Thursday, August 31, 2023

Checkmate: The Wonderful World of Chess

Foley, John. Checkmate!: The Wonderful World of Chess 
August 29, 2023 by Welbeck Children's
Copy provided by the publisher

I do not like games of any sort, and have only attempted to play chess once. Sadly, it was Star Trek three dimensional chess, so that did not go well. In some ways, this aversion to the game makes me a good person to review this book!

Checkmate! starts with the most basic information about chess. There's a brief history, but then we get right to how to set up the board. The page about how to interpret chess diagrams is essential, because the book is full of them. While the pages on how to follow a chess game and write down notes on what happened short circuited my brain a bit, it is fascinating that because of these annotations, we can see how exactly historical games were played. Players can study these and pick up strategies. 

Each piece gets a two page spread on the various qualities assigned to the piece. The name, moves allowed, and various strategies involving each piece are carefully detailed. This is followed by some special moves, and then gets into a lot of different tactics for games. I think of these in the way I think of fictional books about football: if I am confused by the plays, diehard fans will find the book informative!

This finishes with some specialized information about ending games, game clocks, tournaments, and some history about grandmasters and famous games.  There's even a bit about chess and technology, which has even been in the news a bit. 

In general, this is a great book not only for beginners but also for seasoned players who want more information to improve their games. It would be a great gift for a young enthusiast along with an upgraded chess set. Or, you know, three dimensional chess. 

The Secret Sisters and Tenmile

Avi. The Secret Sisters
August 29, 2023 by Clarion Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ida Bidson has finished 8th grade in rural Routt County, Colorado, and has been given the opportunity to attend high school in Steamboat Springs. In order to do this, she must board with Gertrude Sedgewick, who was working as a school supervisor and took the chance to let Ida teach. Trudy's fiance died of the flu after fighting in WWI, and at 32, she is a bit lonely but too old to marry. She enjoys hosting Ida, but finds her enthusiasm sometimes misplaced. The two share meals from Trudy's newfangled Boston Cooking-School Cookbook and talk about their days, but Ida really wants to be friends with girls like Lulu, who fancies herself a flapper, or Dot, who rides a train in from a coal mining town. The girls form a club they call The Secret Sisters, and try to convince Ida to bob her hair. Ida makes the mistake of correcting the principal, Mr. Langley, in front of class. He doesn't believe in modern women, so is incensed when the new music teacher, Miss Mickle, teachers the girls the Charleston dance. He threatens to expel Ida if her grades aren't good or she causes any more disruptions. The girls decide that they should pay more attention to their lessons so that they have more opportunities for advancement, and are able to keep studying at the school. 
Strengths: Ah, flappers. Modern readers can't understand how shocking and scandalous they were. I mean, showing their ankles? Smoking in public! Using phrases like "heebie-jeebies"? This was such fun, and catching up with Ida and seeing her transition to the "big town" was fascinating. Trudy was an interesting character, because I am sure there were many women who were "forced" into careers when they were unable to marry after so many young men died because of WWI. I would have adored this when I was in middel school, especially since I was a huge fan of Cheaper by the Dozen
Weaknesses: I had the first book in this series, The Secret School (2001), but weeded it a while ago because no one read it, so I'm not sure about purchasing this one even though I enjoyed it. 
What I really think: Since this describes life 100 years ago, I would love for my students to read it and to understand the standards to which people were held at the time. It was especially interesting to me because my grandmother was born the same year Trudy was, and Trudy was considered "old fashioned". If there are students who are reading Little Women (which is mentioned in the book) or Anne of Green Gables, this would be a book they would love. The cover isn't great, although it the book is nice and short. 

Dallas, Sandra. Tenmile
November 15, 2022 by Sleeping Bear Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Sissy Carlson is reminded daily that living in Tenmile, Colorado in 1880 is difficult. While her father is the local doctor and she lives in a nice house, her mother died when she was young. Luckily, the housekeeper, Mrs. Greenwood (whom she calls Greenie) is kind and understands Sissy's desire to get an education and move away from the small mining town. The local school educates everyone, so some of Sissy's friends have much harder lives, especially the ones who live in Chicken Flats. Jack's father is a miner, but he also wants to pursue an education. When his father gambles away his wages and puts the family in debt, Jack has to quit school and go to work. Nelle's father runs a restaurant, but since her mother's death, more and more of the work has fallen to her and her sister Essie. When their work isn't satisfactory, their father often beats them. Poverty isn't the only thing that makes life hard; Sissy gets a job tutoring Willie, the son of the mine's owner, Mr. Gilpin, whose mother is so fearful of losing him that he is never allowed outside and has no friends. Sissy tries her best to keep up in school, but she is an integral part of her father's practice, helping to deliver babies and stitch up wounds at the mine, even though her father doesn't completely appreciate how much she contributes. When Jack is injured in a mine collapse, he is slow to heal, and she visits him. She helps Nelle out, and sometimes ventures out to gather mushrooms and visit with Sarah and her mother, helping to heal Sarah's father when he comes down with ague. She does help Willie, and brings Jack's young brother Pete to play with him, which seems to have a good effect on Willie's health as well as give him some empathy for the families who rely on his father's business. It's difficult to find a way to get out of Tenmile's harsh existence, but some of our characters manage. Sadly, not all of them manage to get out alive.
There could certainly be a lot more books set in the late 1800s in the US West. There were many of these published in the first half of the twentieth century, but many have problematic content concerning the treatment of Native Americans. That issues is not addressed in this book, but there are plenty of details about life in a mining community during this time period.

A wide array of characters are portrayed, from mining families like Jack's to new transports from the South like Sarah and her mother Willow Louise. Mrs. Gilpin, the mine owner's wife, wants to keep her distance from the "lower classes", but most people, like her housekeeper Mrs. Ogden, know that the community is best served by having everyone work together. Greenie supports Sissy's ambitions and helps her to save money, encouraging her to set her sights on college. There is plenty of discussion about what the expectations are for girls, and how unusual it would be for Sissy to be able to train to be a doctor, but also community support for her when her skills are put to good use. 
Fans of Wilder's Little House on the Prairie will be glad to see some familiar settings, like the school and restaurant, and it is fascinating to see the perspective of the doctor's household. Fans of Hobbs' City of Gold, Meyer's A Sky Full of Song and Park's Prairie Lotus will want to take a look at this slice of life novel about a time period quickly slipping from collective memory.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Barely Floating

