Friday, July 12, 2024

Guy Friday- Bodega Cats: Picture Purrfect

Burgos, Hilda Eunice. and Faison, Siara (illus.) Bodega Cats: Picture Purrfect
July 23, 2024 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Miguel lives in Washington Heights, New York City, where his parents run a bodega. He's not particularly happy; he just had a birthday, and his Mami and Papi got him gifts that reflect their interests, not his own. He thought that by asking for a dog, he might get the art supplies he requested, but they think art is a waste of time. Being an engineer is a much better plan, so they encourage math and science related pursuits. When he plucks and adorable and helpless kitten from the street, his parents let him feed it, and when his great uncle, Tio Diego, encourages them, the cat is allowed to stay at the store. We hear from Lolo as well; life on the streets is hard, and the food and comfort that Miguel provides is very welcome. Lolo is alarmed when Miguel leaves, but is invested in catching mice and "protecting" the bodega. Customers warm to the cat, feeding him small tidbits of their purchases. Miguel really wants to attend the art club at his school, which meets on Tuesdays, but his parents claim they need him to help at the store. His cousin Yesenia encourages him to come, but he can't bring himself to engage in yet another battle with them. Another cat shows up, whom the mother names Preciosa, and Lolo is not pleased with the new interloper. Miguel manages to fool his parents into signing a permission slip which they think is for a robotics club, and goes to art club, where his teacher is pleased with his drawings. We also see some of his comic books included in the story. When there is a field trip to a museum, Miguel again practices some subterfuge; he is supposed to stay with Tio Diego in his apartment, to help out since the older man has broken his arm, but instead he tells Tio he has to go back to the bodega to help. On his way to the museum, with Lolo in tow, he sees Preciosa being menaced by other cats in the park. Preciosa, who is pregnant, is injured, and the art teacher calls the vet.  Miguel stays with her until help arrives. Unfortunately, during this time, Tio Diego manages to set his toaster on fire, and while he is safe, Miguel's ruse is uncovered. Will Miguel be able to make his parents see the value of his artistic abilities?
Strengths: This is a great choice for younger middle grade readers who are navigating how to follow their own dreams despite getting pushback from parents. I loved that Miguel had responsibilities in the store even though he was only in fifth grade. His care for Lolo is also nice to see, and Lolo's opinions are expressed in appropriately cat like ways. Seeing Miguel's extended family working together, and his parents both being involved in his life, was refreshing as well. The bodega is an interesting setting to someone from the suburbs, and I could have used more scenes set there. Maybe we'll see that in the sequel, Just Kitten Around, out January 21, 2025. 
Weaknesses: Miguel expresses his displeasure in his parents' decision in less than optimal ways, although I was glad to see him working hard and not complaining to try to convince them of the validity of his interests. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who enjoyed the graphic novels Doodles from the Boogie Down or Art Club, or books narrated in part from a cat's point of view like Eldredge's Nimbus or Lloyd's Haven: A Small Cat's Big Adventure.

Remember, as a former (and very bitter) Latin teacher, I am not a huge fan of following dreams that will not necessarily lead to remunerative employment. It just leads to disappointment. I'm glad that Miguel acknowledges that he might have to have another job, but can still pursue art as a hobby. 
 

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, July 11, 2024

The Old Willis Place

Hahn, Mary Downing. The Old Wills Place 
Graphic novel adapted by Scott Peterson; 
Meredith Laxton and Sienna Haralson (Illustrators) 
July 16, 2024 by Clarion Books 
E ARC provided by Netgalley

**Spoilers, if you haven't read the 2004 original.**

Diana and Georgie are intrigued when yet another caretaker moves into the trailer on the old Wills place. The remote property has been derelict for years, ever since Lilian Willis died and the county took ownership of it. Diana would like to have a friend, but Georgie reminds her of the "rules" that they have to follow after a horrible thing happened. Diana and Georgie's father died, and their mother worked for Mrs. Willis, who was very mean to everyone, especially the children. Lissa, the caretaker's daughter. lost her mother when she was very young, and has lived a peripatetic lifestyle with her writer father, who used to teach but now takes small jobs to keep the two financially afloat while he tries to write. Lissa writes in her diary about the creepy things that people say happen at the house, but doesn't quite believe them. When her bike is stolen and ruined, even though the property is fenced and no one should have been able to get in, and she hears weird noises, she starts to doubt herself. Diana is so curious that she breaks into Lissa's room while she is sleeping, and Georgie steals Tedward, the stuffed bear Lissa's mother had given her. This is alarming, but Lissa eventually agrees to meet Diana. Diana and Georgie live in an abandoned shack, never wear shoes, and look like feral children, but never seem to be cold or hungry. Having scared Lissa with her appearance once, she cleans up and finds old clothes of Mrs. Willis' that aren't rags. Lissa is less scared of her, and the two become somewhat reluctant friends. There are questions, of course, but Diana tells Lissa and her father that their family lives across the highway in a new housing development. When Lissa breaks the rules and goes into the house because she wants to see a ghost, she unleashes Mrs. Willis' ghost. Once this happens, the true nature of Diana and Georgie's existence is revealed, and the new friends must work together to rectify the situations of the past. 
Strengths: There are several other graphic novel adaptations of Hahn's work (Took, All the Lovely Bad Ones, Wait Till Helen Comes), and there are still lots of fans for her creepy, violent ghost stories. The artwork is nicely atmospheric, and Diana and Georgie's feral lifestyle is captured well. Lissa makes very typical tween decisions, not all of which are good, and this leads to some of the problems. It's good to address these problems, of course, since they have existed for a very long time. Astute readers will pick up on the clues that tell us how long this has been. This has a nicely formulaic feel to it (although not as formulaic as Betty Ren Wright's work) that makes it somewhat less scary. 
Weaknesses: This is really a rather disturbing book. The mystery of Diana and Georgie is (highlight for spoilers) that they were locked in a basement room by Mrs. Willis when they irritated her, and the old lady then suffered a stroke and the children died in the room. No one ever questioned Mrs. Willis, and she was never punished. Lissa informs her father and the police, and the decades old bodies are removed from the house. 
What I really think: I'm not sure that my graphic novel readers will read the diary entries, which are just text. I don't have a copy of the original book to compare them to, but assume they are pretty much copied from the novel. I might buy a copy anyway, since there aren't that many creepy graphic novels, but this wasn't my favorite, since the ick factor was pretty high. I don't think I would put it in an elementary school library. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

The Quince Project

Parra, Jessica. The Quince Project
May 28, 2024 by Wednesday Books
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Castillo Torres is bound and determined to earn her Happily Ever After; going to college to study event planning after an internship with the famous Mandy Whitmore. She's planned lots of things; events at school, and some parties, after her older sister Po's quinceañera ended in disaster. Of course, part of the reason for the disaster was that their mother had recently passed away. This has had a huge effect on her family; Po is drifting through her last year in high school, working at a restaurant, and not doing the college planning that Cas would like her to, their Dad is working a lot and playing video games when he is home, instead of cooking dinner and talking to the girls, and Cas has thrown herself into her party planning and her future. She's worried about the internship, but when she and Po are at DisneyWorld (which was their mother's favorite place), they run into prominent social media influencer Paulina. Cas hints that she is actually an intern with Mandy already, and manages to get Paulina to hire her to plan her deconstructed quinceañera. Po has a huge crush on Paulina, so is glad to help her sister out. When Cas meets cute lifeguard Javier, she also lets him believe she is working with Mandy, and he gets roped into being the chambelán. Paulina has quite the vision for her celebration, including the fact that it's not actually going to be a party; it's all about posting the planning on her social media! Desperate to have the party on her resume, Cas goes along with it, planning dances with light sabers and working on unusual clothing choices. Her relationship with Javier gets closer and closer, and the two eventually share a kiss... and manage to knock over an ice sculpture. Party planning in not easy, but Cas sees it as a way to give everyone the happy ending that she doesn't feel her mother got. When she eventually gets an interview with Mandy, she gets the internship, but this means that Paulina and Javier find out that she lied to them. After an emotional argument with Po, Cas sees some problems with the way she has dealt with her mother's death. Will she be able to keep her internship, reconcile with Javier, get Po off to college, and help her family heal?

