Wednesday, May 31, 2023

May Statistics

Boomi's Boombox

Sekaran, Shanthi. Boomi's Boombox
May 23, 2023 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Boomi Gopalan lives in San Francisco with her mother and grandmother, Paati. 2020 was a tough year, and Boomi not only has to deal with online school like everyone else, but with the death of her physician father. Her mother doesn't talk about him, and her Paati doesn't communicate at all. Since she and her best friend aren't talking much, either, Boomi has to deal with her grief alone. Her mother is very invested in Boomi's ballet lessons and tryouts for her studio, and is alarmed that Boomi has gained weight and is deemed too heavy to be a real ballerina. She tries to restrict Boomi's diet and feed her a lot of dry chicken and leafy salads. When Boomi finds an old boom box that belonged to her father with a note inside that says "change your life", she finds that she is magically whisked away to Thumpton-on-Soar in 1986, where she meets a younger version of her father, Jeevan. His English community is largely Asian, but there are some people who don't appreciate the vibrant community that includes a Disco Baba ice cream truck. Jeevan's sister, Archie, fights the local Peace and Quiet Commission, and a younger version of Paati teaches Bharatanatyam dance lessons, which seem to fit Boomi's style better than ballet. Because of the vagaries of the boom box, she finds herself going back and forth in time, and trying to mend fences with Bebe, deal with her mother and ballet, and also help her father with the problems with his community and his sister. When she inadvertantly causes an accident in the past, will it have ramifications for her future?
Strengths: One of my daughter's favorite books in middle school was Page's Rewind, and really, isn't the best middle grade time travel novel one where the protagonist travels back and meets parents? This was especially bittersweet since Boomi had recently lost her father. The boombox was the perfect mechanism for time travel; anything with music definitely has the possibility of transporting back to the past! Moderrn readers will enjoy the discussion of Boomi's weight, and her insistence in remaining true to who she is. For my part, I loved the description of Thumpton-on-Soar, which seemed very much like London's Camden neighborhood. There's always a danger of changing the present by traveling to the past, and I liked that while a little bit changed, it was mainly for the better, and didn't drastically alter Boomi's reality. 
Weaknesses: This had a strong British feel to it, and my readers don't seem to enjoy that as much as they have in the past. (Back when Rennison's Georgia Nichols books were popular!)
What I really think: There have been some good new time travel books lately, like Salerni's The Carrefour Curse or Schaefer's A Long Way From Home. This felt a bit like those, but mixed with a dash of Dhami's Bindi Babes. , It's closest to Welford's Time Traveling with a Hamster, but with Bharatanatyam or Chanani's Jukebox, although this is NOT a graphic novel! (Something about the cover made me think it would be.)

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Running Out of Time and Falling Out of Time

Haddix is a local author, so I have everything she has written. Running Out of Time was her first book, and when my daughter was in 6th grade about ten years after this was published, her teacher used it as a class novel. There weren't enough copies, so I personally ordered ten from PermaBound because it seemed to be a popular choice with the students. I think they are still in the book room! Falling Out of Time has just come out, so I thought I should revisit the first book before continuing with the sequel!

Haddix, Margaret Peterson. Running Out of Time
Published 1995 by Simon & Schuster
School Library Copy

Jessie lives in the small, early 1800s village of Clifton, Indiana with her family. Her father is the town blacksmith, her mother is a midwife, and she and her siblings attend a one room school house. When her mother is called out about sick children, the news isn't good; there's a disease making the rounds that is very serious. The town doctor used to come and hand out pills that had more effect than her mother's cures, but he no longer does this. When Jessie's sister also falls ill, her mother tells her the truth: it's not really the 1800s, but rather 1996, and their village is actually a recreation so that they can live a simpler life, but tourists can observe them when they are in public spaces. Her mother wants her to go for help, because the old fashioned clothes might alert the security forces who don't want people leaving Clifton. The mother has jeans, a t shirt, and a windbreaker, but can't fit into them. She instructs Jessie about the modern world, gives her a phone number to call, and sends her out of Clifton. After spending a little bit of time going around the tourist attractions, Jessie escapes in a bread truck and tries to find a phone. She eventually gets ahold of the person her mother wants her to contact, but he isn't who he says he is, and means Jessie harm. She escapes, and manages to call a press conference and invite the press. They don't believe her at first, but then Jessie collapses, burning with fever. She, too, has diptheria, and is unconscious for days. During that time, authorities enter Clifton, take over the town, and put the children into foster care until the parents can be evaluated for competency. Having saved the day and learned secrets about Clifton, will Jessie be able to embrace the modern world?
Strengths: Haddix always comes up with the most interesting and innovative plots, and as someone who owns her own prairie dress and believes she could churn butter and make linsey woolsey dresses by hand, I found the idea of Clifton fascinating. Jessie's mother had good reasons for living in Clifton, but also is unwilling to sacrifice children to continue this lifestyle, and I love that she was prepared enough to keep clothing, even if she and several other women couldn't fit into it! Jessie's reactions to the modern world are great, and I especially like the fact that she was appalled by the perceived rudeness of the other children. Her escape skills are strong, and the press conference was fun. I haven't yet read the sequel, but I am definitely curious about what Falling Out of Time will bring!
Weaknesses: The most exciting part of the book seems to happen when Jessie is unconscious, and the reasons the outbreak is allowed to continue seem weak. I wish that Jessie's attempt to alert people had gone more smoothly (she could have had several women that she met help her) so that we would have learned more about how the people in Clifton were evacuated. 
What I really think: This circulated really well until about 2012, but hasn't gone out much recently. Perhaps the phone booth on the cover doesn't make sense anymore? This was still a good read, but I almost want to see it reworked for an entirely new generation. 28 years is forever in the world of children's literature. Styles change. We'll see if the new book perks up circulation of this one. (That's the new cover above.)

Haddix, Margaret Peterson. Falling Out of Time 
May 30, 2023 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

It can be very difficult to review a Haddix book, because there are so many surprises that I don't want to ruin. The School for Whatnots was a good example of this! This unexpected quality was what my daughter (who was a picky reader) liked best. I can't say much more than the book description describes without giving things away, so bear with me!