Rivera, Lilliam. Barely Floating 
August 29, 2023 by Kokila
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Nat lives in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles with her parents, who work at East Los Angeles College. Her brothers are older, and only Ramón is still at home. He's supposed to ferry Nat back and forth to the local pool, but is busy with a band, so often has their cousin Sheila watch Nat. In addition to her job in administration, Nat's mother is involved in a lot of local politics and protests, so sometimes doesn't have as much time for Nat as they would both like. When Nat, who has been betting other kids that she can beat them in a race, and taking money from many of them, is kicked out of the local pool for fighting with someone who insulted her cousin, she and Sheila go to another pool where the LA Mermaids artistic synchronized swim team trains. The sequins and swimming appeal to her, and after watching an Esther Williams film, Nat is even more enamored. She is a little concerned that because she is fat, people will think she can't compete, but the Mermaids are a very inclusive team. Her parents, however, don't like the fat that the national organization seems to prioritize the look of white, thin swimmers, and don't want her to join. Nat decides to forge their names of the permission slips, and talks Sheila into taking her. The team is more work than she thought it would be, and there are a lot of extra expenses, but Nat makes it work. Being on the team means that she spends less time with her best friend Joanna, with whom she has made plans to go to a cos play convention. It also means that she lies to her parents a lot. She manages to get rides to competitions, and the swimming does seem to make it easier for her to focus in school and helps with her anger management a bit. When a Mermaids competition occurs on the same day as the con, she tries to do both, but ends up disappointing Joanna. Sheila has her own secrets, and when those come out, she looks to Nat's mother for support. Nat's mother still is judging the Mermaids in ways that Nat doesn't like. Will Nat be able to finally come clean to her family, make up with her best friend, and continue with a sport she has come to really enjoy?
Strengths: Nat is a complicated character who is adamant about speaking her mind, and this sometimes gets her into trouble. The Mermaids are a nicely diverse team, and there is even one boy who competes with them, which is somewhat unusual. It's good to see tweens who are passionate about an activity, and there aren't that many books about swimming, much less artistic (or synchronized) swimming. The family dynamics are interesting, and even Nat's mother learns a little about how she treats Nat and falls into judging others herself. There are some good details about techniques that Nat uses to deal with her anger. 
Weaknesses: The first couple of pages have several Spanish words and phrases, but there aren't as many in the rest of the book. While I do have some students who will know these, the rest might have to look them up. I understand why there aren't footnotes or endnotes, but the meanings weren't clear from context. I did, however, learn some things! 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who enjoyed Fipps' Starfish or Melleby's The Science of Being Angry

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Lots of August fantasy books...

It still feels like over half of what I read is middle grade fantasy. It must sell, because publishing is about making money. Maybe this year I will have readers for it, but I already have a fantastic fantasy collection that gathers dust while my Fred Bowen titles regularly fall apart from wear and have to be replaced. If you want some fantasy titles, take a look at these. Just listing first books in a series; fantasy books also tend to come in rather long series. 

These were all good, and would be a fantastic fit for the right reader.

LaRocca, Rajani and Baron, Chris . The Secret of the Dragon Gems 
August 29, 2023 by Yellow Jacket 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Publisher's Description:
Eleven-year-olds Tripti Kapoor, a feisty "word nerd" from Massachusetts, and Sam Cohen, a shy, imaginative, budding geologist from California, are both miserable at Camp Dilloway, a summer camp in upstate New York. On the last night of camp, they follow a shooting star to a quiet creek. There they find two silvery rocks glowing in the night. They each take one home, and their long-distance friendship begins.

It's soon clear that these are no ordinary rocks. They seem to move on their own, get strangely hot, and even take over Tripti and Sam's thoughts! Inspired by their mutual love of their favorite book series, The Dragon Gems, they dub the rocks Opal and Jasper, after the Dragon Gems in the books.

But others are interested in the stones too--including the owner of Camp Dilloway, who hides a secret of his own. Tripti and Sam must crack the Dragon Gems' code and keep them out of Dilloway's clutches, all while navigating the rocky road of middle school friendships and learning to stand up for what is right.

Abe, Julia. Tessa Miyata is No Hero
August 22, 2023 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Publisher's Description:
Tessa Miyata has never fit in. When she and her two sisters are told they will be staying at their grandparents in Japan, Tessa is thrilled. A summer in Japan could be her chance to go on an adventure worthy of impressing her classmates back home.

Her hopes are quickly dashed when, all too soon, she realizes that life in Japan is just like being in California: her sisters are old enough to go into Tokyo, while she can’t even go to the corner store by herself. Plus, her grandparents want her to stay home with the neighbor kid, thirteen-year-old Jin Uehara, who’s made it clear he’s too cool to spend time with a weirdo like her.

When Tessa is finally allowed to go to Tokyo, it’s only to join her grandpa’s retiree aerobic class with none other than Jin. Their disastrous forced hang out comes crashing to a halt when Tessa and Jin break the Miyata family’s precious heirloom—accidentally releasing the malicious samurai god Taira Masakado and discovering a hidden part of the city where gods and mythological creatures walk among humans—including their new companion, a mythical nine-tailed fox who may be more trouble than he is help.

Despite doing everything to avoid spending another minute together, Tessa and Jin must now work together to stop Taira Masakado before he traps them—and the rest of Tokyo—under his command, forever.

Marshall, Kate Alice. Extra Normal
August 29, 2023 by Viking Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Publisher's Description: "Charlie Greer is nothing special—at least not compared to her adopted siblings. Her younger sister is a ghost. Her brother Mateo is a werewolf. Gideon is the product of seriously sketchy experiments that gave him telekinetic powers. Even her parents work for the Division of Extranormal Investigations tracking down all things supernatural, alien, and otherwise unusual.

Charlie's mom says her superpower is maturity—which doesn't really count. But what Charlie lacks in powers she makes up for by keeping the household running. Now, with her parents off on their first vacation in years, it’s up to her to take care of her siblings and make sure nothing disrupts the trip.

But then the new neighbors arrive. The Weavers are a nice, normal couple. Too nice and too normal. And for some reason, they don't seem to want Charlie to see inside their house. She’s certain they’re hiding something. Charlie has to uncover what's going on with the Weavers and stop their plans—without letting Mom and Dad find out anything is wrong."

Willing,Stephanie. West of the Sea.
August 15, 2023 by Viking Books for Young Readers 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Publisher's Description: "When her mom disappears from their small Texas town, paleontology-loving Haven is determined to find her. But as she uncovers truths about her mom’s identity, Haven also uncovers a monstrous family secret. Her mom can take the shape of a human and, in the right environment, also turn into an amphibious creature known as a kitskara . And now that she’s growing up, Haven is discovering she has this ability, too. This newfound identity is her only clue to help her track her mother and bring her back home.

And so she, her older sister Margie, and her new friend Rye set off on a road trip across Texas’s Gulf Coast to her late grandparents’ abandoned home, where they’re sure her mom has disappeared to…along with plenty of family secrets.

Infused with a deep love of fossils and Celtic mythology, West of the Sea is a lyrical, heart-filled coming-of-age story for fans of cryptozoology—and anyone who has struggled to find their place in the world when they feel different."

Martin, Brigid. Totally Psychic
August 15, 2023 by Inkyard Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Publisher's Description: "Paloma Ferrer is psychic. In fact, everyone in her family line has “the gift.” Now that Paloma has come into her powers, she dreams of a famous medium to celebrities, being just like her beloved grandma.

