Thursday, November 30, 2023

V is for Victorine

Nesbet, Anne. V is for Victorine
November 14, 2023 by Candlewick Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this sequel to Daring Darleen: Star of the Screen, we find our two intrepid heroines dealing with several problems, two of which financially based. Victorine, who is living with Darleen's family, who run Matchless Photoplay, the company that produced the films starring Darleen. Only Darleen's father knows “Bella Mae Goodwin's" story, but the family have taken her in without question. Everyone at Matchless has to band together to make the Fort Lee, New Jersey studio work, but with costs up, the family is considering a move to California, where many of the studios are taking advantage of the warmer Hollywood climate. This works well because there is a search for Victorine Berryman. There is a reward offered, and Vee (as Darleen calls her) finds out that this is because the family lawyer has died and his son has deemed her grandmother's will, which dictates that money be left in a safety deposit box every month, is not sustainable. With her money cut off, moving to California to make her fortune sounds like a good idea. There are plenty of connections out West, and the girls are planning on staying with the Gish family, but the train trip out is problematic. They end up going with their uncle, who gets arrested when he is accused of stealing someone else's valise. Indeed, their uncles "treasure" (which turns out to be 3D film and glasses) is mixed up with a case containing Egyptian artifacts that were stolen from a museum. Alone in California, they emulate the plucky heroines they play on screen, and get jobs at a film studio. The studio is pleased to have Darleen, who is a bit of a star, and Vee steps in as her "responsible relative" to insure that Darleen gets good treatment. Vee is also delving into writing, reading a book about it by Louella Parsons, and this leads to some opportunities at the end of the book. There are plenty of adventures to have with film dignitaries of 1915 as they try to figure out what has happened to their uncle, to get the artifacts back to their rightful place, and to carve out a new place for Matchless Photoplay. 
Strengths: This is a good sequel that has it's own excitement, although I was glad to find out more about what happened with Victorine's circumstances. My favorite part of this was the freedom that the girls had, and the way that they could portray themselves as younger or older depending on their circumstances. Ah, for the days when shorter skirts and braids made you look younger. I would be all for the dark dress, high button shoes, and lace cap of the elderly at this time! There are so many people they run into; writers, actors, and studio helpers, some of whom were working in Hollywood at this time. There is also a Black actress, the sister of a train porter they meet, who is interesting. There is a bit of discussion about The Birth of a Nation and the problems with that. I'm not sure if young readers would know anything at all about that, but it''s good historical information to know. There's a delightful overall sense of the Perils of Pauline vibe of the films at the time that made this even more enjoyable. 
Weaknesses: I could have used a few more descriptions of clothes and food of the period, but then that's my love of period details. Interior illustrations by Brett Helquist wouldn't have gone amiss, either! 
What I really think: As fond as young readers are of movies and Hollywood stars, I'm a little surprised that there aren't more books set in Hollywood. Evans's Audrey Covington Breaks the Rules  is a good choice  for a more modern book, while Wiley's The Nerviest Girl in the World  is set around the same period as this one. Rubin's The Women Who Built Hollywood 12 Trailblazers in Front of and Behind the Camera would be great to have at one's side while reading this, to double check who was real (although there is a nice note at the end of the book). I would have loved this one when I was young, and would have gone to great lengths to locate some of the photoplays on late night television, if they ever aired! With the internet, it will be a lot easier to see actors like the Gish sisters in action! 

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The Secret of the Ravens

Cacao, Joanna. The Secret of the Ravens
November 7, 2023 by Clarion Books
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Elliot and Liza live alone after their parents death and scrounge what they can from the local dump to sell in order to survive. When their freind Connor shows them a game where they can catch magical ravens, perform quests, and be rewarded with cash, this seems like a better option. They decide to move to the capital city of Kawumiti in order to have more access to the ravens, but the city is much more expensive as well as treacherous. They manage to find a place to stay, and are befriended by Seb, a member of the King's Royal Apprentices. Elliot is particularly averse to accepting any help, but when the twins go on a quest to get venom from a giant snake and Liza is poisoned, he asks Isra, a mage, for help. She sends Elliott on errands to get several ingredients, like black lillies, but those haven't been seen for a long time. Seb agrees to help if Elliott will promise to join the apprentices. Not everything is at it appears, and Isra has a troubled past. Will Elliot and Liza, with Seb's help, be able to support themselves and help find a way to make things right in the kingdom?
Strengths: While there are a lot of fantasy quest novels, there are not as many in graphic novel format. They are fighting against both an evil mage as well as an evil king, so there's plenty of action and adventure. This makes good use of the orphan trope bu showing how the two are able to use their wits and hard work in order to survive rather difficult circumstances. The author, who also illustrated Soontornvat's The Tryout, is of Filippino descent, and there is a flavor of that in the setting and characters. The characters exhibit an array of body types. There are some indications that Elliot might think Seb is cute, but it's just in passing. There are also strong messages about the treatment of the twins when they are homeless, and the imbalance of power in the kingdom. This has a surprisingly large number of details reviews on Goodreads. 
Weaknesses: I would have like to see a little more of Elliot and Liza's back story. Why are they wearing what looks to be school uniforms? How can they do spells by crushing up various flora? (Although there are notes about this at the end.) It felt like we started in the middle of their story. 
What I really think: This is a good chioce for readers who like magical quests like DasGupta's The Chaos Monster or Soontornvat's The Legend of Lotus Island. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Spell of a Time- Witches of Brooklyn

Escabasse, Sophia. Spell of a Time (Witches of Brooklyn #4)
September 5, 2023 by Random House Graphic
E ARC provided by Edelweiss plus