Zola and her mother live in Indiana in 2193. Everything is virtual, and there's not really a reason to leave the house. Clothes appear in the Insta-Closet, food in the Insta-Oven, and even when Zola walks to an actual school building, she joins a virtual class with students from all over the world. Most days, the Sirilex system (an ever present computer that answers all of her questions) tells her that the weather is not quite right, and she gets on the treadmill to get her exercise. Because of the virtual reality, she can walk anywhere in the world. Her mother is an artist, and is very supportive of Zola, who also has a mood gauge built into her room. When Zola finds a piece of paper that asks for help, she is confused. Paper is rare, and who would need help? Everything is perfect in 2193, and there is no pollution, and no one ever gets hurt. When her mother pulls her into the Insta-Closet (which blocks the Sirilex system from seeing or hearing anything), Zola learns some hard truths about when and where she is really living. Like one of her relatives, Jessie Keyser, she must escape her comfortable world in order to save those around her. 
Strengths: I love the note that Haddix wrote about being asked to write a sequel, and it wasn't until she made comments that Jessie would now be the age of current students' mothers that she found a way to write one. The brilliance in this is really the way that Jessie's original story is reimagined, and key elements, like the phone booth, are properly dissected in order to make sense to modern young readers. Haddix can write a great Dystopian story (look no further than The Shadow Children!), and she gets a chance at a Eutopia as well. The details of futuristic technology, and especially Zola's dependence on it, are perfect. The ties with Clifton Village make perfect sense and bring the story full circle. 
Weaknesses: The Insta-Closet didn't make as much sense as I wanted it to, although its existence was crucial to the plot. Recycling clothing after every wear instead of washing it? Since a lot of my clothes are over twenty years old, this was just a hard concept for me to swallow! 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and I do wish that there were a hardcover version being rereleased. My two copies have seen better days. 

Monday, May 29, 2023

MMGM- Grounded and They Are Here!

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Saeed, Aisha, Ali, S.K., Al-Marashi, Huda and Thompkins-Bigelow, Jamilah. Grounded.
Published May 9, 2023 by Abrams/Amulet
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

The Zora Neal Hurston airport is very busy with people returning home from the Muslims of North American (MONA) Conference. Among the travelers are four children who end up working together to find a lost cat, Snickerdoodle, who has been loose in the airport for a week. Hanna Chen, an ardent member of Animal Allies, is determined to find this cat, and is also dealing with the fact that her father attended a matrimonial match dinner at the conference. Her mother died when she was very young, but she doesn't really like the idea of her father bringing someone else into the home. When Hanna runs into Feek, who is watching his very active young sister while his mother is dealing with his baby brothers, she offers to use her detective skills to find Ruqi. Feek wants to be a poet/musician like his father, and wishes he could get more of his busy father's attention. Sami is usually anxious, but is particularly worried because he wants to get home in time to compete in a martial arts event, and it looks like he may not make the flight. He doesn't want to get roped into the search, but ends up helping. Nora's mother is Congresswoman Sarah Najjar, but Nora is more interested in buiding her NokNok social network following, and since two of her friends at school have more followers than she does, she is hoping that her mother can take her to Chocolate Garden so she can post some content. When it's closed, she's angry, especially since it was her birthday, and her mother pretty much ignored it. There are other issues at home with her friends, most of whom are not Muslim, but especially with her new friendship with Sumaya, who is Muslim, and who thinks that Nora is too busy erasing her own culture. Nora runs into Ruqi in the food court and buys her a snack, since she recognizes her as the little girl who interrupted her mother's speech. When Ruqi is reunited with Feek, and all of the flights are grounded, the group intensifies their search for Snickerdoodle. They all have their reasons; Feek thinks retrieving the cat (who is owned by another musician) will help his father pay attention to him, Sami wants to prove to his parents that he isn't scared of everything, and Nora is working through lots of personal issues with her mother, friends, and identity. Hanna, of course, is on a mission to advocate for pets, but has a lot of her facts about how pets are treated at the airport wrong. Will the four be able to work together, take care of Ruqi, find Snickerdoodle, and deal with their personal issues?
Strengths: This was a fun adventure that reminded me of Messner's Capture the Flag. I love that there is even an airport map, so we can see that the area isn't that big, and there are a lot of places that tweens can go safely, even with Ruqi along. While each character's voice is very clear (the chapters alternate viewpoints), the writing is absolutely seamless, and I wouldn't have guessed that four authors put the story together! The Muslim representation is varied, and there are lots of different issues that come up in passing; prayers are said, cultural touchpoints like dress are discussed, and the MONA conference connects all of the children, so they immediately take to each other, having seen each other in passing. Technology is used in an organic way, with Sami tracking flights, Mona wanting to post pictures, and Hanna using other's posts to try to find Snickerdoodle. Who knew that an airport could provide such an environment for adventure!?
Weaknesses: I'm not the sort of adult who doesn't want ANY lying or sneaking around in books, but given that this was at an airport, I was very worried about the group breaking into restricted areas, and was a bit surprised that they weren't arrested. Also, I think that if four tweens and a toddler went into a high end luggage store in an airport, the clerk would want to kick them out no matter what their cultural background was! 
What I really think: This is a great mix of culture, social media, animal activism, and adventure that will appeal to a wide variety of readers. The cover is great as well. Now all I need to make this airport experience complete is a Crunchy Fluffy Dream Bar from Chocolate Garden!

Smith, Roland. They Are Here: How Invasive Species Are Spoiling Our Ecosystem
May 30, 2023 by Godwin Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Smith, who has written so many good middle grade fiction books(from the new The Switch to the classic 2007 Peak), has a background in science and zoology. After discussing how he came to a career in science and what invasive species are, he lays out about thirty different flora and fauna that are categorized as invasive. Rats, birds, snakes, reptiles, cats, insects, "nibblers and rooters", fish, and mollusks all are examined. The different types of each category that are problematic are described, and Smith also talks about walk can be done to help with the problems they cause by being in the wrong place. There are also chapters on eating invasive species, and on whether or not humans might be considered one as well. The book ends with a chapter on biodiversity, a glossary, suggested readings, and complete ends notes. 

This is a little shorter than most middle grade chapter books, and readers who like narrative nonfiction and are interested in this topic will find this to be a quick read. There are very nice illustrations (which make the invasive species seem perhaps a bit cuddlier than they are; I'm looking at you, feral hogs!), although I wouldn't have minded some photographs, especially of the plants. I live near a wetlands, so it would have been helpful to see pictures to identify invasive plants. I also could have used some information on Callery pears, which I am starting to see everywhere. They are one of the reasons that grass near highways is clear cut; if allowed to grow, the pear trees would soon take over and create a dense thicket of growth! 

This would be a great gift for the science teacher in your life, and is a great addition to environmental titles like Sneed Collards' Hopping Ahead of Climate Change: Snowshoe Hares, Science and Survival and Fire Birds. It's a topic I wish interested more students!

