Tuesday, April 23, 2024

The Bard and the Book and Not-So-Simple Question

Happy Birthday, Shakespeare! We don't know the exact day, but it's frequently given as April 23. What better way to celebrate than to pick up this new book about him? 

Bausum, Ann and Sevilla, Marta. The Bard and the Book: How the First Folio Saved the Plays of William Shakespeare from Oblivion 
April 2, 2024 by Peachtree
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

How DID the plays of Shakespeare get saved, when the practice four hundred years ago was not necessarily to print out the entire play? Actors might get just their own parts, and there were some quartos for sale, but plays were meant to be performed, and not necessarily read, so not everything got written down. ey are carrying around a book about The Bard. Over the years in middle school, I've seen a LOT of these students; I finally deaccessioned the thirty pound Collected Works because while it wasn't getting read very much, it was being hauled about. This book is perfect for those readers, but despite the snark is highly informative!

With easy to follow overviews of various historical facts and book processes (Wouldn't it be cool to put your OWN binding on books? Why isn't this still a thing?) made even more engaging by lovely illustrations by Sevilla and top notch book design, this book told me everything I needed to know about Shakespeare's world and work, and how it was preserved. Of course, now I need a similar treatment of Homer, and possibly Virgil. I especially enjoyed the photographs of various print versions, and Bausum's notes at the end about why she chose this topic. 

Have to say that I'm not personally a fan of Shakespeare, especially as something for middle school students to read (That unit a long term sub did with 8th graders? So painful!), but this was a fascinating book along the lines of Bryant and Sweet's Roget and His Thesaurus. I will purchase it because it is an appealing, small book along the lines of Schanzer's 2011 Witches! that my students will pick up for fun, OR to look smart because they are reading about Shakespeare. I would also buy this for high school because of the extensive source notes, which I could see be very helpful for research. 

Matula, Christina. The Not-So-Simple Question (Holly-Mei #3)
April 23, 2024 by Inkyard Press
Copy provided by the publisher

In this final book in the series (The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly Mei and The Not-So-Perfect Plan), we return to Hong Kong. Holly-Mei has settled in to life at Tai Tam Prep, and has gotten used to having a housekeeper and driver, something the family did not have back in Toronto. She misses Ah-Ma, her grandmother, who has stayed behind while Holly's mother has her new job. Millie, Holly's younger sister, is still obsessed with social media and fashion, while Holly just wants to hang out with her friends. Now that Gemma is planning a couple's party for her thirteenth birthday, the friend group is obsessed with dating and boyfriends. Rosie, Holly's cousin, is devastated when Henry breaks up with her because his parents think he is too young to date. Holly agrees, and does NOT want to have to think about asking a boy to Gemma's party. There are plenty of other things to keep her occupied, like practicing her rowing for the dragon boat races and going to Taiwan for her Experience Week Trip. She is interested to travel to Ah-Ma's childhood home, which has been turned into a museum, but comments from people like Jenny, who is also going to Taiwan, make her question her identity. While her mother's side of the family is Taiwanese, her father is from England, and Holly doesn't speak any subgroup of Chinese very well. Jenny is critical of the fact that Holly is only "half", and Holly worries about this. The trip is interesting, with the Tai Tam students going to a school and traveling to different locations. Holly gets to meet cousins, who make comments about her grasp of the language and her appearance. It's helpful to talk to her parents when she gets home, and they help her process her feelings about her heritage. With Gemma's party coming up, Holly and her friends debate whether or not they really have to take dates. Snowy is especially pushy about this, but it turns out that she is just trying to deflect attention from the fact that she likes girls, since she feels that this admission might ruin her social media presence. Millie, who has been struggling with acne and who also has to get glasses, is very concerned about losing Instagram followers because of the changes in her appearance, but Holly helps her see that if people don't like the real her, they aren't worth Millie's attention. In the end, Holly and her friends are able to enjoy Gemma's party and feel good about embracing their true selves. 
Strengths: I didn't get to travel anywhere for spring break, so reading this was a great vicarious trip! There are so many details about places to visit in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and LOTS of descriptions of snacks and food! Of course, Holly is not on vacation; even the trip to Taiwan requires her to write a paper about what she has learned. The friend and boy drama will appeal to many middle grade readers, and the idea of having birthday parties at Disneyland (like Holly does) or other upscale venues will be mind blowing to my students. Of course, there are serious issues to be faced as well, and Holly struggles with her identity, feeling torn between her Taiwanese and British heritage, and never feeling enough of either. Matula does a great job of bringing her own background to a middle grade novel and making all of Holly's experiences very vivid and exciting. I'm curious to see what she will write next now that this series is complete. 
Weaknesses: My students might have a hard time believing all of the details about what would be considered a VERY posh life here in Ohio, but this is a great way for them to broaden their horizons! 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who like all of the private school drama of Russell's Dork Diaries, or who want a good look at what it is like to attend school in a different country. I'm always on the lookout for books set in other countries, written by authors who can include all of the details about daily life, travels, and local cuisine!