When Paloma’s parents move them from Miami to Los Angeles, she hatches a plan to get her career as a medium up and running: Host seances at her new school and stream on social media Build her profile and make a name for herself Avoid detection from her tattletale of a little sister But when a reading gone awry leaves Paloma in a sticky situation with a new friend, she’ll need more than a crystal ball to find her way out of this mess."

Witwer, Michael. Vivian Van Tassel and the Secret of Midnight Lake
August 29, 2023 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Publisher's Description: "Twelve-year-old Vivian Van Tassel is angry: angry about her mom’s mysterious and sudden death; at her dad for uprooting their lives in Chicago to move to the sleepy, creepy town of Midnight Lake; at the bullies who seem to be drawn to her no matter how much she tries to keep her head down…but mostly angry at herself for causing bad things to happen wherever she goes.

When a class assignment at her new school prompts Vivian to research the history of Midnight Lake, she quickly discovers her new home is even more peculiar than it seems. Not only was the infamous Beasts & Battlements (B&B) roleplaying game invented in Midnight Lake, but there are also some hard to explain coincidences about the town and its history that seem to tie back to the game in a way that’s as puzzling as it is disturbing.

When the biggest oddballs at school attempt to befriend Vivian and introduce her to their game of B&B, she’s torn between wanting to follow the path that has always worked for her—keeping everyone at arm's length—and giving these strange kids and their even stranger fantasy game a chance.

Maybe that’s what it will take to get to the bottom of the mystery of Midnight Lake…and why Vivian was really brought there in the first place."

Monday, August 28, 2023

MMGM- Ellie's Deli and Bite Risk

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Greenwald, Lisa. Wishing on Matzo Ball Soup: Ellie's Deli
September 5, 2023 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sixth grader Ellie Glantz's family runs the Lukshen Deli in Marlborough Lake, but the business is not doing well, partly because of the decline in numbers of the local Jewish Population. Her entire family, including her Bubbie and Zeyda, have worked at the deli, so if it closes, she's not sure what they will do. Since she wants to take over the deli when she grows up, Ellie has a vested interest in saving it. Her best friend is Ava, and the two work on solutions to bring the deli out of the 1990s. They think about things like social media, a web site, and delivery. Ellie continues to have more and more ideas for the deli, including having a nightly minyan at the store, and she even works with a customer, Norman, to approach local rabbis about it. Ava comes through with a friend of her mother's who might be able to do PR, and her father helps set up a web site. There's some drama with a new student, Nina, who has moved from Chicago and seems very posh (she throws a birthday party with a DJ) and seems to be very friendly with Ava. Bubbie has some health issues, and the entire family is stressed. Ellie feels like she has a double life, going to school but also trying to revitalize the deli. Sadly, it all might be for naught if a restaurant group that wants to revitalize the area offers enough money to buy the deli. Bubbie has some health issues, and when she ends up in the hospital, Ellie has the time she needs to launch the new website, loyalty program, and delivery service. When Nina starts acting a little strange about her birthday party, some family secrets come out that could impact the future of the deli. Will all of Ellie's plan coalesce into the best future for the Lukshen Deli?
Strengths: Changes in family situations are very stressful for tweens, especially since they usually only overhear half of the story. Ellie is told again and again that she doesn't need to worry about "adult matters", but of course she does. The family does have some straight forward conversations, but Ellie imagines bad things more quickly than her parents can address them. The fact that the school nurse gives her some pamphlets on how to manage her anxiety was great, although some of the methods work better than others. The page decorations were fantastic! I loved, loved, loved the happy ending, especially because it made sense and the problems were solved realistically. 
Weaknesses: Joking here a little bit, but maybe the deli's problems with lagging sales are based on the food they serve? While they  might be cultural delicacies, they might lack a wider, more marketable appeal. There is a recipe for mock liver than involved mushed up peas-- I had to look away. The Kasha Penya also looked suspect; brown rice and lima beans. And mock kishke, which looks to be ground up celery, crackers, and butter. Not sure how many tweens are going to try these, but they are an informative representations of deli food. 
What I really think: It's interesting how different this feels from Greenwald's 2009 My Life in Pink and Green, where Lucy helps her grandmother save the family pharmacy. There's a similar scenario, but Ellie is much more anxious than Lucy, but also more in charge. I'm always a fan of Children Doing Things, so I'm excited to add this new Greenwald title to my library shelf along with  her TWENTY other titles including Absolutely, Positively Natty (2023, which also has themes of anxiety), Dear Friends (2022),  11 Before 12, Welcome to Dog Beach (2014), and Reel Life Starring Us (2011), Sweet Treats and Secret Crushes (2010). 

Wills, S.J. Bite Risk
August 29, 2023 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sel is glad that he lives in the remote village of Tremorglade, because the world has been in an awful mess ever since a virus was released that turns people into werewolves (called Rippers). There's also a lot of problems with storms and climate change since the Disruption, but Sel's town has a system that has worked ever since his mother was his age. The virus was widespread, and causes everyone over the age of about 14 to turn into werewolves on a monthly basis. Since it's been so long, however, each adult has a Caretaker, and every home is equipped with fairly sophisticated cages, as well as outside tripwires and stun pops in case a werewolf does accidentally get out. Children are taught in school how to use tranquilizer guns and tend to patrol the town when all of the responsible adults are locked away, slavering and eating raw meat. There is one man who is immutable, Harold, and Sel and his best friend Elena often hang out with him at the Shady Oaks Retirement Community on the nights of Confinement, playing cards and having snacks. Sel does experience "doldrums" around the time of the Confinement; headaches, nausea, and other symptoms similar to Seasonal Affective Disorder. Other than that, life goes on. There are school projects, cheesy videos about when the children will be "Turned", interpersonal problems with people like Ingrid, and family problems, like Elena's father's unsuccessful job search. One night, however, things get weird, and Ingrid is dive bombed by lots of pigeons. Not long after, Sel's mother gets out of her cage and has to be subdued before someone kills her. Sel finds a downed drone (the community gets most of its good delivered by drones), and this one is marked with the company behind much of the testing of the Rippers. Elena's brother knows a bit about technology, so they take the drone to him. Pedro has some ideas, but odd things start to happen. The internet, much used by the children for Seekle (a search engine), as well as social media sites, goes down, and before long Pedro's involvement turns tragic. Elena and Sel had been involved in some experiments with Pedro, and Sel had shared some of these online. This starts a horrible chain reaction that leads to questionable loyalties, devastating secrets, and grave danger. Will Sel and Elena be able to figure out how to save themselves and their town?

