in town had someone who worked in the mine, and 259 men died, the effect on the town was acute. Chapters at the end of the book address how the widows and children of men killed were helped, and how the town went forward afterwards. Today, Cherry has fewer than 500 residents, so it certainly didn't become the center of mining and industry that flyers in the early 1900s promised!

Readers who enjoy delving into historical disasters with books like Soontornvat's All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys' Soccer Team, Murphy's The Great Fire, Hollihan's Ghosts Unveiled! (Creepy and True #2) or Marrin's Flesh and Blood So Cheap will be enthralled by the harrowing attempts to get men out of the mines and the different tactics employed to do so. They will also learn much about daily life over 100 years ago, and even I learned something new: the term "teamsters" for truck drivers comes from the fact that early transportation of goods involved teams of horses! I just had never thought about that! 

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Jiu-Jitsu Girl

Dutton, Lauren. Jiu-Jitsu Girl
January 24, 2023 by Jolly Fish Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Angie Larson and her mother have just moved to a new town for her mother's job, and Angie has determined that she is going to fit in with the popular kids and not have the same sort of experience as she did at her last school. This is made harder by the fact that her mother is FORCING her to take jiu-jitsu classes. While Angie's mother thinks it will help her build confidence, she's determined that it will not, and has even posted a list of reasons why it is a horrible sport on the chalkboard in their kitchen. She's hopeful that Olivia, a popular girl in her science class, will be her key to popularity, but she gets paired with Carter instead. Carter is a science geek, doesn't care what people think about him, and passed out because of low blood sugar last year, something which people like Olivia don't let him forget. He has a blood glucose monitor and pump that set him apart. Angie likes working with him, and when she goes to his house to work on their project, has fun talking to his scientist mother, and even wonders why talking to Olivia can't be this easy. Meanwhile, at jiu-jitsu, she continues to struggle with a sport she doesn't like and deems unpleasant (to be fair, being choked sounds less than appealing), and is not happy when her mother enters her in a competition. She's also not happy that her mother seems interested in Coach Sweaty Paws (aka Paul), since it's only ever been her and her mother. When one of Olivia's minions, Mina, joins the jiu-jitsu class, Angie is afraid that she will tell Olivia, but Mina also wants to keep her involvement a secret. Angie thinks that being invited to Olivia's birthday party means that she has finally arrived, but Olivia shows her true colors. Of course, Angie has already denied her friendship with Carter, which hurts his feelings. How will Angie be able to balance her friendships, relationship with her mother, and involvement with jiu-jitsu?
Strengths: Friend drama is a subject often requested by my students. I maintain that it's nearly impossible to get through middle school without losing at least one friend, so tweens love to see how other people handle the difficulties of finding and maintaining friends. Carter is a great character who is comfortable in his own skin, and I'm always glad to meet characters like this. Olivia is a typical mean girl, who still manages to have everyone wanting to be her friend. Addie's relationship with her mother is described just enough; middle schoolers are still heavily reliant on their parents but don't really want to be, so the fact that her mother is making her miserable by forcing her to take a class and then embarasses her by befriending one of the teachers is perfect. I was glad to see that Angie warmed to jiu-jitsu eventually. I can't say that there are any other middle grade novels involving this sport, and very few involving any martial arts! 
Weaknesses: I'm not a huge fan of children being forced to do a sport, either in books or in real life. It's a common theme in books, and certainly sets up a nice conflict, but it was painful to coach children who really weren't interested. The middle school students I am around don't seem to be as invested in popularity as Angie was, but this does add lots of drama. 
What I really think: I'm a big fan of sports books with girls as the main character, and I haven't seen any involving jiu-jitsu. Offer this to sporty readers along with Maraniss' Inaugural Ballers, Blumenthals' updated Let Me Play, Jones' Jayla Jumps In, or Shovan's Takedown to offer a broader view of sports for girls. Now I feel like I need a book with lacrosse! 