Ms. Yingling

Monday, April 22, 2024

MMGM- Isabel in Bloom and Made in Asian America

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 
Respicio, Mae. Isabel in Bloom
April 9, 2024 by Wendy Lamb Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Isabel has been living with her lolo and lola in the Philippines in 1999, helping them garden so they can earn a living by selling their produce in the market. Her mother has been in the US for five years, working as a nanny to three children in a wealthy family while studying nursing. Now, she is doing well enough to send for Isabel. It's hard to levae her grandparents and her best friends, Cristina and Rosamie, but there's no choice. Soon, she is on a plane to San Francisco, where she is greeted by her aunt and uncle, with whom she and her mother will live for a while, because her mother in job hunting. Her lolo has told Isabel that if she is sad in her new home, she should look for familiar things, and she tries her best to do this. The apartment is nice, and she stays in her cousins' room, since they are at college. There are a large number of family members in the Bay area, some having come to the US in the 1960s and 70s. Some, like her cousin Joss, don't even speak Tagalog, and Isabel worries about her accent. She is glad to pick out new clothes at the mall to wear to Bayview Middle school. Her first day doesn't go particularly well, but she makes some progress as the weeks go on. She is forced into a friendship with Melissa' whose father is her aunt's boss at a senior facility. Isabel rather enjoys visiting with the older people, who remind her of her grandparents, especially since there is even a garden there. She missing the Jasmine Sampaguita that was growing in her grandparents' garden, and when she finds out that her school has a long abandoned garden, she is glad to find the same plant there. She joins the cooking club at school, and some of the members are glad to help her out. When one of the men at the senior facility is robbed, Isabel talks her classmates into doing a fund raiser for the center, which might also help save the school garden from being turned into a location for portable school units. It's hard to reconnect with her mother, especially since Nicollette, a girl her mother helped raise, keeps calling, and Isabel worries that her mother might want to move them to New York. Isabel tries very hard to "bloom where you are planted", and while making a home with her mother in the US isn't easy, in the end, she is glad that the two can be together again. 
Strengths: Respicio always has such wonderful grandparents, even if the characters have to part from them. Even though Isabel wasn't keen on coming to the US, I appreciated that she tried to have a good attitude and tried her best to get along with people and overcome bad days. I was prepared for Melissa to be a horrible character and was rather relieved when she was not! The details of 1999 are good, including all of the fashions and teen magazines that Isabel enjoys. The gardening is a fun inclusion, and tweens are definitely fans of baking as well. There's plenty of Filipino culture, the practice of coming to the US to earn money to send back home is an interesting topic I haven't seen covered much in middle grade literature. The practice of sending Balikbayan boxes to relatives in the Philippines was very interesting; I know my mother loved to send me packages when I lived away from her, even mailing me cooked macaroni and cheese in the dead of winter when I was in college. I love the sunny cover on this one. 
Weaknesses: While this is a well done novel in verse, if this were prose we might have been able to get more information about Filipino history that is lightly touched on. I'm not quite sure why this was set in 1999, other than to feature the very cool hamburger phone, let the girls spend time at the mall, and have the man at the senior center be a veteran of the Bataan Death March during WWII. 
What I really think: Readers who enjoyed LaRocca's Red, White and Whole will find this a much more upbeat look at the immigrant experience, and fans of Respicio's How to Win a Slime War, The House That Lou Built, and Any Day With You will enjoy seeing this author try a different format. 

 Lee, Erika and Soontornvat, Christinas. Made in Asian America: A History for Young People 
April 30, 2024 by Quill Tree Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

There is so much Asian American history that I don't know, and this new book is a great way to learn about topics that have been previously ignored in US history textbooks. Going from the days of Columbus' bad navigational skills up to the present, this covers history in an interesting way, by telling the stories of individuals affected by history right along with the history. It's one thing to read about the fact that Chinese Americans weren't allowed to go to public school in 1885; it's quite another to have the face of one little girl, Mamie Tape. The history is well laid out, there are lots of intriguing pictures, and the systemic racism of US culture is shown against dozens of historic examples. To synopsize this would be like writing a synopsis of a history textbook, so I'll just say this: buy a copy for your library, because it fills in a lot of gaps that those history textbooks don't address. We need more books like this to go along with Yang's Yes We Will: Asian Americans Who Shaped This Country and Goldstone's Days of Infamy: How a Century of Bigotry Led to Japanese American Internment.

From the publisher:

From three-time Newbery Honoree Christina Soontornvat and award-winning historian Erika Lee comes a middle grade nonfiction that shines a light on the generations of Asian Americans who have transformed the United States and who continue to shape what it means to be American. Asian American history is not made up of one single story. It’s many. And it’s a story that too often goes untold.  It begins centuries before America even exists as a nation. It is connected to the histories of Western conquest and colonialism. It’s a story of migration; of people and families crossing the Pacific Ocean in search of escape, opportunity, and new beginnings. It is also the story of race and racism. Of being labeled an immigrant invasion, unfit to become citizens, and being banned, deported, and incarcerated. Of being blamed for bringing diseases into the country. It is also a story of bravery and hope. It is the story of heroes who fought for equality in the courts, on the streets, and in the schools, and who continue to fight in solidarity with others doing the same. This book is a stirring account of the ordinary people and extraordinary acts that made Asian America and the young people who are remaking America today.

Khan, Hena. The Door Is Open: Stories of Celebration and Community by 11 Desi Voices
April 23, 2024 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

I love short story collections that highlight authors who share some aspects of cultural backgrounds, like Ali and Saeed's Once Upon an Eid, because it helps me to introduce a variety of new authors to my students. Like Oh's You Are Here collection of interconnected short stories set at the Chicago O'Hare Airport, The Door is Open is centered around the community center in Maple Grove, New Jersey and follows the adventures of a variety of children there. The teachers in my school are assigning more and more short story collections to students, which is a great idea, and this one will be a great addition to my growing collection of culturally connected short stories. 

From the Publisher:

Discover stories of fear, triumph, and spectacular celebration in this warm-hearted novel of interconnected stories that celebrates the diversity of South Asian American experiences in a local community center.

Discover stories of fear, triumph, and spectacular celebration in the fictional town of Maple Grove, New Jersey, where the local kids gather at the community center to discover new crushes, fight against ignorance, and even save a life. Cheer for Chaya as she wins chess tournaments (unlike Andrew, she knows stupid sugary soda won't make you better at chess), and follow as Jeevan learns how to cook traditional food (it turns out he can cook sabji-- he just can't eat it).

These stories, edited by bestselling and award-winning Pakistani-American author Hena Khan, are filled with humor, warmth, and possibility. They showcase a diverse array of talented authors with heritage from the Indian subcontinent, including beloved favorites and rising stars, who each highlight the beauty and necessity of a community center that everyone calls home.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Operation: Happy and Trajectory

Walsh, Jenni L. Operation: Happy
April 2, 2024 by Zonderkidz
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Jody Zuber is used to moving around to be with her father, who is based in San Diego with the Marines in 1938. For Christmas, she gets a Shirley Temple doll, a Monopoly game, a Nancy Drew book... and her most desired gift, a dog. Happy is a retired Marine dog, a German Shepherd/Collie/Husky mix, and is large enough to take up half of Jody's bed, which is just what she wants. When the family moves to Ford Island near Honolulu in 1940, Jody and Happy have all manner of adventures. While Jody and her older sister Peggy are happy to be in the warm weather of Hawaii, their mother is constantly apprehensive and worried. She learns first aid, and is vigilant about the drills, and wants to send the girls to live with their Aunt Maude stateside. When Jody sees smoke on a Sunday morning in December of 1941, she can't get the attention of her family because no alarms have sounded, but of course the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor. The father reports for duty and the rest of the family hastily don bathrobes and go to the shelter, where the robes are eventually used to help injured soldiers. When the family goes back to their house, they realize that the blast has driven all of the nails through the walls. They relocate to Honolulu, but eventually are evacuated to San Francisco. The mother refuses the help of the Navy and the Red Cross, and finds a run down, furnished apartment for them to live in while the father is off fighting. The girls start school, and Jody has to deal with the nosy Mary, the traumatized Sarah, and the shadow left by students like Mei, who was sent off to a Japanese relocation camp. The mother stops going to the store, and can barely get out of bed, and Peggy and Jody have to fend for themselves. Sarah notices this because she is living in an orphanage while her father is at war, and she knows the signs of children who don't have a mother to iron their clothes or comb their hair. After Peggy is almost attacked in the lobby of the apartment building but saved by Happy, the girls decide to find another place to live. They find one, but there mother can't even sign the lease. This leads Jody to contact her father, and soon the Marines are helping them move into a new place and her mother gets the medical attention that she needs. 
Strengths: This is an intriguing look at a military family in a pivotal place and time at the beginning of World War II. This has more details about moving and daily life during that time, and the inclusion of a former service dog is interesting. The depiction of the bombing comes about a third of the way into the book, so there's just enough build up, and the evacuation of civilians is not something I've read about. I love Jody's generally positive attitude, as well as the agency and motivation she and Peggy embrace when their mother isn't doing well in San Francisco. There are so many WWII stories out there, but there are still so many that haven't been told. 
Weaknesses: Since this is partially based on Joan Zuber Earle's 2001 memoir, Children of Battleship Row, I guess I can't quibble with the mother's depression, but it seemed very out of place for the wartime years. I can't imagine either of my grandmothers complaining about anything, especially when they knew there were men out on the frontlines fighting. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who want home front WWII books like Albus' Nothing Else But Miracles , Cushman's The War and Millie McGonigle, or Elliott's Louisa June and the Nazi's in the Waves, and has some marked similarities of setting to Alan Gratz' 2/6/24 Heroes. 

