Friday, March 31, 2023

Poetry Friday- The Red Ear Blows Its Nose

Schechter, Robert and Federico, S. (Illus.) 
The Red Ear Blows Its Nose: Poems for Children and Others
April 1, 2023 by Word Galaxy
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

I'm notoriously picky about poetry; Timothy Steele is my favorite, and I prefer formal verse with rhyme and meter, which is not published very often. I was a bit skeptical about this work by Schechter, but I was nicely surprised. 

There are almost 100 poems in this first collection of Schecter's, which is important: when teachers were assigning poetry collections, students needed books with a good amount of poems. Also, there are many of the poems which have at least 100 words, which was the minimum a poem had to have when students were required to memorize one. A little silly, I know, but when I had to provide poetry books for 125 7th graders in one day, I needed to make sure that the books met these criteria. It also helps that these poems have a lot of humor; one of the first questions I would ask students when helping the select books was "Do you LIKE poetry?" Those who didn't tended to do better with funny poems, and there are only so many Shel Silverstein books I am willing to have on the shelf. (Four. That would be four. Not my favorite, and I haven't replaced them when they've fallen apart because all the students have read them in elementary school.)

While a lot of these poems are on goofy subjects (like the titular one, which I can appreciate even though I'm sure people have mentioned "nylon bowling socks" at various points in time), there are a surprising amount of them with a STEM focus. Planets, sky, sun, moon, the senses, insects and various creatures, and ponderings about the powe of the brain will delight science teachers who are trying to work literature into their classes. 

The best part of these poems was the fact that they are technically brilliant. It is painful to me to read poetry with lines that don't quite scan, or where the author has gotten lazy with a near rhyme. It's not that hard, people. Well, it is hard. It takes time. But if you can't get it right, why are you bothering to write poetry? Schecter has taken the time, polished these verses, and produced poems that would be worthy of putting in language arts textbooks opposite some of Ferico's illustrations to start a chapter on poetry. If there were print language arts textbooks being used any more, which I doubt. 

None of the teachers do poetry units anymore, which I understand. I will buy a copy of this, though, just in case. I haven't seen many poetry books that I've liked lately; the last few were Viorst's What Are You Mad About? What Are You Glad About and Trillin's No Fair! No Fair! And Other Jolly Poems of Childhood (both 2016) , Dean Koontz's surprising The Paper Doorway (2001), and anything by Jack Prelutsky. 

My favorite poems were probably "Dancing" and "They Say" and those would be great poems to memorize. For just a sample of why you should pick this book up, here's the first stanza of "The Cold Poem". Doesn't it make you want to find out how it ends? And how nicely does it spill off the tongue?

This poem regrets it did not put
a thicker sweater on. 
It dreamed of spring and quite forgot
that winter's not yet gone. 

Guy Friday- Simon B. Rhymin' Gets in the Game

Reed, Dwayne. Simon B. Rhymin' Gets in the Game
April 4, 2023 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Simon is back after advocating for the homeless in his Creighton Park neighborhood in Chicago. This time, he is sure he will have mad skills on the basketball court as he joins the rec league Panthers that many in his family played for, and he is concerned that his neighborhood is being gentrified. Even though some of the places Simon frequents, like Wheeler's store or Mr. Ray's barbershop, are somewhat run down, there is a strong sense of community there. A local Quick Stop is very appealing to kids like C.J., however, especially when the snacks he likes go up to sixty cents a packet at Wheelers, while they occasionally go on sale for three for a dollar at the Quick Stop. C.J., who is very fond of snacks and video games, has to be convinced by Maria and Simon to join th Panthers, but once he does, he finds he has a knack for the game. Simon, however, does not, and is very worried about his skills. Throwing air balls will not reflect well on his neighborhood! Mr. James, who is Simon's teacher, is also an assistant coach. In class, he is having the students look into the idea of gentrification, and to see how it is affecting their neighborhood. Maria's older sister is very interested in this topic, and in what gentrification might mean to the community. Simon thinks that it's a good idea to have a rally centered around an upcoming Panthers game that will also take a hard look at what local businesses mean, and hopes to raise awareness so that local businesses like Wheelers will be able to stay open. With the help of his friends, family, and teachers, will he be able to keep his Creighton Park neighborhood the close knit and supportive place he needs?
Strengths: Simon's supportive family and walkable neighborhood were a lot of fun to read about, and the role of the rec league basketball team as a source of local pride was great. I found that I was heavily invested in Wheeler's store, and wish that I had somewhere similar that I could walk to. It would be worth increased prices to have the McCrory's at a plaza near me return! Simon's slow realization that the Quick Stop isn't better even though it is new and shiny was well done-- it doesn't carry the local brand of grape soda he likes, the clerks don't know him as well as Mr. Wheeler does, and at one point, all kids have to be accompanied by a parent to even enter! There's plenty of basketball for sports fans, and some of Simon's inimitable rhymin'. 
Weaknesses: There's a lot of nonstandard English in this, and as a former Latin teacher, the cavalier use of helping verbs made me cringe. I know that some people use "ain't" in actual conversation, but I don't like reading it. 
What I really think: Readers who like Bildner's Rip and Red series or Giles Take Back the Block will enjoy this second installment of Simon's story, expecially since it has a lot of basketball in it. I'm not sure my seventh graders will pick it up, but I think my 6th graders will enjoy it. 

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Opening Day! David A. Kelly's Ballpark Mysteries and 100 Baseball Legends

Kelly, David A. and Meyers, Mark (illustrator)
Ballpark Mysteries #19: The Black Cat Change-Up 
November 14th 2022 by Books Go Social
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Cousins Kate and Mike are back, and this time they are in New York at the Mets stadium with Kate's mother, who is a sports reporter. The team has a big game against the Chicago Cubs, but the Mets pitcher, Cookie Clifford, is spooked. There have been threatening notes and phone calls that a black cat ghost is going to ruin the game! In 1969, is a game between the Mets and the Cubs, a black cat got onto the field, and the Mets lost the game. Kate and Mike want to find out who is behind the threats; even though it's not really a serious issue, it has thrown Cookie off his game. As is their wont, the two check out the locker room and stadium, and share a lot of the history they find along the way, like the fact that the Mets honor Jackie Robinson, even though he was a Dodgers player! They meet a former ball girl who is now working with the equipment manager, Ash Santo. Her grandfather had played with the team, so she had an in. Mike, who is a little spooked by the mascot, Mr. Met, knows that something is up, and when Mr. Met shows up on the field during the game with a back pack, he and Kate are able to avert disaster. Will they also be able to solve the mystery?
Strengths: I learn so much when I read these books, like the fact that ball girls and boys don't travel with the teams. The teams bring along uniforms for the kids working for the home team to wear! I also didn't know that in the 1970s the Mets had Mettle the Mule as their mascot. Kate and Mike get along really well, and the unlimited access they have to the stadiums seems realistic and enviable. What child wouldn't want to meet players and get a good look behind the scenes? The mysteries have enough clues laid out early in the story that a reader who is really trying to solve the mystery has a good chance of doing so. I was a big fan of Sobol's Encyclopedia Brown when I was young, and reading this along with a 2nd or 3rd grader would be a great way to foster critical thinking skills. Meyers' illustrations are fun and help show details of the stadium as well as the players and game. There are lots of humorous moments, and the story moves along quickly. Elementary libraries should definitely have these in prebinds, because they will be in heavy rotation! 
Weaknesses: As an adult, I always want to see the perpetrators brought to justice, but since the "crimes" are never that bad, there's not really a need. 
What I really think: My children devoured books like this in early elementary school: Baily School Kids, A to Z Mysteries, Magic Treehouse, and the like. This series is perfect for readers beginning to enjoy chapter books and who want to revisit their favorite characters again and again. I am a little concerned that Random House doesn't seem to be publishing the books any more, which seems like a bad decision, since so many young readers are invested in sports and love to see sports stories, especially when they have Dugout Notes about different stadiums. 