After Effie moves in with her aunts in Witches of Brooklyn and makes friends with Garance in What the Hex, she starts her magical training and is a little annoyed at how slowly it is going. Now that she has turned 12, however, her aunts take her to a seer who will evaluate the type of  magic that she has. This is a bit irritating, but since Effie has some powers that she can't control well, she is looking forward to some guidance. She has flourescent magic, much like Selimene and Carlota. The seer, a mermaid, knows that Effie can talk to animals, but isn't very good at it. Since she also knows that Effie has been talking to some seagulls who seem to know something about the disappearance of her sister, she loans Effie a turtle who helps her learn to modulate her communications with animals. This helps, but Effie and Garance come across some strong magical vibes with the help of the seagulls. They contact the aunts for backup, but because they are tweens, burst into an apartment on their own. They find the missing merrmaid, who is stuck in a spell created by Walter. Walter has created a time loop in order to try to get back his boyfriend, Elliott. The last time the two were happy was when Walter interacted with the mermaid, which is why she is stuck in the spell. It's difficult to unravel this, and the aunts think the best way is to send Effie and Garance back in time to the Mermaid Parade on Coney Island to try to stop the spell from ever being cast. Of course, this is filled with all sorts of problems. Will Effie's ability to harness her magic be enough to save the day? 
Strengths: The graphics are particularly fun; colorful, lots of details, and have a great feeling of place, which can be hard to capture. There are a lot of middle school students who secretly believe that they can learn magic and be witches, so Effie's experiences are a great way for them to have a glimpse into that world. The community is supportive, and her aunts are great fun. This has just the right flavor of goofy for middle school, which is a hard thing to get right. 
Weakness: Walter has one of those noses that looks like it is going to fall off his face. Very long and thin. I get so distracted by noses in graphic novels. No idea why. Also, I somehow missed book two, so feel like I didn't know enough about the mermaid community. 
What I really think: This is a fun graphic novel series that my students really like. It's a great choice for readers who like their stories with a little Steinkellner's The Okay Witch, Fernández's  ¡¡Manu!!, or Liu's Wingbearer. 

Monday, November 27, 2023

Over Fifty Horror Books!!!

After attending an NCTE session on "Monsters in the Middle", putting together a list of scary books seemed like a good idea. Alyssa Wishingrad has a great list of Monster Books here, so I didn't put too many books about monsters on my list. Most of these are within the last 8 years, since there are still teachers are still trotting out Lois Duncan books from the 1970s, and those... don't even smell good! This is a little of everything: creepy dolls (notes, for those with phobias), vampires, psychological horror, and lots and lots of ghosts. There's no particular rhyme or reason, but if you had money to buy a variety of fifty new horror books, this would not be a bad place to start. 

And look! I reviewed all of these, so if you hate horror, you don't even have to read them! 
  1. Alender, Katie. The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall (2015)
  2. Alexander, K.R. Darkroom (2022) and MANY other titles
  3. Arden, Katherine. Small Spaces (2018)(series)
  4. Balog, Cyn. Alone (2017)
  5. Baptiste, Tracy. The Jumbies (2015)(series)
  6. Bayon, Kalynn. The Vanquishers (2022)
  7. Bell, Alex. Frozen Charlotte (2016)*
  8. Birchall, Katy. How Not to Be A Vampire Slayer (2023)
  9. Bourne, Shakirah. Nightmare Island (2023)
  10. Cernosek, Nick. The Hiddenseek (2021)
  11. Cervantes, Angela. The Cursed Moon (2023)
  12. Cohen, Marina. Shadow Grave (2022)
  13. Coleman, Allen. Only if You Dare (2021) (stories)
  14. Condie, Ally. The Darkdeep (2018)(series)
  15. Currie, Lindsay. It Found Us (2023)
  16. Dawson, Delilah S. Mine (2021)
  17.  De Quidt, Jeremy. The Wrong Train (2017)(stories)
  18. Duga, Lindsey. The Girl in the Headlights (2021)
  19. Durst, Sarah Beth. The Lake House (2023)
  20. Ford, Mike. The Lonley Ghost (2021)
  21. Fournet, M. R. Brick Dust and Bones (2023)
  22. Hahn, Mary Downing. The Thirteenth Cat (2021)
  23. Henderson, Trevor. Scarewaves 2023)
  24. Henry, April. Girl, Forgotten (2023)
  25. Hermon, Daka. Hide and Seeker (2020)
  26. Krovatin, Christopher. Red Rover
  27. Lawrence, Lorien. Fright Watch 2020 (series)
  28. Lubar, David. Check Out the Library Weenies (2018)(series)
  29. McCall, Guadalupe Garcia. The Keeper (2022)
  30. Mott, Jody Lee. Hush-a-Bye (2021)*
  31. Night, P.J. Creepover (2023) books (series)
  32. Ocker, J.W. The Smashed Man of Dread End (2021)
  33. Okorafor, Nnedi. Ikenga (2020)
  34. Oh, Ellen. Spirit Hunters (2017)
  35. Perry, Adam. Ghosts Come Rising (2022)
  36. Poblocki, Dan. The Ghost Hunter’s Daughter (2020)
  37. Preller, James Exit 13 (2023)(series)
  38. Rissi, Anica Mrose. Hide and Don't Seek (2021)(stories)
  39. Schwab, Victoria. City of Ghosts (2018) Series
  40. Stine, R.L. Stinetinglers (2022) (stories)
  41. Stratton, Allen. The Dogs (2015)
  42. Smith, Ronald L. Where the Black Flowers Bloom (2023)
  43. Stringfellow, Lisa. A Comb of Wishes (2022)
  44. Strong, Karen. Eden's Everdark (2022)
  45. Sutherland, Joel A. Field of Screams (2020)(Series)
  46. Szpirglas, Jeff and Hughes, Steven B. (illus.) Book of Screams
  47. Walker, Angharad. The Ash House (2021)
  48. Weinberger, Justin. Zombie Season (2023)
  49. White, J.A. Nightbooks (2018)
  50. Wills, S.J. Bite Risk (2023)
  51. Young, Suzanne. What Stays Buried (2023)

* Creepy Doll Alert

Older titles

  1. Lettrick, Robert. Frenzy (2014) (Worth it for the rabid squirrel on the cover)
  2. Stroud, Jonathan. The Screaming Staircase (2013) (series)

MMGM--The Little Match Girl Strikes Back

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 
Carroll, Emma and Child, Lauren (illus.) The Little Match Girl Strikes Back
September 12, 2023 by Candlewick Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

I'm not sure how many of my students will know Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Match Girl story, but this book makes me want to trot out all of the Aesop, Andersen, and other Classic tales that my students really should know and probably don't. Andersen's influence is vastly underrated, and even if my students know the tale, they probably think it is a folk tale and not the work of a specific writer. 

