Sunday, April 30, 2023

Shannon in the Spotlight

Miller, Kaelene. Shannon in the Spotlight
April 25, 2023 by Delacorte Press
E ARC provided by Netgalley 

Shannon and her friends Fatima and Elise are interested in theater to different degrees. Shannon would rather work on set design and tech, while Fatima would like small roles and Elise wants to be the star. When the teacher directing the school play hears Shannon singing, he suggests that she try out for the Northern Repertory Theater in town. They're doing the Sound of Music, so the cast is large. To her surprise, Shannon gets the part of Brigitta. Shannon has to deal with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, so has some concerns about being in the play, but is glad that she got a part. Complicating her life further is the fact that her Grandma Ruby's house has had a fire, and Grandma Ruby moves in with Shannon and her mother for a bit... into Shannon's room! Shannon sees a therapist to help her with her OCD, and is trying out therapies to help her, such as stepping over the doorway into her room wearing the "wrong" shoes. Grandma Ruby doesn't think much about the therapy and thinks that Shannon just needs to "get over it", and even spends the morning trying to distract Shannon from using Chapstick more than every fifteen minutes, although Shannon does feel calmer playing Scrabble with her grandmother and not thinking about other things. Elise isn't too happy that Shannon got a part, and the two have a bit of a falling out. As the play progresses, Shannon connects with Micah, who has seen Shannon in the therapist's office while he is waiting for his older sister, who is also working with the therapist for OCD. It's good to have someone who understands. Grandma Ruby gets more involved in the play, and Shannon and Elise work out their problems a bit. Will the play be a success?
Strengths: There is a lot of good information about dealing with OCD, similar to the way that ADHD is treated in Gerber's Focused. Shannon's mother is one of the rare parents who seem to take their children's problems seriously in middle grade literature, although I appreciated that the grandmother wasn't completely evil when she voiced doubts about Shannon's insistence on needing so much Chapstick. Micah was a good character, and the friend drama with Elise and Fatima was very accurately described. The details of putting on a play are also good, and Grandma Ruby got to step up again with a positive portrayal.  
Weaknesses: There are a growing number of books that involve theater productions that are perfectly fine, but which my students tend not to check out. I've bought several over the last couple of years. This must not be the case in other schools. I used to think it was because our school didn't do any theatrical productions, but sadly this has not changed even since we now do one play a year.  
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who enjoyed books like Key's Twelfth, Staniszewski's Double Clique (#2), Green's Violet and the Pie of Life, or Harmon's Upstaged that deal with a variety of middle grade problems set against the backdrop of a play production.  

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Cartoon Saturday- ThunderBoom and Katie and the Catsitter

Briglio, Jack. ThunderBoom
May 2, 2023 by Kids Can Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this graphic novel, we meet Logan, who is about twelve years old but has some special needs. He communicates via sign language, although he can hear and has a lot of anxieties. After seeing a parade on television, he wants to go to one in twon with his family, including his mother (who is represented as a person of color), his father (who presents as white) and older sister Izzy. The family takes a train into town, and Logan has a good time saying hello to everyone, including a little Black girl who is about eight. When the parade starts, there is a group of clowns that frighten Logan, and he runs away. Determined that his voice be heard even though he is nonverbal, he channels his inner super hero he refers to as ThunderBoom. He stomps, and defeats the clowns. He finds the little girl from the train, who is also separated from her parents and has lost her teddy bear. The bear is in the possession of a martial arts group in the parade, and ThunderBook once again comes to the rescue. After being reunited with his parents, Logan doesn't want to go into the grocery store with his family, but does eat the fried chicken and ice cream they buy in the car. He is very afraid of a neighbor dog, whom he sees as a threat, but starts to understand that maybe the dog, like Logan himself, just barks because he wants his voice heard. The author's note at the end indicates that Logan is modeled off his own son, who has Angelman syndrome. 
Strengths: Logan's anxieties are well represented, and it's interesting to see sign language portrayed on the page. His family is supportive, and the story moves along quickly. 
Weaknesses: This might be confusing to younger readers who wonder why Logan acts the way he does, but perhaps that is the point. As an educator, I wanted to know what Logan's background was so that I could understand his actions better, since there was clearly some developmental delay. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who liked Page's Button Pusher or Edwards' A Tale as Tall as Jacob: Misadventures with My Brother .

Venable, Colleen A.F. and Yue, Stephanie (Contributor).
Secrets and Sidekicks (Katie the Catsitter #3)
May 1, 2023 by Random House Children's Books
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Katie's mom is still working all hours at her job, leaving Katie plenty of time to train to be a superhero with the Moustress while pretending the time is being spent catsitting her many amusing cats. The latest mission has been against Buttersoft Bionics, a company that is dumping waste into waterways. The crew breaks into their offices and manages to reroute the pipes so that the waste is instead funneled into the CEO Reginald Crane's office! Beth, the daughter of Stainless Steel, isn't allowed to go on missions until "she's 35", and Katie can continue only because her mother doesn't know. There are giant robots on the loose that seem to have come from Bionics, and the Mousetress gets mixed up in the minds of the media as the evil doer. Benito Benton is back, hanging out with his brother, who doesn't seem convinced that Benito is Owl Guy, although Katie is. Katie also spends some time with the Wheel-las, a skateboarding group, and bonds with Marie, which makes Beth a little jealous. Of course, Beth is hanging out with Jess more and more, and Jess is upset about all of the robot drama in town because her boyfriend is the son of Buttersoft's CEO. Moustress has some personal drama, since she has never told her parents about her superhero identity, and it's not surprising when Katie's mom finds about her antics and wants her to stop training. Is Benito really Owl Guy? Is he coordinating the robots? Who is behind the current threat to the town, and will Katie and her friends (with help from the cat army) be able to stop them?
Strengths: This was an amusing superhero romp, and I liked that fact that Katie struggled with the training. Superheroes have to practice, just like anyone else. The friend drama is all on point; Beth is so much better than Katie that there's some jealousy, and middle school is a time when people make new friends due to new interests, and it's hard to keep everyone happy. The cats' antics are all amusing, and there are plenty of cute cat drawings. 
Weaknesses: It's one thing for Katie to not tell her mother about her superhero training, but it bothered me that the other adults were willing to hide it. Purely an adult/parent reaction, of course!
What I really think: My students like this one, but I'm not a cat person. The first two have circulated well, so I will buy the third book. Just not my personal favorite. 