Saturday, January 21, 2023

The Lost Year

Marsh, Katherine. The Lost Year
January 17, 2023 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Matthew is cooped up during the beginning of the COVID pandemic in 2020, and his mother's grandmother, whom they call GG, has moved in with them. She's 100, and the mother is very concerned about her health. Mattie's father is stuck in Paris, and his mother is super busy with work. He spends a lot of time playing video games, but when his mother takes these away, he is stuck helping GG organize her belongings. Mattie slowly learns more of her story of surviving the 1930s in Ukraine. We go back and forth from his perspective and that of three cousins; Mila, whose father is very involved in politics and supports the government in their attempts to exterminate the kulaks; Nadiya, who shows up at Mila's door but is sent away by Mila's father, despire her near death condition, and Helen, whose family is living in the US. Mila is worried about her cousin, but knows she can't argue with her father or Dasha, the housekeeper, to keep her there, so asks her piano teacher to take her cousin in. Helen has read in the news that the famine in Ukraine isn't that bad, but has heard from many friends and relatives that this is not the case. She tries to assemble interviews and let the newspaper know what is really going on. She and her father, who has some health issues and isn't able to work, try to get Nadiya out of the country. Nadiya's health slowly improves, but Mila's family is eventually found out. Her father is arrested, and Mila ends up in the same orphange where Nadiya is living. They hear from Helen's family, but there are complications. Years later, Mattie learns the truth about his great grandmother's identity, and realizes that dealing with COVID lockdowns and missing his father isn't as bad as dealing with the Holodomor. 
Strengths: It was interesting to see cousins whose lives were so very different. Given the political upheaval at the time, it is very realistic that the families had such different experiences. Seeing someone from the hard hit country, someone who took advantage of being in the government's good grades, and someone who chose to flee as very enlightening. The intersection of the characters is done in a realistic way, and I'm sure there are many families in the US who tried very hard to get relatives from Ukraine to the US. There is just enough detail about what was going on to be intriguing, but wasn't overly descriptive. The angle with Helen trying to raise awareness in the US was interesting, and the twist with GG's identity was interesting.
Weaknesses: I could have done without the chapters from Mattie's point of view. I definitely see why the author chose to do this, but I would rather have learned more about Nadiya's terrible back story that is mentioned but not really described. 
What I really think: This is a good title for readers who have been fascinated by Skrypuch's Winterkill and want to know more about this horrible chapter in Ukranian history. Of course, I have to say that I am finding it very hard to be sympathetic to Russia, although it's clear that the government and political leaders are the ones who were and are more evil, and average citizens may not know much about what is going on. This did not help me be more sympathetic!
 Ms. Yingling

Friday, January 20, 2023

Guy Friday-- Diper Överlöde

Kinney, Jeff. Diper Överlöde (Wimpy Kid #17)
October 25, 2022 by Puffin
Copy kindly provided by school volunteer

Greg thinks that while being famous would be kind of a drag, being related to someone famous might have some advantages, so he enthusiastically supports his brother Roderick's efforts to get his rock band, Diper Överlöde, to hit the big time. Even though the band has substandard songs and members like Bill, who is 35 and lives in his grandmother's basement, if they can win the Battle of the Bands, Greg thinks their career might take off the way that Metallichihuahua's did. The path to fame is a rocky one, however, littered with bent bumpers on vans, attempts to win vans in car dealership contests, and sketchy gigs. There's some interaction with members of Metallichihuahua, legal cease and desist orders from similar sounding pop culture items, and a disturbing interaction with an animatronic bear who plays the drums. While his parents are oddly absent in this volume, Greg follows along as Roderick and his band try to hit the big time. 
Strengths: While this didn't have a terribly well developed plot, the anecdotes felt a bit more connected, and held together well to forward the events of the book more than other volumes of this series. The details about running a band and setting up performances was interesting. This reminded me of Tom Gates' Dogzombies performances from Liz Pichon's books. Greg was less mean (Rowley shows up only briefly), as was Roderick. The stories were fairly amusing, and the song lyrics will be humorous to young readers who enjoy the potty humor. 
Weaknesses: There were a lot of Metallichihuahua references that I think might go over younger readers' heads, especially since most tweens are more interested in hip hop and not classic metal bands. Bill was an odd character, and I forget what his back story is. 
What I really think: There were 54 Animorphs books, plus some super editions, so I imagine that given the sales, there will be a Wimpy Kid book published every year until I die. Jeff Kinney is younger than I am, so that seems likely. 

I've read all of these, I swear. Since the first book came out in 2007 and I started my blog in 2006, I was hoping that all of my reviews would still be around, but I must not have reviewed much before number seven.