Cas' desire to go to college in order to study event planning was good to see, although I'm not entirely sure that having an internship or a huge social media presence would really be necessary. She is not only building her own resume, but trying to get Po to work on her own. Still, this is better to see than high school students who have no plans at all! Even though Cas is very driven, she does have a very sweet relationship with Javier, and their ups and downs are easily evened out. 

There are lots of good details about the fictional Mateo Beach High School, and fans of Disney and Star Wars will appreciate all of the shout outs. Readers who are fascinated with social media will wish that they could follow Paulinaland.

It was good to see that even though the characters in the book were over 15, this book would be suitable for readers younger than that age who are perhaps looking forward to their own quinceañera and want a taste of all of the drama and pagentry that goes along with this milestone celebration. There are some excellent books from the point of view of the celebrant, like Osa's Cuba 15, Greene's Chasing the Jaguar, Fajardo's Miss Quinces, and Adler's Sweet 15,  but also some books where younger characters have older relatives who are planning celebrations, like Lopez' Lucky Luna and Howard's Pugs and Kisses that give good details about all of the planning. 

This was more of a young adult length, and there was a lot of repetition. Cas spends a vast amount of time thinking about her mother's death, and we hear about the quinceañera disaster and Javier's lavendar scented shampoo a few too many times. I might but this for a high school library, but will pass for middle school. 

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, July 09, 2024

The Pale Queen

Aldridge, Ethan M. The Pale Queen
June 25, 2024 by Quill Tree
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Agatha is a young girl in a small village in approximately 1880. (The setting of the book reminds me of the television series Lark Rise to Candleford, with carriages and hearth fires, but also girls trying to have more opportunies, so that's my best guess). She is working as a tutor to young Peter Garcia, but would love to be able to study astronomy at the university, but her family is too poor. The Garcias treat her well, even if Peter is a bit squirrely, but she would love to leave the small town and see more of the world. Local boy Claude, whose family runs the prosperous town store, won't stop bothering her, which adds to her irritation. She has seen a wolf lingering around town, and when she steps on an odd nest and breaks it, she has an even creepier experience. The Lady of the Hills introduces herself, and has the same yellow eyes as the wolf. Not only that, but she fastens a bracelet around Agatha's wrist and tells her to meet her in the middle of the night. Agatha's parents tell her it is a hag stone, which could be valuable but also is attached to dark magic. Sure enough, in the middle of the night, the bracelet wakes Agatha up and forces her out into the woods. There, she meets the Lady, as well as Hyacinth, her minion, who attaches himself to Agatha. The two have to watch and guard a rare plant, which is almost damaged by strange bugs. Agatha doesn't really want to talk to the Lady, but is oddly in her thrall. When she mentions Claude to the Lady, he is quickly turned into a pig my the Lady's spells. While that wasn't exactly what Agatha had wanted, she doesn't argue too strenuously about it. A Garcia cousin, Heather, shows up. She is studying literature, and Agatha is entranced by her knowledge and kindness. The two spend lots of time together, but Agatha is also bound more and more to the Lady and her all night escapades, and Hyacinth is living in a small space in her house, keeping an eye on her. When the Lady sees that Agatha would rather spend time with Heather, she freezes all of the Garcias. It's not easy to extricate herself from the Lady's evil plans, but Agatha manages to do so. In the end, Ms. Garcia agrees to fund Agatha's studies at the Dulac Academy with Heather, and the two set off for the big city. But are they really leaving the Lady behind? 
Strengths: Aldridge's illustrations are always lovely, and this captures the Victorian era well. He also does a good creepy setting, so the Lady is quite disturbing, as are her minions and monsters. Another reviewer compared Hyacinth to the characters in Henson and Oz's 1982 The Dark Crystal, and while I've never seen the movie, the likeness is certainly there. Young readers who like LGBTQIA+ romances will find Agatha and Heather's new relationship to be very sweet, and the fact that they are able to go out into the larger world and study together very satisfying. There's plenty of dealing with the dark arts, although Agatha is eventually able to free herself. Readers who liked Aldridge's creepy novel Deephaven will be glad to be able to have a graphic novel where they can see pictures of all the characters. 
Weaknesses: It seemed a little surprising that Agatha didn't know right away that the Lady was nothing but evil, and allowed herself to get caught in her thrall. Claude wasn't nice, but he also wasn't horrible enough to have to spend the rest of his life as a pig; when Agatha and Heather head out of town in a carriage, he is shown in the background! 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who like Zhou's Atana and the Firebird or Ostertag's The Girl From the Sea. It reminded me a little bit of Jones' Need, with its evil fairies, except that Agatha didn't fight against the Lady quite soon enough! 
 Ms. Yingling