If you're familiar with Child's Ruby Redford books, the format of this reimaging will not be surprising. The font is very large, and the illustrations and words work together to create a very distinctive visual experience. I really want to see a physical copy of this to get a better feel for the overall presentation. 

The retelling is fairy straight forward, with some notable changes. The Match Girl gets a name (Bridie Sweeney), a family (mam, who works in a match factory, and younger brother Fergal), and more purpose and power than in the original, giving this a more modern feel and a social justice perspective. Bridie knows her family works hard, and doesn't think it fair that Mr. Bryant, the factory owner, can profit off the misery of others. After a disastrous episode where Bridie is almost run over by a carriage, her stock is ruined, her borrowed slippers lost, and much of her hope gone. She has long touted her matches as a magical way to see the future, and when she lights one herself, out of desperation, she is transported into the vision of a better life for herself. When her mother also runs into problems, getting fired when her production is down because she is ill from exposure to the phosphorus used in making the matches, Bridie wants to take action. She's run into Annie Besant in a shop and also in one of her visions, and the young activist is appalled by the conditions of the working poor. Along with the other workers, a strike takes place, and Bridie is encouraged that others care enough to help out her mother and her associates to hold on until progress is made. Based on real events, and with notes and pictures about the history of a similar strike in the 1880s, The Little Match Girl Strikes Back is an intriguing look at history, poverty and personal empowerment. 

Frequent readers know that my favorite horrible historical event is the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, so it isn't a surprise that I found this fascinating. It often felt a little too modern, which will be an asset for readers who are younger than the t shirt I am currently wearing, and the illustrations will definitely improve the appeal. This will take some handselling, but I think I can get a lot of mileage out of the book, and it's a great springboard to some other topics. 
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, November 26, 2023

15 Secrets to Survival

Richards, Natalie D. 15 Secrets to Survival
November 7, 2023 by Delacorte Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Baxter's parents are very good friends with several of the children with whom he goes to school; his parents set up a company with one of the couples, and they all live in the neighborhood. He's always had to hang out with Abigail, Turner and Emerson, but he doesn't like them very much. When the four (whom his mother has dubbed "the Getalong Gang") have to be on a the same team for the Know and Grow elective course, it doesn't go well. After some fighting took place during a competition, all of the kids lose credit for the course, and Baxter loses his spot on the E Sports team. The only way they can get the credits back is by doing a project. Luckily, Baxter's great uncle Hornsby has a cabin in the mountains, and since the parents are all taking a cruise to Aruba, they dump the children with him. They even leave Vivi, Baxter young sister who is probably between one and two. Hornsby will give them a challenge, but keep them all safe. He taught Baxter's parents outdoor survival skills after they were married, was a camp counselor, and even had infant first aid certification, so the parents think he is a safe bet. The children think differently, and Baxter is especially leery given the state of the uncle's cabin. The children are not there for long; after the parents leave (having been menaced by a moose right after they all arrived), the children are given an instructional booklet of seemingly disparate newspaper articles, and sent to look for Vivi. Once they find her, they set off on a perilous adventure in the woods that includes more moose exposure, a burn incident, a small avalanche, a spectacularly poopy diaper, and a tumble into a river. Uncle Hornsby is apparently looking out for them, but when the group arrives at a cabin, they realize that he is in danger. Using their one flip phone, that has a 9% change left, they call 911 and request assistance, only to find that a horrible winter storm is approaching. Will they be able to get back to the cabin and help their uncle? But most of all, will they get school credit for their exploits? 
Strengths: I never hope to meet a moose in the wild, but I loved how the parents were able to stay calm and keep everyone safe. Pro tip: throw apples far from your group so that the moose is distracted and goes after them. The idea that children are forced to be friends with each other because their parents are friends is an intriguing concept, and the four children exhibit typical tween behaviors. Petty spats, annoying each other, but ultimately, working together to insure their survival. Uncle Hornsby's survival strategies, though a bit haphazardly delivered, are sound. It's good for the children to rely on each other and their own capabilities, and they ultimately triump. This is another good warning to never go anywhere without a back pack full of granola bars and a well charged satellite phone. 
Weaknesses: This lost me a bit with the whole "losing school credit" unless the kids did a project; I haven't once in 25 years seen anything remotely like that in school, although it seems to happen a lot in books. I also found it hard to believe that the kids would take such a small child with them, but both of these things will not phase the average twelve year old reader at all. They will also not care that Uncle Hornsby's wrinkly flesh is described so enthusiastically, but as a Pre Elderly person, I didn't enjoy it very much. 
What I really think: If outdoor adventure with a bit of humor goes over well in your library, make sure you have this along with Gangsei's 2017 The Wild Bunch and Hale's 2022 Super Troop

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Saturday Morning Cartoons- Mabuhay!

Sterling, Zachary. Mabuhay!
October 17, 2023 by Graphix
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus
Althea and JJ Bulan attend Silver Pines Middle School and help their parents with their Beautiful Pig food truck, which is starting to become popular. JJ is often asked to dress as the mascot, which he finds embarassing, and Althea has to sample foof when the truck is at events, although she usually does a half hearted job and then hides so she can watch videos or play games on her phone because she thinks the real world is overrated. Both kids deal with a lot of racism at school, where teachers can't pronounce their name and kids make fun of the lunches they bring. For Althea, the worst is Haley Preston, and her parents have a catering gig at a party for the Prestons! JJ has a bit of a crush on the Preston girl who is his age, and she's actually rather nice. When Tito Arvin shows up, strange things start to happen that make real life events pale in comparison. JJ and Althea both start to have dreams, and before they know it, they are being threatened by the women who raised their mother and have turned out to be witches. Even though two of the characters from what they thought were their mother's stories come to protect them, the forces of evil are too much for Juan and Pinya. JJ and Althea are taken captive by the witches, who want to trade them for a magical amulet that their mother has. There's an even greater force of evil, Bakunawa, coming, and the witches think the amulet will help them get in Bakuanawa's good graces. If JJ and Althea are able to save the world from the forces of evil, will they also be able to survive the tween drama that goes on with catering the Preston's party?
Strengths: As someone who has worn a mascot costume AND sampled food at the mall (for Chick-fil-A) I was a little surprised that JJ and Althea were so against doing these things, but it made for a fascinating family dynamic. Althea's use of her phone as an escape was particularly well done. Bringing in Filipino stories, as well as Filipino food, was very interesting, and provided a lot of information I didn't know. Having Tagalog words and phrases translated in footnotes was extremely helpful. The real life drama is well described, but pales in comparison to the fact that the children have to come to terms with their magical heritage and use their skills to save the world. 
Weaknesses: Althea's attitude about helping her family, her addiction to her phone, and her social problems at school would have been enough to unpack in one book, so I was a bit surprised when the story took the turn into fantasy. 
What I really think: This is a mix between Badua's The Takeout or Torres' Stef Soto, Taco Queen and Winnick's Hilo or Camper's Lowriders series and is a good choice for readers who want a fantasy graphic novel with cultural connections. 
Fairbairn, Nathan and Assarasakorn, Michele. PAWS: Priya Puts Herself First
October 17, 2023 by Razorbill
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

