Tuesday, February 28, 2023

February Statistics

Bunches of Fantasy Books

Students at other schools must be much more interested in reading fantasy books. They must sell, or there wouldn't be so many published. I read a ton of fantasy, buy ones that are particularly good and... they sit on the shelf. I make displays. I book talk them. And still, it's just a fraction of my readers who pick them up. This is not true of horror and ghost stories, and I can usually place a good adventure science fiction book, but most of the time, it's hard. Conversely, all of my students seem to want sports books, and there are very, very few of those. Personally, I like fantasy and don't care much for sports books (although I am quite an expert on them!), so it's not me imposing my personal tastes on my collection. If I did, it would be all vintage teen YA and historical fiction! What are some of the trends in your students' reading?

Writing this on the work day after winter break; going right now to do one display of fantasy novels and one of historical fiction just to prove to myself that I'm not just imagining the fact that my students are a little more reluctant to pick up these books. 

McCarthy, Cory. Under Pressure (B.E.S.T. World #2)
February 1st 2023 by HarperCollins US
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Grayson, Leo, Jayla and Ace all meet at school in the B.E.S.T. program in Ace Takes Flight. There's even more intrigue now! Grayson wakes up with a new body aug (body augmentation-- the augmentations are widespread but somewhat contentious technology)  but he's at the bottom of the ocean. The other three are adrift in the sea with their hoverpod inoperable. Jayla is picked up by her family, who still want to control all of her actions, and Leo and Ace are picked up by Stern and Rosa. They are taken to Atlantis, which appears to be a stronghold of the Resistance. They think that Jayla's family has her hidden somewhere and try to find her, which they eventually do. Leo, who is in a wheelchair, is interested in the Sherlock mind aug, but there is a mystery surrounding it tied to Bixonics and to Grayson Bix. The three head back to the Tower of Power (their school) and need to chose an aug track. They are told that the Sherlock aug has been discontinued because no onw qualified for it, but Coach Vaughn tells Leo they (Leo uses they/them pronouns. All students at the school have their pronouns listed and use them regularly.)can try for the aug if he can teach Ace to fly. Eventually, the friends are tracked about ready for augs, but can they save Bixonics and humanity? This is a purported trilogy, so we'll have to wait for book three.

This reminded me a bit of the Voyagers series that starts with Project Alpha and is written by a variety of middle grade authors, with a dash of the undersea adventure and Atlantis connections of Riordan's Daughter of the Deep. There's a threat from an amorphous source that the kids must figure out and hunt down, difficulties they must overcome, and places to which they must travel. 

The different augmentations are fascinating, and of course there have to be some problems with them. But really, who wouldn't want super vision or intelligence? The characters are diverse and well developed, and have a good working relationship, even if they are occasionally at odds. There's just the right level of conflict to keep the characters motivated and moving forward. 

The school and the augmentation track decisions will resonate with readers who like "academy" books. The older the teachers are, the more suspect they seem; Rose and Stern are teens, so Leo and Ace trust them a bit more. The covers of both of the books are great. 
Readers who enjoyed Kraatz's Space Runners: The Moon Platoon, Fry's Jupiter Pirates, Landers' Blastaway or Levy's Seventh Grade vs. the Galaxy series will enjoy B.E.S.T. World. This is also a great choice for undersea adventure fans, who liked O'Hearn's Atlantis, Lerangis' The Colossus Rises, or Jason Henderson's absolutely fabulous Young Captain Nemo.

Since I have all of those books, and couldn't get my students interested in the ARC of Ace Takes Flight, I will pass this book on to my public library. Also, every time I read Tower of Power, I thought about.  evangelist Robert Schuller and his Crystal Cathedral and Hour of Power show, which is not what the kids in this book are really talking about! 

Perry, Jamar J. Cameron Battle and the Escape Trials
(Cameron Battle #2)
February 28th 2023 by Bloomsbury Children's Books
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

After his adventures in Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdom, Cameron goes against his grandmother's wishes and returns to Chidani to try to save his mother with Aliyah and his best friend and crush, Zion. While he doesn't acchieve everything he hopes, he does wrap up his search in a satisfactory way. This feels like the end of the series, but I could be wrong. The first book in this series is popular in my library, so I'll definitely be buying this second volume, and it was good to see the LGBTQIA+ representation more clearly, with Cameron and Zion finally embracing the true nature of their relationship.  

From the Publisher:
Fans of Rick Riordan will lose themselves in the exciting world of Chidani--where the last descendant must fight to save the world!

After his first adventure as the Descendant, Cameron can't sit through seventh grade classes. Especially when his mother is still trapped in Chidani and his father is still missing. But he encounters a particularly nasty bully in his new school, and it doesn't take long for Cameron and his trusty friends Zion and Aliyah to realize that the troubles of Chidani won't stay away for long.

With the Book to guide them, Cameron and his crew end up transported to Chidani sooner than anticipated--and the gods and goddesses they encounter don't intend to make Cameron's journey easy. Can he finally outwit and outlast the villainous god set on destroying their worlds?

Inspired by West African and Igbo history and mythology, this middle-grade fantasy celebrates the triumphs and challenges of a boy finding his path to greatness.

Randall, Julian. Pilar Ramirez and the Curse of San Zenon(Pilar Ramirez #2)
February 28th 2023 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

From the Publisher:
The Land of Stories meets Dominican culture and mythology come to life in Julian Randall's Pilar Ramirez and the Curse of San Zenon, the action-packed fantasy duology finale—for fans of the Tristan Strong series and Amari and the Night Brothers.

After being magically transported to the mythical island of Zafa and rescuing her long captive cousin Natasha, Pilar is back in Chicago . . . and hiding the shocking truths about Zafa and Natasha being alive. So, when she and her family are invited on a trip to Santo Domingo, Pilar welcomes the distraction and the chance to see the Dominican Republic for the first time.

But when Ciguapa and close friend Carmen magically appears in the DR searching for help, Pilar is soon on the hunt for the escaped demon El Baca and his mysterious new ally. Now, with a cursed storm gathering over the island to resurrect an ancient enemy, Pilar will have to harness her newfound bruja powers if she has any hope of saving her own world, Zafa, and most importantly her family before the clock runs out and ushers in a new era of evil.

Alessandri, Alexandra. The Enchanted Life of Valentina Mejía
February 21st 2023 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Do appreciate the different cover style on this one, and the Colombian representation.

From the Publisher:
Encanto meets The Chronicles of Narnia by way of Colombian folklore in this middle grade fantasy adventure. To save their father’s life, a brother and sister must journey across a land full of mythical creatures and find the most powerful and dangerous of them all: the madremonte.