Roberts, Russell and Galv√£o,Ricardo (illus.)
100 Baseball Legends Who Shaped Sports History: A Sports Biography Book for Kids and Teens (100 Series)
Copy provided by the publisher

Baseball has been around for a really, really long time. I'm still astonished that Babe Ruth played his last game in 1938! The other thing that surprises me is that my students who love baseball really enjoyo delving into the history of the game, whereas football and basketball fans are more interested in modern players. A surprisingly popular book has been Game Faces: Early Baseball Cards from the Library of Congress that I bought after conferring with some of my fans. This well thought out overview of players who shaped the game will be a big hit.

Each player, listed in order of birth, is given a good overview of his career, descriptions of what made their time in the game noteworthy, and ends with other things that happened in the person's life. It's amazing how many players had amusing nicknames, how many went on to manage or report on baseball, and also, sadly, how many had problems with alcohol and died a bit young. I had fully intended just to skim the articles but got sucked in by all the interesting details. I learned a lot, including the fact that the Cincinnati Reds have been around since 1881, and were a stopping place for many players, if only briefly. 

The author note about which players were chosen was interesting; Pete Rose is included, even though he has had issues over the years. Did he shape sports history? Absolutley! Derek Jeter is the youngest player mentioned, and while I haven't had a chance to look at the 2003 edition of this book, I imagine the last few listings are updated from the first book. 

Many are familiar; Joe Jackson, Honus Wagner, Don Drysdale, Johnny Bench. There were lots of players I'd never heard of, though, like Harmon Killbrew, Pepper Martin, Warren Spahn, and Mike Schmidt. There are also a lot of ball players, like Schmidt, who were born in Ohio! While I would have liked to see photographs of the players, or even images of a baseball card from their career, I imagine that getting permission to use these images is hard to do. 

The only downside of this book is that the print is a bit on the small side, and there is not a bibliography. I'm sure that a bibliography would be exceedingly long for 100 people, but I'd still like to see selected sources mentioned. 

Collective biographies are useful in so many ways. They are great starting points for research projects, fun to dip into for pleasure reading, and make a great place for avid fans to start memorizing all the facts about every ball player they can think of! This would make a great gift for fans of Gutman's Baseball Card Adventures because it would offer more information about characters who appear in that classic baseball series. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Indigo and Ida

Capps, Heather Murphy. Indigo and Ida
April 4th 2023 by Carolrhoda Books
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Indigo is very interested in investigative reporting, so even though she is usually well  behaved and doesn't get into any trouble, she spray paints a quotation from Winnie the Pooh on the school sidewalk in order to get sent to afterschool detention. She is supposed to read a book about a "social influencer", and finds a book on Ida B. Wells left there by a substitute teacher.  She also finds out that students are not allowed to go to the restroom, and even though this is clearly stated in the school handbook, she finds it unfair. Her parents, both doctors, are not too thrilled that she's gotten into trouble, but they are both heavily invested in issues of social justice, so understand. Her father, who is Black, and her mother, who is white, are both involved in being street medics, attend protests, and work hard to make sure that their work environment is fair. Indigo follows their lead with her investigations, and often angers Principal Belkin. This has also alienated her from some of her friends, who don't want to be involved in her crusades. Indigo has a blog through the school web site, and has a decent amount of followers. Upon reflection, she also realizes that detention attendees seem to be largely Black and brown kids. She thinks a great way to make change happen at her school is to keep investigating, but also to run for student body president. Unfortunately, her opponent is the popular athlete who is running to spite her and has no concrete ideas about what he would do in office. The letters of Wells inspire Indigo when she is feeling down. There are issues outside the school community as well, with a Black man who was in a lot of distress being turned away from the hospital. Indigo's parents are involved in this, of course, but there is a surprising connection to Indigo's life as well. In addition to her activism at school, Indigo has to watch her younger brother, who feels misunderstood, and who bonds with a friend's nonbinary older sibling. When all of these issues boil over, will Indigo be able to take comfort from Wells' experiences and be able to continue her work at making a difference?
Strengths: Indigo's interest in investigative journalism is great to see, and makes her chance encounter with writings of Wells even more inspirational. The friend drama is quite on point, and is something my students always are eager to explore. There is a lot of different representation showcased in this book: Black and brown students, LGBTQIA+, mental health, and even a glimpse at a student who is discriminated against because of a police record, although the principal has gotten the wrong student. The letters add a tiny bit of magical realism, but the fantasy element is not too heavy. Indigo's parents are quite interesting, and show up just enough to support her. I'm looking forward to seeing what else Capps writes. 
Weaknesses: There were a number of things that didn't ring quite true to my middle school experience, but I'm sure schools in different areas have different rules. Class elections and student reporters are also not something my school has ever had. 
What I really think: Indigo would be friends with Shayla from Ramee's A Good Kind of Trouble and Neva from Kendall's The True Definition of Neva Beane

As a teacher, I was appalled when Indigo painted the sidewalk, and know that at my school, if white boys were caught putting marker on lockers, they would NOT be let go with a warning. I think that many people don't understand that a lot of school rules that seem arbitrary are in place to keep students safe. It is a security issue to let students in after school detention go to the restroom. There aren't enough people to supervise them, and if they decided to leave the building, the office staff has left and isn't there for backup. When Indigo cuts class, her parents would have gotten panicked calls from school, and there would have been police involved to try to find her. We had a student last year who left school, and the whole staff was on high alert until the police found him and delivered him safely to his parents. I know from personal experience that is is absolutely vital that we know where students are at all times. Students could have seizures in restrooms... so many things could happen, and teachers are responsible for their safety.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Speak For Me