Friday, April 28, 2023

Home Away From Home

Lord, Cynthia. Home Away From Home
April 18, 2023 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Mia is worried about her mother buying a new house in order to live with Steve, her boyfriend. In order to sell their house, Mia's room is getting painted gray, and the whole process is rather upsetting, so she goes to Maine to spend time with her grandmother. She's glad that she doesn't have to share her grandmother, in the way she has to share her mother with Steve (who is a nice guy) or her father with his new wife and son. She's ready for all of their regular adventures, like getting ice cream, going on walks, and watching birds. Her grandmother is also feeding a stray cat, Miss Agatha. When Mia finds out that her grandmother has been hanging out a lot with Cayman, a neighbor boy whose mother is often ill, she's angry about having to share her grandmother as well. There is an eagle's nest on Cayman's property, and when the two go to see if they can catch a glimpse of the eaglets, they see another bird. It looks unusual, and they can't quite figure out what it is. Mia takes a picture of it and posts it on a birding web site, where it is identified as a gyrfalcon, which is not native to the area and which might have gotten blown off course. Mia identifies the location of the bird only by the town, Stone Cove, but soon birdwatchers are arriving and asking the way to the nest. This irriates Cayman's mother, who is often resting during the day, especially when one woman who knocks on her door offers to help her get support. Mia feels awful that she posted the picture, mainly to identify the bird before Cayman did, especially when one watcher hits the bird with a rock. She and Cayman call the local library, who alert the wildlife specialists, and the bird is found and treated. Mia and Cayman have a falling out when she tells him she doesn't want to share her grandmother, since Cayman is dealing with more serious issues than Mia realizes. Mia finally talks to her grandmother about her fears about the move back home in Ohio, and the two work together to make sure that Cayman and his mother are okay. 
Strengths: Like this author's Because of the Rabbit or Handful of Stars, this was a good mix of details about animal care and realistic tween problems. I liked the fact that Mia didn't really object to Steve's presence in her life, but didn't want to move out of her house if it meant changing schools. Her grandmother was just the right amount of old for the grandmother of a middle school student-- like me, she has some problem on rocky paths, but is generally competent and active. Cayman's problems at home are downplayed, but he does eventually get help. 
Weaknesses: The length of this was perfect, but I would have liked to see less about the stray cat, Miss Agatha, and more about Cayman's day to day struggles with his mother. There are very few depictions of parents who struggle with alcohol addiction in middle grade literature. 
What I really think: The cover of this is very clever and appealing, and the story and scientific information about birds will please readers of other avian themed books like King's The Drake Equation, Perez' Strange Birds, or Miller's Roll
 Ms. Yingling

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Ghosts, Toasts, and Other Hazards

Tan, Susan. Ghosts, Toasts, and Other Hazards 
April 25, 2023 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Monica Lin (who likes to be called Mo), her mother, and younger sister CeCe have lost their home and moved in with her mother's Uncle Ray. After CeCe's father (whom Mo called S-Dad) left, Mo's mother had a hard time paying the bills, and is now looking for another job in their new location. Uncle Ray considers himself an aging Chinese hippie, and puts a lot of interesting vegetables into all the food that he serves. Mo is leery of people at school, and runs afoul of Peter, who claims he owns the school, but makes a tentative friendship with Nathaniel. The two usually hide in the library at lunch, and develop a shared interest in a historical fire in a traveling circus that happened in New Warren and resulted in the death of an elephant, Maudie. Mo is very worried about a lot of things, especially fire, since there was a significant fire in her house caused by a toasted oven the day that S-Dad moved out. Uncle Ray's house is very near the local junk yard, where Maudie was supposedly buried, and Mo realizes that the ghost of Maudie is haunting the area. Since Nathaniel is serious about a career as a paranormal investigator, the two are soon investigating the history of the circus, the town, and the family behind all of the problems. Will Mo be able to put Maudie's spirit to rest and also get help for her own trauma?
Strengths: I really liked the New Warren setting, and especially Uncle Ray. I think there are a lot of young readers who end up living with relatives for extended periods of time, and there aren't as many books that include this. I also thought that Mo's emotions concerning S-Dad, and the fact that he didn't have any contact with her when he left, were worth exploring. Mo and Nathaniel make a good investigative pair, and Nathaniel's ties to Peter are realistic. I was glad to see that Mo's family problems were talked about, and that she and her mother got some help. Uncle Ray was so much fun, and I enjoyed the scenes where he was trying to help Mo make sense of the world. 
Weaknesses: I always question a school library that allows students to hide from the librarian and eat lunch. It's so busy in my library, and I'm so careful to know where all the students are that it always bothers me. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who like some ghosts mixed in with mental health issues in books like Urban's Almost There and Almost Not, Malinenko's This Appearing House, or Arnold's The House That Wasn't There

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Jude Saves the World

Riley, Ronnie. Jude Saves the World
April 18, 2023 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Jude is nonbinary, and has struggled with how people percieve them. While people at school use the name "Jude", no one really understands Jude's identification and sometimes make fun of them. Dalls doesn't; he has recently come out to Jude as gay, and the two support each other. When a girl in class, Stevie, fights with her friend Tessa because Stevie has a crush on another girl, Jude asks Stevie to join them and Dallas for lunch so that Stevie doesn't have to be alone. The three quickly become fast friends, and they each have reasons to need support. Dallas' parents fight often, and Dallas tries to keep his younger sisters from hearing them. Jude's grandparents, with whom they have to have dinner every Monday, constantly deadname them and use the wrong pronouns and gender identification because Jude's mother doesn't want to tell them about Jude's nonbinary status. Stevie is struggling with losing Tessa, her friend group, and playing soccer, since Tessa was on her team. Jude comes to the realization that the people in their community need a safe space for marginalize people of all kinds. After being turned down by the school principal, Jude asks a librarian if they could form a group, and the Rosedeen Safe Space starts up. Since Jude also struggles with ADHD and is planning things for the RSS instead of paying attention in class, their mother is a bit upset. When Tessa decides to be friends with Stevie again, Stevie drops Dallas and Jude. Will the trio be able to come back together again, and will the RSS work out?
Strengths: The author indicates in their note that they gave Jude many of their own identities: queer, bisexual, nonbinary, trans, and neurodivergent so that young readers who share those identities have a chance to see themselves identified in literature. Jude's problems with his grandparents and mother over their identity are very common, and it was nice to see that they wanted to create a safe space for other people. The inclusion of Dallas' experiences with his parents fighting was something that is not addressed enough in middle grade fiction. There is a brief mention of Jude's weight as well, and how it complicates their gender identification. 
Weaknesses: The grandfather's change of heart happened very quickly and didn't seem all that realistic, although it did add a hopeful note to the story. There are also a lot of discussions about language and terminology in the text that are also available in the end notes. Hopefully, someday soon we won't need this information in the text itself because people will understand it. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who liked Sass' Ellen Outside the Lines, Luckoff's All Kinds of Fruit, Bunker's Zenobia July or Donoghue's The Lotterys. 
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Far Out!

