Monday, July 31, 2023

MMGM- Slappy Beware! and Fablehaven Cookbook

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

For some reason, there always seem to be lots of spooky titles being released in the summer, and this year is no exception! As I head into the August releases (here on April 12), I see a large number of titles. To kick off this month of  middle grade horror, what better title to review than this back story of the Goosebumps' series Slappy? 

Stine, R. L. Slappy Beware!
September 20, 2022 by Scholastic Inc.
Library copy

Back in the quasi-medieval times, we meet Ephraim Darkwell, a toymaker whose pleasant business hides his evil intentions. When the townspeople realize that he is dabbling in the dark arts, they decide to attack. Someone comes to warn Darkwell, who doesn't quite believe the threat, but when his nephew Isaac is beaten, he puts his evil plan into action. He has created a wooden doll and given it the happy and innocous name of Slappy, but tasked it with being evil and doing an act of destruction every day, lest he perish. Slappy takes gladly to the challenge of being evil and prepares to unleash his ways on the world. We flash forward to the present day in Florida and meet Reggie and Poppy. Reggie has a ventriloquist dummy named Junior with whom he preforms in the school talent show. Poppy plays the banjo but has a less than stellar performance. She tends to copy Reggie, and for her birthday, asks for a dummy as well. She recieves Mr. Wood, which her father has picked up at a local toy store. Right away, things are odd; Mr. Wood makes rude comments to the children's aunt at a family gathering. Of course, the siblings start to squabble, each blaming the other for Mr. Wood's actions. Their parents don't believe them that it is the toy that is creating the havoc, but eventually, everyone realizes that the dummy is evil. The father tries to return it, but Slappy ends up in the trash. There, he is picked up by Bryce Carlton, who tries to make Slappy part of the family, bringing him to dinner. His friend Deshaun thinks it is a little weird, but indulges his friend. Slappy  keeps up with his practice of doing evil things every day. This is sometimes hard, and he is angry when his family foils his plans. He's frustrated, especially when he falls overboard and is waterlogged, and thereby consigned to be left alone while his family goes out without him. At this time, Darkwell appears to Slappy to say that he has made peace with the world and wants Slappy not to be evil anymore. He works a spell, but is it enough to keep Slappy down?
Strengths: This is worth buying for the complete list of Goosebumps books in the front, as well as a nice pictorial spread of the covers of all the series at the back. I haven't read all of these books, since my library only had the Fear Street series, and it wasn't until  Son of Slappy came out ten years ago? that I read them Goosebumps titles. They are all a bit goofy, but still appear to middle school readers who like a less serious horror book. There are plenty of cliff hanger chapter endings, jump scares, and unbridled, somewhat silly evil. 
Weaknesses: I'm such a fan of Stine's handling of historical details that I was expecting more from the Darkwell installment. Young readers will think it's fine. Also, there are so many books by Stine that I can't keep them all straight, nor make sure that all of my series are complete! 
What I really think: I bought this one without having read it and have no regrets. I am a bit curious to see if there is a small series arc of new Slappy tales. 

Mull, Brandon and Mull, Cherie. The Official Fablehaven Cookbook: Wondrous Recipes Inspired by the Characters from the Series
August 1, 2023 by Shadow Mountain
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Starting with a story about Seth and Kendra dealing with the disappearance of some Brownies who often help in their kitchen (if you know the series, you won't be surprised at the perpetrators!), this is a solid collection of recipes for different meals, although it seemed to skew a little to the sweet side. It reminded me a bit of The Caretaker's Guide to Fablehaven in the beautiful formatting-- lots of full color pictures, page decorations, and very good photos of every recipe, which is a big plus. Everything was tied into the book very well, and there's a bit of discussion about the food, which I always enjoy. 

Am I going to make a unicorn milkshake now? Probably not. Would my mother have let me roll the rim of a glass in frosting and then in sprinkles when I was twelve? Absolutely not. Would I be more than happy to melt chocolate and make that unicorn horn if I had a grandchild? You bet. This is fun to read, and since I do a lot more reading than cookie, this was fine. The recipes are generally pretty solid; pancakes, hummus, and play dough recipes all looked like ones I had. For fans of the series, this would make a great gift, especially if packaged with some of the more exotic ingredients. 

Would I have let my own personal children make fairy toast? No. Was my mother perfectly fine with cinnamon toast? Yes. If making guacamole and putting a face on it makes you happy, this is a great book to have. Just make sure you lay in an extra supply of sugar! 

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Recess All-Stars The Invincible Girls Club #5

Alpine, Rachele. Recess All-Stars (The Invincible Girls Club #5)
Published November 15, 2022 by Aladdin
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Lauren, who worked with a local dog shelter in book one of The Invincible Girls Club series, Home Sweet Forever Home, is back, and super enthused abotu several things! Her class is having a career week, and she has several great ideas about careers to investigate. She's also very insistent about righting what she feels is a wrong at her school during recess: only the boys use the kick ball field, and they won't let the girls on it! After staging a protest, wherein the girls rushed to the field right after lunch and staked their claim, she and the other girls challenge the boys to a competition. Whoever wins will have unlimited access to the field. Until then, they take turns using the field for practice. Brady, one of her classmates, is not happy with the fact that the girls are making their feelings known, and also makes fun of Lauren's idea for a career choice-- a sports announcer. Since Lauren doesn't play football, he asks, how can she possibly announce games? Lauren contacts local sports announcer Charley Mosk and asks if she can shadow him. He goes one better and asks Lauren to come and help him cover a local Timber Wolves game! In the meantime, the girls practice, but there is a learning curve. At first, Lauren is overly serious, and yells a lot at practice, which doesn't make playing very fun. She consults her stepbrother, Carter (who is a cross country runner) about games that the girls could play that would be team building exercises that would also help improve skills related to kick ball. She also talks to her uncle and his partner, who run the Sprinkle and Shine bakery, and incorporate some sweet treats into their practice regime. Ruby, Emelyn, and Myka all help with practices, and the girls at school anxiously await the game. Lauren helps with the football game coverage, which is a little nerve wracking, but goes well. It also leads to a spectacular project. When the day of the showdown finally arrives, will the fate of who uses the field lay solely with the winners? The end of the book includes one page biographies of pioneering women in sports. 

Alpine, who has also written the older middle grade sports books You Throw Like a Girl and Friday Night Stage Lights, does a great job of empowering her characters to make changes in the world around them by harnessing their Girl Power! I love that on her web site she even has a patch program where girls can read one of the books in this series, do one of the activities in the back, and apply for a patch! ( I would definitely have been saving up my babysitting money for one of those when I was in middle school! 

I love that so many "best practices" are in play here. Lauren's mother and stepfather are so committed to family dinners that two nights a week Scott packs up dinner and the family eats it in the van between Carter's practices! Sweet treats are for special occasions, but these happen frequently. Even the resolution of the war between the boys and the girls is handled well, and everyone is a winner win the children are all able to play nicely together. 