There are SO MANY twists and turns in this one that I do not want to ruin, so I can't talk about half of the book! The world building is absolutely exquisite. The best part is the basic premise; a virus causes people to turn into werewolves (think Westerfeld's 2005 vampire classic, Peeps), but it started so long ago that there's a system in place, and the young don't really think about it. Sel's mother, because she is older, doesn't want anyone to see her as a werewolf, and that sort of detail really makes this make the idea of living in a dystopia that people have learned to survive believable.

The evil corporation is downplayed a bit; Sel certainly suspects Sequest, but we don't get a lot of information about them. Then, we are absolutely slapped in the face by a serious of revelations about what Sequest has been doing. Again, I don't want to describe them, but lets just say that Sel and Elena should have definitely had more internet savvy and suspected, as I did, that everything on their internet (games, security questions, internet pen pals) was not what it seemed.

Several reviews mentioned that there wasn't as much character development as they would have liked, but this is a solidly upper middle grade book. Middle grade is largely plot driven, so that things HAPPEN. Boy, do they ever happen. If Sel and Elena are busy fighting off Rippers, dealing with conspiracies, and facing tumult in their personal lives, that more than makes up for character development. Sel ends up being much less naive about the world, and that's plenty.

The ending was a bit neat, but again, I thought that was rather perfect. It felt a little like Philbrick's The Big Dark in that respect, and my students really like that book. I personally am a big fan of characters living through horrible experiences and then being rewarded by having things work out in the end. I guess that's a spoiler of sorts, but you will not guess HOW everything is solved neatly.

I've read so many books lately that just make me roll my eyes; tired middle grade tropes, plots that are sort of boring and anxious, stories that don't GO anywhere, and fantasy books that involve quests to save worlds where magic has gone wrong. So many magical worlds. This deftly combines several elements that my students love-- dystopia, monsters, horror, and an adventure that twists and turns while dripping in blood. This gets five stars because I felt a need to describe the book in great detail to a friend AND audibly reacted to several of the surprises. I strongly suspect that this will be my nomination for the Cybils' Middle Grade Speculative Fiction award.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Fix and Stitch

Nass, Barbara and Woodrugg, Liza (illus.) Fix and Stitch
August 15, 2023 by Sleeping Bear Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Squirrel runs a tailoring shop, but as winter approaches, he needs to close up and build his nest. As he attempts to do this, his friend Fox appears with a ripped coat, begging him to fix it, saying he will help Squirrel build his nest. Before he knows it, he is involved in projects to enable Porcupine to be hugged, Skunk to contain his odor in a flowered romper, and Rabbit to carry her many babies in a Payne and Rey's Katy No-Pocket style jumper. As the snow starts to fall, he finally makes his way into the forest to gather his materials and build shelter for the winter, and to his surprise, is greeted by his customers, who are assembled to help him with his project. 

This had the classic feel of Aesop's The Grasshopper and the Ant fable, but an author's note at the end puts a self-care spin on it. Yes, Squirrel is prepared and his friends are not, but should he have said no to their requests or asked them for help before selflessly doing their bidding? I think the better question is why the friends felt the need to wait until the last minute for some of their projects. 

The illustrations also have a soft, crayon or chalk pastel feel to them, with the forest background filled with many details that point toward late fall and winter. The animals are adorable and filled with personality; Fox is especially fun, with his beautiful coat. 

Books about helping others were always in frequent rotation in my household, and my daughters are both steadfast in their determination to take grocery carts abandoned in store parking lots back to the store as a result. While my favorite was always the salty attitude of The Little Red Hen, Fix and Stitch is a gentler tale for fans of books that show good deeds, like Papp's Madeline Finn and the Library Dog, Rocco's Blizzard or Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed by Emily Pearson.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Saturday Morning Cartoons- Picture Day

Sax, Sarah. Picture Day
June 27, 2023 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Viv (who demands that she no longer be called Olivia because there are too many by that name in her class), is tired of being boring and ordinary and invisible in middle school. She would rather be like Sammi, who is popular and has a ton of followers on social media. Viv does have two good friends; athletic Al and maker Milo, who share her interest in Roller Team Skate Force. For a con, they are working on costumes and a roller skating act, but Viv is too busy trying to make herself stand out to support her friends' efforts. On picture day, she impulsively cuts off her braids and has Al film it and post it for her. Her long suffering mother has to take her to get her hair fixed, and the stylist gives her a cut reminiscent of the social media person with whom Viv is enthralled, Quinn Sparks, once had. Viv embraces Quinn's admonition to "be in charge of your own truth" and keeps doing ill advised things just to get people noticing her and talking about her. They do, but not in any kind of positive way. She's determined to roll out the Roller Team Skate Force act at the school dance before it is really ready, and it ends in disaster. Al and Milo have had enough, and there's a little altercation that ends in the destruction of a helmet that Milo has spent a lot of time creating. Viv's mother shows her her own high school year book, where the mother had very ill considered clothing and hair choices because she bowed to peer pressure, and explains that she keeps trying to tamp down Viv's spirit because she is ashamed of her past and also wasn't comfortable making a spectacle of herself. Viv understands that she was not taking her friends' feelings into account, and apologizes to them while still embracing her own truth. 
Strengths: This fully embraces the cultural zeitgeist that tells tweens that they not only need to embrace their truth, but they should feel free to share it with everyone, no matter how those people might react to them. Viv, in a typically single minded way, is determined to do this, and doesn't take her friends' feeling into account. This is definitely very typical. The longing for followers or likes is definitely gaining ground among students who are allowed to have social media. It is also very realistic that Viv wants to have a fashion sense that will seem very dated when she is a grown up, but I think it was inspired to include her mother's experience and regrets in this. 
Weaknesses: I was a little distracted by the fact that both Viv and her mother's hair was purple, but it's described as boring. It sort of reads as brown, but is it purple? Even the mother's? It seemed important to know, and I was confused. Maybe it was just the E ARC, although the cover also looks to be more purple. 
What I really think: ***Waving cane while yelling at you to get off my yard!**This is where my age is clearly evident. As one of a million Karens, I would NEVER have demanded that my parents call me anything else, and I can only imagine the trouble I would have gotten into if I had given myself an ill considered haircut. Viv should have had all screens taken away. Compulsively watching Quinn Sparks did not help her in her own life or in her relationship with her friends. I regularly have students who tell me to mind my own business when I very kindly ask them to stop running in the hallways so they don't injure themselves or others. Middle school students can speak their own truth, but they also need to be taught to follow rules for the public good. The target demographic, as well as the dyed hair teachers with tattos who are under fifty, will love this the way they love Miller's Click and Chmakova's Berrybrook Middle School books. 