Alexander, K.R. Speak for Me
October 4th 2022 by Scholastic Inc.
Library copy

Nomi has an understandable, healthy fear of dolls, and her friends all know this. Jenna, however, is obsessed with the new "smart" doll, Emmy, which can sync with other dolls and can be controlled and programmed through a phone app. Nomi does NOT want one of these dolls, but Jenna does. Jenna doesn't have enough money for one, so makes a plan to steal one by distracting the clerk. Her plan works, and she steals an extra one for Nomi, which she names Alice. This isn't the best start, and Nomi's parents ask all of the appropriate questions, but seem satisfied with Nomi's answers. Jenna is thrilled, and uses the doll to send messages. The creep factor of the dolls is high-- they can project things from their eyes, spy on their surroundings, and learn their owners voices so they can speak as them! They get even creepier when it seems like Clarita, who was supposed to be in a talent show group with Nomi and Jenna, is apparently injured by her own doll after Nomi tells Alice that she wishes Clarita were out of the way. The talent show is a big deal, and Jenna's talent for bossing Nomi around is own display as she picks out a song that isn't suited to Nomi, and keeps calling the shots. Nomi gets a cold and loses her voice, and starts bringing Alice to school so she can have the doll speak for her. Is this a good idea? Of course not! Before long, anyone who crosses Nomi comes to grief, and Alice gains more and more power. Will Nomi be able to find a way to neutralize the doll before it neutralizes her?
Strengths: The fact that Nomi doesn't like dolls but agrees to work with one to appease her overbearing best friend somehow makes this work perfectly. There is a great mix of girl drama and evil dolls that is just perfect. Is it also a little cheesy? Yes, in the same way that 1970s horror movies are cheesy. The use of technology is great, and the fact that the doll can interact with internet connected appliances was terrifying. How do we know that Alice isn't going to decide to blow up the microwave? This was fast paced, had a veneer of "Am I hallucinating" when it came to Nomi's interactions with her increasingly evil doll, and also had some good violence to dolls. I'm not usually a fan of violence, but tearing Alice's arm off... yeah, I'm okay with that. The parents appear just enough to give us the feeling that Nomi is definitely doing something that isn't quite right. The cover is great, and this book will be another hit in my library. I can think of a dozen students to hand it to tomorrow. 
Weaknesses: It bothered me a little that there were no consequences for Jenna for stealing the dolls, and Jenna's problematic behavior also isn't addressed as much as it could be, mainly because everyone is being terrorized by dolls. Also, why did Alice turn so evil?
What I really think: Alexander's titles are so popular in my library that I've taken to ordering three of everything he writes. At the end of the year, this is going to be a problem, because there won't be room on the shelf to store them over the summer. They are always checked out. Before Alexander's work, creepy doll books weren't a big draw (except for Bell's 2016 Frozen Charlotte and Alender's 2009 Bad Girls Don't Die), but Alexander's books fly off the shelves! This also had a nice message about speaking up for oneself that teachers and other adults will love. Purchased two copies without first having read this and don't regret it at all. 

Ms. Yingling

Monday, March 27, 2023

MMGM--Total Garbage and What Stays Buried

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Donnelly, Rebecca and Hendrix, John. Total Garbage: 
A Messy Dive into Trash, Waste, and Our World 
March 7th 2023 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

I am amazed that, on average, 4.9 pounds of trash per person today is created in the US, and most of it is sent to sanitary landfills, which were first created in the 1930s. How is that even sustainable? It's not, and Donnelly and Hendrix's new book is a great way to show young readers why trash is a problem, and offer them some steps as to how to deal with it. 

No previous knowledge is presupposed in this book, and so different kinds of trash are described. I didn't know the term Municipal Solid Waste, but this is comprised of paper, food waste, plastics, textiles, electronics and school waste. There are also special sites for things like medical and construction waste. The problem of food waste has been in the news a lot recently in my community, and is something I absolutely hate. Because I have a yard and a garden, I'm able to compost fruit and vegetable scraps, along with egg shells and tea leaves, and if I throw out more than a pound or two of food a YEAR, I would be very surprised. Seeing how much trash, and what the different kinds are, is a good way for kids to start thinking about how to reduce the waste they create. 

There ae so many good chapters and various aspects of waste. Subjects such as throwaway living (not a fan of anything single use here!), downcycling, environmental racism and justice are all thought provoking, and I found the information about incineration interesting. Sweden burns about half of the waste, and the process can be used to create energy. It's not a perfect system, of course, but it is a little surprising that more thought hasn't been put into this in the US. 

Hendrix's illustrations are always fun (and his Faithful Spy is a masterpiece), and will add to the appeal for young readers. I loved that Menzel and D'Aluzio's 2014 project photography a week of trash was mentioned. I'm all for letting tweens know about problems in the world that they might not be able to solve, but which they can still think about and make efforts to help. Maybe if enough of my students read this book, they can help me get a project going to cut down on food waste in our cafeteria. There is a limit to the number of baby carrots I can personally consume. 

Young, Suzanne. What Stays Buried
March 7th 2023 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Callista Wynn's family has powers that others don't, and these powers include being able to talk to ghosts. This is helpful to Callie, because she is a medium who can still communicate with her grandmother and her father, who both passed away and are tethered to the house. This will end when she is 13, however, because of a decades old curse that started when a local woman, Edwina, was involved with the kidnapping and murders of local children, including Callie's aunt Virginia, and was killed by the residents of Windmere. As Callie's birthday approaches, her younger sister, Molly, starts to see "The Tall Lady", and Molly has a very bad feeling about this, especially since several local boys have gone missing. Callie doesn't know quite what to do, and even her father and grandmother are unsure how to proceed, so they ask her aunt Freya to come to help. It's a good thing they do, because not only is Molly possessed by a demon, but the brother of a boy in Callista's class goes missing from school. Wyland has always been nice to Callie, unlike most of the other children in her school, and he believes her when she talks about being able to see ghosts. Unfortunately, when she mentions that the children might be in a house in the marshes, he calls his mother, and soon the police are scouring the area. When nothing is found, the town turns against the Wynns. Callie has to learn to keep her knowledge to herself, but she will only have to do this for a short time. Before long, the situation intensifies, and she and Wyland have to strike out on their own to try to find the missing children before Callie's birthday arrives. Will Edwina, the "Tall Lady",  be successful in her bid to steal the souls of enough children to make her invincible, or will Callie be able to thwart her and save the day?
Strengths: Well. THAT was certainly a lot scarier than I thought it would be! Sure, in Oh's Spirit Hunters, the brother is possessed, but the description of the possession, and of Edwina, and the marsh, are terrifying! The fact that Callie was nearing the end of her powers and might not be able to get her sister back added a definite air of urgency. This started off with a homey kitchen scene with the grandmother and father, and I thought it was going to be more like Urban's Almost There and Almost Not, but instead it jumped right into murderous ghosts! There are some pretty violent scenes, with the aunt being injured, and there are a lot of missing children. Notice that for middle grade readers, this is definitely a strength! Since it's the ghosts doing the horrible things and not human beings, I'm okay with that. I was not intending to finish this one the day I picked it up, but I could not put it down. Young has done some YA science fiction type books, but she should be encouraged to write more middle grade horror!
Weaknesses: Other reviewers seem to really like the "heartfelt" ending, when Callie sort of uses all of the love in her life to repel Edwina, but that seemed a bit out of step with the rest of the book, and isn't necessarily what my young horror readers want. On the other hand, it's a great way to get teachers and librarians to read and recommend the book! The cover makes this look like it is for younger readers than it is. This would probably scare the bejeezus out of a 3rd or 4th grader. I would not want to be responsible for those nightmares! Little bit of a spoiler (highlight to see): this is not one of those books where ALL of the dead children come back at the end, just so you know. 
What I really think: I'm definitely buying two copies, because this was WAY scarier than I thought it was going to be. It will take some handselling, but I think that once students read it, they will be recommending it to their friends. Another reviewer took issue with the unsupervised seance and summoning of dead spirits, saying it was teaching students occult practices. Since I don't believe that ghosts are real, I don't have a problem with this. Perhaps, as a precaution, I should tell students not to summon ghosts, the way I tell them to not summon demons in the bathroom when they check out Monahan's Mary: The Summoning. 