I'm a huge fan of books with Children Who Do Things, and this is a great example of girls having goals and working hard to acchieve them. I haven't read any but this book and the first one, but definitely have to find Quilting a Legacy and check out how the girls work sewing into their lives! If this is the sort of book that appeals to you, take a look at Coco Simon's books about cupcakes, sundae shoppes, and doughnuts, as well as these series: Deutsch's Girls Who Code, Sheinmel's Kindess Club, and Soderberg's Daring Dreamers Club
  Ms. Yingling

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Don't Trust the Cat

Tracy, Kristen. Don't Trust the Cat
July 25th 2023 by Chronicle Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus 

Fifth grader Poppy is trying out for the middle school play with three of her best friends, Henri, Rosario, and Kit. They hope to get secondary roles as dancing ponies, figuring that the 8th graders will get speaking parts in their drama teacher's production of Circus Animal Tricks, Riddles, and Songs. They hope to avoid being cast as dogs. Poppy doesn't really want to be in the play at all, and doesn't dance very well, which sometimes ends veyr poorly. She has a cat, Mitten Man, whose life seems so much better. Mitten Man doesn't have to do homework that involves recreating a solar eclipse on paper, does he? After recieving a special collar for her cat, Poppy makes a wish, and ends up switching bodies. "Big Poppy", as Poppy refers to her body while Mitten Man inhabits it, is fearless. He not only auditions for the play, but gets an even larger role. Since he has an innate sense of cat superiority, he tries to make a splash for his human by making new friends and having new experiences. There are plenty of cat like moments, of course, when he asks to change seats so he can sit in the sun, although naps in school are discourages. It's hard for Poppy to inhabit Mitten Man's body, since she has to poop in a box and deal with Death Tiger, a neighborhood stray who often comes around and presents her with dead birds. This is a constant source of tension between the two as they struggle to find a way to go back to their own bodies. When Poppy gets lost as a cat, Mitten Man is worried that the switch is permanent. When the two are reunited, will they be able to figure out the clue to returning to their own bodies?
Strengths: There are many more dog adventure books than cat adventure ones, mainly because cats don't seem as inclined to save humans. If a cat were in a human body, however, I think that their superior attitude would play out exactly as Tracy describes! There are just enough details about what it is like to spend the day as a cat to be interesting but not gross, and the fun comes from seeing Mitten Man acting like a 5th grader! I have plenty of readers who adore cats, and this might be something that Hunter's Warrior Gang series can be handed that might encourage them to read something else!
Weaknesses: There were a lot of cat details, and the book was a little longer than some middle grade titles. While readers who like cats will enjoy this, I wasn't as fond of it.
What I really think: I like Tracy's more YA books, and her Bessica Lefter series, and this was quite a different style for her. Fun to watch authors stretch a bit. Keep this one around to hand to students wearing cat ears or shirts with sequined felines.

Friday, July 28, 2023

The Showdown

Burkhart, Jessica. The Showdown (Saddlehill Academy #2)
Published July 25, 2023 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Abby St. Clair is back at Saddlehill Academy, but is still fighting with her step sister Emery over the incidents involving Selly and Nina. Abby steadfastly refuses to even discuss the incidents with the slightly younger Emery, and won't even talk to her. This causes problems with her team, and Thea and Vivi wish that Abby would at least discuss what happened. Abby is also still furious at her father, especially when he misses another of her Saturday competitions so he can work. Now that he is remarried, Abby is super protective of their time together. The team is doing okay, and Abby has hopes of getting to national competition. There are some students who have sponsorship deals for clothing or beauty products because they are doing so well. Abby is a little distracted by a cute rider from another school, Mila. The two get along, and Abby even invites Mila to a school dance. Her friends are all very supportive of the fact that she likes girls but may also like boys, and her father is supportive as well. No one expects her to have her identity completely figured out. After a screaming dispute in the stables during a competition, their coach Rebecca is very angry with Abby, Selly, and Nina, as well as Thea, who was trying to calm the group down. Will Abby be banned from competition? Will she ever make up with Abby? What does the future hold for her relationship with Mila? The book ends on a cliffhanger, so these questions may be answered in the next book, for which I have not seen a title. 
Strengths: As in the first book, there are some fun things about Saddlehill Academy. The girls frequently go out to fancy dinners, there's a dance, and the whole idea of a boarding school appeals to many readers. There are plenty of equestrian details, and many students have to deal with blended families. Abby does finally come clean to Rebecca about the incident with Selly's race time, and Selly forgives her in front of Rebecca, but this is just an act. There's a little bit of progress made on this whole situation, but no conclusion yet. Rebecca is a steadying force who motivates the girls towards better behavior. 
Weaknesses: The constant drama was wearing. I would have liked to see Abby get come conseling to deal with her anger, and the fact that Selly and Nina were never punished for the blackmailing was a bit concerning. 
What I really think: Reading about Abby's attitude and actions got a bit wearing; by the end of the book, she still hasn't really made peace with Emery and is very nasty to the younger girl. My readers who enjoy horse books are not given to as much drama; they would rather have more details about the horses. 

Parry, Roseanne. A Horse Named Sky
August 29, 2023 by Greenwillow Books
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

A colt is born in Nevada in the mid 19th century, and named Sky by his family. He is raised next to Storm, a foal, and the two have a good life until humans start encroaching on their home waters. The group's stallion, Thunder, manages to keep everyone safe, but when Sky gets to be old enough, he has to either fight Thunder for dominance, or leave. He chooses to leave. Water has been hard to find, and Storm follows him. They are both eventually caught by humans, but Storm manages to escape. Sky is told by the other horses that he will at least have water and food, but not being able to run free makes Sky unhappy. He's eventually branded and trained by a young human who is not well treated by the adults. Eventually, Sky runs away, and finds Storm in another human camp. They manage to break out, and run to the Steens Mountain area in Oregon where they can live freely and in peace. 

There is a wealth of information at the end of the book about many aspects of history, wild horses, and consrvation. There's a map of the area at this period in history, and additional information about the Pony Express, native flora and fauna, silver mining, and Native Americans. The bibliography points interested readers to other resources. 

The best part about this book for me was the fantastic illustrations by Kirbi Fagan, done in a style reminiscent of the Wesley Dennis illustrations in Marguerite Henry's midcentury horse books like Misty of Chicoteague. These are not just a few pictures on the pages, but whole pages, sometimes black with white illustrations, that blend seamlessly with the story and provide an evocative background. The details of the trees, the variety of the small animals, and the feeling of motion in the drawings of the horses are all so well done, and add so much to the story. 

This is written from Sky's point of view, so there are a lot of references to human items and behaviors in odd terms, like "grabbers" for hands and "clickers" for guns. For some reason, the mules seem to have an accent. This makes the books perfect for readers who liked Erin Hunter's Warriors books or series like Lasky's Horses of the Sky

Fans of Nir's Once Upon a Horse series, Farley's Phantom Stallion books, Skylar's Shadow of a Doubt, and Elliot's Bea and the New Deal Horse will love learning about the plight of wild horses in the US west, and take the environmental message to heart. 

