Saturday, September 30, 2023

Out There and Crabgrass

Miller, Seaerra. Out There.
June 27, 2023 by Little, Brown Ink 
E ARC provided by Netgalley

As summer approaches, Julia is supposed to go on vacation to Hawaii with her friend Sara, but cancels so that she can take a three day road trip to Roswell, New Mexico with her father for the 70th anniversary celebration of the aliens landing there. Julia's mother isn't pleased; after a period of time where the parents were fighting a lot and the father, David, experienced an alien abduction, the mother asked the father to leave the household. He's had some trouble keeping things together ever since. He arrives late for meetings, doesn't get his car serviced, and still really believes that the aliens have a message for him that they will deliver at Roswell. He has located the exact site of the landing 70 years ago, and is determined to go there and wait for the message. Julia believes her father, mostly, and is reading a book he got for her about the Roswell experience. While at the celebration, the two meet a couple who really believe in aliens, and their son Josh, who does not. At first, Julia feels insulted by his comments, but the two quickly bond over their shared experience with parents who believe in something that many people think is crackpot. Julia wishes that she were with Sara; she doesn't even want to post pictures on social media of herself at Roswell. The parade in town seems super goofy, and Julia doesn't quite understand why the crowds of people aren't taking things as seriously as her father is. The two head out into the desert to meet with the aliens, but sicne David hasn't had the car serviced as needed, there is a clog in the radiator hose that causes the car to break down. They get it fixed and reach their destination, but have a fight in the car. Julia lets her father go wait in the desert by himself, although she eventually comes out to talk to him. He's unhappy that the aliens don't contact him, but takes some solace in a meteor shower that seems like a partial message. The two prepare to make their way back home, having made some peace with each other. 
Strengths: It doesn't take much for a middle school student to be embarassed by a parent, and Julia's father is so resolute in his feelings about his alien abduction that even Sara opines that maybe he had a break down because of the marital woes. It's one thing to believe in something, and yet another to be trumpeting it to all and sundry, and while Julia wants to share this experience with her father and bond with him over it, she just... doesn't want anyone else to know! That perfectly describes so many child/parent interactions at this age. The depiction of the tourist culture in Roswell is interesting, especially seeing it from Julia's point of view as a believer in the events. Of course, when she attends an "abduction survivors" group, she has a little less belief in it herself. The artwork is vibrantly colored and attractive. I think this will be a popular choice with my students. 
Weaknesses: Julia's nose (which she inherited from her father) looks very different from noses on the other characters and distracted me. I am very easily distracted by noses in illustrations, but it seemed like an odd choice. I have to say that I'm of the opinion that Roswell was a hoax, having read Fleming's Crash from Outer Space, so had little sympathy for the father's bad parenting, although I suspect that we are no longer allowed to judge people's parenting. Let's just say that David could have used some assistance in organizing his life. Taking a car into the desert with your tween daughter when you knowingly neglected maintaining it? I can see why Julia's mother is angry. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who like graphic novels with problematic parents, like those in Knisley's Stepping Stones or Mass' Lo and Behold, although it is also similar to (although more realistic than) Gardner's Long Distance

Bondia, Tauhid. Unsupervised: A Crabgrass Adventure
September 19, 2023 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Kevin and Miles are best friends even though they are very different. Miles is in the gifted program with Mr. Wienersmith and has two very overprotective parents who are a truck driver and substitute teacher. Kevin makes ill considered decisions and wears a white tank top no matter what the weather is, and is being raised with an older brother, twin sister, and baby sibling by his single mother, who works as a nurse and frequently needs to come to school to deal with his behavior problems.  This is only the second volume in the Crabgrass Comic Adventures and I'd be more than happy to see Mr. Bondia adapt his characters into Big Nate style chapter books! We see Miles working on a project about clouds with a classmate, Carla, whom he rather likes; Kevin having Miles draw a tattoo on him, which he proudly shows off at school while wearing no shirt all day (!), and the boys having an adventure at a pro wrestling event for which Kevin's father buys tickets but then can't take them, so Miles' father steps in. 

My local paper replaced a recently disgraced comic that shall not be named with Crabgrass, so I've been able to read the daily adventures of these engaging characters. My ony concern about it is that Kevin, with his tank top, often comes perilously close to some stereotypes about a certain type of lower income family for which there is no longer a name, but which is part of my cultural identity. I hope Mr. Bondia manages to stay on top of trends and not run into any problems! 

Friday, September 29, 2023

Farther than the Moon

Lackey, Lindsay. Farther Than the Moon
September 19, 2023 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Houston has always been interested in space, and he has the wonderful opportunity of attending the JARP (Junior Astronaut Recruitment Program) in Texas. However, it's hard for him to leave home. His father left the family because he couldn't deal with all of the care that Houston's younger brother Robbie needed, so he knows he is leaving his mother to care for him alone. Robbie has fairly acute cerebral palsy, which causes many issues. He's in a wheel chair, and can communicate via an iPad, but has frequent digestive issues and occasional seizures. Houston has promised to take Robbie to the moon with him, and feels bad even leaving him for a limited time to attend camp. Houston's feelings are also complicated when he finds out that the astronaut he admires the most, Carey E. Broderick, is actually his grandfather, but is estranged from his mother. Camp is exciting, and Houston meets his fellow campers, who include Henry Yuen, Maverick Schemp (who is fairly obnoxious and whose father is a politician), Freya Aaby (who has a sensory processing disorder and has trouble making friends), George Kingston (who is Black and deals with ADHD), and the attractive Tahmina. The kids are put into groups for various simulated exercises, and have to deal with personality clashes as well as areas where they may lack expertise. Broderick speaks to the camp when another astronaut has to cancel, and he is shocked to meet Houston. Their meeting doesn't go well, but they make another attempt to connect after the grandfather contacts the mother and asks permission to speak to Houston. The culminating activity at the camp is a Final Mission Proposal. Houston convinces his group that they should come up with a rover than Robbie could control from Earth, after he thinks that people with disabilities won't be allowed to go into space. When the FMP is delivered, with Houston's mother and Robbie in attendance, Robbie is inconsolable. Will Houston really leave him behind the way both his father and grandfather did? 
Strengths: Houston is a well developed character who is dealing with some family problems in a realistic way. The estrangement from the grandfather is handled well, and I especially like that he contacted the mother before getting to know Houston. It was also good to see the family finally process what happened. There is a lot of good emotional fodder for teachers and librarians who like heartprint books, but this does not stint on the details that young readers prefer; interpersonal conflict with snotty fellow students, social life, and classes on really intriguing scientific topics. Lackey has a note that her brother-in-law lives with cerebral palsy, and she promised to write him into a book, so the details of what life with CP entails are very well done. There are not too many books featuring children dealing with a sibling's health concerns, and while Sumner's Roll With It has a depiction of a character with less involve CP, that's the only one I've seen lately. 
Weaknesses: While it is a really nice thought to make space accessible to everyone, regardless of their abilities, I'm not sure that will ever happen. I grew up in the 1970s, and thought that even wearing glasses to correct your vision would disqualify you from the space program. Maybe that's not true, but I wondered about George's ADHD and Freya's sensory processing disorder and wondered if those challenges might disqualify even them. I was also a bit surprised that the mother was upset that her father didn't come back from a space mission when circumstances became difficult and this caused the estrangement; I would have thought that the families of astronauts would have had better emergency plans in place. 
What I really think: There are certainly students who are interested in becoming astronauts, and this would be a good companion to nonfiction titles like Massimo's Spaceman, Aldrin's To the Moon and Back or Siegal's To Fly Among the Stars. While there are a lot of science fiction books where children go to space camp and then actually go in to space, this is a great realistic look at what it is like to go to an ACTUAL space camp. Definitely purchasing. 