Sunday, March 26, 2023

The Davenports

Marquis, Krystal. The Davenports
January 31, 2023 by Dial Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In 1910 Chicago, the Davenports run a successful carriage business and live on a large estate. The children include John, who helps out with the factory and is interested in the new fangled automobile, Olivia, who is "out" in society and knows she needs to secure a good marriage, and Helen, who eschews the societal norms of the time and works, unbeknownst to her father, in the machine shop. Olivia sometimes despairs of making a good match, since the affluent Black society is somewhat limited, but her friend Ruby feels the pressure even more. Her father is running for mayor. He faces an uphill battle because of his race, and the family's finances are not good. She has always been interested in John, but fears that he is interested in one of the Davenport's maids, Amy-Rose. In order to gain his attention, she starts a courtship with another man in their circle. Amy-Rose is interested in John, but more interested in starting her own salon focusing on hair and skin care for Black women. She is saving money, and has even located a store she can rent once she saves enough. Even Helen is not immune from romantic entanglements; while Olivia has her eyes on a new man in town, he is more interested in Helen, and Olivia takes an interest in a civil rights leader who challenges her privileged thinking. Times are changing in 1910: the car is new on the scene and swiftly being adopted, social classes intermingle more, and Black people are demanding change. Against this background, the Davenports romances and interests create a picture of early twentieth century Chicago that is not often seen.
Strengths: The cover of this one really caught my eye; it was so striking that an administrator attending a meeting in the library saw it when she came up to the desk (hey, there was a meeting, so I was looking at upcoming books because I couldn't have students visiting!) and was intrigued as well! It's a fun story, and given the social mores of this time period, the romances are all contained to "deepening kisses" and longing sighs, making this a good level of romance for sensitive souls. I particularly enjoyed the fact that Olivia and Ruby are women of their time, and proceeding along paths that women at that time would not have questioned all that much. For forward thinking women, we do have Helen and her mechanics work, and Amy-Rose and her business aspirations. There's just enough history and current events to tether this to 1910 Chicago, and many of the older characters have ties to enslaved people, or experiences of that opressive history themselves. There's even some levity, with Helen having to take comportment lessons from a parson's widow. This is a longer book (384 pages), but it moved quickly. I enjoyed this a lot, and was able to write the review without consulting the book, which always speaks well for how students will be able to comprehend a book. 
Weaknesses: I would have enjoyed a bit more historical detail and fewer complicated romantic entanglements. This has been compared to Downton Abbey, which is fair. The difference if that, as a television series, Downtown can have all of the romantic entanglements acted out, because the house, clothing, etc. details are all shown and don't have to be described. It's a tough balance with writing. 
What I really think: This reminded me a bit of Meredith Tax's 1982 Rivington Street, one of those books I owned for years, gave away, and regretted it. There's something about a family saga that appeals to me. I'm not entirely sure if middle schoolers want to read this, but I really want to buy it. Back in 2014, I did buy Longshore's Manor of Secrets, and it's checked out right now. Maybe it will be good for some of the teachers to read. Did suggest that the public library buy a copy, but I may need one at school as well. 

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Mirror to Mirror

LaRocca, Rajani. Mirror to Mirror
March 21st 2023 by Quill Tree Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Chaya and Maya are twins who look identical but have very different personalities. Chaya is more outgoing, and Maya is utterly consumed with the idea that she has had seven years of bad luck because she broke a mirror as a child, on the day before her brother Neel was born prematurely. Maya not only stews and frets over everything, but she also presses her fingernail into her palm hard enough to draw blood when she is anxious. The twins father is very jovial and outgoing, but their mother is superstitious, worried, and withdrawn. Her own mother struggled with mental health issues, and the mother's actions cause a lot of friction between the parents. Maya hears them fighting and thinks that it is her fault, and when she confides in Chaya, Chaya wants to tell them about Maya's harried state. Maya then feels that she has to hide her distress even from her sister. The two both play piano, and when their teacher gives them a piece for a solo, only one twin can win. The piece's very name Spiegl im Spiegl ("mirror in the mirror") alarms Maya, and she feels that she can never measure up to her sister. Chaya is trying to forge her own identity, leaving the wind ensemble, dying a pink streak in her hair, and hanging out more with Anisa than Maya. The twins both feel bad that they are drifting apart, and they each have some ideas about how they reconnect, even considering applying to boarding schools. When summer approaches and they are set to spend six weeks at a music camp, they decide to make a bet and switch places for the summer. Maya adds a pink streak to her hair and tries out musical theater, and Chaya adheres to Maya's strict schedule. Maya feels that if she can just hang on until the seven years of bad luck is up, she'll be fine. Will the two  be able to fool everyone over the summer, and will they be able to resume their close relationship if Maya can have her issues of anxiety addressed?
Strengths: This is lyrically done, and while the novel is in free verse, there is a lot of poetic language. Not all novels in free verse manage this. Twin stories are always popular, and the inclusion of musical competition will appeal to readers who are involved in similar activities. There's a good deal of cultural connection in the story, and plenty of descriptions of delicious food as well. The link to genetic predisposition to mental health conditions is clear, and it was good when the family finally agrees to get Maya some help, especially since she is essentially cutting herself to relive anxiety. There are a growing number of stories that address anxiety in middle schoolers, like Dilloway's Five Things About Ava Andrews, Piontek's Better with Butter, Dee's Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet, Sumner's The Summer of June, Vivat's Frazzled, and Machias' Flight vs. Fight, plus pretty much everything Teri Libenson and Raina Telgemeier write. 
Weaknesses: There is a lot of repetition in the story, because Maya and Chaya both rehash their emotional states a lot. My readers usually like to read books about twins because it sounds like it would be fun to be a twin, but this book will show them that's not always the case. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who like novels in verse and want to read about tweens who are interested in music or who suffer from anxiety. 

Ms. Yingling

Friday, March 24, 2023

Global Warning

Frank, Steven B. Global Warning
March 21, 2023 by Clarion Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus
In this sequel to Class Action, we return to the world of middle grade oriented legal disputes, this time with more serious concerns. Sam is settling back into a routine and getting used to the fact that Mr. Kalman has moved to the NoHo senior living facility and his sister Sadie is off at college. Catalina and Jaesang are still around, and Alistair, while he's not busy cooking, is terribly worried about the environment. While visiting Mr. Kalman at NoHo, Sam meets Zoe, whose parents have passed away, so she's living with her grandmother. NoHo is a hopping place, and Mr. Kalman, reinvigorated by his reentry into law and politics, convinces Sam and the rest that they can use their notoriety to try to put through a court case suing the government for the problems in the environment. Since Alistair has a bit of a crush on Greta Thunberg, it's not hard to get everyone on board. Soon, they are traveling to Washington, getting legislation started, and even going to Norway. There, they attempt to take the international seed bank hostage in order to have the leverage to get their bill passed in the US. The group also works on every day things they can do to save the planet. Will it be enough?
Strengths: I love that there is a good amount of description about the fate of the ERA, although it broke my heart that there was a grandmother in a senior facility still wearing an ERA ball cap! Most middle school students have no idea what that is. Mr. Kalman really comes into his own in this book, really leading the charge and pushing the kids to take legal action. Sam is a character who struggles a bit with anxiety, but has coping mechanisms (an app on his phone, breathing exercises, etc.) and powers through his negative thoughts, which I would like to see in more #MGLit. This was sort of the legally motivated equivalent to Ben Ripley's antics in Gibbs' Spy School books. 
Weaknesses: There were a lot of details about the science and legal ramifications of climate change that, combined with the number of characters, occasionally made the story hard to follow. I was also a little personally uncomfortable with the seed bank plot. 
What I really think: It's good to see a growing number of books investigating environmental issues, like Gratz' Two Degrees, Firestone's The First Rule of Climate Club, Dee's Haven Jacob's Saves the Planet, Dimopoulos' Turn the Tide, and Guillory's Nowhere Better Than Here, and Global Warning certainly has a lot of legal information that budding lawyers will find interesting. It's one of those stories that I would totally have believed as a twelve year old, but which gives me pause as an adult, in the same way that Class Action did. I applaud Mr. Frank for being able to stay true to the middle school mind set more than I have been able! (He's a middle school teacher, which always gives a fresh perspective to middle grade novels.)