Gordon, Cambria. Trajectory.
April 2, 2024 by Scholastic Press 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Saturday, April 20, 2024


Todd, Jonathan. Timid
April 2, 2024 by Graphix
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

In 1988, Cecil's family moves from Florida to Boston for his father's work. He's apprehensive, especially since he attended a small, private church school at his old home. The family, which includes his mother and sister Leah, has friends in the area, and stays with them before finding their own home. They settle in fairly well. They find a church home, and Cecil finds friends in Chris, who is somewhat jerky, and Ruthie, who is also religious. Leah suggests that Cecil befriend more of the Black kids in school, but this doesn't go very well. Cecil is worried about being an "Oreo", a Black person who "acts white", but finds it difficult to connect to the Black community at his school. He does better with other artists, since he loves to draw. He makes some charicatures of people and tries to get people to like him through his art, for which he was known in his previous school. This occasionally backfires, and he also has a problem with Ruthie, who calls him "Fuzzy" and rubs his head. She eventually apologizes. Will Cecil be able to embrace his art and find people with whom he can connect in his new environment?
Strengths: While I am patiently waiting for Robb Armstrong to write a Big Nate style novel about Jojo Cobb, I've been looking for graphic or notebook novels with Black, male characters. There are not too many, so I'm glad to see this one. Like many graphic novels, it's memoir-esque and set in a historical time period. The illustration style is innovative and very simple, and the parts that I've seen in color have an interesting tan, turquoise, and muted electric blue palette which did add to the retro feel. 
Weaknesses: To show the 80s setting, more pastels or bright primary colors should have been employed; think United Colors of Benetton or Swatches. I would have appreciated a plot in addition to the moving and fitting in, but my students won't necessarily care. 
What I really think: Clearly, Craft's New Kid has done very well, but this has not lead to an increase in graphic novels with Black, male protagonists. I would also still like to see more graphic novels about football and basketball; my quiet, artistic students are not necessarily the one who gravitate the most towards the graphic novel format. It's the sports kids. Buy this for fans of Robinson, Mansbach and Knight's Jake the Fake, Rodriguez and Bell's Doodles from the Boogie Down, or Grimes' and Taylor's Garvey's Choice

Friday, April 19, 2024

Poetry Friday- Deep Water

Sumner, Jamie. Deep Water
April 9, 2024 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this novel in verse, we see Tully preparing to make a 12.1 swim across Lake Tahoe, accompanied only by her good friend Arch in a kayak, who will offer support, bananas, and an emergency plan if something goes wrong. The water is cold, but she is determined, and has trained hard for this. Her mother is a physical therapist and also an avid swimmer who has supported Tully, but has also decided to leave Tully and her father. If Tully is the youngest person ever to make this swim, her mother will have to come home. There are lots of rules for the swim, and Tully and Arch are careful to follow all of them but one: getting parental permission. It's not as easy task, and Tully worries about getting an infection in a paper cut, developing a cramp, and dealing with parents who might eventually figure out where the kids are and try to stop them. In flashbacks, as the miles go by, we find out about the complicated reasons that the mother left, and how it has impacted Tully and her father. When a storm approaches, Tully doesn't want to give up, although Arch, who is a very supportive friend but not necessarily a fan of adventure for himself, contacts the parents. Will Tully be able to complete her swim, not because it will bring her mother home, but because it will help her find herself? 
Strengths:Swimming, in my mind, is the hardest sport of all, and there are very few books about it, especially open water endurance swimming. This book would be a perfect opportunity to introduce young readers to the accomplishments of Diana Nyad! This starts out quickly, and quietly unfolds a lot of information about Tully's family dynamics that I don't want to spoil. There is a good balance between the details of the physical sensation of being in the cold water and having to exert so much energy, and Tully's introspective inner turmoil. There's a satisfying plot arc as well as just enough parent involvement. Fans of Sumner's Tune It Out, Roll with It, Summer of June, Maid for It, and One Kid's Trash will be eager to get their hands on this. 
Weaknesses: While writing this, I realized that I wanted to know a little bit more about Arch. Tully's description of him makes it seem like she doesn't really respect his personality, but she trusts him enough to put her life in his hands. He's certainly very secondary to the plot, but I found myself thinking a lot about what was going through HIS mind during this journey. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who enjoyed reading about the mental health challenges of the protagonist in Baron's The Grayor the mother's problems in medina's The One Who Loves You Most or Trowbridge Road, the swimming in Morrison's Up for Airor the combination of swimming and problems with the mother in Fipps' Starfish. Also, add this adventurous title from a popular author to the growing list of middle grade literature showing children coping with the effects of mental health challenges that includes Keller's The Science of Unbreakable Things, Jones' Silhouetted by the Blue , Hiranandani's The Whole Story of Half a GirlMelleby's Hurricane Season, Van Otterloo's  The Beautiful Something Else, Greenwald's Absolutely, Positively Natty, Strout's Next Door to Happy, Walters's The King of Jam Sandwiches, Rushby's The Mulberry Tree, and Kalmar's Stealing Mt Rushmore.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Sunny Parker is Here to Stay