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Book of Screams plus R.L. Stine Scariest Book Ever

Szpirglas, Jeff and Hughes, Steven B. (illus.) Book of Screams
September 12, 2023 by Orca Book Publishers
Copy provided by Edelweiss Plus

Tanya loves the work of author Joel Southland, so when he is a guest speaker at her school, she's super excited to hear her favorite horror writer speak. He even signs a special bookmark for her that says "Stay scared!", but when the ink starts to shift before her eyes, she knows that something weird is happening. The ink seems to be doing strange things to her, and she sees creepy people following her. We then get to read several different stories that also talk about the creepy ink, and she has to find a way to extricate her from Southland's clutches. All of the tales seem to come back to the ink, that will swirl around a person and then smear itself on people and work its way into their body! 
Strengths: This is one of those great, twisted story-within-a-story books that my students seem to like, but I find hard to review, like Poblocki's Tales to Keep You Up at Night. 
Weaknesses: Did the school not do a background check on Southland before they let him speak to their students? And is he based on the middle grade horror writer Joel Sutherland? Need to know these things!
What I really think: I need Southland's Stories to Melt Your Mind for mystudents! I'll buy this one, but sort of wish it had a spooky glow-in-the-dark cover like Josh Allen's Only if You Dare and Out to Get You! Definitely purchasing, and my students will love it, but I'm failing utterly to write a good description! 
From the publisher (who doesn't give a much better synopsis than I do!):

Tanya is a huge fan of horror author Joel Southland...AND he's coming to visit her school! Even though she is his biggest fan, she barely gets a chance to say hello. But he does give her a signed For Tanya. Stay Scared! Reading later that night, she figures it's just her eyes playing tricks on her when she sees the ink on the bookmark move a little. But when the ink slithers toward her, it's too late... As Tanya tries to get to the bottom of Southland's nefarious schemes, the book is broken up by nine other creepy tales, including one about middle-school horror movie fans who track down the scariest horror movie of all time, another about a kid whose "baby eye" is beginning to fall out, and yet another about a vampire suffering due to a virus that is keeping people indoors. A mix of squirmy, funny and downright terrifying, these tales will leave readers thinking twice about the things that go bump in the night.

Stine, R. L. Scariest. Book. Ever. (House of Shivers #1)
September 19, 2023 by Scholastic Paperback
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Betty and Billy's parents have to both go on a business trip to London for their father's work, and because they have no other relatives to take care of them or their dog, Bellamy, their parents take them to their Uncle Wendell's creepy old house in the woods. They get lost, and are running late, so even though the uncle isn't around, the parents just drop them off with no one to take care of them. As one does. Luckily, their uncle shows up, but he is very odd and claims that a very valuable book has been stolen. Because of this, the dog has to stay in another house with his daughter Jesse, even though a daughter has never been mentioned. Billy and Betty soon find out that their uncle's house near the Wayward Woods is filled with all manner of creepy creatures, like manbats, bloodskeets, cannibal crows, cave locusts, and others. This leads them to comment that "Everything in this forest wants to kill us!" Many of the horrifying instances are tied to the missing book, but what else is going on at Uncle Wendell's house? How long can the two survive? 
Strengths: Stine is a master of horror. He doesn't waste any time stranding Betsy and Billy in a creepy environment; they have a quest; the characters are deeply creepy. He even imperils their poor dog! From there, we have jump scare after jump scare, creatures that are probably going to haunt MY dreams tonight, and an ending that finishes things up... only to tell us on the last page that this isn't over! The font is nice and large, there's plenty of white space on the page, and I'm glad to finally get in on #1 of a series of Stine's books. I'll be looking forward to see what the next book brings. 
Weaknesses: The cover is laughably bad. It's clearly designed to evoke the 1990s covers of Goosebumps books, so will definitely have parents buying the titles, but will actually students like the books? I'm undecided on this and will have to ask my students. 
What I really think: Stine knows his stuff. From his new Stinetingler's story collections to rebooted Slappy titles, Stine can write goofy elementary horror (killer lawn gnomes) to riveting young adult horror novels with spot on historical details. Scariest. Book. Ever. comes right in the middle and is perfect for middle schoolers who want a murder mystery but can also appreciate scary books with paranormal creatures. I'll buy this; by the time the paper deteriorates because this is only available in paperback, I'll be able to retire. That reminds me; I need to cull the worst smelling Fear Street books that have been on my library shelves since the mid 1990s. Every year, I remove on or two. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Umbrella House

Nelson, Colleen. The Umbrella House
June 6, 2023 by Pajama Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Roxy and Scout live in the East Village of New York City in (the fictionalized) Umbrella House. In the 1980s, the building was abandoned, but artists who needed homes squatted in the building and fixed it up. Roxy's grandmother, who finds and refurbishes vintage items to sell, was one of these first residents. The community is very close, but worried about the changes in their neighborhood brought on by a developer who is trying to gentrify the area. Roxy is very interested in news reporting, and Scout in videography, and the two want to enter a Young Voices competition run by Veracity News, which they love. They've been reporting for the EaVill Kids network, so feel they have an edge if they just just settle on a riveting topic. When a neighboring building is sold to the developer and a beloved joke shop has to go out of business, they think this might work, but Roxy finds out information about her family's past and ties to the Midnight Muralist who brought a lot of attention to the area. When the developer threatens the Umbrella House itself, Roxy and Scout know they need to act. Will they be able to save the artistic integrity of their neighborhood as well as their home?