Bustard, Ann. Far Out!
April 18, 2023 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Magnolia Jean Crook lives in the small town of Totter, Texas in 1964. The residents are all very interested in UFOs, and have a variety of organizations promoting intergalactic understanding. They are hosting a "Come on Down Day" where they hope that a UFO will visit, and are selling raffle tickets to see who will get to take a tour of the spacecraft, should one come. There is a display of a piece of meteorite, but when it goes missing, everyone is dismayed. The blame falls on Magnolia Jean's grandmother, Mimi, when the piece shows up in her shed. Mimi had access to the meteorite, even if she doesn't have a motive, and before too long Magnolia's father, the town sheriff, has to have his own mother arrested and put in jail. When she is let out on bail, she goes missing. Magnolia is worried, and lets her parents know right away. They are sure that Mimi has just gone to visit a friend, but when she is not there, and doesn't return, the police search for her. Magnolia tells her parents that Mimi has gotten confused before, and they all seem to know that Mimi is struggling with significant memory loss. When she returns, she hands over her car keys, and has to go back to jail because she broke bail. this makes Magnolia even more determined to find out who actually stole the meteorite, and she ramps up her investigations in town, evesdropping at the local diner and interviewing people who might have also had access. Of course, with the "Come on Down Day" approaching, everyone is looking forward to meeting extrterrestrials. Will Magnolia Jean be able to clear her grandmother's name?

Strengths: Bustard always does a good job with historical details (Blue Skies and Almost Paradise) and definitely captures the feeling of a small Texas town well. The obsession with space exploration and space aliens is well described and typical of the period. Magnolia Jean does a good job of investigating, and this has a little flavor fo flim noir as well. Mimi's descent into dementia plays a larger role in this book than I would have expected, but it is done well and worked into the plot nicely. I really enjoyed the page decorations at the beginning of the chapters. I'd love to see more middle grade books have those. 

Weaknesses: Putting the grandmother in jail for the missing meteorite seemed a bit of a stretch, even with the father being the local law enforcement. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who enjoyed Bow's Simon Sort of Says, Keller's Jennifer Chan is Not Alone, Murray's Alien Summer, or other titles that combine an interest in space aliens with more serious, realistic problems.

Towler, Paige. How It Happened: Gum
April 18, 2023 by Union Square Kids
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

I'm actually not a fan of gum as a sunstance; I never chew it, and if I would bring it home for my children when they were young, they would ask if something was wrong with me. As a popular culture phenomenon, however, it's quite interesting, and this was a great overview of the complete history of the sticky stuff.

This starts with ancient history, and has a lot of cool information about natural gums and things like mastic, which was new to me. Of course, in the 1800s, this sort of product was industrialized and sold, and was also heavily advertised. All of the big names in gum, such as Adams, Fleer, and Wrigley are covered, and the ways in which society viewed gum chewing were also covered, which I very much enjoyed. I believe that Miss Manners was even quoted!

The page organized is great; this is 192 pages long, but I imagine the trim size is rather small. The font is large, and there are plenty of illustrations. Many of these are really fun food pictures with different kinds of gum in patterns against bright colors. While these are fun to look at, I would have liked the inclusion of more vintage advertising and products.

Union Square Kids is also publishing How It Happened! Sneakers: The Cool Stories and Facts Behind Every Pair by Stephanie Warren Drimmer, and since there are a fair number of sneakerheads in my school, I'll definitely be purchasing this one as well.

Monday, April 24, 2023

MMGM- Audrey Covington Breaks the Rules and Women Who Built Hollywood

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Evans, Karina. Audrey Covington Breaks the Rules
April 18, 2023 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Audrey is excited to be graduating from elementary school and starting 7th grade in the fall, but is irritated that her parents still don't trust her to walk to a local ice cream store with her two best friends. They are strict about other things as well, and tend to micromanage everything she eats and wears, and limit her screen time. She's planning on having her traditional year end sleepover with her friends Sadia and Tamzin, but they disinvite her. When she finds out it is because of all of the rules her parents make that "ruin the fun", she is very angry. Her parents are helping her grandmother, former Hollywood star Rhea Covington, move from her house into a luxury retirement villa, and Audrey has to come along, because she's not allowed to be home by herself for more than an hour. Her grandmother isn't too keen on moving, and hasn't packed anything, so there is a mad scramble to get everything on the truck. Audrey helps, and when they reach the facility and are in the middle of unpacking, sneaks out to her parents' car to check her phone, to see what her friends are posting on social media without her. She falls asleep, and wakes up to find her grandmother taking off in the car! She claims that she wants one last day of freedom, and one more night out like she had when she was a star. While she hasn't planned ahead too well (she doesn't bring a credit card, can't drive very well, and both of them forget that Audrey's phone can be tracked by her parents), they set off on an adventure. It's not just greasy hamburgers for Audrey, who wants her grandmother to suspend all of the rules for her; it's breaking into a movie studio, "borrowing" clothes and a golf cart, crashing a big Hollywood party, and having quite the adventure. Audrey even makes friends with Eva, a young star her own age who not only lets her stay at her party, but has security kick Audrey's parents OUT of the party. The fun has to end some time, and when it does, will Audrey and her grandmother be able to negotiate and come to an agreement with Audrey's mother where they can both have more freedom?
Strengths: It doesn't take much for friends to drop each other in middle school, so it was completely realistic that Audrey's friends drop her because she can't watch PG-13 movies and eat too much sugar. I liked that the set up to the adventure was fairly brief, giving us just enough of an excuse for Audrey and Rhea to run away. The glimpse into life in Holloywood as an former star was fun, and there's even a little bit about the unfairness of Hollywood when it comes to women's roles. Tween interest in celebrity will be satisfied with Audrey's friendship with Eva. I'd be interested in another book about Audrey once her grandmother goes back to work as a film star! 
Weaknesses: As an adult, I wanted a bit more information. Why exactly was the grandmother leaving her house? She seemed unable to drive herself, and the fact that she left home without money gave me pause. What is her level of competence? She seems pretty young and spry. Of course, young readers will just enjoy Audrey's freedom from her parents "unreasonable" rules. 
What I really think: This is a fun romp that readers of Callaghan's Lost in Hollywood or Malone's The Sleepover will enjoy, and reminds me a little of Pinder's 2006 But I Don't Want to Be a Movie Star. Still a little sad that someone lost my library's copy of that one. 

Rubin, Susan Goldman. The Women Who Built Hollywood 12 Trailblazers in Front of and Behind the Camera
May 16, 2023 by Calkins Creek
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Early Hollywood is fascinating to me, and I also love biographies, so this collection of the stories of Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, Frances Marion, Louise Beavers, Fredi Washington, Hattie McDaniel, Marion Wong, Anna May Wong, Dorothy Arzner, Margaret Booth, Clare West, and Helen Holmes as fascinating and also well-researched. Looking at individuals is a good way to understand the history through a particular lens, and it is impressive that Rubin was able to not only high light women, but to find a little bit of diversity in the film industry. There's so much written about Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and other white men that it's interesting to see how the early movies included women. 