Finnegan, Margaret. Sunny Parker is Here to Stay
April 23, 2024 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sunny loves living at the Del Mar Gardens affordable housing community in Monroe Heights, where her father is a manager. Her friend Haley Michaels, who is Black, lives close by, and she spends a lot of time with Mrs. Garcia and her children, who include AJ, who is developmentally disabled. Mrs. Garcia often goes with Sunny on Neighborhood Favor walks to pick tomatoes or berries that people post on the app, and always introduces her son to any new police officers like Officer Edwards. Sunny's not as fond of Sourpus Scanlon, an elderly woman whom the children say curses them if she talks to them. This "Scanlon Curse" means they can't speak until someone says "paprika, paprika, paprika" to them or they'll be dead in 24 hours,  and they will have seven years of bad luck if they tell an adult! The neighborhood is changing, and the smaller houses are being torn down, and rich people are building larger homes. There is an abandoned school nearby, and there is talk about using the land to add more affordable housing. At a birthday party for classmates Lark and Chase, Sunny hears adults talking about how such a development would negatively affect the community by bringing in poorer people; they would rather have a park that would benefit everyone. Sunny (rightly so) takes this to mean that people in her neighborhood don't want her there. She and her friends go around Del Mar Gardens getting signatures on a petition to take to the local council. There's also some concern that there is a ghost boy in the area, but this is later found to be a woman who is moaning because her partner has beaten her. Sunny wants to help the woman, and puts her in contact with Officer Edwards. Will Sunny be able to change the minds of the people in the neighborhood and get them to support more affordable housing?
Strengths: Neighborhoods are often so isolated and fragmented that young readers enjoy seeing apartment houses or neighborhoods were there is a sense of community. I'm fortunate to live on a circle of about 25 houses where I know every family and am in charge of printing up a map with everyone's contact information every year, and even I like to read about even closer communities! Sunny's world is nicely diverse, and has a wide variety of characters with whom to interact. I also enjoyed that it was safe enough for her to wander around and have adventures. The neighbors at Del Mar Gardens are all supportive, even Mrs. Scanlon at the end, and Sunny manages to convince at least one of the rich people to support Del Mar Gardens. A note at the end discusses the author's own upbringing in a similar community that lends a nice nice of authenticity to the book. 
Weaknesses: Like this author's Susie B. Won't Back Down and New Kids and Underdogs, this is best suited to slightly younger readers. The "Scanlon Curse", as well as the cover, will appeal more to them. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who enjoyed other books about communities affected by gentrification, like Nelson's The Umbrella House, Vivat's Meet Me on Mercer Street, McDunn's Trouble at the Tangerine, or LaCoer and Albert's The Apartment House on Poppy Hill.

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

A Variety of Realistic Fiction

April is PACKED with titles! I know that people have opined that I should only post one book a day, but since I have so many titles, I will do slightly shorter reviews! 

Mancilla, Monica. Sing it Like Celia
April 2, 2024 by Penguin Workshop
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Salva Sanchez' parents divorced when she was very young, and it's been just her and her mother, who is a nurse. When her mother doesn't come home, she ends up calling her father, who picks her up, won't tell her what happened, and take her to a trailer park where they are staying while he investigates a case of a woman being deported. He's an investigative journalist and moves around quite a bit. Salva is understandably upset by everything, but soon settles in to a new life at the Lonely Pines campground, run by the very  nice Betty. Not so nice is her granddaughter, Darcy, who has a singing group called "The Darcy Experience". When Salva meets the members, she likes being with them, and they have her sing with them. She prefers a salsa style similar to famous singer Celia Cruz, which Darcy says very mean things about. To help the woman her father is investigating, the kids plan a benefit concert, and Salva learns some hard truths about her mother. 

This is a good choice for readers who enjoyed Siddiqui's, Barakah Beats, Pla's The Fire, The Water, and Maudie McGinn, or Winston's Braid Girls, since there is a similar feel of young people making friends and banding together for good causes.  

Miller, Kalena. South of Somewhere
April 4, 2024 by Albert Whitman & Company
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Mavis has a very nice life. Her family, included retired French professor Mike, wealth manager Julie, and older siblings Camille and Andre, live in a very nice Chicago neighborhood. When they return from a fancy vacation on Maui, they find police officers swarming around their home. It turns out that there mother, who took another car home from the airport, is wanted for embezzlement. With no money and no options, the family take off to a small town where Mike's sister Melissa lives. The two are estranged over an incident concerning Julie, but Melissa takes them in to live in her basement while they sort things out. Mavis watches Lily, her young cousin, and does a good job at it. Melissa even pays her, which leads Maivs to contact neighbor Emma to set up a babysitting business to earn money. The two not only start a successful business, but investigate the mysterious postcards from Mavis' mother that seem to have coded messages. The family struggles to find employment, and Mavis tries to locate her mother. But even if she does, will she get the closure she needs. 

This is a good choice for readers who liked the details of dealing with a parent who has committed a white collar crime like Sheinmel's 2011 All The Things You Are and Morrison's 2022 Coming Up Short, mixed with some of the excitement of Galante's 2017 Stealing Our Way Home

Oakes, Colleen. The Second Favorite Daughters Club 1: Sister Sabotage
April 2, 2024 by Pixel+Ink
E ARC Provided by Netgalley

Santana has a problem with her sister Victoria; all of the family's attention is directed to the older girls' ballet career. Casey also has a problem with hers; young Sage and her father are two peas in a pod, and Casey feels excluded ever since her mother abandoned the family. The girls meet at school and bond over their sibling woes. The decide to create a Second Favorite Daughters club and even have meetings in a treehouse, since neither have a cell phone. When Cai, a cute boy in Santana's class, asks her to set him up with Victoria, Santana declares an all out war. Both girls put plans into place to make their sisters look bad, and make them look like model children. This includes wreaking havoc with Victoria's schedule by reprogramming phones and blaming Sage when Casey purposefully kills all of her father's plants. When Santana tells Cai about this plan, which she promised she would keep secret, Casey is angry. Of course, Victoria eventually finds out. After Casey's mother visits for a while but then leaves because she just can't handle being with them, Casey is angry and done with her mother, but this leads her to be more understanding of her father. Santana, on the other hand, runs away to New York City. Will the girls ever be able to figure out their place in their families? 

This is a good choice for readers who like to investigate family dynamics with books like Willis' Smaller Sister, Howland's Forget-Me-Not Summer, or Palmer's Love You Like a Sister or who really like the mean spiritedness of Andelfinger's graphic novel adaptations of Pascal's Sweet Valley Twins books or Harrison's The Clique. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

This Again?