New York City has so much rich history, and I know so little of it! I'm always glad for books like Tarpley's The Harlem Charade or Rodriguez and Bell's Doodles from the Boogie Down that offer a tantalizing glimpse into a more urban existence. It's fascinating that a city would choose to cut holes in the roof of a building and fill the pipes with cement rather than trying to sell or tear down an abandoned edifice. The artistic culture that Roxy's grandmother is part of certainly benefitted from it, and the portrayal of a neighborhood in transition is an interesting one. 

Roxy and Scout are very dedicated to their news reporting, and Veracity News is an interesting outlet. Many writers get their start in Young Voices competitions, so seeing the struggles that the two had to get their episode produced will appeal to young reporters. Scout has an opportunity to go to camp which puts a realistic strain on their project as well as on their relationship. 

I can't say that I have ever seen a book that portrays gentrification as a good thing, so The Umbrella House will be a good choice for readers who enjoyed Dilloway's Five Thing About Ava Andrews, Giles' Take Back the Block, Watson's This Side of Home, or Broaddus' Unfadeable. I'm old enough to remember when gentrification was called "urban renewal" and was generally thought of as a way to get people into safer housing, but I understand that things are viewed differently now. 

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Fantasy Tuesday

It is important to note, if you are new to the blog, that I really do try to read ALL of the new middle grade books that are published. I read books before I buy them for my school library, and if it is a book in a series or something so popular I can't get ahold of before I buy it, I read it before it goes on the shelf. 

I don't buy the books I like, although it helps. I buy books that my STUDENTS will like. 

This changes over time, and I usually have enough books from the past so that when interests change, I can buy a few new things and keep readers happy. In 2022-23, there was a huge surge in requests for horse books, for example, an ongoing desire for horror, sports, and humor, and a tiny increase in demand for novels in verse and in historical fiction. 

Fantasy, however, has seen a steady decline since I started in 2003. The previous librarian had purchased a ton of fantasy books, and I had readers who couldn't get enough of Lloyd Alexander or Brian Jacques. Now, very few readers want fantasy, but there is more than ever being published! I do love that the books are much more diverse, and I try to recommend titles I enjoyed to readers, but I just can't buy it all, especially since much of the fantasy is in long series. I'm writing this in June, when over half the books I've read are fantasy. 

While I might not purchase all of these titles, I know that other libraries differ in what circulates, so please take a look to see what will work for your library. 

Calejo, Ryan. The Shape of Time
September 12, 2023 by Amulet Books
EARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Antares de la Vega lives in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, Florida, with his aunt. His parents were professional cartographers whose boat tragically sank when he was a year old. He has panic attacks but loves his Aunt Celeste, and is very curious about the world around him. When he goes to school one day, things get very weird. Substitute teachers show up, but there's something wrong about them. Mr. Now, Mr. Minutes, and Mr. Hoursback aren't like normal subs, and Antares doesn't know what's going on. His friend Mikey is sad that he didn't see any of them, but when Mr. Now show up at Antares' door, things get even stranger! Soon, crocodilian creatures in raincoats are hauling him off in a shipping container to an island castle in the control of a warlord known as Mystic. He meets Zamanger and Magdavellia in the prison, and they help him gain the skills he needs to figure out Rymworld and find his parents. 320 pages.
Strengths: I was a big fan of L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, and Mr. Now and his accomplices certainly put me in mind of that adventure! Antares is a more modern hero with present day concerns; his anxiety and feeling of "not fitting in" will speak to many young readers. The island is well developed, and the training and figuring out of riddles reminded me a bit of the new Spellbinders by Auseon. The cover is fantastic, and the Latine heritage is great to see. 
Weaknesses: Dormant powers, magical alternate universe, missing parents, and a quest make this pretty standard fantasy territory, but there are also "squishy molemen", which is new.
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who like a good quirky orphan quest  like Bing's Molly Moon,  Sanderson's Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians or Bosch's The Name of this Book is Secret but want more of a science fiction feel. 

Durham, David Anthony. The Longest Night in Egypt (The Shadow Prince #2)
September 26, 2023 by Lee & Low Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Do not confuse this series with Last Gate of the Emperor and The Royal TrialsThe pink and purple on the cover of both first books threw me! This had lots of action and adventure, and the first book has circulated well, so I'll definitely purchase. 400 pages.

From the Publisher:
The Shadow Prince saga continues as Ash and his heroic friends rush to save Ra from the belly of Apep and bring light back to an Egypt that has been plunged into darkness.

Back at his evil tricks, Set, the devious god of chaos has rid Egypt of the sun god Ra and plunged the kingdom into never-ending night. He's even managed to trap the rest of the gods in a palace chamber without the use of their magic. Now demons run amok in the city, filling it with chaos and destruction.

But hope is not lost! Ash, Prince Khufu, Seret, Gilli, and two new friends, Thea and Iset, must brave the depths of the Duat--the spooky, cavernous Egyptian underworld--to rescue Lord Ra. Numerous demons fly about them in the darkness. Deadly peril awaits them around every craggy corner. They must fight, trick, sneak, and solve riddles to pass through each successive gate. If Team Shadow Prince can manage to get through all that, they will still have to face a demon like none they've seen before: the fierce, wily, enormous, god-eating serpent, Apep.

Will the kids prevail? Can Ash and his friends reunite Ra's magic with the sun and bring power and light back to the kingdom? Or will Egypt remain in darkness forever?

Clayton, Dhonielle. The Memory Thieves (The Marvellers #2)
September 26, 2023 by Lee & Low Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus\

It seems likely that this will have a volume for each year that Ella is in the institute, but I didn't pay enough attention to figure out how many years this would be. This has a richly developed fantasy world with enough action and lots of friend drama. The first book has circulated well with my hard core fantasy fans. 416 pages

From the Publisher:
Eager to wield their stapiers for Marvel Combat, Ella, Brigit, and Jason are back for their second year at the Arcanum Training Institute. With Ella’s celebrity growing throughout the Marvellian world after thwarting the Ace of Anarchy’s diabolical plans, it’s proving hard for her to focus on her coursework. But back home in New Orleans the Conjure community isn’t too happy about her return to the skies for another year learning to become a Marveller. As if life wasn’t complicated enough, Ella soon discovers more dangerous secrets about the Conjure architect who built the school.

Before she can dig deeper, a mysterious magical illness sweeps through the Institute, and Ella lands at the top of the suspect list. Can Ella and her friends save themselves and the Marvellian world before chaos breaks loose?