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Bea and the New Deal Horse

Elliott, L.M. Bea and the New Deal Horse
March 28, 2023 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Bea's family has fallen on very hard times. Her mother has died, and her father, who had a good paying job in a bank, has lost the job and the family's house, and has been traveling around hopping freight trains with Bea and her sister Vivian, trying to work odd jobs. The latest travels have landed them in the hay loft of a barn in Virginia, but when Bea wakes up one morning, her father is gone. He has left a note telling her that he can no longer care for the children, but that the woman who owns the farm, Mrs. Scott, is the mother of their own mother's college roommate, and might be able to take them in. Bea manages to keep the two of them hidden for a week, although the farmhand Ralph conveniently leaves his lunch lying about and seems to know they are there. Things are tough on the Scott farm as well. A reputable horse trainer in the past, Mrs. Scott is now old (i.e., about 60; my age!) and the farm has a lot of debts. She has had to let most of the staff go, with the exception of Ralph and Malachi, a Black man who was mostly blinded in a horrific incident after serving in WWI.  There is a significant drought, so crops are failing. She has also gotten a rambunctious chestnut horse who is proving hard to train. Bea is discovered by Mrs. Scott after she has spent the night walking one of the horses, who has colick, around the farm, thereby saving its life. Mrs. Scott wants to call the police, but Bea quickly makes herself indispensable, helping to pick peaches, accompanying Mrs. Scott to the bank, cleaning the kitchen, and working well with the animals. When the chestnut kicks Ralph, injuring him and requiring him to rest, Bea steps up to fill in the gap, with Vivian helping a little bit. Mrs. Scott has a plan to sell a couple of the horses, but also to train Bea to jump with the chestnut, whom they name Sunup, the New Deal Horse. Bea is a talented rider, and Mrs. Scott a formidable trainer. Bea is reluctant to tell Mrs. Scott about her mother, and wants to gain her respect on her own merits, so works very hard. Mrs. Scott has faced some other difficulties, like the death of two sons in the war, as well as a daughter who isn't speaking to her, so takes to Bea in her own gruff (but spry!) way. Will Bea's horsemanship be able to save the farm and win her and Vivian a home and place in Mrs. Scott's heart?
Strengths: I was not a horse girl (although my cousin was), but this would have been a book I would have saved my babysitting money to buy. It reminded me of books like Gates' Blue Willow, Hunt's No Promises in the Wind, Enright's Thimble Summer or Snyder's The Velvet Room in the best way; classic, but fine tuned so that modern readers can enjoy it. It's helpful that there are notes in the back about the fact that many children were abandoned by their families when they could no longer care for them; my students don't quite believe me when I tell them this. Bea's ability to keep herself and her sister alive by foraging and finding food really speaks to the imagination, and her attitude of wanting to help out and earn her place is one that modern readers would do well to internalize. While she does have one emotional outburst, Bea is resilient instead of being traumatized by her situation. The equestrian information is strong, the setting is appealing, and Mrs. Scott is a fabulous character who is doing everything she can to save her beloved farm, and also rocks a fabulous flapper dress! I think this is my favorite book of 2023 so far. 
Weaknesses: My only objection is that Bea rides English, and my most avid horse book reader right now would like to see some Western riding! This reader worked her way through all of Smiley's Georges and the Jewels series, so she is going to ADORE this one. Did have a few personal grumbly moments when Mrs. Scott was described as spry, but as one of my students said to me "You're not REALLY old, but you are KIND OF old." Mrs. Scott has some similar comments about herself! 
What I really think: Apparently, I read a lot of books about the Great Depression when I was young! I loved Bea as a character so much, and definitely would have had some lovely daydreams where I was either her sister or her friend, and helped her with the household chores. There are enough horse details that equine enthusiasts will enjoy this, but readers of historical fiction like Albus' A Place to Hang the Moon will also enjoy this trip back in time. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Keep Dancing, Lizzie Chu and Zara's Rules for Living Your Best Life

Chan, Maisie. Keep Dancing, Lizzie Chu
March 28th 2023 by Amulet Books 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Lizzie lives in Glasgow, Scotland, with her grandfather, Wai Gong. Her grandmother passed away after battling cancer, and her grandfather, while still fairly young (late 60s) has struggled with taking care of Lizzie. She has taken on grocery shopping and cooking, and generally making sure that her grandfather is taken care of. Her teachers have noticed, but Wai Gong doesn't want to go to school to talk to her teachers. They even ask Lizzie is she needs help, but she tells them she does not. Wai Gong is becoming increasingly confused, losing things and forgetting dates, and has been unable to keep a job, so Lizzie certainly could use some help. After forgetting her birthday, Wai Gong does find a card that her grandmother left for her. In it are four tickets to the Blackpool Towers Ballroom, where she and the grandfather had always wanted to go, since they met in a ballroom. There are a lot of logistical hurdles to conquer, like getting to the venue, but Lizzie is determined that if she can get her grandfather there, he will be better. She manages to get her best friend Chi's brother to drive them, since he needs a topic for a documentary he is filming. Wai Gong is willing to go because he thinks that Chi, dressed as Princess Leia for a local Comic Con, is really the goddess Gaun Yin. He had accidentally broken a statue of the goddess, and thinks that his bad luck was caused by that. Chi's family is supportive of the trip, as are friend Tyler's fathers, so the groups sets out. The trip is full of problems, but there is help along the way, and the group makes it to the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, only to find their tickets were for the previous day. Will Lizzie be able to make her grandfather's dreams come true?
Strengths: This was an upbeat, adventurous novel that also dealt with issues of grief, and problems surrounding older people. Lizzie does a good job of keeping things together on her own, but its good to see that help is available to her. Chi's parents are a lot of fun, between their vegan birthday "cakes" and insistance on doing yoga! Wai Gong's problems are fairly noticeable, but young readers, like Lizzie, might attribute them to his grief over the grandmother's death. The trip from Glasgow to Blackpool has many problems, but is depicted in a fun way, with trips to an amusement park that delay the group a bit. There's a good dose of Chinese culture and legend that added a lot to the story. 
Weaknesses: This was particularly UK in many aspects, especially in the freedom to travel around as well as the very Jacqueline Wilson-esque problems of care that Lizzie faces. I did love the notes at the end where the author talks about young carers and her own experiences with that. 
What I really think: I would have saved up my babysitting money to buy my own copy of this when I was in middle school, and now I just really, really want to go to Blackpool. I'm not sure that my students even know what the US version of Strictly Come Dancing is, and doubt that it would hold much interest for my readers. I'm really tempted to buy it, and definitely would for an elementary library. 