The girls of PAWS are excited for winter break, Christmas, and New Year's Eve, but there are some problems. Priya's family is losing the house they are renting, since the landlord wants to renovate it. It's hard to find a house that suits their needs at a decent price, but they finally find one a distance from their current location. Priya will be able to still attend Bronte, but it now takes her an hour on the bus. For Christmas, Gabby has gotten a phone, and has become obsessed with posting on the PAWS social media account. When one post gets a lot of views and likes, she starts insisting that the other dog walkers keep up with quality content. Since Priya is already spread thin with getting to school, playing sports, and getting settled in her new school, she isn't happy. When there is a big snow, PAWS runs in to trouble getting one client to the vet. Hazel can't go because no one has cleared the walks, and Priya gets stuck on a bus. She tries to walk there, but falls. One of the dads comes to the rescue, and meets Priya on his way back. The girls decide that they have to figure out a better way to get everything done. The social media account is scaled back, but used for things like a PSA telling people to shovel their walks because it's the law. Priya realizes that she needs to start doing things in her new neighborhood, and even sets up a branch of PAWS with new neighbors Simran and Kiara. 
Strengths: Ah, smart phones. How they have ruined society. Alarmed that children aren't reading as much? Take away their smart phones and watch these numbers change! Gabby's excitement over getting a phone and her descent into the madness of phone addiction is realistically done. Priya's family's move was also realistic, and it was nice that they were able to find a house they liked in a neighborhood they enjoyed. The dog walking business has some troubles, but takes a back seat to the social media posting. The chaos of the snow day was intriguing; my students will enjoy seeing what it would be like to have a snow day in a city. The parents are around just enough to be supportive and sometimes annoying, which is perfect. The illustrations are bright and appealing, so much so that this series is one that my male readers will pick up even though there are girls on the cover, although it's still hard to get them to read The Baby-Sitters' Club or Absolutely Nat
Weaknesses: I had trouble telling the characters apart in this book. I don't remember that being an issue in the previous books, so maybe I'm just having an off day. Also, I didn't understand why Gabby's folks didn't take her phone away a lot sooner. Did love that they had it shut down during the school day!
What I really think: Middle schoolers should not have smart phones. If security is an issue, a flip phone does the job just as well. Oh, about the book? This is a good sequel to Gabby Gets it Together and Mindy Makes Some Space. It's always interesting to see how literary characters balance school and activities, and the issue of moving across town is rarely seen in middle grade literature, but does happen more often in real life than moving to another state. I thought it was especially interesting that Priya tried to stay at her school and do her activities, but when it proved untenable, transitioned to her new neighborhood and made new friends while still keeping in contact with her original PAWS group. 
 Ms. Yingling

Friday, November 24, 2023

You Owe Me One, Universe

Lucas, Chad. You Owe Me One, Universe
November 7, 2023 by Amulet Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

**Some spoilers for the first book, if you haven't read it, and I recommend that you do. The sequel will make little sense without it. **

In this sequel to Thanks a Lot, Universe, we pick up with Ezra and Brian, who have both been having a tough time. Brian's father has been incarcerated on drug charges, his mother tried to commit suicide, and Brian and his brother Richie ended up in foster care with his teacher, Ms. McClellan. While his mother is back home, he is understandably concerned about her, and struggles with visiting his father in jail. Ezra and Brian are on the basketball team and are still really good friends. They even experiment with a kiss, but realize that they are better off as friends. Their teammates and friends are very supportive, which is a good thing. As Christmas approaches, Brian feels really off. He gets angry easily, can't sleep, and his mother suggests he goes back to the doctor even before he admits to having another panic attack. Ezra, meanwhile, starts hanging out with Victor, who seems to have changed his ways. The two work on songs together, and Ezra starts to feel that he might have a crush on the former bully. When a teammate, Harrison, uses the word "gay" as a slur, the basketball team quickly takes him to task, and Ezra ends up telling the team that he is gay. Brian continues to have problems, and ends up being on medication for his depression, which he doesn't like. The sessions with Dr. Bender help, and he makes very slow progress dealing with his emotional state. Ezra and Victor start to spend more and more time together, and Ezra feels awkward about this because of Victor's past with his good friend. When Caleb, who ghosted Ezra after he found out that Ezra was gay, calls and asks to come over because he has an emergency, Ezra is suprised but says yes. It turns out that there was an altercation involving Victor's older brother who was having a party in the absence of their parents, and Victor and Caleb stepped in to stop an incident involving a girl who had had too much to drink. This allows the air to be cleared a bit, and helps everyone move on from the previous year with a better understanding of each other. 
Strengths: This was worth buying for several events; the one where "gay" is used as a perjorative and the perpetrator is called out, Brian's prescription for antidepressants and his frustration when they don't seem to work and the one where Victor and Caleb save the girl at the party. The depiction of understanding friends was good, and the parents were also supportive and helpful. Ms. McClellan and her son Gabe are also still around for support, and Ms. McClellan also has a support group at school. The coach is understanding about Brian's depression and its effect on his playing, but likens it to a sprained ankle and offers the gym early in the morning if Brian needs a quiet, safe space where he can play basketball. The way that being gay is dealt with works well; not ideal, but generally accepted, and I loved that the team was able to have a frank discussion about it. A worthy sequel to the first book. 
Weaknesses: Maybe middle school boys are more open with their emotions now, but it seemed odd that so many of them told each other that they loved each other in earnest and unromantic ways. This might be a generational thing; in the 1970s, we certainly were never encouraged to even have emotions, much less share them. I would have like to have seen more basketball and fewer details about Brian's emotional struggles, but maybe this is what today's readers want. Have to check with my students. I was a little surprised that there was no mention of black box warnings for antidepressants being prescribed for teens. 
What I really think: It would help if there were a basketball on the front cover, but since it's a sequel, I'll have to hope that readers pick up the first book and want to continue. Basketball books don't usually have the strong dramatic component that this one has (baseball has all the emotional problems, usually), but this will be a good choice for readers who enjoyed Sonnenblick's Zen and the Art of Faking It or Williams' We Are Family