Twelve-year-old Valentina wants to focus on drawing the real world around her and hopefully get into art school in Bogotá one day, but Papi has spent his life studying Colombia’s legendary creatures and searching for proof of their existence. So when Papi hears that a patasola—a vampire woman with one leg—has been sighted in the Andes, Valentina and her younger brother Julián get dragged along on another magical creature hunt.

While they’re in the Andes, a powerful earthquake hits. Valentina and Julián fall through the earth…and find an alternate Colombia where, to Valentina’s shock, all the legends are real.

To get home, Valentina and Julián must make a treacherous journey to reach this land’s ruler: the madremonte, mother and protector of the earth. She controls the only portal back to the human world—but she absolutely hates humans, and she’ll do anything to defend her land.

Marr, Melissa. The Hidden Dragon. 
February 14th 2023 by Nancy Paulsen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

For some reason, sea-faring books, along with circus books, are an even harder sell than fantasy, even though I loved Jacques' Castaways of the Flying Dutchman and Schultz's Hook's Revenge

From the Publisher:

A sea-faring girl and her friends take on pirates and grown-ups, and bond with dragons, as they work to make the world a better place, in this spellbinding fantasy by New York Times bestselling author Melissa Marr.

Otter (short for Ottilie) is a girl who is most comfortable on her family's ship, the Tempest, where she and her fathers collect the dragon hides that protect the queen's guards. But all is not well in the kingdom, and it's not clear if the queen is to blame. The streets are full of homeless kids, and now one of them, a street-smart boy called London, has stowed away on the Tempest. He befriends Otter, and soon they realize that the fate of the kingdom needs to be in the hands of the kids. For in every tight spot--during pirate attacks and navigating the magical land of the Netherwhere, where they get ship-wrecked--it is the quick-witted kids who save the day. As they work to fight injustice and protect the defenseless, they earn the respect of the realm's most magical creatures--dragons and gargoyles--who all bond together as a force for good. Melissa Marr spins another fabulous fantasy, centered on family and friends, and introduces readers to the most splendid magical creatures.

Monday, February 27, 2023

MMGM- A First Time for Everything and Not An Easy Win

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Santat, Dan. A First Time For Everything 
February 28, 2023 by First Second
E ARC provided by Netgalley

In 1989, young Dan is a Good Kid, being raised by his mom and dad as an only child. He helps around the house a lot, especially since his mother suffers from Lupus, and middle school is horrible, and he tries his best to fly under everyone's radar, which isn't easy when his teacher makes him get up in front of an assembly and read a poem, with disastrous results. His parents treat him to a three week tour of Europe with school. While this is exciting, it also puts him in close contact with people from school with whom he has a past. His mother thinks they are his friends, but flashbacks show us the real nature of their relationships. He does meet two boys, Braden and Darryl,  from another school, and has fun hanging out with them. The group see the sights in Paris and are given time to wander on their own, and Dan does some drawings, since his camera doesn't work well. He strikes up a relationship with Amy, who is from another school, and his friends goad him on to talking to her, and eventually kissing her cheek over fondue. Dan's had some rejections in the past, so is constantly surprised that Amy wants to hang out with him, too. The group spends a week in Salzburg with host families, and their adventures include going to a club, and Dan has some tense moments that involve being lost, stealing a bike, and almost not making it back to his host home. Three weeks is a short time, but for young teens on a class trip, it is enough to experience a microcosm of an entire life. Dan and Amy know that their relationship, as sweet as it is, will not hold up to long distances (especially in the age before cell phones, when writing letters was the only way to communicate!), but are glad that they've been able to connect at all. Dan returns home with a little more self awareness and confidence to face his high school years. There are notes at the end about Santat's REAL trip to Europe that include some photographs. 
Strengths: As adults, it's easy to forget that middle school students are doing so many things for the the first time. This makes life more exciting, but also more harrowing, and this lens focuses our memories in a very particular way. Do I remember much about making my 1,000th trip to the grocery store last Saturday? No, but I can remember the first time my mother sent me into the supermarket by myself to purchase a carton of eggs (which cost 79 cents) like it happened yesterday. Class trips are particularly exciting, and three weeks does seem like a long time at 12. Santat captures so many facets of this perfectly. The flashbacks to earlier times are especially brilliant. Dan's not just dealing with Amber and her meanness on a daily basis; he's constantly reliving their failed romantic past. This book also captures the hope that students this age have, but doesn't spare us the angst and self doubt, so when Amy pretends to fall asleep on Dan's shoulder on the bus, the reader can feel the tension as well as the enormous relief and joy when things go right. Even though many students won't get trips to Europe, even a rare field trip to a local art museum, zoo, or concert can create a shorter version of Santat's experience. Adults will love this because it will remind us of our past, and young readers will find the traveling to be aspirational. The artwork is fantastic as always. 
Weaknesses: Like Holm's Sunny Makes a Splash, MY life was never this good. Although I did get to spend my senior year of college in Greece, I didn't have anyone whose shoulder I could put my head on during bus trips. It's easy to forget how important this in when you're younger, so as sad as this made me, it was a timely reminder.  
What I really think: There are a growing number of graphic novel memoirs from middle grade authors, like Krosoczka's Hey, Kiddo, Russo's Why Is Everybody Yelling? Growing Up in My Immigrant Family Bermudez' Big Apple Diaries, Harper's Bad Sister, Page's Button Pusher, Sharp's Just Pretend, Soontornvat's The Tryout, Rodriguez's upcoming Doodles From the Boogie Down,  and my very favorite graphic novel, Tatulli's Short and Skinny. Do students even know that these are memoirs? Not entirely sure, but they will definitely pick it up and enjoy the vicarious traveling (and life) experience. 