Monday, July 08, 2024

MMGM- Perry Homer Ruins Everything and Welcome to AI

It's
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
 at 
and #IMWAYR day 
at
Vrabel, Beth. Perry Home Ruins Everything
June 18, 2024 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Perry Homer DOESN'T really ruin everything... but his family does a good job at it. His parents, his dishonest lawyer Uncle Manny, his triplet cousins, his siblings Riley and Pauley-- they are all willing to take advantage of any situation, no matter how it impacts others. Recently, Manny won a trip to Lindsborg, Kansas, where various members of the Homer clan set fire to things and generally left havoc in their wake. Perry thinks he will finally get home to Pittsburgh, where he will reunite with his favorite teacher, Miss Penelope, and attend an interview at the Ithaca School for Scholars in New York. This, he thinks, could change his life. Instead, the family is thrown off the plane and placed on a "no fly" list. Struggling for money, the group pulls a scam in a local pawnshop, tricking the owner, Seamus Neptune, into giving them $9,000 for a worthless 1944 wheat penny. Manny has to gloat, so Seamus vows to get even with the family. They take off, spend some time in a luxury hotel, go to a carnival, and buy a run down van off of two older artists. Perry thinks they will now head home, but when he wakes up after a snooze, is horrified to find that they are in Florida. The father wants everyone to see the ocean, and while Perry is impressed, he still doesn't want to let Miss Penelope down. We do learn that part of the family's motivation for their peripatetic lifestyle is that the mother battled cancer when Perry was nine, and we get inklings that perhaps this has returned. With Seamus Neptune hot on their trail, problems with the van, and frequent bulletins on the news alerting everyone to a large reward for turning in the "Bad Family", the group ends up at a campground in the woods, and then at Cindy's Cat Sanctuary. Cindy is an irascible and bitter woman who runs a rescue for large cats, having battled for laws that deny (and rightly so) most people the opportunity to own these animals. The Homers settle in fairly well, with the mother cooking (all while usually wearing the unnamed youngest Homer in a front pack; the baby makes frequent appearances), the father helping out, and Home and the triplets doing chores. With a little time to think, and a feeling of helplessness about his trip to Ithaca, Perry goes over his list of people he has hurt, and tries to call a number of them to apologize, with Cindy's support. When Seamus Neptune closes in on the family and their landlord in Pittsburgh is on the news saying they will be evicted, will they be able to wiggle their way out of the charges against them and forge a new life in Florida? And will Perry be able to attend the Ithaca School, where Miss Penelope will be a teacher?
Strengths: Fans of Kinney's The Long Haul and The Getaway will enjoy the Homer's frenetic travels and the highjinks in which they find themselves embroiled. Perry is a much more developed and likeable character than Greg Heffley, and his desire to please his teacher and to be able to have a life where he wakes up in the same bed every day is palpable. He does a good job trying to take care of younger siblings, and he clearly cares about his parents, even though they constantly thwart his desire to make something of his life. The slow reveal of the mother's cancer struggle help the reader to understand why the Homers have chosen the road less traveled. This is generally upbeat and positive, and ends on a fairly happy note, making it stand out from most of middle grade literature. I also appreciated that Perry is heading into high school, since middle grade readers would much rather read about older characters, but can't really turn to the Young Adult books of 2024, which are very mature.
Weaknesses: There is a LOT going on in this book. Vrabel manages to structure this in a way that makes sense, and Perry's desire to get back home provides a connecting thread to all of their adventures, but some inclusions, like one of the cousins deciding to join an Amish community, could have been left out in order to streamline the plot. It bothered me more than it should have that the baby didn't have a name, but this does speak to the turmoil and uncertainty in the family's life.
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who enjoy characters who have to deal with scheming, difficult families, like Korman's July 2024 Faker or Schreiber's 2015 Con Academy. We could really use a lot more books in middle grade about well meaning grifters, I think. Tweens are perfect for the role of "con man with a heart of gold".

Davey, Owen and Dugal, Matthieu. Welcome to AI: What is Artificial Intelligence and How Will It Change Our Lives?
June 4, 2024 by Wide Eyed Editions
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This picture book style nonfiction offers a lot of information on Artificial Intelligence and its history, going as far back as Ada Lovelace and her early efforts concerning computation. Included are the first time the term "robot" was used by the Czechs, and the coining of the term "Artificial Intelligence" in 1955. On heavily illustrated pages, we get snippets of information that follow the long journey of technology and its use, including computers playing chess and ghosts purportedly hiding in algorithms! Deep fakes, "bot or not" and even thanatotechnologies are addressed, keeping in mind not only how these were developed, but how they have impacted everyday life. There is a concluding chapter on problems of AI, including pollution and the possibility of robot soliders! 

This reminded me a bit of Ignotofsky's The History of the Computer, but had a more manageable amount of information for middle grade readers to consume. There's lots of good descriptions or tech that kids might know about but not fully understand, making this a great choice for techies and casual readers alike. I'll definitely buy a copy even though I'm a little on the fence about the illustration style. I loved it, but it did remind me a bit of Robert Kraske's The Story of the Dictionary, and gave me flashbacks to the 1970s. Personally, I would have gone with a book design that embraces the gray and taupe design aesthetic of the 2020s, but this is certainly more colorful and engaging. Considering that I've had students try to hand in short stories written by Chat GPT, this is a book that would be great to have on hand, now AND twenty years in the future. 

Sunday, July 07, 2024

Bunny and Clyde

McDonald, Megan and Nash, Scott (illus.). 
Bunny and Clyde
March 12, 2024 by Candlewick Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Young friends Bunny and Clyde (who is a chipmunk) do everything they are told, and get a lot of praise for it, but are tired of being good. Even when they are collecting bottle caps and other found items, they are congratulated for picking up trash. Of course, they are tired of this and decide to be "bad to the bone". Since they don't even know HOW to do this, they head to the library to gather resources. There, they ask their friendly librarian for "bad" books; stumped, Rowena takes them to the natural disasters section. Eventually, they find and read books like Bad Kitty, Interrupting Chicken, and The Tale of Two Bad Mice and get their inspiration. They mess up Bunny's room, draw on the walls, and don't even compost an apple core. They even raid Maw-Maw's stash of candy, and fueled by penny candy, start off on their crime spree. After a meeting in their secret clubhouse, they set out to pull flowers from a neighbor's yard. Since they are dandelions, he's pleased with their work. They toilet paper a neighbor's roses... and protect them from a frost at night. They try to scare a friend with a fake spider, but it turns out he needs one for a school project and is touched by their thoughtfulness. They finally decide that the worst thing they can do is to rob a bank, so they make plans and gather supplies. They decide to rob librarian Rowena's piggy bank. Her door is unlocked, so they find the bank and empty out the money, but Rowena returns home. She finds them, and they confess, but Rowena is glad that they were able to get the money out of the bank so that she could spend it without breaking the china pig, and offers them a reward! While Bunny and Clyde weren't all that good at being bad, they had a good day, and get some rest before planning their next adventure.

McDonald, who has also written many Judy and Stink Moody books, teams up with Nash to craft a fun early chapter book that will appeal to young readers who are enthralled with the bad behavior of characters like LaReau and Myers' The Infamous Ratsos. Bunny and Clyde certainly try to be bad, but all of their evil deeds turn into good ones. I'm not exactly sure what kind of message this is supposed to send, but it is amusing to see them thwarted at every turn, and their "crimes" are not horribly bad; they even bring up the fact that Rowena says they can drop by her house any time, and she DID leave the door unlocked.

This is the perfect length for emerging readers, and there is plenty of white space on the page. Nash's illustrations are adorable, and he does a great job of capturing the Depression era vibe of the real Bonnie and Clyde through clothing and backgrounds. I'm not sure how many six year olds know of the crime spree of Parker and Barrow, and they might need to have the concept of "penny candy" explained to them, but this reference will certainly make adult readers chuckle.

Early chapter books with animals as them main characters are an appealing transition between picture books and longer middle grade novels. Bunny and Clyde will be right at home on the shelf beside Clark's Dr. Kitty, Lubner's Drag and Rex, Jarvis' Bear and Bird, and Webb and Willams' Pet Rescue Adventure Series.

While Parker and Barrow were romanticized in the 1960s and 70s, with a song and a movie, but I'm not sure that we necessarily treat evil doers the same way today. Certainly, Bunny and Clyde are not really bad, and this could be a springboard for conversations about how our actions affect others.