Khan, Hena. Zara's Rules for Living Your Best Life (#3)
March 21st 2023 by Salaam Reads / Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Zara and Zayd have spring break, and Zara is looking forward to being at home and playing with her best friend Naomi as well as the other neighborhood children. When she finds out that Naomi is going to a camp at her synagogue, Zara agitates for being allowed to go as well. Sadly, her mother has made plans for the two children to visit with their grandparents every day. This doesn't sound like fun, since Naano always wants them to do chores, and Nana Abu just stays in his pajamas all day, reading the newspaper and napping! Zara decides she will just ahve to recreate the camp experience herself, and packs a suitcase with a variety of activities, hoping especially to get her grandfather insterested in a hobby. He thinks she's joking about painting rocks, but joins in half heartedly, but her grandmother will not let her reverse tie dye colored t shirts with bleach. Zara does work with her grandmother to put together a high tea, and her uncle stops by as well. At the end of the tea, Nana Abu is ready to shuffle back to his chair, but Zara gets him to tell a story about building a fence in the back garden. Zara thinks it would be a good idea to build a bird house, and the next day is spent pleasantly engaged in building several of them. When they are admiring their handiwork, a woman walking her dog asks if it is a Little Free Library, because she volunteers at the senior center, and they are interested in having one there. Zara then schemes to have her grandparents visit the senior center, which sounds like an amazing camp that they could go to every day and meet new people. It's a struggle to get them there, but once she does, Naano meets some women who exchange baked goods and have tea, and Nana Abu is asked to help with the Little Free Library project. Zara's mother is happy that Zara worked so hard to keep everyone active and happy. 
Strengths: Oh, Zara. I feel your pain. There were never enough people around to do misguided crafts with me whent I was younger, and by the time I was ten, my grandmother was in her mid 80s, so she wasn't interested in anything but watching The Waltons and crocheting afghans. I love that Zara has her mind set on a camp and does a lot of preparation so that Zayd and her grandfather have things to do, and sympathized with her when her activities weren't as well recieved as she hoped. Of course, A previous book indicated that the grandparents were around MY age, so that was a bit disconcerting. Nana Abu hasn't been retired long, but spending the day in one's pajamas is acceptable for a veyr limited amount of time, so I was glad to see that Zara was successful in getting him motivated to leave the house and make the world a better place. This was a happy, upbeat book with cultural connections and a good message. 
Weaknesses: I would love this even more if Zara was 14, and the story appealed to 8th graders as well. Reading preference change so drastically during middle school, and this is too young for 2/3 of my students. 
What I really think: The first two books, Zara's Rules for Record Breaking Fun and Zara's Rules for Finding Hidden Treasure, have done surprisingly well with my 6th graders, so I will definitely be purchasing this book. This is a must-purchase series for elementary schools. 

Also, I may look into the quilting group at the local senior center this summer, since most of the activities take place during the day and I, unlike Nana Abu, am not retired! 

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Minecraft Legends: Return of the Piglins

Disclaimer: I have never played Minecraft, and even though I've had countless conversations with students about the game, I still don't understand it. My readers love these books; I have them all shelved under "F MIN" even though there are a number of authors who write these. 

Somehow, I have missed Forbeck's The Rise of the Arch-Illager, book six in the series, but it doesn't seem to have anything to do with the RETURN of the Piglins. This is a stand alone. 

Forbeck, Matt. Minecraft Legends: Return of the Piglins (#15)
March 7, 2023, Random House Worlds
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Farnum lives in the Overworld, and his job is to run a zoo, which he doesn't feel he does well. After a horrifying incident when he was trapped underground during an adventure gone wrong, he has been afraid to travel, so his animals are very quotidian, although he takes good care of them. His friends, adventurerers Grinchard and Mycra, understand a bit, but also try to encourage him to expand his horizons. He does manage to bring home a few animals, like a leucistic axolotl and a heat loving strider. There is even a hoglin, but it dies and becomes zombified (a zoglin). During a small trek, Farnum runs into a Piglin when both are in the Nether. The Piglin is Kritten, who has run into trouble with the leader to the clan, Bungus, and a subordinate, Uggub. Piglins all use they/them pronouns, as does Grinchard. Kritten is smaller and smarter than most Piglins, who honor brutality more than wisdom. Kritten is exiled, and eventually goes with Farnum to the Overworld. Piglins are allergic to this environment, but because of a healing potion that Farnum gave Kritten earlier, they are able to withstand the environment. Kritten goes back to Bungus and tries to convince the leader to trust a potion to keep the Piglins well while they take over the Overworld and loot it for its gold. Because Farnum has put in obsidian portals in the zoo so he can collect more exotic animals, the Piglins are able to attack. They do this viciously, although Kritten tries to make sure that Farnum stays safe. The two are able to communicate by drawing pictures. When Farnum realizes the horror he has unleashed, he comes up with a plan to ruin the portals, which will mean trapping the Piglins in the Overworld, where they will all die. Eventually, they decide to try to lead the Piglins to another obsidian portal and hope that they stay in their world. This works fairly well, even though an injured Piglin, Fungus, is unable to make the journey. Fungus manages to put themself in a cage, and becomes the hit new sensation of Farnum's zoo as a zombie Piglin. (A ziglin?)
Strengths: There is an attempt at a message in this one when Farnum is encouraged by his friends to expand his world and overcome his trauma. Warrior Cat fans will love all of the fighting and intrigue. The Piglins are completely evil, as far as I could tell, so I felt like maybe there was some message about working with one's enemy,  but that didn't happen. It was interesting, though. Farnum and Kritten's communication reminded me a bit of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Shaka, When the Walls Fell. (N.B. This is the only episode of that series I ever watched!) There are lots and lots of Minecraft details that make this a bit like watching someone play a game. Farnum even unpacks a bag Grinchard has prepared from him, and there's a list of everything he has (How are a bed and a crafting table able to fit in the bag. Don't tell me. I don't need to know.), and at one point a diamond pickaxe because important to the plot in ways I didn't understand. Kritten then uses it to establish his power over his Piglin clan, so if you can earn/make/find a diamond pickaxe, I guess that's a good thing! This moved along quickly, and had a discernable plot as well as identifiable characters. Readers who understand Minecraft will love this. 
Weaknesses: The names in Minecraft often confuse me; I didn't remember Fungus from earlier until he was suddenly hitting Farnum over the head and wrestling with him in lava. I probably thought it was a typo for Bungus. Also, with so many characters using they/them pronouns, it would have been helpful to have that included in their introductions. When Piglins and Grinchard were both involved in the action, it got confusing when all the individuals and groups used "they".
What I really think: We don't always get to read what we want to, and this is a good lesson for students. If I can read and (mostly) understand a Minecraft or football book, or make my way through another Warriors tome, they can muddle through Joey Pigza Loses Control or Born a Crime, even though THEY would rather be reading a Minecraft or football book! I'm a firm believer in modeling behavior. 