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Brick Dust and Bones

Fournet, M. R. Brick Dust and Bones
July 18, 2023 by Feiwel Friends
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Marius lives near New Orleans, in a family mausoleum, since his family has dealt with ghosts in the cemetary for generations. His mother has passed away, although her ghost is still around to give him advice. He gets human money for being the caretaker, but he is interested in earning Mystical credit in order to bring his mother back from the dead. In order to do this, he traps more dangerous spirits in his book, and sells them to Papa Harold at the Habada-Cherie. There is a scale that extracts the spirit from the book and tells how much should be paid. Boogeymen aren't too bad to capture, although Marius occasionally has to hide in a child's bedroom to do this. When he is not earning enough, he agrees to take on more serious monsters, although not everyone thinks that this is something children should be doing. Marius also has a secret; his best friend is a mermaid. Not the sparkling, happy, Disney type mermaid, but a creepy Southern one with a frightening maw and endless appetite for flesh. We don't quite know why their bond is so deep, but Rhiannon has never hurt Marius, and helps him in his monster hunting frequently. In between going to school at Madame Millett's small academy (and having to deal with her daughter, who taunts him and calls him Mary) and taking care of the ghosts at the cemetary, Marius takes on increasingly difficult monsters. Papa Harold sends him after a candy lady who ends up being a much more dangerous boo hag in disguise, and he earns a lot of Mystical credit, but he uses it it to save the soul of one of his teachers, who has sold her soul to a demon in exchange for the health of her children. To earn more, Marius eventually agrees to capture a terrifying rougarou. This isn't easy, and it takes all of his skill as well as help from Rhiannon to subdue it. Will this be enough to bring back his mother? 
Strengths: This was a different type of magical horror book that I think my students will like. It combines the horror level of K.R. Alexander with the folklore of Tracey Baptiste or Ronald L. Smith, and even adds a pretty good level of monster related gore. Marius is a very sympathetic character who tries his hardest to get by on his own, with very limited resources. At one point, he steals supplies from Madame Millett, and her daugher gives him a hard time, but in the end, Madame Millett helps save the day. Lots of interesting lore to delve in to. Fans of Delaney's The Last Apprentice will enjoy this more modern tale of monster hunting. 
Weaknesses: Since I am not familiar with the magic native to the New Orleans area, I could have used some more explanations. Why can brick dust take out monsters? I get the silver, but the brick dust was new. There were times when I felt like I was missing a first book, especially when it came to Madame Millett's school, Rhiannon, and Marius' own mother's death, but this seems to be a debut novel.
What I really think: It's a bad idea to bring people back to life; won't go into the details, but I can't imagine this would end well. A sequel is hinted at, and I would be interested to see what Marius has to deal with in another book. Definitely purchasing. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

The Chaos Monster

DasGupta, Sayantani. The Chaos Monster (Secrets of the Sky)
July 18, 2023 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ten year old twins Kinjal and Kiya Rajkumar live in Parsippany, New Jersey the same setting for The Serpent's Secret and Force of Fire with their mother and father, who runs Champak Brothers Gardening, as well as their dog, Thums-Up. Since their father is very supportive of pollinators, the family's yard if full of clover, dandelions and other flora that their neighbors kill with pesticides. They squabble a bit, especially since Kiya is more interested in science and math, and Kinjal prefers books and reading. When Kiya's friend Lola is visiting and is almost stung by a bee, their mother does something very strange-- her arm extends like a super hero's, and she whispers to the bee when she lets it go! That's just the beginning of their adventure. When Thums-Up is taken, they must travel into the Kingdom Beyond to retrieve him. They are helped by two pakkhiraj horses, Snowy and Midnight, and taken to Princess Pakkhiraj. The twins have thought that all of these were just characters in their father's Thankumar Jhuli book of stories, and are surprised to see so many of the characters coming to life. They find out that Minister Nakoo is producing and selling something called Pest-B-Gone, and the ruler of the kingdom, Raju Rontu, is not stopping him. All of the bees are dying, and if they die, there will not be nectar for the pakkhirajs or the rhakosh, and the Kingdom Beyond will crumble. With the help of Tuni, the minister bird, as well as Snowy, Midnight, and also Thums-Up (who is a pakkhiraj horse in disguise), the two must go on a quest to find a champak flower to plant. It will heal the whole kingdom, but must be retrieved from King Sesha of the Serpents. There are dangerous journeys to undertake, family secrets to be revealed, and a kingdom that must be saved from certain destruction. Are Kinjal and Kiya up to the task?
Strengths: Like this author's other work, this has a lot of fascinating Bengali folk tales worked into Kinjal and Kiya's adventures. I liked that the children were a little younger and the book was a little shorter; I think a lot of early elementary readers are drawn to epic fantasy, but there aren't that many books that cater to this need. I definitely appreciated that both parents were alive, and that they were safe in Parsippany, although as the series continues, I wonder if both of them might travel into the kingdom to regain their rightful titles! Kiya's interest in science gives her some kee insight into some of the occurrences in both worlds. As someone who has a yard that is being rewilded, I loved the message about protecting bees and stopping the use of pesticides. 
Weaknesses: Middle school readers might enjoy the other two Kingdom Beyond series a bit more; the twins have a lot of supervision on their quest, and it's a fairly tame adventure with minimal scary monsters. This makes it perfect as a bedtime read aloud instead of fantasies aimed at older readers. The Great Blah made this seem a bit younger, as well. 
What I really think: I will probably pass on purchase for my middle school, but would definitely buy this for elementary schools. We are starting to see some more fantasies for younger readers, like Soontornvat's Legends of Lotus Island

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Into the Shadow Mist

Soontornvat, Christina. Into the Shadow Mist (Legends of Lotus Island #2)
July 18, 2023 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

After The Guardian Test, Plum and her friend Cherry and Sam are continuing their studies at the Guardian Academy on Lotus Island. Plum is still worried that she hasn't fully come into her powers, but she has noticed that she seems able to magnify the powers of others. She has, for example, helped Cherry turn into a much larger bear. When the students all get assignments to go to other locations and study under other masters for a brief time, Cherry, Plum, and Hetty are supposed to go to Glai Island and work with rare lavender fluff bunnies, but can't go there because a storm destroyed their dock. Instead, they join Salan, Sam, and Mikko on Bokari Island, learning from Master Em. It's cold and damp on Bokari, and the students soon learn that there are problems with knobble shrooms. They grow on Bokari trees, and are eaten by roll bugs, which burrow into the trees. This damages them, so the students think that getting rid of the shrooms will help. Upon further examination, however, they find that the entire ecosystem of the island is tied to the shrooms and the Bokari trees, so both must be kept healthy. This is a problem when they find several trees cut in half! This is alarming, and Master Em puts them on the case. It isn't a huge surprise to anyone to find out that Sam's mother, Lady Ubon, as well as Rella, who was kicked out of the academy, have something to do with the damage. 
Strengths: Plum's concerns about discovering and honing her skills are well described, and the fact that she keeps these concerns to herself is very much in character with young middle grade readers. She does tell Cherry, her best friend, and eventually confides in Master Em, who is able to reassure her. The Guardian Academy is a fun place to be, and the students have a lot of agency in solving problems and in mounting quests. While the problems the students face are serious, they are never scary, and there is a positive and upbeat feel to the whole book. This would be a MUCH better fantasy series to read aloud to first and second graders-- I've never understood reading Harry Potter aloud with the very young. If anyone is still promoting that series because they grew up with it, I still think it is best read independently by students in the sixth grade and up. Soontornvat has such a variety of titles that readers who enjoy her work can be encouraged to explore her other works like All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys' Soccer Team, The Tryout: A Graphic Novel,  The Last Mapmaker, her Diary of an Ice Princess  series, or the next installment in Mlynowski's cooperative Best Wishes fantasy series, Time After Time (November 7, 2023).
Weaknesses: As someone whose formative years were spent eagerly awaiting the yearly airing of Dr. Seuss' The Lorax (RIP, Eddie Albert) this did have a bit of a Truffala tree vibe to it. Since young readers are not consuming as much Seuss as my generation did, this will seem new to them. 
What I really think: It is hard to find fantasy books that aren't 400 pages long, so I have decided to purchase these. One of our teachers challenges her students to read 25 books a year, and I think this would go over well with my fans of Chew's Everyday Magic books, Patton's Battle Bug series, or Rodda's Deltora Quest