Saturday, July 06, 2024

Cartoon Saturday- Scare School

Lerner, Jarret. Welcome to Scare School (1)
July 16, 2024 by Aladdin
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Bash is worried about going off to boarding school. His older sister Bella was a big success, but Bash struggles with making friends and with "ghost stuff", and has trouble becoming invisible and passing through walls. He's also apprehensive about sharing a bedroom and living away from home. When he finally arrives at the school, he meets the staff, which includes Headmaster Dave, Mr. Crane, who is a ghost, Ms. Graves, a witch, and Ms. Scully, the librarian. They seem okay, but Bash has doubts about some of the students, like vampires Vlad and Vicky. He gets along well with Itsy, the spider, and is pleased to find that the two are roommates. Each school session is two weeks long, and after that students can go home, but before that, there are Creature Aptitude tests that must be passed or students will have to leave. As much as Bash has studied, he still doesn't feel good about his chances. His sister, who has an internship haunting a house, writes to encourage him, and Itsy does a lot of studying and helps Bash prepare. With his future at Scare School in the balance, will Bash be able to successfully pass two of his three tests?
Strengths: Lerner is a big proponent of art in schools, and connects with young readers and teachers alike with his distinctive style. Like his Hunger Heroes books, Scare School addresses realistic concerns that children might have about testing, school, and making friends. Bash struggles with many issues, but is able to make friends, study for his tests, and even be a force of good in his school. It will be interesting to see what future volumes will explore. This reminded me in the best way of Jane Thayer's classic 1962 Gus Was a Friendly Ghost. 
Weaknesses: Bash's sister Bella finds a typewriter to use to write him letters, and types them on notebook paper. The odds of finding a typewriter with a working ribbon are very slim, and typing on notebook paper is difficult. That said, I may have, um, five or six typewriters in my school library that I found at thrift store back when they were priced at $6.00. Now, if one appears, it is likely a showcase item that runs $75! 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who liked spooky titles with lots of pictures, like Hegearty and Owen's  LumberjackulaRivadeneira and Jones' FrankinSchool, or the rebooted Dadey and Jones The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids

Ms. Yingling

Friday, July 05, 2024

Guy Friday- Pizza Face and The Wildes: Captivity

Ogle, Rex and Valeza, Dave (illus.) Pizza Face
July 2, 2024 by Graphix
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this sequel to Four Eyes, Ogle continues his semi-autobiographical story of his troubled middle school experience. He overhears Kennedy, whom he has spent a lot of time, laugh with her friends about his squeaky voice, and stops talking to her. Things go from bad to worse when he wakes up on the first day of school with an enormous zit in the middle of his forehead. Luckily, he's still friends with Scott, and the two share a love of comic books. For a while, Courtney, Emma, and Kennedy sit with the boys at lunch, but as his relationship with Kennedy deteriorates, and he doesn't stand up to bullies who make fun of the girls, they move to another table. Chase, whom Rex has know in the past, returns to school a little "cooler"; he smokes, and looks a little like Kurt Cobain, with his shaggy hair and skater clothing. (This is set in the 1990s.) Chase is not nice to Scott, who stops speaking to Rex. Chase is a bad influence in many ways. He's unkind to Rex, smokes, picks fights with others, and treats his girlfriend badly. Rex's problems with acne continue, and because his family is struggling to make ends meet, Rex's mother refuses to buy him special soap or acne medication. His abuela, who often visits, does make sure that he has supplies, including deodorant, which his mother also won't buy. Eventually, he comes clean to Kennedy about why he stopped talking to her and the two reconcile. His abuela takes him to a dermatologist, and having a plan of attack for his problems helps.
Strengths: It is a rare middle school student who is untouched by acne, so most readers will be sympathetic to Rex's blight and glad to know some tips for skin care. Friend drama also looks large, so the various difficulties Rex faces with his friends are realistic. There are also some bullies in school, and Rex is a perfect target, although he does make peace with one, who in turn picks him first in gym class for a change. It was interesting to see the financial struggles of the family and how they impacted Rex, and the mother and stepfather is kinder in the graphic novels than they are in Free Lunch. Abuela is the star, giving Rex lots of support in many different ways.
Weaknesses: I'm not sure that acne makes children the target of bullying as much any more, in the same way that braces and glasses are fairly standard and unworthy of comment. It's a huge trend in my school for students to wear brightly colored, adhesive star patches over zits. Granted, these are expensive, and children with cystic acne or more blemishes would not benefit from these, but I've just not seen this type of behavior at my school. I'm sure students still feel awful when they have acne. This book includes helpful representation in that respect, so I'll probably buy a copy.
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who like Scrivan's Nat Enough or Libenson's Invisible Emmie series, both of which deal with middle school anxiety and self esteem.

Smith, Roland. Captivity (The Wildes #3)
July 1, 2024 by Sleeping Bear Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

After their adventures in The Amazon and The Vaquita, the Wildes have returned home to their wildlife refuge in Texas, The Wilds. Ring is up to his old tricks, running off without his cell phone, and Asia steps in to give status update to the media when her parents are busy. There is a lot of interest in the vaquitas (porpoises) that the family rescued, and not everyone agrees that captivity is the best place for them. In addition to George Sweeney, of The Animal Protection Army, there are a number of animal rights activists and reporters hanging out. Not only that, but Dave Lamella is sighted in Texas. Professor Bob wants the kids to return to their studies, but they are busy solving several mysteries and keeping everything running while their mother Jane returns to help the tamarind monkeys and their father flies off to rescue another vaquita. When snow leopards are let loose on the compound and there are a number of security concerns, will the kids, with the help of longtime sanctuary worker Hawk Hickman, be able to keep everyone safe?

This didn't have the travel adventure of the previous two volumes, and felt a little more like early Gibbs' Fun Jungle books. Still lots of mystery, and plenty of Kids Doing Things. I liked the environmental messages, and can see Asia being either a public relations representative or lawyer for animal rights groups when she grows up. It does look like there could be more adventures for the Wildes, but I would love to see the parents more involved. 

Thursday, July 04, 2024

Keep it Like a Secret

Anderson, John David. Keep it Like a Secret
May 14, 2024 by Walden Pond Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Morgan, who is twelve, has watched his sister Claire (18), fight with his parents again and again. In the last battle, Claire smashed several of his mother's antique dolls, including one given to her by her father, who has since passed away. Claire storms out of the house, and doesn't come back for several days. Morgan is worried, but the mother seems somewhat relieved. Claire is safe, staying at the home of her girlfriend, Sasha. Morgan understands that Claire is dealing with a lot of change. She's dropped off the cross country team, broken up with long time boyfriend Connor, and is watching all of her friends make plans to go away to college, while she doesn't have any of her own plans. Morgan misses his sister, and all of the time that they spent together. When Claire has Morgan sneak a box out of her room and asks him to run off with her on a little adventure, Morgan is suprised. He's glad to spend time with his sister, and their adventure is similar to one they took years ago, when Morgan was much younger, and Claire set off with him in the early morning hours without their parents knowing. Driving around in Claire's beat up car, Sonic, the two do some mundane tasks, like buying new shoes at Kohls, but also see a local waterfall, learn to drive the car (with less than optimal results), visit the diner where Claire works, and climb to the top of a water tower. They are in limited contact with their mother by phone, so Morgan isn't concerned that his mother is worried, but during the course of their adventure, he realizes that this is Claire's way of saying goodbye to him.
Strengths: Middle school children spend a lot of time with siblings, and we tend to forget, as adults, how important this time is. Having a much older sibling is something I haven't experienced, but I know that it's easy for children to idolize teens, especially if the older sibling is nice and spends time with them. It's also traumatic when the older sibling leaves home. Claire's actions; fighting with the mother, quitting cross country, starting a different romantic relationship; are all typical of the types of things high schoolers do during their liminal senior year. The fighting can be a way of making the transition away from the home easier. It's sweet that she wants to spend a day with Morgan, and she shares a lot of herself and her activities with her younger brother. This had a little bit of the feel of Ms. Bixby's Last Day to it because of the looming end of their time together, but without the violence to cheesecake. (Although there is a really good chocolate dessert.)
Weaknesses: Some people are toxic and best not to have in one's life, and I think Claire would fit into that category, at least from the perspective of the mother. I had no sympathy for her. Her mother was reasonable, and even supportive, and yet Claire was just evil towards her. Perhaps if there were more information about WHY Claire was so combative, it would have changed my feelings.
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who enjoyed more introspective books about family relationships like Schmidt's The Labors of Hercules Beal, Sherwood's The Ice House, or Creech's Saving Winslow.