Ms. Yingling

Friday, August 25, 2023

Zeus: Water Rescue (Dogs With A Purpose #1)

Cameron, W. Bruce. Zeus: Water Rescue (Dogs With A Purpose #1)
August 29, 2023 by Starscape
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Roger has several black labrador puppies that were rescued after their pregnant mother was found abandoned. He is assessing their fitness to be trained as search and rescue dogs and finding homes for the others. He's down to two dogs, Troy and Zeus. He has a family lined up for whichever one doesn't work out, and Marco sets about training the two. Told from Zeus' point of view, we see how the training goes; Zeus has to ride in a vehicle, swim in the ocean, and even go down a steep pool slide several times. Troy gives up and ends up going with the family, which disappoints Zeus, although he wants to please Marco. Marco's teenage son, Kimo, takes immediately to Zeus and isn't happy that his father is going to sell Zeus overseas to work as a water rescue dog. Marco does search and rescue with Bear, and donations help fund the cost of keeping a dog, but the family can't afford to keep one as a pet. They live on Oahu, but Kimo's mother lives in Indianapolis. Kimo is at first determined to mess up Zeus' training, but this only ends with his father's determination to send Zeus away to be trained elsewhere. Wanting to keep Zeus close for as long as possible, Kimo tries very hard to train the pup properly, and finds a surprising ally in Bear. Unfortunately, Bear has lost his hearing and won't be able to do search and rescue anyone. Kimo complains that they can afford to keep Bear as a pet, but his father points out that the donations Bear has earned will support him. Zeus gets involved in many different types of rescues, but will there be a way for Kimo to stay with him?

Cameron has a whole series of A Dog's Purpose books, from Lily to the Rescue for younger readers to his Puppy Tale series to his adult novels, but this is perhaps my favorite. Marco's mission to train dogs is an admirable one, the Hawaii setting is interesting, and Kimo's desire to keep Zeus for his own will speak to young readers who are fans of all things canine. I'm usually not a fan of books written from the dog's point of view, and this is well done. I particularly liked Zeus' experience going down a pool slide!

The Puppy Tale books usually have an underlying problem, and Zeus' story does as well. Kimo feels shuttled between his parents' world and is trying to find a place for himself, and desperately wants to keep Zeus for himself. I think this will appeal to a slightly older audience than Cameron's other children's books, and I'm very much looking forward to more Water Rescue tales. I plan on giving the Advance Readers Copy to an 8th grade student who has read nothing but dog books for the whole three years I've worked with him!

Twenty years ago, I found it hard to get students to read dog books, but interest in them has been growing steadily over the last few years, perhaps aided by the increase in dogs being adopted during the pandemic! Hand this to readers who have graduated from Stier's A Dog's Day books and have enjoyed Mason and Stephen's Rescue Dogs, Sutter's Soldier Dogs,  or Shotz's Hero

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Secret Spy Society and Pumpkin Falls #4!

Fredericks, Heather Vogel. Truly, Madly, Sheeply (Pumpkin Falls #4)
August 22, 2023 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

After Absolutely Truly, Yours Truly, and Really Truly, Truly is still in Pumpkin Falls, where her Aunt True and her new husband have bought a dilapidated Sheep Farm. It falls to Truly and her grandparents to watch the farm while her aunt is on her honeymoon. Of course, there are some mysteries that unfold, as well as a cute new boy, Emilio, from Italy. 

These books have the best covers, and are cozy mysteries for middle schoolers. Why aren't there more of these, like Beil's Swallowtail Legacy? I love the town, the farm, everything about it, and this is a perfect fall read for those of us who can't travel to New England to be "leaf peepers"! Excuse me while I go grab some cider and a doughnut. 

Mang, Veronica. The Case of the Curious Scouts (Secret Spy Society #2)
March 1, 2022 by Viking Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

After finding out about the women who have formed the Secret Spy Society, Peggy, Rita and Dot get drawn into another mystery. A dress has gone missing from the Fashion Twins shop. They create fabulous garments for Josephine Baker, and want to know who has run roughshod over their shop and stolen one of their best creation. The girls investigate, and find a huge mess, as well as jelly doughnut filling spread about. They follow a trail of glitter to a house, and come the next day to find a group of scouts working busily. They are tending the yard and painting the house, but the girls need more information. With help from spy Virginia Hall, they get costumes and infiltrate the group, claiming to be transfer scouts. They uncover a slightly sinister plan to get children to chores under the guise of serving as scouts. Will they be able to prove that the woman doing this has bad intentions, and that she stole the dress?

This is a cute mystery with lots of girl power and some historical connections. The back of the book has thumbnail biographies of the women spies mentioned, and some appear in the book in various roles. In addition to Hall and Baker, one of the teacher is based on Noor Inayat Khan, and several others help at various points. While these women lived at different times, it's fun to think of them all working together. This had a bit of a feel of the Australian television program, Ms Fisher's Modern Murder Mysteries, but with slightly more benign crimes. 

The pink and black illustrations are on most pages, and some of the text is in white on black pages, so the book is very striking. There are lots of depictions of the fun costumes they wear, as well as all of the goings on in the "scouts" house. The villain is caught in a satisfactory way and learns her lesson. 

Peggy, Rita, and Dot are all bold and fearless girls. Theyare always together, so I struggled to tell them apart, but they all had different personalities, as well as vaguely different ethnicities. 

It's hard to find a short mystery book for early middle grade readers. This is a bit longer than Butler's Kayla and King mysteries, but would be a good choice for readers who enjoyed the similarly illustrated and classic Basil of Baker Street by Eve Titus or Sobol's Encyclopdeia Brown mysteries.  

Mang, Veronica. The Case of the Musical Mishap (Secret Spy Society #3)
March 28, 2023 by Viking Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Peggy, Rita and Dot are practicing furiously for the upcoming band concert. Dot plays drums, Rita plays saxophone, and Dot is on trombone... but also causes a lot of problems when she fools around during practice. Annoying Mr. Volrath. When the girls find out that a concert is scheduled for the same day as a math competition, they don't know what to do. Peggy and Dot don't care as much about the math, but since that is Rita's forte, she wants to skip the concert. Mr. Volrath is very understanding of whatever choice students make, but when musical instruments start disappearing, the girls bring their detective skills to work. Ms. Khan, who works at the school, invites the girls to tea with the Secret Spy Society, and introduces the girls to a group of top notch code breakers who teach the girls some tricks. Peggy is sure that Mr. Volrath is behind the missing instruments, and sneaks off to the school with Chiquita, whom she leaves outside in the rain since she can't bring a cheetah into school even after hours. The school is empty but unlocked, so Peggy goes inside. She is surprised to find Matthe in the building. He claims to be in the building studying for the competition all weekend, but things quickly change. Rita and Dot worry when Peggy doesn't come home, and head off with the spies to try to find her. 

This volume uses purple along with the black in the illustrations, and again highlights not only many women spies of the past but also has a bit of information about the women who broke codes during World War II. There are times when students have to choose between activities, and it made sense that Rita and Matthew were deeply invested in their math pursuits. 

I wasn't a huge fan of Peggy's behavior. In addition to being disruptive and rude in band class, she endangers herself running off at night during bad weather. It also seemed unlikely that a school building would have been wide open! 