Monday, July 24, 2023

MMGM- Worldwide Crush

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Nilsen, Kristin. Worldwide Crush
July 11, 2023 by SparkPress
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Seventh grader Millie has an enormous crush on the pop singer Rory Calhoun, who is fifteen. She knows all the lyrics to his songs, follows him on social media, and keeps a notebook of random facts about him. She knows it's unrealistic to think that someday he might be her boyfriend, but... is it? In the interviews in the Teen Talk magazines she reads, he mentions that it is so hard to find a girl with whom he can really connnect, and the share so many interests! She even writes "Mrs. Rory Calhoun" on her notebook until her friend Shauna points out that "Nobody changes their name anymore" and "nobody uses 'Mrs.' anymore...It's nobody's business if you're married or not." (I love you, Shauna, and you are 100% correct!) Millie is also busy helping take care of her young brother Billy, who has just started kindergarten, and dealing with her grandmother, Cheryl, who is living with the familky while her retirement condo is being renovated. When Rory announces that he will be doing a US tour, it's all anyone at school can talk about, and when it turns out that he will actually be coming to Minneapolis, Millie and Shauna KNOW that the have to go to the concert. Millie has it all planned out. Tickets go on sale at ten in the morning when she is at school, but she gives her mother very strict instructions to buy the tickets right at ten. Of course, her mother has an emergency at work (she's a nurse), and by the time the two try to buy tickets, they are sold out. Millie is crushed. Eventually, her mother manages to get tickets, but Rory cancels the engagement because his mother has a horrible anxiety attack. When he feels he needs to cancel the entire tour to go back home to Bodega Bay, California, Millie can't believe her luck. She has convinced her family that she is really interested in whales, and they have booked a beach house in Rory's home town at the same time that he is there! Not only that, but when she and her mother are in town, they see Rory in a store, and pretend that he is Millie's brother to keep him away from people who are not respecting his privacy. In return, he sends them tickets to his private concert, and Millie gets several moments with her idol. Will she grow up and become a marine biologist so she can live on the beach with Rory? Probably not, but the author, who based this book on her own crush on Shaun Cassidy in the 1970s, leaves us with the feeling that maybe it's not as long a shot as we had all previously thought. 
Strengths: This makes some very good points about the purpose of teen crushes, and addresses the fact that the intensity of the emotions is very, very real. There are not a lot of books that deal with the intense draw of celebrities; the only book I can think of is the ten year old This is What Happy Looks like by Jennifer E. Smith, and that wasn't as detailed as Worldwide Crush. This would make a great mother-daughter (or grandmother-granddaughter!) book club choice! There are plenty of Easter eggs sprinkled throughout, the the names of classmates (Randi Gibb, Cassidy David); Millie's family lives on Laura Lane in Walnut Grove Estates, and there's a delightful attempt by Millie to read The Hobbit because Rory says it's his favorite book. 
Weaknesses: Millie goes with her mother to a church for a You, Me, and Puberty class that is rather cringey. I didn't enjoy those sorts of scenes when I was in middle school, although I think that my students will probably find it less cringey than I did! 
What I really think: Since my I took my own daughter to a David Cassidy concert when she was in middle school, and she cried hysterically after going up to the stage and touching his hand when he sang Cherish... yeah. This happens. I think many of us, if we delve into our long repressed pasts, have similar stories about day dreams we had about celebrities. After all, wouldn't Lance Kerwin have made a great Gilbert Blythe in a made for television movie where Anne was played by... me? Definitely trying to find a prebind of this, and may go ahead and buy it in paperback, since my readers who love Nelson's WISH books will adore this. 

The author doesn't seem to have a Twitter account, but is on Instagram with the fabulous Pop Culture Preservation Society ( and has a podcast that looks very fascinating!

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Flora la Fresca & the Art of Friendship

Chambers, Veronica, and Rim, Sujean. Flora la Fresca & the Art of Friendship
July 18, 2023 by Dial Books
E ARC provided by Edleweiss Plus

Flora and her best friend Clara attend a Spanish language program in their small coastal town in Rhode Island, since they haven't spoken it much in their homes. Flora's parents ( a thoracic surgeon and carpenter) are from Panama, and Clara's are from Argentina. The two like to hang out a lot, so when Clara's mother gets a cartography job in California, the two are devastated. They spend a lot of quality time together before the move, including a New Year's Eve party where they try to make the most of their limited time, doing the things that they love. When Clara leaves, Flora has to spend more time with her older sister Maylin, who is planning her quinceañera and is micromanaging things. School is especially hard, although her teacher Mrs. Romano is very understanding, and some students, like twins Aidan and Aditya try to include her in their lunch table and plans. When Avery misses a Sunday video call because she is hanging out with her new friend Avery, Flora is devastated. Things look up a bit when new student Zaidee Khal arrives. She's tall for a fifth grader, and always well turned out in skinny jeans, a blazer, and professional looking flats, but she and Flora get along well when they are working on a school project and start to hang out together. Zaidee's family is Lebanese, but they have lived all over the world because of the strife in their homeland, coming most recently from Paris. The two gets up to some hijinks, including trying to spook Maylin with a recording when she is trying on quinceañera dresses, but the two see the error of their ways, and the trick somehow brings Maylin and Flora closer, especially when Flora creates a portrait of her sister as an apology. Clara is able to visit for Maylin's big day, and the two realize that while they may be apart, they can still remain friends.
Strengths: I would not be surprised if this were the first book in a series, because I can see Flora getting up to a lot more adventures, much like Watson's Ryan Hart. The family is close knit and supportive, and Clara and Flora have relatively little drama for fifth grade girls. The Rhode Island setting is well described, and the relationship that Flora has with Maylin is also realistic. There are enough funny things to keep the story moving along. Zaidee and Flora are also quite a pair!
Weaknesses: There have been a number of books lately where friends have moved away but then come back for visits. I'm assuming that this is common now, but when I was growing up and moving to new schools, I never had any luck keeping in touch with people, so it was hard for me to get my head around. If anyone knows Wendy Pfeffer, who lived in Burtonsville, MD in 1972, please let me know!
What I really think: This was a little too young for my students, but I would definitely buy this for an elementary school library. I had her paperback Amigas books before they fell apart or were lost, and the students enjoyed those.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Misfit Mansion and Buzzing