Wednesday, July 03, 2024

I'm From Here, Too

Sheth, Kashmira. I'm From Here, Too
July 2, 2024 by Peachtree
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Anoop and his family live in Wisconsin, where his father is a heart surgeon and his mother runs a clothing import business. Most of their family still lives in India, including the father's father, Baba. There is a lot of history in the family background; the grandfather was just 13 in 1947 when his family was killed during the Partition. He survived because he was in a tree house at the time. Because there are few people of color in their town, and because his family is Sikh, Anoop has to deal with his classmates not understanding the patka (head covering) he wears over his hair, which he has never cut. Two students in particular, Albert and Ned, are constantly saying things and even pushing Anoop and touching his head. Their teacher, the young Ms. Strickton, takes a dim view of this behavior and doesn't let them get away with bullying when they are in her class. Anoop best friend, Jacob, is supportive of Anoop and understands his family and religion, but he doesn't always stand up for his friend, adding to Anoop's stress. When Baba has pneumonia, Anoop and his father go to visit, and Anoop has a school project about his experience to turn in when he returns. Being in India is a good break from the racial discrimination in Wisconsin, but some members of his family tell Anoop that he is "too American". His cousin Jeet puts a stop to that, and shows Anoop the great things about the country that Anoop's family left. Upon his return, Albert and Ned physically assault him and threaten to cut his hair. He finally tells his parents about the bullying, but asks for a little time because the school is involved. He befriends a new boy, Chris Larson, whom Albert and Ned are not nice to, and after Baba passes away, changes his project to fully cover the history of his family. Ned, at least, gains a new understanding for Anoop, and things are slightly better. 
Strengths: This is a novel in verse, which is a good fit since Anoop likes to write poetry and has an introspective nature. I enjoyed the fact that Jacob was well versed in the food and traditions of his friend's culture. Indian writers are the absolute best when it comes to describing food, and Sheth does a particularly good job! 
Weaknesses: The novel in verse format always leaves me wanting more information about a lot of things. I loved Sheth's Blue Jasmine (2004) and Boys Without Names (2010), and know that she does an equally good prose novel. 
What I really think: Combining history with a family experience is always a winning combination. This is an excellent choice for readers who enjoyed Chen's With Twice the Love, Dessie MaeHudson's The Reckoning, Respicio's Any Day With You, and especially Bajaj's Count Me In, Faruqi, Saadia. The Partition Project, and Senzai, N.H. Ticket to India.

Tuesday, July 02, 2024

Majestica and Woe: A Housecat's Story of Despair

Tolcser, Sarah. Majestica
July 2, 2024 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Hattie Swift has been raised at the Hotel Majestica by the staff, after her mother died when she was small and her father was killed protecting the owner, Clive Ridgewell, from a dragon attack. She hopes to one day be an actual maid and get to wear the traditional black and white uniform, so helps out around the premises and learns about the magical animals that find safety there from the various groundskeepers and trainers. When Evelyn, the demanding niece of Ridgewell shows up and is going to go on the wilderness tour, Hattie is dragged along as her maid after she sees Evelyn poison her companion just enough to make her too ill to go on the trip! Hattie is somewhat interested in seeing more of Ruava, and also glad to get a uniform, even if it is too big, but Evelyn is NOT happy and lets everyone know. Also on the tour is MR. Foxfire, a reporter who was trying to get information from Hattie about the Caretaker of the Hotel Majestica. The hotel had had some problems in the past, but the Caretaker has kept up the grounds and made sure that the animals are not a danger. No one knows quite what the Caretaker is, where it is located, or how it controls the facilities. There's also Jacob Threadborne, apprentice to the Secretary of the Interior, Wing, and Miss Richardson, a professor. Evelyn overhears two men talking about poaching animals and selling them, which is highly illegal, but no one believes her, especially when she publically rifles through their luggage and does not turn up the weapons she says they have. She and Hattie do manage to identify the men, although Hattie doesn't think that Dowson, the Majestica groundskeeper, would be part of such a plot. This is not the worst part of the trip; when the train stalls over a gorge, everyone is endangered, and Hattie and Evelyn barely survive when it plunges into the river below. Evelyn's uncle is killed, but some travelers survive, including Secretary Wing, who insists that Hattie make her way back to the hotel to get help. Most people want to wait for help to come to them, and the poachers have taken the opportunity to go forward with their evil plans. They have even captured a rare unicorn and want to remove its horn, which can only be done by the light of a full moon. Agatha, a dragon who has been seen in the area, seems to be protecting Hattie, Evelyn, and Jacob, who have banded together. Hattie is worried about this at first, since it was Alfred, Agatha's mate, who was responsible for her father's death and was killed as a result. They manage to find out more information about the Caretaker, and think it might be a magical stone that has ties to the incarceration of Evelyn's mother. Eventually, Agatha offers to transport the children back to the hotel. Things are dangerous there are well. Will the trio be able to find the source of the Caretaker and make the Hotel Majestica a continued source of refuge for magical animals?
Strengths: For ardent fantasy fans, this not only includes a map, but drawings of the magical creatures and a list of the cast of characters. This had an Edwardian era feel to it, with trains and radio, but also ladies' maids, muckraking journalists, and sumptous travel into the wilderness. The cover supports that. There is good world building for the hotel, and it seems reasonable that Hattie would have not only been raised there by the staff, but that she had an emotional attachment to the place that informs her actions in regards to saving it. Evelyn is a very entitled character at first, but does experience some emotional growth as the journey turns perilous. The mystery of the Caretaker is not only well developed, but has a surprising resolution. 
Weaknesses: Hattie's father's name was Tom Swift, which fits with the era, but is obviously unrelated to the long running book series. Young readers will not know this. 
What I really think: This is a great choice for readers who enjoyed books like Gale's The Zoo at the Edge of the World, Beatty's Serafina and the Black Cloak, or George's The Rose Legacy. This would be a big hit with Harry Potter fans who like the Hogwarts Express, or readers who enjoyed the magical creatures in Sutherland's The Menagerie

Knisley, Lucy. Woe: A Housecat's Story of Despair
July 2, 2024 by Random House Graphic
E ARC provided by Netgalley 

Linney was Knisley's cat for over ten years, and was amusing and frustrating in turn, as many pets are. Knisley posted cartoons detailing Linney's foibles on Instagram as a way of remembering her, knowing that as her pet aged, there would eventually come a time when she would have to say goodbye. We see Linney be picky about food, shed strategically, monopolize spaces, demand to be petted but then require being left alone, have visits from a dog, and interact with Knisley's small child. Eventually, we see Linney loose weight, have to go on special kidney food (this is never a good sign), and eventually pass away.