Sunday, May 28, 2023

The First Magnificent Summer

Toalsen, R.L. The First Magnificent Summer
May 30, 2023 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In 1993, Victoria (who is tired of being called Tori) has to spend a month in Ohio with her father. She hasn't seen him for two years, since he walked out on her mother and younger siblings, Maggie and Jack. He's with Lisa and her daughter Annie now, and has a new baby, Devon. The trip starts okay. Tori gets to talk to Meemaw, who gives her some new journals and allows her to eat junk food, and Tori steels herself for dealing with her father. She won't complain or sulk, and she will impress him with her writing as well as the books she is reading (Virginia Wolff, William Carlos Williams, and Charles Dickens), and he will want to move back to Texas. The road trip across the US is hot and miserable; there's no entertainment, and her father packs bologna sandwiches, which are Victoria's least favorite food. They stop at her father's mother's house, which is okay, and at least provides her the space to deal with a personal emergency; she's gotten her period for the first time. Luckily, her mother has provided her with Womanhood Supplies, if not a lot of information about how long her period will last. Her father than drops a bombshell. He and Lisa are living in a trailer at a campground, and while Lisa and her children get to sleep in the camper, Victoria and her siblings have to sleep in a tent. There's a camp bathroom, so everything is just difficult. Her father provides experiences he thinks should be fun, like swimming, and is not nice when Victoria doesn't want to do them. He gets mad at her for constantly "scribbling" in her journal, and never has kind words to say. He's the kind of man who is even mean to the dog, Heidi. There's really no one for Victoria to turn to to get help, since he even listens in to her weekly calls to her mother. It's a tense and horrible summer which ends in her father finding and reading her journals, and being extremely angry. Finally, her mother and Meemaw retrieve the children. The author has a note at the end to children who might have a similar upbringing. 
Strengths: There are many kinds of child abuse, and Victoria's father probably wouldn't even acknowledge that his actions were problematic, especially 30 years ago, when parents were not overly concerned with children's feelings. His demeaning treatment of the children and dismissal of their feelings and needs is probably the most common kind of abuse that children experience. There have been several students this year who come to talk to me about parents who fight; I've never had to ask so many children if they feel safe and if I need to talk to someone for them. This is a particularly sticky situation, so it's good to see how Victoria deals with it. The summer setting is interesting and a bit jarring, since campgrounds have a presupposed atmosphere of fun and lightheartedness. This was definitely a sad and compelling read. 
Weaknesses: While younger readers will probably be more interested in the details of Victoria's period than I was, it did seem a bit odd that her mother had not given her a pamphlet of information along with the supplies. At least Lisa finally stepped in and provided some additional supplies, if not support.
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who enjoyed Stoddard's Bea is for Blended or Lowell's The Road to After

I've read several books like this where families are living at campgrounds for a while, and it makes me remember that my family lived in our travel trailer for a month when we moved from Maryland to Ohio. My dad would go to his new job as an elementary principal while my mother, who had not found a teaching job for the coming year, stayed with us. I never asked my parents about it, but it was an odd time. We owned the travel trailer, so we couldn't have been that badly off, but there was a lot of odd tension over money until my mother got a job a couple of years later. I mention this just because this sort of experience does stick with even young children. 

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Cartoon Saturday- The Do-Over

Vargas, Rodrigo and Yovaniniz, Coni. The Do-Over
May 23, 2023 by Clarion Books
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Mariana (Maru) and her father, a barber, have moved from California to Columbus, Ohio to be near Maru's Abuela, who runs a local Peruvian restaurant. Maru misses her friends, but is glad to be near her abuela, and wants to help her father out with the business, which isn't doing as well as he had hoped. She posts pictures on Telepik, hoping to raise awareness. These pictures lead Zoe and Everly to visit the shop and ask Maru's father if he would be interested in their organic temporary hair dye, which they have packaged in a water bottle. Maru thinks it is a great idea, and in preparation for the local Harvest Festival, her abuela and uncle help the kids clean up an old food truck and turn it into a mobile salon, True Colors. Maru doesn't tell her dad anything about this, and avoids all of his questions. Maru doesn't want to dye her own hair, which leads to a little bit of tension with her new friends, but they find that they are very busy with cutting and dying people's hair, sometimes giving them hair dos that look like ice cream cones or ears of corn (which, in Ohio, ends up being very popular). Her father isn't pleased when he finds out, but when True Colors needs more help, her father is willing to step in and lend a hand. 
Strengths: This was a fun graphic novel about Kids Doing Things that will appeal to the legions of young readers who themselves have dyed hair and the occasional nose ring. I appreciated that while Maru was sad that she had to leave California and was grieving her mother in realistic ways, she settles happily into her new life with new friends. Her relationship with her father is spot of for middle grade children, so it was good to see that she could turn to her grandmother while she is irritated with her father. The Harvest Festival and the True Colors salon are both a lot of of fun. 
Weaknesses: While the Columbus representation is fine in both the events, setting, and drawings, I was surprised to learn that both authors are based in Santiago, Chile. While I love seeing books set in my hometown, I would love to see something set in Chile. Just a little confused.
What I really think: Readers who like Greenwald's 2009 My Life in Pink and Green, Santopolo's Sparkle Spa, or Ortega's Frizzy will love this graphic novel. Personally, my grandmother's voice was VERY loud in my head when I read this. She would have not approved of people spending money "to look silly". We used to have a school rule that hair couldn't be dyed bright colors, but then people used to not come to school in their pajamas. This made me feel old!

Friday, May 26, 2023

The Labors of Hercules Beal

Schmidt, Gary. The Labors of Hercules Beal
May 23, 2023 by Clarion Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Hercules Beal lives on Cape Cod, and his brother Achilles has come back from Washington, D.C. to run the Beal Brothers Farm and Nursery after the tragic deaths of their parents. Because the farm is outside town, and school busing has changed, Hercules is attending the Cape Cod Academy for Environmental Sciences instead of going in Truro Middle School. It's a short walk away across a beautiful coastal landscape, but Hercules is apprehensive about his teacher, Lieutenant Colonel Hupfer (Danny from The Wednesday Wars). Hupfer believes in a disciplined classroom, and assigns a long term assignment, a Classical Mythology Application Project. Because of his names, Hercules is supposed to try to replicate the twelve labors of Hercules in his own life, and write a reflection on them for Hupfer. This is sometimes hard to do, but as the year goes on and the nursery and school are faced with weather challenges and other difficulties, Hercules manages to do a decent job at this. He occasionally gets in trouble, and is at odds with their new neighbor Mr. Moby, who doesn't want Herrcules' new dog, Mindy, peeing on his yard. After storms ravage the coast, even knocking a neighbor's house down completely and almost killing his wife, Hercules' school moves into one of the barns on the farm, which at least gives him the chance to perform his own version of cleaning the Augean Stables! There are some adventures, such as driving to Ohio with his brother's girlfriend, Viola, whom he fancies might be a vampire, in order to pick up a plant order. Both Beals miss their parents, and we see some flashbacks to earlier days when the family was happy together. When Achilles decides to marry Viola, who is going to have to move away from Cape Cod in order to attend medical school, he needs to leave the farm in Hercules' hands so he can travel to Hawaii to meet Viola's parents. There is some help running the store, but Hercules has his work cut out for him with keeping things running. Even though he is strict, Lieutenant Colonel Hupfer is helpful, and Hercules gets assistance from others as well. Does he have enough of a community to support him when tragedy arises?
Strengths: This was not as traumatizing as Just Like That, but has a similar East Coast setting and introspective tone. Bonus points for including a grown up version of a character from a book set in the 1960s! Lieutenant Colonel Hupfer was definitely my favorite character, and he clearly learned a lot from his teacher, Mrs. Baker. This is a fairly short book, but is packed with a lot of things, including a ton of mythological references taken right from Edith Hamilton's Mythology. There were also some interesting facts about the biodiversity of flora and fauna on Cape Cod. Mindy was a great fictional dog!
Weaknesses: I'm never a fan of dead middle grade parents, and losing both his mother and his father certainly made it hard for Hercules to move forward in his life. The tone was a bit disconnected, maybe to reflect Hercules' grief. 
What I really think: Schmidt's books do not circulate well in my library. I haven't bought them all, but the ones I have bought (The Wednesday Wars, Okay for Now, and First Boy) are just not books my students pick up. I will probably pass on purchase, but I know that all the other librarians and teachers will love this one. If a teacher requests it, I'll buy it. 
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, May 25, 2023