Monday, September 25, 2023

MMGM- Zombie Season and Arazen's Wolves

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Weinberger, Justin. Zombie Season
September 5, 2023 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

It's the end of the world, but a kid still has to do homework, right? In California, there is always some problem, and summer means an increase in the number of zombie attacks. Oliver tries to be prepared, and pays attention to the drills that his gym teacher organizes to ready the students for zombie attacks. He has maps of town, the best escape routes, and a go-bag by the door of his house. Joule has a different feeling about the Dusk-- her father has been missing for a year and is most likely a zombie. If she leaves their farm, as her mother would like to do, how will she ever be able to find her father and help him? Regina's mother is a scientist with HumaniTeam who is trying her best to deal with this new challenge; at one point, she even came up with Project Coloma to harness the power of zombies walking and convert it to electricity, although this goes badly wrong. Two things that keeps the zombies going are trash (you can throw it in front of them and buy yourself some time while they eat it) and their superheated blood. Stopping them requires water guns filled with super cooled water that disables them and then makes them evaporate. When this technique doesn't seem to work as well, and Regina thinks that there is a zombie boy trying to communicate with her, everything the kids know about zombies gets called into question. Is Regina's mother's company working for good, or are their some evil plans afoot? When the entire area experiences a tremendous surge of zombies seemingly immune to previous ways to vanquish them, will anyone survive? 

Disclaimer: As an old person, I find it increasingly hard to suspend disbelief in order to enjoy zombie and vampire books. In the first place, if this were a real concern, wouldn't everyone in the world be either a zombie or a vampire? Additionally, in case of any sort of apocalypse, I am heading out the front door and throwing myself at the first zombie I see. It's not going to be worth surviving. This worldview made it harder to properly enjoy this book. 

Strengths: I can appreciate some well developed zombie lore, and like Bayron's The Vanquishers, this has a lot of good details about what zombies are like, how to fight them, how society is adapting to their presence, and even a scientific corporation trying to do research into how to utilize them. On top of that, there is a lot of fighting and running around, which is important. There's even a bit of dark humor, with Oliver recognizing that while it seems silly to do homework when the world is ending, sometimes you have to do the things that you CAN control. The characters are all well developed and have different reactions to what is going on. There are plenty of twists and turns to keep readers guessing. This is a little more serious than Kloepfer's Zombie Chasers (2011) but not as serious as Higson's (2010) The Enemy. 
Weaknesses: I wasn't all that clear on how the zombie plague started, but I might have just missed in. Anyway, students usually don't want that much background; they just want BRAINS.
What I really think: I guess we haven't had many new zombie books in a while (not counting the Minecraft books here!), so this is a solid title to purchase for all middle school collections, where there will ALWAYS be students interested in zombie fighting. I am DEFINITELY purchasing this. For me, personally, once the zombies broke into the house at the beginning of the book, I knew that everyone should be dead, and it made it hard to focus. Remember, I am old and jaded. When I think about vampires living forever, all I can get my mind around is "That is an eternity of folding socks"!

There's also apparently a 39 Clues style web site game, and I'm not even going to investigate that. I have absolutely no patience for any sort of video gaming, and think that young people should spend no more than half an hour a day on screens. Sigh. 

Flanagan, John. Arazan's Wolves (Ranger's Apprentice: The Royal Ranger, #6)
September 5, 2023 by Viking Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

When a farmer in Celtica is killed by a dire wolf, Will heaves a deep sigh, stows 30 pounds of coffee in his pack, and heads off with Maddie to investigate. Of course, they have to deal with robbers on the highway, but the two have a well established procedure for this, and the robbers are soon standing at the side of the road without pants or shoes. The dire wolves seem to be attached to the sorceress Arazen, and while Will doesn't quite believe in magic, he knows that they are creatures of the dark. Arazen isn't playing, like Malkallam in Sorcerer of the North; Arazen has subjugated a band of Wargals, and is trying to summon a demon. This is all too connected to Morgarath, who has proven to be a real threat in the past. Soon, the two are seeking help from Eveningstar and plotting their plan to stop Arazen from summoning the demon Krakotomal. Will their Ranger skills stand up to the supernatural?
Strengths: It's great to see Rangers back in action, taking care of threats to the people, and I especially love that Maddie and Will have a father-daughter type relationship. The dire wolves and Wargals are just scary enough, and the medieval feel to these books is perfect for young readers who love classic Anglo-Germanic fantasy stories. Parents who love Tolkien would do well to start their third graders on these books rather than The Hobbit
Weaknesses: I love these because they are predictable but... they are fairly predictable. Lots of coffee drinking by the campfire, the occasional robber, forces of evil that need to be dispatched with their fantastic ranger skills. Have to say that Will and Maddie seemed a little nonchalant about the demon. I'm not going to take any demons lightly and think I can richochet an arrow to knock over a bottle of water to erase the chalk pentagram. I'd be making a pretty big chalk circle around myself before doing that, but it was exciting to read about. 
What I really think: I still have a lot of readers who enjoy these books, but I no longer buy four of each new title. I'm really conflicted about this series because I love reading each book as it comes out, but find it hard to keep students interested in a series with over five books. I'd love to see Maddie break out on her own, or see Will meet his match. I was sort of hoping there would be a romance with Eveningstar.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