This isn't quite a graphic novel; it's got a squarer format (like a social media post) and less dialog, but tells a story just the same. It is beautifully done, like all of Knisley's work, but is also very sad, since Linney's last moments are with the vet. Having just lost my dog, this was definitely heart wrenching.

Middle school and high school libraries with lots of cat fans or fans of Knisley's work will definitely want to purchase this, and I see a lot of copies being sold as as consolation gifts when a beloved pet passes away. I just wish that Knisley was a dog person, but I guess dog people have Matt Nelson's Thoughts of Dog, which has some similarities, although Woe is mainly from Knisley's perspective.

Monday, July 01, 2024

MMGM- The Tenth Mistake of Hank Hooperman

It's
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
 at 
and #IMWAYR day 
at
Choldenko, Gennifer. The Tenth Mistake of Hank Hooperman
June 11, 2024 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

**Spoilers, which are somewhat necessary to understand the whole story.**

Hank is used to taking care of his three year old sister, Bridget (Boo) when their mother Geri is out working or socializing, but when she doesn't come home for a week, things get desperate. He's missing school, and they are out of food. When the landlord pounds on the door and says that eviction proceedings will begin tomorrow, Hank decides to head to visit the only emergency contact he can find; Lou Ann, who was a friend of his grandmother's. His grandmother passed away recently, which has taken away needed support. Finding a bus pass of his mother's, he packs a few things and heads to Rancho Renato. Lou Ann is suprised to see them, but since she runs a day care from her home, agrees to help them. Celia, who works with Lou Ann several days a week, was friends with Hank's mother. Social services is contacted, and everyone works to find Geri. Celia's brother, Ray, is a computer programmer who works from home, and since Lou Ann is not thrilled with having a teenager like Hank around (he's in 7th grade, but tall for his age), Hank starts to spend a lot of time with Ray and his dog, CPU. When Geri can't be found, Lou Ann arranges for Hank to start in the local middle school. Since Lou Ann doesn't seem to like him, Hank goes out of his way to do whatever he can to make her happy, especially since Boo is thriving under her care, learning numbers and letters and becoming potty trained. School actually goes well, and the kids are nice to Hank. Ana in particular takes a liking to him, and invites him to her birthday party. Hank starts playing basketball with Ray, and the coach at school notices his progress, inviting him to try out for the team. Hank is uncertain what the future will bring, so is hesitant to make committments. When he finally finds where his mother is, things are even more uncertain. His mother, who has had a problem with alcohol in the past, was arrested on drunk driving charges, and has to go through rehab before being released. When his mother shows up at school on the day of basketball tryouts, he leaves with her, even though he is apprehensive. He even tells Lou Ann he is taking Boo "for a walk", and is soon driving to Arizona with his mother. When she stops at a gas station and gets drunk, Hank knows that he can't let Boo in the car with her. He calls Lou Ann, but because of her past problems with a teenage son, she forces Hank to go into the foster care system. Hank knows he has made mistakes, but misses the strong and supportive community he had at Lou Ann's. Will he be able to regain it? 
Strengths: There is something both compelling and soothing about stepping into the shoes of children who have not been given proper care, and watching as they find a new and supportive community. Hank is such a good kid, and he takes excellent care of Boo. He's resourceful, but knows when he needs help. He love for his mother and grandmother is clear, but his desire to have Boo taken care of is what drives his choices. Lou Ann's feelings that she should take the children in out of her loyalty to their grandmother, but also he dislike of teen agers, are realistic competing emotions that ring true. Ray is a great character who has his own reasons for including Hank and Boo in his life. The best part of this, which Choldenko mentions in the end notes, is that the kids at school are accepting of Hank, even when he can't tell them everything about his life. They are kind, understanding, and help out when they can. Even Tadeo, Ray's nephew who is jealous of Hank for several reasons, is nice to him. When Geri returns, Hank has a major dilemma, and he handles it in a way that I think most 7th graders would handle it. It's his MOM. Of course, he goes with her, but when she puts Boo in danger, he must rely on his new, supportive network. While the most compelling thing in Hank's life is finding his mother and pinning down a living situation, he is also a typical tween, and it was great to see him try out for the basketball team, have an interest in drawing, and go to birthday parties. Even kids in crisis are still kids. 
Weaknesses: The only weaknesses I can find in this are that Hank is almost too well behaved, and the resolution works out too well. I had rated this as four stars, but considering how much the world needs hopeful stories and examples of good in a world that is often very terrible, I'm moving this to five, because too much optimism should be rewarded in children' literature. The current trend to show tweens how terrible life can be cannot be helping with the rise of anxiety in children. 
What I really think: This is probably my favorite of Choldenko's books so far. It's a great choice for readers who like hopeful, sometimes funny realistic fiction, and goes well with other modern books about children in foster care, including Galante's Strays Like Us, Winston's Shark Teeth, Moranville's Forget-Me-Not Blue, O'Shaughnessy's Lasagna Means I Love You, Bailey's Snow Foal, and Farr's Pavi Sharma's Guide to Going Home.

Barnes, Derrick and Tuya, Jez (illus.)
Who Got Game? Basketball: Amazing but True Stories!
January 2, 2024 by Workman Publishing Company
Public Library Copy

Wow. This had SO MUCH basketball information, and gets bonus points for including a lot of players from marginalized populations. It's formatted in a way that readers who like the Guinness Book of World Records or Ripley's Believe It or Not books will love, with lots of colorful illustrations, bold fonts, and fun lists. I'm definitely buying a copy, in a Perma-Bound edition, and it will be constantly checked out. I'm also buying the baseball book, but what we really need is a similar one about football, since that is the second most popular sport for which my students ask. 

For me, the formatting was a bit busy, and the lack of chronological organization made it very hard for me to absorb the information. Remember: I am not the target audience. I would rather have fewer illustrations, smaller text, photographs, and an index, since that would make the book perfect for research projects. 

Maybe someone will write that book, with more information about Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, and Spencer Haywood, but for now, I'll have to make do with this engaging nonfiction book that will never be back on the shelf! 


(Overdue) Year End Blather:

Just finished Year 26 of teaching, and spent two weeks in cat sitting for Picky Reader. Since I didn't have to do household chores or talk to anyone, and devolved into a toast based diet, I was able to read and review about twelve hours a day. Also, watched BritBox more than I should have, because my daughter got a trial subscription for me. Was this healthy? Probably not. Restful? Sort of. Productive? VERY!

I spent three days taking 6 credit hours of college classes, as well as the Ohio State mandated Science of Reading course. I still need to submit my 28 pages of essays, but I got a 95% on the reading test! I did NOT want to do any of that work, so to make it interesting and challenging, I gave myself a limited time. Seemed to work. 

I've been very grumpy, although reading several good books recently helped. I'm fed up with the disconnect between what is being published and what my students want to read. Fed up with Instafamous people who have read a fraction of what I have. Indulged in some prattling to myself about how fantastic I am, and how no one appreciates it. This happens when I read books and don't have anyone to whom to recommend them. 