Each subject gets a picture or two, information about early life, and a good overview of her film career. There's enough about studio systems, the way films were made, and a bit about the types of films that were popular and how they were consumed by the public that readers who are unfamiliar with this time period will be better able to understand the impact these women had. Readers might be encouraged to try to find some of the films mentioned; I've seen the 1959 Douglas Sirk version of Imitation of Life, but don't know how I've missed the 1934 one with Cincinnati native Louise Beavers and Claudette Colbert. The saddest part of the book was Beavers' comment that she would rather be playing maids in films than working as a maid. 

It can be a little difficult to get middle grade readers to investigate pop culture of 100 years ago; Lillian Gish was almost exactly my grandmother's age, and she would be 130 were she still alive! Still, this is a valuable book to have for pleasure reading as well as National History Day projects. Calkins Creek publishes such great narrative nonfiction like Brimner's Blacklisted! or Jarrow's Blood and Germs, so I will purchase this one right away so I can get it in hardcover.

This is also a great book to have as a resource for students who read Wiley's The Nerviest Girl in the WorldCheaney's  I Don't Know How the Story EndsNesbet's Daring Darleen, Queen of the Screen, or even Fleming's Strongheart! I'd love to see individual biographies of any of these women; the only one I've seen so far is Yoo's book about Anna May Wong

Blather: It's back to being chilly in Ohio, and since the library will be closed all day for testing (that I will probably be proctoring for a large chunk of that), I couldn't muster anything but jeans and a sweatshirt. My nice one, mind, with the shawl collar. And a book pin. But still. Real shoes aren't happening either. 

Did have a successful weekend of reading and am blogged through at least half of August. Did a little sewing. Walked the dog. Did laundry. Have food for the week. 

May is filling up with park days and pool days and Welcome Nights and Evening of Honors, and Picky Reader is getting married on the Saturday after school is out! (5/27) It's all rushing a bit fast, and... it was hard to come to work today. But I did, since I haven't missed a day with students all year. 

If you got dressed and made it to work today, good for you! You deserve applause, and your hot, caffeinated beverage of choice. I'd be glad to deliver it to you if I weren't in charge of 55 students who need to make up the language arts test. 

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Enly and the Buskin' Blues

Liu, Jenny. Enly and the Buskin' Blues
February 7, 2023 by Carolrhoda Books 
E ARC Provided by Netgalley

Enly lives with his mother, who works two nursing jobs, and his older brother Spencer in Altamont, a town that is becoming a popular tourist destination. This is driving up the cost of rent for the people who have long lived in the town. Enly would like to attend a summer music camp with his friend Pinky, but his mother cannot pay the $2,800 it would cost to send him, and tells him that he'll have to be content with the City Recreation Camp. Enly has his late father's electronic keyboard, and likes to play music, although he has to hide this interest from his mother. His father was a talented musician, and hearing music makes his mother sad. Enly decides that he will earn the money to go to camp by busking in the thriving tourist area. He and Pinky can't use the keyboard, since it needs to be plugged in, and go to a pawn shop to try to locate an accordian. That's out of his price range, but Enly finds a melodica that doesn't cost him his entire life savings on $68. It's a little rough at first, but with the help of the woman at the senior facility who gives him piano lessons, he gets up to speed. His first morning, he makes less than a dollar, but improves as the day goes on. Eventually, someone gives him a lottery ticket in lieu of cash, and it is a winning one. Since he is not old enough to redeem the ticket, and feels that if his mother cashes it, she will rtake all of the money for Spencer's college, he thinks about asking someone else to cash it. Unfotunately, teens steal the ticket and it takes Pinky and Enly a lot of time and effort to get it back. Once he does, and manages to cash it, his mother does decide that the money could be better spent for Spencer. Will Enly be able to convince her that the music camp is what he really needs?
Strengths: Altamont, which the author's note states is based on Asheville, is a charming place, and I can see why it is becoming a tourist destination. I love that Enly understands that his mother is struggling to make ends meet, and is willing to put in a lot of work in order to afford camp. He and Pinky have a good friendship, and the older woman who teaches him piano is a lot of fun-- I love the selection of 1970s tunes she wants Enly to play. Enly's mother is Chinese American, and his father was white, and there are some cultural connections here that make the story more interesting. There is also a lot of information about social justice issues like regentrification, cost of living, and student loans. 
Weaknesses: Even though Enly is in middle school and is given a lot of freedom to travel around the city by himself, this seemed young. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who want to combine their love of music with gentle adventures and enjoyed books like Woods' Saint Louis Armstrong Beach and Clayton Bird Goes Underground. 

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Saturday Morning Cartoons- Doodles from the Boogie Down

Rodriguez, Stephanie and Bell, Andrea (Contributor).
Doodles from the Boogie Down 
April 25, 2023 by Kokila 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

It's the early 2000s, and in New York City, applying for high schools is a big thing. Steph lives with her busy but strict mother, who is from the Dominican Republic, and who wants her to keep attending Catholic Schools. Her mother also doesn't allow her to do much by herself, and is super embarassing, walking her to school and buying her the wrong kind of shoes. Steph's friends are looking at a variety of schools, but because she likes art, Steph is very interested in LaGuardia, an  arts school. It is in Manhattan, so her mother thinks it is a very bad idea, even though she knows how much Steph likes art. Art isn't a good career choice, says her mother, so Steph is encouraged to apply to more rigorous, academic, Catholic schools. Steph's art teacher notices her interest, and encourages her. The two have an after school "club" where they work on Steph's portfolio. The teacher also invites Steph to go to art galleries with her and her daughter, and also explores art in Steph's neighborhood of the Bronx as well. How will Steph make her mother see the value in her art work, and convince her to follow her dreams?
Strengths: Steph's love of bright colors is evident in the vibrant pages of this semi-autobiographical story. Tween readers will relate to being left alone after school, and also to having parents who care too much some times, and don't care enough others. There is some friend drama, a lot of adventure in New York City, and a palpable feeling of wanting to be in control of one's own life despite parental attempts to control it. In my  mind, the 2000s are indistinguishable from today, but this managed to convey a pre 9/11 sense of optimism and light heartedness that is notably lacking in modern works. I'll be curious to see what else Rodriguez writes. 
Weaknesses: While it is great to see the early 2000s explored, I'd also like to see graphic memoirs from earlier decades, like Copeland's Cub. It would be great if artists and authors like Rodriguez teamed up with older authors like Lois Lowry to tell their stories before we've lost that generation. 
What I really think: This will be a big hit with fans of Bermudez' Big Apple Diaries or Holm's Sunny Side Up books. Because it's a graphic novel, my students will read it even though the idea of applying to a high school and worrying about getting in will be a very foreign concept!