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, January 19, 2023


Freeman, Martha. Trashed!
January 17, 2023 by Simon Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Arthur and Ramona Popper live with their parents in Boulder, Colorado, in an apartment above Universal Trash, a second-hand shop that was started by their mother's parents in 1980. Their mother is a lawyer, and their father runs the shop. Their grandfather is increasingly grumpy, especially since their grandmother is off on a motorcyle trip across the country. Arthur, who is in middle school, frequently helps out in the shop, and is very good at customer service. He even helps with the inventory, adding index cards to the paper database, since the grandfather doesn't want to use a computer. When Arthur sees a chipped tea cup with a dancing bear on it, he knows it is not something that the shop had stocked. His grandfather is taken aback; it's the item that he had started the shop with, but which was consequently stolen. There's a mystery to be solved, and Arthur starts investigating after the ghost of his sister's pet mouse encourages him. Mouse 4, who is glad to have Watson as his new name, talks to Arthur and guides him in helpful directions. Arthur's best friend, Veda, also helps in the shop when she is not taking care of her younger brothers. She is worried that her mother, who runs a house cleaning business, is dating Juan, who works as a cleaner, but soon decides that he is a decent guy. When he applies to work at Universal Trash, the grandfather is very insulting, and tell's Arthur's father that "those people" can't be trusted. Arthur and his father are appalled, but an older worker, Randolph, shares some information about some of the good things that the grandfather did back in the day. The mystery of the tea cup is complicated when a number of items show up at the shop that are similar to ones that members of his mother's book club claim they have one "just like it in a jewelry box". The index cards for these items are all in the Red File, meaning that the consigner doesn't want to be known, and when Arthur goes to investigate, the Red File is missing. His grandfather blames Juan, but Arthur knows there is something else going on. Will he be able to figure things out with the help of Watson?
Strengths: Universal Trash is about the most perfect setting for a middle grade lit book I can imagine. The backstory of the grandparents founding it, the advertising campaign ("Save the earth and save your cash/ shop at Universal Trash!"), and the mystery of the book club members was fascinating. The relationships between Arthur and his friends and family were somehow especially intriguing and well-drawn. Ramona is in first grade, but Arthur gets along with her fairly well. He has rough moments with Veda, and also with some of his friends at school who make fun of him for having a teacup. Randolph, as well as Officer Berstein and Jennifer ( a store employee training for an ultra marathon) have brief scenes but are so much fun. I feel like Mrs. Dannenberg, the school librarian, has been having the kind of school year I've been having. I'm not normally one to sigh or roll my eyes, but it's been that kind of year! 
Weaknesses: The inclusion of the talking mouse makes this a bit young. Also, did the professor who bought the pocket watch have to give it back? I don't think we found out. I also wanted to know if the thief got a prison sentence; the individual items weren't worth all that much, but together that was a fairly serious crime! 
What I really think: I would have adored this book in about fourth grade. All of the elements work well together, even the talking mouse ghost. I may well have to buy a copy of this for myself, which I rarely do. This might take a little bit of hand selling to my students, but I love it so much that I'm sure I can convince readers of books like Costner's My Life as a Potato and Richards' Stu Truly that they will enjoy this one. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

The In-Between

Winget, Katie. The In-Between
January 17th 2023 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Netgalley

When Katie and her family return to their apartment from a funeral, they find that the landlord hasn't fed the fish, which have died, or taken the cat out of her carrier. Angered, her mother throws the fish tank down the steps, and the family pack up their few belongings and take off. With the help of a family friend, they end up in an extended stay hotel. Katie's mother has a history of difficulty in keeping jobs, and the parents divorce was very bitter, especially when it came to custody of Katie and her younger siblings, Josh and Haley. Their father (who is white; their mother is black) lives with his new wife, Ning, a little distance away, in a nice house with spare rooms, and the children do go to visit him on the weekends. Katie wishes that they could live with him, instead of in the cramped hotel room, but her mother is afraid she would not be able to hold onto them. Living in a hotel has a lot of problems, and Katie is afraid when she gets a notice at school that proof of residence can be required at any time, since her mother now drives her some distance back to their school because the family is no longer in district. Katie struggles with school while dealing with the difficult living arrangements and the tension between her parents. 
Strengths: There are a lot of my students who have to deal with parents who have trouble keeping jobs, are struggling with custody arrangements, or who are housing insecure, so it's good to see this reflected in the literature. Katie understands logically why her family is in the situation it is, but obviously can't quite comes to terms with this insecurity emotionally. She hopes that things will get better, and has some positive influences in her life, and also tries to make things a little better for her younger brother and sister. Aside from Baptiste's Isaiah Dunn is My Hero, I can't think of another book that depicts a family living in a hotel, although there are a decent number of middle grade books depicting life in homeless shelters. 
Weaknesses: This sounded like it might have been semi-autobiographical, since the setting seemed to be just post 9/11 and the characters have names similar to the author's family in the end notes. I would have liked more details about living in the hotel (like Nielsen's 2018 No Fixed Address) but can understand why the author focused on the emotions rather than the experience. 
What I really think: This might be popular with readers who enjoyed Hopkins' Closer to Nowhere or Lowell's 2022 The Road to After which are also a problem novels in verse.
 Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Follow Me and Haunt Me