The Widely Unknown Myth of Apple and Dorothy

Haydu, Corey Ann. The Widely Unknown Myth of Apple & Dorothy
September 19, 2023 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Dorothy lives with her mother and father on The Hill, where Earthbound gods, descendents of the Olympian gods, live. Once a year, they must climb a ladder into the heavens and eat a bite of apple in order to stay immortal. Once year, Dorothy's mother Penny decides not to make the climb, and within the year, she has passed away. She was a descendant of Pandora, so there is already some prejudice against her. On the anniversary of her birth, Dorothy and her Dad aren't quite sure what to do, since the gods don't have much experience with death. Heather, Penny's best friend and the single mother of young Apple, comes over to celebrate with homemade bread and other things that Penny liked, which helps a bit. The relief from grieving is short lived when a screed from the gods arrive: the residents of  The Hill need to decide within a short amount of time whether they will choose to live on Olympus and remain immortal, or stay on The Hill and live out a mortal life. The Hill is an interesting place, where the Earthbound gods are able to choose their favorite age to be, and live a largely human life in order to understand the creatures over whom they have some sway. They wear blue clothing to honor the heavens, and have some magical powers, which not all of them choose to use. Since they are descended from a variety of mythical beings, the families retain some of the characteristics. After the birthday, Apple has taken a keen interest in Dorothy, and wants to shield her from the unkind comments of classmates, and the two end up spending a lot of time together. Apple is vey invested in Dorothy's life, and Dorothy is so subsumed with grief over her mother that she doesn't object to this extra attention. When the gods' pronouncement it made, however, the two girls see things differently. Apple and her mother plan to go to Olympus, and Heather is very enthusiastic about the changes this will bring to their lifestyle. Dorothy and her father have different views, and Dorothy in particular finds it hard to go about her daily life, so she plans to stay on The Hill, where her grief will at least be over within the span of a human life. Apple becomes incensed that her new best friend won't be with her, and asks her friends if there is a way she can impel Dorothy to go to Olympus. They hatch a plan where Dorothy's shadow will be attached to Apple, but this does not work out the way that either girl envisions. Not only does Apple lose most of what is important to the friendship, but Dorothy's grief does not abate, and there are larger ramifications for the entire community. Will the two be able to figure out a way to reverse their disastrous decision, and, if they do, what new decision will they make? 
Strengths: While there have been adventure books with mythological elements, like Yolen's Young Heroes series, Cook's Oh, My Gods, VanEekhout's Fenris and Mott, or Rick Riordan's many books of his own and those published by his imprint for multicultural, mythology based fantasy novels, I can't think of any that put traditional mythological characters in a modern setting and put them through their paces of dealing with the intricacies of navigating the world as gods. This was definitely philosophical, and reminded me of the writing assignment so prevalent in middle school: take elements of myths and construct your own. Apple and Dorothy have many characteristics of demigods, and it's interesting to see how they navigate their world and its changes. Readers might be encouraged to pick up D'Aulaire's Greek Myths or Donna Jo Napoli's 2011 Treasury of Greek Mythology to refresh the various characters in their minds. 
Weaknesses: Dorothy and Apple's friendship didn't always ring true. Dorothy's feelings of disconnectedness seemed on target, but Apple's obsession with staying with Dorothy, whom she had previously largely ignored, was odd. Also, Haydu and I have a very different views about grief. Hers are more on trend with current philosophy, so we'll just leave it at that. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who like Haydu's work like Eventown and One Jar of Magic, or books that combine magic with serious emotional topics like Redman's Quintessence or Staniszewski's The Wonder of Wildflowers.   

Saturday, September 23, 2023

The Improbable Tales of Baskerville

Standish, Ali. The Improbable Tales of Baskerville Hall
September 12, 2023 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Young Arthur Doyle is living in Edinburgh in 1868 with his mother, many young sisters, and illustrator father who is too fond of drink. He knows that he will most likely have to quit school in order to get a job; he has even scoped out opportunities, like at the local butcher shop. He is an astute young man with a keen eye, and when he notices a young woman about to swoon, he takes swift action, including clonking a passerby with a rock to get his attention, to make sure that the pram with her baby in it is not hit by a passing carriage. The man he hit with a rock praises his quick thinking, but Arthur doesn't think much more about it. The next day, a message arrives that he has secured a place in the elite Baskerville Hall, where the staff are illustrious members of society in various fields. An airship will pick him up the next day, and all expenses will be covered. He hates to leave his family, but can't turn down this opportunity. He is soon introduced to a wide range of people, like students Grover Kumar, Mary (whose style of dress leads her to be addressed as "Pockets"), Irene Eagle, and staff John Watson, housekeeper Mrs. Hudson, and librarian Mr. Underhill. The courses offered at the academy, which is in England, are unusual. There's even a course on mesmerism, and one that includes boxing, and Arthur runs afoul of Sebastian, who doesn't like Scotsmen, because of  his clever observations and wily ways. These same things win the adminration of fellow student Jimmie Moriarty, which is good, because the two are roomates. Odd things are happening in Baskerville Hall, and there are some thefts that are being committed in the sprawling manor house. Do these have anything to do with the inventions of the very clever Dinah Grey, who is trying to invent electric lights? Or the globe trotting Valencia Fernandez? Irene, Jimmie, and Arthur are all approached to be part of an elite, secret society, Clover, and are put to the test in matters of bravery, honor, and loyalty. While Arthur doesn't care much for the clandestine activities, he knows that being a member will help him to succeed and to be able to take care of his family. When he is required to "borrow" an item, he borrows a stone from Valencia which turns out to be a dinosaur egg that hatches in his possession. The dinosaur, which they name Kipper, imprints on Arthur, and causes a lot of problems, especially when he goes missing. How do Kipper, the Green Knight, Clover, and the break ins at Baskerville Hall all intertwine?
Strengths: I really enjoyed the beginning of this, when we met Arthur in Edinburgh and saw him struggle to take care of his family. There is something very appealing about people born into poverty who manage to overcome the obstacles of their early lives and to flourish. I even enjoyed the steampunk aspect of the airship; the line "patches of autmn forest gave way to amber moors" is indicative of the Victorian English countryside vibe that was so enjoyable. While Doyle himself would have most likely been in an all male institution, with very little cultural diversity, it was interesting to see a wide array of characters, like the Native American Irene, the "olive skinned" Jimmie, Grover Kumar, and globe trotting women adventurers and scientists. This was written with the blessing of the Conan Doyle estate, so there are some good details. 
Weaknesses: I thought this would continue along the lines of Stevens' Wells and Wongs mysteries, with a  solid murder or theft mystery, with a dash of Bunce's Myrtle Hardcastle investigations with some science and technology added. Instead, this turned into a fantasy academy story, which just wasn't what I wanted. There was an odd mixture of Doyle's life and the world of Sherlock Holmes that had me scratching my head a bit. We have John Watson (in a wheelchair) and Mrs. Hudson in Arthur's realm, but Sherlock Holmes appears as a character late in the book. 
What I really think: There are any number of middle grade treatments of Sherlock Holmes, including Springer's Enola Holms, Barrett's The 100 Year Old Secret, Cavallaro's A Study in Charlotte, Peacock's Boy Sherlock books, Hearn's Sherlock Holmes and the Disappearing Diamond, Harris's The Gravedigger's Club, my favorite, Lane's Young Sherlock Holmes, and even Titus' Basil of Baker Street. I'm not sure that Doyle is that much of interest to young readers these days, but this might be a good introduction, especially for readers who enjoyed Gratz's League of Seven Series

Friday, September 22, 2023

The Two-Minute Warning (Football Mysteries #1)