Davault, Kay. Misfit Mansion
July 25, 2023 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Iris lives in a mansion with other "misfits", in a Mr. Halloways' House of Horrors in Dead End Springs. Agnes, a cyclops, helps Mr. Halloway, who often travels to find and bring back other mistreated horrors and to give them a better life. He seems not to like Iris at all, but she doesn't know why. When the annual Fall Festival is advertised on television, Iris really wants to go see it, and chafes at being confined to the house, even if it is for her own safety. Since it is a Halloween festival, she feels that she, Agnes, and Kel can go out in costumes and not be noticed. They sneak out when Mr. Holloway is traveling, but there are some things that go wrong. Dahlia, who is a rather creepy doll, manages to escape and turn all of the dolls in a local shop into "horrors". Surprisingly, the townspeople like them, which makes Iris question why she and her friends have to be kept in the mansion. There is also a young horror hunter, Mathias, who lives with his aunt. She has a history with Halloway, and a real hatred of the horrors that Mathias has picked up. Will Iris be able to obtain a level of freedom for her friends once Dead End Springs accepts them?
Strengths: This was illustrated in an amusing way, and the colors were very pleasant. Dead End Springs at Halloween is a very enticing place, and the horrors are all fairly benign. There's a well developed backstory with Iris and Halloway that comes to a satisfactory conclusion, and by the end all of the various threads are tied up nicely. Even Dahlia, who is portrayed as very spooky at the beginning, is shown to be nice and helpful. I often have students asking for fantasy graphic novels, and there aren't as many of them as there are of graphic personal memoirs. 
Weaknesses: This felt heavily allegorical. It seemed odd that the townspeople took to the horrors so quickly. Iris even completely forgives Matias and befriends him because she knows it is unpleasant to be an outcast. I hold grudges, so it didn't make sense to me, although it's certainly a better message for young readers. 
What I really think: This is a great choice for readers who enjoyed Whitley and Indigo's The Dog Knight or Graley's Donut the Destroyer. 

Sattin, Samuel and Hickman, Rye (illus.) Buzzing
July 18, 2023 by Little, Brown Ink
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Isaac is struggling with his OCD, which this graphic novel depicts as buzzing bees with words describing Isaac's negative thoughts attached to them. He worries about things like the symmetry of his face, germs, and people thinking he's weird, as well as things like schoolwork. He is in therapy, and his mother is trying really hard to make his life workable. Isaac draws a lot, and finds that this helps quiet his thoughts sometimes. When he meets Micah at school, and they invite him to play a role playing game, Swamps and Sorcery, with some friends, Isaac doesn't quite know what to think about this. His mother, on the other hand, knows exactly what to think about it; reading fantasy books (like the one all the RPG players like) and playing games lead to more obsessive thoughts, so aren't good for Isaac. His counselor disagrees, and the two talk about why Isaac's brain makes him think in unhelpful ways, and how he can manage these thoughts. One of Isaac's chief worries is that Micah is very cool, and shouldn't want to be friends with him. During one particularly bad spiral, Isaac shares this with Michah, who says that everyone is a little "weird", and talks a little about their own struggles with feeling like neither a boy nor a girl. When Isaac gets a D on a test, his mother forbids him from playing the game or even seeing his new friends, but his sister (who often feels that her mother ignores her in favor of her brother's problems) offers to take him to the library, knowing that there is a store that has an RPG group meeting in the afternoon. Isaac does well with this group, and is even asked to be the game master. Eventually, his mother begins to understand that Isaac having friends, even ones that like fantasy books and RPGs, is better than Isaac not having friends, and allows him to play. 
Strengths: The bees representing intrusive thoughts is particularly well done, especially when Isaac is depicted in black and white and the bees are in yellow. It's good to see counseling represented, and th emother was nicely complex; she's clearly done some homework on Isaac's condition, just not quite enough of it. Micah is a good friend who gets Isaac interested in a new pursuit. Their mother makes a brief appearance, although there is one father who is a chef who is quite amusing! The fandom of a fantasy book series, complete with midnight launch, is well done and makes sense given the interests of the RPG players. The illustration style is appealing, and the message of the book is good. 
Weaknesses: This seemed almost more like a YA graphic novel, since it was a bit slow paced and introspective and seemed to be set in a high school, even though the descriptions say this is a middle grade novel. No reason it isn't; just seemed more young adult somehow. This might appeal to some readers. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who like Ogle's Four Eyes or Krosoczka's Hey, Kiddo

Friday, July 21, 2023

Mixed Up

Korman, Gordon. Mixed Up
July 18, 2023 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Twelve year old Reef Moody never knew his father, so when his mother passed away from COVID, he was lucky to be taken in by his mother's best friend, Jenna, and her husband Will. The Helmers are nice, and Liam and Caroline are accepting of their new family member, but Declan, who is two years older, is absolutely horrible to Reef. He throws things at him in his sleep, and even steals the principal's purse and hides it in Reef's sock drawer. Knowing that Reef has had a hard time, it is agreed that if he replaces the $200 that was stolen, he won't get in further trouble, so Reef has to deal with all of the garbage in the Helmer household for $20 per week. Across town, Theo Metzinger has his own troubles. His father wishes that Theo had more friends, did more activities, and had more interests than keeping the local rabbit menace, Jaws, away from the family vegetable garden. Theo is always being admonished to toughen up and "be a man", which just irritates him. Even his younger sister seems to fulfill his father's ideas about what he should be like better than Theor does. Both boys start to have memories that don't seem to belong to them, and at the same time, start to forget parts of their own lives. When a local warehouse fire shows a nearby school, Theo knows that it is the school from his memories and bikes the four miles across town to investigate. Once there, he meets Portia, whom he has seen in the memories, outside the school. In an uncharacteristic burst of extrovertism, he chats her up and finds out that she works at a local food pantry. In order to find out more about why he has memories of her, he works the food pantry into his schedule, along with martial arts and seeing a therapist. Reef struggles on, missing his mother and having to deal with Declan. His biggest fear is forgetting his mother, whose COVID death he blames on himself. Portia had had a birthday party, but then gotten sick, and Reef knows he passed on the virus to his mother. When the boys finally meet, they recognize each other and try to figure out what happened to connect their brains. It all comes down to the fact that they were born on the same day in the same hospital, so they investigate until they locate a nurse who was there the day they were born. She has some information about what happened, and the boys decide that in order to disconnect their brains, they need to recreate the environment that led to the connection. This isn't easy, especially since Declan and a local reprobate are trying to work out a food pantry heist. Will the boys be able to make peace with their lives and regain their own memories? 
Strengths: This was another fascinating premise from Korman, who has done several other interesting reflections about identity, like Restart and Operation Do-Over. Who are we if we can't remember what has happened in our lives? Reef's situation is both emotionally dire but physically pretty stable; Will and Jenna are very kind and understanding, and I like to think that after his problems with Declan are resolved, Reef will have a decent life, even though it will be sadder without his mother. Theo is able to show his father that there are ways other than his own to be a successful person. Portia is an interesting character who is friends with both boys and holds many elements of the story together. There's just enough unexplained phenomena in this one to categorize it as fantasy, but enough real world problems to appeal to even the most fantasy-averse reader. 
Weaknesses: Declan was so utterly evil to Reef that it was hard to believe that he would turn himself around, but it was good to see that he was able to. While the parental death was a key plot element, it's still just never my favorite topic. 
What I really think: As long as my students don't try to get hit by lightning while in a bouncy castle, I think this is a fun read with some very interesting ideas. I frequently recommend Korman titles to teachers as literature circle choices, since it is hard to go wrong with his work. This is dedicated to Korman fan "Raymond Jardine", @theamelpos, from Twitter, and now I really need to go back and read A Semester in the Life of a Garbage Bag!