It seems like I spend half my time scouring the shelves for scary books to put on display, and any scary books that are returned never make it back to the shelves. The author who has been the most helpful during the upswing in interest in these titles has been K.R. Alexander. Starting with The Collector (2018), he's been turning out fantastic titles like Darkroom, The Vacancy and Escape. Are they a little cheesy? Like applewood smoked Gouda, baby! Are they exactly what my students want? Absolutely. I just realized that I somehow ordered just one copy of Darkroom, and just added three more to my list to purchase. If you need more horror books, invest in a bunch of these titles. They are creepy enough for middle school but not so creepy that elementary students will have to sleep with the lights on for a week. 

Alexander, K.R. Follow Me
December 1st 2020 by Scholastic Inc.
Library copy

Tamal and his parents move from the city to a small town, and buy a mansion because real estate prices are so much cheaper. It's a bit worn down, but an exciting place to live. Even though the community is close knit and not used to outsiders, Tamal is immediately befriended by Max and Lela. They come to his house to hang out and have dinner, and Tamal's father asks them if there are any ghost stories attached to the house. Reluctantly, Lela tells the harrowing story of the people who built the house and a local factory. The house was apparently built on top of a graveyard, and three children and the mother died soon after moving in. There are also local legends that anyone who comes in to the house is haunted, and many teens who are thought to have run away may have died after visiting it. Tamal's dad finds this amusing, since he is interested in ghost hunting, but Tamal is scared-- he's seen the ghost. It's a little girl clutching a teddy bear, and he's afraid that if she looks him in the face, he will disappear as well. When he tells Max about this, Max isn't as thrilled about hanging out, but the two make amends. When the ghost becomes more and more threatening, will Tamal be able to settle the angry spirits with the help of his new friends?
Strengths: If kids move to a new house, there is a 60% chance in middle grade literature that it will be haunted, but a house built on top of a graveyard? THAT ups the creepy factor! I loved that Tamal was able to make friends so easily, and the fact that maybe they are only interested in him because of the house is even addressed, and he's reassured that Max and Lela think he's fun to be around and THAT'S why they are his friends. I loved that. I don't want to spoil the interesting ghost motivation, but it's top notch. Killer ghosts luring in victims for their own evil purposes? Exactly right. 
Weaknesses: I might have treated myself to five mintues of Zillow after reading this, so there is now a house in Cincinnati that my daughter can never buy because it's completely connected to this book! 
What I really think: I'm torn about the glowing eyes on the cover-- super creepy or too much like Five Nights at Freddie's? This ended up being a very solid addition to the Alexander Collection, not quite up there with Darkroom, but better than Fear Zone and any of the books with creepy dolls. 

Alexander, K.R. Haunt Me
December 1st 2020 by Scholastic Inc.
Library copy

Maria has never quite gotten over her twin sister Isabella's death. Her mother is trying, but her father is distancing himself from the family. Luckily, Maria's friends are very understanding and supportive. When they are having a sleepover one night, Tara and Lauren bring a Ouija board type device and the three attempt to connect with Isabella's spirit. They summon something, and in her guilt, Maria invites the spirit in after it asks her to. Of course, this is a bad idea (and Tara later tells her this), and creepy things start to happen. At first, Maria thinks she is just imagining it, but as the stuffed animals' eyes start to glow, their heads start to turn, and they start attacking her, she knows that something is wrong. The ghost takes Tara and challenges Maria to get her back. It's a struggle, and the spirit is very powerful. Will Maria be able to overcome her guilt in order to make peace and subdue the evil spirit?
Strengths: There are enough twists and turns that I don't want to give away too much of the action, and we don't know for most of the book how Isabella died. The animated stuffed animals really up the creep factor for me, and the scenes battling the spirit were horrifying. Of course, I already have a fear of inviting vampires into my home, so this really preyed on those! The processing of Maria's grief is worked in briefly and rather effectively, which was a nice surprise. Tara is a fantastic friend. This is similar to Follow Me, creepier than Alexander's creepy doll books, and not quite as scary as Darkroom, which has replaced The Devil's Footsteps as my favorite scary novel. 
Weaknesses: I will never have fond feeling for dysfunctional grieving parents in middle grade books. 
What I really think: Let's start a display of creepy floating ghosts on the cover! Duga's The Replacement, Krovatin's Darkness, and Sutherland's Ghosts Never Die are great books to start with!