Kelly, David A., and Thibeault, Robert (illus.)
The Two-Minute Warning (Football Mysteries #1)
August 22, 2023 by Curveball Books
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Kate and Mike, who had many adventures with Kate's mother, a sports reporter, in The Ballpark Mysteries, are back! This time, Kate's mother is being sent to Dallas to interview Carlos Cook, the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. They get to see the Cowboys' practice facilities, but when they finally meet Carlos, they find out that there is a mystery bothering him. Someone is sending him notes with a black football on them. When Carlos was in college, he took a class where he studied Treasure Island with several teammates, and they had a joke that this football, similar to the black dot featured in the book, was a "two-minute warning". These always come with messages indicating that Carlos should retire, and he thinks it might be one of the young players, like Trey Thomas, who want him to quit so they can get his job. Things don't look good for Trey, since he wears a cowboy hat, and someone wearing a cowboy hat has been seen in the area when the notes were dropped off. Kate and Mike start investigating (after an exciting tour of the facilities!) and also talk a lot to Carlos' college friend Blake, who is creating art for installations around the stadium. When the threats continue and Carlos' is flustered, everyone worries that this will affect his performance. Will Kate and Mike be able to solve the mystery and assuage Carlos' worries before the big game?
Strengths: When my children were in early elementary school, they adored beginning chapter books series. Didn't really matter what they were about, the more books, the better. There is something addicted about familiar characters and easily identifiable plots. Kelly's Baseball Mysteries came out in 2011, and are a perfect choice for readers who love sports. A lot of the time, sports enthusiasts are reluctant to read other types of books, so I was so glad to see this new football series! Cousins Kate and Mike get along well and support each other, and the mysteries they solve are very realistic. There are fantastic details about the areas to which they travel, the sports facilities, team history, and the workings of the games on and off the field. The mystery element is perfect for this age group, giving us hints and a couple of false leads. I'm looking forward to seeing what other teams are highlighted as the series continues. 
Weaknesses: Random House should not have stopped publishing Kelly's work. I don't understand publishing. Sports books for elementary school readers are so hard to find. 
What I really think: I don't deal quite as much in early chapter books as I used to, but I know many young readers, even strong ones, are enthralled by series like these. This is similar in length to 1990s titles like Magic Treehouse, A to Z Mysteries, American Girl, The Ruby Princess and Junie B. Jones and would work well for readers who like Little Shaq, Jake Maddox titles, and Mills' Franklin School Friends. 

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Finch House, The Odds

Burch, Ciera. Finch House
September 5, 2023 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Micah and her mother have lived with her Poppop, but her mother has decided that they need a place of their own. Micah doesn't like the fact that she won't be able to hang out and get doughnuts once a week with her grandfather, or go "networking" around the neighborhood, looking for treasures that people put out in the trash. On a farewell bike ride around the neighborhood, she goes by one of her favorite places, the old Victorian Finch House. Poppop doesn't like to go there, and has forbidden her from having anything to do with the property, but Micah is very surprised to find that the house has been fixed up and there is a boy, Theo, living there with his family and dog, Paprika. Her mother tells Micah that Poppop's sister went missing from the house, but he refuses to talk about it. As Micah gets to know Theo, she is able to enter the house. Soon, creepy things start happening. There's the traditional cold blasts of air, a feeling of something not being right, and the voices that call to her. There are odd rooms, and reality seems very mutable. When Micah travels into a disused attic room, it shifts and looks like something out of the 1970s. She meets a girl there who claims to be babysitting people who wander into this odd dimension, and also meets Jenn, who looks somewhat familiar. Jenn is looking for her brother Elijah, and it's soon apparent that Elijah is Poppop and Jenn is Micah's great aunt. Finch House has an unholy hold over many people who are stuck there, and while Micah is able to come and go for a while, soon the house has her in its grasp as well. Will she be able to find out more about what happened to Jenn and to help the house find peace so that she can leave and get back to her own dimension?
Strengths: Micah and her family are Black, and Theo is white, and there is some mentions that Micah's Poppop couldn't have lived in Finch House due to racism. Finch House is certainly a creepy place, and I definitely got the feeling that there might have been some bones buried in the basement! THe relationship between Poppop and Micah is a good one, and I enjoyed that Theo was very glad to be in a house with nature all around it and not in a small apartment, even if the house was haunted! 
Weaknesses:  I got the feeling that Poppop was probably in his early 60s, so I was very interested to see a discussion of prejudical housing practices at the time. This is hinted at more than explained. This is more of a haunted house story, like The Carrefour Curse, than a novel about historical racism, although the description talks about generational trauma. I wish there had been more history. The ending of this was rather vague, and I never felt like I had a good grasp on what really happened to Jenn. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for fans of Malinenko's This Appearing House or for readers who want a haunted house that isn't quite as scary as Alexander's Follow Me

Puckett, Lindsay. The Odds
September 19, 2023 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Begonia Hollowmoor has been raised in a nursing home by owner David, who is an inventor and orphan himself. It doesn't hurt having 58 grandparents to raise you, even if they do have some limited mobility. When the home is in danger of going out of business, since Mr. Schmood and Mrs. Pingleton want to open a haunted resort on the premesis, Begonia knows she needs to act. Aided by the grandson of one of the residents, Barnabas Montgomery (who wants to be called Bass), Begonia tries to find a way to harness the capabilities of the residents as well as the house itself to find a way to keep it open. This is complicated by the fact that she is still waiting to get her "odd" ability, and the society revolves around who does and does not have these abilities. 

This was similar to this author's The Glass Witch, and I love that it addresses ableism. It was on the quirkier side of the spectrum with the unusual names and world building that was intricate and a bit convoluted. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