Borba, Adam. This Again?
April 16, 2024 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Noah Nicholson has an absolutely disastrous day when he has to give a speech for the class president election at East Hills Middle School in Albany, New York. He has a plan. A good plan. It involves becoming class president, doing well on the bowling team, going to Harvard like his older brother Paul, and becoming a college professor of physics. His parents are co chairs in a university science department, so there is a definite trend toward embracing academia. However, he's not doing well in math, and his pants rip when he stands to give his speech. He panics and runs off staging, giving everyone a glimpse of his pink underwear. This horrifies him. He tries to get over it, but keeps seeing someone who looks just like him hanging around town. When his doppelganger knocks on his window late at night, he finds out the truth. His parents, inspired by a new blender, have invented a time machine, and he's traveled from eight days in the future to try to help himself avoid his mistakes. His future self, who helpfully suggests he be called "Future", which certainly makes things much easier, has some odd suggestions, like making Noah learn to drink tea. He wants to help Noah win the election, and has a plan to make him more popular that involves an afternoon detention picking up trash with the popular kids. Future manages to engineer a meeting with Noah's crush, Lucy Martinez, at a tea shop, so the tip about tea was a good one. Noah doesn't break the blender, so the family doesn't need a new one, and efforts have to be made to change this so that time travel will be invented. This happens, and the resultant machine involves a computer and a claw foot bathtub, very similar to Welford's in Time Traveling with a Hamster. Noah is subjected to all sorts of embarassing things, like showing up in a lime green tuxedo to play basketball, but in the end, he finds out that this is the twentieth time Future has tried to fix the day. When Paul comes home from Harvard, having dropped out, Noah must reassess his life. Is it worth traveling through time to be perfect, or should he take what life gives him and make it work?
Strengths: Noah's math teacher, Ms. Tucker, was my favorite part of this book, with the bowling being a close second. It's so common for students to try to stay in advanced classes for which they are not developmentally ready because they have friends or older siblings who have taken the classes. Ms. Tucker tries to let Noah know that it's okay not to be brilliant in math; it doesn't mean the rest of his life will be ruined. I wish more of my students had life plans, although not as rigourous as Noah's perhaps. The nascent romance is a nice addition. This is a fun, goofy look at attempts to change one's life course, even when it ends up being unnecessary. 
Weaknesses: In almost 25 years of teaching, I have never seen a school election, much less one with speeches in an auditorium. Back in 1982, I had a slogan very similar to Noah's "Know-A Good Thing" in my riff on the Hallmark classic: "Yingling, when you Karenough to Choose the Very Best". I don't remember there being speeches, because then I would certainly have delivered a memorable performance. I wouldn't have won, but it would have been memorable. Hope you're doing well, President Chuck Smith. 
What I really think: I liked this even better than Borba's goofy The Midnight Brigade or Outside Nowhere, and it's a great addition to humorous speculative fiction titles like Thayer's The Double Life of Danny Day, Lubar's The Emperor of the Universe seriesor Thompson's The Day I Was Erased
 Ms. Yingling

Monday, April 15, 2024

MMGM- Bradford's Virtual Kombat

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Bradford, Chris. Gamer (Virtual Kombat #1)
April 2, 2024 by Union Square Kids
Originally published by Barington Stoke, 2012
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

After a widespread virus killed a huge portion of the adult population in 2030, many children were left orphans and are living on the violent streets. One of these is Scott, who is struggling but still a good person. When he sees the violent Stck and Juice beating up twins Tammy and Tommy and stealing their food, he steps in. This angers the two, and brings Scott into the sights of Shark, the head of the Bleeders gang, who threatens to "blaze" him with a dangerous pulse blade weapon. Luckily, a Virtual Kombat playing pod comes to the street. Society has broken down, and people have turned to online gaming to channel their anger and despair. Vince Powers, the founder of Virtual Kombat, recruits young players from the streets, offering them a place in his Orphans Home to those who are particularly talented. Shark scores a seat, but Scott does not... until Tommy hails him and gives him the seat he has grabbed. Scott manages to do well, but Shark does not win a place, angering him further. The rules of the Orphans Home are simple; be respectful stay in the home, and go to bed on time, and children are provided with three meals a day, clothing, and safe beds to sleep in. There are analysts who watch the children play the game, but Scott is surprised that the players feel pain; it is explained that the hoodies they wear deliver electrical impulses that simulate the feelings but don't injure the participants. Scott meets fellow gamers Kat-Ana (Kate) and Ginger Ninja, who teach him about Trigger Time, the state during which the brain is thinking faster than the game, allowing players to not feel the effects as strongly. When Shark shows up, Scott knows he is in danger, but is there a greater danger from the founder of the company, Vince Powers? There are two more books in this series, Virus and Cyborg
Strengths: This was nonstop excitement, whether surviving on the streets, playing the video games, or fighting against the evil people who run Virtual Kombat. The setting is described quickly but effectively, and Scott is an engaging character who won me over right away when he saved the twin's food despite the peril to himself. This is a quick read (136 pages), and has a dyslexia-friendly font. 
Weaknesses: If this had just been published, I would have thought "Too soon!" about the pandemic killing everyone, but since Bradford had this idea in 2012... I guess we're lucky? It's not as well written as his Bodyguard series, but I'm sure there were strictures on vocabulary and text complexity that he had to consider. The cover will make this an instant success with middle school students. 
What I really think: Students who want the virtual gaming adventure of  Dao's Team Chu and the Battle of Blackwood Arena,  Zhao's Last Gamer Standingor Ross' Game Over but are not quite ready for longer books will appreciate the fast-paced dystopian gaming adventure that is Virtual Kombat. 