The Museum of Lost and Found

Sales, Leila. The Museum of Lost and Found
May 16, 2023 by Amulet Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus
Vanessa's mother is very busy with work, so she and her older brother Sterling try to pick up the slack while their father is stationed in Germany. The family has been in Edgewood Falls, Ohio after moving around quite a bit, and Vanessa has been friends with Bailey since second grade. In middle school, however, the two are growing apart, and when Bailey doesn't invite Vanessa to her birthday party, this is quite a blow. While out in the neighborhood, Vanessa comes across an abandoned museum that has signs posted that it is to be torn down; but it's too enthralling to stay out of. She finds a usual assortment of trash and debris, but also a large picture of two girls by a fountain. She cleans the place up, and starts a small museum of her own, containing memorabilia of her relationship with Bailey, complete with notes about what the items meant. Soon, however, her space is invaded by Eli, whom she knows from Hebrew school. He wants to have his own exhibit about his late dog, Einstein, and before long there are several exhibits, as well as visitors who are all sworn to secrect. Sterling notices that Vanessa is often not home after school and joins her as well. At one point, Vanessa's items are stolen, and she blames Bailey, but also starts to take a look at how she really treated her friend. After seeing the fountain from the picture in town, Vanessa investigates who painted the picture, and when she finds out it is the first work of famed artist Mariko Marsden, she tries to contact the family of the elusive painter. Being found out will spell the end of the museum, but will it lead to other opportunities for Vanessa and her friends?
Strengths: First of all, there is no Edgewood Falls in Ohio, but there is an Edgewood, and lots of Falls in Northeastern Ohio, so this was a brilliant setting! (I spent most of my childhood near Youngstown.) The idea of an abandoned museum is absolutely enthralling; if you are a fan of Edwards' Mandy and secretly want to clean up derelict buildings, this is the book for you. For younger readers, there is plenty of realistic friend drama that is very insightful. Failed middle school friendships usually have blame to be laid on all sides. The way the art mystery evolved was very effective, and I loved the inclusion of Hebrew school, especially after the family conversation about "having" to attend services for a year before having a bar or bat mitzvah. I imagine that this depicts the way a lot of families feel about religious education: tweens have to do it even if it doesn't really have any spiritual meaning! 
Weaknesses: I didn't care so much about the children's museum descriptions, but actual tweens might be more invested in that. It was nice that when Mariko Marsden funds the reopening of the museum, she stipulated that children will be given space for exhibits. 
What I really think: The author gives a shout out to Konigsberg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler , which has held up surprisingly well as Snyder's The Egypt Game, which I should reread if I still have a copy. This definitely captured the feel of that era of literature, but also incorporated modern day anxiety as well as Vanessa's body-focused repetitive behavior of tearing at the skin on her fingers, which I haven't seen in a middle grade novel before. There's a feel good ending, and was a very enjoyable book. Now, where's MY abandoned museum?

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

The singing has begun!

The important things to remember are 1.) I can't sing; I just pretend I can and 2.) Right after I get off the morning announcements with my song, students stream into the library to return books so they don't have to listen to me sing ever again. 

Both are Due.

I've gotten a language arts teacher involved with her spoke word poem, Ms. Yingling and her Bell. Having some audio problems with this one. Later today!

And, click here for a list of 100 Great New Books for 2023!

This is my magnum opus, from 2007, with my children as back up singers. The Overdue Blues

Ms. Yingling

Wild Poppies and Matteo

Saleh, Haya and Qualey, Marcia Lynx (Translator). Wild Popppies
May 23, 2023 by Levine Querido
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

When their father, a teacher, is killed in bombing in their city of Raqqun, Syria, brothers Omar and Sufyan flee to the countryside with their mother and young sister Thoraya to an aunt's house new Al-Nuaman. There are several families staying there, but they all keep to themselves as they struggle to overcome their trauma and provide themselves with daily necessities. Omar, as the oldest, takes his responsibilities seriously, especially since the mother suffers from diabetes and other health concerns. Sufyan, however, acts out. He and his friend Rayan are approached by the Falcons of Truth, a religious extremist organization that gives them money and presents and then kidnaps them and makes them carry out their agenda of "death to infidels". The Falcons of Truth travel around, finding people who they deem to be religiously suspect and putting them to death. Omar's mother speaks up against them and is saved only when an uncle pays for her release. Sufyan's friend, Salma, decides to go with Omar to find Sufyan, and dresses as a boy so she doesn't get into trouble. With war raging all around them and the Falcons of Truth terrorizing young boys and ordinary citizens, will Omar and Sufyan manage to be reunited and to get back to their mother?
Strengths: This book is translated from the Arabic, and I would love to see more books for young readers that were not written by US or British writers! This is a fairly short book that packs quite an emotional punch. I appreciated the difference in the brothers, with Omar feeling responsible, but Sufyan chafing at the lack of food and the situation the family finds themselves in. There are many details about what life is like in a war torn country, and the story moves along quickly. 
Weaknesses: There are many violent moments captured in this book, so I would keep this in mind. There is no description of rape (I think it is phrased that girls are forced to become wives of the violent men), but there are people held at gunpoint and shot point blank, as well as people who are killed in bombings. 
What I really think: I think it is important for my students to understand that the events in the news affect real people, many of them their age, and that we should be grateful for so many things in the US. I wish there had been a little more about the family's life before the father's death to give perspective; at one point, Sufyan considers using his money to buy a video game console, but realizes that since the family can't even afford food, they might be angry at him. That's a real life detail that makes this a valuable look into a horrible experience for privileged readers. Combine this with titles like Rosenblatt's Lost Boys, McKay's Thunder Over Kandahar, or Saeed's Amal Unbound to show US readers how fortunate they are. 