A Pocketful of Stars

Bushby, Aisha. A Pocketful of Stars
September 5, 2023 by Carolrhoda Books ®
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Safiya parents, James Fisher and Aminah Al-Adwani, have been divorced for a while. She lives with her father, but her weekends are spent spending quality time with her mother, who is a lawyer. They usually have a good time, but after a recent weekend spent at a production of Rapunzel with her friend Elle, Safiya and her  mother have an argument. Saff doesn't care about the theater, and she's angry that she missed out buying tickets to a gaming convention her father offered to take her to because she had to go to the play. Elle loved the play, but Elle and Saff have had some difficult times because of the new crowd of students that Elle has befriended. After exchanging heated word with her mother, there's bad news a week or so later; her mother has had a stroke and is in the hospital in a coma. Safiya, of course, thinks that part of this is her problem, and tries to make her mother as comfortable as she can, going to her apartment to pick up a blanket and her favorite perfume. During one visit, she has a weird vision, and soon learns that these visions are glimpses into her mother's life in Kuwait when she was a girl. Her mother was involved in a small theater group with her friends, but her younger sister is angry that Aminah isn't spending time with her, and tells their mother, who doesn't approve of the play acting. When not visiting her mother, life goes on for Safiya. People give her pitying glances, and try to be supportive, but it's difficult. She tries to hang out with Elle and her new friends, but they are horrifically mean to others, including Charlotte. Safiyah calls out the bad behavior, which endears her to Charlotte and her friends, and she finds out that she has more in common with them than with Elle, who laughs off the bullying. Even as her mother's condition worsens and the visions increase, Safiyah is glad to have new friends who share her interest in gaming. The visions show her that her mother wanted to come to the UK to go to boarding school, and her grandmother didn't understand, which lead to a similar fight. The grandmother died when Aminah was studying abroad, and it turns out that she was also able to see visions of what was going on back home. Safiyah thinks that she can save her mother if she can get more of her special perfume, but it is not to be. 
Strengths: Readers of British middle grade literature will notice a very strong flavor of Jacqueline Wilson's or Onjali Q. Rauf's (especially in The Star Outside My Window) style of writing in this. While these authors all explore the trope of parents dying, there is a much stronger sense of agency and resilience in the protagonist's outlook that I enjoy. Yes, it's horrible that Safiya's mother has had a stroke. But life doesn't stop. Visits to the hospital occur in between school, eating dinner with her father, and even hanging out with friends. I loved these lines (from the E ARC): Losing someone you love is weird. You think you'll feel sad all the time, but sometimes that's not how it is. You find moments of happiness in between, like rays of light shining through on a cloudy day." What a much better message for young people than the US depiction of parents so distraught with grief that they can't get out of bed or take care of remaining children. Not only is that insulting, it makes for a boring story. A Pocketful of Stars combines the impending grief with friend drama as well as some magical realism that helps to explore the mother-daughter bond in a very interesting way. I'd love to see more exploration in middle grade literature about parent-child relationships instead of just killing them off. More relatable, and much more interesting. I'm sure my daughter could write an entire book about her 6th grade year, when she kept a cat in her closet, was grounded, and lost the opportunity to go trick or treating not because of the cat, but because I caught her flipping me off right as I was ungrounding her! 
Weaknesses: The trips into the mother's house in Kuwait were interesting, but I wanted a more solid process behind them, somehow. The rest of the book was so grounded in reality that I wanted to fantasy element to be more structured. 
What I really think: This is worth purchasing for Safiya's interactions with the bullying and her friendship with Elle alone. I haven't read anything else by Bushby, but I am certainly now intrigued as to whether she has any other titles available in the US. Definitely purchasing. 

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Ghost Job and The Beatles Couldn't Read Music? (Wait! What?)

van Eekhout, Greg. Ghost Job
September 26, 2023 by HarperCollins 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

When a gas leak blows up in a science lab, it kills four students. Nicholas, Vanessa, and Eddie all die, but keep hanging out at their school, usually in the auditorium, where they disconcert the custodian. They all seem to have some superpowers, and decide that even though they are dead, they should keep learning. They come up with some independent study projects, but when Zenith, who is our narrator, realizes that her family is selling her home and moving away, she decides that the group needs to act. They consult a local medium, Maddie, and ask for advice. Maddie suggests that they steal certain magical or ghost related artifacts for her, and she'll help them, and they do conduct a few raids. They also become aware of Campion Slate, a noted but evil necromancer, who has constructed a machine called the Redeemer. It is rumored that it can bring people back to life, so the group decides to steal the machine and test it out. It's not easy to do, and they are foiled by dogs and even try to trick Slate by claiming he's won a neighborhood award, but they get close. Unfortunately, Nicholas is captured in a bottle by Slate's minions, and the group has to learn how to get him out of that situation. Of course, soon they are captured as well. Will Zenith be able to return to her family, or will the group finally embrace the idea that they are dead?
Strengths: Are we seeing a new trend in necromancy? Ellie Engle Saves Herself also relied heavily on this topic, but I can't really think of other middle grade books that do. There are lots of good details about how the children function as ghosts, and the fact that Maddie was able to identify them as different kinds of supernatural creatures was fascinating. Zenith, who can physically move objects in ways that the others can't, is a poltergeist. There are lots of plots and schemes, and the four work together well. I appreciate that van Eekhout generally writes stand alone novels (like Kid vs. SquidCogThe Voyage of the Dogs, Fenriss and Mott and Weird Kid), with humor as well as action and adventure. 
Weaknesses: I don't believe in ghosts or in any supernatural phenomena, but necromancy seems a bit... dark. Things that are dead should stay dead. I also don't believe in demons, but whenever a student checks out Monaghan's Mary: The Summoning, I make them promise that they won't summon demons in their bathroom. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who enjoy Fry's Ghosted, Markell's The Ghost in Apartment 2R, Uhrig's The Polter-Ghost Problem, or Meriano's Love, Sugar, Magic series.  I would have enjoyed it a little more if the characters hadn't been tragically killed. 

Gutman, Dan. The Beatles Couldn't Read Music? (Wait! What?)
September 19, 2023 by Norton Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

If you have readers who love the Who Was biographies, take a look at Dan Gutman's new Wait. What? series, including this title on the ever popular Beatles. Even I learned something, and I have a close friend who is SUPER into them, so I already knew a lot! I've visited Liverpool TWICE, once with aforementioned friend as well as with my daughter, Picky Reader. Picky Reader, coincidentally, was a huge fan of Gutman's work. Lots of good information in this, and arranged in a way that is engaging and well suited to emergent or reluctant readers. 