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, November 23, 2023


Hiaasen, Carl. Wrecker. 
September 26, 2023 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Valdez Jones the VIII, who calls himself "Wrecker" has a lot going on in his life, even though he lives in easy going Key West during the pandemic. His father left the family when he was very young, in order to pursue a musical career. Wrecker is fifteen now, and his father's career is just taking off, with a song ripping off both The Eagles and Jimmy Buffett. His mother is remarried to Roger, who has suggested that their house is too small, so Wrecker lives with his step sister Suzanna, who is in a wheelchair after an accident. After a financial settlement, she has devoted her time to championing environmental causes. Wrecker has an odd job; an older man, Mr. Riley, on his street pays his $50 a week to keep a grave at the local cemetary clean. He finds out a decent amount about local history looking at the other gravestones, and since he cleans it at night, also comes across some shady characters. One of these, whom he refers to as Silver Mustache, is a man he meets when he is out of his small boat, and the man and his friends run into a shoal. They hope that Wrecker can help them, so they can avoid being fined for damaging the shoal. Silver Mustache throws Wrecker a beer can with $500 in it for "trying" to help, and we all know that being indebted to shady characters is a bad plan. Sure enough, odd things keep happening. Wrecker and his friend Willi find Silver Mustache's speedboat wrecked, and true to his heritage (the original Valdez Jones was a Black man who dove to retrieve things from shipwrecks) Wrecker saves several packages from the boat, which turn out to be illegal fake vaccination cards. Silver Mustache has too much information about him, but Wrecker doesn't know how to disentangle himself. He ends up watching a suspicious grave for the smuggler as well. He attends school, both online and occasionally in person, hangs out with Willi, and agrees to help Suzanna, who is planning a blockade to keep cruise ships from landing in the area, which has been damaging the ecosystem. Mr. Riley passes away, and his house goes up for sale, and Wrecker is accosted by a police officer when trying to meet Willi at her house, an incident that underlines the history of horrible behavior towards Blacks in Key West. Will Wrecker be able to extricate himself from Silver Mustache's activities before they cause him grief?
Strengths: Mr. Hiaasen always does a great job including a lot of history as well as environmental messages. I didn't know, for instance, that the waters around Key West became healthier when cruise ships no longer stopped there during the pandemic. I found Mr. Riley and his story interesting. This felt a little like Deuker's 2005 Runner or Connelly's Brawler, with the ties to illegal jobs that are too good to be true, but Wrecker is fully aware that Silver Mustache is not a good person to have around. Willi is a good ally most of the time, and Suzanna is a stable influence who contrasts well with Wrecker's flighty mother. The nighttime antics will appeal to readers who want to be allowed out at night to get into trouble! 
Weaknesses: I would have purchased this without blinking fifteen years ago, but it seems more involved and complicated than the mysteries my students request now. I'd definitely purchase it for a high school library. 
What I really think: This seems like more of a YA mystery; it's more introspective, Wrecker has a lot of freedom, and there is some disturbing history involving suicide, affairs, and lynchings. If you're a fan of the more solidly middle grade Hoot, I'd read this one before purchasing. This is more along the lines of Skink or Squirm

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

The Sky Over Rebecca

Fox, Matthew. The Sky Over Rebecca
November 14, 2023 by Union Square Kids
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Kara Lukas lives with her mother in Stockholm, Sweden. Her mother is very busy with work, so Kara is often left to her devices. Her 86 year old grandfather, who is in declining health, is around as well, but his home is an hour away by bus. When Kara spends the day at the mall for something to do, she sees a mysterious snow angel on her way home. It bothers her, and she finally realizes why-- there are no footprints leading up to it. From the window of her apartment, she sees a girl in shappy clothing collecting sticks, and eventually follows her to the lake. The two can barely see each other but eventually connect, and it's clear from the beginning that the two exist in different time periods. Rebecca is living in Germany in 1944, and has made a camp on an island with her brother Samuel, who can't walk. The two are trying to survive the winter, and Kara is a big help, bringing them food and warm clothing. Rebecca had dropped a coin, and Kara had taken it to a shop to be valued, but the shop has been closed. The owner, an elderly man named Albert, tells her that when the lake is frozen, the layers between the past and present are very thin, and that she should be careful not to become stuck. When she travels to Rebecca's time, Kara falls through the ice, and is saved by her new friend. There are challenges in her own world, as well, including a bully named Lars. She wants desperately to be able to save both Rebecca and Samuel, but is unsure how to do this. WHen her grandfather and Rebecca die in quick succession, Kara feels all alone in the world, but manages to save Samuel with help from an unlikely source. 
Strengths: This had a wintery, atmospheric feel to it, and I loved that it references Pearce's Tom's Midnight Garden, which is one of my favorite time travel novels. There are some nice parallels to this, not just with the skating, but with one of the characters. The coin and the frozen river are good mechanisms. Rebecca and Samuel's plight is pretty dire, and I loved that Kara's mom was supportive of her attempts to help them even without knowing much information. The look into daily life in Stockholm was interesting. 
Weaknesses: This was rather slow moving and lyrical. It involved a fair amount of death but really didn't shed any light on the events of the Holocaust, since we are viewing Rebecca's experiences through a very narrow and disconnected lens.
What I really think: This was charming as a time travel book but didn't have as much information about 1944 as I would have liked. There were a lot of things that could have been better developed (Albert and Samuel, for instance). A good choice for readers who enjoyed Yolen's The Devil's Arithmetic or Romero's The Dollmaker of Krakow