Young readers who have graduated from Quackenbush's  Sherlock Chick or Miss Mallard mysteries and who are interested in Roy's A to Z Mysteries, Warner's Boxcar Children or Magaziner's Case Closed books will find the Secret Spy Society an appealing way to solve gentle mysteries while supported by a host of historical characters. 

These books are a bit young for my middle school library, but they are not easy reads. They come in at a 5.4 reading level, when most middle grade (and a lot of adult books!) comes in at 4.5. The print is tiny, but so are the books. I'll send these on to the elementary school, where I think they will be a hit. 

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Make a Move, Sunny Park!

Kim, Jessica. Make a Move, Sunny Park!
Published August 15, 2023 by Kokila
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Stand Up, Yumi Chung's cousin Sunny Park isn't quite as gregarious as her relative in Los Angeles. While she's taken ballet with her long time best friend Bailey, she has a lot of social anxiety and feels better dancing if she can do it at home, filming to upload, while wearing an inflatable dinosaur costume. She is enamored with the K-Pop band Supreme Beats and is active on their discussion forum, but Bailey thinks they are silly. Bailey is also the reason Sunny quit ballet; Sunny got a better role in the production of The Nutcracker than Bailey did, and Bailey's parents split, so she quit dance and pressured Sunny to do the same. Now, Bailey thinks that if she tries out for the school dance team at Rancho Mesa Middle School, she can trick her parents into getting back together when they come to watch her perform, even though her mother is now dating Darren. Sunny agrees to try out as well. She practices a lot, and meets Bea and Jayden at the tryouts. Bea knows Sunny from the Supreme Beats forum, and Jayden is the only boy trying out for the squad. On the day of tryouts, Bailey finds out her mother has gotten engaged to Darren, has a melt down, and doesn't try out. Sunny helps her get home after doing a solid job of dancing. Sunny makes the team while Bailey does not, and decides that she will try out the team for a week and then quit. She ends up enjoying it so much that she stays on the team, which makes her relationship with Bailey a bit strained. Sunny's grandmother, Halmoni, lives with Sunny's family and is helpful in convincing Sunny to stay on the team and have some activities that don't involve Bailey. The dance team hopes to make it to a regional competition in San Francisco, and Bea, Jayden, and Sunny try to earn enough money to go to the concert, with Halmoni as their chaperone, but this also means lying to Bailey. Bailey is convinced that Darren is cheating on her mother, and spies on him trying to get proof. Sunny finds herself more and more irritated with Bailey, and enjoys being around her new friends and involved in the dance team more than she enjoys Bailey. It doesn't help that Bailey is mean to her friends, and often calls Sunny away from activities that involve dance team to deal with her crises. When Bailey's mother moves her wedding up to the weekend of the dance competition, Sunny lets her know that this is something she just can't drop. When will Bailey start to support Sunny in the same way that Sunny has supported Bailey?
Strengths: Losing a friend in middle school is such a common occurrence that I am surprised there are not more books about friends who part ways. Bailey is very self involved, which is not an uncommon trait in middle school students, and Sunny is terrified of losing her long time friend. I did enjoy the fact that Sunny made the dance team and enjoyed it even though she tried out just to please Bailey! Bea and Jayden are much more pleasant friends to have, and its good to see them connect and do activities together. Sunny's homelife is interesting; her parents run a parade float making business! Halmoni is a calm and constant presence in Sunny's life, and it wasn't a surprise to read that the character was based on Kim's own grandmother. I love that the grandmother still dances and isn't decrepit at... probably my age! Even though there were some problems in the story, they were every day middle grade ones, this wasn't a sad book. I'm not sure how many of my readers are into K-Pop, but Florence's Sweet and Sour has circulated very well in my library, so my students must not mind it at all! 
Weaknesses: There was a lot going on in this book, and there were several plot lines that could have been removed to make this a tighter story. 352 pages is a bit long for a middle grade book. Also, did we have to mention sending Halmoni back to Korea? That just made me unnecessarily sad! 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and I think this will be a popular choice with readers who want the ever popular "friend drama" books! 

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Molly and the Mutants (Far Flung Falls #2)

Slangerup, Eric Jon. Molly and the Mutants (Far Flung Falls #2)
August 22, 2023 by Aladdin/Simon and Schuster
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Things have changed in Molly's world since Molly and the Machine. Her father is less depressed, and is now doing Jazzercize at home with Vilomena. Gruncle is gone, and the family is still dealing with his estate and many ex-wives. Arvin and Margo seem to like-like each other, and Margo is intent on finding Molly a boy to kiss. Ew! Molly would much rather ride around on Pink Lightning 2, her blinged out, equipment rich bicycle, especially when weird things start to happen again. There are giant frogs in the woods, and her cat Crank goes missing. The robot's head in the backyard lets her know that Crank wandered off, but with many other cases of missing pets, she's worried. It doesn't help when the group comes across the skeleton of the pig, Houdini, who was also reported missing. Even the school gets involved, reminding the students about their SAFER initiative... Stay Away From Everything Risky! Of course, none of the kids do this. Intent on confronting the three eyed, monster frogs, they take to the woods with a variety of homemade weaponry and vehicles (as well as the robot!) to try deal with the mutants and figure out their connection to the missing pets. There is some help that arrives from a surprising source with ties to Molly's family history, but will it be enough to retrieve Crank?
Strengths: Slangerup's 1980s representation is strong; there's Rhonda playing Cindy Lauper music on the bus, Officer Wasserbaum warning the children about the evils of Ozzy Osbourne and Kiss, and school classes that take place in "portables" that seem to be permanent fixtures at the school. (Is this just an Ohio thing, or do portables exist elsewhere?) There's also a ton of action and adventure, with the children riding around town and the woods fighting all manner of interesting monsters with a lot of ingenuity and enthusiasm. Molly is an engaging character who works well with her friends, and tries to navigate her father's new relationship, fifth grade projects, and friend dynamics while having to hurtle about the woods fighting mutants. Quite an interesting and unique book. 
Weaknesses: I'm not a huge fan of the "all the pets are going missing" trope, but this at least gives a different spin on it, since it's not the standard pet napping ring
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who like the grody to the max 1980s monster vibe of Stranger Things (which I still haven't seen!) that surfaces in books like Berk and Mitchell's Camp Murderface or Condie's The Darkdeep

Ms. Yingling

Monday, August 21, 2023

MMGM- Rewind

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 
Graff, Lisa. Rewind
August 22, 2023 by Philomel Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

N.B. I LOVED this book. It had so many good details, and it made me cry. And look at that cover! However, I managed to delete the E ARC before I wrote the review, so I didn't have some crucial information, like the name of Meg's mom. My apologies for the fuzzy quality of my details. You need to read this book!