Monday, September 18, 2023

MMGM-The Perfect Pitch and Pentagon Escape

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Greenwald, Tommy. The Perfect Pitch (Good Sports League #2)
September 12, 2023 by Amulet Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this companion to The Ultimate Goal, we meet Annabella, who is a very busy kid! She's the pitcher for the West Harbor Smashers, but also helps out at the Animal Rescue Center where her equally busy single mom works. Her mom fully supports Annabella's multiple activities, and while she can't make every game, is always there to transport her daughter. Fellow pitcher, Sadie thinks that Annabella isn't serious enough, especially when she misses an extra practice to buy a birthday present for a friend, and even admonishes her for eating cake! When Annabella wants tobe considered for the role of Scar in her school's production of The Lion King, she feels that Coach Grandy will be supportive, and there don't seem to be too many overlaps that will interfere with her participation in either activity. Annanella's mother does caution her not to overextend herself, but knows how enthusiastic and energetic her daughter is. When Annabella injures her shoulder in a playground race, Sadie is furious that her teammate's poor choice might negatively effect the team, and the two get into a scuffle. Coach Grandy is not happy, and punishes the team with an extra practice the day before their big game... on the same night as the opening of the play! Annabella makes her case, since she's only missed one other practice, but the coach is firm. Talking to other friends at school, including Trini (who is a dancer and in the play) and Ben (who played soccer in The Ultimate Goal), she comes up with a plan to accomplish both activities using some subterfuge, aka lying. Trini's dog is let loose near the soccer field without its collar, and when Annabella corrals it, she tells the coach the dog must have run away from an Animal Rescue event, and she'll return it. She makes it to the performance and does well, even saving the day with her softball skills when the branch of a prop tree falls. The next day, the game goes well, and she gives Sadie a pep talk so Sadie can continue pitching. Later, at the Animal Rescue event, Annabella's deception comes to light when the Coach rescues Trini's dog. An honest discussion about expectations is had by all, and both Annabella and the Coach apologize after understanding the circumstances that brought each to make their decisions. Things are looking up for Annabella's activities going forward, and the Coach even adopts a dog!

If you deal with 3rd-8th grade readers, you'll know that sports are super important to them, and that they are frequently trying to balance all of the many activities in their lives. It's not unusual for students to do a sport and a musical group and other activities as well, and juggling these things takes a lot of understanding. Coach Grandy is focused on winning a championship, so lays down some harsh penalties, but in the end sees the error of her ways. For Annabella's part, she is very dedicated to both of her activities, and aside from having to miss a practice for the opening night of the play, has only missed one other practice. As a former coach, I would say that her dedication is not in question, and that coaches should know better to have extra practices without a week's notice! While Annabella lies in order to avoid a confrontation, it's great to see that honest conversation arises as a result. 

The drama with Sadie was well done. There is a lot of rivalry among players, and some middle grade sports enthusiasts take things very seriously. While Annabella likes to do different activities and have fun, Sadie is dedicated to her pitching. This makes it even harder for her to see Annabella do better, since she is eating cake and having fun instead of focusing on building skills. I'd love to see more of this type of conflict in middle grade sports books. 

While many middle grade books kill off parents, it is far more realistic to have a hard working parent who has to put in hours at two jobs. Matheson's Select shows a parent who is struggling to get to games for other reasons, but Annabella's mom's situation is one that is repeated all over the US. It's great that Annabella understands that her mom needs to work, and still feels supported. She also tries to support her mom by attending the Animal Rescue Event. 

If you know readers who love graphic novels, this is a fantastic choice, because graphic novels about sports, while slowly increasing, are few in number. Vamos' illustrations have a lot of emotion and action behind them, and will definitely increase readership in these titles. While I'm not a huge fan of the narrator, Frederick Ulysses Nimbleshank (FUN), I can see why the choice was made to directly address the fact that youth sports often take an ugly turn into super serious parental and coach mismanagement. 

This series has so much to recommend it, but I worry that teachers and librarians don't have it on their radars because they aren't sports fans themselves. If you're in the business of recommending books to young readers, it's critically important to read what THEY want to read. Pick up these books for your classroom or school library and read them for yourself. Given these fantastic covers, you won't really need to recommend them to anyone, but there is a great message in addition to the humor and appealing pictures that will delight the inner ten year old in everyone!

London, Alex. Search and Rescue: Pentagon Escape
September 19, 2023 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Mikey is very excited to be going to work with his father, a civilian contractor who has worked on tech projects like Y2K and others at the Pentagon. He has a class projects on a US landmark, so is thrilled when Sgt. Guinsler, his father's boss who used to give tours of the facility, offers to take him around. It's even more exciting since they are there on the anniversary of the groundbreaking of this military location, which occurred on 9/11/41. Guinsler is a fun guy who tells lots of dad jokes, and gives a very complete (if unclassified!) tour. They meet Lena, who who is a navy vet who has brought her baby to work that day because she couldn't find a babysitter, and even the army librarian, Ann! Soon, however, there are disturbing images on the televisions scattered around; a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center. When a second one crashes, the Pentagon is put on high alert, because this seems like an attack. Of course, before too long, Mikey is involved in a devastating explosion. He manages to locate Lena's baby Zachary and reunite the two, but getting out of the burning building proves difficult. Sgt. Guinsler surfaces, but there are some people, like a man trapped under a copier, whom Mikey can't help. His father has been seen alive, and when Mikey doesn't see him in the courtyard he's been successfully evacuated to, he goes back in despite the warnings of people like Chad, who helped him. In alternating chapters, we are introduced to Sage, a search and rescue dog who is brought to the Pentagon. Sage doesn't usually work while a disaster is still unfolding, but when Mikey goes into the building, Sage is sent to find him. Eventually, Mikey and his father are safe, and Mikey learns an important lesson about not complicating the rescue process or jeopardizing rescue workers by not following instructions. 
Strengths: 9/11 is a historical event that is still of interest to young readers, who now frequently have teachers who were in middle school in 2001. While there are titles that describe the events surrounding the 9/11 attacks and the aftermath, like Bermudez's Big Apple Diaries or Rhodes Towers Falling, what my students really want to read are books like Arash and and Reedy's  Enduring Freedom, Tarshis' I Survived the Attacks of September 11 or Gratz' Ground Zero. Most of these books are concerned with what happened in New York City, so it's fascinating to see that day unfold at the Pentagon. Not only that, but how many of us will ever get a tour of the Pentagon? There are lots of great details about what it is like to work in that environment, although not so many that it will compromised national security! The details about how to survive in a building that has been attacked and is on fire are great, and while Mikey's attempts to rescue his father are ill-considered, I loved that there is a good discussion about what to do if that situation ever arises! The characters are all appealing, and I'm glad that the ones we care about make it to safety. Sage's viewpoint, with all of the smells and dog interests, will appeal to readers who like books with search and rescue animals, like Mason and Steven's Rescue Dogs or Sutter's Soldier Dogs.
Weaknesses: Paperback only, which makes no sense. Have already put two of the FollettBound copies of this on my order for fall. Paying Follett $7 per copy to put that hardcover on, but would much rather have sent the money to Scholastic for a actual dust jacketed hardcover. 
What I really think: There is still room for a lot more 9/11 books. If we're seeing WWII books 80 years on, I suspect that this will go on for a while. I don't know that I have seen a book set in about 2011, about a child who was a baby when a parent was killed. That would be an interesting one. Like Reedy or Gratz's books with alternate viewpoints, a writer could contrast the day of 9/11 with the issues going on in 2011. Just a thought. Definitely purchasing. London does such great military books!