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

The Lost Library

Stead, Rebecca and Mass, Wendy. The Lost Library
August 29, 2023 by Feiwel Friends
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Evan lives in the same small town, Martinville, where his father grew up, and is finishing fifth grade. No one in his class is looking forward to middle school, including Evan and his friend Rafe. On his way to school one day, Evan finds a new Litte Free Library, and takes two of the smallest books home with him. He shows them to his parents, and one has his father's name in it. His father, who works as a rather unsuccessful exterminator (he drives mice to the other side of the mountain, but they always seem to come back), doesn't want to talk about it. We have met the women who put up the library; Al, who was the assistant librarian at the Martinsville library before the fatal night in 1999 that it burned down, claiming the lives of her supervisor, Ms. Scroggins and the custodian Mr. Brock. They are living with Al in the local History House as ghosts, and Al is responsible for keeping them fed with apples, potatoes, and cheese. Al has a cat, Mortimer, who is alarmed that Al has made the library, and has stocked it with a cart of books that were all that survived from the basement of the library. The town has never had enough money to rebuild, so the Little Free Library sees some action, and several people add books to it. There's an egg crate, a suitcase, and even a sturdy umbrella to keep everything dry. Mortimer (whom people know by different names, as he travels around town a lot) stays with the books. Evan also sees that a famous local author, H.G. Higgins, checked out one of the books, and even left a Polaroid picture in it. Evan writes to the author and his teacher, Mr. O'Neal, mails the letter off. When Evan finds that his father was a library intern and was blamed for the fire, although nothing was ever proven, he is determined to find out what really went on. Meanwhile, Al struggles to keep her ghosts happy, but they are becoming more and she is worried that they will leave. 
Strengths: Since this is written from several perspectives, we get an interesting view of what happened at the library from someone who was there, someone who didn't even know the library had existed, and also a cat, which makes this very intriguing. There's a nice mix of mystery, book lore, and philosophical musings on the importance of books. Evan is a bit shy, but steps out of his comfort zone to exonerate his father, who has other secrets. The cover is very appealing. 
Weaknesses: Since this is clearly a book that librarians and teachers will adore, I will share the very nitpicky things that bothered me: I was a little confused as to why a library book was signed out by H.G. Higgins, but that later is proven to be a pseudonym. There is some talk that the whole cart of books was returned on the same day, the night of the fire, but I can't think of any library stamping system that would record when a book was turned in. Maybe they were all DUE on that date and thus stamped with it? Also, Evan approaches the school librarian and she is reading a magazine at her desk. Was the entire school on a field trip? Because I can think of very few school librarian who ever have time to do that. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who like these authors, or books that celebrate libraries. There aren't a lot of middle grade books that do that, although there are any number of picture books.  Teachers who are fans of Mary Oliver's poetry will want to use this as a read aloud. 
 Ms. Yingling

Monday, November 20, 2023

MMGM- Curlfriends and Native American Heritage Month

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 
Miller, Sharee. Curlfriends.
October 10, 2023 by Little, Brown Ink
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this graphic novel, Charlie and her parents move back to the parents' hometown near New York City. Her father was in the air force and now has a home renovation business, and her mother is a pediatrician. Charlie has researched cool new tween styles and decided that she needs to change her look. She ditches the cartoon tees and glasses, "tames" her hair, and copies looks from magazines. She's feeling good about her look, but has water spilled on her as she enters the building. Nola comes to the rescue and braids her hair, and also lets her sit with her in the cafeteria. They are joined by Cara and Ella. Ella rubs Charlie the wrong way, and she worries that this dynamic will jeopardize her place in the group. The four end up working on a school project together, so Charlie starts to spend a lot of time with them. She worries when one of the girls recognizes one of her outfits as lifted in its entirety from  a teen magazine. After falling in gym class, Charlie gets help from Conn, who is very cute and turns out to be Cara's brother. During a thrifting trip, Ella thinks that Charlie should buy some overalls, but since the magazines said that they were no longer a cool style, Charlie says no to them. The day ends disastrously when Charlie tries to drink boba tea, which she doesn't like, and ends up throwing up! Having the girls over to her house to work on a project goes fairly well until they open her closet and find all of the stuffed animals and cartoon character posters that she has taken down because they didn't seem cool. Mortified, she stays home all weekend and even pretends to be sick on Monday. It doesn't help that Charlie's parents are so comfortable in the town, and seem to know everyone. Eventually, Charlie comes clean to her new friends and apologizes for hiding her true self from them. They understand, the project is a success, and HOPEFULLY, the Curlfriends will return for another adventure. 
Strengths: Miller has a great illustration style that we've seen in Princess Hair, and uses it to address one of THE most important topics in middle grade literature; personal identity. There are a lot of books that talk about being popular, but that's not what most of my students want. They want to have good friends, and to know who they are and share it with the world. New situations, like moving or going to a camp, are an excellent way to explore being another type of person. I'm not entirely sure that teen magazines are a thing, but let me tell you; after being the only one wearing shorts to freshman orientation, I didn't wear anything that I couldn't find in the pages of Seventeen. (Well, except that navy jumper. Really do like jumpers!) Charlie's struggles to figure out what face she wants to present to the world will resonate with many readers. Her parents are present and supportive. I appreciated the fact that she was able to make friends, and that most people were very nice to her. Her friends were very understanding, even when Charlie was hard to figure out. I loved that they went thrifting, but also appreciated the inclusion of a school project. Those can be harrowing! This would be a great set of characters for a graphic novel series. 
Weaknesses: We need more Conn. He shows up briefly and then we don't see him at all. 
What I really think: So many graphic novels involve major piles of tween angst, and that gets wearing. This has the angst, but it doesn't keep Charlie from having a decent time with her friends, and in general, this is an upbeat book with happy colors. Definitely purchasing! 