Bradford, Chris. Virus (Virtual Kombat #2)
April 2, 2024 by Union Square Kids
Originally published by Barington Stoke, 2018
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Scott, who lost his friend Kate to the virtual reality game Virtual Kombat run by the evil developer Vince Powers, is back on the streets trying to survive after escaping Powers' orphanage, which was a cover for killing children in order to feed interest in the popular game. Now, he is being chased by robotic wasps as he is trying to get the word out about the dangers of the game. He runs into his nemesis Stick who is about to destroy him when a girl appears with an electromagnetic pulse weapon to disarm him. Java is working with Pentium Powers, Vince's brother, who is trying to close down his brother's horrible game. Pentium, who is in a wheelchair due to injuries, developed the game, but didn't realize that Vince would use the PlayPods for children, whose brains are not strong enough to withstand the equipment. The kids, including Pac-Man and Spam, hack into Virtual Kombat to try to take it down. They need to take a computer virus and release it in the Crown in the last level of the game. With so many players, they hope to go undetected, but can only reach the Crown by playing the game. Scott's skills are useful. He manages to defeat the Reaper using Trigger Time techniques, and the group runs across Ginger Ninja as they defeat riddles, tigers and sharks. Scott even thinks he sees the dead Kate, aka Kat-Ana, but is this just a residue of her personality that was left in the game. Probably not, and at the end an incident occurs that could mean the end of Virtual Kombat... or does it? Considering there is one more book in the series, we can assume it's not over yet!
Strengths: Bradford is very good about having lots of exciting scenes in his books, and he paces his stories very well, moving from adventure to adventure in a very smooth fashion. We get a decent amount about Scott's motivations, but because this is a short, high interest, low reading level book, there is not the level of character development we find in this author's Bodyguard series. For the intended audience, this is perfect, because they would rather have this type of nonstop, video game action. The villain is clear, the children work together, and there is a satisfying conclusion with the promise of further adventures.
Weaknesses: This may only be available in paperback. Parts of this were hard for me to envision because I don't play video games, and there were occurrences in the scenes that didn't make as much sense because of this. I've read enough Minecraft novels to know that the life levels have something to do with progress in the game, but I don't quite grasp the full impact. Kids who play games won't have this problem!
What I really think: This is a great book to help emerging readers who enjoyed graphic novels like Hansen's My Video Game Ate My Homework , Ali's Game On!, and Nisson, Johnson and Darnell's Power Up! build their reading skills before moving on to Brady's Trapped in a Video Game and Ross's Game Over.

Bradford, Chris. Cyborg (Virtual Kombat #3)
April 2, 2024 by Union Square Kids
Originally published by Barington Stoke, 2019
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

**Some spoilers in "Weaknesses"**

A major character who was thought to perish in VIRUS is, in fact, trying to get revenge in the real world, and Scott and his friends must help destroy him. They are training with martial arts instructor Sifu, and since they are no longer in the PlayPods, the pain is real. One of Sifu's most important moves is Bruce Lee's one-inch punch, which he practices thousands and thousands of times, since true martial arts practice is a life long journey and not an instant download. Since VR leads to memory loss, Pentium, who is helping the kids, has them limit their exposure to it. While the PlayPods seemed to have been empty with Virtual Kombat went offline, there seems to be a lack of elite players roaming the streets of the city, which is a concern. Stick, Scott's nemesis, is still around, and quite angry that the PlayPods are no longer around to afford children a way off the streets, and Java has to once again save Scott with her electromagnetic pulse weapon. Pentium develops an exosuit to help him walk again, and tells Scott that the only reason he thinks he sees Vince is the "Tetris Effect" where he's so used to seeing him that his brain still causes him to appear. When it's clear that Virtual Kombat is back but has taken to the streets and identified Scott as a bounty worth many points, he starts to be attacked from all sides by people trying to kill him for advancement in the game! Vince is back as a cyborg, and commits horrible atrocities. Scott finds out that an "ad blocker" that was installed in him with a chip is really a tracking device, and painfully has it removed. This helps a bit with eluding detection, but when a cyborg army and elite gamers are added to the mix, will anyone be safe? Since this is the last book in the series, we can assume so!
Strengths: This ends with a nice message about getting away from games and connecting with other people in order to make the world a better place. I loved this line: "Life is not a game. It's your one chance to live." I frequently tell children in the cafeteria who spend the whole time on their phones "No one ever died wishing they had spent more time playing Angry Birds"! This is a pell mell conclusion to an engaging series that will definitely help turn many kids into readers, which is the purpose of the original publisher, Barrington Stokes, which produces dyslexia friendly books.
Weaknesses: This may only be available in paperback. This is not for squeamish readers; Pentium meets his end in a rather gory way that was a bit much to me. There is a fantasy element to the violence; I'm usually okay if monsters, ghosts, or space aliens kill people, but dislike giving my students books with a lot of human-on-human violence.
What I really think: We need more books like this, with perhaps a slightly lower level of gore. It's difficult to find adventure books that are not hugely long, and science fiction books tend to be too lengthy for my struggling readers. I think this would go over so well with my students that I might buy it in paperback if that is the only format I can find.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Kids in the Kitchen and Blather

Like many women of my generation, I have a complicated relationship with food. I don't like to cook, but I like to feed people. Reading cookbooks is better than cooking, and I'm a big fan of Bracken's I Hate to Cook Book, vintage cookbooks, and M.F.K. Fisher's writing. My mother loved to cook, but she didn't really eat much of what she made. My grandmother probably spent thirty years of her life setting the table for twenty to thirty people; she had nine children and had to feed all of the workers on the dairy farm. 

I've had opinions about cookbooks before, but even though new cookbooks don't reflect my kitchen reality, which is largely based on processed cheese and cream of mushroom soup, I can't stop reading them. I had a large amount of cookbooks as a child, but oddly,  my mother didn't really want to cook with me. Had I shown her this cookbook, and asked to make a breakfast dish with hazelnut spread and coconut, she would have opened the cabinet above the kitchen desk, grabbed a handful of change from the jar, and slammed it on the counter, saying "It'd be cheaper to eat this instead". And yet, it was okay to eat two homemade chocolate chip cookies for breakfast. Just two. 

So this is a charming cookbook, but I'm not sure that any of my students are really going to believe there are 18 different kinds of butter and more than one kind of salt! 
Perez, Rossini. Kids in the Kitchen: 70+ Fun Recipes for Young Chefs to Stir Up!
April 2, 2024 by Rock Point
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Like most cookbooks for children, this starts with some rudimentary terminology and instructions. There are lists of helpful equipment and ingredients, to have on hand, including capers and anchovy paste as well as Agave syrup, shallots, figs, and dates, as well as five kinds of vinegar. (I've only ever bought white vinegar because you can also use it to clean. And put up pickles.) These seem awfully exotic for a children's cookbook. 

There is a a LOT of good information about how to season food, how to prepare fruit and vegetables, and handy tables on conversions and how to tell if meat is properly cooked. There's even a section on garnishing worthy of my 1955 Betty Crocker Cookbook! This is perhaps the best introduction I've seen. 

The recipes are mostly reasonable, and are interspersed with things like the history of bagels, information on herbts, the fact that a lot of stale bread is thrown out, and different types of cheese. I would be tempted to make the Rainbow friend rice with red cabbage, the Creamy Lemon Spinach Ravioli, and the Spinach Grilled Cheese. There are even some fun food quizzes that made me thinking fondly of Mrs. Mercer, my middle school home ec teachers. 