Friday, April 21, 2023

The Queen is Dead. Long Live the Queen.

Sanchez Vegara, Maria Isabel , Johnson, Melissa Lee (Illustrator)
Little People, Big Dreams: Queen Elizabeth 
September 27th 2022 by Frances Lincoln Children's Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Happy Birthday, Queen Elizabeth. I'm sorry for myself that you didn't live to see 96, but happy that you are resting in peace. 

When the Queen met with Liz Truss, I was so impressed. She looked great, and was still working, and I told everyone at school how much I admired her. When the news came that she wasn't well, my first thought was "I killed her!" I have that kind of power over the universe. I also knew that if Elizabeth missed a meeting, there was not hope of recovery. And there wasn't. 

Oh, the book? The book is a great overview for the very young, introducing them to the Queen and telling a bit about what it means to be a monarch. There's not a lot of detail (It skips right from George being king with a brief mention of Edward giving up the throne without any explanation of who Edward is. This is, after all, for four year olds.), but we do find out about the basics of her life. There's a nice time line at the back of the book, with some actual photographs. The illustrations are quite nice, if not very representative of the actual people portrayed, although the noses bothered me. There's no detail about her children or grandchildren, which makes sense. 

I somehow need to buy this for myself. Seeing the imperial state crown on the tiny Elizabeth just makes me want to cry. Excuse me, now, while I spend an hour searching up her various outfits, statements with jewelry, and her absolute sense of duty.  

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Ghosts of Rancho Espanto

Cuevas, Adrianna. The Ghosts of Ranch Espanto
April 4, 2023 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Rafa and his friends Beto and Yesi in Miami are heavily investsed in the role playing game The Forgotten Age, and at the end of the school year decide to take their adventures into the real world by stealing the slushie machine from the school cafeteria. They're caught, of course, and Rafa's father decides to forego the usual punishments of taking away Rafa's electronic's, and sends him away to his friend's ranch in New Mexico. Jonas, the director, knew his father at the Univeristy of Miami, and agrees to have Rafa work with him. There is another reason that Rafa's father might want to send him away; Rafa's mother is fighting multiple myeloma. Right away, Rafa meets Jennie Kim, whose mother is the ranch librarian, and whose father was a college history professor before he passed away. Rafa doesn't mind feeding the horses and mucking out stalls, but something is not right on the ranch. He keeps seeing a man in a green sweater around the ranch, and things start to go wrong. The Gearheart brothers cooking is making people sick, cows are disappearing, paintings change, and even Jennie's hoodies are affected-- they no longer have the names of universities she knows on them. Rafa and Jennie try to research different ghosts from the area, but have no luck. Finally, they meet someone who has the clue to the mystery, but is it believable? Rafa and Jennie must then work to make things right without jeopardizing their future. 
Strengths: Rafa's interest in an RPG was intriguing, and I liked how the game details were sometimes woven into the story. I also appreciated that his father sent him away to work after he tried to steal something! It was good for him to have a sidekick at the ranch, and Jennie is a calmer and more focused foil for his frenetic attempts at investigating. There is a lot of cultural connections to Rafa's family, and some Spanish words sprinkled through the story. The ghostly mischief is amusing, and this took an enormous twist that I definitely didn't see and don't want to ruin. Slight spoiler: this is really more of a time travel story than a ghost one! 
Weaknesses: The cover is a little dark and vague, and it's not quite the flavor of ghost story my students request.
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who like books with magical realism like this author's The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez or Urban's Almost Here and Almost Not

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Felice and the Wailing Woman

Lopez, Diana. Felice and the Wailing Woman 
April 18, 2023 by Kokila
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Felice's mother and two older brothers drowned in the river near the town of Tres Leches when she was an infant, and her father was already married when he met her mother so has never been in the picture. Her Uncle Clem managed to save her, but he couldn't stand the memories and moved her to nearby Corpus Christi. It's understandable that she has an intense fear of water. When her uncle's friend, Reynaldo, visits and asks her uncle to return to the town as his cracksman (making pinatas, cascarones, and crispy taco shells?), she sees an opportunity to get to know more about her mother. The only problem? Her mother has become La Llorona, and haunts the river of Tres Leches, and Felice is too afraid to go anywhere near it. With the help of her new friends Rooster (whose father is a devil) and Ava (whose mother is an owl-witch), Felice tries to figure out a way to help her mother find peace. Reynaldo is the mayor of the town, and was elected on a platform of making the river safe for recreation, but has failed to do this. He is running against Bonita, who seems to have more power, not all of it good. Felice makes some bargains with Bonita, but the town comes under attack by other monsters. Not only that, but the town bakers, widely known for their fabulous cakes, are turning out horrible baked goods. Will Felice be able to get to know more about her mother and also make the river of Tres Leches safe again? 
Strengths: Other than Lubar's Monsteriffic Tales, there aren't a lot of books that deal with legendary monsters, and seeing Rooster and Ava hang out with Felice because she was La Llorona's daughter was rather interesting. Tres Leches is an eerie town with a lot going on, and Felice's quest to work with the odd inhabitants in order to make peace with her mother works well. This is a fast paced tale, with lots of good details of legends as well as an entertaining setting. 
Weaknesses: It would have been helpful to include notes explaining some of the legends; I felt like I was missing something with a lot of characters, especially Bonita. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who enjoyed other titles embracing the La Llorona legend or other Latine legends, like Meija's Paola Santiago and the River of TearsCuevas' The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez, Barron's Maya and the Rising Dark, Cueva's Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

A Spoonful of Time and Shinji Takahashi: Into the Heart of the Storm

Ahn, Flora. A Spoonful of Time
11 April 2023 by Quirk Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Maya has lived with just her mother, work works in a busy legal office, since her father died when she was young. She has Gizmo to keep her company, and recently her mother's mother, her Halmunee, has moved in with them because she is having memory issues. While it's nice to have someone to talk to, Maya sometimes misses the quiet. When her grandmother starts cooking traditional Korean dishes and sharing them, something amazing happens; Maya and Halmunee travel back in time to events where Halmunee has good memories of when the food was served. From eating iced treats in the summer to celebratory parties and picnics, the two get glimpses of Halmunee's life. This is especially nice for Maya, who has few memories of her father, and whose mother refuses to discuss the past. At one point, Maya meets a boy her age, Jeff, who claims that he, like Maya, is from the present an dable to travel through time. They meet in an orchard that has memory trees of different people's lives, but can't locate her fathers. Back in her own time, Maya has a school project she needs to work on with Jada and Izzy, but between traveling to meet Jeff and dealing with her grandmother's worsening memory loss, she lets this slide. She eventually tells Jada what is happening when the time traveling takes several surprising turns. When Maya's mother claims that she and Halmunee are "not a typical mother-and-daughter pair", she is not exaggerating. Will Maya hone her skills at traveling and be able to solve some of the mysteries of her past while repairing her relationship with her mother?
Strengths: Maya is a great, independent middle grader who is used to taking care of herself but who also enjoys cooking with her grandmother. There are a lot of recipes, and so many food descriptions; really, it's a shame to read this and NOT be able to have Korean food for dinner! The time travel world is well developed, and I was completely surprised by some of the developments, so I don't want to say too much and spoil it. Jada and Izzy are supportive friends, and having a project that needed to be worked on was a great way to ground the story in middle grade reality. The Our Town style snapshots of Maya's family's past were rather bittersweet, and made me wish that I could have time traveled with my own grandmother since she, like Maya's mother, never discussed the past. Of course, she probably would only have made desserts!
Weaknesses: Like all really great time travel books, this made my brain hurt a little bit. 
What I really think: I will definitely purchase this for readers who like magical realism with cultural connections like Villanueva's Sugar and Spite or time travel books like Barrow's The Magic Half and Asselin and Malone's The Art of the Swap. The cover is great, and Gizmo reminds me of this author's illustrated elementray title, Pug Pals