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, July 20, 2023

The Bellwoods Game

Krampien, Celia. The Bellwoods Game
July 18, 2023 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Bailee lives in Fall Hollow, where Abbie Snook went missing in the woods back in 1982. Ever since, sixth graders have played an elaborate game that involves going into the woods to ring a bell. This is said to protect the town from evil and keep the spirit of Abigail at bay. Bailee has researched it and is determined to play the game. This keeps her mind off her Nan, who had a stroke, and the fight she had with Fen that made everyone at school hate her. She does have an ally in Noah, who is new to the school and wants to report for the school paper about the Bellwoods Game. Madison, who used to be friendly with Bailee, tells her where the meeting is held, and thirteen children show up wanting to participate. The winner of the previous year's game chooses the three participants by having them draw stones, and Bailee, Fen, and a girl named Carmen are chosen. Rumor has it that the winner also gets to make a wish for whatever their heart desires, and it will come true. The woods are confusing and dangerous, but Bailee has done her research. Noah shows up to help her, and Carmen is smart and prepared, but Fen is determined to win and doesn't work well with the others. Back in the safety of Fall Hollow, it's easy to believe that this is just a game, and no more scary than the creepy graveyard that Bailee finds oddly comforting. Once in the woods, however, it is clear that something evil is actually in the woods. What will it take for the children to survive, since ringing the bell is actually necessary to protect their town?

The interior illustrations, also by Krampien, are very attractive, and remind me of the illustrations in Chew's Everyday Magic books or Edward Eager's titles. The topic of illustrations in middle grade literature comes up every once in a while, but never seems to go anywhere. I'm glad to see these illustrations, and hope that it is the start of a trend!

The Bellwoods Game has quite a well developed mythology, and the tradition of the winner being the head of the committee to set up the next year's game is interesting. Young readers will imagine themselves in this role, and I love the agency and empowerment it gives the children to fight the encroaching evil. Bailee has just enough home and school drama to motivate her to get her mind on something else like the game, and she has a whole notebook filled with facts about it. Noah is a good friend who helps out quite a lot. The legend of Abigail is well presented, and her character comes into other parts of the story, but I don't want to say too much and ruin all the twists and turns.

While this wasn't as terrifying as some ghost stories, there's a lot of adventure that will make this a good choice for readers who like Reese's Every Bird a Prince or Puckett's The Glass Witch, or other books where there are creepy things happening in a neighborhood, and the children who live there have to deal with them and make everything right.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

The Very Unfortunate Wish of Melony Yoshimura

Brown, Waka. The Very Unfortunate Wish of Melony Yoshimura
July 18, 2023 by Quill Tree Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Melony's parents moved from Japan to Oregon after unfortunate incidences in the father's childhood lead them to believe that the US would be a safer place to raise their daughter. They are very overprotective and overly concerned about everything that Melony does. At one point, she is so frustrated that she wishes for her freedom. She hears whispers in the backyard asking her what price she would be willing to pay, and she says that she's willing to give anything. School is difficult, since there are not many other students of Asian descent, and there are two boys (whom she calls Miasma and Scat) that constantly make fun of her. For instance, her name is Uriko, but the boys call her Urine. Her name means "melon", which is what prompted her Americanized name, and her father frequently tells her the Japanese folktale "The Melon Princess and the Amanjaku". When a new girl,  Chloë Yoshida, starts at her school, Melony is wary at first, even though she hopes that her parents will let her hang out with  Chloë  since she is also Japanese. Her parents let Chloë come to their house, and it isn't long before they allow Melony to go to the Yoshidas. The girls have a great time, but then something strange happens. Melony hears whispers in the bakyard again, and has been seeing owls come and go, but a creature shows up claiming to be Jack Amano, and Melony recognizes him as Amanjaku, the evil demon who caused the problems in her father's village.  The demon takes the form of Chloë, and is soon helping Melony defy her parents, get revenge on the boys at school, and find a little more freedom. But at what price? She angers Chloë, and the demons behavior becomes more and more evil. Will Melony be able to escape its grasp, or will her life devolve into chaos?
Strengths: Melony's irritation at the restrictions of her parents is one which will resonate with many young readers, although I have to side with her mother on the issue of thrift store clothing with purposeful rips in them; no matter how cool it looks, it's not going to hold up well! They restrict her food, control her activities, and provide her with a basic cell phone only so she can communicate with them. It was good to see her make a friend in Chloë, whose parents were farther removed from their Chinese culture and gave Chloë a lot more freedom. The Amanjaku is an insidious demon; it's hard to hate something that gives you everything you desire, even when the evil becomes apparent quickly. This does take a spooky turn at the end that is somewhat reminscent of Hahn's The Thirteenth Cat. It's interesting that Brown loved the traditional tale so much that she wanted to adapt it and update it. 
Weaknesses: The story isn't as scary as the cover might indicate. 
What I really think: This is not like Brown's first two books, While I Was Away or Dream, Annie, Dream, which were both historical fiction that dealt with cultural and racial issues. I've seen this compared to Doll Bones, How to Trap a Tiger, and I would argue that it's even a bit like Reese's Every Bird a Prince

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

The Legend of Greyhallow

Short, Summer Rachel. The Legend of Greyhallow
July 18, 2023 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ainsley Galloway has moved to Lowry with their parents, who grew up there. She's had to leave her friend Charlotte behind, but since the two parted on less than pleasant terms, a fresh start in an intersting community isn't all bad. The parents have bought the abandoned house of the director of the very popular Legend of Greyhallow film trilogy, and home to renovate it and turn it in to a bed and breakfast. Since the town has a summer long festival celebrating the films, this seems like a great idea, and Lowry is a very picturesque town. No one really knows what happened to Ambrose Ripley, who disappeared in the mid 1990s, but while Ainsley and her brother Tobin are at the festival, one of the vendors (who is dressed as a witch), gives her a box that holds a key. Ainsley has been investigating the house, hoping for a secret room or other interesting nook, but it is Tobin who suggests checking out the attic. There, the two find a room set up with an old fashioned film projector and a closet full of Greyhallow costumes. When they play the movie that is in the projector, they find that they can step into the projection on the wall and actually enter the scene of the movie! Tobin wants to tell their parents, but Ainsley wants to investigate further. Armed with a full backpack, having left a note for their parents, the two go into Greyhallow only to find that things are badly wrong. It's exciting to meet characters they know from the movies, but alarming to know that the villain, Lord Mourdro, is waging an unpleasant war that has destroyed any of the pleasant aspects of the fantasy world. Even worse, he manages to make his way into Lowry with his evil minions, and wreaks havoc there. It is up to Ainsley and her brother, along with the visiting Charlotte, to figure out what is going on, and to work with the fictional characters to try to keep the world safe. 
Strengths: This is a fascinating premise, and I found it interesting that the Greyhallow trilogy was filmed and not a book! Combining a cool old house with a fantasy world was inspired, and readers who like Lord of the Rings type tales will wish that they, too, could meet characters like Quaglim, a brilliant gnome inventor, Zander, the shepherd boy, or the enchantress Kalandra. Heck, even I think it sounds fun to fight the Shadow Army of Lord Mourdro. Ambrose Ripley was worked into the plot in a particularly interesting way, and this might be a stand alone, which would be fantastic. I have a lot of readers who would like to read fantasy, but don't want to commit to a huge series. 
Weaknesses: If Ainsley and Tobin had been able to spend more time in the town, and more time in a pleasant version of Greyhallow, I would have been more invested in their attempts to save the world. 
What I really think: This is a great choice for readers who like to think that they, too, might travel from our world into a fantasy one, just like the characters in Perry's Thieving Collectors of Fine Children's Books, Benko's The Unicorn Quest, West's Long Lost, Durst's Even and Odd, or McKay's Last Dragon Charmer series. 