So, July. Going to scale back on the reading a bit, and do some quilting. The temperatures will be 90 and humid the whole month, and I don't have air conditioning, so ironing will occur in the morning. I'll go back to my kale based diet, and take Leo on lots of walks around the neighborhood. Spend some time getting over myself, and gearing up for going back to school in early August. 

Hope everyone is having a pleasant summer, and if you're reading this, I think you are FABULOUS.

Sunday, June 30, 2024

Breaking Into Sunlight

Cochrane, John. Breaking Into Sunlight
June 18, 2024 by Algonquin Young Readers
ARC provided by the publisher at NCTE

Reese's father Sam has been struggling with opiod addiction ever since being injured on his job as an electrician. His mother Amanda works at a Kwik Stop, and lately his father has been better. The three have gone roller skating and on other outings, and it's starting to feel like life is looking up. However, Reese comes home one day to find his father passed out in the hallway, barely breathing. He calls 911 and his mother, and his father makes it to the hospital in time, but almost dies. When he is released, Amanda demands that Sam go into rehab, and when he won't, she tells him that she and Reese are moving out. She's met a woman at church, Mrs. Smith, who has a trailer on her farm, and she and Reese move there. Mrs. Smith and her husband are caring for their grandchildren, Meg and Charlie, after their parents were both killed in an auto accident. Charlie is a child with Down syndrome who loves cats, and Meg, while she wants to be supportive of Reese, is struggling with her own issues. It's summer, so there's plenty to do around the farm, but Reese just wants to go back to his father and the family's apartment. He sends his father links to different rehab facilities, and things are looking better. After not quite two weeks, Amanda is thinking about returning, but Mrs. Smith cautions her to give it more time. Sam starts big preparations for Reece's thirteenth birthday, and things seem to be looking up. Will things end well, or will Reese have more to contend with?
Strengths: I don't want to spoil the ending, but opiod addiction is not a simple matter, so there are some more challenges! This was a painfully realistic look at how opioid addiction effects families, and especially children. Reese's emotions are realistic, and he wants to believe in his father. I loved that the mother was doing well at her job despite the struggles she faced in her personal life. Mrs. and Mr. Smith were great characters who had their own struggles but were still willing to help out.
Weaknesses: This was a little on the long side for middle grade. There were a lot of details that didn't forward the plot that could have been removed or shortened, like the dinner at the Indian restaurant or some of the interactions with the cats.
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who want to explore what it is like to live with a parent who is struggling with addiction and found books like Dee's Violets are Blue or Bowling's Across the Desert interesting.

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Cartoon Saturday--Freshman Year

Mai, Sarah. Freshman Year
February 13, 2024 by Christy Ottaviano Books
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

In this fictionalized graphic novel memoir, Sarah Mai looks back at the summer of her senior year, when she is preparing to go to college, and captures all of the bittersweet excitement and angst of this liminal time. Her friends all have different plans, ranging from working at a new coffee shop to heading off to other colleges. She plans on breaking up with her boyfriend, Ben, but the two decide to try to have a long distance relationship. Her parents are full of a thousand tips for her success at school, and overly involved, as most parents seem to be. Her roommate is understanding and helpful (she picks up a mini fridge and gives Sarah time alone to settle in), and there are plenty of things to do. Classes are sometimes a challenge, and the college bureaucracy can be daunting (who hasn't missed a deadline to register for classes?). Going back home for Thanksgiving and winter breaks is strange, and reconnecting with old friends is sometimes rocky. Winter is an especial challenge, and Sarah struggles with her mental health, something which sometimes manifests itself in poor hair styling choices. At the end of the year, she's glad to have made it through, and feels a little more settled in her life choices.

There is SO MUCH information about college in this book, and I'm sure that high school students will be riveted. Much of it is very specific to Mai's experience; choosing a major, particular friends, distinct classes. Still, much of it is a window into what many older teens will go through. Decorating a dorm room, navigating time without parental supervision, and feeling homesick are all part of just about every college experience. Mai covers everything in detail; the pages are crammed with pictures and text, and there's everything from her dog being diagnosed with a tumor to care packages to almost unintelligble French tests.

The black and white color pallette is a departure from Mai's colorful illustrations in Langeland's middle grade The Cool Code and The Cool Code 2.0 The Switch Glitch, although I wouldn't have minded the pastels on the cover throughout, though, as they seem very on trend. The darker colors seem appropriate for the turbulent, angsty feel of freshman year. Having recently read my own college journals, I can attest that even though college seems like an exciting adventure, there are a lot of complicated, negative emotions when living through those changing times.

While this would be fairly appropriate for middle school audiences, with just passing references to drinking or relationships, and circumspect drawings. Still, twelve year olds might not be interested in the amount of text, or in the more mature emotional workings. There were several situations that could have benefitted from more explanation; Sarah's mother seems to have some health situation that is unexplained, and readers unfamiliar with college classes could perhaps have used some more description of what Sarah was taking, when the classes met, etc.

I have not read many books about going off to college, except for Pratt's Giant Days and my favorite, Stanton's Waking in Time. It's a topic that I would love to see explored more, and Mai's experiences will be a revelation to high school students looking forward to their own college career.

I showed this to several middle school students who all deemed that this was "too many words", so I will definitely be sending this off to the high school. 

Friday, June 28, 2024

Guy Friday- Faker

Korman, Gordon. Faker
July 2, 2024 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Trey and his sister Arianna have had a nomadic life, changing schools and moving to new places frequently, with "vacations" in exotic locales in between, because their father, Junior, is a con artist. They change names frequently, but always included the generational markers so they can be called the same thing. Arianna's name gets different spellings. Their mother left long ago, unable to deal with this lifestyle. The father settles in to a place with wealthy marks, like the Spealman School where Trey has befriended Rudy. He comes up with a scheme, like selling shares in a purebred show dog, gathers the money, and absconds. There's even a family safe word, "Houdini", for when the extractions have to take place. The latest one involved pulling Trey out in the middle of a lacrosse game after the parents at the school all started to realize they had bought shares in the same dog. The next stop is Boxelder, Tennessee, where the father has found a furnished house in a wealthy area called "The Point". Trey and Arianna's contribution to the con is to befriend wealthy children and introduce Junior to their parents. Arianna, who is younger, wants to play a larger role, and is proud to bring home Micah, whose parents are art dealers. Junior takes a while to figure out a scheme, and Trey settles in to the school, making friends with Logan and well as Kaylee Novak, whose father is also one of his teachers. Mr. Novak is starting a unit on ethics, which is uncomfortable for Trey, and Kaylee is determined to save the local Albion Pond, which has become derelict and filled with mosquitos, while the area around The Point is much nicer. Junior allows Trey to do this as long as he doesn't get him picture in the paper. Junior's plan turns out to be a new, flashy Electic Vehicle called "El Capitan". He has a guy put a new body on a Tesla, and drives the car around town. The parents are enthralled. Junior claims to be a lower echelon worker, but is able to take "investment money". This starts to add up to million of dollars, but Trey has his doubts. Not only does he want to stay with his new friends in Boxelder, but he starts to question his father's assertion that he only takes money from those who can afford it when Mr. Novak wants to invest Kaylee's college fund. When the news breaks that the new El Capitan factory will be built on the site of Albion Pond, things get even more complicated for Trey. How can he convince his father to give up his grifter lifestyle and embrace a more honest way of living?
Strengths: There was something weirdly enthralling about Trey's posh but corrupt lifestyle, but there was also the combined philosophic outlook of both the ethics of what the family was doing and the environmental and class division problems in Boxelder. This covers friendship, sibling rivalry, hype over new technology, and activism for children. It was funny, but also had a couple of fantastic plot twists that I do not want to spoil, since every fan of middle grade literature will want to go out and grab a copy of this right away. Personally, I was glad to see Korman return to the single perspective, first person voice; if I struggle with multiple narrators, I know many of my emerging readers will as well. The ending was a bit pat, but somehow the ending that I really wanted to have for both Trey and his community. Fantastic book.
Weaknesses: I'm taking a quarter of a star off for the deus ex machina ending, even though it does keep the book at a reasonable 224 pages.
What I really think: I'm a big Korman fan, but I have to say that this is one of my favorites, right up there with Born to Rock, Ungifted, and Slacker. The only question now is whether to buy two or three copies!