The graphics are colorful and helpful, and make this book really pop. This is a great collection to have alongside Omari' McQueen's Best Bites, David Atherton's cookbooks, and Washburn's 20 Recipes Kids Should Know

My students are not as enthralled with cookbooks as I am, and I already have so many in the library that they don't use that I probably won't buy this. My daughter actually has white pepper in her cupboard, and her husband buys white onions and Russet potatoes, so if they were to have children, I could see them using a cookbook like this and maybe zesting citrus and having access to Adobo. Will I allow anyone to put rainbow sprinkles in their waffles? Unlikely. But I am also the person who asked the pediatrician if I could put peanut butter or olive oil in my children's oatmeal so they could get the amount of fat they needed for their brains to grow without me having to switch from the much cheaper (at the time) nonfat powered milk. I just don't care enough about food to spend that much time or money on it. 

Fantastic book! Just not for me. 

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Absolute Zeros: Camp Launchpad

Smith, Greg, Tanner, Michael, and Gomez, Gabrielle (illus.)
Absolute Zeros: Camp Launchpad 
March 5, 2024 by Little, Brown Ink
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus  

Camp Launchpad has been around for a while, but it is a space camp that has fallen on hard times. Becca's Uncle Fred runs it, and she helps, but the staff is fairly small, including pioneering astronaut Rhea Hae and Gage McGuff, a former military man. Campers include Mark, whose father is the vice president of the US and a former camper, who drops him off and hopes that his son will have a good time, even though he would rather be with his posh friends and the much fancier Star-X camp, run by billionair Xander Santos. Pete is quiet and not as wealthy as the other campers, since he is there on scholarship and has a large family. Val Herman is at the camp while her mother, an astronaut, is in space. She's SUPER excited to be at camp and lets everyone know it. The campers are assigned to pods, and the A-Zero pod is the three campers we've just met. For some reason, the other campers are not particularly nice to them, especially Pete. There are tons of camp activities, like building rockets and assessing their performance, constructing boxes for egg drops, although swimming is off the table because the swampy, unkempt pool has an alligator in it! When the campers go to a museum, Val knocks over a display, and overhears Fred talking to Xander Santos. The two make a bet; if Camp Launchpad can win the Space Race competition, Santos will give Fred ten million dollars, but if they lose, Santos will bulldoze the camp. This gives Val the underdog spirit that she needs, which is reinforced when Mark's friends from Star-X are snotty to them as well. Back at camp, the three "Absolutel Zeros" hone their skills in coding, building, troubleshooting, and working with antigravity machines, and eventually get chosen to represent the camp in the Space Race. Will their desire to save the camp make them triumphant? 
Strengths: This had a lot of good details about what might go on at a space camp, and it was interesting to see the children having to identify reasons why their rockets don't launch well and work through problems with coding. I'm sure many summer camps have fallen on hard times, so that was a completely realistic plot arc. The three main characters are different enough that they each add another layer to the story. The competition is interesting, and there is a twist at the end that was not something I expected. In the last year or so, there have been a lot more different kids of graphic novels, and this will appeal to readers who want something a bit different. 
Weaknesses: There's never any reason stated why the other campers at Camp Launchpad are mean to the pod A-Zero campers, nor do Mark's friends from school have any reason to be so nasty to the vice president's son. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who can't get enough novels about space camps, like Lackey's Further Than the Moon, Giles' Epic Ellisons: Cosmos Camp, and Gardner's graphic novel Long Distance. This also reminded me a bit of Miller's Out There, a graphic novel which deals more with a road trip and hunting space aliens. 
Ms. Yingling

Friday, April 12, 2024

The Other Side of Perfect

Florence, Melanie and Scrimger, Richard. The Other Side of Perfect
April 2, 2024 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

 Autumn Bird is a popular seventh grade girl in her Toronto area school, but it's hard work to keep up her status. She has to dress a certain way, spend a lot of time on hair and make up, and put up with a lot of negative energy from her friend Mia and others, who want to dictate what she does. One of these things is her relationship with Connor. He's popular and cute, but Autumn doesn' really like him. She certainly doesn't want to kiss him, or do even more, as the girls hint. Connor thinks that Autumn did more with someone at summer camp, although that is not true, and this is one of the reasons he wants to date her. Cody has a very different life. His mother is not in the picture, and his father often becomes abusive when he drinks. The two live in a run down apartment which Cody's father doesn't keep clean. He even is unhappy when Cody cleans it, since that's something "girls do", so Cody tries to clean when his father isn't home. When Cody's father thinks Cody is laughing at him, he beats the boy so badly that he passes out. When he comes to, Cody decides to runaway to escape further abuse. He packs a small bag and leaves, but is so badly injures that he passes out in a clump of bushes while looking for a place to sleep. Amber is on her way to an important party to see Connor when she happens upon Cody. At first she thinks he is dead, but when she realizes he is injured, she helps him to her home. Autumn's mother is a doctor, so she immediately wants to bring her in to help, but Cody makes her promise to keep adults out of it. The father has an art studio in a building on the property and is done with work for the day, so Autumn settles him there. Her parents, who are both Indigenous, have taught her to help out whenever she sees someone in trouble. She manages to get Cody food and lets him clean up a little. At school the next day, Mia and her cronies ask about why Autumn wasn't at the party and give her a hard time, and also are not friendly to Cody, who does have some hygiene issues because of his father's neglect. After school, Autumn arranges to meet Cody, and once again tries to help him out. She's not able to hide him from her parents for too long, and is greatly relieved when her father discovers Cody. The father is understanding, but does want his wife to know and check Cody out for injuries. He also insists on telling Cody's father, bringing along the family's large but loveable dog Boomer as protection. Cody's father isn't at the apartment, however, and there is an eviction notice on the board. Mr. Bird also takes Cody to the prison where his mother is serving time for robbery, so that he covers all of the bases. The mother has some mental health challenges, but does give permission for Cody to have other caretakers. In the meantime, Autumn is tired of Mia's group, and reverts to her old self, in comfy clothes. She used to help at a community group that serves Indigenous people in need of some help, and brings Cody to that. The two end up doing a school project on the center her mother helps with. Cody is more comfortable at the center than at Autumn's fancy and expensive house, but is glad to not have to worry about his father. When the center has an anniversary celebration and Cody's father reshow up drunk, will it destabilize Cody's new situation?
Strengths: This has all the elements of the kind of "sad" book that my students like. While many adults seem to like books about children struggling with grief, my students seem to prefer stories about children in neglectful or abusive situations who work to survive, both in the situations and when escaping them. Autumn is a great character, who struggles with wanting to help, as she has been taught, and wanting to be popular because it makes school an easier place to be. Cody's struggles are depicted realistically, and he is glad to be in a better situation, but has trouble believing it will last. I appreciate that the Birds take the legally required steps to alert the parents and authorities. The father's artwork also played an interesting role in the book, and I was glad to see Cody given the opportunity to pursue some drawings of his own. The Indigenous representation (this is the Canadian term) is very balanced. This book really caught my interest and kept me turning the pages.
The writing felt a little like the authors were working from publisher's notes that told them what to include. In some ways, this is good, because it shows really helpful ways to deal with difficult situations. One example is how Autumn deals with very racist comments that Cody makes about Indigenous people; she's very angry, but her father tells her that Cody is just parroting what he has heard. This is reinforced when the father shows up at the center's anniversary party. Young readers won't mind the deliberate feel, but one more round of editing might have smoothed the edges of the social message's inclusion in the text.
What I really think: This might need to be hand sold; the cover doesn't quite indicate what this book is about, but it will be popular with my students who are interested in books about children in challenging situations, like Rudd's How to Stay Invisible, Bowling's Dust, Toalsen's The First Magnificent Summer, Walter's King of the Jam Sandwiches, and the oldie but goodie (and my daughter's favorite) Robert's 1977 Don't Hurt Laurie.