A student looking at my screen when I was working on book orders saw this cover and said "Do we have that book? It looks interesting," so the appeal is definitely there. 

I'm always SUPER careful about books featuring Native Americans, and Traci Sorell is always a good choice. Dr. Debbie Reese wasn't all that pleased with Clinton's first She Persisted book, but I think that the objections Reese raied seem to have been addressed. 

Sorell, Traci. and Starr, Arigon. Contenders: Two Native Baseball Players, One World Series
April 11, 2023 by Kokila
Copy provided by the publisher

In 1911, John Meyers of the New York Giants and Charles Bender of the Philadelphia Athletics faced off in the World Series. For the two Native American players, this was a groundbreaking event, but also showcased the racism and discrimination the two had faced throughout their careers. Bender, whose mother was Ojibwe, had been set to Indian boarding school in Philadelphia when he was only seven. Meyer whose mother was Cahuilla, lived on the tribal reservation near Riverside, California and was not able to finish school because he needed to work to support his family. Both had German-American fathers and loved baseball, but while Meyer was able to celebrate his culture, Bender was forced to adopt the culture of Christian white people. Bender and his older brother both ended up at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, where Bender's talent brought him to the attention of Pop Warner, the coach at the school. School also played an influential tole in Meyers career; he played for Dartmouth College until it was discovered that he hadn't graduated from high school. When both men made professional teams, they had to deal with a lot of ugliness from not only reporters and the public, but also their teammates. Bender had a long career in baseball, and was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953, but Meyer eventually returned to work on the Cahuilla reservation. 
Strengths: This was an interesting look at the events and circumstances leading to a very particular point in time. I was surprised that there were two Native American baseball players at this time period, since it took decades more before other players of color took place in the game. The challenges that both men faced (and which were very typical of the time period) are well described for young readers who might not understand what the world was like at the turn of the last century. The racism and prejudice is addressed in a factual way that is appropriate for readers of picture books but still stark and unflinching. There is a helpful timeline as well as source notes at the end.  
Weaknesses: I had some trouble keeping the men straight in the book and wish there had been more visual cues to tell them apart.
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who like sports history books like Roberts and Galvão's 100 Baseball Legends Who Shaped Sports History: A Sports Biography Book for Kids and Teens Vernick and Chapman's All Star: How Larry Doby Smashed the Color Barrier in Baseball, Tavares' Growing Up Pedro, or Tate's Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of Football-Playing Artist Ernie Barnes.

Goodluck, Laurel and Flint, Gillian (Illustrator)
She Persisted: Deb Haaland    
October 3, 2023 by Philomel Books
Copy provided by the publisher

Born in 1960, Deb Haaland was raised by her mother, a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and her father, a Norwegian American. Both were in the military, so the family, which included Deb's two sisters and brother, moved frequently. Her mother eventually worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs while her father fought in Vietnam, but they eventually ended up in Albquerque, New Mexico. Deb was able to spend time with her maternal grandmother, and learned how some relatives were sent to Indian boarding schools in the past. Deb hadn't planned on going to college, but eventually ended up going when she was 28 years old. It was not easy, especially with a baby daughter, but after graduation, she started her own company. This required a lot of traveling, so she eventually decided to attend law school, inspired by her mother's work and her own growing interest in politics. She helped with various campaigns, and in 2014, ran for the lieutenant governor of New Mexico. She did not win, but served as the democratic party chair for two years. In 2019, she and Sharice Davids became the first Native America women to be elected to Congress, and she continues to work hard for all of her constituents.   
Strengths: Goodluck is a Native writer, and this series is very conscientious about having writers who share a cultural connection with their topics. This is aimed at readers from 6-9 years old, and has an age appropriate positive spin on events without neglecting to mention the challenges that Haaland faced. There's a good balance between the depiction of Haaland's personal and professional life. Goodluck also includes a list of how young readers can persist, as well as a bibliography.  
Weaknesses: I don't normally buy biographies of people who are still alive and in the middle of their careers, since we can't know the direction their lives will take. Case in point: a 1984 biography of Michael Jackson the previous librarian at my school bought. I do understant the premise behind these books, but wish that they were take a more historical approach. Ada Deer was born in 1935, so she might be an option for future books. 
What I really think: This is a great choice for fans of this series, or of the Penguin Random House Who Was books and helps fill gaps in the biography section, where it can be hard to find well done titles about Native figures. 

I just want every biography of people my age to be like O'Shaughnessy's Sally Ride: A Photobiography of America's Pioneering Woman in Space; packed full of snapshots. The pictures exist, but I understand that there might be copyright issues stopping them from being used. 

Sunday, November 19, 2023

The Dubious Pranks of Shaindy Goodman

Lowe, Mari. The Dubious Pranks of Shaindy Goodman
November 7, 2023 by Levine Querido
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Shaindy lives in a closeknit Orthodox Jewish community and attends a religious school, but has trouble connecting to her classmates and often feels awkward and lonely. She admires neighbor Gayil, who is bold, good at rollerblading, and has lots of friends. When Gayil has a secret she wants to share, Shaindy is intrigued and pleased. Gayil has found a key fob that lets the girls into the school building, and has a fun idea; she wants to go into the school and play small pranks that will be mysterious and take people's minds off the horror that is 6th grade. Nothing too bad, just things like putting slime into a girl's hairbrush. Shaindy is so pleased to have Gayil's attention that she agrees, although she doesn't feel great about the pranks. This is especially true when Rena's hair is practically shaved off after the prank with the slime. Rosh Hashanah is approaching, and the teacher, Morah Neuman, has the girls working on a Succos project, and there is a lot of discussion about the meaning of the holiday. Gayil goes on to switch everyones' notebooks in their lockers, which confuses people and is annoying, although one notebook does go missing. She also brings in a bee trap which lets bees out and causes chaos, especially since one girl is allergic. The girls manage to evade a teddy bear nanny cam in one classroom, and since the school doesn't have a surveillance system, manage to get away with all of their pranks. When bubble bath spilled on a floor almost ends in injuring another student, Shaindy wants to stop playing the pranks. Will this cause Gayil to stop being her friend? 
Strengths: Shaindy's plight is all too common in middle school; she feels pudgy and awkward, can't roller blade as well as her classmates, and just can't find anyone with whom to connect. She's glad to have the attention of the popular Gayil, even if she is actually dangerously unbalanced. Gayil always comes across as a "good girl", making her even more dangerous. There were some twists in this that I don't want to ruin, but it was certainly a great exploration of what children might do in order to have friends. The Orthodox Jewish represenation is interesting, especially in the small details about school and family life. This could have taken a much darker turn, stayed firmly in the realm of school and social drama stories rather than veering into the mystery genre like Benedis-Grab's I Know Your Secret
Weaknesses: The popularity of Heelys and rollerblading made this seem like it was set about 15 years ago, although this is never specifically mentioned. The scenes at school where the religious holidays were discussed where interesting and informative, but also slowed the story down. It's important to know about the different practices, but a little less detail would have made the story more engaging. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who like stories like Soderberg's Sky Ropes or Arguelles's Flip Turns, or Eyre's The Mean Girl Meltdown where pranks play a pivotal role in the children's social challenges, or for collections that need Orthodox Jewish representation like that in this author's Aviva and the Dybbuk