Kagawa, Julie. Shinji Takahashi: Into the Heart of the Storm 
April 18, 2023 by Disney-Hyperion
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Shinji has survived his initiation into the Society of Adventurers and Explorers and his magical connections in Shinji Takahashi and the Mark of the Coatl, and is trying to learn to use his magic. It's not going particularly well. Lucy, whose father runs the Hightower Corporation which is at odds with S.E.A., is feeling a little homesick, since it's harder for her to meld technology and magic and create things like her robotic mouse, Tinker, while traveling the globe. When S.E.A. has to try to investigate a site of a shipwreck in the middle of the ocean and try to preserve it before Hightower gets there, the two find themselves on an adventure with Oliver Ocean, Mano, and Phoebe Mystic, who has a complicated family legacy but who is supposed to help Shinji with his magic. Right before they sail, Shinji has a run in with a local thief named Roux who steals Tinker, and who later stows away on the ship. Shinji turns him into Oliver, and the group decides to keep their eye on him. Hightower's group manages to beat S.E.A. to the site, but since they aren't very thorough, Shinji manages to uncover a map to an island Mano says doesn't exist. Despite finding it hard to harness his magic, Phoebe's meditation techniques seem helpful, and Shinji is having weird dreams about a storm boar that lead the group to an island in the mist. Once there, Shinji feels called deeper and deeper into the island, and eventually into the volcano that is there. The Natia, the native people about whome Phoebe would like to gather evidence, seem to have been destroyed during World War II, and this destruction could have angered the guardian of the island. Will the group be able to figure out how to appease this guardian in order to keep the world safe, and will Shinji be able to control his powers enough to use them to help?
Strengths: This was another well constructed fantasy adventure that I was able to remember without taking notes. This is a really good indicator of books that will be successful with my students. I again enjoyed the adult characters, who made brief but important appearances and were helpful, but also a little bumbling, like Scarlett, with her barely serviceable aircraft, and Phoebe, who is followed by a curse. I'm all for using adults for a bit of comic relief instead of killing them all off. (Shinji's aunt had to travel for work.) Lucy is a particularly well developed character, and her problematic relationship informs her actions a couple of times. It makes sense that she is a bit homesick, and Shinji even understands this a little bit. The adventure felt a little fresher than a lot of others I've read; S.E.A. is trying to preserve artifacts and fight against a rival group. Shinji's powers enable them to travel in a way they might not otherwise, and the history of the island was intriguing.
Weaknesses: This had more of a young adult feel in several respects. It's long (336 pages), and it felt (to my 12-year-old reader brain) like it took Shinji twice as long as necessary to do everything. He worried about his inability to do magic in a more angst ridden way. Roux's acceptance felt akin to the YA trope of enemies to friends, which doesn't go over quite as well in middle school, when life feels more black and white. It does help to have two sidekicks for Shinji, though, so I can see why he was added. 
What I really think: I really enjoyed the first book, but it has only circulated twice in over a year, despite being on display frequently. If this series is just three books long, I will buy this and the next, but this is a year when money is proving to be tight. For now I'm going to have to see if the public library will purchase the sequel, since they send books over to the school. While I've felt very good about my resources over the last 21 years, my budget has stayed at $10 per student per year. Prices, really for the first time, have risen sharply. Since the school population is dropping, my budget will as well, so I'm going to have to be even more careful about my purchases. Five years ago I would have bought this without hesitation. 

Monday, April 17, 2023

MMGM- A Sky Full of Song and Race Against Death

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Meyer, Susan Lynn. A Sky Full of Song
April 11, 2023 by Union Square Kids
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Shoshanna and her mother and four sisters are in Liubashevka, Ukraine, and her father and older brother Anshel have emigrated to North Dakota because life is becoming increasingly difficult for Jewish citizens in the early 1900s. When life becomes too dangerous in Ukraine, the family is fortunate enough to be able to join the men on their claim in the US. The boat trip is rough, and Shoshanna is angry with her mother that she couldn't take her cat, although she does find one in the port that she manages to smuggle onto the train. The father has a dugout, and while it looks odd to the girls, he assures them that it has advantages in the winter and summer. Shoshanna and her older sister Libke are able to attend a local school, and their teacher is very nice. Some of the other students, however, are not. Some are actively cruel, like Irene and her brother Clive (whose parents run the general store) who give them a hard time for being Jewish, and use a variety of slurs against them. Some, like Evie, speak out of ignorance and repeat what they have heard at church. Evie's mother doesn't quite understand why Shoshanna's mother wouldn't want to attend a church and meet "good Christian people", although she brings food to the family and greets them warmly. There are lots of chores to do on the claim, and moments when the prairie seems to actively want to kill the inhabitants; the school children are caught in a blizzard, and Evie and Shoshanna barely make it to the dugout. As Christmas approaches, the children at school are excited about decorations and the program, but Libke doesn't think she and Shoshanna should take part in singing songs about Jesus. Shoshanna wants to fit in, and doesn't see a problem with it. Clive continues to bedevil the girls until the family helps him save his horse. 
Strengths: My essential fandom is Little House on the Prairie, but in recent years that series has been problematic. This is a good alternative, and has many shout outs to the original, from the father's fiddle playing, to the mean store owner's daughter, to decorating the dugout, but all of these are given a particularly Ukrainian twist. Instead of Ma's china shepherdess, we have a samovar! The reason I loved books about pioneers was the details about another way of life, and we have lots of good ones about the school, the way food was cooked, and fun details like the fact that pickle juice removes ice! The issue of the native Dakota being treated unfairly is addressed, and parallels are drawn between the persecution Shoshanna faced in Ukraine and the way the Native Americans were stripped of their land. 
Weaknesses: I would have enjoyed a little bit more information about what life was like for the family in Liubashevka, so that I could have been as nostalgic for it as Shoshanna was. I'd be down for Little House in the Ukrainian Woods
What I really think: I know that there are many, many problems with pioneer tales when it comes to Native American experience, but this is a great book to showcase the pioneering spirit. Add this to Prairie Lotus as a good alternative to Laura Ingalls Wilder's work, or as an introduction, if you have time to explain the problems in those books to the readers. This should definitely win the Sydney Taylor award! 