It's 2018 and the town of Gap Bend, Pennsylvania is getting ready for it's yearly Time Hop. This time, the town is focusing on 1993, and McKinley O'Dair is ready! With the help of her best friend, Meg, her grandmother, and her Aunt Connie, she has sewn a fanastic costume and is looking forward to being in the fashion competition. Meg is more interested in the trivia team that both girls are on, but McKinley is tired of that and wants the two to find another activity in which to be involved. When McKinley's overworked and somewhat hidebound father has to work on the day of the competition, he tells McKinley that she will have to miss it in order to make sure that her grandmother gets her medication. Her grandmother, who is only 65, had a stroke when her father was about McKinley's age, and while she does a great job compensating, still is in a wheelchair and faces a lot of health challenges. McKinley and Meg decide to go to the festival anyway, and manage to run afoul of Mr. Jones, a teacher who has been around forever. Meg's mom locks him in a closet, and the next thing McKinley knows, she is back in 1993. She meets an obnoxious boy, Billy, whom she is mortified to find out is her father, and his best friend, Ron, who is equally obnoxious and Meg's father! Meg's mother tells her parents that McKinley is an exchange student who will be staying with them, and since it's 1993, they don't ask a lot of questions. The time hop in 1993 was highlighting 1939. Meg's mom does some research and realizes that Mr. Jones time traveled from 1969 into the past, and a blurry picture of him appears in a news article from the time to which he traveled. The girls contact him, and he is most concerned about hiding McKinley away until she can return safely to her own time without changing anything in 1993. Me'g mom realizes that there are a number of teens who had time traveled (thank you, microfiche newspaper!), and they seem to be fine. McKinley decides that the reason she time traveled was to help her father. She is so happy to meet her grandmother when she is young and healthy, and the two work on costumes for the 1939 play together. McKinley tries to talk to her father and make him less of a jerk; jerky boys in 1993 are a whole different ballgame, and she tries to introduce some diversity and inclusion sensitivity to the era of parachute pants. Will she be able to accomplish something in 1993 in order to return to her own time? And will her life be any different?
Strengths: I adore time travel books, and this had some really great features. An entire town celebrating a year in the past? Multiple children time traveling and getting written up in the newspaper? Meeting one's family and friends thirty years in the past? Trying to change things? Yes, yes, yes! Definitely my favorite Graff novel, right ahead of her 2015 Lost in the Sun. The characters were particularly well developed and engaging; the father read like a 1990s television dad (think Beverly Hills 90210), there's a little friend drama with Meg and McKinley, the grandmother and her friend Connie are fantastic, and Meg's mom was perfect. She knew about the time travel in the present but never said anything, which is just mindblowing. I also enjoyed that there really wasn't a particularly strong motivator for the time travel, and there's not really much different with her father when McKinley returns; it's more that she gains a new understanding of herself and of her father. Throw in a lot of name dropping of popular candy, descriptions of fashion, and chapter headings that are a play list of popular songs (including Weird Al's Jurassic Park from Alapalooza!), and this is an absolute winner. Buy it for today's kids whose parents grew up in the 1990s, and attempt to keep it for 30 years for the next generation. Better yet, buy two-- one to circulate and one to keep for later!
Weaknesses: I'm not sure how it would fit into the story, but it would have been good to have some explanation as to why Billy and Ron were able to act in such horrendous ways. Having lived through the time, I know that this was behavior that occurred. Even if it wasn't really acceptable behavior, there were more people who acted like this and got away with it. Young readers could use some background, but since many of their parents would have been in middle school in 1993, perhaps this can start some family conversations. Also, while I had a friend who had a stroke at 40, I would have liked to see the grandmother, who is roughly my age, in better health! Of course, it was poignant when McKinley was able to see the more vibrant version of her grandmother, so I'll forgive it. (Maybe I'm just in awesome shape for my age?)
What I really think: Until I can successfully travel back to 1980 and convince my 15 year old self to major in the hard sciences or business management, I will continue to love middle grade time travel books. 
Have to pair this with Eulberg's The Best Worst Summer (set partly in 1989), and I'm sure that there will be a lot more 1990s nostalgia coming from these young whippersnapper authors!Ms. Yingling

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Tiger Daughter

Lim, Rebecca. Tiger Daughter
August 15, 2023 by Delacorte Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus
Henry Xiao and Wen Zhou are both immigrants from China, living with their parents in Australia. Things are difficult. Not only do they live in a neighborhood that isn't exactly safe, their parents have struggled with being in a new country and have manifested this difficulty in different ways. Henry's father works long hours delivering produce to markets, and his mother, who doesn't speak English well, is alone all day and is very depressed. She finds it difficult to care for Henry. Wen's father was a doctor, but works as a manager in a Chinese restaurant. Her mother is at home, and tries to live up to the almost impossible expecatations the father has. She must be perfectly turned out, even though her ten year old skirt suits from her previous life are threadbare. She must have eight dishes of perfectly cooked foo on the table even though there is little money. She must walk Wen back and forth from school, but be home when the father telephones the landline at exactly 4:00 p.m. Wen is never allowed to question anything, and her father is very mean to her because she doesn't do well at math in school, and is very strict. She isn't allowed to snack, lest she become "fat", she can't go to activities at other people's houses, and if she talks back at all, her father has violent outbursts. Wen is in an English as a Second Language class at school even though her English is fine; she is there to support Henry, who still struggles. The two are working together to take an entrance exam to a better school that Henry is sure will help them so better. When Henry's mother kills herself, Wen wants to help, but her father forbids it. She sneaks some food to his house, and makes her mother go to the house with her so that she can drop off homework from school. Her friends from school, who are from different areas of Sudan, even bring clothes they have collected for Henry. Even though her mother tries to echo her father's line that Henry's family is disgraced and they can have nothing to do with him, she takes pity on the boy and his father and brings food to them, even though she barely has enough money to do so. She also gets involved at the local pharmacy when an older Chinese woman collapses, and the owner, Mrs. Xenakis, asks her to help. Wen manages to cover for her mother when her father calls. Mrs. Xenakis is so glad of the help that she approaches Mrs. Zhou with an offer of work. Mrs. Zhou would like to do something to be helpful and get out of the house, but she knows that the father would be furious. When Mr. Zhou loses his job for dumping food on a customer who uses a racial slur, Mrs. Zhou decides to stand up despite the risks. While Wen hasn't told her parents about the exam, when her mother finds out, she is all for it. Mr. Xiao is so grateful for all of the help that he offers to drive Wen along with Henry. Even though life is very difficult, it becomes easier when the families band together and accept help from each other. 
Strengths: This was a harrowing book, but offers a very illuminating look at how some people might struggle in a new country, especially when they have parents who area unhappy with their own lives. Many middle school students have trouble understanding that not everyone's lives are exactly like their own, in the same way that they don't understand that the world has not always been the way that it is now, and being able to offer a look into another time, place, or experience is very valuable. Wen is a motivated and kind hearted soul, and she knows that not all parents have the same expectations or dynamics that her own do. She knows she shouldn't anger her father, but also knows that there are some things, like taking care of Henry, that are worth risking it. It was a palpable relief at the end of the book when her father talks to Mr. Xiao and starts to see that he needs help, and that Wen and her mother need more freedom. I like to have books like this to give to students who don't want to read anything; not only do they often engage with books like this, but I hope they also make them more empathetic and grateful for their own lives. 
Weaknesses: There are some aspects of this that are particularly Australian, but I think that if students are made aware of this, they'll understand. The story is very harrowing, so I don't know that I would give it to readers younger than 6th grade without supervision. 
What I really think: Years ago, I took a continuing education class about school environment. The teacher told us that we might be the first person in the student's day to interact with them in a positive fashion. Tiger Daughter was a good reminder of this. While not all of Henry and Wen's teachers were supportive, there were a few who made a difference. This book was difficult to read, but definitely important. It reminded me a bit of Lai's Pie in the Sky. Definitely purchasing. 