Saturday, November 18, 2023

The Apartment House on Poppy Hill and Mr. Lemoncello's Graphic Novel

LaCoer, Nina and Albert, Sònia (Illustrator)The Apartment House on Poppy Hill
November 7, 2023 by Chronicle Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Nine-year-old Ella is the self-appointed expert on the building that she lives in in San Francisco with her two mothers, and people who doubt this do so at their own peril. Leo and Cleo, new tenants, ignore her when they are busy moving in, but soon seek out her help with the tricky stove and lights. Ella is very friendly with all of the residents, including Matilda, who invites her to tea, and Jacques and Merland, who count on her to walk their dogs and even had her in their wedding when their flower girl got sick. The only two that Ella doesn't know are the mysterious eldery people on the top floor, Gertrude and Archibald Robinson. She has never seen them, although she has written them notes and gotten notes back from them. This is even more mysterious since they seem to manage to make it to the laundry room without detection, and even provided roses for the wedding without getting caught. Ella has a busy time around the building, but is super excited to get a note from the Robinsons, who need her help. They want to give everyone in the building a gift, and know exactly what everyone needs, since they seem to spend an inordinate amount of time spying on everyone. Ella helps them, and is glad to make new friends. 
Strengths: Well, I totally want to like at 1106 Wildflower Lane! What is it about reading about old houses that is so very appealing, especially to elementary school readers? Ella is an engaging characters, although I could completely understand Cleo and Leo's reaction to her when they were trying to get a sofa into their apartment. Ella's tour of the residents and facilities would have been especially appealing to me when I was young; the gardens are a nice touch. This has some diversity in that there are two same sex couples (Ella's mothers, as well as Jacques and Merland), although all characters read as white, although Jacques and Archibald are depicted with slightly darker skin. Albert's illustrations are absolutely charming and give a good feel for the building and the neighborhood. A quick, fun read. 
Weaknesses: As an adult, I found the Robinsons and their reclusiveness rather creepy, but that won't occur to the target demographic. Also, all of the elderly people these days are named Bob and Kathy. Gertrude and Archibald came straight out of a children's book from 50 years ago, with their rose filled apartment, but again, young readers won't know that. 
What I really think: This is a great book for elementary readers who enjoyed early chapter books like Absolutely AlfieTurtle and Twig or Haydu's Hand-me-Down Magic, but wasn't quite the apartment building tale I need for middle school. I'll have to look forward to the next installment of Graf and Patterson's Minerva Keene's Detective Club for that. 

Grabenstein, Chris and Holgate, Doug (illustrations)
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library: The Graphic Novel 
November 7, 2023 by Random House Graphic Language English
E ARC provided by Netgalley

The first thing that struck me about this graphic novel adaptation was the fact that the illustrations really make the setting pop; the bright colors add a layer of fun, it's easier to tell the multiple characters apart, and being in this magical library is even more of a treat. The second thought I had was "I NEVER want to go into an escape room!" Just no. This is true to the original, although I feel like the interesting backstory of Mr. Lemoncello is not explored as much. I remember really liking this book when I first read it, and it was popular with my students until about 2017; I never bought book four or five because they stopped being read. Three books is usually as long of a series as is sustainable with my population.

I'm very glad that I moved the graphic novels into the fiction section; if I buy this one, it might improve readership in the other books. I could tell that it was ten years old (don't know that Grabenstein would have used books by Rowling, Seuss, or Dahl in the story today), but it will still seem fresh to young readers. 

25 June 2013, Random House Books for Young Readers 
Copy provided by Raab Associates 

Kyle isn't brainy or athletic like his brothers-- he just likes to play games. In school, this usually gets him into trouble, but when there is an essay contest to win a $500 gift card and an overnight stay in the new town library, his slacker ways and gaming ability work to his advantage. Luigi Lemoncello, game maker extraordinaire, feels that the town library in Alexandriaville, Ohio, and the librarian there, were instrumental in his his success, so he has donated a state-of-the-art library. Since the old library was torn down twelve years previously, he wants to introduce the young people of the town to the wonders of a public library by giving twelve of them the opportunity to use the library resources... to figure out a way out of the library! There are challenges, contests, and not everyone will last the entire time. Kyle and his friends band together against the evil, khaki and blazer wearing Charles Chiltington to solve the puzzles and win the reward. 
Strengths: Holographic librarians from the 1960s, a Wonder Dome of HD screens displaying Dewey divisions, and staff picks that are the keys to the clues-- how could I not like this book? Fans of The Westing Game and other clue oriented mysteries will love this one, especially if they are avid readers and get the literary references. The interactions of the children on the teams is also fun, and the best part was all the details about the fantastical library. Grabenstein is a great writer; I particularly like his Haunted Mystery series. 
Weaknesses: Kyle is portrayed as a goof at the beginning of the book but changes the minute his essay wins. I would have liked to see a more gradual change. Also, games of all kinds irritate me, so I didn't work through the clues, which would have made this more fun!