Monday, January 16, 2023

MMGM--Figure It Out, Henri Weldon and Piece by Piece

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Davis, Tanita. Figure It Out, Henri Weldon 
January 17th 2023 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Henrietta Weldon has an older brother and sister, Kat, who are much better in school than she is. Because she's struggled with dyscalculia, she's been attending a private school, but when her mother starts working on her PhD, money is tight and she has to attend public school. This is stressful, but she manages to make a few friends. Vinnie has a pet rat that he smuggles to school, and since Henri has a snake, she finds the pet fascinating. Kat is appalled that Henri sat with him at lunch, because he and his sisters, Ana and Lily are in foster care together. Lily bullied Kat the previous school year, and Kat is furious that Henri has put Kat on her radar again. It doesn't help that Vinnie is Henri's math tutor at school and is really helping her with her math. Henri and Kat have a lot of fights; they share a room, and Henri is messy while Kat is neat. Kat doesn't like Henri's snake, Wil, especially when he poops on the floor! Kat borrows Henri's clothes without asking. The problems with Vinnie and his family just add fuel to the flames. The parents are very supportive and big on working things out, even though the mother has a difficult relationship with her own sister because their styles are so different. Henri is tired of having to limit her activities because school is hard, and when Ana thinks she should try out for soccer, she asks her parents if she can. Her mother thinks she should concentrate on her school work, and feels that sports are unimportant, but Henri's aunt changes her mind. It is a struggle to juggle everything, and sometimes Henri disappoints herself; she wants to turn in a poem to the school literary magazine, but forgets. Will she be able to keep up with her schoolwork after she gets on the soccer team? And will she and Kat come to some kind of sisterly detente?
Strengths: Sibling relationships in middle school are such an enormous part of tweens' lives, and as adults, I think we forget about this. Kat and Henri have a strained relationship because of many small details of their lives, but underneath love each other and want to support each other. But when a snake poops in your room? The tween and teen reaction is to go straight to conflict! This is one of the best portraits of how family life affects tweens that I've seen. Henri's problems with math are given just enough time for us to see the impact of them on other aspects of her life, but don't overwhelm the story. Vinnie, his sisters, and Grandma Dot all offer helpful portrayals of the difficulties that kids in foster care face, and seeing how Kat views the family is interesting. Again, there are many of my students in this situation, and finding characters who have similar backgrounds but whose experience is not ALL problems is difficult. Davis' 2016 Peas and Carrots also did a good job at showing the interactions of foster kids in school settings. This book will appeal to readers who like friend drama, new school stories, or books like Delle Donne's Belle of the Ball or Hurwitz's 2011 Callie Be Gold, where middle school students have to work on their life balance. 
Weaknesses: There were a lot of characters and a lot going on. Since I read really quickly, I got a bit confused at certain points, but that's more of a me problem. 
What I really think: It's difficult to work math into a middle grade novel successfully, but there are some other examples where this is well done, including Souders' Dead Possums Are Fair Game (2015), Swenden's Solving for M (2019), and Kinard's The Boy Problem (2014). I liked that even though math plays a decently large role, it doesn't overwhelm Henri's other activities. This is a little younger than Davis' usual novels, which generally are at the upper end of the middle grade range, but Davis has shown that she can handle the middle of the middle grade experience as well. The cover is great as well, so I see this being a very popular title with readers who want a realistic story with a lot of friend drama.