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Saturday Morning Cartoons- Two Tribes

Cohen, Emily Bowen. Two Tribes.
August 15, 2023 by Heartdrum
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

Mia lives with her mother and step father, who are both Jewish, in California. It's an okay life, and her stepfather is a decent guy, but Mia feels that her father's Muscogee heritage is completely ignored. She goes to a Jewish school, and has a best friend who was adopted and is of Asian heritage, so the two have each other when classmates give them a hard time. Mia wants to know more about the other half of her cultural background, but her father did not treat her mother well, so her mother doesn't really want to talk about it. Family friends who are Jewish assure Mia that since her mother is Jewish, she is as well, not matter what background her father has. In order to reconnect, Mia decides to cash in her bat mitzvah checks and buy a bus ticket to Oklahoma to visit her father. Her friend helps her, and soon she is showing up on her father's doorstep. She tells her mother that she is at a Jewish Camp, and lies to her father as well. She's glad to spend time with her grandmother, learn some cooking skills from an older cousin, and go to a local celebration where she is able to wear a ribbon skirt and be with other people who celebrate the part of her heritage she hasn't been able to explore. Her mother eventually finds out and comes to Oklahoma to take her home. Will Mia be able to keep the Native part of her identity once she is back in her mother's care?
Strengths: Mia struggles with understanding who she really is, and for most middle grade readers, personal identity is a huge issue. Mia has more to consider than many students do, and it's good to see that both sides of her family are supportive, even if they don't work together to make that support cohesive. There's a good balance of both her home life and her experiences in Oklahoma, so we can see how she is attempting to integrate both sides. The grandmother is especially good to see. 
Weaknesses: Mia's running away from home was unsafe, and the underlying problems that made her do this could have used a little more attention. Her mother and stepfather do agree to let her visit her father, but I wanted a bit more in the resolution, like perhaps some personal or family therapy. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who liked Fahmy's graphic novel Huda F Are You?,  or books like Freedman's My Basmati Bat Mitzvah or Garcia's I Wanna Be Your Shoebox that explore the challenges in understanding personal identity that children with mixed backgrounds face. 

Ms. Yingling

Friday, August 18, 2023

Guy Friday- This Boy: The Early Lives of John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Cooper, Ilene. This Boy: The Early Lives of John Lennon & Paul McCartney 
August 15, 2023 by Viking Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

The Beatles are still a band that is known by a decent number of middle schoolers, and which still has a handful of avid fans, even sixty years after the band's start. My own family has quite an interest in them; my daughter has seen both Ringo and Paul in concert and has been to Liverpool twice. In addition to being a seminal group and a cultural phenomenon, The Beatles is a group whose members were very much of their time. I loved this book not only because it told me about John Lennon and Paul McCartney, but because it showcased post war childhood in England. 

I've read a number of nonfiction books Coot's Biographic: The Beatles, Leonard's Beatleness, Tiwart's The Fifth Beatle, Bellstorf's Baby's in Black, Benhke's Death of a Dreamer,  and Tyler's memoir Fab 4 Mania; those are just a few titles I've reviewed on the blog. I've read many others. I've also been to Liverpool twice, gone on a tour on one of the original Magical Mystery Tour buses (in 2005), and visited The Beatles Story. This book still had some surprises for me, and I learned a lot. The research was excellent, and the style drew me right into the lives of these famous men when they were the age of the students I teach now. 

My students really don't understand that the world was a very different place in the mid 1900s. They can't fathom life without cell phones and computers, and have no idea what England was like after World War II. Reading Cooper's account of the lives of the Beatles put me in mid of the PBS series Call the Midwife. McCartney's mother was, in fact, a midwife, and she also passed away when Paul was in his teens, which unsettled his family life. John's childhood was not secure until his Aunt Mimi took him in. I'd love to see Cooper write a book about Ringo Starr and how the newly created National Health Service kept him alive. Without it, given his family's poverty, Starr would have likely perished. 

This is a must purchase for middle school and high school libraries. Fans of these musicians will keep it in circulation, and readers who enjoyed the portrayal of midcentury life in Tolin's More Than Marmalade, about Michael Bond (b. 1926) or The Sounds of Silence, a memoir by Myron Uhlberg (b. 1933) will enjoy this look at daily life viewed through the eyes of these iconic singers. 
 Ms. Yingling

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Mystery Thursday

Allen, Sarah. The Nightmare House
Publication August 8, 2023 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Penny Hope is eleven and has been struggling with an entity she calls the Fear Maker since she was seven years old and ate a candy apple left by the monster on Halloween Night. She didn't use to be afraid of everything, but now has nightmares and sees people out in public who look like they have blank eyes, although her mother doesn't seem to see them that way. She is sad that her grandmother, who had lived with the family for quite some time, is now in the Olympus Assisted Living facilty. She visits, but it's not the same. Her grandmother was the one she sought for comfort, and while the journal her grandmother gave her is helpful, she is still plagued by the Fear Maker. She meets a boy, Aarush, at her grandmother's place, and the two become friends and try to figure out the mystery of the people with blank eyes. There are some times when Penny can envision a bright, sunlit world where she doesn't have anxiety, and she gets some release from writing poetry in her notebook, but even with Aarush as a friend, she struggles, especially since more and more people in their lives seem to be changing. She and Aarush decide to go to the Fear Maker's house to confront him and hopeful get their lives back. Will they be able to?
Strengths: Penny struggles to get by while dealing on a daily basis with the Fear Maker's presence in her life, but has enough determination and support from her grandmother to try to conquer her fears. I appreciated that while the grandmother was in an assisted care facility, this was not portrayed as a horrible thing, and the grandmother was still able to support Penny. The blank eyed people around Penny will put people in mind of Gaiman's Coraline, and this had a good dose of scary moments. Penny's poetry appears frequently in the pages, for those who like verse included in books. 
Weaknesses: The cover makes this look very young, and given Penny's age, this might be a more successfu book with elementary school students. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who like Malinenko's This Appearing House or Reynold's Izzy at the End of the World