Now, I'm off to read a book for a 6th grade language arts project where I will learn to fill out a plot diagram, which I do not remember ever having to do in middle school. It also makes me wonder why this is something we teach children in 2023. Remember, I taught Latin, so I'm not one to talk, but I always figured that learning Latin just kept their brains from getting rusty until they needed to learn things they would need for adult jobs. 

Ms. Yingling

Monday, March 20, 2023

MMGM-- My Not-So-Great French Escape and Project

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Burke, Cliff. My Not-So-Great French Escape
March 14th 2023 by HarperCollins US
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Rylan and Wilder have been friends for a long time, even though their family's financial background is very different. Wilder's mother invented an app that reminds people to drink water, and is so wealthy now that Wilder attends a private school. She pays for Rylan's tuition so that the two can be together, and has decided to enroll them both in a summer farming program in France. The problem? Rylan and Wilder have recently had a falling out because Wilder made fun of the fact that Rylan's father left his family when Rylan was a baby. In surprising news, Rylan finds out that his father is now living in Paris, and has to decide if he wants to try to see him. Plans are in place, so despite these developments, the boys are soon in the north of France, working for Pierre de Beaulieu. The boys are separated; Rylan doesn't get to stay in a cozy cottage with his friend, but ends up in the stables with Martin, Lia, and Annie. They all have different reasons for being in France; Martin, who is from Germany, wants to run an organic farm one day and hopes to learn a lot about setting one up. There's a lot of work, and Wilder makes no attempt at all to hang out with Rylan. Rylan contacts his father, who schedule doesn't seem to align in a way that will allow a visit, but when Pierre offers the prize of a trip to Paris for Bastille Day, Rylan hopes that he can work something out with his father. He finally hears from him, and the two arrange to meet, so Rylan just needs to make sure his group raises the most money by selling produce from the farm. His group soon is harvesting cherries, milking goats, making ice cream, and trying to find a way to outsellf Wilder's group. Will Rylan be able to make peace with Wilder, reconnect with his father, and (more importantly) learn how to be happy even when people in his life disappoint him?
Strengths: This got off to a great funny start, and had lots of humorous moments along the way, which I always enjoy. Martin is a great character, and his observations about Americans are fairly accurate. Rylan has a great relationship with his mother, and he misses her; there are not a lot of books that talk about children being home sick, but it's a fairly widespread phenomenon, especially now, and it's good for readers to see that you can miss home but work through it to enjoy a new experience. 
Weaknesses: I am looking forward to seein a printed copy because the ending was a bit abrupt. I had hoped to see a bit more about Wilder and Rylan coming to an understanding.
What I really think:There are a lot of books about girls' friendship difficulties, but not as many about boys. Miller's Roll, Jung's The Boys in the Back Row, Tandon's The Way I Say Itand Cisneros' Falling Short some examples of this topic, which I would like to see explored a lot more in middle grade literature. 

Sunday, March 19, 2023

The Sister Split

Desombre, Auriane. The Sister Split
March 14th 2023 by Delacorte 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Autumn is looking forward to a great summer in New York City, since she and her best friend Saskia are finally going to be allowed to roam around a bit. They have a long list of things to do, including checking out a large number of pizza and ice cream places. Unfortunately, these plans are scuttled when her mother announces that she and the man she has been dating for several years, Harrison (whom Autumn calls "Harristinks"), are getting married. As if that weren't bad enough, Autumn and her brother George, who is starting college soon, are expected to move to a "random town" in wilds of Connecticut and live with Harrison and his daughter, Linnea. Linnea is annoyingly quiet and nice to Autumn, making a welcome sign for their shared room and wanting to forge a relationship with her new sister. Autumn and Saskia formulate a plan to destroy her mother's relationship so that the family can move back to New York. This starts with Saskia calling the moving company and redirecting the truck, continues with attempts to ruin date nights, and includes daily annoyances like Autumn giving Harrison sugar instead of salt when he is cooking and ruining the food. None of these things seem to deter the couple, who continue planning the wedding even though Autumn tries to give her mother the most ridiculous dress in the bridal boutique. (N.B. This would not be hard. Wedding dresses in 2023 are almost all ridiculous.) Autumn misses Saskia desperately, and the two stay in countact, although Saskia continues to have a life and enjoy her summer with Autum, and even makes new friends. Autumn starts to realize, after hanging out with Linnea and her friends, that she might have a crush on Saskia. She seeks advice from an older teen, Dana, who has a girlfriend, but isn't sure how to tell her mother. After accidentally breaking Harrison's telescope, Autumn hears him telling her mother that they need to get rid of her, and the mother agrees. Will Autumn be able to stop the wedding in time?
Strengths: I loved that Harrison and Linnea are depicted in such a positive light, even when seen through Autumn's red haze of anger and disappointment. Linnea especially was great, and went out of her way to include Autumn with her friends, show her around town, and make her comfortable at home. The details about wedding planning will appeal to some readers. Autumn's relationship with Saskia is interesting; while there are a growing number of books where girls like other girls, I can't think of any where the crush in question is a best friend who reciprocates the feeling. 
Weaknesses: The original The Parent Trap movie came out in 1961.  While I'm sure young people have emotions similar to Autumn's when their parents want to get remarried, Autumn's actions are a bit disturbing. Redirecting the movers just puts the movers out more than anything. 
What I really think: Readers who want stories about blended families and who enjoyed Palmer's Love You Like a Sister, Payne's The Thing About Leftovers, Homzie's Apple Pie Promises, and Knisley's Stepping Stones will enjoy this tale of a girl struggling with a new family situation. I preferred Zarr's A Song Called Home, but young readers will think Autumn's actions are more justified than I did. 

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Saturday Morning Cartoons- Hoops

Tavares, Matt. Hoops
March 14th 2023 by Candlewick Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Judi plays a lot of pick up basketball games with her brothers in early 1970s Indiana, but when she enters high school, she joins the cheerleading squad with her best friend Stacey. When a girls' basketball team is started because of Title IX, she goes to the tryouts to check it out. Everyone makes the team, but the playing conditions are less than ideal. They have to practice at an elementary school, and there's not even a coach, because the administration thinks it should be an unpaid, volunteer position, but the coach fights to be paid, and for the girls to have the high school gym at 7 p.m. for practice. There are still no uniforms, so the girls put their numbers on white t shirts with electrical tape. Judi quits cheerleading, which angers Stacey, but she makes new friends in fellow teammates Tree and Lisa. The school won't bus the girls anywhere; the coach borrows a relative's Winnebago to drive them. Tree's boyfriend is on the track team, and the boys there loan the girls their warm up suits. There are no team meals, so Judi buys babyfood meals at a convenience store. The girls even work together to sell tickets, since the principal says the boys get perks because the school makes money on their games. Sadly, even though they sell tickets, no one shows up. They publicize their games on the radio, and as the season progresses and they do well, they manage to get some support from the community. When they make some demands to even the playing field, they meet a lot of resistance. Will they be able to successfully make their case for equality and have a successful basketball season?
Spoiler: Fifty years later, we are still waiting for sports equality. 
Strengths: This was not only a fun read, it's important for young readers to know what life was like. I frequently tell my students that my high school didn't have a girls' cross country team until 1981, and they are flabbergasted. The level of detail about the challenges the girls faced was perfect, and I loved the notes about the real players on whom this is based! The fashions, the way the buildings looked, details like eating the babyfood (the fruit desserts are the best, by the way!), even Judi's Toni Tennille haircut are spot on. Judi clearly loves basketball, has grown up in a cultural that values it, and wants her own chance to be in the spotlight with her formidable skills. Excellent, excellent book! 
Weaknesses: The characters'  names weren't used very much, so it was hard to remember what they were. The illustrations really captured the look of the 1970s except for the sleds. They look like the plastic ones my children had in the early 2000s. Flexible Flyers would have been the sled most people had in the 1970s, although I'm not prepared to do a deep dive into the history of sleds to back this up! 
What I really think: I knew this author from his Growing Up Pedro, but I have to say that his real strength is graphic novels and he should devote his entire life to writing them from now on. Forget picture books. There are plenty of picture books. Sports graphic novels, not so much! It is interesting that graphic novels are heavily skewed towards female characters, but more boys seem to read them. While boys might not pick up regular novels with girls as the main characters, they will pick up ANY graphic novel, so I see an evil plan brewing there somewhere. Love, love, loved this and will buy two copies. Pair with Wilson's Play Like a Girl and Maraniss' Inaugural Ballers