How cool is that original cover? This is what my childhood looked like. I'm surprised that this wasn't made into an Afterschool Special with Kristy McNichol. 

Thursday, April 11, 2024

It Watches in the Dark and Seven Ghosts

Strand, Jeff. It Watches in the Dark
April 2, 2024 by Sourcebooks Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Oliver and Trisha are very excited to be canoeing in Missouri with their father, and glad to have an outdoor adventure. As we start the book, however, they are in dangerous rapids, and their father is instructing them on how to paddle so that they can stay afloat. When they hit a rock, the three are tipped out, and their father is injured. The kids manage to get their father to the shore, but he is unconscious. They are out out in the middle of nowhere, but do happen across a town, Escrow, population 999. While the people they meet act a bit oddly, a doctor, Belinda, helps them get their father into the hospital. She doesn't want the children to stay, although they would prefer to. Mayor Clancy directs them to the local diner, where they get a really good hamburger, but are reprimanded when they can't finish the enormous ice cream sundaes they are given. The people in the diner talk about the Scarecrow, a huge figure in the town square, and how they should be grateful. The mayor isn't happy that the children demand to see their father, either, and makes them sit in the square and look at the scarecrow. This freaks the children out, since they both hear the scarecrow's voice in their head. When they have to spend the night with the oldest woman in town, Edith, she has weird rules that definitely involve not going outside in the night because of the scarecrow, but of course the children sneak out. This is a bad idea, since they not only find their father trussed up in the medical center full of wires, but the scarecrow chases them. They break a window and get into a house, but the people inside tell them to leave and scream apologies to the scarecrow. The next day, Oliver and Trisha find out alarming things about the community and what exactly is being done to their father. The two try to fight the scarecrow, but if they manage to defeat it, who would keep the town safe... from the crows?
Strengths: Oh, my goodness! This was an excellent middle grade  horror book: gorey, scary, and the violence was all perpetrated by an evil straw scarecrow. It starts off very quickly but gives just enough background. The children are by themselves, really, because the father is incapacitated. Really, if you are a middle schooler, isn't that about the scariest thing of all, having to save an injured parent? The townspeople are freakishly odd, which adds another layer of discomfort. Even the scene with the ice cream sundaes; how scary would it be for strangers to force you to keep eating ice cream when you were sick and your father was in the hospital, unconscious, and you couldn't call your mother? There's plenty of scarecrow guts and bloody tubes, as well as a touch of human sacrifice for the young folk, but this was particularly brilliant because the cinematic, button-eyed, killer scarecrow is all part of a scenario that would be scary enough in real life. 
Weaknesses: I would have liked more backstory about the scarecrow and Escrow in general, delivered by one trustworthy person in town who could have been eaten by the scarecrow once the father was freed, but that would certainly slow things done for middle grade readers. 
What I really think: I loved this author's How You Ruined My Life, which is very popular with  my 8th grade boys. Hand this to readers who enjoy road trips that go horrifically wrong, like Cohen's The Shadow Grave, Preller's Exit 13, or Krovatin's Red Rover. (N.B. Rover's not a dog, it's a DEMON.)

Priestly, Chris. Seven Ghosts
April 2, 2024 by Union Square Kids
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Jake has won a writing contest at school and gets to go on a field trip to Grimstone Hall with other winners. After a tour, they will all write a ghost story. Mrs. Fox, the children's guide, shows them a creepy cracked mirror belonging to the odd Dr. Syrus, and Jake is oddly drawn to it. The history of the Hall starts in 1872 with a servant, Maisie, who has to attend Lady Agnes in her illness but finds that as she becomes weaker and weaker the more she is summoned with a china bell, the healthier Lady Agnes becomes. In 1893, young Rupert hates the local children, and closes the ice house door on a young boy who later dies, and is never the same after he is haunted. The house then passes to an American, whose son is told the legend of the folly of an ancient ruin, purportedly haunter by an "eye-catcher", a demon that only attacks those who don't believe in him. The son does believe, but when the tutor starts to doubt, bad things occur. In the 1920s, Lady Violet's daughter Margaret doesn't play the piano very well and is angry when her orphaned cousin comes to live with them and upstages her. When the two also must compete for the attention of the attractive piano teacher, what might Margaret be driven to do? In the 1970s, the estate is bought by a rock guitarist whose son Kingfisher is bullied about his unusual name. Kingfisher is told not to go into the library, but he does, and burns pages of the books. He starts to notice that the books show him tragedies before they happen; will they retaliate against his violence? Oddly enough, Jake sees all of the ghosts, but none of the others do. Mrs. Fox stops her tour when she only mentions six ghosts. Who might the seventh be? 
Strengths: This reminded me a bit of Preller's Scary Tales, which I have in my "quick picks" section for students who want a book that is shorter and at a lower reading level than most of my books. Published originally in 2019 by Barrington Stokes, which takes a lot of effort to make their titles dyslexia-friendly and, get this, says "Our books are tested for children and young people by children and young people." Yes! Focus groups! I've been saying for years that publishers should do this. I love that these books are written by well regarded authors who write longer books as well; others in this series are by the fantastic Chris Bradford, who wrote the Bodyguard series. The illustrations have an almost Edward Gorey feel to them and add a lot. I'll definitely purchase a copy if I can find a prebind of the paperback. 
Weaknesses: This was very English, with a lot of lords and ladies and servants; just not something we have on this side of the pond. Of course, I LOVED that about it! This author's Dead of Winter circulates on the strength of its spooky cover even though it has a similar feel, and I think this one will do likewise. 
What I really think: This is perfect for emerging readers who was a horror book that isn't too long and difficult. The story within a story is similar to Nance's Daemon Hall, Poblocki's Tales to Keep You Up at Night, and Szpirglas' Book of Screams