Leali, Michael. Matteo
May 23, 2023 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Eleven-year-old Matteo Lorenzini loves listening on his birthday to the story of how his parents found him at the fire station in Creekside when he was abandoned there as a baby, after they both wished on the big tree in the center of town for a child. He's happy with his family, but feels he is a disappointment to his father because he is small for his age and not a fabulous baseball player. His father played for the Blue Whales team when he was young, and it meant a lot to him because his father left his family about that time. Matteo receives the family baseball bat that was carved from a branch of the tree for his birthday. Even though he has a good friend in Azura, whose father owns the local bakery, Matteo doesn't feel like he can talk to anyone but his pet goldfish, Cricket, about his feelings of failure, or his crush on Omar, who used to be his good friend but doesn't hang out as much ever since Omar made the Blue Whales team and Matteo didn't. This year, Matteo makes the team, but isn't a great player. Not only that, but odd things are starting to happen to him. At first, it's his socks filling up with leaves, and it progresses to bark like scabs on his legs, and then moves on to leaves growing out of his skin. Does this have something to do with the fact that when Cricket died, he buried him near the tree? Finding the name "Kaz" on the tree, and connecting it with Mr. Kowalski, the elderly school librarian, Matteo asks him about what he knows of the history of the town and the tree, but doesn't get a lot of answers. The tree is dying, and the town is thinking of cutting it down, which worries Matteo. There are a lot of secrets in Creekside, and while Matteo and Azura are working on an interview project to celebrate the town's bicentennial, they uncover some of them, but will they be able to find out what family secrets of Matteo's are causing him to turn into a tree?
Strengths: Creekside was an amazing setting, and I loved that Matteo and Azura were interviewing residents about various facets of the town. The civic pride, especially around the tree, was great to see. I especially liked the depiction of Mr. Kowalski's library. The other interesting thing is that Matteo does consult his parents about the fact that he is turning into a tree, and they try to help him figure out what is going on. I don't want to reveal the family secrets, or the surprise ending, but it is all very satisfying. 
Weaknesses: This author's The Civil War of Amos Abernathy has been very popular in my library, but I'm not sure that my fans of this title are going to be as interested in this Pinocchio flavored fantasy. The fact that Matteo's parents are involved does make this seem like a better choice for younger readers. 
What I really think: This is an interesting modern fairy tale for readers who liked Applegate's The Wishtree or Haydu's One Jar of Magic.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

How to Survive in the Age of Dinosaurs!


Welcome to the blog tour for

How to Survive in the Age of Dinosaurs,

part of National Geographic Kids’ DinoMAYnia – a month-long celebration of all things prehistoric!

 All week blogs are hosting fun excerpts from this handy guide so you will know just what it takes to dodge deadly dinosaurs, ride out mega monsoons and escape other perils of the prehistoric!

How To Survive the Triassic

If you thought things were about to get easier after the death and destruction that ended the Permian period—well, you thought wrong. If you’re not being roasted alive in Pangaea’s vast deserts, you’re in danger of being swallowed up by its frequent monster floods. Despite these extreme conditions, the first dinosaurs managed to rise up in this era. Can you survive along with them?
  • The Triassic: 252-201 million years ago
  • Known For: The first dinosaurs
  • Best Place for Home Base: What are today the North and South Poles
  • Your Main Food Source: Shellfish
  • Try to avoid: Getting swept away by a mega-monsoon

Can You Eat That?

Finding food during the Triassic is tough. The Permian extinction has wiped out tons of species, so the monster-size insects of the Permian are gone, and many other edible things haven’t evolved yet. The interior of Pangaea is mostly desert, dry and barren of food. So for your best chance of finding a meal, head to the coast. The oceans are devastated by the Permian extinction, their creatures destroyed by a major drop in life-giving oxygen. But that devastation means there is a lot of space for survivors to take over. And take over they do. Bivalves (clams and their relatives) make it through the Permian extinction, and with less competition for food and other resources, their populations explode. They go on to rule the Triassic oceans. Along with gastropods (the family that includes modern day snails), these animals have the right stuff to survive the end-Permian conditions: The flat shape of these small, shallow-water dwellers helps them extract oxygen from the limited supply available. Shellfish have been a food source for about as long as humans have been around to eat them. Bivalves are high in protein, making them a great source of energy. There’s evidence that some 160,000 years ago, Homo sapiens lived in caves on the coast of southern Africa. The remains of prehistoric cooking fires littered with bivalve shells show what they liked to eat. There’s a good chance that you could do the same 200 million years earlier. To dig up your shellfish dinner, scout the coastline, looking for tiny holes in the mud. Those are bivalve breathing holes. When you find them, dig down. Modern clams like to hang out about eight inches (20 cm) below the surface, but it might take a little experimenting to figure out prehistoric mollusks’ habits. Once you’ve collected some, steam them over a fire and then devour!  

Buy | Buy on


How to Survive in the Age of Dinosaurs:

A Handy Guide to Dodging Deadly Predators, Riding Out Mega-Monsoons and Escaping Other Perils of the Prehistoric

 (ages 8-12, Paperback, National Geographic Kids Books)

 Boom, boom, BOOM … Look out! That’s a T. rex coming your way!? You’ve been transported back in time to the age of the dinosaurs. What do you do?! Test your chops and discover if you have what it takes to survive at a time when Earth looked, well, a tad different in this ultimate survival guide to the prehistoric age. Find out how to make it through exploding volcanoes and mega monsoons—while dodging giant Permian bugs! See how to fend off an angry pterosaur and learn what to do if you’re caught in a stampede of enormous titanosaurs. Discover what you could eat (spoiler alert: You better like the taste of insects!), and find out which hungry creatures just might try to eat you! Packed with tips, tricks, and helpful maps, this is the ultimate handbook for dinosaur fans who want to know what life on Earth was really like when dinos ruled. Could you survive in the age of dinosaurs?  

About the Author

Stephanie Warren Drimmer is an award winning science writer based in Los Angeles, California. She writes books and magazine features for kids about everything from the strangest places in space, to the chemistry of cookies, to the mysteries of the human brain. She has a degree in science journalism from New York University...but she thinks she likes writing for kids because she's secretly still one herself.



About the Expert Contributor

Dr. Steve Brusatte vertebrate paleontologist and evolutionary biologist and professor at the University of Edinburgh who specializes in the anatomy, genealogy, and evolution of dinosaurs and other fossil organisms. He has written over 110 scientific papers, published six books (including the adult pop science book The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, the textbook Dinosaur Paleobiology, and the coffee table book Dinosaurs), and has described over 15 new species of fossil animals. He has done fieldwork in Brazil, Britain, China, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania, and the United States. His research is profiled often in the popular press and he is a “resident paleontologist” and scientific consultant for the BBC's Walking With Dinosaurs team.