Giles, Chrystal. Not an Easy Win
February 28th 2023 by Random House Books for Young Readers
ARC provided by Follett First Look

Lawrence lives with his mother, who works at Bob's Diner and his younger sister Nikko in their grandmother's house. The family left Charlotte to stay with Granny after some problems with Lawrence's father. He feels like he's had a target on his back ever since he started at the mostly white Andrew Jackson Middle School, and he's just been expelled for being involved in a fight that he didn't start. Instead, he'll be doing online schooling. Granny doesn't want him hanging around the house all day, so he approaches neighbor Mr. Dennis, and ends up working at the Carver Recreation Center during the day, setting up chairs, cleaning, and doing other chores after he finishes his schoolwork for the day. He's glad to be doing something; after all, Granny says that "a man who don't work don't eat"! There are some problems with the son of Junior, who runs the center. Deuce is angry, and tries to pick fighting with Lawrence. Lawrence knows that he can't be involved in another fight, and tries to understand why Deuce acts this way. A bright spot is Twyla, and Lawrence gets interested in chess after he finds out that she plays. He practices a lot and loses to Deuce, but picks it up quickly enough that he is approached about being the third person to attend a chess tournament in Charlotte. Deuce has struggled with his grades, so Junior has banned him from playing basketball, and suggests to Lawrence that the two of them can work on their chess moves together. At first, Deuce is reluctant and prickly, but Lawrence works hard to try to find a common ground, which ends up being music. They have other things in common, things that are hard to deal with and which neither boy wants to discuss. The tournament is an exciting opportunity, but when Deuce runs into problems with other competitors, will Lawrence be able to help? 
Strengths: There are not a lot of books where students have incarcerated parents, but it is more common than one might think. I liked that while his father's being "gone" affected Lawrence's life deeply, the book was not about his father being in jail, rather like Baptiste's The Swag if in the Socks, a huge favorite at my school. Lawrence does become more thoughtful in his actions, and learns not to react as much when people say things to him, which is a skill we could all use! His family is supportive, and I loved Granny's lessons about working and cooking. (Even though having meat sauce with spaghetti and hot dogs in the beans was pretty fancy, it's a good lesson in saving money. I'll have to pass on the canned salmon, though. The bones always freaked me out!) His crush on Twyla played out in a realistic way, and I liked that he was able to remain friends with her even after their conversation. There is a lot of chess detail that I didn't understand, since I have never played the game, but this will be a bit hit with readers who do play. Definitely purchasing this one!
Weaknesses: It's sad that the principal at Lawrence's school hasn't taken the time to understand what is going on in his student's life and to protect him from people who are bullying him. That said, students at my school would probably say that I put too much emphasis on "law and order", but I just want people to be safe. (I do try to be positive and constructive when telling students that they shouldn't pretend to hit each other, because it might escalate. This is a topic that weighs heavily on me.)
What I really think: Like this author's Take Back the Block, this is a good balance of personal problems, societal issues of racism, and family relationships. The inclusion of chess will appeal to readers who liked Ponti's Forbidden City (2022), Sorosiak's Always, Clementine (2002), Wishingrad's The Verdigris Pawn (2021), Adewume's My Name is Tani (2020), Gerber's Focused (2019), Klass' Grand Master (2014) Blackwood's Curiosity (2014), Myers' Checkmate (2011), Wallace's Perpetual Check (2009) and Neri's Chess Rumble (2007).

Sunday, February 26, 2023

The Town with No Mirrors

Collins, Christina. The Town With No Mirrors
February 21st 2023 by Sourcebooks Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Zailey lives with her grandmother in the town of Gladder Hill, which has very specific rules regulating the behavior of its citizens. No glass, metal, or reflective surfaces are allowed, not even spoons. The water has oxygen added to it to make it milky, and all drinks must be in covered containers. Residents can't even wear eyeglasses, but must wear contacts or have lasik surgery. There's also a rule that no one can make comments about someone else's appearance unless they are medical, and everyone wears the same oversized t shirts and has their hair buzzed off. It's all the children have ever known. Zailey's grade in school are the oldest children, since the community was founded eight years ago by the principal of Zailey's school, and any children who joined the community had to be under four years old. The adults had to be over 25. Zailey is curious about her own face, since she's never seen it, and obsessed with using her drawing skills to capture the faces of others, which is against the rules. Her grandmother has never elaborated on what happened to Zailey's mother, but Zailey does snoop and find her birth certificate. She was born in nearby Barkbee, and there is an address. Zailey has recently met a student from Barkbee, Beryl, and made her acquaintance. When Zailey is injured and goes to a hospital outside of Gladder Hill, she escapes in order to try to find her mother. She runs into Beryl, who helps her and shows her the ways of the outside world, since Gladder Hill has no media, and doesn't even teach children about other countries. Zailey finds out information about why Principal Gladder put together the community, but it also becomes clear that, while well intentioned, the idea isn't working well. 
Strengths: Zailey's artistic bent works well in this story, since she can draw beautifully, but what she likes to draw isn't allowed. Her grandmother has her best interest at heart, and the secret that she is hiding is one of particular concern to teens. (Don't want to spoil the plot.) The town and its rules are well described, and the writing makes it seem like this could actually happen, even though it would be tough to enforce such stringent rules. Zailey's flight into another community reminded me a bit of Haddix's Running Out of Time, which has a sequel coming out, so this would be a good book for readers who like that title. 
Weaknesses: It was somewhat of a stretch to believe that a town like Gladder Hill could exist, but then there are any number of cults and compounds where strict rules are applied, so it could happen. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who liked books like Haydu's Eventown or One Jar of Magic, where a young person rebels against the excessively controlling social strictures. It also reminded me of Spinelli's Dead Wednesday.  

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, February 25, 2023

The House Swap

Clark, Yvette. The House Swap
28 February 2023 by HarperCollins US
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Allegra (who prefers to be called Allie), lives in a small village in England in a quaint cottage with her parents, brother Max, sister Willow, Newfoundland Bear, and some chickens. Sage lives in California with her busy parents, and is afraid that they might be getting divorced, especially when her father has to work in New York instead of going on vacation with Sage and her mother. Allie and Sage's parents have arranged a house swap and are heading off to enjoy a new environment. Unfortunately, just before Allie's family is supposed to leave, Bear starts throwing up and must be rushed to the vet. Allie and her mother stay behind, which surprises Sage and HER mother, but they all make the best of it. Allie is suprised that Sage is dressed nicely before breakfast, since there's no one to impress in the boring countryside, but the girls manage to find some interesting things. Sage had wanted to look into some family history. She finds that her great-grandmother's house nearby has just been sold, and gets a suitcase with some books and pictures in it that belonged to a great aunt who worked during the war for Bletchley Circle! Allie harbors a strong desire to be a spy, so finds this very interesting, and also comes up with a plan to try to get Sage's parents back together, Parent Trap style. Sage steals her mother's phone, calls her dad with an emergency, and even has Allie pretend to be an adult neighbor. This causes him to leave work and fly to England. Allie has to head off to California, but even though she finds England boring, she's not thrilled with having to learn to surf along with her brother and sister. 
Strengths: Stepping into someone else's shoes is something that middle grade readers love to imagine, and both the English village and the Californian mansion will be exotic to a lot of readers. The information about the World War II Bletchley Circle is always fascinating; I think I need a #MGLit novel about that, right now! Divorce is a huge change in a tweens life, so Sage and Allie's actions are completely realistic, as is the parents' wish to keep this from Sage as long as possible. The differences in cultures is pointed out subtly, although not everyone in the US wears shiny lip gloss and fancy pastel clothing! I'm not normally a fan of epilogues, but it was interesting to see the girls a year later. This would make a great beach read!
Weaknesses: As an adult, I didn't find this as amusing as tweens would. I had trouble believing that the father would stop working and fly all the way to England; the monetary factors alone are staggering and made me angry. I wasn't particularly fond of either girl, but then, I'm not twelve.
What I really think: England is my favorite place to visit, and I have seen the movie The Holliday at least twice, so this was a fun book. My readers like Callaghan's Lost in London, Burt's The Twelve Dares of Christa, Johnson's 13 Little Blue Envelopes, Roy's Cordially Uninvited, Smith's The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, Ostow's Westminster Abby, Schroeder's Sealed with a Secret, and Sheldon's twin narratives Sophie Pitt-Turnbull Discovers America and I Conquer Britain, as well as this author's Glitter Gets Everywhereso this will be a popular title. 