Hopkinson, Deborah. Race Against Death: The Greatest POW Rescue of World War II
April 18, 2023 by Scholastic Focus
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Hopkinson has been literally on fire lately, with Deadliest Fires, Deadliest Hurricanes, Deadliest Diseases, and We Must Not Forget, all in the last couple of years! This is another incredibly well researched book; any time the author apologizes for not being able to go to the Philippines because of the Pandemic in order to fully appreciate the topic, you know you have someone who is paying very close attention to details. 

I feel like I have a decent grip on World War II history; I even did a podcast about WWII books years ago. My readers still have a huge interest in the topic and avidly consume books on all aspects of the war, but I... am not really interested. There is so much interesting information in this book, so many stories about courageous people, so much background information and supporting documentation like poems, pictures, and sidebars that I was overwhelmed. The war in the Philippines was horrific, and not talked about as much, although there is another excellent middle grade book on the events surrounding the Bataan Death March, Farrell's Pure Grit: How WWII Nurses in the Pacific Survived Combat and Prison Camp (2014). I especially liked the fact that Hopkinson points out similarities with what is currently going on between Russia and Ukraine. There is even a never-before-seen photograph of the surrender signing on the USS Misouri!

Do all middle school and high school libraries need to put this on the very top of their purchasing lists? Absolutely. Not only is is highly readable, it would be great for research as well. Hopkinson's list of websites, source notes, photo credits, and selected bibliography are impeccable. There have been a number of nonfiction books lately that DON'T cite all the sources used, which I find problematic, so I really appreciated this attention to detail. 

Can I do this book justice? No. The space left in my brain to care about WWII is increasingly limited. This is not a reflection on this fantastic book! 

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Starting From Scratch

Taylor, Jazz. Starting from Scratch
April 4, 2023 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Janie is very devoted to her schedule, which plans her routines down to the minute. These are disrupted when her mother marries and her new stepmom, Keisha, moves into their house. Janie does acknowledge that she doesn't have it as hard as her new stepsister, Makayla, who has to change schools, but she still struggles with keeping things together. She does get support from her best friend, Dani, but Dani is working through issues as well. Dani identifies as nonbinary, and has used she/them pronouns, but has decided that they/them feels more comfortable. Janie supports this, but Dani does have some trouble at home. Janie's biggest trouble at home is Makayla's cat, Pumpkin, whom she intensely dislikes after having cat-related trauma as a child. At school, Janie enjoys working with the Sunshine Club and doing community service like visiting a local nursing home where she has made several friends. When the position of club president opens up, Janie is excited to run, but when Makayla also decides to do this, it further complicates both school and family life. Will Janie, Makayla, AND Pumpkin all be able to work together to make their new family successful?

Strengths: It's good to see a character acknowledge that cats are evil and want to kill us all. No, it's good to see a WISH novel with cats, since there are a number by J.J. Howard that feature pugs. Janie's devotion to her schedule is handled well by her mother and Keisha, who do try to work with her in a sympathetic way. Janie is not identified with any labels, but does appear to have some neurodivergent characteristics. I especially liked that she was not averse to Keisha or Makayla, and thought that they were in general a good addition to her family, but she still had some issues to work through. This was a well-paced, quick read, and the cat on the cover will entice many readers!
Weaknesses: While it was good to see the inclusion of nonbinary and gay characters, some of the information was presented in more of an "info dump" fashion rather than occurring naturally in the story. 
What I really think: Like Taylor's Meow or Never, this will appeal to readers of WISH novels who want stories a bit lighter on romance but with more diverse characters. WISH novels have long included characters from different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds, so it is not surprising that they are now adding LGBTQIA+ characters. These are available in prebinds from Follett, and will probably be appearing in book fairs, where they will be popular choices. 

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Hot Dutch Daydream

Boyce, Kristy. Hot Dutch Daydream
April 18, 2023 by Harper Teen
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Sage is spending her last summer before going to Johns Hopkins doing her best to improve her research and data analysis skills. She spent part of her senior year working in England with Dr. Reese, who has asked her if she will spend the summer being a nanny for Reese's son, three year old Diederik. In exchange, she will be able to attend an important oncology conference in Germany with her mentor. After her father passed away from lung cancer and her older sister, Wren, had a baby during her senior year in high school, Sage is determined to keep her focus on school and career rather than cluttering up her life with romance. This is hard when Dr. Reese's son, Ryland, comes home for the summer rather than continue on his backpacking trip. Dr. Reese doesn't trust Ryland with Diederick because he is an artist who is often distracted by his work or by his large group of friends. Dr. Reese would also like to see Ryland get "a real job" instead of selling artwork and working occasionally as a food tester. Sage finds Ryland cute but annoying, but he does come in handy when the tempermental Diederik has temper tantrums. Inspired by Sage's dedication to her work and her cutting comments about his own, Ryland asks Sage if she will try to keep him motivated in exchange for more help with his brother. Sage soon is in possession of Ryland's phone so the constant texts from friends don't distract him, and even turns away people at the door. The two work together in Ryland's studio in the evening. Sage is better able to balance her work for Dr. Reese with taking care of Diederik, and even gets out to see the city a bit more with Ryland's help. Ryland makes a lot of progress in completing work to enter a local competition. When Sage starts to fall for Ryland, despite Dr. Reese's express request NOT to get romantically involved, will she be able to extricate herself from the romantic entanglement and concentrate on her scientific work?
Strengths: I adore travel books like the Lost In books by Callaghan or Love & books by Welch, or books like Johnson's 13 Little Blue Envelopes, Jouhanneau's Kisses and Croissants, and Henderson's Flirting in Italian. These are popular with my students as well. Middle school romance usually has fewer problems than Young Adult romances, but this was happy enough that my readers will sigh over Ryland and how sweet he is. The two don't really fight; they just don't quite agree on being a couple for a while. Once they do, they have a good time hanging out in Amsterdam, which is a bonus. The problems they face are easily overcome, and everyone is happy at the end. What's not to like. Details about living in Amsterdam were fun to read, and I really enjoyed Sage's work ethic and her plans for her future. Reading this was a great way to vicariously travel! 
Weaknesses: As an adult, I know that Dr. Reese was right the first time, and that Sage should concentrate on her career and forget all about Ryland, but that's not very fun or romantic. People will always let you down. A career might let you down, but at least you don't have to take that personally. 
What I really think: This was a very fun, middle grade appropriate romance and and even better travelogue of Amsterdam! This reminded me of the fabulous Simon Pulse Romantic comedies. Hot British Boyfriend has been popular with my students, so I'll definitely be looking forward to Boyce's next title. 
Ms. Yingling

Friday, April 14, 2023

Guys Going to the Dogs

Watson, Tom. Stick Dog Full Color Edition
February 28, 2023 by HarperCollins 
Library copy

I always tell myself that I will wait for the prebind versions of Watson titles, but I can never wait, so I generally buy the paper over board copy and then a prebind! This is a good plan, because these are popular titles in my library. Apparently, I was not as amused by Stick Dog when I first read it as I have been since, but upon rereading this, I recommended it to my principal. Why? I think there are things for administrators to learn from Stick Dog's management style. 