Website | Twitter



  • One (1) winner will receive a copy of How to Survive in the Age of Dinosaurs!
  • US/Can only
  • Ends 6/3 at 11:59 pm ET
  • Enter via the form below
Visit the other stops on the tour for more chances to win  

Blog Tour Schedule:

May 22nd— Mom Read It

May 23rd— Ms. Yingling Reads

May 24th – From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors

May 25th -- Log Cabin Library

May 26th— Mrs. Book Dragon

The Storyteller and Heroes of the Water Monster

Hobson, Brandon. The Storyteller
May 2, 2023 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ziggy and Moon Echota live in Poisonberry, New Mexico with their father. They are Cherokee, and Ziggy often has strange dreams that he is living in the past, when Native Americans were forced from their land by Andrew Jackson. He's very anxious about everything, and it doesn't help that his mother disappeared when he was very young. Many people he knows have had relatives disappear, like his friend Sheila, who had an aunt go missing. The police don't seem to care, and give scant attention to the cases. Ziggy is in a bad with his friends Corso (who is white) and Bojack-Runt. Ziggy begins to think that his mother's disappearance might have something to do with a nearby mysterious cave, and a girl at school, Alice, is reported to have information about it. She claims that the cave is inhabitant by the Nennehi, who are spirits. When Alice shows up at Ziggy's house in her nightgown with a coyote who can talk, Ziggy gets drawn into an odd and fascinating  world of stories and legends where he meets a variety of fanastical creature who help him on his quest. Will he be able to overcome his fears and to solve the mystery of his mother's disappearance?
Strengths: This was on the shorter side for a fantasy book, and seems to be a stand alone. Most of my students are not avid fantasy readers, and they blanch visibly when I suggest books that are 400 pages long and are the first in the series. Stand alones are a great way to introduce readers to fantasy books. This was fast paced, had a lot of details about Cherokee lore and figures, and dealt with Ziggy's anxiety in a realistic way against the background of a fantasy adventure. The concern about Native women going missing and the trauma that those disappearances cause is something that is starting to finally get some attention, and I haven't seen it addressed in middle grade fiction before. Hobson is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.
Weaknesses: This ended a bit abruptly. I may check a finished edition to see if I missed something in the E ARC. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who like James Bird's book, Young's Healer of the Water Monster , or Roanhorse's Race to the Sun

Young, Brian. Heroes of the Water Monster (Healer of the Water Monster #2)
May 23, 2023 by Heartdrum
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Edward and his father Ted move to a nicer house in Chandler, Arizona so that they can live with Janet, Ted's new girlfriend. Her son, Nathan, was taking care of Dew, a water monster, but as he gets older, is losing the ability to communicate with her. Edward is learning how to navigate this care, and the two are trying to get Yitoo, an older spirit, to mentor Dew. The local river is drying up and in danger. Yitoo feels that people are stealing water from it, but Edward is somewhat uncomfortable because Yitoo is blaming the pale people, and Edward is half white. Will The two boys be able to work with Dew and Yitoo and successfully avoid an environmental disaster?
Strengths: Edward and Nathan's relationship is such a good one, and I loved that they worked well together and embraced their cultural heritage. Surely not all middle grade step siblings fight with each other! Dew and Yitoo are interesting figures, and the powers they have are helpful to the ecological disaster unfolding in the area. The book moves quickly, and continues the story from the first book. 
Weaknesses: I need a good book with an overview of figures in various Native American folklore, since I don't know much about Navajo legends. It would help to have something like Napoli's Treasury of Norse Mythology, but with explanations of figures  and basic stories from some of the larger Native tribes. This would help when I needed some more background in modern folklore retellings like this one. 
What I really think: this is a good choice for readers who like fantasy novels that also deal with other issues, like Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls or Barron's Maya and the Rising Dark

Snyder, Laurel. The Witch of Woodland
May 16, 2023 by Walden Pond Press
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Bea and Zippy have been friends for a long time, but recently they have been growing apart as Bea is more interested in boys, make up, and being popular, and Zippy just wants to write. Zippy's mother wants her to have a bat mitzvah and arranges with the local Rabbi to give her lessons, since the family hasn't attended religious services frequently and Zippy hasn't received religious instruction. Zippy has lots of questions for Rabbi Dan, and isn't thrilled about the process, but goes through with it to make her mother happy. The tensions with Bea increase as Bea complains that Zippy hates everyone. She also dresses in black, and thinks she has magical control over the universe. When real magic occurs and Zippy seems to summon Miriam, whom she thinks at first is a ghost but who turns out to be a dybbuk, Zippy has to reevaluate many things in her life and decide what is important.

I loved that this had Jewish representation, but that Zippy's family only practiced their religion on holidays, since that is the relationship that so many people have with religion. This is a good choice for readers who want more information on dybbuks, which also appear in Lowe's Aviva vs. the Dybbuk (where the family is on the very religious end of the spectrum), Panitch's The Two Wrong Halfs of Ruby Taylor and Markell's The Ghost in Apartment 2R.

Monday, May 22, 2023

MMGM-The Jake Show

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Levy, Joshua. The Jake Show
May 23, 2023 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Jake's mother and father had a bitter divorce, and because of the custody arrangements, Jake has had to go to several new schools. His mother has become more devout in her Judaism and even married a rabbi, Shmuel. His father has remarried Kayla and has backed away from religion altogether. His new school, Broward County Jewish Day School, is a compromise. Jake's whole life seems like a compromise. With his mother, he is Yaakov, and knows to wear his yarmulke, follow her restrictive diet, and not talk about girls. With his father, he knows to not talk about his mother, and to concentrate on things his father likes, like technology, especially television. Jake takes a lot of comfort in television programs with functional families, and finds watching them more restful than having to navigate his own families' unspoken rules. At his new school, he is Jacob. He checks to see what other boys are wearing in the way of yamulkes (Knit! How did he not guess that?), wears the school polo, and tries to keep his head down. This is hard when Caleb and Tehilla want to be friends with him, and get very invested in their "school project". That is, they do their project, and then use it as an excuse to hang out at Caleb's house. Caleb's family is well-to-do and supportive, but he has had a few problems at school when he came out as gay. The school is just progressive enough that they don't kick him out, but there are some people who are bothered by it. Tehilla and he mother are sometimes unhoused, and students make fun of her for her poverty. The two have been friends for a long time, and spent the summers at Camp Gershoni. They think that Jake should go as well. He knows that the camp would be too Jewish for his dad, and not Jewish enough for his mother, so he and his new friends create two websites and mailings, and get the parents interested in fictional camps. They even have them pay online, and then use the money for Camp Gershoni. There are some wrinkles when the time comes to get to camp, and Shmuel and Kayla end up being the key to continuing the ruse long enough for Jake to get there. Camp is great, but Jake can't keep his parents in the dark forever, especially since one of his teachers from JDS is a counselour. When the truth comes out, can Jake use it to finally tell his parents how much their fighting affects his life? 
Strengths: FINALLY!  A book about a Jewish middle schooler with lots of details about Jewish life that is not about a bar mitzvah. I loved that even though Jake does have his during the book, it's barely mentioned. Instead, we see family celebrations, religious education in school, and discussions of different dietary and clothing specifications. I was also really intrigued at Jake's view of the world through television at the beginning of the book. Even though this waned a bit as he got out of his head and made friends, we even get a nice description of the phrase "jump the shark" as it pertains to the show Happy Days and all subsequent television, and was a good way to illustrate Jake's longing for the past version of his family that no longer exists. Shmuel and Kayla are great, and play a particularly good role in the custody hearings that finally take into consideration what Jake really wants. I loved Taylor's All-of-a-Kind Family books when I was young because of their view into another kind of life, and if this book doesn't win the award in Taylor's honor, there is no justice in this world. 
Weaknesses: The idea that Jake would be able to get into Camp Gershoni, falsify all of the documents involved, and FLY there was a bit farfetched, but huge bonus points to Levy for working out a way that Jake could go to Camp Gershoni that seemed realistic. Also, I am not a fan of any religions at all, so I sort of wanted Jake's mother to lose custody of him. The parents fighting over religion, and the effect on Jake, seemed borderline abusive to me. 
What I really think: As someone who spent a LOT of time at Methodist church activities in middle school (not just services, but youth group, confirmation class, retreats, and Vacation Bible School), I enjoy reading books that talk about the way that religion informs daily life without being spiritual. I think this is how many middle schoolers view religion. It's something to DO rather than something to BELIEVE. While the story does have some serious issues of identity and family issues, the book cover is great, there are plenty of hijinks, and the story is ultimately fun and upbeat. Another great title from the author of Seventh Grade vs. The Galaxy