Friday, February 24, 2023

The Big Sting and Midnight at the Shelter

Delaney, Rachelle. The Big Sting
February 7, 2023 by Tundra Books (NY)
Public library copy

Leo and Lizzie live with their parents in Toronto. Their mother is a busy administrator with a hospital charity, and their father has recently lost his job at an electronics store and is obsessed with Fatefinder.com, which purports to select ideal jobs for individuals based on personality. Leo is an auditor, because he is anxious about new experiences and all too aware of the dangers. He prefers to have his adventures online, in games like Applewood Acres. The family goes to remote Heron Island to visit their mother's father, a while after her mother has passed away. The grandfather is constantly irritated, which the mother attributes to his grief. While there, the father gets a notification that a popular spa he has tried to book on a nearby isalnd has a sudden opening, and before long, the parents take off, leaving Leo and Lizzie in their gradfather's care. Lizzie is determined to befriend the feral barn cats, but a new wrinkle develops-- all of their grandmother's bee hives disappear. The local organization of apiarists, the Bumblers, show up to help, and the children meet Sofi, who is the daughter of their grandmother's friend and fellow beekeeper, Beatriz. The police are no help, and in order to find the hives, the kids go off with their grandfather on late night sorites, mountain hikes, and a journey to Porpoise Island where an apple orchard owner's need bees. When their grandfather is arrested for driving to fast (and having a LOT Of unpaid tickets!) Leo and Lizzie set off on their own, only to discover that the orchard owners are not thieves, and to be found by their angry parents! Returning to Heron Island, Leo has an idea of who might have taken the hives. Can he prove it and save the day?
Strengths: This is a perfectly paced adventure book with just enough mystery to make it interesting. Leo doesn't let being afraid of things stop him, even when his fears slow him down. I rather enjoyed how much farming information he had gained from the Applewood Acres video game! Lizzie was a great but annoying little sister. Extra bonus points for sending the parents to a spa instead of killing them or having them kidnapped! As an adult, I think that more children need to understand how important bees are, and as a child, I would have been enthralled with Leo's traipsing around Heron Island! I also enjoyed this author's Alice Fleck's Recipe for Disaster. 
Weaknesses: The father's interest in Fatefinder.com was a tiny bit overdone, and I wish that the grandfather had either been more pleasant all along or had warmed up more, especially since the grandmother was remembered as being so wonderful. The world needs more sparkly, happy grandparents right now! (Or maybe I do!)
What I really think: I really enjoyed this one, and would definitely buy this for an elementary library, but will probably pass for my  middle school library. Pair this one with Scaletta's Rooting for Rafael Rosales Wientge's Honeybees and Frenemies, Cartaya's The Last Beekeeper McDunn's The Queen Bee and Me, and the book that motivated me to make a bee garden in my yard, Burn's The Hive Detectives

Stevenson, Nancy Turner. Midnight at the Shelter
March 8th 2023 by HarperCollins US
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

MahDi lives with MomDoc and helps "supervise" her veterinary practice, consulting with the dogs who are being taken care of. He also goes with her to the local dog shelter to help the rescues there feel more comfortable, and he and MomDoc do a lot of "matchmaking". The shelter is a no kill one, but is very crowded. The man who runs it with his wife, Mike, has to go in for surgery, so a new manager is hired from a temp company. Huck doesn't have an affinity for dogs, and thought there would be less work at a shelter. He is more interested in the possibility of euthanizing the dogs to clear them out than in placing them with loving homes, which doesn't go over well with anyone. We learn how MahDi lost a leg and ended up in rescue, and meet a lot of dogs. Their stories are interesting, and the successes in matching them with humans is heart warming. Lilah, a dog crush of MahDi's, needs help when her owner, Mr. Crandall, has to go to the hospital. Walter loses his dog Bailey to cancer and eventualy ends up with the sweet Koda. Squirt is rescued by a college girl, but needs help when she leaves the dog in a hot car because she couldn't leave the dog in her apartment while she was away. Tobey, who works at the shelter, and new hire Beth do their best to help the dogs, but Huck, who is supposed to be in charge, does not do a good job caring for the dogs. MomDoc talks to him, but isn't his boss. Things go from bad to worse, and MahDi knows that he has to make a move to save the dogs in the shelter before it is too late. Will he be able to convince Ozzie, another of MomDoc's pets, to work with him to make sure that Huck can no longer hurt the already vulnerable animals? 

This is told from MahDi's perspective, but doesn't veer too far into the limitations of what dog's understand in the way some books do. MahDi's voice is definitely more understanding and almost human. His backstory is sad, and provides excellent motivation for him to step up and resist Huck. Huck doesn't have a lot of nuance, and I wondered how he lasted even a day at the shelter! 

There are a lot of dog books that run the spectrum from Maple's cheery Roxbury Park Dog Club and Fairbairn's graphic novel PAWS to heart wrenching tales like Lee's 2008 Dog Lost. My favorite is probably Crimi's Secondhand Dogs, that also has a cast of interesting characters and a lot of feel good stories about dogs finding their fur-ever homes. This has a darker mood to it, with the evil Huck, who shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a dog shelter, much less in charge of it. It's hard to read about his treatment of the animals, but a villain means there will be a hero, and MahDi harnesses his grief over past circumstances to save the day. 

Many of the books about dogs are for younger readers, like Robertshaw, Danta's Life in the Doghouse books or Miles' Puppy Place tales. Grabenstein's Dog Squad offers a goofier, celebrity focused adventure. Midnight at the Shelter will be a good fit for readers who are able to handle some sadness in their dog books and have worked their way through Cameron's A Dog's Purpose novels and Mason and Stephens' excellent Rescue Dogs books. 