Ms. Yingling

Friday, March 17, 2023

Guy Friday- Go Pig or Go Home

Harrell, Rob. Batpig: Go Pig or Go Home (BatPig #3)
March 14th 2023 by Dial Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus
BatPig, aka Gary, has forgotten to study for both his science and his US History test, but manages to do okay after he visits a magic shop and gets a powder to sprinkle over his books to help him learn. This also manifests Sharkraham Lincoln, a shark president, who goes to school with him and gets him into some trouble, especially when he holds up a sign with the answer! The magic goes badly wrong, and before long, Gary is animating many of the books he leaves on his desk while he is sleeping, resulting in flying Pop Tarts and also a Squid Clown that decides to eat most of the Yorkshire's apartment building and which takes over Gary's school. As BatPig, he knows he needs to save his classmates, but it's up to Brook and Carl to lead the students through the tunnels under the school. BatPig's ability to save his school from the evil creature may hinge on his ability to recognize when he himself has done something wrong. The rest of the book takes the group of friends to camp Mouldy Snout, where the friends seem to go their separate ways. Carl bonds with a cabin mate, a snake who also suffers from asthma. Brook has some mean girls in her cabin, but also has a bit of a crush on a boy from Gary's group. Gary has to worry about "Grumbles" a sea serpent who seems pretty calm, at least until pork enters its system! When Carl gets some toiletries from one of the mean girls, they wash off him in the lake and start to mutate Grumbles, aka Ruby! Gary has forgotten his BatPig uniform at home, but has to save the day anyway. Of course, when he's done, he has to wipe everyone's memory. To add another twist, his archnemesis is back and has an unexpected connection to another camper, and this appearance means he needs to wip everyone's memory AGAIN. Poor Gary. He needs a sandwhich, and a long nap, when they book is over. 
Strengths: There are so many ways that adults can get goofy wrong. There's a lot of twee stories, tons of books with funny names that make my students roll their eyes, and way too many books that don't properly nuance fart jokes. Harrell gets middle school snark just right. Even the self referential footnotes amused me, and it's well documented that my reading tastes are that of a 12 year old boy. There's digestive upset, but it's used as a plot device, and Ruby does apologize. There are a few timely Life Lessons in the stories as well, but the real draw is the ham balloons and the mind wiping photobooth. Gary reminds me a bit of Stick Dog, in that he always has a good plan, even though his friends don't think he is all that smart. The illustrations are also just right for middle school; cartoon-like, of course, but somehow a little more sophisticated. Harrell's illustrations could almost grace the cover of a Young Adult novel, since those are trending toward this style. It's hard to really describe why Harrell's style is so perfect, but it works. If you haven't investigated this series, it is high time you do so. 
Weaknesses: Aren't brand names like Pop Tarts meant to be avoided? Granted, this information was probably gleaned from reading Writer's Digest in the 1980s, but there were a couple of brand names used, and that seemed odd. (I seem to remember that BandAids and Xerox were to be avoided in favor of bandages and photocopies.)
What I really think: One of our teachers uses Wink as a core novel, so that definitely helps gets students interested in BatPig. He circulates a little better than Ham Helsing, which I thought wsa hysterical, but requires a little more esoteric knowledge to get some of the references. I do enjoy BatPig, but am also okay if Harrell wants to turn his talents to writing a graphic novel with human main characters and perhaps sports! 

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, March 16, 2023

The Flying Horse

Nir, Sarah Maslin. The Flying Horse (Once Upon a Horse #1)
March 14th 2023 by Cameron Kids
Copy provided by Blue Slip Media

In the Netherlands, a horse is born early to Olina, whose heritage includes the famous Nimmordoor, who had a place in the Royal Dutch Warmblood Studbook. Named Trendsetter because of his early birth, Trendy shows great promise and is taken to a keuring to be officially inspected. Here, his chances for the future will be examined. At first, it looks like he will be a jumper like Nimmordoor, but when he isn't, he ends up with Cavalry Master Paula Butscher at a riding school in Austria, where famous Lippizaner stallions are trained. There are elite students at the school, and the one who is supposed to work with Trendy, Charles-Isaac, has some problems in his approach to dealing with the animals. Because of this, Trendy almost doesn't get to be shown, but the cavalry master believes in him, and he eventually is brought to the attention of  horse trainer Beverly Moore. She has the horse flown to the US, but as he is getting off the plane, he trips and is injured and rendered unsuitable for competition.

In a parallel story, we meet Sarah, who lives in New York City and goes to an elite private school. Her grandmother survived the Holocaust and is a huge supporter of Sarah, who struggles with spelling and writing in school. While not named, it seems that she is struggling with dyslexia. She does well on multiple choice tests and class participation, but not with writing. At some point, she decides to quit doing her homework, since she doesn't feel that she can do as well on it as she would like to. Since she has made a deal with her parents that she can only continue riding as long as her grades remain good, this is a problem. The school eventually suspends her until she is caught up on her work; on the same day, her beloved grandmother goes into the hospital. While waiting for her to improve, Sarah writes her grandmother's story down, and her grandmother eventually brings this to the attention of Beverly Moore, who agrees to sell the injured horse to Sarah's family. 

The editor's notes compare this to Sewell's Black Beauty or Henry's Misty of Chincoteague, and those are fair comparisons. Nir's language is very rich, and her descriptions, especially from Trendsetter's viewpoint, are poetic and lyrical. The book is a fun, small size with an appealing cover. 

Fans of Random House's Horse Diaries (various authors) and girls with their own collections of Breyer's figurines will enjoy this based-on-a-true-story account of Trendsetter and Nir's journey to one another. There are plenty of equestrian details, especially about the sorting of animals in the Netherlands, that will be new and exciting to even the most dedicated horse enthusiast. 

Even though Sarah is in 7th grade, this seemed slightly young, and I'm not sure how my readers will connect with Sarah's privileged New York City background. I'll try the book out with my horse fans and see what they think before ordering it, but it is available in hardcover through Follett and the second book in the series, The Jockey and Her Horse, about Black Jockey Cheryl White, looks interesting. 

Ms. Yingling