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Dinner at the Brake Fast

Lute, Renee Beauregard. Dinner at the Brake Fast
June 25, 2024 by Quill Tree Books
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Tacoma's family runs a truck stop in North Bend, Washington, that serves all day breakfast, and she has to help out frequently, especially when her father has days where he is struggling with his depression. Even though this isn't always her favorite thing to do, she loves cooking, enjoys the customers, and looks forward to the day when she can use her own cooking skills to go on the road with a food truck. On this particular day, she is supposed to cook dinnerr for a change, and her dad was supposed to go with her grocery shopping. Instead, he can barely get out of bed. When a tour bus barrels into their parking lot in distress, the day gets even more complicated. Tacoma meets the son of the driver, Denver, and the Nick Jersey Hudson Canyon Band. Denver's mother drove a tour  bus for John Denver, and coincidentally, Tacoma's father once played in a concert with Bruce Springsteen. This is a story he tells frequently, so he was devastated when the picture that was taken of the event and which had hung on the walls of the diner for years was stolen. Frequent oily trucker customer, Crocodile Kyle, who always causes problems whenever he comes in, whispers to Tacoma that he has the picture hanging by his bed. When it turns out that Denver is going to be stuck at the diner for the day, Tacoma inveigles him into helping her get the picture back. She also involves Kyle's nephew, Hudgie, in the plan, and soon the three involved in a complicated plot that involves an accidental road trip, an aggressive rooster named Tick Tick, an oddities shop, a corn maze, and even a meat vending machine. With the help of Hugh, the rooster's owner, and Denise, a trucker for whom Tacoma always has packets of raw sugar, will a Tacoma be able to get the picture back and return home in time to make dinner?
Strengths: Tacoma is a resilient character who knows what she wants and will let nothing stand in her way. She's a huge fan of cooking, and has quite a collection of regional cookbooks, although we only see her cook right at the end of the book. She is vivacious enough to drag not only visiting Denver into her plan, but to blackmail her nemesis, Hudgie, into helping her out. While some of the kids' hijinks are a little unlikely, they are all realistic. There's even some slightly scary moments, like when they get locked in the oddities shop and stuck in Kyle's truck. It was particularly nice that Kyle got his comeuppance for at least some of his horrible behaviors. The father's depression is dealt with factually, and the family is supportive and has coping mechanims to help. Tacoma and Denver have a mutually supportive friendship, and Tacoma gets her wish to finally make DINNER after years of having to help with breakfast food. 
Weaknesses: I was ready to just hang out at the diner for the entire day, but even with the band there, that would have gotten a little boring. This kept taking turns that I didn't quite expect, which isn't a bad thing, but did take me by surprise. Also, the math barely works for Denver's mother to have driven John Denver's tour bus. The last tour before his death was 1997, and since Denver would have been born in 2012, the mother would have had to be VERY young when she drove the bus. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who enjoyed the trucking component of Hawes' Big Rig or want to hang out at a local diner (like Bauer's Hope Was Here), but really is more of a quirky adventure reminiscent of Greenland's Scouts with a sprinkling of mental health issues akin to Hiranandani's The Whole Story of Half a Girl. Fans of this author's The Exceptional Maggie Chowder will be glad to see this new book, which has a fantastic title. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Roswell Johnson Saves the World

Colfer, Chris. Roswell Johnson Saves the World
June 4, 2024 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

**Spoilers in Strengths** 

Roswell Johnson is a dedicated young scientist who pursues information about extraterrestrials. Sadly, his school science fair doesn't appreciate this, giving the award to a baking soda volcano instead of his incisive expose. Roswell lives with his grandparents on their free range chicken farm in Oklahome, and is one of the few Black students at his school, where he has faced some discrimination. His mother died when he was young, and his father was in the military and was killed in Afghanistan. When Roswell is out looking for a chicken, he sees a space ship, and is taken up into it with a tractor beam! The aliens, Nerp (whom Roswell can understand) and Bleep (who is younger and communicates in robotic beeping), study the chicken and return it to Earth, but don't seem to realize that Roswell has also come aboard. He ends up blasting into space with them, and marveling that his dreams have finally come true. He finds out that the aliens are Grays from Grayton and are part of the Milky Way Galactic Alliance that is trying to save Earth from destroying itself. Sadly, their ship is attacked by Reptoids lead by General Xelic, and Roswell and his new acquaintances find themselves in captivity with a variety of other beings, including Cassiopeia Furbottom, a Furgarian, Rob, a Cyborg, and Mank. Stella Stargazer comes to their rescue, but Roswell soon finds out that the Reptoids are in cahoots with Eli Rump, the richest man on Earth who has convinced the US government to implement his ERASE system to protect the planet from asteroids. Rump has gotten his vast wealth from a variety of enterprises, including the Rump Dump luxury toilet, a football team, movies, and a Rump World theme park. They have agreed to put him in complete charge, but Rump has evil motives in mind. Will Roswell and all of the well meaning extraterrestrial beings he meets in his travels be able to save the world from the combined evil of the Reptoids and Rump?
 
Strengths: Colfer's 2012 Land of Stories books had quite a following for a while; a student even donated one of the books in the series after convincing his parents to buy it for him! There is something silly and pell mell about his narrative style that is appealing to middle grade readers. Roswell has a lot of reasons for being interested in extraterrestrial life; after all, his late father had a tale about seeing a UFO, and named him after the Roswell incident. (For more reliable information on that, I highly recommend Fleming's Crash from Outer Space. There are lots and lots of amusing and quirky space beings that Roswell meets, and he not only gets to save the day, but **SPOILER** (highlight to see) is reunited with his father, who isn't dead, but is being held on a secret lunar base.
Weaknesses: I am not sure where the children't literature community is right now on the topic of white authors writing Black characters, but since Roswell does describe some issues that he has faced because he is Black, I was a bit uncomfortable with this. Colfer's writing tends towards an overuse of tropes and won't win any awards for beauty or creativity, but is serviceable.
 
What I really think: There are a lot of space adventure books out there like Mbalia and Makonnen's The Last Gate of the Emperor, Nick Brooks' Nothing Interesting Ever Happens to Ethan Fairmont and even Blackwood's Race to Fire Mountain for younger readers that I liked a little better than this one, but if Colfer's work has a large following in your library, this will be a popular title.