Stevenson's Lizzie Flying Solo wasn't as dark, and it is by far my favorite of her books, which also include Swing Sideways and Georgia Rules. 

Thursday, February 23, 2023

The Island

Preston, Natasha. The Island
February 28th 2023 by Delacorte
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Paisley is a teen social media influencer whose murder related podcast has 500,000 followers. She, along with five other influencers, has been invited to spend a weekend at the extremely posh new Jagged Island resort run by Malcolm Wyatt. It's a bit odd; decorated entirely in a dark, Gothic way, accessible only by boat, and fairly mysterious. Invitees like Ava and Will, who do a beauty blogs, are a bit apprehensive; Ava is downright rude. Paisley is willing to give it a go, especially since there are some cute guys, like influencer Liam and staff member Reeve. She also hits it off with Harper, a book blogger who reads, shockingly, a book every single day and has her Goodreads Challenge set to 350 books. (*cough* slacker *cough). There's also movie buff James, assorted staff, and Malcom's personal assistant, Camilla Jenkins. She seems less than happy to be at the resort. When Paisley arranges to break the rules and meet Will in the middle of the night to investigate the island, she's put out when he doesn't show up. The next morning, when he doesn't come to breakfast, no one is too concerned. It's a teen boy sleeping in. The others go off to sample the rides and other delights, but keep thinking that Will should have shown up. But he can't! He's been brutally murdered! Then, the WiFi goes out! Oh, no! Soon, everyone is frantically around the island trying to figure out what's going on, making bad choices, like going into dark basements. The router wires have all been cut, there's a storm going on that makes leaving the island impossible, and Paisley has to use her crime related skills to try to solve the mystery of what shadowy figure is wandering around the island killing people. They come up with a name, Robert, and a connection to the Jagged Island management, but they aren't quick enough to stop him murdering repeatedly, and he's not a man who does things in a delicate and nuanced way. When Paisley discovers that there are other connections she has been slow to grasp, will she be able to survive?
Strengths: Well, then. Having been impressed by Preston's 2020 The Twin and its nuanced, psychological horror, this was... a surprise. This was a very scary book with lots of blood and gore, which is something my readers ask for all the time. The characters are all teenagers, which makes sense, and many  middle school students think that they can earn a living as social media influencers, so they will love the stories of how the characters became famous. Despite all of the frenetic action, there is a good underlying mystery, and Paisley does solve it. Surprisingly, there was very little bad language, which was quite nice. 
Weaknesses: I was traumatized by the nonstop brutal murders. It would be hard for me to hand this book to students. I would not have given it to my own personal children before they were in high school. This is where I am conflicted. Yes, my students would read it. But do I want to spend limited funds on a book that might cause some students to have nightmares? I can't buy everything. 
What I really think: If you have books like Polatin's The Devil in Ohio, Stoffel's Fright Night, Jayne's 2021 The Girl in the Headlines, or are buying the rereleased Christopher Pike titles because YOU read them when you were in 7th grade, go ahead and buy this one. I'm going to pass on this one for middle school and stick with Alexander's similar influencers-go-to-evil-theme-park book, The Escape, which didn't bludgeon my sensibilities quite so much. This is a great book for what it is. It just isn't what I want for my school library. 
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

It's Boba Time for Pearl Li

Chen, Nicole. It's Boba Time for Pearl Li
February 28, 2023 by HarperCollins US
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Pearl lives in Sunnyside, California with her older sister Pearl and her parents, who have just started a tech company and spend long hours working. Originally from Taiwan, they've encouraged the girls to continue to communicate in Mandarin, although they can understand Taiwanese. Since her parents are frequently working longs hours, and her sister has not only her high school courses but coding projects that keep her hunched over a computer, Pearl is often left to her own devices. This isn't too much of a problem, as she loves to hang out with long time friend, Priya, who is artistic and fiercely defends Pearl, and new friend Cindy, who has just come to the US from Hong Kong. Pearl spends a lot of time crocheting arimgurumi animals. A local cafe, Boba Time, is run by Auntie Cha, who encourages Pearl's needlework and also offers a sympathetic ear when Pearl isn't able to spend time with her parents. Because her crocheting projects are cute, her mother considers them not a good past time, and wants Pearl to take up coding instead. Auntie Cha understands, helps Pearl if she needs tips or advice, offers tea and comfort, and seems to understand her better than her own family. When Pearl finds out that Boba Time might close, she panics, and comes up with a plan to help the cafe out by selling her arimgurumi creations online. There are lots of obstacles, but she also manages to raise enough money to have a booth at a local crafts fair that thousands attend, so she hopes to be able to raise the money needed and therefore keep the cafe open. Some of this entrepreneurship involves lying to her parents, and Jade eventually finds this out. Since Jade successfully marketed a phone app, she agrees to help Pearl with her ruse, not tell their parents, and make sure that Pearl is able to sell some things. While this is all going on, there are problems with her friends. Priya, whose family is of Indian descent, sometimes feels left out when Cindy and Pearl converse in Mandarin, and Pearl is so single minded in her pursuit of raising funds that she often ignores her friends needs, and they fall out. Oddly, she makes some peace with her nemesis at school, Kendall Stewart, who is part Asian and trying to learn to enjoy some of the cultural things like boba tea and origami that her grandmother likes. If Pearl's parents find out about her business, will they put an end to it? And will Boba Time be able to survive when Auntie Cha has reasons beyond the monetary to close up shop?
Strengths: WE NEED MORE NEEDLECRAFT BOOKS!!! I'm sorry, did I just scream that? If you've read my blog for a while, and especially if you follow me on Instagram, you will know how ridiculously fond I am of knitting, sewing, and quilting. When did I start? When I was four. By the time I was in middle school I was making my own clothes and really into needlework. I have several students now who are pursuing these endeavors, and I can think of no books that show students doing these things! Not only that, but there were many good things for readers who aren't as into crafts. There's boba tea! A local cafe! Friend drama! Entrepreneurship! I was especially impressed with the details about that. Business plans, profit statements, online shop setting up. Not only that, but the ways around her parents that Pearl found seemed completely logical and reasonable. I've read a lot of middle grade books that did not seem feasible, but this very deliberately made Pearl's actions seem possible. I loved Jade, the story with Kendall was intriguing, and, of course, there was some really cute crochet!
Weaknesses: There are always people who aren't thrilled when children lie to their parents, but Pearl and her mother were able to eventually have some good dialogue about everything that was going on. There was also a comment that Cindy has to keep taking ELL classes because the principal wanted her to; in Ohio, there are very strict rules a bout ELL. Students have to test out of the classes to stop recieving services (which are meant to be supportive, not punitive!), but can also be excused from them if parents request it. 
What I really think: I really enjoyed this one. There was a lot going on, and writing the review I realized that this could have been a bit more streamlined, but I was able to remember the characters well, and all the subplots, so I don't think this will be too confusing for my students. Like Pearl's enthusiasm, which carries her forward even though she hasn't thought her plans through all the way, the upbeat tone and interest in different topics propels this book quickly toward its conclusion. I'll be interested to see what Ms. Chen writes next. 