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Opinions and Opossums

Braden, Ann. Opinions and Opossums
May 2, 2023 by Nancy Paulsen Books / Penguin Random House
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Agnes is being raised by a single mother who works hard at a local bank for Mr. Adams, who is very concerned not only that her mother dress in a professional manner, but that she AND Agnes attend church. Since Agnes is in 7th grade, this means an 8 week confirmation class also attended by his daughter, Miranda. Agnes is undergoing a lot of orthodontic work, and on her way to an appointment with the older neighbor who drives her, Gracy, the two stop and help an injured opossum. Gracy was an anthropologist who has many interests, and she shares her knowledge with Agnes. Previously, Agnes and her best friend Mo would get together and write amusing stories about abandoned shopping carts, but Agnes wants to concentrate instead on thoughts about the opossums, leading to a slight rift. The biggest issue is confirmation class, where Miranda wants the members, who include Tya and Jaclyn, to sign a statement saying they believe in God. Agnes isn't sure she does, at least not the old, white bearded guy mainline religion describes. She sees God as someone who looks more like Maya Angelou, which Miranda and her father think is blasphemy, which in turn causes Agnes' mother to be worried about her chances of promotion at the bank. Agnes wants to feel empowered about her own beliefs, and to wear the cool tank take that Mo gets her that says "God is a Woman", but as her mother points out "sometimes what you want isn't as important as what you need". Will Agnes find a way to be true to herself and to speak out with her own truth?
Strengths: This was under 200 pages, which is something I haven't been seeing much in middle grade, even though 30 years ago even YA books were about 150 pages. As someone who had to spend an entire year in confirmation class, eight weeks seems like a short time, but it was good to see this representation of tweens going to church. The small size of the class, however, also made sense. Agnes' questions about religion are reasonable and balanced nicely with the friend and family drama, as well as her anthropological dive into the world of opossums. It was good to see that things were on the upswing for Agnes and her mother at the end of the book. I wouldn't have minded a little bit more of the story; I was kind of curious about the grandmother's views of religion and how those affected the family. 
Weaknesses: Dressing professionally is not a bad thing. Hose aren't evil. My school's dress code is basically "Cover your private bits, if you don't mind," so I would love to see a return to more formal school outfits-- are jeans and t shirts really that much to ask? No, Agnes' shoulders shouldn't be seen as a distraction, and a tank top with wide straps is fine, but students are casual enough without them getting the message from books that even when they grow up they should be irritated with professional dress and that bosses who demand it are narrow minded and horrible. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who like girl power titles with a philosophical bent like Firestone's Dress Coded or Dee's Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet

Fun fact: The church I took my children to for years before my daughter's Sunday school teacher told her I was going to hell required a THREE YEAR confirmation class in middle school but a six week one to join the church as adults. This book really spoke to me, because middle school confirmation class was definitely the start of my life long atheism. 

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Joy to the World

Shappley, Kai and Bunker, Lisa. Joy, to the World
May 9, 2023 by Clarion Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Joy and her friend Maxput together a Sparkle Squad with Steph (Max's friend) to practice cheers so they can all make the cheer squad at their school in Appleton, Texas. Joy has always loved cheer, and has recently moved to town so that her mother can find a job, since her father left when she and her brother Will were very young. Things are going well, and all three make the squad. Joy even successfully choreographs some routines, and is feeling in her element when a parent complains. Joy is a trans girl, but has been "living in stealth" for her own safety. Not only does she get removed from the team, but she has nasty comments made to her, and learns about legislation in Texas that would be damaging to the trans community. With the help of new friends from the LGBTQIA+ community like Aunt Caroline and Kai Shappley, Joy finds ways to get her message out about being accepted for who she is. She also manages to find a community, and get the support of her friends. 
Strengths: Given all of the negative experiences facing trans children, it's good to see a book that doesn't shy away from these but does show positive progress being made. The portrayal of cheerleading in Texas  was interesting, since it seems to differ a bit from cheer in Ohio; we've had a handful of boys on the squad over the years, so there wouldn't have been an issue with Joy being on the team, even for a very evil principal who misgenders her. We have also had several trans students, and they seem to be accepted by other students, although I certainly don't know everything they've experienced at school. Cheerleading is always of interest, so it's good to add some diversity to the portrayal of the sport in middle grade literature. 
Weaknesses: The style of writing felt oddly distant, and it was odd to read Joy saying things like "Kai Shappley is totally amazing and I love her," when Shappley is listed as an author. I'm sure that collaborating can be a tricky business, and it was good to see Bunker involved. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who enjoyed Bunker's titles, Zenobia July and Felix YZ or Lukoff's Different Kinds of Fruit.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Guy Friday- Sunshine

Krosoczka, Jarrett. Sunshine
April 18, 2023 by Graphix
E ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

In Hey, Kiddo, we learned a lot of about Krosoczka's early life, and his family's struggles with all manner of issues. This graphic novel style memoir picks up the thread as he is in high school and given the opportunity to spend a week working at a camp for children with cancer and their families. It's a sleep away camp, and he travels with several classmates and teachers to work there, even though his grandparents think that it might be a depressing experience. It's certainly not easy to see children battling this illness, but the camp is a chance for them to have ordinary experiences and not necessarily be defined by their disease. Jarrett is assigned to work with Diego, who has brain cancer and is wheelchair bound. He is not very communicative, and it takes some effort to get him involved in camp activities. There are typical camp experiences, like dining hall meals, campfire stories, lake swimming, and a mascot costume (which can, in fact, be stinky if not cared for properly!) as well as issues involving medical care of fragile children. Jarrett takes comfort in how close many of the families are, and bonds with a young boy named Eric. The week isn't sad, but rather hopeful and life affirming, and Jarrett keeps in contact with several of the families, as well as his fellow counselors. An author's note at the end explains how much this camp meant to Krosoczka, and how working there (and later at Newman's Hole in the Wall camp) affected his life. 