Monday, July 17, 2023

MMGM- Boba and Cream Soda!

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Shang, Wendy Wan-Long. Bubble Trouble
July 18, 2023 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edeleweiss Plus

Chloe Chen and her best friend Isabel Zhang are taking a drama class, and Chloe is not good withbeing creative under pressure, and struggles with improvisation. She loves plays, and really wants to take the class trip to New York City to see several musicals that the teacher, Mrs. Alamantia, is planning. The problem is that it costs a lot of money. Since her mother, a doctor, died of COVID, her father has quit his job developing medical devices so he can be home more, and spends his day trying to invent things. One of these things is a robotic dog trainer, and he has gotten Chloe a dog, Phineas, that he can use in his behavioral experiments. Chloe is very neat and organized, so doesn't care for the mess that a pet presents. She also doesn't like the way it makes the house feel different. Since her mother passed, she has dealt fairly well with things, but doesn't like change. She and Isabel go to a local bubble tea shop, and Chloe sees Henry, a boy from her theater class who claims that musicals  are silly and unrealistic. He is very attentive, and gives her a bubble tea even after she buys an uninspired soda, since she didn't have enough money. Henry's Uncle Martin, the manager, isn't thrilled with the girl's exuberant ways, and admonishes them to be quiet. Chloe comes back for the peace and quiet when her new pet makes it hard to concentrate at home, but when she has an altercation with a classmate in the shop and dumps tea on her, she is banned from the shop. When her Auntie Sue comes to visit, her aunt is outraged that her neice would be banned, and goes to talk to Uncle Martin. It turns out that the two have quite a past, and Auntie Sue storms out. The two decide to make their own boba tea, and Sue buys many extra ingredients. Chloe is trying to earn money to go on the trip, and her friend Sabrina, whose parents have a restaurant, suggests that Chleo make and sell bubble tea. This is successful, especially when Phineas comes along to help collect that empty mason jars in which the tea is served. Chloe's efforts come to the attention of a local news reporter who wants to interview her. Sabrina can't make it, but Henry once again shows up to save the day. Chloe makes enough money to go on the trip, and everything works out in a very happy way. She even comes to the realization that even though things will change now that her mother is gone, she will still have family and friends to help her through. 
Strengths: *Sigh* I would have loved this one SO much as a tween, especially the exotic setting where there are shops within walking distance that serve bubble tea! Barring being able to get to one of those, I would have been pestering my mother to try to make our own popping boba (Chemicals! And cooking!). There's just the right amount of sadness over the mother's death; the characters aren't happily moving on, but they are continuing to live their lives. This is a hard balance to achieve. Chloe does have a support network with Auntie Sue and her friends. I was particularly enthralled with the whole school notebook check; I always assigned one of these to encourage students to be organized, but I certainly didn't grade them this hard. Those small school details bring a lot of opportunities for students to connect to the character. Chloe's desire to earn her own way and not burder her father was admirable. Of course, the best part was Chloe's budding relationship with Henry. This was also done well; they don't know each other well and disagree at first, but he is kind and friendly, and they eventually learn to work well together and then have some sweet, light romantic moments. This book made my entire day! 
Weaknesses: This was the second book this week I've read where a parent died of COVID, the other being Korman's Mixed Up. At least this is a balanced and resilient look at how people deal with death, rather than the wallow fest most books embrace. People die, and in the words of Robert Frost, “In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on.” Wallowing is just not an option for many people. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing this one and highly recommend it! Shang has a note at the end about how much fun it was to write a rom com-- I hope that she writes many more, because this is JUST the sort of thing my readers want! Ms. Shang and I bonded over the work of R.R. Knudsen at a conference, and I would LOVE it if she could do a similar book with characters who play volleyball! Of course, the downside of reading this is that I now desperately want to find some boba. I feel like I would enjoy the texture of the tapioca bubbles! There are a few places in central Ohio, so I'll have to do my research. Maybe this summer!                                                

Zachman, Kim and Donnelly, Peter. There's No Cream in Cream Soda: Facts and Folklore About Our Favorite Drinks 
July 18, 2023 by Running Press Kids
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Like this author's awesome There's No Ham in Hamburgers, this book is filled to the brim with facts about different beverages around the world and across time! I'm a huge fan of popular culture information, and this had me quoting bits to anyone who happened to be around me. 

As the granddaughter of dairy farmers, I found the chapter on milk to be especially interesting. The Clark Dairy of Enon Valley, PA was started not long after milk got a bit safer with pasteurization in the late 1800s, and fortunately was able to weather the decline of milk deliveries until my uncles were ready to sell when they retired. 

Starting the book with water was an inspired choice; we don't really think much about that beverage in the US, and tend to take potable running water for granted. Chapters on coffee and tea have a lot of world history, and I learned a lot about juice and soda. I loved the layout and graphic design of the book, as well as the Mid Century Modern feel to the illustrations. 

I'm definitely purchasing a copy of this book, since  There's No Ham in Hamburgers is constantly checked out, but the E ARC of this kept crashing my E Reader to the point where I couldn't even pull up my copious book marks. I'll definitely be taking another look at this once I get the hard copy. 