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

One Giant Leap

Gartner, Ben. One Giant Leap
February 21st 2023 by Crescent Vista Press
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Finley Scott is having a tough time; his mother has been badly injured and is in the hospital. His dad is barely holding it together, and the family has moved into a smaller apartment. Finley knows things are tough, but he's still angry with his father. Fin has applied to be part of the StellarKid Project, which plans to take four children to the International Space Station. When Fin gets a letter that he has won a place there, he's excited, but gets angry when he thinks his father isn't going to let him go. This is misplaced; his parents are fine with it, and he even has a "funcle" who is able to go into space and be his guardian. There are three other children; David, from Norway (whose mother is in prison), Kalpana from India, and Mae from South Africa. There is a lot of intense training, and a lot of good details about what it will take to get the Aether launched so everyone can get to the space station. There are difficulties, of course, but everything moves very quickly. THe director of the program is excited to get kids into space, but the evil administrator (complete with pencil thin mustache) wants to scuttle the whole StellarKid Project for unnamed reasons. Once the kids and their guardians, along with a regular crew, make it to the ISS, they get a tour and have some interesting times being in space, but things go wrong when there is space junk threatening the station. The kids are cut off from their parents, stuck in the Aether. Things look bad, and Fin, who has started the book with a scene where it seems likely he will die in space, has to save the day, even though it imperils him. Luckily, things get fixed and the Aether is able to transport some people to the moon before heading back to Earth. Will Fin be as successful with dealing with the situation with his mother once he gets back home?
Strengths: With the recent Artemis launch, my students are definitely interested in space travel, and this is a great book for laying out the specifics of training and preparations necessary for launching a shuttle to the International Space Station (in operation since 2000!) as well as what to expect when hanging out in space. There's plenty of suspense and adventure, and Fin gets an opportunity to save the day and make his parents' proud. The other characters also get to show off a variety of skills, and the adults don't get in the way too much; of course, they need to be saved! There aren't a whole lot of space adventure books, and certainly not many with this much information about space travel. 
Weaknesses: There is a lot going on, and combined with all of the fantastic information about space travel, the story is a bit cluttered. This could have been streamlined a bit; characters like Mr. Deuce didn't really add that much. I did appreciate that there was a list at the back of the book describing the names given to some minor characters in tribute to real people involved in the space program. 
What I really think: This is not available at this time from Follett, although there is a hard cover copy available through Amazon. This is a great choice for readers who like science oriented science fiction with lots of realistic, well researched information about space travel. Pair with fiction like Landers' Blastaway or Holm's Lion of Mars, or Buzz Aldrin's optimistic nonfiction book, Welcome to Mars. I, for one, am content to stay here on Earth where there is oxygen and the very atmosphere is not trying to kill me!

Sugiura, Misa. Momo Arashima Steals the Sword of the Wind
Expected publication: February 28th 2023 by Labyrinth Road
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Momo's father was killed when she was young, and her mother "never really recovered". As Momo's 12th birthday approaches, her mother seems even more withdrawn, and when Momo keeps seeing a fox around town, she is troubled by her visions, especially when her classmate Kiki and her firneds catch on and tease her about it. Momo has seen visions before, but things get even stranger when she meets a boy named Niko her mother doesn't want around, and she sees a shikome (a death hag) in the mall! Aided by Kiki's friend Danny who finds Momo's fantasy creatures more interesting than the mean girls, Momo embarks on a journey to the Island of Mysteries to save her mother and send the demons back to Yomi. 
Strengths: Loved the Japanese representation and folklore, as well as the well developed adventure. The fact that Danny's family was conveniently out of town so he could spend a week traveling into fantastical worlds worked surprisingly well for me. This moved along quickly, and also offered me some insight as to why there is always a small group of die-hard fantasy fans. At one point, in the middle of fighting demons and running all over the place, Momo says " I'm not beating anyone up or smiting them with swords, but I'd survived in a place where everyone thinks I'm not good enough or cool enough, and that's hard." It's usually the academically inclined, "geeky" kids who like fantasies, and that's the best explanation of why I've ever seen! 
Weaknesses: I'm never a fan of mothers pining away from grief and making children take care of them.
What I really think: I do like the Vivienne To cover illustrations, but her work appears on so many similar fantasy titles that it makes it hard to keep them straight in my mind. (Dragon Warrior, Dragon Pearl, Dragon City... you see my problem!) There is almost certain to be a sequel to this. 

 Ms. Yingling

Monday, February 20, 2023

MMGM- It Happened on Saturday and Madame C.J. Walker

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Dunlap, Sydney. It Happened on Saturday
February 21, 2023 by Jolly Fish Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