Aquilar, David and Aquliar, Ferran. 
Piece by Piece: How I Built My Life (No Instructions Required)
October 25th 2022 by Amazon Crossing Kids
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

David was born in the early 2000s in Andorra. His right arm was not fully formed, ending with truncated digits at elbow level. The family later found out this was Poland syndrome, which also affected his chest muscles. His parents and grandparents were glad that he was healthy, and vowed to support him and make sure he was a successful person. David tells his story about growing up, facing challenges, and makes it very clear that in his mind, he isn't "lacking" anything. 

His parents did contact Dr. Doncel, whose daughter had a similarly formed arm, and were helped a lot by her support. His father often adapted things for him, like his bicycle, and the family installed a heated pool at their home so that he could swim. Where David often didn't find support was with his classmates. One girl, with whom he was very good friends, refused to go out with him because his arm freaked her out, and he was repeatedly bullied by a boy named Jordi. Because of his strong background of support, David was able to work through how these tough relationship made him feel. He decided early on to maintain a positive attitude, which shows through strongly in this memoir. 

At the age of nine, David, who was enthralled with Legos, built himself a prosthetic arm. It was a great accomplishment, but wasn't as useful as he hoped. He continued to work on it, and eventually made himself a prosthetic that worked very well. His father contacted the LEGO company, and David soon acchieved some fame for his work. This led to other opportunities, and as a young man, he has many choices available to him thanks to his ingenuity and work ethic. 

The story isn't entirely linear, and we do see some of the same events repeatedly discussed. the chapters often end with a cliff hanger tone. 

Readers who found Bowling's Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus interesting will be glad to pick up this nonfiction account of someone dealing with limb differences. Reeve's Born Just Right offers another view of a similar difference. I'm not sure that David himself would like the term "Disability Pride Month", which is celebrated in July, but there are not that many memoirs about teens and young adults who have overcome significant physical challenges, so this would be a great choice for readers who want to explore others' experiences and want something longer than Clark's Zion Unmatched. 

Sunday, January 15, 2023

World Made of Glass

Polonsky, Ami. World Made of Glass
January 17, 2023 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus
It's 1987, and Iris lives in New York City with her mother, an obstetrician. Her parents are recently divorced, and her father, who is a professor, lives upstairs with his new partner, J.R. Iris understands that her father is gay, and rather likes J.R., but is devastated that her father is dying of AIDS. It's a big secrect, of course, because there is a lot of fear and prejudice surrounding the disease; 15% of the US population thinks that people who are HIV positive should be identified by tattoos. Iris' best friend, Mallory, has moved away, and she's having trouble connecting with her other two friends, Will and Toby, because of the secrets she needs to keep. When a new boy, Justin, moves to their school from the country, Iris confides in him. As her father conditions worsens, Iris takes comfort in the acrostic poems she and her father exchanged. When he's gone, her mother's friend Bob is a big help, and J.R. helps her to understand that there is more action that the community could take to help prevent AIDS from spreading. Justin encourages Iris to get involved in the ACT UP protests, and Iris is surprised when Will, Toby, and even Mallory are there for her as well, and are not judgemental about her father's death. End notes include more information about the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. 
Strengths: Can we please agree that this is historical fiction, even though it's only 35 years ago? Historical fiction, no matter what anyone says, is a story placed in a specific time. The 1980s were a different time, and Iris' experiences dealing with her family dynamics, friends at school, and the public perception of people with AIDS are very specific to this time. The New York City setting makes sense, and there is a decent amount of discussion about gay culture, which will resonate with fans of Gino's Alice Austen Lived Here. Iris is a well developed character whose struggles are realistically portrayed, and supporting characters like J.R., Bob, and even her grandparents are well portrayed. 
Weaknesses: This was rather slow paced-- rather like some of the 1980s young adult titles, actually. The biggest complaint my students have about books is that "nothing happens", so I wish there had been something else in Iris' life while she was dealing with her family issues to appeal to my readers. I also would have liked a few more references to general 1980s popular culture. 
What I really think: There are a few middle grade books that address this period of history; Papademetriou's Apartment 1986, that briefly touches on the issues of AIDS in the 1980s, Grimes The Center of Gravity, Pixley's Trowbridge Road, and Forman's Frankie and Bug. I'm a bit surprised that my library didn't have a number of young adult books from the early 1990s about this; surely there were some. There was a book about Ryan White that no one ever read. I'll probably purchase this one because there is a little interest in LGBTQIA+ history, and this author's Gracefully Grayson is popular.

Ms. Yingling