Sunday, July 16, 2023

The Fire, the Water, and Maudie McGinn

Pla, Sally J. The Fire, the Water, and Maudie McGinn
Publication July 11, 2023 by Quill Tree
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Maudie has a stressful life living with her mother, Grace (who is a social media influencer) and her new husband, Ron. While they no longer struggle with housing and basic needs the way they did when Maudie was young, Ron doesn't understand Maudie's reactions to being overstimulated, and ignores the fact that she is autistic and functions well with some accomodations. Her mother takes Ron's side, and doesn't advocate for Maudie at school, where the therapist also seems oddly disconnected from strategies that might help Maudie. She's glad to spend the summer with her father at his cabin in Molinas. Pedro is a carpenter who struggles a bit, but does beautiful work. He's just finished a large order of custom bar stools, but a large scale wild fire causes the two to evacuate, and they fear that everything has been lost. Maudie's mother thinks that Maudie can't possibly deal with all of this trauma and wants her to come home, but Maudie would rather be with her father in a trailer near the beach than have to deal with Ron's anger. Pedro's childhood friend, Naldo, runs a campground, and allows the two to stay there while Pedro looks for work. It's not far from Conwy Beach, where her father grew up with his m other, Carmen, and where he met Maudie's mother, who got pregnant with Maudie when the two were still in high school. While living in a trailer is a little odd, there are a lot of things to like; Begonia, Naldo's daughter, Etta, who surfs on the beach, soft clothes, a more relaxed atmosphere, and NO Ron. Maudie even meets Paddi, who has ADHD, and her mother, Dr. Shakti, who runs a local school for students with brain differences. Maudie asks Etta, who gained some acclaim as a surfer years ago, to help her learn to surf, and hopes to enter the Conwy Beach competition and to try to win the prize money. She tries to keep this from her father, who does make some progress on finding work, which is especially important since the cabin in Molinas is gone. Just as things seem to be going right, Grace and Ron appear and want to take Maudie home right away. She melts down, which they have no patience for, and they take her to their hotel, hoping to catch their flight back to Texas in the morning. Maudie runs away, and with Etta's help, takes place in the competition. There will be fallout, but will Maudie finally be able to get the help she needs?
Strengths: Like Charlie in Pla's 2017 The Someday Birds, Maudie is a character who faces challenges because people do not understand the way her brain works; the difference that several years makes is that Maudie is given a diagnosis. Her father understands, even if her mother doesn't, and there was an interesting exchange where her father, who must be about 30, mentions that when he was in high school people were just starting to understand brain differences more, which is fairly accurate. My school has had an autism spectrum unit since about 2006. The real draw for young readers is the excitement of living in a trailer on the beach, even if this happened because of a wild fire, and the freedom of being able to surf and hang out. I loved Paddi and Dr. Shakti's school, and their involvement in the ending of the book will make readers sigh with happiness. The mother and Ron's meanness is, oddly, just the sort of sadness that my readers do like, and it's more realistic to have Maudie dealing with a stepfather. This was an interesting tale, and Maudie's autism was just one facet of her personality and of the story. 
Weaknesses: It was fairly clear what Maudie's secret was, but this was not openly stated for a while. There are some portions of this that are written almost in a verse format, where the lines are shorter and the thoughts scattered, but I think that's more to mirror Maudie's internal struggle. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who want to read about characters who are able to face their challenges Mendez's Aniana del Mar Jumps In or Baldwin's No Matter the Distance and is one to add to the growing list of surfing books like Guidroz's Samira Surfs, Farid's The Wave, Colbert's The Only Black Girls in Town, and Mosier's Summer and July. 

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Sky Ropes

Soderberg, Sondra. Sky Ropes
July 11, 2023 by Chronicle Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Breanna and her  mother have lived outside of Detroit for quite a while, ever since they left their close knit family in Mexicantown due to her father's addiction to Oxycontin and subsequent behavior problems. She's managed to make a couple of good friends, but is concerned about the middle school trip to a six day team building camp, where they will meet other children from neighboring schools. One of the features of the camp is the Sky Ropes, and since Breanna has a fear of heights instigated by some of her father's actions, she has deleted e mails from her mother's account and buried all of the flyers that came home. Parents can be wiley, however, and her mother has seen her do these things and scheduled her for the camp anyway. Breanna figures that at least she can create epic pranks with her friends Pascale and Niraj. She goes to a lot of trouble to try to sneak contraband items into her luggage, and even finds replacements for things her mother wisely removes. She reluctantly gets along with some of the campers, including several that enjoy softball as much as she does, and even has fun doing some of the activities like nature walks, telling ghost stories, and having water balloon fights. She is at odds with Cami, a mean girl who is determined to undermine Breanna at every turn. Breanna is so obsessed with the Sky Ropes (even though the camp goes out of their way to tell students that they do not have to do anything that makes them uncomfortable, to the point of having them practice saying "The Sky Ropes aren't right for me") that she makes a pact with another camper that they will NOT do the ropes together! Breanna even breaks into a tool shed with her friends in the middle of the night looking for a chain saw in hopes of damaging the course somehow, but when that doesn't work, several of them, including James, a boy she really likes, try to capture geese so that Niraj can hang signs on their necks with just 1,2, and 4, and set them loose in the mess hall. They are thwarted by the cook. After a disastrous wall climbing activity, Cami taunts Breanna, who decides that she has to do the Sky Ropes course. It doesn't go well, but Breanna learns something about herself, the power of friendship, and dealing with her past. 
Strengths: There is certainly a need for books about children who have to deal with parents who struggle with addiction, and I would have liked to know more about Breanna's experiences. The idea of going to a wilderness camp is very appealing, and the details about living arrangements and activities are well described. Breanna is a fierce character who is trying her best to retain frienships as well as her strong appearance, even as she struggles with maintaining it. I liked her interest in softball, and the fact that she was able to make new friends even though she didn't think that she could. I also liked that the camp didn't force children to do activities, even if they were required to be with the counselors for their own safety. 
Weaknesses: While there were some good camp details, most of the book concentrated on Breanna's internal struggles, which got to be a bit repetitive. The style of writing felt oddly disconnected. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who enjoyed Toalsen's The First Magnificent Summer or Winget's The In-Between. It is a longer and more contemplative novel.

Ms. Yingling

Friday, July 14, 2023

Like Lava in My Veins

Barnes, Derrick, Lucas, Adriano and Martinbrough, Shawn. 
Like Lava in My Veins
July 4, 2023 by Nancy Paulsen Books
E ARC and copy provided by the publisher

Bobby Beacon is enrolled at AKWAA (the Academy of Kids With Awesome Abilities) to learn how to manage his powers of light and fire. He's a bit apprehensive, since a girl named Pause was just expelled for freezing a teacher, and he's not sure his own teacher, Ms. Flores, understands him. He can't sit still in class, so she reprimands him frequently, and when he tries to behave and raises his hand with the answer to a question, she doesn't call on him. He ends up in the office, where they threaten to send him to the Institute for Supervillains if he can't get himself under control. To help him, the school does send an aide to his classroom. Miss Brooklyn is calm and complimentary, and her soothing presence and suggestions for anger management coping skills do help. She even creates a quiet zone for children who need to go and decompress. When Headmaster Chaos from the Institute shows up with Pause in tow, looking for Bobby, he is worried. He doesn't want to be a villain, so he uses his fire powers to neutralize Pause's singing and put an end to Master Chaos' attempts to take him. Miss Brooklyn is even willing to give Pause a second chance at the school, since Bobby believes that if you are loved and appreciated, you can do anything. 
Strengths: This is a very short graphic novel. Once I saw a physical copy, it was clear that this is formatted more like a picture book. The book is 8.5" x 10.25", and the font is larger than in the trade paperback size that  graphic novel usually are. It would work for elementary or middle school, and seems like it might be the start of a series. It felt very much like a comic book, and I half expected there to be another story after this one, ala Cat Ninja. Barnes' artwork is always stunning, and a shorter graphic novel might not fall apart from the weight of the pages quite as quickly! Miss Brooklyn is a calming influence, and her techniques for self calming are something that parents should be teaching all two year olds! There are several secondary characters who might be given larger roles in subsequent books. 
Weaknesses: In order to be true to the comic book form, I feel like there should have been an origin story for Bobby. What did he do to get sent to AKWAA? When and why was the school founded? Tell us more about Pause! I frequently feel that graphic novels don't provide all of the background information that I would like to have to become really invested in the story. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who enjoyed Reynolds' introspective Stuntboy: In the Meantime or Libenson's Invisible Emmie, which both deal with a variety of behavioral issues. 
 Ms. Yingling