While Krosoczka's Hey Kiddo was a bit grim, this book shows the resiliency that he acquired from having to live a difficult life with a mother suffering through addiction and grandparents who had problems of their own. For readers who are themselves going through difficult things, this is an excellent representation of someone who managed not only to survive bad time, but to thrive and to try to help others. There is a good balance in this story between information about the camp and the children attending it, and Jarrett's own personal emotional journey. The other counselors and the teachers are sympathetically portrayed, but also have their foibles on display (e.g. one of the teachers smokes) in endearing ways. There are some hijinks, but also some serious issues, and we find out just enough about life after camp. I wonder if we will see a graphic memoir of Krosoczka's entry into the world of publishing?

Since I was reading an advanced readers copy, I'm not entirely sure what the color palette will be; the few pages in color are a muted gray with touches of soft orange, but I wonder if this changes when everyone arrives at the camp. The cover certainly has more green, mirroring the outdoor environment.

This is a great choice for fans of the first memoir who want to see what this author did later in life, as well as readers who like more contemplative graphic memoirs like Harper's Bad Sister, Bermudez's Big Apple Diaries, Russo's Why Is Everybody Yelling? Growing Up in My Immigrant Family or Page's Button Pusher. People of a certain generation will remember Norma Klein's Sunshine, which was about a young mother dying of cancer, so the title already had that connotation for me!

Thursday, May 18, 2023

The Firefly Summer

Matson, Morgan. The Firefly Summer
May 2, 2023 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ryanna's mother, a young actress, dies when she was three, and so it's always been just her and her screenwriter father. Recently, he has remarried, and Ryanna doesn't mind her new stepmother, Ginger, at all, especially since she is also her pediatrician! The family is all set for a regular, boring summer in California when job plans look like they are taking her father out of the country to work on a new film, and a letter arrives from her mother's parents, the Van Camps. They would like Ryanna to spend a summer with them "while she still can". Ryanna's not thrilled with the idea, but when she sees a snapshot of her mother at her age, she is intrigued and decides to head off to the Poconos to stay with them. She's in for a bit of a shock when their home is actually a summer camp that hasn't been operational since the 1990s (it's actually where her parents met, filming a camp film!), and is hosting four cousins and a number of aunts and uncles! Ryanna is supposed to jump into the lake with all her clothes on first thing, and is just overwhelmed by the different circumstances, but her grandmother convinces her to stay. The camp is in danger of being torn down, since the grandfather bought the land from his best friend who owned a camp across the lake on a handshake sort of agreement. Since his friend has died, and the grandfather can't find the paper, the friend's son is taking possession and putting up condos. His son used to be friends with Ryanna's cousins, but is now a persona non grata. Ryanna loves detective books, so when her grandmother gives her one that belonged to her mother, she is surprised and delighted to see notes from her mother. These end up leading to several treasure maps, and Ryanna hopes that she will be able to find the deed so the family can stay at the camp. Will she and her cousins be able to find this, and will Ryanna gain new insight into her own mother, her family, and what happened between her grandparents and her father?
Strengths: Who wouldn't want to spend time at a summer camp without a camp agenda? Ryanna and her cousins get to hang out at the lake, go to the crafts cabin, and eat in a mess hall, but don't have to do the boring things, like swimming lessons and making lanyards against their will. I found it fascinating that the adult children of the Van Camps all had jobs in professions where they could take the summer off and return to the Poconos! The treasure map is a solid mystery and the stakes are high. The interpersonal differences between the newly introduced cousins offer just enough tension. This reminded me a tiny bit of Eulberg's The Best Worst Summer, with all of the 1990s pop culture references to when Ryanna's mom was growing up. Definitely a fun camp story with a twist. 
Weaknesses: I had trouble keeping the cousins, aunts, and uncles straight. 
What I really think: This is a very solid middle school story, but the cover looks a little young to me. I think even Young Adult books have more of a cartoon style now, but I'm not sure if my students get that quite yet! I will purchase a copy for people who like summer stories like Greenwald's Welcome to Dog Beach, Hurwitz's Welcome to Renn Lake, and Berne's Shabbat Sabotage

I'm still a little sad that I was never asked to spend the summer working on my grandmother's dairy farm with my cousins. We lived a half hour away, but my mother didn't want to "bother" anyone with me. I'm sure my cousins who HAD to work on the farm would have been glad to get away, but it looked like such fun. I was fourth from the youngest of 38 cousins, and never really got to know any of them very well. 

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

The Takeout

Badua, Tracy. The Takeout
May 9, 2023 by Clarion Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus
Mila's grandparents moved to the US from the Philippines so that their children could have a better life, so her grandmother is not happy that her father has given up working as an engineer to start up a Filipino-Indian fusion food truck, The Banana Leaf, with his friend Mr. Ram. Since her mother has had to quit work to go take care of her aging parents back in the Philippines, Mila and her father have moved in with her grandmother in Coral Beach, Florida. It's a very different community that the one Mila is used to in California, where it was very diverse. Mila has managed to make friends with a group of popular girls, but she feels very different from them, since they are all wealthy and care more about dressing the same. They do share an interest in the Fab Foodie brothers, social media darlings Chip and Chaz Darlington, so when the two come to town, Mila is excited that her father gets tickets to the soft opening of their new restaurant, Marigold and Myth. To her horror, however, Mila realizes that their menu is copied straight from The Banana Leaf's, and research into their background (which she does along with Mr. Ram's nephew Ajay) reveals that the duo has copied another restaurant and hurt their business in the past. Using some of the Filipino folk magic that her older sister Catalina is studying, Mila tries to prove that the Darlington brothers have targeted her father's business, and to stop them before it is too late. 
Strengths: Since their truth serum and "vex hex" seems to provoke responses in people, I think we'll have to say there is magic, so this would be a fantasy book. The Banana Leaf is a very cool food truck, and the description of food made me hungry! I appreciated that Mila wanted to stay close to her Filipino culture even when she had trouble with the folk magic, and it was interesting that her sister, who was six years older, knew how to speak Tagalog when Mila didn't. Mila and Ajay make a good team, and the Darlington brothers are villains with a twist. 
Weaknesses:  While I can understand that Mila was sad to have to be living with her grandmother in a new town, she had rather negative attitudes about her new friends, but also about her grandmother. I can understand not wanting to sublimate her personality for her friends, but not liking her grandmother because she wanted to keep her home clean and wanted the best for Mila and her father seemed unreasonable. I guess I'm just feeling more sympathetic to the grandparent demographic, since I am rapidly approaching it. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who lived Little's Worse Than Weird and Torres' Stef Soto, Taco Queen, but want a little more magic, like Borba's The Midnight Brigade

Ms. Yingling