**Some spoilers, but nothing more than is in the book description.**

Julia is starting 8th grade, and things are a bit rocky. Her best friend, Nori, has a boyfriend and has little time to volunteer at the riding stables where Julia likes to hang out. Her older sister Danielle is also busy with her own boyfriend, and her parents are caught up in their own work. When school starts, she doesn't even have lunch with Nori, and struggles to find a friend group. At one point, Danielle gives Julia a makeover when they are spending some sisterly time together, and when Julia posts a picture of herself on social media, she gets some good responses. One of these is from Tyler, and even though she knows she isn't supposed to engage with people she meets online, she warms to Tyler. He's in tenth grade at a private school, and the two chat a bit. Eventually, he suggests meeting at the mall. This sounds safe enough, and Julia is feeling estranged from everyone in her life, so she says yes. It's a great meeting, and they go to a fancy restaurant. They continue to chat, as Julia's friends and family seem further and further from her. During another meeting at the mall with Tyler, he talks about a friend he's just met, Alex, and says that he's staying at the hotel. Tyler forgets his keys in the room and asks if Julia would mind if they go get them. This seems innocent enough, but once she gets to the room, things go badly wrong. Julia keeps her wits about her and is able to escape. This is still traumatic, and her parents buckle down on keeping an eye on her. They pick her up from school, tell teachers about what happened, and are leery of her going riding, since the area near the stables is exposed. For all of these protections, and despite being in group therapy for the trauma, Julia is still uncomfortable telling her friends what happened. Even when one of her friends mentions talking to a boy online, she's not able to share her experiences with her friends. This further estranges her from Nori and other friends at the stables, but she eventually feels compelled to give them details  in order to keep them safe. She was afraid that her friends would judge her harshly, but they understand how someone could be lured in by people who benefit from deceiving young people and are very practiced at their techniques. 
Strengths: This was a well constructed, cautionary tale that is very important for middle school students to read, especially if they are active on social media. Julia's feelings about her friends and family are very true to life, and Tyler is very wiley when it comes to playing on her emotions, making her feel wanted, and adding a veneer of safety concerns to their interactions. What could be safer than meeting at the mall? Julia had plenty of people around her who cared about her,  but the problems that lead her to seek out Tyler because he made her feel better about herself were pitch perfect. Along with Feldman's Ezra Exposed, this is a great book to have to inform readers about how to stay safe on social media. I really appreciated all of the notes and discussion questions at the end as well. 
Weaknesses: The cover does not reflect the social media aspect of the story, which means I will have to hand sell this and tell readers it is not all about horses. (The cover has been updated so that the horse doesn't appear, but I still wanted a Joan Lowery Nixon 90s style photo cover featuring the mall!) I wasn't sure I liked having the big event happen so early on in the book, but as I read I realized that it was really important to portray how Julia dealt with the aftermath of the event. I'm not sure why I thought this wouldn't be addressed. 
What I really think: This is a great, updated book that reminded me of Vaught's 2008 Exposed, which is probably really dated at this point. I'm surprised that we aren't seeing more books like this, considering how much time young people spend on their phones. 

Millner, Denene. Madam C.J. Walker Builds a Business
17 January 2023 Rebel Girls
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Sarah Breedlove was born in 1867 and was the first in her family to attend school, where she flourished. When she was 8, however, her parents passed away and she had to live with an older sister who was more interested in having her help with household chores. She married young, and had a baby, Leila, but faced another challenge when her husband was lynched. She moved to St. Louis andmanaged to earn a living, but when a door to door saleswoman, Annie Turnbo, came to her door selling hair products, her life was changed. Sarah's hair had always been fragile, and she didn't have a lot of time or energy to put into caring for it, but Annie's products made such a difference that Sarah decided to work for her. She sold her products, but eventually branched out on her own. Annie then accused her of stealing her recipes, even though Sarah had changed them quite a bit. This rivalry led to Sarah moving around quite a bit to steer clear of competition. She married again, and her business became very successful. She was passionate about her products, and also about opportunities for women. She was not happy when Booker T. Washington of the National Negro Business League did not take her seriously as a business person just because she was a woman. Her daughter eventually worked with her, and Sarah, who took on the professional name of Madame C.J. Walker, became the first Black, female millionaire. Sadly, she died at the age of 52, but her legacy as an entrepreneur and civil rights advocate is impressive. 
Strengths: I was a huge fan of biographies as a child, and learned so much from reading the Childhodd of Famous Americans series. This was a fast-paced, highly readable book that reminded me a bit of those biographies, but which did a better job at looking at Walker's whole life, and well as her legacy. The illustrations are in full color and are beautifully rendered; I always like a few photographs when they exist, but loved the bright colors and attractive design of these illustrations. I've liked other Rebel Girls books, like Favilli's Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Immigrant Women Who Changed the World , but this series is a little more like a fictional chapter book, perfect for readers who have to be persuaded to read nonfiction. 
Weaknesses: The activities at the end are interesting, but I would also have liked to see a time line included. 
What I really think: This is a great series for middle schoolers who liked the Penguin Who Was biography series but want to branch out with some lesser known women historical figures. These are a little longer and include more in depth information than Clinton's She Persisted series. I'm definitely looking into buying some of these! I don't know anything about Junko Tabei!

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Day of Remembrance

Goldstone, Lawrence. Days of Infamy: How a Century of Bigotry Led to Japanese American Internment
June 7th 2022 by Scholastic Focus
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

There have been a number of books about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Fictional titles include Denenberg's The Journal of Ben Uchida: Citizen 13559 Mirror Lake Internment Camp (1999), Garrigue's The Eternal Spring of Mr. Ito (1985),  Houston's Farewell to Manazar (1974), Kadohata's Weedflower (2006), and Otsuka's When the Emperor Was Divine (2002). For nonfiction titles, there are Sandler's Imprisoned, Sakurai's Japanese American Internment Camps, and Takei's graphic novel style memoir, They Called Us Enemy. Although this cover looks like one on a graphic novel, this book is a deep dive into the systemic racism that Asian immigrants faced from the middle of the 1800s until World War II, and how that racism allowed the Japanese internment to occur. 

While Goldstone is not of Asian descent, he is an expert in constitutional law and has done a great deal of research, Days of Infamy is a well constructed and sympathetic look at the history of Asian immigrants and Asian Americans. Starting with the Gold Rush of 1948, he looks at the various people who came to the US from Asian countries, and how they were treated, especially by the laws. My biggest takeaway is that for many, many years, the constitution was interpreted as pertaining only to white males. Not only that, but even after people pointed out that the term "white" has no clear meaning, people in power chose to define the term in whatever way suited their purposes. 

Historic event after historic event shows how Asian immigrants were mistreated, even while popular opinion embraced aspects of the culture, shown by events such as the Panama–Pacific International Exposition in 1915. Immigration policies were in place that made it difficult for people, especially women, to come into the country, and other policies made it nearly impossible for people to own land, even if they were born in the US. It was even debated whether or not people who were born in the US to parents who were not citizens were citizens themselves, even when the language was fairly clear. It seems that it is always possible for people to interpret laws in ways that suit their own purposes!

Accompanied by vintage photographs, newspaper articles, and other documents, Days of Infamy paints a clear picture of how the government spent years interpreting laws in ways that made it very easy for President Roosevelt to authorize Executive Order 9066 with little or no opposition. It is an important cautionary tale for a time when it is all to easy to forget the past, during a time when it would be all to easy to repeat it. 

Iturbe, Antonio, Rubio, Salva, and Aroca, Loreto (illustrator) 
The Librarian of Auschwitz: The Graphic Novel 
January 3rd 2023 by Godwin Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This was an interesting adaptation; I haven't read the original, but might seek that out now. I probably won't buy this for my school library, since I have a wealth of books about WWII and the Holocaust, and our 8th grade language arts classes no longer have a unit on that time period. If you need more Holocaust books, this would be a great choice. Be aware that there are some drawings of unclothed people, and it is an unflinching look at conditions in concentration camps. 
From the Publisher:
Based on the experience of real-life Auschwitz prisoner Dita Kraus, this graphic novel tells the incredible story of a girl who risked her life to keep the magic of books alive during the Holocaust.