Stick Dog and his friends are currently living in a big pipe between the city and the forest, and are constantly on the lookout for food. They have obsessed on hamburgers cooking in the park, and try to make a plan to steal them. The dogs are easily distracted, and just getting to the cookout takes some effort; one of the dogs decides he must take care of an obnoxious squirrel right then and there, grinding the group to a halt. Stick Dog's thought is "Is this really the time to address the squirrel issue?", and gets them to move along. Once they survey the situation, each dog comes up with crazy ideas to distract the humans and steal the hamburgers. Stick Dog very diplomatically redirects their efforts with professions like "Let's make that plan B!" and protestations like "That's a great idea, but I'm not sure I would do a good job with my part." At one point, Karen goes missing (she's a dachsund, so struggles with long grass), but shows up eating crumbs out of a potato chip bag. I love the dog's detailed description of barbecue potato chips! Will our intrepid friends be able to fill their bellies with delicious hamburgers?
: There are so many quotable lines that I sort of want to spend my day making posters out of Stick Dog's inspirational quotes, but none of my copies are in for me to consult. I was reading this while proctoring testing (Read a page, scan the room, finish a chapter, walk around the room-- I was still very vigilant!) and almost laughed aloud several times. These books do get more and more clever as the series progresses, so don't just read one. They are an excellent choice for everyone from preschoolers being read aloud to up through 8th graders who need a brain break. This anniversary, full color edition has some dubious recipes at the back as well. 
Weaknesses: The beginning is a bit slow; it's a student talking about creating Stick Dog. This is not really used in the titles that follow. 
What I really think: I think there should be a line of Stick Dog home decor and children's clothing. Or a television show. I would totally support that. Molding young minds into Stick Dog fans. 

Hoyle, McCall. Just Gus
April 4, 2023 by Shadow Mountain Publishing
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Cloe and her mother Esperanza brought Stella to their farm, where they rehabilitate dogs after the dog was traumatized and lost her owner. They also have Gus working on the farm, herding sheep, after he was abused and left tied up outside by an uncaring owner. The book is told from Gus' point of view. Cloe's cousin, Diego, and his father are spending some time on the farm before going back to the house along the beach. Diego suffers from significant social anxiety, and is planning on returning to in person schooling. He sees a therapist via computer, but still is very anxious. After Gus suffers a bad leg injury after a harrowing bear attack and can no longer run around the farm taking care of the sheep, Diego is the only person who can get Gus to calm down and do what he says. He finds that spending time with Gus calms him down, and since Gus needs to always be working, caring for Diego is something that he can do while recuperating. When it's time for Diego and his father to return to the beach, they decide to take him with them after Gus clearly doesn't want to be separated from his boy. Unfortunately, there are neighbors who object to Gus' barking, and report to the property owner that the dog is over the fifty pound limit. At one point, one man taunts Gus and pretends to be bitten, and has animal control take Gus away. Will Diego be able to find a way to keep the animal who clearly loves him, and who gives him emotional support?
Strengths: I like the depiction of working dogs; Stella was an epilepsy alert dog. There are lots of good details about training dogs, as well as caring for them when they have injuries. The depcition of Deigo's mental health challenges gives the reader just enough information to understand his difficulties without slowing down the story. There are not enough cousins in middle grade literature. The information about emotional support dogs, and the way in which the neighbor is eventually convinced that they are helpful, was handled well. 
Weaknesses: The Vivienne To cover is great, but there is something about it that made me think it was a fantasy book and Gus was a guardian angel dog. 
What I really think: Dog books have been increasingly popular in my library, and since this is a short, fast paced book that also addresses some health issues and has a great cover, I will probably buy it. Stella has circulated frequently. 

Velasquez, Crystal, Robertshaw, Danny and Danta, Ron. 
Finn and the Feline Frenemy (Life in the Doghouse #4)
February 7, 2023 by Aladdin
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

The Figuerosa family has some big changes coming, since nine-year-old Alyssa's mother is pregnant. She has to give up her playroom for the much anticipated Brennan, and her father is even painting a mural for him. They have also adopted a dog from Danny and Ron, who run a shelter for animals in need. Finn has recently been abandoned, and his leg had been so badly broken that it had to be amputated. Alyssa is very patient with Finn, and careful to make sure he slowly learns to get around with one less limb. She also introduces Finn to Rusty, the family cat who also has three legs. Finn has been raised with cats, so is eager to make friends, but Rusty is used to having the house and family all to himself. It doesn't help that Finn accidentally spills Rusty's food all over the kitchen and also gets Rusty wet. Finn feels horrible, and really wants to learn from Rusty, who can even climb up the cat tree. Finn learns to swim, which helps him gain strength, and really wants to reach an agreement with Rusty before baby Brennan arrives so that Alyssa has less to worry about. Will the two be able to get along?

This series (including Elmer and the Talent Show, Moose and the Smelly Sneakers, and Millie, Daisy, and the Scary Storm) is based on real life dogs that Robertshaw and Danta have had come through their shelter. I always enjoy reading the real story of the pets at the end of the book, and think it's great that these books might raise awareness of rescue dogs, as well as dogs with special needs. 

Laura Catrinella's black and white illustrations are delightful, and it's interesting to see how Finn manages to get up the stairs and navigate his world with three legs. The font was a particularly pleasant one, and the size and spacing makes this very comfortable for younger elementary school aged readers. I'm not sure how many young people watch the movie (which is available on FreeVee), but the books certainly stand on their own quite well. 

Pets have an undeniable appeal for young readers, and there are plenty of books that deal with various aspects of pet ownership. Young dog lovers who want to know a little bit about cats will find Finn's adventures with Rusty ultimately satisfying, but might also want both a dog AND a cat after reading this sweet story. Hand this one to readers of Miles' Puppy Place books, Cameron's A Puupy Tale series, Faruqi's Must Love PetsTan's Pets Rule or the amusing Wedgie and Gizmo by Selfors.

Ms. Yingling