Fourteen-year-old Dita is one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken, along with her mother and father, from the Terezín ghetto in Prague, Dita is adjusting to the constant terror that is life in the camp. When Jewish leader Freddy Hirsch asks Dita to take charge of the eight precious volumes the prisoners have managed to sneak past the guards, she agrees. And so Dita becomes the librarian of Auschwitz.

Out of one of the darkest chapters of human history comes this extraordinary story of courage and hope.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Lasagna Means I Love You

O'Shaughnessy, Kate. Lasagna Means I Love You
February 21st 2023 by Alfred A. Knopf
E ARC provided by Netgalley.com

When Mo's grandmother, Nan, passes away, there is  no one to take care of her. Her father was never in the picture, her mother passed away when she was younger, and her Uncle Billy is in the military and is not willing to give up his career and livelihood to care for her. She thinks briefly about asking her best friend Crystal's family to take her in, but knows this is unlikely. She ends up in the foster care system with a good case manager, Moira, and a seemingly wonderful foster family. June and Tate are young professionals who live in a fancy apartment building with a doorman, Joe. They want the best for Mo but don't understand everything about her, including her desire to travel an hour away to keep attending her old school. They do try, and arrange for a car to take her every day. They also support her efforts to cook; since Nan and Uncle Billy were not great in the kitchen, Mo longs for a family recipe of her own. She starts a web site, and asks strangers for family recipes. She gets a few e mails from her postings, and has a lot of fun making the recipes that are sent to her. Crystal helps her with the photography, and Crystal's grandmother helps Mo make dumplings. What Mo wants most is a family recipe, and a family connection, of her own. When a reporter for the New York Times features Mo in an article, she thinks that she has found a family member, but it turns out not to be. She still hopes that more news coverage will help her find a relative, but has to do something newsworthy in order for the reporter to cover her again. She still misses her gran (the entire book is written as journal entries/letters to her grandmother), and gets along with Tate and June. It's not perfect, but June was also in foster care and is understanding when Mo has moments of sadness and acts out. She even convinces Mo to see Dr. Barb for therapy, even though Nan was against it. She connects more with Joe and his wife Carlotta, who watch her one weekend, and they are instrumental in helping her set up a pop up restaurant of family recipes so that the reporter writes another story. When Tate and June have complications arise, it looks like a distant cousin of her grandmother's is willing to be her guardian, and Mo resigns herself to moving away from New York in order to be with her, even though they don't really connect. Will her pop up restaurant help her find a way to stay in the city she loves?
Strengths: There are a fair number of students in foster care at my school, and I assume it's the same in many other places. It's a fine line to show the problems and the positive aspects of this experience in a realistic way. Having never personally experienced any aspect of foster care, it's interesting to read about. It's good that Mo has an interest, and that her friends and foster parents help her pursue it. The look into the privileged life in New York City that June and Tate provide was rather fascinating. Mo's desire to connect with family members, or to find family recipes, will appeal to readers who like to cook, and social media is fascinating to middle grade readers. There are ups and downs, and Mo has some troubles weathering them, but she has a supportive team. 
Weaknesses: I personally cringe when characters in books find instant online followings or get interviewed by the New York Times. I've been blogging for seventeen years and still have very few followers. (Many thanks to all two dozen of you!) I also could see the resolution of Mo's problems coming a mile away. To be very clear: middle grade readers will not mind either of these things, and I did enjoy reading the book. 
What I really think: This felt a lot like McClain's 2011 Sizzle and a little like Mackler's Not if I Can Help It, due to the New York Setting, and offers a realistic yet  upbeat look at foster care along the lines of Farr's Pavi Sharma's Guide to Going Home or Bauer's Raising Lumie. Check your collection; if you still hae a copy of Byar's The Pinballs, weed that and get some of these newer titles! The cover on this one is particularly good and begs to be displayed with Nails' One Hundred Spaghetti Strings!
 Ms. Yingling

Friday, February 17, 2023


Shawl, Nisi. Speculation
February 14th 2023 by Tu Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus
It's 1962, and Winna Cole's mother is very ill with a lung condition. Because she's in the hospital, Winna and her younger sister, Tupelo, are with their grandparents in Michigan. When Tupelo accidentally breaks Winna's glasses, her grandfather finds a pair in the attic that belonged to her great aunt Estelle. Not only do they help with her vision, but the spectacles help her to see and communicate with ghosts. Her grandfather knows a bit about the magic and tells Winna stories about her ancestors, including her great-great-great-grandmother Winona, who was an enslaved person. When Winona became pregnant, she fled to the north, hoping to get to Canada but ending up in Michigan. Her son, Key, disappeared when he was very young, and the ghost of Estelle tells Winna that she must reunite Winona with Key in order for a family curse to be broken. Winna has seen first hand how the curse of "not being able to breathe" has affected her family, from her great grandfather's death from tuberculosis to her mother's current problems, which might be caused by her cigarette smoking. To finish out the school year, Winna moves in with her Aunt Pic and her son Benny, and has to deal with racist classmates who give her a lot of problems and call her very offensive names. 
Strengths: Shawl is ten years older than I am, so includes many good details about life in 1962, from Kool-Aid and fried chicken draining on grocery bags to the cost of glasses! The family history is absolutely riveting, and the grandfather's stories shed a lot of light on how enslaved people were treated, and also how families tried to keep stories alive through successive generations. While it is always sad to read about how racism was present even among school children, it is also important for young readers to learn about the kind of treatment Black people had to deal with. This is a fast paced and interesting fantasy book with strong historical content that would be an excellent book circle choice. 
Weaknesses: This would have been more appealing to me as a straight realistic fiction book like Varian Johnson's 2018 The Parker Inheritance, because the magical element seemed a bit tenuous. However, the magic plays a big role in forcing Winna to contact Key's family, and will entice young readers who might  not otherwise pick up a book with a historical mystery, so is an effective device. I did love the shout out to Edward Eager's The Time Garden!
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who liked Strong's 2019 Just South of Home or her 2022 Eden's Everdark, or  Royce's 2021 Root Magic or Smith's 2015 HooDoo. While those are all set in the South, the Michigan setting of this one was very interesting! The cover somehow put me in mind of Willo Davis Roberts' 1980 The Girl with the Silver Eyes, which was a favorite of my daughter, Picky Reader.